Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Pie Of Summer

Kim, the blogger at Out My Window, asked me whether I would share the recipe for the corn/bacon/onion pie I references in my blog about August spending.


Warren is the one who called my attention to the recipe, which appeared in The New York Times under the caption "Is This the Pie of the Summer?" The subheading referred to bacon and corn in a "rich, quiche-like tart."

How was I not going to make that, especially with it being sweet corn season?

The recipe as originally published called for a traditional butter crust with some cornmeal thrown in. I made my own standard water/mayonnaise/flour crust, threw in some cornmeal (by feel) and rolled out a (deliberately) thicker than usual crust, which I baked first and let cool. What I did to make the thicker crust was make the recipe for a double-crust pie, then roll out a single crust.  You can find my crust recipe discussed here; if you are pre-baking a shell using my crust recipe, you heat the oven to 475 degrees and bake it about 12-15 minutes.

The ingredients for the filling for one pie are:
1 small red onion
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (note: i used bottled lime juice and it worked fine)
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch granulated sugar (I omitted this one time; it did not make a noticeable difference)
4 ounces bacon (4 slices), diced
1 1/2 cups fresh/frozen corn kernels (2 small ears if fresh)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt [I used Greek yogurt one time I made it; sour cream the other. No difference.]
3 large eggs
3/4 cup coarsely shredded sharp Cheddar (3 ounces)
3 tablespoons chopped parsley. I omitted this ingredient because I am not big on parsley and just threw in some dried herbs one time, some chopped fresh basil the other.

I left out one ingredient entirely: 2+ tablespoons chopped jalapeños because I do not eat jalapeños. I will note in the instructions where they come in. Looking at step 2 below, you can also pickle a little of the chopped jalapeños and add them later (step 5).

You make the filling as follows (this assumes the crust is made and cooling or cooled):

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

The corn/onion mixture
2. Cut red onion in half at equator (not root to stem), then from the center cut out two very thin round slices. Separate the onion into rings and put in a bowl with lime juice, salt, and pinch of sugar. [This would also be where a little of the chopped jalapeños would go.] Set aside. Coarsely chop the remaining onion and set it aside.

3. Scatter diced bacon in a cold skillet. Turn heat to medium, and cook until bacon is brown and fat has rendered: 10-14 minutes. Transfer bacon to plate (paper towel on it) and leave fat in the skillet.

4. Stir chopped onion into skiller with bacon fat and place on medium heat. Sauté until golden-edged and translucent: about 6 minutes. Stir in corn, 1/2 teaspoon salt. [If you are adding the chopped jalapeños, add them here.] Cook until corn is tender, about 2-5 minutes.

Ready to go into the oven
5. Remove from heat and scoop 1/2 corn mixture into blender. Add cream, sour cream, and eggs; blend until you get a thick purée. [Note: I used a hand mixer one time because I did not have a blender handy. Same result and cleanup was about 1000% easier.] Scrape the purée in the pan with the other kernels, add the bacon and 1/2 cup Cheddar. Stir, then scrape into the pie shell.

6. Top mixture with pickled red onion (jalapeños if you did that) and sprinkle the remaining Cheddar cheese on top.

7. Bake until puffed, golden, and just set: 35-45 minutes. Transfer to wire rack, cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Out of the oven

And there you have it.

Kim, if you make it, I'll be interested to hear how it turned out and what you thought!

Did someone say bacon? And corn?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

August Money Review

As predicted when I last wrote about our grocery spending, the food purchases (groceries, not eating out) made while out west pushed our August numbers way past the $175.00 mark.

Way past.

Just before we left for vacation, our combined food/household spending for the month was $197.13, $174.15 of which was food and $22.98 of which represented household items such as toilet paper and cleaning agents. So we were already past our $175.00 goal, but even so, our year-to-date average still came in at $165.80.

While on vacation, we spent another $111.20 at the grocery on food, nudging our year-to-date average to $179.70.

This is what that corn/cheese/bacon pie looks like. 
Why so much?

Because we bought all the food for two meals for nine adults. (I'm not counting the children, one of whom is an infant.) One meal was a variation on a Cuban pork dish my sons' grandmother used to make; the other featured three bacon/onion/corn pies and two roast chickens. Leftovers went to various homes or made reappearances in the days that followed. Another $20.00 or so went to a sundae bar (Ramona's favorite) when seven adults (and the children) gathered on the last evening. My sons (and their partners) provided the main meal and did all the cooking, but we supplied the dessert. (There were also some smaller purchases along the way, some of which we shipped home.)

Our August food expenditures were worth every penny.

I suppose I could take the position that our August food bill should be the lower amount and not count the vacation. But had all these wonderful people been in my home, I would have bought greater quantities of food and counted those amounts. So I'm counting them here. It will be nip-and-tuck to see if I finish 2019 with a monthly average of $175.00, but, ehhhh, I'm okay with that.

Surprisingly, our vacation eating out (just our portion, not the amounts we spent treating others) came in at a cool $93.29. Before we left, we had spent only $43.64 on eating out, which included our share of a lunch for my dad's 86th birthday and a desperately needed bag of food after a very, very late legal clinic. So the month came out at $136.93, with the bulk of that being the vacation, and I'm fine with that.

 When we got home on September 1 (new month, new totals), we did a major shopping to get perishables and restock some basics that had run low during July and August. I'm predicting September comes in around $175.00, especially if I make a point of turning to the freezer and cupboards. Between purchases at a local family-owned farm market and my dad bringing over zucchini from his garden, our freezer is packed heading into the fall and winter.

I'm eager to see what the last four months of this year bring, and where we end up on our food spending.

Saturday, September 7, 2019


We have been back for one week, having arrived back in Ohio last Sunday. I just finished catching up my accounts and am wending my way through paperwork I'd shoved aside before leaving. I'll post my August figures in the next day or two, but dollars take a backseat to these short glimpses.

Here are my sons, preparing a meal together, all grown up:

And here is Ramona, running into the ocean, just on the brink of being seven and beginning second grade (school started while we were there and she had her 7th birthday the day we left):

Lyrick will be three at the end of this week:

And this guy? Almost seven months old, almost crawling, and has an opinion on everything:

For the record, he was thoroughly approving of his sister making peanut butter cookies.

It's always good to be back home, but, oh, how I miss them!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Small Moment: Isn't That The Point?

We are packing tonight for an early morning flight to PDX. As I noted recently, there is one grandchild I am eager to meet for the first time, and two others I am anxious to spend time with again.

The bag from three years ago
I am again bound and determined to pack small and light. Three years ago, I managed to pack clothing for a conference and a visit in a bag approximately 9 x 18 x 9 inches. I told Warren to get that one out for me for this trip as well. Sticking to a trimmed list, I packed away.

Okay, I got almost everything in that I wanted to get in. But dang, that bag was heavy. And tight. And...

Too Full.

I am also carrying my go-everywhere bag, and it too was weighted down, mostly with things that did not fit into the bag.

Clearly I had to rethink my approach.I thought about what was in it: a minimal amount of clothing (we will be staying with Alise's parents, so we can do laundry). Some photos that I want to put in Sam and Ben's hands, culled from my parents' thousands of photos. My Chromebook layered in between a skirt and a pair of shorts.

]An aside: Warren is packing a big carryon and a small person bag as well. But I don't want to weigh him down with my stuff. ]

I looked again at my list, looked again at the little bag straining at the seams. What could go? What did I not need to bring?

Or rather, what did I need to bring most?

Once I reframed the question that way, the answer crystallized. Other than clothes, what I needed to bring most was me. Me as in being mindful and focused on enjoying my children and our grandchildren and our family. Me as in leaving behind a basket full of stresses and worries that have dogged me all summer. Me as in "I want to savor this time." 

"I want to savor this time."  Indeed, isn't that the point of my going?


Once I answered that question, I knew exactly what to pull out. Out came the Chromebook. It can stay behind for ten days. My world won't come to an end without access to Facebook and email and headlines. (Warren is bringing his laptop so he can do some Symphony work, but I generally do not get on his machine.)

Once I removed the machine, the bag gave a sigh of relief and zipped easily. I, too, gave a sigh of relief.

And now I am ready to go.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Small Moment: "I Love You More"

Warren and I ran an early morning errand today and when we got back to Delaware, I told him to just park his car in his usual spot (a half block or so from his office) and I would walk to work (a block and a half) from there. As I started to cut across the Justice Center parking lot, I called over my shoulder, "I love you!" With a smile that could have been a wink, Warren called back, "I love you more."

Oh my. That was a hand-to-my-hart moment. "I love you more" is how my beloved Aunt Ginger and I always took leave of one another, with each of us often trying to top the other:

"I love you."

A moment with Aunt Ginger and a very young Ramona (2014)
"I love you more."

"Well, I love you more than that."

"I love you all of that and even more on top of that!"

Even in her last months, when the dementia was starting to take its toll, Ginger would remember to say "I love you more" when it came time for me to leave.

Ginger has been gone now for a little over nine months. I visit her grave occasionally, and noted to Warren when I came back last time that we need to seed her grave this fall or spring as the grass put down by the cemetery crew did not come in well (and it has been such a dry summer the last several weeks that nothing would take right now). I have some photos of her in my study, and a memento here and there.

But mostly I have my memories, over six decades of them. As I noted when she turned 80, Ginger was a key part of my life always.

And today Warren called her response to me, deliberately invoking her. That's what his smile was about. And after I blinked the tears out of my eyes. I looked to the skies and said out loud, "I love you, Aunt Ginger."

"...and I miss you."

Sunday, August 11, 2019

What Poverty Looks Like, 2019 Version

I recently saw a meme on Facebook so hostile and ugly (I know, I know, you're thinking "You only saw one that fits that category?") that it made me take a step back and comment to Warren that I was having a very hard time with the post because this is someone in our immediate family, not just someone I can delete from my life, who thought it appropriate.

Now, a couple of comments before you start jumping to conclusions. The person posting is not particularly political; the meme had no mention, pro or con, of the current administration, Congress, the upcoming 2020 Democratic primary candidates, or the Supreme Court.

The meme was not about race.

It was not about immigration.

It was not about the environment.

The meme was about entitlement and privilege, which is something I often talk about. The twist was that the meme was about the "privileged" poor and how they (the poor) have to get over their special sense of entitlement.

Really? Really? 

The meme was particularly timely because just this week at work we had a real life (no meme here),  graphic demonstration of the gulf between privilege and poverty. At work right now, we (all County employees, not just our Court) are having to verify to the overarching benefits provider that the family members we carry on our health insurance are indeed entitled to be there by virtue of marriage, birth, or whatever. This has caused a lot of grumbling ("If my five year old was my birth child three years ago when we last did this, chances are good he is still my child") and a lot of faxing.

In the midst of this, a coworker shared with me two birth certificates as a demonstration of what a hard life does even to the young.

The first birth certificate is that of her stepson's and it looks like that (she photographed the backs of them for me):

That is the birth certificate of a child who was raised in stable circumstances, with food on the table, clean clothes to wear, a roof over his head, and the other benefits of an economically sustainable household. When my coworker asked her stepson for his birth certificate so that she could fax it in, his initial response was uncertainty as to where it was. The paper the birth certificate is printed on is unblemished; it has been kept in a nice, thick plastic sleeve.

The second birth certificate is that of a young adult, also male, of whom she was awarded custody (out of a Juvenile Court proceeding in another county) when he was still a teenager. She gained custody, even though there is no biological connection, so that this youth would have a roof over his head and someone to help him navigate a harsh world. Because he had essentially been raising himself from his early teens on, he and not a parent was always responsible for knowing where essential papers were at any given time. When my coworker asked him last week if he had his birth certificate for the verification requirements, this young man knew immediately where it was and handed it over. It was in his wallet. It looks like this:

Those creases and wear marks are from it being carried in a wallet for several years. The certificate is paper thin from wear; you can hold it to the light and see through it. (Take my word for it, you cannot see through the first one.)

This is what poverty looks like. It is not about privilege and it is not about entitlement. It is about surviving. Yes, sometimes there is government help when and if it is available (and if varies wildly from state to state, incidentally). But that is not a given ever. Poverty is about figuring out how to eat maybe once a day (more if you're lucky), stay warm in the winter, and make it to work or school no matter how far that may be, whether you have any gasoline, or whether you have a car at all. It is about staying safe under circumstances that many of us never have to imagine, let alone experience.

Poverty is about a battered birth certificate that a 20-year-old carries in his wallet so he can prove who he is when he has to.

My coworker and I talked for several minutes about these two certificates and the different stories they told. I mentioned a book I read several years ago by a sociologist who spent months traveling Greyhound buses and talking to riders, examining the lives of those riders. The author made a striking observation about how most of us who do not live in poverty have a general idea of how much money (cash, not debit or credit cards) we have on us at any given time, but how when you are poor, you know down to the penny exactly how much money you have on you, because that is likely the only money you have and you have to spend it carefully. (Economists have made similar observations and many conclude that people who live in poverty are far more intelligent consumers because every dollar has real, immediate value to them.)

My coworker immediately agreed. The young man with the tattered birth certificate? He can always tell you how much money he has on him at any given time. A young woman I know who lives in deep poverty? The same.

In the end, the ugly meme reminded me of the Ghost of Christmas Present turning on Scrooge in anger for Scrooge's earlier callousness about the poor dying so as to decrease the surplus population. When Scrooge reacts emotionally to the Ghost's pronouncement that Tiny Tim will die if nothing else changes, the Ghost throws his words back at him, concluding: "It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child."

I know. It's just a meme. And I also know that Facebook is a cesspool of viciousness on many, many fronts. But I'll let the Ghost have the final word.

"Forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is."

Sunday, August 4, 2019

July Money Review

Following the extravagance of May and the parsimony of June, our July grocery bills looked pretty darn normal. When I sat down yesterday to run the totals, I confirmed this: $184.20 for food, $4.00 for household items, total $188.20. Yes, we nudged over the $175.00 I am hoping for each month, but just barely. And our year-to-date monthly average came in at a cool $161.33.

Our eating out expenditures were $80.99, about half of which were meals out with out-of-town friends. (I only count our share of those meals, not the total bill.) That's a huge reduction (about 75%) from our June expenditures.

Clearly the anticipation of meeting us is just overwhelming. 
August is going to be a challenge to come in around $175.00. We will be heading west for time with family, including the long anticipated introduction to Orlando, who will be just past the six month mark when we finally meet.

Last year when we were out west, I counted the groceries I bought, even when buying for the whole family. I will do the same this year. Even shopping at my beloved Winco, which will keep the costs rock bottom low, adds up when buying for ten to twelve people.

The bigger challenge for the August grocery spending will be that, even though it is only August 4 while I write this, we have already spent $142.43 in food ($119.45) and household ($22.98).

No, we did not buy lobster. Or anything remotely resembling lobster. But we did spend money restocking some basics (toilet paper among those items). We also spent some serious bucks on meat: about $10.00 on chicken thighs and $50.00 on salmon (8.5 pounds, but who's counting?). The salmon was a whale of a sale for local salmon prices; I cut it up this morning and wrapped it to freeze in meal portions. In the quantities we eat, that's a whole lot of meals; the final count was 13. (The chicken thighs already met a similar fate.) That comes to $3.85 a salmon meal, incidentally. What with all of our purchases and the items already in the freezer, I said to Warren, "We really only have to buy perishables from now until we leave."

And that simplistic sentiment was not inaccurate until I realized we are buying zucchinis at a locally owned farm market because dad's zucchini plant might get something on it before the first frost. (Let's just say it was a bad season for dad and his garden.) Warren and I eat a lot of zucchini during the winter; we slice and freeze it in quart bags all through the summer and into the fall.

Oh, and the first sweet corn is hitting the local farm market too. We do not eat as much sweet corn (cut off the cob and frozen into quart portions) as we do zucchini, but still, there will be sweet corn purchases.

So who knows what August will look like when all is said and done?

In other financial arenas, July held some major expenditures, chief among them airline tickets (which I had been saving for). It held some unexpected medical costs when an unexplained fever sent me to Urgent Care, at which the doctor took less than five minutes to send me straight on to the ER. I have really good health insurance through my job with Delaware County, but it was still a pricy night. I have a modest amount of money in an account separate from my regular checking account, so I could cover the costs, but it made me acutely aware of the whole issue of financial sustainability.

Financial sustainability is something that is out of reach of about 43% of the US population. It is very roughly defined as having enough income to meet your monthly expenses, ranging from housing and food to transportation, without having to beg, borrow, or go without. While some of those Americans in that 43% are those who live below the poverty line, a large and growing portion of them are what sociologists, United Ways nationwide, and a lot of others of us now refer to as ALICE.

ALICE stands for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed. ALICE is in every state. ALICE knows no geographic, age, ethnic, or racial boundaries.

ALICE is a topic near and dear to my heart for several reasons. One is that many of the clients who come to our monthly free legal clinic are in the ALICE group. Another is that this fall I will be presenting at a national conference on the topic of ALICE and the legal system: how do we make sure those without means have access to justice?

But the major reason I am so keen on ALICE is that I have been ALICE. If I were not married to Warren, I would be ALICE now. And but for the fact that Warren owns his house without a mortgage, we would likely be ALICE. I have close friends and family members who are ALICE. And they are ALICE not because they are lazy or profligate spenders, but because the reality of today's economy is that financial sustainability is increasingly impossible to attain.

So as I sat there in ER and the very nice staffer informed me that my ER cost would be $150.00 and how would I like to pay that, I was grateful I had the means to take care of it right then and there, without having to calculate wildly how many months I could stretch it out over (as I have had to do in my ALICE past). And it made me think of all those who come through those doors (or through the grocery line or to the landlord) who do not have that ability.

As I mentioned back in January, I knew 2019 would hold challenges. We are both starting to look at retirement "somewhere" in the future. I don't turn 65 until April 2021 and cannot retire until Medicare kicks in (assuming that such a thing even exists in 2021) but am starting to look at that date (assuming I don't die before then). Warren sailed past his 65th birthday, a huge relief for me knowing that if I did die while still employed by the County, he would have medical insurance. While we are just starting to kick around what-might-this-look-like? when we talk, we are aware that our financial situation will change significantly when we both step away from drawing a paycheck. Other friends in our age range are having the same discussions; we compare notes in letters and emails and conversations.

More to come.

But first comes our trip and these little ones:

Lyrick will be turning 3 next month. Ramona is on the cusp of turning 7 and starting 2nd grade. Her school got a whole new building built over the summer. I'm excited because we will be there to tour it at the open house and watch her head off on her first day of school, an experience we missed last year because of the strike.

Wonderful times await.