hunger games, with a seattle twist

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03.22.2012 by Andrea

the bag of goodies for a week.

Seattle is all abuzz or more appropriately all atwitter because apparently if you’re a fan of the game Angry Birds, an angry bird is flying from the Space Needle. If you weren’t sucked into the vortex of the Angry Birds Space launch then there is a pretty fair chance that you are excited about the new arrival of your iPad 3, or awaiting the release of the movie the Hunger Games. I am in neither camp. Though I would love an iPad, being the Apple Geek that I am, I think I will wait until they regulate the battery usage that is being drained at rapid speed. As for this Hunger Games phenomenon I know nothing about the book or the movie, other than the fact that both are plastered throughout every checkout stand in the supermarket, blinking advertisements on the sidebar of your internet browser and/or in every news outlet known to man.

I am in fact playing my own Hunger Game this week. From March 19-24 the United Way of King County is doing a Hunger Action Week. The challenge being that depending on the whether you are a family of one [which is me] or a family of 3 you attempt to subsist on the amount of money you would be allotted via the State if you were utilizing the Food Stamp Program.

My allotment: $7 per day. A family of 3? $18. I’ll be honest I thought that I would be able to get creative, I travel frequently for a living, so a snack on the airplane, the continental breakfast at hotel, the hosted wine bar in the evening would all work to my benefit. Hands down, not going to be a problem. Then I dug deeper. According to the rules, and the Basic Food guidelines, no handouts. Not even a Costco sample. I was stumped. I didn’t actually kickoff my week until Tuesday, due to work commitments that made it fairly unavoidable to not eat with my peers and wasn’t proper protocol to break out my Tupperware packed lunch. But I started making my list. Checked it twice, if not a million times, even estimated how much each item would cost. I don’t think of myself as an extravagant eater, I generally shop at Trader Joe’s and Fred Meyer. But what I did realize is that I don’t say no to myself very often at the grocery store, and I certainly wasn’t going to be able to eat my normal Kashi entree’s for lunch when they typically cost $3.59, on a good day.

A few rules I set for myself, initially, were no procuring dinner dates where I would order extra and then pack it to go …. I’m kidding, I would never. On a serious note, I decided to not go to grocery stores that I wouldn’t normally shop at just to try to save a buck or two. I really wanted to embrace the exercise, but not deviate from regular practices. Also, I wasn’t going to purchase a Sunday paper, and clip coupons that would guide me in what I was buying. If there was a store coupon for an item on my list, great, if not then the price was going to be what it was going to be. Finally, as we are all very well aware, not only am I thinking of applying for the reality TV show, Worst Cooks in America, rarely if ever do I cook. I don’t mind chopping up some vegetables for the week, and maybe, actually that’s about it.

Armed with this plan in mind, I did the silliest thing a grocery shopper can I do. I went on an empty stomach. Oops. Good thing I was sticking to a list. As I started to circle the store gathering items, I knew from last week when I made the protein ranch dressing in my Magic Bullet, that it would be a versatile item that would be great for salads and veggies. Two items [cottage cheese & ranch dressing mix] in the basket. Then I proceeded to dairy. I figured eggs would be a great option, so I grabbed dozen and a half of those, and then wandered to the cheese area. Here is when problems started to arise. I wasn’t quite ready to compromise on generic cheeses, and really wanted a brand I prefer. I spotted a coupon, which brought a block of cheese down to a manageable price, but then I meant I was going to have to grate it myself. Not a problem, but it brought light to the fact that I do enjoy paying for the convenience of pre-shredded cheese. In the midst of all this, I have been utilizing mozzarella sticks as quick snacks. They are low calorie and since I also training for a half marathon, and trying to compete in a weight loss challenge I really wanted to add them to my list. Problem was, I hadn’t initially contemplated putting them on my list. The problem was aborted when I decided I would just have to make it work. Rounding out to the meat section, I wanted some turkey bacon, it was a great sight to see that it was on sale, and I made the executive decision to try and pepper it myself at home. All of sudden preparation tasks started mounting in my mind. This process literally went on with every single item I put in my basket. To have a carb wrap filled with fiber or not. How much quinoa should a girl have. Should I even attempt to make quinoa? After mulling it over, and googling cooking instructions, plus with all of the pinning going on and the hype around this super grain I thought it would be versatile for lots of meals. Then it was the produce section. Tough decisions had to be made, and I certainly didn’t get the amount of fresh produce that I wanted so I weighed pro’s and con’s and the most bang for my buck and ended up with a tub of mixed greens, broccoli, and carrots. A small indulgence of deli meat sliced freshly and then it was condiment time. Knowing that salt and pepper were the only approved spices that I wasn’t required to buy made ingredients that added flavor and pizazz a bit more challenging. I opted to hit store number 2 for that to buy them at a bit more discounted rate and made sure nothing I wanted to make required olive oil and what not. Light mayonnaise and dijon mustard it was along with canned salsa versus fresh pico de gallo.

After bagging my groceries at both locations and then heading home I realized that I was already exhausted, hungry, and still had a mountain of preparation to just get my food into my mouth. The kitchen became a disaster zone. Bacon was baking with pepper. Cheese was being grated. Eggs were boiling merrily. And then it all fell apart. People ask me all of the time if it’s really that I don’t like cooking or that I can’t do it.

I really don’t like cooking. It also doesn’t like me.

Let’s just say this. The bacon burned. The smoke alarm went off. The quick egg boiling process was a success until I got too impatient with their post boil cold bath and started to break shells only to realize that my imagined deviled eggs were about to become egg salad mixture. The quinoa alone seemingly took forever to cook, and then the broccoli casserole, while easy to assemble, just added to the already tiring list of things I was making. In the midst of this somehow I broke a measuring cup on my semi-frozen cottage cheese, the fridge had been running a bit cool, and my protein ranch dressing turned into chunky ranch dressing. I was sweating, on the verge of cursing, and still hadn’t done the dishes. It’s not wonder cheap noodles, frozen lasagnas, and pre-packaged fruit snacks are more appealing. This was work. After the chaos subsided, I got some food in my belly, and then while the dishwasher was running, I collapsed in my bed and took a nap. When I awoke I hit the gym, and it felt great. Challenge number two, post gym I thought an icy cold beverage sounded good. Unfortunately a beer isn’t an approved item. So water it was, with broccoli quinoa casserole.

This was only Day 1. The next day, I had to get up early and put food in my bag to travel with so that I could dine in style in my hotel room. It worked out pretty well with keeping perishable items on ice in the sink in my room. I am home in Seattle briefly this afternoon, and then jetting off to another destination this evening with plans to do the same thing for the next two nights. Making ice baths for food every 4-6 hours requires a bit of planning.

All that to say. The grand total of my spending? A whopping $49.14. Technically over my budget since I didn’t participate on Monday and will be ending this on Saturday. Coming up with creative, healthy foods, that aren’t repetitive? It ain’t easy. A challenge to say the least. I am so glad that I am doing this. I have been capitalizing on numerous opportunities to share this with co-workers, friends, and family and more importantly have had a light shed on a topic that I knew nothing about.

Want to take the challenge? Do it! Try it out for a day. See how it works, and let me know. I am so glad I am apart of this effort and movement. As for me being back in the kitchen anytime soon? Forget about it. There are some people who really excel at this. Me? I just provided a whole litany of stories filled with mirth for the people who know me, and my kitchen skills well. I’ll stick to the sidelines for awhile.

Until the next bite, cheers.

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