Week Seven

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Week Seven (2/15 – 2/21) was one of those weeks where I was planning on cooking something fresh but ended up pulling stuff from the freezer early in the week and then decided I should just finish that up along with other leftovers in the fridge instead of making something new and adding to the leftover pileup.

On Monday I had muesli with soy milk (I did open the soy milk I had bought in case of weather) along with some squash bread and fruit for breakfast, and pasta with tomato sauce from the freezer for dinner. Also some cheese and crackers and almonds for a snack while fixing dinner, and my favorite dessert for when I’ve scrounged dinner and it wasn’t quite enough, Nutritious Uncooked Candy with chocolate chips.

On Tuesday, I had cereal and banana and squash bread for breakfast, and then for dinner, I pulled some black beans and chicken from the freezer, along with some salsa, which I ate in a tortilla with cheese, and it was exceptionally good for something that I basically happened upon in the freezer while I was trying to figure out what to eat. I had almost forgotten about the kiwifruit I’d bought on 2/11; I had one of those for dessert and it was great, I love kiwifruit.

(And a moderately related aside… I played soccer in DC on a team with some people from New Zealand and I never got over them referring to each other and fellow New Zealanders as kiwis. There was always a brief moment of disconnect when they said something like, “Do you know him? He’s a Kiwi.” before I remembered they were talking about a person, not the prickly brown-skinned fruit.)

On Wednesday, I had the breakfast of the week, cereal with soy milk, banana, and juice, and for dinner had a work-related thing with free pizza. More cheating.

On Thursday, I was finally out of cereal so had oatmeal and an apple, along with a handful of almonds and a glass of juice for breakfast. And I finally had time to get to the store and was planning on actually fixing something but realized I still had black beans and chicken, plus the end of the African stew which I had not been able to give away, and needed to either eat or dump. I decided to give it one more shot.

So instead of getting stuff to make a meal, I just bought a few staples and things for the freezer and pantry.

Receipt Week Seven, Part I

Week Seven, Part I

Receipt Week Seven, Part II

Week Seven, Part II

I stopped at Bruegger’s and got day-olds, then hit Whole Foods and got some prunes (Bulk Organic Pitte) and figs (Unsulphured Turkis), which is my version of candy, I like to snack on those. I got an avocado and tomato to go with the beans, and some grass-fed New Zealand cheddar (Cheddar New Zealan) that was on special for $4.99/lb. I bought a can of tuna (Albacore Tuna in S), and a $0.99/lb apple (Apples Empire CV) and two kiwifruits (Kiwi Bin Og). And a head of garlic (Garlic Super Colos).

I got a $3 refund for returning the Mapleview Dairy milk bottles (Bottle Refund). This is not cheating as this is not free money; I paid an extra $1.50 each time I bought milk.

(Another moderately related aside: For a while, different stores were giving different refunds for Mapleview bottles. One of my friends would buy it at a place that charged a $1.20 deposit and return it to a place that gave a $1.30 refund. He said he felt like he was in a Seinfeld episode.)

Total cost for the day $11.98.

This was my only shopping day for the week. You can see cumulative totals on the Expense Summary Page. I don’t think I’m going to be anywhere near $100 this month.

For dinner I had round two of the black beans and chicken in a tortilla with cheese, along with some rice and some avocado, plus vegetables from the African stew. I decided it was the broth I didn’t care for; if I just ate the vegetables it was fine.

For dessert, I had a kiwifruit.

And then came Friday, which was by far the worst food day I’ve had on the project.

I had a work lunch meeting and had a crab cake sandwich and fries, which felt tremendously high in sodium to me. (The downside of cutting way back on sodium is that you really notice it when you eat food you didn’t cook yourself, and then if you get something that really is high in sodium, it feels like you’re eating salt. Blech.)

We had a gallery opening at The Scrap Exchange and since I was going to be in the vicinity of Trader Joe’s, I decided to do a re-stock on wine (I bought a bunch for them in September and was down to the last two bottles) and offered to get the rest of the food while I was there.

I spent $85 on 12 bottles of wine, two boxes of crackers, brie, goat cheese, hummus, pita chips, grapes, apple juice, dark chocolate, three tubs of cookies and $3.23 for something that’s listed as “grocery” on the receipt that I have no idea what that was. Do you think they just randomly add things to people’s bills? I bet they could get away with it.

I ended up hanging out at the opening serving as bartender for pretty much the whole evening, and eating cheese and crackers and cookies, and then I brought home the stuff we didn’t use — basically 10 bottles of wine, half a box of crackers, and most of the cookies — so I can keep it at my place and we can use it (or most of it at least) for future openings.

This normally works fine, but given the not-so-good lunch and the late hour I ended up eating a whole bunch of those little cat cookies and chocolate, after eating a bagel with peanut butter and some mango for a late supper. So then I just felt gross.

It was a bad food day all the way around.

(For the record, sometimes I get reimbursed for the food I buy for Scrap Exchange and sometimes I count it as a donation; bringing the leftovers home complicates the issue somewhat. I don’t really want to get reimbursed for food that I end up consuming myself. That really is cheating.)

Saturday I had made tentative plans to meet up with a friend for lunch and we ended up going to Watts Grocery for brunch and I had some fabulous buttermilk pancakes and fresh-squeezed orange juice, which almost made up for the disaster the previous day. But I still felt salted up, so I had a Rice Diet dinner, oatmeal and an apple and the rest of the mango. But then I broke down and ate more cookies and chocolate.

On Sunday, I had a repeat of the no-sodium meal for breakfast, oatmeal and an apple, and was finally starting to feel better.

For dinner, I finished the vegetable stew (hooray!) and had a cheese quesadilla with avocado and salsa, after a late afternoon snack of almonds and cheese and crackers and dried fruit. And a very small number of cookies. And then I sealed up the stupid cookies and put them in the freezer.

And that was it for Week Seven.

Recipe(s) Week Six

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Whole Grain Breakfast

Whole Grain Breakfast

As noted, I made an African vegetable stew in Week Six which was, in the words of my friend Ann, who is generally not the most critical consumer of my food, she’s usually pretty happy to get anything, “not the best thing you’ve ever made.” So I’m not going to post the recipe for that unless someone really wants it. It did have a good mix of vegetables (sweet potatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, collards), and it’s possible someone could do something else with the spices to make it work better, but it was just not that good the way I made it.

So instead, I’m going to put up some recipes for breakfast options.

I’m rarely hungry when I first get up, and I have a really funky schedule these days, so I often eat my first meal of the day at a time that would more typically be considered sort of a late lunch hour. However for the most part, I don’t let the time of day play any role whatsoever in my choice of food, and I usually eat breakfast-type foods for my first meal, even if my first meal happens to be at 3 pm. They’re easy to prepare and easy to eat and require a minimal amount of energy. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day; I’m not giving it up just because I don’t get to it until after noon.

I like processed cereal, but most of it isn’t filling enough for me to eat for breakfast unless I eat a bunch of other things with it, which sort of defeats the purpose of boxed cereal — the whole point of cereal is that it’s easy. Also it used to be really expensive so I stopped buying it. But it has actually gotten much cheaper lately at some stores, most notably Target, where I recently got Rice Chex and Corn Chex for $2.04 a box, and also at Whole Foods where you can get store-brand cereals for less than $3 a box. In general, I won’t pay more than $3.50 for a box of cereal, unless it’s Grape Nuts — which I know a lot of people wouldn’t eat even if you paid them, but I like it with yogurt and fruit, especially in the summer when strawberries and blueberries are in season. A little bit of Grape Nuts goes a long way, so I don’t worry too much about how much it is for a box.

I’ve been working through some leftover Chex cereal for the past few weeks, which I bought in December to make Chex mix for The Scrap Exchange holiday party, though I think I’ve had it as a snack or for dessert as often as I’ve had it for breakfast.

You can put cereal in the freezer and it will keep more or less indefinitely. (In a humid climate like mine, if you keep it in the pantry it can get stale fast.) You can eat it straight out of the freezer; there’s basically no water in it, so it’s hardly any different frozen than it is room temperature. (Popped popcorn is the same way — you can stick it in the freezer to keep and eat it straight from the freezer, you don’t have to let it thaw or anything, and it won’t get chewy like it does if you leave it out.)

I have a few different breakfast staples that I rotate through on a regular basis: bagels (day-olds from Bruegger’s, sliced in half and stored in the freezer) with cream cheese or peanut butter; quick breads (like the current version, which I have unappetizingly dubbed squash bread; also banana bread, pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, etc.); omelets; soft-boiled eggs; scrambled eggs in a tortilla — with beans, cheese, salsa; yogurt with grape nuts and fresh fruit; toast with peanut butter; oatmeal (either rolled oats or steel-cut oats) with fruit and/or nuts and/or sunflower seeds. And always some kind of fruit — bananas or apples or oranges in the fall and winter months, and then whatever’s in season during the summer: strawberries, blackberries, peaches, nectarines, cantaloupe.

Another good option if I have fresh milk (I don’t like the taste of dried milk enough to try to use it this way) is leftover cooked rice, cooked with milk and a little bit of sugar and some dried fruit and a cinnamon stick. Pour in enough milk so the rice is just covered, then cook over low heat until the milk is absorbed. It’s really tasty and a great way to use up leftover rice. I like it especially if I’ve made beans and rice and ended up with a small amount of leftover rice, not enough for a meal but too much to feel okay about throwing away. If I do that a couple nights in a row, I’ll come out with just enough for a good breakfast.

All of those things are cheap and easy and generally healthy.

I try to make sure I always have eggs on hand and some kind of fruit. I usually have tortillas and bagels in the freezer, and oats and peanut butter in the pantry, so I can almost always make something good for breakfast even if it’s been days since I’ve been able to make it to the store.

When I first started working from home I was telecommuting, so I had regular work hours and a much more normal schedule and would eat three meals a day like a normal person. I started making muesli and ate it almost every day for a long time.

If you have access to a natural foods store where you can get bulk oats, wheat bran, oat bran, it’s much cheaper than processed cereals and also better for you and more filling. It’s similar to granola, but you don’t cook it so it doesn’t have all that added sugar and fat.

Muesli
from Vegetarian Planet

4-1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/2 cup oat bran
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit
1/2 cup chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup shelled, unsalted sunflower seeds

Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl.

Serve muesli in bowls with milk, and if you like, fresh berries or sliced fresh fruit.

Stored in an airtight container, muesli keeps for 2 months at room temperature.

Makes 8 cups

I also make granola sometimes, and the recipe I like best calls for adding grape nuts, which I think you’re supposed to make yourself (one of the preceding recipe is for Mother’s Grape Nuts) but I get them at Target; Whole Foods does not carry Grape Nuts and Food Lion does not have cheap cereal.

This recipe is not particularly cheap, but I think it’s cheaper than buying granola, and also you get to control how much fat and sugar is in it. And it tastes much better.

I’m going to give you the official recipe, even though I make it differently.

Koinonia Granola
[from the More-with-Less Cookbook]

Makes 5 quarts

Preheat oven to 350F

Melt in a large roasting pan:

1/2 cup oil
2 sticks butter or margarine
2 T molasses
1 T vanilla
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup honey
1/2 tsp salt

When mixed, let cool slightly and add:

2 lbs rolled oats
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 cup chopped nuts
2 cups grape nuts
1 cup wheat germ
1 lb coconut
1 cup sunflower seeds

Stir thoroughly. Bake in shallow pans for 20 to 25 minutes. Stir every 5 to 7 minutes. After granola has cooled, add 1 cup raisins.

Now here’s what I do differently.

First of all, I cut it in half because that recipe is huge. Even if I’m giving it away, it’s too much.

Second, I cut the amount of oil and sweetener down even further, and I double the amount of nuts. I like it with pecans, even when they’re $10/lb (which is why I said the recipe isn’t particularly cheap). I use more brown sugar and molasses and less honey, because brown sugar is much cheaper than honey. I don’t use coconut because I don’t like the texture. Sometimes I add extra oats.

Basically the proportions in the original recipe make for a super sweet, high fat cereal so I try to adjust by decreasing the oil and sugar, and increasing the oats, nuts, sunflower seeds to end up with something that doesn’t taste quite so much like dessert.

I also cut down the salt — in any recipe I ever make that calls for 1/2 tsp salt I use 1/4 tsp, which is a fairly painless way to reduce sodium intake — and also the vanilla because the end result tastes the same to me whether I use a teaspoon of vanilla or a tablespoon, and vanilla doesn’t grow on trees.

I like to eat this with banana and yogurt. It’s also good over ice cream. And it makes a nice gift.

Week Six

Friday, February 19, 2010

I will try to make this quick as I have already expended most of my blogging energy for the evening and Week Six (2/8 – 2/14) was pretty crappy all the way around. The less time I spend thinking about it the better.

I started off on Monday 2/8 not feeling well at all and ate several small meals of whatever was easiest — leftover biscuits, granola, popcorn, salmon casserole, fruit — in between naps.

Tuesday I felt slightly better but still not all that great, and again mostly ate things that didn’t involve much effort: granola with soy milk, bagel with peanut butter, oatmeal, fruit.

Wednesday I was feeling better but had meetings at 9am, noon, and 4pm, which makes it really difficult to get anything done other than go to meetings. Not so great when you’ve just spent two days not doing what you were supposed to be doing because you felt crappy.

The noon meeting was at Parker & Otis (or, as we like to call it, Parker Notice) so I had a roast beef sandwich and potato chips there for lunch. For dinner I finally got through the end of the salmon casserole and then had some granola and soy milk and fruit for dessert, along with a little bit of chocolate.

I had another lunch meeting on Thursday, but that was a brown bag lunch meeting so I didn’t eat because my lunch generally comes several hours after everyone else’s lunch so I decided just to wait until I was ready to eat and not worry about taking anything to the meeting.

But after three days of many meetings and not so good food, I wanted to make something with vegetables on Thursday. I looked in Vegetarian Planet and found a recipe for African Vegetable Stew with cauliflower and collards and potato and sweet potato that sounded pretty good.

Week Six

Week Six

[Visit the Expense Summary page if you're interested in cumulative totals.]

So I headed to Whole Foods and bought what I needed for the recipe — potatoes (Russet Potatoes), cauliflower (Cauliflower Og), collards (Green Collards Og), raisins (Bulk Organic Thomp), and millet (Organic Hulled Mil) — along with some bananas (Yellow Bananas Cv), kiwi fruit (Kiwi Bin Og), mango (Mango Og), tomato (Tomatoes Roma Og), and roasted almonds (Whole Almonds).

And I made that for dinner, and it looked very pretty and the vegetables tasted pretty good but overall it’s not that great. And unfortunately it made kind of a lot, and it has potatoes in it which tend to not freeze well. I gave some away and am doing my best with the rest.

I was debating whether to post the recipe even though it wasn’t that great, and was discussing it with my friend who I gave it to, since she said it wasn’t bad. I said, “Should I post the recipe?” and she said, “Mmmm. No.”

So I’ll put up a recipe for something I actually like for Week Six, not the African stew.

Friday I had granola and an orange for breakfast and was in the middle of a horrible project and took a break at 7:15pm to go get a burrito at Cosmic to get me through the rest of the night. And it started snowing while I was walking over there, and I had not heard anything about an impending snowfall, which usually you can’t avoid hearing about even if you live in a cave. I was like, “What is this white stuff falling from the sky?” It was totally weird.

On Saturday, I had oatmeal and an orange for breakfast, and leftover Cosmic chips and a pear and some almonds for a snack, and leftover beef stew with leftover brown rice for dinner.

On Sunday I had oatmeal and squash bread and a banana and juice for breakfast, and cheese and crackers and an apple for a snack, and African vegetable stew and a toasted bagel for dinner.

Thus endeth Week Six, a week just as soon forgotten.

Week Five

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Okay, I know I’m a little bit behind here but I think I’m going to be able to catch up soon. It’s sort of like when you’re trying to pack up and move and everything keeps getting worse and worse and worse before it finally starts getting better. I’m not yet at the getting better phase, I’m still in the worse and worse and worse phase. But I think that might be nearing its end.

But you’re not here to listen to me whine and make excuses for myself, are you? You’re here because my grocery shopping habits are so fascinating that you can’t stay away.

Before we start, let it be noted that I did finally put together the Summary Page for this project. It’s not as extensive as the summary page for the last project; this one is just a summary of expenses, so those of you following at home can see cumulative totals by month. I’ll update that with each weekly post.

So here’s the Week Five report, 2/1 through 2/7, which will be followed momentarily by the Week Six report, 2/8 through 2/14. And then I will be caught up with the weekly reports as we are currently still in Week Seven, so I can’t be late with that yet.

[And in case anyone is wondering, I do have a remarkable memory, but I also keep a time log for work and I'm making notes about what I ate, and I have all my receipts, so I'm not actually doing this completely from memory two weeks after it happened.]

So… when we last saw our heroine, she was at Showfest in Charlotte, in the snow.

That was Monday 2/1 and I ate on the road on Monday, with per diem money to spend, so nothing to report in terms of the project.

On Saturday before I left, I bought some snacks (as outlined in the Road Food post), and also made some bread using squash (the calabaza from Week One) that during Week Two I’d put in the oven to cook but then got hungry before it was ready and ate something else instead. So I stuck the cooked squash in the fridge to eat the next day but then didn’t get to it in a timely fashion and decided to freeze so I could use it in bread/muffins later. But then I didn’t have any dried milk to make muffins with.

So many problems!

Once I got milk on 1/29 I was able to make bread using the Universal Muffin recipe from the Tightwad Gazette.

Phew.

I used white flour, whole wheat flour, oats, and a little bit of cornmeal for the grain; one egg; 1/4 cup of melted butter; a cup of milk; some sugar and some molasses for sweetener; about a cup of cooked squash; and about a quarter cup of toasted sunflower seeds. It came out pretty good, though I think I might have been better off with less squash, the texture is not particularly muffin-like, it’s a little gloopy.

I took that with me to Charlotte and had a one or two pieces and then the rest went into the freezer, whence it can be toasted and eaten for breakfast or dessert or an afternoon snack.

For breakfast on Tuesday 2/2, I had oatmeal and juice that had been in the freezer (rescued from a Scrap Exchange event) and some almonds. Then I tried to get my weekly re-start off on the right foot by returning things from the weekend to The Scrap Exchange and walking to Compare for some produce.

Week Five, Part I

Week Five, Part I

I need to highlight two things on the above receipt.

The first is that I didn’t buy two navel oranges at $0.25 each, I bought two tangeloes at $0.69 each. This was an error in my favor.

The second is that I didn’t buy two white potatoes at $0.79/lb, I bought one white potato at $0.79/lb and one sweet potato/yam, which was either $0.59/lb or $0.39/lb. (I remember it was cheap, but I don’t remember exactly what it was and since it wasn’t on the receipt, there’s no way for me to know.) This was an error in the store’s favor.

I think I decided that I still came out ahead, but not positive about that, since I wasn’t sure how much the yam weighed or the price.

And I can totally see how you could ring up tangeloes as oranges but I’m at a loss as to how you could look at that giant yam and think it was the same thing as the baking potato. Clearly not a potato eater ringing those up.

When I got home from Compare, I had an afternoon snack of a boiled egg and an apple and some carrot sticks.

For dinner on Tuesday, I had brown rice and a baked potato topped with vegetarian chili from the freezer for dinner and grapefruit sections for dessert.

On Wednesday, I had some of the squash bread and oatmeal and a banana for breakfast, along with some juice.

Later on Wednesday, I attempted to settle in for the evening in an internet-free, undisclosed location and get a whole bunch of work done but got hungry about three hours into it and had to cut things short.

Week Five, Part II

Week Five, Part II

I stopped at Whole Foods on the way home and picked up some pasta (Fusilli Pasta) and and some cheddar cheese (N.Y. Sharp White Ch) and a large can of salmon (Wild Alaskan Pink).

Then I made a casserole with pasta and salmon plus spinach and mushrooms and pine nuts from the freezer, covered in a white sauce, using the recently purchased dried milk and the just-purchased cheese. The pine nuts seemed like a good idea but they weren’t. Those will not be making the cut the next time. And I made way too much, so this will not be the last you see of this meal.

On Thursday, I bribed someone to help me with one of my projects by offering to buy lunch, so I had a croque monsieur at Rue Cler for lunch and then I had breakfast for dinner — bagel with peanut butter and a banana and juice.

On Friday, I had scrambled eggs and tomato with cheese in a tortilla for breakfast and some carrot sticks and an apple for a snack and round two of the salmon pasta casserole for dinner. I also had some chocolate from the pantry for dessert.

On Saturday, I made biscuits for breakfast and served with scrambled eggs and fried apples (peel an apple and slice it into a pan of hot bacon grease and cook until the apple is soft but not mushy — that probably doesn’t sound good if you’ve never had it but trust me it is).

Saturday evening I had beef stew at a friend’s, and came home with leftovers.

Cheater.

Sunday I had granola (Bryant brought me some more of her good granola, and I also had some left from the Road Food purchase) and an orange for breakfast, and pb&j on a tortilla for a snack, and brown rice with vegetarian chili for dinner. For dessert I had half of the very large pear I had gotten at Compare on Tuesday.

Throughout the week, I enjoyed snacking on the almonds and dried figs I had bought with my per diem money, and also I had a couple servings of DIY instant cocoa made with cocoa powder and sugar and dried milk mixed with boiling water.

And that is it for Week Five.

Week Six coming right up.

Not About Food

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Okay, this has nothing to do with food or my project but I love it, so I’m putting it up.

Anyone in the Durham area should come out The Scrap Exchange on Friday for our Third Friday gallery opening to see Scrap superstar Willa Brigham and her quilts. She’s amazing! We’re pretty sure there’ll be a sing-a-long of The Scrap Exchange song, it’s an instant classic.

Recipe Week Five

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Everyone likes to point to cost as being the reason why people eat junk food instead of healthy food. Just this morning I was reading Newsweek magazine and in an article called “Crimes of the Heart: It’s Time Society Stopped Reinforcing the Bad Behavior that Leads to Heart Disease — and Pursued Policies to Prevent It,” Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health said, “$1 will buy 100 calories of carrots — or 1,250 calories of cookies and chips.”

(Now that I’ve written that down, I’m not entirely sure that his math is correct. If you’re actually spending a dollar, you can only get maybe 400 calories of chips, a “Big Grab” bag of maybe 2.5 ounces. The only thing you can get even close to 1,250 calories of if you’re only spending a dollar is some kind of grain like oats or rice. The voice of experience here.)

I have managed to come up with a relatively comprehensive analysis of the “unhealthy food is cheaper” argument and why I see things differently from most people, which I will present in a full post at some point eventually if I ever manage to get my life under control. Which it currently is not.

For now, I’ll just say that the reason that this idea bothers me is not primarily because I think it’s wrong but because I think it frames the problem in such a way that the obvious solution is not likely to actually solve the problem. If cost is the problem, then making healthy food cheaper is the solution. Voila. Problem solved.

However it seems to me that there are several factors that are far more important than cost pushing people toward eating unhealthy food, including taste preferences, accessibility, shelf-life, and convenience. All of which will be discussed in the full post.

And which brings me to this week’s recipe.

Fabulous Fruit Smoothie

Fabulous Fruit Smoothie

One of the ways to make eating cheaply easier is to have things that you like that are cheap and easy and that can be kept around more or less indefinitely, so you don’t have to run out and get something or spend a lot of energy thinking about what you’re going to make or finding the time to fix it. The key to doing almost anything successfully is to not have to think very much about it.

One of the things I nearly always have ingredients for and that I’m happy to have almost any time is a frozen fruit smoothie.

I actually got a recipe book a while back called Smoothies: 50 Recipes for High-Energy Refreshment and it’s a lovely little book with very appealing pictures, and it was worth getting for the basic technique, but I hardly ever make any of the specific recipes out of it.

The main thing I learned from the book is that frozen bananas are your key ingredient for a great smoothie. A lot of smoothie recipes call for ice, but I think ice makes for a watery drink, and I don’t really like smoothies made with ice. If you use a frozen banana, your smoothie doesn’t ever get watered down and it has a great, creamy texture.

And a very important thing to know about frozen bananas that you’re going to use in a smoothie is that you need to remove the peel before you freeze them. Otherwise your fingers will just about fall off if you try to unpeel a frozen banana, you cannot believe how cold those things get.

The 50 recipes in the book notwithstanding, I’m going to give you one universal recipe and leave the variations up to you.

Universal Smoothie Recipe
1 frozen banana
4 oz. juice OR 1 oz. liquid juice concentrate plus 3 oz. water OR 1 to 2 Tbsp frozen juice concentrate plus 3 to 6 oz. water
1/2 to 1 cup frozen fruit
1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt (optional)

If skipping the yogurt, you can increase the amount of juice to 6 to 8 ounces.

Put the juice and yogurt (if using) in the blender, followed by the banana (sliced, then cut the slices in half or quarters) and other fruit. Process until smooth.

To clean the blender, put a small amount of water along with a quick squirt of dishwashing liquid into the blender, then run for a few seconds. If you do this right away, it gets all the fruit stuff off the sides and makes cleaning much easier. You basically just have to rinse it out.

You can play around with various combinations — different fruits (strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, peaches, cantaloupe) with different juices (apple, orange, grape, cranberry). In the one in the picture, I threw in a handful of cranberries along with peaches and apple juice, which had started life as sparkling apple juice, and was left over from the Scrap holiday party. This was a good way to use it up as it didn’t taste all that great by the time I remembered I’d brought it home.

You can add lemon or lime juice or ginger if you want to play up the flavors, to make it more tart or spicy.

An inadvertent discovery on the last project was that I feel a lot better with less dairy so I’ve really cut down on the amount of dairy I’ve been eating and have been making smoothies without the yogurt. I think they’re just as good. You could also use milk or soy milk instead of the yogurt, or add silken tofu to add body.

One of my favorite protein versions is banana with soy milk and peanut butter. With or without chocolate. This is especially good for breakfast if you’re going to be working hard and not sure when you’re going to be able to eat again.

I like bananas on the underripe side, so if I miss the window of opportunity on that, I just let it go for an other week or so until it’s soft and sweet and brown. Then I peel and put in a bag in the freezer, which goes into another bag (in an effort to keep it from tasting like the freezer too quickly). I nearly always have 2 to 4 bananas in the freezer. If I get too many, I make banana bread. If I get down to one, I make a point to buy bananas and let them get ripe and then freeze.

In terms of juice, Whole Foods tends to have very good juice that is not particularly cheap. Target often has very cheap juice. Some of it better than others. I always try to get 100% juice otherwise it’s just sugar water.

Usually I try to stop at Kroger every now and then and pick up a few cans of Juicy Juice concentrate (looks like a can of soda pop) and keep that in the pantry. Juicy Juice is 100% juice. For some reason Kroger is the only store I can get that at, Food Lion doesn’t carry it. And not all Krogers have it either. But it’s great because it keeps indefinitely in the pantry, and then after you open it, you can keep the can in the fridge and it keeps for a long time. I like to mix it with seltzer water and drink instead of pop, but mostly I save it to use in smoothies. I have a shot glass with measurements, so I’ll put in an ounce of juice concentrate followed by 3 ounces of water. You can also do the same thing with frozen concentrate, but it’s slightly less convenient.

Frozen fruit isn’t super cheap, but you can freeze some things like peaches and cantaloupe in the summer when they’re abundant, and also you don’t use that much of it at a time, so the overall cost per serving isn’t that high, even if the price per bag seems like kind of a lot.

This is not the best time of year for a smoothie, it’s too cold to want to drink something frozen, but I have them often in the summer, for breakfast, or an afternoon snack, or for dessert. And figured I’d just do the recipe now so you would have it.

Month One Totals

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Okay I now have things set up in a spreadsheet so hopefully can stay on top of the numbers. Summary page coming soon.

Total expenditures for cook-at-home food in January was $81.72.

Breakdown is as follows

Whole Foods $55.07 (68%)
Compare $11.86 (14%)
Food Lion $11.57 (14%)
Bruegger’s $3.22 (4%)

The totals are a little skewed by the Food Lion purchase, which was dry milk and buttermilk, which are basically annual (at most) purchases that both happened to be needed at the same time. The total also included the BLIZZARD purchases, corn flakes and soy milk, which I may eat or may hang onto for a few weeks. We’ll see.

I made 11 trips to the store, all of them on foot except for the Food Lion trip, which I stopped at in the midst of a bunch of errands. If anyone needs to know where the IRS office is in Durham, just let me know.

The average expenditure was $7.43. The per-trip costs were generally either around $6 or around $12, with a few $2/$3 and one $15. That’s pretty standard.

As noted in the beginning, I’m not including food eaten out as part of the project, because I have work meetings and go out with friends and things like that, and if I’m doing this for three months, I’m not going to go out and drink water like I did on the Dollar a Day project. Even I have to draw the line somewhere.

However in the interest of full exhibitionism, I will report on that here as well.

I had three work meals at which I spent a total of $28.92 ($9.64 per meal) and three nonwork meals at which I spent a total of $26.39 ($8.80 per meal). That’s probably about average too. A little higher than usual for work, usually I’ll have just one or two meetings a month, and possibly a little low for nonwork, since it’s basketball season and watching games involves leaving the premises. But overall a pretty normal month.

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