Vintage Cakes: Honey Bee Cake and Jam Cake with Chocolate Caramel Ganache

I made two cakes for the September/October birthday celebrations this year. Usually we have two celebrations. Chris and my Aunt Carol come first, and then mine.  This year, Chris and Aunt Carol opted out of a celebration, so we kind of celebrated all three birthdays at once.

Because Chris doesn’t like chocolate I made this Honey Bee Cake. It’s a buttermilk cake with a honey glaze.  Baking it, I was reminded that I’m not the greatest fan of honey’s super-sticky properties.  The cake itself was quite good.

This was the chocolate choice of the night. It’s a Jam Cake with Caramel Chocolate Ganache.  I didn’t quite get the caramel right, so the taste was very faint.  Other than that, this was a moist, lightly spiced cake. I’ve made a lot of the cakes in the Vintage Cakes cookbook.  We’re down to the ones that either have an ingredient I can’t justify purchasing, (The Harvey Wallbanger, which calls for 2 tablespoons of Galliano) or the ones that don’t appeal to me (Bananna Cake with Coffee Walnut Buttercream.)  Looking over the table of contents, there are a few more I want to bake, but this project is tapering off.

Challenge. Me, the food I eat, and the USDA Thrifty Food Plan

In looking for ways to send more of my money toward the payoff of my student loan, I’m going to focus on reducing my food costs in the last three months of 2017

There are many different ways to look at food costs.  Some people lump their grocery and eating out budgets into one line.  Some people look at the amount for the entire month, while others look at their food budget weekly. Some people even will break down each meal into a cost.

I have a couple of complicating factors in tracking my grocery bill.  One has to do with the calendar.  There are 30 days in some months, 31 in others.  Some months have four weekends, some have five.  Also, I make and sell meals to Matt.  This came about because I needed a side job, and one of my skills is cooking. He has no desire to develop that skill in himself (thus far) and needed to reduce food costs.   This has been great for both of us.  For me, it’s easier to make recipes that feed more than one person.  Plus, I get a little extra cash on the side.  Matt gets a variety of nutritious food for less than he would pay eating out.  I charge him $4.10 per meal.

A few years ago, I was searching the internet to find out what is a reasonable amount to spend on groceries.  I discovered the USDA’s Food Plans.  In a delightful bit of government minutia, food costs are tracked monthly and published on the USDA website. In one handy PDF document, you get food costs broken down by age, gender and family. Plus you can see the average cost under four USDA plans broken down weekly or monthly.

Example: For August 2017, a female between the ages of 19 and 50 would find the weekly/monthly Thrifty Food Plan costs to be $37.90/$164.20; the Low-Cost Plan to be $47.90/$207.50; the Moderate-Cost Plan to be $59.00/$255.80; and the Liberal Plan to be $75.40/$326.70.  Note that these plans assume all meals and snacks for the week/month are prepared at home.

This is super cool and gives me a goal.  Except, I also have to somehow reflect the fact that 4-6 meals worth of food per week go to a male between the ages of 19-50 years old (Thrifty food cost for that category is $42.80/$185.40).  What to do, what to do?

I went back and crunched my grocery numbers from YNAB. There’s a whole spreadsheet, but I won’t make you read that. I’ll just sum up what I found.

First of all, I decided that the grocery shopping week begins on Saturday.  I do my shopping on Saturday or Sunday.  Thus, months that have five weekends, the total monthly food cost gets divided by 5. (Of course, October is the rare unicorn and begins on a Sunday, making things complex. I gave September 5 weekends, and October 4)

From April through September my average weekly food costs were $64.97 which puts me above the Moderate and below the Liberal Plan. Drat!  Although August & September took a deep dive with $56.50 and $54.04 weekly totals.

But! Some of those food costs went to meals for the 19-50 year-old male.  I don’t have data prior to August, but in August I sold Matt 21 meals and in September there were 17. (Vacation happened.)

I took the average number of Matt’s meals per week and added them to the total number of meals per week for me (7 days times 3 meals per day gives me 21 per week) giving me a total of 26.25 meals per week in August.

After that, I figured out what the weekly percentage was for my meals.  In August  that was 80%.  Using that percentage, I could then calculate my actual average weekly meal costs.  My total:  $45.20 which puts me below the $47.90 Low-cost plan but not reaching the threshold of $37.90 Thrifty food plan.

I’ve realized there is a slight flaw in my data in that I don’t actually know how many meals I ate in the month.  As mentioned before, vacation happened and the food budget for vacation happens outside of this grocery budget.  I also don’t know how much I ate out in August, or September. Though my $40 eating out budget remained untouched all month (good job, me)a friend did buy me lunch for helping her with her resume.  Plus work bought at least two lunches.

I have added lines to my spreadsheet so I can more accurately reflect the number of days I ate meals that I prepared.

My goal for October, November, December is to meet the Thrifty Plan Food costs while still eating a variety of delicious food with a lot of fruits and vegetables.  I still plan to buy my red meat and poultry at New Seasons, which costs more, but I hope to offset that by doing the bulk of my shopping once per month at Winco (I have rediscovered the amazing deals) and cooking more with low-cost ingredients as well as using meat and cheese as flavor enhancers and not the main event.  I will also figure out a way to better ascertain if Imperfect Produce is a good enough deal to keep going with.

Right now, I’m pleased that my grocery costs are in the Low-Cost range.  But the monthly difference between the Low-Cost and Thrifty plans is $43.30.  Over one year that is $519.60 that would be better off being paid toward my student loans.

Minnesota State Fair Day One: Winding Down

We visited the shopping area under the grandstand.  There were many ways to part with your money, including some ice cream, spread thin, and then rolled up.  Sara and I opted for this photo. You can see Shawn and Sara also took pictures here when they visited the fair a few days before I arrived.  

At this point, I was very thirsty, and Shawn and Sara decided to partake of some roasted corn. We first visited this ticket booth (right next to the gator on a stick) to get tickets that would allow us a “pop” (me) and sweet corn (Shawn & Sara)

Then, it was a matter of getting to the front of the large conglomeration of people all headed in the same direction.  There was no “line.”  I used my skills–moving through crowds is one of my secret talents–but got stuck for a long time in front of a woman who had a technique going.

All of those kids in the picture below new their jobs. One or two people pulled corn out of the oven into bins, bunches of people pulled back the husks (leaving them on–they served as holders.) Then other people would grab an ear of corn in each hand and walk up to the counter.  People would hold up their ticket, and exchange it for an ear of corn, usually stopping to pour salt or a cinnamon sugar blend (?) on their ear, or wrap it in foil.  Every once in a while, someone would squeegee off the counter.

The woman in front of me was getting perhaps 10 ears of corn. But she would look at each ear going by and only hold up her ticket if it was a particularly big ear.  So it took forever for her to clear out and for me to step up to the counter.  Once I got my drink, I just had wiggle back out of the crowd.

Corn eaten, pop drunk, we headed for the shuttle buses.  There was a long line (as with everything at the fair) but it gave me a chance to get some photos of the changing lights on the Ferris Wheel.

When it was time for our shuttle we were ferried home in “choir bus” luxury.

Day One at the Fair was a grand success!  I was so glad to attend with seasoned fair-goers.  I would have been overwhelmed without them there to show me the ropes.

Vintage Cakes: The Classic

I have long wanted to make this cake as the yellow cake with chocolate frosting is my favorite cake combination. And the Easter/Greek Easter celebration seemed to be the perfect opportunity.

Perfect opportunity to decorate with Peeps, that is!  And some other sundry Easter candy.

This cake was divine.  The cake was just the right level of moist.  The frosting was easy to make and also delicious.  Not surprisingly, no one opted for a Peep with their cake.

Vintage Cakes: Lemon and Almond Streamliner Cake

I forgot to take my traditional cake-with-Vintage-Cakes picture, but this one is more fun.

As you might guess, it was Deborah’s birthday.  I offered to make a cake.  She mentioned she liked lemon, so I found this recipe.

I’m a chocolate girl, so I never would have made this for myself.  But it is a-mazing!  The Almond cake (which introduced me to almond paste) is delicious and joins perfectly with the lemon curd on top.

This is also a fairly forgiving cake, as I put it in the wrong sized pan (9×1-inch is not quite the same as 9×2-inch) and it spilled over onto the bottom of the oven.  Turns out that aside from the extra-crispy bottom, that spillover was very tasty too.

I also didn’t put all the lemon juice called for in the lemon curd, but it was still divine.

I’ve learned from Julia Child not to tell everyone your cooking/baking mistakes, so I kept mum about my cake baking trials.  No one noticed anything amiss and the cake was very well received by all.

I’ve also learned that when you freeze a piece the lemon curd becomes something like sorbet.

Another Vintage Cakes winner!

The mysterious case of the bagged legumes

For years I’ve been buying beans (and also rice) at Fred Meyer that came in a one-pound bag of thin plastic that flopped around.  This was fine by me.

Then, one day Fred Meyer’s bean (and rice) bags all got thicker, until they could stand up.  They also developed a zip-top closure.  This seemed excessive for me, as I usually either make the whole batch of beans in the bag, or pour extra into a mason jar to store.  But it wasn’t actually a troubling thing, so I rolled with it.

Today I went to grab a bag of black beans, and *poof* all the beans had been converted back to the original thin-plastic floppy bags.

What gives? File this under: changes I don’t know about and will never know about.

Vintage Cakes: Lovelight Chocolate Chiffon Cake with Chocolate Whipped Cream

It’s time to celebrate Mom’s birthday so I whipped up this confection.

This cake also happens to be on the back of the book.  Hers looks a lot better.

I find that I’m not a huge fan of cakes with whipped cream.  I think maybe I don’t whip it long enough, but there’s always this dire warning about whipping it too long, because it will curdle, so I get nervous.  Plus, everything slides with whipped cream. I should have skewered the cake to keep things in place.

It tasted good, though.

Mediocre chain restaurant is now gone from the Pearl

At my previous job, it wasn’t unusual to end up at Noodles now and again, just because it was so close.  The food was always so-so.  It seems that others in the area might have felt the same.  I can’t say I’m too broken up.

Also, I’m amused that “not far” to them means Washington Square.  By my reckoning, they are very far away.

Now, let’s not be naive. This is not a 5 minutes active-type meal.

I’m not sure when they start the timer on the “5 minutes active” portion of this recipe.  Chopping the onion, garlic, carrot and celery take far longer than that.  I would estimate 25 minutes of active time, and that’s with me buying bulk sausage, and not having to remove the casings.

It was a good soup though.

2016 Harvest Report

The good:  my many squash plants produced!  I enjoyed having a trombone zucchini and I even got a beet!

The bad: two of My Oregon Sweet Meat squash split, which meant they wouldn’t keep.  I cut out the rotted part of one squash and the rest was fine.  The other I gave to someone at work.  He and his housemates ate it for a long time.

I had saved seed of delicata squash and it didn’t grow true.  Perhaps it was a hybrid.  A goodly number of my delicata squash look like delicata-shaped acorn squash.  Also, of my two trombone zucchini plants, one of them seemed to be more yellow squash than zucchini squash.