Sunday, May 25, 2014

Another successful camping trip in Joshua Tree

So this was our 5th camping trip in Joshua tree.  This year, we went with our neighbors and celebrated her birthday.  She booked a group site at Indian Cove Campground. Usually we just drive in and wing it (sometimes unsuccessfully).

Wow, this time it was awesome.  First of all, the group sites were $25 a night.  The individual sites in the park are $10 a night, PLUS the $15 fee to get into the park.  The individual sites allow 6-8 people (we are 9 with just the two familes), and the group site we had allowed 5 cars and 25 people.  We had 6 cars and 25 people.  It was amazing.  The site was HUGE - 6 picnic tables plus one in the middle for sharing.  Plenty of space for 7+ tents.  Rocks for climbing.  Very close by toilets (still no water here). Closer to town for ice runs.

It was so awesome that my neighbor said "I'm going to book this for next year!"  Well, I got home and looked - all weekends in the "not hot" months are already booked for 2015 spring (you can book a year in advance).  I'm toying with booking a site for spring break - there is ONE site with TWO days available that week.  Maybe.  It's $50 for two nights.

We got lucky with the weather.  It's the desert.  It's hot.  But the high was about 93 and the low about 65, and it could have been a LOT worse.  They'd had a "cool week" so the first night was cool.  It was already 82 the second morning when we left at 9 am.  And we all hit our cars for some exploring in the one afternoon (AC), and hit up the store for ice cream.

The hard part about the desert is the constant need for ice.  The thermoelectric cooler wasn't much of a help. We ended up buying a second small cooler.  The other hard part is the toddler.  Where we'd branched out to eggs and bacon last time, this time we were back to oatmeal for breakfast (just add water), turkey sandwiches for lunch (kept it on ice), and chili or quesadillas for dinner with raw veggies and hummus (of course I forgot the tortillas!)  The other parents (who did not have to dedicate one parent at all times to chase the toddler, who wanted to climb everything) were more pros - they had gin and tonics, burgers, eggs, bacon, pancakes.  Of course, almost every other kid had helmets for climbing except ours, and Nick's legs are totally beat up.

Still, the trip was fairly cheap.  About $90 for gas, plus same amount for lunch on the road, ice cream, ice, and water.  Not a bad price for two days of fun.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Creamy Pesto Pasta

So for some reason, I thought about this pasta this week.  I haven't made pasta in awhile, I had carrots and broccoli that I hadn't cooked. I remembered my Weight Watchers cookbook (maybe I read an article about WW?) with this fettucini alfredo recipe in it that I used to make a lot back in the pre-kid days.

But one day at work, I googled "Creamy Pesto pasta recipe" because I have pesto in the freezer (and I got basil this week too).  I found this recipe from Budget Bytes, which is a great blog if you haven't seen it yet.  Very well done.

Being me, I morphed the two.  I love the WW recipe but I got home late and it called for making a roux, and I didn't feel up to it.  So I started boiling the water, started chopping the veggies, cooked the pasta, then made the pesto, and finally cooked up the sauce and tossed everything together.  I didn't salt it enough, but that's easy enough to fix.  I served it with meatballs (not pictured, because they are pre-made frozen meatballs that I bought in a 5 lb bag).

I also doubled the recipe, because 1/2 lb of pasta makes 4 servings, which is 1.5 meals for us,  I need leftovers.

Creamy Pesto Pasta (adapted from WW and Budget Bytes)
1 lb pasta: 1.00
1 bunch basil: 1.00
4 cloves garlic: 0.40
2 T olive oil: 0.26
8 oz cream cheese: 1.99
1/3 c. parmesan cheese: 0.45
2 head broccoli, cut into small florets and the stem peeled and sliced: 1.20
1/4 of a red bell pepper, cut into 1/3 inch x 1 inch strips: 0.25
4 carrots, sliced: 0.60
S&P to taste
Total: $6.91 for 8 servings, or $0.86 per serving.

Bring the water to boil.  Boil pasta according to package directions, but set your timer for about 2 minutes before it's due to be finished.

Make the pesto: in a food processor, add the garlic and process until chopped.  Scrape down the sides, add the basil and parmesan and blend.  Scrape one more time and blend.  Stream in the olive oil.

Prep the vegetables.  When your timer goes off, add the veggies to the boiling water.  Return to a boil and boil 2-3 minutes, depending on how you like it.

In a small saucepan, mix the cream cheese and 1/3 cup of pasta water (once you've added the veggies).  Heat and stir until the cream cheese has mixed in and made a sauce.  Add in the pesto (all of it) and stir until blended.

Drain the pasta and veggies (remember to take out the pasta water for your sauce!)

Return pasta/ veggies to pot, stir in the sauce, add S&P to taste.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It's a wrap!

Sometime last week, one of my coworkers wanted to "have lunch" to "talk".  I never know anymore if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I agreed to go anyway.

He invited me to a cafeteria - literally.  There is a local large company with an in-house cafeteria open to the public, so we went there.  It's a very short walk from our offices, so it's the "go to" place for a quick lunch, and some of my coworkers eat there every day.

The quality of the food there varies.  They have a hot lunch special every day, plus sandwiches, salads, and soups.  The sandwiches are decent, the's California and I wouldn't choose a burrito there.

I like wraps and the wrap special that day was a BLT with avocado.  For some reason I was STARVING - I'm not sure why - I hadn't slept well in a couple of days, so I skipped my morning workouts, so I shouldn't have been so hungry.  Anyway, the BLT wrap came with a salad (basically lettuce and dressing).  I succumbed to a soda also (I mentioned that I hadn't slept well?  In the end, that soda, after 2 cups of coffee, was a bad idea.  I didn't sleep that next night either.)  My total bill was $9.  (Yeah, I know, I should have made him pay - he's a VP and he invited me.  But we go way back, so I didn't.)

I wolfed down that wrap and have been thinking about it ever since.  In addition to the bacon, lettuce, and tomato and avocado - it had cucumber, cabbage, carrots. Delish.  Today, at the grocery store, buying emergency coffee filters (how could I not realize that I ran out!!), I bought wrap/ burrito tortillas.  I bought the 10 inch size, and being cheap, bought what was on sale - which was not, of course, the whole wheat version.

Today for lunch I made (and wolfed down, so - no picture, sorry!) my own version of the wrap.  Here's a comparison of my version and their version on price:

Pretty amazing, isn't it?  By making my own wrap (that took 15 minutes - the length of time to walk over and back, not including waiting for them to make it), I saved $5.27.  And when you consider I don't buy soda - if I make it myself and eat it with a glass of water (which is what I usually do), then I am saving even more - $6.76.

That comes out to "earning" $6.76 in 15 minutes, or $27.04 an hour.

I know many people who eat out regularly.  I admit, I can see why.  Every night after dinner I pack lunches - 2 to 3.  I usually make myself a salad, which involves washing and chopping: lettuce, 2 vegetables, a protein (often hard boiled eggs).  I make salad dressing.  I scoop out cottage cheese and fruit.  When I make a wrap with so many ingredients, it means I am washing and chopping every ingredient - I washed the lettuce, shredded cheese, sliced the avocado, washed and sliced the radishes and cucumber.  If you are cooking for one (or two) that is a lot of work.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Just a quick update, since I started the 21-day fix (modified for my own lifestyle), I have dropped almost 9 pounds.

My weight last weigh in was 149.2.  On December 27, it was 168, so I've lost almost NINETEEN POUNDS.

Only 15 more to go. ;)

Slow and steady...slow and steady...

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pasta casserole and homemade bread

Note: This was last weekend - I never finished the post.  This weekend we did the fundraiser for the school, so I did pretty much zero cooking.  But I did pick blueberries and make freezer jam!

Boy, busy day.  Started at 4:30 when I just woke up for no good reason.  I was about to fall asleep again at 5:50 when the boys woke up.  And, we've been going ever since!

I have big plans this weekend for cooking.  Tonight: pasta/ veggie/ meat casserole with marinara made with a #10 can of diced tomatoes (a #10 can of diced tomatoes is 102 ounces for about $3).  I also made a (somewhat failed) loaf of bread in the bread machine.  I did not put the paddle in right and it baked into the bread.  And the bread is small.  The last two weeks I also made bread from scratch and they didn't rise very well.  Sometimes, it's because my ratio of water to flour is off.  This time, I'm suspecting my 3 year old yeast.  I've been keeping it in the fridge, but at some point, it becomes ineffective.  I think I paid $3 for 2 lb at Costco 3 years ago.  Time to recycle the yeast.

This whole pasta bake thing is a lot of work though. I like to "use up" my CSA veggies. So I had to wash and chop  a huge bag of chard and kale, chop and onion, chop some frozen peppers from last year, puree the diced tomatoes.  Cook the pasta, stir it all together with meatballs from the freezer, then kinda chop the meat with the spoon.  At least I didn't have to shred the cheese - we had some in the freezer already.

There's a big thread on grocery costs this week on our local FB "swap" board.  We seem to have a range of folks who spend $150/week (for 4) to $500/week.  Big difference!  I think the difference comes down to three things, mostly:
1.  If you pay any attention to prices at all, or not
2.  If you buy mostly local/organic/free range.  It's a thing here - easy to do in our climate, but expensive
3.  If you count wine/ toilet paper/ diapers in your budget.

I used to track my grocery spending closely (you can look back in the history to see the year that I alternated months of $320 and $160 through September).  But we were tracking our expenses in Quicken.  We don't have the time to do that anymore (I would break out the grocery from the "personal" items like TP, for example).  We just started using now, and as far as they are concerned, Costco is groceries - so our $40/month diaper bill and our toilet paper, drugs, etc. get counted as groceries.  I'm going to run with it and just add those into our budget I guess.

Here's the breakdown on last night's meal:

Herb bread:
2 cups bread flour (0.60/ lb): 0.41
1.5 cups whole wheat flour (0.60/lb): 0.31
1.25 tsp yeast: 0.05
2 T oil: 0.09
1 tsp salt: 0.01
3T parsley: 0.30
2T caraway seeds: 0.30
2T sunflower seeds: 0.30

Total: $1.77 for one loaf, which tasted good even though the paddle ended up stuck in the bread.  We ate 1/3 the loaf.

Pasta Bake
1 box whole wheat rotini: 1.00
70 ounces of diced tomatoes from a #10 can: 2.02
1/2 can tomato paste: 0.25
3 cloves garlic: 0.15
1 onion: 0.20
1 bell pepper: 0.50
12 ounces frozen meatballs: 1.50
1 bag of chopped kale and chard: 1.00
oregano and basil: 0.40
10 ounces sliced mushrooms: 2.29
4 ounces shredded mozzarella: 1.00
2 ounces parmesan: 0.75.

Total: $11.06 for a VERY heavy 9x13 pan.  This will probably feed us 5 meals.

We also had leftover carrot soup from the freezer, probably $1.00 worth.

Total for last night's dinner:
0.59 (bread) + 0.30 (butter) + 2.21 (pasta) + 1.00 (soup) + 0.50 (crackers) = $4.60

And for tonight:

Roasted potatoes:
2 lb organic potatoes: 1.60
2T oil: 0.09

1 lb black beans: 1.00
1 onion: 0.20
1 cup diced tomatoes: 0.23
hot peppers: 0.25
Total: $1.68 for enough fejoida for three meals.  We ate them as nachos the next two nights.