Monthly Archives: October 2013

One Tube Radios

If you came here to read about the SNAP Challenge, you can find those posts at this link.

Much of my interest in radio was sparked by the discovery in my elementary school library of the Boys’ First Book of Radio and Electronics by Alfred Powell Morgan. I believe that the crystal set that I built was closely modeled on Morgan’s design. But what really made me drool was chapter 9, entitled “How to Build a One-Tube Regenerative Receiver”, which contained the instructions for constructing a receiver that promised to “bring in the signals of amateur, police, aviation, ship and broadcast stations hundreds of miles away.” It used a single tube and a handful of other components.

I never did build that radio, since many of the parts from the already old book were unobtanium. In particular, one of the required parts was two “4-prong plug-in coils for broadcast band when used with a 365-MMFD variable tuning capacitor.” According to the text, “you will need two readymade 4-prong plug-in coils” to cover the AM band. It also promised that “coils covering the higher frequencies or shorter wavelengths are also obtainable.” Those “obtainable” coils would be necessary to use the radio to listen to the elusive police calls. Of course, the police had migrated to VHF many years earlier, and I wouldn’t have been able to hear them on this radio, coils or no coils. But I didn’t know that, and I still wanted to build this radio to pull in those signals from hundreds of miles away.

Books by Richard Clem:

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I more or less gave up on building the thing when my dad came home with the closest coil he could find. I had dutifully copied down the exact description, namely, two 4-prong plug-in coils for broadcast band when used with a 365-MMFD variable tuning capacitor. He took this to the local TV repair shop, and they gave him, at no cost, the closest thing they had, which was the ferrite loopstick antenna from a transistor radio. This, of course, didn’t look anything like a 4-prong plug-in coil. As a result, I never did build the radio.

I doubt if very many kids ever built an exact replica of Morgan’s one-tube radio. But a handful of adults, many years after the fact, have done so. There are YouTube videos of these modern replicas, and I have a number of them linked on my Alfred P. Morgan page. One particularly good example can be found at the website of Big Nick, a Cajun accordionist. (For some reason, it doesn’t surprise me that another kid who wanted to build the Morgan radio went on to become a Cajun accordionist.) Big Nick’s page includes a scan of Morgan’s book and some audio clips which prove that the radio does, indeed, work.

I didn’t build Morgan’s one-tube radio, but I’ve always been intrigued by the simplicity of the regenerative receiver. At one point, I think when was in high school, I found at a hamfest an unbuilt kit for a Globe Patrol solid-state regenerative receiver, which I built. It was identical to the one shown on this page. It performed quite well, although at the higher frequency range (about about 15 MHz, if I recall), it cut out and wouldn’t go into regeneration. In recent years, my son and I built the Scout Regen Receiver from Hendricks QRP Kits. It’s a very good performer from about 3-8 MHz.

A couple of years ago, I actually did build a one-tube radio. I never actually made a contact with it, but this was actually a one-tube transceiver for 80 meters. I never saw the ad when I was a kid. If I had, I’m sure I would have lusted over it. But Western Radio of Kearney, Nebraska, produced the Weskit BN-1, which used a single tube for both transmitting and receiving. The tube in question was a 3A5 dual triode. One half of the tube was used for transmitting, and the other half was used for receiving. To switch from transmit to receive, the filament voltage for one half of the tube was turned off, and the other half was turned on. According to the diagram, it could be used with a 3 foot base-loaded whip antenna mounted right on the top of the radio. While a 3-foot antenna isn’t going to be very efficient on 80 meters, the diagram promised that it would be sufficient for “up to 2-6 miles”. Surely, had I known that such a thing existed, I would have wanted one of these 2-6 mile portable radios.  The schematic linked above can be found at

Frankenradio based on the Weskit BN-1

Frankenradio based on the Weskit BN-1

A couple of years ago, armed with this schematic, I decided to build a replica of the BN-1. I never made an on-the air contact with it, but both the transmitter and receiver functioned. With the receiver, I copied some signals on 80 meters, a couple of strong SW broadcast stations, CHU (the Canadian time signal station) and even an SSB aviation weather broadcast. I measured the input power on transmit, and it was about 50 mW. The signal sounded surprisingly clean on the air in my own receiver. My replica of the BN-1 is shown here. As you can see, the construction technique is hasty and crude. But the thing actually worked.  The design is about as simple as possible to allow both transmission and reception with the bare minimum of components.  As far as I can tell, there’s not even any direct connection between the receiver section and the antenna.  The connection is apparently accomplished from coupling within the tube, since the antenna is coupled through the coils to the plate of the transmitter.  One of these days, I’m going to rebuild it as a more aesthetically pleasing version and actually put it on the air.

I’m not aware of any one-tube radio kits, but this one looks intriguing. It’s a Two Tube Receiver Kit from Antique Electronic Supply, and is available for puchase from Amazon. The frequency range isn’t stated, but it claims to cover both AM and shortwave. There’s no word on whether or not it will get those elusive police calls, but the coils are presumably included.

If you’re looking for cheap shortwave receivers in general, please visit my Cheap Shortwave Receiver page, where you will find cheap shortwave radios starting for under $10. And if you’re looking for more of his books, please visit my Alfred Powell Morgan page.

What Can We Do About It?

During this challenge, I was not hungry. I actually ate very well.  I had to make some challenging choices, and I did have to do a little bit of work. I didn’t have a lot of money to work with, but I managed. Therefore, it would be easy for me to proclaim that I was able to do it, therefore anyone should be able to do it. And indeed, millions of Americans, whether or not they receive government assistance, prove every day that they are able to do it.

I did, indeed, eat cake last night.  But I don’t think I should simply say “let them eat cake.”  Not everyone is able to do what I did.  Not everyone is able to make the decisions that I was able to make, and not everyone has even the rudimentary kitchen skills that I have. As the SNAP Challenge has shown, even seemingly educated people make stupid choices, such as buying $1.08 hard boiled eggs, or wasting their money on Honeycomb cereal, popsicles, and root beer. Other people make unwise decisions, either because they are forced to, or because they don’t know any better. There are, indeed, people who need help, and there are ways that we can help them.

Jesus tells us that he was hungry and you gave him something to eat, that he was thirsty and you gave him something to drink, that he was a stranger and you invited him in, that he needed clothes and you clothed him, that he was sick and you looked after him, and that he was in prison and you came to visit him.

We can do all of these things on our own. We don’t need anyone’s permission to do any of them. We don’t need organizations to do them for us, and we don’t even need our government to do them for us. (Notably, Jesus never said that he was hungry, and you convinced Cesar to take someone else’s money and use the money to feed him.)  But in many cases, we can do these things more efficiently if we work together with others. The following is a list of some of the many organizations set up to do exactly those things. This is certainly not an exhaustive list. It’s simply a list of organizations with which I am familiar. They all do their job well, and are worthy of your support. Some are faith based, but all are willing to help anyone, regardless of faith.

And we should also remember that hunger is not a phenomenon that affects only the United States. Indeed, most of America’s poor are wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of most of the world’s population. During my challenge, I made use of luxury items such as an oven, a microwave oven, a freezer, and even an electric coffee maker. It’s humbling that I can use all of these things without giving it a second thought.  And for most of the world’s population, these are unimaginable luxuries. But in America, most of even the very poor have these luxury items available. Billions of people around the world need to feed themselves with far less than $26.01 per week. Here are some organizations that help them:

SNAP Challenge Day 7: The Final Day

I’ll write some more reflections later, but for now, I’ll just recap my final day of the SNAP Challenge. This is the last day of the challenge to eat only food that I purchased for $31.50. My total spending for the week was $26.01, which included 10 cents Minnesota state sales tax, meaning that I came in $5.49 under budget.

For my final day, I still had leftovers, so I didn’t bother preparing Breakfastanything new. I ate well, but the variety suffered somewhat. Breakfast consisted of two slices of toast with the remaining peanut butter, along with the three remaining slices of ham. This was served with a glass of Sunny D and, of course, coffee.




I still had two hamburger buns, a third of a pound of ground beef, and three slices of cheese. Therefore, I made two cheeseburgers, which I ate with the last of the canned vegetables, a glass of Kool-Aid, and some cookies. The kids were having hotdogs for an early supper after school, so I used the last slice of cheese for a late afternoon wiener wink.

Dinner consisted of the last calzone, the very last slice of bread with aSupper generous serving of margarine, and the last of the cookies. I also finished off the Sunny D with supper. I have about enough Kool-Aid mix for about another glass, in addition to the one remaining unopened packet.

Sponge CakeA few days ago, when searching for “self-rising flour recipies”, I came upon this cake recipe.  I had plenty of flour and sugar, so I was careful over the last couple of days to keep enough eggs and margarine in reserve. To finish out the week, I made the small recipe shown on that page. It turned out rather well and is shown below. The recipe appears to originate in India, and shows most of the ingredients by weight rather than volume. Fortunately, we have a scale and I was able to deal with the unfamiliar notation without having to do any complicated conversions.

Over the course of the week, I jealously guarded “my food”, only allowing the kids to taste a couple of my cookies. With the end in sight, however, I decided to share my little cake with the rest of the family.

My remaining supplies of food consist of the following:

My remaining food

My remaining food

About a pound each of the sugar and flour; five tortillas; three hot dogs; about a tablespoon of margarine, about 8 ounces of milk, one packet of Kool-Aid along with a little bit from another packet; two little packets of salt; one packet of pepper; and a half box of pasta. I also have (not pictured) about 4 ounces of coffee, split between the Family Dollar and Dollar Tree brands. And, as noted above, I have $5.49 remaining in my budgeted money.

SNAP Challenge: Day 6

I had another busy day with no opportunity to take pictures of food.  But here’s what I had to eat:

Breakfast:  Two slices of toast with peanut butter, glass of Sunny D, and coffee.

Lunch:  One of the calzones, Kool-Aid, and a couple of the peanut butter cookies.

Supper:  The rest of the pasta, one ham and cheese sandwich, and a slice of bread, washed down with Kool-Aid.

I did experience a bit of hunger this evening.  We had a Cub Scout meeting, and as pack treasurer, I was very busy collecting the receipts from our annual wreath sale.  Incidentally, if you’re in the Twin Cities and want to order a Christmas wreath, you can still do so for a couple more days.  I have full details at  Pizza was available, buy I couldn’t avail myself of any.  I didn’t get home until about 8:00, and I was hungry by the time I did.  Fortunately, I still had the last of the pasta in the refrigerator, and I was able to warm it up.

For tomorrow, I still have enough coffee for one more pot.  I still have a little bit of ham, two eggs, some cheese, a third of a pound of frozen hamburger, and bread, among other things.  The flour and sugar are lower than I had anticipated, but I’m sure I have at least a pound of each.    I think I’ll be in good shape.  I should be able to eat well tomorrow, and still have a few groceries left over.  In addition, I still have about $5 in my budget, and I don’t think I’ll need to spend any of it.

SNAP Challenge Day 5

I don’t have any food pictures to share today, Day 5 of my SNAP Challenge.  For seven days, I’m subsisting on food which I have purchased with a budget of $31.50.  So far, I’m about 5 dollars under budget.  My previous 4 days are documented at this link.

I was out of the house for most of the day today, an experience undoubtedly shared by most SNAP recipients.  Yesterday, I made six sandwiches and a batch of cookies.  Today, I ate all of the sandwiches and about half the cookies.  I was walking around outside most of the day at a Cub Scout event.  It included lunch (hot dogs) which I needed to forego.  Instead, I ate four of my sandwiches, and made myself a glass of Kool-Aid.  I didn’t want to carry liquid around with me all day, and I didn’t splurge on pre-sweetened Kool-Aid.  Instead, last night, I mixed a cup of sugar with one of the 20 cent packages, and made my own pre-sweetened drink mix.  The peanut butter cookies made a good snack, as I ate a few in lieu of the normal things I would have eaten, such as trail mix or granola bars.

Lunch did give me an opportunity to talk to some of the Cub Scouts about what I was doing.  One of them asked me if I had enough money to buy food.  I told him that I did, but I wanted to know what it was like for the millions who can’t truthfully answer yes to that question.

For a quick supper at home, I finished the two remaining sandwiches (one ham and cheese and one peanut butter).  I also had two quesadillas, consisting of a flour tortilla and a “cheese” slice (whose package, like that of the shredded “cheese”, nowhere contains the word “cheese”).

Tonight, we went to a party, where I nursed a glass of water, which prompted some conversation.  When one person asked why I was doing this, I didn’t have a particularly good answer, other than to say that it gives me the right to criticize others who have done it.

I should be in good shape for the remaining two days of the challenge.  I still have two calzones in the freezer, and enough to make myself two cheeseburgers (a third of a pound of ground beef, a few more slices of “cheese”, and two hamburger buns).  Of course, I don’t have any ketchup or mustard.  I also have half a loaf of bread, almost a full stick of margarine, a cup or so of milk, a couple of eggs, a few hot dogs, a few slices of cheese, and a pound or two each of flour and sugar.  I don’t think I’ll need to make any more purchases, and I think I might even be able to bake myself a cake Monday.

SNAP Challenge Day 4: Throwing Away Food

According to this report, 40% of American food is wasted.  I suspect the actual number is lower than that, but I also know that a lot of food that could be used to feed people winds up in the garbage.  Until today, I haven’t thrown any of my SNAP Challenge food in the garbage.  But today I did.  I took some perfectly good food and tossed it in the garbage.  I’m not proud of that statement–I’m just reporting the fact.

Wasted food

Wasted food

On Tuesday, I had pizza, which was fairly good.  Today, after lunch, I decided that I should finish the three remaining slices.  It wasn’t great to start with, and three days in the refrigerator didn’t help much.  I was already full, and the soggy pizza wasn’t very appealing.  So I ate the remaining sausage and most of the cheese, but threw away 3/4 of a perfectly edible flour tortilla and a little bit of tomato sauce.  It was probably about ten cents worth of food, and now it’s garbage that I need to pay to have hauled away, through my voluntary choice.

I’ve thrown away a lot less food this week than I normally would.  In fact, earlier this week, I was debating whether I should save my coffee grounds to see if I could nurse a little more coffee out of them the next day, even though most of them had already been used at least a couple of times.  I’ve been saving the empty margarine wrappers to grease pans.  But today, I’m still affluent enough to throw away food, and I did.  Does that make it right?  No, it probably doesn’t.


I’m down to three biscuits in the freezer, so last night, I decided to make another batch.  My wife suggested that I use the dough to make calzones instead.  For a filling, I browned a third of a pound of the hamburger, added the remaining quarter can of cooking sauce and grated cheese.  I pressed the dough flat, placed the filling on top, and then covered and sealed with another flat piece of dough.  I made a total of three.  I put these in the oven until they were golden brown and then froze them.  I had one for lunch today, and it is pictured below.

Speaking of throwing away food, I had a plate of flour that I used to coat the dough so I could work it with my hands.  At one point, I accidentally poured some sugar onto this plate, and wound up with a few tablespoons of a useless sugar-flour mixture.  Normally, I would have tossed it, but I instead set it aside.  It was food, after all.  When I was done, I added enough water to make it a dough-like consistency, and put it in the oven to bake.  Much to my surprise, the result was what can only be described as a cookie.  So it’s apparently possible to make cookies with nothing but water, sugar, and self-rising flour.  No, it wasn’t the best cookie ever, but it was about the equivalent of a vanilla wafer.  I’ll need to do some more cookie experimentation, although that will probably be after the challenge ends.

BreakfastFor breakfast this morning, I decided to see whether the minimalist approach would work with pancakes.  I used about a cup of flour, a half cup of sugar, and enough water to produce a batter of the correct consistency.  I poured it into a skillet lightly greased with margarine.  The result was surprisingly good.  The pancakes were definitely not “fluffy”.  In fact, the consistency was what I would describe as somewhat “gummy”.  But they tasted quite good with syrup and margarine.  I also fried one hot dog and served it all with a glass of Sunny D and, of course, a cup of my now abundant coffee.

Lunch consisted of one of the calzones and a small serving of the Lunchvegetables.  It looks like I have about one more remaining serving about the same size.  The beverage was a glass from a fresh pitcher of Kool-Aid.  Desert, after picking over the remnants of the pizza, was more of the cookies.

Tomorrow, we’ll be at an event where lunch is being served.  But since I paid for that food before the start of the challenge, I won’t be allowed to eat it.  And I probably won’t have time to make breakfast, so I’ll need to bring something with me.  Finally, I’ll be outside all day and will probably want a snack.  I toyed with the idea of going to Dollar Tree and buying some trail mix or granola bars.  But instead of walking all the way there, I decided to make that as well.


Tomorrow's Lunch

Tomorrow’s Lunch

For lunch and snacks tomorrow, I made myself some sandwiches with the hamburger buns.  I made four ham and cheese sandwiches, two with mayonnaise and two with mustard, and two peanut butter sandwiches.  In addition, I packed the last muffin and made some cookies.  For breakfast, I’ll probably eat the last two biscuits in the freezer.

For snacks, I made another batch of cookies, this time with some of the peanut butter. The recipe is similar to the cookies I made earlier this week.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies


Combine 1/2 cup sugar with 4 TBSP (1/2 stick) melted margarine (about 15 seconds in microwave) and 1.5 ounce (entire package–probably about 2 TBSP) softened peanut butter (about 20 seconds in microwave).  Beat in one medium egg.  Pour over 1-1/4 cup self-rising flour.  Mix well and place small balls on greased cookie sheet.  Flatten with fork, and bake about 14 minutes at 375F.  (The tops didn’t get very brown, and I think a longer time at a lower temperature would be better.)  Makes 21 cookies.

I’m sure that many have noticed that I have the luxury of working from a home office, so my kitchen is not far away from my workplace.  I can easily take a break to prepare snacks or meals.  The amount of work I’ve had to do for meal preparation has been more than usual, but it hasn’t been a lot of work.  At most, I’m spending one hour a day preparing food.  I realize, however, that most people receiving SNAP assistance don’t have this luxury.  A large percentage of them work long hours, and they need to eat during their work day.  As my experience today shows, it is still possible to cope with these circumstances.  An hour’s work last night netted three calzones, representing three meals that can be warmed up in a microwave.  The leftover pasta from a few days ago is still waiting for me in the refrigerator, ready to be microwaved.  While not universal, many workplaces have a break room with a microwave oven.   For those who work in places where no cooking equipment is available, food can be transported in an insulated container.  And, as I’ll be doing tomorrow, the cold sandwich is a longstanding American tradition.  And, of course, for many years, my dad took to work a lunchbox with a curved lid.  As far as I know, most American workers owned an identical lunchbox.  It had a curved lid because that’s where the thermos was stored.  And that thermos was invariably full of hot coffee.

Somewhere along the way, that style of lunchbox went out of style.  Indeed, the lunchbox itself went out of style.  I suppose for some people, the phrase “for the cost of a cup of coffee” might suggest a lavish expense.  But if you use that phrase with someone who was an American worker in the 1950’s 60’s or 70’s, it’s not going to mean very much.  For them, it’s another way of saying zero, since the coffee was right there under the lid of their lunchbox.

Would my life be more difficult if I had to eat all of my meals away from home?  Yes, it most certainly would.  But it’s not an impossible obstacle, as millions of working Americans will attest.

I’m posting this update before supper, which will probably be the leftover pasta from earlier this week.

SNAP Challenge Day 3: Affiliate Marketing by Charities

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today, but my inbox gave me the answer. First, I need to explain some background. This website, and most websites, contain “affiliate links” of various kinds. I make (a currently small amount of) money with my websites: This one,, and These affiliate links are links to other websites, such as and WalMart.

Pillsbury Doughboy

Purveyor of Self-Rising Flour

If I need a picture of the Pillsbury Doughboy, I simply go to Amazon, find one that I like, and Amazon takes care of hosting and providing the image. And if anyone clicks on the picture and buys something from that site within a certain time period (usually 24 hours, in the case of Amazon), my company gets a commission on the sale. The commission is generally 4-6%. This is all explained in legal mumbo-jumbo in my site’s privacy policy.

I use these links in a number of ways. First of all, if I need a picture of something, Amazon is an extremely convenient place to find it. They sell almost anything imaginable, and they have at least one picture of everything they sell. The pictures are hosted on their site, so I don’t need to worry about copyright clearances, uploading, or anything else. And occasionally, people will click on the pictures, perhaps out of idle curiosity. A certain percentage of those people will buy something from Amazon, and we get the commission.

Occasionally, I’ll talk about, or even recommend, a certain product. For example, I have a page about RV power adapters. People come to that page trying to figure out how to plug their camper in at home, I show them what adapter they need to buy, and I even tell them that they can get it at their local hardware store. But I also provide a picture and links, courtesy of Amazon,  WalMart, and other online retailers. Even though I tell my visitors that they can buy the needed part at a local store, many of them go ahead and buy it online from one of these links.

Links of this type are used on many websites, and also in e-mail marketing. For example, I’m on the opt-in mailing list of Every day, I get a few pieces of spam e-mail from them. I open these spams, because they contain a link, and when I click on the link, I get 5 “points”. I never even bother reading the page that opens. I’m just concerned about getting my 5 points, because I can eventually redeem those points for cash. Every few years, I get $50 in my PayPal account as a result of all of this spam. Obviously, that money has to come from somewhere, and I assume it comes from those advertisers paying MyPoints for my click. In my case, they don’t get anything for their money, since I generally don’t even read their ad.

I’ve noticed a few charities advertising with MyPoints. Often, these are charities to which I am actively opposed, so I’m actually glad that I’m able to take a couple of cents out of their pocket. But it seems to me that paying people to click on a webpage is not a good use of charitable dollars. I realize that even legitimate charities have fundraising expenses, but the use of affiliate links just rubs me the wrong way. I have absolutely no qualms about telling people about a product that will suit their needs, and then getting paid for providing that service. And I have no qualms about using pictures from Amazon, knowing that they’ll make sales as a result, and that I’ll even get paid for referring those sales to them. But I can’t bring myself to say something good about a charitable organization, encouraging people to give their hard-earned money to that organization, and then getting some of that money myself. Yes, I suppose there’s a case to be made that this is a legitimate fundraising expense. But I wouldn’t feel right taking it. If I encourage you to buy stuff from Amazon, and if you do so, it will put money in my pocket, and I’ll feel good about it. But I wouldn’t feel good about it if I took some of your charitable dollars, so I don’t do that.

Later in this challenge, I’ll give you some ideas of organizations that can help people struggling with hunger. But rest assured that I won’t be providing any affiliate links.

I initially heard about the SNAP Challenge from media reports, such as those detailing the infamous $1.08 hard boiled egg. Upon doing some research, I found that one of the originators of the challenge is Feeding America, and I signed up for the challenge on that organization’s website. I did a bit of research, and it does seem to be a well-run charity. It’s a network of food banks, including one local one to which I have donated. It appears to be a very efficiently run charity, and the relevant statistics can be viewed at Charity Navigator. In particular, its fundraising expenses are listed as 1.5%, with administrative expenses of 0.4%, both extremely low.

I was very surprised this morning to get the following e-mail from MyPoints:


By clicking on the link, I would receive 5 points. And if I went on to make a donation through the link, I would receive the following:

Once you get to Feeding America, make a one-time/initial donation of $15 or more and earn 1,000 Points.

Sign up to make recurring monthly donations of $15 or more and receive up to 4,000 Points.

Those points would eventually result in cash back in my pocket, and that money needs to come from somewhere. I assume that the charity needs to pay for the advertising, which means that the money coming back to me would come from the charity. Again, I realize that charities have legitimate fundraising expenses. And, in fact, Feeding America’s expenses are extremely low. It’s also possible that these points are a donation from someone else, such as MyPoints itself. I doubt it, but it’s possible. It seems most likely that the points are paid for by Feeding America.

Again, there’s a strong argument to be made that this is a legitimate fundraising expense. But it just rubs me the wrong way. I should note that even though I normally click on these links, I won’t be doing so in this case. As far as I can tell, Feeding America does use the vast majority of its resources for its charitable purposes, and I’m not going to take a couple of cents from them. But normally, I would have. I would have taken a couple of cents from hungry Americans without even thinking about it. In the process, I wouldn’t have paid too much attention to the ad. But I would have seen the name on the screen for a split second, and my mind probably would have filed it away as one of those charities that does affiliate marketing. I don’t think that’s a good use of charitable dollars. In my case, sending the ad to me would have done more harm than good.


Now that my daily political rant is out of the way, we’ll get to the details of how well I’m eating.  After posting last night, I decided to bake some cookies.  Once again, I turned to Joy of Cooking for ideas.  The simplest recipe I could find called for vegetable oil, but I decided I could substitute melted margarine.  It also called for vanilla and cinnamon or nutmeg, which I simply omitted.  Finally, of course, I substituted my trusty self rising flour for the flour, salt, and baking powder.  I divided the recipe in half and came up with the following recipe, which netted about 20 cookies:


Combine 1/2 cup sugar and 5 TBSP melted margarine (about 15 seconds in microwave).  Beat in one medium egg.  Pour over 1-1/4 cups self rising flour and mix until consistent.  Shape into balls and roll in sugar.  Bake on lightly greased (with margarine) cookie sheet at 375F for 12 minutes.

I snacked on a few of the cookies last night and during the day today.  The downfall of most of the challenge takers seems to be the failure to account for the fact that most Americans are accustomed to snacking during the day.  Having something on which to snack really does make the process relatively painless.  The cookies can be seen in my lunch and supper pictures below.

Breakfast consisted of the last of the pancakes and two sausages, along with syrup and coffee.


Lunch was pretty good, if I do say so myself:



Chop 2 cooked sausage links.  Warm in skillet.  Add 1/4 can Progresso Creamy Parmesan Basil Recipe Starters Cooking Sauce and about 1/4 cup grated cheese.  Simmer over low heat until cheese is melted.  Add about 1 TBSP milk.  Serve over biscuits.

I served this with some of the vegetables, Kool-Aid, coffee, and cookies for desert.


I did need to get a few more items, so I went after lunch.  My first stop DSC00943was Family Dollar.  Despite the name, this is not a “dollar store”.  In fact, almost universally, the prices were higher there than at either Rainbow or Dollar Tree.  But this is even closer to my house, so I decided to check it out.  I’m glad I did, because I scored myself 11.3 ounces of “Family Gourmet” coffee, which will be more than enough to get me through the rest of the week, for $2.25.  I wish I had shopped here first, since this amount, with some conservation, would have gotten me through the week, and I wouldn’t have had to buy the little 7 ounce bag of Dollar Tree coffee.  When I checked last night, I had four ounces left, so I would have had to buy more anyway.  I think I have enough of a cushion for the luxury, so I bought myself the $2.25 brick of coffee.  The first thing I did after getting home was making myself a luxurious pot.  Between the brick and my remaining four ounces, I can now afford to splurge.  I can drink as much coffee as I want, something that I’ve never heard another SNAP Challenge participant say.  I have no idea whether you can buy coffee with SNAP benefits.  As far as I’m concerned, you ought to be able to.  If it’s not currently allowed, then that’s a reform whose time is due.  How can we expect anyone to work if they don’t have coffee?

I also splurged by spending $1.00 on a 40 ounce bottle of Sunny Delight.  I can get by with the Kool-Aid, but I do want a beverage that’s a little bit more portable.  I did also get two more envelopes of Kool-Aid for 20 cents each.

This weekend, if the weather cooperates, we’re going to go camping in order to get the camper winterized.  We also have a couple of Cub Scout events.  Since those events include food that I’m not allowed to eat, I’ll need to bring something portable.  Therefore, I went back to the supermarket to get some sandwich materials.

I’ll probably run out of bread if I make a bunch of sandwiches, so I got more.  For a change of pace, I got 12 ounces of hamburger buns for 88 cents, even though a 16 ounce loaf of bread was the same price.  I also got a small package of ham lunch meat for 69 cents.  After putting those items in my cart, I found myself emboldened from having gotten free salt and pepper in my last visit to the store.  I headed over to the salad bar and nonchalantly tossed a little of package of mayonnaise and one package of mustard into my cart.  Once again, the friendly cashier put them in my bag without a second thought.  So I’m good in the sandwich department.

Finally, to round out my meat for the week, I purchased a package of hot dogs for $1.15.  I debated this purchase for a few minutes, since the exact same hot dogs are 15 cents less at Dollar Tree, which is right on the way home.  Perhaps I’m being overconfident at this point, but I decided I was willing to pay 15 cents for the convenience.

My total bill for the day (including 10 cents tax, apparently on the coffee) was $6.47.  My total expenditure so far is $26.01, meaning that I still have $5.49 to work with.  I’ll probably need more milk, and I might need more margarine or oil.  The worst case scenario is that I’ll need more flour.  Even if I need all of those, I’ll still have 50 cents in reserve.  So I think I’m in good shape, especially since I now know that my caffeine needs are taken care of.

While the rest of the family worked on the crock pot full of stew, I used the hot dogs to make “wiener winks”, a staple of the school lunches when I was growing up.  It consists of a hot dog and cheese wrapped in a slice of bread and toasted for a few minutes in the oven.


SNAP Challenge Day 2: For The Cost of a Cup of Coffee

If you Google the phrase “for the cost of a cup of coffee“, you get about 1,390,000 results. And starting today, with the addition of the phrase to this page, you’ll get about 1,390,001 results. According to most of those results, you can save the world for the cost of a cup of coffee.

As you might have guessed from my seven cups of coffee yesterday, this phrase resonates with me. But it resonates in a bad way: Most of the people using this phrase are out of touch with middle class Americans. The price of coffee does seem to be a hot-button issue. According to Feeding America, what I’m  encouraged to blog about today is: “What have you cut out of your routine to stay on budget (e.g. COFFEE)?” My seven ounces of Vietnamese coffee from the dollar store isn’t half bad, but it’s not what I normally drink. I prefer the good stuff:

I normally get this coffee at WalMart for $2 a can. icon (Actually, I usually buy the large can icon for an even lower per ounce cost.) With the small can, I can probably make about a hundred cups of coffee. In other words, for me, “the cost of a cup of coffee” is about two cents. (I’m actually spending more this week, because the $2 coffee isn’t available within walking distance.)  While there are probably worthwhile things I can do with two cents, I probably can’t do what the other 1.39 million web pages think I can do, namely, save the world. This is why this particular phrase resonates poorly with me: It tells me that the person spouting the phrase is out of touch with middle America. Those 1.39 million web pages probably assume that I buy my coffee at Starbucks. I don’t know exactly how much a cup of coffee costs at Starbucks, but it’s considerably more than two cents. And at those higher prices, you probably can save the world. At the very least, you can save more of the world than I can for my two cents.

I strongly suspect that most of the 1.39 million people using the phrase probably wouldn’t even dream that the actual “cost of a cup of coffee” for most middle-class Americans is two cents. (Or perhaps it’s closer to five cents, since most middle-class Americans are probably not quite as cheap thrifty as I am.) Those of us on the right wing of the political spectrum take this attitude as very condescending. We normally forego the expensive Starbucks coffee, and instead opt for a good nickel cup of coffee. We strongly suspect that most of the 1.39 million do not make the same choice as we do. Perhaps we’re wrong, but when you tell us what we can do “for the cost of a cup of coffee”, we believe that you are drinking your $5 Starbucks coffee, feeling a bit guilty about it, but scolding us for drinking our own five cent cup of coffee. Well, if you want to score any political points with us, that attitude won’t serve you very well. Please don’t tell us how we can save the world with our five cents. We’re not going to listen to you.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, during the course of this week, I plan to offend just about everyone, and I believe I have done so with respect to my friends on the left. Don’t worry–I’m sure I will also offend my friends on the right. For those of you on the left, allow me to ease my conscience a bit and confess that the SNAP Challenge is, indeed, somewhat challenging. I seem to be doing better than most who took it. I have been careful not to buy Honeycomb cereal, popsicles, and $1.08 hard boiled eggs. If I make mistakes like those too often, I’ll go hungry. And as I look at my bag of self-rising flour, I realize that it’s possible I’ll run out. I might lament the fact that I didn’t spend 7 cents more to get a bag of regular flour and a can of baking powder. If I run out now, I’m stuck buying another bag for $2.99. If I had spent the extra 7 cents in the first place, I would now have the option of buying a bag of regular flour for only $1.77. Yes, there are decisions to make, and there are consequences for making bad decisions.

Low-income Americans and middle class Americans make these decisions every day. Many of my friends on the right find the SNAP Challenge to be condescending because the implicit assumption is that these kinds of decisions are faced only by those receiving government assistance. And, especially after we conclude that you are among the 1.39 million who spend $5 a cup for coffee, we also suspect that you rarely make these decisions yourself. You make it seem that budgeting for food is something new, and something faced only by those receiving government assistance.

If there’s a point to why I’m taking this challenge, it is to point out that budgeting is not something new, nor is it a necessity faced only by the poorest of the poor. It’s something that most Americans, whether or not they receive government assistance, do on a daily basis.  We don’t have any choice in the matter, since we can’t simply vote to increase our debt ceiling.  The only thing that I’m doing differently this week is documenting the process and making the process slightly more difficult than it would normally be.

Most Americans face similar challenges on a daily basis. And it’s not just food. Many middle class Americans are one paycheck away from disaster. A million things can go wrong. People get laid off from jobs, usually through no fault of their own. And if they have a job and the transmission goes out on the car they use to get there, then they’re faced with a huge expense and no money to pay for it. If they own a home and the furnace stops working, then they’re faced with another huge expense and no money to pay for it. Please don’t tell these people that they can save the world for the cost of a cup of coffee, because they can’t save the world for five cents.

As part of this challenge, I’ve discovered that food can be expensive. Actually, I already knew that. So when the taxpayers are asked for a few million dollars to help people in need, there is certainly a very strong argument to be made. My friends on the right will be quick to point out cases of fraud and abuse with the SNAP program and other forms of government assistance. I’m sure that many of those cases are true, but I also believe that most people receiving government assistance are receiving it only because of need, and most of those people are making the same kinds of wise decisions that I’m trying to make this week. In fact, I suspect that most of them are probably much better at it than I am. They’re probably laughing at how much I’m going to hate my self-rising flour by the end of the week.

So I am not opposed to spending a few million dollars of my tax money on the SNAP program, because, as you will correctly point out, there are people who need the assistance, and food is expensive. And this argument gets even more compelling when it’s pointed out that the money spent on programs like SNAP pales in comparison to the trillions of dollars that have been spent on corporate bailouts. Surely, if we can give Citibank trillions of dollars, then we can give needy families a few hundred dollars to buy food.

If you are saying that, then you are absolutely right. But that doesn’t solve the problem. You correctly point out that food is expensive, and we gave trillions of dollars to banks and corporations. But you need to take that realization one step further: Food is expensive because we gave trillions of dollars to banks, insurance companies, and others who didn’t deserve it. This money had to come from somewhere, and it came from a printing press (or the digital equivalent thereof). This has caused inflation in the price of basic commodities such as food.  Of course, the government statistics tell us that there is no inflation. But a trip to the supermarket tells us that those statistics are wrong.  In other words, the government is lying to us when it says that there is no inflation.

The problem is compounded by the fact that this new money never made it into general circulation. It’s sitting on the sidelines, doing nothing.  It’s not even earning interest, because the government can’t afford to pay interest on the national debt, and has conveniently set interest rates at zero percent.  None of this money is actually finding its way into the hands of consumers. Prices have gone up, and this is obvious to anyone who has visited a supermarket. The prices have gone up because those who have commodities for sale know that there are trillions of new dollars ready to be released into the economy at any second. But the holders of those trillions of dollars have not released them into the economy in the form of higher wages.  Of course, they don’t have to pay higher wages, because for those of us without a trillion dollars, there’s a Depression in progress.

At this point, it would be convenient to blame a faceless group such as “The Wall Street Bankers”. But I don’t know if it’s fair to blame them. They’re doing exactly what I would do if the government gave me a trillion dollars–I would hold on to it.  I wouldn’t spend it all at once. But if I go into the store to buy my bag of self-rising flour, and the seller knows that I have a trillion dollars in my pocket, then I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the price has gone up.

So yes, we probably have to spend a few million dollars to help low-income Americans deal this mess that we’ve created. But it is even more important that we clean up the mess. No, we probably shouldn’t cut SNAP benefits.  But it is critically important that we do cut the trillion-dollar bailouts. Unfortunately, once we’ve handed out newly printed dollars to corporations that are too big to fail, it’s probably impossible to get them back. But we have to stop doing it.  If a business is at risk of failing, then we need to realize that even though there might be short-term hardship, the failure of a business means that those assets could be better used by someone else. The bankruptcy courts have expertise in re-allocating those assets, and they should be allowed to do their job. But they’re not able to do their job if we print trillions of dollars and hand them out to failing businesses. Doing so will ease a little bit of short-term pain, but it will take a business that is already too big to fail and make it even bigger.

Now that I’ve offended my friends on the left, I’ll tell you that you are absolutely right when you say that we shouldn’t begrudge the poor a few million when we’ve already bailed out corporations with a few trillion. But your conclusion is wrong. The answer to the problem, at least in the long term, isn’t to give the poor a few more million. In the long term, the only solution to the problem is to stop giving trillions to the rich. Most of my left-wing friends probably agree with that philosophy. But unfortunately, you have failed miserably in implementing this policy. When the next failing company comes to you asking for trillions of dollars, you need to go with your knee-jerk reaction and tell them no. And you need to say no even though other left-wing politicians have rationalized why you need to do it just this one time.

What I Ate Today



Well, now that the political rant is over, you can read about what you came for, namely, what I ate. Last night, I made some muffins following the basic recipe in Joy of Cooking. That recipe called for flour, salt, and baking powder. Of course, I substituted the now familiar self-rising flour for all three. Also, where the recipe called for butter, I used margarine. Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly.I ate a few of those muffins last night. I don’t normally eat a large breakfast, and this morning, I had some more of them for breakfast. I was a bit better prepared this morning, and was able to make my first cup of coffee early. I poured it into the travel mug and had the first of my many cups as I drove the kids to school.

For lunch, I decided to do something with the hamburger. I browned a third of it, and put the remaining ground beef in two packages which I froze for future use.


Lunch Day 2

Lunch Day 2

Prepare 6 oz. (1/2 box) pasta according to package directions. In skillet, brown 1/3 lb. ground beef. When brown, reduce heat and add 1/2 can Progresso Creamy Parmesan Basil Recipe Starters Cooking Sauce (or other condensed cream soup). Add one slice cheese, broken up. Simmer until cheese is melted. Drain pasta and combine.

I ate about half of this for lunch and put the leftovers in the refrigerator. It was a little on the bland side, so I’m glad I thought to take the salt and pepper from the store. I used about half a little packet of each.As you can see, I served this with some of the canned vegetables, some biscuits, Kool-Aid, and, of course, coffee.

For an afternoon snack, I warmed up two of my frozen pancakes in the toaster and had them with peanut butter.

Panera CEO Ron Schaich‘s  downfall, in addition to neglecting the importance of his coffee, was to rely on a single box of Toasted Oats cereal for his snack needs for an entire week. The box of cereal probably provides only about a thousand calories and set him back $2.59.

My hero, the Pillsbury Doughboy

On the other hand, my bag of flour contains a whopping 7300 calories, and the bag of sugar contains 6610, for a total of 13,910. In other words, assuming 2000 calories per day, the flour and sugar alone will take care of my caloric needs for the entire week. It’s just a matter of turning them into food.  Making a diet balanced and palatable requires additional ingredients.  But my basic caloric needs for the week are taken care of for $4.76 (or, as some might say, for about the cost of a cup of coffee).

As the rest of the family has beef stew from the crock pot for supper, I made myself

Supper Day 2

Supper Day 2

a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches and warmed up the rest of the ramen noodles from yesterday.  The Kool-Aid was starting to get low, so I added about a pint of water and some more sugar before pouring myself a glass.  I really couldn’t tell the difference.

SNAP Challenge Day 1

My SNAP Challenge actually began last night.  I was thinking of a before bedtime snack, and realized that it was already after midnight, and the challenge had begun.  I did note the absence of any easy convenience foods, and instead made myself a peanut butter sandwich.  Still finding myself hungry, I got out a couple of the biscuits and ate them.

The morning, after getting the kids to school, the first order of business was coffee. The package of Dollar Tree coffee proclaims that it will produce 50 cups. In reality, I think it will last me about 3 days. I do need to conserve the stuff. I decided that the best way to make it would be in a French Press. I started the day making a cup with two heaping teaspoons of the coffee. As the day went on, I used the old grounds, and added a little bit. The seventh cup wasn’t particularly good, but I suspect there are a few caffeine molecules floating around in it. As you can see from the reviews at Dollar Tree, this coffee isn’t particularly bad. Some reviewers, however, compare it to burnt cardboard, so I suspect the quality might vary by batch. Panera CEO Ron Shaich found that he couldn’t afford coffee, which I’m certain made it a horrible experience for him, one which I didn’t plan to repeat. The dollar store coffee will be adequate to get me through the week. According to the package, it’s from Vietnam. It’s not particularly tasty, but it seems to contain enough caffeine. The French Press seemed to conserve the precious substance fairly well. More ideas on coffee preparation are available at my how to make coffee without electricity page. The press I have is similar to the one shown below. You can also see it in my breakfast picture below.

With that necessity out of the way, it was off to breakfast, which consisted of two sausages and some of the pancakes. The syrup is in the red squeeze bottle. Other than the color being wrong (clear instead of brown), it did the job. I did notice that it had crystallized overnight, so I did need to warm it up in a pan of hot water.


I had a few errands to run and wasn’t sure I would be back before lunch.  Therefore, in addition to a cup of coffee, I brought a couple of the biscuits, which I thawed in the microwave before leaving.

My late lunch consisted of more biscuits,  and ramen noodles (half the package) with some of the canned vegetables added.  I also made a pitcher of the Kool-Aid.


For supper, I made pizza for my family, and I made myself some as well.  There’s was better than mine, I’ll admit.  Theirs consisted of pizza crusts from Dollar Tree (two for a dollar), a little oil, shredded cheese from the supermarket, pepperoni (one package for a dollar at Dollar Tree) and a half can of spaghetti sauce.

I had different ingredients to work with.  For the crust, I used flour tortillas, which actually work very well.  I didn’t have any oil, so I lightly greased the tortillas with margarine.  Instead of the spaghetti sauce, I used the 29 cent can of tomato sauce, with one of the little packages of pepper added for a little seasoning.  The topping was a breakfast sausage, one for each of the two pizzas I made.

The “cheese” I used was somewhat interesting.  I’ve bought it before, and realized that it wasn’t particularly good.  But a dollar for 8 ounces of shredded “cheese” is a good price, and I made do.  Upon closer inspection of the package, I realize that the word “cheese” appears nowhere, including in the list of ingredients.  There’s also a disclaimer on the package that the product is not formulated to melt.  But it did melt somewhat, and formed a passable pizza:


I made two of these pizzas, and I was actually full after eating the first one and one slice of the second one.  I have three slices in the refrigerator for a snack in the future.  The total cost for two pizzas was about $1.44:  Almost a dollar for the cheese and tomato sauce, ten cents each for the tortillas, and about 12 cents for each of the sausages.

I’ve used almost a full stick of margarine.  And since I made the first batch of biscuits with the grease from the sausages, I would have used more.  So I’ll almost certainly run out.  I’ll need to give some thought to whether I want to buy a bottle of cooking oil, or simply get more margarine.  I think the margarine is the better bang for the buck, but I’m not positive.

I did note the absence of any desert items, so I’ll try to figure out whether I can make some cookies or muffins.

After the first day, I see little difference from my normal routine.  I spent about the same amount of time as usual preparing meals (after having spent an extra hour or so last night making the sausages, biscuits, and pancakes).  The main time difference seems to come from making each cup of coffee individually.  Joe DiMaggio’s method of making coffee is much more convenient, but I don’t think I can get as many cups out of each ounce of coffee that way.  Since lack of coffee seems to be the factor that has doomed more takers of the challenge than any other, it is one area where I need to be extremely careful.


SNAP Challenge Day 0: Shopping

2013-10-21 13.04.59 (1)

I decided that there’s no time like the present, so I decided to start my shopping today, do some cooking tonight, and start the 7-day SNAP challenge tomorrow.  I do have two events this weekend where food will be provided, so I guess I’ll need to forego that food and bring my own.

I drove to the store, so I guess I can be accused of cheating from the very start.  I could have walked to both stores, but I didn’t.  I did get quite a bit today, and it would have required two trips (one for each store).  But all of the items I purchased at either store would have fit easily into a backpack.

My first stop was the supermarket, Rainbow Foods.  I decided that would be the best starting point, since I have a good idea of what’s available at the Dollar Store.  Therefore, for those items, I know not to pay more than a dollar.  Here’s what I bought at Rainbow, and the actual prices.  (Minnesota doesn’t charge sales tax on most food items, and all of the basic foods I bought are not taxable):

  1. 16 ounces pasta  $0.79
  2. 4 pounds white sugar  $1.77
  3. Mixed vegetables, 16 ounce can  $0.65
  4. One loaf bread  $0.89
  5. Tomato sauce, 8 ounce can  $0.29
  6. Ramen noodles, one package  $0.22
  7. Two packages of Kool-Aid   $0.40
  8. 5 pounds Self-rising flour   $2.99
  9. 1 pound ground beef  $2.29
  10. 1 pound margarine  $0.77

Total:  $11.04

I did have a few decisions to make, since I need to watch every penny.  The store brand flour was on sale for $1.77.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have self-rising store brand flour.  But baking powder (enough to last for months) was on sale for $1.29.  I toyed with the idea of buying both, since the extra 7 cents would give me more versatility in the long run.  But since I’m on such a tight budget this week, I decided to go with the original plan, which saved me 7 cents, and kept me one cent under budget on the flour.  I was quite lucky to find both the sugar and flour on sale, however,  It turns out that I could have done better, though.  At the dollar store, I found two pounds of sugar for one dollar.  Since that will probably be enough for the week, I could have saved 77 of my precious cents.

The original plan was to buy ketchup for use in things such as pasta.  But the cheapest bottle was over a dollar.  So instead, I bought a small can of tomato sauce, although I’ll probably need more later in the week.

When I saw the sign that ground beef was on sale for just over $2 per pound, I was initially quite excited, until I saw the fine print that this applied to packages of 3 pounds or more.  But then I noticed that some of the smaller packages were also marked with the lower price.  Tonight, I’ll divide the ground beef up into 3 or 4 packages and freeze some of them.

On the way to the supermarket, I did check the sign at Walgreens to see if they were advertising milk or eggs on sale.  Sadly, they were not.  Milk at Rainbow was $2.99 per gallon, which exceeded my budget.  Eggs, even though on sale ($1.99 for 18) were out of my budget.

I also priced some items for possible purchase later in the week:

  • Macaroni & cheese:  47 cents
  • Cans of fruit, $1
  • Canned chili $1.15
  • Refried beans, 79 cents
  • Tuna, 99 cents
  • Vegetable oil, 1 pint, $1.89

As I was getting ready to check out, I had a flash of genius.  As I mentioned in another post, I don’t want to purchase things like salt and pepper.  Even though they are inexpensive, they are sold in quantities much larger than would be used in a week.  As I looked at the tomato sauce in my cart, I realized that some sort of spice would be good to have.  So I went over to the salad bar, and sure enough, there were little packages of salt and pepper just lying there.  I tossed three of each into my cart, wondering whether there would be any charge.  It turns out there wasn’t.

I then went to Dollar Tree to continue my shopping.  There, I purchased:

  1. One quart, Parmalat whole milk
  2. 4.5 ounces of Jif peanut butter
  3. Breakfast sausage
  4. 7 ounces coffee
  5. 8 ounces shredded cheese
  6. 9.6 ounces cheese slices
  7. Flour tortillas (I think about 8)
  8. Medium Eggs, package of 8
  9. Progresso cooking sauce

The total bill at Dollar Tree was $8.50.  The last item on the list was an impulse item, and was only 50 cents.  I was considering buying some sort of gravy, and was lucky enough to find these cans on sale.  I was also lucky to find the Parmalat milk in the store today, which means I was able to get a full quart for a dollar, rather than one of the 20 ounce cartons in the refrigerated section.

I couldn’t find the popsicles, but both root beer and Honeycomb cereal were available.  Neither one seemed like a good use of my limited resources, although if I have money left over at the end of the week, I might treat myself to a bottle of root beer.  The Honeycomb cereal came in small boxes containing only “3.5” servings, for a total of 455 calories per box.  It didn’t seem like a wise use of resources, since I got thousands of calories for the same money by purchasing the sugar.

I did note that Dollar Tree had both rice and oatmeal.  At Rainbow, the least expensive package of either one was more than a dollar, so if I decide to buy these items, it will be at Dollar Tree.

The peanut butter was a bit of a disappointment.  I expected to find a jar of 8 ounces or so.  But all I could find was a 4.5 ounce package.  I decided to buy it, even though I could have bought 18 ounces at Rainbow for only $1.99.  In other words, I would get four times as much for only twice the price.  But I had budgeted only $1 for peanut butter.  Three peanut butter sandwiches might be appealing in a few days, so I decided to buy the small package, even though I was getting less than I expected.

My total expenditures today were $19.54.  I still have $11.96 to work with and still stay under my budget of $31.50.  There are still things that I need to buy, and I’ll probably be close to the limit before my week is over.

Tonight, I’ll start turning some of those ingredients into actual food, in a process known as cooking.  To get by on this budget, it is necessary to actually cook the food oneself.  Some convenience items are available at a low price, but there’s no way that I can match the value of a bag of flour or a bag of sugar.  And that means that I need to turn them into food myself.

I should point out that I’m not a chef.  I’m a lawyer, and I graduated from high school at a time when boys did not take home ec.  For a brief golden age thereafter, both boys and girls were required to take it.  Then, at some point, it was decided in most school districts that nobody should have to take it.  In other words, there was a time when girls learned how to cook and boys didn’t.  Someone noted the inequality and decided that boys ought to know how to cook.  But then, someone else decided that equality was best maintained by making sure that nobody knew how to cook.

Fortunately, cooking isn’t rocket science, and it is possible to learn the skill.  And fortunately, I got a few rudimentary skills along the way, from Scouting and elsewhere.  But even those with no skills can read about how its done with a cookbook.  There are probably other good cookbooks available, but the one I’m familiar with is the Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer. It contains thousands of recipes, but more importantly, it explains the basics. If you don’t know how to boil water, there’s a section covering it. A book like this one is indispensable if you need to prepare food on a budget. The copy I have is the 1985 edition.  There are more recent editions, but this older one is more than adequate. The book has been in print since the 1930’s, and I’m sure that even older editions are quite useful. Used copies are available on Amazon for around five dollars, including shipping. Copies are probably available at thrift stores for even less.