If it’s Tuesday, it must be meatloaf
Did you have one of those mothers who served a specific food on a certain weeknight? I didn’t, but I knew other people who did. One friend’s mom made up her entire month’s menu, and you could go look and see what they’d be eating two weeks from now. The attention to detail was most impressive. The closest I get to that level of predictability is perhaps a “Soup Monday” for a couple of weeks — say, in Lent or Advent, as a way to bring some simplicity to the table. And Thursday tends to be leftover night at Chez Tracey. By then, we have Sunday through Wednesday night dinners in the fridge, so it’s time to clear them out.
However, I do make a weekly menu and stick to it most of the time. I started doing this as a single mother, to see how I could use my food bank canned foods in some creative way. A can of beans, a can of tomato sauce and some hamburger buns became Sloppy Joes. I needed paper and pencil to figure it out, though. Later, when our two families began to share food and a table and a roof, I wrote weekly menus for continuity. With kids on different custodial schedules, it helped to create a sense of one family, security, and predictability for our many kids who were coming and going. And they didn’t always have food at other houses or on the go. Knowing dinner is at 7 and that on Tuesday we’re having spaghetti helped a lot in transitioning to a family.
Nowadays, both in my JFSC and my “real” life, I still create a weekly menu to keep me on track,and I sometimes write it on the blackboard so everyone can see what’s coming — or keep it as a surprise. But I always know what’s for dinner.
Today I went to the farmers’ market and bought apricots, plums, peaches and nectarines for $1.25 a pound. I filled a big bag with some of each fruit and it cost me $10 to fill the bag. I also got a 3-pack of berries — blackberries, raspberries and strawberries — for $5. The farmer added so many more strawberries that it filled another basket at home. That makes 4 berry baskets for $5. That’s all I spent on us, though I did pick up some fresh items for a friend who couldn’t get out to the market during work. My total expenditure for our family was $15 for fresh fruit only. I spent $5 on the friend but she reimbursed me. I plan to use the raspberries and blackberries, together with the two baskets of raspberries my mom brought on Sunday, to make jam this week (my year’s supply of jam, woot!). I also noted that the food stamp promotion signs are up all over the farmers’ market — yay!
Later, I stopped at the nonprofit site with the bread giveaway and filled up a large canvas grocery bag. I shared some bread with my same friend. She gave me a bunch of grocery coupons she had saved for me, plus some Amish Friendship Bread starter. We checked out her yellow plum tree, but squirrels had eaten all the plums — disappointing, since we had hoped to make jam together. Our short visit reminded me how good it is to have a buddy when you’re in hard times. You can commiserate, of course, but you can also share resources. And I find that people with low income seem happy to share from their excess in a way that people of adequate means do not. If I get extra bread, I’ll share, and when your brother goes fishing and brings extra fish, you’ll share with me. When I buy one get one free, I can give one to you, and vice versa. If you’re struggling, try to find a buddy who can struggle with you. Together, you might do better than alone.
Note that our food budget til July 1 is now at $15.
Breakfast: Patrick: oatmeal, hardboiled egg, grapefruit, green tea. Julia: coffee, cereal and milk, banana. Kids (including one overnight guest): chocolate croissants (donated by a friend: $0).
Lunch: Julia, Austin: cheese and veggie/salami sandwiches on hamburger buns. Apricot from farmers’ market. (50 cents), coffee. Patrick: Chinese chicken salad (from BBQ).
Dinner: (All) Hamburger patties (from BBQ), simmered in onion soup (dry soup mix left over from making dip for BBQ); brown gravy (pantry), mashed potatoes. Fresh fruit.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.