Thursday, April 12, 2012

Feeding Friendship: Cauliflower Crust Pizza

I've had this recipe for a while, but I can't said I had it in mind when I chose pizza for this round of Feeding Friendship. I thought it might be a good way to lighten up my favorite dish and add some more nutrients. I topped this unique crust off with a classic red sauce, mozzarella cheese, olives, artichoke hearts, and sauteed mushrooms

It turned out ok, but one of my favorite elements to a good pizza, a crispy crust, was noticeably absent. This could have been improved a bit if I'd used less sauce. Either way, this might be a fun gluten-free option, if you're in the market. I adapted it from this recipe.

Here's how I made it:


3-4 large florets of cauliflower
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp dried oregano
2-3 garlic cloves, pressed/minced (1 tsp)
Salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Preheat the oven for 450 degrees

The first step is to "rice" the cauliflower. This is just a fancy way of saying, "put it in the food processor until it looks like a grain."

According to the recipe, the next step is to put 1 cup of the riced cauliflower in a microwaveable bowl and microwave on for 8 minutes. I just realized that I didn't do this and I didn't have an issue. I don't think that would have helped the less-than-crispy crust issue.

In a medium bowl, mixed 1 cup riced cauliflower, beaten egg and mozzarella

Add oregano, garlic, salt, pepper to the mix.

On a greased baking sheet or parchment paper, pour the mixture out and pat into a 9" round about 1/2" thick.

Bake at 450 for 15 minutes.

Let the pizza cool for roughly an hour while you take in some intense physical training.

Add desired toppings and place under the broiler on high heat until cheese is melted.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Our Lenten Fast: 40 Days on Minimum Wage

I hope you all had a great Easter weekend! Mine was spent relaxing and getting things done around the house since Mike had to make a last minute trip home to see family.

Mike and I have a very young tradition (2 years) of giving up something for Lent even though neither of us practices a religion that observes Lent. We view it as a good, finite amount of time where other people are making sacrifices, too, and we always like a good challenge. (We've both been known to give things up separately. Mike has given up things like soda and fried food in Lents gone by. I gave up alcohol for 2008.)

Last year we were vegetarian for 40 days. We learned that eating out is very challenging when you're vegetarian and most meals consist of a lot of carbs and a lot of cheese. Eventually we got the hang of it and I would guess we eat a lot less meat than we did before. Well, at least Mike does. I tend to lean towards vegetarian choices anyway.

This year, we considered giving up processed foods, but really where do whole foods end and processed food begin? Is flour processed? Pasta? Milk? There wasn't a clear line. Then our ideas turned financial in nature. I suggested we give up spending unnecessarily, but we agreed there was a lot of grey area there as well. ("Just how necessary is it that we eat out tonight?") So it became clear we'd need some sort of budget. Mike suggested that we build a budget based on us each being employed part-time in minimum wage jobs. To make it more interesting I "worked" at the Starbucks down the street and he "worked" at the sub shop next door. It's highly likely that one or both of these businesses pays better than minimum wage, but let's not get caught up in the details, yes?

Mike did a lot of research and set up the following budget:

Rent (w/fixed utilities)

Health Insurance

Renter’s Insurance

Car Insurance



2 iPhones (AT&T)

Gym Membership


Pay of Credit Card

Emergency Fund

Save For Retirement

Total Income (after tax)
2 ppl, 34 hrs/week
Total Needs
Total Wants
Total Savings

Total cash for groceries/shopping/entertainment

So really the take away from this is, after rent, bills, and gas, each week we had $103.95 for groceries and whatever else we needed to purchase. But look how responsible we are! We have health insurance and renters insurance and we pay for the gym! Those are all real life numbers that Mike calculated, too. He even identified an apartment complex down the road where all bills were paid including TV and internet. If this had been a real life scenario I would have immediately kissed the gym goodbye. I've been threatening to anyway, but we wanted to continue to go throughout Lent, so we factored that into the budget.

So this was pretty eye opening. I'm used to spending about $100 on groceries each week, and that's in addition to going out to each a few (*coughcough* several) times a week. How were we going to spend significantly less on groceries while at the same time almost never eating out? As it turns out, this wasn't really as challenging as it sounds, which makes me wonder how much we were wasting before.  I got a little overdramatic in the beginning and went to a cheaper version of my favorite grocery store, Central Market. I bought like 3 lbs of chicken breast for $2/lb. That's what those "couponers" do, right? That's when I learned that, for me, grocery shopping was more of an "experience" than I realized. This place didn't have the same "feel" that Central Market does.

So for the rest of Lent, I went to Central Market and just shopped smarter. We at a lot less meat and no seafood. We started making things at home that we would normally purchase, like cookies and bread. We made big batches of oatmeal each weekend and Mike and I ate breakfast all week on $2.50. Of course, we had a good supply of eggs, but they weren't exactly free -- we paid $20 for chicken feed the week before we finished. I also cleaned out the pantry by planning meals around items we already had. I think the least I spent on a week's worth of groceries was $41 and that fed us all week as we never went out to eat more than once or twice in a week.

We started to get creative. Gift cards were fair game. Instead of going out to dinner, a treat at Starbucks using a gift card from Christmas was good enough. Mike had a lot of home improvement items he needed to return to Lowe's and Home Depot. This resulted in over $200 in gift cards. We used that money to purchase plants and other landscaping necessities. We started selling books, clothes, and gadgets on Amazon and eBay and gathered items for a garage sale that we'll have in a couple weeks. We had a Groupon for a really upscale restaurant and we meticulously planned which meal we would share (and pay the split plate fee of $4!) before we got there.

There were some hiccups, too, of course. I went to pick up my specialty plates for the car which I had purchased a few weeks before. The woman informed me that I still owed another $10. Knowing I had to purchase groceries when I was done at the tax office, I hung my head in frustration. On the first day of Lent, Mike forgot to shave before going to work and had to spend ~$2 on shaving supplies at the BX! Every time we encountered an unexpected expense, I was reminded that so many people face these challenges every day and they have no end date to soften the blow.

Here's some other things I learned throughout this process:

  • We have awesome friends. We weren't doing this because we legitimately needed to save money, but hey a penny saved is a penny earned, right? We had so many friends offer to cover us in different situations. When we traveled to Fort Worth for a race and stayed with our friends, Grant and Ashley, they provided us with dinner, breakfast AND lunch! During a night on the town with a big group of friends, a couple of the guys each bought Mike a beer. We were treated to gelato more than once by our good friends Geoff and Ellie. Ellie's parents took us to brunch when they were visiting one weekend and my mom sent us a Target gift card. :) I felt kind of bad, because mooching off friends and relatives was NOT the point of this experiment, but then I reminded myself that it just means we have really great friends and family!
  • Weekends are freer. We found we had a lot of "extra" time on our weekends. We had time to clean the entire house ever Saturday morning, spend time reading or pursuing other interests, and organizing rooms/drawers/closets that had been neglected. I can't tell you exactly what we would have been doing if we weren't on a budget, but my guess is something like going out to lunch and going shopping. And for what? We obviously don't need more stuff! 
  • In many ways, this isn't sustainable for us. I can see how people on a budget like this are tempted to ditch important expenses like insurance. Like I said earlier, the gym membership would be canceled ASAP if this was a real situation. During Lent, I didn't get a hair cut and we didn't buy any cat food (at $1.30/day!!). I had several doctors appointments for my acid reflux that were not counted against our budget. I wasn't willing to compromise anyone's health for this experiment.
  • In many ways, it is. We don't need to spend $100 at the grocery store each week and we can certainly stand to eat out less than we were before. Before this we felt like we had to get out of the house on a Saturday, but now we realize there's a lot to be done at home.
  • When you're living on this little, it's hard to get ahead. Sure we're making payments on that credit card (Mike made that up because we figured there would be some sort of debt repayment or savings), but it's hard to stock up on items like paper towels or toilet paper because the large packages are so gosh darn expensive, so you end up paying more per unit for a smaller package because that's all you can spare that week.
  • My meal planning, ingredient substituting and price estimating skills are now razor sharp. On Saturday I'd plan out the meals for the week using a Google Calendar that I share with Mike so he could see what's for dinner each day. After I planned the meals, I'd enter the ingredients into my Grocery IQ app (if you don't have it, get it!!). From there, I'd do a rough estimate of how much the groceries would cost. My initial estimate was usually within $10 or so. In the beginning I kept a running total on pen and paper as I shopped so I wouldn't go over. That's when I found out there was no tax on food in San Antonio!!!!! The total I'd added up in my head would be SPOT ON with the total at the register. After a couple weeks of this I decided to try out the pricing feature on my app. Mike would enter prices as we'd check items off. Then we'd get to the cash register and announce our total. We never got those numbers to match for various reasons (the app is almost too smart really), but it was always close enough to grab the attention of the cashier. More than once we explained our mission. 
  • Everyone thinks it's a cool idea and wants to try something similar. Mike and I aren't special. There's nothing different about us. We see something we want, so we go for it. We don't wait for it to fall in our lap. Sure there's a lot of planning and it's hard work and sometimes frustrating, but it's cool and we're so much better for it in the end!
So, whether by coincidence or circumstance, our calendar for April is extra full. Not a free weekend in sight! It's good to be back on a "normal" budget, but boy will I think twice about spending a dollar!