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Friday, January 3, 2014

A Freelancer's Life: Menu Ideas for All "Seasons"

As a freelancer, I never know how much money is coming in this month or the next. So I have to accommodate. And, in this economy, even hourly and salaried people may be feeling the pinch as well.

Remember too that the terms rich and poor are relative. What is one man's poor season would be considered rich to another. Plus both are subject to fluctuations.

With that in mind, here are some ideas at three different levels of expense:

Po'Boy Meals

  1. Ramen noodles ($2.09 for 12 or $0.174/pkg at Aldi's in the DFW area, one serving)
  2. Baked potato, butter, S&P (10# at Aldi's for $1.29 w/~25 spuds per bag = $0.05/one serving, not counting butter and S&P)
  3. Rice (10# at Aldi's for $5.29 or ~23.5 cups, where 1 c. = $0.225/per cup, could be 1 or 2 servings)
  4. Pasta (egg noodles, $1.00 at box store, makes ~4 servings), add butter, S&P, Parmesan, as available = $0.25/serving (not counting extras)
  5. Oatmeal (per Internet search: $3.47 to $4.80, whether quick cooking or original, with 30 servings each) = $0.12 to $0.16/serving
  6. Eggs ($1.19 for a dozen large or $0.099/egg at Aldi's; so you could, in theory, eat ten scrambled eggs for less than a dollar)

I've had fun eating all these foods, as everything on this list was denied me at some point as I cleaned up my diet. Moreover these one-item meals allow you to easily detect allergies to food additives because these carbs (or protein when speaking of eggs) stick with you for well over three hours before you eat something else to muddy the source of your sensitivity reactions.

I've had horrible itchy eye symptoms to three products listing "natural flavorings" (instead of its true name, MSG): canned Texas-style beans, green tea in a jug and butter (weird). It had to be the butter because I put it on a baked russet potato along with S&P. I doubt the potatoes have MSG added to them; my salt lists only the one item; the ground black pepper has no list of ingredients. Thereafter, when I put olive oil on my potato in lieu of the butter, I had no such reaction.

I think the generic brand of those beans doesn't add MSG, no matter its name, so I'll not be buying the brand name for now. I'm checking out other teas to substitute for this particular one that affects me so. As for the butter, if you'll check the labels when you shop next, you may see what I saw. The unsalted kind, from two different brands, each had MSG added to them under the guise of "natural flavorings," whereas the salted versions did not.

Go figure.

In addition to the menus listed above, I would suggest buying whatever seasonal fruit is on sale, whether a 3-lb. bag of mixed apples, or like grapefruit and oranges during the winter. Same thing with produce. When you can, buy a good quality lettuce (not iceberg) or a 3-lb. bag of onions to add a little variety to the starches listed above. Summer is a great time to get four or five ears of corn for one dollar.

Note that, while I am completely off my diet eating these carbs, I only gained back five pounds eating this way, over the holiday season too. I was surprised it wasn't more. And I haven't yet resumed my daily exercise either, other than yard work (raking leaves; pruning trees damaged by our recent ice storm), to offset this. So I can see me losing the weight (again), maybe even while eating these carbs, once I reincorporate weight lifting and yoga into my daily routine.

Almost There

  1. Ramen noodles (two pkgs = $0.34) with tuna ($0.65/can at Aldi's); total = $0.45 each for 2 servings
  2. Baked potatoes and canned beansalthough, of course, dried is cheaper, maybe fresh too ($0.05/potato + $0.49 for 1 can, 2 servings, green beans; per serving = $0.245); total = $0.295/serving
  3. Rice and beans (could be ~$0.33 with canned beans per serving; less with dried beans you cook yourself)
  4. Corn bread (Jiffy brand is $0.59/box online, ~3 servings) and canned collard greens (Glory Foods' seasoned greens, 27 oz., 3 huge servings or $0.496 x 3 = $1.49/can); total = $0.696/serving [Again this meal would be cheaper to buy the fresh collard greens and cook them yourself; but the canned are nice to have because their shelf life is longer than the fresh version in the refrigerator.]

With any of the above, you get to have two items together on the same plate. Almost there...


Here's my favorite idea. Roast a meatwhether a beef roast, a whole chicken, a brisket, a pork roast; whatever you like and can affordand eat it over the week to come. I'll use chicken as my example.

I got a wonderful whole chicken at Aldi's. Don't have the packaging any longer so have no idea what brand it was. [Note: Aldi's has brands I've never heard of before, but each one that I've tried has been great, and some are one-third the cost of what I pay for the same thing at the big box store. A quick Internet search states several are Trader Joe's brands.]

So the chicken was delicious and about $0.99/lb (4.8-pound chicken for $4.56). I seasoned it with EVOO and herbs of my choice, and then roasted it with just what I had on hand: celery and onions. 

This was the biggest chicken I had bought in a long time (and the cheapest), with four servings from the two breasts alone. Then I deboned the meat and used just the white meat to make jambalaya, with browned beef sausage, sliced, added to it. Got another 4 servings from that. After deboning, I made chicken broth from the bones, letting it simmer on the stovetop for hours. That could be used, once strained, for chicken tortilla soup. Yum!

Granted, you will be eating chicken in some form almost all week for one or two meals daily (depending on serving sizes and how many people are eating each time), but hopefully these variations will keep you from being bored with the idea of chicken yet again.

Using the dark meat, I plan to make chicken spaghetti. It's simple and calls for one can of cream of celery soup and another can of cream of chicken soup (or cream of mushroom even). Mix them together, with a little water, pour over cooked spaghetti and the leftover chicken. Mix well. Top with cheese and pop in the oven to warm all. Delish!

But I'm not purchasing canned soups and will instead thicken my homemade chicken broth with corn starch, adding chopped fresh celery (slightly cooked) along with canned mushrooms, both of which are already in my kitchen.

Even if you have just a little chicken still remaining after fixing all of the above, that small bit calls for soup. And for you to empty out your fridge. That leftover rice? Add it. Have wilted lettuce? Drop it in. Bread? Throw it in the mix. The classic French onion soup has bread atop it. Italians make a bread salad.

Don't waste anything that's still good. A bell pepper may be old enough that it won't be a good raw snack, but you can season your soup with it. Every ethnic group has a version of this, whether it's called goulash or hash or whatever. Clean out your fridge and put what you can in the soup pot.

Schedule one night of the week as potluck. Even if it is baked potatoes stuffed with cooked broccoli and the last of the cream cheese. Be inventive.


I'll leave you with three quotes which hopefully uplift you during the hard times.

First, from the Bible. A widow was about to lose her two sons to indentured slavery to pay off her dead husband's debts. Taken from 2 Kings 4:17 (KJV). Read carefully what the man of God told her in the second verse:
And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? Tell me, what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil.
And he proceeded to tell her what to do. She and her sons followed his instructions, pouring the never-ending oil into additional urns or containers of all sorts procured from her neighbors. When there were no more empty pots, there was no more oil to pour (a story in itself). She then sold it all, paid the debt, and she and her sons lived off the rest.

My point is: what do you have right now? Maybe clothes that can be dropped off at the consignment shop? How about something to sell on eBay, such as movies you don't watch any longer? If it works for you and your situation, sell your car and buy a second-hand bicycle instead. Have a garage sale.

What do you have in your house? Look through the eyes of someone in a situation worse than yours. See how rich you truly are. Sell what you can. Give away some things. Be grateful for everything you do have.

Donations to your local shelter may not put money in your hand but it puts credits in your spiritual account. And God honors that.

Second, from Michael Pollan in his book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.
He showed the words chocolate cake to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. Guilt was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: celebration
Third, from Oprah Winfrey.
I know for sure that what we dwell on is who we become.
Change your thoughts and you change your life. Plus, aren't you happier when you think on the good things?

Here's to abundant happiness...

P.S. I'm not getting paid or otherwise compensated to mention any brand names herein. I just happen to like these.

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra

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