Tuesday, December 30, 2008

City Kitchen Chronicles: Potato Leek Soup with Kale

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime.

Since cleaning up my apartment a few weeks ago for my birthdahousewarming party, I’ve been eager to get people in here. My dad’s actually never seen my apartment, and that’s in the works, but this past weekend I had the pleasure of a sleepover with my on-break-from-college sister, M.

I had a pair of tickets to a play Sunday night, so when I was home for Chinese food and a movie over Christmas (I’m not kidding – we actually do this, and we’re not the only ones – it’s a fun cliché!), I offered my spare ticket to M, and invited her to stay over. (Maybe the best perk about working in theatre is that most offices, including mine, close down between Christmas and New Year’s.) “Is there anything else you want to do in the city?” We grew up, and my mom still lives, just a short drive into the suburbs, but I could still pretend to be tour guide to my bumpkin sister. She said, “I’ve never been to MoMA.” And thus the plan was set.

Tickets to the lovely Museum of Modern Art run a cool $20, and not as a suggested donation like at the Met or the Museum of Natural History, but a for-real twenty bucks, but here’s where luck keeps this expedition frugal – I have two friends who work at the museum, and MoMA staff can add anyone they like to a guest list for free admission.


But to backtrack, before M and I, and every tourist in the city (including half the population of France) made our way through the art, there was Sunday night. In our back-and-forth phone calls of prep (“Do you have a blanket?” “Yes.” “Do you need allergy pills for the cats?” “Yes.”) I asked M what she wanted to do for dinner. We could eat down by the theatre, or she could eat before driving to me, and then we could just head down for the play…

“I want you to cook something.”

You cook one Thanksgiving from some simple-but-family-impressing recipes, and suddenly you have a reputation.

Unfortunately, the thing M didn’t realize is that when I’m not cooking from mom-shopped recipes, with their vanilla beans and such, I cook food that *I* find tasty, but that is rarely pretty and certainly unimpressive. I couldn’t afford anything fancy, and I couldn’t really bear to serve rice and beans, no matter how delicious and veggie-laden, to a guest.

Luckily I had a new-to-me, super-tasty, and dirt-cheap recipe up my sleeve. I hit the farmers market for $3 of ingredients, borrowed my friend K’s immersion blender (having suffered half a blender’s worth of soup all over my kitchen and clothing on my first attempt), and set to work.

Although this soup is simple, it’s delicious. It tastes to me like mashed potato soup, the best, smoothest mashed potatoes ever. M was a big fan of the accidental potato chunks left after the blending, and I was, too. I added kale for some extra nutritional oomph, and, just like it works in mashed potatoes, it was delicious here. M thought the kale would work better in smaller pieces, and I agreed.

After M. left, I talked to my mom. I told her that I’d cooked potato leek soup with kale for our dinner, and she was surprised. “That sounds very adventurous for M!” I don’t actually think it was – I’d run the kale idea by M and she’d been very enthusiastic – but either way, I cooked for my sister, she thought it was delicious, and my heart felt a little bit more full.

Potato Leek Soup with Kale
serves 4-6

2 T olive oil
1 bunch leeks, white and light green parts only, cut lengthwise and then into ¼” slices
pinch salt
1-2 cloves garlic (optional)
2 c yellow potatoes, cubed
4 c vegetable broth (I use water and Better than Bouillon
1 c water (or to taste)
pepper, to taste
6 c kale, torn into small pieces
1 T olive oil

1) Heat the olive oil in a big soup pan over medium heat. Add leeks, salt, and garlic. Sautee until leeks are tender, about ten minutes.

2) Add potatoes and broth, plus some water if your broth is very salty or strong. Simmer for 20 minutes.

3) While soup is cooking, saute kale in olive oil in another pan, over medium heat, with salt to taste, until it’s your preferred doneness. More salt with help with bitterness, as will more cooking. Fresh kale can be tastier with less cooking than supermarket kale (as I was sad to learn).

4) (optional) Puree all or some of the soup with an immersion blender. Or, very carefully, puree cooled soup, in batches, in a regular blender. MAKE SURE THE BASE IS SECURELY ATTACHED. Trust me.

5) Mix kale into soup, or serve in a separate bowl, allowing guests or potentially picky sisters to add as much or as little as they like. Add salt and pepper to taste. (This soup does well with a lot of pepper.)

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
Serving four: 246.5 calories, 11 g fat, $1.20
Serving six: 164 calories, 7.5 g fat, $0.80

3 T olive oil: 417 calories, 40.5 g fat, $0.36
1 bunch leeks: 109 calories, 0.5 g fat, $2.50
2 cloves garlic: 8 calories, 0 g fat, $0.08
2 c yellow potatoes: 231 calories, 0.5 g fat, $0.60
4 t Better than Bouillon: 20 calories, 0 g fat, $0.74
5 c water: 0 calories, 0 fat, free!
salt and pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.04
6 c kale: 201 calories, 3 g fat, $0.50
TOTAL: 986 calories, 44.5 g fat, $4.82
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 246.5 calories, 11 g fat, $1.20
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 164 calories, 7.5 g fat, $0.80

Tuesday Megalinks

This week it’s recaps of 2008, strategies for 2009, and 2010 solid posts from the Serious Eats team. Also of note: I am the only person working on the entire island of Manhattan today. (Meaning: no summaries for this time around. Somebody's gotta keep this city running!)

CNN: 10 Healthiest Diets

Culinate: The Eco-Kitchen – How to Green Your Cooking Space

Delish: Healthy Holiday Recipes

Elastic Waist: What Does Dress Size Have to Do With Body Happiness?

The Epi-Log: What Farmers Want Consumers to Know – Parts 1 and 2

Jezebel: New Year, Same Ol’ Resolutions

The Kitchn: Fast! Easy! Quick! Recipes for Weeknight Cooking - Best of 2008

The Kitchn: More With Less - Frugal and Budget Cooking - Best of 2008

The Kitchn: Soups for Every Season – Best of 2008

New York Times: Is a New Food Policy on Obama’s List?

Serious Eats: The best way to cook tilapia is…

Serious Eats: Breakfasts for a crowd - any ideas?

Serious Eats: Cheap Meals!

Serious Eats: What do you do with spaghetti squash?

Serious Eats: The Year That Was – Food as Other Stuff

Wise Bread: Six Simple Side Dishes That Will Save You Money

Wise Bread: Five More Tips for Eating in Restaurants and Sticking to a Budget

Wise Bread: My Kitchen Could Be a Yeast Farm

Monday, December 29, 2008

North African-Style Chickpea Salad and Lessons From 2008

Boy, 2008 was weird, wasn’t it? I can’t remember a year that’s been more at odds with itself. But there were lessons (note: I almost typed “lesions”) to be learned. Like:

1) When playing Hide and Seek with a three-year-old, it’s perfectly acceptable to hide by standing directly in front of the child. He’ll get a kick out of it, and you won’t risk not being found.

2) Unemployment is fun and educational! For one thing, you discover that your city block is 12,000 times more terrifying during the day, when the junkies roam freely and yell at stoplights. For another thing … actually, that’s it.

3) “When are you guys getting married?” is the most headache-inducing question on Earth, right after “So, how do you want that spike extracted from your face?”

4) Do not go to the bathroom in Jaipur’s Amber Fort. I’m pretty sure it’s a real-life Hellmouth. Otherwise, India is pretty awesome.

5) When your landlord says, “We’ll have it done tomorrow,” what he actually means is, “Who are you, why are you in my office, and where are my bagels?”

6) My job is pretty neat when we’re not arguing with management over whether or not we’ll be receiving health benefits next year. Also: new coffee machine!

7) Being a Mets fan may be hard, but it’s not nearly as difficult as being a Chicago Cubs or Detroit Lions fan. We may have blown the last two seasons ON THE FINAL DAY, but least we have Johan Santana and decent pizza. Also: *cry*

8) I don’t need to ever watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, because the commercials are enough to make me openly weep.

9) Worth the time: Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler, Role Models, Wall-E, the Sandwich Day episode of 30 Rock, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in general, sincerity = the new irony, Postcards From Yo Momma, watching old Heart videos on YouTube, Deb’s chocolate chip cookies, Drunk History, Literal A-Ha, KEXP.org, Flight of the Conchords, community organizers.

10) Not worth the time: pinkeye, another story about Sarah Palin’s wardrobe.

11) Bizarre food combinations occasionally work out: strawberries and balsamic vinegar, black beans and brownie mix, nectarines and blue cheese, cranberries and mint, and chickpeas and raisins. Which, coincidentally, brings us to today’s recipe, North African Style Chickpea Salad, from my new favorite culinary tome, Cook’s Illustrated Best Light Recipe book (also highlighted in today’s Serious Eats column about Barley Risotto).

Boasting six grams of fiber per serving and a 15-minute prep time, this neat little side dish is a grand ol’ accompaniment to … well, almost anything. I had some for lunch today alongside pineapple and The Boyfriend’s mom’s Honey Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, and it was like riding a unicorn in Valhalla. (Translation: very good.) The mint and raisin go together surprisingly well, and provide a nice counterpart to the savory chickpeas. Who knew?

Oh, one note: the nutrition information provided by Cook’s Illustrated, but the price calculations are my own. Enjoy!

North African-Style Chickpea Salad
Serves 6
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Best Light Recipe.

2 (15.5 ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 carrot, peeled and grated
½ cup raisins
2 Tablespoons fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed (about ½ teaspoon)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon paprika
salt and ground black pepper

1) In a large mixing or serving bowl, combine chickpeas, grated carrots, raisins and mint. Stir. 

2) In a separate small bowl, combine oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, and paprika. Whisk it together, like you would a dressing. Pour over chickpea mixture and stir thoroughly to combine. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature or a little chilled. Great for picnics.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
200 calories, 7 g fat, $0.63

2 (15.5 ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed: $1.32
1 carrot, peeled and drained: $0.10
½ cup raisins: $0.35
2 Tablespoons fresh mint leaves: $1.50
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil: $0.23
1-1/2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon: $.20
1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed (about ½ teaspoon): $0.03
½ teaspoon ground cumin: $0.01
½ teaspoon paprika: $0.02
salt and ground black pepper: $0.02
TOTAL: $3.78

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2008 Food Quotes of the Year: Zing!

With Christmas on the horizon (seriously, it’s riding a horse and headed straight for us), we’re taking a short break from CHG’s usual seriousness (er … yeah), and instead presenting a retrospective of our favorite Thursday Quotes of the Week. Enjoy!


“Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.” – Oscar Wilde

"Too few people understand a really good sandwich." –James Beard

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” -Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

“I was 32 when I started cooking. Up until then, I just ate.” – Julia Child

“So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being.” – Franz Kafka

"Sir, respect your dinner: idolize it, enjoy it properly. You will be many hours in the week, many weeks in the year, and many years in your life happier if you do." - William Makepeace Thackeray

“They take great pride in making their dinner cost much; I take my pride in making my dinner cost so little.” - Henry David Thoreau


“Annie, there's a big lobster behind the refrigerator. I can't get it out. This thing's heavy. Maybe if I put a little dish of butter sauce here with a nutcracker, it will run out the other side.” – Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), Annie Hall

“Heba wonders why Phil would go to her friend and ‘blasphemy’ her. Yeah, and right after she turned Gatorade into wine and fed the multitudes with a 100-calorie snack pack.” – Potes on The Biggest Loser from Television Without Pity

CLIFF: Hey Carla, I have a potato that looks like Richard Milhouse Nixon.
CARLA: Big deal. Show me one that doesn't.

“An apple a day keeps anyone away if you throw it hard enough.” – Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report

"As you know, the hot dog was invented in America when a family of raccoons wandered into a toothpaste factory." – Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report

PETER: Lois, there's a message in my Alpha Bits. It says "OOOOOO"!
LOIS: Peter, those are Cheerios.
-The Family Guy

ROSS: I honestly don't know if I'm hungry or horny.
CHANDLER: Stay out of my freezer.

“You know the family motto: ‘We’re Conners. We gotta eat.’” – Dan Conner (John Goodman), Roseanne

“I don’t return fruit. Fruit’s a gamble. I know that going in.” – Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld

‘I do wish we could chat longer, but … I'm having an old friend for dinner. Bye.” – Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), Silence of the Lambs

"If wishes and buts were clusters of nuts we'd all have a bowl of granola." – Geoffrey Jellineck (Paul Dinello), Strangers with Candy


“When your Super Bowl guests arrive, they should find a mound of potato chips large enough to conceal a pony sitting in front of the television. For nutritional balance, you should also put out a bowl of carrot sticks. If you have no carrot sticks, you can use pinecones, or used electrical fuses, because nobody will eat them anyway. This is no time for nutritional balance: This is the Super Bowl, for God's sake.” – Dave Barry

"Anytime a person goes into a delicatessen and orders a pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies." – Milton Berle

"I'm not a vegetarian because I love animals. I'm a vegetarian because I hate plants." – A. Whitney Brown

“The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” – Johnny Carson

“I like baked potatoes. I don't have a microwave oven, and it takes forever to bake a potato in a conventional oven. Sometimes I'll just throw one in there, even if I don't want one, because by the time it's done, who knows?” – Mitch Hedberg

“Rice is great when you are hungry and you want 2,000 of something.” – Mitch Hedberg

“I like fruit baskets because it gives you the ability to mail someone a piece of fruit without appearing insane. Like, if someone just mailed you an apple you'd be like, 'Huh? What the hell is this?' But if it's in a fruit basket you're like 'This is nice!’” – Demetri Martin

“I like to use 'I Can't Believe it's Not Butter' on my toast in the morning, because sometimes when I eat breakfast, I like to be incredulous. ‘How was breakfast?’ ‘Unbelievable.’” – Demetri Martin

“I had teeth that stuck out so far, I used to eat other kids' candy bars by accident.” – Rita Rudner

“Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.” – Mark Twain

“I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time.’ So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.” - Steven Wright


“You better cut the pizza in four pieces, because I'm not hungry enough to eat six.” - Yogi Berra

“You know, the only thing worse than an American to an Italian is an Italian from the next village.” – Anthony Bourdain

“I'm guest judging again next week. Which means I know what happens. And while I am precluded from discussing future broadcasts by a confidentiality agreement rivaling the NSA's in the severity of its penalties for unauthorized disclosure, I can reveal this: There will be a SlaughterFest of Horror, an Orgy of Bloodletting, Partial Nudity, Flammable Liquids, Unspeakable Misuse of Power Tools and Small Woodland Creatures, and the Plaintive Wailing of the Doomed. It will make Altamont look like Lilith Fair.” - Anthony Bourdain blogging about Top Chef

“You can never have enough garlic. With enough garlic, you can eat The New York Times.” – Morley Safer


JACK: Lemon, you're here early.
LEMON: Well I gave up caffeine so I've been going to bed at 5:30.
-30 Rock

"Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food - frequently there must be a beverage." - Woody Allen

"Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer." -Dave Barry

“Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.” – Dave Barry

PEGGY: You're 12 years old, and drinking a beer.
BOBBY: I didn't even like it.
HANK: Now you're just trying to get me mad.
-King of the Hill

“If life gives you lemons, make some kind of fruity juice.” - Conan O'Brien

“You know, most people don't know the difference between apple cider and apple juice, but I do. Now here's a little trick to help you remember. If it's clear and yella', you've got juice there, fella. If it's tangy and brown, you're in cider town.” – Ned Flanders, The Simpsons


"Could we have some more virgin olive oil? This one's kind of trampy." – Ellen DeGeneres

“We dare not trust our wit for making our house pleasant to our friend, so we buy ice cream.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"I like my coffee like I like my women. In a plastic cup." – Eddie Izzard

CRYSTAL: How do you like your marshmallows, Roseanne?
ROSEANNE: Like my men, crispy on the outside and stuck to the end of a fork.


“You know the great irony is that people think you have to have money to enjoy fine food, which is a shame.” – Ted Allen

"I wake up every morning in a bed that’s too small, drive my daughter to a school that’s too expensive, and then I go to work to a job for which I get paid too little, but on Pretzel Day? Well, I like Pretzel Day." – Stanley Hudson (Leslie David Baker), The Office

“We got so much food in America we're allergic to food. Allergic to food! Hungry people ain't allergic to s**t. You think anyone in Rwanda's got a f**king lactose intolerance?!”- Chris Rock

“You can't be happy that fire cooks your food and be mad it burns your fingertips.” – Chris Rock


"I am not a glutton. I am an explorer of food." – Erma Bombeck

“I’ve been on a constant diet for the last two decades. I’ve lost a total of 789 pounds. By all accounts, I should be hanging from a charm bracelet.” – Erma Bombeck

“I gotta work out. I keep saying it all the time. I keep saying I gotta start working out. It's been about two months since I've worked out. And I just don't have the time. Which, uh … is odd. Because I have the time to go out to dinner. And, uh … and watch TV. And get a bone density test. And, uh ... try to figure out what my phone number spells in words.” – Ellen DeGeneres

“Never eat more than you can lift.” – Miss Piggy

“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” – Sophia Loren

“I eat pretty much whatever I want. I don't have a strict diet. It's all about cramming in as many calories into my system as I possibly can. To be honest with you, I have a tough time keeping weight on.” –U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, on his 10000-calorie daily intake


“My name is Sophia Petrillo and my idea of a good psychiatrist is a bartender who pours without a spout.” – as Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls

“Sorry, Dorothy. There are two things a Sicilian won't do: Lie about pizza, and file a tax return.” – as Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls

“If this sauce were a person, I'd get naked and make love to it.” – as Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls

“I hate Jell-O. If God wanted peaches suspended in midair, He would have filled them with helium” – as Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls

SOPHIA: These are FRITOS, Dorothy. What do you want me to do, swallow them whole?
-The Golden Girls


“Fussy eater is a euphemism for big pain in the ass."

“Two heart attacks has changed my diet, but I still cook bacon for the smell.”

"Another terrible sounding word: headcheese. AUGH! I can't even look at the sign."

“People who pay for inexpensive items with a credit card. … Folks, take my word for this, Raisinettes is NOT a major purchase. No one should be paying the bank eighteen percent interest on Tic-Tacs.”

“And, of course, the funniest food: ‘kumquats.’ I don't even bring them home. I sit there laughing and they go to waste.”


"First rule in roadside beet sales, put the most attractive beets on top. The ones that make you pull the car over and go, 'Wow, I need this beet right now.' Those are the money beets." – Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson)

“Yes, I have decided to shun Andy Bernard for the next three years, which I'm looking forward to. It's an Amish technique; it's like slapping someone with silence. I was shunned from the age of 4 until my 6th birthday, for not saving the excess oil from a can of tuna.” – Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson)


“To alcohol: the cause of and solution to all of life's problems.” – Homer

“Sorry Lis, I can't be a vegetarian. I love the taste of death!” – Bart

“Lisa, I made you some homemade Pepsi for the dance; it's a little thick but the price is right.” - Marge

“If God didn't want us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat?” - Homer

"Donuts. Is there anything they can't do?" - Homer

“Nuts and gum...together at last!” - Homer

MARGE: Ooh, Lisa! Is that too spicy for you?
LISA: I can see through time!

HOMER: See Marge, I told you I could deep fry my shirt.
MARGE: I didn't say you couldn't, I said you probably shouldn't.

HOMER: Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
HOMER: Pork chops?
LISA: Dad, those all come from the same animal.
HOMER: Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, and WOOO New Year, everybody!

(Photos courtesy of MySpace Mags, Stuck in Iowa, Home Run Derby, UK Telegraph, and About.com.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday Megalinks

In today’s links: last-minute Christmas gift ideas, healthful foods, and best of all, lots and lots of booze. Merry *hic* Christmas, everybody!

Adventures in the 100 Acre Wood: Make it From Scratch Festival
Featuring more cookie recipes than you can shake a stick (of butter) at, plus Leigh’s fabulous craft post from last Thursday.

Chow: The Year in Food 2008
From Rachael Ray’s terrorist scarf to Michael Phelps’ 4-billion calorie diet to Julia Child: International Spy, Chow has a rundown of every food story that mattered this year. And remember: 2008 was fleeting, but bacon is forever.

Chow: 10 Little Luxuries
Attention, tardy gift-buyers! These small food items can be purchased for a pittance. But the rewards reaped? Will be INFINITE. Muahahahahahahahaha!

Eater: The Worst Food Porn on the Internet
Shockingly, no CHG pictures were included in this Gallery of Stomach-Churning Food Horrors (not even Broiled Eggplant Japonaise), but one look at "Shrimp with Lobster Sauce (Ha T'zee Lung Ha Joing: Canton),” and you’ll understand why.

Elastic Waist: Personal History and I Almost Believe They Are Real
Two semi-lengthy anecdotes about the life of a formerly fat person. The second one, about unwanted Facebook nostalgia, should resonate with a lot of folks.

The Epi-Log: Dieter's Diary - Can You Lose Weight Just by Thinking about It?
Hm. I drop pounds primarily through denial and angst, so … maybe?

Epi-Log: Food-related Charities
Eight more philanthropies to add to the list.

Frugal Dad: Gym Memberships Still Worth it Despite Recession
FD argues that enrollment in your local Bally’s will relieve stress, lower healthcare costs, ease your mind, and more. And I think I agree. Opinions may vary.

Health Assist: 14 Habits That Make You Fat
Holy moly, this is like a Greatest Hits of all my faults. If you add “Sitting in a Cubicle for 45 Hours a Week, Which Lies Less Than Six Feet From the Pantry,” it’s nearly a biography.

The Kitchn: 15 Really Useful Kitchen Items for Your Favorite Cooks
Hands down, the best holiday gift guide I’ve seen so far, mostly because it concentrates on simple necessities, rather than floofy trinkets. Buyer beware, though: cast iron skillets are heavy mothers, and will burst through most Christmas wrapping like Kool-Aid Man.

Lifehacker: How to Live Freegan and Die Old
a.k.a. "Dumpster Diving for Fun, Food, and Profit." Not suggested if you’re prone to rashes or garbage-borne illnesses.

National Massage Certification: 50 Foods That Will Help You Feel and Look More Beautiful
If you blend everything in this post together, it’d make one hell of a smoothie. I’m just sayin’.

Serious Eats: The Best Bubbles - A Guide to Affordable Holiday Sparklers
Couple this with Slashfood’s champagne post (six links after this one), and you’ve got yourself one fine New Year. If you can remember it the next day.

Serious Eats: How Was Your Wedding Food?
SE threader PumpkinBear has a simple theory: most wedding food sucks. Some commenters beg to disagree, while others chime in to support their fellow chicken-beef-or-fish slagger. Head over to sound off.

Serious Eats: Is There a Cooking Gene?
WOW. Neat question: “Do you think the ability to cook is inherited and at sometime, clicks in?” If I went by my grandmothers, that’s a definite negatory. Readers, what about you?

The Simple Dollar: Planning Ahead for Next Year’s Garden
Prospective gardeners, you may start your engines (meaning, blueprint and begin researching) … now.

Slashfood: Inexpensive New Year's Eve Idea - Beer Swap Party
THIS IS THE BEST IDEA IN THE WHOLE WORLD. And it prevents a major party foul, which is bringing crap beer to a party (Natty Light, etc.) when everyone else buys the good stuff (Dogfish Head, etc.).

Slashfood: Inexpensive Holiday Sparklers - Wine of the Week
See: Serious Eats’ Best Bubbles guide.
Buy: booze.
Be: happily tipsy.

Wise Bread: Cooking with Canned Pumpkin - Fresh Ideas for a Frugal Superfood
Gigantic list of pumpkin-heavy meals, with a few thrown in from left field. Whole Wheat Pumpkin Spinach Pizza? Yes, please.

Wise Bread: Six Simple Tips for Buying Great Affordable Wine
If the Serious Eats and Slashfood links aren’t cutting it for you, check out WB’s more general guide to purchasing decent, low-cost vino. Your sobriety will curse you, but your general sense of well-being will give you a big high-five.

Wise Bread: When Tradition Meets Necessity - The Reintroduction of Soppin’ Bread
Without bread, democracy would falter. I DECLARE IT SO. (I don't know what that means, either. But it's so close to the holidays, let's just go with it.)

(Photos courtesy of Bloginomicon, My Country Home Decor, and Flickr member Seetwist.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

American Chop Suey and a Tale of Two Dinners

This weekend, I made a pair of vastly different meals: Pork Shoulder with Guinness, Dried Cherries, and Sweet Potatoes from Daniel Boulud’s 2006 Braise cookbook, and American Chop Suey, from my favorite long-defunct food blog, Words to Eat By.

The first dish took more than five hours and ran about $20, while other was finished in 45 minutes and cost a little over $5. Both were tasty and satisfyingly filling – perfect comfort foods for -47°F. Alas, only one will make frequent repeat performances, and it ain’t the dinner with 14 ingredients, all found in different stores (a.k.a. the pork thingie).

Don’t get me wrong, I really liked Boulud’s recipe. It WAS delicious. Plus, I got to sear, sauté, braise, and marinate, and didn’t burn myself beyond recognition during the Brown Pork in Very Hot Oil portion of the program. Sadly, it’s a once-in-awhile kinda dish, as the expense and ingredient list are too prohibitive for regular appearances.

American Chop Suey, on the other hand … this is going into rotation. Essentially macaroni and ground turkey (with a cup of vegetables thrown in for posterity), it’s not rocket science. But I LIKED IT. And it’s got crazy potential, too. Like:

Add Whatever You Have Lying Around the Fridge Potential: good
Double the Recipe and Portion it Out for Lunch Potential: very good
Leftover Potential: excellent.
“Will My Kids Like It?” Potential: off the charts

Though it does fall short in other areas:

Freezer Potential: not so much
Crockpot Potential: *vomits on office chair*

All in all, it’s a keeper, and I highly suggest it for a weeknight meal. For the holidays, go with the Pork Shoulder, though. If you have the time, cash, and pure brute strength, I can definitely e-mail you the recipe.

American Chop Suey
Makes 5 nice-sized servings
Adapted from Words to Eat By

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 ½ lbs ground turkey
½ lb (2 c.) uncooked elbow macaroni
½ cup minced onion
½ cup chopped red bell pepper or celery (or pepper AND celery – Kris)
2 8-oz cans tomato sauce
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teapsoon pepper
1-1 ½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1) In a large nonstick skillet or saute pan, heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add turkey. Cook until browned, breaking it up with the back of a spoon as you go. Remove turkey and place on plate or in bowl for time being.

2) Wipe the pan with a paper towel to get some of the grease out. Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add macaroni, onion, pepper, and celery (if having). Cook for 5 or 6 minutes, until onion is soft and a little translucent, stirring occasionally. Add meat back into pan. Stir.

3) Add tomato sauce, water, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir everything and cover pan. Drop heat to medium-low and simmer about 20 or 25 minutes.Voila!

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
427 calories, 13.4 g fat, $1.09

1 tablespoon olive oil: 139 calories, 13.5 g fat, $0.12
1 ½ lbs ground turkey: 960 calories, 48 g fat, $3.73
½ lb (2 c.) uncooked elbow macaroni: 811 calories, 4.1 g fat, $0.33
½ cup minced onion: 34 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.12
½ cup chopped red bell pepper or celery (or pepper AND celery – Kris): 14 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.39
2 8-oz cans tomato sauce: 173 calories, 1 g fat, $0.50
1 cup water: negligible calories and fat, FREE
1 teaspoon salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
¼ teapsoon pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1-1 ½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce: 5 calories, 0 g fat, $0.22
TOTAL: 2136 calories, 66.8 g fat, $5.43
PER SERVING (TOTAL/5): 427 calories, 13.4 g fat, $1.09

Friday, December 19, 2008

Shaksouka? I Barely Even Know Ya! (Sorry.)

It’s snowing like mad outside, the office is unusually quiet, and A Charlie Brown Christmas is playing quietly on my cubicle computer. In a way, this is the holidays in all Big Apple workplaces: peacefully festive, with a tinge of melancholy. Or, maybe everyone’s just hung over from last night’s Christmas party. Take your pick.

Like every other place in America, it’s been slightly-to-mostly insane over here lately, what with card sending, gift shopping, tinsel hanging, funeral attending, and getting papers/projects/life in order for the ever-approaching New Year. There haven’t been many hours left for cooking, either, save for today’s dish, Shaksouka, and a botched attempt at quesadillas on Wednesday night. (On a related note: what kind of adult messes up a quesadilla? First graders are taught to make them before they’re taught to add.)

Anyway, about the Shaksouka: it’s an Israeli dish that’s tasty, incredibly inexpensive, relatively healthy, and (for all you secret six-year-olds out there) really, really fun to eat. Essentially eggs poached in a subtly spicy tomato sauce, the idea is to spoon a helping into a bowl, and then sop it up with a big hunk of thick, crusty bread. And if you can keep the sauce off your pants … bonus.

I made two alterations to the original Serious Eats recipe, which called for fresh oregano (I used 3/4 teaspoon of the dried stuff), and a 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes (I pulsed a can of whole tomatoes five times in mah food processor for a fresher taste). Both changes worked beautifully, and The Boyfriend and I even have a cup of leftover tomato sauce for future pasta dishes. (Note to leftovers fiends: the eggs themselves probably won't keep very well, so I'd eat them a.s.a.p.)

Oh, and last thing – I didn’t have to go shopping for any of the ingredients in this dish. They were all already in the pantry, which is the culinary equivalent of discovering a forgotten $20 bill in your pants pocket. Pretty sweet, if you ask me.

P.S. Calculations are for four servings, though the picture only depicts two portions.

Shaksouka (or Shakshouka) (or Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce)
Serves 2 to 4
Adapted from Serious Eats.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced small
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes or 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes pulsed a few times
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 - 8 eggs

1) In a large skillet or saute pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Cook 5 minutes, until onions are kind of soft, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes, cumin, coriander, paprika, oregano and water. Stir. Salt and pepper to taste. Jack heat up to high. When sauce comes to a boil, drop heat back to medium-low, cover, and cook 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2) Carefully crack eggs into sauce so they're evenly spaced. Re-cover skillet. Cook 5 minutes until eggs are just the way you like 'em. DO NOT STIR.

3) Carefully scoop eggs and a bunch of sauce into bowls. Serve with bread for some good times.

Note from Tara the original Serious Eats author: "Alternatively, if you are preparing up to 8 eggs and your pan isn’t wide enough to accommodate all of the eggs at once, poach them separately in water and add them to the sauce to serve."

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
252 calories, 13.9 g fat, $1.04

1 tablespoon olive oil: 119 calories, 13.5 g fat, $0.12
1 small onion: 29 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.16
3 cloves garlic: 13 calories, 0 g fat, $0.12
1 (28-ounce) can chunky crushed tomatoes (or “chef’s cut”): 254 calories, 2.2 g fat, $2.00
2 teaspoons ground cumin: negligible calories and fat, $0.03
1 teaspoon ground coriander: negligible calories and fat, $0.13
1/2 teaspoon paprika: 3 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.02
3/4 teaspoon oregano: 2 calories, 0 g fat, $0.03
1/2 cup water: negligible calories and fat, FREE
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
8 eggs: 588 calories, 39.8 g fat, $1.53
TOTAL: 1008 calories, 55.7 g fat, $4.16
PER SERVING: 252 calories, 13.9 g fat, $1.04

Thursday, December 18, 2008

CHG Favorites of the Week: Cookies and 12 Days of Christmas Edition

Food Blog of the Week
Cookie Exchange
Gracing the web since 1997, CE is the pre-eminent source for Christmas cookie recipes. While the site could use a design update (who am I to talk?), the boards are insanely packed with good ideas, as well as the nine hallowed Rules of the Cookie Exchange. So grab a spatula and get browsing.

Food Comedy of the Week
"12 Days of Christmas" by Bob and Doug MacKenzie
SCTV fans! It’s Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’ finest characters, singing their distinctly Canadian ode to Christmas. If the Labatts doesn’t move you to tears, four pounds of back bacon should do the trick.

Food News of the Week
Iowa Town Uses Garlic Salt to De-ice the Roads
Man, the deer are going to have a field day with this. I wonder if they’ll be able to go back to regular salt licks afterward. Also? Side bonus? Garlic snowcones. Just don’t eat the yellow ones.

Food Organization of the Week
Continuing the theme from yesterday’s post, The Kitchn highlights five more food charities, including TransFair USA, Sustainable Harvest International, Seva Foundation, Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, and Freedom From Hunger. Go and learn!

Food Quote of the Week
“The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” – Johnny Carson

Food Tip of the Week
New York Times: Butter Holds the Secret to Cookies That Sing
It’s neither healthy nor cheap, but BUTTER is the order of the day, especially for all us weekend cookie bakers out there. The article has a veritable gold mine of tips, plus a few buerre-rich recipes for all the Land O’Lakes fans out there.

Food Video of the Week
“Do They Know it’s Christmas” by Band Aid
Feed the world!

Totally Unrelated Extra Special Bonus of the Week
12 Days of Christmas, Indian Style
Adorably good-natured animated parody, courtesy of Boymongoose. Mmm … now I want Buttered Chicken.

Veggie Might: Bead Me Up - DIY Holidays Part Two

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism. Today, she's taking a quick detour into Holiday Crafts. Part 1 of her two-part series can be found here.

When I first got a computer in 1999 (I am not an early adopter), one of the first things I discovered was a website called GetCrafty.com (here’s an archived page via the wayback machine), which featured articles about feminism, DIY culture, living frugally, and plenty of how-tos. I stumbled upon the site while looking for painting tips for my windowsill flowerpots. I found something else entirely.

I found the mothership.

Glitter has since moved to SuperNaturale, and GetCrafty still has an active board. Combined with Craftster, which has more amazing tutorials and pictures than you could ever peruse in a thousand lifetimes, these forums are like Petri dishes of creativity. They maintain the open exchange of ideas—from tips and tricks to patterns and complete tutorials—across this series of tubes that connect us all.

Over the years (and the last week or so), I have compiled a list of favorite projects from the ladies of the crafty Interweb. I call on this list routinely during the holiday crunch. These (and a million other) handmade gifts will save you money, save the planet, and always make your recipient feel special.

Vinyl Record Bowl/Planter
This is one of the first projects I ever made from the GetCrafty website. It was on the homepage for a long time. This may be the easiest, crowd-pleasingest gift you could ever make/give. Pick up a stack of thrift store records, set the oven on 200°, and start melting (maybe open a window, too). Record bowls (or planter—built in drainage hole) never fail to elicit oohs, aahs, and how-did-you-do-thats. The tutorial in the link is from SparkleCraft, who also credits GetCrafty for the instructions. Bonus tute: record jacket box!

Marble Magnets
Here is a classic from the craft boards. Marble magnets make a great stocking stuffer. Endlessly customizable, you need minimal supplies and can burn through your stacks of old magazines in the process. Whip out enough for an entire girl scout troop in a couple of hours or so—or get the girl scouts to help and save even more time.

Corazon Candles
Trick out dollar store candles with the Crafty Chica! This lady knows what to do with glue and scissors. Do whatever she says; you’ll be guaranteed to have fun and end up with something amazing, unique, and, very likely, covered in glitter. Crafty Chica’s website and blog are jammed with videos, instructions, and inspiration guide you on your crafty journey for the holidays or any day.

Beer Cozy
Crafters often complain that they don’t know what to make the men on their lists. I knitted a six-pack of beer cozies for a guy friend last year (in his baseball team’s colors), and there has been a request for a new set in his football team colors. I spell that V-I-C-T-O-R-Y. This pattern, from girl on the rocks, is almost too pretty to be a novelty item, but it uses up leftover yarn, so it’s the perfect stash buster.

Homemade Knitting Needles
What if your giftee is crafty too? Supplies are always welcome. Here’s a tutorial created by yours truly, back when I blogged (sporadically) about crafting and randomness. Desperation forced me to make my own double pointed knitting needles out of wooden dowels, and I’ve been using them for years.

Speaking of knitting, this customizable wrist warmer pattern from Craft looks so easy you could make one for every one on your list.

Amigurumi is the Japanese style of crocheting stuffed animals and creatures. Roxycraft has some adorable free patterns to get you started. Kids and adults alike will love these.

A craft post is not complete without mentioning the queen of craft. Whether we like it or not, we all beg, steal, and borrow from Martha Stewart because, well, she’s everywhere, and she’s amazing. These glitter star ornaments/package toppers are frustratingly pretty. I want to hate her and her perfection, but I just can’t. But I can make it with my own paper and personal twist. That’s the beauty of crafting.

I made a few of these 3D paper stars from Lost Button Studio to adorn some of my holiday gifts this year. I used a deep blue card stock and embellished the alternating sections with a lilac acrylic paint and superfine glitter.

These paper ball ornaments from Design Sponge have a retro vintage vibe, and I want to make thousands and hang them all over my house. Instead, I’ll probably just make a few to put on gift bags.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Stenciled Tote Bag
A tote bag is an easy beginner sewing project. I should know; I’m a beginning seamstress. I’m making a bunch this year, mostly because my good friend Ed has a new book (which I helped with—hee!) of his amazing graffiti-inspired stencils, and I want an excuse to go crazy with them. (Check him out at Stencil1.)

I based this pattern on a tote bag I own and love. I used fabric and ribbon I had on hand, but you can change these things to suit your needs. I hope this makes sense. It’s my first attempt at writing a pattern. Let me know if anything is unclear.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 1/4 yd canvas (medium-weight cotton or lightweight denim or whatever you have)
1 1/2 yd x 6” remnant fabric (medium weight—can be same as above)
1 1/2 yd x 3” ribbon
Matching thread
Pencil or tailor’s chalk

Acrylic craft paint
Stencil brush
Palette or paper plate

1) Measure your fabric to 16” wide x 32” long, marking your measurements on the underside with a pencil tailor’s chalk.

2) Measure your fabric to 16” wide x 32” long, marking your measurements on the underside with a pencil tailor’s chalk.

3) Cut your fabric to the measurements.

4) Iron your fabric.

5) Prepare to stencil. Put your fabric on a flat surface and place a large piece of paper under the fabric where your stencil will go. This will keep the paint from getting on the surface.

6) Position your stencil where you’d like it. Tape it in place.

7) Squeeze out a small amount of paint onto your palette. Gently dip your brush into the paint and dab the excess onto a clean part of the palette. Ed calls this the “dry brush” method. Check his site for tips and tutorials. If you use too much paint, it will seep behind the edges of the stencil, giving you a “muddy” line.

8) Begin filling in the stencil. I start with the more intricate areas first, making a dabbing motion. It’s best to layer the paint rather than gunk it up all at once. Do a thin coat; let it dry a minute or two and repeat until it’s the depth of color you want.

9) Leave the stencil in place until the paint is almost completely dry.

10) Carefully peel up the stencil when your paint is dry, and then wipe the stencil clean of the excess paint—you’ll be ready for the next time.

11) While your fabric is drying, you’re ready to start sewing the handles. Measure two 22” lengths of ribbon and two 22” lengths of your remnant fabric.

12) Measure two 22” lengths of ribbon and two 22” lengths of your remnant fabric.

13) Cut your lengths.

14) Place one piece of ribbon to one remnant with the front sides (if there are) facing the same direction. Repeat with the other two pieces.

15) For each handle: fold the two pieces together lengthwise with the remnant fabric on the inside. Pin every 3 inches perpendicular to the fold. You will be left with two long narrow pieces of fabric: ribbon outside, remnant inside. This is right side out.

16) With your sewing machine, joining the two sides together to make something of a tube, sew a straight seam in corresponding thread along the edge of the ribbon. Repeat for second handle.

17) Tada! Handles! (There are probably much easier ways to do this, but I had this really cute see-through ribbon I wanted to use and it needed a backing, blah, blah...)

18) The fabric should be dry by now. Measure and pin a 1/4” inch hem on either end of the fabric (the short sides).

19) Sew the hems with a straight stitch.

20) Now, placing one handle 3 1/2” inches in from each of the side edges and 1/2” down from the top, pin them on “upside down,” pointing toward what would be the inside of the bag. This will make sense in a second.

21) Fold over the hem you made another 1/2” to hide the handle attachment places and pin a hem all the way across. With your sewing machine, sew the handles in place. You will want to pass over each point a few times.

22) Flip the handle up, pin it place, and sew the hem across with one straight stitch. You’ll get a nice clean hem and secure, neat handle.

23) Repeat 20 – 22 on the other end.

24) The hard part is over. Now you just sew up the sides. Folding the fabric together inside out, and leaving a 1/2” seam allowance on both sides, sew your side seams with a medium zigzag.

25) Finishing. Clip all your dangling threads and head back to the ironing board. Fold an press the seam allowances so that they hide the stitches and leave a tidy band down the side seam.

26) Admire your amazing tote bag.

(Additional craft supply photo by Flickr member Chez Larsson.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

So This Is Christmas: 37 Food Philanthropies

(Confidential to Biggest Loser fans: YAY MICHELLE! Although, Ed did look pretty dang good, and The Boyfriend and I both agreed that Amy P. vaulted from Mom With a Pretty Face clear to Total Freaking MILF. We’d both date her if we were hot, 40-year-old single dads. Anyway…)

Last year around this time, CHG did a pre-holiday roundup of all the food charities you could ever ask for … or so we thought. While it included renowned groups like the Red Cross, the USO, Second Harvest, and Donors Choose, it left off a bunch of fantastic organizations near and dear to folks’ hearts.

This year, we’re expanding.

For your reading pleasure, we’ve compiled a list of the all 37 charities mentioned in 2008’s CHG Favorites of the Week posts. Like last year, there’s a special emphasis placed on food and water philanthropies (it’s a cooking blog, after all), with a few extras added in just for fun.

So, if you’re looking to make a donation in a beloved foodie’s name, you can’t go wrong starting here. And readers? If you have suggestions, add 'em in the comments section. Merry Christmas.


This site includes a vocabulary game, with the proceeds going directly toward WorldVision, a philanthropic org focusing primarily on poverty-stricken kids.

Association for India’s Development
“(AID) is a volunteer movement committed to promoting sustainable, equitable and just development … AID initiates efforts in various interconnected spheres such as education, livelihoods, natural resources, health, women's empowerment and social justice.” – Charity Navigator description

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Bill recently retired from Microsoft to throw all his energy into this, one of (if not THE) largest private philanthropic organization on Earth. Foodies might be particularly interested in Nutrition initiatives, Priority Diseases and Conditions (many of which are related to drinking water), and Emergency Relief. The fund doesn’t generally accept donations directly, but you CAN contribute to grantee organizations, which can be found here.

Bread for the World
A bi-partisan Christian philanthropy that welcomes and assists folks of all faiths, Bread for the World encourages advocacy and action to help end hunger at home and abroad.

CARE's mission is helping the poorest of the poor A) survive, and B) eventually learn to sustain themselves. Food-wise, they focus on nutrition, agriculture, water, sanitation, and emergency relief in places like Afghanistan, Angola and El Salvador.

Central Asia Institute
“CAI’s mission: To promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

charity: water
This Jennifer Connelly-supported philanthropy helps provide clean drinking water and safe wells to communities around the world.

If any of y’all read Rocks in my Dryer, you know Shannon sponsored a little boy through Compassion, a Christian organization aiding kids in Africa, and got the chance to visit Uganda to meet him. Her story and pictures are positively inspiring, and there are more details on Compassion’s website on getting involved.

It's a word game! It's a philanthropy! It's both in one! Each time you answer a FreeRice vocabulary question, you donate 20 grains of the stuff to the U.N.'s World Food Program.

Heifer International
Heifer International gives livestock (and plants) to disadvantaged families as the foundation of a sustainable and independent livelihood. The animals provide sustenance (as milk, eggs, or sometimes meat) and an opportunity for income. Also, as animals tend to make more animals, it's a gift that grows and builds wealth.

While Idealist isn’t so much an organization as an umbrella website for non-profits around the world, it IS a fabulous place to research volunteering opportunities, donation possibilities, and even job openings. There are special search categories for farming, agriculture, poverty, and hunger if you’d like to keep it food-relevant.

Idol Gives Back
Ain’t nothing like a star-studded quasi-telethon to get America’s hearts in a giving mood. This year’s Simon-sponsored extravaganza will benefit Children’s Defense Fund, The Children’s Health Fund, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, Make it Right, Malaria No More, and Save the Children.

A microlending organization connecting individuals directly to the folks they’re donating to, Kiva is one of (if not THE) first website of its kind. What happens is this: you choose an entrepreneur anywhere in the world and loan them a pre-designated amount of cash. Over time, they grow their business, lift themselves out of poverty, and pay you back.

Partners in Health
Last year, I read the best biography I’ve ever laid my eyes on, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. It’s about the life of Dr. Paul Farmer, a U.S. physician who’s dedicated everything to providing health care for the poorest of the poor around the world. Partners in Health is his baby. It’s done wide-scale wonders in Haiti and Russia, and is now moving on to Rwanda with the help of TED and Bill Clinton. If you’re interested, volunteering and donation information can be found here, and I can’t recommend the book highly enough.

The Tap Project
“Lack of clean and accessible drinking water is the second largest worldwide killer of children under five. To address this situation, a nationwide effort is launching during World Water Week called the Tap Project, a campaign that celebrates the clean and accessible tap water available as an every day privilege to millions, while helping UNICEF provide safe drinking water to children around the world.”

UN World Food Program
Focusing on emergency situations, relief and rehabilitation, development, and special operations, the UN World Food Program feeds millions of people in dozens of countries worldwide.

World Hunger Year
Simply, “WHY advances long-term solutions to hunger and poverty by supporting community-based organizations that empower individuals and build self-reliance, i.e., offering job training, education and after school programs; increasing access to housing and healthcare; providing microcredit and entrepreneurial opportunities; teaching people to grow their own food; and assisting small farmers.” Nice.


Americans for Fairness in Lending
AFFIL is a consumer advocate group that "exists to raise awareness of abusive credit and lending practices and to call for re-regulation of the industry." Their website is up to its eyeballs in useful information, including gobsmacking stats on how minority-heavy neighborhoods are specifically targeted for high-interest loans.

Bake Me a Wish
Bake Me a Wish is a New York-based baking business that ships the sugary confections to and from U.S. troops overseas. While not a philanthropy per se, you can make donations.

“Teams of architects, engineers, and students mentored by these professionals, compete to design and build giant structures made entirely from full cans of food. … At the close of the exhibitions all of the canned food used in the structures is donated to local food banks for distribution to emergency feeding programs that include pantries, soup kitchens, elderly and day care centers.” How neat is that?

Charity Wines
It’s an age-old question: how can one drink profusely, support her favorite shortstop, and donate to a major philanthropic organization all at once? The answer, my friends, is Charity Wines.

The Girl Scouts
I was a member of GSoA from age eight through my senior year of high school, and I loved every single second of it. Girls Scouts exposed me to cultures, people, and experiences I never would have met or seen otherwise. 12 years later, I’m still friends with half the women in my troop, many of whom have kids of their own. There might be brownies or juniors combing your ‘hood slinging Samoas right about now, and while they’re not exactly the healthiest foods in the world, the money goes to one of the best organizations on the planet. Indulge.

Louie’s Kids
Louie’s Kids “is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization that raises funds to help treat childhood obesity … [it] works to find the best treatment options to meet the needs of each child.”

National Football League Players Association
The NFLPA (a.k.a. the players union) asks their members to support, represent, and volunteer for several charities, including the Boys and Girls Club, Feed the Children, and the NEA. The site has more, plus details on a gaggle of year-round fundrasiers.

NFL Play 60
To sum, “NFL Play 60 is a health and fitness initiative created by the National Football League to inspire kids to play for 60 minutes a day and eat well … In addition to national reach through PSAs and online programs, Play 60 is also implemented at the grassroots level through NFL's in-school, after-school and team-based programs all with a focus on the importance of physical fitness and healthy lifestyles.”

Ronald McDonald House
Some branches are run much better than others (see this Charity Navigator page), but their mission – to promote childhood health and assist seriously ill kids – is a solid one.

Share Our Strength’s Great American Bakesale
In GAB’s own words, it’s “a national campaign that mobilizes Americans to end childhood hunger by holding bake sales in their communities.” This seems like a really good opportunity to get kids involved with volunteering, too.

Treats for Troops
“Thousands of men and women from every branch of the service are registered with Treats for Troops. If you want to send a care package to show your support, we’ll match you with a soldier who’d love to hear from you.” And if you’d just like to drop a line to say thanks, don’t forget Operation Dear Abby.

Your Family Table
To donate, go to the site and reveal a healthy change you and/or your kin have made recently, then watch as a whole meal is donated through America’s Second Harvest to broods in need.


Bread & Life
A Catholic food charity based out of Brooklyn since 1982, B&L’s mission is “to bring food to the poor and accompany them on their journey to wholeness by providing necessary services.” They have a pantry, soup kitchen, mobile soup kitchen and are involved with nutrition counseling and community supported agriculture, as well.

Capital Area Food Bank of Texas
Hurricane Ike devastated large swaths of the Lone Star State, and CAFBT was right in there, helping with aid and supplies.

Charity Navigator’s Food Bank Page
CN’s received several mentions here before, but this particular page will point you directly to food pantries and distribution services in your area, from Alameda to West Texas. The star ratings will tell you how efficiently run your particular bank is, so you can pick and choose as you like.

Food Gatherers
Based in Ann Arbor, Food Gatherers “exists to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in our community by: reducing food waste through the rescue and distribution of perishable and non perishable food; coordinating with other hunger relief providers; educating the public about hunger; and developing new food resources.” Aces.

Food Lifeline
Seattleites, listen up! “Each year Food Lifeline rescues and distributes nearly 22 million pounds of food to its network of food banks, meal programs and shelters in 17 counties of Western Washington, feeding nearly 600,000 hungry people.”

Forgotten Harvest
A rescue-and-distribute system serving the greater Detroit area, FH saves about eight million pounds of food per year from restaurants, caterers, etc, to donate to people in need.

Humane Society of Missouri
The HSoM rescued 360 abused animals from a single property earlier this year. They can be supported through this site.

One Dollar Diet Project, supporting the ONE Campaign and the Encinitas Community Resource Center
Christopher and Kerri were two American social justice teachers attempting to survive on $1 worth of food per day (each), for an entire month. Any money they raise goes directly back to ONE or the ECRC.

Readers, any suggestions? Add ‘em in the comments!

(Photos courtesy of Business Week, UW, Omaha Forums, and Muscatine.)

City Kitchen Chronicles: Cranberry and Blackberry Champagne Punch

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime, and is a little late this week due to Kris' absence. Still, it's neato.

In my last column, on the misguided “cheap parties for rich people” meme currently taking over our newspapers, I mentioned my own upcoming soiree. And indeed, this past weekend, I invited a bunch of friends and a few strangers (read: cute boys I vaguely know) to what I called “birthdahousewarming.”

Yes, I moved into this apartment, oh, fifteen months ago, but as a procrastinator and generally not-too-neat person, I didn’t quickly have my place either fully furnished and decorated, nor ever really tidy. (Necessary disclaimer: I am messy, but not dirty. There are clothes on my bedroom floor, but not moldy food on my kitchen counters.)

As this birthday approached, I was debating between having people over and gathering folks at a bar. Each had its appeal – at a bar I would likely have all my drinks bought for me, but the atmosphere is beyond my control and I have to take the subway home at the end of the night; at home I have to buy booze and snacky foods, and clean, but I get to show off my (when it’s clean) quite lovely and spacious abode. But to be honest with myself, something that would force me to clean was probably a good thing, and I have put more than a year’s work into making my home a place I love. It was time to (almost literally) warm it with the people I loved.

That just left the hurdle of feeding and watering a group of friends. My mother instilled in me a strong hostessing instinct – I couldn’t bear to just provide a jug of cheap vodka and some HFCS cranberry juice and call it a day. Visions of crudités and homemade hummus danced through my head, but so did fears of overdrawn checking accounts and subsequent months of living on toast.

Thankfully, in a bit of birthday deus ex machina, I realized that, hey, it’s my birthday, and I’m young enough that my grandparents still send some cash my way come December. So that took me from zero budget to low budget. My anxiety was eased, but I still needed to do this cheap.

For food I went to the super-cheap grocery behind Port Authority for veggies to go with my homemade hummus. Target provided very cheap and very delicious restaurant-style tortilla chips and a splurge of dark M&M’s. My supermarket had organic apple chipotle salsa for just a dollar more than the regular stuff; that extra dollar was mightily worth the oohs and ahs and enjoyment of my friends. It made everything feel a little fancier.

But drinks confounded me. Alcohol is not cheap. (Or, cheap alcohol is usually not good.)

I figured people would bring beer and wine (and I knew I could count on one dear friend for whiskey), so I wanted to lay the foundation with something festive and interesting.


I scoured the internet, got somehow set on the idea of cranberry champagne punch, found basically no internet recipes for that, and so made it up myself (with the help of many silly and frantic emails to wise friends).

Most punch recipes call for several kinds of alcohol. I’d be starting from scratch, without a bar to draw from, so that put just about everything out of my budget. A friend assured me that champagne + fruit juice would be tasty, and I picked up a few fancifying touches from the internet.

I made this entirely without recipes (and without a punch bowl – my big soup pot had to suffice), but in preparation I bought:

3 bottles of the next-to-cheapest champagne I could find: $21
2 8 oz. boxes of blackberries: $2
1 64 oz. bottle of cranberry juice cocktail: $2.39
1 32 oz. bottle of black cherry juice: $3.50

I didn’t use all of either juice – those leftovers went to a vitamin C binge to ward off a cold that was tickling the back of my throat. (Totally worked.) I’d say I spent $27 on the punch. I wasn’t exactly tracking how many servings, but let’s say 20? That’s $1.35 each, a fair competition for even the cheapest bottle of beer, and immensely better than a champagne cocktail at a bar.

This is a party, after all, and a go-with-the-flow improvised recipe, so it’s not the time to intensely nitpick calories. Serving sizes vary, too, but I can estimate that a small glass of this has fewer than 150 calories (probably more like 120) and the juice and berries are surely healthier mixers than a lot of other options. Cranberry juice has vitamin C! Have your fruit and drink it, too.

Cranberry & Black Cherry Champagne Punch
(makes about 1 ½ soup pots worth)
(Picture from Torani, but it's fairly/kind of close to what it actually looked like.)
1) Freeze an ice cube tray full of cranberry juice, and one full of black cherry juice. Leave juices and champagne in the fridge for several hours to chill.

2) Pour a champagne into punch bowl or large soup pot. (I only used two bottles at first, because my soup pot isn’t huge and also the third bottle’s cork was stuck, so I had to wait for a strong friend to arrive. This helps keep things fizzy, too.)

3) Add juice, to taste.

4) Add blackberries. (If you want to be a total rockstar, you can soak the berries in a little champagne or vodka ahead of time to booze them up.) Add juice ice cubes.

5) Stick a ladle in your soup pot and explain to guests that it’s not mulled wine.

Totally guestimated calories and cost per serving: 120 calories, $1.35

(Photos courtesy of Flickr member Wardomatic and Torani.)

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