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I hate sitting in class, listening to those painful silences that indicate that no one has done the reading or that they tried to read but didn’t understand what they were suppose to be getting from it, or whatever. Breena tends to be willing to say something stupid rather than have to sit through the silence.
One of my classes consists of many painful silences and I’m just making myself the annoying person who talks too much. Yuck! Next class I’m going back to extensive doodling, it gets me in less trouble.


In a recent study from Oxford, a death surge has been linked with mass privatisation during the transition from communism to capitalism in Eastern Europe. The key finding from this study is that a slow transition and more social and governmental safety nets resulted in less deaths. Though we may not like to think of it, this economic downturn may result in an increase of deaths. In the Oxford study the surge of deaths was attributed to factors such as the inability to get health care. I can’t help but think that in the current “economic downturn” many folks will be choosing between their rent and medications/doctor’s visits.

If we want to prevent unnessessary deaths, we need to think about how to provide health care (and food and housing) for everyone.

I know it may sound like I have gone crazy, but the combo of little money and a sick husband has resulted in lots of cooking experiments. Last weekend I tried homemade pasta and crackers. I have a little hand crank pasta roller that I think I must have gotten from a thrift store or a garage sale. The pasta was good, but not amazing. I think next time I have to add the flour more slowly. Too much flour in any kind of recipe is a big problem.

I found this recipe (Olive Oil Crackers Recipe – 101 Cookbooks) which uses semolina flour and a pasta roller to make crackers. I have never made crackers before, they turned out very tasty! They were easy to make too, the only problem was keeping an eye on them in the oven. I burn the first batch and then some batches I took out too early so they didn’t get really crunchy. The under-done ones tasted like flat bread or pita, so that was good too.

Sometime I want to try making granola bars. My granola turned out yummy, so I think granola bars are next.

Monday is Beorn’s next rheumatology appointment. The rheumatologist was amazing. He was friendly, thorough, and quickly concluded that Beorn most likely has rheumatoid arthritis. Hopefully this next appointment will result in some medication. In the meantime he gave Beorn a cortasone shot in his knee. Beorn could barely walk at this point so it’s been an amazing relief just to have a couple of weeks during which he wasn’t struggling just to walk around the house. We know cortasone isn’t a long term solution, but pain relief is important sometimes.

I listen to This American Life every week, religiously. Last year when Ira explained that it cost WBEZ radio in Chicago millions to put out the podcast every week and that if everyone who listened would just donate $1 it would be paid for, I donated $5 to help out. For someone racking up the kind of student loan debt I am, that was what I felt I could afford. The radio show is worth a lot more. Recently I got another email Ira explaining how the downturn in the economy has effected public radio and asking for another donation. If you haven’t ever heard This American Life, you need to. If you listen regularly, please donate to keep the podcast on the air.

Also, if you haven’t heard it, check out Radio Lab from WNYC.

Since Beorn has been feeling so sick we didn’t visit any relatives over the school break. My dad did come here for a couple of days, which was lovely, but mainly I spent my break cooking in preparation for the new quarter. A couple of years ago Beorn’s mom bought us a small chest freezer and I have been busily filling it up. As much as I enjoy cooking and eating fresh food in season, while I’m a grad student I don’t always have time to shop for and cook fresh food. Last quarter I relied too much on pre-packaged food from Trader Joe’s. It’s amazing how easy it is to spend on prepacked food (and cheap wine.)

Since we have been considering applying for food stamps, I wanted to work on being more frugal with my food budget. We already rarely go out to eat or eat fast food, although I do sometimes buy a sandwhich or a burrito at school, but I still felt we were wasting too much money on prepackaged food and since we have our own freezer I can make my own “prepackaged” meals. Freezing my own food is cheaper and healthier for us.

For example, over the break I froze about two dozen homemade burritos. I’m lactose intolerant, so I didn’t include cheese in them. It’s actually difficult to find frozen burritos without a lot of cheese in them, so it works great for me. Earlier in the fall I canned some salsa, so I added a little of that to a big batch of brown rice to make “Mexican” rice. We also found a great deal on organic pinto beans at $.75/lb so I cooked up a huge batch of refried beans. I supplemented that with a little shredded chicken I got on sale for $.49/lb and some onions and peppers (I got those frozen from TJs.) The most expensive ingredient was the tortillas, the cheapest I could find were still $.25 each. In total I think each burrito cost me about $.75. Now when I’m feeling exhausted and need a meal I can stick a couple into the toaster oven, bake for 20-30 minutes and I have dinner. I haven’t tried microwaving them yet, they come out nice and crunchy if you bake them.

Here are a few other things I have been cooking and  freezing:

  • Curry and rice bowls – Beorn likes the little rice bowls you can get at TJs and just microwave. So I have been cooking larger batches of curry and rice and freezing them in bowl shaped plastic containers. (I know the plastic is toxic if microwaved, but you can stick it in a bowl before reheating.)
  • Pizza – I made some to eat and froze some, ready to stick in the oven. It’s still a little expensive with all that cheese and meat, but a nice alternative to ordering delivery. Also, my stomach can tolerate a little goat cheese, so I made myself goat cheese pizzas, which I can’t get at a pizzaria.
  • Mushroom risotto – We bought chanterelles for $5/lb when the rainy season started and stuck some in the freezer.
  • Dal – That’s Indian style split peas with lots of fragrant spices. I always want some when I cook Indian food, but we never eat a whole batch. This is very cheap and easy to reheat from the freezer.
  • Naan – Again, my obsession with TJs. They have great naan (India flat bread) in their freezer section that you can just reheat in the toaster oven, but it costs around $.50 a piece. My homemade version cost me around $.09 a piece.
  • Bread – We never eat enough before it starts to mold and several frugal cooking sites suggested keeping bread in the freezer to solve this problem.  I made a few loaves one day, ate one fresh, and then sliced on froze the others. I like my bread toasted anyway. Tip – the most expensive part of homemade bread is the yeast. If you buy yeast in those little brown jars or packets it costs something like $.50 a loaf. I buy yeast in bulk from my local natural foods store for something like $1.50/lb, that works out to around $.03 a loaf. Total cost per loaf is around $.30 if you use cheap flour and $.75 if you use the fancy organic stuff.
  • Broccoli – I found broccoli on sale last week for $.65/lb so I bought a few pounds. I blanched it, had some for dinner that night and stuck the rest on a tray in the freezer. In the morning I used a spatula to scoop the frozen pieces of broccoli into plastic bags.
  • Soup – We love soup and so always make large batches and freeze the leftovers.
  • Pie crust – I made a bunch of pie crust at once and froze it. So far it has been making decent pie, not quite as good as fresh, but still better than store bought pie.
  • Pumpkin – I bought a bunch of baking pumpkins cheap around Halloween, baked them up and froze.

Earlier in the fall we bought around 30 pounds of apples from a pick your own orchard we dried some and canned the rest as apple butter and apple chutney. We also bought a 1/4 of a grass fed cow! We are becoming real foodies. The grass fed beef came frozen and packaged from a local butcher shop for something like $2.85/lb. Considering that you can’t even get supermarket ground beef for that price it was a great deal. We don’t eat beef that much, so it will last us a while! But there is a lot more I want to do to improve our eating and reduce our costs. I’m attempting to strike a balance between local, seasonal eating ala Alice Waters and those frugal moms that buy everything so cheap and freeze it all. I don’t know where they live, but other than chicken and hot dogs (and I don’t buy hot dogs), I rarely find any meat for $2/lb. Here are some things I’m planning for the next time I get some free time…maybe Presidents Day?

  • Potstickers – I’m addicted to them.
  • Samosas – Filled with potatoes and peas and baked. We already have the chutney!
  • Eating more vegetarian meals. – This is by far the best thing I could do to save us money (and help the environment), but it’s a delicate balance for me. Beorn complains if I cook too many meatless meals, so I tend to add just a little meat to keep him happy.
  • Trying to buy all organic, especially animal products. So far I haven’t felt able to afford it, but I know that if I don’t waste money in other areas we could eat less but better meat and dairy.
  • Alternatives to plastic for freezing or preserving?
  • Cutting out soda and bottled water. What a waste of money.
  • Gardening – I don’t think I have written much about it here, but I’m an avid gardener. Right now all I have for garden space is a patio slab. That area will become my herb, greens, and edible flowers garden. I want a community garden plot as well, but that’s another tricky issue. If I try to garden far from home I have to make a special effort to take time away from work to visit my garden. If I’m not consistant my plot get’s taken over in the spring while I’m busy with papers and finals.

Ok, kitties have entirely taken over my bed space, so that’s all the typing for now. Anyone else have suggestions for cheap, healthy, local, organic food and cooking?

The Queen of Spain, blogger extraordinaire, is giving away a free trip to BlogHer next summer. In case you have been hiding under a rock BlogHer is an amazing community site for women who blog and they run a fabulous conference each year (which I imagine to be like a giant blogger meetup!) She asks bloggers to write about:

Why you want to attend BlogHer and how you plan on supporting other women you know and love in 2009.

My friend Trillwing encouraged me to write something for the Queen of Spain, which makes a lot of sense because Trillwing is the one who got me involved in blogging in the first place.  Although Trillwing is someone I also know in person, this kind of friendship is typical of the type of support I have found through blogging. As a grad student, finding support at your own university, through your fellow students and professors, can be challenging. In academia there is a constant undercurrent of competition that sometimes leads towards a pointed indifference towards others. If you are lucky you may not experience any oververt backstabbing, but most likely will get very little useful advice or support from those around you either. Simple things like how to navigate through the burocracy to find work and support yourself financial during your degree or what the steps are to get from a thesis idea to a completed and turned in thesis are rarely spelled out for new grad students. If you are enrolled at a large public university like I was the shear number of different offices you need to visit to get yourself situated may seem daunting or exausting.

When I started blogging I was struggling though my graduate program feeling lost and unsupported. I began writing about my struggles and (somewhat obsessively) reading and commenting on the blogs of other academics. Though my blogging has never been extensive or very consistant, through blogging I have found support and friendship that was essential to my successful completion of my M.A. and my current (much better) position in a new PhD program at a new university.

Since graduating last summer, my blogging has slowed down to an occasional update. My new graduate program is such a far cry from my past experience (so much better) I don’t feel the need to write and think through my academic struggles as often. My struggles currently are of a different sort, mostly financial and related to my husband’s health. Beorn, my husband, is struggling with some sort of rheumatic disease, we still don’t have a diffinative diagnosis, but suspect rheumatoid arthritis. This time last year he was finishing his undergraduate degree (having gone back to school at 40) and working part time on campus. Now he can barely walk. I bought him a cane last week because I was worried he might fall down getting around the house. He can’t work because he’s so exhausted and in pain, so we are living on my TA salary and student loans.

I have felt reluctant to write about these struggles and yet I know that what has helped me about blogging has been reading about other people’s troubles and realize that I’m not the only one dealing with the strange and sometimes unintelligable culture of academia.  I have many friends outside of blogging, but none of my outside friends or family are academics, so they often don’t understand perplexing and unfamiliar ways of the natives. Fellow bloggy academics like, Inside the Philosophy Factory and JustMe, understand this foreign culture and at the same time are far away from the particulars of my program and my university, and so can give advice and support from a space of neutrality.

So here is what I have been considering writing about and doing in 2009 to support my fellow women (in academia and out.)

  • Continue to blog about my struggles in a reflective and honest way.
  • Write more about living on less. I have been poor for a long time and so have ideas for how to get by and enjoy life with less.
  • Organize a discussion group or  speaker series for women at my university about projecting self confindence and promoting yourself. I would like to write about it here as well. Often women have a self depreciating way of presenting ourselves that doesn’t help us get ahead.  We start our critiques or observations by apologizing or qualifying or statements. We secretly feel like frauds. This is something I actively work on in my own life and feel confindent talking about with other women. We don’t often don’t feel comfortable talking about these problems or think we are the only ones dealing with these challenges.
  • Present myself as a well rounded person rather than writing only about my academic persona – including science fiction, online gaming, gardening, hiking, cooking. I hope to find other bloggers and in person friends who share these interests and so we can support each other in leading balanced lives.