Monday, April 30, 2012


Buttercup Brie & Brie Nangis

After discovering the Fair Food Farmstand @RdgTerminalMkt during the Greater Philadelphia Food Stamp Challenge I had to go back and start tasting some of the local cheeses on offer. Tonight I picked up a couple of rather wonderful products: Cherry Grove Farm's Buttercup Brie and Linden Dale Farm's Dalencay.

The Buttercup Brie is the perfect cheese to serve folks who claim they don't like "stinky cheese". It's soft and lactic and has only a hint of the classical "brie mushroom" flavor. Rather surprisingly, it stood up well against the Brie Nangis (from Downtown Cheese) with it's own sweet personality - a sort of charming cousin to it's more aggressive French relative.

Dalencay Goat Cheese
The Delancy ash rind goat cheese is another creature altogether. The slightly scary ash rind conceals an wonderfully melting core of mild goat cheese that overwhelms any bitterness from the ash - just dig in.

Both are available in limited quantities so swing by after work and grab some.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

#foodstampchallenge Saturday Summary & Thoughts

Saturday started out great. We made a couple nice omelets with 4 eggs, some of the ham and a few sliced of sweet pepper and diced onion. Total cost about $1.25. Then we went crazy and drove out to Atlantic City. Not exactly a food stamp friendly move, eh? (I did hit my first ever royal flush on video poker at Revel so maybe it was meant to be.)

If we had stayed home, we would have eaten the last two servings of leftovers, the frittata and eggplant pasta, for lunch and a potato curry with rice for dinner. So now we'll have the last of the leftovers for Sunday "late lunch" and depending on how hungry we are the potato curry for a late supper. Because we skipped Saturday's food stamp lunch, we still have two apples one of which might turn into some sort of chutney for the curry.

This has been quite a process and we made quite a few mistakes. What I thought was good planning carried an unconscious assumption that I could run out and buy whatever I happened to need if I forgot something. Including a variety of foods, especially protein, was far more difficult than I imagined and although I though I'd done pretty well at that the leftovers did indeed prove boring.

Shopping at our two local supermarkets was a mixed blessing. I was able work the sale brochures pretty well but the lack of bulk options for things like legumes meant my main protein sources were repeated doses of chicken and eggs. In addition I should have exercised the Fair Food Farmstand double dollars deal for it's full value. They have, for example, a locally sourced beef bologna that, while relatively expensive, could have been "free" with their $10 in matching food. That would have provided a savory boost to weekday lunches that the relatively bland ham did not.

Interestingly, we have quite a bit of food left. There are a few mushrooms, some potatoes, 2 chicken leg quarters, a whole loaf of bread, a little ham, half a pound of rice, two apples, scallions, and most of a celery. That could probably stretch to two more dinners (for two) and a lunch.

#foodstampchallenge Sunday Brunch

After running off the rails on Saturday, it's time to finish up the challenge with a little style. So we slept in and made brunch with the rest of our eggs, potatoes, mushrooms, the last of the peppers and half an onion: Mushroom Omelet and Sauteed Vegetables.


2 medium potatoes, diced
1/2 large onion, diced
1/2 sweet red pepper, diced
1/2 sweet green pepper, diced
Handful mushrooms, sliced
3 eggs
Salt, pepper to taste


Prepare the vegetables as shown

Heat oil in a large saute pan over high heat and add the potatoes. Redce the heat to medium and cook covered until the potatoes begin to brown. Turn the potatoes over and continue to cook covered until they are nicely browned and begin to soften.

Meanwhile, fry the mushroom slices in a little butter until they soften and give up their water.

Transfer the potatoes to a plate and dump all  the remaining vegetables into the pan. Add a little more oil if necessary. Saute the vegetables until the begin to soften and the onions start to color a little. Return the potatoes to the pan, mix well, cover and remove from heat.

Whisk the eggs with a couple tablespoons of milk. Heat a tablespoon of butter in a 9" non-stick pan until the foam subsides. Pour in the eggs and shake the pan in a circular motion, tipping from side to side until the omelet begins to form. When the eggs are almost done scatter the mushrooms ove the top third of the omelet and fold over. Flip the omelet over and allow to settle off heat for a few minutes.

Divide the vegetables and omelet and serve.


Potatoes - $1.00
Onion - $0.80
Peppers $1.00
Mushrooms - $0.00
Eggs: $0.51
Total: $3.31/$1.66 per serving

#foodstampchallenge Friday Dinner

Friday dinner was chicken vegetable soup. The chicken broth came, of course, from the All Purpose Poached Chicken we made on Sunday night.


6 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 lb potatoes diced
1/2 lb carrots diced
1/2 large onion cut in larger dice
1/2 lb mushrooms rinsed and halved or quartered depending on size


Prepare the vegetables as described.

Place chicken broth in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the carrots and let simmer until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes.

Add the potatoes and cook another 10 minutes until they begin to soften.

Add the mushrooms and onions and cook until all the vegetables are done.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

You can add whatever else you have to this soup and it will only get better. One of the best additions would be any type of dried beans (soaked the night before) as they pack a huge nutritional wallop.


Potatoes - $1.50
Carrots - $0.50
Onion - $0.80
Mushrooms - $0.00
Broth - $0.00
Total $2.80 - $1.40/serving

Friday, April 27, 2012

#foodstampchallenge Thursday Wrapup

Bill                             Beth                    
2 Toast & Butter      $0.38      Cereal & Milk      $0.34
Milk                  $0.23

Office Meeting                   Eggplant Pasta     $1.25
                                 Banana             $0.33

Tuna Curry        $1.39          Chicken Frittata   $1.39

Total             $2.00                             $3.31          

Today we had a team lunch meeting that couldn't be dodged so that threw things off a bit. Beth is now officially tired of leftovers although I did point out that I bought the ham specifically to break up the leftover parade.

Tonight we'll use some of that chicken broth from Sunday's poached chicken and make soup with potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and pasta.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

#foodstampchallenge Wednesday Wrapup

Wednesday was tough. I got up too late to put together breakfast, then the darn TastyCake people were handing out free mini-donuts... So I drank a lot of water and by lunch things were back on track. We ate:
Bill                         Beth                  
 ------                       Cereal & Milk    $0.34
Ham Sandwich      $1.22       Chicken Salad    $1.03
Banana            $0.33       Banana           $0.33

Chicken Frittata  $1.39       Chicken Frittata $1.39

Total             $2.94                        $3.09                                    

So we made it another day.


I though the ham sandwich was going to be a good way to break up the monotony of leftovers for lunch. It turned out to be incredibly boring. After a morning in the office 'fridge it's texture had become completely uniform and there was no real differentiation of flavors. In retrospect I shouldl have warmed it up in the microwave.

That's it. On to Thursday!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

#foodstampchallenge Wednesday Dinner

Day three is almost over. Tonight we used up the chicken meat we didn't use for chicken salad in a big frittata. It makes 4 servings, so we're good to go with leftovers for lunch for the rest of the challenge.


1.5 lb potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 large onion, diced
6-8 oz. diced chicken
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 Tbs grated cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste


Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven and turn on the broiler.

Heat a large frying pan over high heat and add enough oil to cover the bottom. Carefully add in the potatoes and shake the pan to distribute them evenly. Reduce the heat to medium low cover the pan and cook for about 5  minutes. Carefully remove the cover and flip the potatoes. You want to start seeing some color on 'em.

Repeat the process until the potatoes are mostly nice and brown. Season with salt a pepper to taste.

Add the onions and mix thoroughly, cover and let cook for a few minutes until the onions have softened.

Add the peppers and repeat the onion process. If the bottom seems to be getting dry add a little more oil. Watch the heat as well - regulate as needed to keep things from burning.

Add the garlic and mix well, let the mixture cook for a few minutes.

Combine the eggs, milk and parsley and whip with a fork until the eggs are a uniform color.

Off the heat pour the egg mixture over the potato mixture in the pan and tip the pan to distribute it evenly. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the frittata and place it under the broiler.

Broil the frittata until the top is golden brown and slightly puffed up

Divide into 4 sections and serve.

Total Cost $5.56/$1.39 per serving

#foodstampchallenge Tuesday Wrapup

According to Mrs. C, I'm grumpy. There's a sort of continuous underlying sense of frustration about what I can't have. This morning TastyCake was handing out free mini-donuts at the bus stop. I nobly declined, recalling the suggestion to avoid free food. So now I'm craving sugar...
Anyway, Tuesday we ate:

Bill                                 Beth                 
8 Oz Milk      $0.23                 1 oz Cereal   $0.11
                                     8 Oz Milk     $0.23 
Eggplant Pasta $1.25                Chicken Salad  $1.03
1 Apple        $0.97                1 Banana       $0.33

Tuna Curry     $1.03                Tuna Curry     $1.03
8 oz Milk      $0.23
Total          $3.71                               $2.95

I got up too late to make breakfast so that made morning a little slow. I also can't seem to remember to cut up a couple carrots or celery stalks to bring to work as snacks. Maybe tomorrow.

What we have left:

Rather than do the full list, this is what we're going to run out of by Sunday:

Eggs - We still have 11, but I'm going to use up 4 this evening and we still have 4 days to go.
Fruit - there are 6 pieces left, 3 apples and 3 bananas. 4 days times 2 people = 8 pieces.

Random Thoughts:

Before this week I considered 2 liters of water about normal daily consumption. Yesterday I ended up just short of 4 liters at the office and drank another 2 at home. I suspect that almost everyone doing the challenge is drinking nowhere near enough water.

In reading some of the other patricipants' posts it's also apparent that many of us have no idea of what a "normal serving" actually is. Some examples:

Pasta - 2 ounces dry. 8 servings in a 1 pound box. 2 cups of sauce will dress a full box.
Fruit - 1 of whatever it is for big things, 1/2 cup for small things like grapes.
Vegetables - 1/2 cup
Protein - 3-4 ounces. If you're looking at typical grocery store industrial chicken breast half you're looking at about 8 ounces or more (industrial chickens are freaking mutants). That's two servings from 1 breast half. Our chicken salad ended up yielding 4 servings from 3 leg quarters.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

#foodstampchallenge - Tuesday Dinner

Tuesday's dinner is a version of an old Minnesota favorite: "hotdish". It doesn't really need a recipe and it's frankly too boring to take pictures. So here's what we did tonight:


1 5 oz. can tuna
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 cup long grain rice
2 Tbs curry powder or to taste
Half a soup can of milk

Theoretically this makes 4 servings.


Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Place two cups of water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a bare simmer, add the rice and cover. Keep an eye on it to be sure it doesn't boil over. Cook until no liquid remains, about 20 minutes.

Drain the tuna.

In a small pan over medium heat sautee the onions in butter until they begin to color. Sprinkle in curry powder and continue cooking, stirring well, until the curry powder has absorbed the butter and coated the onions.

In an oven proof container large enough to hold all the ingredients combine all the ingredients and mix well. (We often use the milk to help clean out the soup can and deglaze the onion mixture.) The mixture should be an even golden color with no stray chunks of white rice.

Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the top just begins to brown.


Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs or panko and drizzle with butter for a crispy crust.
Mix in a half cup of frozen peas.
It's very tasty with garlicky dill pickles on the side.

Cost: $4.12 - $1.03/serving

Monday, April 23, 2012

#foodstampchallenge Monday Wrapup


Bill                              Beth                  
1 Egg            $0.17            1 oz Cereal     $0.11 
2 Tbs Butter     $0.16            8 oz milk       $0.23 
2 med. mushrooms --.--
1 slice bread    $0.11                            
8 Oz Milk        $0.23 
                 $0.67                            $0.34
Chicken Salad    $0.81            Chicken Salad   $0.81
2 slices bread   $0.22            2 slices bread  $0.22 
1 Apple          $0.97            1 Banana        $0.33
                 $2.00                            $1.36

Eggplant Pasta   $1.25            Eggplant Pasta  $1.25

Total            $3.92                            $2.95    

Some Notes:

The mushrooms were "free" as part of the Fair Food Farmstand double dollars offer for SNAP recipients.

The chicken salad sandwiches made a tasty, filling lunch. Apples are expensive this time of year.

What we have left:

29 slices of bread (17 slices in each loaf)
11 eggs
2 chicken leg quarters
1 box of pasta
5 apples
5 bananas
5 lbs potatoes
Most of the mushrooms
1.5 large onions
10 carrots
9 celery stalks
2 sweet bell peppers
a few scallions
Most of the grated cheese

Prepared food remaining:

3 quarts of chicken broth (why yes, we will be making soup)
6 servings baked penne w/eggplant
2 servings chicken salad

Mistakes So Far:

I should have worked the Fair Food Farmstand for the full $10 match. We'll probably run out of eggs so fewer potatoes and more eggs would have been smarter. We'll definitely run out of fruit. I didn't include any beans or lentils.

#foodstampchallenge - Monday: Penne w/Eggplant

Adapted from @mariobatali this is one of the most expensive recipes I'll make during the challenge. But it makes eight servings with about 490 calories and 7 grams of fiber each. The official Mario version can be found at Penne al Forno con Melanzane. I've reduced the amount of olive oil used by baking the eggplant rather than frying it (as suggested in the corresponding TV episode) and used plain bottled tomato sauce instead of making Mario's Basic Tomato Sauce.


2 pounds eggplant, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds (about 2 medium eggplant)
4 Tbs (approx.) Olive oil
1 pound penne
2 cups tomato sauce
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated caciocavallo or pecorino fresco (not the hard dry kind)
4 or 5 sprigs fresh Basil
Salt & Pepper


Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt and stack them in a colander. Top with a plate and weight it down with a brick or a big can of tomatoes. Let them sit for at least an hour, then rinse and pat dry. Brush the slices on both sides lightly with olive oil, distribute in one layer on a baking sheet and bake until lightly browned.

Cook the penne according to package directions but cut the cooking time in half, about 5 minutes. Drain and  toss with 3/4 cup of the tomato sauce.

So It Doesn't Stick

Brush the bottom and sides of a 9x13 baking pan with olive oil and pour in just enough tomato sauce to cover the bottom. Sprinkle with half the bread crumbs and a little salt and pepper. (The pan in the pictures is actually 10x15 so things are a little spread out.)

Half Way There
Spread half the pasta on the breadcrumbs and top with half of the eggplant. Cover with half the remaining tomato sauce and half of the cheese and half the basil.

Repeat with the remaining pasta and eggplant then spread on the remaining tomato sauce, cheese, breadcrumbs and torn Basil leaves. Drizzle 2 Tbs olive oil over the top and bake for 1 hour.

30 Minutes to Go!

Let it rest for 20-30 minutes before serving.

Incidentally, those keeping score at home may recall that my shopping list didn't have eggplant or tomato sauce on it but it did have $6.98 of budget remaining. On the way home this evening I stopped at Superfresh and bought:

1.95 lbs eggplant                    $2.91
Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce             $2.00
1 lb rice                            $1.55

So now we're done - whatever food we have has to last through Sunday.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

#foodstampchallenge - Monday Lunch

Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Chicken Salad In the Buff
So... remember that chicken I poached? Half of it is going into Chicken Salad for Monday lunch. Here's how:


Half of the poached chicken, diced
1 Celery Stalk diced
2 Scallions sliced into thin rounds
1 Apple peeled, cored and diced (Grapes work well also)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. mustard
2 sprigs Fresh Parsley chopped
2 sprigs Basil or other fresh herb such as tarragon chopped
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Squirt of lemon juice


Dice the chicken into 1/4" or so dice. You know, the right size for chicken salad... Do the same with the apple and the celery. Slice the scallions (white and half the green parts). Toss the apple with a squirt of lemon juice (bottled or fresh - it doesn't matter).

Dump everything into a bowl and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning. Feel free to add a dash of hot sauce.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

After breakfast divide the chicken salad and make several big sandwiches. Pack an apple and some carrot sticks or maybe a banana and you're good until dinner. And drink water - lots of it - at least a liter every day.

Note: I keep a variety of herbs growing all year. Use about a quarter the listed amount of dried herbs and be sure to rub them between your fingers to release their flavors as you add them.

Update: Total cost for what looks like it will actually be 4 servings is $3.21 - $0.81/ serving

#foodstampchallenge - All Purpose Poached Chicken

This is a super simple recipe that will generate a nice pile of shredded chicken and several quarts of rich chicken broth.

The Ingredients - Ready for the Pot


3 Chicken Leg Quarters - about 3 pounds - or other meaty, on the bone chicken parts
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
1 bay leaf
1/2 medium onion
A few sprigs of parsley and thyme
A few black peppercorns


Rinse the chicken and trim off excess fat. Cut the carrot and celery stalk in half. If you have some cheesecloth, make a little bundle of the herbs and peppercorns.

Put everything into a large pot and cover with about 3-4 quarts of cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.

After about 30 minutes, skim the broth, removing as much scum as possible. Don't worry about the fat at this point.

Continue to cook at a simmer for another 30-45 minutes or until the chicken is completely cooked.

Remove the chicken from the broth and set aside to cool. Strain the broth into a clean bowl and let cool. Discard the vegetables and herbs.

When the broth is cool, cover it and place it in the refrigerator overnight. Separate the chicken from the bones and skin, shredding it coarsely. Place the cooled chicken in a food safe container, cover, and refrigerate until you're ready to use it.

The next day, skim any congealed fat* from the broth, pour the broth into a clean container, and refrigerate, covered until ready to use.

*Those in training to become a [your ethnic group here] Grand Mother will save the rendered fat in the 'fridge for later use.

Edit: 4:15 PM - my batch yielded just under a pound of shredded chicken and 3 quarts of broth.

#foodstampchallenge - Shopping

With a little work, it's not too hard to manage on $64.40 for 2 people. Tight but doable. Here's what we have so far:
Budget: $64.40

Genuardi's #1

Bananas 2.8 lb @ $0.69/lb $1.93
2% Milk Gallon $3.56

$5.49 $58.91

Scallions Bunch $0.75
Sweet Onions 1.62 lb @ $0.99 $1.61
Garlic .18 lb @$3.99 $0.72

$3.08 $55.83
Genuardi's #2

Kraft Mayo
2 boxes Penne 2 for 1 $1.59
Can Tuna
Cream of Mushroom Soup $1.49
2 Loaves Whole Wheat Bread 2 for 1 $3.69
5.4 lb Chicken Leg Quarters $5.43
2 large Sweet Peppers  $2.00
1 lb Carrots
Golden Delicious Apples $6.77
1 Celery
1/2 lb Sliced Ham
12 Eggs

$35.40 $20.43

Fair Food Farmstand

5 lb Potatoes
1 lb Crimini Mushrooms $5 match Coupon $0.00

$5.00 $15.43
Downtown Cheese

House Blend Grated Cheese $3.45
Pecorino Fresco

$8.45 $6.98

Tonight I'm going to turn some of those leg quarters into a bunch of poached chicken for chicken salad and a frittata with potatoes and peppers. That process will also create a couple quarts of very rich (it'll turn to jelly in the 'fridge) chicken broth for soup later in the week. I definitely overbought chicken - there are 5 leg quarters in the package and I really only need 3 for the  chicken salad and frittata. The extra will probably turn into oven baked chicken and potatoes later in the week.

I still have to buy some butter and eggplant for Monday's baked pasta but that should come in about $5.00 so we'll still have couple bucks left that will probably go to more fruit - maybe some grapes or whatever is especially cheap.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

#foodstampchallenge - Fair Food Farmstand

A quick planning note to my fellow GPFSC participants:

Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market provides SNAP recipients with double dollars up to $10 per week when they pay with their SNAP card. Challengers can spend up to $20 at F.F.F. and only take a $10 hit on their budget for the week.

Gardening 2012 - Planting Part 2

Peppers & Eggplant

The peppers and eggplant are going into the new "front" bed. The bed was prepared just like the "upper" bed: composted manure and peat moss thoroughly dug in. In this bed we're using black plastic - it's just the regular plastic sheeting that comes in a 25 foot roll. As with the red mulch, it's held down by landscape staples. As you can see from the picture the bed doesn't yet get full sun until early afternoon.

The Pepper & Eggplant Bed - 11:30 AM
Eggplant is particularly sensitive to soil temperature so we've been waiting for the soil temperature to reach 65 F. This morning it hit 66 F so in they go:

One week later...


The zucchini are in our little trouble spot. For the last 6 years we had a really nice bamboo grove there. Bamboo is beautiful. I thought I'd picked the right variety. The website claimed it would only grow  8-10 feet tall and was easily controlled. HA! After a couple years the culms were taller than the house - maybe 20 feet or so and when we got a big snow storm in early 2011, the weight of the snow on the branches almost brought down our cable/phone/internet wires. So we cut 'em down. And we've been gradually exterminating the remaining bits ever since.

So out came (most of) the bamboo rhizomes and culms, in went manure and peat moss, topped with more black plastic and away we go:

Zucchini Transplants


The tomatoes seem happy in their red plastic beds, the cima di rapa is thriving and the onion sets are beginning to show some new growth.  The first batch of Swiss chard has sprouted and will have to be thinned sometime this coming week. the peas have come up too, though their germination was spottty. The seeds are a year old, so that packet will hit the trash.

The only flop so far has been the beets. Once again, a year old packet, though when I tested them they germinated very well. We'll replant with fresh seed this weekend. We'll also put in another planting of cima di rapa. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gardening 2012 - Thinning & Pizza

Baby Cima di Rapa
Last night I thinned the cima di rapa and ended up with a pile of tender baby greens:
I couldn't just toss 'em in the compost so I made half a batch of pizza bianca dough, let it rise in the 'fridge overnight and put together this little pie.



250 g. bread flour
200 g. water
5 g. salt
1 Tbs. EVOO
1/4 tsp. active dry yeast


28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
4 oz. fresh mozarella
dried oregano
A big handful of fresh baby greens
Fresh basil
The most delicious EVOO you have on hand


The night before, place all the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix by hand until a rough dough comes together. Using the dough hook, knead on 80% power for 15 minutes. Be careful, at this speed the mixer will tend to "walk". Scrape the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, oil your hands, and shape the dough into a "ball", making sure to get it coated with oil. Cover the bowl tightly and place it the refrigerator overnight.

At least an hour before cooking place a baking stone on a rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat the oven to it's highest temperature: 500 or 550 F.

Get the dough out of the refrigerator, shape it into a disk and let it warm to room temperature on a well floured plate, covered, while the oven preheats.

Crush the tomatoes by hand and drain them. You'll end up using nearly all of them on the pizza. Save the juice and any left over crushed tomato for another use.

Trim the greens and chop roughly if they're large. Cut the mozarella into into 1/4" slices and break them up into irregular chunks.

When the oven has preheated for at least an hour gently stretch the dough into a pizza shape, leaving a slightly raised edge. Spread a thin layer of crushed tomatoes evenly on the dough. Sprinkle very lightly with dried oregano and scatter the mozzarella, basil and greens on the top.

Bake in the blazing hot oven for about 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges are nice and brown. Drizzle on a little of your most delicious olive oil and enjoy! It tastes the same no matter what shape.


Monday, April 16, 2012

New Bass Day!

New Bass Day!

Like most guitar players I've occasionally thought about picking up a bass. So when a deal for a Spector Legend-4 Classic popped up on Hello Music I finally made the move. Total cost was $454 including shipping ($9.00) and a $30 "first time customer" discount. Since they retail for $699 I figured I didn't have much to lose.

The Legend Classic series has been Spector's "entry level" line for quite a while. My model was made in Korea, though some reports on the inter-tubes have them being made in Indonesia. It has semi-active electronics: mid-boosted EMG® HZ pickups with a Spector TonePump Jr. pre-amp. Apparently it's fairly common to swap the TonePump Jr. for an EMG BQC-HZ or to pull the circuitry altogether and run the 'em as regular passive pickups. After a couple hours of fooling around DI through a Presonus FireStudio Mobile I don't have an opinion.

As you can sort of see from the picture it's got a pretty decent quilt top, though the stain is much darker than it would appear from the official Spector advertising photos. Setup out of the box is excellent and in fact it was very nearly in tune, in spite of sitting in a UPS truck all day in 80+ degree weather. The only downside I can see at this point is that it doesn't come with a gig-bag. So that'll add $50 or so.

If these pop up on Hello Music again don't hesitate to snag one.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Gardening 2012 - Planting Part 1

It's planting time! It may seem early but in fact night time temperatures have been in the mid-40's for a few weeks and the forecast has lows of around 50 for the rest of the month.



San Marzano Tomatoes, Parsley, Thyme & Basil
This year we're trying red plastic sheets as "mulch" for the tomatoes. The theory (supported by studies at Montana State University and Penn State) is that the red plastic reflects the wavelengths of light that react with phytochrome and encourage more rapid growth. The stuff comes in big rolls and also 3x3 sheets - the exact right size for our little raised beds. It has hundreds of tiny holes to allow water to penetrate to the soil. (In theory anyway - that little puddle in the right foreground doesn't seem to want to cooperate.)

After leveling the soil and pinning the plastic down with landscape fabric pins, we marked and cut three "X" shaped openings where we want the tomato plants. Then we pulled back the flaps, dug planting holes, mixed in a handful of ground eggshells and popped in the tomato plants. Because San Marzano tomatoes are indeterminate, we're using towers rather than the more common cages. There's another almost identical planting in the new "upper" bed with the Cima di Rapa for a total of six San Marzano plants.


Eggplant, Parsley, Thyme & Basil
It's still just a little early for eggplant, but I popped one into a container so I can bring it in if  night temperatures threaten to drop below 50 F. There are parsley, thyme and basil planted around the outside edge of the pot.

Coming soon: Peppers, Zucchini, and the rest of the Eggplant

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Philadelphia Food Stamp Challenge - What Does Food Cost?

While thinking about the GPFSC I realized that I don't know what most of the stuff I buy at the grocery store costs. On the tape from this morning's grocery run:
  • 1% Milk - $3.56/gallon ($0.028/oz)
  • Store Brand long grain white rice - $3.19/2 pounds
  • Whole Wheat Bread - $3.59/1.5 pound loaf -18 slices + 1 end.
  • Dry pasta all shapes - $1.59/1 pound box
  • Large Eggs - $1.99/dozen ($0.17 each)
  • Peeled Italian style Tomatoes - $1.50/28 oz can
  • Store Brand Italian style sausage - $3.99/1 lb. package of 5 links
  • Sorrento Brand "fresh" Mozzarella - $3.99/8 oz ball.
  • Store Brand unsalted butter - $2.99/pound ($0.19/oz)
So from this run I can see breakfast as something like:
  • 2 eggs - $0.34 (180 calories/12.6 grams protein)
  • 0.5 oz (1 Tbs.) butter to cook the eggs -  $0.095 (50 calories)
  • 1 slice toast + 0.5 oz butter - $0.20 + $0.095 (90 + 50 calories, 4 g. protein, 2 g. dietary fiber)
  • 8 oz Milk - $0.23 (110 calories, 8 g. protein)
  • Total: $0.96
Not bad on cost at less than a dollar. There are 480 calories there, 24.6 grams protein, and 2 grams dietary fiber. That's roughly a third of the day's protein for a 200 lb. person but less than 6% of daily fiber need (about 35 grams per day is recommended). And a lot of those calories are from fat.

You can make a baked pasta dish from that list using a pound of pasta, 1 can of tomatoes, the mozzarella and the sausage for a total of $11.07. It makes eight large servings at $1.39 each. (I've rounded up the unit costs in all of the examples.) I'm not sure what eggplant costs right now, but you could substitute an eggplant for the sausage for a rather healthier version.

Of course at this point there's no fruit, the only vegetables are tomatoes, and there's about 4 grams of fiber in the bread and pasta (6 grams if eggplant replaces the sausage).

Edit: Eggplant is $1.69 a pound. So a medium sized eggplant would be about $2.50, saving $1.49 and a boatload of fat and calories and adding about 16 grams of fiber.

Gardening 2012 - Red Marble Cippolini

Red Marble Cippolini from
Red Marble Cippolini Onions
The onion sets arrived on Friday so that means it's time to set them out. This is the first time in decades we've grown onions, but these little red cippolini looked too delicious to pass up. Like the first batch of seeds these came from GrowItalian.

Red Marble Cippolini Sets
As they arrive onion sets don't look very promising. Just a bundle of scrawny, dessicated, scallion like things. Nevertheless, they will grow into those tasty little cippolini in about 3 months. GrowItalian, like all the other seed companies advertises their onion sets as "Approximately 60 per bunch.". In fact, there are more than 100 plants in this bunch.

Onion Sets in the upper bed
I of course planned space for 60. I ended up planting 80 in the existing raised beds and I'll probably put the rest in the yet to be completed "front" bed. Right now that area is shaded by the house to the south in the morning but in another month or so the sun will be high enough that it will get sun most of the day.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Philadelphia Food Stamp Challenge 2012

Beth and I have talked about doing this in the past and this year we're going to go for it. The rules are pretty simple: $64.40 for 2 people for a week not including spices and condiments. Our goals (in addition meeting the basic rules) are a little more complicated:
  • Make nutritionally sensible meals
  • Make interesting meals with as much variety as possible
  • Come in under $64.40 for the week
Most of our fellow Philadelphians eat meals that are far too high in fats and far too low in fiber with large servings of animal protein and virtually no vegetables. So we're going to be going for high fiber, relatively low fat (and much of that from olive oil), vegetables, fruit, rational size servings of protein, and all the spices we can work in.

We've got two weeks to plan...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Gardening 2012 - Update #2

Things have slowed a bit as temperatures have came back to historical averages.

Cima di Rapa Seedlings

Most of the cima di rapa seedlings have developed their first true leaves so with a few sunny days they should really start to take off. I expect they'll need a second thinning this weekend.

We planted one 8 foot row of peas in the "old" raised bed along side a chain link fence on March 26 and  a couple short rows of beets on April 1.  The "new" upper bed got 2 short rows of Swiss Chard parallel to the cima di rapa at the same time. We'll pop in a couple more rows of each plus some more cima di rapa on the 15th. We should see our onion sets arriving sometime this week - half of 'em will go into the new bed and half into the old.

Leggy Tomatoes
The tomato transplants are getting a bit leggy in spite of the grow light and the south facing porch window. Unfortunately, night time temperatures are rather unreliably in the low to mid-40's so actually setting them out is still pretty risky. We do have more plants than we actually need so maybe this weekend we can come up with some sort of protection scheme and take a shot.

In any case, the parsley and thyme can certainly be potted up and hardened off this week. The parsley is looking great:
Root Development
Parsley Potted On

Really Ancient Cooking

A couple years ago I read a book by Richard Wrangham called Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. One key premise of the book is that human ancestor species mastered fire and cooking at a very early date - on the order of 1.8 million years ago. Until recently, the earliest evidence for fire and cooking under deliberate control dated to about 400,000 years ago. But researchers from the University of Toronto have published an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that provides evidence datable to 1 million years ago.

The evidence consists of plant ash as well as charred bones from a variety of animals ranging from small rodents to antelopes. Associated with the ash and bones were hand axes and other stone tools.

An article on CNN's Light Years Blog has an easily understandable version of the results as well as a link to to a Harvard study co-authored by Wrangham.


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