ON FRUGALITY (WEEK 1 RECAP)

February 12, 2015

Oh, hello!

I think a lot of people would argue that February is the most garbage month of them all in New York. (I actually think it’s March, but that’s because I’m an accountant.)

I usually try to make February even worse by abstaining from something I like (wine, dairy) just to see if I can. I feel like this year I have all my food and drink ducks in a row, so I’ve decided to team up with my gal pal Nora Wolf this year on what she calls “Month of Austerity” and on what i’m calling “FRUGAL FEBRUARY” because I like alliteration.

Here is Nora and me with our pups and her boo this New Year’s Eve!

(AMAZING ASIDE THEY MET AT MY CHRISTMAS PARTY LAST YEAR).

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Basic rule: Don’t buy anything other than cook-at-home food. No booze or meals out (unless it’s for work). No clothes. No makeup. No cabs. (We both are taking exceptions for special occasions. Nora: ski trip. Me: Dad’s birthday).

Since this whole thing was Nora’s doing I asked her a little bit about her history with Month of Austerity and what it means to her, and I think that a lot of the things she pointed out as the benefits of taking a spending break are really true for me as well.

1. Choice Fatigue –  “I remember when I was not making much money and trying to scrape by after college and there was a certain freedom from decision making. Should I get those pants? How many dinners out can I take this month? (During month of austerity) the answer was always no, none, you cannot do any of those things. I didn’t have to think about it.”

YES. Budgeting is goddamned exhausting. It’s really nice to just shut all that off for 28 days.

2. Clothes Horse – Nora has one of the best best closets/shoe collections of anyone I know. She says Month of Austerity helps her cull that collection, “No new clothes, and I usually purge some pieces from the closet for resale or giveaway.” I am SERIOUSLY in need of new clothes, but giving myself this month to really figure out what I want/need keeps me from impulse buying 10 new fringed kimonos. I’m also having a clothing swap at my house this weekend to see if I can get any must haves for freesie, and i’ll be able to get rid of a huge bag of awesome togs to babes I personally know so I know they’re going to a loving home.

3. In/Out – I think I am for sure more of a homebody than Nora. She is really good at finding the best dance parties/square dances/art things to go to. But she lets February be a down time for her, “I don’t eat out so I have more people over for homemade meals. When I saw dating I usually took a break from dating.” I definitely have been cooking at home so much more. I lapsed a little this week for a couple perfect beers out this week with a friend, but then had her back to my place for homemade meatballs, so that balances out.  I have been on dating hiatus for a while, so i’ll just keep using Frugal February as an excuse!

Here’s what I bought last week that was outside of my weekly public transport budget and weekly grocery shop budget which i’ve bumped up to $75 because i’m cooking 90% of my meals at home!

Monday:

$20 – African Dance Class

$1.50 – Can of Black Beans for “I’m sad I didn’t eat Super Bowl snacks yesterday” homemade nachos

Tuesday:

Literally nothing! NO DOLLARS.

Wednesday:

$12.55 – I forgot my homemade lunch on the counter. This got me a pretty good bowl of rice, tandoori chicken, and spicy braised greens.

$15.00 in Quarters – Laundry. Having to pay to do the chore you hate the most is the crummiest.

Thursday:

$3.00 – Iced Coffee. I know i’m not supposed to buy coffee but it felt comparatively warm this morning and I really wanted this.

Friday:

$11 – A dozen Peter Pan donuts for a staff meeting. You’re welcome.

$30 via Venmo -To my little brother for gas and tolls to pick me up from my office and take me to NJ. This is somehow cheaper than a round-trip bus ticket, and I can bring back a bunch of heavy seltzer right to my Brooklyn door and he has big speakers so we can listen to a lot of hip hop very loud.

Saturday:

$13 – Coffees for my fam because I was up first.

$45 – Wine for my dad’s birthday after-party

$25 – This amazing steak.

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Sunday: ZIP. Zero dollars.

That’s $176.05, which feels pretty good. BUT I want to just check my privilege for a minute and note that that’s still a fair amount of discretionary spending.

I don’t know how professional cooks eat.

Seriously, aside from shoving a few eggplant donuts in my maw, and tasting a few things before they went out, I hardly ate this weekend as I prepped for our Supper Club.

There was a moment, a few hours before the event, that I called and begged Kate to bring us anything to eat that wasn’t what we were serving. The three of us then housed sesame bagels from Dunkin Donuts standing up because that’s what was closest. (I am actually remembering it tasting awesome, but i’m sure I would have eaten pretty much anything in that moment.)

This is about 1/8 of the chard I prepped.

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You’d think after spending the entire weekend shopping, chopping, and cooking that I would want to not do any of those things for a while. BUT you would be wrong, because there must be something wrong with me. I found myself so, so HUNGRY and needing my own food. And to do that, i’d need to do the shopping/chopping/cooking.

The event was on Sunday, which threw off my farmer’s market/groceria game plan. I found myself getting out of my nutritionist’s appointment by 4pm, and got the green light to head home after work just after. I thought, “OH, I can go to Trader Joe’s before everyone gets out of work and everything will be quiet and beautiful.”

Obviously that was not the case. At any rate! I found that I had some goods like beans, eggs, and tomato sauce left from last week AND i’ll be out of town this weekend, so I felt like I was able to go for a couple more spendy items that will last a few weeks. I clocked in just under $50 for the following:

+ yellow miso

+ brussels sprouts

+ spaghetti squash

+ acorn squash

+ 2 sweet potatoes

+ crimini mushrooms

+ quinoa

+ canned pumpkin

+ bagged arugula

+ bagged kale

+ parmesan cheese

+ greek yogurt

+ organic ground beef

+ chicken sausage

+ canned tuna

PLANS:

+ bolognese with spaghetti squash

+ pumpkin quinoa cakes

+ mushroom parmesan quinoa cakes

+ roast veggies with miso dressing

+ brussels sprout hash with eggs and sausage

On cooking (a lot).

October 15, 2014

Hey creeps!

I cooked a bunch of tasty stuff last week! Good fall food!

On Sunday I made a pot of SAWCE and turkey meatballs to ladle over spaghetti squash.

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And then I put on my finest mesh crop top and rode my bike over to go see Sinkane and Helado Negro which was pretty much great. The air was crisp and there were tinsel dancers and Tecate. I’ve had the below on repeat pretty much since then.

Other tasty things I made:

+ Brussels Sprout Hash with fried eggs and amazing beet sausages from The Meat Hook (these were gifted to me, so back off.)

+ Coconut Curry!

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+ This boss pantry salad with chickpeas, tuna, chili, lemon, shredded carrot, and kale

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+ AND the winner of the week was definitely this pureed golden cauliflower that I set a tiny steak on top of. I just steamed a half a head of cauliflower, and whizzed it up with a pad of butter, salt, pepper and garlic. I may or may not have licked my plate.

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So then after that I worked with two amazing ladies to shop, prep, and cook a seated dinner for 18 people! And also snacks for like 20 bar guest.

It was amazing and exhausting. This menu, a take on a classic north east Sunday supper using Middle Eastern flavors, really pushed us to explore the city and put our fingers in spice bins. It was really great. I teared up as I set the tables because everything looked so godamned beautiful. I was pretty much too busy to take and pictures, but look upon these gorgeous pickles we made!

My absolute favorite were the carrots, pickled with cinnamon and cardamom.

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Summer, It Was Real.

October 5, 2014

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I spend so much time dreading the end of summer (and tomatoes) and then all of a sudden I wake up and it’s actually Fall and it’s so godamned good. I wore tights for the first time, begrudgingly, but then realized how much better my fall wardrobe is than my summer attire of tiny jorts. This morning I got up early and went for a long walk in my hood. The air was crisp, and I wore a favorite jacket and stopped after grocery shopping for a big ol’ latte. I saw my first dog sweater of the season and crunched some leaves. In the middle of writing this, I tried to take my A/C unit out of the window, but stopped, because my neighbors are on their porch and I don’t want to kill them. Good stuff, all around.

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My grocery shop and meal planning for the week is definitely reflecting the change in weather. Feeling psyched to make lots of roasty, warm food this week.

+ Cheapo Pro: At the farmer’s market, pretty frequently, for ease of sale, items are priced ‘each’ rather than by the pound. I went hard at grabbing the hugest ‘each’ available this week. Greed is good.

+ Cheapo Con: Ok, this is probably the saddest single lady sentence of all time but WHY CAN’T I GET A TINY LITTLE POT ROAST FOR ONE?! I was craving a classic pot roast all week, with carrots and potatoes and wine! But the littlest ones were still $12, and I can’t eat pot roast for like 3 meals this week. Can I? I can’t. I settled for tiny steaks instead.

WHERE MY $50 WENT:

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+ Farmer’s Market-

-1 HUGE head of golden cauliflower.

-1 HUGE head of red Russian kale

-1 Orange Pepper

-1 Dozen Eggs

-1 large zuchini

-1 little spaghetti squash

-1 little delicata squash

-1 big handful of green beans

-2 little sweet potatoes

-1 bag of brussels sprouts

-1 big carrot

-3 apples

– 1 head lettuce

+Grocery Store

-greek yogurt

-3 cans of beans (butter, black, chick peas)

-1 can of coconut milk

-1 bag of onions

-2 cans of tuna

-1 pound of hormone free ground turkey

-2 tiny steaks

-3 seltzers

-1 large can of crushed tomatoes

– 2 lemons

WHERE MY $50 IS GOING:

– a big pot of coconut curry with sweet potatoes, green beans, peppers

– turkey flax meatballs with kale, chickpeas, and spaghetti squash

– tiny steaks with cauliflower mash, caramelized onions, roasted brussels sprouts

– Nicoise salads for lunch

– Brown rice zucchini boats

– Baked Apples with honey, cinnamon, cashews

On Doin’ the Thing.

October 4, 2014

Yo!

I’m eating my delicious post-yoga breakfast in front of my rainy window writing this after having survived my first week on this $50 grocery budget experiment. I don’t know why more people don’t eat fried rice for breakfast, it’s awesome.

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Mostly, it was awesome and easier than I thought.

SUCCESSES:

+ I actually ate everything I bought! There are relatively no wilting vegetables in my fridge, and i’ve got just enough leftovers for dinner tonight.

+ I spent seriously less cash than usual.

+ I ate way more home cooked food than usual.

+ I realized that making due with what I have is a fun challenge, even if it sometimes feels like settling. Like, these zucchini pancakes would have been better if I had stopped off for a $9 wedge of Parmesan cheese to grate in, but they were totally delicious without that.

+ All those food bloggers who have their shit together and swear by Sunday meal prep are totally dead on. Coming home to a bunch of half started meals seriously took the pressure off.

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CAVEATS + ADDITIONAL SPENDING:

+ WINE! How did I not budget this in. Whatever. I need wine to live. I’m giving myself a $20 budget for this a week. I spent $18 on a perfectly delicious 2011 Bordeaux this week and braised beef with it and drank the rest.

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+ Chocolate. Sorry, not sorry. I needed this. It was $3.49.

+ Meals out. I had one lunch and one dinner out. Which feels pretty good for someone who was doing way more than that previously. I think that’s a general rule i’ll try to keep. I spent $32 on those.

CHALLENGES:

+ Sometimes eating leftovers sucks, no matter how good they were the first time around.

+ I didn’t really think about how eating chili for four days in a row would effect my guts/butt. I’m eating a lot of beans and veggies these days so, i’m feeling jet propelled.

+ I’ve had some kind of monster sinus thing all week, so sometimes I really just wanted a bowl of hot spicy thai takeout for dinner instead of cooking.

WHAT I MADE:

+ Chili with turkey, beans, sweet potato

+ Salad with olives, hard boiled eggs, tomato (2)

+ Braised beef with onions over roasted butternut squash

+ Garlic roasted brussels sprouts

+ Kale and eggs

+ Roasted chicken thighs with kale, chickpeas, wine, mustard

+ Fried rice with broccoli, peppers, egg

+ Zucchini Pancakes with spicy paprika tomato sauce, egg

(This was absolutely the best thing I made all week!)

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THE CAKES:

1 large zucchini, grated, salted, and squeezed (like really, really squeezed)

1/4 cup coconut flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 egg

1 clove grated garlic

salt and pepper

Mix that batter together (it will look loose) and shallow fry in oil of your choice. I just plopped big teaspoons, and then flattened them with the back of my spatula.

I cooked some crushed tomatoes down with vinegar, paprika, and chiles, and put the cakes right on top. And then on top of that a crispy fried egg, because duh.

On a budget.

September 28, 2014

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I am lucky enough to have a great, tiny farmer’s market 2 blocks from my new digs in a little park.  It’s quiet and full of good dogs. No one is reaching over you for squash. There are ice pops, and good meat, and flowers, and organic veggies. It’s on a Sunday, and it’s made my Lord’s days really awesome.

There’s something awesome about the potential energy of a big bag of produce. Like endless possibilities for the week ahead. I spend the rest of Sunday afternoon tidying the kitchen and cooking and prepping food for the week and listening to nineties hip hop. It’s a great ritual.

Except, sometimes, like with anything great, I have a tendency to over do it. And then i’ve spent $90 and I have a house full of wilting flowers and a bunch of squash shriveling up in the crisper that I didn’t quite get to.

So, i’ve challenged myself to spend $50 on Sunday and that’s it. No popping into the fancy bodega for a few ingredients I missed on Wednesday. Just me, my $50, and a pretty well stocked pantry. (Pantry includes: cooking oils, bulk grains and nuts, and a pretty well stocked spice rack.) I aim to have lunches and dinners all set for the week. Breakfast is usually a yogurt or some oatmeal at my desk.

Full disclosure: I am going on about 8 weeks of working with a nutritionist. I am (mostly) avoiding processed food, including processed wheat products. Also, not eating thing with >10 grams of sugar.

Here’s where my $50 went this week:

FROM THE FARMER’S MARKET:

– a head of broccoli

– two orange peppers

– 3 onions

– 1 head of garlic

– 1 bunch of kale

– 2 little bunches of tatsoi

– 1 big zuchini

– 2 little sweet potatoes

-1 medium butternut squash

– 1 bunch of pink dahlias

– mixed salad greens

– brussels sprouts

– 5 apples

– 1/2 dozen eggs

– 3/4 pound of grass fed stew meat

– two tomatoes

 

FROM THE GROCERIA:

– greek yogurt

– 3 cans of beans

– 2 big cans of fire roasted crushed tomatoes

– organic chicken thighs

– ground turkey

– 3 bottles of seltzer

– ice cream bars (fuck off, ok?)

– soy noodles

– 2 lemons

Geez. Typing that out and seeing it makes me realize that’s a ton of food, and I feel awesome about that.

 

MEAL PLAN FOR THE WEEK:

– a big pot of chili with turkey, beans, and sweet potatoes

– braised beef with roasted butternut squash, kale

– roasted chicken thighs with tatsoi, fried brown rice

– shaved brussels sprouts salad with apple, lemon

– salads w/ hardboiled eggs, tomato, olives

– eggs with zucchini pancakes

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