Month: April 2016

$100 Grocery Challenge!

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I’ve been meaning to do some kind of monitoring of my grocery purchases for quite awhile. Right now, my freezer is bursting, my cupboards are full, and I am really, really, really trying to eat less meat. I need to spend some time and energy making sure this important part of our lives is more in balance.

No system seemed quite right until I saw London Minimalists record their grocery spending on their blog/twitter. I did a little research about American food spending, what was considered minimal, what was considered liberal, and came to the number of $100 a week for 2 people, 3 meals a day for a grocery spending challenge (we eat the occasional meal out, once a week max).

This may seem high or low to you! I chose this number because it was a little lower than the “liberal” spending Americans reported, because I try my hardest to buy local and organic, and it does come at a higher price. This system lets me use my own judgement about what to buy, but gives me a limit. Best of both worlds!

I expect the first month or so of this challenge to be a breeze. Like I said, my freezer is full, and my cupboard is already stocked with beans, pasta, rice, quinoa, and all kinds of other staples. Things should get interesting later (much like clothing rationing is — this year I am actually considering rationing challenging as things slowly but surely fall apart!).

I’ll record my spending here each week, and write a little about how I’m finding things. Once I do this for a few weeks I’ll see if the total per week needs to be adjusted.

So – this week!

I did my shopping for the week and it came to $89.66.

The most expensive thing I bought was 100% grass fed local beef London Broil – 2.05 lb = $24.57. This will provide a luxurious dinner, and lots of leftovers for stir fry, sandwiches, and the like all week. It’s the only meat I purchased this week. I did well with the specials on fruits and vegetables. I see what’s on special, which is usually what’s in season, and buy from there. That gorgeous little brussels sprout you see above was from this week’s special. I got two pounds of them for $7. Going to roast them — they are so delicious hot or cold. A big spend I am a little torn about is $14.47 on drinks. My husband is getting over a stomach virus so I bought him Gatorade, and we are addicted, addicted, addicted to seltzer. I buy it in cans. I keep dithering about getting a Soda Stream type appliance to make it myself. This might push me over the edge.

I’d like to start cooking a Weekly Bean. It will provide meals all week, and then I can freeze portions too for future dishes. This week will be white Cannellini beans, I think. I’ve got them in the cupboard.

If you have tips on stretching your grocery budget, I’d love to hear them. I’d also like to hear if you spend more or less than this each week if you feel like sharing.

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Our Paradox

I recently completed the shawl Frances Herself by Karie Westermann. When Karie posted about her inspiration for the shawl, the art of Frances Macdonald McNair, my mind immediately focused on the painting A Paradox.

When viewing this painting, the first words in my mind were “This is so 7 of cups!” If you are not a devotee of the tarot, this sentence might not mean much to you. Let me explain.

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The 7 of cups is a card of dreams, choices, potential, illusion, delusion, creativity, fantasy. So many choices, and they all look shiny at first glance. You can choose the wrong one, or even the right one for the wrong reasons. You can become paralyzed by choice and do nothing at all. Those fantasy scenarios have their charm! Why do anything? Head in the clouds, day dreamer — did your parents call you those names?

. . .

When I look at A Paradox, I see a sea of  maybes. What if I pick him, or that, or those. Whilst the female figure in the bridal dress, male figure in checkered tunic, and child with arms outstretched are emphasized with light, the woman does not connect to either figure – she stares off into the distance. Maybe something else enticing is out there? The other woman, self? is facing another way, as are the additional children. Another man/choice stands between. There is beauty in this painting, but it’s so full of smoke and mist and illusion you can’t quite grasp anything. When you really look at it, it’s quite unsettling.

. . .

I think when you are a creative person, the 7 of cups world is your natural home. You’re always dreaming about choices — what if I use this word? What if I use that one instead? What about this color? No, the red. What if I start that poem, or maybe I should work on that piece I had an idea about … I think the problem comes when after all this wondering, you don’t do anything. You stay in that dream state, do more research, or wander down an internet hole, and your work doesn’t make it to the page, or canvas, or dress, or … this shawl. What if I figured out all of the colors, and yarns, and what I was going to change or emphasize, read about the artist, and … never knit it.

It is vital to dream, but also vital to not live completely in your head. It is vital to make your work. It is vital to not be dazzled by what-ifs and maybes and musings at the expense of doing the work. But you need these what-ifs and maybes and musings to do the work.

That’s the paradox. As artists, our dreamy imaginings and imaginations can be our greatest strength or our greatest weakness.

. . .

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The purple is for creativity. The flecks and specks of other colors, like a painter’s messy clothing after a painting session, honor the artist: Frances, me, you.

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The very light grey and very dark grey echo the murky black and white in the man’s tunic. Choices are not clear or simple, but they need to be made. The deep, blood red is for life and love, surrounded by light. It has to take up the widest space or you’ll be lost — look how her roses become indistinct and trail off. I don’t want that to happen to me — to my creativity. It’s so easy to be distracted, and lulled into not making your work. One final row of purple. Creativity, making, is the last word.

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I wrap these lessons around me as I wear this shawl. Dream well, and dream often, but make your work, make your work, make your work. 

Thank you Frances and Karie for teaching me about the 7 of cups, deeply.

No coupons for this shawl, as I’ve had the yarn since, ahem, 2006. I found the receipt as I was looking in a book for a project I meant to make in 2010. Cough.

image of A Paradox from wikimedia commons. Photo of 7 of cup cards from the decks I use: the Rider-Waite tarot, the Poet Tarot, the Wild Unknown Tarot, the Paulina Tarot.

An Ode to Walking

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I’ve observed a funny phenomenon in my town. I ride the train with people who after our ride is done, get into their car to get to their home. Please understand my town is a mile big in its entirety i.e. not big at all. The very next town has a train station, as does the town before it. It takes all of my self-control to not stop them and ask them why they do not walk home! The train stops in the middle of town so you can get north, south, east, or west of the station in 20 – 30 minutes tops (my house is a 25 minute walk each way). I’m sure a few of them have a good answer as to why. Some may have a health condition, or really need to get home quickly for some reason, but I bet most of them could walk.

I will boldly state that those who could walk are overcomplicating their lives, wasting gas, causing pollution, and missing out on the most wonderful chance to commute, exercise, decompress, and boost creativity in one fell swoop!

I walk to and from the train each weekday, and many weekends when I have something to do in the city. I do this in regular work clothes, and comfortable, supportive, but professional shoes. I sometimes am carrying a cake, or art supplies, and sometimes both! I also pack my breakfast and lunch most days. I have been doing this for almost 9 years now.  Sometimes, if we have something to do together, the weather is seriously bad, or if it’s very late at night, my husband will give me a ride, but it’s the exception, not the rule. I get to experience the seasons turn in detail: each day a new flower is in bloom, or the leaves deepen their autumn hue, or disappear altogether. I see what new birds are in town, and the happiest sight is seeing the little cracked open blue eggs scattered on the grass — I know the robins hatched! I think through problems both in my regular life, work life,  and creative life — I rarely do not come to a conclusion about what to say, what to do, or what next step in my work needs to happen after my walk. I write so many things in my head (thankfully the park is full of benches if I need to stop and scribble something down)! I’m not the only one this works for! Walking has so many health benefits too!

Sometimes I’m cold, or hot, or damp — but it’s temporary. Remember this is a 25 minute walk. My hair gets windblown, but who cares. I get a little sweaty, ditto. Small prices to pay for all of the benefits I’ve mentioned above.

I’ve been thinking of this recently because I had to buy another pair of shoes. My plain black clogs which I’ve had for about four years started making my knee joints hurt. This happens once I walk the life out of a pair of shoes. The uppers were also extremely scuffed, scratched, and all of the piping is coming apart. No wonder with all this walking I do! I like to have two pairs of black everyday clogs going at all times so I can switch off — they last longer this way when they get to rest and dry out between wearings. David bought me a new pair last year as a gift, so I should be pretty good now!

The photo above shows my latest pair — I love the woven/knitted looking texture! I swear by Dansko shoes because they are well-made, are an employee owned company with a good agenda, are so comfortable (you can wear them all day right out of the box! and nurses, doctors, and chefs are crazy about them since they are on their feet so much), and I think they are cute — I have no problem wearing them with dresses. I love the variety of materials, colors, and prints. They are pricey — about $120 USD a pair — but since I wear them for about 4 years, this comes to $25 a year. I know people who spend $25 on a pair of shoes at Target or such and they tell me they only last a few months (and are usually not this comfortable or good for your feet). Not to mention, I do not pay a gym membership!

I hated to spend the coupons since I am so low on them this early in the year, but I think it’s foolish to destroy your knees trying to save coupons. I can cut corners by not buying any new clothing, etc. for the rest of the year. C’est la vie!

COUPONS REMAINING:

18 out of 66

I <3 Beans!

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I’ve always loved to cook and eat beans, but my trip to Arizona took bean enjoyment to a whole ‘nuther level. Southwestern ranch style beans were served with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was delightful tasting each restaurant’s version — some were spicer, some had more depth, some were full of tomato, some in a thick sauce, some brothy — all delicious.

I was home a few days, and started going into ranch bean withdrawal. And it’s not like you can just go to the local place and get ranch beans around here! So I had to make them.

These aren’t as over the moon fantastic as the many versions I had in Arizona, but they are a delicious start. They are also economical, healthful, and versatile. Here is my starting recipe, which I hope to make even better as I learn more about Southwestern cooking. I’ve already gotten some seeds for Hatch and New Mexico Grande peppers for my garden this year — adding roasted ones should kick these up a notch for sure!

Southwestern Ranch Style Beans

Optional: 4 slices bacon. I used it — it gives a wonderful depth of flavor, but feel free to skip.

1 lb dried pinto beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
2 medium onions, diced
1/2 head garlic, minced
3 Tbsp chili powder
3 tsp cumin
2 tsp oregano
3 bay leaves
1 tsp cayenne
1 – 10 oz can tomatoes with green chilies
salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

I like to make this in an 8 quart cast iron Dutch oven, but use whatever large-ish pot you have.

Cut up your bacon (if you are using) into small pieces — I snip mine with a scissors. Add to your pot, put on the heat to medium, and cook just until it starts to render.

If you are not using bacon, add a little neutral oil to your pot.

Add your onions and garlic to the pot, and sauté until they are getting soft and a little browned. Add your spices, stir, and let them cook a minute. Drain your soaked beans and add them to the pot. Add your tomatoes with chiles, stir, then add enough water so that your beans are covered by at least 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a very low simmer. Cover the pot on a slant so you have a little air circulation — you know what I mean 🙂

Stir once every half hour or so. You may need to add a little more water, but maybe not — keep an eye on things. My beans took two hours to get nice and soft but your beans can take more or less time depending on how freshly dried they are. Taste them. Add salt to taste and cook another half hour. Grind some pepper on them, stir, and you’re done. You can mash some of them with a large spoon on the side of your pot to thicken the broth if you’d like.

I served these with rice, a little crumbled cheese, some salsa verde, and some griddled cornbread. Yum. Let me know if you want my cornbread recipe! I think I’m going to make some enchiladas with them, and certianly have them as a side for huevos rancheros.