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After my successful first week of feeding 2 people 3 meals a day for $50, I’m off to a rocky start.

Sunday was fine — I made more brown bread, and the lentil recipe I listed before. It made even more leftovers than I expected, so that is great.

Monday I made Jamaican Jerk Chicken (I used the other half of the bone-in, skin-on chicken I’d used for the Arroz con Pollo last week) and Fried Plantains (yum – and only 3 for a dollar). There was a enough left over for Brian’s lunch.

Then Tuesday was a little weird. I got a free lunch from work, and after work we went out to The Young and Hungry launch party, which featured some yummy food and drink. Also free. (Thanks guys, it was a blast!) Then at 10 pm, a group of us went to Broome Street Bar and ate Nachos. Aah, a healthy dinner. At least it only averaged to something like $6 for the two of us, so I guess it came out OK.

Tonight I plan on making a cold noodle salad with spicy peanut sauce — it’s way too humid out to be using the oven. Then because of the holiday weekend, there are going to be parties and outings, and I just don’t know if I’m going to have a solid meal plan that will work. I have other dishes I planned on making, but now the days are all screwed up and my three day weekend is beckoning to me.

Sigh. It really does feel like extenuating circumstances are more the norm than the “norm” is the norm….whatever that means. Noodle salad recipe plus prices for the jerk chicken & plantains to come later…

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Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week are excellent examples of how even the best laid plans can get derailed. By Michael Jackson.

Well, moreso if you work at a magazine, which Brian does. Friday was a marathon day for him due to the King of Pop’s untimely passing (rest in peace, Michael), and while he forgot to bring his leftovers, his office also ordered in food (pizza, I’m told). So I ate grits gratin all day, using up the rest of the leftovers and not cooking anything new. I can’t really calculate what he spent, or count it against my total – extenuating circumstances! But I guess it would be unnatural to assume that we could get through an entire week with no emergency meals, changes of plans, or unexpected circumstances. We’re busy, and we live in New York.

Total for the week plus 4 recipes after the jump!

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I apologize for the blurry picture. The added effort of all this “paying attention” to what I am “spending” on my “meals” has made me lazy about actually taking pictures. But how can I prove the food was edible without photographic proof??

Actually, I’m not so sure this picture proves it was edible, but I promise, Mark Bittman’s “Grits Gratin with Arugula and White Beans” was quite delicious. And the grits weren’t even packed with butter and cheese!!

Today I made the mistake of taking the train to work that drops me off in the middle of the Union Square Farmer’s Market…it was all I could do to not buy bunches of green garlic and golden beets. It made me question the validity of my budgeting, after all, if I CAN afford to buy from farmers and support local agriculture, don’t I have a responsibility to do so? More on this later…

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Day 3: Here’s where explaining things gets a little confusing. I still had black bean soup and some rice left over Wednesday, so that’s what I had for lunch, along with some cornbread. How does that factor into my serving price? I have no idea…it’s like a 1/2 serving of each, but they also had more servings than I originally thought, so my other servings cost more than they should have….oh hell, who cares. No one said this was an exact science.

Also, my linguine for dinner was supposed to have shrimp in it. But when I got to Trader Joe’s, the frozen shrimp I wanted was $8.50 a bag. Even using half the bag would ruin my per serving price. I stood there, holding the bag of shrimp, putting it back, picking it back up again. Finally I put it back and hurried to the line so I wouldn’t change my mind. Suddenly though, I had to come up with something to go with the pasta, which I feared would be too plain all by itself, and the chicken breasts I had in the freezer would take too long to thaw.

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Perhaps it’s a little premature to be doing any sort of reflecting, given I’m 3 1/2 days into my 4 week budgeting exercise. I guess realization number one is that it might be a little obnoxious to call it an “exercise” given I am privileged enough to call it that and not just “life”. It has always made me feel pretty icky, this question of privilege, and while on the one hand I can be judgey mc judgerpants (THOSE shoes with THAT dress? puh-lease) I also fear judging that which I do not understand. Like the choices faced by millions, nay, billions of people across the planet, not about “what should I eat for dinner tonight” but “can I eat dinner tonight?” I’m trying to find the sweet spot between being empathetic but not patronizing, and also living and enjoying my own life. I’m not really there yet, and this endeavor has highlighted that for me.

On the flip side, I feel a bit like the next four weeks are going to be somewhat…editorially boring. Even though the point of this blog is not to impress people (ok, who am I kidding, I want to IMPRESS YOU), “cheap” dishes feel a little inadequate in these interwebs full of amazing food blogs. Is this a personal hang-up about feeling like my food is “rustic” and therefore not “gourmet” enough? Maybe. But then again, I would prefer to leave the molecular gastronomy to the experts and cook eggs the good old-fashioned way.

I think as much as anything, these next few weeks will reveal my personal relationship with food and cooking, and how it may be a window to other things. And I hope along the way it will offer some advice and observations that are useful to anyone who likes to eat or cook mindfully.

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So, official Day 1. My daily allowance for 2 people is $7.14 to equal $50 for the week.

Breakfast: Brown Bread = $.23 x 2 servings = $.46
Lunch: Leftover Arroz con Pollo = $1.58 x 2 servings = $3.16
Snack: Orange (already accounted for cost in scone recipe)
Dinner: Black Bean Soup = $.74 x 2 servings = $1.50

Total: $5.12

The Arroz con Pollo recipe, which I made for dinner Sunday, was supposed to serve 4, but definitely came out to 6 servings (and I think I put in 1/2 the chicken it called for!). So that brings my per meal price down significantly. Here are the recipes and prices:

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Probably the most essential part of keeping to a tight food budget is planning ahead — something that seems nearly impossible in the city. Any night of the week you may be called out to some event or another, sidetracked at work, or otherwise engaged. But as soon as you let last-minute plans take over your life, you find yourself spending a lot of money on quick or portable (and not usually very satisfying) meals.

Compiling a bunch of recipes ahead of time for the week was really difficult for me. I tend to cook on a whim, which of course leads to a lot of impulse buying. For inspiration, I pulled out my copy of How to Cook Everything, and just started flipping through the pages. I think I came up with several inexpensive, delicious dishes to cook, and I will have the flexibility to swap days or delay cooking something if I have more leftovers than I anticipated. Here’s the plan, but I have not assigned days for each meal just yet.

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