A Spiritual Journey into SNAP

One family's experiment living on a food-stamp budget

What are we eating: Supper

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At the outset of our Lenten SNAP Challenge, a friend—who had actually been on food stamps for a while—warned that we would be eating a lot of rice and ramen. I wondered about that too. There has definitely been a lot of rice in various forms. But part of that I credit to my spouse’s current fascination with variations on the fried rice theme. I reckon that we would be doing that even it we were still in Epiphany. So here is a selection of the dinners we’ve prepared at home over the last week and a half. In most cases, we prepared enough for the meal in question, perhaps a second dinner, and at least a lunch or two. This too is not unusual for us. We tend to run on leftovers, particularly on the uber-busy days of the week.

We’ll start with fancy and work our way down.Image

This is pabellón, the national dish of Venezuela. David and I did a field course in Venezuela in 1991 and have fond memories of this dish. For some reason, David got a hankering for it a week or so ago so I hunted up a recipe and here’s the result. This was a big splurge as reported in Week 3 because the dish has meat. Basically what you are looking at is braised beef (not a great cut), rice, and black beans arranged in the stripes of the Venezuelan flag. The dish is finished with two fried plantains and a fried egg on top. In addition to the beef itself, the beans called for a port hock. Neck bones work just as well and are half the price! The dish was also elaborate to make. It involved a day in the slow cooker for the meat, then a second day for the beans. (We only have one slow cooker.) Then the rice, plantain and egg on the third day. Leftovers turned out to be wildly popular and the recipe was so loved that the beans will likely make a return appearance just by themselves. Four thumbs up!


To recycle the braised beef and beans, we served sopes with some food bank lettuce. The family is very fond of the sope corn cakes, which were quickly topped with leftover beef, beans and a bit of cheese and salsa. Four thumbs up.


This is mukimo, a dish from Kenya that begins by boiling diced onions, potato and garlic in just enough water to cover the potatoes. When the potatoes are cooked, throw in a bag of frozen spinach, a bag of frozen corn and a bag of frozen peas. Continue to boil until there is no water left. Add a generous splash of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Mash and serve. The recipe came from a Lenten devotion booklet prepared by Catholic Relief Services, and brought home from school. The booklet outlined a Lenten practice that included spending a week leaning about, reflecting on, and eating like one of the countries where they work. This just looked too good not to try. (And my repertoire of African recipes is quite small!) BIG hit, super healthy and economical with food bank potatoes and onions plus $0.99 bags of veggies at Wegmans. Four thumbs up.

The other surprise favorite (sorry not photo on this one—it wasn’t too attractive to look at but was astonishingly tasty) was a root veggie stew. I had acquired a bag of rutabagas from the food bank. Perplexed, I pulled everything out of the fridge and started chopping. In went all the rutabagas, carrots, red bell pepper, a celery root, celery stalk, onions, garlic and a can of canellini beans for some protein. Add water, some ground thyme and simmer for a while. It was an astonishingly beige meal and I fully expected it to be rejected as unfamiliar. But the girls gobbled it up and asked for more. Four thumbs up.

Also not pictured is a house favorite pea curry. This is a mild curry in a tomato based sauce over green peas and tofu. What’s not to love? I served it to EfM last week and there was an abundance left over. That may mean that most of them didn’t like it, but some did! In our family it was four thumbs up over rice. There’s that rice again.


Here’s the quick and dirty cheese ravioli and broccoli with creamy tomato sauce of the week. Wegmans rav combined with a bag of frozen broccoli boiled together until done. (I was trying to be efficient.) The sauce begins with my alfredo base (butter, cream and an egg yolk) with tomato paste instead of cheese whisked in. This one got mixed reviews. Although it is hard to go wrong with ravioli in this house, the boiled broccoli (instead of microwaved) were deemed unpleasantly soggy and the sauce fell flat. Two tumbs up.

And the fail of the week: Tuna noodle bake.


This is another all food bank meal. I was trying to go for a tetrazzini vibe with the noodles in a baking dish layered with tuna, carrots and tetrazzini cream sauce with cheese on top. Nobody (but me) liked the canned tuna—in fairness it is unfamiliar. And I tried to serve it the day after the beloved goldfish died. (Thoughtless at best; heartless at worst!) And the sauce, once again, fell flat. One thumb up—but as you all know, I’ll eat and enjoy just about anything.



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