Friday, December 7, 2012

Cory Booker food stamp challenge

Seems like the food stamp challenge has legs thanks to Cory Booker. We've been following this with some dismay. We agree with his point that the difficulty of living on food stamps is really tough, and indeed tougher than when we did this in 2008. Our concern is twofold.  The first is that he seems to have been given poor advice or was so stubborn as not to take it.  The second is that he unfortunately reflects one of the major problems that we have in contemporary society: he can't or doesn't cook! Let's take these one at a time.

Living on the food stamp budget is all about two things. The first is total calories  and the second is nutrition with total calories being slightly more important. If it is a given that a man his age needs about 2500 calories per day, his adviser did not help him get there. He needed much more fuel. Lettuce is a luxury and certainly not a fuel. As an aside, fuel is even more important to a person who is (1)  making important decisions and (2) going off caffeine.  Instead of lettuce, there are more nutritious, and cost effective when frozen,  greens, especially when paired with beans and yams. Where was the focus on calories? Either you make an honest attempt or you are playing at it. Notice we didn't comment on the organic olive oil.

As for cooking ... a simple but important comment. What rookie cannot understand that canned beans are not mostly water. Buying dried beans is ALWAYS the best option. But, buying dried beans does require the most elementary cooking skills. We despair of the poor buying processed foods with limited resources but Cory was unable to show that with a modicum of cooking skills he could stretch his budget effectively. Buy a cheap crock pot and use it!

We are ending this up by saying that Booker's goal in addition to exposing the difficulty of living on a food stamp budget should also have been to demonstrate how to wring as much out of a food stamp dollar as possible. He whiffed on this.

As a very final comment, Marilyn says, " don't donate a can of pumpkin to your food bank, give them money!"

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Seventh (and final) day

At the end of the week this is all that is left. The oil was a 48oz bottle and we used about 10 oz and the sugar was a two lb bag and we used about 12 oz. Not buying these in the next week would give us $2.71 to spend.

Saturday, day 7, was definitely bottom of the barrel. If we hadn't eaten out last night, we might have had to boil old shoes. We went out early this morning and bought a quart of milk with our last money. It cost $1.20 but we couldn't find anything to buy for 20 cents. We combined breakfast and lunch into a 5 egg fritatta with fried onions and peppers with cheese on top and a bit of toast. I also sliced very thin and fried up the last of the smoked sausage. Paul tried his hand at noodles and was much more successful than I. I roasted our last 2 teeny chicken thighs with the last 2 carrots and 2 onions and made them into soup. I had saved a bit of the juice from the chicken paprikash, so I was able to give a bit of color and flavor to the soup, which tasted just how you would expect. There was a bit of the beans & greens left, which Paul ate out of a sense of duty. We finished off the bread and cheese, but there was not much of either. We did have 7 peanut butter cookies for dessert. We are going ballroom dancing tonight and there is a cash bar. We will have to drink out of the water fountain. Tomorrow I am planning Eggs Benedict with asparagus and for dinner, a great big spinach salad with hot bacon dressing, croutons and hard boiled eggs. And a steak. I think I will make a rhubarb crumble for afters.

What I learned: This is a difficult way to live, especially if you like food. I would have liked to vary the starches a bit more, and fresh fruit and vegetables were out of the question. I am really tired of bread.

This was a good experience. It certainly helped me understand why why people who are on food stamps usually experience poor nutrition. Marilyn and I are very good cooks and bakers. We take time to cook (especially Marilyn). We are very savvy shoppers and we know a lot about nutrition. But even we found this tough. We could have done better but it would have meant going over to subsistance eating ... beans, rice and maybe cornbread or tortillas .. breakfast, lunch and dinner.

There is a trade-off if you are a good cook and if you want to eat cheaply. Being a good cook helps to make basic ingredients into good meals. However, being a good cook usually means that one is interested in food. It would be a bit easier if one knew the basics of cooking but didn't care about the quality of what one ate. That's a tough line to walk.

The other thing I learned is that it is easier to eat proper amounts when you have to do so. It is too easy for most of us to make more than we need and eat extra helpings. Marilyn pointed out this moring that when you eat a lot for dinner (she ate a bit more at the dinner last night than she usually eats) you wake up hungrier than you do when you eat a modest amount. So ... sticking to a weekly set of menus can help to keep you thin.

Marilyn will find out that we will visit the cash bar at dancing tonight :-)


Friday, May 4, 2007

Sixth day

Paul used the last of our flour to make one more loaf of bread. I feel like Ma Ingalls in The Long Winter. Paul had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast, and I had the dried up tail end of a little loaf of bread. Fortuitously, Paul realized we could make cinnamon toast, which has somewhat eased my pain. I am running out of milk, so I scoped out what $1.40 will buy to get us through tomorrow night. Not much. Paul had last night's dinner for lunch, and I had a little bit of melted cheese on the crust of that little loaf. I was pretty sanguine about this, as we had previously paid for 2 tickets to an end-of-term banquet, so dinner was eating out.

Well, dinner out was a slight curve in the straight and narrow experiment but we adjusted. We didn't pig out at the dinner and since it was served buffet we could have. I wonder how the Governor and his wife dealt with that since I can't belive that they don't have to make a decision about a dine-out event possibility every night. We did have some wine ... even cheap wine tastes good when you've been abstaining.

We have enough calories to get through tomorrow and we would have even if we had eaten dinner at home tonight. If we can find some milk for $1.40 for Marilyn so she can have tea, we will get through swimmingly.

I checked, by the way, on the bulk price of flour. Good quality flour is $3.50 for 25lb ($.70 per 5 lb vs the $1.09 we paid for the worst quality flour. It is even cheaper if you get bigger bags. Rice is the same. You can get great prices on premium rice if you buy 25lb bags. The question is can you get it easily if you are not flush with transportation funds? I am beginning to think that this is one of the keys to success or failure. My elder son thinks that if he lived within walking distance of a Grand Mart he could live well on $3 per day with no problem ... and he's right. But how many food stamp folks live next to such places?

I measured out the last of my coffee tonight and it will make it through tomorrow with no trouble. So, 12oz lasts me a week at full strength making a [measured] 6 cup carafe at home or work each day and a mug first thing in the morning. If I look in strange places like markets or stores that sell remainders or job lots, I can pick up very good coffee for $5 for 12 oz. I'd like to see if I can go cheaper without sacrificing quality. Any thoughts?


Thursday, May 3, 2007

Fifth day

This was an easy day for some reason, probably because the end is in sight and our food supply is holding up pretty well. I had tea and buttered toast for breakfast, and Paul had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For lunch I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on toast, because our bread is getting rather stale. Paul had Tuesday night's dinner, rice pilaf and fish for lunch. For dinner we had chicken paprikash (sans sour cream) and cabbage and noodles, called haluski when it is properly made. This was a cinnamon cookie night.
Chicken paprikash
5 chicken thighs
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 teaspoons paprika (I use half hot, half sweet)
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
Pull the skin away from the thighs, but don't remove it. Rub some of the paprika/salt mixture on the flesh, then replace the skin. Dredge the chicken in about 2 tablespoons of flour, and brown on all sides in 2 tablepoons of oil. Remove the chicken and brown the onion and carrot, scraping up all the burnt bits. Add a quarter cup water. Place the chicken over top, put on a tight lid, and bake in a 325 degree oven for an hour.
1 batch noodles, using the recipe in Joy of Cooking
1 cabbage, sliced very thin and steamed until crispy-soft
1 sliced onion
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon butter
In a very large skillet, cook the onion in the 4 tablespoons of oil & butter until soft but not colored. Add the cabbage and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes until the cabbage has a few brown spots on it. Add the cooked noodles and the rest of the butter. If you are feeling profligate, add some more butter. Stir until the noodles are heated through.

What I learned today: A nice Welsh girl like me is not a natural noodle maker. I never like my noodles all that much. If I had it to do over, I would buy a bag of noodles for about a dollar and use the egg and 2/3 cup flour for something else.

Dinner was so good that it was just like a normal day at our house ... which is quite good. While I have read that some people can't get enough calories on the Food Stamp Challenge, calories don't seem to be a problem for us. We are simply used to eating a bit differently ... many more fresh vegetables for example. We seem to be counting on fats and carbs for most of our calories. I wonder how that would play out over a longer period.

I am working on our last loaf of bread after dinner tonight. I hope to get the starter working enough to mix the dough tonight and then shape it tomorrow morning. Marilyn can bake it off tomorrow. Looks like it will be a 1.5 lb loaf.

Marilyn and I were talking today about how much more efficient it would be if we were doing this for a month rather than a week. We paid more than we had to for some things because we bought smaller quantities than we could have and usually paid inflated prices for the smaller quantities. We noticed that for a wee bit more we could have doubled or tripled our quantities of beans and rice. As a baker ... I would buy a wholesale bag of flour ( 100 lb). Even protein would be cheaper in bulk.

I will probably wind up losing a small amount of weight this week ... mostly because of no whim snacks (even fruit), not over-eating, and very small desserts. On the other hand, we are into good weather and, since I ride my bike to and from work practically every day, I usually lose my winter weight this time of year. Hard to say which is the cause here.

One last point is that there are lots of people blogging about this right now ... most of whom are not really informed. For example, people talk about, "buying a bag of apples cheaper than buying junk food". That is what you learn when you really study consumer food issues ... junk food is really cheap and that is why we consume so much of it. And, fresh fruit (even gnarley apples) is expensive.


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Fourth day

Over the hump day. Visions of Hershey bars and crispy salads. I harvested a great big basket of asparagus today, and put it straight in the fridge. Paul had a microwave cheese omelet and toast for breakfast at work; I had peanut butter and jelly toast. Paul had a very beany day, with leftover bean soup and bread for lunch. I heated up a portion of rice pilaf with extra cheese for lunch. For dinner we had the rest of the beans heated up with 1/4 of the red pepper and an onion in a tablespoon of oil with canned greens, well-drained, and smoked sausage (and lots of Tabasco), and cornbread. Tea and brown-edged wafers for dessert.
Easy recipe: Improved corn muffin mix
Put 2 Tablespoons of oil in a 10 inch cast iron skillet and place in a cold oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
If the recipe calls for 1/2 cup milk, use 1 egg and enough water to make 1/2 cup instead.
When the oven is preheated, pour the batter into the pan and bake as directed. Nice & crispy

What I learned today: This is the easiest cooking I have ever done. I usually spend an hour in food prep; opening cans is speedier, but less satisfying. If I use my little Brown Betty, I can make 1 teabag into 2 cups of tea.

Lunch today was really weak ... leftover bean soup that was all broth. It makes for a very business-like lunch ... heat it up, slurp it down. But, it means that you are just pushing calories and not thinking about food as gratification or any of the other emotions that cause us all to eat more than we need. Dinner tonight reminded me of something that I have known for a long time ... heavy on flavor covers for light on substance. Said another way, almost anything is greatly improved with hot sauce.

Our son the baker said that he would have gone at this diet in a much more straight-forward manner ... beans and rice. He must not have inherited my prediliction to flatulance. I love beans but they make me unpleasant company.


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Third day

Paul rode his bike to work, 8 miles each way, and so he needed more calories than I did. I walk a couple of miles a day, but not in a head up, shoulders back churning along sort of way. More of an amble, so I can look at flowers. Paul had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast. He took enough ground coffee to make his own pot at work. I had buttered toast and tea. For lunch Paul had our first day dinner leftovers: chicken and rice with a bit of carrot and onion. I had a grilled cheese and onion sandwich and a used teabag. Dinner was rice pilaf and frozen fish sticks (pollack) and peanut butter cookies.
Recipe: Rice pilaf
1 teaspoon oil
2 teaspoons butter
2 onions, chopped
1/4 red pepper, choppped
1 can stewed tomatoes + enough water to make 2 cups
1 cup dry rice
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried basil
Salt and pepper to tast
Grated cheese
Heat the butter and oil in a lidded saucepan until foamy. Saute the peppers and onions until soft, add the pepper flakes and basil. Stir for a minute, then add the rice and stir until the grains are coated. Pour in the tomato mixture, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and place in a 350 degree oven for half and hour. Serve with grated cheese at the table

What I learned today: Teabags are bad, cheap teabags are worse, and there is no using them twice. Since I am not drinking my usual quart of skim milk and my endless cuppas, I had to drink lots more water. Cheap fish fingers are mostly breading.

I didn't notice a lack of calories today at all. My breakfast of a P&J sandwich was typical and my lunch of previous dinner leftovers was typical (and really good ... even better reheated, as we like to say). My carafe of coffee was about 4 cups and pleanty to get me through the morning and lunch. Dinner tonight was sufficient enough that there is a future lunch for me left over. My biggest challenge today was that we threw a pizza party for our student employees (college) who are nearing the end of the term. There was enough pizza left over to feed the multitudes. Doing this diet quite vividly reminds me that we put too much food out and we have too much just sitting around ... but we all know that, right?

I baked some more bread this morning (retarded it in the fridge over night). I made 2 lb. of dough and I now think that we will run out of bread before the end of the week. We still have $1.40 to spend and if Marilyn doesn't need milk we can buy more flour. Saturday, the last day of our week, should be interesting.

My bread is simple, by the way. I have a starter so it is just 3 oz starter, 3 oz water, 3 oz flour ... mix and let work until doubled. Add this refreshed starter to 7 oz water and 16 oz flour and 2 tsp salt. Mix in bowl and then kneed for a few minutes until smooth. Let rise until doubled and then shape into a ball. Let rise in a collander lined with a floured towel until doubled (or let rise in the fridge overnight). Let come to room temp, turn out on to a baking sheet (or on to a stone in the oven if you have one) and then bake for 50 minutes in a preheated 375 oven. Put some ice cubes into the oven when the bread goes in for steam.


Monday, April 30, 2007

Second day

The remains of Paul's 3 lb loaf. Good crust and crumb for cheap all purpose flour.

Paul worked from home today, so he didn't have to make coffee arrangements or eat a big breakfast, as he usually does before biking to work. He did miss feeding his muse the endless cups of coffee which inspire him when he is doing serious writing. This evening was our tap dancing lesson, so we eat when we get home, about 8. We are hot and full of water after dancing, so we never feel very hungry. Breakfast was toast and peanut butter, lunch was bread and cheese for me, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for Paul. Dinner was bean soup, bread and butter, and cinnamon cookies.

Recipe for bean soup (The pound of beans I soaked and cooked yesterday ended up being 6 cups)
3 Cups beans and their liquid, about 4 Cups. Add water if necessary.
1/3 pound smoked sausage, sliced thin
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
Save out 1/2 cup of the beans. Put everything else in a covered pot and simmer for about an hour. Fish out the sausage and puree the soup with an immersible blender. Add the reserved beans and the sausage, remove the bay leaf, and serve with plenty of black pepper. Add salt to your own portion, to keep the beans from getting hard. We had enough soup left over for Paul to take for lunch later this week.

Things I learned today: Processed food is really sweet. Bean soup is way nicer with a potato in it. I miss unlmited milk drinking.

When checking out food stamp allocations today I foundout that it varies wildly state to state. If we did the Ohio amount, Marilyn and I would have had nearly $71 for the week as opposed to $42. That would have made a significant difference but one would still have to be thoughtful about purchases and menu planning.

I also saw the Oregon Governor's shopping list ... he scored 10lb of potatoes for $.99 Wow. But he had no coffee.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

First day

Paul and I went for a 30-mile bike ride today over country roads that were way too hilly for me. I had a cup of tea, and Paul had nothing, so we biked for several hours with no fuel. Pancakes were on the menu for breakfast, and we were really hungry when we finally ate our first meal about 1 o'clock. Paul baked a big loaf of bread, and we ate some very fresh, about 4. Dinner was at 7:45, but we weren't perishing with hunger. We had plenty to eat, and I even made some cookies for dessert.
Breakfast: Pancakes with butter and orange marmalade, coffee and milk
Lunch: Bread with butter and cheese, tea
Dinner: Chicken thighs with carrots, onion and red pepper, steamed rice, beets, tea and vanilla cookies
Pancakes: 1 egg, 1/4 cup oil, 2T sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup milk and enough water to make a batter the thickness of heavy cream.

Coq au vinaigre: 5 small chicken thighs dredged in flour,salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon Italian herbs. 2 carrots, sliced , 2 onions, chopped, 1/4 of the red pepper, chopped. Over high heat, cook the chicken in 2 Tablespoons oil until it is browned on both sides. Remove from the heat, lower to medium, add the vegetables and saute for about 5 minutes. Add 1 Tablespoon of vinegar and 2 Tablespoons of water, put the chicken over top and bake in a 325 oven for an hour, turning the chicken a few times.

Cookies: 1/2 Cup butter, 1/2 Cup sugar, 1 egg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1 1/2 Cups flour. Combine all the ingredients, mix well. Divide dough into 3 parts, mix 1/2 teaspoon vanilla into one, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon into the second, and 2 Tablespoons peanut butter into the third. Roll each batch into a log about five inches long and chill several hours. Each roll makes about a dozen cookies. Slice thin, place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 7 minutes.

What I learned today: We are eating way more butter than we usually do. I hope a pound lasts the week. A pound of carrots has only 8 skinny carrots in it. Canned beets are not as bad as I thought they would be. We had enough chicken left over for Paul to take chicken & rice as a lunch later this week.

I really need a cup of tea. Marilyn

My sourdough loaf was fairly good with cheap flour. It might have been even better with a longer rise time but we needed it quickly. Marilyn likes it but really wants a loaf-pan loaf so she can make standard toast (to go with her tea). I missed my before dinner drink!

Marilyn is very clever ... Paul

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Food Stamp Challenge

By now everyone has heard about Oregon Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski and his wife, attorney Mary Oberst who are going to try to live on the standard food stamp allocation of $3 per person per day . Marilyn and I had been thinking about third world diets for quite a while and thought that this might be a good opportunity to try the American equivalent for a week and at the same time see how difficult this really is. We think this will be challenging eventhough we are good, inventive cooks and totally omnivorous.

It is Saturday April 28, 2007 and we will start the diet tomorrow. We went shopping today. We gave ourselves $41 dollars to spend. We used the other dollar as a contribution to the pantry. The pantry deserves a short explanation. We assume that, over a longer period and for two people, one could spend a dollar a week and keep ones basic spices, salt, pepper, vinegar, baking powder and soda in supply. Here is how we spent our money:

milk gallon $ 2.59
coffee 12 oz $ 4.99
peanut butter 18 oz $ 1.49
jelly 18 oz $ 1.19
flour 5 lb $ 1. 09
oil 48 oz $ 1.59
eggs dozen $ 1.00
beans (dried) 1 lb $ .59
rice 1 lb $ .89
onions 3 lb $ 2.79
carrots 1 lb $ .99
chicken (thighs) 3.46 lb $ 4.12
cheese 1 lb $ 3.00
smoked sausage .93 lb $ 1.99
sugar 2 lb $ 1.12
can beets 14 oz $ .49
can stewed tomatos 14 oz $ .49
can mixed greens 27 oz $ 1.49
butter 1 lb $ 1.99
cabbage 1.41 lb $ .69
breaded fish 8 pcs 19 oz $ 1.99
tea 40 bags $1.99
corn muffin mix small box $ .25
red pepper .5 lb $ .79

Total $39.60

A few caveats:

We have chickens and we are using our own eggs. We used the best price for a dozen from the store.

We bake our own bread and desserts ... thus the large amount of flour.

We are not eating from our garden this week ... things will keep.

I work but Marilyn is at home. Preparation times are irrelevant.

We did our shopping at three different stores, not too far apart but not realistic if you did not have access to a car. The cost and variety would have shifted if we were limited to one market. Protein sources were much cheaper at the extreme value chain (Save-a-Lot) but staples were cheaper using the value brand at the standard chain (Giant Eagle).

Marilyn bets we will need the remaining $1.40 for milk since she drinks copious amounts of tea and would rather die than not have milk for her tea.

Today's jobs: soak the beans and get the starter ramped up for the bread.