Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Food Stamp Challenge Part VI. It Was Easy.

I've officially finished the $46.12  Food Stamp Challenge and I have some important findings.

But to finish up the week's menu here's what happened.

B. coffee, toast, grapefruit
L. Tuna fish salad sandwiches
D. pasta with marinara sauce-which I shared with the Dragon Lady


B. coffee, toast, grapefruit
L. salad with oil and vinegar
D. barbecued chicken thighs


B. coffee, frosted shredded wheat
L. salad with oil and vinegar
D. Leftover chicken thighs

First, it CAN be done and it won't hurt you one bit.

It was easy.

Some folks seem to think that if you have a job and you spend all day at it it's too much to expect that you should have to cook when you get home. Well, that's one thing kids are good for. They can put their prissy butts to doing some prep work so that all you have to do is the range work. If you don't have kids, you can still precook or prepare some of your building blocks and store them in the fridge.

Rice, pasta, tuna salad, spuds, and so on are easily prepared beforehand while you're watching The Voice or some such mindless drivel. From that comes spaghetti, lo mein, fried rice, potato salad (remember that big jar of mayonnaise you bought?) and lots of other good stuff. Better you should read a book and ditch the cable TV. Frozen entrees are no substitute for doing for yourself, and neither is Burger King. Remember, people have prepared their own chow for the last 30 or 40,000 years, so stop kvetching and get busy.

Learning how to make better use of the things you have at hand is a must. Remember that huge package of chicken thighs I bought? My mother was a good cook-and part of being a good cook is being an economically sound cook as well. She had a large stockpot for such things, and surplus chicken bones and trimmings along with a few basic items will make up a lot of chicken soup or stock if you like and want to freeze it.

Come to think of it, making tasty and nutritious soups from things like (now don't laugh) chicken necks, beef neck bones, ham hocks and other similar products will feed you well.

Consider soul food. Folks on the cotton patch took stuff that white folks couldn't care less about-like chicken necks, beef bones, pork shoulder, greens and so on, and turned them into epicurean delights. Spend all day working out in the hot sun like they did, and then preparing food for the family, was monumental. So don't whinge about how you don't have the time.

As my sociology instructor at Kal Valley Community College used to say at the end of every class, "Words hurt. Use them wisely. And don't waste food."

This might also be an opportunity to spend some time in the library-you know, the place where the old people sit around and read the papers for free?-and acquire basic cooking skills. Folks, learning how to prepare nutritious and tasty food that cal help you and the kids get through the day is NOT difficult.

This is probably the most important part: be a smart shopper and come to the market prepared to buy only what you can afford. Some things will last a lot longer than a week-a large box of pasta or a two pound bag of rice, for instance. Shop what's in season and the sale ads and look for what the lady who shops for Iowa's institutions calls "opportunity buys".

Likewise, look for in store specials that aren't advertised. When we were doing our weekly marketing, for instance, Price Chopper had an 8 pound bag of nice looking Colorado spuds for $1.89. There's a lot of good eating in that bag that can be prepared in a number of ways. Likewise, Hy-Vee had nice big red Delicious apples for $0.44 a pound last week.

Once you get this project up and running you can use the power of synergy to increase your purchasing power. Try teaming up with a friend or two to make bulk purchases of essentials like flour, sugar, milk, butter, onions, olive oil ($14 for 2 liters of EVOO at Hy-Vee this week) or whichever cooking oil you prefer, and so on. Buying staples in bulk can make your dollars go a lot farther, and if you are so inclined you can teach yourself useful survival skills-like baking, making your own pasta, and if you've got the room, raising your own chickens-folks did that in my home town in the New Jersey suburbs. You can get a plot in a community garden and make your money go even farther.

This gives me an idea. Teaming up with a friend and pooling $29.00 each would be interesting to see if we can meet the $29.00 food stamp challenge that ole Gwyneth failed so miserably at.

To be continued......

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Food Stamp Challenge Part 5: What's On The Menu?

 I'll be updating this post to keep track of the menu and work on the math.  Stay tuned.

So far this is pretty good eating, I'm not hungry, I met my calorie needs and I did not spend a lot for today.

The worst part of my day was three hours of National Career Readiness Certification testing at unemployment, which I had to do. It was ACT crap-locating information, applied mathematics and reading for information. They give you a rating and the rating you get on your certificate is not what you did well on, but what you did least well on. Quote: "The lowest level of your NCRC test assessment is the certificate level you have achieved." What if you're a dyslexic but you have a PhD, or in my case a Master's in Laws?

The rotten pricks.


B: Coffee-toast-one pink grapefruit (a bargain at 6 for $2.99)

L: Salad, dressed with olive oil and cider vinegar, ginger ale.

D: Two egg burritos with Herdez green chile salsa.


B. Coffee, toast, one pink grapefruit

L. Salad.

D. Lo mein (stir fried noodles) (veganesque with scalions, onion, ginger, garlic and jalapenos)


B: Coffee and a bagel

L. Skipped

D. Spaghetti with marinara and some chipotle puree I had in the fridge.

As a point of information for busy people, it makes sense to cook up a pound or so of pasta, rice, or similat carbos, rinse and drain it and stash it in the fridge. Then it's no work at all to use that as a foundation for some curry, lo mein, or fried rice. But someone mentioned more or less "How do you expect busy people to take the time to prepare food from scratch for the kids, if they gotta work and stuff, smartypants?"

The answer is, you don't have to. You can buy Banquet frozen entrees-the cheap stuff-and throw it in the microwave. Or Lean Cuisine. Or Healthy Choice. Or Stouffer's Or Marie Callenders' if you're blowing the budget.

But you won't eat well or even economically.

Cooking isn't that difficult. It's just something you have to do, and it isn't that hard.

When the kids are at school and the kids are telling how they got taken to Burger King or the Clown's your young folk can say with a measure of pride "My dad cooks for me. And I help. And we eat dinner as a family and talk about our day and how it went."

Monday, May 11, 2015

Food Stamp Challenge Part 4: Back On The Case

After some consideration of the finances and the available offerings on the market the Dragon Lady and I settled on a particular Whirlpool model fridge. Shopping for the best price and ready availability we ended up with the Lowes people who had one in local stock. With a five year service contract, tax, and several other bells and whistles we did not need like the ice maker (no water line), a few bags of ice were purchased, the perishables that were worth saving were transferred to the cooler and the delivery men arrived on time. It's a 22 cu/ft model and I believe our previous unit was an 18 cu/ft model as this one's slightly larger overall. Whatever. It's proof positive that you can put eight pounds of shit in a five pound bag if you work at it.

The standard cutout has changed over the years so in a kitchen like ours you only get so much room to play with, and we just barely made it. The top scrunches the cabinet where I keep my cookbooks but I was informed that when the insulation is installed the refrigerator tends to pooch out a little and that's where my "available" 1/2 inch went to.

So the $41 Food Stamps Challenge rolls forward starting this afternoon.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Food Stamp Challenge Part Three: Entropy Steps In.

After day one was successfully concluded, The Dragon Lady requested a Klondike Bar from her side of the fridge. It felt awful squishy, and that's about when I found out that the Amana that I'd done battle with here back in 2009 had more or less downed tools and gone on strike.

It still sort of works enough so I won't lose too much grub, but I will have to fill up the cooler with ice for the changeover which is going to happen tomorrow if all the auguries remain in place and the chicken entrails divine correctly.

A little shopping around and some heated words with mi esposa and we arrived at a conclusion and a price that saved us some cash. Lowe's had the model and make we wanted, in stock in the store, on sale, with an extra five per  cent off for applying for and using a Lowe's credit card and free delivery and removal of the old clunker. The extended warranty was relatively inexpensive and we got out the door for a couple hundred bucks less than anywhere else.

It pays to shop around.

Once we've got things under control, the project resumes. Until then stay tuned.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Food Stamp Challenge, Part 2: Dougloid Goes Shopping And Gears Up For Some Fine Dining

After a little thinking about this project I decided that you can't live on a budget without doing some basic meal planning. That, in turn, will dictate what you buy and how much of it.

The project starts with tonight's supper.

The idea of planning meals is anathema to most of us who have the money, but when you've got a budget to work with, planning is in order if you want to get the best nutritional and tasteful bang for your buck

I was thinking, I'm going to make some fideo because I've always wanted to try it, and this seemed like a good opportunity. Another thing to keep in mind is that some of these things are likely to be on hand and some things you buy will last a lot longer than a week. So I was thinking, fideo tonight,  stir fry lo mein tomorrow and Wednesday, spaghetti Thursday, huevos rancheros or Texas style beans on Friday, Saturday channah masala with rice, and Sunday chicken thighs.

I started with the assumption that a person with no assets and no income would be entitled to $194.00 a month, which when divided by 4.3 comes out to $46.19 per week. So I dug out the above pictured $46.19 and headed off to the local super.

Of course, there are a few things that I already had on hand so I tried to account for them by adding their prices in like onions, bacon, coffee, milk, fruit and cold cereal which I had on hand.

So what happened? I overspent. That's what happened. The total tabulation is below.

$1.51 2 cans Star Kist light tuna in water
$1.99  Guerrero flour tortillas
$1.98  2 cans Hy-Vee bean with bacon condensed soup
$2.00  loaf of Old Home butter top white bread.
$1.80 2-2 liter bottles of store brand ginger ale
$0.83 1 can chickpeas
$1.88 2 pounds white rice
$2.69 store brand mayonnaise
$1.69 1 pound dried pinto beans
$2.99 8 oz olive oil
$1.99 2 pounds thin spaghetti
$1.43 store brand marinara sauce
$2.69 La Victoria green chile salsa
$0.69 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
$1.29 28 oz can of peeled tomatoes
$2.50 1 pack Sargento shredded Mexican cheese
$5.98 large pack of fresh chicken thighs (a bargain at $1.49 per pound)
$0.72 six fresh jalapenos
$1.38 two bunches of green onions
$1.79 bag of garden salad
$1.59 one dozen eggs, large

all of which adds up to $41.41.

In addition I have on hand
$3.50 1 pound of store brand bacon
$5.99 36 ounce package of frosted shredded wheat
$1.50 1 pound box of grits
$1.99  bag of onions
$0.50 2 heads of garlic
$0.79 1 bunch of fresh cilantro
$2.00 four apples
$1.59 container of cider vinegar
$1.39 stick of butter
$2.25 four ounces of coffee beans
$1.69 1/2 gallon 2% milk.

and the usual odds and ends usually found in a reasonably well stocked kitchen-salt, sugar, pepper, spices, no stick spray,.


So as you can see I overspent by about fifteen dollars. However, there are things we already have, and things that will last far beyond one week, so I am pretty close to being on target. I can't see demolishing a fairly substantial jar of mayo, 2 pounds of rice, a pound of dry beans and all those chicken thighs in one week.

It's an uncommonly large collection of good eating in store and I think the biggest problem will be consuming it all. Plus time in the kitchen is always well spent.

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 01, 2015

The Food Stamp Challenge: Seeing How The Other Half Lives

You all know that I've been talking about this for quite some time and I have decided to do it. The idea is, you take what the government will give you for food assistance and try to live within that limit for a week. The first thing I did was look up the maximum amount that a single person household is allowed per month, and that is $194 according to the USDA. Dividing that by 4.3 and assuming no income at all, that comes out to $45.12 per week.

So if Gwyneth Paltrow was trying to make do on $29 a week she was shorting herself or didn't read the fine print. I'm going to be keeping track of this here. I figure the closer I can come to $29 per week, the more real it is going to be.

I really don't have any idea where this $29 figure came from because the State of New York directs you right to the $194 figure, so maybe Gwyneth Paltrow sent one of her flunkies out to shop and when asked, the figure of $29 was plucked out of the air as it were. I'm going by the numbers.

One aspect of this is access to a proper fairly priced source of supplies. I'm aware that some folks live in what is yclept a "food desert"-that is, an area where there are no decent, competitively priced food markets-only convenience stores and burger outlets- and thus, for folks who don't have transportation they are unable to access more efficient and better providers of grub.

The good news is on $45.12 a week I can afford some coffee and sugar. Since I will have to share that with the Dragon Lady, I'll simply deduct the cost of it from my allowance. A heaping tablespoon of beans weighs in at 0.3 ounces which means that half a pound of Verena street locally roasted beans are going to cost me $4.50 and I'll have plenty left over.

Another objective of this project is to do more than meet the basic need as the prison dietitians do. It is to craft dishes that are ample, attractive and tasty. I did some research on the cost of food in our prisons a few years back and they feed an inmate for between $0.65 and $1.20 per plate. Call that $4 per day. Nobody's living large behind the walls, people.

My mom did not have access to a car during the day, so she walked to one of two markets that were nearby, Dessel's and the Garden State Market-with her trusty shopping cart in tow. These things are available for about $25 new, shipped to your door but some folks are shutins or disabled to the extent that they can no longer walk the 2 or 3 miles it might take.

Parenthetically this has the makings of a grant application for community service groups to invest in a slightly elderly airport van so as to provide transportation for those who need it.

For those who are mobile, and unafraid of the folks they may meet on the street Shank's mare is good transport. If I live through this coming week I may try that as well.

The first thing I've got to do is do some meal planning and making sure I have the right equipment, i.e. tupperware. Stay tuned.