Sunday, January 20, 2013

$10 Challenge Week 3

I had to think twice about which week this was, since I've only started posting about this challenge last week, but it's actually the end of the third week. Of course, looking at the calendar, there's still two weeks of January left and that seems decidedly unfair, and not only because I'm trying to stretch our groceries. January always seems terminally long; without a single thing to break up the monotony. I know for some February is the worst month because everyone is entirely sick of winter and cold but at least there's things like Groundhog Day, Lunar New Year, and Valentines Day going on so that every day isn't exactly the same as the one before. As you can tell I've been deep in the January doldrums: the lazy post holiday hibernation mode has evaporated and even reading seed catalogs doesn't help. The only good news looking at the calendar brought was the realization that I could totally spend another $10 for that last week of January.

So it's probably a good thing that I signed up for the challenge- at least it gives me something to think about and plan meals around. (It also gives me an excuse not to venture out into the cold to pick up ingredients!) We started off this week by cooking up the turkey I bought last week. I invited my sisters for dinner but only one, along with her partner, were able to join us. It still made for a nice evening; we drank some of my homemade mead, they brought dessert- a lovely foamy champagne cream with  raspberry pureé- and we played Mexican Train and Yatzee! Turkey leftovers featured in most of the meals this week- turkey in gravy on potato pancakes made from leftover mashed, a big pot of turkey soup and there was still enough left for turkey pot pie. When we weren't eating turkey I did up a couple of pasta dishes with ground beef (bought with the remain $5, so no eggs sadly) and another night we had bbq style pork riblets with potatoes and frozen beans from last summer's garden. There were three good size riblets in the package so I sauteéd them all with onions and garlic and touch of maple syrup. The extra riblet I cut in pieces and threw into a pot of dried beans I'd soaked all day to make a nice pork and bean soup, which we had for lunch on Friday.

The other good thing about the challenge is that it encourages me to be more creative and adventurous. I'm not normally much of a baker since I associate baking primarily with dessert which we don't normally eat.  One of the things I've always meant to try but never get around to is bread making. On Thurs I decided to make the turkey pot pie and since the oven was going to be on anyway, I decided to have go at making my own bread. I used a very basic recipe and a package of dried yeast, substituted a bit of honey for the sugar and was delighted with the results. My bread was still pretty dense and slightly sweet ( I'd use less honey next time) but very tasty and not bad for a first attempt. While the bread was rising I made pastry for the pot pie and since there was lots left over (I doubled the recipe to make sure) I also baked a cherry pie with cherries canned last summer. Lots of good smells in the kitchen that day!

So we were doing  well within the boundaries of the challenge and then yesterday we derailed completely. It started out innocently enough; we were both off today so I suggested we invite a friend for dinner,  It had been a nice warm day so someone suggested barbecuing, and somehow one guest became two and then four and then suddenly we had 8 people coming by expecting to be fed! Well of course we didn't have anything in the house to feed that many people, so an emergency trip to the yellow store became necessary. We were fortunate to find an absolutely fantastic price on pork shoulder and bought what looked like almost a whole leg for $8! I also picked up some Chinese greens, button mushrooms, a couple sweet peppers -from Mexico of course but very inexpensive for this time of year. I had rice noodles and other veg at home so we had a lovely meal of barbecued pork with stir fried veggies and noodles in oyster sauce, with cherry pie for dessert- all for about $15! It was wonderful to have a houseful of guests, eating and laughing!

So the bad news is that we completely blew the $10/week budget this week. And it was worth every penny.

Friday, January 11, 2013

$10 Grocery Challenge

Farmgal over at Just Another Day on the Farm came up with this challenge last year and it's pretty much like it sounds; for the month of January we'll try to spend only $10/wk on groceries. Canadian Doomer is in, as well as a few other folks. Two years ago, many of us participated in a Pantry Challenge in which we bought no groceries at all in the month of March and lived on only what we had in the house. March probably wasn't the best month to attempt that since a lot of the food I preserved from the previous summer was already long gone but it was a good test to see how long we could last with food we had on hand. By comparison, the $10/week challenge feels like it will be a breeze and it's good time for us to think lean because we've both been on extended (unpaid) holidays. I'd been putting aside a lot of staples while I had a regular paycheque and we've only just started to dip into last summer' s preserved bounty. I currently have about 50 lbs of potatoes stashed in the greenhouse at work, lots of home canned stuff, and the pantry and the freezer are still pretty full. If there's a weak spot, it's in meat/proteins and fresh veg.With that in mind I went shopping at the nearest cheap chain grocery store this week and blew pretty much the whole month's budget in one shot. The veggies were the easy part - Ontario onions, carrots and cabbage are still readily available so I grabbed a 3 lb bag of each of the former and a large cabbage. Meat is always little more challenging- buying from a chain store means not knowing where the meat comes from and without a doubt it's mainly factory farmed. But when utility turkeys are on sale for $.87/lb it's hard to say no. I picked up a just under 10 lb bird for $7.67 and that will feed us for many meals. I also picked up some pork ribs and tenderloin on sale, a 10lb of unbleached flour, a block of cheddar and some canned chickpeas. The total came to just under $35 which leaves me just $5 for the remainder of the month. Just enough to choose between free range eggs or a couple lbs of ground beef from the local halal butcher but not both. These are the times I am envious of all the bloggers on my reading list who have chickens and dairy animals, who raise goats, lambs and rabbits for meat. I would love to be making my own cheese this winter but whole organic milk is too dear to purchase in the quantity needed to make cheese and raising my own meat animals is not even a possibility even if I wanted to.

So what to do when the best resource you have is time? Make pierogies! I made up a big batch of filling using potatoes, cheddar, bacon, sauteéd onions and leeks, and roasted garlic. Then I made an even bigger batch of pierogie dough. I did up about 5 dozen pierogies and froze them, then used the rest of the dough to make squash ravioli with some leftover butternut squash. If I have any pork leftovers I may make a batch of potstickers as well. Everything tastes good in dumpling form!

Now if only I could make my own sour cream...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

January Reading

We're still in holiday mode over here; my new contract doesn't start until this week and the Russian's place of employment takes an extended break every year at this time so he doesn't go back to work til Thurs. Since we only spent one day doing holiday stuff with my family this year, we've had lots of time at home. Time for cleaning and reorganizing, but also lots of leisure time, for movie watching and sleeping late, games and puzzles and for me, reading. Of course being underemployed also means a serious lack of funds too so any opportunity to acquire reading materials at no cost is an added bonus. So I was delighted to find out about the proliference of free ebooks that are available from many different sources.

I had already discovered that our library system has many titles available as digital or ebooks and you don't need a separate device to take advantage of these. All you need  is an active library card and and an ereader program on your computer. My choice of ereader software is Adobe Digital Editions which you can download for free here:

If you aren't in Canada, the Adobe website will redirect you to the appropriate download link.

Ebooks from the library don't stay on your computer so be sure to read them in the allotted time (3 weeks for ours).

You can use Adobe DE ereader to access titles from other sources as well! Kobo has a large library of free ebooks and all you need to do to access these is register for a free account. Once your account is set up, you chose a book, add it to your library on the Kobo site and click on the button that says Download EPUB and it will open automatically in DE!

If you're a fan of, you can also sign up for a free Kindle account. Amazon often offers ebook titles for free or small cost, however you must have the Kindle software installed on your computer to take advantage of these. Again the registration and software is free and once you have an account you also have access to their Cloud feature which gives you 5 G of free online storage!

You can download the software here for PC or here for Mac

Once you've installed one or both of these, check out Story Fresh Picks and sign up for their free monthly newsletter. Every month they offer a free ebook and many more titles for a very low cost. I personally recommend ordering Niki Jabbour's book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener for a mere $2.99 - I reviewed it here and it was my favourite gardening book of last year. Thanks to this book I'm still harvesting fresh greens in January, and if you can't be gardening, you might as well be reading about it!