Southern Snow

Saturday, January 30, 2010

“Winter in Neely is a monotonous time of year and nothing much can really break the spell of the season except for a healthy snowfall, which tends to drive the good sense out of most people since very few of the natives have seen enough snow to have become indifferent to it. We are accustomed to sleet and to the sort of rain that freezes in treetops and downs powerlines, so even the rumor of flurries makes people’s eyes bright.

There is a tendency among Neelyites to panic in the face of poor weather, and the reaction to snow is no less frantic, just a little more lightheaded. Before the first few flakes have had time to settle in and melt, every school in the county closes down and any merchant who does not specifically deal in provisions, what are usually called groceries, has locked up his shop and gone home. When we children arrive from school, the mothers and housewives of Neely begin to expect the worst and busy themselves making shopping lists for such indispensable items as dishpowder and confectioner’s sugar and institutional-sized cans of ravioli, just the sorts of things no family can be snowbound without.

Sometime after midnight and before sunrise it is not at all uncommon for the clouds to blow off leaving the moon to break through and put a glow on things. Daddy says because the light is extraordinary and unnatural, it inflicts a kind of madness on some people while they sleep and they wake up in the morning wanting to drive their cars. Daddy says he cannot explain it otherwise since there’s no reason at all for a townful of people with absolutely nowhere to go to wheel their Buicks and Pontiacs and oversized Fords out into the streets of Neely where they pass the day veering off into ditches or phone poles or just running up onto the fenders of people going nowhere in the opposite direction…. Daddy holds with the notion that there’s nothing for a sane man to do on the day after a snowfall but plant himself on the northeast corner of his cellar and hope for the best. He’s always said that if Washington had kept company with Southerners at Valley Forge the whole group of them could have passed the winter making snow angels and igloos and generally having a high time of it.”
–from A Short History of a Small Place, a novel by T. R. Pearson

Week Three

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Week Three started with a call from my friend Bryant who needed help with some blog features, and who offered freshly-made granola in exchange for a little assistance. Unlike my last project, where I was committed by buying everything I ate, I am accepting free food on this project and was happy to take a little granola-for-tech-support trade.

So I helped Bryant, then got some other things done, then went to gym and then to the grocery store where I planned to get some leafy greens and some chicken legs, which have been very cheap lately, but my shopping plans were thrown into disarray when there were no cheap chicken legs. Doh! It was like a horror movie, me coming to the butcher counter and stopping short. Cue the close-up and scary violins.

I asked the friendly butcher man where his cheap chicken legs were and he said he had sold all of them but would have more tomorrow.

I’m way under money-wise for the month, there’s not much risk of going over at this point, but I’ve really been trying to highlight cheapness, so, after a moment of thought, decided not to get the more expensive thighs or a whole chicken. I decided to come back later when the legs were back.

But that meant I had to come up with something else to eat when I got home, and nothing seemed very appealing to me, except the granola Bryant had brought.

Week Three, part I

Week Three, Part I

So I got some milk and a pear (Pears Bosc Og) and a very big grapefruit (Grapefruit Red Lg) and a dozen Latta’s Egg Ranch eggs and some dried plums a.k.a prunes (Bulk Orgainic Pitte) and the collards I planned on eating with the chicken that I didn’t have yet. (I also still had fruit around from the prior week.)

When I got home, I mixed the granola with some Chex cereal I had left over from the Chex Mix I made for the Scrap Exchange holiday party. (If you like cereal, you should definitely shop at the Super Target; the Chex was $2.04 a box, which is substantially less than at Kroger or Food Lion.)

I also made a fruit smoothie with the rest of the apple juice in the fridge plus fruit from the freezer (cranberries, banana, peaches).

And yes, that was dinner.

On Tuesday, I had more Chex and granola for breakfast, and a banana.

I had meetings starting at 6pm so I had an early dinner of vegetarian chili from the freezer (that I made in Week One) over brown rice. That chili came out really good this time. I still have two servings in the freezer and will be sad when it’s gone.

On Wednesday, I needed to create some space and time to figure out some work stuff, and I have a few undisclosed locations where I go for that, that get me away from the phone and the internet and able to think about one thing at a time.

Usually when I’m planning a day like that I’ll either try to eat a fairly substantial meal before I go out, or go somewhere where I can eat and work, or plan on getting something when I’m done. Which is usually a burrito at Cosmic Cantina because it’s usually midnight by the time I’m done. Not a lot of food options at midnight in Durham.

I wasn’t going somewhere with food this time, so I decided to have an omelet before I left, which I made with herbed cream cheese and mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and garlic, and spinach, along with the last English muffin from the freezer, with butter and jam, and an orange.

There was a basketball game at 9, so I decided I could work for a few hours then stop somewhere on the way home and watch the game and get something to eat. Which is what I did — I stopped at Devine’s to watch the game with some friends who I figured would be there, and ordered a patty melt, which is something I love and it tasted really good but I have to say it really felt like it sat in my stomach for a while.

So Thursday I had a light breakfast, half a grapefruit with some cereal. I was out most of the latter half of the day and ended up pulling stuff from the freezer for dinner — some macaroni/sausage/mushroom stew in a tomato sauce that actually felt a little like lasagne. All it needs is some mozarella and maybe a little ricotta stirred in and that’s what it would taste like.

Also the end of the almost-forgotten pomegranate for dessert.

On Friday, I had a work lunch at Shiki Sushi, and ordered Thai yum noodles with chicken, and the noodles were great but the chicken wasn’t so great so I didn’t eat most of that. If I were to do it again, I’d get it with tofu. It also came with a side salad.

For dinner I had cereal and fruit, which I know is lame but my stomach was still feeling off. Also I really like cereal, and I don’t usually have it, and milk goes bad if you don’t use it up, so I decided just to use the milk on the cereal and get it all out of the way and not worry about the fact that I’m eating like an 8-year old and am going to have to post that on the internet. Sometimes that’s how things go.

As you may have noticed, I hadn’t managed to make it back to Whole Foods for the chicken legs, or to cook the collards. I had meetings in the evening on Tuesday, on Wednesday I needed to go and figure stuff out, and on Thursday I needed to catch up from being sequestered on Wednesday. I didn’t need a big dinner after eating lunch out on Friday and I didn’t feel lke dealing with the grocery store anyway, so it had to wait until Saturday.

So finally on Saturday, after a breakfast of half a bagel with cream cheese and an orange and a glass of milk, I managed to make it back to Whole Foods for the chicken legs.

Week Three, part II

Week Three, Part II

I also bought some more rolled oats (Bulk Organic Rolle) and a potato (Russet Potatoes), because they were on special for $0.99/lb, which is only slightly more than at Compare ($0.79/lb). And I know that potatoes are a much better value if you buy a 5lb bag — I saw bags at Target on special for I think $3 for 5lbs before the holidays — but I’ve decided that I don’t want to eat that many potatoes. I’d rather pay more for one every now and then.

And I have no idea why I’m getting extra money for multiple bags. I only bring one bag. Whatever they give me is what they give me. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

I actually got hungry in the middle of the day on Saturday so I made some egg salad (basically hard-boiled eggs mixed with mayonnaise and a little mustard and salt and pepper and a shot of tabasco) that I ate on crackers, with carrot sticks and a tangerine.

Saturday night I roasted the chicken drumsticks and cooked the sweet potato that I bought way back in Week Two and sauteed the collards and had an actual meal, with actual food, that had never been in a box or the freezer. It was very exciting.

For dessert I had the pear I’d bought earlier in the week.

And on Sunday I had oatmeal with raisins for breakfast, and leftover chicken, potato, and collards, along with a little bit of soup from the freezer for an early dinner, and a late-night snack of cereal with milk and some cookies that have been in the freezer since December and that are starting to taste like the freezer but that are still okay and will be gone soon.

So I didn’t spend a lot in Week Three, and I don’t think that diet is going to win me any awards but, as with Week Two, it could have been worse.

Recipe Week Three

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Leafy Greens

Leafy Greens

I’m quite certain that the next nutritionist who analyzes my diet in great detail on national television will comment on my lack of salads.

I find it difficult to make salads cost-effectively unless I eat them every day, and I don’t like salads enough to eat them every day, so I don’t make salads much at home, but it’s pretty easy to get a good salad when you’re out, so I never really feel very deprived by this.

I think if you like salads a lot, it’s not too expensive to eat them at home regularly, especially if you make your own dressing which is very easy and also much better than bottled dressings. Also it’s not hard to grow lettuces and other greens, if you have the space/time/inclination for that. So that’s what I would do if I liked salads (and/or gardening) more than I do at this point in my life.

But instead of salads, I prefer to eat leafy greens like kale and collards during the winter months.

I nearly always cook it using a technique I learned from Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook, which is really a great resource. It lists individual vegetables in alphabetical order, with a beautiful color illustration of each vegetable, along with a description of the vegetable, when it’s in season, and what to look for when buying, followed by a few simple recipes. Perfect if you’re interested in trying different vegetables but aren’t sure what to do with them.

There was only a little bit of green kale at Whole Foods last week, and it was not the happiest-looking kale I’d ever seen, but the collard greens looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed so I got some those instead and cooked it the same way.

I served it with roasted chicken drumsticks and a baked sweet potato the first and second nights and am still working through the rest. (Receipts and full outline of Week Three meals to come.)

I’m putting the original recipe here, though I don’t actually measure anything when I make this recipe; it doesn’t really matter. I like it very vinegar-y so I think I probably add more vinegar than the recipe calls for; I rinse the kale before chopping and have never noticed a problem; and I add pepper as well as salt while cooking. This is really just a general technique.

Sautéed Kale with Garlic and Vinegar
from Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters

This is a basic method of cooking greens that works equally well with nearly all the leafy greens. It also makes a simple pasta dish: Put on some pasta to cook while you sauté, and when the noodles are done, toss them together with the greens, moistened with a little more olive oil and a ladle of the pasta cooking water.

2 bunches kale (about 2 pounds)
3 Tbsp olive oil
salt
2 cloves garlic
1 to 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Strip the kale leaves off their stems and cut away the tough midribs of any large leaves. Chop coarsely and wash in plenty of water. Drain well, but do not spin dry.

Heat a large saute pan and add the olive oil and enough kale to cover the bottom of the pan. Allow these greens to wilt down beforer adding more. When all the kale has been added, season with salt, stir in the garlic, and cover the pan. The greens will take anywhere from just a few mintues to 15 minutes to cook, depending on their maturity. When they are tender, remove the lid and allow any excess water to cook away. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar.

Serves 4 to 6

Is It Bigger Than a Bread Box?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My friend Bryant Holsenbeck has taken on a challenge that I think is way harder than trying to eat for a dollar a day — she’s trying to go for a year without using disposable plastic. Whoa!

I’ve been working on helping her think of alternatives. My strategy is to step back and think about what people did in the old days before plastic was used for everything.

I was thinking about bread, and how bread gets stale if you don’t put it in plastic, and what they did before plastic. And I thought about bread boxes, which I’ve never really thought about before except for the “Is it bigger than a bread box?” question in Twenty Questions. So I told Bryant she needs to get a bread box. (I think she did.)

The latest conundrum is how do you get diswashing liquid without getting a plastic bottle? We’re a little stuck on that, though I have some ideas and am running some experiments and am hopeful that I’ll be able to figure something out.

Check out her blog The Last Straw at bryantholsenbeck.com.

Also while you’re there, be sure to check out her fabulous art — including my favorites, the birds made from credit cards. Love ‘em!!

Week Two Clarification

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bagels that you get from bagel places like Bruegger’s are very large, usually between three-and-a-half and four ounces, which is three to four servings of bread.

I always cut the bagels in half and put them in the freezer, and unless I’m making a bacon and egg sandwich, I only eat half at a time. So everywhere it says “bagel with cream cheese,” that’s really half a bagel with cream cheese.

I had discovered a few ounces of cream cheese in the fridge that I had forgotten about, and wanted to use up before it went bad, so that’s one of the reasons I ate more bagels than I might have otherwise during Week Two.

Week Two

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Week Two was a little crazy.

I think some people tend to spend more money when things get crazy, they eat out or buy prepared food from the grocery or get take-out, but I actually tend to spend less because I end up skipping meals and/or eating what I have around, and often I go for the lowest common denominator of straight carbs.

That’s pretty much what happened in Week Two.

I had a deadline and a work meeting on Tuesday (separate projects), and a seminar on Wednesday that started at 8:00am and was 45 minutes from my house, plus another project I was trying to finish up by the end of the week.

So money-wise things were fine, but whole grain and vegetable-wise not so great.

I started out on the right foot with a trip to Compare for some fruit, and I also bought a sweet potato/yam while I was there, because I was hoping to make some kind of whole-grain stew thing with sweet potatoes.

Week Two, Receipt One

Monday is actually kind of a blur, I’m not exactly sure what I ate but I think it was oatmeal and fruit, and then soup — or something else from the freezer — for dinner.

On Tuesday, I had a Thai chicken wrap at Mad Hatter’s before my meeting, and often when I eat out, that’s my only real meal for the day. Restaurant portions tend to be so large that someone my size doesn’t really need to eat again. Also I ended up being out late working, so even if I had wanted to eat, I’m not sure what I would have done.

I went to bed very late on Tuesday and then had to get up very early on Wednesday — I’ve had naps that are longer than I slept on Tuesday. I went to the seminar, and I was tired but not at all tempted by all the little pastries and sweet rolls they had, I’m not sure why. Usually when I’m tired, I’m very happy to eat sugar. It was really cold in the room so maybe that had something to do with it. But for whatever reason, I was not interested in eating.

So I got back from that some time after 12:30pm or so and went to the gym and headed towards Whole Foods.

I was planning on making the Peanut Millet with Curried Vegetables for dinner that night, but by the time I was getting to the store, I was really hungry and really tired and decided I needed to eat sooner rather than later and deal with the curried vegetables at some future point.

Week Two, Receipt Two

Week Two, Receipt Three

So first I went to Bruegger’s and bought a bag of day-old bagels (I rarely buy fresh bagels, because I slice them and put them in the freezer, so by the time I eat them they’re all more than a day old anyway), and then went to Whole Foods and picked up things for the curried vegetables — red onion, carrots, mushrooms, and peanuts (Unsalted Peanut Bu) plus a quart of milk (Mapleview Dairy in a glass bottle; I’ll get the $1.50 back when I return the bottle) and some bacon (Applewood Loose Sm). And some bananas.

My plan was to make a bagel sandwich with scrambled eggs and bacon, which is my favorite thing to eat when I’m very hungry.

At some point in the past, I tried the bacon in the package, but the bacon you get from the butcher is a million times better, and I like being able to buy a few slices at a time; I seem to ration it better when I have just a little in the freezer. I think I got 3 slices this day — around a quarter of a pound — but a slice of loose bacon is equivalent to two slices of the packaged kind. It’s thicker.

So I made the bagel sandwich, with spinach in the eggs for a little green, and had that with a fruit smoothie (apple juice, banana, cranberries, peaches) then took a very long nap, then got up and worked for the rest of the night and went to bed very late again on Wednesday.

When I got up on Thursday, I was still hungry, and Wednesday’s bagel sandwich had been so good that I decided to make another one. So that’s what I had.

Then for dinner Thursday I had spaghetti with bread crumbs and some pomegranate for dessert, which was very good and really hit the spot, but as noted, not so good in the veggies department.

On Friday, I had to head out to finish up a project, so I had a bowl of oatmeal and an orange for breakfast, and then I worked in Chapel Hill and stopped at La Vaquita on my way home and picked up a chicken burrito, which was very good. Then I had a late-night snack of a bagel with cream cheese and some cereal with milk and a banana.

More carbs, still no veggies.

On Saturday, I had a bagel with peanut butter and a soft-boiled egg and fruit and some cereal with milk for breakfast, and I finally got around to cooking the vegetables I had bought on Wednesday for dinner — Saturday is when I made Peanut Millet with Curried Vegetables, which I posted the recipe for last week.

On Sunday, I had a bagel with cream cheese and a banana for breakfast, and leftover millet with curried vegetables for dinner. I also had a snack of popcorn, popped on the stove in canola oil, with a little bit of salt and a little bit of sugar and a little bit of powdered ginger sprinkled on it, and a root beer that had been in the fridge for months.

Thus Endeth Week Two.

So like I said, not the greatest week health-wise, but not expensive either. Could have been worse.

Health/Food Notes

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I really didn’t expect anyone to be paying attention to the Dollar a Day project last year, and wasn’t fully prepared for the level of scrutiny it received.

One of the more ironic aspects, in my opinion, was the criticism it received for not being healthy, especially given the typical American diet. (As one of my friends noted in an email, “most Americans eat a revolting, nutrition-free diet, and here is a dietitian parsing your diet in great detail.”)

It seemed to me that it would have made more sense to compare the diet to a typical diet rather than an ideal one; I think I actually would have come out okay on that score. The only problem with the diet was that it was limited in calories, which I think is not necessarily a bad thing for most Americans. And one of the reasons it was so low in calories is because of the ridiculous way I set it up, spending only a dollar at a time and not using anything in my pantry, which made it very difficult for me to get any kind of fats or oils, or baking supplies.

But whatever.

All of the criticism got me thinking a lot about what people consider “healthy” and what they consider “unhealthy” and what kinds of foods are available and what people eat and what is expensive and what is cheap.

So I started reading up on that and have been thinking about and researching nutrition issues for the past year or so and it’s all been quite fascinating and I hope to write about much of what I learned over the course of the next few months.

One of the more interesting things I discovered involves the Rice Diet Program.

My interest in the Rice Diet didn’t come directly out of my research on nutrition; it actually came out of a reference in The People’s Pharmacy column in the newspaper.

Someone wrote in with a comment about diets that help lose water weight quickly for people who are having health problems that are exacerbated by water retention. (The specific condition referenced was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).) The Atkins diet is very good at this, and this is what the letter-writer recommended; the expert quoted by the Graedons agreed with letter-writer and also mentioned that the very low-sodium grains and fruit phase of the Rice Diet would have the same effect.

In April/May, I read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, which more or less says that carbs are the problem and a low-carb, high-protein diet like Atkins is the solution to pretty much everything. I hope to get to a full post on that book at some point because I have a lot of thoughts on it, and I wrote up tons of notes while I was reading it, but for now I’ll just say that the idea that a high-carb diet like the Rice Diet and a low-carb diet like Atkins could be used interchangeably to address a specific problem really jumped out at me.

At the time I was having some back problems that were much worse in the morning when I got up. A physical therapist told me that that was because discs absorb water so they tend to swell overnight, which results in pressure on the nerve. This made sense to me, and I know that when I have a lot of sodium, I really retain water, so the article about how to drop water caught my eye. I’m not at all interested in trying Atkins, but fruit and grains seemed like something I could easily do for a few days.

So I thought about trying it, but for a bunch of reasons didn’t do it at that point, though I did start tracking sodium in an effort to cut back, and was surprised by some of the things that had a lot of sodium in them — Grape Nuts, for instance, and tortillas. Who knew.

I don’t generally experience a lot of food cravings, but a few months later I was having one of those days where I hadn’t eaten and I was out trying to get some work done and thinking about what I was going to eat when I was done. I was trying to decide if I should stop and pick something on the way home or go to the grocery store and get stuff or just go home and eat. It was late — past 10pm — so my options were somewhat limted. And I really needed to work before I could go anywhere, so I decided to write down everything I was thinking about eating in an effort to just get it out of my head. It was sort of a scary list, it was basically all salty or sweet carbs (mmm, Tater Tots….).

I ended up not stopping anywhere and when I got home I fixed a bowl of oatmeal that for some reason I didn’t put salt in. And I ate that and my food cravings pretty much totally went away. It was really striking.

So that made me even more interested in the Rice Diet approach, since that’s one of the points of it. Here’s what they say on their website:

“Within forty-eight hours of eating no-salt-added foods (and usually within twenty four hours) you will marvel at how little desire you have to overeat. In fact, the more overweight people are, the more they seem to experience this change in appetite or perception of hunger. We believe, after hearing this response from thousands of Ricers, that salt can best be described as a “food trigger,” or a food like refined sugar that seems to fuel a desire to overeat. When you hear people over 500 pounds, who you know were typically eating more than 5,000 calories per day to maintain their weight, say after two days on the program that they cannot finish the 1,000 calories they are being served per day and furthermore have no cravings or obsessive thoughts about food for the first time in decades, you know something miraculous is going on and needs to be shared.

Most doctors and dietitians, and thus their patients, don’t realize that this significant a reduction in sodium intake, via a no salt-added ‘whole foods’ diet will make as much difference as it does. Not only do all modifiable heart disease risk factors improve faster than any method proven, but there are testimonies of renewed health in every arena imaginable — healing insomnia, daily headaches (that had been suffered for decades despite numerous therapies), psoriasis, arthritis, depression, and general lethargy.”

So I tried it in a more structured way later, and it really does help with food cravings. I felt a lot like I did on the project, never really hungry and never really full, hardly thinking about food at all, and it occurred to me that the low amounts of salt and sugar I had on the project, especially over the first few days, were probably what allowed me to eat so few calories without feeling hungry. I think this is a good thing to have figured out.

However in addition to being low in sodium, the diet is also extremely low in fat, and I found that after a few days I was freezing cold and unable to sleep properly. This is possibly the “have more energy” aspect, and maybe I just didn’t need as much sleep, but sleeping is really one of the highlights of my life (yes, I know that’s sad, but it’s true) and I really wanted to go to sleep and couldn’t. Possibly because my legs and feet felt like blocks of ice, even under a down blanket, shoved in a down pillow, with wool socks on.

So … I remain intrigued by the concept, and it definitely works to kill food cravings and I think it would also work to lose weight, but it seems like it might be a better diet for July than January. Being freezing all the time would actually be great in July. Just not so good right now.

I hope to talk more about the Rice Diet, Atkins, and some of the other books I’ve read but I think this is enough for now.

And I still need to post info on Week Two, now that Week Three is almost over. Will get to that soon. Stay tuned…

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