Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Get Yer Cluck On!

It's chicken week here at the $50 Stockpile. I visited two stores today and walked away with 26 pounds of the stuff for under $17.00.

First stop, Pro's Ranch Market where I picked up chicken leg quarters in a 10-lb bag for 57c/lb. Pro's Ranch chicken is high quality, all-natural chicken with a very nice flavor. As soon as I returned from the store, I deboned the chicken pieces, herbed and marinated the meat to bake for dinner, then put the bones into the stock pot to simmer. There's enough chicken for three dinners for my family of four. Baking it all at once, I save time and energy for cooking later in the week. I'll serve the chicken again on Friday, then on Sunday. As for the stock, I have visions of chicken rice in my head. Maybe because my allergies are acting up and I'm feeling sneezy.

I know deboning sounds kind of scary, but it's not. It took me less than 10 minutes to debone the entire bag. It's a big savings over buying boneless chicken thighs, and I get the extra savings in the homemade chicken stock from the bones. I found this video on YouTube, which explains the process. I'm nowhere near as neat as this cook is with the work (the word 'carnage' comes to mind), and you don't have to be as neat, either. Nobody's watching. Go to town.

Also at Pro's Ranch, I picked up 6 rolls of paper towel (39c each), 5 pounds of bananas, a packet of whole wheat tortillas, 2 boxes of strawberries, 6 pounds of roma tomatoes, 6 pounds bartlett pears, 4 pounds nectarines and a pound of dried hibiscus (for iced aqua frescas), and 3 40-count bags of yellow corn tortillas for a total of $26.

Second stop was Food City, which was catacorner from the Pro's Ranch. There, I picked up 3 cantaloupe, 8 red bell peppers and the rest of the chicken. I picked up the advertised bone-in chicken breast for 97c/lb. I deboned the chicken breast, an easy task with the help of YouTube, and added the bones to my already happily simmering chicken stock. The limit was two packages of chicken breasts, so about $5 total. I also found frozen chicken thighs, nicely packaged in a bag so they could be used individually for 59c/lb. the bag I purchased was about 7 lbs. Not certain. The Food City chicken awaits it chance at culinary excellence in my freezer.

I spent $12 at Food City which brought my grand total for everything to $38.

This is a small produce haul for me. I still have the avocados from last week which are still ripening. Also, I have two boxes of Utah peaches I purchased in a group buy available for eating. I'm freezing most of them because it's still too hot for me to think about canning. The peaches are exquisitely sweet. My husband ate six yesterday, my kids are keeping pace with him. I get all my leafy greens from my garden and we have at least a dozen melons ripening. I took it easy on the bananas because my son didn't eat as many this last week, forcing me to freeze half of them in a banana, plum, kiwi, grape mush.

It may not sound appetizing, but believe me, it's sinfully delicious, and pretty to boot.

If the kids need more bananas, they're on sale 33c/lb at Food City all week. Also, Basha's will have eggs 88c/dozen Friday-Sunday this week, so I plan to pick up the limits on those. I don't pay a lot of attention to milk prices since we purchase raw, organic milk from a dairy in Gilbert, but many of the stores have milk for well under $2/gallon this week.

I told the kids to make themselves bean burritos for breakfast this week with the crema from last week and this week's tomatoes. They can make themselves peanut butter and jelly burritos for lunch. Entrees this week will be the aforementioned chicken, something with ground beef from the freezer, chicken stir-fry and an eggplant parmigiana courtesy of the frantically producing plants in the garden.

Not sure about desserts, but I've had requests for peach ice cream and carmelized bananas.

Which means my plan to force my family to eat cheap, whole unprocessed foods by only offering them cheap, whole, unprocessed foods to eat is working perfectly.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The 7 Day Challenge - Contemplate Death

The Food Storage Made Easy ladies pulled out all the stops for Sunday. I must pretend I'm dead and get all the documents in place so my spouse and children, in the event of my demise, can find where I stash the clean socks.

Rather, I'm supposed to get my affairs in order, then pretend I'm dead, not be dead and direct affairs from beyond the grave.

Here's what I'm supposed to do:

1) Draft a will - already done, but woefully out of date. Pretty sure all the guardians we designated for our kids have either died or been kidnapped by natives in the many years since we saw to this task.

2) Make a list of assets for those I leave behind - This one is easy. The ladies let fire and flood destroy my house during yesterday's evacuation challenge, so I guess I'm divvying up what's left - two pup tents and the contents of the change container I keep in my car.

3) Make lists of all the other things you would need/want surviving family to know...

Seriously? ALL the other things I want surviving family to know? Even my criminal brother and his no-good wife who locked Mama in the basement while they spent down her bank accounts after Daddy died?

I'm going to need extra paper and another pencil.

The ladies also want my husband to take a questionaire since I'm the one who handles all the finances, to see if he has a clue what we have, what we owe and where the checkbooks are.

Hoo boy.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The 7 Day Challenge - Day 3 - evacuate

After embarrassed acknowledgment that I've failed miserably at the Day 2 challenge, I decide that I will actually DO the Day 3 challenge.

I'm cheered. For Day 3, the Food Storage Made Easy Ladies tell me I'm off the hook and have the rest of the day free as soon as I perform the challenge! YAY! Plus, the challenge is only 30 minutes! SUPER-YAY! I can do anything for thirty minutes! Except maybe listen to Barry Manilow CDs.

Day 3 the ladies tell me a hurricane, fire or flood is heading towards my house and I have to evacuate. We have 30 minutes to do so and when we come back our house will not be there.

I was good right up to the house not being there part. All I can think is that we've just finished renovating the bathroom.

All righty, then. Evacuate. Thirty minutes. Gather the dogs, the cats, the laptops and other electronics, the photographs, get in the car and...find a decent hotel, I guess. Hmmm...maybe I better grab some camping supplies and a couple of crates of food. And a can opener.

The spouse has long departed for work, having made good his escape before I opened the Day 3 email. Besides, he's in the kind of work that in the event of an evacuation catastrophe he'd probably get called into work, not be allowed to leave and get out. This is all on me. But, hey! I'm a capable, intelligent, and resourceful woman of a certain age. I can do this.

Thirty minutes later, I'm still trying to rouse the teenagers.

"Fine!" I shout up the stairs, "Drown! Burn! Get carried off like Dorothy and Toto! See if I care!"

I don't actually shout that, but I want to.

Here's what I learned:

1) putting two dogs on leashes is no big deal. Suddenly remembering that they'll need something to eat and something to drink out of is a big deal. Precious minutes lost.

2) Uh...cats are hard to find when they don't want to be found. Don't bring out the cat carriers until the very last moment. Also, the cats will want to eat and drink, also.

3) Get those 72 hour kits pulled together, or something I can pass off as a 72-hour kit.

4) I deserve kudos for grabbing the photographs. However, they should all be in one place and not squirreled away in 5 different and disparate places.

5) Keep the gas tank at least half full. While it's fun to see how far a tank will take me in my beloved Prius, it's not wise to be sucking fumes on the day the world collapses.

And the teenagers? Sorry, no wisdom there. All I can say is that if we ever have to really, TRULY evacuate, it better not be on a Saturday before 9 am.

7 Day Challenge - Days 2 - Powerless Cooking.

The Day 2 challenge from the Food Storage Ladies was a barrel of laughs. For Day 2, the ladies gave me back the indoor plumbing they'd taken away on Day 1 and took away my power instead. No big deal. Power outages happen. The ladies wanted me to provide three meals without power. No problem, there's a reason God invented peanut butter and jelly. Then the ladies tell me the power has been out for days, everything in the freezer and fridge has gone bad, it's somebody's birthday and I have to provide a birthday celebration meal to lift everybody's spirits.

What about my spirits? Even the thought of cleaning out the rotting contents of the fridge and freezer makes me want to wander off into the desert. Add to that the challenge of two teenagers whose iPods and cell phones are long depleted (Note to Self: put solar powered chargers for ALL electronics on the preparedness list), days of pottying by candlelight, and the realization that with my aging eyes, flashlight reading is an exercise in futility, why would anybody think me capable of preparing a celebratory meal?

Here's what I learned even contemplating the Day 2 challenge: I'm a really crabby survivalist.

So I mentally figure I'll make chili on the grill in a dutch oven. I'll use dried beans, water, TVP, canned tomatoes, herbs from the garden. We'll eat al fresco and I'll even crack a bottle of wine.

There. Survival. Accomplished.

Oh wait. The ladies want me to bake a cake, too.

Who needs cake? We have the wine. I mentally toss the teenagers a box of Ding-Dong's and decide to catch up with the ladies by doing the Day 3 challenge, instead.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Survival Slam Dance - The 7 day challenge

The ladies at Food Storage Made Easy are doing a reprise of their ever-popular A Week Without Toilet 7 Day Survival Challenge. Everyday, they assault your inbox with a new scenario, then leave you to thrash out your survival scenario in near real-life situations using nothing more than your multi-tool and a stale box of saltines.

There are rules - no spending money, no sneaking out to beg, borrow or steal survival supplies, no hiring the neighbor's kid to play out the scenario for you. You're supposed to pretend whatever they say happened really happened and deal with it as best you and your most likely woefully inadequate survival preparations can. Then you can comment on their blog, or their Facebook page and share with everybody how you're doing.

I signed up for the challenge in my usual Day Late and A Dollar Short manner, which means that I didn't open the email for the first day (yesterday) until this morning. So I'll post every day and let y'all know how I did with the challenge.

Day 1: No Water

In this scenario something's happened that has knocked out power and water. The power has come back on but the water taps still aren't flowing. You guessed it - you have to use your stored water, or a nearby stream, to provide all your water and cooking needs for the day. You have to dispose of, to put this delicately, your daily waste, and it's been 4 days - you really need a shower.

Whew! This one is easy for me. Not that I'm actually spending a day without water. My family won't agree on what movie to rent without a fistfight, no way I'll convince them to pee in a bucket. My participation is all theoretical. But still useful.

I live in a desert and I grow an edible landscape. I'm acutely aware that Phoenix gets 7 inches of rainfall a year. I've watched enough Survivorman to know the end result of being stuck in the desert sans hydration. So I bought a bunch of ten dollar 55-gallon water drums off a guy on Craigslist, then force my family out at every rainfall to gather it by the bucketful. I hope someday to make the process a little more automated. Use of the rainwater in the garden requires I handpump it into a bucket and carry it to the beds.

Here's the point: Today, I have at least 10 55 gallon drums of stored water out there AND the means to gather more with the next rainfall. I'm not worried. Were I doing this challenge, I'd ration a couple of buckets for cooking and washing up duties and a bucket per person for personal hygiene duties. A solar shower is nice, but not required for bathing. I'd have everybody use the soapnut bar soap (Yes...soapnuts) so the wastewater could be dumped onto our little patch of grass for watering. We also use soapnut products for dishes and laundry. I purchase mine online from Naturoli which is a local company here in Phoenix. (Yay! Phoenix!!) Graywater from cooking and clotheswashing could go into the food beds - soapnuts are 100 percent compostible and biodegradable since they are a nut...from a tree.

I have a Nikken water filter for the drinking water, but could also filter larger yuckies out using coffee filters. Considering how long the rainwater has been out there, I'd purify with a few drops of bleach and let it stand before running it through the Nikken and drinking or cooking with it. The, um, bodily waste part I'd bury in the backyard.

Here's are some items I'm missing, a Rapid Washer to make handwashing of clothes a breeze. I don't know why I put off purchasing one.Also a metal tub for bathing and clothes washing.

Notes: Cooking isn't a problem because we have power. YAY! Not having a garbage disposal isn't a problem because the veggie waste goes into the compost. Meat waste into the regular garbage. The ladies didn't say anything about everyday services being cut off. Otherwise, I'd store it in the freezer until full services are restored.

I'm a wimp for not actually doing the challenge, but I've learned a lot from going through the motions and thinking about everything throughout the day. I also need a LOT more buckets.

Lifecycle of a Produce Purchase

Here's what I purchased on Wednesday at Pros Ranch Market:

28 avocados, 2 pounds of Red grapes, a 40-ct package of yellow corn tortillas, 7 pounds of brown onions, 20 pounds of bananas, 22 pounds of oranges (so large they looked like grapefruit) and a pound of sour cream for about $25.

This looks like a lot, but it's not all the produce I'll use for the week. The rest I pick out of the raised beds in my backyard.

What do we do with it all? We eat it.

Those of you who followed this blog during its first inception know I used to be an avid couponer. While I still use coupons on occasion, most purchases made with coupons end up in food storage, or the donate bin. That's because most coupon purchases are processed foods and I'm trying to get my family off processed foods.

Don't get me wrong - there's a place for Hamburger Helper - in the food storage, among the camping staples, if the only other option is fast food, or a take-out pizza run - but there's no way I'll work that stuff into my weekly menu plan. At least, not until the bombs are falling. Or financial catastrophe makes it the only option.

The purpose of this blog is to show that we can feed our families well, very well, using real food and with just a little bit of imagination and effort. So here's my thinking on this recent produce purchase:

28 avocados: That's 1 avocado per day per person for my family of four. I've been pulling them out of the fridge to ripen 4 at a time, in hopes they will ripen on a similar schedule. Besides guacamole, avocados make great sandwiches. Spread them on bread right out of their skin. Add a little salt and a squeeze of lemon and enjoy. Seven dollars for 28 avocados provides a great lunchbox meal for under 30c/sandwich (I'm adding in the cost of the bread). Top a salad with them. You won't need the oil part of the dressing, just the vinegar because avocados already provide a healthy dose of those 'good fats' we keep hearing about. If we don't eat them all before they get overripe, I'll mush up the rest, put it in a ziploc bag and freeze it for future guacamole.

2 pounds of red grapes: The kids are eating these. They'll be gone by tomorrow. A couple of weeks ago, I purchased about 20 pounds of black seedless grapes at Sprouts. I froze most of them and add them to smoothies. Frozen fruit is great to make low calorie and healthy 'ice cream'.

40 count package of yellow tortillas, also the sour cream: Once a week I pressure cook a pot of beans and store it in the fridge. I also keep some kind of crema or sour cream in the fridge, as well as some kind of cheese. Coupled with the tortillas ($1.49 for the pack of 40), these frugal fixings are the basis for any number of breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack tacos. Pros Ranch makes these fresh, without preservatives. The packages are still hot when you purchase them. Before week's end, they will start getting stale. When that happens, let them finish their lives as tortilla chips. Simply slice into wedges and fry like potato chips, or eschew the oil and bake them in a medium oven. The whole family loves these with salsa.

7 pounds of brown onions: I use onions all the time. I love them. This bunch is destined for a pot of French onion soup I plan to make this weekend. I have a box of beef bones in the freezer. I'll roast them, then use them to make stock. Once the stock is clarified and the bones gone to the dogs, I'll slice these beautiful onions and add it to the stock. I'll serve piping hot with a generous sprinkle of parmesan. The onions were 20c/lb, the beef bones gathered over time from meat purchases. I've plenty of herbs in my garden. The pot of soup will provide lunches and dinner starters for at least a week. Unused soup can be frozen. I'll cook it this weekend during the cheap electricity time.

20 pounds of bananas: these are tucked into lunch boxes, grabbed by teenagers too frantic to eat breakfast, churned into smoothies, added to banana bread, cooked down with sweet spices and used as a filling for blintzes, or a topping for pancakes and waffles. We go through a lot of bananas in this household so I go nuts when I find them at 33c. Any that are getting overripe are peeled and frozen. I have a big bag in the freezer and regularly chip away at them to add to those frozen 'ice cream-like' concoctions mentioned above.

22 pounds of oranges: These are already half gone. My son has been juicing them. At 4 lbs/$1, this is cheaper and better tasting than any bottled orange juice. And a good stopgap measure until my own citrus starts producing.

There you have it. My $25 investment pays me back many times over - in smoothies, frozen desserts, puddings, toppings, soup, tacos, chips, and burritos. Too bad I can't list it on the New York Stock Exchange.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Embrace your Inner Ethnic

Many years ago, I became friends with a gal who lived on produce and dried beans. When she dropped by my house for coffee, I served Chinese almond cookies. When I went by to see her, she put out beautifully sliced fruit. I thought she was a health nut. Turned out she and her husband were poor, even poorer than my husband and me. While I scrimped from our miniscule grocery budget to purchase the cookies, she scrimped from an even smaller budget to purchase extra fruit.

Here's my point, we both went with what was out there. And what was out there were ethnic groceries, lovely ethnic groceries filled with fresh fruits and veggies and slightly exotic treats like the almond cookies at a fraction of the prices demanded by the mainstream grocery stores.

Nothing's changed from those early days when I counted the food to ensure there would enough for the week. In an economy which has pushed 1 in 6 Americans below the poverty line, ethnic grocery stores still rule for anybody looking for good, cheap eats.

The Phoenix area is fortunate. We have three Hispanic markets - Pro's Ranch, El Rancho and Food City - and several large Asian markets - including  Lee Lee's and Asiana (two locations, Glendale and Mesa).

On Wednesdays, the Hispanic markets rule with produce specials so good, you'll be in juicing and smoothie heaven. Today at Pro's Ranch I scored 28 avocados, 2 pounds of Red grapes, a 40-ct package of yellow corn tortillas, 7 pounds of brown onions, 20 pounds of bananas, 22 pounds of oranges (so large they looked like grapefruit) and a pound of sour cream for about $25.

I also picked up pork chops at $1.48/lb and 8 24-count packages of toilet paper at $3.99 each (because I have a recurring nightmare that Armageddon will come and we'll be down to our last roll.)

Check their website for a location near you. Most of the specials are good for the whole week, but on Wednesdays, the produce is always piled high and plentiful.

Go to The Coupon Girl for a listing of specials at Pros Ranch and the other Hispanic markets, as well as not to be missed local and national deals.

Have fun.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

No more double coupons at Fry's

At least in Tucson. Thank you sooooo much TLC's Extreme Couponing.

Time to dust off this old blog and start blathering again about all the delicious things we can make from real food. You know, stuff like breakfast, lunch and dinner. It won't be Yakisoba, but it will be good.