One of the attractions of an English degree was that there were no math requirements. Unfortunately, as an adult, I keep on taking up projects that require extensive calculation. Dear Elementary School teachers: You were right. I do use math every day, and I'm sorry I didn't believe you.
I'm working today on defining a system that will accurately account for my actual food costs, plus take into account the outlay that would be necessary if I were starting from a truly empty kitchen. I've decided to account for anything I can buy in bulk for just the amount I use: theoretically, I could go down to the store and buy just one cup of any of those items. So, if I were a very precise shopper, my outlay wouldn't necessarily differ from my consumption.
On the other hand, there are items that I simply couldn't buy in the small quantity I need. For example, I have a big block of mozzerella cheese I bought some time ago. I buy block cheese when it's on sale (and it's never organic, by the way) and then cut it into 8oz portions and freeze them. Whenever I need cheese, I just thaw out a portion and grate it up. You wouldn't do this with a fine cheese, of course, but it works well for anything that will be cooked or melted.
I've decided not to even try to account individually for the items in my CSA box. When I started subscribing, I carefully weighed every item and compared its cost at the store with the cost of my box. At that time, the box cost me just a little less than it would have cost to buy on an item per item basis. This varies from box to box, and month to month, depending on just what is in season. Early Spring can be a little sparse, and in August we usually have more tomatoes than we can use. Anyway, it will just be easier for me to automatically deduct $12 from my budget every week than to try to work out what to charge for every item.
I'm doing something similar with milk and wine and the like: when I open a container, I charge myself the full amount on that day, and then don't charge myself again until I open another one.
Today I start weighing items from my pantry: 1 cup of kidney beans weighs 7 ounces; one cup of rice, 6 ounces. I spend part of the afternoon weighing spices. At first I think I can just pour them onto the scale and then maybe weigh a tablespoon or so to get a cost estimate. But herbs and spices weigh, quite honestly, almost nothing, especially in 1/2 or 1/4 bottle quantities. I decide to weigh them in their bottles and then to weigh them all again at the end of the project, adding the costs into the final tally.
This means that ongoing costs won't reflect any herbs or spices, but considering how little these items weigh now, I don't think the difference will take me below or above budget.
The truth is, I'm flying in the dark. I do my marketing on Friday, so I actually have no idea what I've spent so far this week. In contrast to my initial sense of confidence, without any concrete figures, I have an increasing sense of panic as I try to plan menus for coming week. When I get home with prices for everything, what will I find?
In the afternoon, I make some vegetable stock and place it in the refrigerator to cool. I'll use some of it tonight, and the rest I'll ladle into muffin tins to freeze in 3/4 cup portions. When I need it next week, it will be easy to just pull out 6 disks and melt them in a saucepan.
Breakfast is coffee and oatmeal for me, just coffee for him. For lunch, Jesse gets black beans & rice and cherries. I have a small portion of black beans, a small portion of rice, and the rest of the couscous. I am not proud of this combination—it's more of a conglomeration of foods than a meal. But there probably isn't a large enough portion of couscous to send, so in the time-honored tradition of conscientious housekeepers everywhere, I eat it. Cherries for dessert.
Jesse gets home and explains that he had an unexpected business lunch today, and that he plans to eat today's lunch tomorrow. I look at him, my eyes suddenly intense. "I didn't pay," he says. There is a pause while my mind races. "I hope that doesn't mess you up."
"It completely messes me up," I reply. Because what I'm trying to work out is this: I can put the last portion of beans and rice into the freezer to keep them from contaminating the food stream and bringing down our costs. That'll be fine. But how am I going to account for those cherries?
For dinner, I make Brown Rice Risotto, an old standby, and have Jesse grill some asparagus and sugar snap peas from our box to mix in. With it, we have a salad with raspberry vinaigrette. It's enough, and it's good.
I decide to substitute a fictitious apple for the uneaten cherries and go to bed.
Thursday total: $6.50. Remaining weekly allowance: $27.70.
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