Although totally exhausted, sleep escapes me as I lie in our little guest house in the old part of Istanbul. I will have photos of the city for you soon, but for now here are a few aerial shots of the flight across Europe.

Near London

Near London

Flying into Istanbul

Flying into Istanbul

Germany, with its crazy quilt of colours

Germany, with its crazy quilt of colours

Yes it’s been ages. Life has gotten in the way.

But now I am off to Istanbul! Stories and photos to come.

Brightly-colored-lights-for-sale-in-Istanbuls-Grand-Bazaar-L316143646Photo credit: havecamerawilltravel.com.

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I recently signed up for a two-day art and writing class. The assignment was to write a story related to food, include a recipe in the story, and create a homemade book for the text. Here is my attempt:

Nanna's strawberries

Nanna’s strawberries

This is a true story, or as true as any story can be that has passed through three generations.

If you find the details scant, it’s because Nana was a private person. Details were not something she shared, especially if there was any unpleasantness involved. And while this is a tale of young love and optimism, I suspect it hides a family backstory, some of which – in Nana’s mind at least – was probably best forgotten.

As a former journalist, missing pieces turn my auburn hair to grey. It is, after all, in the tiniest of minutiae that the most is often revealed. But even with its bare bones, this is a cherished family story that regularly gets retold among our brood, especially during Christmas cookie making sessions.

Muriel had been wearing Art’s engagement ring for weeks, on her little toe, hidden from view.

Her father did not much like her choice in this man and she did not want to make waves.

Her mother wasn’t around to offer womanly support or advice. She had passed when Muriel was six.

It was a warm spring day, May 22, 1926; just two months shy of Muriel’s 19th birthday. Art wasn’t much older. The two of them decided to escape from the city for the afternoon. Picnic lunch in hand, they boarded a Toronto streetcar heading west towards Kitchener.

As they settled into their seats, Art looked at Muriel and said, as he had several times of late, “Will you marry me today?”

“If we see two white horses, I will marry you today.”

The trip took several hours. At some point along the way, they saw two white horses grazing in a field. I can only imagine the conversation that ensued, with Art grinning from ear to ear and Muriel rolling her eyes and sighing with feigned exasperation.

True to her word though, Muriel allowed Art to escort her off the streetcar when it stopped in the tiny community of Breslau. They found a local minister who married them on the spot.

In later telling the story to their children and grandchildren (my husband is one of their grandsons), Nana said that she only promised to marry Gampy that day because she did not expect to see two white horses. Gampy would quickly retort that she said she would marry him because she knew she would see two white horses.

I am not privy to what was in their picnic basket that day in 1926, but I like to think Nana included some ‘strawberries’, which have become a Christmas classic in our house. They are a romantic cookie for the most romantic of stories.

Strawberries

Makes approx. 4 dozen

4 cups desiccated or fine coconut

1 tin sweetened condensed milk

4 small (3 oz.) packages strawberry Jello

2 T. icing sugar

Set aside 1 package Jello. Mix all other ingredients together. Pinching off pieces of the dough, form into small strawberry shapes. Roll in the package of Jello that you have set aside. Make a butter icing and add green food colouring. Using a pastry bag with appropriate tip, add 2 icing ‘leaves’ to each strawberry. Chill and store in a tin, in layers separated by waxed paper.

piesUsually by 5 a.m. I am on the yoga mat. Not this morning. This morning I was elbow deep in pie pastry.

As part of a fundraiser for the local United Way, I donated a promissory note for two homemade pies. The winner (my boss – but no pressure) decided today was the day to cash in his prize.

As I rolled out the pastry, my mind wandered back through the decades. Much of our family history can be told with pies.

There’s the now legendary tale of my oldest brother, who – as a toddler – plunked his diapered bottom into the middle of a pie at a family picnic. Everyone ate it anyway; apparently taste-wise, it was none the worse for wear.

I smile and think of Garth, an old family friend who had an unencumbered enthusiasm for good home cooking, especially my mom’s. It was a given that there would be pies on the menu when he came for dinner. He always had at least two slices (one of each kind).

Pies marked the seasons of my childhood…June meant rhubarb and strawberry; July was blueberry and cherry; August peach; September apple; October pumpkin. And on it went through to the mincemeat pies of Christmas.

There’s the apple pie I made for the first Thanksgiving feast I hosted after leaving home. One of my guests misbehaved and I had to ask him to leave, but the pie dissolved my anger. Even I was surprised at how tasty it was.

There are sweet memories of making pies with my own children; Alan, age four, perched precariously on a red IKEA chair so he could reach the counter to roll out pastry; two-year old Iris gleefully mucking about with her hands in Alan’s freshly baked pie; Jamie, also age two, looking pleased as punch with himself as he finger painted the dining room wall with blueberry pie filling.

As I finished making this morning’s pies, I poked vent holes…A for the apple/cranberry pie, and P for the peach/cranberry.

I looked at my handiwork. AP. Alice Patterson. Pie maker extraordinaire.

Mom, I think you would be pleased.

It’s round about now that the familiar feeling of panic sets in.

I know the pattern well after 34 years in the Canadian north.

The first couple of days of -30 plus put me in a bit of a funk, but I can cope. There’s still optimism that this is a fast moving weather system that will return us to more reasonable temperatures within hours.

The next few days are harder. I force my body into situations it wants no part of and so must endure its loud and whiny toddler-like protests.  No, I do not want to get out of bed. No, I do not want to be forced into seven smothering layers of clothing. And no, I definitely do not want to walk out that door and into a freezing car so I can drive on square tires thud thud thud to an icy cold office.

But there are bright moments. I am thankful for the warming beef barley soup that I have had the foresight to make and freeze in lunch sized batches for days like this. And the light! It is coming back after a dark December and January. That truly is a gift.

However by about a week in (which is where we are now) the edges of my sanity are really fraying and it becomes a struggle to pretend otherwise. My dreams are peppered with images of Maria von Trapp manicly hurtling down sunshine-drenched grassy slopes, and angry bears that have been woken prematurely from their hibernation. Last night such a bear chased me through a maze of streets for hours while I unsuccessfully tried to find my way home.

I go through the motions. I work. I socialize. I make more soup. Big, big pots of the stuff. And I spend an inordinate amount of time considering an expedition to Lake Labarge to search for Sam McGee’s crematorium. I get you Sam. I totally get you.

But I have a trick up my sleeve; something that Sam didn’t possess. It’s an airplane ticket to Vancouver, dated next Thursday. It’s the one thing that is standing between me and raging madness.

As an aside, I just watched the film “Antarctica: A Year on Ice”. It tells the story of a group of people who choose to live and work at the South Pole 12 months of the year. Some of them have been there for years. I thought it would make Whitehorse by comparison seem downright balmy to me. No such luck. My only recourse now is to go back to staring at that airplane ticket. Which I am going to do. Right now.

Then I am heading out into the cold once more to see another film. The title? Freak-Out!

Joe and I are going to Turkey in the spring, so this morning I pulled out my travel file to add the visas I purchased yesterday. I figured I should make a to-do list of the things that still needed taken care of in terms of travel arrangements.

I walked to the cupboard to find a pen, and happened to look over at the antique school desk that sits in the corner of our living room.

It needed dusting.

I grabbed a dusting cloth and gave the desk a wipe, but it still looked dull.

I pulled out the lemon oil and gave the desktop a good polish.

I decided to return to the desk the things that had been there pre-Christmas and that had been packed away to make room for decorations.

I took out of storage some old school books and a collection of framed photos of my mother’s classes that she taught in the 1930s and 1940s.

I thought the photos needed to be hung and not just propped up on the desk.

I removed the painting that was above the desk, and hung the school pics.

The frame was too low.

I went to the garage to get a hammer, changed the location of the nail, and rehung the photos.

I spent five minutes looking at all the art in my living room.

I remembered I had been after a pen.

I found one and went back to my Turkey file.

The pen was out of ink.

I ran upstairs to find another one.

On the way I noticed some dirty dish towels that had been left on the stairs for the next person going up to take to the laundry room.

I scooped them up and delivered them to their intended location.

I went into my bedroom and retrieved a working pen.

I saw the box of Purdy’s chocolates I had received for Christmas.

I ate one.

I ate a second one.

I ran downstairs back to my Turkey file, pen in hand.

I smelled the meatloaf I had put in the oven earlier.

I took it out to cool.

I went back to my to-do list.

I jotted down two things.

I tried to think of a third, but couldn’t.

Yesterday was a long day. Caleb is sick with a cold and was pretty cranky. I too am sick with a cold and was pretty cranky. By 6:30 last evening, he was in bed and I followed shortly afterwards. I left my bedroom door open so I could easily hear him if he needed me.

7:45 p.m. – Caleb starts to fuss. Chanel trots in to my bedroom to alert me. I quickly send her out (our bedroom is a dog-free zone because of Joe’s allergies). Caleb stops crying after about 30 seconds and goes back to sleep. I, on the other hand, am now wide awake.

8:20 p.m. – Caleb starts coughing. Chanel once again fulfills her self-appointed role of night watchman, and again I send her out of the room. This time I close my bedroom door so she can’t get in. Caleb goes back to sleep. I am still in the throws of insomnia, even though I am exhausted.

9:13 p.m. – Caleb starts to cry, and then I hear the insistent scratches of Chanel’s nails on my door. I get up, send Chanel off to her bed in the family room, and get Caleb a bottle. Fifteen minutes later he is asleep again. I manage to fall asleep shortly after 10.

11:10 p.m. – Scratch, scratch at my door. Caleb is crying. I go comfort him, and he goes to sleep. I put Chanel downstairs and put up the baby gate so she doesn’t have access to the upper floor. I open my bedroom door again.

12:07 a.m. – Chanel is in my bedroom alerting me to Caleb’s crying again. How the hell did she get up here? Another bottle, a diaper change, another forced trip for Chanel back downstairs with a double check of the baby gate, and back to bed for me.

2:57 a.m. – Caleb is crying. Chanel is whining. I am silently screaming. Why is it that there are three adults in this house and I am the only one who does the night shift? I consider running away from home.

4:15 a.m. – Caleb is crying. Jamie has slammed his bedroom door, stomped off to the bathroom, and slammed the bathroom door. I yell at him (Jamie) to JUST BE QUIET! I have many dark thoughts about him. He could offer to help, but instead chooses the role of sulky teenager.

4:25 a.m. – I have just put Caleb back to bed. I hear a loud and prolonged crash. It is Chanel. She has catapulted herself over the baby gate (although probably got stuck at some point during her acrobatic feat) and is once again upstairs. I give up and go back to bed.

6:03 a.m. – Jamie comes to my room with a restaurant quality breakfast…Canadian back bacon, a perfectly cooked cheese omelette, and toast. Joe asks if it is Mother’s Day. Jamie says he just thought I needed it this morning. I shed a few quiet tears and eat it gratefully. I fall back to sleep and get an hour’s rest before Caleb wakes up for the day.

Third of MayIt may have been because my daughter had just posted on Facebook about her trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It could have been because I have been toying with the idea of buying a painting from a Newfoundland artist that I recently discovered. Or, in the words of Scrooge, it could have been a bit of undigested beef, although it was chicken wings and not beef on the dinner menu yesterday.

Whatever the reason, last night was the first time I can ever remember dreaming about a painting…namely, Goya’s Third of May, 1808.

The details of the dream are lost to me now. The only thing I remember is staring at that painting in amazement, much the same way I did several years ago when I saw it in Madrid; it was mesmerizing on both occasions.

It depicts such a horrible scene (that of Napoleon’s army shooting some Spanish civilians at point blank range) but in spite of that, there is such beauty. How can you not be drawn to that Christ-like figure in the center of the frame? And his use of colour and light…wow!

The tragedy is that the subject matter of this painting is just as fresh today as it was 200 years ago. In fact, other artists have since used it in their own work to depict violence at other periods in time…Picasso, for instance, in his “Massacre in Korea 1951″, and an Irish painter by the name of Robert Gallagh created his version during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He called it “The Third of May, 1970″.

300px-Picasso_Massacre_in_Korea

ballagh third of may 1970

I did not mean to turn my dream recounting into an art lecture. But that image has stayed with me all morning, and – it seems – subliminally, for many years. What about you? Is there something you have seen – art or not – that just won’t leave you?

advent-2010-015My family must be tired of hearing me say that I am convinced time is speeding up. But I am 100 percent certain that is the case. Here it is Christmas Eve, and just yesterday it was August. The day before yesterday it was Christmas 2004. And last week my kids were still babies in my arms.

Even though life is whizzing by, it’s sure been a delight. And looking ahead, I have a strong suspicion that 2015 is going to be a particularly good year. I sense change and adventure and learning…all things that feed my soul.

There’s a trip to Turkey in my future, a visit to see my Ontario family, and one or two quick jaunts to Vancouver to visit with dear friends. There’s a fresh gardening season to plan for and dream about. There are life lessons to be learned on the yoga melfat. And of course, God willing, there’s another 12 months of watching my grandbaby grow and learn by leaps and bounds.

For my husband, it will likely be the year he retires. For my kids, new educational or career opportunities may be around the corner.

Yes of course there are some pretty horrendous things going on in this world. I have too many times found myself wallowing in all of that, feeling terribly helpless and desolate. But feeling desolate does not a solution make, and so I choose instead to focus my energy on the amazing. And there is a whole lot of amazing going on!

I wish you a blessed Christmas, and may you have the best year of your life in 2015.

Peace and love,
Janet

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be more fortunate than others? I’m talking here about more than just financially. That does play a role of course, but I am thinking about this in a more wholistic way I guess.

I am pondering this today as I enjoy an afternoon off from work. This is a milestone year for me, having been with the company I work for, for 10 years. Today all of us who have reached significant milestones were treated to a delicious meal and then sent home to enjoy the rest of the day. It gave me an opportunity to go for a long walk with my dog. It was mild, light snow was falling, and it was incredibly peaceful. How lucky I am to work for a company that granted me this serenity at a time when my life in general is pretty busy.

But as I look back, I have always been fortunate, even as far back as my birth. It appeared I needed a blood transfusion and was rushed to hospital in the big city. Though an error, the doctors forgot to get a sample of my father’s blood. This could have proved fatal. But somehow things turned around and I was fine after all.image

Since that day, fortune has followed me. I grew up on a farm where I learned the value of hard work and an appreciation for the gifts nature has given us. I’ve had a varied and interesting career. I’ve had amazing people in my life all the way along who have challenged and taught me. And I’ve had the chance to pursue my dreams.

What I don’t know is why life has been so easy for me. Yes of course I’ve had struggles, but they seem minor compared to the hardships and pain of so many others. In a tiny corner of my mind there is a fear that fate is just biding its time, waiting to hit me with the zowie. Who knows. All I know is that I’m feeling pretty darned grateful right now. xxx.

There was so much I had planned to write about today…about what I was going to do with the additional $10 that I discovered I had, about how I was going to prepare the wonderful wild meat that I was given last night, and about the fact that most of us do get by through the kindness of others, and we should remember to reciprocate whenever we can. But life has a way of throwing a curve ball from time to time, and our family was recently thrown a rather big one.

Without betraying confidences, I’ll just say that a couple of my family members really need me right now. It doesn’t make sense for me to be devoting a fair chunk of my day to a rather artificial social science project when there is a very real situation that needs to be attended to.

Do I think I could have finished this 30 day challenge had this not come up? Yes I do. I can be pretty stubborn, and I was determined to see this through. But I do think I’ve made the right decision. And even though I’ve only completed one-third of the month, I certainly feel I’ve had my eyes opened about certain things. I will never take for granted the food I am lucky enough to have, and I will do my best to never waste it.

I thank all of you who have followed me for the last ten days and who have offered suggestions and support. I hope I haven’t disappointed you by not finishing the challenge.

Oh, and as for what’s for dinner tonight? Those amazing moose sausage that Dave gave me last night!

Sorry for the delayed post. It’s been rather crazy around our house of late and I simply didn’t have an opportunity to post this yesterday.

Here is the day’s summary:

Breakfast: 1 piece of whole wheat toast with peanut putter. Cost: 12 cents

Lunch: chicken rice soup. Cost: $2.71

And NOW….DINNER!!!

jocelyn_dinner

My friends Jocelyn and Dave served up what, as you can see, was a wonderful feast: a moose stew with a biscuit topping, mashed potatoes, peas, carrots, and three different salads (including one that Joe brought with us when we came to dinner). There were spring rolls as an appetizer, and for dessert, apple pie and ice-cream. It really did seem like Christmas had arrived early. Everything was so delicious! Total cost to me: zero dollars!

Not only that, but Dave sent me home with a bad of wild meat for future meals!

I am a very lucky girl.

Now, the other bit of amazing news. As we were chatting about my monthly food allowance, it dawned on me that I have given myself $5 a day for 30 days. I have no idea then why I have been going on the preface that I had a total of $140 to spent. I actually have $150 to spend!! Math was never my strong subject :-)  I have gone back and fixed all my totals. The correct numbers are:

Total spent today: $2.83

Total ‘credits’ for carry-over: $7.20

Total spent so far:  $80.35

Total left to spend: $69.75

I have wonderful friends. A few of them have approached me expressing concern about my health and asking how I am doing. I appreciate this so much, but want you all to know that I’m fine. I know I’ve been a bit whiny on this blog, but really, I am OK. I have promised friends and family that if it seems this challenge is making me ill, I will stop.

One of my friends has invited me to dinner tomorrow night! It’s in my rules that I can accept dinner at someone’s house once in the month, so I was quick to say yes. Thank you Jocelyn! You have no idea how excited I am!

I am getting low on certain provisions. I used the last of my chicken fat tonight and am trying to figure out a substitute. Also only have a bit of yogurt and one apple left. Apples have been a godsend for me as they’ve been the only fruit I could afford. I will go poking about the grocery store tomorrow to see what I can find to replace them.

I noticed in the Shopper’s Drug Mart flyer that tinned tuna is on sale for 99 cents each, and pasta sauce for $1.49, so I may pick those up. I also noticed Mr. Noodles are on sale for 4/$1.00 if anyone is interested. :-) Based on the title of this challenge, I won’t be buying any of those unless I get really down on my luck.

Today’s summary:

Breakfast: 1 slice whole wheat toast with peanut butter: 12 cents

Morning snack: 1 apple: 61 cents

day 9

Lunch: dahl (25 cents) and brown rice (no cost for the rice as it was left over from last night’s dinner), carrot sticks and broccoli stem sticks (2 cents for the carrot; zero cents for the broccoli stems as I calculated them as part of other broccoli servings). Total: 27 cents. The photo doesn’t look like much, but this was actually a tasty and satisfying meal.

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Dinner: organic sweet potato ($1.00), organic chicken ($2.42), and a serving of steamed broccoli (44 cents). Bit of salt and pepper (4 cents). Butter would have been lovely for my veggies, but not essential. Total: $3.86. I couldn’t finish this whole plate so saved the rest to fortify my lunch time soup tomorrow.

Total for the day: $4.98

Total credits to carry over: $5.03

Several weeks ago, I purchased tickets for Joe and I to attend one of the Met’s high definition offerings of Carmen, showing at the Arts Centre. A lunch of soup and bread was included in the ticket. When I was drawing up the rules for my Beyond Mr. Noodles Challenge I forgot about this event. Now what?

After pondering this for some time, I have decided to take advantage of this lunch. Yes, it’s against the rules. But it seems silly to pass it up given that it’s been paid for. To make up for this I will tack an extra half day on to the end of my challenge. There is so much about this challenge that is artificial compared to what life must be like for those living on a limited budget over the longer term. This is one more example of that.

I can say though that instances like this make me more acutely aware that not having money for eating out or entertaining in tends to be isolating. There have been a couple of times already that I have had to say no to going out for lunch with colleagues or friends. 

Today’s summary:

imageBreakfast: a blast of protein with peanut butter/granola balls (24 cents) served with half an apple (30 cents) and some yogurt for dipping (free). Total cost: 54 cents

Lunch: organic soup and bread from Alpine Bakery. Free.

Dinner: two-egg ($1.24) omelette with caramelized onions (9 cents) and some salt, pepper and cilantro (3 cents), a serving of steamed broccoli (44 cents) and a small portion of brown rice (12 cents). Total:  $1.92

Snack: other half of the apple. Cost: 31 cents.

Total cost for the day: $2.77

I am not going to give myself any credits for the day, given that I had lunch outside of this project cost. So total credits that can be carried over remain at $5.01.

Today was a bit of a tough day. I woke up hungry, and breakfast wasn’t enough to totally satisfy me. At 11 a.m. I started doing some housework. Nothing out of the ordinary…vacuuming, dusting, laundry. By 11:30 I had to stop. I was feeling weak and light-headed. Clearly I wasn’t getting the calories I needed, and based on how pale I looked I could probably do with more iron in my system. My admiration and sympathy grows by the day for people who struggle to put food on the table.

Time for a change in strategy. I had some cow’s liver in the freezer from a local ranch, at a cost of $4.00 a pound. Trouble was it was frozen in a large block…there was probably at least three pounds there. My budget couldn’t handle a $12.00 hit right now. There was a cow’s tongue from the same ranch, 2 pounds in weight. I considered it, but decided to head downtown to see if I could find a one serving piece of liver instead.

Sadly I struck out. None at either the butchers or the grocery store. The guy in the meat department said it’s snapped up as soon as it’s put out. Who knew liver was so popular these days? I thought it had gone out of favour.

Next I looked at the kale. It was almost $3.00. Sigh. I did see heads of broccoli for $1.77 though, so picked up one of those.

Then back to the meat department I went, not ready to give up on my craving for red meat. I spied a small piece of sirloin steak for $1.80. I could get two meals out of it. So into my basket it went.  I would live to fight another day!

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Today’s summary:

imageBreakfast: one scrambled egg on one piece of whole wheat toast. Salt, pepper and puréed cilantro stems on the egg. Cost: 45 cents

Lunch: bowl of chicken rice soup. Cost: $2.71

Dinner: Dahl and rice, with onion, garlic, cilantro, tumeric, cumin seeds, salt, and a dried chili pepper in the dahl. Half the piece of steak. Total cost: $1.14

Snack: Apple. Cost: 61 cents.

Total cost for the day: $4.91

Total credits for carry-over: $5.01

Total spent so far:  $80.35

Total left to spend: $69.75

I mentioned at the beginning of my Beyond Mr. Noodles Challenge that a number of other people have tried similar things. In particular I came across a few people in the United States who have done this. I thought you might be interested in checking out their blogs.

One Dollar Diet Project

Hungry for a Month

Less Is Enough

Today’s summary:

It was leftovers day. And while usually I enjoy leftovers, today’s left me feeling uninspired and dreaming about a big salad and a family size bar of dark chocolate. I also noticed I didn’t have my usual level of energy. I suspect I am not getting enough calories, or perhaps my body hasn’t yet adjusted to the lower number of calories it’s receiving.

sproutsOr maybe it’s neither of those things but instead I am tired after a busy work week.

Today I went on the hunt to find something to address my craving for fresh and crunchy. I have carrots and cabbage of course, but have discovered that eating too much cabbage upsets my stomach, so something else was in order.

Enter sprouting seeds! These babies pack a nutritional punch and are tasty and affordable. Buying organic sprouting seeds through the Potluck Food Co-op (the cheapest place in town I could find them) cost me $3.10 for 125 grams of a mix of lentil, radish, alfalfa, red clover, and mustard seeds. I actually had a package of these in my cupboard, so I shopped from there, counting the money against my total. The cost works out to be about 39 cents a tablespoon, and I figure a couple of tablespoons should produce enough sprouts to keep me going for at least two days and maybe more. I started some in a jar tonight; they’ll be ready to eat next Tuesday or Wednesday. Photo taken from the Mumm’s website.

By the way, if you want to know more about sprouts you can contact Philippe Mouchet in Whitehorse (he has a Facebook page). He is a great promoter of sprouting, offers classes from time to time, lives on little else, and believes sprouting is the solution to world hunger. There’s also some information on this website.

Breakfast: sardines on toast, with the sardines left over from yesterday (50 cents for the fish, zero dollars for the toast). Water to drink. Total: 50 cents

Lunch: leftover beans and rice from last night (zero dollars as they were counted as part of last night’s meal), squash (27 cents) and water. Total cost: 27 cents

Snacks: blueberry yogurt (zero dollars) and an organic apple (61 cents)

Dinner: Chicken fried rice that included brown rice, onion, carrot, cilantro, garlic, and organic chicken, and about 5 cents worth of salt and pepper. Water. Cost: $1.00 per serving. I made enough for two meals and froze the second one. I had fully intended to take a photo of my dinner but I was so hungry I completely forgot until it was half gone :-/

Total for the day: $3.13

Total of ‘credits’ available to carry over: $4.92

Groceries purchased today: $3.85

Total cost of groceries purchased so far: $76.78

Total left for the month: $73.22

Edited to say: after I wrote this post I had a weak moment and ended up eating a bag of the potato chips we had left over from Halloween. Yes I know…empty calories. But they tasted sooo good! Based on what I would have paid if I bought them from our snack shop at work, I charged myself 75 cents.  As a result, I had to go back and recalculate all my numbers.

I am surrounded by food. My workplace for example…just about any day of the week there is free food for the taking. It might be leftovers from a meeting, or from a celebration for someone’s retirement, or simply because a staff member decided to bake something and bring it in to share. Today I was still trying to avoid the bowls of Halloween candy that were placed in my way to test my willpower.

Here in Whitehorse over the next two evenings, there are at least five free public events that will offer free food. These are only the ones I know about; there are probably a few more.

There are four art show openings. They are always good for fancy finger food. There is also one business ‘after hours’ event, another great score for anyone looking for free food and drink.

I probably won’t be going to any of these functions, since attending events at the end of the day when I am starving and can only ‘look but not touch’ makes for a grumpy Janet. Best to go home and cook my dinner. However this has given me an idea for another food project. I am curious to know just how much I could feed myself by eating only free food from community/work events and what that diet might look like. And I’d love to see people’s reactions if I came to these events dressed in worn clothing, no make-up, unwashed, etc. It would be interesting, don’t you think?

I remember not too long ago, watching a member of the public ‘load up’ on food that the company I work for had set out at a community meeting. His actions annoyed me, and in a low moment, I thought him a cheapskate stuffing his pockets with food. Some time later, I saw him collecting a bag from the local food bank, and I was ashamed of myself for my earlier thoughts.

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Today’s summary:

Breakfast: I enjoyed my eggs so much last night I decided to have another one for breakfast (42 cents), along with a half a tin of sardines (50 cents). Tiny bit of pureed cilantro stems on top for flavour and colour, along with some salt and pepper (let’s say three cents worth). Total cost: 95 cents. Sorry about the rather blurry photo.

Lunch: Two open faced toasted peanut butter sandwiches with 1/4 of an organic apple sliced on top. Bread was free, peanut butter was 24 cents for two tablespoons, and the apple slices were 15 cents. Total cost: 39 cents

Snacks: blueberry yogurt (free) and the rest of my apple (46 cents)

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Dinner: black beans and brown rice (48 cents), some cilantro on top (10 cents), and half a serving of organic chicken ($1.21). I meant to have some carrot sticks with this meal, but totally forgot. It was filling; I have leftovers for tomorrow. Total cost for dinner: $1.79

Total for the day: $3.59

Total of ‘credits’ available for carry-over: $3.05

I have been asked by a number of people if I am hungry as a result of this challenge. I have to admit that I am at times. I am a grazer by nature, eating a few snacks throughout the day on top of my meals. On my November food budget, I can’t afford much snacking.

Feeling hungry isn’t a bad thing, as long as it’s not a permanent state.

Here’s today’s summary:

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Breakfast: granola, blueberry yogurt, and a quarter of an organic apple left over from yesterday, along with a thermos full of rosehip tea. Cost: zero dollars (apple was accounted for yesterday and everything else was free). What am I going to do when I run out of yogurt and granola??

Lunch: A bowl of chicken rice soup. Cost: $2.71

Afternoon snack: carrot sticks. Cost: 2 cents

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Dinner: two-egg omelette with half a caramelized onion and a bit of chicken left over from last night’s dinner (93 cents), sweet potato fries roasted in chicken fat ($1.00), salt and pepper and the small bit of cilantro in the omelette (3 cents). Maybe I was extra hungry, but this tasted so good! Full cost of the meal: $1.96

Total cost for the day:  $4.69

Total ‘credits’ to carry over for another day: $1.64

Tangent: just for fun, I looked on YouTube for a video on how to make the perfect omelette. Found one here. But what had me laughing out loud were the comments posted by viewers. Here’s this guy just trying to show people how to make a simple omelette, and you’d think he’d committed some grievous crime! Chill people!!

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It was time for another grocery shop. I’d used up the last of my carrots, plus I was looking for a bit of variety. I took advantage of my rule that I could shop from my cupboards as long as I charged my ‘purchases’ against my monthly allowance, so I calculated the cost of a squash that has been sitting on our counter for the last week ($1.08) and three of my garden potatoes (48 cents for all three).

At the grocery store I picked up four Yukon grown carrots (8 cents! I suspect the scanner made a mistake?), a bag of organic sweet potatoes ($4.97), and a jar of peanut butter ($3.97).

But the purchase I got the most excited about was a carton of my friend’s locally raised eggs (Sunnyside Farm – no website yet as they are just starting out). They cost $5.00 for a dozen, more than the store bought eggs, but 100 times better in terms of flavour, plus I know her chickens get to be chickens and not sad caged creatures.

Total purchases today: $15.59
Total spent so far: $72.93
Total left for the month: $77.07

Yikes!! Only a few days in and I’ve spent over half my budget. Based on what I have now, I hope to make it to Day 14 before needing to do another major shop, but it remains to be seen if I can. There may be a few days of eating nothing but beans and rice.

Breakfast: granola and blueberry yogurt again, with a glass of water. Cost: zero dollars. Luckily I am not a coffee drinker. If I were, I think I would be going through major withdrawal right about now.

Lunch: toasted sardine sandwiches and coleslaw without the dressing. I am loving the naked veggies. In university I hardly ever dressed my salads. Eating them again au naturale has made me realize I prefer them this way. Cost: 95 cents (45 cents for the salad and 50 cents for the half tin of sardines, which was the half left over from last night’s pasta dish). The bread was free, since it came from my $10 credit from Shoppers. Water again – free.

Snacks: an organic apple (61 cents) and more yogurt (free from the Shoppers credit).

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Dinner: Organic chicken with puréed cilantro stems on top ($2.42), organic potatoes roasted in chicken fat (48 cents), and 1/4 of a squash, again roasted in chicken fat (27 cents). Water – free. Add in a few cents for the cilantro stems and salt and pepper and the total for dinner: $3.20.

Total for the day: $4.76

Surprise of the day: how appreciative I am of my meals. I am enjoying them far more than I expected and am feeling more thankful than usual for my food.

Now to the question of carry over. Everyone who has commented on this blog or my Facebook page thinks I should be able to carry over from day to day anything I don’t spend up to my $5 a day limit. So I’ll take your advice and adopt this as one of my rules. What that means is that as of today, I have a ‘credit’ of $1.33 cents. A weekly treat would be nice, but the sensible part of me feels I may need it for something more basic.

This is the 10th year that I have worked for the same company, and later this month the corporation has a long service awards luncheon planned for us. I took that into account when drawing up the rules for the Beyond Mr. Noodles challenge. What I didn’t know is that in addition to the lunch and half a day off, I receive a $30 gift certificate from one of several businesses in town. One of the options is for the grocery store.

Wow! Just think what I could do with $30 worth of groceries this month. But it doesn’t seem fair. If I were struggling to get by on a low income I wouldn’t have the job that I do, and so I would never have the opportunity to receive such a gift certificate. It’s another example of how the people who receive perks are often the ones who need those perks the least. I have decided to take the certificate for the grocery store but pass it along to the local food bank.

Here’s a rundown of the day:

Breakfast: I had some leftover beans and rice from last night’s dinner. Normally I would put it in a wrap with some avocado or salsa. Since I had none of those things, I ate it on whole wheat toast, with just a glass of water on the side. Not an award winning breakfast, but filling nonetheless. Cost: zero, since the bread was free and the beans and rice were accounted for as part of last night’s meal.

lunch_day2Lunch: I almost always pack my lunch on workdays. A normal lunch for me includes either soup, leftovers, or a salad; a piece of cheese; a handful of almonds or other nuts; a couple pieces of fruit; and if I don’t bring a salad I pack a container of raw veggies – whatever I happen to have on hand. Today’s lunch was chicken rice soup, an apple, some carrot sticks, blueberry yogurt and a small container of high bush cranberry juice (from the berries I picked yesterday; not shown in the photo) to be added to hot water for a Vitamin C drink. It’s what I could afford and really all I needed. Cost: $3.58.

Snacks: it being the first work day after Halloween, there were candy treats everywhere at the office. I also attended a meeting where cookies and juice were offered. Sometimes it can be a minefield around here. I was strong and stuck to my apple for my afternoon snack, although several times I found myself yearning for a piece of dark chocolate!

Dinner: I realized I had boxed myself in by giving equal weight to all my chicken dishes, whether they be soup or legs. Because I had chicken soup for lunch I couldn’t afford to have chicken again for dinner (I had planned to have it with roasted potatoes and squash). Instead I went with Pasta Con Sarde (Sicilian-style sardine pasta with breadcrumbs). Cost: $1.24. The jalapeño peppers you see in the photo below were in the can of sardines, giving them a nice bite.

Tangent: I have a theory that if you take a simple dish, give it a posh or ‘international-sounding’ name, it somehow tastes better.

Of course this doesn’t always hold true. My mother used to make a recipe that she called ‘flam gee’. Don’t bother googling it, since you won’t find it…thank God. It was a wretched soup of flour-thickened milk with a few onions thrown in, and sometimes a potato. I knew that when Mom served this, the cupboard was bare. 

How I hated that soup. Even the name made me gag. Made me think of phlegm, which it was just about the consistency of.  I am 100 percent certain that giving it a highfalutin title would not have helped in the slightest. 

Back to the challenge: I needed something green to go with the pasta. I had cilantro, but that wasn’t the right flavour for this Italian dish. Since my rules allow me to forage, I thought about the oregano still looking vibrant and alive in my greenhouse. I figure anything growing in the Yukon in November is fair game for foraging, whether it’s in the forest or my backyard. So I ran out and grabbed a handful.

While I was outside, I looked over at our compost pile. A few weeks back I had pulled the last of the kale from the garden and placed it on top of the pile. There it was, still looking the same as when I put it there. “What the hell,” I thought, and I grabbed several leaves. Joe’s reaction: “I put buffalo poop in the compost!” Jamie’s reaction: “Mom, you CAN’T eat compost!” But it wasn’t compost and it was far away from the buffalo poop. In fact it was quite fine.

Total cost of all my food today: $4.82.

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Joe thinks if I come in under $5.00 a day, I should be allowed to carry over the remainder to the following day. Again, I feel this is cheating, since I am trying to prove to myself that I can eat for less than $5.00 every day for this month. What do you think?

imageSo far so good. Did some foraging when I took Chanel out for a walk, collecting high bush cranberries, rose hips, and Labrador tea. All will be brewed to make Vitamin C-rich hot drinks. No fear of getting scurvy this week!

Breakfast – granola and blueberry yoghurt, with a cup of hot water. No cost for any of this because of my Shopper’s credit I told you about yesterday.

Mid-morning – a cup of high bush cranberry tea.image

Lunch – a bowl of soup that included organic chicken meat and broth, cabbage, onion, garlic, carrots, cilantro, brown rice, salt and pepper. Cost: $2.71. A note about the chicken: I had no idea how to calculate the cost of the various parts of the chicken. Besides, who am I to decide a creature’s bones, feet, or skin are of any less worth than their muscle meat? So I just gave all the chicken pieces the same value ($34.00 divided by 14 meals = $2.42 a serving. As you can see, the rest of the soup ingredients cost just pennies.

Afternoon snack – organic apple. Cost: 61 cents.

Dinner – a huge plate of Cuban black beans with brown rice. Ingredients in the beans included dried chilies, cilantro, salt and pepper. Cost: a whopping 48 cents!  This was a real eye-opener for me. I had no idea such a good-for-you meal could be so cheap! I would have liked some queso fresco on top of the beans, but the dish was actually pretty tasty without it. Also had a shredded cabbage and carrot salad (I didn’t miss the dressing) for 29 cents. Total cost of the meal: 77 cents!!

Total for the day: $4.09.

Nutrition-wise, I think I did pretty good.  I am happy with Day 1. We had friends come over for tea and dessert early this afternoon, and I just had a cup of hot water with them. I served them baked apples and Joe’s birthday cake (my rules allow me to use Joe and Jamie’s food for feeding visitors) and I only felt a teeny bit deprived.

Spent part of today doing another grocery shop and prepping for some future meals for my Beyond Mr. Noodles project.

Realized I had a $10 credit at Shopper’s, so I bought a bag of granola ($2.99), a tub of yoghurt ($2.99), a loaf of whole grain bread ($2.99), and a can of tomatoes ($1.49) for a total, after the credit, of 46 cents.

Also went to a store that sells spices in bulk and purchased 10 grams of each of the following:

Tumeric – 65 cents

Whole cumin seeds – 70 cents

Red whole chilies – 75 cents

Total spent so far: $57.34

Amount left: $92.66

I then came home and roasted my chicken, removed the meat from the carcass and froze it in seven separate packets, drained off the fat from the roasting pan and stored it for later use, added water to the roasting pan and brought it to a boil to make a quick stock that I then used as the cooking liquid for a pot of brown rice. I divided the cooked rice into three serving sizes and froze it. Next I added the bones, skin, and feet of the chicken to my crock pot along with an onion and a carrot, and will let it cook away until tomorrow morning, at which time I will use that stock to make a big pot of chicken rice soup. I also have a pot of black turtle beans soaking.

I am still trying to figure out what I will do for fruit. Joe bought a box of Ambrosia apples from a local hockey team (a fundraiser). The apples worked out to almost $1.50 each; too much for my budget. I can buy organic apples at the grocery store for 61 cents each and from the Potluck Food Co-op for slightly more. I’ll make a decision on that tomorrow.

sotre isleI did a grocery shop today to get ready for my “Beyond Mr. Noodles” project. Knowing I only have $140 for the entire month of November resulted in an entirely different shopping experience from my usual. Everything seemed SO EXPENSIVE to me.

One of the first things that struck me is that you need money to save money. For instance, I wanted a package of frozen peas. If I bought two packages of them, I could get them for $2.00 a piece. But if I wanted to buy only one package, it would set me back about $2.29. I ran into a friend in the store who suggested I go shopping with someone else…they could take one bag of peas and I could take the other and we would pay $2.00 each. I’m trying to decide if that’s cheating. I think it kind of is.

The second thing that hit me was how expensive spices are. I ended up only buying iodized salt (the sea salt was more expensive) and ground pepper (as opposed to peppercorns, that again were more costly). I also purchased a can of sardines in spicy sauce, thinking I could use that sauce as a seasoning in other dishes I make. Other items I bought include:

1 bag brown rice – $2.27
1 bag black beans – $2.99
1 bag red lentils – $2.99
1 bag onions – $1.77
1 bulb of garlic – $0.72
5 carrots – Yukon grown – $1.29
1 box whole wheat spaghetti – $1.48
2 cans of sardines – $2.00 for both
1 green cabbage – $1.21
1 bunch cilantro – $0.97
Package of salt and pepper – $3.29

AND
1 5-pound organic chicken raised locally from Aurora Mountain Farm – $34

Yes I know. This last item is scary and it may totally backfire on me and stop me from completing the month. But I feel good about eating these lovely birds, and I did set out to learn if I can, by shopping strategically, have at least some organic foods in my diet. I figure I am going to have to get at least 14 meals out of this one chicken to make it affordable. Let’s see how I do.

Total spent so far: $54.98

Total left for the month: $95.02

I am trying to figure out if I can afford to buy flour and baking powder so I can make tortillas. Other things on my wish list include salsa, apples, local free range eggs, and seeds for sprouting.

What craziness have I taken on here?

mr_noodlesCould you live on a food budget of $5 a day? Could I? That’s the challenge I am setting for myself for the month of November. Why? There are a myriad of reasons. But it all started with a package of Mr. Noodles. Actually, many MANY packages of Mr. Noodles. I was helping out at the Whitehorse Food Bank recently, sorting through mounds and mounds of donated food. There was Kraft Dinner, instant rice and pasta packets, canned fruit and veggies…and hundreds of packets of Mr. Noodles. I remarked to a colleague that while this food might fill bellies, it certainly wasn’t what I would consider nutritionally sound, and it was likely pretty low on the enjoyment scale. At the same time, I was hearing comments both in the media and in my own community about the high cost of organic food. I belong to the Potluck Food Co-op, and as much as I can, I try to choose food that has been raised or grown in a way that is earth friendly. On the surface it might appear more expensive than groceries in the big box stores, but it’s really not when you add in all the hidden costs of industrially produced food. That being said, if I am a single mom struggling to make ends meet each month, I’m probably not even thinking organic is remotely possible. Could I convince them otherwise? My brain started working. Could I feed myself in a way that is good for both body and planet, and do it on a very limited budget? Some research showed that a number of people in the U.S. have done this sort of thing. Some ate on $1 a day, but that was non-organic, only eating two meals a day, or using their skills as an extreme coupon clipper. When I looked at their diets, I wasn’t convinced that they were getting all the nutrients they needed. I considered $2 a day. But not even that was realistic here in the North, given our higher food costs. So I hit upon $5 a day. It’s a pretty arbitrary number and I am not at all sure that I can manage on $5 a day. But I’m willing to take the plunge to find out. Here are the rules:

  • I have $150 to spend for the month. I can spend it all at once, $5 a day, or anything in between.
  • I can use coupons if I find any that are useful to me (often but not always, coupons are for pre-packaged foods that leave a lot to be desired in the nutrition department)
  • I can use food I already have in my cupboard or fridge/freezer, but I have to calculate how much it cost and subtract it from my $150.
  • Within the month, I can accept one evening out at a friend’s house to enjoy a meal, I can partake in one work-related event that involves food, and once during the month I can accept a gift of food from someone. Apart from that, all my other meals must come from my grocery budget.
  • I can forage for food, although this is likely a moot point since I doubt I’ll find much in November in the Yukon.
  • All my spices and condiments that I use must also come out of my $150 budget.
  • I won’t ask my family to participate with me. Joe and Jamie will continue to cook and eat as they normally do. I may even help cook some of their meals, depending on what else is going on in the household at the time.

Have I forgotten anything? I’m open to any suggestions you have for inexpensive but healthy ingredients and recipes. I’m expecting to learn lots, and I hope you will follow along with me on this journey.  I will start on Nov. 2nd (Nov. 1st has already been scheduled as Joe’s birthday dinner and I am not willing to forego that) and will continue until I run out of money or until I make it to Dec. 1st. Wish me luck!

My oh my it’s been a while! Life has a way of taking over sometimes, with little to no time left to blog. Since I last posted:

1. Had a wonderful long week-end in Vancouver in September, enjoying the early fall there.

2. Booked a trip next spring to Istanbul!! So excited!

3. My grandson started walking :-)

4. Spent tonnes of time in my garden, harvesting and getting it ready for next year.

5. Been doing research for a new project in November, which I will tell you about very shortly. So do check back…I promise I won’t be absent so long next time.

marmoleumRenovations. How I dislike the chaos they require!

For the past few weeks we have been working around no washer and dryer, no toilet in the main bathroom, and all the contents from our family room and tiny spare bedroom smooshed into our larger spare and master bedrooms.

However the end is in sight. We now have an almost finished laundry room (still need to install shelving and baseboards), new flooring has been laid in the main bathroom, as well as in the family room and the tiny spare bedroom (out with the old carpet and in with some marmoleum that is the colour of the Caribbean Sea). Over the week-end I managed to get two coats of paint applied to the family room and one to the bedroom (a very pale blue in both rooms), and we are almost at the stage where we can start putting everything back together again.

Hopefully getting rid of the carpet will ease Joe’s dog allergies, which have been getting steadily worse over the summer. Some nights he can hardly breathe, so if this doesn’t work I will sadly need to start looking for a new home for Chanel. It will break my heart to see her go, so I am going to try everything possible to flush out the house. I also just bought an air purifier, hoping that might help.  Note: photo taken from this website.

Just returned from a holiday in Newfoundland, where I hiked parts of the East Coast Trail on the Avalon Peninsula. What a gift this trip was! I have been to the Rock a few times before, but mostly stayed within St. John’s. Having seen this part of the province was added proof of what a special place it is, and just how beautiful.

I arrived too late in the season to see the icebergs, although my friend Ted and I shared a scotch with 10,000 year old iceberg ice that he had collected a few weeks previous.  What I did see were dozens of whales! One day, sitting at the edge of a cliff looking over the ocean, whales were continuously breaching all around me. It was incredible, and it made my heart glad that these beautiful creatures seem to be doing OK in spite of all the garbage we humans are dumping into the oceans.

There are lots of photos on my Facebook page, which I have opened to the general public to view, but here are a few of them:

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This photo, of the old lighthouse at Cape Spear, was taken by my friend Ted Blades, who joined me for the last day and a half of the hiking.

This photo, of the old lighthouse at Cape Spear, was taken by my friend Ted Blades, who joined me for the last day and a half of the hiking.

By the way, I want to give a shout out to the East Coast Trail Association and the volunteers who do a fabulous job of maintaining this trail. Many thanks for all your hard work.

Joe and I just returned from a week in Juneau on the Alaska Panhandle. We went there in large part to witness a large Tlingit cultural gathering that takes place every two years. But apart from that, we enjoyed the stunning beauty of the place and the ferry rides there and back (complete with whales, seals, a rainbow as we headed into Juneau and a bald eagle sitting on the dock waiting for us as we arrived in port). Here are just a few shots…lots more on my Facebook page.

Our ferry was much smaller than these big cruise ships docked in Skagway.

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Party onboard…drumming and singing in one corner, traditional weaving in another, and lots of laughter and teasing.

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Merndenhall Glacier

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Tlingit travellers arrive in canoes for the big cultural celebration.

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One of the singing/dancing/drumming performances

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Southeast Alaska is definitely bear country!

My new ‘traffic cone orange’ shoes. I got them for my summer travels, since they pack down very small in the suitcase. But I have to admit…I love how over the top bright they are!

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Just now getting around to catching up on my blog posts. Last month, my friend Lucca and I headed to a little place called Friday Harbour on the San Juan Islands, Washington State, for a week-end. Pretty little place with very friendly people. I was reminded again of how difficult it must sometimes be for introverts to live in the United States, given that it appears to be a country full of outgoing and vivacious folks.

We spent the week-end just walking around, visiting the local farmers’ market, watching a local production of Annie (it was great!), and of course eating some tasty food and drinking wine!

Here are just a few pics from the trip:

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View of Friday Harbour.

DSCN4198It didn’t take us long to find the cheese shop, with a wonderful cheesecake with lemon curd. Mmmmmm!

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We stayed on a boat the first night, but it was a bit too funky and rustic for our taste, so moved to a hotel for Night 2.

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Took a taxi to the southeastern part of the island where we walked among
the old trees. I always feel better after being washed with ‘tree energy’.

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Lucca ignores the sign and parks herself on the railing at the beginning of the hiking trail.

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And look who came out to meet us at the end of the hike!

 

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