As I was sitting in a line of cars at a stoplight today, contemplating the ingredients I needed to purchase at the store to make this pizza, I was confronted by the stark reality of hunger and homelessness.
There, in my warm car, with the radio in the background, I was struck by the sight of a young couple on the side of the road. They could have been anyone – you, me, our neighbors. The were a little dirty, a little ragged, but they weren’t that different from anyone else you might pass on the street. She was quite pretty, sitting off to the side, holding a sign that said “Traveling folk, hungry and broke. Every little bit helps, even a smile.” He was standing closer to the line of traffic, with a sign that read, “Mama said there’d be days like this.”
As we sat there, those of us warm and safe in our cars, I started to see windows go down, and hands reach out with folded bills, waving toward the couple. The young man would walk over, smile, say a couple of words and take the offered funds. I sat there wishing I had a few dollars to give them. I watched the exchanges, and I smiled as he walked in front of my car, hoping it would count for something. As the light turned green, and I drove on, I realized I was crying – tears streaming down my face. They were tears of sorrow for the couple and for their circumstance, but they were also tears of joy and thankfulness for my own family and our circumstance.
Don’t think I wasn’t struck by the irony of the situation. There I was, wondering whether I should stop at Kroger for mozzarella cheese and just use the domestic parmesan I had at home, or drive the extra distance to Harry’s for buffalo mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano, while at the same time this couple sat wondering where their next meal was going to come from.
Last week I had the privilege of participating in a virtual progressive holiday dinner party called Share our Holiday Table
along with 70 or so other bloggers in an effort to raise awareness and funds for Share our Strength
. That event has come to an end, but that doesn’t mean that Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry
campaign is over. If you are like me, and find yourself with a little bit extra this holiday season, consider donating to this worthy cause. There are so many families who are struggling – to keep the lights on, to pay their bills, to put gas in their cars. And yes, there are millions of families struggling to feed their children.
In light of what I’d just encountered, I chose to go the less expensive route and stop into Kroger for some fresh domestic mozzarella. While I was there, I found some white mushrooms that had been marked down to $.99, so I bought those too.
One of the things that Share our Strength does is teach families how to cook healthy meals on a restricted budget. I attended a volunteer orientation for their Cooking Matters
program about a month ago, and I was struck by the care and planning that has gone into the curriculum for the courses that they offer. They don’t just give people meal plans and send them on their way, they take the time to explain why one ingredient is better than another (even if it might cost a bit more). For instance, they explain that buying whole wheat pasta instead of regular pasta will save you money in the long run, even if it costs more right now. Why? Because you don’t have to eat as much of it to feel full – it stays with you longer, because it takes your body more time to process. And it contains more nutrients. So even if it costs $.50 more per box, you’ll be able to stretch that box much further than you would a box of pasta made with non-whole-wheat flour.
This pizza I made for dinner tonight is a great example of that. It has a whole-wheat crust, fresh tomato sauce, and uses a small amount of flavorful cheese and pepperoni. For two pizzas, the cost was less than $9. And we had leftovers. Even Little Caesar’s is more expensive than that.
This is the first in a series of posts that explores cooking healthfully on a restricted budget. The hope is to show that even people who have limited funds can afford to feed their families quality food without relying on overly processed mixes or fast-food restaurants. The cost breakdowns are based on what my local grocery store is currently charging for a particular ingredient. For instance, below you’ll see whole-wheat flour as an ingredient. A 5 lb. bag of whole-wheat flour costs approximately $3 at my grocery store. There are about 20 cups of flour in a 5 lb. bag, so to figure out how much 2 3/4 cups of flour would cost I divided 20 by 2.75, which was about 7.3. I then divided 3 by 7.3, and came up with about .4, or 40 cents for 2 3/4 cups flour.
I know that this is more trouble than many people are going to want to go to on a Friday night after a busy week. The point is to show that it can be done, if you choose to take the time. I managed this after a full day at work, with two small children playing at my feet. My husband was stuck in typical Friday afternoon rush-hour traffic, so it was just me and the kids until he got home around 6:45. At that point, we all piled in the car and ate pizza and then drank hot chocolate while we drove around and looked at Christmas lights. It was an inexpensive evening, but it was quality family time and I felt good about what we were eating (well, except maybe for the hot chocolate).
As we drove around, eating our pizza and happily pointing out the twinkling light displays, I couldn’t help but notice that there were fewer this year than in years past. Whether it’s because people are trying to conserve energy or funds, I don’t know, but I suspect it’s more the latter. We did pass a number of houses with lines of cars out front, evidence of holiday parties in full swing. And we glimpsed quite a few lit Christmas trees peeking through parted drapes. The celebration and the true meaning of the season continue, even if the lavish light displays have been downsized. What I thought about most as we traveled the neighborhood streets was that couple, and the displays of generosity I’d witnessed sitting in my car in front of a different set of lights earlier in the day. And I was thankful.
Whole wheat pizza dough
prep time: 10 minutes
rest time: 15 minutes
bake time: 5 minutes, then 10 minutes
yields: 2 12-inch crusts
1/4 cup water ($.0)
1 package or 1 Tablespoon instant yeast ($.50)
2 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour ($.40)
1 Tablespoon sugar ($.01)
1 teaspoon salt ($.01)
1 Tablespoon oil ($.10)
1 cup warm water ($.0)
Total cost: $1.02
- Preheat oven to 425F
- Combine 1/4 cup warm water and yeast and set aside for 5 minutes or so.
- Combine Flour, sugar and salt
- Add 1 cup water, oil and yeast mixture. Stir to combine.
- Turn dough out on floured surface and knead until dough forms a smooth, elastic ball
- Divide dough in half, form two balls, and cover with a damp cloth.
- Let rest for 15 minutes or so while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
- Roll dough out on a floured surface until it is 12-inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick
- Bake for 5 minutes on a lightly greased cookie sheet, just until crust starts to bubble
- Top with sauce and toppings of your choice, and bake directly on oven rack for 10 minutes more.
prep time: 0 minutes
cook time: 10 minutes
1/2 pint grape tomatoes ($1.50)
1 carrot, grated ($.30)
1/4 medium onion, diced ($.25)
1/4 cup water ($.0)
Total cost: $2.05
- Combine tomatoes, carrot, onion and salt in a saucepan over medium heat
- With a fork or a potato masher, crush the tomatoes
- Cook mixture until tomatoes start to release their liquid
- Add water. Using the fork or masher, mash the mixture until it is well combined and relatively homogeneous
- Remove from the heat
To assemble the pizza
- Spread thin layer of sauce on par-baked crusts
- Top each crust with 1 oz. of parmesan cheese ($.50 per pizza, total $1.00)
- Slice 8 oz. mozzarella cheese very thin, and space evenly on pizzas ($3.50)
- Top with 17 slices of turkey pepperoni (I actually used some homemade pepperoni that I had in my freezer, but turkey pepperoni works just as well – cost for turkey pepperoni: $.75).
- Thinly slice 4 mushrooms and spread evenly over top of the pizza ($.30)
- I added thinly sliced red pepper to my pizza, which would add another dollar or so to the cost if you chose to do that.
- Bake at 425F for 10 minutes, or until cheese is brown and bubbly and edges of crust are brown and crisp.
While this is quite a bit more work than stopping at Little Caesar’s or Papa John’s, it is certainly better for you, and slightly less expensive. The total cost was just under $9, and it fed four people dinner tonight, and there’s enough for a couple of us to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow. That’s $1.50 per meal per person. And I had it ready in just under an hour.