Something to chew on

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Food Pantry Blog Project: Finale

My plan was to make it seven full days on this project, but I ended up with five days under my belt total. And I wasn't the only one to learn that sometimes life steps in and changes our plans.

There may be more words to write after a few days of reflection, but life has stepped in and stolen my attention: I'm about to do some traveling; I've just gotten a dog out of the hospital, narrowly avoiding surgery to remove part of his small intestine; and there was family drama many miles from here (thankfully) that involved a gun. I didn't even blog Day 5.

But I would not have traded my time participating in this project for anything. Along the way I learned so much, not only about myself, but also about our community and people I don't even know.

This project has spurred change in me: My composting class is Wednesday.

I learned that more people than I ever realized -- myself included -- need a lift and some support from time to time, just to find comfort in knowing where their next meal is coming from.

For both Cole and me, this project cemented the decision we made long ago to make the Capital Area Food Bank one of the organizations that we support as a family, through regular financial donations, volunteering, and going to great events like the Empty Bowl Project every year.

There are a few cans leftover from the original bag of food pantry items I brought home. They'll be going into a large paper bag to be left for our mail carrier for Stamp Out Hunger on May 8.

When we first met with Lisa to get this project started, she said that the mission of the food bank is two-fold: To feed hungry people. To end hunger in Central Texas. By making donations of money and food, and by volunteering, I can help with the former. But it will take all of us working together to accomplish the latter.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Food Pantry Blog Project: Day 4

Remember yesterday how I was thinking about (obsessing over) waste? Well, instead of just letting myself worry and fret, I took a first step. I signed up for a City of Austin composting class. I had no idea there was such a thing; I was just searching the City site for general composting information. Four days in, and this blogging project is leading me to action. I didn't know I would be called to look into becoming a worm farmer of sorts, but that's okay with me!

Here's how Day 4 looks:

For breakfast, more oatmeal. Breakfast is really where I'm feeling the lack of choice. I'm still not quite ready to open my Cheerios and risk them going stale. I'm going to wait until all the other cereal in the house is consumed first. So, oatmeal it was. Luckily, it's good for me!

For lunch, leftover Hamburger Helper from Friday night and a slice of plain, dry bread. We've eaten more sliced bread over the last four days than we have in ages. I'm almost looking at it as a "side" right now. I've used the loaf to make garlic bread this week, and Cole used a couple of slices with last night's dinner to build a pulled pork sandwich.

For dinner, more Hamburger Helper, with chips and salsa. I should have opened a canned vegetable for the side, but I'm hoping that the salsa and some Ocean Spray Light Fruit and Veggie Juice put a couple of servings into my system...

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Food Pantry Blog Project: Day 3

I've been thinking about so much today. Convenience, waste, budget, the definition of hunger. I can't quite focus my mind enough on each thought yet to put them into words, but I'll get there, I'm sure. So for now, just a recap of the day. Day 3:

For breakfast, I was going to have the Cheerios that came in my food pantry bag, but I already had a box of cereal open from last week, unrelated to this project. I didn't want to open another and risk both going bad, so the Cheerios are still unopened, unable to get stale. And I worked on finishing what was already started in my pantry. And so, with that thought over breakfast and worry about wasting cereal, my mind thought all day about waste. Not only what we waste in food as a country each day, but what we let go to waste right here in this house. I think it's time to start composting...

For lunch, well... We had been doing yardwork a good part of the day and then headed out to run errands. If you know me, you know my blood sugar can drop like a rock. And it did. I had planned on having leftover Hamburger Helper from Friday night, but instead we had to stop and get something into my system, and fast. A burger and fries it was. For the two of us, our lunch totaled 20 bucks and some change. Just a little less than I spent with my "supplemental" funds for this project. Again, my mind was churning over our grocery budget and how we had just spent -- in five minutes on one meal -- almost what I spent to supplement this project for a whole week...

For dinner, I got back on track with the project. With part of my supplemental $28, I splurged on a pork roast. It was the most expensive item I purchased at $7.45. My thinking was: Cook it in the slow cooker, eat on it for dinner and for a couple of lunches over the following days. I simply seared it in salt and pepper before putting it into the slow cooker and covering it with beef broth and Hell on the Red salsa. We paired it with our favorite roasted potatoes.

That's it for now. I'm off to see if there is a Composting for Dummies book.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Face of Hunger

Wednesday evening, to kick off this food pantry project, all the bloggers involved met at the Capital Area Food Bank for a tour and some great (and even staggering) information about hunger in Central Texas. (For instance: The food bank has seen a 60 percent increase in usage compared to this time a year ago.) Lisa Goddard, CAFB's online marketing director, was our tour guide and host for the evening, and I remember her saying that even in just the five years that she's been working there, she's seen the face of hunger change.

It's not just the face of the homeless man asking for spare change on the street. The face of hunger belongs the young married couple who just spent every dime repairing their only car so that they can both get to work, or even look for work. The face of hunger belongs to the proud grandmother of 12 who takes several medicines each day and needs a little bit of help making sure she's eating the right foods for those meds to work correctly. And I found out Wednesday night that at one short period in my life, my face could have been considered the face of hunger.

When I was about two years old and my parents were still married, we moved to Austin and lived over off of Duval. Mom stayed home with me and Daddy was a plumber's apprentice. He brought home about $75 a week.

"When you're in the construction world and the weather's bad, you just don't work," Mom told me. So we took advantage of the commodities program. "It wasn't called a food pantry or food bank back then," she said, "but it served the same purpose."

Talking more with Mom the next morning about it, she recalled 5 lb. blocks of cheese, 3 lb. blocks of "real" butter and industrial sized cans of Spam. "You really had to be creative!"

I don't remember any of this, and I don't remember a time in my life where I ever truly felt need. Mom made sure of that. And I for one am very glad the she took the initiative to seek out such programs. I also now understand where my love of fried Spam sandwiches comes from.

Wanna honor my mom -- or heck, even your own -- the day before Mother's Day? Look for the Stamp Out Hunger bag in your mailbox soon and simply leave it there on Saturday, May 8, filled with non-perishable foods for your mail carrier to deliver to the food bank. I'll be filling mine to the very top!

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Food Pantry Blog Project: Day 2

I woke up hungry this morning, but not as hungry as some. (And you know as I type that and think about it, with just two days into this project, I'm thinking about the word "hungry" in a different light. But more on that in a later post.)

I'm a grazer. I normally have a mid-morning snack and a mid-afternoon snack. But yesterday, I stuck to three meals, just as many families do every day. If they're not having to get by with even less...

Three square meals a day should be plenty for me. And my guess is that if I could cut out some of that regular snacking, I might also be able to cut out a few pounds. But that's a different story...

All that being said, I woke up immediately thinking about food. What was I going to have? Well, I only really have two options right now: oatmeal and Cheerios. Unless I want to have spaghetti leftovers. That has been the biggest eye-opener for me while participating in this project. I worry about what's next, and I really have no choice about it. What I have is whatever was in the bag of items I "received" from the Pflugerville food pantry.

I had oatmeal for breakfast again. This time with a banana.

For lunch, more black beans and rice, with a bit of salsa. (Do you know about Hell on the Red salsa made in Telephone, Texas? Such good stuff.)

For dinner, Hamburger Helper with canned green beans on the side. I also had some fruit/veggie juice with breakfast and dinner both.

I'll be taking a break from the project Saturday. We have several social obligations and I simply don't want to do the project halfheartedly. So Sunday, I'm back on it at 100 percent to finish out my seven days...

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Food Pantry Blog Project: Day 1

Well, I just completed my first day with the food pantry blog project that many Austin bloggers are participating in starting today. I must say, I need to work on my black-bean skills for the rest of the week. But I will admit: Black beans and rice with a spoonful of salsa made for an awesome lunch.

It was a bit of an emotional morning getting started. I found myself worrying all morning about having enough food to feed me and Cole for the week. (Just imagine making the list last for a whole month.)

Here's how my day actually looked:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with a bit of butter and half a can of sliced pears. I'm not a fan of pears, but it was good to get some good, cool fruit in.

Lunch: Black beans and rice with a spoonful of salsa. It really made a great lunch, but I need to work on my bean skills.

Dinner: Spaghetti and garlic bread.

So I walk away from Day 1 proud of myself for sticking to what I "received" from the food pantry and what I was able to supplement with my food stamp-equivalent purchase. I also realize that I need to get more veggies in, and that's definitely on the menu for tomorrow.

One thing that I didn't expect but that I found myself doing all day: measuring like a mad woman. If I have to make things last a whole week/month, I'm rationing and portioning every step of the way...

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The List

Here's the list we'll be working with as a couple dozen Austin food bloggers dive into the food pantry project. It's pretty close to exactly what recipients walked away with when they visited a food pantry in Pflugerville just last week. They can visit once a month.

(We're each duplicating this bag on our own instead of taking one from the pantry and possibly from someone with a need.)

To supplement their monthly take away from the food pantry, many are lucky enough to also receive help from the SNAP program (food stamps) or WIC. The maximum benefit that we heard about during our meeting Wednesday evening was $200 for a month.

So, since I'm doing this for seven days, I'll use the full list as I plan my menu, cook and eat, and keep my "extras" (like fresh produce and dairy) to under $50.

Here's the complete list of food pantry items some Pflugerville recipients took home last week:
  • 2 cans spaghetti sauce
  • 4 cans veggies
  • 4 fruit cans
  • 1 meat selection (like 1 lb. of ground beef)
  • 3 drink items (choice of large bottle of cranberry apple juice and/or powdered milk and/or apple juice boxes)
  • 1 bag spaghetti or egg noodles
  • 1 bag of beans
  • 1 bag of white rice
  • 1 package of jalapeno slices
  • 1 ready-made dinner (like Hamburger Helper)
  • 1 bag/container of oats
  • 1 bag of cheerios
  • 5 lb. bag of potatoes
Update: I just finished my shopping for this project, and my "extras," those things someone might use their SNAP or WIC benefits for, came to $28.17.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tonight We Meet; Tomorrow We Blog

A group of about 30 local food bloggers will get together at the Capital Area Food Bank this evening to talk about a project to raise awareness of hunger, not only around the country but right here in Austin. And I'll be there.

We've each been given a list of food that a family typically receives in a bag of groceries from a local food pantry. We can also supplement that list with the amount that we might get on food stamps. Then we'll eat from it for a week.

There is such an imbalance in our country: A recent CNN article said that 17 percent of children in our country are obese. Not just overweight, but obese. Yet, according to statistics, one in five Texans don't know where their next meal will come from.

I plan to attack this project from two directions: On a personal note, I hope it will give me a greater understanding and appreciation of food so that I can tackle the odd relationship that I have with it. I also hope that I can talk even just one person into donating to their local food bank or pantry to help someone else out.

Follow along with all the bloggers on the food bank's blog. And I'll give you a daily update here.

Wish me luck! And go ahead and donate five bucks while you're thinking about it!

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Dark Chocolate and Almond Homemade Granola

This concoction was a total accident. How could my house -- one normally stocked with vanilla extract by the liter -- be out?! Totally out. I scratched my way through the pantry, trying to find something that would be even close. Needing four teaspoons of vanilla, I found only three of almond. "Close enough," I told myself. And then I found the rum extract and rounded out the four total teaspoons I needed with that. Nervous, I tried it. But I think it worked.

The recipe I ended up using on the fly:
  • 8 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon rum extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups slivered almonds, toasted
  • 2 cups golden raisins
  • 2 cups dark chocolate M&Ms

Preheat oven to 275 and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Combine brown sugar and water in a 4-cup microwave-proof glass measuring cup. Place in microwave on high for five minutes -- stirring about halfway through -- and cook until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from microwave, add extract and salt. Stir.

In a large mixing bowl, combine oats and brown sugar syrup mixture. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Spread the granola onto cookie sheets and bake 45 minutes to 1 hour or until golden and crunchy.

Toast slivered almonds over medium heat for about five minutes or until they just start to brown.

When the oats mixture comes out of the oven, add toasted almonds and raisins. When granola has cooled completely, add M&Ms. Store in an airtight container or enjoy right from the bowl!

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Monday, April 05, 2010

So Simple

Cole and I enjoyed Easter brunch at Fleming's yesterday. Everything was great, as usual, and we walked away with a recipe to try. It only has two ingredients, but it's so good and so simple.

Sour cream and honey dipping sauce for fresh fruit. And you guessed it: It has only sour cream and honey in it. Well, at least until you dip your fruit in. One part sour cream and one part honey, and you're good to go!

We paired it this evening with oven-roasted turkey breast, with bananas, strawberries and cantaloupe for dipping. It's also great with honeydew and pineapple. Enjoy!

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