Monthly Archives: October 2010

Smooth Sailing

I ran into my friend Sharon at the new City Hall Farmers Market today and I mentioned to her – and my mother, who’d come with me – that this whole “eating on $20” thing wasn’t as difficult as expected. My mother chalks it up to the fact that I keep a somewhat well-stocked pantry now.

Sharon said that she wasn’t surprised I wasn’t encountering any difficulty; the real challenge, she said, would be eating off only the stockpiled pantry goods. That’s certainly a challenge for another week, to be sure. We’ll call it Hurricane Survival Week. Or Zombie Apocalypse Survival Week. Whichever I can find better art for.

This is what I made last night for dinner. As with my first meal, it made such a large quantity that I could — in theory, at least — eat on it for the rest of the week. As usual, I didn’t follow a recipe. I made this up based on what I had on hand. I hate recipes.

But if you want to try this for yourself, it makes an impressive cold salad/entree that’s tasty and moderately healthy at the same time. Sub in chicken breasts for my beloved chicken thighs if you want to go that extra healthy mile. (Boring.)

I marinated two little chicken thighs in a mixture of olive oil, rice wine vinegar, Sri Racha (a/k/a rooster sauce), orange zest, orange juice from half an orange, a few dashes orange bitters and salt and fresh black pepper to taste. I baked them in my little copper skillet (because all my baking dishes are way too large) at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, then let the chicken cool while I cooked up some orzo, wilted some spinach in the heat of the steam from the boiling pot and threw some frozen soybeans in at the end of the orzo’s cooking time to defrost them.

I strained the whole mess, shredded the now-cool chicken and threw it all together. I poured some more rice wine vinegar and rooster sauce on top (not to much) and mixed it all up with a little more kosher salt. I diced the other half of the orange and threw it in for color and flavor. Added a few sunflower seeds for crunch and DONE.

Seriously. Easy as sin. Day three done. Day four and promises of kippers lay ahead!

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A Week’s Worth of Food for $20

Yesterday, I announced my intention to try and eat for a week on only $20 (an arbitrary amount based on what I had in my wallet at the time, but one that low enough as to be a challenge) and what I had in my pantry and freezer. I’ve been stockpiling blog posts to meet my three-per-day quota at work (as so much of what I write about has to do with eating out) and intend to cook every meal myself this week: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

That isn’t much of an accomplishment for your average person. I get spoiled in my new line of work, frequently and excessively. I get to attend media dinners and eat things like foie gras torchons on a typical Tuesday for lunch and expense a significant portion of my meals. I often don’t put as much thought into the things I’m eating as I feel that I should. It’s a lifestyle for which I am endlessly thankful and one that I don’t ever want to take for granted.

The decision to eat on $20 and what’s in my pantry (as you will see, I’ve gotten better at keeping supplies on hand) was borne out of this, but also out of a desire to eat and live more simply and yet more creatively. One day into the project, and I’ve already rediscovered spices and vinegars that were hidden away in my pantry — which, as you’ll see, is already very small to begin with — and use them to my advantage while cooking. Washing dishes, trimming fat, blooming spices, zesting fruit, et cetera: All are things which make me more mindful of the food I’m eating and which provide me with a very needed sense of calm and simplicity.

The project was also borne out of a desire to truly look at the money that we’re spending on food as entertainment, not food as nourishment or food as a connection to our dining companions. $20 may seem like a difficult sum of money to eat on for an entire week, but that’s a budget that millions of people — here in America and in less wealthy portions of our world — have to adhere to every week of their lives. If they can do it, so can I and so should I. Forcing yourself to consider other perspectives and circumstances is crucial for leading a more enlightened, more considerate, more gracious and more thankful life.

I intend to do a full writeup of the project when I’m finished, but for now, here’s my starting point. Below are photos of what I already had in my pantry and refrigerator, what I bought with $19.54 at Fiesta and what I made my first evening for dinner. I’ve already planned out every meal for the week, so I’m terrifically excited for the week ahead and can’t wait to see how it all shakes out.

The "staples" I had in my pantry: two cans of tuna, a tin of smoked kippers, several rices and pastas, a jar of red peppers and a can of chickpeas.

As you can see, I don't keep much in my fridge, mostly St. Arnold's and water. The broths and the shredded cheese had to be thrown away (expired), which left me with butter, mustard, grape jelly and two kinds of relish.

(Not pictured: the contents of my freezer. I have one-half a bag each of frozen green beans, frozen edamame, frozen broccoli and frozen peas.)

My "pantry" with spices, sugar, two vinegars, two oils, bread crumbs, tea, honey, a can of evaporated milk, powdered chocolate and all the "staples" put back where they belong as well as all the groceries I bought with my $20.

All of the groceries I bought for $20. Not pictured: a pack of five chicken thighs, quarantined because they were covered with gross chicken juice.

Last night's first dinner: One and a half baked chicken thighs, cooked with a mustard-tarragon sauce over garlic and onions, served with wild rice and green beans.