Thursday, September 30, 2010

Recipe: Kiwi-Basil Granita

It's 8pm and about 750° as I type this.  Yes, that's right: the summer weather that was so cruelly kept away from this region has finally arrived, several weeks and one season too late.  It's almost October and here in California we're baking like little Cornish game hens in a perfectly calibrated oven.  Don't get me wrong: I love, love, LOVE that we're finally getting some summer weather, even if it's so late in the game.  I was just all prepared for fall weather and had my fall clothes ready to go; now I have to go back to summertime tanks and my perpetual flip-flop wearing.

To deal with this type of heat, it's always good to have some tried & true cooling off methods.  Since my AC unit is quite dinky and only cools down one room of my apartment, I try to stay cool with lots of ice water (the official beverage of Kimberland), salads, and plenty of cold, juicy fruit.  Recently, Ms. Munchie had dropped off a bunch of kiwi fruits that she'd scored at some event she went to, and though I'd eaten a couple by themselves, I wanted to do something special with them.  With plenty of fresh basil that I harvested from my little garden before the heatwave hit, I figured a cool, refreshing granita made with these two bright green ingredients would be a delightfully beautiful way to cool off.

Wait a second, Poor Girl - kiwi and basil???

Why, yes!  I had done some mental food math and thought that the coolness of the basil would complement the sweet tartness of the kiwi fruit perfectly.  I was glad to find out I was right, but even more delighted when I saw how gorgeous this dessert looked!  The kiwi's unique green color was enhanced by the brighter green of the young basil, while the black kiwi seeds and tiny flecks of basil seemed to dance around in the granita, competing for attention.  I served mine in a hollowed-out kiwi half, but this would be just lovely in any type of dessert dish or clear shot glass.  Though I made this in an effort to get some relief from the heat, feel free to serve this anytime!  Frozen treats are always fun no matter what the weather's like outside, and this would be a wonderful way to cleanse the palate in between the courses of a more elaborate meal.  Think kiwis are too expensive?  Check the weekly specials in your local stores' circulars or websites!  Right now my local Safeway is selling them for just $0.50/each, making this as affordable as it is delectable.

Kiwi-Basil Granita (makes 8 servings; total cost per serving: $0.60)

6 medium kiwis
1 c fresh basil (Stems & leaves, the younger & sweeter, the better)
1 c water
1/3 c sugar
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

Carefully peel the kiwis and chop the fruit into large pieces.  Using a food processor or blender, puree together the kiwi, basil and lemon juice until smooth and place the puree in a large bowl.  In a small saucepan combine the water and sugar, and bring to a low boil.  Simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved.  Carefully add the simple syrup to the fruit puree and mix together well.

Pour the mixture into a 9" x 11" metal pan and place in freezer for 30 minutes.  Using a fork, scrape the edges toward the center of the pan and return to freezer.  Repeat this process until icy, flaky crystals of granita have been formed (about 2 1/2 hours, depending on freezer settings).  Serve in hollowed-out kiwi halves or dessert dishes, garnish with extra slices of kiwi fruit and basil flowers or leaves, and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hire PGEW! (Or sponsor me, or buy my stuff...)

With just 2 days left on my current temp assignment and no other job opportunities in sight right now (despite countless resumes & applications being sent all over the place), I'm in the same dire predicament that I was in earlier this year.  Not having enough time to recover from that blow, things are even tougher now, so I'm trying to find other ways to rake in an income, no matter how small it may be.  On my other other blog, I'm starting to sell some of the things I was hoping I'd never have to sell (there are only a couple things on there right now but I'll be adding more stuff over the next few weeks). But that's just stuff.  I want to help others with my knowledge, too, beyond what I already do here on PGEW.

Which is why I have set up my Hire PGEW page.  I actually set it up several weeks ago, but don't know that I promoted it heavily enough, so I figured I'd just write an official post about it and let everyone know that Poor Girl is for hire right now (not that way, though, for those of you with dirtier minds...)!  From freelance writing for food sites or major blogs, to workshops and classes on how to be a savvy food shopper and cook simple, tasty and affordable meals at home, I am available for a variety of different assignments.  Please take a look at the Hire PGEW page for more details and how to contact me for rates, as well as my contact page on my other other blog for non-food related projects that I can do.

If you're a business who would like to sponsor PGEW for a week or even a few months, I am also starting a sponsorship program to allow your business or website reach a different audience through PGEW.  Please email me for rates and more information.

Of course, if you just want to help (and I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate asking for help like this, but desperate times call for desperate measures), you can also click on the darling little "Donate" button on the left sidebar and send some virtual spare change.  You're not obligated to do this, of course, but even $1 here and there will help.  As long as I can keep a roof over my head and pay my utilities, I can continue to bring you all the tasty recipes and awesome tips I've been able to share with you for the past couple of years.

Sorry for the shameless self-promotion... thanks in advance for all your support!

Lv,
PG

Monday, September 27, 2010

Voting for Round 2 of Project Food Blog is now open!

Hey there, awesome PGEW fans!

Another quick note to beg ask for your vote in this second round of Project Food Blog.  Your time and generosity helped push me through to this round, and with an amazing idea already in the works for Round 3 (and 4, and 5, and...), I would love it if you could help me advance to the next round.

If you haven't read about it yet, this second challenge had us tackle a dish from a cuisine outside of our comfort zone, so I chose the incredible South African bobotie.  So far I've gotten amazing responses, even from those of South African descent who are saying I stayed true to their culture & cuisine, which makes me feel even better about how I executed this particular post.  If you have the time, please take the time to read through my post, as I'm more of a writer than a picture taker and offer a great story & a detailed history of this dish.  You'll learn as much as I did, I promise!  And the pictures I did take show off the true beauty of the dish from many different angles.

To cast your vote please follow this link, and don't forget to "like" my post on Facebook and tweet it on Twitter!  With your help, I can move one step closer to the coveted Next Food Blog Star title.  Not only that, but if I advance to the next round, you can see what Poor Girl can really do when it comes to being luxuriously creative.

Thanks in advance, everyone!

Lv,
PG

Recipe: Mixed Plum Tart with Almond Crust

So I've gone completely plum crazy lately.  Not hard to do considering that 'tis the season to have stone fruit. From nectarines to plums, apricots to peaches, stone fruits and their byproducts are everywhere these days.  I had some fun with apricots earlier this summer and even had a brief run-in with my Chicken with Summer Melon & Nectarine Relish recently; but the stone fruit I've been currently obsessed with is the almighty plum.  It started with a spicy, spiced yellow plum jam I made from some yellow plums an officemate had brought to work from her backyard tree.  Then I couldn't help but eat at least one of juicy black plum a day as my late afternoon snack at work.  Finally, after an awesome score of mix & match stone fruit at ye olde farmer's market, I decided it was high time I make my own version of the dessert that is on every food blog right now: a pretty plum tart.
 
Now, I've mentioned before that I'm not the biggest baker out there - it's just too precise a science for someone like me, who usually cooks by throwing pinches of this and dashes of that together to eventually make something spectacular.  But I do have a serious sweet tooth and because I'm so broke and would prefer to know what exactly is going into my baked goods, I like to dabble in the baking arts from time to time.  Because I'd bought a lovely assortment of different types of plums - black, red, golden yellow, and French prune - I thought it would be fun to use all of these on one tart to experience the myriad of colors and flavors each varietal had to offer.  Then I remembered I don't exactly have the right equipment to make a proper tart crust - a vexing dilemma indeed.  So I rummaged through my cupboards for something I could use to make a decent crust and decided my remaining bag of almonds might just do the trick.
 
I'll admit I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I made this crust (or the whole tart, actually), but I'm rather pleased with the results.  With a kiss of cinnamon and a touch of brown sugar, this crust ended up tasting a bit like a graham cracker crust, jazzed up by the nuttiness and texture of the almonds.  Ridiculously simple to prepare, it's a lot less labor-intensive and easier to handle than regular pastry crusts, and adds a bit of protein to a recipe that usually has little to none.  I was also happy to note that this was something my gluten-free friends & readers could enjoy as well.  For now, I'm lucky enough not to have any dietary restrictions, but it's nice to know that I can offer affordable options for those who do.  As for the plums, don't worry if you don't have access to all the different kinds I used in mine; this will be just as lovely and delicious using just one varietal.  
 
Mixed Plum Tart with Almond Crust (makes 6 servings; total cost per serving: $1.75)

Ingredients:

For the Crust
2 c finely crushed almonds*
1/3 c butter, melted
1 T brown sugar
1 t ground cinnamon

For the Filling:
2 lbs assorted plums
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 c sugar
1 T ground cinnamon

Instructions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 400°.  
2.  Stir together sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl, then add the plums & lemon juice and mix together until combined.  Let the mixture stand for about 20 minutes, until the plums have released their juices.
3.  Combine the crust ingredients in a medium bowl and mix together with a fork until completely combined and almond mixture is workable.  
4.  Press almond mixture into a shallow 9" tart or springform pan.  Arrange the plums in the pan in a flower-shape pattern until all plums have been used.  
5.  Pour about half remaining juices on top of the tart.  Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and plum juices are bubbly. 
6.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a plate, serve warm by itself or with a side of vanilla bean ice cream, and enjoy! 

* Poor Girl Tip: Nuts can be expensive, so to reduce costs, avoid the pre-packaged kind and buy your almonds in bulk.  You can save anywhere from $1-2 per pound by buying whole almonds and processing your own in a food processor or just using a rolling pin and good, old-fashioned elbow grease.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Project Food Blog #2: Bobotie (Classic South African Minced Meat Casserole)

Voting for Round 2 is open!  Please take the time to cast your vote for PGEW to advance to the next round! Voting will close at 6pm Pacific Time on Thursday, September 30th.  Thanks in advance!  - Kimberly

Okay, it's official: I think I've just found my new favorite dish.

Obviously the following recipe is quite a departure from what I normally post on PGEW, which is the whole idea of the second challenge for Project Food Blog - recreate a dish from a culture outside of your own.  But it's not so far-fetched if you consider Poor Girl's personal food history.  Having grown up with both parents in the restaurant business, one of our favorite things to do as a family was to "restaurant hop" and check out new flavors & cuisines at any of the Bay Area's many wonderful restaurants.  Thai, Indian, Persian, French - you name it, we tried it.  I loved these outings with my parents, not just because it was our way to spend quality time together and people-watch (the Morales family sport), but because it opened up an entirely new world to me through food, a world I had yet to see for myself.  Not that I was any stranger to traveling when I was young - in addition to seeing different states, we used to spend every summer vacationing in Colombia, my mother's birthplace.  I'm eternally grateful for those summer trips because I was able to learn about a completely different way of life: one filled with many struggles, but also full of laughter, random parties, and of course, plenty of food.

But that's the most distant place I've traveled to thus far, despite being seriously bitten by the travel bug.  Dreams of visiting Thailand, France, Madagascar and Bali, among many others, dance around in my head on a very regular basis.  To scratch that wanderlust itch, I "travel" by continuing to try foods from places I hope to visit someday.  This gives me a chance to experience these different cultures through their flavors, textures and aromas.  One area of the world that has always fascinated me is Africa, particularly its eastern and southern countries.  An anthropology nerd, I find most of Africa rich with cultural treasures and a natural beauty like none I've ever known.  As a food geek and lover of complex flavor combinations, African cuisine intrigues me more than any other world cuisine: I find it exotic, mysterious, and full of history behind each and every captivating bite.

I had originally intended to try making doro wat, a traditional Ethiopian chicken stew made with a spicy, smoky, red pepper broth.  It seemed flavorful and like a true adventure to prepare, but most importantly, it was Poor Girl friendly (gotta stick to that budget!).  However, I had invited my mom up for the weekend, and since she is severely allergic to peppers, I didn't want to prepare something she wouldn't be able to enjoy as well.  Hellbent on trying my hand at African cooking for this challenge, I did what I always do and gleaned inspiration from my fridge and cupboards to see if there was something I could make that wouldn't require too much in the way of extra ingredient purchases.  Several hours of research later, I "traveled" south - way south - and ended up in South Africa, where I was greeted with a traditional dish called bobotie.

Bobotie (pronounced Bo-booh-tee or bah-BOH-tee depending on whom you ask), is a classic South African dish made with minced or ground meat (typically beef or lamb), dried fruits like raisins and apricots, bread, and a generous amount of curry and other spices, all topped with a light egg custard.  Often touted as the national dish of South Africa, bobotie actually finds its most ancient roots in Indonesia.  First adopted by the Cape Malay community, the recipe eventually made its way to different African colonies as settlers traveled throughout the southern part of the continent.  Like most national dishes, there are as many variations of the recipe as there are South African grandmothers cooking it in their own kitchens, making the research I did for this dish fascinating and fun.  From slight differences in how much turmeric should go into the dish and when, to varying accompaniments of dried coconut, chutney or sliced bananas, there are many ways to make this dish your own.  For my attempt, I actually ended up taking the best tips and measurements from three different bobotie recipes, including good ol' Martha Stewart's version (I had no idea she could get so exotic!).

I was fortunate enough to have pretty much everything I needed for this dish except for the meat and the apricot preserves.  I headed to my new favorite Midtown store, Grocery Outlet, where I found a great deal on some Danish apricot preserves (seriously, where do they find these random things?).  For the meat, I decided to check out the deals at Safeway.  Unfortunately, they didn't have anything great in the way of beef sales this weekend, and the packages of ground beef that were affordable were rather heavy on the fat.  Instead, I decided to buy a nice cut of lean beef and grind it myself at home.  With the spices, bread, milk, eggs, and other ingredients ready to go, I set out to make my first bobotie.

Bobotie (serves 4-6; total cost per serving: $2.50)

Minced Meat Filling:
1.5 lbs lean ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 c slivered almonds, toasted
3 T olive oil
1 T curry powder
1/2 t turmeric
1 T ground ginger
3 T apricot preserves
1/2 c raisins
2 slices white bread
1 c milk
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 T fresh lemon zest
Salt & pepper to taste
6 bay leaves

Custard topping:
1 1/3 c milk
3 medium eggs
Pinch of salt
Pinch of nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 325°.  Butter a 9" x 9" casserole or baking dish and set aside.  Heat a large skillet and add the olive oil.  When oil is heated, add the diced onions and saute over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, or until translucent and lightly browned.  While the onions are cooking, soak the bread slices in the milk and set aside.  Add the curry powder, turmeric, ginger, salt & pepper to the onions and mix together well.  Next, add the ground beef and nuts, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until cooked through.
  
Using a fork or clean hands, mash the soaked bread in the milk until it reaches a slightly liquidy paste-like consistency.  Pour the mixture into the skillet with the meat and stir to combine, cooking until the mixture slightly begins to brown the bottom of the pan.  Add the apricot preserves, raisins, lemon juice and zest, and mix well until everything is completely combined.  Remove from heat.  Pour the meat & bread mixture into the buttered casserole, smooth with a spatula to create an even surface and bake for about 40 minutes.
  
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt and nutmeg until combined.  Carefully remove the casserole from the oven and increase the heat to 350°.  Gently pour the custard on top of the meat casserole, top with bay leaves, and return to the oven for about 20-25 minutes, until the custard is no longer runny in the middle and set around the edges.  Remove from oven and allow to stand for about 10-15 minutes before cutting.  Serve with yellow rice and apricot chutney, and enjoy!

Aside from the few minutes of extra labor that the meat grinding and blanching & toasting my almonds incurred, I found bobotie surprisingly easy to make.  Really, once all the spices are measured out and the onion chopping is complete, all you're basically doing is sauteeing and baking.  I think I found the custard topping the most intimidating because I wasn't sure if it would turn out correctly, but going with my gut and adding that third egg really made the difference.  My custard was light, fluffy, and moist, and did not sink into the meat mixture to create a big old mess as I had feared.  I definitely recommend adding the bay leaves about halfway through the custard baking, so that they will act as a lovely garnish by not sinking into the custard, while still lending their signature flavor to the dish.

Bobotie is traditionally served with steamed yellow rice, so I made a light, aromatic rice side to go along with my casserole.  I also used the rest of my apricot preserves to make a different version of cheater chutney, which was a nice addition but not really necessary as the bobotie itself is just bursting with complex flavors.  Smoky, savory and sweet all at once, with the hearty texture of the meat & bread mixture evened out by the delicate fluffiness of the custard, I still can't get over how amazing this dish is!  Even my mom said she was "deliriously happy" with the entire meal, a wonderful compliment for any cook to hear.  The best part about this is that it's extremely filling, so even if I've written that this will serve 4 to 6 people, it could easily serve about 8 folks.  It also makes for amazing leftovers, as it tastes just as wonderfully when it's cold!  

All in all, I'd say this "trip" to South Africa was a success, and I couldn't be more grateful to Project Food Blog for making us step outside of our culinary comfort zones in order to try something new.  Even the most adventurous cook has her weak points, and I found this particular challenge helped me improve both as a blogger and a cook.  Voting for Round 2 starts Monday, September 27th, so if you enjoyed reading about this bobotie experience as much as I enjoyed writing about it, please cast your vote for yours truly!  Thanks for reading!  

Friday, September 24, 2010

An Evening with Anthony Bourdain

As most of my Facebook fans & friends know (because I couldn't stop incessantly babbling about it), I recently had the opportunity to check out the rock star of the foodie world, Anthony Bourdain, live.  I brought Ms. Munchie along with me, and after a fun belated birthday meal of appetizers & desserts at Grange Restaurant, we headed over to the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium to wait for the show to begin.

Now, I'll have to admit I wasn't quite sure exactly what to expect as far as the format of the show.  I knew it would just be Bourdain on stage, but I didn't think he was going to stand there behind the lone little podium they'd placed in the middle of the stage, lecturing woodenly like an old college professor.  Comedy show, perhaps?  If you know Anthony Bourdain's work either in print or television form, you know the man is pretty damned funny.  But... I couldn't really see him doing some loud, crazy, overdone, Dane Cook-style routine either (sorry, Cook fans... I'm just more of a Greg Proops lover).  What we were treated to instead was a totally entertaining combination lecture/comedy show/snark-fest, complete with plenty of travel advice and reminders that there is a ton of amazing food to experience in this world, if you can keep your mind open enough.

He started off by apologizing for the lack of Rachael Ray jokes he was expected to tell that evening, then proceeded to launch into a hilarious rant about Ray and an even scarier foe in his eyes: Sandra Lee.  From the two popular food show hostesses to Guy Fieri, hardly any major Food Network star remained unscathed as Bourdain carried on about the "dumbing down" of the popular TV channel's content.  "I miss Emeril," he said at one point, stating that even if the veteran TV chef was annoying in his eyes, at least he was a real chef.  Bourdain said he didn't know why unknowns with no real training were acting as experts and teaching cooking skills, when the real chefs like Emeril and Tyler Florence were left to do the shows that were full of fluff.  Case in point: Bobby Flay, whom Bourdain feels deserves "something better than Throwdown".  In his  eyes (and the audience seemed to agree), FN isn't really into "thinking shows".

But he went on to say that it was not all awful on FN.  Good Eats is a "good show" and he's happy that Alton Brown  "uses big words and you can learn stuff" (and I wholeheartedly agree).  He likes Giada di Laurentis, even if he does think her head is a bit on the generous side in terms of size (okay, I believe the term he used was "freakishly large"), and loves Ina Garten.  He even admitted that if it weren't for the Food Network he probably wouldn't have a job right now, since FN bought the Travel Channel (which airs Bourdain's hit show,  No Reservations) in late 2009.  It was an awfully amusing rant, but eventually he switched gears.

"So after trashing everything about the Food Network, how do I keep it real?" asked Bourdain after his spiel.  "What have I learned?"

Beside the fact that he pretty much has the best job on the planet (getting paid to travel to different places and eat their food?  Sign me up!), he's learned a few key things that really struck a chord with me, both on a personal level and as an unofficial anthropologist:

  • Be grateful that you can travel: After traveling more than 750,000 miles since 2005, one would think he'd be tired of traveling.  On the contrary - Bourdain couldn't be happier to visit the most exotic or most humble, unknown places on the planet.  Not just because of the food, although that obviously has its appeal for him.  From the stories he told of visiting families in Vietnam or hanging out with tribal chiefs in Africa, it was plainly evident that Bourdain truly loves learning about people of all kinds.  Sharing in other cultures' traditional meals allows him to discover the different customs and ideals that are important to people around the world, something for which he truly seems grateful.
  • Be polite: Bourdain strongly advised against keeping with the traditional American mentality of "anything goes" fashion and suggests that one pay attention to each country's customs when visiting, particularly when it comes to attire.  "You wouldn't wear a Speedo to the Vatican," he said, after giving another horrifying example of a young gal wearing a tiny little tank top and daisy dukes at a similar holy place.  Being conscious about other countries' cultures is respectful & polite, and will probably guarantee a more pleasant experience with the natives.  It doesn't just apply to attire, either.  Paying attention to details such as how to eat things a certain way or the proper etiquette to display at a small village restaurant will please your hosts and let them know that you are not just some random tourist.  
  • Eat everything: "We have the history of the world on a plate," said Bourdain.  "How can you not eat everything?"  I'm with Tony on this one, too.  Coming from a typical Latin family where you're not only fed constantly and expected to eat everything no matter how full you are because it's rude if you don't, but fed really random things like chicken brains or other interesting animal innards, I was brought up to think this way about food.  Though I didn't really think much of the flavor, I fell for the whole chicken brain bit at the age of 6 because my grandma told me I had to, and she said that eating them would make me smarter.  As I grew older, I tried other strange (to me) foods, not because I was under the same kind of pressure (I mean, really... who says no to grandma?), but because it's just what you do.  And the best part is that I've discovered a lot of my favorite "strange" delicacies this way.  Keeping an open mind and being respectful of other cultures and customs can bring a world of discovery to your plate.  Even if that does mean "taking one for the team", as Bourdain has often done in the past.  
He had other tips for us before he opened the platform up for questions, such as drinking the local beverage ("You get the best restaurant recommendations from drunk people.") and remaining as curious as possible about everything, especially food.  He had other opinions for us, too: Bourdain takes issue with vegetarians during travel because he feels it's rude to put certain restrictions on one's diet if it's not for medical purposes.  He doesn't think that publishing calorie information isn't doing a thing for the obesity epidemic, and finds it "unpatriotic" that some major American fast food chains' burger meat contains ammonia (that's just five ways wrong).  

Afterwards, he opened things up for questions from the audience, which I personally found both amusing and slightly eye-roll inducing.  Though some people asked questions that were interesting and relevant, other folks seemed to step up to the mic just to say "hi" and tell Bourdain that they were his biggest fan ever.  Which is all fine and dandy when you're hanging outside the tour bus after a concert or something, but it would have been nicer to hear more compelling questions for Bourdain to address (and I would have asked him something myself if I could have come up with something decent enough to ask; as it was, I was content just listening to him speak).  Alas, anything that man addresses is always going to have some entertainment value, and we were treated to such quotable gems like, "I compare bacon to The Rolling Stones or doggie style; it's always going to be good," which was his answer to what food trends were starting to get passé and what he could see trending in the future (btw, he's over "cupcake mania" and thinks food trucks are awesome).  From what people should know about themselves before going into culinary school ("Be insane before you go; know what you're getting yourself into.") to travel recommendations for first time travelers seeking the best foodie experiences ("Singapore - it's like Asia 101."), he took every question and answered them with his usual candor and wit.  

Overall, it was a wonderfully entertaining experience to finally hear the "bad boy" of the food world speak in his own words, completely uncensored by TV constraints.  I found him to be quite the snarky food snob but a snob of the best kind - the kind who can back up his opinions with decent arguments rather than just assume he's better than everyone else because he knows the proper pronunciation of bruschetta.  But I also found him to be real & passionate about everything he does, with a respect for people, cultures, and food that made me remember why I fell in love with food and food writing to begin with:  Whether one is appreciating simple foods to their fullest, or sharing that perfect bowl of pho with a gracious family while traipsing through Vietnam, food is that common denominator, that tie that binds us all as humans, no matter how we happen to share and experience it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Voting for Project Food Blog Challenge #1 is now open!

Hey, PGEW readers!

Just a quick note to let you know that the voting for the very first challenge of Foodbuzz's Project Food Blog is officially open!  You have until 6 a.m. Pacific Time September 23rd to cast your vote for yours truly and help me advance to the next challenge.  

To vote, you may either click on the cute little Project Food Blog widget in the left sidebar, or click on this link.   To view my first entry, click here, or simply scroll down a bit to the previous post.  :)

A couple of things to note:
  • If you're not a member of Foodbuzz, there will be a short sign-up process.  Don't worry, you will not be spammed or required to do anything else but vote.
  • Some folks have been a bit confused by the "Remaining Votes" tally at the top of the voting page.  After you vote (for PGEW, of course), you will see that number go down from 400 to 399.  This does NOT mean you have 399 more chances to vote for me!  It means that there are 399 other bloggers you can vote for, if you choose.  If you click on "Vote" again, it will cancel the vote you already cast, so be sure to click one time and one time only!
  • From what I understand, you can only vote once (not once a day, etc.).  If I find that information is incorrect, I will let you know here, on Facebook, Twitter, via smoke signal, carrier pigeon, and through Brian Williams' Nightly News Broadcast (sorry... I have a serious crush on that man, so it's bound to come up from time to time).
  • When you vote, please remember to use the Facebook "Like" button and the Tweet button to share with your friends and encourage them to cast their vote as well. 
  • This really means a lot to me.  I know the pleas and solicitations for votes may get a little tiresome after awhile, but I truly appreciate the time you'll spend both reading my entries and voting for them.  There are some awesome challenges coming up and I've already planned ahead for a lot of them, so if you want to see what Poor Girl can really do, please be sure to cast your vote!
That's all for now, folks!  Bourdain recap is next, I promise.  Pinky swear, even!  :)

Thanks again for your support!

Lv,
PG

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Project Food Blog: Ready, Set, Blog! a.k.a, Meet the "Girl" Behind PGEW

I'll never forget the first time I realized I wasn't just writing to read the internet "sound" of my own words.  It was when I received a truly moving email from a single mom who had read my blog shortly after an iReport I'd written was featured on CNN.com in early 2009.
"I was @ work looking at cnn.com and stressing because I was just denied food stamps and worrying how I was going to feed a family of 4.  I happen to have a few bags of lentils and lots of rice and a tomato plant - today I am going home to make the rice, lentil, and feta salad - love your site, and thanks."
Oh wow... even now, more than a year and a half later, that email still makes me cry. Not only because I'm moved by the fact that something as simple as a lunch I'd thrown together in my office break room had saved a mom from having to either A) watch her kids go hungry, or B) feed them some junk from the nearest fast food joint, but because I've BEEN there. I know firsthand what it's like to be in her same situation, with or without the kids factoring in to the equation.

Hello, I'm Kimberly, also known as the "girl" behind Poor Girl Eats Well, and this is my first entry for Foodbuzz.com's Project Food Blog.


I started Poor Girl Eats Well in the summer of 2008 as a way to quit being so bored and to show folks who marveled at my flavorful, aesthetically pleasing meals - fully knowing I was about $2 away from an eviction notice, mind you - that it is totally possible to have wonderful, beautiful, nutritious food even if you're in the most dire of financial straits.  There was once a time when I used to live off the Big Texas Cinnamon Roll from the vending machine at work: $1 and 410 calories of carbs and fat - just enough to get you through the day without wilting into a complete faint.  When people started to notice I was painfully thin and I, myself, noticed I felt like absolute hell, I decided to do something about it: I got back into the kitchen, reminded myself that every boyfriend or random guest I'd ever cooked for always raved about my mad cooking skills, and got to work.

I never expected that it would lead to this: this accidental, almost career that seems to be growing slowly, but surely, into something that folks all over the world not only find entertaining & enjoyable, but that actually teaches people, too.  I get to help people with what I do, and that's so amazing to me!  Comments that tell me  I've "revolutionized" readers' lives and that I'm a "complete inspiration" both flatter and humble me.  Often times I have no idea how to respond to such accolades because all I'm doing is sharing exactly what I go through on a day-to-day basis.  But I think that's why people keep stopping by.

I strongly believe that the most important thing that defines me as a food blogger and why I feel I should be the Next Food Blog Star is that people can relate to me.  Sure, there are other formidable food bloggers who know all about spherification, or growing their own foods, or baking incredible cakes & pastries that would put many TV food personalities to shame, things I only dare dream of doing because of my extremely limited means and thumbtack-sized kitchen.  But I'm the type of food blogger that invites you into her real life, tells it like it is, and makes the most of what she has.  As difficult as it can be to admit to things like forgetting to pay my gas bill or having to go on SNAP, I am putting a human face on the issues that so many folks are struggling with right now.  And I have no problem sharing my kitchen mistakes, either!  At times it's embarrassing to do so, but I've noticed that it makes even the most novice cook feel like it's okay to screw up here & there.  And sometimes those mistakes end up turning into the best recipes!

Cookies & Cream Cheesecake Shots: One of the greatest mistakes ever made...

Speaking of recipes, it bears noting that most of the recipes on my site are not only of my own creation but made from the last few things I had available in my kitchen because I couldn't afford to go shopping for more.  I'm probably the most resourceful food blogger you'll ever meet, making rice and beans sexy in 18 different ways and turning little packets of soy sauce into a base for a killer steak marinade.  Sure, I glean inspiration from other cooks & bloggers, but a lot of times all I have to work with is a couple of main ingredients and a well-stocked spice pantry.  It's not always possible for me to make things like roasted duck with some sort of incredible chutney or some crazy Iberico ham recipe, but I still manage to create what many folks have called "restaurant-quality" meals out of the most ordinary ingredients.  And in doing so, I've been able to help folks look at food differently and learn a few cooking skills they might not have thought they had.

Who says you can't bring a little Thomas Keller into your own kitchen?  The "Spanglish" Sandwich

Which brings me to the next point that I feel defines me as a food blogger: I help people learn.  As food bloggers we all do this in some way, bringing recipes, information and skills to our readers, whether it's on sustainable farming, food photography, or how to make your own buttermilk.  On PGEW, I teach people...
  • That eating on a budget does not have to mean living on a perpetual diet of Cup o' Noodles or Chef Boyardee; you can have salads, steaks, and desserts, too.
  • That it's okay to let go of shopping shame and buy store brand if that's all you can afford.
  • That it's completely possible to spend a small amount of money on good groceries that'll last for a couple of weeks.
  • That anyone - regardless of skill level - can cook a delicious meal (I can't tell you how many folks have written in saying they've learned how to cook through my recipes - how cool is that?).
  • And that eating well means eating food that is tasty, nutritious and aesthetically pleasing, so that one can nurture one's body and soul.  The fact that I teach folks how to do this affordably helps to nurture one's ailing bank account as well.

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad with Honey-Dijon Vinaigrette. Cost per serving: $3

I may not have the best knife technique (in fact, it's rather horrible considering how much time I spend chopping & grating things so I avoid the convenience food trap), and sometimes I cook things at higher temperatures than I should because I can get impatient.  I don't post daily or quickly like some power-bloggers because I am too wrapped up in telling the right story in just the right way, or because I'll forget to take a picture of what I made because it was too good not to eat first, causing my entire blog post to wait for the next time I can make the recipe.  I may not have the most gorgeous food photos out there; not because I don't have the artistic eye for it, but because I'm lacking the funds for the right equipment (though I think I do pretty well with my little point-and-shoot and horrible lighting issues).  I'm wordy, silly, quirky and brutally honest, and sometimes I use entirely too many commas and parentheticals in my posts.  In short, I am not perfect.  But I love what I do and think I'm pretty darned good at it.  I share a lot of myself when I cook and write, and love that my little blog has helped college kids learn how to cook and single moms stretch their food budgets so they can feed their families; brought former cooks back into the kitchen after years of dining out; and inspired folks to find their own, uber-resourceful inner Poor Girl to make fantastic creations of their own.

Regardless of who wins this thing (though Lord knows I could really use those $10,000 to get out of this rut!), I'm incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to share more of who I am as a person, cook, and food blogger through Project Food Blog.  I would sincerely appreciate your vote so that I may advance to the next round and if I'm lucky enough to do so, I look forward to wowing you with my next awesome entry.

Thanks for reading!

:) Kimberly 

Hunger Challenge 2010: Day 5 + Recipe: Breakfast Baked Potato

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 large baking potato
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.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hunger Challenge 2010: Day 4 + Recipe: Mexican-Style Chicken Pasta Bake

Day 4 started out with another scrambled egg & tomato sandwich for breakfast.  I'm a little sad that my breakfasts weren't as fun as last year's, but again, I was trying not to dip too far into the bare bones staples I have in my cupboards, which eliminated the fun of quinoa or wheat berry breakfast bowls.  I'll have to fix that for next year's challenge for sure!

I did end up taking a couple bare bones staples from ye olde cupboard for Day 4, though.  After a relatively light lunch of spinach salad with salmon and tomato ($1.35), I decided to have something a little heartier for dinner.  By this time my chicken had finally defrosted, so I figured I might just have that with some pasta.  Then I remembered I had some black beans that I'd cooked up for some meatless protein during the challenge and thought I might just have the chicken with the beans and some of the Herdez salsa I'd procured at G.O. instead.  Then I figured, why not throw them all together, top with some cheese, and throw it in the oven?  And that's exactly what I did.

This is another one of those great one-dish meals that you can make from leftovers and use for leftovers if you're having a particularly busy week.  If not able score $3.76 chicken (I still can't get over that deal... I'll get over it someday, I promise!) or are looking for a meatless option, no worries!  This is still quite delicious without the chicken, and you'll still get your protein fix with the black beans.  Though I usually prefer making my own salsa, a good quality prepared salsa like Herdez Salsa Casera is much better for this type of dish.  It gives it just the right amount of flavor & heat, and helps to keep things moist while baking.  As for the cheese, I was very happy to find a couple of forgotten colby-jack cheese sticks in my fridge, so I grated those as I figured colby-jack was more appropriate than fontina for this dish.  This is hearty, filling, and super tasty!  Now, let's check out the recipe.

Mexican-Style Chicken Pasta Bake (makes 4-6 servings; total cost per serving: $0.95)

2 cups cooked egg noodles (or your favorite short cut pasta)
1 c black beans
1 c cooked chicken, cubed or shredded
1 c prepared salsa
3/4 c cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, divided*

Preheat the oven to 325°.  In a large glass baking dish, combine the pasta, black beans, chicken, salsa and about half the cheese, and mix together until everything is completely combined.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese and bake uncovered for about 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.  Allow to cool for a couple of minutes before serving.


Top with extra salsa, garnish with some fresh cilantro (if you have it), and enjoy!


*Hunger Challenge Tip: Just because they're in small snack form doesn't mean cheese sticks can't be used in cooking!  If you can't afford a full block of cheese, grating a couple of cheese sticks into a dish that requires grated cheese works just as well.  

So Day 4 was filled with variety, which made me quite happy.  However, I do have to admit that I couldn't take the raisins anymore, so I polished off the rest of my blueberries instead.  Bad move, considering I was planning on having cereal for breakfast on Day 5, but I suppose naked cornflakes will have to do.  After all was said and done, the grand total for Day 4 came out to about $3.85.  My most "expensive" day yet, thanks to the blueberries, but still under the $4 challenge budget!  Not bad, Poor Girl, not bad at all...

Hunger Challenge 2010: Day 3 + Recipe: Baked Potato with Fontina & Caramelized Onions

It seems that it's quite common for most Hunger Challengers to find the middle part of the week the most difficult.  I found this to be the case last year and I've definitely felt it this time around.  In my case it's because I'm a grazer - I like to nibble on little things throughout the day rather than have three larger meals, partly because I get full easily and partly because I'm slightly hypoglycemic. The problem with that kind of eating during something like the Hunger Challenge is that it's easy to forget everything I've nibbled on and it can quickly add up to more than the allotted $4/day budget.  Making that transition from grazing to three squares a day is not easy, and by Day 3, I really start getting cranky.

Fortunately, I learned from last year's experience on the challenge and invested $0.99 on a 6-pack of those little boxes of raisins to help tide me over in between meals.  The crankiness does go down some with this easy, healthy snack, but the same snack over and over can get boring really fast.  Another conundrum.  But stepping back and studying this behavior a bit more objectively, I noticed that this is something that folks who live on such limited means face on a regular basis: boredom with food due to lack of options.  Whether it's the weekly bag of groceries supplied by the local food bank, or the same items on the value menu at a fast food restaurant, there isn't much variety available to a person who can only afford so much.  Part of this is probably due to a lack of education, although most food banks are starting to offer classes on how to make the most out of the food items they donate to the needy; but again, the types of foods that do go into that bag tend to vary only slightly from week to week.

Part of why I eat so well either on or off the challenge is because I do try to add as much variety to my meals as I can afford.  Whether that's jazzing up a grilled cheese sandwich with sautéed mushrooms and thick slices of tomato, or coming up with yet another quinoa salad, I play mix & match with my food all the time so that I don't get bored.  It does get a little harder during this Hunger Challenge, but I love that I'm forced to get more creative than I usually am.

Case in point: my dinners for the third & fourth days.  Since I'm trying not to dip too far into the other staples I have in my kitchen (though there are some bare bones staples I can't seem to live without), I'm making the most of the items I picked up on my little $15 Shopping Cart trip to Grocery Outlet.  On Day 3 I decided to glean inspiration from a really old PGEW recipe - Open Faced Fontina Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions & Shallots - and jazz up a baked potato.  Had I been smart enough to take some of my $3.76 chicken out of the freezer to defrost on time, I probably would have thrown chicken in there as well.  But it's always good to have a meatless dinner a few times a week, so I was perfectly content with the following recipe.  A small salad from  my $0.99 bag of baby spinach and a tomato, and dinner was served.

Baked Potato with Fontina & Caramelized Onions (serves 1; total cost: $1.90)
1 large russet potato
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 c grated fontina cheese*
1/2 T butter (optional)
1-2 T cooking oil
Pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Gently wash the potato well and pat dry with a paper towel.  Pierce the potato several times with a fork, then bake for about 40 minutes or until the potato is cooked all the way through.  In the meantime, heat the oil in a medium skillet.  Add the onions, salt and sugar and cook over medium low heat until the onions are translucent and a deep brown.  


When the potato is done, allow to cool for a few minutes before handling then carefully slice the potato lengthwise.  Add the butter and mash the inside of the potato lightly with a fork.  Add the cheese and allow it to melt before topping with a generous amount of caramelized onions.  Serve with a nice salad and enjoy!


*Hunger Challenge Tip: Grating the cheese will yield more than slicing or dicing it, allowing you to stretch that block of cheese even further!

Along with another bowl of cornflakes & blueberries for breakfast, some leftover chicken fried rice for lunch, and the inevitable box of raisins, the grand total for Day 3 was about $3.75.  Another successful day!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hunger Challenge 2010: Days 1 & 2 and Recipe: Chicken Fried Rice

Because I'm still easily exhausted from last health scare, I wasn't feeling all that creative for my first day of the Hunger Challenge (which was Monday; I'm doing my challenge during the workweek again).  On Sunday night I'd prepared a few cups of brown rice - one of the best bare bones staples out there in terms of nutrition and affordability - so that I could make a few different dishes from that one pot, like my Brown Rice, Veggie & Tuna Salad.

For Monday's meals I took it really easy.  I started off my day with a bowl of corn flakes & blueberries, a simple, but tasty breakfast that kept me satisfied for several hours.  I'd been craving corn flakes for a few months now but usually shy away from buying cereal at grocery stores because of their sky-high prices.  My $1.39 box of real Kellogg's Corn Flakes from the new Grocery Outlet in Midtown Sac both curbed my craving and took away some of my cereal fear.  Fresh blueberries - though nowhere near as good as the kind picked straight off the bush - added a burst of sweetness and healthy antioxidants.  Total breakfast cost (including milk): $1.10.  A bit on the high side because of the blueberries, but I still had plenty to get me through the rest of the day.

My lunch of Brown Rice, Veggie and Tuna Salad is filling, nutritious, and full of flavor, so I knew I'd be set for the rest of the work day.  At just about $0.85 per serving, this counted just slightly towards my $4/day allotment.  A small box of raisins for snack ($0.17/box in a 6 box snack), and I was up to $2.12.  Unfortunately, I wasn't up for much more than serving myself a leg & thigh quarter ($0.76) and some brown rice with tomatoes that first day, so there's nothing fun & new to share from my first day of the Hunger Challenge.  Good news is that I got through the whole day on just $2.88.  Not bad for Day 1.

My second day was a bit more exciting, as I was feeling a bit less like death warmed over and more like my normal self.  I enjoyed a Poor Girl breakfast staple that I had during last year's Hunger Challenge: Scrambled Egg & Tomato Sandwich.  Not much to this one either, but using just 2 eggs, a small tomato and some bread, this is a great on-the-go breakfast if you want something savory over the standard sweet portable breakfasts.  Total breakfast cost: $0.82 (take that, McDonald's "Value" menu!).  A second lunch of Brown Rice, Veggie & Tuna Salad made my middle meal both satisfying and tasty, and with a bit more energy than the previous day, I turned some leftover chicken & brown rice into an easy Chicken Fried Rice for dinner.  Similar to my Quick & Easy Fried Rice with Asparagus, this dish was another good example of how to make one bare bones staple turn into a giant, tasty meal that could be stretched out for ages...

Chicken Fried Rice (makes 4 servings; total cost per serving: ~ $0.60)

1 c brown rice (cold leftovers work best)
1 c cooked chicken, diced
1/2 c frozen peas & carrots
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 T soy sauce*
2 T plus 1 t cooking oil

Heat a small fry pan or skillet over medium high heat.  Add oil followed by the eggs, and cook until fluffy and no longer moist.  Set aside.

In a larger skillet, heat the remaining oil and add the diced onion.  Sauté over medium high heat until the onion just begins to soften, then add the frozen veggies and rice.  Cook until the vegetables have thawed and the rice has softened.  Add the scrambled eggs and soy sauce, and stir fry for another 3 minutes, or until the entire dish is completely heated through.  Garnish with chopped scallions (if you have them), season with extra soy sauce if you like, and enjoy!

*Hunger Challenge Tip: If you don't have a bottle of soy sauce on hand, don't fret!  Putting together a few packets of soy sauce will do the same job in a pinch.

IFBC Pt. V: Final Thoughts & My Very First Slideshow

So after a such a full weekend of information and socialization, what did I really learn?  A lot, actually.

I learned that I am a successful blogger for all the right reasons (and by "successful", I mean by my own standards, not just monetary "success"): I believe in and love what I'm writing about, I'm sharing some pretty valuable information with others, and I'm being myself.  If there's one message that most panelists put out there it's to do just that: be yourself; love what you do; share (with or without semicolons).

Amy Sherman, Dianne Jacob and Kristine Kidd taught me that it's okay to assign value to what I do regardless of blogging "stature".  "Don't give away your recipes for free!" proclaimed Amy at one point, eliciting thunderous applause from all 250 bloggers.  The more I work on PGEW, the more I've been approached with a ton of opportunities, some of which I have learned are not exactly right for me.

I learned that not everything is exactly as it seems, and that it's okay to question what doesn't look or feel right when approached by a company or individual.

I learned to make pictures, not just take them, thanks to Penny De Los Santos.  Now that I think about it, I've probably been trying to do this since day one, gleaning inspiration from folks like Heidi Swanson and Molly Wizenberg and their spectacular photos.  My equipment may not yet be the most sophisticated, but my love of food and my desire to convey the beauty and fascination that every dish I make holds for me is translated in the photos I post.  Learning to make pictures vs. taking them will only make my photos that much better, and maybe someday, with the right equipment, you'll see exactly what I see & feel with every dish I post.

I learned to blog for the love of blogging, something I've been doing since August 10, 2008, the date of my very first post.  James Oseland, editor-in-chief of Saveur Magazine, made that clear several times in his keynote speech on our second night of the conference.  Most of you are here because you know I love sharing my recipes, my advice, and most importantly, myself.  Sure, there are plenty of flowery, pretty things that I could put on here, but a lot of you are here because you can relate to me and that makes me happy.  I have wanted and always want you to feel as if you know me and what I go through on a day-to-day basis, because I know I'm not the only one living through this sort of financial hell. If I can put a name and a face to this type of frustration, that's way better than coming up with the perfect adjectives for a bowl of quinoa.

Most importantly, though, I learned that food bloggers are amazing people: full of talent, wit, hilarity,  intelligence and an amazing passion for what they do.  Whether they write about eating healthy all the time, or a baking-centric blog; food trucks or being a proud, self-proclaimed beef addict - my fellow food bloggers are incredible people with so much to give.  To be a part of such a community just makes my heart swell with pride.

Thank you, IFBC 2010!  Can't wait to see you next year!

And now, for your viewing pleasure, my very first slideshow of my very first trip to Seattle and all the fun IFBC happenings I could record on digital "film"...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

IFBC Pt. IV - Day 3 Sessions & Food

Our breakfast on Day Three was very much like Day Two's, only this time they brought in huge, sinful donuts and apple fritters to add to the sugar-laden feast.  I split an apple fritter with Allison but never did get around to eating it, such was my crazy blueberry snacking throughout the day.  Because we desperately needed protein, Allison, Catherine, Andrew and I all headed to Roxy's, a fun little diner located a few blocks from Theo Chocolate Factory.  There we enjoyed eggs, eggs, and more eggs (so. many. choices!), and some of the best country potatoes on the planet.  Allison also enjoyed her parsley with more enthusiasm than I've ever seen given to the leafy green herb. We returned to the conference full, content, and energized with protein instead of the constant sugar being offered.

Day Three's sessions began with one that I had honestly considered missing: Food Blogging for Specialized Diets.  Now, it's not that I don't want to learn about these things to bring the best possible content to my diverse population of readers or anything; I just really needed a break to blog and tie all my thoughts together (I'm not like some of the bloggers at the conference, able to blog on the spot without obsessing over the editing process; shame on and/or good for me!).

As it turns out, the first session of the day was an engaging, inspiring, and entertaining session led by Shauna James Ahern of Gluten Free Girl and Alex Jamieson, author of Living Vegan for Dummies and The Great American Detox Diet.  They were so real and so incredibly fun that it was impossible to do anything but pay attention to them (I think the fact that I'd finally had some protein in my breakfast helped for the concentration bit, too...).  What struck me as interesting was that regardless of topic, we "specialized" bloggers all share a common goal: to bring our knowledge to the public with our own bits of expertise.  We also face a ton of criticism for being so specialized, with the gluten-free and vegan bloggers being targeted for their *gasp!!!* meatless offenses, and I, as a budget food blogger, attacked for having the nerve to own a laptop computer (which happens to be a Christmas gift from my extremely awesome mother).  What they both made clear is that we're not going to please all of the people all of the time, and that is okay.  If I could have left with only one lesson that entire weekend, that would have been the one.

Other highlights included...
  • The Great Food Blogger Geek-Out: Dr. Nathan Myhrvold of Modernist Cuisine, the hugest, greatest cookbook of all time, led us through the inner-workings of this six-volume, 15 pound behemoth of a food geek heaven.  From a video of exactly how a popcorn kernel pops ("Show it again!" many of us cried, and he obliged), to how they massacred certain cookware to show the intricacies of the cooking process, Dr. Myhrvold was our hero for the hour.  Though some folks complained that it was an infomercial for these books, most of us happily (and aggressively) tweeted our geeked-out glee at every new photo or technique that was presented. Sadly, at around $500 it's not a set of books I can buy anytime soon, so I will just have to remain content with my "teaser" booklet, signed by Chris and Max.
  • Penny De Los SantosFeatured in publications like National Geographic and Saveur Magazine, there's no doubt that Penny is a fantastic photographer.  What none of us were expecting was how her photos - and her words - would move us.  From incredibly delicious food porn photos to shots of people that just pulled at your heartstrings with their captured smiles or frowns, Penny showed us an hour's worth of the pictures she makes - not takes.  We arrived as admirers and left as a worshiping cult, many of us literally moved to tears by her inspirational words and the images of life that she captures so well.
  • Pitch to Publish: It's no secret that I want to publish a book based on PGEW, so this was the one session I felt I absolutely could not miss.  The distinguished panel of speakers included Molly Wizenberg of Orangette; Kirsty Melville, president of Andrews-McMeel Publishing; and Victoria Von Biel, executive editor of Bon Appetit.  They filled us in on what publishers for both books and magazines are looking for, and I left feeling I finally had a bit more of the information that I've been trying to access for the past year.  Wish me luck! 
Day Three's lunch was provided by some of Seattle's best food trucks, giving us plenty of fun, tasty options to choose from.  Unfortunately, when you set free 250 ravenous food bloggers, the lines for each truck were huge, making it difficult to navigate or to even see the selections.  We'd also been given a few assignments over lunch, and because I'm such a nerd and hate standing in line, I focused on making pictures first.  Eventually I was able to enjoy some food...
  • Pineapple Curry with Salmon and Chicken Larb Taco from Kaosamai Thai Restaurant - I'm quite familiar with beef larb, so having a chicken version was a welcome change.  I still prefer the beef version but this was a fun, inventive little taco that made a fun appetizer for the perfection of my pineapple curry with salmon.  Puts some of our Sacramento Thai restaurants to shame!
  • Taco Trio from El Camión - Fish, carne asada and my very first pollo con mole tacos all crowded on a tiny plate made for an incredible feast!  I am now obsessed with mole and need to find a way to Poor Girl my way through a recipe so that it's both authentic and affordable.  
  • Rolling Fire Pizza - These folks are awesome enough to tote around their own wood-burning oven to make sure they serve only the freshest pizza possible.  Unfortunately for me - a hardcore pizza topping scraper - their focus is the crust, so there wasn't much for me to scrape off and enjoy from the smallest sliver I could find.  Still, the crust tasted phenomenal and is perfect for all you pizza crust lovers out there.  
I couldn't possibly eat anymore than I already had (I didn't even eat the tortillas from any of my tacos so I wouldn't get too full), so I have no idea how good Skillet's lamb burgers with arugula and bacon jam were, nor did I try Molly Moon's ice cream.  Word on the street is that they were both outstanding and apparently the falafel and hot dog trucks also boasted some great eats.  To go along with our street food lunch we were served beer instead of wine (*sob, sob, sob*), which I passed on as I am not a fan of beer at all.  But in all fairness, beer does probably go better with a plate of tacos or some hot dogs than a glass of chilled Chardonnay.

But it wasn't all a wash for me.  Though I was probably the only blogger who preferred the small plate set-up of Saturday's lunch & dinner (I guess I'm just more of a grazer than an hardcore eater...  this is why I will move to Spain when I retire so that I can live a life filled with nothing but tapas and good wine), I absolutely adored every dish I tried that day and remained full enough to last me until sushi & cocktails with my friends several hours later.  It was such a delightful treat to partake of the different cuisines offered by these food trucks!  Here in Sacramento, folks have not gotten the clue about this rapidly growing food phenomenon, so the most fun we get to have is the Who Has the Best Taco de Lengua game.  If Sacramento's city council would pay more attention to the opportunities that food trucks can offer the city, rather than "donations" by "interested parties", we could do wonders.  But that's for an entirely different post altogether.  *steps off soapbox*

The fifth - and final, I promise - installment of my IFBC recaps is next!  Stay tuned... there's a even a fun li'l slideshow included. :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hunger Challenge 2010: Getting Started

Note to self: Never begin a hunger challenge on International Chocolate Day.  It's just too cruel.

Note to self: Hunger does not recognize holidays, whether they're official or unofficial.  Hunger is cruel.

Granted, I didn't really know it was International Chocolate Day yesterday until I hopped onto Twitter and saw all the evil chocolate tweets all over the place.  As a huge chocoholic, seeing all those tweets about chocolate tortes and ganaches and mousses (oh my!) was making my mouth water.  But then I smacked myself mentally and remembered that for those who are truly hungry, everything will make your mouth water.  So I closed Twitter and decided to focus on the challenge ahead.

It's my second time around participating in the San Francisco Food Bank's Hunger Challenge.  The challenge:  Live on only $4 of food per day for a week.  That figure comes from the average amount of aid a typical food stamps recipient has to work with each week: $28.  This includes beverages, snacks, and every one of your three squares a day.  A difficult task, indeed.

Last year I went into it with a completely different mindset than I'm dealing with today.  Though I was still struggling financially, I was more gainfully employed at a place where, even as a temp, I received things like holiday pay and overtime: two things that help a great deal when you're not on a permanent payroll.  This year, I have the experience of actually being on SNAP under my belt, as well as the threat of being unemployed for the second time this year, like so many other folks in the U.S.  My last temp assignment ended quite abruptly just a few days after I'd already been offered and had accepted a permanent position, while the one I'm currently on is contingent upon state and federal funds.  Having no real answers or budgets in place, it's safe to say that I will have no job as of September 30th.  A very grim fate indeed, especially considering I haven't fully recovered from the six weeks of unemployment I faced earlier this year

So by the time this challenge rolled around, life circumstances seemed to put me in just the right spot for this task.  Though I'm aggressively looking for jobs, I'm trying to be realistic and starting to look at this as "practice" for what may be inevitable - a return to SNAP.  So for me, it's not just an exercise in awareness, it's an exercise in survival.  I have $0.43 in my bank account and because of my recent heart & lung problems, I missed about 3 days worth of work last week.  For a temp that means a good 24 hours of pay that will not be on my next paycheck.  When you live paycheck-to-paycheck and on borrowed time, that kind of financial hit is like a kick in the gut: it takes everything out of you.  So despite my relatively well-stocked cupboard, I didn't have much to work with to add to my pantry & fridge.

However, I knew I was going to go on the challenge about a month in advance so I did have time to prepare, something a lot of struggling folks don't have the luxury of doing.  I hoarded a few vegetables & fruits from the farmer's market; I scoured grocery store ads for the deals that would best suit me for this week and beyond; and I dug into my own stash of Poor Girl recipes to see what I could do with the food I had.  Because I know what I'm doing, this is easier for me than some challengers (and folks who are actually in this position), but I'm not kidding when I say that it is hard to plan for something like $4/day.  Many people spend twice that amount at least twice a day going out for lunch and dinner, not to mention the extra lattes, energy drinks, and frozen yogurts that seem to be such a necessity to some.

Anyway, my homework proved to be quite useful.  Through one of their weekly circulars, I learned that Safeway was offering an awesome deal on chicken leg & thigh quarters.  At just $0.77/lb, this was a perfect way to get a good amount of protein that I could stretch out over several days.  My "Extreme Value Pack" of five fairly large leg & thigh quarters was definitely an extreme value: just $3.76!  SCORE!  My other great food find was the new Grocery Outlet here in Midtown Sacramento, which opened about a month ago (finally!).  A lot of you $25 Shopping Cart fans have suggested I head to this mecca of food bargains, but with both previous locations being out of my travel range because I don't have a car, I was never able to head there for this feature.  Now that we Midtowners have one of our very own, I have yet one more place to add to my list, so stay tuned for that later this month.

I did do some quick shopping there for the Hunger Challenge, though, and left with about $15 worth of groceries to add to what I had at home.  I was quite surprised at the selection in certain departments: I never expected Grocery Outlet to be the type of store to carry fontina and sheep's milk goat cheese, let alone the scallops, tilapia and ahi tuna steaks I saw in their frozen section.  Not wanting to get too carried away, I focused only on certain foods and left with:

  • Small block of fontina cheese
  • 1 bag baby spinach
  • 4 Roma tomatoes
  • 2 Russet potatoes
  • 1 15 oz. jar of Herdez Salsa Casera (my favorite jarred salsa ever)
  • 1 box of corn flakes
  • 1 8 oz. container of blueberries (I swear my skin is turning blue at this point in my addiction, but I don't care!)
  • 1 quart nonfat milk
  • 1 2 lb. bag key limes (!!!)
  • 1 6-pack sweet French rolls
I don't have my receipt handy (or a photo either, d'oh!), so I can't give you the prices for each item, but I do remember that my grand total was $15.72!  Not bad at all.  Between that, my $3.76 chicken, and some stashed produce and Bare Bones Staples, and I was ready to start Day One.

With or without chocolate.

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