Day 4 — only one more batch of lentils to go!

Michelle's coupon haul

Michelle, a girlfriend from my knitting guild, emailed me yesterday with this photo. This is what she was able to purchase yesterday for $16.50 by watching the food ads and using coupons.
All that food for $3 less than what I spent for my weekly diet. Can you believe that? I was so impressed. Here is what she had to say when I asked her for the details:
“It took two different stores, but that is all I spent. You definitely have to use coupons to make this worthwhile and watch the ads for specials, but I saved about $40 today and only spent $16.

2 gallons of milk
Raisin Bran
3 Ragu
3 Country Crock
2 Wishbone dressings
2 Best Food mayo
5 green apples
big bunch of bananas
3 Hamburger/Tuna helpers
1 4 pk of Charmin
6 pk of Ramen
I’m donating the Ragu and Wishbone, nobody in my family likes either brand, but they were free so I couldn’t pass up giving to a good cause.”

She uses CouponSense and a few other coupon web sites to make this work. Again, another reminder of how you can save money on food if you want to. And no, I’m not suggesting most people on food stamps have the time for this sort of thing, but I think it is another interesting side to the food/budget topic. Again, it is putting my $4 morning bagel habit into perspective.


Food Stamp Project: Day 3

Spaghetti squash -- it's what's for dinner

Last night’s dinner: spaghetti squash & sauce.

It’s only day 3 and I’ve spent too much money. I’m slightly hungry and slightly light-headed. So, this is going swimmingly. I think the biggest problem with my planning (other than the aforementioned lack of budgeted caffeine) was I didn’t account for the fact I live a very active lifestyle and I’m only eating 1,000 calories a day.
Really. I entered my little menu into Sparkpeople and it came in at a cool 914 calories. Yikes. Considering yesterday I swam 45 minutes before work and then played ultimate frisbee for 2 hours after work, I’m a bit exhausted today. Truly the only reason this week is manageable and I’m not pulling my hair out (and then possibly looking at it as a snack) is that this is only lasting 5 days. I cannot imagine how people do this every single day, with children, riding a bus to work, working for minimum wage, dealing with unsafe housing, etc. Amanda made a good point that it is essentially a luxurious attitude to say I won’t shop at Wal-Mart. In truth, if I was in a bind financially and had kids, I’d shop wherever I could make my buck stretch the most.

pointed out another great aspect of hunger. Imagine the stress this causes in any home. I’ve heard this public health story, which very may be an urban legend, that goes something like this. In Phoenix, there is an elementary school in a particularly bad part of town. Parents must come in the school office to check their kids in and return in the afternoon to sign them out. It was decided by school staff that while students weren’t showing signs of starvation, they obviously weren’t getting enough to eat at home. They would come to school very early on Mondays to eat the school breakfast — in all likelihood because they weren’t getting enough to eat during the weekend. The school nurse began making peanut butter sandwiches and handing one to each parent who came in to the school to check his/her child out for the day. Within a year, the neighborhood had dramatically lower rates of domestic violence. When they later interviewed parents about what had changed in their households, many of the moms said they fed the kids the sandwich, or they ate part of it, or they gave it to their husbands. The husband, who was less cranky after getting something to eat, was less likely to hit his wife. The wife, who was less cranky, was less likely to hit the kid. The kid, who now had a snack, was better behaved.
All from a peanut butter sandwich.


I’m a big, fat, caffeinated cheater

Yep. I just had $2 worth of coffee and oh my, was it worth every single drop. I actually thought of licking the cup before throwing it away, I was so sad to be finished with it.
One of many lessons learned during this budget week — $.25 worth of coffee is sold for $2 at most coffee shops. You can make it stretch into two cups with skim milk and Splenda.
Now to figure out how to cut that $2 from my planned food. Or, I very well may just make the caveat that my world without caffeine is an ugly, terrible place. My name is Kelli and I’m a caffeine-aholic. For what it is worth, I am considerably nicer with coffee in my system.

Food Stamp Challenge: Day 2

I am surprised by the incredible response from this little experiment. Many of you have either used food stamps at one point in life, or know someone who has. Several of you have suggested ways I could have purchased more food; others have said I’m crazy for trying this. Agreed.

A few comments I’d like to discuss:

~ I didn’t buy my groceries from Wal-Mart because I was recently informed my habit of using my own cloth grocery bags was “slowing them down.” This came from a manager, after the clerk was very rude to me when I wanted to bag my own purchases. Fair enough. I left and haven’t returned. Other groceries are happy to meet my “let me bag my own stuff in my bags” policy with glee. I free up their baggers and they give me a $.05 credit for each bag. I may have spent more money at Fry’s, but I didn’t put more bags in a landfill.

~ This family also did a food stamp challenge. I love what they wrote in their summary after coming in under budget for the week:
Our grandparents knew how to do all this stuff, but there has been a tragic collapse in the transmission of heritage food information across generations in the United States. Classes are needed to help people learn how to plan menus, garden, preserve foods, cook meals from basic ingredients. And people need to talk to elders while they remain with us and conserve as much information as they can. Oral histories are a great way to do this.
So true! I should have called my Grandma Max before starting this. She can stretch a meal like you wouldn’t imagine. Note to self: talk to grandparents about this challenge and hear what they would have done with $20 for the week.

~Another reader mentioned the United Kingdom is now offering a program to trade food stamps for fresh fruit and veggies. Wow! I’m on day two and I have to say, I spent the majority of my budget on fruits and veggies and am still missing my normal dose.

~Want suggestions for how to cut your grocery bill and make more food from scratch? This woman has it down to a science. You’d think some of that giant budget on national security would go toward teaching Americans to cook for themselves. Self-sufficiency is a rather important form of security, don’t you think?

~Yesterday’s food included:
1 packet of instant oatmeal
1 4 ounce container of yogurt
1 hard boiled egg
1 string cheese
1 apple
1/2 cup of brown rice
1/2 cup of stewed lentils
1 cup of steamed spaghetti squash
1/2 cup of red kidney beans
1/2 cup of spaghetti sauce

I’m not hungry, but I am seriously missing my caffeine. I am about to leave for a meeting at a coffee shop and I’m pretty darn sure today’s budget is going to be wildly thrown off course while I swim blissfully in a large cafe Americano.

Food Stamp Diet: Day 1

Food for the week1

In Arizona, a single person earning less than $16,000 per year qualifies for $95.40 per month in food stamps. This does not include the additional 25% they are supposed to include out of their own budget to pay for groceries. The equivalent for this 5-day experiment is $19.88.

With that in mind, I headed to the grocery store yesterday. In typical fashion, I did not have any coupons. I’m lazy, although I suspect if I was living on food stamps, I might find the time to cut them out. Then again, if I was living on food stamps, I probably couldn’t have afforded the two hours I spent at the grocery, with pen, pad and calculator in hand.

As many of you suggested, buying bulk seems the cheapest. Buying healthy food is certainly expensive. A few examples: a regular baking potato — $.45. A more nutritious yam — $.92. (And that is a scrawny one. I only bought one.) White tortillas or corn tortillas are far cheaper than the whole grain ones I love. One whole grain tortilla is $.23. They didn’t make the cut. Neither did my soy milk, cottage cheese, wine or gingersnaps. Instead, I purchased:
6 eggs — $.69
1 package of string cheese — $3.99
1 can of chicken broth — $.50
1 bag of lentils — $.89
1 bag of brown rice — $1.59
1 yam — $.92
1 can of green beans — $.50
1 can of kidney beans — $.50
1 bag of carrots — $.79
5 gala apples — $1.97
1 spaghetti squash — $4.51
1 jar of spaghetti sauce — $1.27
6 containers of yogurt — $1.98
1 box of instant oatmeal — $1.87

Grand total: $21.97 Over budget: $2.09
To counter the fact I’m over budget, I’m only eating half of the rice, lentils and oatmeal I purchased. Food preparation for the week included hard boiling the eggs, steaming the rice and stewing the veggies and lentils. I’ll cook the spaghetti squash tonight. I’m already two meals into this plan and in case you are wondering, I’m not hungry. I am obsessing and wondering what I’ve gotten myself into (brown rice and lentils for lunch all week?), but I will survive.

Have you ever worked in a food bank? Volunteered at a food line for the hungry? Have you seen hunger in your community?

Off to find my apple for the day,

Hunger in America: A Week on Food Stamps

Two weeks ago, I attended a conference in Washington DC for hunger leaders in America. I participated with the Arizona delegation — and by delegation I mean me and one other person. We represented Arizona’s voice for the upcoming funding of the Farm Bill, among other things. We met with our state representatives’ staff members and discussed hunger in our state.
Until one year ago, I rolled my eyes when I’d hear public health workers discuss hunger in America. Hunger? Hunger in a country where 65% of the general population is significantly overweight? “Ha! As if!” I thought, ignorantly.
Research shows poverty leads to obesity in the United States. Go figure. Cheap food is bad food. You can get a Burger King Whopper for $2 in most US cities. A salad at any fast food restaurant will cost you at least $4. Eating healthy isn’t inexpensive — this I know. As a single person, who has recently been eating a vegetarian diet and thereby not purchasing expensive meats — I still spend on average $45 on groceries a week. This does not include my morning $4 habit at the bagel shop, my Friday night happy hour with friends, or any weekend eating, which probably adds at least an additional $50 to my weekly food total.
There are 35 million Americans who are currently hungry — skipping at least one meal a day because they do not have enough resources. Many of these people are children and the elderly. But there is a wide swath of Americans who are living in poverty — working minimum wage jobs and barely getting by — who simply cannot afford to eat healthy foods. In Arizona, if you are a single person making less than $16,000 per year, you qualify for the food stamp program. {This is a misnomer. The stamps have long since been replaced by a debit card that reboots each month.} For a family of 4, the limit to qualify for food stamps is $26,000. You must be a citizen to qualify. There are other limitations. With all this in mind, there are 800,000 Arizonans who are living in “hunger.”
We are a state of just 4 million people and 800,000 are not getting enough to eat! That is shocking to me. We are not a poor state, even though there are certainly pockets. We are a booming state — one whose population is going gangbusters and whose real estate market has helped keep the economy afloat during the last five years. It was absolutely shocking to me there are so many people in my own community who are not getting enough to eat.

In turn, I’m conducting an experiment of sorts. This week, I’m living on a food stamp budget. As a single person, I qualify for about $25 per week in groceries. Food stamps can be used solely for food or garden seeds; no toiletries, or other necessities can be purchased with this card. This all equates to about $1.25 per meal. I have just returned from the grocery and more than ever I understand why the poor are often those who suffer from ill health. This week isn’t going to be pretty, but it certainly is going to be eye opening. And I have a feeling it is going to be a great way to shed any Thanksgiving weight gain.


Butternut Squash Lasagna

I whipped this up last night for the first time and it’s a winner — so good in fact, you don’t miss the meat.

1 butternut squash
4 zucchini
1 large red tomato
1/4 white onion
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can of stewed tomatoes
parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 smallish container of ricotta cheese
1 package of lasagna noodles
salt and pepper to taste

Roast butternut squash. (Slice it length wise, remove seeds, place in a baking dish with the cut side down for 45 minutes at 350.) Let the squash cool and then scrape it into a large mixing bowl. Mix with ricotta cheese and spices.

In a frying pan, brown onions, garlic with olive oil for 10 minutes. Then add zucchini and tomatoes for two minutes. Remove from heat.

In your baking dish, place first layer of lasagna noodles. Alternate layering squash/ricotta mix with onion, garlic mix. Top with can of stewed tomatoes and parmesan. Add 1/2 a can of water to dish if you are worried the noodles will be dry. (Your noodles are not pre-cooked.) Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Viola — vegetarian heaven.

Now, to complement all those veggies you just ate, and to remove that smug look of “Wow. I just ate healthy and I’m feeling good,” from your face, cut yourself a large slice of one of these babies.

pumpkin pie
apple pie for Rex

You don’t like pumpkin? How about some apple pie. Great crust courtesy of Amanda, who sent me very detailed and kind instructions a monkey could have followed to make a great pie. Thankfully, this monkey did follow them and lookie there — a crust that I didn’t hate making! Who knew?

Today, I’m pretty thankful for my running shoes. See above.


Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

sliced apples
Apples ready for the pie
Recipe note cards
Pumpkin polenta batter

I know I’m happy when time is of no importance. I’m not glacing at the clock, wondering what I’ll do next. I’m not wearing a watch. I’m not setting an alarm or rushing to the next event. This week, I’m living in my apron, preparing pies and breads and meals for the people I love. Last night I baked 10 loaves of pumpkin polenta bread and sliced apples for a pie that will go in the oven today. When I looked up after finishing the dishes and rinsing the flour from my hands and arms, hours had flown by. I smiled, stretching my hands above my head and taking in a deep breath of warm air scented with nutmeg, cinnamon and sweetness.
Tonight when my family arrives, we’ll feast on butternut squash lasagna and spinach salad. I’ve got a pot of lentils stewing on the stove for Thanksgiving and a picnic basket full of baked goods to deliver to the bagel shop and office. I am thankful I am not hungry. There are many people in this world who are.


A Week of Thanks

Things I’m thankful for today:

1. Great weekends when I have time to both knit,

this week's knitting

2. And bake.

carrot cake with cream cheese frosting2

This is 14 karat cake with cream cheese frosting for a friend’s birthday yesterday. I added extra pineapple because I could.

3. Rex.

Racers 1 and 2

JT took this photo for me on Saturday before the run and it makes me smile.

4. Real Simple, December 2006, page 54. My entry for “what is the best gift you’ve ever received” was selected. Sweet. There is such a selfish joy in seeing your name in print.

5. Thanksgiving week, my favorite week of the year!


Blurry Vision and Mixed Thoughts

I woke up this morning and I swear my sight is going. I don’t know what the problem is, but my vision is considerably less accurate today than it was yesterday. I really need to get my eyes checked and my glasses fixed. Mental note: add $300 to already strapped December budget. Joy. Good thing I’m on my way out the door for a long swim, which requires little grace or 20/20 vision. Before I strap on my goggles, a few thoughts dancing around this morning:

~ Yesterday’s run was wonderful. The race redefined community participation. In contrast to some of the gazillion dollar races I’ve run in (namely the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon, which includes a full day trade show the day before with every athletic technology known to man), yesterday was 40 people on a dusty canal with nothing more than a stop watch and a mission. Rex stood at the start line (which doubled as the finish line) with a huge smile and I could tell he was embarrassed, but happy about our “I’m running for Rex” t-shirts. Everyone applauded him beforehand and gave him a high five when we finished. Several friends made it out for the run and it was a great time. Thank you all for your support! On a health update, Rex has one more round of chemo next week; I’ve got my fingers crossed he is creeping toward remission.
Prayers are answered.

~ I am so pleased to have signed up for Shelley’s City Swap. Shell is one of my closest friends from college. I could write novels about how incredible I think she is, but in a nutshell: when NAU stopped carrying Italian courses, she petitioned the university until they provided her with the education she wanted. Even if they may have rolled their eyes at the one girl on campus who wanted to learn Italian, they eventually caved. Shelley didn’t waste the knowledge; today she runs her own bed and breakfast in Rome with her Italian fiance Alessandro. Oh, and she speaks Italian fluently, of course. Finny chronicles Shell’s amazing life much better.
For the City Swap, I’ve been matched with Molly in Alaska. She seems more than somewhat refined and makes me once again wish I had this outdoorsy life I don’t have in Phoenix. I am looking forward to creatively coming up with $20 worth of Phoenix to send to arctic. (Close enough.)

~Turkey week is upon us and I’ve got my elastic pants ready. My parents arrive Tuesday and you can’t hear me, but I’m jumping for joy and doing my best Homer J. Simpson “WOO HOO!!”