Well, I just finished reading Where the Red Fern Grows, aloud, to my kid. It was rough. We read Charlotte’s Web a few weeks ago, and when I got to the part (do I need a spoiler alert here? consider yourself warned) where Charlotte dies, I was a wreck. Henry, genuinely concerned, asked “What is wrong with you, Mama?” But I managed to hold it together a bit better during the end of this one. My throat feels like sandpaper from struggling not to cry throughout the last two chapters though. Anyway, I feel like we need a lighthearted read next. I’m thinking Ramona Quimby, Age 8, but I’m open to suggestions if you’ve got any.
I’m changing the subject now. I don’t spend any time thinking about money, but Andy does. He’s got a comprehensive budgeting program in which he tracks where, when, and how we spend every dollar, or at least every dollar I remember to tell him about. It turns out I’ve been averaging about $1000 a month on groceries, which is ridiculous, yes? It’s not sustainable. So this week I tried my hand at sticking to a budget, a way smaller budget, and it went ok! My plan is to spend about $25 a week at the farmers market, and another $100 at HEB. We live really close to Central Market, and I love it. I can pick basically any recipe I want and I’m sure to find all the ingredients there. But it’s expensive. Also expensive is my beloved Wheatsville, which sells locally grown vegetables and local, humanely-raised meats and the employees are paid a living wage and it is everything a grocery store should be. I’m sorry I can’t be more supportive of it right now. I gotta say though, I was pleasantly surprised with my HEB trip. They had everything I wanted. I got a giant bag of instant yeast (3 cups of yeast!) for $2. They had Andy’s hippy cereal, a cheap sack of organic potatoes, and full fat coconut milk. I usually buy organic cilantro, but at HEB it’s $2.50, and you can get the pesticide kind for 38 cents, so I bought that instead. I’m going to try to get a couple cilantro and parsley plants in the ground soon so I can grow them instead. All this to say, you might notice some changes around the food I cook each week (assuming that I’m able to stick to my budget- I’m not always good at that). I’m going to try to make more stuff from scratch (like the bread and hummus below), and do a better job eating or re-purposing leftovers. (I.e. no more throwing away a perfectly lovely caponata because I don’t feel like eating it.) Here’s what we ate this week!
Everyday Bread. As you can see, I screwed this one up. The recipe is from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, and it’s the easiest bread recipe I’ve ever read. You mix up the dough, divide it into two pans, let it rise for two-ish hours, and then bake it. You don’t knead it. I’ve made other no-knead breads before, but those have to sit around for half a day or more before you bake them. I didn’t know this sort of witchcraft, a no-knead bread with a short rise, was possible. You’re supposed to bake the bread in two loaf pans, but I’ve only got one left after losing two to mysterious circumstances, so I dumped the other half of the dough onto a sheet pan and roughly shaped it into a loaf. After 30 minutes of baking you’re meant to pop the bread out of the pans and return them to the oven for another 15 minutes or so. My loaf stuck horribly to the inside of the pan, and that’s why you see all its entrails exposed in this shot (still have Where the Red Fern Grows on the brain. Too soon?). In spite of my ham-fistedness, this bread still tastes pretty good! It’s moist, slices and toasts nicely, and tastes delicious with salted butter. George ate several slices of it, which is several slices more than any other kind of bread I’ve ever offered him. Still, I don’t know if it will become my everyday bread. It’s just a bit denser than I’d like.
Broccoli Cheddar Soup. I have a broccoli soup I love- this broccoli, parmesan, and lemon number from Food52. But I liked the sound of this creamy cheddar version from Smitten Kitchen, so I gave it a go. It was ok. The broccoli and the carrots, which I had chopped into impossibly tiny cubes, took forever to get tender. Much longer than the 15-20 minutes noted in the recipe. I let it go so long that too much of the stock evaporated and I had to add more in the blending step to get it to liquify. And even then, I still found the bits of vegetable to be unpleasantly toothsome. The broccoli and lemon soup is better in every way, I think. It takes a bit longer but is way more hands off and the end result is smooth and warm and nutty from parmesan and bright with lemon juice. My kids like it a lot better too, so it’s settled.
Scrambled Egg Muffins. Um, these are delicious. Listen to what’s inside: sauteed corn, ham crisped in butter and glazed in maple syrup, roasted green chile, sharp white cheddar, and gently-cooked scrambled eggs. These lovely things are all folded into a simple cornmeal-enriched batter and they bake up beautifully. I froze the leftovers and ate them all week for breakfast, reheated in a 350 oven for about 10 minutes. I’m so sad they’re gone.
Coconut Curried Chickpeas. Those chickpeas look gross. Oddly gelatinous, right? And the color is precisely that of a breastfed baby’s poop when the baby has had too much foremilk. I wish I had followed a recipe and could blame the dish’s shortcomings on that, but it was a monster of my own making. I read the linked post- how to make a biryani without a recipe- and thought I could use the first few steps as a guide to make a curried sauce for chickpeas. It sounded romantic in my head- whole spices warmed in oil, aromatic onions, ginger, and garlic browned in the oil, and all those lovely flavors swirled with coconut milk to make a sauce that the chickpeas could soak up. When I tasted the finished dish, I got a mouthful of those whole spices. The coriander and cumin seeds crunched in my teeth and flooded my mouth with their flavors. I knew Henry and George would hate it. So I spent 15 minutes trying to seek out all those seeds and pull them from the sauce with a little spoon. I gave up and instead worked on removing just the seeds from Henry and George’s serving. This was a waste of time for two reasons: 1) I served rice with the meal so the boys ignored the chickpeas completely, even though they are supposedly #3 on Henry’s list of favorite foods. Lies! All lies! 2) I didn’t take the spices out of my and Andy’s serving and the extra cooking time softened them up a lot and made them way less unpleasant. The stuff tasted ok, after a really heavy squeeze of lime juice to brighten it up, anyway, but I’m gonna go ahead and follow a recipe next time.
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. Part of my plan to cook and shop more economically naturally includes making more stuff from scratch. Central Market sells a red pepper hummus that I love, and I had tried to make a homemade version of it before and ended up with a huge bowl of something pink and watery and flavorless. I had a big pot of chickpeas, and a crisper full of tiny red bell peppers I got from the farmers’ market two week ago, so I tried again. I used the linked recipe as a guide, specifically removing the skins from the chickpeas and using way more tahini than I usually do. Taking the skins off of two cups of chickpeas sounds trivial but takes forever. The kids were happily watching Jake and the Neverland Pirates when I started, but halfway through George’s mood completely shifted, and I had to peel the rest of the chickpeas while balancing him on one forearm, picking up one chickpea at a time with T. Rex arms. I roasted the little peppers until they were totally black, then peeled off their skins and added them to the food processor with all the other stuff. I let it run for a long time, and I was careful not to add too much of the chickpea cooking liquid (I think that was my problem last time) and I was thrilled with the results. It tasted pretty damn close to the CM stuff I love, and made easily triple the amount for way way less than the cost of one small tub, which is just the best feeling.
Crispy Roasted Chickpeas. I made a lot of chickpeas. I used up some more by roasting them with smoked paprika and cumin and coriander. Addictive and delicious.
Butternut and Sausage Calzones, Arugula Salad with Lemon, Parmesan, and Crispy Chickpeas. I wanted to break out of my rut with butternut squash and went deep into the underbelly of Food52 to find this recipe. I had never made a calzone before, and the mix of sausage and butternut sounded good, so I picked this one. There are a lot of steps in this recipe, but none of them are hard. The only questionable part of the process were the leeks. They were another thing that pre-budget me would have bought organic, but with $100 to spend, I decided to save a couple bucks and buy the conventional ones. But they were mutant super-leeks. The recipe calls for using the white and light green part of three leeks, and I followed that, even though the white and light green parts of my girth-y leeks were easily 12 inches long. (I’m gonna tone down the language here before things get out of control.) Anyway, when I added them to the comparatively small amount of roasted butternut flesh, it looked like the leeks were going to smother out everything until they were the only thing left in a dark and desolate landscape. They were well-nigh undetectable in the finished dish. More proof that I don’t know what I’m talking about. The butternut and sausage filling is delicious. The calzones browned beautifully, but stayed soft and pleasantly chewy. They really benefit from having a tomato sauce to dip them into- I think they need the acid- but it was a fun dish all around.
All the Leftovers. I am one of those people who don’t like leftovers. I don’t like eating the same thing over and over (unless that thing is pumpkin chocolate chip muffins), so I’d much rather repurpose something than just reheat it. But damn if this wasn’t so nice and easy. I had the soup, the kids had buttered noodles. I had two tiny crusts of bread and one single slice of ham and made Andy a couple of sandwiches from it. We all ate a giant honeycrisp apple. We had spent the day at a new-to-us greenbelt on Onion Creek, which is stunningly gorgeous, and the creek is miraculously still flowing after months of very little rain. My sister heard that it always has water in it, but after a rain the creek jumps up 10 feet or so. It’s gonna be our new go-to greenbelt. It’s close, you can get to the creek in a hot minute, there’s a small shady playground, and it seems like no one knows about it. After spending all morning splashing in the close-to-the-road part of the creek, we decided to hike the 3/4 mile to another part, which we had heard was shadier. The hike to the creek was ok- it was hot, and not shady, and poison ivy grows thickly on the left side of the path the whole way down, but everyone was in good spirits and we made it to the creek, which was lovely indeed. Tall cypress trees grow along the banks of the creek, and there are big boulders and fallen logs to climb on, and millions of millipedes to observe/accidentally sit upon. I had to carry both kids on the way back- George on my front in the ergo and Henry riding piggy-back. I was exhausted and so were the kids. They both fell asleep on the way home, at 3 o’clock, which is the worst because it means they’ll both be up until 11. We made the best of it by going for a long walk around the Long Center after dinner and stopping for frozen custard on the way home.
Lil’s Favorite One Bite Banana Cookies. George doesn’t eat much of anything, but occasionally he’ll climb up on a stool next to the counter, peer into the fruit bowl, and if we’ve got one, he’ll ask for a banana. He calls them ‘namas’ which I imagine is a fact nobody but me will care about, but I just love hearing him say that. Sometimes I’ll peel a banana for him and he’ll just shake his head sadly when I offer it to him. Sometimes he’ll take one bite and abandon it. And sometimes he eats the whole thing. On this occasion, he took one bite and left it. I had exactly one cup of flour leftover after making calzones, and well more than the 1/4 cup of mashed banana I needed for the recipe, so I made these cookies. I didn’t have coconut and replaced it with rolled oats. Everybody loves these cookies. The first time I made them Andy and I stood in front of the stove and ate the whole pan-full. Use the curry powder if you’re feeling adventurous or replace it with cinnamon. Either way, these won’t last long.
Beef Stew with Mashed Potatoes. Last week when I was pulling the last containers of the red beans and barbecue stuff from the freezer for our frito pies, I pulled this one out too and was surprised to find it packed full of beef stew. I don’t remember freezing that. It has to be from last winter at the very latest. Anyway, I reheated it and served it over mashed potatoes and we had it for dinner. I should say, Andy and I had it for dinner. Henry poked at his serving of stew (without mashed potatoes because he’s the only person in the world who doesn’t like them) and complained about the lack of sauce. George didn’t touch his. I don’t remember what they ended up eating instead, but it was probably pretzel rods and squeeze tube yogurts.
Quesadillas with Black Beans. I am hoping against hope that this will be the worst dinner shot I ever post here. We spent all day at the pumpkin patch in Marble Falls. The kids painted pumpkins and made sand art necklaces (George’s broke somewhere between the pumpkin patch and home and I didn’t notice until he had spilled purple sand all over the couch, through the house, and onto my lap at the dining room table, Henry’s has since broken and been patched up with hot glue). We rode a hay ride that took us through a decidedly creepy scarecrow village with as many offensive vignettes as the creator could think up. The first scene was a saloon complete with scarecrow prostitutes, legs wrapped suggestively around tree limbs. Another was a ‘No Girls Club’ with scarecrows wielding signs with colorful language about how shitty girls are. Towards the end there was a jail scene, with sad prisoner scarecrows locked up behind bars. This fed into a Despicable Me-themed scene with minions and Gru. The whole thing was so bizarre and so Texas- I loved it. My friend Molly came over for tea after we came home that afternoon, and I thought the boys would love to have a tea party too, so I set up their little Ikea set at the table with us, on a big lace tablecloth I bought at thriftland. But Henry was too jazzed about the sand art to drink tea. He had the idea to make his own colored sand by blending the filthy stuff from our sandbox out front with food dyes. So he did that next to us while we drank our tea, and eventually moved on to the technique you see above, where he mixed water and sand and food dye in glasses and left them all around the house. I chatted with Molly until after seven and then hastily made quesadillas with black beans for dinner.
Pumpkin Waffles, Hash Browns, Fried Egg. These hash browns look burnt in this picture, but I don’t think they were, really. They are incredible. I had never made hash browns because for some reason they didn’t sound all that appealing to me. But then I read the description of them in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter and had to try them. She describes them as ‘better than french fries’ and do you know what else? You brown the shredded potatoes in butter and then you pour 1/3 cup of cream on top of them before you flip them to brown the other side. What could be more compelling than that? Andy and I ate the whole pan, 1/2 a pound each. Henry ate 4 1/3 waffles, which is insane. They’re really good too, and were a great way to use up the last third of a can of pumpkin puree I had leftover after making those pumpkin chocolate chip muffins again this week. I know, it’s a problem. I can’t stop. The fried egg is there for health reasons. Protein and all that.
So I’ll see you next week! Since I’m in the mood to spoil endings for people, I’ll let you know now that I went over budget- on only my second week of trying! Not by too much though, so I don’t think you should write me off as a lost cause just yet.