Archives for posts with tag: budget

I think the key to sticking with a wholesome eating routine is to keep the food you cook at home fun and slightly luxurious, but with lots of whole grains and vegetables.  That, and to be poor and have lots of time to cook, i.e., unemployed.

Here’s some dishes that have kept me going–staying in a tight budget while being relatively healthy, varied, and fun.  I haven’t chosen the cheapest option and sacrificed nutrition–I don’t always go for the white potatoes and white rice because they are the cheapest, or the factory-farmed chicken.  To be honest, sometimes I do.  Some dishes are best with white rice and others brown.  Taste is always foremost!  If it doesn’t taste good, doesn’t give you a feeling of being a little decadent, you’ll pig out on nachos at the pub the first chance you get.

1. Homemade pita & tortilla chips
I never buy store-bought chips anymore–I’ve usually got a bag of corn tortillas and a bag of whole-wheat pitas in the freezer.  Even more thriftily, I save the tortillas (folded in half, wrapped in foil) from Mexican takeout.  I break them in pieces while still frozen, toss generously with olive oil & salt, and bake at 350º for about 10-15 min until slightly browned and crispy.  They have a different texture than store-bought chips but I have learned to prefer them, and they have a rich taste from the olive oil.  Using another oil like vegetable, corn, or peanut will make them crispier but I prefer the taste from the olive oil–it’s roastier.
For pita chips, it’s much the same process except I dry them in the oven first, so they are twice-baked.  I haven’t thought of doing that with tortillas, but I must try that.

Think about it, a bag of tortilla chips is about $3 while a fraction of a bag of tortillas, at least in an area with a Latino population, will run you about 25¢.  Free if you get them with takeout and don’t use them.  The same with pita chips–a bag of those is at least $4 and half a bag of pitas is just 75¢.  Plus, they’re wholesome, homemade, certainly better for you than anything deep-fried.  And you can use leftover homemade tortilla chips for…

2. Tortilla soup
I make this about every other time as part of the roast chicken aftermath.  After the carcass has been ravaged for sandwiches, I pick all the hidden bits of meat off (like le sot l’y laisse), reserve, then make a stock from the bones.  I also make sure people throw back the bones of the legs and wings instead of tossing them out because you want the wings for extra gelatin in your stock.  For a Mexican broth you want to add some mint and thyme, but I usually make an unflavored, unseasoned stock and simmer 1 qt of it with herbs later to make this soup.  There are many recipes for tortilla soup, but the basic idea is to saute some garlic and tomato in olive oil on high heat, then puree and add back to the soup and squeeze a lot of lime juice in at the end.  I’ve built on this recipe with inspiration from Rick Bayless–I now add one or two soaked pasilla peppers into the puree, and add shreds of either chard, kale, or spinach.  I also throw in a handful of rice, then at the end, add the bits of cooked chicken and crumbled tortilla chips.  Some leftover black beans, too, if they are handy, and a bit of hot sauce if it lacks punch.  Cheese is traditional but I skip it.  And if I don’t have tortilla chips already made, I skip those too, so is it still tortilla soup…?  If you haven’t roasted a chicken, you can always poach one and strip ALL the meat, which you will then be able to save for many different meals and you’ll have a great stock as well.  I just poached one for tonight’s aji de gallina.  I get my chickens at a halal market for about $3.  I choose to believe since they are halal, they are better for me than a factory-farmed chicken.

3. To serve with your homemade chips, some homemade guacamole!  I can get avocados here depending on the season for $1 or less a piece.  2 avocados makes a nutritious special treat for 2 or 3 people.  Yes, they are full of fat, but it is good fat, and they contain a natural antidepressant!  So if you lost your health insurance, eat guacamole when you are blue.  In the summer I make them with fresh tomato and red onion, lime juice, hot sauce and cilantro.  In the winter, when I don’t buy tomatoes, I try to have some tomatillo salsa (salsa verde) on hand and I use that plus red or green onion, lime juice and cilantro.

4. For another dip that is wonderful with either of the homemade chips, but which I eat more often with carrot sticks, I developed a homemade spinach dip.  I wanted to capture the flavor of a classic potluck spinach dip, the kind you’d serve in a bread bowl, but made from fresh ingredients.  I sautee onion, garlic and celery, then puree that with a combination of dairy products–mostly drained lowfat yogurt (I get a really tasty, tangy Indian brand at the halal market) plus a bit of either labeneh (a cross between thick sour cream and yogurt), sour cream, and/or mayonnaise, for richness.  To that I add some leftover cooked greens, either spinach, chard, or kale.  If you don’t have leftovers, just add the greens to the sauteed aromatics and cook until wilted.  I always keep a bunch of dark leafy greens in the house.  Swiss chard is my favorite but all winter it is kale, kale, kale!  It’s not hard to eat in season when you have no money.  Zip it all in the food processor with salt, pepper, and coriander powder or another spice of your choice, and there you have it.  Trust me, it is so much better than those potluck dips, and you know everything that’s gone into it–not like a packet of dried soup mix full of additives and preservatives.

5. Lentils and split peas. Yes, the classic staples of the poor!  But I won’t hold for any tasteless mush.  Adding flavor is key.  And it doesn’t always have to be in the form of a smoked pork product, though sometimes it does.  One soup (from Marcella Hazan) I make all the time is the epitome of thrift.  One half a bag of green split peas, 2 potatoes, 1 cup of beef stock or a bouillon cube, 4 cups of water.  The key, and all the flavor, comes in at the end when you saute 2 Tb of chopped onion in a mixture of butter and oil, then puree that in with the soup.  I also love her lentil soup, with lots of garlic, tomato, bit of bacon, pasta and crushed red pepper.  I make another lentil soup–with many variations–to which I generally add smoked paprika in lieu of a smoked pork product.  I don’t have anything against smoked pork, by the way, in fact I very often use bacon as part of a soup base, but cooking for two I don’t make whole hams so I don’t have leftover ham hocks.  You can buy them of course (though that doesn’t seem very thrifty), and I’ve also heard good things about using smoked turkey wings in soups.  I just picked up a package of them but haven’t used any yet.  My Algerian friend also makes an amazing lentil soup with a bit of lamb on the bone.  I’ve been trying to get her to teach me how to make it so stay tuned…

Then there are the multitudinous combinations of lentils, dark leafy greens, and rice/pasta.  They can easily stray into the “I’m eating this just to stay alive” camp, which is where we don’t want to be!  A judicious use of spice and/or meat will fix that.  My favorite lately uses a bit of Italian sausage and seasons the greens with a pinch of anise seed, served with pasta.  The anise works so well with the lentils and greens–delicious!

6. Turkish-ish greens w/ rice.  Thanks to Halime, who runs the halal shop across the street from my apartment and taught me how to make this one day.  I make it often for lunch and I’ve altered the recipe a bit by adding garlic and cinnamon (which is more of a North African touch).  You sautee some onion & garlic, add a tiny bit of ground meat and cook for 10 min, then add fresh or canned tomatoes or tomato paste, cook it down, add lots of greens and a small handful of dry rice, water to cover, simmer until rice is done.  I sometimes make this with leftover rice; brown rice is good and makes this a very nutritious meal but you do want it to be at least par-boiled when you start.  If I’m using dry rice, I’ll usually hold out on adding the greens until it’s half-cooked.  It’s a personal thing; the Turkish way has you cook the greens until they are soft and brownish, which is not always as bad as it sounds and can be quite yummy.  Their version is also mostly greens with a tiny bit of rice while I like to do more half-and-half.  Add a dollop of yogurt or labeneh to serve.  Mmmmmm.

7. Root vegetables.  For a favorite side dish of mine, I take half sweet and half white potatoes, chopped, tossed w/ olive oil, s+p, smoked paprika and cumin (sometimes a bit of cayenne too).  Roast at 400º for about 40 minutes.  Optionally you can squeeze lemon juice over, sprinkle w/ chopped parsley or cilantro, or serve w/ an aji or chipotle dipping sauce.  This is my go-to side dish with burgers, be they lamb, beef, or turkey.  The sweet potatoes are extremely nutritious and anti-inflammatory–it might be my imagination but I get a feeling of well-being every time I nom one.

I’m also a huge fan of celery root, which I use in purees (with roast chicken) and soups (with parsnips, potatoes and dark leafy greens) all winter.  Turnips and rutabagas, likewise, can be turned into a rustic mash with carrots, sweet potatoes and roasted garlic, or into a soup with bacon and dried mushroom.  All of them have a lot more to offer nutritionally and taste-wise than white potatoes.

8. Hummus.  1 can of chickpeas = 89¢.  1 cup of premade or good deli hummus = $4-5.  Yeah.  The only thing that will cost you is the tahini.  I can get it for less than $4 here but I live in a Middle Eastern neighborhood.  I remember paying $11 in the suburbs.  In that case, you might want to try experimenting with almond or cashew butter, if you can get them cheaper, but even for $11 you will save money in the end because you’ll get lots of batches out of one tub.  I make my hummus the traditional Lebanese way, with a generous amount of tahini and lemon juice, few Tb of water, salt and ½ clove garlic.  (Though to be really traditional I’d have to soak and cook my chickpeas, which would save me even more money, but I never think ahead.)  The only addition I sometimes make is a squirt of Sriracha.  Drizzle a good olive oil over and top with a dusting of either sumac, smoked paprika, chopped parsley, or Aleppo pepper.  Serve w/ pita chips or just plain whole wheat pita.

There are a lot more ideas out there of course, like fish cakes (which I love to serve with the tortilla soup), grated veggie latkes, which I’d like to do more of, casseroles, gratins… what are your favorite nutritious, cheap, fun, slightly decadent dishes or tips?

Personally, I hope that after I transition off unemployment (which I’m in the process of now), I’ll be able to keep some of the good habits I’ve learned.  Not only with cooking, but in general, relearning the joy and inspiration in the simple and the cheap.


Curtains: My old green curtains paired with sheers made out of the sari from Jackson Heights.

Throw pillows made with African/Dutch waxprint fabrics, $3.50-$6/yard from P&S Fabrics and another store nearby on Broadway south of Canal Street.

Table: Pink cloth is a $1.99 Ikea clearance rug.  Turquoise placemat, $2.99 Daffy’s clearance.  Vase (which is either the same or very close to a Crate & Barrel one I coveted for years and regretted not buying), $4.99 at Salvation Army.  Flowers, $5 from Union Square Greenmarket.  Brass tray with engraving of clipper ship, $2.99 at Salvation Army.

You can spot the duck head on top of the bookcase.  Not sure where its permanent place will be but it will tell me in due time.  Also to do: replace upside-down lampshade!

The light in the apartment is still so gloomy but does take on a nice pink hue from the curtains.  There was an article in the NYT recently about apartment envy which is epidemic among New Yorkers.  “For such an intellectually advanced and culturally diverse population, we sure are easily impressed with dishwashers.”  My list is longer than most.  In order of desire.

  1. Natural light.  The kind that makes you happy just walking into a room where a slanted beam of light is glowing ever-so-optimistically and makes having a cup of tea into a rapturous event.
  2. A balcony, roof deck, back garden, terrace, deck, porch, courtyard, or even a fire escape!
  3. A dishwasher.
  4. A beautiful view.  Currently, living in Bay Ridge, I’m dreaming about a view of the Narrows, the body of water between us and Staten Island, and being able to watch the barges, massive container ships, ferries, sailboats and glorious sunsets from my own pad.
  5. A sewing room.
  6. A working fireplace. HahaHahaHahaHa.

I’ve been obsessed with the idea of curtains made from saris for a few weeks now.  And in keeping with the loose theme I’ve decided to apply to this room–the ethnic diversity of New York City–I went to Jackson Heights in Queens today in search of the perfect 7 yards of fabric.

It was interesting to visit during Ramadan–there were lots of sidewalk vendors all selling religious merchandise–Arabic inscribed plaques, headscarves and blankets (but no fawanees).  Luckily I was given a fanous (that’s the singular for fawanees) by a nice man in a shop in Bay Ridge last week after getting a clear dental report!  (He didn’t know.  But it was better than a lollipop.)

After a long, alternately wonderful, frustrating, sweaty and overwhelming day trolling sari shops along 74th St. and 37th Ave. (with a lunch stop at Al-Naimat), I finally found exactly what I was looking for in a downstairs shop called New East West Sarre Sarani (and they were very sweet and helpful to a white girl with a strange request).  Bright fuchsia, gold embroidered, sheer poly chiffon, with plenty of fabric for two windows, $40!  Here’s a pic of it in the room–I just have it draped over the rod right now.  I’ll have to figure out how to make the two curtains, as one thing I learned about saris today is that the border design is only on one short side.  Makes sense as the other would normally be hidden when worn.

I love it!  It brings such a nice glow into the room.

Click for before-and-after chair pics!

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“Follow House magazine’s guide to how to get horny spring color blobs boxes into your home.”

“Niels is not just fussy, he is super fussy. But he is legally excused. He lives for his sharp sense of decor”

Those are some of my favorite Google Translate blurbs from BOLIG, an interior design magazine from Denmark and the source for my main new inspiration photo (first found @ Jubella):

I decided I love the stark white walls and furniture with crazy accent colors.  Plus it means I don’t have to repaint (at least that room) when I move out.

I found some other great ideas at TAJ Wood & Scherer (Germany) and the wonderful RICE company out of Denmark.  They design wonderful super-colorful home items that are made under fair trade conditions in developing countries.  I wish we had a shop of theirs here–I think it would do well in NY!

The rice-bag and matchbox inspired patterned throw pillows on the top right are from Koko, a NY (Queens) based company run by a Colombian woman married to an Indian man–she operates a similar fair-trade business model too, as I found out when I FINALLY located the woven plastic rugs I’ve been searching for desperately, by Koko and available at Domus (run by a delightful woman named Luisa) in NY.  You can see a few in the pictures above–my favorites are the brightly colored ones in traditional floral/scrollwork designs.  I’d seen them all over the place in the Scandinavian blogs, and I did see some by Mad Mats (which have the added plus of being recycled) but they didn’t quite have the colors and designs I wanted.  It took a New York Times article on the trend to find the name Koko and the store Domus.  Hello all design blogs out there: please tell us the manufacturers of the items you feature!  And makers, work on your Google presence!

Continue for new couch pics and a poll!  Onward!

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I went to Etsy Craft Night for the first time last night.  I had visited the offices in DUMBO, Brooklyn before in a professional capacity (I am starting a nonprofit program to teach sewing, crafts, and business methods in the Arab American community where I live) but to be honest I was just as interested in snooping around the office, seeing all the cool stuff, and talking about crafting.   So I decided to return with needles and crochet hooks in hand to one of the Monday night get-togethers they have, either teaching a specific craft or, like last night, an open crafts night.  I also thought it would be a way to try the old “meet people with common interests” tactic: I tend to be somewhat of an introverted, socially inept hermit who loathes/is incapable of small talk but I could really use some new girlfriends.  Or crafty menfriends.

When I arrived there were 4 tables pretty full of crafters busily creating and nattering away, and one table that was relatively empty.  So I set myself up there.  For company, an older Chinese woman who spoke absolutely no English, and a man who was singing Christmas carols and theme songs to 70s sitcoms (“Come and knock on my door…”) loudly to himself, or asking everyone in the room when their birthday was.  Right.  So this plan is going well.

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Chair (was free) lightly sanded and taped and waiting to be painted white. Eggshell paint ($15, ugh). Sort of à la Jonathan Adler.  What do you think?  It might be a trend that’s on its way out.  But what the hell.

Other project of the day, this very strange leather hanging mirror I got at the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market yesterday ($5).  Notice it is missing its lowermost dangly bits.  I’m going to take it with me on my first visit to Etsy Craft Night tonight and do some plastic surgery.  I’m thinking something pendulous.

Behold patchwork pillow #1!  I’m super happy with it, though I also learned I really don’t like patchworking and it’s a good thing I’m going for an imperfect handmade look because I can’t seem to manage to get those damn squares to match up.  The top center fabric is from a thrifted sweater that I couldn’t really pull off, the right center is from a dollar store scarf, and the left center is from a silk Indian scarf I wore to a wedding long ago.  The only problem is that the silk is really fragile and I can see it start to fray… should have backed it with interfacing as I thought as I was making it “I should really back this with interfacing so it doesn’t fray…”

The other fabrics were purchased or in my stash (the pink and blue one came from Mom, thanks!) and the center and bottom left were fancy schmancy buys from the City Quilter (by the way, they were very nice and not stuck up like SOME craft store ladies).  Ooh and the background fabric came from a local fabric store here in my neighborhood, which I spotted while at the register buying overpriced elastic thread, having misplaced the stuff I already bought and being fixated on a shirring project, and an underpriced genyoowine vintage buckle, which revealed itself to me as I was squished in an aisle barely big enough for one ample-butted crafter, squatted down with an employee searching through stacks of upholstery piping while she good-naturedly grumbled about her tyrannical boss, who was one of those proprietors who makes you feel like a naughty student while you are shopping, but in a way you are happy because you feel you’re getting some kind of old-fashioned NY service.  So anyway, I saw the green/blue sparkly floral brocade at the counter, which is almost exactly the fabric in the $7 vintage dress I bought last weekend, which I was tempted to cut up for decorating but of course I never would (sacrilege).

It turned out there was a half-yard left, which was exactly what I wanted, and I expected a bit of a discount as it was a bolt end, but didn’t get one.  Looking at it more carefully at home now I see there is red printing “MADE IN JAPAN”, a red seal/stamp impression, and a grimy bit where it was taped to the roll.  I should really become one of those shoppers who inspects everything they buy and berates the shopkeeper for a discount–for some reason I picture an early 60s housewife shaking a disapproving finger at the local butcher.  It’s a skill I have to work on!  (If the red printing were more distinct, it would work into my design scheme really well, but it’s not–it’s just bleh.)

See? *Shakes finger vigorously and belatedly!*

Click for crochay and moar…

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Originally uploaded by Hennybee

When you’re starting a new redecoration project, it helps if you buy the major items first that will form the structure of the room. Things like ceramic duck heads (at $3.99 a Salvation Army splurge) and miniature tin Sacred Heart mirrors (50¢ at the most amazing thrift shop out in the country, where I also got a 1950s turquoise-and-kelly-green brocade party dress in perfect condition for $7 and a pristine vintage tablecloth for $3!!) I also picked up the hand-embroidered kitty cat cushion cover, also 50¢ because it was stained and ripped. Most of it came clean in the wash, but I might dye it tangerine. Or not–it’s kind of sweet the way it is.

But this, folks, is the problem with thrift shop/dollar store redecorating. You may go into a shop looking for, say, a flower-print muumuu that you can cut up for patchworks, and find instead a duck head on a plaque (I didn’t even mention the scary yellow eyes. He’s magnificent.).

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A few colorful items in my currently dull living room have been telling me they want company:

A candle from Brooklyn’s Sunset Park Chinatown ($1)

My yarn bag

And this painting I bought in Quito (it’s a copy of a painting by Ecuadorian fantastic realist artist Gustavo Velasco, or so I gather though this is the only page online I can find with information on him, and it is signed “J. Rafael”) which I love but a certain SO finds in questionable taste.

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Hi guys, well I’ve been meaning to blog for a while now and while I plan to talk about other things that more or less frivolous than home decorating, it seems a good place to start!

I’ve been in this apartment for a little over 3 years now, since I was separated and had to leave my beloved Craftsman bungalow with its big backyard, towering Pin Oak and graceful American Elm.  The interior was full of woodwork lovingly crafted by the original owner, and lent itself easily to a vintage decorating style.  It was a heartache to leave the space–on the last day, I secretly kissed the mahogany woodwork, rounded and smoothed by years of use, in the precious little butler’s pantry (that was almost certainly ripped out by the new owners to make room for a ‘proper’ modern kitchen).

When I moved into this apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, I purposefully threw away, gave away, or put into storage anything that I associated with my old life, the habits I’d formed in my suburban young adulthood, things that I loved but didn’t want to dwell on.  I got rid of most of my vintage clothing and my art supplies, carefully packed away my favorite decorative items and most of my 1000+ books, and moved in with just the bare essentials and three books: Writings and Drawings by Bob Dylan, Ray Bradbury’s Death is a Lonely Business, and my favorite childhood book, Over and Over.

It wasn’t that any of the hobbies or things I’d acquired during my marriage were necessarily bad, it was just that I wanted to zero out everything, not rely on routine or habit, start with nothing and see what returned to me, what didn’t, and what new things would gather, like a local yeast in the air invisibly working to raise your sourdough starter, to lend its own particular flavor.  I didn’t want to be stuck in the past: neither my own past or the throwback world of purist vintage decor and fashion.  I traveled less than 30 miles from my idyllic suburban village to Brooklyn, but it was also a journey in time–into the present, from the 20th to the 21st century.

Dreadful “before” picture and more after the jump!

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