Long before I committed to the challenge I had plans to see Anthony Bourdain speak here in Sacramento, with an invitation by Ms. Munchie to treat me to a belated birthday celebration with desserts & drinks at Grange. One of our fellow Sacramento food bloggers, Garrett McCord of Vanilla Garlic, is currently doing an externship at Grange under the tutelage of pastry chef extraordinaire, Elaine Baker, and we thought it would be fun to visit him and try one of the many desserts they’ve been working on together. Because all of this happiness would be occurring during the Hunger Challenge, this left me in a bit of a conundrum. Fortunately, the challenge is quite flexible in that you can participate for as little as one day or for the entire week. I happen to like taking the workweek approach, but in order not to go completely over the $4/day budget (as part of the challenge is not to accept food from potulucks, parties, etc.), I decided I would take Friday off and make Saturday – the official last day of the challenge anyway – into my fifth and final day.
I felt a tiny twinge of guilt because I was hoping to do all five days in a row, but I reasoned that the rules of the challenge were flexible for a reason, and I made sure to finish my personal challenge on my own terms. Because I’d done a poor job of having different breakfasts throughout the challenge, and because I couldn’t possibly bring myself to have naked corn flakes for breakfast on a Saturday morn, I set about making a decent breakfast once and for all. I considered making some country potatoes to go with a couple of eggs but since I was feeling particularly lazy, I didn’t feel like doing all that chopping. Then I thought I should just have some Baked Eggs with Tomatoes & Peppers, but I didn’t want to nix the potatoes altogether. So I decided to bake my eggs in the potato instead. Lord knows it worked beautifully in my tomato cups, so why not try this in big, hearty potato?
Now, depending on the size of the potatoes you’re using, you may actually end up with leftovers. The two baking potatoes I’d purchased at the Grocery Outlet cost (2 for $1 – woohoo!) were rather huge, and because by this point my stomach had shrunk a bit (it does happen after a few days of nano-eating), I actually had to save half of my breakfast to enjoy later. Next time I try this I’ll definitely use a more modest sized potato, but if you have a larger appetite, bring on the big ones! Anyway, this is an awesome spin on the traditional baked potato that brings this family favorite to the breakfast table. At just under $1.50 for the entire breakfast, it’s affordable but extremely filling, making this a perfect Hunger Challenge meal. If you have ham, bacon, or sausage available, feel free to throw that into the mix, too! It can only make this even better.
Breakfast Baked Potato (serves 1; total cost per serving: $1.35)
1-2 eggs (depending on size of potato)
1/4 c shredded cheddar cheese
1 T butter
1/4 salsa (optional)Preheat the oven to 400°. Rinse & scrub the potato then pat dry. Poke several holes into the potato using a fork, then bake for about 45 minutes. Allow the potato to cool slightly before handling, then carefully slice it lengthwise. Gently scoop out the inside of the potato and place in a bowl. Add the butter and about half the cheese and mix together until combined and the cheese begins to melt slightly (this can be done in the potato if you like, but it’s a bit tricky and you may end up ruining the outside of the potato). Place the mixture back into the potato and use the spoon to create a small hollow in the center. Crack the egg(s) into the hollow and carefully place the potato on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Return the potato to the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until the eggs have set. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese, serve with a side of salsa, and enjoy!
As I mentioned earlier, my potato was so big I had to save it for later, so I ended up having my leftovers for lunch along with a small spinach & tomato salad ($1.27). For dinner, I used my remaining canned salmon to make a simple but filling salmon sub sandwich with plenty of lettuce & tomato for garnish. As always, my drink of choice for every meal is good old H2O, which for me is always free thanks to my trusty water filter. Total cost for dinner was $1.75, bringing my Day 5 grand total to a mere $3.69. Mission accomplished!
Once again, the Hunger Challenge really forced me to whip out all of my Poor Girl skills in order to make it through, but it did show me that I’m definitely on the right path in case I do end up back on some sort of assistance if I’m unable to find a new job in the next week and a half. There are a lot of folks who are in the same boat as I am: just on the brink of unemployment or severely under-employed, so it’s nice to know that A) I can still make sure I am eating decently even if I am only working with about $20 worth of food, and B) I can help others in the same situation learn to do the same.
This time around I really felt that that’s what my Hunger Challenge should be about: not going to absolute extremes, since for now I am not in that type of position (and, God willing, will not be anytime soon), but to do this from the point of view of someone who’s almost there. I am lucky enough to still have certain staples in my cupboards and freezer, something a lot of folks who are first-timers to programs like SNAP will face. When one is in this situation, the most important thing to keep in mind is that one must learn how to “shop” in one’s own kitchen and learn to use what is available before going shopping in an actual store. You’d be pretty amazed at what you can do with what you already have. Though I tried to work very little with my usual staples this time around as a different exercise, had the small grocery list I was working with this week been the only food I had, I’m confident I could still get through the week without feeling too much pain (paying my rent, however, is a completely different story).
Fortunately, I am also an extremely savvy shopper who looks for the best deals without resorting to unhealthy, overly processed foods that will not nourish me properly. This is another key to successfully managing one’s food stamp benefits: there’s no point in wasting it all on junk food or fast food if all that’s going to do is quickly deplete that account, clog your arteries, and make you feel awful so that you can’t work if and when a job does become available to you. By buying whole ingredients that will allow you to create several meals from just a few items, rather than pre-packaged, pre-made meals, it is definitely possible to make the most of your food stamp benefits.
Hopefully one day I can share this knowledge with folks who are not able to access the internet so that they, too, can benefit from my school-of-hard-knocks knowledge. For now, I’m just grateful to the San Francisco Food Bank for putting on this Hunger Challenge, so that folks who aren’t as close to being in this type of situation can understand what this is like, as well as learn some of the skills that may help them if they ever happen to fall into this kind of trouble. Awareness is a wonderful first step to helping solve any problem; though hunger, financial instability, and poverty continue to plague thousands of Americans as we try to climb out of this deep recession, the more we can make people aware of these struggles by experiencing them firsthand, the more inclined they might be to become proactive and help change this growing problem.