Category Archives: Food

Pie!

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I should have shared this post on National Pi Day, but I didn’t get it together in time for that. Maybe next year I will have a pi/pie related story prepared for March 14. In the meantime, read more about National Pi Day here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/03/14/national-pi-day/, and enjoy this pie related story today.

NOLAgirl and I starting making plans to attend pie night a month before it happened.

She was in Phoenix, and I was house and cat sitting in Murphys, CA. She must have mentioned pie night to me, and I was all in! Pie. Pie is delicious. I love pie.

Pie night is held at a store called Practical Art, located at 5070 N. Central Avenue in Phoenix, AZ. Here’s what Practical Art’s website (http://practical-art.com/about/) has to say for itself:

Practical Art is a friendly retail and gallery space featuring 100% locally-made wares in wood, fiber, ceramic, glass, metal, and up-cycled materials. All of our work is produced by Arizona artisans—we have over 100 of them producing work for you. We carry art that is practical in some way—everything from kitchen tools to home and office items, soap, clothing, furniture, jewelry, and more.

Pie night is more accurately Charity Pie Night. The Charity Pie Night page on the Practical Art website (http://practical-art.com/charity-pie-night/) says the monthly event has raised over $34,000 since 2011. Past beneficiaries of charity pie nights include Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix Center for the Arts, Area Agency on Aging, Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, Rising Youth Theatre, and the Animal Defense League of Arizona. The night in December when NOLAgirl and I attended, the beneficiary was the Art Resource Center.

According to their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pg/The-Art-Resource-Center-104422642933401/about/?ref=page_internal),

The Art Resource Center is a non-profit corporation 501(C)(3) whose objectives are to collect reusable discards from individuals and industries and offer them free of charge to schools and other non-profit entities for the purpose of making art.

The Art Resource Center’s website (http://www.artresourcecenter.org/) elaborates,

By recycling art worthy materials for creative minds, THE ARC is filling the ever widening funding gap of nonprofits by providing quality materials to continue the passion we call ART.

The Art Resource Center is a wonderful project that I can get behind 100%. However, on that December night, my prime objective was PIE!

NOLAgirl and I arrived right on time, plates in hand. (To make Charity Pie Night more environmentally friendly, Practical Art encourages people to bring plates from home or buy reusable plates in the store. Reusable plates were provided to folks who hadn’t brought their own plate and didn’t want to buy one, but the plates provided were SMALL! I was glad to have brought my own slightly larger plate.)

Here’s how it worked: $5 got a person a slice of pie; $10 got a person unlimited slices. Anyone who knows me (and my love of pie and love of a bargain) will not be surprised to find out I had budgeted $10 for all the pie I could eat.

NOLAgirl and I lined up and waited our turn to step up to the pie table.

The pies were made by Vonceil’s Pies, owned by Karen Olson. The pie company’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/VonceilsPies/) says,

Vonceil’s Pies is my dream in the making…some day I hope that Vonceil’s will be my own store front bakery in which I can share the wonderful, crazy, beautiful world of homemade pie to the Arizona community.

There must have been a dozen different pies on the table, and they were being served up by friendly young women wearing cute aprons. There were vegan pies made with no animal products. There were traditional pies made with whatever traditional pies are made of. There were berry pies and fruit pies. There were pies containing chocolate and pies containing chocolate and peanut butter and pies containing alcohol. One of the pies had a crust made from crushed nuts, which made it gluten free. How would we ever decide what varieties to choose?

It seemed like bad form to say Give me one of each! and besides, I don’t think I could have fit a dozen slices of pie on my medium-sized plate. NOLAgirl and I each chose four flavors to sample, then went and found a place to sit in the back of the store.

Wow! That pie was good. I wish I had noted which flavors I tried, but alas, I did not. In any case, every type of pie I tried was delicious.

After we finished our first round of slices, NOLAgirl and I walked around the store and looked at all the cool items for sale.

“The Big Robot Show”  by Jordan-Alexander Thomas was in progress at Practical Art during Charity Pie Night. According to http://practical-art.com/events/2016/12/1/the-big-robot-show-works-by-jordan-alexander-thomas,

In “The Big Robot Show” local mixed-media artist, Jordan-Alexander Thomas exhibits his inventive and sometimes curiously odd robots and sci-fi creations on a grand scale. Using wood and up-cycled found objects, Thomas transforms these findings into whimsical and entertaining creations that are constructed to excite the imagination. Thomas began creating robot sculptures when his passion for indie handmade objects collided with his love of all things science fiction.

The robot and sci-fi creations were wonderful! I loved them but didn’t take any photos. Luckily, you can see some of them on them on Thomas’ website (http://www.spaceboyrobot.com/#robot-gallery). Really, it’s worth clicking on the link and having a look!

After we looked at everything in the store, NOLAgirl and I shyly asked one another if we wanted more pie. As a matter of fact we did, thank you very much.

We got back in line and patiently waited to get up to the pie table. The pies were dwindling by this point, but we were both able to get slices of four pie varieties we hadn’t tried in the first round. They too were divine.

Once we finished our second helpings of pie, our bellies were full, and we were all sugared up. It wasn’t an entirely unpleasant feeling, but maybe I don’t need to eat eight pieces (even eight small pieces) of pie in one night.

For folks visiting Phoenix, I highly recommend a stop at Practical Art. For folks who like pie, if you can time it right, you really should make your visit there coincide with Charity Pie Night.

 

Fruit Squish ‘Ems!

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Sure, I accept food from food banks. I live my life below the poverty level, so I supplement my diet by frequenting food pantries when I can.

One of the services offered by the Isaiah 58 Project in Quartzsite, AZ is a free bag of food once a week. I partook of their offerings twice while I was in the town last January.

While getting free food is always awesome, what I like best is getting delicious free food I normally wouldn’t buy. I was pretty excited to find Fruit Squish ‘Ems! in my food bag. I have to admit, I’d never even heard of Fruit Squish ‘Ems! but what could be bad about a squeezable fruit pouch?

I’m not a stickler for expiration dates. Usually I don’t even check. Those dates are typically “best by” dates anyway. Most processed and packaged food is so full of preservatives, it would take a LONG time to go bad. Heck, I even buy “expired” food, as long as it’s deeply discounted.

I’m not sure why I even looked for an expiration date. Maybe I did it because I’d been shopping at one of Quartzsite’s temporary scratch-and-dent grocery stores and had gotten in the habit of making sure items I wanted to buy weren’t too old. Maybe my guardian angel told me to do it. In any case, I did look for a date and found it: June 2014. I received the Squish ‘Ems! in January 2017, meaning their “best buy” date had come and gone over two and a half years before.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that date made me a little nervous.

Sure, there was a time when the date wouldn’t have even made me blink, but I’m older now, and a little wiser, I hope.

My sibling has a Mormon friend. The Mormon friend is into food storage. (Learn more about Mormons and food storage here: https://jozhaus.wordpress.com/food-storage/.)  The friend told my sibling that when it comes to wet and dry food, it’s much easier to tell if dry food has gone bad. The wetness of the Fruit Squish ‘Ems! had me a little worried.

(While writing this post, I did a Google search on wet vs. dry food going bad. I found nothing to indicate the Mormon friend is correct. I did, however, find an informative article about food spoilage on the Business Insider website [http://www.businessinsider.com/expiration-dates-are-bogus-heres-how-to-tell-if-food-has-gone-bad-2016-7]. The article by is called “Expiration dates are bogus — here’s the best way to tell if a food’s gone bad” and covers bread, eggs, fruit, vegetables, meat, milk, and more.)

I wondered if maybe I was just being a wimp. Was squished fruit that had “expired” over two years ago likely to be spoiled? Would it really be “bad,” or just not “best”? Might it make me sick?

I decided to ask for the opinion of my soon-to-be-traveling companion, the man I’d been spending a lot of time with. He’s been a traveler and dumpster diver for the better part of his 46 years. I knew he’d eaten food in a variety of expired and less-than-best states. If he said he thought it would be alright, I’d quit worrying and eat the stuff.

I showed him the “best by” date on the package. I asked him what he thought. He immediately gave me a resounding NO! We did not need to eat that stuff, he told me. I was relieved. He’d validated my fears. If he thought eating the fruit was a bad idea, it was easy for me to go along with him.

I don’t blame the food bank for giving such wildly out-of-date food. I’m sure the pantry gets a lot of donations, and in the haste to get the food to the people, “best by” dates are sometimes overlooked.

I don’t even blame the folks who donated the out-of-date Fruit Squish ‘Ems! They were only trying to help.

I don’t feel the need to blame anyone, but I’m glad I took it upon myself to check the date. Our trip could have been decidedly awful had we sucked down bad Squish ‘Ems!

I took the photos in this post.

Ethel M Factory and Cactus Garden

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These chocolate covered apples were drying during my visit to Ethel M. I love the way the bright green pops!

These chocolate covered apples were drying during my visit to Ethel M. I love the way the bright green pops!

Shortly before my first visit with The Poet and The Activist in Las Vegas, I heard about the Ethel M chocolate factory in nearby Henderson, NV. Wait? What? I could tour a chocolate factory. then eat free chocolates? I was in!

I didn’t make it to the Ethel M factory during that visit, or the next. Finally, on my third visit, The Activist, The Poet, and I made a trek out there.

I had been warned there isn’t much to the tour, but I hadn’t understood how very little of a tour there is. There’s a long hallway visitors can walk down. The Ethel M website (https://www.ethelm.com/category/visiting+the+factory/self+guided+viewing+aisle.do) calls this hallway the “viewing aisle,” which is a totally

The viewing aisle at the Ethel M factory. The actual factory is on the other side of the glass.

The viewing aisle at the Ethel M factory. The actual factory is on the other side of the glass.

accurate description. On one side of the aisle, behind a wall made mostly of glass, is the factory floor. Sure, I didn’t expect to be allowed to frolic on the factory floor, but i did expect to see some action out there. It was 12:30 on a weekday afternoon and there were no workers on 3/4 of the factory floor. Is everyone on lunch break? I asked The Poet.

The Ethel M website says,

From the viewing aisle, if you time it right, you’ll get a peek inside Ethel’s kitchen where we make pecan brittle by hand every day, as well as prepare our signature small batch fillings like satin crèmes, caramels, and peanut butter…

Also, to ensure that we always deliver on our promise of high quality, preservative-free chocolates, our schedule in the Factory varies. So from time to time, the factory may not be bustling with chocolatiers during your visit. Sorry.

I suppose we didn’t time it right.

Hard to read white letters explain each step of the candy-making process.

Hard to read white letters explain each step of the candy-making process.

We saw an automated machine slowly moving along boxes filled with chocolate hearts. We saw a lone man messing around with a bucket. At the very end of the line, we saw a few more men doing the final steps in the packaging of the candies. Any preconceived notions of Lucy shoveling bonbons in her mouth in order to keep up didn’t last long. Everything on the other side of the glass wall that was moving did so virtually in slow motion.

There were words on the glass, explaining the process in each section of the factory. However, the words were written in white and quite difficult to read. Who thought white letters were a good idea for this application?

When the tour was over, I went looking for my free chocolate.

This sign explaining how chocolate is made is much easier to read.

This sign explaining how chocolate is made is much easier to read.

We’d heard workers offering samples to other visitors, but no one offered anything to us. After asking around, we were directed to the man with the samples on lockdown.

The man gave each of us a chocolate disc about the size of a quarter. I tried not to wolf down my piece. It tasted good, but was not amazing. It was chocolate–of course it was good! But being of the mind that any chocolate is good chocolate, I’ll even eat the cheap, slightly waxy chocolate that comes out particularly at Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. The chocolate bearing Ethel M’s name was better than the cheapest, but not by leaps and bounds. My free sample was decent,

Wow! Small packages of chocolates staring at 20 bucks.

Wow! Small packages of chocolates starting at 20 bucks.

average chocolate.

Based on the prices being charged for the chocolate in the gift shop, one might think Ethel M’s chocolates are favored by the Mayan gods. Everything in that place was out of my budget!

The gift shop area is quite large. One can buy chocolate dipped bananas and marshmallows and apples. One can buy prepackaged chocolates ready to go. One can choose one’s favorites from rows and rows of confections on well lit display and have them boxed up in single or double layers. Ethel M offers a mind-boggling selection of filled chocolates (cherries! caramel! nuts! peanut butter! crème! truffles! crème liqueurs!) and perhaps those are the outstanding candies. Visitors can also purchase souvenir t-shirts, travel mugs, etc. or have a beverage or pastry from the Cactus Garden Cafe.

Everyone working in the gift shop was friendly and helpful in a How may I assist you with your purchases? sort of way. (There were lots of people in there making lots of purchases.) The entire area (including the women’s restroom) was sparkling clean.

Cacti and holiday stars

Cacti and holiday stars

After walking around inside and seeing everything there was to see, we decided to stroll through the cactus garden which was decorated for the winter holidays, meaning Christmas. I didn’t see a single indication of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Solstice, or St. Lucia’s Day. Well, to be fair, I don’t know what decorations would represent Kwanzaa, Yule, Solistice, or St. Lucia’s Day. Maybe there were representations that I missed. Maybe the fake Christmas trees with the upside down peace sign decorations represented Yule and Solstice.

For someone who’s never seen a cactus (or maybe has only seen a few), the cactus garden must seem incredible, as it’s chock-full of cacti from all over the world.

Holiday Balls

Holiday Balls

I’ve seen plenty of wild cacti in Arizona and Nevada and California and New Mexico, as well as at the The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, so the garden was not extraordinarily interesting to me. More signs with information about cacti in general and the varieties on display specifically might have meant more education for visitors.

Since Christmas means exactly nothing to me, the decorations didn’t add any magic to the area. My friends and

I thought the decorations were kind of dumb. Isn’t it risky for inflatable decorations to be set up near cacti spines? One gust of wind depositing the decorations on a cactus and that will be the end of that. And what’s the point of putting inflated winter wonderland scenes in the desert?  Everyone knows that igloo isn’t real!

Since when do penguins pop out of the roofs of igloos? As a matter of fact, since when are there igloos or penguins in the desert?

Since when do penguins pop out of the roofs of igloos? As a matter of fact, since when do igloos or penguins reside in the desert?

Some of the displays were even weirder than penguins popping out of igloos. There were snowfolks reminiscent of scarecrows. There was an inflated helicopter with a lazily spinning rotor on top. The Santa in the pilot’s chair had fallen over on his side, giving the whole tableau a vibe of copter shot down in Vietnam War. Towering over the copter was a giant polar bear standing on its hind legs. Does the polar bear represent American imperialism? I wondered. Probably not. It probably simply represented poorly thought out American holiday commercialism.

I might have liked the whole exhibit more if I had gone at night and seen all the lights sparkling in the dark. I do have a soft spot for Christmas lights, but alas, it was daytime and the strands of lights simply looked like ropes binding cacti hostages.

As the holiday music blasted through the barely camouflaged speakers, my friends and I agreed we were ready to get out of there. We left the expensive chocolates and the questionable winter wonderland behind.

 

Old Man of the Mountains, one of my favorite varieties of cactus.

Old Man of the Mountains, one of my favorite varieties of cactus.

 

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

 

Pantry Challenge

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Pantry Challenge sounds like a program from Food Network or Cooking Channel, but it’s not. (If it were a program, I’d probably watch it; I really enjoy cooking shows, especially the ones involving competition.)

According to the Medium Sized Family blog (http://www.mediumsizedfamily.com/no-pantry-challenge/),

a pantry challenge is when you choose not to buy groceries for a set time…Instead, you use up the food in your house until there is nothing left to eat.

For a variety of reasons, I decided to do a modified pantry challenge during my second house sitting job this past November.  (I’m calling it a modified challenge because I wasn’t dead set on not buying groceries until I had nothing left to eat. I just wanted to make big dent in what I had before I shopped again.)

First of all, I was going to spend three weeks in a small town sixty miles from the nearest city. I suspected food prices were going to be high in the little town, and I was right. Since I arrived in town two hours before my appointment with the people I was house sitting for, I browsed at the town’s regular grocery store and the town’s health food/natural food/ hippie food store. The prices at both places were substantially higher than what I’d grown accustomed to paying at the outlet supermarket chain I’d shopped at all summer. I was glad I’d gone with my instinct and stocked up on everything from eggs to zucchini in the city where I was able to get things at a lower price.

Saving money is a big reason people do the pantry challenge. Jessica from the Good Cheap Eats blog (http://goodcheapeats.com/2014/01/preparing-for-a-pantry-challenge/) says,

By focusing on what you have you will save money in not buying more. You also avoid the grocery store which means you reduce your impulse purchases, again saving you money.

Impulse buying can definitely be a problem for me, so I know Jessica is right that I save money simply by staying out of the grocery store. I can easily imagine myself popping in to the store for just a package of tortillas, then deciding to buy milk, which would mean I needed cereal, and on and on. Deciding to use what I had before I bought anything else certainly kept me away from the temptation to buy items I didn’t really need.

I believe in stocking up, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can get a bit out of hand. When I was living on the mountain, I didn’t want to run out of staples, like black beans for instance. So every time I went to the discount grocery store, I’d throw five or six cans of black beans into my shopping cart. I knew I wasn’t wasting money because I’d eat those beans eventually, but I had no idea how many cans I was really hauling around. My pantry challenge allowed me to do a much needed inventory of my food supply.

This is my pantry, the plastic tubs that hold my food

This is my pantry, the plastic tubs that hold my food.

The easiest way to manage the challenge was to haul my pantry into the house. My pantry consists of several transparent plastic storage tubs made by Sterilite. I have two large tubs (one for proteins and main dishes, the other for side dishes and fruits and vegetables), two medium tubs (one for my dishes and bowl and utensils and cast iron skillet, the other for breakfast food and tea) and two small tubs (one for condiments and spices, the other for snacks like granola and energy bars).

One reason I chose these particular tubs were the latches that secured the covers. Several of the handles have broken off, so they are less desirable than they once were. On a whim, I contacted Sterilite and asked them if I could buy new latches. A customer representative contacted me a couple of days later and asked where exactly the latches had broken. I explained the situation, and she said while Sterilite does not sell replacement parts, she would send me new latches free of charge. SCORE! I guess it never hurts to ask.

In addition to these transparent tubs, I have three smaller tubs that hold up my bed and serve as backup food storage.

Bringing the tubs inside encouraged me to clean them. The tubs (especially the lids) were really dirty after being in the van all dusty summer. Having the tubs in the kitchen, near the sink, made cleaning them much less of a hassle. I took all of the food (mostly canned goods) out of the tubs, took inventory, organized the items into categories that work for the way I cook, then scrubbed the tubs and lids with soap and hot water. I let them dry completely before I put any food back in them.

Since I was on the cleaning train, I took the opportunity to wash my two small plates, bowl, spoon, knife, three forks, cutting board, collapsible funnel, folding handle camp cup, and tiny cheese grater. When I’m in the forest, I mostly use the spray-with-soap, spray-with-water, wipe-with-paper-towel, method of cleaning, so it was good to be able to soak everything in hot soapy water, then do a thorough scrubbing.

As I did my inventory, I was able to isolate the food I don’t want to keep. I’m pretty good about eating what I have, but there were a few items I’m going to donate to a food bank or a free pile. I have a couple of cans of cream of mushroom soup I bought on sale 2-for-$1, but didn’t care for when I cooked with one can of it. I have several bags of banana chips that I don’t much like and a can of tomato sauce I can’t think of a way to use. I bet someone will be happy to have the stuff, and I’ll be glad to pass it on.

I’ll head to the land of scratch-and-dent groceries soon. It’s good that I’ve used up most of my canned goods and know what I can use more of, because it’s almost time to stock up again.

To learn how to prepare for a pantry challenge, go here: http://goodcheapeats.com/2014/01/preparing-for-a-pantry-challenge/.

To learn why one frugal blogger doesn’t do the pantry challenge anymore, go here: http://www.mediumsizedfamily.com/no-pantry-challenge/.

I took the photo in this post.

 

Avocados

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Do you like avocados? she asked me.

Yes, I replied with enthusiasm.

She led me out the door and to the backyard of the house she and her roommate rented. As I walked onto the porch, I saw avocados growing on a tree!

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Sure, I knew avocados grow on trees, but I’d never seen it. Seeing is believing, and wow, this was amazing!

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avocado,

The avocado (Persea americana) is a tree that is native to South Central Mexico,[2] classified as a member of the flowering plant family Lauraceae.[3]Avocado (also alligator pear) also refers to the tree’s fruit, which is botanically a large berry containing a single seed.[4]

The tree in the backyard was huge. It was taller than the house and had many branches reaching toward the sky. As I looked up, up, up through the branches and shiny green leaves, I saw a multitude of fruit. Is this all one tree? I asked in awe. She assured me it was.

I want to hug the tree! I exclaimed.

I climbed down the steps of the porch so I could meet the tree and embrace it.

I love you! I love you! I told the tree.

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This photo I took of the bountiful avocado tree does not adequately show its great height or multiple branches. The tree is huge and the fruit plentiful.

She moved into the house last year. The avocados were ripe in May. They fell from the tree and she only had to collect them from the yard. She ate all she could, gave away so many to friends and neighbors and coworkers, let the squirrels have their fill, and still there were avocados.

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She’s worried about the avocados this year. It’s November now, and they’re still hanging from the tree. While the fruit is plentiful, she doesn’t know if they will ever be ripe enough for eating. She fears all the beautiful fruit will shrivel on the tree and go to waste.

She’s not sure what the problem is. Maybe the summer wasn’t warm enough or maybe the California drought is taking its toll. In any case, it’s going to be a shame if most of the avocados on the tree turn out to be inedible.

She did eat a couple of avocados from the backyard last week. One was good, but not great. The other was quite stringy.

According to the California Avocado Board (via the Food52 website, https://food52.com/hotline/16113-when-is-an-avocado-not-safe-to-eat),

Strings or stringy fruit or the thickening of the vascular bundles (fibers that run longitudinally through the fruit) are generally the result of fruit from younger trees or improper storage conditions. Often times the fibers or strings will disappear or become less noticeable as the fruit (and tree) matures.

While I was hugging the tree and exclaiming over the abundance of fruit, she chose half a dozen avocados for me. When we went inside, she put them in a paper bag, told me keeping them in the bag together would help them ripen.

The aforementioned Wikipedia article says,

Like the banana, the avocado is a climacteric fruit, which matures on the tree, but ripens off the tree…Once picked, avocados ripen in one to two weeks (depending on the cultivar) at room temperature (faster if stored with other fruits such as apples or bananas, because of the influence of ethylene gas).

The avocados she gave me are currently still too firm to try to eat, but I am hopeful they will ripen and turn out to be delicious.

I’m grateful to be the recipient of such a precious treat.

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I was recently alerted to a great article about 14 health benefits of avocados. The article includes lots of information about all the good reasons to eat avocados, as well as four recipes.

I took the photos in this post.

 

Berry Picking

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One Tuesday morning, on my way from my creek sanctuary to the post office, I saw a car parked on the side of the road. Upon looking more closely, I saw two women standing near thick vegetation. IMG_6694

I couldn’t suppress my curiosity. I stopped the van, opened my small, triangle shaped side window, and called out, What are you ladies doing?

Picking berries, one replied.

What kind of berries? I asked.

Blackberries, she said.

Oh! I might come back! I told her.

Come on back, she agreed. There’s plenty.

By the time I finished at the post office, the day was growing hot, and I didn’t feel like talking to strangers, so I drove on by the blackberry bushes and the ladies harvesting the wild fruit.

A week later, I was at the bargain grocery store in Babylon. I found fancy, organic whole-milk yogurt for a really good price. I put the yogurt in my cart and wondered what I could add to it to jazz it up. I had almond slices in the IMG_6705van…that would be a tasty addition. Berries would be good too, but the fresh strawberries and blueberries in the produce section were priced higher than what I wanted to pay.

Then I remembered the women on the road picking blackberries. Fresh blackberries would be good with the fancy yogurt. I decided to risk that the season was over or the berries had all been picked. If there were still berries free for the picking, I’d have hit the jackpot. If the berries were all gone, I could enjoy the yogurt with almonds.

I got to my creek sanctuary after dark and slept to the sound of rushing water.

I was up early the next morning and arrived at the post office moments after it opened.

After picking up my mail, I headed to the blackberry bushes. To my delight, I saw there were plenty of berries for me.IMG_6690

It had been years since I’d picked blackberries. I remembered it was a scratchy activity, but I had forgotten quite howIMG_6688 serious the thorns on the bushes are. I was wearing a filmy, floaty, flowy cotton skirt when I first approached the bushes, and I was immediately ensnared by the thorns. I thought of the characters in the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, a whole community sleeping behind thorny bushes that enveloped the castle. Once I’d extracted my skirt from the real-life thorns, I walked back to the van and put on jeans and a long sleeve shirt. Then I was able to get down to serious picking.

I concentrated on the bushes in the shade. There wasn’t much traffic on the road, so I didn’t feel unsafe. While there were plenty of berries to pick, the plumpest of them always seemed just out of my reach.

In less than an hour, I’d filled my travel mug three times. Each time it filled, I walked back to the van and dumped the berries into zipper bags. Two nearly full zipper bags seemed like plenty.IMG_6685

Back at my campsite, I rinsed the berries with fresh water. Once all were rinsed, it was the moment of truth.

I put half of the yogurt from one container into my blue bowl. Then I added a generous  mound of blackberries and mixed the two ingredients gently. The first taste was sublime. The yogurt was cold and creamy and a little sour, while the berries were sweet and a bit tart too. Yum!IMG_6706

Free food is wonderful. I’ll gladly do a little work out in the fresh air to save a little cash. When free food is fresh and wild and healthy and tasty—well, that’s all the better.

If I had the means to can blackberry jam or a freezer for storage, I would have picked more berries and put them away to enjoy in the winter. Since I have no way to store berries for more than a couple of days, I enjoyed what I picked in the fleeting, delicious now.

I took all the photos in this post.

Bargain Beans

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When I returned to the city nearest to my campground, I was glad to find a new bargain grocery store. The year before, I didn’t like any of the grocery stores in town because everything seemed really expensive.

The new store isn’t a scratch and dent store; I don’t think anything is outdated. However, many items are about to reach their expiration dates, so those items are cheap in order to sell them off quickly.

I’ve gotten 8oz packages of (not delicious) vegan “cheese” shreds for 99 cents, four cans of peas for 77 cents, popchips for 59 cents a bag, two packages of flour tortillas for $1, and two boxes of Stove Top stuffing (name brand!) for $1.

beansThe best bargain I found at the store was a stack of cans of organic pinto beans for 27 cents each. What! Hell Yeah! I scooped up nine of the ten cans on the table. (The tenth can was dented in a way I didn’t like, so I left it.)

Even though I’m not a fan of whole pintos over rice or in burritos, I bought the bargain beans anyway. Why? I knew I could easily mash them up and turn them into my own version of refried beans.

Here’s how I did it:

#1 Heat oil in cast iron skillet

#2 If desired, add minced garlic (fresh or dried) and/or minced onions (fresh or dried) to the oil.

#3 While oil is heating, drain and rinse beans. (I learned recently that drained and rinsed beans cause less gas.)

#4 Add beans to oil IMG_6680

#5 Mash beans. (I use the back of my spatula because that’s what I’ve got.)

#6 Beans will probably be quite thick. Add oil and/or hot sauce to thin slightly.

#7 Keep mashing.

#8 Add water to thin beans even more if necessary. (I like mine rather thin.) Keep mashing and stirring until beans are the desired thickness.

IMG_6684Voilà! Refried beans.

You may think this post is all about beans. It’s not. It’s really about creativity.

Back in the day, when I first read The Tightwad Gazette by the Frugal Zealot Amy  Dacyczyn, the most important thing I learned is that creativity is a crucial component of frugality. To be frugal, one can’t just rush out and buy something to meet every need that arises. To meet a need, one should look at what’s on hand or can be acquired inexpensively. One should try to think of a way to meet the need with what one already has or can get without spending much cash.

The Complete Tightwad  Gazette: Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle

The same principle of being creative applies when one finds bargains. One must figure out ways to use what one can acquire inexpensively.

In my situation, I looked at the very inexpensive pintos and thought, What can I do with these beans so I will enjoy eating them? I realized I could mash them and add onion and hot sauce, then eat them in a variety of ways (with eggs and cheese on breakfast burritos, with hash browns and cheese, in bean burritos).

I used creative thinking to turn my bargain beans into deliciousness.