Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tomato Soup with Ray Charles

My whole cooking at home and keeping track of just how much I'm spending per serving is becoming an obsession. Now, not only am I obsessed with calories in and calories out, but I'm obsessed with money in and money out. I truly had no clear idea just how much eating out was costing us until I began keeping track of what I'm buying and how much that breaks down when examined through the perspective of per serving.

Let's take last night's dinner of homemade tomato soup with grilled cheese and this morning's breakfast of french toast topped with bananas foster. The bread used for the sandwiches and the french toast cost $2.99. Five sandwiches were made for dinner and three servings of french toast were made for breakfast, giving me a 37 cents per serving cost. The tomatoes, leek, and onion for the soup cost $11.75, and from that I got four servings, giving me a $2.93 cost. While that's significantly higher than just buying a can of tomato soup, I have the comfort of knowing exactly what's in the soup, which to me is priceless, and I have the memories of spending time in the kitchen, preparing the meal while listening to some Ray Charles and drinking a cola and whiskey on the rocks. But I digress. The other product raising the overall total per serving is the cheese. It cost $8.60, and so far, I've gotten five servings from it. That many servings still remain, so in the end, the cheese will actually be an overall lower per serving expense. Right now, just looking at five servings, the cheese costs $1.72 each. After another five servings, the overall expense for the cheese will be a mere 86 cents.

So, in the end, from products that cost me $30, I was able to get two meals designed to serve four people per meal (though it was just the boys and me for dinner then Hubby, Soft-Hearted Boy, and me for breakfast). The boys each had two grilled cheese sandwiches along with their soup, having found the delight of dipping their sandwiches into the soup, exclaiming how delicious grilled cheese dunked in tomato soup tastes (another priceless moment for me). Not to be outdone, breakfast filled the air with the mouth-watering aroma of bananas simmering in brown sugar, butter, and rum, starting our Saturday morning with contentment. In the end, when it's all said and done, the per meal cost will be right around $4. I know I can't take the family anywhere and have these same meals for $4 each. When we go out, the bill usually averages $35-$50 dollars, not including the tip. And honestly, the tips I get--kisses on the cheek and "thanks, Mom, that was really good"--are way better than handing over a  $5 tip to someone else (wow, I'm really becoming a miser).

I really wish I'd figured this whole eating out v. eating in a whole lot sooner. In the back of my mind, I knew we were spending a huge amount each year just in eating out, but it was so easy to bury the knowledge and simply say "it can't be that much more." Well, guess what, it truly is "that much more."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sleepy Sleepy

Ever since the real fall weather moved in a couple of weeks ago, I've had a tough time feeling truly energetic. I'm convinced my body knows the days are cooler, and the sun rises later and sets earlier, and my body's response is sleep. Please.During the dark hours, all I want to do is sleep, which means from about 6 o'clock pm to 7 o'clock am, the only appealing thought I have is climbing into bed and snoozing. I've given into the urge a couple of times, but the last few nights I've stayed up later (past 9 pm--I know, I know, that's not late at all) and woke up a lot during the night. Good, quality sleep just isn't happening. This makes me sleepy during the day. Quite the vicious cycle going on right now.

Today  the temps were back up in the high 70s. Tomorrow we're looking at the mid 50s. I much prefer the lower temps. Not only do I not sweat buckets when commuting to work, but I get to fix all kinds of wonderful stews, soups, and other hearty dinners. Tonight was rump roast with celery, carrots, potatoes, and leeks. Thyme, parsley, and a bay leaf added their herb magic. Like last week with the organic chicken, I had Hubby get the roast from the organic grocery, so we enjoyed grass-fed beef without mega amounts of horrendous chemicals pumped into it. I even have some leftovers for my lunch tomorrow, so I'm very happy with another dinner that didn't cost more than $20. I'm digging this being economical with meals. I can't think of another feeling that's much better than what comes from stretching the dollar. Well, I can think of a couple, but . . ..

I do think part of my sleepiness is due to not cycling like I had been. I've gone from almost 200 miles a week to around 50 miles a week. That's quite a difference. My body may be saying get moving again, do something, anything, just move. Two months of being a sloth is a long enough break, and I can tell I'm ready to get back at it because when I watch a cycling program or a fitness program, I want to get dressed and get to work. I'm thinking weight lifting and lots of core work through the winter months. I was inspired by a crossfit program recently and am determined to be able to do one handstand push-up by April. Just writing about getting fit through the winter is making my sleepies go away.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Stretching the Organic Chicken

On Thursday, I asked Hubby to go to our organic grocery store and buy a free-range chicken. He wasn't too happy about doing this, but he did, and when I got home from work, he held the packaged chicken up, pointing at the price, saying, "Seventeen dollars." I knew the chicken was going to be more expensive than the chicken sold at the grocery store we usually frequent, but I also knew the taste would more than make up for the overall cost. I also had a plan for getting more than one meal out of this expensive purchase.

So late yesterday afternoon, I set to work. With the help of my now-favorite cookbook, An Everlasting Meal, I placed some carrots, celery, onions, and herbs in a pot. I put the chicken on top of these ingredients then covered it all with water. For about an hour, the chicken and veggies simmered, filling the house with an aroma that rousted the boys from their bedroom and brought them downstairs, exclaiming, "What is that wonderful smell?"

While the chicken was cooking, I mashed up some mostly rotten bananas and made banana bread to have with our meal. While the bread baked, I went to work creating an appetizer of thin slices of rosemary and olive oil bread topped with very thin slices of Honeycrisp apple and dollops of melted pecorino cheese. I urged the boys to try the ensemble. Within a matter of minutes, the bread, apple, and cheese combo disappeared. My oldest returned to the kitchen today to make more of this delicious dish for his lunch.

The chicken finished cooking after about an hour of simmering, so I pulled it from the pot and let it rest. Into the pot I put more carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, and fennel. These I let cook in the stock until the veggies were just softening. With a slotted spoon, I removed most of the veggies to have with our chicken. The boys helped set the table, after which they added the veggies, chicken, and banana bread. It really did look like a feast. Upon the first bite, Hubby conceded that the free-range chicken did indeed taste better than the usual grocery store chicken, but he still wasn't pleased at having to spend $17 for one chicken.

I smiled and did some math: $17 to feed four people is $4.25 each. Plus, now that I had the stock which still had veggies in it, I could add more veggies, some noodles, and all of the chicken I could pick off the carcass to make soup, giving us another meal. That would mean the $17 would have gone to make 8 servings, costing about $2.13 for each. With the soup, there will be the added expense of more veggies and the noodles, but those are pennies on the dollar. In the end, the $17 chicken not only gave us extra flavor but also less worry about ingesting pesticides, antibiotics, and other unwanted chemicals. Hubby rolled his eyes at the last part; he's not the pesticide, anti-antibiotic, chemical warrior that I am. But he did like the idea of getting two meals out of the one chicken. Very economical as well as tasty.

That's what An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler, is all about: getting the very most out of your money in these trying times. I really like that idea.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Son-shine

When my alarm went off this morning at 5 am, I snuggled into my pillow, reluctant to get up. I could hear the wind blowing the rain against the bedroom window. The forecast had called for a blustery, cold, and wet day, and that's exactly what Mother Nature was serving up, making it not the kind of day for riding a bike to work. Today would be the first day in two weeks for driving.

I was a bit bummed over not being able to ride, and when I saw some die-hards with their heads down, pedaling with everything they had into the 25 mph westerly winds, I saluted. After the first of the day's meetings, a colleague asked how far my commute is, and when I answered 3 miles from my house to the office, he seemed genuinely impressed. I had to laugh, though, as the 3 miles seems really, really short. I guess from the perspective of someone who doesn't cycle, 3 miles does seem a good distance.

My son wasn't nearly as bummed as I about not being able to ride this morning. We've taken to riding together, splitting off at the mile and a half marker, he pedaling on to school while I pedal on to work. We then ride home together in the afternoons. I've been enjoying watching him become a stronger cyclist. Even just doing the six miles a day has made a difference in his endurance. The first two weeks he was huffing and puffing after a mile or so. Now he zooms past me, stops and looks around, waving to me to speed up. I can only go so fast on Old Faithful, though, and I like being able to go only so fast. I get to enjoy everything I'm passing. We have some great talks as we ride, and we have fun, too, like Monday, when we played polo with the hedge apples along the trail. I kicked one a long ways. My silly son about crashed when he kicked one right against his front tire, making it jerk to the left. The best of our rides, though, came yesterday on our way home, when my son looked at me and said, "I really like riding to school and home." Yeah, me too. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sadness Visits Every Now and Then

Around this time two years ago, I was bouncing down the stairs to join my family in the kitchen for breakfast, before taking off for work, when my daughter asked me if I remembered a young man I had met once before, at the Day of Writing event held on campus. I said of course I remember him; he was one of four high school students I worked with, and of the four, he was the one I knew was going to go somewhere someday, be something someday. I had gone home that afternoon following the Day of Writing and told my daughter about this young man. She knew him from school, and yes, he was intense. I told her I thought this young man was brilliant. She'd laughed at this when I said it, but this particular morning, when she asked me if I remembered him, she wasn't laughing. She wasn't smiling. He killed himself, she told me.

I cried for most of the drive to work, wondering why. Why did this young man end his life? Why did he feel like it was the only way out? Why didn't he realize how brilliant he was? Why didn't he realize how much he had to offer the world?

As I drove, "Fugitive" by David Gray came on the radio. Ever since that day, I think of this young man whenever I hear "Fugitive." The song just played as I sat here, working on class materials, and with the gray weather, the much cooler temps, I went right back to that day when sadness over a young man's death was my companion.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Making It Happen

Since last Thursday, I've cycled every day: commuting to work, going to the grocery store, to the nursery to get pumpkins, to the coffeehouse to write, even to my hair appointment. I'm beginning to figure out this bicycle transportation only thing.

Monday, on my way home from work, I was cycling along the trail and was stunned with the number of squirrels out. The mother earth part of my psyche thinks the cold is on the way judging from all the activity. I got to laughing after almost running over a squirrel carrying a black walnut in its mouth, that all the sudden decided it didn't want to run alongside me and tried to cross in front. The little varmint came within a whisker of getting squished. It realized it's predicament, dropped its nut, and turned away to scurry off into the grass. When I rode around a curve just a few feet beyond, I met a man walking a dog. The dog was carrying a frisbee in its mouth and seemed very content with how silly it looked.

Today, the rain started right when I left campus. All day long, I looked out, wondering if the 50% chance of rain was really going to tip and become 100%. All day long, nothing. Then, when I walked out to Old Faithful, I realized raindrops were dotting the sidewalk. As soon as I hit the trail, the rain came harder. Most of the ride was through a gentle shower. While I didn't get soaked, I was wet enough to have to change when I got home.

This weekend, the plan is to get some wet weather gear. And I think I'll take a change of clothes to the office just in case I get caught unprepared. Probably not a bad idea to have that back up just in case.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Riding in a Skirt and With Good Looking Hair

My desire to cycle as much as possible is taking shape. For about two weeks there, the cycling wasn't happening just because of life and the little things that can get in the way. I finally decided that if I'm going to do this, I just need to make it a part of my life and change other areas to suit the cycling. One of those areas is what I wear when I'm cycling. I want to be able to dress nicely for work, but my hybrid isn't really conducive to dress pants, skirts, and dresses. Getting on and off the bike in a skirt might create a rather humorous situation, and because the chain guard is mostly non-existent, my dress pants end up with grease on the pant leg. The answer to my dilemma was hanging in the garage this whole time: my deep blue Town and Country Cruiser, a birthday gift from Hubby several years ago. (Picture at right is the bike I have with a very similar basket, but the picture is of someone else's bike.)

When the light bulb finally went on, I ran out to the garage and pulled my trusty Old Faithful from its hooks and aired up the tires. I snapped the basket onto the front handlebars then stood back just to get a good look at the bike I used to ride then sort of forgot about after getting the hybrid and especially after getting Sweetness. Old Faithful certainly has a place in my cycling life though for a long time I couldn't see it.

Today, I donned a skirt and pretty blouse, and because it's still quite warm for this time of year in central Illinois, I was able to wear sandals. Because Old Faithful is built to allow me to step through, I was able to do all mounting and dismounting with an ample amount of modesty. Once in the saddle, I was good to go and the ride went just fine. The skirt edged up a tad, just enough to show my lovely summer cycling tan, so I do think next time I'll wear spandex shorts underneath just for added mental comfort.

After work, I cycled to my hair appointment. The young woman who cuts and colors my hair loves to play with styling it afterward, and like usual, she went to work curling it and just having some fun. I laughed, telling her she didn't need to as I had ridden my bike. She kept on, saying I was at least going to be riding with good looking hair. After the mile and a half ride home, I had to agree, my hair did look pretty good.

Sometimes it takes awhile to recognize the answer to a problem. I'm just glad my answer was here all along.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Today's To-Do List

Make oatmeal for the boys' breakfast--check (I love making sure they have something in their tummies to start the day, and my oldest told me this morning he loves that I fix breakfast for them. Awwwww.).

Grocery shopping--check (and we kept the total below budget. Love it when that happens.).

Buy pumpkins and mums for front porch--check (realized our flag pole and flag were missing; darn college students anyway. Not only do we have to deal with them walking by at all hours of the night, laughing, yelling and even ringing our door bell on occasion, and pulling slats off our fence then throwing them in the street, but now they've taken our flag).

Two loads of laundry and hang out--check (beautiful sun and wind combo made the drying process go by fast today).

Wash the duvet and down comforter and hang out--check (time to pull out the winter ensemble with these cool nights we've been having).

Put clothes away--check (one of my least favorite jobs; just so tedious).

Cut out dead flowers from flower garden and remove wasted from garden--check (I found my wind chime that had been swallowed by morning glory vines!)..

Fix chicken and cheese tortilla tower for dinner--check (yummy; earned me a kiss on the cheek from my youngest).

Sit on back deck to read A Moveable Feast--going now, and don't forget the bottle of Hey Mambo (a Don Sebastiani and Sons sultry red wine that is absolutely delicious).

Yeah, it's been a good day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Great Idea, But Who Can Afford These?

As a cyclist who is commuting more and intentionally trying to make my bike my main mode of transportation, I'm really interested in clothing that can go from the bike to the office and clothing that helps me be seen by motorists. Some of the garments offered by Vespertine definitely make me smile as they are not only fun and stylish, but are also made to increase the safety factor when cycling. However, when I went to their shop, I became dismayed over the prices. I can't even afford the short scarf. While I applaud Vespertine for creating stylish cycling safety wear, I do have to wonder, who can afford these?

After Nearly Two Years

After watching someone near and dear to me struggle to find a job for almost two years, I'm ready to join the protesting.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Deep Breath Out

For several weeks I've been keeping a low profile just to gather myself and become more centered. With all the fun and excitement of summer abruptly coming to an end, replaced by a more rigid schedule, the funk overtook me. Instead of fighting it, I let it settle around me, even wrapped myself in it like it was a warm, winter blanket. I made one short-term change--not cycling at all for three weeks--and one permanent change--deleting my account, to give myself space to breathe. The time away from cycling allowed me to not pour all my focus into mileage, speed, and how many calories I burned. I did commute to work, but those rides were slow, giving me a chance to look around and enjoy the scenery. The deletion of my dailymile account came about after admitting I was stacking myself up against my "friends" posting their workouts rather than using the site to just track my rides. The pressure I was putting on myself was ridiculous. I want to cycle just to cycle and enjoy the time out, the scenery, and how it helps me stay healthy. Not because someone posted a ride of 75 miles, or someone else posted a ride of 50 miles at 22.3 mph pace and I need to ride as far or farther, as fast or faster. Not healthy.

The Mysterious Praying Mantis
So I've been spending time with my boys, reading, and writing. With the boys, we've been enjoying watching the BBC program Dr. Who. Cheesy? Definitely. Fun? As The Doctor would say, "Oh yes." And for days following watching an episode, we're talking about the issues raised: compassion, friendship, bravery, even genocide. These make for great conversations. My reading has been almost completely short stories, but I'm also enjoying Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and A Moveable Feast. Dillard's Tinker Creek makes me consider the more philosophical issues of life: time, space, interconnectedness. Hemingway's A Moveable Feast helps me make connections between writers I've read and who influenced each other, among other things. Both have impacted how I'm viewing my own writing, which is coming along. I'm working on the last story for my collection, and though it's a tough write, I'm going to slog through it as this story means more to me than all the other stories of the collection.

At this point, the feelings of being off kilter are fading. The desire to get back on the bike is growing, especially after our last organized event last Sunday when we rode 42 miles through beautiful central Illinois countryside and ate pumpkin pie at the finish line. Work is chugging along smoothly; I couldn't have asked for a better semester thus far. Life is good.