number crunching goodness


So, I know I’m supposed to wash  my face before bed at night. But sometimes I just don’t want to. But guess what? Laziness wins out! I’ve made these DIY coconut oil skin cleansing pads and they are WONDERFUL for cleaning your face before you go to bed, and great at removing make up. I’ve got oily skin, and these leave my skin moisturized and clean without clogging my pores. It’s so easy – all you need are cotton pads, coconut oil, and a mason jar and you’re ready to go!


I know what you’re thinking – “Oil to clean your oily skin? This sounds like a bad idea!”. I thought the same thing. At first I was looking for a good makeup remover, and figured if I just used this on my eyes it’ll be fine. FYI – this is a great eye makeup remover if nothing else, but so much more. I’ve tried oil skin cleansing methods before, and my skin was never happy with it.


The difference here is that we’re only using a bit of oil – 1 Tablespoon of coconut oil for an 8 oz mason jar. It’s enough to clean and moisturize without being a skin-clogging oil slick. Look at that. It’s not much at all. Especially when you realize this will be dispersed between lots of cotton pads.


So we take the tablespoon of coconut oil, add some hot water (hot water from the tap is fine, too. Just need to get the coconut oil to melt if it’s not already in a liquid state).


Add in any other oils you want. Rose hip seed oil is supposed to be a good oil for skin repair. I’ve just noticed it’s light and easily absorbed into my skin without any issue. I add 1/4 teaspoon at most. Or a very unscientific few bloops from the bottle. Lavender essential oil has some antibacterial and antiseptic properties as well, and hey, when I’m tossing stuff on my face, why not add a little of that to the mix? Just a few drops now, it’s strong stuff.
Also double check your oils before adding them since the jars look alike. I once mistakenly grabbed a bottle of jasmine essential oil and slathered it all over my face thinking it was rose hip seed oil. That was a painful mistake, haha! My face turned bright red, but it smelled great.


You’ll want to mix the oil and water combination. Swirl it up so it mixes up as best as it can. Have your cotton face pads at the ready on the side, and when your oils look fairly evenly dispersed in the water (i.e. not just sitting on top of the water), gently add in the cotton pads.


Slowly add in the pads until there’s very little liquid left. You’ll probably add pads to your jar at least twice. I like to add pads that are about the height of the jar first, and then once those have absorbed the liquid, add in a few smaller segments of cotton pads. Push down on them so they absorb all of the liquid. You don’t want to have a lot of liquid left. You want to have each pad absorb just enough to be moist, but not soaking wet because then the pad will absorb a bit too much and may deteriorate a bit. You’ll figure it out, don’t worry. They’re still good, they just might be a little difficult to get out. If this happens, make a mental note to add a few more pads next time.


Once you’re happy with all of the pads you’ve added, seal the jar. I like to flip it upside down sometimes to make sure the top portion of pads gets as much liquid as the bottom portion of pads.

These are so great and best of all, cheap! Let’s do a list of ingredients per batch:

$0.18 1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil  (I got this 14 oz jar of coconut oil at Aldi for $4.99)
$0.20 1/4 Teaspoon Rose Hip Seed Oil 
$0.02 5 drops Lavender Essential Oil  (this is such a minor amount of Lavender essential oil, I’m estimating on the high side).
$0.45 Cotton Pads (Big Lots sells sleeves of these for $1.00, Target for about $1.50. You’ll use less than half a sleeve per jar)

Wow! A grand total of $0.85 per batch of super awesome better-than-the-store skin cleansing makeup removing coconut oil pads! Let me know if you try this – I’m curious what changes you make to make this your own!

My darling husband likes reading Cooks Illustrated. Christopher Kimball sometimes has some finicky statements. One was that the home cook had no point in cooking brisket, because it wasn’t worth the efforts. Albany John threw down some verbal gauntlets, and I thought it was a good time to test this theory out. Is brisket better off just cooked as a roast? Is the home cook better off not smoking the brisket?

Well, Albany John made a crock potted roast with the brisket. I’d never had uncured brisket. I’d only ever had it smoked or corned. It was quite lovely, but I can’t say that it’s all that different from any other kind of stewed meat I’d had.

Albany John cut half of the beef off to save for me and my smoking experiment (from 8 O’Clock Ranch). Any more than that for two people is just too much. This was a pretty lean cut, as far as brisket goes. I thought it was money well spent.

I had approximately 1 lb 4 oz of brisket to start with.

I popped it in a marinade (I’ll include a recipe for the marinade later) overnight and then put it in my lil stovetop smoker with 3 T of Cherry and 3 T of Red Oak wood shavings. I let it smoke for about 6 hours under 250 F.

And then this dark darling came out! I finished it off in the oven with some of the reserved marinade cooked down to put a laquer on it.

And wound up with this even darker beauty. There was a bit of smoke, but not a lot of smoky flavor. At least as much as I’d have liked, but I think I just need to increase the amount of wood chips I put in. There was still a small amount of smoke.

The meat was moist, and still firm. Thankfully I hadn’t cooked it past the firm stage and into the falling apart stage.

The marinade didn’t penetrate much of the brisket. Maybe it would need a longer time to sit and absorb, but it was primarily flavored at the edges. It was okay, but I think it would have been fine or better without much of a marinade. It was more like a hint of char siu flavoring. Maybe a simple salt and pepper rub next time.

I wound up with a smaller roast – it shrunk to 11 3/8 ounces. I sadly did not account for how much liquid the marinade added. But let’s just compare the starting and ending weight, shall we?
Beginning: 1.25 lb (100%)
Ending: .71 lb (56.8%)
Total loss: .51 lb (43.2%)
Wow! a 43.2 % loss of weight! Crazy stuff!
So my cooked 1/4 lb would have to start out as .44 lb! Almost half of a pound! I paid about $4.50/lb for this brisket, so it’s really closer to $6.50 per lb cooked. Yowie.
If I were a restaurant that served 1/4 lb portions of brisket in my sandwiches, and chared a 60% markup for overhead I would need to charge about $2.60 for the meat portion of the sandwich. Assuming my math is right, since lately my brain has been kind of dead.
Gung Hey Fat Choy, bitches! Usher in that year of the rabbit.

Oh, what’s a single girl to do? Normally I tend to subsist on a less-than-healthy diet of refined carbohydrates, butter, and salt. I found myself cooking dinner for one one night, and picked up a Swai fillet from Hannaford for $1.65. What a steal, at $4.99/lb. I had been pining over the basa at The Original Two Cousins in Latham, but didn’t feel like going that way past the Latham circle. Turns out, Swai is pretty damn close to Basa, and is also a fairly sustainable fish.

Also got some green stuff in there. Halved brussels sprouts. This turned out to be a lot of brussels sprouts, but I don’t think eating too many veggies is that bad. Just put a pan on medium with some oil or butter and sear them until they’re blackened and crispy.

Pinky-white fresh fillet of Swai. Hello, baby! I could have easily eaten two of these fillets. But one was sufficent enough to quell my seafood hunger. Swai is a fairly meaty white fish. None of this delicate and fluffy tilapia or whiting business.

Rubbed the fillet with some paprika, salt, tarragon, and maybe just a touch of garlic or onion powder. Seared a bit, and then tossed in a bit of white wine and kalamata olives after flipping the fillet. Maybe a weird combination, but the final product was tasty to me. Although I suspect Albany John’s kitchen chicanery would have produced tastier results.

Yeah, that was a lot of brussels sprouts. They were so tasty. And man, that Swai’s got me wrapped around its little fishy fingers. It keeps a nice flavor of the sea while also cooking up moist. Maybe next time I’ll get two fillets.

Total cost estimate was about $3. Maybe a little less. Not too shabby for a seafood-based meal.

If this was too healthy for you, you could always add more butter to your seafood, or follow dinner with a fine Boone’s Farm beverage of your choice.

It’s about time I looked over my finances and checked out my food spending trends.

February was a month I needed to start buckling down on expenditures. I think I did pretty well, but there is always room for improvement. For example, you can probably tell when I got a lil‘ tipsy there – Popeye’s was an allowable purchase, hah ha.

Total expenditures for food/dining for the month were $246.73 This is inclusive of all spending I did on food, and that Albany John spent at the veggie cart.

Dining out:
$56.95, or 23.1% of total spending

$44.75, or 18.1% of total spending

Food for House:
$145.03, or 58.8% of total spending

Other points:
I got a head cold near the end of the month, and for some reason that really triggers the food craver in me (I really wanted fresh fruit & veggies). I don’t think my household really needed some of the purchases from the 20th on. So I could have scaled back there, but instead that was going on in my head was (imagine whiny voice) “But I’m siiiiiiick.”

We scaled way back on drinking. Drinks are like food in my house – if it’s there, I would like to have some. That said, it’s not like I chugged that bottle of cheap gin, so there’s still over half left. Gin’s also one of my least favorite spirits, so it’s worked in the whole theory of “No, you don’t need to buy more booze because you already have some at home”. I also have been lazy in the cocktail making department, so that also helps. I am not a gin on the rocks kind of gal. If I ever become one, maybe you should hand me an AA pamphlet or something.

And while I scaled back one vice, I forgot one of my other vices… when I get antsy I start baking sweets in the middle of the night. I consider it calming, but on the other hand I’ve been eating a few more cookies before bed time than I probably should.

Lord, I love the Capital District Community Garden’s Veggie Mobile! They make fresh veggies affordable. Carrots galore, hooray! Fresh veggies make me smile. I like to eat a lot, so when I’m on a budget I tend to chub up, as more affordable foods like beans, rice & some occasional dairy fats can be calorically high.

I didn’t buy much meat this month. Meat is expensive, so I’ll order it when I dine out, but if I’m at home I’ll get some (primarily canned) fish for a non-veg treat and that’s about it. Other than that, I splurged on 1/2 a pound of deli turkey at Shop Rite.

I also feel like I bought much more dairy than I normally would have this month, and the wrong kinds of dairy. Next month (March) will have yogurt not half-and-half.

However, I guess at the end of the day (err, month), even considering my errors, I didn’t do too poorly. The USDA’s most recent food plan from December 2009’s “Thrifty Plan” lists a budget $345.60 for a family of two. And for actual food spent for the month, we averaged under the “Thrifty Plan” for a single female in my age range.

I’m also really thankful for the other points in the month that my family fed me. Chinese New Year with my Dad’s side of the family & CVS/Manhattan Maka, and dinner at my Mom’s. At some points in the month I felt a little socially deprived – I am used to having people over at my house for dinner, but when I’m not sure I am able to feed them… well, I don’t have people over.

February Food Expenditures:

SCCC Dinner for two people – $44 (I had already made plans and squirreled away the funds to go. I think it would have been improper to cancel going to dinner after having initiated the plans)

2/22 $26.51 Asian Supermarket – 1 jug Kikkoman soy sauce ($5.99), ~ 2 kilo Nishiki Rice ($6.49), Marukan Rice Wine Vinegar (green outline, large bottle $2.99), 2 cans Dongwon Kimchi Tuna ($.179 ea), Hong Lian Dried black rice ($2.99 Add a little to rice and it dyes the rice red. Mis-purchase, I thought it was akin to wild rice), 4 Ya Li pears ($2.49 think asian pear with a hint of starfruit!), Discounted “Vegitable” $0.99 ea – 1 # of white button mushrooms (2-8 oz packages) and 6 lbs 7.25 oz of zucchini!
2/20 $8 Save-A-Lot – 1 red delicious apple, 1 gallon 2% milk, 20 taco sized flour tortillas ($1.99), Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips ($1.99), something else I forgot

2/20 $2.79 Stewart’s – 1 dz medium eggs ($1.19), 1 can Hershey’s syrup ($1.59)

2/20 ~$15 Big Lots – 3 guava juices, 1 mango juice, 4 packet 2-Qt mix of Raspberry Ice Crystal Light, melting white chocolate, Chicken of the Sea canned wild salmon, Chicken of the Sea canned crab meat

2/18 $7 Veggie Cart – garlic, potatoes, cauliflower

2/15 $43.41 ShopRite. ~$7.50 wild salmon, $1.99 horseradish, $1.79 ShopRite beet horseradish, 3-1# mozzarella cheese ($1.99 ea), 12-pack Yuengling Beer ($9.99), Land O Lakes Unsalted Whipped Butter ($2.49), Ba Tampte Pickles ($2.99), 2-1# sweet frozen corn ($0.69 ea), 1# frozen black eyed peas ($0.69), lemon-ginger-honey tea, $3.44 1/2 # honey turkey, 4-5 L seltzer, 2-24 oz Francesco Rinaldi pasta sauces ($1 ea – highly recommend)

2/9 $6.27 Hannaford. Concentrated lemon juice ($1.59), Worcestershire sauce ($1.69), 5# King Arthur Flour ($2.99)

2/8 – $5.02 Deli Warehouse. $4.02 for 2# McAdam Munster cheese ($1.99/lb) & 3 lemons @ 3/$0.99.

2/6 – $16.15 Empire Wine & Spirits. 1.75 L bottle gin.

2/6 – $12.95 Popeye’s. 14 pieces of chicken. Spicy & Original.

2/5/ – $8.64 Save-A-Lot. Tater tots, 1 # frozen corn ($0.99 – very woody), 2 cans of tomato sauce ($0.99 ea), 2 packs of hot dogs (2 / $1), dry popping corn

2/6 – $11 BJ’s. 1 gallon whole milk ($1.89), 1 quart 1/2 & 1/2 ($1.99 – Save-A-Lot has it for same price, Garelick farms brand), 4# butter, $7

2/5/10 – $20 Veggie Cart. 7 macintosh apples, 1 head cauliflower, 1 head of romaine lettuce, 1 bag of spinach leaves, 2 turnips, 5 heads garlic, 10 oz box of mushrooms, 1 lime, 1 lemon, 1 red onion, brussesls sprouts, scallions, collard greens, 5 packs of carrots.

Early Feb/Late Jan – $17 & change, Sobieski 1.75 L vodka.

2/4 $2.99 HannafordBreyer’s fat free vanilla ice cream. $2.99.

I’ve got a soft spot for enchiladas. I really flip for the flour tortilla tex-mex enchiladas that are slathered in cheese and some kind of weakly flavored watery tomato sauce.

When I saw some enchilada sauce cans at Big Lots for $0.50 a can, I snapped up a couple. They usually retail around $0.79 at their cheapest. Being a cheapskate food hoarder, how could I resist?

I couldn’t justify buying flour tortillas when I had tons of masa harina at home, so I made a bunch of corn tortillas, let them soften up, and made a filling.

Refried beans. They might look like some kind of alien goop here. Albany John made some kidney beans (from dried beans) a few days ago, and they were just sitting in our fridge. Hello, refried beans. I cooked them up with 3 chopped onions, a few minced cloves of garlic, some epazote, oregano, a can of turkey broth, and the last speck of powdered cumin in the pantry. I let that simmer for about half an hour or so.
Once the beans were really tender, I mashed them up. I added just a tiny splash of half-and-half, which added a pretty strong creamy flavor. It was okay, but a little more dairy-rich than I’d have liked. But since these were going to get dominated by enchilada sauce in a can, the subtleties didn’t really matter.

I dropped in a can of enchilada sauce, got my hands nice and messy while filling the tacos with refried beans and folding them, and soon discovered – wow, this enchilada sauce had some kick.
Actually, the random little cuts on my hands found that one out, thankyouverymuch.

I poured another can over the top, then covered the pan with tin foil and popped it in the oven for 20 mintutes.

Foil came off the last 10 minutes and I sprinkled with some feta. It was the only cheese in my fridge, but I think it works with Mexican food.

Overall, it was alright, but nothing I’m jonesing to make again. It was a little something different using the stuff in our pantry. Some meat filling would have made these way better.

Overall, I’d say this entire pan cost about $3.50 to make. It’ll last the two of us at least 2 meals.

Known Costs: turkey broth ($0.59), enchilada sauce (2 @ $0.50 ea), feta ($0.40)
Unknown Costs: Beans, onions, garlic, masa harina. Est $1.50 total

Panda came over for dinner the other night, and I wanted to make something tasty for him.

Albany John has been asking that I make spinach pasta the next time I make pasta. I figured this was a good time to try it out, and decided to forgo the usual pasta noodles for something a little out of my comfort zone. Stuffed manicotti.

Okay, well, technically these aren’t manicotti since they aren’t perfect circular tubes, but I’ve been seeing people say they’re easier to make with lasagna sheets because then they don’t break. So that’s pretty much what I did. Rolled pasta, cut it, wrapped it.

Here’s the pasta dough. I love how speckled the color of the dough is with spinach. So cute.

Here is how I made the pasta:

Spinach Pasta
10 oz frozen spinach, thawed and drained as much as possible (10 oz of squeeze-dried spinach is akin to a large handful)
3 medium eggs
½ t salt
2 C AP Flour

Process the spinach, eggs, and salt until well combined. I used my magic bullet. Way less mess than hauling out the food processor.

Put flour in a bowl and make a well. Stir in the flour with the spinach mixture, and once it is too stiff to mix, use your hands and knead it for about 5 minutes. Everything should be cohesive, but the dough shouldn’t be too sticky or dry.

Let dough rest 20-30 minutes, then cut up into quarters to roll out in pasta machine.

Rolled spinach out to a level 5, and then cut up into rectangles and boiled for 30 seconds – 1 minute. Just to firm up the dough and make it a little more pliable to stuff and roll.

Spinach pasta is a little more delicate than regular pasta, in that the spinach content makes the dough less stretchy. But it possesses a very pleasing toothsome bite in the end.

I used a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, ½ a can of tomato paste, a bit of water, 1 onion, garlic, and some herbs to make a quickie marinara sauce. I only let it cook for about half an hour. I think a jarred pasta sauce would be fine in this instance as well. I’ve been on a diced tomato kick lately, so as you can see, that’s what I used.

I had some leftover butternut squash filling I’d defrosted earlier and combined with some more ricotta (it was too garlicky for me, and it helped stretch the filling to load the entire pan with manicotti).

I just put a little bit of marinara sauce on the bottom of the pan, then put a sheet of semi-cooked spinach pasta in it, filled it up and rolled it. It made me think of enchiladas. When I was finished rolling I slathered the rest of the marinara all over the lot of them.
One of the best things about rolling these manicotti is that even if there is a little break or tear in the sheet of pasta, you can probably roll it to hide it.

I covered the pan and cooked it for 40 minutes in the oven, then sprinkled the top with a little bit of cheese bits that were left in the fridge and let it cook 10 more minutes.

And ta-da: stuffed pasta. We all really enjoyed this. Is pasta stuffed with ricotta ever a bad thing? The thick spinach pasta noodle had a nice chew to it that went well with the soft ricotta filling. I probably could have flavored up the filling some more.

This has also held up very well in the fridge for leftovers. Not too gummy or anything – the pasta is really retaining its firmness.

Estimated cost of this dish:
$0.99 spinach
$1.20 marinara sauce
$2.00 flour, eggs, cheeses


I think I want to play around with using this spinach pasta dough for making some kind of Italian-Mexican enchilada-like thing. I really love enchiladas.

Grocery shopping is one of my favorite things to do, but I am trying to reign in my monthly food budget. It has gotten a bit inflated in the last couple of months, and I need to bring it back down to something more manageable.

Here is what I’ve spent in December thus far on grocery shopping: Approximately $238.
That does not include any meals out for the month. Just groceries bought at the store. Below is a list of food I have bought this month and some photos of grocery store trips. I have tried to be as detailed as possible.

I also bought some wine and a liqueur once this month for $30, so it would be $268 if I include that. However, if I subtract the beer purchases, then the food portion is only about $200, which is right about where I want it.

That said; I could play around with numbers all I want. I feel good about the results of this month since it was a “bring it in” month. Reflecting – I ate very well, and am able to see room for improvement.

I thought it would be neat for you to see what I buy.

You might think “Geeze. She buys the cheapest eggs she can.”
It’s true. I go through a lot of eggs – about 6.5 dozen for this month at a total of $7.34. It would be more than double that, around $16.50 at the Co-Op for their Cornell Farms eggs, which I am calculating at $2.75 each. That price may have gone up. The difference overall in what I spent VS what I would have spent in this pricing is $9.16. It will be something to consider in the future.

Grocery shopping is something that reveals some personality, I suppose.

I would love to buy local, conventional everything, but sometimes I cannot. I could compromise by becoming vegan or vegetarian. That would certainly solve my budgetary problems. But there is also part of me that loves meat, hence the factory-farmed chicken and the more ethical ground meat from Cardona’s. I try when I can, but ultimately, sometimes I make less than ideal purchases. I didn’t buy much seafood at all, though. That was a big personal accomplishment. I love seafood.

I also did not purchase much booze this month. So that’s pretty good too. At any rate, here’s the stuff:

12/2 Lee Market: $1.26 $0.76 bean sprouts and $0.50 cliantro

Stewart’s: $1.19 1 dz medium eggs

12/5/09 $8.15 Save-A-Lot: $0.79 3 Cream cheese bricks – same price as Aldi, $3.99 bacalao, $1.99 2 oz vanilla extract – same price at Aldi, but in plastic container at Aldi.

12/5/09 – Hannaford, $16.90 Eggs ($1.99 / 18) , milk ($1.55 1/2 gal 2%), sugar ($2.69 5#), flour ($5.89 10#), apricot preserves ($2.39), raspberry preserves ($2.39)

12/16 $17.70 Asian Supermarket, $1.58 Jalapenos, $3.59 dried shrimp (no dyes), $2.03 Boy Choy Sum (greens on the left), $1.72 Fresh lotus root ($1.79/lb they look like plastic-wrapped potatoes), $1.59 daikon ($0.59/lb), $1.59 Napa cabbage ($0.65/lb), $1.49 1# bag shallots, $1.52 Fuzzy Squash ($1.19/lb), $1.99 easy-to-use chopsticks (gift)

12/15 $1.19 Stewart’s 1 dozen medium eggs

12/14/09 $10.26 Aldi, $3.89 1# medium shrimp, $3.29 6-pack of White Castle Cheeseburgers, $1.99 jalapeno salsa, $1.09 Mushroom pasta sauce. Canned tomatoes were $0.89/can, but smaller than the $1.00 cans at Hannaford.

12/13 $30.18 Hannaford: $16.99 30 pack of Labatt Blue beer, 2 2-ltrs seltzer, 1 2-ltr gingerale, coffee, 1/2 gal milk

12/17 $30.21 All Star Wine and Spirits: $6.99 Ballatore supmante bubbles, $12.99 Praline Liqueur, $7.99 1.5L Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon (ended up giving cab sauv to Sistah)

12/17 $2.97 Target: 3 dozen large eggs @$0.99 each

12/17 $3 Halal Market: 2# Semolina flour
12/17 $10 trip to veggie cart: apples, grapefruit, other produce I can’t remember

12/19 $23.60 Hannaford: 30 pack Labatt beer, 1 tray chicken breast

12/20 $18.18 Roma Food Importing: $15.19 5# meatloaf mix meat ($2.99/lb special, when buying 3+ lbs), Fresh oregano $2.99

12/20 $21.49 Cardona’s Market: $5.99 peeled whole tomatoes, $6.78 smoked mozzarella, $8+ Pecorino Romano (@$9.98/lb)

12/20 $6.50 Aldi: $3.50 meat, $1.99 10# potatoes, bacon

12/21 $45.70 Hannaford: $3.49 Cabot Cottage cheese, $3.96 4 32 oz cans diced tomatoes, $1.98 2 cans crushed tomatoes, $3.96 4 cans whole tomatoes, $1 2 tiny cans tomato paste, $1.98 2 packs frozen spinach, $1.98 2# Orzo, $6.98 10# spaghetti, $3.89 Ricotta, $1.50 2 tropical sparkling waters, $2.69 Minute Maid Low Acid Orange Juice, $3.99 Smart Options grated cheese, $3.49 chipotle Tabasco sauce, floss, $4.44 whole chicken, $1.19 kraut $5 off coupon

12/22 $7 Dollar Tree: 4-3 oz Feta cheeses, Ssips Iced Tea, WestSoy Soy Milk, Dessert Topping