Saturday, February 28, 2009
My grandfather (my dad’s father) grew up in Pocatello, Idaho, and his sister, my Aunt Blanche, told me this story.
When my grandfather was living back east in Washington, D.C., his mother came to visit on the train, and packed potatoes in her suitcase to give to him.
He said, “Mother, I can get potatoes here.”
She said, “Yes, but they’re not like these.”
That’s what I always think of when I make this dish.
It’s called an Idaho Sunrise and comes courtesy of my favorite cookbook author Marion Cunningham (who I hope to discuss in greater length in a future post) in her book The Supper Book. She says, “This is simply a baked potato with a bright yellow egg sitting on top of it, but when you mash the egg into the buttered potato, it’s like the sun coming up over the mountains.”
Basically you bake a potato, then slice off the top and scoop out the insides. In the actual recipe, you mix the scooped out potato with a little milk and butter and salt and pepper. In my version you mix with a little … salt. Then put the potato back in the shell and break an egg over the top and return to the oven until the egg is cooked to your desired level of doneness—”until the egg is set but the yolk is still soft enough to make a nice sauce for the potato.” About 8 to 10 minutes.
And I think that might have been the best meal I’ve ever had.
Also today did a rerun of the Jiffy biscuits, and glad I didn’t have to take pictures of this round since they did not hold together coming out of the pans nearly as well. They are not photogenic muffins.
For Meal One, I had a soft-boiled egg and and cornmeal muffins and an orange.
For Meal Two, I had a little bit of the millet un-pilaf and the Idaho Sunrise. I’ve actually never cooked millet before this experiment, and I need to make it when I can use some fat (i.e., in an actual pilaf) because the flavor is good and it’s filling, it’s just dry the way I made it. I still have one serving left of that.
That’s it for today.
Thanks for playing.
[Note that I had $2.43 available today and I came in just under the wire. Wasn't sure if I was going to make it, and it took some doing to find a potato that small.]
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Okay, I’m going to dive into this one, can’t wait to see how it turns out.
My body mass index (BMI) when I started was approximately 25.6, which is slightly into overweight range (between 19 and 25 is considered “healthy weight”). Therefore when thinking about this project, I did not design it to maximize calorie intake per dollar, or try to avoid losing weight. I figured if I’m going to completely upend my life for 30 days, I might as well try to drop a few pounds while I’m at it.
According to one formula, a person of my height, weight, and age would have a basal metabolic rate of aproximately 1,340 calories (i.e., my body expends about 1,340 calories of energy a day just to keep itself running—breathing, pumping blood, etc.). How much energy I need in addition to that depends on how active I am.
[If you want to come up with a number for yourself, there are all kinds of different calculators online—search for "calorie requirement calculator" or something along those lines—and you'll get a whole bunch of hits. Try out a few and see what different numbers you get, it's interesting to see how the different ones work and how the results differ.]
When thinking about the project, I decided I would aim for at least 1200 calories a day because I was afraid that I would be too hungry if I had less than that. It turned out that I was able to get by on fewer calories than I expected in the first week, and once I got through that, my body adjusted to taking in fewer calories and I felt pretty good. (Which I think is probably a good take-home lesson for the future—if I can suck it up and get through the first few days, things will get better.)
I have not calculated my caloric intake to this point, but intend to do an overall nutritional analysis, including calorie totals, at the end of the project, since I’ll know exactly what I’ve eaten for 30 consecutive days, and I’m extremely unlikely to have this kind of data set ever again. (Or at least I hope not.)
I’ve lost about 6% of my body weight since starting the project, and now weigh about what I weighed in September. (I usually lose weight when I’m biking a lot in the summer, then immediately gain it back as soon as I stop biking.)
In terms of whether or not my overall diet has been healthy, I feel like it has been.
I’ve had limited quantities of fruits and vegetables, but I’ve had limited quantities of everything. I think the proportion of fruits and vegetables I’ve eaten has been pretty good. Not all of the vegetables have been “fresh”—I used canned tomatoes and tomato sauce and frozen spinach, but those items are high-quality food.
Canned tomato products actually have more of certain nutrients available in them than fresh tomatoes, because the lycopene (an anti-oxidant phytochemical that makes tomatoes red) is more accessible to your body after tomatoes have been processed.
Frozen vegetables are also reported to have higher nutrient levels than many fresh vegetables because they’re picked and processed at peak ripeness rather than being picked early and ripening en route to market. (This is also why local food—especially food you grow in your own garden—is more nutritous than food that’s travelled long distances to get to your supermarket.)
Because it’s winter, I can get cheap citrus—tangerines for $0.20 each and oranges for $0.13 each at the independent Latino grocery or $0.25 at the Latino supermarket. (Also I’d like to point out that I had no idea I could get fruit so cheaply until I started looking around in preparation for this project. I had been paying two or three times as much at my regular stores. So if you’re trying to save money on groceries, be sure to check your local ethnic markets.)
If I were doing this at a different time of year, the kinds of fruit I would be able to get cheaply would be different, but I’m confident that I would be able to get something that I could make work with my dollar.
Fruits and vegetables are higher-priced items, but they’re generally cheaper than meat, so by reducing the amount of meat you eat, you can easily add more fruits and vegetables to your diet (and at the same time reduce your intake of unhealthy fats). Also cooking from scratch and reducing the number of convenience foods you use will save money that can be used instead for fruits and vegetables.
Frozen vegetables are especially valuable—they’re affordable and also have the advantage of keeping for extended periods, so you can keep them on hand to use in recipes when you aren’t able to make it to the store. For instance you can add frozen spinach to mac and cheese, mix with scrambled eggs, add to soups, etc. Or do the Sneaky Chef thing and put it in brownies. Or whatever.
During this project, I’ve eaten primarily whole grains and legumes. I’ve had some white flour and sugar (in the Jiffy mixes) as well as pasta, and I will say that carbs are the one thing I’ve missed. I felt much better in the second week, when I had something other than really dense whole grains to eat. (I expect if I did this project for more than 30 days, I would be able to wean myself off of sugar and refined flour products, but I’m not sure that I’m particularly interested in doing that.)
So overall I think this is a good, healthy diet. Calorie intake has been limited, but I needed to lose a little bit of weight, and also there is a large body of evidence showing that consuming reduced calories extends lifespan in a wide range of nonhuman species.
I’m not interested in participating in the Caloric Restriction movement or even getting into the debate over it, but I wanted to point it out for anyone who is working under the assumption that all low-calorie diets are unhealthy. The are a whle bunch of people who are totally into it—see the The Calorie Restriction Society for details.
And note the especially helpful article: “Calorie Restriction or Anorexia? Ten Ways to Tell.”
Friday, February 27, 2009
Another day of distractions. Yet I persevere.
I got the pictures of the millet/chickpea/spinach un-pilaf to work, so you can see how much that made. It’s a lot—more than five cups. (I put the pint glass of water in the picture so you could get a better sense of the relative size of the bowl.)
Unfortunately, it is less than fabulous, but I added the leftover curry powder and orange zest and some lime juice from today’s outing and it was improved.
On the plus side, it’s done and in the refrigerator and healthy (millet is a relatively high-protein grain, plus protein from the chickpeas, plus the spinach), and I spent only $0.51 today, so I’m building up a nice little nest egg for a future shopping trip.
I also had steel-cut oats with toasted sunflower seeds, and I finished up the spinach chicken noodle soup as a little afternoon snack. Thumbs up on that. I’m going to see if I can get another round of that going next week, it was good.
I bought two oranges and a lime at the carniceria. Their oranges are even cheaper than at Compare, but it’s much further from my house so generally not worth the trip.
At one point during my reconnaisance missions, they had limes 10 for $1, but they’re 6 for $1 now. Still a good price, but I loved the idea of being able to get a lime for ten cents. And you gotta love a store that has limes as their loss leader. That’s my kind of store.
I have no idea what I’m doing over the next few days, but I know I can make it through tomorrow working on the millet/chickpea/spinach pilaf and steel-cut oats, so I don’t know if I’ll try to get to the store tomorrow or just save it up for another day.
You’ll just have to keep reading…
Thursday, February 26, 2009
First, I need to say that I do not understand the appeal of blogging as a full-time job. Maybe I’m just not doing it right.
And secondly, I’m realizing now that the aerial shot of the food probably wasn’t the best idea since you can’t tell how much is in each of the bowls. Sorry about that.
The good thing about my not being able to get to the store is that I had extra money to work with. The bad thing is that by the time I got to the store I wasn’t in quite the zen state I needed to be to get the right amount of food, so I ended up with about twice as much as I meant to from the bulk bins. But I had the money available ($1 from Monday, $1 from yesterday, and today’s dollar, plus some change from earlier, for a total of $3.09 today) and there’s enough time left in the project for me to work through all of it, so I think that’s fine.
After three days, the steel-cut oats with sunflower seeds got a thumbs-up as an A-1 breakfast, so I got a supply of those and am planning on having that until I’m sick of it. It’s healthy, it tastes good, it’s filling, and it’s really easy. All good.
I also got some chickpeas (meant to get $0.20 worth but ended up with $0.40 worth — but given how hard it’s been for me to get to the store lately I think that having extra food is probably not a bad thing) and meant to get just enough millet to make one full serving (I had some left from the first week’s purchase) but got more than that too. Overpurchasing was definitely the theme for today’s trip.
Also swung by the Compare for a couple of tangerines (or, as the receipt calls them, tangarines). Happy to see those again.
Total spent was $2.15.
For Meal One, I had steel-cut oats with toasted sunflower seeds and a tangarine. My new favorite meal.
For Meal Two, I had sort of a millet pilaf with spinach and chickpeas. Except it isn’t really a pilaf, because I don’t have any fat to saute vegetables in or coat the millet with before cooking, and I wasn’t able to get to the carniceria to get another onion. But I cooked the millet in the leftover chicken broth and overall it was pretty nice. [Sorry, problems with the millet/chickpea/spinach picture, but hope to have it posted soon.]
So that’s where we are for today.
Over and out.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
I think there will be more to add to this, but here’s one for starters…
Here’s a nice article in the New York Daily News about my project.
(And just one comment about the article… I might have said that, but I think what I meant was “If I can do this with $1, think of what you can do with $5 or $10.” I would have trouble with $10; I’m flummoxed by abundance.)
Thursday, February 26, 2009
I expect there will be several rounds of further clarification as this project moves through the next two weeks.
I am not suggesting that eating for a dollar a day is a viable lifestyle, or that anyone can do it, or that everyone should try it. (Though trying to eat for much less than you usually do is definitely a worthwhile exercise.)
My primary purpose was to see if I could meet the challenge issued by the One Dollar Diet Project people—“I challenge anyone in America to eat fresh food for a dollar a day.”
I set up the project in the hardest way I could think of—starting with no food and only a dollar each day to work with (with anything I didn’t spend on prior days carrying over)—because:
(a) it was interesting to me because I wasn’t sure if I could do it (when I first thought of the idea it seemed impossible)
(b) it allowed me to do the project without having to calculate unit costs of food items
(c) it allowed me to adjust as I go, seeing how I feel and what I feel like I need, instead of having to plan everything up front and eating the same limited selection of food days after day.
In addition to wanting to see if I could meet the challenge, I also wanted to demonstrate an approach to cooking and eating that I’ve used for the past 10+ years that allows me to eat well for much less than most people think possible.
This project is basically an extreme version of what I do normally— cooking from scratch, eating mostly whole foods, buying just what I need for the next few days instead of shopping in bulk, and working with what I’ve got in my pantry and freezer instead of always having to get everything for every single meal.
So that’s the main point of the project.
Thanks for asking.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
More than halfway done and things are getting a little surreal, but I’ll tell you about that when I have something to link.
Today I ended up skipping the store because I had phone calls to deal with in the morning then decided that if I don’t get some work done I’m going to get fired from my job that I don’t have. So I went out and sequestered myself in an internet-free location instead and tried to work through some things.
For Meal One I had scrambled eggs with spinach (which would have been better with cheese and just a little bit of black pepper—if I thought of it, I would have added some of the leftover curry powder I have in the pantry, but alas, I didn’t think of it until after I was done eating) along with Jiffy biscuits with orange zest which was a fabulous addition. (Thanks again to fivecats for the good suggestion.)
The biscuits were mostly really good, but the Jiffy mix is really salty compared to the scratch biscuits I usually make. But since I haven’t had any processed foods in 16 days and I’m only about halfway through the six cents of salt I bought on Day One, I’m not going to get too worked up about excess sodium right now.
For dinner I was going to have spinach chicken soup with Jiffy corn muffins, but I didn’t make it to the store for the Jiffy mix, so I just had spinach chicken soup. It was quite good, and I’m always amazed at how much more filling a small amount of food is when you put it in the form of soup than if you were just to eat it on its own. The Mock Turtle was right on.
Today was the first day in a while I didn’t have any fruit (more because I couldn’t get to the store than because I didn’t have the money) and I missed it. But I think I’ll survive.
And I got a little bit of work done.
And tomorrow is a new day.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
A few people have asked about health implications of this and if I’m hungry, so I’m going to write a little bit about the hunger part here, and hopefully will get to the health implications in a later post.
First, I’ll say that I’ve been much less hungry than I thought I would be. I was expecting the first couple of days to be really difficult, that I would really want to eat and it would be hard not to eat too much.
One of my concerns going into the project was that I would be so hungry that I would have to eat everything I bought every day just to get through the day. This would leave me with only a dollar each day, and no stored food to work with, which I knew was not going to work.
I knew that the only way this project would work would be if I could eat for less than a dollar in the beginning so I could build up a small pantry, then use my daily dollar to get fruits and vegetables and things that taste good to combine with the pantry staples. (This is in fact how I work normally, using an average of about $3 a day.)
I thought I’d be able to do that but wasn’t sure.
Fortunately, that’s pretty much how things have turned out so far.
If you read the California vegan people’s blog, you’ll note that they said they felt good the first few days — they actually felt lighter and had more energy. But they ran into trouble as the weeks wore on, and started feeling crabby and tired and run-down. And because they lacked energy, they stopped exercising, which Iikely made them feel even worse.
There are a number of differences between my project and theirs, but one of the biggest is that they ate exactly a dollar’s worth of food every day of the project. (They also ate things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and popcorn, which I think work fine on a $3 a day diet but not so well with $1 a day. With only a dollar, you need to maximize bulk, fiber, and nutrients with everything you eat. Certainly jelly would not be on my list of foods meeting those criteria.)
I am not eating exactly a dollar a day of food. I am eating an average of a dollar a day of food. So I could lowball it in the beginning in an effort to get to a place where I could eat actual meals.
Also I’ve continued to walk and bike — including biking to the stupid SuperTarget, which I realized after biking there two days in a row only seemed like a reasonable ride when I thought about it before the project started because usually when I would go over there I was already out running errands in that part of town so it wasn’t that much farther. To ride from my house to pick up a $0.24 can of tomato sauce is totally ridiculous. It’s like a 12-mile ride. So now I’m trying to manage the SuperTarget trips so I can go less often and get more while I’m there.
But I actually felt much better after my 12-mile bike ride last Monday.
I know that my body has at least 35,000 calories of stored energy in the form of fat available to it. (That’s nearly a month of energy just to work off what I’ve gained since September!) But when you limit your food intake, your body tends to become more efficient and work with fewer calories before it starts accessing its fat stores. (That’s why dieting alone doesn’t work to lose weight; you need to exercise as well.)
So I think exercising actually made my body more likely to dip into some of its stored fat, and that may be why I felt better and had more energy after my bike ride.
I’m not going to say I haven’t been hungry at all, because I have been, but it hasn’t been a crazy “oh my god I want to eat” kind of hunger. More like an undercurrent of hunger, mostly during the first five or six days.
The first weekend was bad because I had stuff going on both days and didn’t get meals at a regular time, so by the time I ate it was really late and I was really hungry. But since getting through the first week (through about Tuesday 2/17), I can honestly say that I’ve felt really good and haven’t really been hungry at all.
The other big difference between how I feel normally and how I’ve felt on the project, even on Saturday and Sunday, was that I didn’t expend hardly any psychic energy thinking about food. I knew what I had, I knew what I was going to eat, and that was that.
There were no internal debates about whether I should get something while I was out or wait until I got home, or get something from a vending machine to get me through, or any of those discussions my brain sometimes decides to have with me when I’m out working and I start to get hungry. It was actually kind of nice to not have to deal with that.
However this is primarily bcause I am doing a project where I said I’m only going to eat a dollar’s worth of food a day and I told everyone I know I was going to eat for a dollar a day and I started writing about it so everyone could see whether I could do it or not. (I am a very strong-willed person. If I decided to stand on my head for three weeks and told everyone I know I was going to stand on my head for three weeks and set up a web cam to record me standing on my head for three weeks, you can be sure that I would figure out some way to stand on my head for three weeks. And I’m sure everyone who knows me will attest to that.)
Also I was fully mentally prepared for hunger as part of this project for at least the first few days.
If I actually had no money and no food and no prospects of food or money in the foreseeable future, I would have spent a lot of psychic energy thinking about money and food and how to get money or food, and I would have felt very hungry.
And also — this is again where my project differs from the others — I’m not doing this to think about how other people would feel, or what this means to people who are subsisting on small amounts of food.
If I were, I would have been much more sensitive to my feelings of hunger, and I would have noted them, and possibly been upset by them. But because I was looking at the first week as a transition period that I needed to get through in order to get closer to where I wanted to be, it didn’t really bother me.
So what I’m saying is that, hunger, like beauty, is in the eye/stomach of the beholder.
It’s not really how hungry you are, it’s how you perceive your hunger. And that is going to depend on external circumstances as much as internal feelings.
So the short answer to the question of “Are you hungry?” is “No, I’m not.”
Thanks for asking.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
When I first started thinking about doing an online project, I envisioned it partly as a way to get everyone who told me I need a website to stop telling me I need a website and partly as a fundraising idea for The Scrap Exchange.
Here’s how the fundraising thing came up…
There was a customer who had been coming in to the store on a regular basis who does chinchilla rescue (seriously, I am not making this up). She would buy the textile tubes for the chinchillas to play in and she said she also uses the tubes to collect spare change as donations.
She puts on the outside of the tube a form with every amount between $.01 and $5.00 and a small space for a check mark. Whever someone gives her that amount, she checks it off — so for instance, if she has the tube on her desk at work and a colleague comes back from lunch and drops in $.13, she puts a check mark next to the $.13 to show that someone donated that amount.
If you get a donation in every amount on the form, you’ll raise $1,250. (At first this didn’t seem possible, but then I did the math — 500 donations with an average donation amount of $2.50 is $1,250. Most of the money comes from the $4+ donations, which are probably a lot harder to come by than the less than $1 donations, if you’re collecting spare change. Plus you need to get 500 donations, no mean feat.)
I thought this was a cool idea, but I work out of my house, so the only person who would be able to drop in spare change on a regular basis would be me, and that didn’t seem likely to get anyone very far.
So I thought about doing a website where at the bottom of every post, I would put five numbers, from less than a dollar to between four and five dollars. If you liked the post, you could click on the amount to make a donation in that amount. And if all of the amounts were clicked on, I’d raise $1,250.
(People I told this to said, “And who will be reading this website?” I said, “My friends.” And then, ever hopeful, “And maybe their friends.” I think most people saw the idea as being of limited utility.)
Then I got distracted by other things and temporarily gave up on the idea of doing anything online.
But now I’m back, and have been up for two weeks but have been remiss in getting anything set up so people can donate to The Scrap Exchange.
So I finally managed to take care of the details and added a little icon in the sidebar that you can click on to go a PayPal page and make a donation using PayPal or a credit or debit card. (Which I haven’t actually tested so I’m not positive that it works.) And also a link that goes to The Scrap Exchange website so you can look at that if you don’t know what The Scrap Exchange is.
And up soon will be a post about The Scrap Exchange and how it is directly related to this project, for those of you who don’t get the connection.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Apologies to everyone who had to watch 55 minutes of local news before getting to the segment on the Durham woman who is Stretching Her Dollar. (And I loved how in the intros when they were talking about my story they kept showing people eating pizza and ice cream. I was like okay that is not what I’m eating for a dollar a day.)
Here’s a link to the story. It seems like there should be video on the site but I don’t see it. Maybe I’m not looking in the right place? If anyone finds it, let me know so I can link it.
I thought it was pretty good when I watched it (I liked how I was sort of laughing as I showed off my prize spinach), though now that I’m thinking about it, it’s a little bit of drag that they took the health/diet angle and not the you can eat well for less than you think angle, which is really my point. But they shot 20+ minutes of video for 2 minutes of story so I guess that’s what happens.
Also I need to point out that, contrary to what the online story says, I did NOT ride my bike to the store today because the reporter had something come up so she got to my place 45 minutes later than she had planned and I didn’t think it made sense for me to bike to the store and her to drive there and wait for me to get there. (The store is about 3 miles from my house.) Also I had to leave for a meeting at 3pm and it was already 2pm by the time we were leaving for the store and I wasn’t sure how long it would take. So I drove.
She wanted to get footage of me getting into my car and at first that seemed fine but then I decided that felt kind of weird, and I didn’t necessarily want that recorded for posterity as part of the project, that I got in my car and drove to the store since that’s not really how my day usually goes, and in fact the only reason I was doing it today was becase she was there.
So she said she didn’t have to shoot me getting into the car and didn’t have to talk about it at all, which was fine. I didn’t really mean for her to say that I rode my bike when I didn’t.
But that’s okay.
The other thing I have to say is that it’s a good thing I don’t have a job while trying to do this project because if I did, I’m pretty sure I would have been fired by now. Between going to the store every day (sometimes multiple stores), taking pictures of my food, writing about what I ate, and now, going to the store with a reporter so she can shoot video of me buying spinach, I’m really not getting anything done.
But that’s okay too.
(The reporter asked me what’s been the hardest part and I said having to take pictures and write about everything. The food part has been a breeze.)
Okay… now for the usual report.
As noted, today I bought … spinach. I’d been thinking about getting this since Friday or Saturday but other things kept getting moved up in the queue. Spinach is a good thing to add to other things to make them go a little further and to add some good nutrients, but it’s not hugely filling, so I kept deciding I needed more substantive items before getting the spinach. But I’m glad I finally have it.
Tonight I mixed about a quarter of the box with the remaining Market Pantry special marinara sauce and about half of the remaining pasta for a nice dinner.
For Meal One, I had a soft-boiled egg and most of the rest of the steel-cut oats (sadly lacking sunflower seeds) and also a banana.
I think tomorrow I’m going to get a refill on the Jiffy corn muffins and eggs, which I think should do me for the rest of the month, eggs-wise. The muffins are a pretty good bargain for $0.44. I think I was able to stretch those out over about 4 meals, and they make a nice breakfast with eggs and/or fruit. And they give me my sugar fix.
So I think that’s the plan for tomorrow. And I will ride my bike for that. And no meetings tomorrow and no reporters so maybe I can get some work done.