Frugal Feasting like it's 1917!

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I headed to my childhood borough of Queens last weekend for this month’s Frugal Feast, hosted in the warm and eclectic Long Island City home of Sylvana and Karl. As regular readers of these Frugal Feast posts know, I typically try to link each dinner to one or more of the principles at the heart of our endeavor: well-balanced meals that are affordable, prepared for no more than $5 per head, low on the food chain and thoughtfully sourced, striving for ingredients that are seasonal, organic, and grown locally, simple to cook, and eaten in community.

But as I rode the E train across the East River, with Thanksgiving Day approaching, I assumed this latest dinner would prompt me to reflect simply on how thankful I am for the success of the Frugal Feasts concept, which started as a whim amongst a small group of friends but has since welcomed so many new and wonderful faces.

But then I walked into Syl and Karl’s kitchen and saw this hanging on the wall:

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The small print at the bottom is tough to read, but here’s what it says:

“Re-rending of exact text from 1917 US Agriculture Dept. poster by Fred G. Cooper. Hand-set & printed at the Western New York Book Arts Center, Spring 2012.”

Turns out that when it comes to “Food” (you have to love the simplicity of that messaging), the USDA had us beat on much of the Frugal Feasts concept by 9 decades! 

So how did our hosts do according to this standard? On all fronts, they did not disappoint.

Syl and Karl took buying with thought to a whole new level, which I won’t comment on besides to share the spreadsheet they put together to track their purchasing and $50 budget (being so meticulous as to even include the $0.40 cent refund they received for bringing their own reusable bags to the grocery store):

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Their cooking was filled with not just care, but love for the process. Again, I can’t do any better than letting Karl describe his experience in his own words:

“I enjoyed the challenge of making the meal with limited funds, and in the process I learned that it was not really as much of a challenge as I thought it would be.  We had to omit some expensive things that would have put some interesting frills on the meal, but I really didn't miss any of them.  I was so full and satisfied by the time we got to the pears that I didn't feel a lack of anything."

"The process of cooking for people and doing it together with Syl is something I enjoy so much that I was literally giggling with joy at one point in the cooking process.  It's a fulfilling experience all around, and one that brought Syl and I a little closer together.  I hope we can inspire people to do the same in their homes.”

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The meal was entirely vegan and gluten free, featuring a truly mouth-watering seasonal menu:

  • Green salad with large lima beans
  • Butternut squash soup
  • Oven-roasted cauliflower and brussel sprouts
  • Broth-seasoned quinoa
  • Caramelized pears

Most of the ingredients were organic and grown locally, and the meal even benefited from the localest of all ingredients: herbs from our hosts’ own backyard.

I can attest to being served just enough of all this deliciousness, but you can see for yourself:

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And between our full bellies, leftovers, and composting, nothing went to waste, putting a small but important dent in our big national food waste problem—a problem with a simple solution:  eat what you buy and buy what you eat.

Here is Sylvana reflecting on her turn as Frugal Feast hostess:

"One of the things I love to do most is cook for other people, and share an evening over yummy food together. At five bucks a head, I thought we would have to research pretty intensely to make a meal that was both flavorful and filling, but it was surprisingly easy! Debra Madison's book of vegetarian recipes helped, as did the French site, where you enter the ingredients you want to use and it just spews out dozens of recipes. Meeting new people and discussing the recipes, our lives, our work, having some laughs, was a blast. For Karl and I, it was a new experience that brought more joy and enjoyment to our life together, and the opportunity to share our home with others. It was lovely."

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To date, our Feasts have served as a monthly opportunity to come together around a simple idea: that buying real, nutritious and sustainable ingredients and cooking them at home is not only a way to eat deliciously, in good company, and reduce your environmental “foodprint”, but also less expensive than fast food or takeout.

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But now I know they’re also an opportunity to reconnect with, and breathe new life into, an old school wisdom about food—and our relationship to it—that is as relevant today as it was nearly a century ago. And for that I am doubly thankful.

If you'd like to try any of Sylvana and Karl's dishes yourself, here are their recipes:

Frugal Feast Menu: Seasonal. Local. Autumnal. Frugal!!

By: Sylvana Rochet-Belleri and Karl Jacob, 11/17/2012

Oven Roasted Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts

Boil water and drop the cauliflower and brussels sprouts in the boiling water for exactly 1 minute, then remove and put under cold water to stop the cooking. This takes the smelly/bitterness away.

In a pan, sautee the following for 2 min on medium-high heat:

-mustard seed, 5 seeds

-1 red chili, dry


-5-6 tblspoons olive oil

-rosemary, sage

Toss the veggies, each type in their own glass pan, with the above mix. Add salt and toss. Broil in the oven for 6 min, turn broiler off and leave in oven for 5 more minutes to slow cook. Serve.

Butternut Squash Soup

-Butternut squash

Bake the squash, halved and orange flesh rubbed with light olive oil on 375 – 400ish for 20-40 min.

-Sage and Rosemary


Sautee together in a pot on low heat with olive oil and herbs first, then onions, let them caramelize a little before adding other veggies:




Cook all the veggies, covered, stirring every 3 min, on medium heat for about 20-30 min. add ½ cup water if it starts to burn or stick a little. Add the scooped-out squash to the pot, turn heat to med-high, sautee for a minute with the rest of the veggies.

Add water to the point it is about ½ inch above the top of the veggies. Stir and cook on medium heat for about 3 min, turn heat off.

Carefully blend the soup in a blender, a few scoops at a time, no more than half full and covered until all is blended. Put on heat and simmer until ready to serve, or set aside.

Salad with Large Lima Beans



-Olive oil/Red wine Vinegar Vinaigrette with french mustard and a splash of Perrier

-Dry Lima Beans, Pressure cooked with thyme, parsley and 2 bay leaves for 25 min

Toss salad with dressing until lightly covered and put beans on top, cover with a pinch of salt and drizzle beans with some dressing.

Broth Seasoned Quinoa

-Rinse Quinoa in a strainer until the water is no longer cloudy

-Vegetable Broth and salt 2 parts to every one pat Quinoa

Bring broth to a boil, put in Quinoa. Lower to simmer, cover, cook for 15 min (make sure to not overcook as it will get mushy)

Caramelized Pears

-Pears, cored and sliced

-Olive oil in a pan on medium-low heat, cook slow to caramelize

 After sauteing for about 15-20 min, add a splash of bourbon at the end and cook in it for 1 min.