dim sum

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We spent an hour of the rainy morning eating dim sum in a cavernous but crowded Chinese restaurant. Plastic tablecloths and food that shows up immediately on carts? Our kind of dining. We might make it a tradition.

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Rumpus McBumpus

Bryan and I impulse-bought this fellow out on a date night about 9 months ago, having wandered into Toy Joy after a couple of beers and been beguiled by his round and bouncy charms. He’s apparently quite popular in Japan, and specially patterned for some significant anniversary. Suitable for ages 3 and up. The first time we put 18-month-old Annie on it, she promptly pitched off and hit her forehead on a door frame.

Recently, however, her legs have grown long enough to reach the ground around him, and she has caught onto the bouncing. I named him Rumpus McBumpus, but Annie calls him “Rabumpus Rabumpus.” She requests, “Some Rabumpus time maybe?”, rides him like a mechanical bull, and then obligingly hops off so that Paul can have a turn. Paul also loves Rabumpus though we have learned our baby lesson and keep a firm hold on him during his rides.

Ladies and gentlemen, Rumpus McBumpus.

done with dinner

done with dinner

Despite appearances,* she really enjoyed this risotto, an old favorite recipe perfect for the spring. We’ve been killing it with the meal planning lately. Weekend planning, a grocery-delivery assist from the gig economy, and then 5 nights of reasonably healthy, reasonably easy-to-cook meals, ready to eat before baby-bedtime at 7. I am patting us on the back.

*She’s upset because she needs a diaper change—the dinner table is her favorite venue for taking a dump.

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more playing with food

Since we got the all-clear to let Annie experiment with solid food, we’ve been handing her chunks of whatever we’re eating to gnaw on. (You’ll remember the broccoli, one of her first foods, and perhaps also the green onion.) With supervision, she kind of sucks on it and gums it and, yeah, gags on it a little. It looks to us like good practice. When we described this in general terms to her pediatrician on Monday, she said knowingly, “Ah, you’re doing baby-led weaning,” and we probably made vague noises of assent.

Baby-led weaning, it turns out, is a whole thing. It sounds rather sensible and is clearly the product of parents thinking the way we did. I guess there’s some philosophy with a book for purchase and a brand attached to every choice you could make, but I’m rather proud of us—owners of a small library on how to raise a dog—for not knowing what they are.

(And now, Annie gnaws on a rib bone, video by The Grandparents K.)

good thinking, good writing

I found a new writing mentor. It’s exciting when it happens. I hope one day to be as wise and funny and put it all in writing as well as this random internet advice columnist. Or maybe I could do it right now if someone would give me a column… Okay, world, I invite you to send me a description of your problems, and I will tell you what to think and do. Go.

who uses SNAP? typically not Google employees.

Despite our playacting this week, we are obviously not the core constituency for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Understanding who the program does serve may be the most important thing to know about it. I grabbed some graphs from an excellent program overview by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which I encourage you to read if you’re interested in knowing more. The USDA, which runs the program, also has an easy-reading recent report.

snap users

Eighty percent of SNAP recipients are below the poverty line, and 42% are below HALF of the poverty line. And let’s be clear that the poverty line is not some cushy standard: it means that you make annual wages less than $11,500 if you live alone, or $23,600 among a family of four. (For a sense of how far that goes, consider that average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in the Austin area is about a thousand dollars per month.) To qualify for SNAP, you must also have assets less than $2,000 ($3,250 if you’re elderly or disabled), disqualifying those of us who are merely funemployed. Here’s the complete description of eligibility rules and benefits.

snap demogs

Nearly half of those receiving on SNAP are kids. Recent proposed cuts to SNAP have not reduced the amount of benefits—although that will happen automatically this fall when an increase from the 2009 stimulus bill expires—but they do limit eligibility for the program. It’s important to keep in mind just who that will affect.

awww SNAP

Well, other exciting political developments have been monopolizing our attention for the last couple of days, but the SNAP challenge does continue! There’s lots I want to share, starting with what exactly we’ve done with that $57 of groceries.

4 meals

Breakfast everyday is oatmeal with fruit (mostly increasingly mushy bananas), plus a couple cups of store-brand ground coffee.* Snacks are more fruit, that 5-ears-for-$1 fresh corn sautéed with a bunch of herbs from the garden, and little bits of leftovers from previous meals. Lunches and dinners are listed in the following table, usually accompanied by some green vegetable: a handful of baby spinach, roasted broccoli, or brussel sprouts.

One week of SNAP meals:
dishes and number of servings provided for 2 people

table

On Sunday, the first day of the challenge, we ate oatmeal for breakfast, the Spanish tortilla for lunch (basically a frittata with onion and potatoes), and red beans and rice for dinner. Since every recipe is providing multiple meals, front-loading the cooking has allowed us several options to choose from for subsequent meals. Even the oatmeal is made ahead: the batch I made on Sunday lasted until Wednesday. (Steel-cut oatmeal with its more toothsome texture takes a little longer to cook but holds up better as leftovers; rolled oats turn to mush.)

What is missing, you may notice, is meat. It was a struggle to operate on this very tight budget and feel remotely healthy, and the easiest choice was to eliminate meat in favor of beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Most of these dishes are not completely vegetarian—I think I’ve fried bacon every day this week—but they certainly fit the “meat as seasoning” approach of various cuisines around the world. Several of the dishes have roots in cooking cultures with a genius for making tasty things with limited resources, like the Cajun red beans and rice, Spanish tortilla, and Italian spaghetti carbonara. All these recipes came from my “tried and true” file, but I suspect you could much more intentionally find inspiration within particular ethnic cooking traditions.

The odd result of living on a food-stamp budget is that we are eating significantly healthier this week than we usually do, with unlimited funds for treats and a more casual attitude about meeting our nutritional needs. We like vegetables and will almost always include them prominently in meals we cook at home, but it’s not uncommon for a couple of days to pass when the only green we consume is a little spinach in our breakfast taco and the salad underneath our happy-hour crab cakes. Without for a second minimizing the significant challenges of eating on this budget, it is good to know that it possible to do it in a healthy way. IF you have the time, tools, and know-how to cook, that is.

That said, I have gone to bed hungry twice this week; I’ve developed a raging sweet tooth and nothing to satisfy it but a slice of cantaloupe; and when I neglected to pack a lunch when I went out for meetings and errands on Tuesday, I was ravenous by the time I got home to my leftover tortilla and squash casserole. I don’t think we’re going to run out of food before Saturday night, but I’m not positive. That would put us in the same boat with most families who receive SNAP benefits: almost 80% have used their entire month’s benefits by the end of the second week. Unlike those families, we will not have to resort to a food bank.

*that I am forced to confess don’t taste much different to me than our usual fancy beans from Central Market, thoughtfully selected from dozens of options and ground on-demand in small batches