Oh, man… what an adventure these past few weeks have been.
When I last left you, I’d just finished a whopper of a $25 Shopping Cart that not only featured $5 less than my usual budget, but a taxable thing like TP. Why so extreme this time? Well, as I mentioned in my last couple of posts, I’ve purposely tightened my proverbial belt so tight I can barely breathe – all in the name of keeping my apartment. And while it’s been extremely rough, I’ve been incredibly excited about the whole thing because I’m so close to victory, I can taste it!
Some background for those catching up: until about a month ago, life has been rather nightmarish at my place. Not because of the evil garbage trucks that wake me up between 3 and 6 a.m. every Wednesday, or because of the lack of storage space (though that is a pain in the arse. Years of Midtown living got me so used to built-in shelving, that this place’s single, solitary closet seems like a glove compartment for my entire life. I’d love to put my clothes away again!).
Nay, the nightmare has been entirely rent-related. Since the moment I got here, I’ve been behind because of the circumstances surrounding the move. My declining health and lack of a decent job made it even more difficult to get caught up in 2013 and earlier this year, so for the past year and a half, I’ve lived in fear. Blinds always closed, TV never on too high, just so they wouldn’t know I was home, in case they came a-knockin’ with one of their scary notices.
Last month, when I got bumped up to permanent status at my job (!!! Still Snoopy dancing about that one!), I decided to take one last stab at avoiding eviction, and put together a proposal for my landpeople. Because of the large amount owed and time working against me, I knew I’d have to take some drastic measures to get them to accept my offer.
To get things taken care of once and for all, I made my proposal incredibly strict (on me): for the next 3 months, every single paycheck I get goes to them, minus $100. That’s it. And considering my bus pass costs me $50 every two weeks, I’m really only working with about $50 for food, medicine, and incidentals for two weeks at a time. Not the easiest thing to do. I’m doing laundry in my bathtub because there’s never enough money to turn into quarters, and cutting back on whatever else I can manage to cut back on with help from coupons, gift cards from friends (God bless Target gift cards!), and the like. Again, not easy, but I’m getting things done.
The reason why I’m going into so much detail is that it directly ties in to what I can and can’t do on the blog. In What’s in Store for October, I had all sorts of things I wanted to work on, like wraps and apple pie. And while I was able to get a lot of the original recipes done, I wasn’t always able to get to the testing/photo shoot process, because I needed that money to pay for my internet bill and my meds. So, all those deliciously wrapped things I’d promised will still be featured, just not until next month when I have a little more blog revenue coming.
The Rent Thing is also affecting just what I can buy, so rather than give you tons of recipes these next couple of days, I’m going to do another $25 Shopping Cart post. That’s pretty much what all my grocery runs have to be like these days, and since that’s starting to eat into my Bare Bones Staples inventory, things are getting even leaner at my house. Sure, that’s great for the waist line, but unfortunately, I can’t NOT eat well. My illness won’t allow it. And if I’m not well, I can’t work, then I can’t pay The Rent Thing, and the cycle begins again. AND I’M NOT ABOUT TO LET THAT HAPPEN. This is not a easy way to live, so my goal is to get caught up for good, so I don’t have to do this anymore. Is it getting more challenging to shop and figure out what to make with what I have while things are so tight? Yes! But I want to show you more of my thought process in that next $25 SC post, so you see why I make the choices I do when I shop and cook.
ANYWAY… on to the food!
Since I’ve been digging deep into my cupboards for things that will allow me to make “stretchable meals”, I’ve been making good use of my canned tomatoes. Normally stashed away until I have to use them out of desperation in the winter (the saddest time of year for tomato lovers), I’ve been using them for pasta sauces and other dishes. Namely, this one.
There are plenty of recipes for eggs in tomato sauce, but this is my favorite way to make them. Nestled in a rich, savory, slightly spicy sauce of tomatoes and sweet peppers, the eggs poach slowly, their resulting texture creamy and tender. It’s the kind of dish that I love to make because it tastes and looks so much more “expensive” than it actually is. A treat, if you will, and right now I could use as many of those as I can get.
The key to making super Bare Bones dishes like these is keeping that spice pantry as well-stocked as you can afford. When there’s not enough cash for a variety of ingredients, you can still keep yourself from food boredom by jazzing up what you do have with herbs and spices. There’s not much to this dish other than canned tomatoes, peppers, and eggs, but the flavor is so intense that it seems like a lot more work was involved.
Now, you’re more than welcome to use canned diced tomatoes, but if you’re able to pick up the whole ones, those are preferable. Why? Because the “diced” tomatoes are usually just the odds and ends of the not-so-hot tomatoes that weren’t used for the whole ones. You also get a lot more bang for your buck with a large can of whole tomatoes than the diced. Lastly, I find that for this particular recipe, the tomato to tomato juice ratio is perfect for making this sauce.
Not much else to note for this one! I think I have one more can of maters I can use to make this for dinner tonight, so I’m going to savor it to the fullest. While I eat, I’ll be thinking of how much closer I am to getting caught up on my rent and the rest of my bills, and savoring that idea as well. Even though I’m a pretty good cook, that victory will be even more delicious than any dish I could ever prepare. I can’t wait!!!
Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomato-Pepper Sauce (makes 2-3 servings; average cost per serving: $2.50)
While this may look labor intensive at first glance, it’s actually quite easy to prepare. It takes a while to make, but oddly enough that’s one of my favorite parts about it. When I make this in the morning (for breakfast and then to take the rest to work for lunch), the slower simmering time gives me extra minutes to go about my routine. This comes in very handy for those of us who need a little extra time in the mornings!
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
2 T olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 T minced garlic
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 t smoked paprika
1 t ground cayenne
1/2 t ground cumin
Salt & pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar
½ c chopped fresh spinach
2 T chopped scallions
1. Pour the entire contents of the can of tomatoes into a large bowl. Using your (clean!) hands, squeeze the tomatoes into the juice until they reach a chunky, stew-like consistency. Set aside.
2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and chopped onions, and cook until fragrant and the onion just starts to turn translucent.
3. Next, add the red pepper and all the seasonings (except the sugar), and allow to cook for about 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice, stir to incorporate the other ingredients, and bring to a quick simmer. Check for flavor and adjust accordingly with a pinch of sugar (this will bring out the natural sweetness of the tomatoes, as they can seem a little sour without some help). Reduce heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for about 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. By this point, the sauce should have reduced to a slightly thicker consistency. Using a wooden spoon, gently create space in the tomato sauce and carefully crack an egg into the “bowl” you’ve made. Repeat the process for each egg, spacing them apart by a couple of inches so that they have enough room to cook individually. Cook for another 5-7 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked to your personal preference.
5. Turn off the heat and add the chopped spinach. Allow to stand for a couple of minutes until the spinach wilts, then sprinkle with chopped scallions. Serve with a side of potatoes, over greens, or even rice, and enjoy!