Category Archives: Foodie

How NOT to Shuck an Oyster

All pictures used in this blog were taken by myself (Lisa Beuning).

Because I am literally starting from scratch at my new apartment in Seattle I have had to improvise on more than one occasion. For example when I needed to pound a nail into the wall I used a full can of soup in lieu of a hammer. And when I needed to crack open a Dungeness crab I used the handle of a butter knife instead of a seafood cracker or mallet. Seasoning for my cooking? Just head outside to find a rosemary bush and snap a couple of branches off. No scissors? A serrated knife will do just fine. I will admit I have become quite resourceful!

But some things are just not meant to be improvised. And you may not realize it until it is too late. Another way of saying this; learning things the hard way.

I (or we) were reminded of the oh so important lesson last Friday evening. What started out as a romantic early Valentine’s Day dinner hosted by yours truly almost turned into a trip to the emergency room at the local hospital. Not the ending I had envisioned for this evening in particular.

Here is how the day/events unfolded:

Friday, February 11th

12:22 pm
Stop at Pike Place Market to pick up fresh fish and oysters for dinner. Knowing that I did not have an oyster knife at home I asked if they could shuck the oysters for me. I was informed they could not. But not to worry because it is easy to do! They even provided a quick demo stating that a butter knife would work just as well.

2:46 pm
Dinner guest sent a text message saying he would be by at 5:30 pm ready and willing to help prep for dinner. So I saved the oyster shucking and green bean snapping just for him.

5:37 pm
Dinner guest arrived. After providing him instructions I put him to work shucking oysters while I continued to prepare French Onion Soup.

Doug shucking before incident. He looks happy to help don't you think?

6:14 pm
After requests for a towel, a bowl for shells, another short knife, and a regular butter knife, we finally had our first shelled oyster. Next thing I heard was a little cursing, something about a pocket knife, a little more cursing, a question about why I didn’t ask him to bring an oyster knife instead of the wire whisk I requested, a little more mumbling, then a big, loud curse word (which I won’t mention here to keep this PG rated).

6:15 pm
We now had two shucked oysters and a bloodied, cut hand. We honestly thought the cut was deep enough that it might require stitches. I was immediately grateful for living amidst three hospitals. As I was sorting through in my mind which one we should walk to to get the care required for my oyster shucking friend, we tended to the cut as much as we could with home remedies.

Two delicious oysters

Bandaged cut after 'the incident.'

6:42 pm
By this time we had determined the cut did not need surgical care so continued  the preparation of dinner.

The following morning I received a photo via my phone of an oyster knife with an attached message stating ‘I’m just saying.’ Which spurred me to go out and find myself a real oyster knife so I could enjoy the rest of the fresh, delicious oysters safely.  After a trip to Value Village, Trader Joe’s, and Madison Market Co-op, I found and purchased one on sale at QFC. Time it took to shuck and eat the remaining mollusks? Ten minutes tops.

Oysters opened with the correct tool.

Biggest lesson learned? Use the right tool for the right job. Even if the solution seems like a ‘quick fix’ or an easy substitute, people have done what you’ve done and learned the hard way already. That is how the greatest inventions are made. And why some blogs are posted. So don’t try to reinvent the wheel or take a short cut. Or if you do, share your success with others and try to patent it!


Taking the Food Stamp Challenge

Share Our Strength recently posed a challenge to its audience to live off $30 a week in food groceries, the average amount provided in the state of Maryland. Since I live in Seattle where the cost of living is higher I chose to take on the challenge utilizing the Washington state guideline ($200 per month / $50 per week / $7 per day).

The goal? To raise awareness in people who do not have to utilize Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Note the program went through a ‘rebranding’ effort in 2008. Key word is ‘supplemental’ – this is not a stand alone initiative. So you are not expected to live solely off this dollar amount yet so many people do.

I took the challenge. And continue to to this day. Though I could easily go on a tangent about the latest statistics and politics surrounding this program my goal here is to share my first hand experience with you.

Eye Opening Moments

Starting the Challenge From Scratch – I had a fridge full of food when I started the challenge. Luckily I had not taken out the recycling for the week so still had access to receipts from my food shopping trips to refer to. That and the fact that I am pretty anal about the amount of dollars I spend on food so the computing of costs for dishes came quite readily to me. Which I needed in order to cost out meals as I consumed them (see food cost breakdown example below). It’s just not feasible to start the challenge without using what you have on hand. Flour, milk and eggs included. That is the only way to calculate true dollars spent.

Changing Habits – Another area I’m already good with is packing snacks to take with me so I do not ‘impulse eat.’ However one day I did not prepare properly. The urge to stop and grab a sandwich at one of my favorite neighborhood joints to satisfy my hunger just wasn’t an option. Typically I could justify supporting a local business for a $10 or less lunch but during the challenge I couldn’t. So my tummy grumbled and I became very cranky until I was able to get home to some already prepared food in the fridge.

Eating for One – One word – leftovers. You have to be okay with eating the same dish throughout the week. I had a big pot of beef stew that lasted me all week. So the cost was manageable. Here is a cost breakdown of the stew:

Beef – $9
Bottle of Wine (yes, the wine went in the dish) – $8
Bag of Carrots – $1
Bag of Potatoes – $2.50
Bag of Frozen Peas – $2
Whole Onion – $1
Mushrooms – $2
Beef Stock – $3
Chocolate and Spices – $2
Total – $30.50
Divided by 9 meals = $3.60 per meal

Though I may never eat stew again this was a pretty balanced meal considering alternatives that many people eat while on the SNAP program.

Social Life – I had a few offers to go out to eat with friends/family throughout the week and had to politely refuse. By accepting food from others you are ‘living outside the means’ provided. But it did offer some creative solutions. Example – Instead of going out for happy hour with a friend I offered to host one at my apartment. Even though alcohol is not covered under the program, the potential to have snacks/food with the drinks was there. To minimize temptation we stayed in; ambience included.

Most people have a budget for their food expenditures utilizing coupons, buying in bulk, even visiting food pantries to supplement the program. I tend to purchase items on sale at the one of four grocery stores I visit balancing my purchases between them. I realize this is not the most organized approach and I plan to challenge myself in this area. The first step – read ‘Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals’ provided by the USDA.

Yes, I did go over my budget. Mostly because I got cocky with how well I was doing five days into the challenge. So decided to do a little shopping without a list. Lesson learned. With a little practice I know I can do it. And will continue to using more resources than I started with.

Time to head home for some lunch since my tummy is beginning to grumble.