Going Old-School: Meal-planning

The first harvest from my lawn

I finally used dandelions in place of store-bought greens. It came about the usual way: An online discussion of gardens segued to cooking and then to family recipes using whatever is on hand. (Or underfoot.)

Wild leeks, burdock, and easily-identified safe mushrooms are unavailable in my region. But dandelions? There’s a PLETHORA of those.

Continue reading

Hunter’s Salad

Someone asked me about go-to dishes and when I mentioned Hunter’s Salad, wanted to know more. It’s the local name, but I suppose it exists in similar forms elsewhere.  I originally bought it from local delis, then decided to try my hand at it.

Here it is, with no measurements because I eyeball everything:

It uses a wild rice (or riced veggies) base. Add green onion (aka scallion);  chopped walnuts or similar nut;  celery; and dried cranberries,  cherries, or blueberries (lots of choices in Michigan).

Top with a balsamic vinaigrette. I used Newman’s Own walnut cranberry until it was discontinued. Now I make my own with a dash of Montmorency tart cherry juice and walnut oil.


The Veggie Jar

Between garden supply runs and appointments, I’ve been driving around quite a bit. Last week I found myself looking for someplace to have a quick-and-cheap bite to eat. Of course, my budget doesn’t allow for fast food.

So I cheated without cheating.

I often drove by a grocery store between two fast food joints. Neiman’s Family Market has an in-store cafe that allows you (or me in this case!) to nosh on goodies in between grocery shopping.*

One delicious offering was sliced raw vegetables – not just carrots and cucumbers, but radish medallions and brightly-colored pepper slices. The produce sections of most grocery stores carry large plastic bowls of prepared vegetables or fruits, particularly in the summer. Nothing beats the heat like refrigerated snacks.

It occurred to me that the appeal of these bowls – besides the avoidance of cleaning, peeling, and slicing everything oneself – is their beauty.  The variety of colors attract the eye like a jar of hard candies on the counter of a sweets shop. It’s much more tempting to “eat your vegetables” when they’re enticingly pretty.

And the convenience of popping the lid and reaching in for a handful of snacks can’t be beat. Unfortunately, the price of convenience can be steep.


My version of a vegetable medley with the freezer container of “odds and ends.”

I decided to make my own version using the Anchor Hocking 7-cup container. I used celery, carrots, radishes, and two bell peppers. Not counting the amount I didn’t use, the cost is less than $5. I could have made it cheaper by using cucumbers and eliminating the celery, which is more than $3 a bunch.**

Not only is it less expense than the store-bought version, it had the added benefit of using all the “ugly” parts like the thick, whitish sections of bell peppers. I threw oddly-shaped pieces into a freezer container for vegetable soup in the autumn. A separate glass container holds sliced celery leaves ready to toss with salad.


This celery soup recipe by The American Moms is easy and delicious, and they give an nice overview of how Michigan farmers created the US celery industry.

*Grocery shopping while hungry can destroy a budget. However, some people become hungry after handling or smelling food. An independent grocer offers free coffee or tea for adults and free fruit to children. Putting food shops inside a store is a genius idea; just ask Michigan old-timers about the Purple Cow.

**Not heart of celery, the tender and leafy center, which is even more expensive. Michigan has had a late start this year in many crops due to cool rainy weather. I haven’t seen any local celery, just California produce. This doesn’t bode well for the price offrozen mirepoix packets, a winter staple.

Accidental Gazpacho


A strawberry scoop, erm, huller in the collapsible berry colander (with removable cap under the drainage holes).

There’s a cliché about girls going shopping and impulsively buying too-glamorous clothes. My friends are different; they convince me to buy kitchen gadgets.

Some of these have been delightful. (See above.) Others ended up breaking or being given away unused. Then there are those with a learning curve… Continue reading

Bringing Down the Food Budget

The last time I tracked my everyday expenses, I realized I eat out a lot. It’s not just restaurants. I frequent the Factory cafeteria. I stop for coffee whenever I am on the road.

These frequent food-fests don’t even include planned outings, like a recent farewell dinner for three seniors. It’s a given that I eat out at least twice a month because of the ever-changing restaurant landscape in the Bluewater Area.*

But if I want to take down The Mortgage (more on that later), I have to cut some more corners. An average lunch costs $3.75 and an average dinner over $10.

At Simple Dollar, Trent Hamm wrote about how the average American spends $7.64 a day on food, including both homemade and restaurant meals. He encourages bringing it down to $2.50 a day by using six staples as the backbone of meals: rice, beans, oatmeal, on-sale fresh produce, dry pasta, or eggs.

That seemed a little low to me, but I’m going to try it. The annual shut-down of the Factory and my mandatory retraining for new requirements mean I will be spending a lot of time at home for almost two months. It’s much easier to experiment with recipes when I will have enough time to read them and even cook elaborately.

Wish me luck!

*For example, I had been wanting to try the updated menu at The Cadillac House since its renovation. Baby Bro, as usual, was my excuse for going. Lunch was delicious, and it was startling to see the difference in the floor plan.

Freebies and Fails

I’m putting the Freebies right here for the TL/DR crowd:

  1. The SFFwaudio Podcast. I like SF and I love G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, so I’m enjoying listening to the audio version and looking forward to hearing the podcast discussing it.
  2. Instant Pot Recipes at Allrecipes.com is giving me an overview of my intimidating birthday gift, which I haven’t used yet.

The recent three days of snow have made me grateful (yet again) for kind neighbors and profoundly covetous of their garages. I have to remind myself that I can survive another winter without one, unlike a furnace or a water heater. Continue reading

Secret Recipe: Peanut Sauce for Noodles

One of my not-so-healthy pleasures is a bowl of instant noodles. Not ramen, mind you! Years of low income beat out any taste I had for that, mac’n’cheese, instant potatoes, and canned spinach.

You know the kind that you just add water, drain, then add the packet of peanuts and sauce? Yeah, the one that comes in a Styrofoam bowl! Especially the “Japanese-udon-style” Korean product that contains MSG.

Sadly, my doctor has put a kibosh on salty processed foods. (Note: I’m not really sad. I’m happy to go on living.)

So I did what I usually do. As I was eating my last bowl of peanut-sauce noodles, I perused the ingredients and wrote down those I had at home (or a similar ingredient). Then I experimented and came up with the following Experiment in Culinary Terror:

Peanut Sauce for Noodles 

  • 1/4 tsp. sweetener (1 packet Stevia)
  • 1 Tbsp natural peanut butter (low salt)
  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1/2 Tbsp. seasoned vinegar
  • 1/2 Tbsp. other vinegar (I used Eden Foods red wine vinegar)*
  • 1/2 Tbsp. sesame (or olive) oil
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds (I use white sesame seeds and pan-toast them)
  • 1 tso lemon juice
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp ground ginger
  • Crushed red pepper, to taste

The first batch was a little watery, so I let it chill a bit. It still heated up nicely on hot udon noodles.

I double the recipe when I want some as a soup base.

*You could use 1 Tbsp. of the same vinegar, but I liked the combination. Just don’t mess up and add TWO tablespoons like I did the second time.