Sunday, February 20, 2011

Arroz y frijoles

First of all, I want to thank everybody who left a kind comment on my previous entry or sent an encouraging email.  Seriously, you cannot even begin to know how much that helped.  Our families and a few close friends have been instrumental in getting us through this rough patch, but sometimes, a word of encouragement from a complete stranger is what ends up getting me through the day.  I can't say enough how thankful I am for each and every person who is helping us survive.

February continues to suck; there are moments when I find myself feeling like I might just make it after all (like, when I have read kind blog comments or emails), and then there are other moments when I come home from work and lay down on the couch in the dark and cry.  Those latter types of moments have to be few and well contained, given that I have a small child to look after.  But still.

Right after all of this happened and we were faced with the realization that we were going to be sh*t, flat broke, we knew that we were going to have to make some changes in our lives to scrape by.  Part of the problem with that is that we were pretty much living at Maximum Frugality before all of this happened.  I mean, we much don't buy anything but groceries and basic supplies.  We have only 1 car, and we drive it less than 10 miles a week.  I don't buy or use wasteful things like paper towels (messes can easily be cleaned up with an old sock that is then thrown in the wash and reused).  On the rare occasion that I  wrap something up in aluminum foil, I don't throw away the foil when we're done with it; instead I wash it and use it again.  In terms of becoming more frugal, it was difficult to figure out how else we were going to cut back.

One thing I thought of was that I would have to stop buying anything organic, and we would just eat arroz y frijoles (rice and beans) for dinner every night.  Rice and beans are pretty cheap.  A 1-pound package of dried black beans costs $1.67, and even if I spring for the quick cooking brown rice, that is around $2.00 a package (and it lasts for several meals).  The way I make rice and beans is loosely based off a recipe called Aztec Black Beans that I got from Fat Free Vegan.  Not that rice and beans actually requires a recipe.  But when I came across this one, I realized that I could make it in the crock pot and then it would be ready when I got home from work.  Excellent.  I typically soak and boil a batch or two of beans over the weekend, and sometimes I freeze some if I don't think we will be eating them right away.  Then to make my version of the Aztec Black Beans, I put a pound of cooked black beans in the crock pot (I find that cooked beans work better), along with a jar of salsa (Value-Time brand at Schnuck's only costs $1 for a 16 oz jar and it contains no high fructose corn syrup), and I also add some frozen corn to the mix.  I give it a good stir, set it to cook for about 7 hours, and it is delicious when I come home from work.  Usually I make rice the night before, so it is all ready too.  We eat it with tortilla chips, and sometimes Rob puts cheese on his.  I figure at most the whole thing costs about $8 or 9 to make, and it lasts 3 of us 2-3 dinners (sometimes Will eats additional leftovers for a few more meals), so that is cheap.  Cheapity cheap.  And good for you too.  And it just happens to be the only thing that Will will eat, so that is a plus too.

Even before The Incident, we ate arroz y frijoles for dinner a lot (usually I'd make it once a week), but afterwards that was all we ate, probably for about 3 weeks straight.  It was so easy, and so cheap.  I spent vanishingly little at the grocery store and began to feel like I was channeling my inner Ma Ingalls... pioneering through this hardship in the most frugal of fashions.  But then at some point, Rob mentioned as kindly as possible something to the effect of, "Could we eat something other than rice and beans?"  And I had to come up with something else that would be cheap and healthy and that I could also get on the table while working full time.  It has been a struggle.  I hadn't expected either of us to get sick of arroz y frijoles.  After all, that is what we ate every single night for dinner for an entire year when we lived in Nicaragua.   I even trained myself to eat rice and beans after numerous bouts of The Vortex, which had likely been initiated by none other than rice and beans.  Nothing like throwing up rice and beans for days on end and then beginning your foray back into the world of solid food with a nice big bowl of rice and beans.

This whole difficulty we've been going through has put a damper on all of our lives, and I really think it has wreaked havoc on every organ system in my body.  My running has suffered a lot, which is ironic, because usually running is what lifts my spirits when I'm feeling blue.  But this whole thing has made me not even want to run, so you know it is bad.  I had originally been planning on running the St. Louis Marathon this April, but that was the first thing to go out the window.  The marathon entry fee, not to mention the new running shoes I would need to go with it, were out of the question.  I have kept running here and there, but for the first time in about 7 years, with no marathon in sight.  The shoes I'm wearing are by now quite ancient... I've fully run and trained for 2 marathons in them, which makes them have about twice the mileage that I can normally get out of a pair of running shoes.  It had been so far so good though.  I thought maybe I'd become like some of the more hard core runners from our running club back in Urbana.  There was one guy who'd been wearing the same pair of shoes (racing flats, no less) for something like 10 years and had run 100's of marathons and ultra marathons in them.  Well, maybe that is a bit exaggerated, but still.  I had remained confident that my Mizunos would see us through this bad patch.  Then, seemingly out of the blue, I started to have the characteristic pain in my medial lower calf which pretty much always indicates that my shoes have reached the end of their use life and I need a fresh pair.  Damn.  New running shoes are not in the current budget.

Well, I decided that rather than give up running, I'd quit dancing around the issue and become a Barefoot Runner.  I am not kidding.  Rob has been a convert for some time, though he generally wears Vibrams or some other type of minimalist shoe that doesn't mess with your foot's natural heal strike pattern but that does provide protection from the elements.  I have to say, I've been intrigued by this issue for quite a while, and after I read Born To Run (about a year ago), I thought it was something I might actually try out someday.  The premise is that barefoot running is supposed to be the best way to run to stay injury free, because modern running shoes alter your gate and heel strike pattern in a way that actually causes you to have injuries.  I'm not sure I buy into the argument completely whole heartedly, but given my current situation, it is something I have decided to pursue.  So I announced this to Rob and it looked like what he thought was "Oh Lord," but what he said was that I should be sure to ease into it and I should probably start by getting used to barefoot walking before I tried to run.

But I'm Melissa, and I don't think I've ever eased into anything in my entire life.  This week, we had unseasonably warm temperatures which finally melted all the snow.  I put Will in the jogging stroller and we went and found a really great footpath.  I discovered that running barefoot is the funnest thing ever.  Seriously, who wouldn't love squishing around in cold, wet, mud?  It is a fantastic feeling.  The footpath is along a beautiful street, and as all these people drove by in their SUVs on their way to their 4 million dollar mansions, I smiled and waved to them and was like, do you see me??  I am running BAREFOOT.  It was pretty awesome.  I did notice that my heel strike pattern was completely different than when I am wearing shoes.  I was totally landing on the balls of my feet as opposed to the heels.  And my lower medial calf pain became unnoticeable.  So enthused I was with this barefoot running, that I went out a couple days later (this time Will stayed at home), and ran farther.  I think I may have pushed it a little bit too much because now I can barely walk.  My calves are ridiculously sore (though completely different than the initial calf issue that had prompted the shoe shedding in the first place), and I realized that that is why Rob had cautioned me to take it easy.  Running barefoot completely changes the the way you land on your feet, and it takes your muscles a while to get used to it.  Duly noted.

One more thing and then I've got to end this:  As for nursing Will, we haven't completely stopped, which is a miracle.  When he turned 18 months old, I didn't nurse him for 2 days, but then he got send home from daycare with a fever (most likely because he is teething) and he was just walking around here totally miserable, crying and chewing on his fist.  I felt so bad for him that I've let him start nursing again about once a day or so.  And the other day in his misery, he actually asked to nurse, which is the first time he's ever done that.  I was exhausted (from too much Barefoot Running?) and was laying down on the floor watching him play, when all of a sudden, he came up to me, started tugging on my shirt, and said, "Nay nay?"  I couldn't turn him down.  And I feel okay with how things are.  In some ways, I feel like I might have just needed a break from nursing, and two days of not nursing him was weird but somehow refreshing, and now I will be able to hang in there for a little bit longer.

Oh, and the novel.  I've been working on it.  We'll see.

Thanks again, everybody.


Anonymous said...

While reading this, I HAD TO PRETEND very hard that it was written by someone I didn't know, else I would have SOBBED thru the whole thing~~~~~~~ which of course I did anyway~~~ my heart continues to break for you both, but with your strong FIGHTING spirit, ( remember you are a product of some pretty strong stock, think grampy george) this too shall pass. It's like the MOUNTAIN that won't go away........ you just keep climbing and trying to get to the top~~ the SUNSHINE is up there, just keep hanging on~~~ about you running barefoot????????? UH OK??? I'll try NOT to think of the BROKEN GLASS, twigs, sticks, gum? other hidden elements, not seen to the naked eye~~~ I realize you are YOU, and nothing I say would do any good, but as your mama, it's very hard to watch you struggle.......... just you wait~~~someday when you read disturbing/sad words that *TINY* wrote , it will tear your heart out,,,,,,,,,,,,, oooo WAIT** he's a BOY<<< so spose that means,, he won't TALK OR WRITE about his 'thoughts;~~~ sigh-- do take care of your health--did you consider running in your BIG FARM BOOTS??? that oughta make your LEG muscles 'burn'~~~ and also MIGHT draw a little attention~~~:) remember,we're standing by, if you want us~~~ luv you, mama

Rachael said...

You've got me curious about barefoot running now... exercise went wayside after my return to work. This weather has been so freaking awful, but now that there is a hint of warmth in the air, I was thinking about trying to get into running.

Cheap meal ideas:

- My absolute favorite: bulgur wheat. Buy it in bulk at a co op and it's dirt cheap and has a wonderful nutty flavor with a good bite to it. I'm not a fan of the "pour hot water over bulgur" recipes... be sure to boil it in in water, like rice (ratio of 1:2 bulgur to cooking water). A few glugs over olive oil take bulgur over the top, and you can stir in whatever -- roasted veggies, chopped nuts, a bit of cilantro, etc. Bulgur is not a crock pot meal, but it cooks up in around 20 minutes.

6lb for $16... but I've gotten them for like $1.50/lb in the bulk food bin of my co-op

- Red lentils. Any other kind won't work -- gotta be red. Also buy in bulk. This soup has two ingredients (lentils and salt), and it is one of the most amazing things I've ever eaten. RInse the lentils until the water runs clear, then put in a pot to cover with a few inches of water. Boil for about 40-60 minutes... something like that... until the lentils break down and become porridge-like. It takes a fair amount of salt to season this. Olive oil also helps if you add it, and of course you could put in other veggies (potatoes, onion, garlic), if you want.

Again, cheaper if you can find a bulk food bin, but sold on amazon for an OK price:

- chickpeas make an easy/good soup, and you can switch up the ethnicity (curry, or southwestern spice, or etc)

So I know it seems weird to order food from amazon, but I get bulk goods there on the cheap (sardines, actually). You can get an amazon prime membership for free by being a "student" (they don't care/check... I think academic counts!), and then it's free shipping. You save another %15 if you sign up for regular deliveries (e.g., every 6 months).

Alena said...


I wrote to you about buckwheat, but I'll post this here as well. I think it's a wonderful, healthy and relatively inexpensive alternative to rice. You can get it on Amazon for 2-4$ per pound.

We eat it both sweet (usually with milk) and non-sweet (with veggies, mushrooms, meat, eggs).

It's easy to boil and it's cooked in 15-20 minutes (the trick is to figure out the right amount of water -- add too much, and it'll be not as good).

My grandma also used to cook millet porridge (sweet) -- it was delicious! I need to rediscover it, since usually kids love it. I think there are some non-sweet millet recipes online, so maybe its worth looking into since it's also relatively inexpensive and healthy.

I hope it'll get better for you soon!

Karen Joy said...

Ack! My really long comment got deleted by Blogger!

I was trying to comment to say: First, thank you for saying you appreciate comments from strangers. I think I developed a complex (and thus, haven't visited your blog in about two months), because you've never responded to my handful of comments over the last year or so, and I thought you were subtly saying that comments from strangers will summarily be ignored. So! Thank you.

Secondly, you NEED to go to an Asian market. I Googled, and there are quite a few in the St. Louis area. Not only will you find all sorts of varieties of rice, but you will find HUNDREDS of legumes and grains, both whole, and in flour. And, it'll be cheaper than at a normal grocery store. So, that will provide you with variety and nutrition. Of course, you'll have to do a little research to find out what to do with ragi (black millet), chana daal (yellow garbanzos), juwar/jawar (sorghum), etc. Some experimentation may be in order. But, once you have a few reliable recipes under your belt, it will be so worth it, and it'll save you money.

For instance, I made an Italian flatbread called farinata virtually every day, and have done so for the last year. 1.5 cups garbanzo flour (called chana daal or besan), 2 cups water, 3/4 tsp sea salt, 3-4 Tbsp olive oil, about 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary. Mix thoroughly and let sit for at least 15 minutes (you can mix it a day or two ahead of time). Drizzle some olive oil on a cast iron skillet, and place the skillet in a cold oven. Preheat to 500* F -- takes about 10-12 minutes -- you don't want it to start smoking, but you do want the pan to sizzle when you pour in the batter. When hot, pour the batter, and bake for 20-24 min, until brown on the edges. You could mix up a batch or two or three ahead of time and refrigerate. Then, all you'd have to do when you get home is preheat the oven and bake. It's really good!!