Food Diary: How a 28-Year-Old Field Scientist Eats on $30K/Year in a National Park Near Ashford, WA

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3:00 p.m. I’m hungry and in need of some actual sustenance so I cook a small pot of farrow on the stove. I salt the water and add a bit of butter for richness. I chop up some red onion and cherry tomatoes, put them on a sheet pan, and drizzle them with olive oil and sea salt. Then I combine the tomatoes, onions, and farrow into a bowl with some leftover pesto, and shave a bit of parmesan on top. It’s chewy and a bit nutty; the tomatoes add a good amount of brightness. The meal is comforting and hearty on this rainy day and I eat it slowly to savor the flavor.

9:00 p.m. Two friends have come to visit for the weekend and they bring a large Digiorno Rising Crust frozen pizza ($7.79, covered by them) for dinner as well as a much-needed grocery delivery from Trader Joe’s and a nearby gas station. We split the cost of groceries and my share is $46 total. They put the pizza in the oven and we huddle around it waiting for the timer to ding. Once it does, we’re all so hungry we burn our mouths eating the pizza as fast as we can. I honestly don’t remember much about its flavor, just that it had calories I badly needed. That’s a problem frozen pizzas fix well.

Friday total: $46


10:00 a.m. It’s still raining and my whole house has slept in late. One of my visiting friends brought a box of Trader Joe’s mini chocolate chip pancake mix ($3.99, covered by them), which sounds perfect on this gloomy Saturday morning. We put an entire package of Oscar Meyer bacon in the oven and mix up a batch of the pancakes. We add bananas to the pancakes for a little extra decadence and use up some of my old bananas. Finally, we make French-pressed coffee mixed with a bit of Trader Joe’s almond and coconut vanilla creamer warmed in a milk frother. Breakfast is heavy and rich and we eat it over the course of a couple of hours. We pick at the pancakes and add slabs of Kerrygold butter and maple syrup to the stacks.

4:00 p.m. We finish a drizzly hike and head home to warm up some pita bread in my oven. We slice up cucumber ($2.99), avocado ($3.99), tomato ($3.49/pound), and cheddar slices ($3.99) to add to the tops of the pita. I add some spicy fermented peppers too. Everything’s from the Trader Joe’s haul.

7:00 p.m. The rain has cleared, my friends are in town, and it’s time to celebrate! Nothing brings our community together quite like a grill session and a warm box of Rainier beer ($20.99, previously bought from Safeway) on a mostly clear night. The visiting friends have worked around here before, so lots of people are excited to see them. I provide mustard and approximately 36 hot dogs that a visiting friend left at my house about a week ago. I realize a real grocery trip is in my future. Some of our other neighbors bring pre-marinated meat packs from Trader Joe’s, meatballs, broccoli, sweet potatoes, a large pot of rice, and an endless amount of snacks. The little picnic table is crammed with mismatched pots of food. Most folks bring their own bowls and sporks to dish up whatever they can. Together all of our dishes come together to make a pretty hearty meal for the 30 people that end up stopping by.

Saturday total: $0


8:00 a.m. It’s the last morning my friends are staying with me and we cook the final shared meal they brought with them, chilaquiles. I soak old tortilla chips in an enchilada sauce one of my friends has brought. While that softens I cut up onion, green onion, avocado, and jalapeño to add to the finished dish. I fry up the tortilla chips in a bit of oil and crack a couple of eggs into the skillet to cook. When it’s done I take the whole skillet to the table and layer it with the fresh veggies. It’s a comforting and easy group meal to make. We eat about half of the skillet before we’re full and follow with some hot French press coffee.

1:20 p.m. I make a light lunch of toast with Dijon mustard, dill pickles, sliced tomatoes, and a hard-boiled egg. I love putting a smattering of food on a piece of bread and calling it a meal. I eat the toast on my porch enjoying the beams of light that make it through the dense trees.

8:00 p.m. I skip on dinner tonight because I’m full from a weekend of decadent group meals. Instead, I have a cup of Bonne Maman tea in its Dream flavor (it has verbena, rose, and lavender) and a couple of Whole Foods’s shortbread biscuits to unwind before I go to bed. And I arrange a tuna packet, slices of cheddar cheese, and a couple of small dill pickles near each other in the fridge to prep for my work day tomorrow.

Sunday total: $0