by Chef Terri
Today has been a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, I woke up with a nasty headache from low blood sugar. This meant I got kind of irritated because I couldn’t adequately explain my calculation methods of costing to people. For example, while some people believe that they can calculate their food cost just by saying that a sprinkle of dried oregano would only cost a cent or two, I think that the initial cost for a container of spices or herbs ($3-$6 per jar) would be too cost prohibitive on a SNAP budget. I don’t believe that most people in Chicago on SNAP, or most of Cook County have the ability, time, or space to raise an indoor herb or vegetable garden. I don’t think that most people in Chicago on SNAP have the access to grocery stores teeming with “free samples” that so many people are encouraging me to take. I don’t think most people in Chicago on SNAP have the ability to comparison shop, coupon clip, or afford the initial cost of bulk purchasing. I don’t think most people in Chicago on SNAP are able to purchase a week or more worth of groceries at a time, as carrying them home on public transit is such a challenge.
Even more frustratingly, I don’t believe most people in Chicago have the education or access to be able to make healthy food choices, prepare food in ways that retain or enhance inherent nutrition, or try things they have never have before.
For example, I know that if I put peanut butter in a skillet with a little bit of water, salt, pepper, and onions, it will make a palatable sauce. Most people look at peanut butter only as a sandwich condiment or a dessert item. Salsa can be a flavor adding agent to salads, or scrambled in to eggs. It doesn’t just go on chips. The list goes on and on. There are even tricky ways to cut food so that it makes your eye think there is more than there is on the plate. But do most people on SNAP know these sorts of things? Do they have the time or access to learn them? Probably not.
On the more cheerful side of things, people have been really supportive. My coworkers are really nice and feel guilty that they’re all going to go out for lunch today and have a root beer float as a snack and I can’t. My partner has encouraged me over and over again, reminding me that the whole point of this challenge is to gain more than just sympathy for people in need, but to have a chance to gain even a tiny bit of empathy for their suffering. My family has reminded me to use MY history, MY inherent privileges (such as having a car with which I can access many grocery stores, living in a neighborhood that HAS many grocery stores, being educated as a chef, and being brought up in a middle class household that could afford to expose me to different foods as a child, to name a few) to help educate and reach out to people that don’t have what I do. The text messages throughout the day from friends and loved ones just saying that they’re excited reading these updates, and proud of me, also really help. It makes me sad that a lot of people on SNAP probably aren’t as lucky as I am, specifically when it comes to how great my support system is.
Today’s menu worked out pretty well for some reason. Maybe it was just out of desperation, but my PBJ sandwich seemed to last longer in to the day today than it had yesterday, so I didn’t start feeling too hungry for lunch until about 10:30, which was snack time. I had an apple and a one ounce piece of cheddar cheese, that made me able to stay full until lunch rolled around. In order to stay as true to the challenge as I could, I made my lunch last night threw it in the microwave. The trick I used to keep the chicken breast juicy was twofold. First, when I cooked the chicken, I cooked it in a little bit of vegetable oil on one side to get some color, and then when I flipped it over, I added water to the pan about halfway up the chicken breast. Then, I put the chicken in a 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes, until my thermometer (ESSENTIAL to not overcooking things like a thick piece of chicken) told me it was 160 degrees. I took it out of the oven and let it sit on the stove, resting in the juices, for 5 more minutes. By letting it rest, the muscle fibers in the chicken had a chance to retain their natural juices instead of slicing it right away and letting all the flavor run all over the board. Then I sautéed my frozen veggies in the same pan so that they could pick up some chicken-y flavor. To reheat the chicken, I set the microwave to its lowest power setting (I just want to warm my food up, not cook it much more) and added about a teaspoon of water to the Tupperware before zapping it for a minute. By keeping the lid loosely closed, it retained steam, which heats all the food very quickly. It still dries out a little from being in the microwave, but by using low power and shorter times in the microwave, it was still pretty tasty.
Dinner was downright exciting. I had intended to have beans and rice yesterday but didn’t remember to soak my beans in advance, so I thought I was out of luck and had to change my plans. Upon further research, I found that I could have cooked the beans without soaking them, but that is neither here nor there. I cooked them in water with onion, salt and pepper for about 60 minutes, boiling and then reducing to a simmer. Alongside, I cooked the brown rice in water as well, but added about a half cup of salsa. Sadly, the beans were done about 30 minutes after the rice, but my patience didn't last that long...so I mixed the beans and rice together, and got a complete meal with lots of fiber, protein, and carbohydrates, and...vaguely chewy beans. The squirt of lime juice over my bowl at the very end was delicious. I wish I’d had a spicy pepper to add to the mix, or even some cumin or vinegar to add to it, but next time.
Now my roommate is trying to tempt me with canned cinnamon rolls he made. I can't justify it. I can't justify it. I'll just enjoy the smell. Or something...