Monday, June 16, 2014

Pantry Living

Wow!  I can't believe it has been almost a whole year since my last post.  And, what a year it was!  Why is it that I always find myself longing to begin more frugal living at the beginning of summer?  Perhaps it is the promise of $400 electric bills as the California sun begins to sizzle...

Our financial situation is much, much different than this time last year.  We have rid ourselves of many expenses in an attempt to save more money and become financially independent enough to not have to slog through each day in front of a computer, but rather work as we choose in both amount and subject matter.  And yet every change we have made has been eaten up by other changing circumstances - namely, having to pay daycare costs for two kids instead of just one.

While last year my focus was on squeezing pennies out of the electric bill (which I did successfully, by the way - just never reported on it,) this year I'm focusing more on our eating habits.  This isn't just a cost experiment, but also a health one, as well.

Thanks to my handy-dandy budget spreadsheet that I have faithfully kept and honed for the past eight years, I can easily pull up our monthly spending on food so far in 2014:

My first goal over the next couple months is to save grocery receipts and itemize each purchase to discover what we're spending this money on.  I'd really love to go back to March  and discover where, exactly, $1,100 went (and how much of it ended up in the trash can instead of in our tummies!)  Additionally, I know that some of these "Grocery" purchases also include things like clothes picked up while at Target or diapers and household goods bought during a Costco run.  I try my best to edit those things to their proper budget category, but sometimes things get busy and I go up to six weeks without downloading and categorizing and by that time it's long forgotten.

My second goal is to cut out some of the processed foods that we eat.  The majority of the processed foods go to the kids, sadly.  Logan's diet still remains troublesome - though he has branched out slightly from a diet of about 75% cereal bars to things like applesauce (but only the kind in the green pouch), yogurt and pancakes, 50% of what he puts in his mouth is still probably a cereal bar.  Noelle will put just about anything in her mouth, unless it's a vegetable.  I can get away with bits of cauliflower in her mac n cheese, she'll eat pureed vegetables mixed in with applesauce, and occasionally she'll eat beans.  But her snacks, too, consist of graham crackers, cheese bunny crackers, bologna, bacon, and other overly processed foods.

The third goal is to curb our eating out a little bit more.  Looking at our 2013 spreadsheet, we're spending an average of $100 less per month, or 20% less in total.  We honestly do a pretty good job of cooking meals and eating at home.  At least during the week.  The weekends tend to be a flurry of activity, including lots of eating out as we try to pass the time and not get stuck housebound all day long.  They almost always include at least one trip to McDonald's for breakfast (and toddler play), as well as a trip to Five Guys.  You know it's bad when they know you by sight when you walk in the door, and start giving you extra fries and drinks!  This habit is bad for both the wallet and the waistband! 

We returned from a nine-day vacation in heaven yesterday afternoon, and I wasn't much in the mood to do my usual weekend cooking extravaganza.  When Little Homesteader and I went out to check how our little garden did while we were away, we discovered a whole load of green beans just waiting to be picked!

About 1/2 lb of green beans

I then rummaged through the fridge and came up with a whole host of fresh ingredients just begging to be put into soup before they spoiled - celery, carrots, onions, and garlic.  I also had a pound of Andouille sausage that was meant for a baked bean dish for a family cookout on Mother's Day, but got nixed at the last minute (as always seems to happen to me at said family cookouts.)  Speaking of which, I still had a ton of black beans in the cupboard, and I discovered some red kidney beans as well.  I immediately set them to soak.  Further digging produced a can of Great Northern beans that went into the pile, too. 

I headed to my trusty cookbook collection to see what kind of spices blend well with Andouille sausage (I had never cooked with it before), and came up with tomatoes, thyme, and bell peppers, though I suspect the thyme had much to do with the other ingredients in the recipe I was reading (Jambalaya) than the sausage, but I do love me some thyme so I went for it.  I had the first batch of crushed tomatoes of the season sitting in the freezer, but our bell peppers aren't quite ready to be picked yet.  So I added thyme and bell peppers to my shopping list.

After chopping, sauteeing, boiling, and simmering, I had a huge pot of amazing soup for a whopping $4.01 in extra ingredients (half of which is a whack-ton of thyme that will be put to good use in the coming weeks!)

Here's the official recipe:

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 small carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dried black beans, cooked and drained
1/2 cup red kidney beans, cooked and drained
15 oz can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 lb green beans, chopped
1 lb Andouille sausage, chopped
5 sprigs thyme
4 cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute veggies (onion through garlic) in olive oil until tender.  I chop, then add, then chop, then add, etc, until everything is done.  Add the vegetable stock, let it heat through, and then taste for seasoning.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer until ready to serve.  I left mine on simmer for about two hours.

I turned the heat off and let it cool before refrigerating.  I divvied this up into five 2-cup servings and five 1-cup servings.  It will be perfect for lunch all week long!

The picture isn't too pretty, but it sure does taste fantastic!

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