Monday, February 9, 2009

White Bean and Tarragon Soup: On Saving

Among other things, The Boyfriend and I are scraping money together for a wedding, a house, and a bed that doesn’t make us look like Will Ferrell from Elf. It’s tough sometimes, because certain necessities go unpurchased for months. I’ve needed new bras for awhile now, and my favorite pair of Cons is finally starting to wear through. And we won’t even discuss my adventures in discount hair color. We’ll just shake our fists at the sky and curse genetics for giving us our first gray hairs at 17.

Despite universal cutbacks (especially food, natch), most of the money we save comes from one place: our apartment. For the space, the rent is ridiculously low - about half of what I’ve paid for other, smaller places. It allows us to stash several hundred extra dollars a month into savings, which makes a gigundo difference in our bankrolls.

Sadly, accommodations-wise, we get what we pay for.

A 110-year-old Brooklyn "brownstone" (sarcastic quotes intentional) that hasn’t been updated in 109 years, our building’s located on a major highway, one house away from the ongoing construction of a 10-story condo unit. The walls are cracking, the linoleum is permanently stained, and I’m fairly sure the basement is the seventh circle of Hell. Our bedroom is alternately freezing and sweltering. There is a constant stream of litter on our front steps, thrown there by assorted lazy-ass Brooklynites. We had a hole in our ceiling for six months before the landlord acknowledged our existence. In the fall, the construction site started attracting rats, which made their way into our backyard. It’s since been fixed, but … RATS?!?!?! Jeez. Honestly, I have no idea how we’ve never had an insect problem, but everyday I knock on a million pieces of wood that it stays that way.

Despite this, our place is relatively warm and cozy, and we do the best we can with what we have. Ten years of post-collegiate furniture and décor helps, as does a positive outlook. Occasionally, though …

Look. Yesterday around 1pm, our ceiling started to leak. The upstairs neighbors’ toilet overflowed, and they couldn’t plunge fast enough. This was nothing new, and it only required a few buckets and two hours of constant surveillance on our end, but the leak was in our BEDROOM this time, perilously close to our tiny mattress. I almost lost it.

Because some days? Like today? When my PMS is particularly bad? I want a nice place RIGHT NOW. I want insulated windows and plumbing that’s been replaced since the Coolidge administration. I want a front door that locks ALL the time, not just when I put my back into it. I want a KitchenAid standmixer, or at least the room to store it.

But if I want it, and I want to stay debt-free and financially solvent, I can’t have it right now. I can have it in two or three years, when our savings culminates in a Place of Our Own. And that’s okay. It really is. I still splurge. I’m not living a life of denial or deprivation. Instead, I’m living a life of simplicity and moderation with occasional frustrated outbursts. And in the longterm, that’s a good thing, rats notwithstanding.

Oh – and the nice part of our current apartment? No matter what it looks like, our future house is going to seem like Xanadu.

Anyway, on to today’s meal: White Bean and Tarragon Soup, a lovely, savory alternative to the usual Tuscan White Bean variety. If you should make it (and you should), a few things to know:

1. Since tarragon has a very subtle anise flavor, the soup does, too. I DESPISE anise, but it melds incredibly well, especially by the next day. So don’t fear if you, too, are among the haters. You’ll like this.

2. I used Progresso cannellini beans, which my spellcheck switched to “cannelloni” every time I typed it. Weird.

3. There’s a little more fat than usual in this soup, but I bet you could lose a teaspoon of butter and two teaspoons of olive oil and be just fine. Also, the 12+ grams of fiber per serving should make up for it.

And that's it.

White Bean and Tarragon Soup
Serves 4
Adapted from Serious Eats, who got it from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

2 19-oz cans white beans, drained and rinsed
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 scallions, roughly chopped
1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or 2 cans)
1/4 cup fresh tarragon, roughly chopped

1) To a large pot or Dutch oven, add butter and olive oil. Heat 'em both over medium heat until butter melts and just starts foaming. Add scallions. Cook 2 or 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add carrots and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes, until softened, stirring occasionally.

2) Add beans and stock. Turn heat to high. Once stock starts boiling, add bay leaves and tarragon. Drop heat to medium-low. Simmer 15 or 20 minutes, "until the beans are falling apart." Then, with a stick blender, regular blender, food mill, or potato masher, mash/puree soup until it reaches your desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with "remaining chopped tarragon, a drizzle of olive oil, and fresh black pepper."

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
328 calories, 9.1 g fat, $1.54

2 19-oz cans white beans, drained and rinsed (I used Progresso cannellini beans): 899 calories, 0 g fat, $2.78
3 bay leaves: 0 calories, 0 g fat, $0.09
2 tablespoons butter: 201 calories, 22.6 g fat, $0.16
1 tablespoon olive oil: 118 calories, 13.4 g fat, $0.11
5 scallions: 40 calories, 0.3 g fat, $0.71
1 medium-sized carrot: 25 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.10
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped: 4 calories, 0 g fat, $0.04
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or 2 cans): 20 calories, 0 g fat, $1.20
1/4 cup fresh tarragon, roughly chopped: ~6 calories, 0 g fat, $0.98
TOTAL: 1313 calories, 36.4 g fat, $6.17
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 328 calories, 9.1 g fat, $1.54

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Jenn @ Frugal Upstate said...

Wow. Kudos for you guys sticking to your guns and keeping your eyes on the prize (ie your financial future). So many folks complain about how tight things are and run up their debt, but in reality have a lot of luxuries. You guys are making hard choices now that will lead to a better life in the future and I am very impressed. Keep up the good work, and keep on keeping your eyes on the prize!

Chief Family Officer said...

Aw, Kris, I lived you lived in LA instead of NY so I could invite you over for a nice dinner! And I love how firmly your head is screwed on - personal finance wise anyway. I'm not sure about the rest of you ;)

I was just thinking on the treadmill about bras - I finally splurged and bought new ones. Splurged isn't really the right word. I'd been needing new ones for years and I finally decided to stop putting it off.

I tried the cheap ones at Target, and I have to say, sale prices at Victoria's Secret are the only way to go. So much better quality for not that much more money. (Yes, there's a post coming on this.) Keep an eye out for sales and coupon codes, at the semiannual sale that just ended I got an awesome sports bra (desperately needed) for $15 and was kicking myself for not going sooner. I would have paid $10 for a Target bra that was less than 1/4 of the quality.

Sorry, I didn't mean for this to turn into a novel. What I really wanted to say was, I think you'll be able to find some affordable good quality bras. :)

P.S. I actually hate the VS stores themselves and avoided them for years, but I've become a convert for the quality and price.

Kris said...

Thanks, you guys. Reading both of your blogs helps lots, too.

And Cathy - I got a VS gift certificate for Christmas (bizarrely, from my sister). I'm TOTALLY hitting it up for bras now. Thank you!

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl said...

Oh, man...I had one of those moments recently regarding my heat. I just got very, very impatient with this whole freezing my butt off thing, and I wanted to be warm. NOW! lol

Hang in there!

mapgirl said...

Found you via a link on Bargaineering. Really good stuff. I just wanted to point out that you could have saved some money by using dried beans instead of canned. I know canned beans are more convenient, but the time spent with dried beans reaps rewards with cheapness and much more nutrition. :-)

The recipe here sounds really great. And I, too, hate anise and all licorce flavors. blech! (Let's find someone to receive all of our black jelly beans from Easter baskets!)

Kara said...

I'm excited to try your soup. Sounds yummy. I'm fairly small, but found some great bras at Discovery. Also we have a place in Illinois called Village Discount. You can find amazing clothes bargains there, like a gorgeous Banana Republic Mock Turtle w/price tag still on ($60). I got it for $2.

Thanks for the recipe. Good luck!