Friday, September 30, 2016

Two people. One September. One store. $6.66 a day. And no animals were harmed.

The Last 99 Cent Supper
Well, that went really well. Cheaper than expected. Way cheaper. Painless, absolutely painless. And since we didn't explode into a mushroom cloud of bean gas, I think it was amazingly healthy too.

We both ate for the whole month, minus the ten days I was gone to visit family, from the 99 Cent Store. Vegan, all vegan food. Hardly anything processed. And we had some pretty good meals. Tasty stuff. Simple, yet tasty. We got real familiar with the Legume Family, they were frequent guests at lunch and dinner. 

The 99 Cent Store is certainly not Whole Foods where one walks around saying, "Hmm, lets see, where are they keeping the locally-grown rutabagas these days? Hey look! The cage-free organic endive is looking just divine!" No, shopping at a dollar store for produce is more like "They have THAT?!?!" It's simply amazing the variety of produce, even without the endive and rutabagas. It gives one hope.

The best deal by far was the three loves of Dave's Killer Bread* that Ernst picked up early in the month. We froze two, so he had healthy and great tasting whole-grain bread for all of September. For one dollar a loaf. It's normally four dollars a loaf, so he enjoyed every single slice with a side of smirky satisfaction. 

*The Best Bread in the Universe
(Or so say people who can enjoy bread.)

So, what was the grand total for our month of purchasing food in one dollar increments?


Now comes the fast talker at the end that takes away all the fun. Factoring in that I was gone for ten days, we are rounding it up to 


And that comes out to 

$6.66 a day 

for two people who hardly ever eat out, and eat breakfast, lunch and dinner from food we prepare at home in our kitchen. 

What have I learned from this? That a person can walk out of Whole Foods with an empty wallet and a full grocery cart, but not benefit one bit if that food isn't healthy, or if that food sits and sits and then goes bad and gets thrown out. 

But a person can walk out of a dollar store (which of course lacks the ambience and free olive tasting station of a Whole Foods) with several bags of tried and true food staples. With some effort and a bit of chopping, a rice cooker, a crockpot, and some basic spices, the second shopper can be better off than the WF shopper. It's not about the food we buy, it's about the food we eat. And the 99 Cent Store has some amazing food, and when I say that, I'm not just full of beans. Not completely full anyway.

We have another adventure planned for October. Check back in soon!

We factored in the vast amount of dried beans we were left with.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Eating, well, from the 99 Cent Store

I'm almost a little disappointed how easy it was. I wanted this month to be a test of my endurance, a chance to reach down deep and see what I'm made of. Instead, I just found out it was pretty easy. No fan fair, no hot air. Not even from the beans.

Tomorrow is the last day of our #99Centember experiment, where we ate only from the 99 Cent Store for all of September. It wasn't that radical, it wasn't difficult. I thought I'd have some serious Trader Joe's detoxing to do, but when I wandered in TJ''s to use the bathroom this week, I wasn't compelled to buy a thing. I was just highly amused to see that pumpkin is getting into everything. The walk to the bathroom included at least 30 items spotted with pumpkin in them. Oh my gourd, it's a bit much.

We ate well this month, no starvation issues. My husband picked up so much food at the beginning of the month, I hardly needed to shop much at all. While fresh greens were probably lacking a bit in our diet this month, it wasn't the 99 Cent Store's fault, they have a pretty good selection of fresh vegetables. The grapes were amazing, and the red peppers were delish. We ate carrots, cauliflower, Romaine lettuce, onions, potatoes, beets, fresh corn, tomatoes and more. While not exactly an oasis of farm-to-fork freshness, it was not a food desert one bit.

If beans and more beans are good for the heart, our hearts are very happy right now. Between canned and dried, we ate lotsa legumes! We had Bean Chili, Bean Soup, Soupy Bean Chili, Beany Chili Soup and a few more Bean Bonanzas. Right now I have the last bean dish of the month, Crockpot Curry Chickpeas, bubbling away. You can't beat beans on price, so I'll be curious when Ernst does the grand total tomorrow to see how much this food experiment cost us. Then I'll reveal what's on tap for October! 

Pumpkin Soup, from our garden,
Cheap, orange and yummy.
And not beans.

A simple and easy salad.
Romaine, beets and chickpeas.
Which are beans.

One of the many Bean Soups!
This one was loaded with tomatoes, carrots, onions and red bell peppers.

The Free Garden Ratatouille that seemed to last for.e.ver.

And the pumpkin just got into everything.
Pumpkin Smoothies!

Friday, September 16, 2016

99 Centember - Hits and Misses

It appears we are really doing this. We are really eating plant-based food exclusively from the 99 Cent Store for one month, and I have yet to go to Trader Joe's and whimper at the window. There's only one thing I truly miss about my local TJ's, besides the free coffee and food samples. I miss the bag of shredded carrots. These carrots are not shredded grater-style. No, these carrots are put through a transformation that makes them taste so yummy and delicious. I can't replicate them. No one else does them that way. I must soldier on without the amazing carrots.

The thing about shopping at a dollar store for produce is you can't have a certain meal in mind when you walk in. Forget about lists that start with one daikon radish, half a red cabbage, a sprig of dill and a ripe papaya. Nope, you take what you can get and then decide what to do with it. The produce that didn't get rave reviews? The salad I made from romaine lettuce, celery and pea pods was not a winner. The celery had no flavor and the pea pods were downright nasty. Not like rotten nasty, just some bad tasting pea pods. We ate it anyway, because we were sorely lacking in greens in our diet. If only I had had some Trader Joe's Spicy Peanut Dressing. Put that on the list of TJ products I pine for. 

The fresh produce that scored were the more hearty items like carrots, a gigantic cauliflower, celery, potatoes and onions. Surprisingly, the corn on the cob was super. One watermelon was tasty, the next one blech, but that can happen at any store. Two portobello mushrooms, big ones, for a buck. And banana for banana, the price at Trader Joe's was better, but the ones from the 99 Cent Store were the most gigantic bananas I have every laid eyes on. These were pontoon-sized bananas, and after letting them ripen I peeled them and froze them for future smoothies.

The hits made it into some cheap and tasty meals, and I'm having fun with this process. I love challenges, but this one is not as hard as I imagined. Stay tuned for what we have planned for October!

Not exactly brimming with greens, but this dinner cost only 2 bucks!
Roasted potatoes and Cauliflower Hot Wings.

Actually from Italy. Or so said the box.
I was impressed.

Big jar of future bad breath for one dollar.

I made an amazing 99 Cent Store Sauce.
Tomatoes and garlic and mushrooms and olives.
Worth every cent.

We served it over brown rice, with beets and the fresh corn.
Send in salad, we heard the plate plead. 

A rice bowl rounded out the week.
With a salad that didn't disgust.
I got this.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

99 Centember

If I had my way I would shop at Trader Joe's for just about everything. If they don't carry it, I've come to believe it isn't really necessary for life. 

I also shop for groceries in the regular grocery store, at a little Mom and Pop produce place down the way and (when I feel like walking into the giant chiller that leaves me shivering), I pick up veggies and fruit at Costco. I should get up on Saturday mornings and hit the farmers market in the neighborhood, but I don't. My favorite way to acquire produce is when someone says "Hey Jessica, do you want a boat load of _________ from our tree/yard/garden?" Sure, I say, bring it on.

My husband is a bit more adventurous than I am when it comes to shopping for food. He loves popping in the 99 Cent Store to see what he can grab for a buck. I must say I'm pretty impressed with some of the items he picks up. It's not all Cheese Doodles and Nuclear Pink Punch at these dollar stores, you can find healthy choices if you look. Some of the brands are out of the mainstream, but for a dollar they're worth trying.

There is a 99 Cent Store about a mile to the east of us, in one of Sacramento's food deserts. You know, those parts of town that are abundant in liquor stores and gas station mini marts, but sorely lacking in real grocery stores. This got us thinking - could a person who lives in a food desert that contains a dollar store be able to shop and prepare healthy food for themselves? Not farm-to-fork, but more like store-to-spork?

In our case the question gets even dicier - can two plant-based adults live for a month solely on vegan food purchased from a 99 Cent Store? We don't eat meat or fish or eggs or milk and we don't eat any extracted oils. We eat abundant amounts of fruits and vegetables, rice and beans, whole-grain breads and cereals. legumes and once in a while we eat from the all-important food group of chocolate.

We figured it wouldn't hurt to try, so we picked a month. 99 Cents + September = 99Centember! The month was chosen, and the hashtag #99Centember was mine for the posting. 

A jury summons, some work days, lots of quilting, an assembly and that was it!
An easy and carefree month for our great food experiment. 

August became a game of trying to use up as much food on hand as possible. I made salads and casseroles, soups and stews, some better tasting than others. We used up bits and pieces of this, dabs of that, bottles and jars were getting dumped in left and right, leaving the refrigerator and cupboards looking quite pathetic.

Poor pathetic empty produce bins.

Mother Hubbard would be shocked. 

Because a contest of any kind needs rules, here they were:
  • Everything we ate in September, within reason, was to be from the 99 Cent Store
  • Spices and the random sprinkle of flour or splash of condiments doesn't count
  • Homemade jam or cider is OK
  • If someone gives us a boat load of produce from their yard, we say of course!
  • Produce from our garden is welcome, although we're only left with pumpkins
  • We'll track all expenses to see how much (or hopefully how little) we spend

The end of August came down to some interesting meals around here, but we managed. I set August 31st for my big shopping day at the 99 Cent Store. I was going to fill the veggie bins, load up on lentils and we would have canned goods and frozen foods once again.

That last day of August we got an early morning call from my family back east, I needed to get on a plane fast to go out and see my Mom in the hospital. I threw some clothes in a suitcase and made it to the airport for a last minute flight. After some scary days, my Mom is better and settled into a routine to get her strength back. The last thing on my mind was our silly little food plan for September, but I did feel really bad that I left Ernst with his own little food desert right in the middle of his work week. I assumed 99Centember was a bust.

Never letting a challenge pass him by, Ernst went ahead with the challenge without me. I came home to a surprisingly clean house and a refrigerator that had food in it. So here we are, a third of the way into the experiment, and I'm the one that needs to get on board with it.  I spent the morning getting caught up on what was on hand and making a few things to munch on for the next few days. I have yet to forage for vittles in the 99 Cent Store myself, but there's plenty of month left for that.

The vegetables are not exactly prizewinners, but they will do.

Pea pods!
Some were a bit sketchy, but they were peas in a pod.

Not worthy of Pinterest, but this salad had a bit of interest.

I made a huge pot of spicy soup for $4.75.
Our food budget is liking this September just fine.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Heart Lessons

By now, I really ought to know more about heart anatomy. I've sat there too many times now as the cardiologist explained what just happened during my husband's latest procedure. My typical response is a slight tilt of the head, some "Yes" and "Of course" answers, accompanied by much head nodding. The goal is that I nod my head at all the right moments, and that I remember what in the world the doctor is talking about so I can repeat it later to my husband who knows exactly what the doctor is talking about.

The latest procedure in July was going to be different. First, it wasn't an emergency. I could actually do my hair, wear nice clothes and not look like a weepy hot mess while I sat there nodding. Second, I could upload some pictures onto my iPad and whip them out when the doctor started getting all technical. Then I could nod and interject phrases such as "Ah, yes, the good ol' Anterior inter-ventricular artery" and "My oh my, if it isn't that cocky Superior vena cava, such an attitude with that one!" 

I didn't need to nod, I barely needed to have a good hair day. Ernst was so alert after his angioplasty, he went over the videos of his surgery with the doctor mere minutes after coming into the recovery room. They threw around the fancy medical terms and they rehashed what happened, as my iPad photos sat useless. 

So what happened? The team at Kaiser Roseville put another stent in an area that started giving Ernst trouble in June. What kind of trouble? Well, after my husband attempted gargle singing at a gathering, choked on the water he inhaled and practically coughed up a lung, he started feeling poorly the next day. And according to the good doctor, yes indeed, it's possible to dislodge an old plaque in your heart by a coughing fit brought on by gargle singing. Good to know.

What the doctor didn't do is try to fix the part of the heart they thought was giving him the latest symptoms of angina. That section is completely clogged up with scar tissue from his past surgeries. But his heart has built collateral arteries to keep things sufficiently oxygenated. All his other stents are clean and clear. They said to keep up the plant-based diet. Good to know.

The mascot for Team Collateral Arteries.
Go Collaterals, go!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Our Silver Linings Blanket

Back in July of 1992, when we celebrated our first anniversary, money was a bit tight. So we went camping and made a pact to not buy each other gifts. We took a picture of me holding up one finger to represent one year of marriage.

Davis, where it all started.
The custom held, and we continued to make anniversaries a no gift affair. But that picture thing stuck. We took pictures every year, each year adding another finger for another year. When I ran out of fingers, we started finding numbers in random places. On year twelve, our friend in Italy made us a cake with a big number 12 on it. The places varied - the early years were usually camping, the middle years often in Europe, lately just sticking around home.

This July, for our 25th, we decided to shake it up a bit. We decided to go back to where it all started, to Davis California. The day included a visit to the Davis Arboretum with a stop at Whole Foods for picnic supplies, a very expensive picnic we could not have afforded our first year. We took some pictures in the same spots we took our wedding photos, we think. A garden changes a lot in twenty-five years.

Then came the fun part. We combined the German tradition of throwing your own silver anniversary party and the Moldovan tradition of inviting people to your wedding by driving around and personally offering shots of liquor to all your friends. We grabbed some bottles of our homemade Hungover Hound cider - plum and orange and lemon, plus several shot glasses and we hit the road. I was the designated tiny little sips of cider driver.

We started at Mykl and Rita's place on our way to Davis, then saw Linda and her new dog Sarah, then Madelene, followed by John and Candace. Then it was off to see Mike and Brigitte who shared with us some South African liquor. A visit to Judy was next, then time with Martin and Anna before ending up with Dan and Anne in South Davis. Our plan was to stay at each house for just 15 minutes. Oh, what fools we are even after all these years. Four or so hours later, we headed home, happy with the knowledge that it's the people you meet who make your life the richest.

A few days later I finally started cutting out the fabric for the Ernst and Jessica Quilt. I wanted to have it started before Ernst went in for his fourth heart surgery (more on that in a future post). The thought was, in my incredibly stressed out mind, that if I started a quilt that celebrated our life together, surely that life together would continue long enough for me to finish the project. Of course, now that the results are in and are positive, I know that good health and long marriages are not based on whether a hobby is completed. But at the time, cutting out those squares was the only thing I felt I had control over. We eagerly await the finished project.

While I've always just hauled our old clothes off to Goodwill, when we were getting our life organized last summer I started putting away a few well-used and treasured clothes for a quilt. It made it easier to retire some ratty old favorites, knowing they would end up in our quilt. Here are some of the highlights.

When Ernst bought these pjs for a trip, they were packaged to look normal.
Instead, they were an amazing hodgepodge of plaid.

No worries, the crazier the better.

That's the trim color and the wall color of our house.
The house that needed every single surface painted.
Painting starts with pain for a reason.

Nothing says refined elegance like moose pajamas.

Or dogs, we must have dogs.

Lots of trips in twenty-five years, but just one to Hawaii.

Make that soy milk and plant-based treats, please.

Flannel, there must be flannel. 

Some dress shirts too. We're not hillbillies after all.

Davis, There's no place like Davis.

Ernst possibly caused his burst plaque issue by inhaling water into his lungs after "gargle singing" at a gathering.
If the shirt fits, quilt it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Plum tuckered out

Our yard has a total of nine or so fruit trees, not counting the pecan that desperately needs a girl pecan tree to be fruitful. Even after knowing about the issue with the fruitless pecan tree that towers over our backyard making worthless, empty nut shells, we just might have planted some dud cherry trees too. Who knew that trees were so picky in the fruit making department - aren't the bees supposed to be taking care of all that pollen stuff?

Two trees we never have to worry about are the plum trees. One sour and one sweet, they certainly know how to make fruit. This year all the fruit came a bit early and furiously, so we were busy plum processors. Ernst was the resident picker, fruit washer, pitter and juice processor. I just gave moral support and occasionally was chief bottle washer.

The majority of the plums went into making our now infamous Hungover Hound Plum Cider. To make plum cider, you need to make plum juice, and do we ever make the plum juice. While some might make plum juice by squishing up a bunch of plums and then straining the liquid, we have the juice-making contraption that puts the fear of plum-colored kitchen walls in me. I come home to scary scenes of a giant pot bubbling on the stove, with plastic tubes and crimping devices holding back the burning purple liquid. So I usually just go outside in the shade of the infertile pecan tree and hope for the best.

After the plum cider is taken care of, we have quite a bit of gorgeous plum juice left. It really could not be easier to make jelly than when someone hands you a large amount of clear and beautiful fruit juice that you didn't have to juice yourself. Making jelly is quite simple. It's all in the attitude. If you tell yourself it's easy, it's easy. But that might be the plum cider talking.

This juice, besides threatening to stain the walls plum, is slated to become cider.

Now this is plum juice for plum jelly.
About six cups is all you need.
I won't say how much sugar is needed because it's a disgusting amount.

I must have this brand pectin.
Must have the SureJell.

I usually let the dishwasher do the jar sterilizing.

But I don't trust anything except a pan of boiling water for the lids and seals.

Learn. From. Me.
Put. Down. Big. Towel.
And get one of those things that looks like a fat funnel. 
OK, I admit, there are lots more steps I'm leaving out, but they are all included in the easy directions that come with the SureJell. All you need is fruit, sugar and SureJell. And plum cider. And that weird funnel thing. You'll be making jam or jelly in no time. Or lots of ice cream topping if for some reason it doesn't work, but that's really tasty too. If you try to forget how much sugar you added. 

Plum Jelly!

Plum Jelly off to the California State Fair!
The little guys won first place.
Which is given to more than one person or jelly.
The Orange Jelly won too.
So did the Orange and Lemon Jelly.
First place.
I think the judge got a hold of some plum cider, but I'll accept.

This Friday is the Orange Marmalade Competition.
And that will be it for canning, until next year.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Orange you glad it's Summer?

I was born and raised in California, the land of citrus, and I had no idea there are orange trees that produce a crop in early summer. Summer oranges? That's about as strange as a homegrown tomato in February. Simply preposterous!  

Our neighbor Steve has such an orange tree. He says he hates them, they're a pain, full of seeds and did we want them? Never being ones to turn down free food, Ernst went over and picked a bushel or two. I'm not really sure exactly what a bushel is, but if a bushel means a giant amount of produce that you can't believe just entered your life, we did indeed get a bushel or two. 

What's a person to do with so many oranges? First, and this is the easy part, we tasted them. Yes, they had more seeds than maybe the average person would prefer. But we are far from average and we kept eating. And eating and eating because these were the sweetest and juiciest oranges I've ever had in the middle of the beginning of summer. I dare say they are better than our oranges, but it may just be the excessive amount of Vitamin C in my body talking.

The enormous load of oranges made their way to the back patio where we could start dealing with them, Then Ernst picked another bushel or so, because by then he too was a bit loopy on Vitamin C. This was serious, it was hot, our patio was covered in citrus, oranges don't last forever and we had to start preserving these things. Here's what we did.

A very small portion of the very last of the bushels upon bushels.

I sliced them thin and dried them in the dehydrator.
They came out tasting like candy.
Yummy, orangey, chewy candy.
I have to limit myself to a small mountain of them each day.

We ate lots of this amazing Orange Olive Salad.
Looks weird, tastes great.

I whipped up some Orange Smoothies.
This had bananas, oranges, and a cucumber, with water.
It took me to the moon and back, all before 8 am.

We filled the fridge with orange juice for making Orange Cider for the California State Fair.
We sadly missed the deadline for the entrance fee.
Very sadly.
Tragically is not too strong a word.
We may have to drink Orange Cider to drown out our sorrows.

Having missed the deadline to submit our Orange Cider and Lemon Cider for judging at the California State Fair, I knew I had a mission ahead of me. Make Orange Jelly, and do it right. My goal is to better my performance of my Plum Jelly from last year's fair, no pressure of course. The jelly I had made from our oranges this January turned out too stiff and solid and the marmalade was just not that great. Here with these summer oranges, I was given another chance. I really took my time and measured the ingredients perfectly (well, is anything really ever perfectly perfect?).

The first batch turned out great, so I decided to do a second version with oranges and lemons. That one's even better. But we still had oranges left, and by then I was on a roll with this whole canning process, so I made some orange marmalade too. I cut off the rind, leaving the white pithy stuff out. I sliced the rind up into really uniform slivers, like I was on a cooking show. Then I came up with my secret weapon, my most amazing technique, like I was some sort of marmalade expert and this wasn't only the second batch of my whole life. It worked. It turned out yummy. I hope the judges agree. Maybe we can get them all liquored up first with Orange Cider. We've got bushels of it.
Lemon Orange Jelly

Secret Weapon Orange Marmalade!