Monday, March 30, 2009

Olga's Mexican Desserts

This past Sunday I hosted an open house to give my friend Olga an opportunity to showcase her amazing repetoire of Mexican desserts. I have traveled extensively through Mexico and eaten a lot of Mexican desserts and hers are the finest I've ever had.

I've already placed an order for the tres leches cake for my son's birthday party in May (we'll probably forgo the pink frosting, but I can't say he minded it - he helped himself to two slices!) and I'm trying to plan some other occasion as soon as possible as an excuse to enjoy her perfect flan.

Below are just a few of her offerings and she will soon post a price list. If you'd like to have your own sublime experience and order something from her, just let me know.

The table wouldn't even hold all the desserts she made!

This cake was amazing - I had never had it before. She calls it a "cake flan" - there is chocolate cake on the bottom, a thick, rich chocolate flan and a carmel topping. This was the favorite of my friend's almost-fourteen-year old daughter and will be featured at her birthday party.

This is a peach and strawberry cheesecake - but it's lighter than our cheesecakes. Much lighter. My husband said it was more like a mousse and I think he's right.

Ah, and the tres leches cake. That means "3 milks" - evaporated, condensed and cream - and I've never met a citizen of the northern united states (Mexico and Canada have united states of america, too, you know) who have ever tried this cake and not been astounded by it. It is unlike any cake you get commercially in our 50 states - the moistness is astounding - and you simply must try it if you never have!

She made two flans. This was the mocha.

And this is the chocolate. I had never seen flan prepared in a cake shape and marveled that she could get the cake pans in a water bath. The flan had a lovely creamy, silky texture and was just perfect. (I have been known to make a seriously good flan myself, and these were better.)

And, finally, the Pina Colada cheesecake, that almost didn't fit on our table - coconut, pineapple and a texture that, again, was more like a mousse than our traditionally heavy cheesecakes. Again, you have to try them!

What's Cooking 3.30-4.5

It's freezer week at our home! I mentioned in my Friday post that our freezer is packed with meals I've made over the last month and now it is time to enjoy them. I must say it was very nice to make very quick trips to two stores because I was running short on time this morning. I decided to forgo a trip to Amazing Savings for our pricey whole foods store because it would also help save time and I knew it wouldn't break the budget to buy all our produce (local and/or organic) and dairy (organic milk and sour cream) there.

I spent $32.96 in total this week - $30.86 at Earth Fare and $2.10 at Aldi for 2 jars of spaghetti sauce. I would not have gone to Aldi at all, but it's right by my bank, where I had to go anyway, and the sauce is quite good and a very good value.

My grand total for food this month was $239.73 - $80 under my goal of $320 a month - and that is after I decided to go back to all organic and local produce. I feel so confident about my ability to get in under budget that I plan to buy all organic and local - for everything - next month, taking up Crunchy Chicken's challenge to buy sustainable on a budget. More on that next week!

Here's what we're eating this week:

Curried Split Peas
Brown Rice
Mashed Sweet Potatoes


Slow Cooker Spinach Lasagna (from freezer)
Green Salad

Tunisian Vegetables (from freezer, but see recipe below)
Whole Wheat Couscous

Pizza with homemade crust and sauce
Soy Sausage and Roasted Peppers and Onions
Spinach Salad

Ground Turkey Shepherd's Pie (from freezer)
Spinach Salad

Roasted Pumpkin Soup (from freezer)
Homemade Whole Wheat Rolls

Once again, from the fantastic Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, a lovely stew that makes an ideal quick meal that is flavorful, healthful and economical!

Tunisian Vegetable Stew
Total time: 30 minutes
Serves 4

1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups thinly sliced cabbage
dash of salt
1 large green pepper, cut into thin strips
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
3 cups undrained canned tomatoes, chopped (28-ounce can)
1 1/2 cups drained cooked chick peas (16-ounce can)
1/3 cup currants or raisins
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt to taste
Grated Feta Cheese
Toasted slivered almonds (optional)

In a large skillet, saute the onions in the olive oil for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the cabbage, sprinkle with salt, and continue to saute for at least 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the bell pepper and spices to the skillet and saute for another minute or so. Stir in the tomatoes, chick peas, and currants or raisins, and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are just tender. Add the lemon juice and salt to taste.

Top with feta, and toasted almonds if you like. Serve on couscous or another grain of your choice.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

In the Swing

My parents wanted to buy my son an outdoor play set for his fourth birthday. We knew friends had acquired a nice one at Lowe's (a big box hardware store) and a few weeks ago we went to price one. The simplest "kit" (with a couple of swings, a tower thing and a slide) cost $1500 - and that's unassembled. To have it assembled by the good folks at Lowe's would cost over $2100. I saw those prices and walked promptly out of the store.

I thought we would happily make do with our neighborhood playground, but then I realized that we had quite a few neighbors who had play sets and children who had grown up and perhaps no longer fancied so much time on the swings.

I called the neighbor with whom I am closest and asked if we could buy their play set. She immediately said they would love it if we just *take it* because it had been years since their children used it and they would like to plant some fruit trees in its place.

She refused payment but I managed to talk her into a gift card for our local whole foods grocery store as a token of our gratitude. And another friend broke down the set and put it up in our backyard for a very reasonable sum.

So instead of paying a small fortune to the big box store who cuts down trees in China for their play sets, we were able to give an 8-year-old play set a new life with a very grateful child *and* support our local economy with my parents' gift.

We have played on that set every day over the last week and we've already hosted lots of other children to share the wonderful gift. Below are pictures of G (aka Spiderman) and two of his favorite playmates - of whom he commonly asks, "Are they my sisters or my girlfriends?" I suppose we still have plenty of time to figure that out.

This week I'm rejoicing in the simple pleasures of a swing set.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Food Waste for the Week

No waste again this week. I'm definitely getting the hang of the challenge of preventing food waste and so is my husband. Today is the day when the least appetizing of our leftovers remain to be eaten and my wonderful husband, again, managed to eat the very-least appetizing before I got home for lunch. He said he had to use a lot of fresh Parmesan to make them palatable and I appreciate his willingness and his resourcefulness.

I might decide to build in two leftovers nights - one at the beginning of the week (Tuesday) and one at the end (Saturday) because we still have a surplus even when we eat leftovers every day for lunch. Our freezer is now full of leftovers - from weeks ago - and I will plan to defrost them for some evening meals next week.

I also have an elderly neighbor who I occasionally give a portion of our meals and I will ask her if she'd like to be a regular recipient and that would also be a viable solution to the overflow.

Overall, I remain very pleased with this challenge.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Creating an Edible Front Yard

I stumbled onto a new favorite blog, The Food Renegade, and in the interest of joining Kristen M's Friday blog carnival I am inspired to write a little more about how we created our edible front yard.

When we moved into our home 11 years ago the front yard was lush with grass. It looked fine, but I quickly came to resent it because the act of mowing the steep hills was more than a little life threatening.

Here's a picture of it from back in the day:

Our back yard is tree-filled and shady and I dreamed for years of transforming the front into an edible garden but felt overwhelmed by the time, cost and energy that such a project would entail. Finally, in the spring of 2007, we had an economic windfall and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it: hire folks to help me plan and create an edible garden.

Fortunately, my child's labor was free but I paid almost $1500 for other labor and materials.

The raised bed is essential because the soil was in very poor condition and required quite a bit of amendment to support the 8 blueberry bushes and strawberry plants. Those plants, along with the other herbs I planted - rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme and marjoram - are now thriving.

Here is a picture of what the garden looks like today:

You can click on the picture for a larger view: off to the left is a large rosemary plant and the rest of the plants in front of the raised bed are mostly flowering plants. The bottom row has the blueberry bushes and strawberry plants.

Here is a close-up picture of a blueberry bush with sweet little buds:

And here is a close-up of the raised bed garden.

This is what it looked like last year in early summer:

We get loads of tomatoes and cucumbers by training them up the trellises. And we get glorious greens from the rest of the available plot:

Here my son proudly displayed a lovely cucumber before it was unceremoniously plucked off the vine and crunched in his mouth.

We have enjoyed our garden so much. It is definitely worth every bit of effort: I love to look at it year round and the benefits are too many to count. To me the greatest benefit is that my son knows where real food comes from.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What's Cooking 3.23-3.29

It was a great shopping day - I bought only local or organic produce and came way under my *dream* budget of $80! I spent $31.31 at Amazing Savings on the produce and $25.94 at Aldi, for a grand total of $58.38. I had to plan our menus carefully to use up lentils, brown rice, and other grains we already have in the pantry and that helped keep the cost low. Knowing that we are eating well and cheaply based on choices that rely on sustainable farming practices is just fantastic.

Here's what we're eating this week:

Kusherie (Egyptian Lentils)
Green Salad


Fusilli, Swiss Chard and Garbanzo Beans (recipe below)
Green Salad

Potato Leek Soup with Pesto (using pesto stored in my freezer from my garden last summer)
Homemade Whole Wheat Rolls

Pizza with homemade sauce and dough
Roasted Onions and Peppers
Spinach Salad

Sweet Potato Quesadillas (recipe provided last week, but we didn't have them because my parents surprised us with a visit and treated us to dinner)
Steamed Broccoli

Butternut Squash and Chickpea Stew
Spinach Salad

Fusilli with Swiss Chard and Garbanzo Beans (and optional bacon)
I have some bacon in the fridge so I will cook a few slices to flavor the dish, but I don't miss the flavor if it's not on hand.

Total time: 25 minutes
Serves 4

12 oz. whole wheat fusilli or rotini pasta
1 bunch Swiss Chard (1 lb.), tough ends trimmed
1 slice bacon, cut into 1/2 inch wide strips (or 2 Tbsp. of olive oil if not using bacon)
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed (I usually add more)
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 cups of cooked garbanzo beans/chick peas (I prepare mine from dried or use 1 15 oz. can)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Grated Parmesan cheese if using bacon (optional, but very tasty)
Crumbled Feta cheese if not using bacon (again, optional but very tasty)

1. Heat large covered pot of water to boiling on high. Add salt and pasta and cook as label directs.
2. Meanwhile, cut ribs and stems from Swiss chard leaves. Cut ribs and stems into 1-inch pieces; cut leaves into 2-inch pieces. Rinse Swiss chard in large bowl of cold water;swish to remove any dirt. Transfer chard to colander. Do not spin dry.
3. In 12-inch nonstick skillet, cook bacon on medium-high until browned, stirring occasionally. With slotted spoon, transfer bacon to tea towel to drain. Reduce heat to medium. To bacon fat in skillet (or a couple of tablespoons of olive oil) add garlic and crushed red pepper; cook 30 seconds stirring constantly. Add Swiss chard, beans, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook 2 minutes or until chard begins to wilt. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes longer or until stems are tender-crisp.
4. Drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water. Return pasta to pot. Stir in Swiss chard mixture and lemon juice until combined. If mixture seems dry, add reserved cooking water. Top with optional Parmesan or Feta cheese.

Recipe adapted from Good Housekeeping magazine.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Girls' Night

I've mentioned before how dear my girlfriends are to me and I treasure our time together. Before my son was born I hosted regular girls' nights at my home. Since his arrival, time with my friends is at such a premium that I've chosen to gather them regardless of how their chromosomes align.

Last night was supposed to be a co-ed affair, but then one of the xy's couldn't make it and my husband, realizing he was going to be in the minority, graciously accepted an invitation to my parents' home. My boys were treated like kings and my girlfriends and I got to be queens.

Here we are holding court.

Of course, it wouldn't be an evening with my girls if things didn't get a little silly.

And then, to my great delight, we got a little jiggy with it.

We had so much fun we're already planning our next two nights out: to a karoke bar (one of our friends is like a human juke box and I'm anxious to see her in a more fitting milieu) and Pigeon Forge. I've never been to Dollywood but one of my friends says that once you go you will feel unbelievably skinny and attractive.

This week, once again, I'm rejoicing in my girlfriends.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Food Waste for the Week

No waste again this week. I think I'm getting the hang of this. I froze a large portion of the chili earlier this week and thus prevented the dreaded leftover fatigue of past weeks.

I love how this challenge has changed my habits: I wasn't so keen on menu planning in the past and I would buy items that looked good, that I thought I could pull into a meal, but often did not, creating waste.

I also had no compunction when it came to throwing out a less-than-prime piece of fruit - I could easily justify it by saying that the chickens would eat it. But this week I saw a soft spot on a grapefruit and instead of throwing it out (our chickens have never loved citrus anyway), I simply cut out the spot and we enjoyed it with dinner.

And finally, it has compelled me to stick to my menu plan. My husband and I were both tired last night and in the past I would have opted for take-out burritos or something. But I knew I had some chard that was going south and if I didn't use it quickly, it would go to waste. So I fixed the meal - in less time than it would have taken to get take-out - and I felt bolstered, by the good meal and the virtue of not wasting food or money, too.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Passing on the Gift

I’ve written earlier about how my husband and I know we are wealthy: we spend less than we make and we try to be good stewards of our resources. We are grateful for our good fortune and we're happy to share it with others.

Physician-philosopher-humanitarian Albert Schweitzer once said, “The only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

Last month I promised to write about my favorite charity for the March blog carnival at APLS (Affluent People Living Sustainably). I had forgotten about this commitment until last week when I gathered up our tax documents, which include records of our charitable donations – most notably to my favorite organization, Heifer International.

Heifer mainly assists communities across the globe through training and gifts of livestock. A family will be given a goat or a cow, for example, and the support they need to raise the animal successfully.

The animal provides milk that benefits the family’s diet directly and is also sold at market for other goods and services. The money made from the sales often makes it possible for the children to get schooling that would otherwise be too costly.

Another unique aspect of Heifer International is "passing on the gift," which is a great approach to ending poverty and establishing sustainability for many generations. Everyone who receives a gift from Heifer – be it a cow or a goat, a hive of bees, tree saplings or veterinary skills – signs a contract, agreeing to pass on what they have been given, like their animals' offspring, to someone else in need.

Heifer reports that their families expand their service beyond the three years Heifer works with them. The communities often establish micro-credit, dairy and grain cooperatives, make sure every child is educated, bring women into leadership roles, establish partnerships, and continuously find ways to insure prosperity.

In the thank you letter I receive from Heifer for my donation, they write, “Every gift you give helps create permanent solutions to poverty and hunger for children and families around the world.” That says it all.

If you’d like to find out more and donate, please go to Heifer International's website.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What's Cooking 3.16-3.22

It was an interesting shopping day: I've decided I will only buy organic or local (and hopefully both) produce when I can. I used to shop only at one or the other of our expensive whole foods markets, Earth Fare or Green Life, and only bought organic and locally produced food and spent between $150-300 a week.

I wanted to decrease our food budget in order to meet some other savings goals and went to discount grocery stores to do that. I succeeded at slashing our food costs, but I didn't feel *that* great about it. I just can't jibe the savings with my values. The practices of factory farms are not sustainable and I know the "savings" come with a cost to the environment that I am not willing to pay.

Luckily, we have a discount grocery store, Amazing Savings, that sells organic and locally produced food for 50-75% less than the other markets, but it is across town and much less convenient to get to, and their stock is often quite random. It can be frustrating to drive all the way out there and find they don't have organic spinach (like today) or some other item I was hoping to buy.

But I decided I will roll with the challenges and make the best of it,

I spent $60.90 at Amazing Savings for almost all our produce (sans the spinach), ground turkey (for my omnivorous friends who are coming to our home for a party this Saturday night), eggs and milk (all organic and locally produced). They also had a good price on automatic dish detergent (2.99 for 75 ounces), but there was only one box (you often get the feeling that some of their stuff has just fallen off a truck), so I won't count on that deal again. I spent $12.48 at Earth Fare for bulk bulghur, couscous, peanut butter and grapes (all organic). And then $17.46 at Aldi for other staples like butter and cans of beans (I forgot to soak beans last night for tonight's chili). All for a grand total of $90.84.

I am surprised that I just went a little over $10 for my *dream* budget of $80 a week for food - and that includes all organic produce, dairy, and meat for a party this week! Since I spent less than $60 last week, I think I can still come in under $320 for this month if I am careful. That makes me very happy.

Here's what we're eating this week:

Red, Gold, Black and Green Chili
Corn Scones

Tuesday: I'm in the hospital for my 24-hour shift and we've found that leftovers work great on this day.

Sweet Potato Quesadillas (recipe below)
Roasted Broccoli and Garlic

West African Groundnut Stew
Whole Wheat Couscous

Pizza with homemade crust and sauce
topped with Roasted Broccoli, Peppers and Onions
Spinach Salad

Saturday: Games Night with Friends!
Ground Turkey Shepherd's Pie (This is a very kid-friendly recipe that I will jazz up with Southwestern chili spices.)
Green Salad

Spicy Bell Pepper Frittata
Spinach Salad
Homemade Whole Wheat Rolls

A couple of the meals this week come from the Moosewood Restaurant website. I decided since I'm promoting the restaurant in this manner, I can take the liberty of publishing one of the recipes from their Moosewood Restaurant Cooks At Home cookbook, one of my favorites. We have prepared this dish countless times over the last 16 years and we never tire of it.

Sweet Potato Quesadillas
Take about 20 minutes to make
Serves 4

1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (1 medium)
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I always use less)
4 cups grated peeled sweet potato (about 3 medium potatoes)
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
generous pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

8 tortillas (8- to 10-inch), preferably whole wheat
your favorite salsa
sour cream

Saute the onions and garlic in the oil until the onions are translucent. Add the grated sweet potatoes, oregano, chili powder, cumin, cayenne and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. When the sweet potato is tender, add salt and pepper to taste and remove the filling from the heat. Spread one-eighth of the filling and 2 tablespoons of the cheese on each tortilla. Fold the plain half of the tortilla over the filling. Cook the filled tortillas in the heated skillet (as many as you can fit in your pan) and cook each side for 2 or 3 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the filling is hot. Add more oil to the skillet if necessary, and cook the remaining quesadillas. (Keep the cooked quesadillas in the oven while you cook the remaining batches.)

Serve topped with the salsa and sour cream.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Choosing Peace

At some point I'm going to have to change my profile and let newcomers know that there is a point to the rather eclectic offerings contained within my blog: they offer insights into what makes me happy. On Sundays I try to comment on something for which I am particularly grateful, something upon which I can rejoice (my "word for the year").

I had another week full of quotidian joys. I even managed to squeeze in 3 birthday celebrations (in the same day!) with dear friends. It's easy to feel happy when all the good stuff is happening. It takes some effort to feel happy when what you are faced with something that is not so pleasant.

This week I had a pretty challenging phone conversation with my father. He wants his grandson vaccinated. My husband and I decided not to vaccinate for many reasons and after sharing the evidence upon which we based our decision, my father still believes that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.

It became obvious rather quickly in our discussion that I was not going to convince him that I was "right", nor was he going to convince me that I was "wrong". He was frustrated and angry. I was upset, too. I got off the phone and wondered how we were going to feel better if we were not going to be able to agree.

Oncologist Bernie Siegel wrote in his wonderful book, Love, Medicine and Miracles, that in any difficult situation - especially one in which people hold widely divergent beliefs - one can always choose peace or conflict. (I read this book almost 20 years ago, but I always remembered it because he told the story of sharing this point with family and in response to the question, "Do you want peace or do you want conflict?" his young daughter immediately responded, "I want pizza!")

So I reminded myself that my dad was expressing concern for my son's well being. I don't have to agree with him on the vaccination issue to appreciate his concern.

Shortly after our phone conversation I told my dad that I am very grateful that he shares my desire that my son be healthy. And somehow just sharing my gratitude made the situation better.

This week I'm rejoicing in choosing peace over conflict.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Food Waste for the Week

Another good week in our household: no waste! We almost had an issue with a huge batch of lasagna, but luckily a friend came over for lunch yesterday and seemed happy enough to help us with the leftovers. I need to make a practice of setting aside and freezing a few servings when I double a recipe. I want there to be leftovers - but not *so much* so that we will find them unappetizing by the end of the week. Better to freeze some of it and then reheat another week, when we need something in a pinch.

Monday, March 9, 2009

What's Cooking 3.9-3.15

Today I spent $8.21 at Earth Fare, our whole foods market, because I needed to get thyme (they have a nice selection of bulk herbs and they cost far less and use less packaging than buying the bottles of spices somewhere else) and they had a sale on organic apples (.87/lb) and bananas (.59/lb) and vegetable broth. (I really should make my own broth, but considering I make almost all of our food from scratch, I give myself a break with broth. But I am currently making a note to save veggie scraps over the next week to attempt homemade.)

I spent $13.28 at Sav-Mor, a local discount grocery store. They have carts at the front with seriously marked-down items. I usually don't stop to look because they are often filled with stuff we don't eat, but today I was happily surprised to see that they were selling boxes of (12) organic ice cream cones for .49! These same boxes cost almost $5 at Earth Fare and my son loves to offer ice cream cones to his friends when they visit (and rarely asks for one for himself alone) and just yesterday a friend was over and there was only one cone left and he said, "Olive can have the cone, Mommy. I'll have ice cream in a bowl." So I would pay full price to support that kind of generosity, but as luck would have it, I think it is being rewarded another way. There are some grocery items that Aldi doesn't carry, like whole wheat pasta, eggplants and ricotta cheese, so I picked those up, too.

Then for the bulk of my shopping I spent $35.52 at Aldi. My grand total was $57.01. Still more than $20 under what I thought would be the impossible goal of $80. I really considered buying some items - like chicken tenderloins that were on sale at Sav-Mor for $1.87/lb - but I just couldn't. We still have some chicken (not much, but enough for one meal) in our freezer and since I can see that I can consistently spend under $80 a week for food (even when I stocked up on staples like flour and sugar this week), I don't think I have to watch sales on meat, especially since we rarely eat it.

At this rate I feel that I can buy more of our vegetables from local and organic sources and not break the budget - especially since our farmer's markets should be opening soon. And, of course, my weekly CSA share will start in May. Hooray for Spring!

Slow Cooker Spinach Lasagna
Green Salad

I'm back in the hospital for my 24-hour shift and there will be plenty of leftovers from the lasagna to cover us for today.

Black Bean Tacos with Roasted Peppers and Onions
Crudites (raw broccoli, cherry tomatoes and carrots)
with Homemade Ranch Dressing Dipping Sauce

Tangy Twice-Baked Potatoes
Spinach Salad (with slices of hard-boiled eggs to boost the protein content of the meal)

Pizza with homemade sauce and crust
Roasted Peppers and Pepperoni
Spinach Salad

Roasted Pumpkin Soup
Homemade Croutons

Ratatouille (classic French stew with eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers)
Creamy Polenta

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Including Moderation

One of my favorite sayings is "Everything in moderation - including moderation." I *usually* practice thrift and enjoy simple pleasures. But sometimes - especially around birthdays - I like to go over the top a bit.

This week I'm rejoicing in excess.

It was D's birthday on Tuesday: It all started with a simple - almost frugal - banana cake.

Then on Wednesday my parents took us to dinner at D's choice of restaurants - an adorable French bistro. I got a peek at the bill for the evening's revelry and it exceed what I spent on food for my family last month. Sacre Bleu! C'est magnifique!

And then Friday night we had a party with D's friends - and another cake, of course.

And what a cake it was! Our friend couldn't be bothered with a fork and opted to inhale it. (She made me promise I wouldn't post this picture on Facebook. I've kept to the letter of the law, if not the spirit. :)

My parents were back this evening to look after the kids so the adults could have a little more ribald (and I mean ribald!) fun, but after several hours they had to go home and G got to indulge in his favorite past-time - telling jokes, of course!

As you can see, he had the crowd in stitches. I think he's going to be responsible for the return of vaudeville.

It's a good thing we have a couple of months before our next birthday extravaganza - G's 4th! - and the Taqueria truck rolls into our driveway once again. I think we will have recovered by then.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Food Waste for the Week

The Crunchy Chicken's Food Waste Challenge officially ended in February, so I won't use her image anymore for my Food Waste Fridays - but I did find this lovely poster from the Google image archives. Even though this image is nearly 100 years old it is still relevant today. It can serve as a reminder that adequate food sources are still unavailable to large parts of world's population. I am grateful for the plentiful food that is available to my family. I don't take it for granted and I certainly don't want to waste it. Here's how we did this week:

Fortunately, we had another no food waste week in our household. This week we have a rather unusual challenge - we celebrated my husband's birthday this week and have an abundance of sweets to eat if we don't want to have any waste next week. Again, I know this is what can only be considered a "high class" problem. :)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Banana Birthday Cake (Or What to Do When Bananas Are on Sale)

If you look at the picture from my shopping trip yesterday (you can click on it to get a larger view), you will see that I bought a pile of very ripe bananas. My store was selling them in bags for 99 cents each. I weighed one and it was over 4 pounds, which means I spent less than 25 cents per pound - a very good price for bananas. I thought I would puree and freeze them and use them in smoothies or banana bread.

I am already planning to make my husband a birthday cake (a very decadent chocolate, his favorite) for his party this Friday, but last night my son and I were talking about D's birthday the next day and he said, "And we're going to have a cake with a candle in it!" Anticipating future events is not his forte (when we talked about D's birthday he said, "Isn't it my birthday tomorrow?" and when I told him it was in two months he said, "No, I think it's in one month."), so I realized that I needed to think quick and bake a cake today because he just would not understand celebrating a birthday without a cake. (Not a bad problem to have!)

I thought of all the bananas and how I planned to puree and freeze them today and decided to make a banana cake. After reviewing quite a few recipes I chose the one that included the most bananas (four) in the mix. I already had all the ingredients - including buttermilk that I bought for pancakes a couple of weeks ago and was hoping to use up this week - so the cost to make this cake was less than a dollar.

The person who posted the recipe says that it will also make great muffins and bread: That was enough encouragement for me to puree all of the bananas in batches of 4, seal them in bags, and store them in the freezer until the next time we want a yummy treat.

The recipe calls for 8 inch round pans, but I used 9 inch because I wanted the layers to be thinner and provide more surface area for the delicious chocolate frosting. :) If you follow my example you should shorten the cooking time to around 25 minutes (but it depends on your oven - take the pans out when the cake is slightly browned and pulls away from the pan).

Happy Birthday, D! We love you!

Monday, March 2, 2009

What's Cooking 3.2-3.8

Last week I only spent $47.54 for my weekly food plan, but I knew I would probably end up spending more for food since my friend was coming to town and I wanted to treat her to a meal out. I took her and my son to lunch on Friday and we happily spent $25.21 and then I ended up at our whole foods market and spent $4.05 to buy a French batard to make the garlic bread for our dinner that evening with my girlfriends. (The morning got away from me and I forgot to make it from scratch.) Those expenses brought my total for the week to $76.80 - still $3.20 under my budget goal of $80. Hooray!

Here's what I bought this week:

I spent $38.60 at Aldi and $43.64 at Ingles, our local grocery store (including almost $20 on beer for my husband's birthday party on Friday!), for a total of $82.24 - $2.24 over my goal of $80 per week, but this week completes the February challenge where I pledged to spend $80 a week or $320 for the month. Combining all my food expenses for the month yields a grand total of $290.81 - $29.19 under my goal! And that amount covered the food to host a friend at our home for several days and two parties. I am surprised and delighted. (Remember I used to spend $150-400 a week on food.)

I will try to continue to spend only $80 a week, but I depleted my freezer and pantry over the last month and $80-100 is probably a more feasible goal. Still, I am so grateful for my experience this last month - it was a great challenge to plan meals that would be satisfying and thrifty and learn that we really could live cheerfully on less. I'm also very happy that my new consciousness around food buying and preparation has led to a couple of weeks of no food waste and the hope that there will be many more.

Here is what we're eating this week:

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burritos
Spinach Salad

Cassoulet (A classic French bean and veggie casserole)
Homemade Garlic Knots
Spinach Salad

D's Birthday Dinner Out!
(My parents' treat!)

Vegetarian "Sloppy Joes"
Homemade Whole Wheat Rolls
Sweet Potato Oven "Fries"
Green Salad

D's Birthday Party with Friends!
3 Pizzas:
Pepperoni, Sausage, Onion and Green Peppers (homemade red sauce)
White Pizza with Roasted Winter Vegetables
Portabello Mushroom-Pesto (from homegrown basil, prepared and stored in freezer last summer)
Green Salad
Homemade Chocolate Stout Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

Monastery Style Lentils (with carrots and tomatoes)
Brown Rice

Broccoli Quiche with Shredded Potato Crust

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Other Gold

When I was a child my mom taught me a song that we would sing in rounds: "Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold."

This week I am rejoicing in my gold friends.

One in particular stayed with me this week. We were great friends in our last year of high school (a school I attended only for that one year) and did fairly well keeping in touch through the college years and in our twenties, but then we lost contact over the last 9 years. Another friend from a different high school (but a friend we shared) died last fall and the giant take-home message for me is that I want to try harder to nurture the relationships with my far-flung friends.

This week my friend made it easy for me by carving time out of her busy schedule, traveling thousands of miles and adapting herself quickly to daily life in my family. My son welcomed her at the start, but adored her by the end. On the first day he asked, "What is your friend doing?" On the second day he asked, "Can our friend make transformers?" and on the morning after she left he ran to our guest room and looked at the now-empty bed and asked , "Where did my friend go?"

It was a great joy to see my dear childhood friend and my child enjoy each other so much. They played, she taught him to shoot marbles, and they told each other silly jokes. My son: "What did the chicken say to the man?" My friend, "I don't know. What did the chicken say to the man?" Him: "Hey! You ate my donut!" Her: "What do you get when you drop a piano down a mineshaft?" Him: "I don't know. What do you get?" Her:"A flat minor." And that would go on and on and on, to all of our great delight.