Doing the math…

As we round out this campaign, I’ve reflected on the “scenarios” that we provided at the food bank as we registered as clients. Mark and I were going to the Food Bank because we “are expecting our first baby and I have had to take time off work due to complications with the pregnancy. We barely make ends meet.”

In fact, if you “do the math” – we don’t make ends meet.

Our income this month is $1,350 after taxes.

Our rent is $1,000 and we pay $175 in utilities. This month, we have $200 worth of medical expenses due to the complications with the pregnancy. And we only have one income. Using those figures, we have a shortfall of $25. We don’t have any money to spend on other necessities: Nothing for clothing (what if I need something for work, or for inclement weather?). Nothing for transit, not even a low income bus pass – How does my husband get to work? How do I get to my medical appointments? Nothing for household necessities that I didn’t get at the food bank (dishsoap, laundry detergent, soap, shampoo etc. I did get two rolls of toilet paper). Nothing to help me prepare for the baby. Nothing to set aside for an “emergency.”

So in reality, I wouldn’t be stretching my hamper for a week, I’d be trying to make it last all month.

Day 5: Decaying contents of the emergency food hamper. Note the brown lettuce and past-prime mushrooms.

Even getting to the end of the week, I’m feeling exhausted with the meal preparation (and wracking my brain to figure out what to make that my husband and I will both like). Yes, I still have food, but it’s limited. For the rest of the month, I have odds and ends – things that don’t make meals like: 3 cans of tomato soup (my husband hates tomato soup, if only it was chicken noodle!); 2 packages of chicken Mr. Noodles. A package of whole wheat hamburger buns; three quarters of a carton of milk; Oreo cookies, chocolate, muffin mix, cake mix, pudding, jello, corn syrup, meal replacement drinks (6), 2 cans of tomatoes, 1 package of whole wheat pasta, tomato juice, 1 package of cereal, 1 sleeve soda crackers, taco shells and Shake n’ Bake, 2 cans of tuna, 2lbs potatoes, 5 cups of rice, 1 can of beans and 4 plantains (very, very ripe). I also have 2 packages of coleslaw (but one looks very slimy and inedible), 4 packages of nearly inedible mushrooms). 3/4 of a loaf of bread and 4 eggs. Lots of margarine.

I have a few leftovers in the fridge. Enough pasta for two small portions (tonight’s dinner). Half a can of tomato soup and some fried plantains.

I also have some of the basic staples of the house: four, sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar, ketchup (replaced one of my spices), garlic powder, oregano and oil – although I am quickly running low on oil.

One might argue this is still a lot of food. I can’t imagine eating just this for 3 more weeks. I can only begin to imagine how stressed and fatigued, even angry, I would feel. And as Naomi Klein mentioned in the “Do the Math” blog in April, there are no second chances – if you screw something up, you eat it anyway. (She also mentioned that a lot of the meals they prepared – and same could be said for our participants – require time and a fully equipped kitchen – large fridge, full stove instead of a hot plate etc).

Also, if I really was expecting my first child, I would be drinking more milk than I really am. I’d probably have a bigger appetite too.

If I was stretching this hamper as far as I possibly could, I’d be seeking out other options in the community, like meal programs, places I might get help with clothing, transit passes etc. Then again, I’d need transit tickets just to get to a meal program, or the DI clothing store, social services etc. I would also feel isolated. No potlucks, no dinner guests. No shopping or movies with friends.

I’d probably be heading back to the CIFB on transit next month too – with my suitcases to lug home the next hamper (and remember, I’m pregnant.)


June 6, 2010 at 12:47 pm 4 comments

Plantain overdose!

So as we try and use up our plantains creatively, I can’t help but wonder if it’s possible to overdose on plantains. Yesterday it was plantains for dinner, plantains for dessert (keep reading for details!) and today I am going to try a baked plantain and peanut butter sandwich. Luckily, I got used to eating plantains everyday a few years ago when I spent a summer in Costa Rica – where it was fried plantains for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, snack, etc.

For dessert last night Tim made ‘Plantain’s Foster’, and while it could have used a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream or some raspberries for a garnish, it was still amazing nonetheless.

We sliced and diced the plantains, and simply removed the browned spots,

After the slicing and dicing, we fried ’em up in a few tablespoons of olive oil.

While they were frying we had some sauces on the go –

chocolate with margarine and a bit of sweetened condensed milk,

We also made caramel, but it’s not pictured. We used water, sugar and a splash of milk.

Et voila!

A delicious pile of crispy plantains, chocolate and caramel.

June 6, 2010 at 11:59 am 2 comments

Mike, Julie & Willem Day 6: A new way to make French fries.

Of course we ate more than just fries today, but this was the meal most worth reporting. I haven’t been too creative today – I’ve got more deadlines than usual, and am stretching myself as thin as my food hamper. (Thinner, even – we aren’t at risk of running out of food anytime soon. We are running short on options, though. Tomorrow – more plantains!)

But check this out – yesterday I followed a trail of bread crumbs (fry grease?) to an old Cooks Illustrated post about French fries (this is what happens when I’m supposed to be working) – it seems they burned through about 50 lbs of potatoes to come up with this method, wherein cold potato is set in cold oil in a pot and then brought to a boil together, much like you’d do when boiling potatoes (in water). The crazy part is – there’s apparently less oil in these cold-start fries than in traditional ones. I don’t understand why, but I never did that well in science. And I ditched chemistry for bio.

I’ve been dying to get in the kitchen and try something new, which has been difficult with the dwindling hamper on our dining room table. But I have potatoes! I have oil! I have salt! Giddy-up.

With fries like this, you need a good wobbly homemade mayo. And hey! I have eggs! I have oil! It’s clearly a sign.

So – you can go to see the original recipe at Cooks Illustrated, but it does seem a little wordier than I think it needs to be. (Not suggesting I know more than Cooks Illustrated, of course. But I did streamline it a little.) I didn’t measure my oil, nor my potatoes. I didn’t use bacon fat (although that does seem worth a try, don’t you think?). I cut two potatoes (unpeeled) into even sticks and put them in a pot, and covered them with canola oil. I did as I was told and covered the pot to bring it to a boil, which did indeed take about 5 minutes, but then I took the lid off (there’s condensation there – you don’t want that in your oil) and let it bubble away. It was odd, like I was boiling potatoes, only with oil. I didn’t wait to give them a stir though-I did so at about 10 minutes. Not sure what the difference is.

Anyway, in about 20 minutes they were beautiful and golden, and I took them out to drain on paper towels and showered them with salt. They had a lovely texture.

And mayo. I’ll send you over to Delicious Days – they have a wonderful tutorial.

June 5, 2010 at 10:35 pm 6 comments

Time to catch up – Darren and Jen

So, when I last left you, it was when Jen was gagging up the ‘beef and broccoli’ concoction I had made.  I liked it – and I took it for lunch the next day – along with a meal replacement drink for a snack.

I think that was Thursday.  Well – a whole lot has gone on since then.

Thursday dinner: This was simple KD.  I may have already mentioned this to y’all, but that was dinner.  Not so bad – it’s normally lunch for us when we have my two boys staying with us, but it certainly sufficed that night.

Friday: Friday is golf day for my dad and I. It’s also the day before my triathlon.  Yes, I knew about the triathlon prior to doing the Week in Their Kitchen.  But, it didn’t matter.

Friday morning I had a bowl of Cheerios and a coffee (I had coffee in my house prior – and that was one of the rules).  But, I knew that my dad would be having stuff on the course, and I had to refrain.  When I got to their house to grab dad for the golf game, he said:  “I have some fresh coffee if you want to fill up.”  Sorry, dad.  Can’t.  Ugh.  Maybe I’m taking this way too seriously.

We get out to the course and he says, “I’m going to get a muffin and a refill on my coffee.  Do you want something?” No Dad.  Ugh.

We get to the turn after hole 9 (I shot a 42 on the front nine) – and he asks – you want to stop for something?  I said, “No, I have my meal replacement drink.  That should tide me over.”  It did.  But, oh how I wanted a nice big egg salad sandwich from the snack shack.

COOKIE UPDATE – By now, you may have heard that cookies are not safe in my house.  Between Jen and I, we’ve crushed the Oreos (1 row left out of two trays), and one bag of chocolate chip cookies is gone.  One left to go.

Once golf was done, I went back home, had a nap, and then had a snack.  Just a piece of bread with some peanut butter.  But, I knew that I’d be going to my son’s recital in Lomond, and that I would have to eat at my parent’s place later.  And also the next morning.  So, I packed up the spaghetti noodles and some of the pasta sauce from the hamper, and the bag of Cheerios.

During my son’s guitar recital in Lomond, of course they have a 10 minute break with all sorts of num-nums.  I just sat in my chair and pouted.  I didn’t eat a thing.

We didn’t get home Friday night until 10 p.m. (NOTE: in this time Jen had to bow out of the experiment for a couple of days as she was coaching in a gymnastics competition in Kelowna) – but I cooked up my pasta at my parents, because I needed to carb load for the big triathlon the next morning.  Pasta was good.  I woulda taken pictures, but… I didn’t.

SATURDAY: So far today I have had a bowl of Cheerios and I had leftover spaghetti – from the hamper.  OK – I you may call this a cheat – but… I had four slices of oranges, two perogies and a small carton of chocolate milk.  For those of you that don’t race, the race committee sets up food for you after the race in order to replenish your body.  So – hamper or no hamper, the free food would have been there for me at the race regardless.  I just didn’t indulge (and put stuff in my murse, and stuff).

So, here we are… another row of chocolate chip cookies and another bowl of cereal later.  It’s Saturday night at 8:50 p.m.  I’ll probably just make some peanut butter and jelly and call it a night.  But, I’ve still got two more days to go, and I’ve got a couple of more ideas on some meals.

Jen gets back tomorrow, so she’ll be back on the program for the final two days.

Until then.


June 5, 2010 at 8:52 pm Leave a comment

A Morning with Leah

Today was the Hunger Heroes Food Drive across the city of Calgary.

This morning Leah was supposed to do a segment live on location at a Husky station to promote the food drive and the blog. Unfortunately the weather was against us, with lightening striking within 5km of the remote location Global was unable to do the broadcast.

Since I had already picked Leah up to go to the location, we decided to make the best of the morning and film a special video blog for all of you.

June 5, 2010 at 8:25 pm 3 comments

Delicious Saturday Evening Meal

Well, here we are – only one day left and there is still lots of food left. It is a rare Saturday evening in the household of Tim & Leah in that we are both home to enjoy it. Tim put his culinary skills to use today with this meal (even the title is a mouthful): homemade ravioli stuffed with pureed plantain and mushroom with a roasted tomato and zucchini sauce. Ooooh boy, was it ever good!

I’ll go through how to make it relatively step by step – we’re still new at this whole food blogging thing, so we did forget a few steps.

We boiled and pureed plantains,

sauteed mushrooms in margarine and salt,

mixed the two together to make a savoury-yet-sweet filling (with lots leftover for tomorrow),

made pasta (the making of the pasta dough is not pictured),

put tops on the ravioli and sealed them shut,

used a fork to edge them,

and made enough for the two of us.

While Tim was making these, a can of whole tomatoes, half a can of tomato sauce, half a yellow pepper and two sliced zucchinis were slowly roasting (for about an hour) in the oven with salt, pepper and oregano (our third spice).

And the finished product:

It was a nice, light meal to eat on the patio while we enjoyed the festivities of the Underwear Affair race as it ran past our house.

June 5, 2010 at 7:45 pm 3 comments

Mike, Julie & Willem Day 5: Day-glo Mushroom Helper

What kind of wine does one pair with dayglo powdered cheese? WHAT, THERE’S NO WINE IN MY HAMPER? I didn’t think of that.

Ah well, it’s a working weekend for me anyway. Best to just hunker down with my Oreos and forget that it’s Friday night. And it’s sunny out. Let’s not talk about that.

Dinner tonight was not as thrilling as last night’s. Mike actually got into the mission and came up with the idea to use sauteed mushrooms, which are meaty-like, in the package of generic Hamburger Helper. W stuck to Cheerios.

As I sat glumly eating my salty orange mushroom pasta it occurred to me that PEOPLE ACTUALLY BUY THIS STUFF. It’s imported by Wal-Mart. They sell it in their stores. It isn’t eaten exclusively by people who have no choice – many folks out there actually go shopping and spend their own dollars on this.

Maybe they’re all eighteen? I remember when Mike and I first moved out I lived for a good couple years on Pop Tarts, Eggo Waffles and Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni – all the stuff we weren’t allowed to have growing up. So then I started to grow out.

And yes, it’s cheap. So are beans. And rice. And barley. And a thousand or so other real meals I can price out in my head in the same ballpark as Hamburger Helper.

I have to cut this post short – I’m crashing down from my Oreo high.

June 4, 2010 at 7:52 pm Leave a comment

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