Fresh & Frugal

How to cook fantastic, fresh food on a tight budget

Month: October, 2010

Most Awesome Parents Ever Award

So as I sat here, debating whether or not to get into the particulars of secondary mordanting (concerning ancient dyeing techniques), someone outside buzzed my apartment. Stumbling down the steps, irked at being interrupted, I just saw an older guy (someone’s dad, maybe), standing there with a big bag. What the heck… must be lost… honestly, get a map…

Nope! He was the delivery guy. My parents sent me an edible arrangement and, knowing my eating habits when I’m stressed and under the gun with an assignment, they couldn’t have said or done or sent anything better. Thanks, guys. I would have had to eat myself sick on candy I’m trying to save for the halloweeners next weekend. You’re the best!


Fancy Grilled Cheese

We all know that feeling, when it’s getting chillier and chillier outside and the leaves dust the ground. You find shards of a pumpkin on the corner — the neighborhood kids are already making mischief and Halloween is only a week away. Everything, it seems, ought to be pumpkin or apple flavored. Often, at least I, wish that the thought of sticking a kleenex in one pocket hadn’t escaped me before setting out for a long walk. Sniffle. You’ve pulled your boots out of storage, try them on again, wonder if they’ll last one more season before you bite the bullet and buy a new pair next year. What would dad want for Christmas? When could mom be available for shopping? Oh crap, Alex’s birthday is coming up…

All week I’ve felt like this, anticipating the crisp, sweet bite of autumn (amid thoughts of when was that deadline again? Oh no, there goes my weekend… How many pages did he say? Which article did she want me to read? Where are my keys? Did I even eat breakfast?).  So you can understand why, after working myself like a crazy person all week, I had to take the morning off, make a Target run, and then come home and update you after spoiling myself with a proper lunch. Making food at home is just so much better than grabbing food on the run, isn’t it?

Fancy Grilled Cheese

2 slices Provolone cheese

2 slices of artisan bread

2 pieces of bacon, cooked to perfection

1 handful of basil leaves

1/4 braeburn apple

1 small pat butter if you don’t have a nonstick pan

Drop half the butter into the pan so the bread won’t stick, on medium heat, and then lay in the piece of bread. Cut each slice of provolone in half, and use two pieces to cover the bottom piece of bread.

Lay the apples on top, and then the basil.

Layer on the bacon.

Add the cheese to the top, making sure a little hits every edge (who likes a bite with nothing but bread when it ought to be a sandwich?), then close it up. I put a lid on top to make the cheese melt faster without burning the bread.

After 5 minutes or so, flip the sandwich until the bread is toasted on the other side, and the cheese is melty.

Remove from pan, slice in half, and serve. I couldn’t resist the discounted disney-princess-chicken-noodle soup at Target two weeks ago, so added that to make a giant lunch.

Just Like Home

I forgot I hadn’t posted this on Tuesday, but saved it in anticipation of photos. Here you go!

Sorry for the shoddy photos, but I still haven’t found my camera in the process of unpacking from Madison (which is going more slowly than surely).  Honestly though, I couldn’t help making a real, grown-up, just-like-home dinner tonight.

More rain. Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. Whose idea were hurricanes, anyway? It looks like a leak is starting in my roof (what is this?! Two apartments in a row?!), and after a long, soggy day at work and after the first midterm of my graduate career, I’m ready to sit back and do a little reading and relax tonight. After all, the night is still young, and the wine bottle has just been opened. What an occasion for celebration.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I love the basic and traditional structure of my mom’s dishes: 1/4 meat, 1/3 veg, and the rest is usually some sort of carb, whether rolls or pasta or rice or bread.  So when I came home from work a little early today, I flipped on the tube and there was Ina, noshing on bread and olives and salami, tomatoes and brie. And wine. That was all it took for me to flip off the tv and dive into the kitchen for my go-to comfort food: veg, carbs, and a slab of (chicken) meat with a nice tall glass of wine. While this isn’t a post with an official recipe (I know, twice in a row!), it is a statement about good, healthy comfort food and the turning of seasons. I can’t wait for Thanksgiving and the chance to see the entire Thompson family, to have a beer with Uncle Bill and a gin-and-tonic with Grandma. Football, sweaters, screaming kids, catching up… What isn’t to love about autumn? Hopefully I’ll have the money to make a proper pumpkin or pecan pie soon. What a fantastic introduction to autumn would that be?

Quick idea of what I did: defrost the chicken. Throw shallots, rosemary and garlic in a little olive oil on medium heat until soft, and then add the chicken and cover with a lid (keeps it tender). Throw on some orzo, and just before you think it’s finished, add some asparagus and blanch it in the hot orzo water. The chicken and orzo and asparagus should all be finished at the same time this way, and the whole meal takes maybe 20-30 minutes. Enjoy!


Madison, Wisconsin

Life does funny things to us.  A while ago, I had been invited to attend a conference in Madison by the classical studies graduate students, and I leaped at the opportunity to talk about my blue Minoan monkeys. All materials submitted, I was accepted and then just had to play the waiting game. Finally, this Friday morning at 4:15, I hopped into my own car (Philly shuttles were full and a cab company told me they weren’t running because of the hurricane battering the coast), drove to the airport, and was in Wisconsin by 10. Just walking across the tarmac was enough to put a smile back on my face, not because of the conference, but because of the smell.

I always forget how earthy the midwest smells. I don’t mean like, earthwormy, but like apples and grass and maybe even a little water nearby. Believe it or not, Philadelphia (like central London) is dirty enough to make your boogers gray. Gross, but true. Back in the land of cattle and corn (more cattle in this case), everything just seems… brighter. The people are genuinely kind, and the food is served with a freshness no major city on the east coast can really provide. A tomato tastes like a fresh tomato, not a canned, preserved, or hydroponic tomato. Things here are just… right. The way they should be, y’know?

The conference was fantastic. The hosts were so kind and went so far out of their way to make sure we were comfortable and knew how to get from point A to point B, that I really felt more like I was on vacation (except for the getting dressed up part) than when I’m at home. There was plenty of time to go shopping, to look around, take a tour of the capital, and on Saturday night we all went to a quaint Irish Pub. Honestly, I couldn’t ask for more out of a conference, much less my first official conference as a grad.

Anyway, so to be brief: I was at the airport for a 6 am flight which became a 6pm flight. After freaking out for two hours (everything seems worse when you’re exhausted), I came back to the hotel, got a late checkout, crashed until about noon and then went out and played again. Life has a funny way of telling us to slow the hell down. Taking my time, I had a coffee and people watched for a while. Then there was finding fun things, like Art Gecko, a store with all kinds of amazing crap, and a pizza place with macaroni and cheese pizza, and a pub with a beer stock market.

There was even a parade of fire trucks for the kids. It was funny — everyone was in the bars and restaurants watching the Packers’ game, then during halftime they streamed onto the sidewalk with their kids and everyone waved and cheered for the firetrucks going by. Kids got candy, screamed and yelled, babies cried, parents waved. It was a fantastic thing to just sit and watch.  I really do have to get back to what’s real and makes me happy. The moment this PhD is finished, I’m high-tailing it back to a small, fun, liberal arts college in the midwest and working for scraps. And I can’t wait.


More photos, added now that I found my camera!