Saturday, April 16, 2011

Beans and Rice!

Do you know what the fantastic thing about a beans and rice budget is? Beans and rice.

Although hardly poverty stricken, I have put some considerable thought into cutting down my expenses over the past year. Grocery costs have been my biggest success. I've already written about the many ways bread baking has benefited me, but discovering the awesome power of beans and rice has been even better.

Here's my confession: for a long time I thought beans and lentils were spicy. Except for baked beans, the only time I'd ever had bean dishes were either Indian or Tex-Mex places. I don't do spicy, so I wrote off beans.

I guess the turning point was when I started making my own chili and discovered I could dial down the heat to where I liked it. Then, I started extending a pot of chili by serving it over rice. Voila! I had a meal that was cheap, easy and healthy. My love affair with beans and rice had begun.

Talking with people about beans, as I am wont to do, I found that everyone, everywhere, wants more beans and rice recipes. So here are my favourites. Note: you won't find the hot and spicy here. These are simpler, more comfortable dishes that I really enjoy and hope you will too.

Lentils and Rice, with or without Pork
By Mark Bittman

When Bittman posted this on the New York Times website, he included about a million variations. I haven't tried any of them, because this one is so delicious, I didn't feel like reinventing the wheel. This quickly became one of Fiance's favourite dishes as well.

A few tablespoons of olive oil
4 slices of bacon (optional)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup brown rice
2 cups green lentils
Bay leaf

Heat oil in a pot large enough to hold all the ingredients. Saute bacon, vegetables and oil for about 10 minutes, until vegetables start to brown. Add lentils, rice, bay leaf and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Chickpeas and Veggie Rice

by Me! (I rarely come up with recipes all by myself, so this is a big deal)

can chickpeas, drained (or 1 cup dried chickpeas, pre-cooked)
1 cup brown rice
2 cupa chopped vegetables (any kind, really. Frozen works well here)
1 can V8 juice.
1/2 cup water.

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot or rice cooker. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Chard and White Bean Stew
Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen (

1 pound chard (or kale, or spinach, or collard greens. Whatever)
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
2 cans white beans (or 1.5 cups dried beans, pre-cooked)
1 large can pureed tomatoes
Bay leaf

Remove all stems and ribs from the greens. Boil for one minute then coarsely chop. Dry out the pot, heat the oil and saute the vegetables for 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes, beans and seasonings and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the chard and cook for 5 minutes more.

Black Beans and Tomato Rice with Caramelized Onions

I guess I came up with this one, too, but it was based off a comment I read on a food blog I forget, so not really mine

2-4 thinly sliced onions, depending on their size and how much you like onions
Olive oil
3 cups pre-cooked rice
1 can black beans, rinsed (or 1 cup dried black beans, cooked)
1 large can diced tomatoes

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Stir in the onions with a dash of sugar to help them brown. Cook, stirring occasionally, for half an hour, until the onions become dark brown. Add the rice, beans and tomatoes, and bring to a simmer. Serve

Roasted Chickpeas and Sweet Potatoes

By Oh She Glows (

1 Can chickpeas (or 1 cup dried chickpeas, pre-cooked)
1 large sweet potato
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with tin foil. Toss all the ingredients together on the sheet and roast for 45 minutes, stirring midway through.

Besides the fact that all these recipes are really, really tasty, healthy and cheap (which is what I was looking for to begin with) they're also all simple, one-pot dishes and use many of the same ingredients (without getting repetitive) so you likely already have all your ingredients on hand. Anyone have any other suggestions?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Greenest Soup

I have decided that February, March and perhaps April are bad months for goals. It's not my fault, it's the season. It's dark, it's cold, for every fleeting glimpse of spring there are another 15 cm of snow. My only goal for the immediate future is to not irrevocably damage myself or others. I will run when I darn well please. The laundry can rot for all I care. Washing machine: I will see you in a few weeks.

Not that it's been a bad winter. In fact, I got engaged! Henceforth, Boyfriend will be renamed Fiance. This is likely the only blog change that will occur in the next little while. Eventually, I will probably be writing this as a wedding blog, but that's a ways off. Interesting proposal note: I suspected something was up when I found roses the day before. In the laundry room. The one place he never expected me to be!

My point is, I've been in a regeneration mode. I can't grow right now. I need to do some minor foundation repair. It's great to be constantly looking for progress, but it's not realistic all the time. I'm not letting myself go completely. I'm keeping an eye on the budget, I'm working out a few times a week, I made the greenest soup ever. But I'm just giving myself a break for a little while. I'm sure I'll be back to my normal, over-achieving self soon.

In the spirit of doing whatever the heck I feel like, here is the greenest soup.

Adapted from "Cook's Illustrated"

An onion
Some butter or oil
2lbs broccoli
1/2 lbs kale
2 cups broth
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Cheddar cheese.

Chop up the onion, broccoli and kale stems. Saute in butter or oil for about 10 minutes.

Add 1 cup water and baking soda (I don't know why, but if Cook's says so I do it. Probably something science-y) cover and simmer 20 minutes

Add the broth two cups of water and the kale leaves. Simmer a few minutes more. Throw in some grated cheese and puree until it has the consistency of green slime.

Seriously, it's pretty good.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cracks of Light

There's a song by the Pathological Lovers that starts:

"The shortest month,
Is by far the longest.
You've got to be at your strongest,
In the Wednesday of the year."

I find it very comforting. More than that. By the time the singer howls, "F*ck you, February, F*ck you" I'm right there with a "Hell ya!"

Sorry about all the profanity, folks. February does that to me.

I'm a pretty upbeat person, but this time of year just gets to me. It's really cold. There's a lot of snow down and more coming. Where I live, it could conceivably be well into April before it even starts to melt. It's dark. I have a cold.

I don't see my friends as much, because the weather makes it so hard to get around. Same reason keeps me from running outside, or being outside at all. Every little thing seems to take more work and I just feel drained all the time. Being so tired, I don't work on any projects. I don't cook or bake as much. I don't do any of the things I derive so much satisfaction and pride from. So I start to feel low from that. I know I'm not going to make most of my goals for February.

Depressed yet? I know I am.

If you're not familiar with Free Will Astrology ( you should really check it out, regardless of your belief or lack there of in astrology. These horoscopes are not vague predictors, but rather starting points for introspection. My horoscope for February is particularly apt:

"In Leonard Cohen's song, "Anthem" he sings, "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in" from what I can tell, Virgo, the weeks ahead will be one of the best times all year for welcoming the light that comes through he cracks"

Hell ya.

Knowing how rough February is for me makes it all the more important that I focus on the bright spots. I don't think I'll ever feel happy-go-lucky in February, but I should be able to find a way to be a little happy for the things that make me so lucky.

1. Valentine's Day. Even when I was single I didn't understand how people could be so opposed to it. At it's worst, it's a day filled with sweets and chocolate. At it's best, it's a giddy explosion of pink and red sparkles raining down on that downy-warm feeling of being loved.

2. Longjohns. Wearing ridiculous t-shirts to work. (under sweaters, so no one knows, but still). Sweaters.

3. Soup. Oatmeal. Chili. Stew. Any warm, soft meal in a bowl.

4. I have a hot water bottle that has a cover that makes it look like a stuffed frog. But it's a hot water bottle.

5. Those times my friends and I make the effort to get together. It means more because it's harder.

Ok, so five is not a lot, but it's a pretty good start.

Monday, January 31, 2011

January Update, February Goals

I didn't go for a run after work today, even though I planned to. I had a long meeting, then some other small frustrations. I stayed a little late. I didn't get to half of my to-do list.

I came home and cuddled with Boyfriend a bit. We watched kitten videos on youtube. Then, feeling somewhat restored, I made the best spaghetti sauce I have ever made. I'm kind of a novice with sauces, so this may not rock your world, but it was pretty good, so I'll include the recipe below.

What's my point? If I'd forced myself to run today I would have met my goal of 15 runs in January. I accepted that today it wasn't in the stars, and moved on. The whole reason I'm doing these month-by-month resolutions is so that I have 12 chances to pick myself up and start all over again.

So, here's the January results:

1. Run 15 times. Nope. See above. But I ran 14 times, which is pretty good. I like the technique of getting my shoes on and running for 5 minutes. There was only once I did that and actually stopped after 5 minutes. All the other times I kept going.

2. Stick to January's budget: Yes! I think. I actually managed to lose the lovely budget I typed up for myself, but the bills were all paid, spending was tracked, and there's leftovers. So I passed this one.

3. Fold the laundry right out of the dryer. Um.....

Not exactly.

This was a total fail. The only load I got folded and put away the day I washed it was a load of towels. The first load of clothes I folded and left in the basket for two weeks. The above load I completely abandoned. But! In my defense, we watched the episode of "I, Claudius" where Caligula was assassinated on the anniversary of the event. That would not have been possible if I were folding laundry.


4. Study French. Sort of! The first two classes were canceled due to weather and the instructor's illness. So I've only been to one class so far. But I've practiced. Je m'appelle Emily.

So, not really a stellar start to the month, but not a bad one either. I'll call it a pass.


New goals for February:

1. Run 14 times. It's the same number of runs as January, but with fewer days it's a bigger challenge.

1(a) In keeping with fitness, Boyfriend and I have started the 100 pushups challenge ( so, I resolve to keep that up.

2. Stick to the February budget. Much tighter than January (I'm going on a trip this spring!) and I've got a few birthday presents to buy. We'll see.

3. Fold the GD laundry. Roman emperors be damned.

4. Study French, for real this time.

Wish me luck!

Kind of a rough but not really a bad day spaghetti sauce

Olive oil
3 small onions
2 cloves garlic
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 can (750ml) pureed tomatoes
t1 tablespoon red wine vinegar.

Heat olive oil in large, deep skillet. Slice onions and brown them in the oil. Add garlic, cook for a couple of minutes, add red pepper flakes and cook for another minute. Pour in the tomatoes and the vinegar. Simmer about 20 minutes or so.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Women's Work

Have I told you about the exhibit?

I probably have, it’s all I talked about for several months last fall. But then, maybe I didn’t. I don’t like to talk about work in this space. I don’t feel it’s appropriate.

Anyway, last fall I had the privilege to work on an exhibit. It was a photographic website on the daily lives of women in rural Newfoundland prior to confederation.

It was a lot more work than I expected, but not nearly the kind of work that the women I was representing had done.

Do you know what’s involved in “making fish”? I do now. This is what women would do with the fish that the men brought in before it could be sold. It had to be washed, salted and dried many times over. We are talking literal tons of fish here. Washed, salted, and spread out to dry. Many times. I know I’m repeating myself here, but it’s important. One thing that had never occurred to me about this process: if there was any sign of rain, the fish had to be brought in before it happened, then spread out again after.

In case you’re not familiar with Newfoundland weather, this is the part where a chill goes down your spine.

Basically, this would be all day, six days a week, of backbreaking labour. Labour that had to be performed perfectly, as it was the backbone of the family finances.

But that’s not all!

During the fishing season, the family would eat five meals a day. The first breakfast around 4am, as the men had to be on the water by dawn. Then a second breakfast a few hours later. The largest meal of the day was at midday, then at 5 there would be a light supper, followed by lunch before bed. All of these were cooked and served by the women of the family. Newfoundland families from this time often had 8 or more children, which was helpful for the hands with work, but made for more mouths to feed, not to mention more laundry.

But let’s just stick with the feeding for now. In the communities this exhibit examines, there were few stores. Women could buy flour, oats, tea, tobacco and molasses, but often not a whole lot else. (Especially if the fishing was poor). Women baked bread and prepared all meals from scratch. The majority of their ingredients they had to provide for themselves as well.

Most houses had a vegetable patch, but gardening is hard in Newfoundland. In most areas the topsoil is very thin, and what there is is highly acidic. Also, there can be frosts in June and September, so the growing season is very short. Women would lay out caplin to rot in the sun and fertilize the soil. The vegetables that were grown in these patches would be the only ones their families would get. The berries picked up from the barrens the only fruit.

One thing that sticks with me from my research is an oral interview that was done with an elderly woman years ago. She had been born in the late 1890s and had been interviewed in the early 80s. She was describing her housework and said, “When I had a spell, I’d do some weeding.” What she meant, was that she weeded as a break from work.

Personally, I consider weeding to be work.

I won’t even get into the cleaning, the laundry, the knitting and sewing, childrearing, teaching, healing, etc.

My point is that women worked hard. They have for millennia, all over the globe. I’m sure in the world now there are women who have similar lifestyles.

I work 40 hours a week in an ergonomic chair in a climate controlled environment, where I have full benefits and rights and have never encountered any kind of discrimination, then I come home to my 21st century partner, electric stove and washing machine, and do pretty much whatever I feel like. Because I can.

But I do bake bread. And I grow vegetables. I cook dinner. I crochet blankets. I don’t have to do these things, but I choose to. Whenever I push my fists into warm dough, I know that my grandmothers did this, and their grandmothers. So on and again for a thousand years, on this side of the ocean and the other.

I don’t have to do these things, but a little ache in my shoulders and some slightly sore feet remind me of where I’ve come from. They give me a sense of connection and continuity with the past. And remind me to be grateful for all the advantages I have now.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


For various reasons, I didn't go ahead with a planned post for my favourite albums of the year, but I just couldn't let 2010 slip away completely without mentioning this one. It's amazing. Brilliant. Thrilling, even. I listened to it nearly every day since I got it last spring. I listened to it while I worked, I listened to it while I cooked and cleaned. I listened to it when I walked to meet my best friend on her wedding day. I listened to it while I prepared for my New Year's guests. I listened to it this morning while I nursed my hangover. This album will forever be 2010 to me.

Onwards to 2011. I was thinking long and hard about my new years resolutions. I love resolutions. The word sounds so strong and stalwart, and opportunities to improve myself, to challenge myself are always exciting. I'm not great at keeping New Year's resolutions, however. 12 months is a long time, and it's hard to predict how your needs will change.

So this year, I resolve to make monthly resolutions. The first of every month I'll start with a few resolutions for the month ahead. I'll take stock of how I did the month previous and what I need in the month to come.

So, without further ado:

January Resolutions

1. Run 15 times. 2010 was not a good year for my fitness. I kept a half-hearted workout routine going, but I was no where near competition. I pretty much embarrassed myself at the one race I ran. Then, a few months ago I realized that my sporadic running (along with a few other factors) had resulted in an injury. My physiotherapist had me stop running entirely for a couple of months, and it sucked. It also strengthened my resolve. Now that I have his ok, I need to make running a part of my lifestyle again. But I'm out of shape and not sure how well I can do. So instead of setting a goal for distance or time, I'm just going to commit to pulling on my running shoes half the days of the month.

2. Stick to the January Budget: Like I said above, 12 months is a long time. As it's impossible to predict what my needs will be that far in advance, I'm going to do month by month budgets.

3. Have the house as clean on February 1st. as it was today. Boyfriend and I get pretty slack with the cleaning, honestly. Yesterday we scrubbed from top to bottom, and it looks fantastic. Except for some dirty dishes it was nearly as clean today. I'm going to try to do that again.

3.(a) Fold my laundry and put it away. I have a terrible tendency to leave my clean laundry heaped in a basket unfolded, and just haul things out as needed. It's not a good system. In January, I'm going to try to stop that.

4. Study French. I don't know French, at all. Can you believe it? It's so embarrassing. I took French until 9th grade, but due to lax teachers I didn't learn much. I opted out in Highschool, and in University I studied Latin and German instead. I start French classes on January 13th, and I'm going to make a real go of it this time.

There are my four for January. Wish me luck, I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Coins

The first financial lesson I learned from my father was to save my pennies. Literally.

I don’t know how or why Dad started saving his coins. I know when he was a boy in the late 50s and early 60s he’d do small jobs for his older brothers in exchange for “silver” ie, nickels and dimes. They were worth more then.

In any case, at the end of every day Dad would put all his change in a jar under his desk. When I was small Kraft peanut butter came in clear glass jar in the shape of a teddy bear. We had about a half dozen of these, washed out and ready for coins.

It usually took about two months to fill a jar, then it would be placed on the shelf leading down to the basement. By November, the shelf would be full of coin jars, crammed with coins.

A few weeks before Christmas, Dad would empty all the jars onto the dining room table. It looked like piles of pirate treasure. He would roll while mom made dinner. I can remember sorting the coins based on the pictures when I was too small to count them (maple leaf, beaver, bluenose, moose and loon, if you’re not Canadian. Later there were polar bears). When I got a bit older I counted the ones my brother sorted.

A few hours every night for about a week (depending on how many coins there were) we’d all sit around the dining room table together, rolling coins. I really liked doing it as a kid, making piles of coin like Scrooge McDuck, and I still do, honestly. Plus, it was the first sign that Christmas was coming to our house.

The coins were our Christmas money. Some people have Christmas Club accounts or some other way to budget for the holidays. Dad put in a small amount every day, an amount that he wouldn’t miss, and over the course of the year it would slowly add up to hundreds of dollars. After the advent of the toonie ($2 coin, which was a total game-changer for this technique) we top a thousand, easy.

I’ve done this since I’ve moved out, but I’m not as disciplined as Dad was. Even so, I rolled over $200 last weekend, which is enough to pay for the simple Christmas Boyfriend and I have planned. It also helps me avoid waste. I’ve noticed that if I have change in my wallet it almost always winds up at Tim Horton’s or in the vending machine. Overpriced junk that I don’t need. Without change in my wallet that temptation is gone.

Which plays into my new, focused spending plan. Christmas means a lot to me. Certainly more than 200 coffees. I have trouble resisting my sugar cravings when there’s so much temptation around. But I’m a lot less likely to break up a bill than I am to scrounge quarters for a fix. Better that those coins be safe in a jar on my vanity, waiting for Christmas.

So save the penny, and bring on the foonie!! (Occasionally a five dollar coin is proposed. I don’t think it’ll ever actually happen, but I can dream)