15 July 2009

Country Fair, camping, and more!

Three-day weekends always bring out the best in me. That extra day just seems to push me into full-relaxation mode. Two days is not enough. We also went on our first camping trip of the summer (sad, I know) and to the Oregon Country Fair. If you've never been to the fair, it's hard to explain, but trust me, there's more than just hippies there. It's fun for the average person. And I digress...

More importantly, it was also a weekend full of delicious food. Saturday we picked up our friend's tent and headed down past Eugene to a campground called Black Canyon in the Willamette National Forest. We took a chance and booked it online a couple months back without any knowledge of what it would be like, and very few pictures to base our decision on. Luckily, it worked out. After last year's 2-week mostly camping trip, we set up quickly and were able to enjoy most of the day relaxing. That evening's dinner was specially requested by Shawn--ham, potato, and cheese foil packets.

I made them 3 years ago on our first camping trip to Olallie Lake and he was in love. I learned a valuable lesson from that trip--don't overfill them! Otherwise the cheese and potato burn on the outside and you end up with spots of raw potato, no matter how long you cook it. They turned out perfectly! And with cooking our portions in shifts, kept us from devouring the contents and over stuffing ourselves. After a few beers and some nice conversation around the campfire, it was time for the piece de resistance...s'mores.

Shawn hadn't had a s'more in 20 years as of 3 years ago. He won't make that mistake again. I make the best s'mores--dark chocolate with perfectly toasted marshmallows. We bought a caramel filled chocolate bar, but never got to it. We were both too stuffed after our regular ones.

Sunday was the Country Fair. I knew we were supposed to have thunderstorms, but was hoping they would hold off until the evening. No such luck. We managed to get to the Fair only an hour after they started and it took a long time for them to stop! Nonetheless, we enjoyed stir fry noodles at our friend's booth, Stir Fried, and after tromping through the mud for a couple of hours, got our coconut ice cream, then left. Let me explain something about this ice cream, though. It's homemade and probably one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted. I have literally been talking about this ice cream for a year. It comes from a place called Ring of Fire in Eugene. If you're near there, I recommend seeking it out. Un-freaking-believable.
Shawn enjoys his ice cream in the rain

Wet and muddy, we decided that we would head home rather than risk sleeping in a tent-lake. On our way home, after much traffic, we stopped in Salem at the first restaurant that we could stand that served beer (it was THAT kind of drive). We stopped at Applebee's. I normally can't stand most chain restaurants, and Applebee's is no exception. It was awful. Food was bad, drinks were expensive (my beer was flat), and we both felt bloated and sick all evening. I would say never again, but you never know...

Monday, we had the day off already, so we spent the day as if we were on vacation still (which I guess we were). We spent most of the day in the St. John's neighborhood of North Portland, ending our little excursion with a trip to Pattie's Diner and Soda Fountain. It really was a step back in time. Most everyone there knew each other, we sat at the counter, and I had a root beer float, Shawn a hand-dipped chocolate shake. Service was a little slow, but pleasant. We decided we had to take his folks there for a meal--I'll do a follow up.

After our decadent afternoon treat, I thought we should have something a little healthier for dinner. I sauteed some zucchini (fresh from the farm), mushrooms, fresh tomato, red onion and garlic in olive oil, then removed all the vegetables, added a little more olive oil and threw in some fresh oregano (from my coworker's garden) and red pepper flakes to taste.

I tossed all that together with whole wheat spaghetti and about 1/8 cup grated parmaggiano-reggiano cheese, little pasta water, and magically a delicious and healthy dinner appeared!

The next best thing, besides the flavor, was that we had 4 more servings leftover. Not a bad way to stretch the food dollar.

06 July 2009

Summertime, and the living's easy

Summer is my second favorite season, a close second behind fall, especially here in in the Northwest when the weather is perfect--sunny, not humid, and warm. This past week was particularly beautiful in Portland with temperatures in the 90s and nothing but sun. (I can handle it for a few days, but that's it.) With the warm temperature comes camping, vacation, outdoor fun, and of course, visitors. We had our first visitor the last few days. Shawn's friend Jeremy came out for a short four-day visit from NY. We spent a lot of time at various breweries since Jeremy's a big beer enthusiast, but tried to stay in to cook most of the time to keep costs low(er). There was, of course, an exception for a dinner out at Pause.

With the first one down, Shawn's parents visit to go, as well as concerts, camping, the baby shower I'm throwing, and vacation...I needed to find a way to cut down our food budget a bit. Here are my challenges:
  1. We eat about 85% organic; I mostly shop at New Seasons
  2. It's hot out and difficult to make soups/stews I would normally resort to in the winter, as well as bread for sandwiches
  3. I'm back to eating healthy with the start of a new boot camp
  4. I get lazy, especially when it's warm
I've been reading a lot of articles about eating on a budget. The problem with many of them is that they rely on cutting coupons for products I would never use and/or they ignore a balanced diet of fresh food. I did, however, find one on salon.com by a woman who attempted to buy basically "ethical" groceries for her and her husband on the food budget allowed by food stamps. That would be a little beyond what I'm going for, but it's the same idea. How can we eat the food we're accustomed to and still be able to afford all these extra activities? Let me tell you, it takes some creativity, and I'm still learning.

Day One. I found a recipe for red lentil soup on epicurious.com. I meant to make flatbread to go with it, but got lazy last night after cooking dinner. Too bad, too, as it would've gone perfectly. We just ate some tortillas we had laying around. We also have two more servings to put away for later in the week. My recipe calculator estimates that a serving of 1.5 cups is only about 126 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein.

Tonight I am cooking up some pinto beans for Wednesday's dinner*. Beans are so easy, cheap, and delicious. It kills me to buy the canned stuff, but I still do. As a kid, I hated the smell of cooking pinto beans. I guess I knew it meant we were having beans and rice...again. As an adult, I love it. I don't know if it makes me think of my mom, or I just realize now how lucky I was to eat such delicious homemade food. Maybe both. But I digress. We had some extra 10% fat ground beef I bought while it was on sale last week in the freezer, so I'm making taco meat tomorrow night. That will extend into another meal (or two) later this week when I don't want to cook.

The funny thing about all this is that it just takes a little preparation, which I do, but my cravings usually end up getting the best of me, and we go out. I would say that's our number one problem. I guess I can't be perfect all the time. (Ha ha.) I'm sure I will have more revelations and ideas as I continue this journey to cook well on a (tighter) budget. Now if someone can just keep me from happy hour...

*If you're really curious, tomorrow we're having hot dogs with macaroni and cheese. I know I know...but it's Back to Nature whole wheat macaroni and cheese, and nitrite-free turkey hot dogs...they were on sale! We also have salad fixins.