It’s been just over four years since our first post here on $30/Week. Over that time, this project has turned from a short-term experiment into a lasting part of our lives. Though we’ve had some ebbs and flows in our blogging consistency, and we’ve been more careful about keeping to our budget in some weeks than in others, this site has definitely led us to some long-lasting and pretty fundamental changes in the way we shop, cook, and eat.
As a result, the experiment that we were chronicling on this blog has sort of just become a part of how we live our lives, which has made it a bit more laborious to keep writing about. Here and there we’ve been thinking about how we could start a new experiment and get ourselves more enthusiastic about the site…and $15/week didn’t seem like the right direction to go.
As it happens, the $30/Week household is going through some big changes right now. After living in a series of New York City apartments for over 10 years (and in Brooklyn for most of that), we just bought a house in Poughkeepsie, NY, where we’ll be moving at the end of November. Our new home is a 1910 stone house which is going to require a
fair amount lot of renovation – mostly aesthetic but also some mechanical – and since we are both first-time homeowners with almost no direct experience in home repair beyond installing dimmer switches, this seemed like a thing that we’d be really excited to write about.
And so we’ve started a new site, Minnisingh, where we are going to write about the process of fixing this place up and making it our home, as well as our experience living somewhere other than New York City for the first time in over a decade. Plus we’ll probably end up writing about some other things like books and movies that always seemed out of scope for this blog.
For those who are really just interested in recipes and cooking, not to worry – we’re definitely not going to stop writing about food! One of the things we’re most looking forward to as new homeowners is having a bit of land that we can devote to some more substantial gardening projects, plus a basement that we can use for a root cellar, and other semi-urban (don’t make me say “suburban…not yet) homesteading projects. And of course, with the new financial responsibilities of home-ownership, frugality and a DIY ethic in food (and everything else) will remain one of our key priorities.
We’ve been pretty amazed and really grateful at how many people have kept with us over the years – locally, across the country, and overseas. We really hope that you’ll follow along as we move on to this new phase.
So, we decided to experiment a little with dinner tonight. We had some lasagna noodles that we wanted to use, and were thinking we could figure out some sort of undiscovered lasagna dish that would revolutionize tiered pasta. This did not happen.
We decided to go for a baigan bharta lasagna, cooking the eggplant first in veggie broth, some tomato paste, garlic, ginger, coriander, and cumin. Once it was soft, we layered it with the pasta and shredded cheese we got at the produce market (labeled simply “Trinidad Cheese”) and baked it covered for 20 minutes and then uncovered for about 40. It came out looking pretty good.
Unfortunately, the eggplant released a lot of water, so beneath the crusty top it lacked the structural integrity you want in a lasagna. Also, the Indian spices weren’t really bold enough to overcome the pasta, tomato, and cheese combination. In the end it was tasty, but if you didn’t know what was in it, you would have just thought it was slightly-different, slightly-wet lasagna.
I still think the Indian lasagna idea has legs though – maybe with aloo matar gobi instead.
The earlier post on butternut squash soup managed to convince us of what we should have for dinner tonight.
We used the roasting method and also, we rinsed the seeds from the squash and toasted them with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. They made a nice, crunchy garnish.
With the cold weather suddenly descending on New York, it seems like a good time to swing into our fall recipes in earnest. During our recent apple-picking trip, we also bought a butternut squash – a core piece of autumn produce. We’ve posted a number of good butternut recipes over the lat few years, but looking back over our archives I was surprised not to find a post on what is probably our quintessential use for this gourd: butternut squash soup. Ubiquitous, yes, but also delicious, easy, and requiring very few ingredients.
Butternut Squash Soup
1 large onion, chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
salt and pepper
vegetable broth (but water works too)
Really, the hardest part of this whole recipe is preparing the squash itself. I have yet to find a peeling method that doesn’t seem more difficult than it should be. Once you’ve got it peeled, seeded, and cut into cubes, you can go one of two routes. The easiest possible cooking method is to start by cooking the onions in the soup pot (with olive oil, salt and pepper, until translucent), then add several cups of broth or water, dump in the squash, bring to a boil, then cook until the squash is soft.
However, if you want to go the extra mile, you can roast the squash cubes in the oven (still with olive oil, maybe even adding some rosemary or sage) until they get brown, cook the onions and broth as described above, and then add the squash to the broth already cooked. This method will generally produce a richer-tasting soup in my experience.
In either case, you end up with cooked squash and onion in hot broth, which you then want to blend. We have an immersion blender which is ideal for the job, but you could also transfer to a blender or food processor in batches. Serve it with a crispy bread.
This is one of those recipes that we tend to eyeball, rather than having exact measurements. Some trial and error will get you to a point where you know what ratios of onion, squash, and broth you want to use in order to get a blended soup with your preferred consistency.
Saving seeds from lettuce. Original Cracoviensis lettuce seeds came from Seed Savers Exchange. Our crop turned out so well that I decided to try my hand at seed saving for the first time in order to have more for next year. Lucky, as it now seems like Seed Savers is sold out of that variety.
The process for collecting the seed is pretty simple – you just let one lettuce plants bolt. After a few weeks, the familiar lettuce plant grew into a thick stalk about five feet tall, with flowering fronds at the top (sort of like this). Once the flowers had started to bloom, I took the seed pods home and let them dry out over a couple of days before trying to remove the seeds.
Admittedly, I didn’t bother to do much research on harvesting the seeds, so my process was largely trial and error. After spending some time manually prying individual pods apart (easy, but slow) I decided to put the remaining pods inside a cloth bag and mash it around to open all the pods at once. This worked fine, but left all the bits of chaff in with the seeds. As a second step, I ran the pile of seeds and casings through a sieve, which caught most of the larger pieces of chaff and left me with a relatively clean pile of seeds.
The seeds I got were ultimately a bit smaller than the ones from the packet, which I chalk up to not waiting long enough to harvest the pods. I may try to test a few out in a window box just to see how viable they are.
Regardless of the results, it was really amazing how many seeds I got from just one plant. After all the care I took in raising these lettuce plants, the natural process of self-propagation automatically provides the gardener or farmer with the core supply necessary to carry on growing crops – and in bulk!
Ultimately, if I took these seeds to early and they don’t grow much lettuce next year, it’s not the end of the world – I don’t mind paying a couple extra bucks for a new packet from Seed Savers. However, going through this process really gave me a more tangible appreciation for the impact that anti-seed saving measures on GE crops (most notably carried out by Monsanto) must have on commercial farmers.
Just a note to point out that some friends of ours have started blogging about cooking with their CSA spoils. We fully encourage you to check out The Snearses.
They say the heat wave’s gonna break tomorrow. For now, cooking must be kept at a minimum. Boiling the water for this couscous just about put us at the limit.
After cooking the couscous, we mixed in some homemade pesto (made of basil from our garden) and some pecorino, then put it all in the fridge to cool off for about 20 minutes. We finished it off with some chopped red pepper, toasted sunflower seeds, and a little crumbled goat cheese on top. Served slightly chilled.