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.
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.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
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.
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.
[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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
One of the programs offered by The Scrap Exchange is a creative arts service called Events by the Truckload, where we take a truck filled with barrels of stuff we’ve collected from local businesses (leftover cones and tubes from textile mills, designer fabric samples from decorators, matte board from frame shops, funky plastic stuff from labs, etc.) to large festivals and events and let people make things out of it. For instance, things like this…
It’s a great, fun activity, though possibly difficult to fully appreciate without seeing it. Or actually participating in it. People definitely get it once they start doing it, though it’s one of those things where the end result doesn’t always reflect the value of the activity. As we like to say, it’s process, not product. (And as usual, we seem to be ahead of the curve — I recently ran across some information about process-based art.)
I’ve been working at events since 2003 and one of the things I’ve had to try to figure out during that time is how to eat on the road without spending too much money and/or feeling gross.
Event staff get paid to work at events, and we also get a per diem of $15 per event day to help defray food costs. I don’t generally count food I get with my per diem money as being out of my normal budget, which may seem like splitting hairs (and/or CHEATING as I am wont to being accused of doing) but the reason I do that is because you really need a different mind set when shopping for things you’ll be eating when you don’t have access to a kitchen. Things that might seem not worth it if I’m comparing it with what I would make at home are likely to seem quite reasonable compared with what I’d be able to get on the road. So I need to make sure that’s how I’m thinking when I’m shopping for event food, and taking it from a separate budget line ensures that I do that.
The thing about working at overnight events is that it’s generally extremely physically demanding — you leave the day before the event, get to the hotel usually late in the evening, then up by 7 or so in the morning to get to the event location, figure out where you’re supposed to set up, unload the truck (20-30 barrels, 4+ bins filled with smaller stuff), move the truck, get back to the location and finish setting everything up, then spend the next 5 to 7 hours on your feet picking materials up and putting them back in the barrels, trying to keep things from blowing away, helping participants make stuff, explaining where the materials come from, singing the praises of reduce/REUSE/recycle, and just generally talking to people about The Scrap Exchange. At the end of the event, you go get the truck, load everything back up, and drive home.
Because the activity is so exhausting, I don’t really feel bad about eating junk food the days I’m working, and often that’s the easiest thing to do, just stop at a fast food place on the drive back and pick something up. (Beans and rice may be one of my favorite meals, but I love a Big Mac as much as the next gluttonous American. I was talking to a friend once who said she’d never had a Big Mac. I was like, “Really? You’ve never had a Big Mac?” She said no, her family had always been completely obsessed with health. I paused for a second and said, “They’re good.” She just laughed at me.)
However, if I’m doing a multi-day event, I’ve learned that I can only take so much junk food before it loses its appeal, and I’m really much better off making sure I have some good snacks with me.
Now that there’s a Trader Joe’s near me, sometimes I’ll make a trip over there to stock up, especially if I’m working at a long, demanding, multi-day event. Trader Joe’s has very good prices on dried fruit and nuts, and good snack foods like pita chips and those great peanut butter filled pretzels.
So for a 2- or 3-day event like Merlefest — which is a total madhouse for three straight days, it’s completely insane — I’ll do a really strategic plan, stocking up at Trader Joe’s and also preparing things at home, so I’ll have snack-type foods I can eat quickly plus something like sesame noodles or hummus that has some protein, along with cheese and crackers, some kind of bread (banana bread or pumpkin bread or something like that) with nuts or sunflower seeds, and a variety of fruit and sweets. Just a good mix of stuff that will keep for a few days in a cooler and will keep my energy up throughout the day, eating a little at a time.
For a one-day event, I’ll usually just stop at Whole Foods and hit the bulk bins for some combination of dried fruit (figs, prunes, and/or mangoes), nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, or pecans), and maybe some granola or other snack-y kind of thing. Sometimes I’ll get a piece of fruit that will travel okay — apple, banana, orange — and usually pick up a Luna bar, which were expensive then cheap then the last time I went to get one were expensive again. I actually love Kind bars but I’m not always able to talk myself into $1.79, even when it’s coming out of my per diem money.
If I remember, I’ll stop at Bruegger’s and get a bagel and then take a small container of peanut butter with me.
This gives me something fairly substantial (bagel with peanut butter) for breakfast or lunch — or both, half in the morning half in the afternoon — plus dried fruit for quick energy and nuts to fill me up. (I find that a few handfuls of nuts really goes a long way.)
If I didn’t bring a bagel, I’ll have a Luna bar, which are nicely filling and very convenient and keep indefinitely, which is great — if I don’t eat it at one event, I can use it for the next, or just keep it in the pantry and eat it later in a pinch.
Sometimes I’ll eat breakfast at the hotel — usually there’s a complimentary breakfast buffet included with the room — but I’m not usually hungry when I first get up, and also I’ve learned that eating a little bit of breakfast, especially a little bit of high-carb breakfast, sweet rolls or cereal and juice, is worse for me than no breakfast at all. So I might have a hard-boiled egg and some milk or something, but in general, I stick with the food I brought.
Often I make my favorite peanut butter-oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies to bring with me, which give me a good shot of energy and are substantial enough with the oats and peanut butter to last for a while. That’s how I started thinking of those as Food Cookies.
So all of that gets me through the day pretty well, then we can stop for dinner on the way home if we want. My preferred option for healthy road food is Subway, I have them put all kinds of vegetables on, no mayo just oil and vinegar, and it’s good and sometimes it really hits the spot. But if I don’t feel like being healthy, I don’t worry about it. We’ll go to Taco Bell or McDonald’s or wherever and I eat junk food and figure it prevents me from wanting it some other time.
However a few years ago, I realized that I had started to associate working at events with eating junk food. This would probably be fine if I was working one or two events a year but I had a bunch of events scheduled in a row and I was already at my maximum acceptable weight and I really didn’t need to be eating junk food throughout the entire spring. But it is true that sometimes a fast food place is your only option on a trip like that.
What to do?
I decided that as a compromise I would let myself stop at whatever fast food places I wanted, and I could eat anything I wanted, except French fries.
French fries aren’t necessary. There’s no way my brain could try to convince me that it really NEEDED French fries, the way it could convince me that I really NEEDED to stop at McDonald’s — because I was hungry and had been working all day and that’s all there is and anyway it’s cheap. It’s fine, whatever, don’t worry about it.
So I decided that everything was fair game but no French fries and what I quickly discovered is that if I couldn’t have French fries, I had no real interest in getting fast food. It just didn’t appeal to me at all.
So that was a good lesson and I go back to that every now and then if I’ve somehow ended up in junk food mode and am having trouble putting a stop to it. You want junk food? Sure, go for it. Just no French fries.
Mmm, okay, never mind.
Last week I went to Charlotte to talk to festivals and events people to try to convince them to hire The Scrap Exchange for events, and I knew I’d get food at the conference but decided to take some snacks with me too, just in case.
I spent $7.04 out of my allotted $30 per diem, leaving me with $22.96 to spend later on the trip, or to save for future snacks or junk food. (I ended up spending about $15 of it on the trip, on dinner on the way home and some juice for the drive.)
I got a tangelo (Tangelos Minneola) , my very favorite but unfortunately somewhat pricey kind of orange, plus some granola (Honey Gone Nuts Gr) and some whole wheat fig bars (Whole Wheat Honey). Also some figs (Unsulphured Turkis) and some nuts (Whole Raw Almonds). I also made some bread using the universal muffin recipe from the Tightwad Gazette, which I’ll write about later in a separate post.
The food at the conference was good, so I didn’t eat too much of what I brought, just the orange and a couple figs and some almonds. But the good thing about getting food like this with my per diem money is that if I don’t eat it at the event, I can eat it later in the week and it lowers my grocery bill overall.
So I had some extra snacks for the week and that was great.
And yes, I know, I’m such a cheater.
Friday, February 5, 2010
I’ve been working on a routine where I hit Compare on Monday and re-stock the fruit supply, which has been working pretty well so far. I can always make things from the freezer or pantry, but when I rely on that too much, I end up not eating as much fruit as I’d like. Smoothies are a good freezer option, but better in the summer than in the winter. Having a frozen drink for breakfast isn’t so appealing in January.
So in Week Four (1/25 – 1/31), I continued the routine and went to Compare on Monday.
The main purpose was to get some citrus (tangerines, oranges, grapefruit), but also I knew I was going to make black beans and rice later in the week so wanted to get what I needed for that (tomatoes, green pepper, jalapeno). Avocados were on special for $0.69 each, which is exceptionally cheap even for Compare, so I picked up one of those while I was there. I had onions and garlic at home, and was using dried beans and rice from the pantry, and lime juice from the freezer, so all I had to get were the fresh vegetables.
For dinner on Monday, I decided to cook one of the spicy Italian pork sausages I had in the freezer, with onions and peppers, on a roll (also from the freezer). The sausage is from Whole Foods, and it’s really really good. Usually I’ll buy two or three, fix one for dinner the day I buy it and put the rest in the freezer. I had one in the freezer from December.
I figured the sausage was a good combination with the black beans and rice — you only need a little bit of peppers and onions to go with the sausage, so I could cut just a few slices of pepper on Monday then use the rest the next night with the beans. Usually I cook more than I need and then freeze the leftovers and use in omelets down the road.
Along with the sausage with peppers and onions, I had oven-fried potatoes using the Russet potato I bought the prior week on special at Whole Foods. I cut the potato into thick slices and soaked them in water for 10-15 minutes before cooking, which really makes them much better. They cook up softer on the inside, with the outside still brown and crunchy. I actually like these as much as french fries. (For specifics on the recipe, search for “Cooks Illustrated oven fries” and you’ll get links to the official version.)
I also had some leftover collard greens from the prior week, and some grapefruit sections for dessert.
On Tuesday I made black beans and rice with tomato salsa, with the addition of meat from the last of the roasted chicken drumsticks from the prior week, served over brown rice. I had some chocolate from the pantry for dessert.
On Wednesday, I had black beans and rice again, this time over white rice, with half an avocado.
On Thursday everything all went to hell. I had things I had to get done before I could leave the house and things I had to do out of the house before a certain time and things I needed to work on and try to get done before the end of the week and things I really, really had to get done by the end of the week. I ended up not finishing stuff when I wanted to and then just leaving so I could get out of the house and try to get through some of the other stuff.
I have two go-to places when this kind of thing happens, where I can get out of the house and get good cheap food without a lot of hassle. One is Cosmic Cantina, which is great if I’m really hungry and/or if I’ve been spending a lot of money lately (you can get a great giant burrito for $3 at Cosmic), and the other is Bahn’s, which I like if I want vegetables or just a little peace and quiet.
So Thursday I went to Bahn’s and had ginger tofu and it was well worth the $5.29 I paid for it, for a beautiful little plate of perfectly cooked broccoli and carrots and tofu, with fresh ginger slices on top, over steamed rice.
Then I was able to go work and get some things done.
On Friday I had a work lunch at Nantucket Grill and stopped at Food Lion on my way home to pick up dry milk (fl inst nonfat dry) and buttermilk (saco cultured btrm). Of course it was chaos because of the impending BLIZZARD.
But I’d been wanting to make a quick bread to use up the butternut squash that I cooked a few weeks ago and didn’t get around to eating immediately so stuck in the freezer to use later, but I used up the last of my dry milk before the holidays and kept forgetting to get a refill when I was near a conventional grocery store. There are no good dry milk options at Whole Foods.
Dry milk isn’t necessarily cheaper than fresh milk but it has the huge advantage of not going bad — an $8 box of dry milk lasts me for more than a year. Having dry milk in the pantry means I can make anything that uses milk — biscuits, pancakes, muffins, mac & cheese, hot chocolate — without having to go to the store for milk.
I was scheduled to go to Charlotte on Sunday and I like to have snacks to take with me when I’m on the road, and some kind of muffin/quickbread thing is always a good option.
For dinner Friday I had the last of the black beans and rice and salsa with avocado.
It started snowing Friday night and some form of precipitation was still falling on Saturday. I started to get nervous about freezing rain — I’m always woefully unprepared for weather. We had an ice storm in December 2002 with no power for four days and I didn’t even have a flashlight, I just had to go to bed at 5 o’clock when it got dark. And no heat or hot water. It was a drag.
But anyway, I was supposed to be leaving for Charlotte early Sunday morning to spend Sunday and Monday working for The Scrap Exchange at the NC/SC Festivals and Events Association trade show, Showfest 2010, and wanted to get snacks for that, but also decided I needed to get something in case it iced up and I didn’t go to Charlotte and had no power. And then it seemed like I should get something in case I didn’t go to Charlotte but did have power. But that was way too many things to think about.
I ended up getting the travel snacks on a separate receipt, because I get a $30 per diem for food for the two days. I’m planning on writing that up separately in a post about trip food.
So for emergency preparedness food I got corn flakes (Corn Flakes Cereal) and soy milk (Og Vanilla Soy Mil), which I can keep in the pantry for a few weeks until we are safely out of ice storm weather. I got peanut butter, which I was out of and figured would be good in case of weather, and a three-pound bag of Granny Smith apples (Granny Smith 3# Ba), which I wanted because I’ve mostly been eating citrus lately and needed something different, and also would work regardless of weather, along with some bananas (Yellow Bananas CV). Another safe bet no matter what the weather.
I got popcorn (Organic Popcorn) to eat as a snack when I got home and a refill of brown rice (Short Grain Brown) and a little bitty acorn squash (Squash Acorn Og) to cook for dinner or save for later, depending on how I felt.
When I got home from the store, I made popcorn and had an apple and a tortilla with peanut butter and jelly.
For dinner I cooked brown rice and ate the last of the collards that I had almost forgotten about, along with a vegan sausage that had been in the freezer since December when my friend Cathy was in town and we bought it to put on our health food pizza. It’s pretty good for fake meat, though I need to check the next time I’m at the store to see the sodium level. I didn’t notice when I was eating it, but later that night I started to feel like the water was being sucked out of my body; I really can feel high sodium foods an hour or two after I’m done eating them.
Sunday I got up at what one of my friends likes to call the butt-crack of dawn and walked to The Scrap Exchange to get the truck.
When I was young, just learning to ski, and my brother and parents still skied, we would go to Kissing Bridge on Sundays for the Dawn Patrol ticket — 6am to 9am. My parents liked this because you could ski and then come home and still have the whole day. I remember it as mostly being effing freezing. Once it was so cold that our adhesive tickets wouldn’t stick to the wire holder on our jacket zippers. What I learned that day was that if it’s too cold for your ticket to stick, it’s too cold to ski. Just go home.
But anyway, that’s what I thought of walking to the Scrap through the frozen tundra of Durham, my Dawn Patrol skiing days in Western New York.
So I picked up the truck and drove home and loaded it up and after a series of phone calls with the person who was supposed to be working at the conference with me, but who ended up being too nervous about the weather and decided to stay home, I drove to Charlotte by myself.
And it was actually quite a blissful drive. There was hardly anyone on the road, everyone was going a safe speed, no one was talking on the phone or putting on makeup, and no one was weaving in and out of traffic trying to get past people they thought were going too slow. If everyone drove like that all the time, there are a lot of people who are dead right now who would still be alive.
So I made it and the conference was good and I was well-fed and stayed in a nice hotel and got to watch tv, which is always exciting for me.
Sunday I ate at the conference, so nothing to report on that.
For breakfasts for the week, I had the usual mix: bagel with peanut butter, orange, tangerine, soft-boiled egg, grapefruit, steel-cut oats with toasted sunflower seeds.
And that’s it.
I know this is lame, but I don’t actually know what my total for the month was because I haven’t gotten a chance to add it up yet. But I know it was under $100. Money was not really a limiting factor at all last month, the problem I’m having is being organized enough to get everything done — work and shopping and cooking — and also write about it in a timely fashion.
I am planning on putting together a summary page that gives the weekly totals for my shopping trips and what I ate and cooked, like I did for the Dollar a Day project. But I haven’t gotten to that yet. Soon, I promise. One thing at a time.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
At first I wasn’t going to post this recipe because it seems so basic that it didn’t seem worth it, but then I decided that just because something is basic to me doesn’t mean that it’s basic to everyone, and also I eat this all the time, so it seems like I should put it up early and get it over with.
I think this is probably second only to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as the meal I’ve eaten most in my life. (PB&J has to be the clear winner, as I took that for lunch every day — every day — throughout all of elementary, middle, and high school. Every now and then my mom would say, “Are you sure you don’t want me to make you a different kind of sandwich?” But I never did.)
I started making this dish when I lived in an off-campus house my senior year in college when I had limited cooking skills and no income. I would cook the beans and rice, and then mix with sour cream and bottled salsa (Frito-Lay/Tostito’s salsa, which was then and is still now my favorite) and stir it all together to make a big tomato-y, sour cream-y, soup-y mess. Didn’t look so good but tasted great.
I don’t generally keep bottled salsa around anymore and it’s much cheaper to make salsa fresca at home, so that’s usually what I do now.
It’s definitely a very flexible dish, you can add different vegetables (or leave them out), add leftover chicken or other meats, use different spices, serve with different kinds of rice (white, brown, jasmine, long grain, short grain), etc. You can use canned beans or cook them yourself if you want to save money and reduce sodium.
Usually I get about four meals out of one can of beans. I serve it over rice for one or two meals, and then put it in a tortilla for a burrito for one or two meals. Sometimes I add cheese or drained yogurt (or sour cream if I have it, but I’d rather buy yogurt, it tastes almost as good and I can eat it for breakfast — if I buy sour cream, I have to keep thinking of things to use the rest of the sour cream in) or make scrambled eggs and add that to the tortilla with the beans.
This time, avocados happened to be exceptionally cheap at Compare — $0.69 each — so I picked up one of those along with the tomatoes for the salsa and the green pepper. I also had some leftover chicken from the roasted drumsticks I made at the end of Week Three. The avocado wasn’t quite ripe when I cooked this, so Meal One (pictured) was black beans and rice with salsa plus chicken, and Meals Two and Three were black beans and rice with salsa plus avocado.
[Full report on what I bought and ate in Week Four coming soon. I had a work trip Sunday and Monday and a bunch of things to do to get ready for that, so I'm still a little off schedule but hoping to get caught up. Soon.]
Since this is a recipe I make all the time and is not really based on any recipe I’ve ever read, it’s going to be a little vague. You should adjust to suit your tastes.
Black Beans and Rice
1-3 tsp olive oil (or other kind of cooking oil)
1-2 cloves crushed or minced garlic
1 small-to-medium onion
1 medium-to-large green pepper
1 can black beans, or 1-2 cups home-cooked black beans
spices to taste: salt, pepper, cayenne, chili powder, crushed red pepper, cumin, oregano
approx. 1 cup cooked rice per person
Put the garlic through a garlic press or chop fine. Chop the onion and green pepper into small-to-medium sized pieces.
Put the olive oil (enough to coat the pan) into a skillet or frying pan (I use a cast iron skillet) and heat over medium-high heat.
When the oil is heated, add the garlic and onions, and cook until the onion is translucent. Add the green pepper and cook for a few minutes (this is sort of a personal preference thing — I like my green peppers not overly cooked) then add the beans and season to taste. Usually I add salt if I’m using home-cooked or no-salt-added beans — most canned beans have plenty of salt already –plus black pepper, cayenne, chili powder, and crushed red pepper .
Turn the heat down to medium and heat the beans through and let the flavors meld.
If you’re using white rice, start the rice before you start chopping the vegetables and the rice and beans will be done at about the same time. If you’re using brown rice, you should either start it ahead of time, or plan on letting the beans stay warm on the stove while the rice finishes cooking.
Serve the beans over the rice, and top with…
The minimum essential ingredients for this salsa are
lime (and/or lemon) juice
useful but not absolutely necessary are
nice to have if you want to get fancy are
Combine the garlic, chopped onion, and chopped tomato. Squeeze fresh lime juice or use lime juice you have saved in a small jar in the freezer. (Put the jar in a bowl of warm water to thaw, or run hot water over the jar to melt the outside so you can pour some out.)
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add chopped cilantro and chopped jalapeno, if desired.
The proportions should be adjusted to meet your taste — more or less onion, tomato, garlic, lime juice. A little jalapeno or a lot. After you’ve made it a few tmes you’ll figure out what you like best.