Author Archive: Jay

Economical Ham

We recently got a Carando spiral ham, on sale for $1.99/lb, after discussing it and, besides other reasons, deciding it was a good value. Any meat for that price is cheap, but the outlay is large when it’s 10 lbs at once.

I make a ham dinner of it. Then it can be used in pea soup

, another post entirely (I have been using kielbasa in it), or something I have yet to try making

, bean soup. It can make sandwiches. It can go with eggs, or into scrambled eggs. It can be frozen. I find it useful to cut little pieces of ham and put the appropriate amount for scrambled eggs in each of multiple bags in the freezer. It can go from freezer to pan when needed.

The bone can be frozen for future soup.

I love it! My gout, well, that could do without my eating too much ham at once.


This is a great article on huckleberries, which I haven’t had since I was young. They grew all around my house in the middle of the woods, and were completely distinct from blueberries, which were even more abundant. The flavor really is hard to describe, but so good.

There’s one thing my kids don’t have that I did: An early knowledge of what berries could be picked and eated, and which could not. Though the latter I have worked on as I see berries that qualify.

2011? Wow!

Long time, no blogging here. Well, that should change as I try to revive this and other sites. Be warned, though, that it might not mean, say, daily posts. Maybe not more than weekly, depending. I found that there were limits to the variety of things I cooked, especially – ironically – given the need to be frugal plus, limiting that blog fodder. There would only have been so many allergy updates or posts about shopping. The effort would be helped if my idea of frugal were not, of necessity, about as cheap as you can go short of hitting the soup kitchen.

That said, I have made new things. Even if I can’t post recipes because I made them up on the fly

, as always, I can at least tell you about them. Some of that will appear soon. I figure if I can throw in some links here and there, I might be able to generate at least a post per week. Stay tuned.

Storing Cilantro

This year I attempted to grow some herbs, of which the most successful was cilantro. Which at this point is flowering prolifically, in an attempt to become coriander. I started the stuff inside, then planted it in front of my building, for lack of a better place, in not very good soil, in a sunny location. Cilantro thrived, relatively, and a basil plant survived but is tiny. The basil I want to transplant into a pot for the winter. I may do that with cilantro, but it’s kind of tall. In fact, it seemed to have gotten tall and flowered over producing nice leaves, so more of the leaves look feathery than I might have expected.

I don’t have a lot of use for it, in any event. I’ve used a little already. It’s so strong, it goes a long way. I would never have gotten interested, but one time I tried fish tacos. The cilantro on those was so good, I figured I had missed something. My previous experience with it was a jar of dry, part of a big spice set I was giving years ago. The cilantro may as well have been dried grass clippings. No scent. No discernible flavor effect on food. Apparently it is particularly prone to lose flavor when dried. Or so I learned when I searched for info on drying it, finding that freezing is recommended as an alternative.

This morning I picked one stalk, the only one not flowering, brought it in, and trimmed the leaves/small stems off the stalk to freeze. We’ll see what happens, but hey, the same thing has come in handy with onions. Perhaps I’ll do another plant dried, just to see what happens, and let one go to seed – if it can before the frost – to get coriander. I grew coriander once, in my teens, before I’d ever heard of cilantro or been aware anything but the seeds could be eaten. I had no use for it beyond it was an herb and I planted an herb garden. I decided I wasn’t keen on coriander at the time, based on the smell of the seeds and how the scent clung to my hands.

Anyway, in the future I am more likely to buy herbs already started, since it was sketchy starting them from seed. If I do plant seeds, I’ll toss them in the ground outside, see what happens and not expect much, rather than undergoing what proved to be a devastating transplanting process.

I love the idea of fresh basil, but the thing I want the most is fresh rosemary. That sprouted reluctantly, but did not survive. I’ll eventually just buy some in a pot, cutting to the chase.

More Allergies?

As is well known, Henry has allergies to bananas, dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, and when he was very young was sensitive to salicylates, azo dyes, and some aspect of screen printed ink on many of my T-shirts. He is gradually easing on the egg and milk fronts, in that he can eat foods into which those have been baked or cooked thoroughly, and can eat foods which have been fried in butter, or that contain butter or sour cream cooked into them.

The girls never had evidence worth noting tht they might have allergies. Until now.

Valerie had classic allergy symptoms after eating a peach, skin included, and getting the juice on her skin. She had also drank “peach punch,” a favorite juice we sometimes buy the kids when it’s on sale for a dollar per half gallon, but I discount that as a direct factor, with reason. Turns out that onset of peach allergy can be a symptom of the onset of birch pollen allergy, naturally manifesting in the spring, and common in our neck of the woods. Processed, peaches or peach juice might not trigger that the same way a raw peach, skin and all, could be expected to, or so I gather.

It has been several months since we needed Benadryl for Henry – approaching a year, perhaps. It took a solid dose of it – initially I gave her a lighter dose based on what I remembered giving Henry when he was younger – but that and washing thoroughly cleared it up. A bit slowly. She had hives all over her belly

, was extremely itchy, was red around her mouth, and had one eye get red and puff up almost closed.

I called the doctor’s office and they lined up a prompt appointment with the allergist. Early next week will be busy! Sunday there’s a beach get-together the kids and I are going to

, centered around a friend visiting from Oregon. Monday Valerie has two sessions of evaluations at the kindergarten, seeing just what help she may need with school and how she should be placed. Then we have a brief get-together with someone I haven’t seen since 1976, visiting from Minnesota.

On Tuesday afternoon it’s Valerie’s allergy testing. Should be interesting, since she’ll get a battery of them, and they are notorious for showing allergies that have never been seen to exist in actual practice. Like my grandniece with the peanut allergy that isn’t. Which I suspect may be true with Henry, since that’s the one thing he never showed signs of at all. In his case we won’t take chances, though.

Henry’s Dairy Allergy Was Partially Eczema

I found this milk elimination to fight eczema to be interesting after our experience with Henry, and how we figured out what his glaringly obvious allergic reactions were from. He reacts to dairy on contact with his skin, and he can get both hives and simply a red, eczema-like reaction from ingesting it.

I can’t speak for eggs, since we’ve been more careful about those. The worst reaction to bananas was digestive though he did get red from them too. That was a good one, when bananas were first or near the first food he ever had and I was immediately suspicious, yet who ever heard of a baby not being able to eat bananas? Then again, Henry was very nearly allergic to food that wasn’t breat milk, until he grew out of sensitivity to azo dyes and salicylates. But that’s another post that needs to be written sometime.

In any event, I’m not surprised, though I am surprised that we don’t see more of this, or have more doctors savvy or imaginative enough to help with it.

$7 a Day??

Via Glenn Reynolds, things like eating on $7 a day articles really get me going. There are five of us here. That would be $245 a week! Luxury! Riches! We can afford about $100 a week

, for somewhat tortured values of “afford.” Call it maybe $3 a day, then, for a person. So lucky that three of them are kids, though they’ve become a challenge to afford to feed despite their size and bodily non-fussiness about what they’ll turn into fuel and additional mass and height.

What that means is not cauliflower, not much Trader Joe’s (though that’s a good place for allergy friendly food, a part of the challenge of eating cheap I won’t even get into here)

, not a lot of fresh food, and devotion of more time than might otherwise be the case.

It means you buy certain things in bulk, which costs up front but extends your stocks later. It means less variety than might be the case. It means paying attention to sales or who has what at everyday best prices, but balancing that against gas and time required to go farther rather than nearer for a given thing or three.

You want inexpensive? Rice. Dry pinto beans. Flour. Store brand old-fashioned oatmeal. Dry lentils and peas. Generic goods from the store with the best unit price, based in part on what it is and how well it will feed the kids. Cheap meat. Cheap pasta. Cheap sandwich bread. Lots of sandwiches. Tuna as somewhat of a luxury, for variety.

It means you sweat over the price of cheese, but cheese is a staple, an ingredient in or centerpiece of so many meals, you can’t do without readily. Cheap means a pot of chili made with dry pinto beans and beef that was on sale for $1.99/lb. Cheap means burritos made with flour tortillas you made yourself for a fraction of the store bought cost, refried beans you made yourself, rice, maybe some corn, the cheapest meat you could get, some cheese, and sour cream at the best price you can find. Now, in reality convenience wins much of the time, even here, so it’s canned refried beans most of the time, and even store bought tortillas, though homemade are better (whereas I’ve never made refried beans as good as our favorite store brand). Burritos are a good cheap eat, as they are filling and can stretch meat and cheese further than some dishes. Pasta stretches food, too.

Yes, some of this is not as good for you as other things, but the lower you can go on some items, the more you can afford healthier items and treats.

There are some surprises. Making your own bread doesn’t save all that much. It’s just yummier. Potatoes are relatively expensive. A batch of mashed potatoes takes 5 lbs and will leave only a little left over. It’s the allergy boy’s favorite food in the world, but is mostly supplanted by rice.

It’s hard when you need to buy spices, but those are necessary for making the food tasty and interesting, and represent a low cost per meal in the long run. When we got food stamps for a year, it felt like we were swimming in grocery money. The kids were smaller, and I couldn’t use the entire $400-odd in a month, even splurging. While I buy all the 99 cent spices I can, some aren’t available that way, and food stamps made that easier. Then they sort of jerked us around and kept us off of them, which has been tough at times, and gotten worse as our income fluctuated back down. We probably qualify for a couple hundred a month, and I’m waiting to hear on our latest attempt to bother applying. Having any self-employment income means you may almost as well not bother. But I digress.

The point is, $7 a day may not be up to the standards people of means are used to, but it’s actually a substantial amount of grocery money. Thus I find these challenges amusing, or even disturbing, because they seem so unserious compared to the reality out here.

Coconut Milk

With Henry’s allergies to dairy and all nuts, he has to use soy milk. It’s a good thing he likes all things soy! To him, soy butter is as yummy and natural as peanut butter is to most of us. And he hates sunflower butter, which is vastly better. We tried rice milk along the way, but that seems to be little more than water.

Yesterday I noticed for the first time coconut milk in Walmart, in the same case with soy, nut, rice and organic milks. It was a buck more (speaking of which, at the rate milk has gone up, the differential with soy seems less onerous), but I decided it might be worth a try, and could picture it being better in something like cake. When I make a cake free of eggs and dairy, instead of all water, I generally use half soy milk and half water. Not that it matters, since he has developed tolerance enough to eat cake with eggs and/or milk baked into it, just as the allergist suggested. Yet we’ve come to like the special recipe cake better. Though ironically I cannot make it taste good in chocolate, despite chocolate being the original recipe I adapted. But I digress.

I bought one, and this morning it was time to open a fresh milk, as his old soy milk is expired. Presumably, since it’s hard to tell, besides just throwing it away after the recommended 7-10 days. The only way I seem to be able to tell, since it doesn’t develop an odor, is to taste it. If I feel like retching within the next moment or so, it’s definitely bad. My body knows what my nose and taste buds can’t discern.

I offered Henry the choice of coconut milk or soy on his cereal. He picked coconut and there was much excitement. Then as soon as I’d opened it, he said no, he didn’t want it, didn’t like it. He refused to taste it to be sure. If I’d never told him and just opened it, he’d have had no clue it was different, and might have loved it. Duh! I thought he’d be happy to try it, but he’s busily being 3, and some. Most stubborn person I know, too.

I poured a small glass so I could taste it. Man, what an improvement over soy milk! You can taste the coconut flavor, in fact it tastes much like the liquid from the hollow of a coconut, which when I was a kid we got all excited to have, despite it not, in reality, being that good. We called it “coconut milk,” but apparently that’s not the correct term.

Sadie wouldn’t taste it, after championing the new milk to Henry. Maybe that would have helped. He refused, simply declaring he didn’t like it. Valerie drank the whole thing and declared it awesome. When offered more, she opted to try it as chocolate milk. I flavored it heavily, since the coconut flavor came through. She hated it as chocolate milk. I drank it. It was good, but different. Might be better as strawberry. No word on how it would be with lime.

So… I guess I’ll be baking! Or doing something with it, even if I’m the only one who eats it. And I probably won’t buy it again, or if I do, won’t tell Henry what it is before serving it. Why fight to serve him something that costs more?

Foodie Quiz – Sounds About Right


You Are a Part-time Foodie

Food is definitely something you get excited about. You love to eat!
And while each meal you have may not be extremely special, you try to spice things up a bit.

You aren’t a very picky eater, and you’re always looking to expand what you like.
You are willing to give almost anything a go, and you’re quite the creative cook.

Growing Herbs

As much as an experiment for the kids as for practical reasons, I bought seeds and attempted to grow rosemary, savory and cilantro. I could barely afford the seeds, and have no place reasonably available outside. When I unearthed an old bag of potting soil from where I’d stored it, I finally planted a few seeds of each in three old tea cups. Not exactly ideal.

The results so far: rosemary never even attempted to sprout. Savory sprouted, but put out shoots so long and sensitive they promptly died back down. Cilantro seems to be coming forth robustly enough to survive, and a handful of plants sprouted. I’ll need better conditions for it to transplant into, obviously.

Anyone have experience growing these or other herbs inside? Or outside?

In reality, I once grew cilantro, before I’d ever heard of cilantro, in the late seventies, outside the kitchen door of the house where I grew up. I grew it as coriander, and learned I found the smell of the coriander seeds disgusting and tenacious on my hands. It, mint, and parsley, if I recall correctly, all grew like weeds, no problems at all. At the time, it was a matter of curiosity. I was into gardening then, but not cooking.

I’m dubious as to the value of doing this for any kind of savings. Not without a yard and an herb garden. And not as compared to dried, bottled, commercial product when comparing just money and effort. Maybe not even compared to fresh, which I have never bought and used.

I had some dried cilantro for a while. It smelled like dried grass and seemed to add nothing to food. I wondered what the fuss was. Until I had some fresh in fish tacos and it was delicious.

I’ll probably keep it to this and not much else, but I’d be intrigued to try growing some others eventually…