Budgets vs. Reality

Budgets vs. Reality
by Barbara M. Barthelette

I read cookbooks and find it hard to believe when I see recipes for ‘cooking gourmet on a budget’. What these people seem to have on hand in times of limited cash, sure doesn’t match up to what I find available in my cupboards between paydays.

One recipe states that a simple dish of angel hair pasta garnished with tiny shrimp, bits of leftover clams with a dash of olive oil and freshly ground pepper will elegantly nourish any family. I don’t know whether I should start feeling inferior now but I don’t have any shrimp on hand! And the days we have clam chowder, the whole can of clams goes into giving the boiled milk and potatoes at least a taste reminiscent of our hard-shelled friend. Being on a budget means being creative in times of need. However, the tuna, corn oil and elbow macaroni just didn’t seem destined to become anything that had the remotest possibility of being eaten by my children. Spaghetti with spiced up tomato soup stood a better chance of acceptance.

Or, as another would-be-helpful recipe stated, you can stretch your meat with the addition of mushrooms, tiny onions, baby carrots and tofu cubes. Forget the fungus! Even if they are on sale, how many children do you know that will eat anything that even touches a mushroom? One chopped onion equals a dozen tiny pearl onions and is much easier to hide in a gravy. The best I could do for baby carrots was to carve them down to the appropriate size. Since only threats can get carrots eaten around here anyway, it really doesn’t matter how big or small they are, right? And I won’t even eat tofu no matter how far it might stretch my budget.

When it comes to salad, the books always tell us to be fresh and creative. My favorite idea was empaling bits of vegetables and greenery on toothpicks and then piercing them artfully into the flesh of a grapefruit. We are promised that our family will rave about this and happily consume our healthy arrangement. Between paydays, my vegetable bin will yield, perhaps, a couple of tomatoes, a stalk of wilted celery, a carrot or two and a forgotten branch of broccoli. I suppose I could substitute an old Styrofoam ball from the craft cupboard for the grapefruit but the result would be rather pitiful. Limp celery chunks do not stand up well on a toothpick, pieces of tomatoes tend to drip and carrots are almost impossible to stick on a toothpick. Besides, if memory serves me, my children probably found some creative use for the toothpicks weeks ago, leaving me with just three.

Dessert was my absolute favorite. When you don’t have a lot of time, according to the easy-does-it gourmets, and want to make an impression, just bring on a variety of cheese, fruit and crackers. I imagine many of you sport cupboards very similar to mine. Can you picture a platter adorned with slices of processed cheese, a lone apple arranged so the bite doesn’t show snuggled up against a couple of teething biscuits?

I am afraid that there are budgets and then there are budgets! I, fortunately or unfortunately, fall into the budget of total reality! Whatever pasta shape is available in the pantry gets smothered in creative tomato soup. We stretch our meat budget by cutting smaller pieces. Carrot and celery sticks get revived in ice water. And the one who took the initial bite out of the apple gets to read Genesis after dinner.

Living the Life . . .

Marriage is a sneaky institution. It starts out with romance and roses and you end up cooking and fixing meals for many members of the food chain. Until I got married, food was something you ate when your body started wearing down. An apple, a taco, a quick plate of spaghetti, whatever it took to keep you going. I never felt that a growling stomach was a reason to begin planning meals. Food on my list of priorities was not at the top. I was busy!

I came home from the office, my first day back at work after I got married. I was home early and got this sudden feeling that I should really prepare something to eat and share with my new husband. I had a thirty-minute head start and by the time Carl arrived home, he was met at the door with the aroma of cooking food. I was happy and he was thrilled. This schedule persisted for more than a year.

Then God sent us a blessing along with nine months of all-day morning sickness. The first four months we coped as best we could. I soon realized that unless I wanted the new baby to resemble a French Fry (one of my more notable cravings), I would have to drag myself from the bed and bathroom and cook once more.

Baby born, morning sickness gone, things still did not go back to newly-wed normal as far as meals went. Besides our own meals, this new person demanded certain nutrition that required my presence (if he were nursing) and special little meals he could gum down or spit up, his choice. We had, I assumed, seen it all. However, we just incorporated these little inconveniences into our lives and forged ahead.

We got two dogs. Now they needed feeding and I had to add their needs into the shopping list. I now prepared meals for two grownups, an ungrateful infant and dogs who thought they were human. It couldn’t get any more complicated.

It did. A new baby came along who continued with the nursing and special little gummable meals. The toddler required a more varied menu aimed at his growing needs. And there were still the dogs and my husband.

Between baby number two and three we acquired a cat. The cat only ate the points off the star-shaped cat food. The cat did not like the middle part of the dried food after she had shorn it of it’s points. I put the cat and her demands on my shopping list.

I now had a husband to feed, three children of varying ages, a cat and two dogs. What more could I deal with. The cupboards were stocked with people food, baby food, children’s food, dog food and cat food. Had we reached the peak?

Just after baby number four made his appearance, the first child asked for a pet of his own—fish. How much trouble can it be to feed fish. You dump in a certain amount of stuff from a special can labeled for fish and they eat. No fall out, no crumbs, no problem. The fish required three different types of food. It seemed that ground feeders didn’t feed if the stuff didn’t sink down in the water. We needed sinking pellets among other things. I added my new house mates to the budget.

We now had a household of six people of various likes and dislikes, two dogs, a cat and fish. Was there life after fish?

We acquired two birds. They like certain bird seed and a particular fruit combination. They have a permanent place on my feeding schedule. They are supposed to live for thirty years but I try not to think about it. My cupboards are full. One holds my husband’s necessities for survival, the children have their cereal, etc. shelf, the lower regions of the kitchen house bags of dog food sitting next to boxes and cans of cat food. Fish food shares quarters with boxes of bird seed. And I am the manager, meal planner and server of it all.

I must confess to having daydreams that seem unworthy of my calling. . . I see myself feeding the fish to the birds, in turn dishing up the birds to the cat who is turned over to the dogs that hate her anyway. I get stumped at what to do about the dogs and usually come to my senses at this point. I did almost lose it totally when my husband came home from the store with a bottle of distilled water. It seems we need to keep it on hand for my son’s carnivorous plants. . .

I’m now housing only one child these days . . . who still has particular wants and snacks. I’m coping and she has her own salary to compensate for my lack of variety in shopping. The birds died way short of their 30-year estimate and we finally got the last of the feathers out of our house. Long story but we now share the house with TWO cats and one slightly feral outside cat who only comes into shred important document left unattended for three seconds or less. Don’t have the dogs of bygone years but still have two dogs. We decided, initially, that one dog was enough until a second dog walked into our backyard and stayed. No more fish, hamsters or birds. We did end up with 15 cats at one point but that is a story for another day. We don’t like to dwell on that era too much. Oh, yeah, my husband still wants dinner every night but that’s okay, I like him more than the dogs anyway!

Budgets, Labels, and Continued Confusion?

Reading labels is a must when you are striving to save money and get the best deal. In the course of my budget-shopping excursions to the store, I have run into a few labeled words that gave me pause to think and wonder.

One of the most misleading to me stated, “Take two tablets with your favorite meal.” Fair enough, but do I have to avoid them when I eat something I don’t particularly like? Do I have to cook all my favorite meals as long as I need the tablets? We are told to always read the directions before using a product. I wish this one had left it with, take with food.

Antibacterial products are suspect, too. The new spray, soap or cleaner arrives on the market and you use it with confidence. A few months later, the label reads, Improved, kills all bacteria normally found in the home. I want a bacterial body count next time so I can really compare the effectiveness.

There are sometimes interesting messages at the meat counter. I am not adverse to buying meat marked, Special Today, Value Pack, or Sale Priced. I do tend to wonder about meat marked Reduced for quick sale. We should, at least, get some kind of time frame. How many days have to elapse before it really becomes inedible? And what kind of problem are we talking about here? And will the new, improved antibacterial spray be of any help?

Shampoo bottles promise a multitude of things, all the way from shining hair to thicker, fuller, more manageable hair. All you have to do is shampoo it in, rinse and for best results, use the conditioner from the same company. They never mention this on the front of the bottle. There have been mornings when I sneak in a conditioning rinse from some company’s competitor and wonder if the shampoo police will call and interrupt my shower.

Store at room temperature has always presented a problem to me. Does everyone have an even temperature in their homes? What exactly constitutes room temperature? The seasons could have a bearing on this as well, whether you live in the temperate or tropical zone.

Toothpaste labeling changes on almost a daily basis. The tube you brought this morning is probably obsolete by evening.

I think I will solve my dilemma by not dwelling on this any further. I think I will fix my favorite meal from the reduced for quick sale meat. While my feast is cooking, I will shampoo and not use a conditioning rinse. After dinner, I will vegetate with a good book, avoiding unnecessary exercise in order to keep myself at room temperature. When I brush my teeth later, I will avoid reading the label on the tube and if the toothpaste isn’t enough, I can always give myself a generous spritz of new, improved antibacterial spray.

Food, Calories, & a Little Bit of Budget!

Cooking, kitchen, pots and pans . . . to many women these are distasteful words because they are usually the ones who have to make use of them. Face it, food preparation for our families is an ongoing, relentless chore many dread. My husband said his worst nightmare would be having to think of what to fix every day. Yes, we moms get to handle the food aspect of life many times over from purchasing to preparing to clean up. Two hours of food prep is usually eaten within the space of ten minutes!

Every day the news brings us more information on what we should eat and what is now on the bad list. The wonder edible of yesterday is today’s sure cause of death . . . if not worse! All we can do is the best we can. It does, however, take attitude as in a good attitude to bring healthy meals to our table each day.

If you start reading ingredient labels, it might shock you into investigating your grocery purchases more carefully. It is scary when you see how much fat and sugar is included in some packaged meal you thought was good for you and your family. You are also paying a lot for the convenience of a packaged meal or snack. Just to get an idea:

Kentucky Fried Chicken thigh 360 calories; 230 of fat
Made at home, baked chicken thigh 237 calories; 123 of fat
Of course, there are those who will continue in favor of convenience, not too worried about cost. A KFC thigh will cost you approximately $1.33 – for one piece of chicken! If you watch your sales, you can buy a five-pound chicken for 59 cents a pound or $2.95 for two thighs, two wings, two sections of white meat, two legs, and a back and innards for the soup pot. Cooking may not be our favorite past time but do we want heavenly credit for being good stewards of our family income?

Yes, cooking is an every day chore but you can brighten the process by looking at it as a challenge rather than a burden. Do you feel better dumping a bucket of chicken on the table or setting out platters of food you prepared yourself? You are what you eat and your children will surely reflect that. Part of our parental responsibility is keeping our children healthy and food is a constant influence on their bodily and mental future.

Dads don’t get off easily in the food department, either. My husband began dinner table rules when our children were little:

1. You can’t leave the table until the vegetables/salad are eaten.
2. If dad eats it, you will, at least, try it.
3. Never insult the cook’s (aka mom!) culinary offerings.

As the husband, you have to support your wife in her cooking efforts. Like the children, if you don’t like something, eat it anyway and be a good example!
It bothers me when I hear mothers complain that ‘my husband won’t eat this’ or ‘my children refuse to try that’. You might have a family meeting once a week to find out what people would like to eat and then work around that in your menu planning. If you children can read, encourage them to look up recipes. If they prefer certain meats, ask them to research interesting ways to fix it. If they don’t like some vegetables or fruits, challenge them to find a way to fix them that they would be willing to try. Make sure your husband knows he is an important part of the healthy eating process and should participate in the planning ideas and the eating! You might also remind him that as primary care giver from the kitchen ranks, you can wield that heavy frying pan any way you see fit!

Rosary Suggestions

More Rosary suggestions . . . translation: I found a new place to buy interesting beads for making Rosaries.

I enjoy making Rosaries and since there is a great demand for them all over the world, I spend a couple of hours a week working on them. However, having a bushel basket of one type or color of bead would soon have me very bored and my production would fall off drastically. SO, when I’m browsing the Internet, one of my most frequent searches is for 8mm and 10mm beads, the sizes for Hail Marys and Our Father   beads on a Rosary. AND, I’m looking for inspiration, new colors, new shapes, etc. Fortunately, there is quite a variety available but not in the price range for ‘wholesale’ Rosary output. I have two sources on Amazon but was still looking for Rosary adventure!

One day, I came across DoreensBeads on-line – https://www.doreenbeads.com/ They come from Hong Kong so I researched a bit with ordering from that far away, etc. I read the reviews and most everyone was pleased with the service and the prices. I was pleased to find a huge variety of beads for reasonable prices. I also incorporate bead caps on my Our Father beads and they had exactly what I wanted with some bags of 100 or more going for under a dollar. I found them about two months ago and have already ordered from them four times! The picture included with this post is of Rosaries made from these beads.

 

Ethnic Food Appropriation Night?

Not sure with the craziness of the world, but I think that we are still allowed to cook any kind of food we want in the privacy of our kitchen. Being of German heritage from my mother’s side of the family, naturally, I’m making fajitas and homemade tortillas for dinner!

Anyway, I learned a long time ago in my family meal preparation, homemade is better and less expensive. I’ve been making flour tortillas forever and no longer even follow any set recipe. When my husband had to be declared a gluten-free zone, I just switched the flour ingredient in my recipe to a gluten-free blend. Authentic Foods Gluten-Free Bread Flour Blend is currently my favorite although I still enjoy using BetterBatter Gluten-Free flour.

We decided we had a yearning for fajitas for dinner this evening. My husband only has one or two Saturdays a month off so we decided to celebrate this. I spent the afternoon with food prep and he cleaned the house for me. Since I’d rather cook than clean house and he’d rather clean house than eat the mediocre dinner he might venture to prepare, it was a good deal for both sides!

My recipe for flour tortilla? Basically, I put around three or four cups of wheat or gluten-free flour in the bowl, add a teaspoon of baking powder, a teaspoon of salt, combine, and then add hot tap water slowing to the dry ingredients until a workable dough evolves. I use an ice cream scoop to parcel out the amount of dough to roll out for each tortilla. I have a cast iron pan but most any frying pan would work for cooking them on both sides or until some bubbles and browned blisters show up. You want them baked but not crispy!

Hard as I try to roll them out to a beautiful, uniform circle, I usually end up with what looks like various countries removed from the map. I do have a tortilla press (More of that German heritage!) but it only makes small one and, sometimes, you need a larger size.

This is also a fun kitchen activity for mom and the children so they can see what goes into fixing a meal and be proud of the results of their efforts.

These Are a Few of MY Favorite Things!

I like to browse after I finish my necessary shopping whether at the grocery store or any other store. I don’t buy everything I see, but when I find something that works for my hobbies, my health, or my comfort, I’m willing to indulge. So, thought I’d share a few of my current favorite things.

We are gluten-free at our house because of my husband’s intolerance to wheat products. It took us years to discover the problem so never going to change that aspect of our life. If any of you are gluten-free, I’m willing to bet one of the things you miss the most is any kind of bread product. Yes, you can bake a sort of, not really, reasonable facsimile but it is never quite as satisfying as the real deal. I was an avid bread baker until we had to change the family diet around. You CAN produce a reasonable bread-like outcome on a gluten-free diet but the texture of the dough and the process is different.

I was cruising the Internet a few weeks ago and discovered Authentic Foods – Steve’s Gluten-Free Bread Flour. It promised great things and I purchased some with not too much hope. Bingo! First loaf of bread was amazing with the right texture and a wonderful yeast rise. I currently have a 25-pound bag of the stuff in my former wheat flour storage container! Definitely, number one on my discoveries of late.

Here is an odd, new favorite – Hemp hearts! I saw this at Costco and was intrigued. It has a lot of vitamins including three grams of fiber per serving. Supposedly, it claimed to taste good, too. And, it does! It now gets sprinkled on salads, blended in smoothies, and even enjoyed by the spoonful. I gave one of my sons a bag for his apartment living and his three roommates enjoy it, too. Great for those between-meal hunger pains.

Dry weather and being a constant knitter, crocheter, seamstress is very hard on my hands. I am seldom without chapped hands and split fingers. Buy stock in Liquid Bandage as I keep two bottles in the house constantly. Discovered O’Keeffe’s Skin Repair 48-hour lotion. It stated it was guaranteed to relieve extremely dry and itchy skin. I was desperate. I used it at bedtime and the next morning there was noticeable improvement. Found it at Walmart.

In the realm of gluten-free again, two other flour blends are good additions to my baking/cooking efforts in the kitchen: BetterBatter and Pamela’s All-Purpose Gluten-Free Artisan Flour (Dairy-free, too!) are now staples in my cupboard. BetterBatter has a multitude of recipes on their Internet site for inspiration. Pamela’s is cup for cup for using in formerly favorite regular recipes and especially nice for baking cookies. Again, you can find recipes on-line and try some of your own favorites from the gluten day. I usually buy my flour blends on-line as it is less expensive than health store prices.

My addiction to yarn and crocheting/knitting was satisfied recently. I love making projects with varicolored yarn but couldn’t find exactly the mix of colors that pleased me in the usual offerings. Several months ago, I was looking at the yarn aisle and there was something new! It was a yarn that was soft, came in a larger amount than others for a good price and . . . it was variegated in the most interesting color combinations. I liked the whimsical names of the various choices, too. I recently completed a blanket for one daughter in the color blend ‘Gnome’. It was a wild assortment of vivid almost neon colors with enough somber ones to create a nice result. I’m now working on a blanket for my older son’s birthday and it is called ‘Sphinx’ which is a manly (can we still use the word manly in this day and age?) combination of brown and blue tones. The really nice thing about this yarn is that each skein has a lot more yardage than other brands which makes the under $5.00 a skein actually a bit of a bargain. Right now, Walmart is the only store selling this yarn. It is called Mandala and produced by Lion Brand Yarns.

End of sharing time. Laundry calls and I still haven’t invented dinner for this evening! Would rather be crocheting but them’s the breaks!