Monthly Archives: July 2008

Great Depression VS Current Recession

Kit & Ruthie, American Girl Dolls starring in AG's new Movie--Kit Kitteredge

American Girl Dolls Kit & Ruthie star in a new movie set in the Great Depression-Kit Kittredge, An American Girl

Sometimes I like indulge in a little bit of armchair sociology. Lately I’ve been thinking about parallels between our current social and economic situation and the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Back then society was dirt poor, literally, living in dirt, fighting the dirt in dust storms.  Sadly the dirt wasn’t even especially good for farming, so there was a lot of hunger and poverty. Big time hunger and poverty. Currently, things are bad, compared to what we’re used to, but not as bad as things were back then, at least not as far as I can tell.

Even though the situation is better than it was then, for us, it’s still kind of scary and there are lots of “What If’s” roaming around willy nilly without answers. For instance, what if we run out of oil and can’t use our cars any more, what will happen, how will we cope? My kids and I were chatting about this very subject this weekend. I thought about it and came up with some ideas.

Running out of oil is a gradual process. It doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over a period of years, and possibly decades. In the mean time, we will do what we’ve always done, we’ll adapt. Most of us are adapting to the oil shortage and price-hike already. Car-pooling, only driving when necessary, putting off errands until a lot of them can be done at the same time, not running the air conditioning, visiting with distant friends and family less frequently, talking on the phone instead of in person, walking and biking when possible, parking SUV’s and using smaller cars that get better mileage. All sensible ways of dealing with the current gas situation.

If these conditions persist then people will fuss at local governments to provide more public transportation, and the governments will have to oblige us or economies will take an even bigger hit than they’re currently taking. Another thing is that small neighborhood communities will grow. When we don’t have the gas to drive to the big supermarket, it’s easier to walk down to the corner store to get a dozen eggs or carton of milk. This is really good for local economies. Some of the old neighborhood stores that have shut down over the past 25 years, may open back up. Those which haven’t shut down, will be doing better business.

During the 1970’s there was a sewing and craft resurgence. Partly due to the Spirit of ’76 and our country’s bicentennial. The other part though, was in reaction to the plastic MOD look of the 1960’s. All of that plastic, chrome and futurist themes that pervaded every aspect of our lives, got to be too much. Hippies went “Back to the Land” and those who couldn’t actually move physically experienced a similar spiritual change, if not a geographical one. Instead of sleek, hard and smooth–textures became soft, nubby and old-fashioned. Primitive homemade gifts became more desirable than shiny Store-bought gifts, Home sewing and crafting experienced a resurgencethat satisfied our society’s need for homemade instead of store-bought. Homemade bread, homemade dresses, homemade scarves and hats, gardens and chicken coops. Making things at home helped us deal with the deprivation we experienced because of the recession in the 1970’s, and helped us get back in touch with our own simple skills, which can be very empowering when everything costs too much and what we’ve got is all we’re going to get. Creating, in any form–sewing, cooking, carpentry, crafts, engineering–is the best way to manage a lack of resources. We don’t have something we need. We can’t buy this thing we need. So instead we create this thing we need, using supplies we already have. It’s my favorite part of being poor.

I see parallels in what happened then, to what is happening now. In my own home, nearby family is dropping by more often, letting the kids hang out together while the grownups talk and laugh and help with the dishes. Our one set of neighbors has been chatting with us over the fence and sharing a good laugh over pets and children. Since it’s easier and cheaper to cook than going out to eat, we’re eating better–saving gas, resources and cash. Plus getting better nutrition in the process. More people are gardening now too. Like the Victory gardens people had during WW II. Even growing a few herbs or baby tomatoes on a balcony or windowsill saves a little bit of money.

If things continue the way they’re going then things are going to get worse. I admit to that. But some things are going to get better too. Unable to rely on the crutches of money, cars, fast-food, and buying more stuff, we have to look deeper within ourselves, both individually and as a society. We must adapt, stretching outside of our comfort zone and redefining it as something new, which better suits current economic and social circumstances. We have the opportunity to witness the creation of The Good Old Days, a mythical time that we and our children will be bragging about to generations to come. The Good Old Days always come about during times of adversity and trial. Times when our society is forced to look beyond physical goods, beyond more-more-more, beyond the economics founded upon covetousness. We get to look past all the physical and watch the spiritual reawakening of our society–a change that I predict will be for the better.

P.S. After this flowery speech from atop my soapbox, I must admit that consumerism still has me in it’s grip. I really like the new Ruthie Doll by AG. She’s the first one with curly brown hair and no bangs. So she’s the first one with hair like me. Actually one of the dolls has hair exactly like mine, but otherwise she doesn’t look like me. I don’t own any AG dolls, but I find myself contemplating whether or not Ruthie should be my first. Not that I have the $90 that she costs, far from it. But one day we will feast again, and when that time comes, I may want Ruthie. Then again, I may not. I wonder how she would look in a snood?

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Filed under Crunchy Con, doll clothes, Rants, Recession

Keeping Down The Rising Cost of Meat

Every now and then I survey the stores I usually shop at to determine what the best buys among meat are. Over the past couple of years, and even more specifically the past 6 months, prices have risen but many bargains remain. What follows is my list of the cheapest meats, their price per pound and price per serving. People often tell me the prices I find are much lower than the prices they can find. While the cost of living in my area isn’t especially high, it’s not the lowest in the nation either. I think that if you look hard enough, and really pay attention to your market, that you’ll be surprised at how many out-right bargains you can find among the regularly priced goods.

EGGS (not exactly a meat, but close enough)

  • Medium Eggs–about $1.50 per dozen–25¢ per 2-egg serving–Medium eggs weigh about 21 ounces per dozen. Large eggs weigh about 25 ounces per dozen. Each medium sized egg weighs about 1-3/4 ounces instead of 2 ounces. I’m willing to give up 1/4 of an ounce of egg for the significant savings that medium eggs can bring.

BEEF

  • Ground Beef–5lb bullets–$1.75 per lb–44¢ per 1/4lb raw or about 2.5 ounces cooked lean meat–Most cuts of beef are at least twice this price. A single pound of regular ground beef (27 to 30% fat) gives you about 10 ounces of cooked, lean meat. The fat content of ground beef can be drastically reduced through the common tightwad practices of rinsing it in warm water after frying. This gives the cooked meat a nutritional profile similar to cooked 10% fat ground beef, and for a much better price.

POULTRY

  • Chicken Leg-Quarters–10lb bags–58¢ per lb–29¢ per 1/2lb raw or about 3 ounces cooked lean meat–Half a pound of chicken is necessary per serving because of all the waste going to bones, skin and fat.
  • Whole Chickens–88¢ per pound–44¢ per 1/2lb raw or about 3.5 ounces cooked lean meat–whole chickens provide slightly more cooked chicken per pound than leg-quarters, but usually cost about twice as much per pound. When on sale for the same price as leg-quarters, whole chickens are the better buy. They make a fancy meal for company too.
  • Ground Turkey–1lb bullets, frozen–$1.58 per lb–40¢ per 1/4lb raw or about 3 ounces cooked lean meat
  • Ground Turkey Sausage–1lb bullets, frozen–$1.58 per lb–40¢ per 1/4lb raw or about 3 ounces cooked lean meat–20¢ per 2oz raw patty, for breakfast (home-shaped patties, not store-bought preformed patties)
  • Whole & Half Turkey Hams–Usually 2 to 3 lbs per ham–$2.28 per lb–38¢ per 2-2/3 ounce cooked lean meat–6 sevings per pound. Since these are already fully cooked, they don’t lose much weight when cooked again at home.–23¢ per 1-1/2 ounce breakfast-sized serving (10 servings per pound)

PORK

  • Bacon Ends & Pieces–3lb box–$1.68 per lb–21¢ per 2oz raw or about 2 to 3 good sized slices, at least 1-ounce cooked (compare to cost of turkey sausage and turkey ham above, which have a similar price per portion)
  • Assorted Pork Chops with bones, usually Shoulder cuts (on sale)–$1.99 per pound–at least 5-pounds per package for lowest price–67¢ per 1/3-pound raw or about 3 ounces cooked meat–note this is more than twice the cost of chicken leg-quarters which can be cooked like pork chops in many recipes
  • Pork Picnics, smoked & fresh–Not sure of current prices, will begin to go on sale in early fall

FISH

  • Canned Tuna–6oz can–55¢ per can–28¢ per 2-ounce serving of cooked lean meat–2 servings per can
  • Canned Salmon–14oz can–$1.58 per can–31¢ per 2-ounce serving of cooked lean meat–5 servings per can
  • Frozen Fish Fillets–Whiting, Pollock, & Flounder–2 lb bags–$4.50 to $5 per bag–56¢  to 63¢ per 1/4 pound raw or about 3 ounces cooked lean meat. Note that this is over the twice the cost of a servings of chicken leg-quarters. We love fish, and try to serve it at least twice a week. Canned fish for one meal and frozen for the other. When we’re especially poor we stick to canned fish because frozen fish fillets are one of the most expensive foods in our budget.
  • Refrigerated Imitation Crab–1-1/2 pound packages–$2.25 per pound–42¢ per 3 ounce portion of cooked lean meat

FOR COMPARISON

  • Specialty eggs costing over $4 per dozen, or 70¢ per 2-egg serving. This is over twice the cost of simple medium-sized eggs @ 25¢/2-eggs
  • It’s easy to pay $4 to $5 per pound of beef, costing $1 to $1.25 per serving. Compare to 44¢ per serving for regular fat ground beef.
  • Boneless Chicken Breasts, especially all-natural brands, often charge $6 per pound or $1.50 per serving of 3 ounces cooked lean meat. Compare to 29¢ per serving for chicken-leg quarters.
  • Pre-cooked, packaged bacon costs $1.50 for a 1-ounce serving of cooked bacon. Compare that to 21¢ for a larger serving of homecooked bacon ends & pieces. Plus with homecooked bacon you have the extra kitchen byproduct–bacon grease; for FREE.
  • Most fish, frozen or fresh, costs upwards of $4 to $12 per pound, or $1 to $3 per serving. Compare this to 56¢  to 63¢ per serving of frozen fillets.
  • Home cooked dry beans are the best bargain. Bulk beans at 50¢ per pound provide 6 hearty servings for only 8-1/3¢ per serving. Beans or lentils that cost as much as $1 per pound are still only 17¢ per large serving.

It’s easy to see how combing beans with meat is an excellent way to make it stretch farther and reduce your costs. If you’re trying to keep costs down as low as possible, then Eggs, Chicken Leg-Quarters & Canned Tuna are the best meat buys and dry beans are the best protein bargain by far.

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Filed under Budget, Grocery Shopping, Low Cost Foods

4th of July Weekend

Today I celebrated Independence day weekend by cleaning out the freezer and getting all the oldest stuff ready for the grill. Fred’s home today, and he’s grilling for me. I hate to clean out my freezer but I do it every now and then, to make sure of what we’ve got. Turns out I had a lot more in there than I knew. Over 20 pounds of ground beef, 25 pounds of chicken and about 15 pounds of ground turkey and turkey sausage. We are not starving in our household at all. Not even close. I wore gloves as I cleaned it out, to protect my hands, and found a lot of stuff I didn’t know we had.

All the packages of meat that were 2 years old (or older EEK!) I took out and they are thawing on pans on the picnic table. When Fred grills this evening we’ll cook all the stuff that’s thawing. I figure grilling meat is the best way to cover up the taste of any freezerburn. So far I’m thawing about 5-pounds of chicken leg quarters, 2 pounds pork chops (might be 3 years old or older, shame on me 😦 )  A couple of chicken boneless chicken breasts, some thin sliced round steaks (older than pork chops, double shame on me 😦 ) and 3 pounds of ground turkey that I had packaged into individual patties and needs to be used up. We’ll be feasting tonight and the rest of the weekend.

We’re still not sure which family members are coming over, but whoever shows up, we’re ready for them.

By the way, it occurred to me that grilling chicken leg-quarters is probably one of the best ways to use them. I haven’t grilled them much in the past, but if they turn out good tonight, then I may do it more often in the future. We’re dousing everythign with steak sauce and barbecue sauce while grilling, so it will all taste pretty much the same, ie Not Like Freezerburn 😉 .

Hope everyone’s weekend is spectacular.

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Filed under Low Cost Foods

Watch for shrinking packages

Every time food costs go up, food manufacturers reduce the size of their packages while charging we, the consumer, the same price. Pound sized packages drop to 14 or even 12 ounces and then advertise “Now! 3/4-Pound in Every Box” like they’ve done us a favor by giving us more, when in fact they’re giving us less. Our favorite sunflower seeds were $1.19 for 12 ounces, now they’re 99-Cents for 7 ounces. the Package tells me that now they’re only 99-Cents which seems like it costs less. Only they’re giving us 5-ounces less in the package, so the company is actually making a lot more, while pretending to be a friend of the consumer. Really they’re just being a friend to their own greedy interests. Since the sunflower seeds are no longer the good deal it used to be, now I’m buying them from the bulk bins at the Natural Foods Co-Op. They’re $2.59 a pound and never NEVER trick me with packaging.

America’s Shrinking Food Wraps–YahooNews–Article about this very topic.

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Filed under Grocery Shopping, Low Cost Foods, Recession, Uncategorized

The Cost of a GFCF Diet

We’ve been on our diet for 2 months now and we’re getting more of a comfort zone about it. We don’t go out to eat anymore, ever. Because it’s just too hard to make sure things are gluten-free and because we’re trying to limit our expenditures. All of our bills have gone up, but our income is the same. We have been able to save money in times past. But these days we’re using every dollar just to make ends meet. I know we’re not doing everything we can to reduce our costs, so I’m trying to do more every day, or every week, to use less cash.

The first month of giving up gluten and casein I spent too much on groceries. It’s easy to do when making the transition from one way of eating to another. We’re finding new favorites and adapting some old favorites to the new diet. I made a list of shopping techniques that are helping me keep the food budget under control. One day I hope to write an entire article (or several of them) on these things. For now though, writing these out reminded me of each of them and it’s helping me follow them more faithfully. Every little bit helps.

  1. Analyze the market. Compare prices. Shop the ads.
  2. Shop carefully. Always carry a list. Resist supermarket tricks and impulse buys.
  3. Compile a record of the least expensive staples. Build meals around these staples. 
  4. Avoid convenience foods. Cook from scratch. 
  5. Give up food prejudices and status foods. Adjust our comfort-zones. 
  6. Substitute cheap ingredients for expensive ones. 
  7. Buy in bulk when it saves money but avoid waste like the plague. 
  8. Communicate with the family about what they want to eat.
  9. Develop new favorites; keep them in a recipe binder.
  10. Plan menus and shopping lists ahead of time.

I’ve written extensively on similar ideas in the past, but I feel like the GFCF diet has really propelled me to a level of carefulness that I haven’t always had in the past.

Numbers 5 and 6 above have been major players in my weekly planning. There are several status foods I used to buy every now and then–Frozen Chicken Nuggets for the Kids, Brie Cheese for me–and all of these are out of the picture now. This is probably for the best, but giving up old favorites is hard because at first there’s just an empty vacuum that sits like a gaping hole. Eventually new favorites rise to fill the hole, but new stuff can’t fill it, until the old stuff is chucked out. Then the transition time of waiting and being empty is uncomfortable.

I’ve been substituting cheap things for expensive ones too. This is especially true with gluten-free starches and baking. I’ve learned that Rice can be used instead of spaghetti under Tomato Sauce. Cooked rice can replace cooked pasta in casseroles. Brown Rice is 60 Cents a pound (at it’s cheapest, bulk price) and GF pasta is $3 to $4 a pound. Holy Buckets! For that much savings I gladly take 45 minutes to cook brown rice. ACtually I’ve found that if I cook up 3-cups of dry brown rice, in 6-cups of water (making 9-cups of cooked rice), at the beginning of the week, then we have rice to use as a base for quicky meals all week long. I’ve only done that one week, but it worked so good I will try to do it every week.

I’ve worked really hard on developing some gluten-free bread recipes that the family likes and that don’t cost too much either. I’ve tried to avoid using Xanthan in as many of our homemade breads as I can, and so far the results are good. Xanthan costs $10 to $12 for 8-ounces. Usually recipes just use 1 or 2 teaspoons and it really does make GF breads mimic wheat breads more closely, especially yeast breads. For many quick breads though, Xanthan isn’t necessary in the least.

I’m particularly proud of my Xanthan-Free Bread Collection [Click here]. I hope to develop some more of them in the future. Some Garlic Bread Sticks would be especially yummy. I’m working on a recipe for Xanthan-Free Pizza Crust that uses Rice Flour and Cornstarch as the only flours. The recipe still needs a little tweaking and I don’t want to share it until I get it perfect.

 

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Filed under Budget, GFCF, GFCF Recipes, Grocery Shopping, Low Cost Foods, Recession