Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The $75 Grocery Budget

One day, after a few weeks of limited work, a man's van broke down. He had his vehicle towed to his mechanic who graciously dealt with it in a timely manner so as to impose as little as possible on the unfortunate man. While inspecting the vehicle - whose starter was found to be faulty - the mechanic also noticed that the brake master cylinder was for all intents and purposes dead. It was with much relief that the poor vehicle owner heard this, since in all likelihood an issue wouldn't have been detected before the brakes suddenly stopped working! What a wonderfully fortuitous circumstance that potentially saved him from harm! The grateful man praised God, kissed his wife, and paid his $900 mechanic bill.

That, my friends, is a true story. However I did leave out a few details... like that the 'poor' man was in fact 'poor' for the time being due to limited work for a contractor in February. Perhaps it was a financially inopportune time to have a major vehicle repair come along, but I am so grateful knowing that the brakes in my hubby's work van will function properly that I hardly care about the money!

Having said that, it doesn't change the fact that I now have a $75 budget for groceries for the next two weeks. Not $75/week - $75 in total. Sweet, hey?

But, I'm gifted with such heritage (*cough* Scottish! *cough), and upbringing (*cough* Scottish Grandparents! *cough*), and support (*cough* DUTCH HUSBAND! *cough*) as to find this budget restriction as a mere challenge! And I do enjoy a good challenge :)

So today I am sharing my meal plan. This, you will find, is not a typical I-have-no-money meal plan. It does not assume that everything we eat is accounted for in the $75. It rather assumes that I keep a well-stocked pantry, stocking up on things when they go on sale for awesome prices, and have a few surprise cuts in my freezer that I can tap into for a treat! However, some of the principals are golden rules for eating on a limited budget: plan around what you have, use similar ingredients for multiple meals, and don't limit yourself to one cuisine!
I was actually requested to share my meals and their approximate costs on my personal Facebook page so that some of my girlfriends could attempt similar cost-effective meals, which is what truly inspired this post. Well, that and the fact that it's absolutely necessary for me to spend no more than $75 on food in the next two weeks... But I digress.

So to start the week, I went out and spent $65. WHAT?!? I spent most of my money already?!?!? Yes, but with good reason! Our local Co-op has their Warehouse sale on right now! Pasta, canned beans, and pounds of apples and oranges are all 10/$10 this week! I actually cannot beat that price, and bought enough of those things to easily last me to the end of the two weeks. I also grabbed some key veggies to use in my menu, eggs (cheap protein!) and some yogurt that expires on Monday, but hey, it was cheap and I'll be the one eating it. I had plenty of baking supplies, leftover from Christmas baking that I never got around to, in my pantry, and tonnes of meat. This would be a lot harder if I didn't have a freezer full of deer... But still doable. (I write this fully aware that many people around the globe would be ecstatic with $75 for groceries for a full month. I am blessed, undoubtedly.)

Anyway, here is the breakdown of my meal plan. My weekends I left open since we'll eat leftovers likely, or go to my parents' house (Booyah for free food!!)

Monday - Week 1: Roasted Pork Chops, canned beans, roasted sweet potatoes, applesauce (my mom gave me a pack of pork chops to help clear out her overfilled freezer! Yay!) approx. cost assuming I actually bought everything: $6
Tuesday - Week 1: Salmon Potato Casserole (potato, peas, celery, cream of mushroom soup, can of pink salmon, panko, spices) approx. cost: $4 (bought the salmon on sale for $1 a can!) Served sweet potato fries from the freezer on the side - roughly $1.50 cost
Wednesday - Week 1: Beef Barley Soup (beef, bouillon, celery, carrots, onion, garlic, corn, frozen green beans, can of tomatoes, spices) approx. cost: $4 (I did it for less... my mom gave me a big steak from the freezer too!) Served with homemade drop biscuits for additional $1.50 - And did I mention this makes enough to feed me for lunch for the next few days??
Thursday - Week 1: Fried rice (leftover pork chop, rice, 2 eggs, carrots, peas, green onion, soy sauce, oyster sauce) approx. cost: $2.50 Served with oyster sauce broccoli on the side for about $1.50
Friday - Week 1: Quiche (6 eggs, leftover cream from the fridge, broccoli, leftover prosciutto from the fridge, leftover Havarti from the fridge and homemade pie crust) approx. cost: $5 Served with tossed salad for extra $1. Fillings are totally negotiable, that's just what's in my fridge. Oh, and I'll make a double batch of pie crust and freeze half for next week!

Monday - Week 2: Borscht (Beets, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, veggie stock, dill, sour cream) approx. cost: $3 (I bought a HUGE bag of beets when they were on for $0.80 a pound a few weeks ago!) Also - loads of leftovers for lunch again!
Tuesday - Week 2: Venison Pot Pie (pie crust from freezer, frozen peas, frozen corn, frozen green beans, carrots, potatoes, cream of mushroom soup, venison) approx. cost: $4
Wednesday - Week 2: Pancit Bihon (rice noodles, fish sauce, soy sauce, celery, carrots, onion, cabbage, chicken) approx. cost: $3.50 ...And more lunch leftovers! Which is great, because Pancit is even better the next day!!
Thursday - Week 2: Refried Bean Burritos (homemade refried beans, homemade tortillas, guacamole, tomatoes, sour cream) approx. cost: $3 ('homemade' is a huge part of the cost savings in this. Store-bought tortillas are about $0.50 apiece - homemade are about $0.05 apiece. And homemade refried beans are 1/3 of the cost of a store-bought can.) Served w/ tossed salad for $1
Friday - Week 2: BBQ Stuffed Salmon (whole frozen salmon, rice, celery, onion, lemon essential oil, dried herbs) approx. cost: $6 This one requires quite the footnote... every summer I buy a whole frozen salmon when it goes on sale for $0.19/100 g, then I freeze it til I feel like cooking it. I don't expect anyone to find a whole frozen salmon for under $5 at this time of year, so this is definitely my 'cheat' meal! This bad boy will be enough to feed the company we're having that night, too!

Now, what that looks like to me is about $47 for suppers for about two weeks! The rest of the $30 we have will go towards breakfasts and lunches, but if you remember, I've got quite a few meals in there that will produce a LOT of leftovers for lunchtimes. For breakfasts we mostly have cereal or oatmeal, so the $10 I haven't yet spent for groceries will at least in part be spent on milk. The remainder will restock our fruit, which is our primary snack. I'll be making bread at home instead of shelling out $3 for a crappy store-bought loaf, and instead of buying Mum Mums or Gerber Puff snacks for the baby I bought a giant bag of puffed rice that he actually really likes! And for a fraction of the cost!

And as a reminder, while I wrote out the cost of buying exactly what you would need to make these meals, many of the things I listed I've had in my pantry or fridge for a while, because one of the easiest and best ways to only spend $75 on groceries in two weeks is to prepare for it by stocking up during sales. If I were to go out and buy a can of pink salmon at Safeway today, I'd likely pay around $3 - not the $1 I actually paid when I bought it at Co-op a few weeks ago. This is not a flawless meal plan that you can follow week-after-week and save copious amounts of money on regularly. Remember, the cheapest meal plan will change, depending on what's on sale, and what you have. And this week, this is what I have.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Beer Tasting Party

Update: Pictures!!

This past weekend I hosted a Beer Tasting Party for my beloved husband's early birthday party! It was a BLAST! A lot of careful consideration went into this event to ensure it would stay classy, and the biggest contributing factor was my guest list - I put a cap on the number of people coming (5 couples) and knew that each of those couples knew how to moderate themselves. This was not an event for wearing lampshades, but rather for tasting high end brews and finding some new favorites, and I think we had the perfect group for achieving that end!

Once the guest list was established, the next big piece of planning was to figure out how the tasting would actually work. I asked each couple to bring 16 oz of their favorite beer. Most people opted to bring two varieties, mostly because they just couldn't decide on one! I had mini parfait glasses that worked perfectly for a 1 - 2 oz sample, but perhaps the best idea I had was the coasters we used! I did almost all of my shopping at dollar stores and found some thin sheets of cork for a buck a pack. I cut them into squares and set out a sharpie for each of the guests to write their names on the coaster. The plan was whenever they set down their cup to set it on their labeled coaster again - that way we'd limit the number of, "Is this my glass? Or your's?" situations. I also provided everyone with tasting sheets! I found a free printable online and had copies printed out for everyone. We used a numbered scoring system, and had a master sheet, so that at the end of the evening we could see which beers ranked highest overall, but people could also see which their highest rated beer was. This was really helpful, since even by the third selection it can be tricky to remember what you liked so much about the first one. By the end of the evening some of the guests were really surprised about which ranked in their top 3.

Next on the planning front was the menu. Again, the point of this party was not to get drunk, so I planned the menu with that in mind. There were LOTS of carbs. This was not the type of party where you want to serve exclusively veggies and meringues. I made an uber dense Chocolate Stout Cake, my family's classic Honey Garlic Chicken wings, Jalapeno Popper dip with chips, and sliced peppers and cucumbers to dip, I served sweet potato fries with a lemon dill aioli and I bought soft pretzels from a store in the mall! I make soft pretzels at home, but I really didn't want to worry about the labour and the mess of that before the party, so I instead opted to buy them, and I'm so glad I did. They were a huge hit! This was a great make-ahead menu plan. I marinated the wings the night before then threw them in the oven 3 hours before the party. The Jalapeno Popper dip took 5 minutes to throw together. The Sweet Potato Fries were from Costco and baked on my stoneware beautifully (I actually replenished these through the night, which was really easy - I'd just throw a fresh batch in the oven whenever I noticed we were getting low). The cake was more labor intensive, but so worth it.

And lastly came the decorations. I want to improve my decorating efforts, so very early on I picked a color scheme: Manly. Ha! Bet you didn't know that was a color, hey! But it made sense: blacks, wood grain, metal... totally worked. I had some wood grain scrapbook paper that I alternated with black and white cardstock for a hanging banner. I had black and tan tissue paper that I made into pinwheels that I hung on the wall behind the table for a cute backdrop. I served out of black bowls, on wooden trays and metal buckets. I even found wood grain printed paper straws at HomeSense! And while I was at the dollar store I found some chalkboard signs for buffets and I spent the $5 to get the pack. I KNOW I will use those again sometime soon! Oh yes, and lastly I found a use for some of those beer bottles we cut down around Christmas time! We cut a large bottle to make into a Pint glass for my brother-in-law, and had cut some smaller ones which we never ended up using. So I did a quick sand-job on them, and used them to hold the cutlery and straws. Very apropos.

I hope you find these tips useful if you plan on hosting your own Beer Tasting Party! It was a lot of fun, and everyone loved the idea!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)