Friday, March 27, 2009

Mixed Berry Fool to Foolya

This dessert is so good, even the cat wants some! Well this particular cat will eat anything, but that doesn't detract from the deliciousness of the above creation.

"Fools" are usually a messy dessert made with a combination of whipped cream, fruit puree and sometimes whole fruit. While I do love whipped cream, I am swearing off such indulgences lest I have to return to the hospital, so I decided to make this fancy dessert using frozen mixed berries and Greek strained yogurt (2%). I am not a huge fan, as you probably know already, of low-fat dairy, but honestly, with FAGE Greek Strained Yogurt, I cannot tell. It's fabulously creamy and indulgent. The whole pot yields only 130 calories. So far, I've had a dollop in soup and a couple of spoons in the above dessert.


Puree about 1 cup berries (frozen are fine). Pour some of the puree into the bottom of the glass. I like to use a cocktail glass just to make it all fancy and make me feel special. Then mix remaining puree with a couple of generous spoons of the Greek yogurt. Then mix in the whole berries (I used about 1/2 cup or so). Pour the mixture on top of the puree and top with a couple of whole berries for decoration. You could get really fancy and garnish with a mint sprig!

Oh and if you don't have time to puree the berries, don't worry about it. Simply microwave the berries on defrost (watch they don't get too warm) and mix with the yogurt and serve. It's just about as good and much less effort.

No, Don't Touch That!

You gotta love The Onion: "Woman Upset at Herself for Feeling Hungry."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cauliflower and Tarragon Soup Recipe

I've had a cauliflower sitting in my fridge for a while now, so as I am cooped up at home and not allowed to work today, I figured I might as well try and do something with it. I mentioned making a cauliflower soup to some people a couple of weeks ago and got scrunched up "ew" faces, so I felt it might be a challenge. However I did some searching on (see link at side) and found a couple of basic recipes, so I didn't feel it was such a weird idea after all, and which of course, I adapted to the ingredients I had on hand

As with most of my recipes I post here, this is just a basic guide. Please feel free to "pantry cook" or improvise based on what you have at home.

You'll need:

1 head of cauliflower
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
3/4 cup or so of white wine, or white cooking wine
dried or fresh tarragon, to taste
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Boil a pan of water and drop in the florets of cauliflower. Add a little pinch of salt and boil for about 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is just tender. Don't overcook. Then drain the cauliflower while reserving the liquid!

Meanwhile, saute the chopped garlic and onions in a little olive oil. As they start to cook, add the cooking wine and continue to cook until the garlic and onions are tender. You don't have to cook all of the liquid out.

Pour the garlic and onions into the saucepan you used to boil the cauliflower. Then add the cauliflower and the reserved liquid (enough to cover the contents). Add some tarragon. Just sprinkle it on according to your own discretion. I found a couple of sprinkles was adequate (it will depend on the age of your dried spices, or if you are using fresh, as to how much you'll need). Add a little salt here, and you might even add a couple more splashes of wine. (Keep in mind that if you are using cooking wine, there is salt added to it, so you will need to use less salt accordingly. When making soups, it is best to taste less salt than more, so go easy.) Bring soup to the boil and then simmer uncovered at a medium/low temperature for about 10 minutes.

If you have an immersion blender (I highly recommend getting one if you want to make a lot of soups: you can pick one up for less than $30), then dip your blender in the saucepan and blend until soup is smooth with no lumps. If you are using a regular blender, then tip soup into it in batches and blend until smooth.

I simply went with what I had to make this soup, but I think only the garlic, cauliflower and onion were necessary, but you could subsitite leeks, shallots, or other unusual members of the onion family for yellow onions. You could choose to use vegetable stock or Vermouth instead of the wine, and a number of herbs and spices other than tarragon would work too. I would suggest parsley, sage, or thyme. I saw some recipes that incorporated parmesan cheese and potatoes. If you search the cooking links to the right of this blog, you'll no doubt find lots of inspiration.

I have made this early, but I have some ideas for dressing it up for a light dinner tonight:

I have some Greek yogurt that I may dollop on the top. I also have some herbed goat cheese that I may put in the middle of a shallow bowl and pour the soup around. I anticipate that I will attempt to make rye-bread croutons (baked, not fried) to accompany the soup. I am leaning towards a combination of goat cheese and almonds to add a little fat and creaminess to my soup. I'll post pictures later.

Remember from an earlier post what Ms. RD said about cauliflower. It has a TON of vitamin C, and a lot less calories than orange juice.

(P.S. - a picture has been added as promised)

The Warning From On High Hath Been Heeded

Yesterday morning I found myself in the emergency room. I woke up at 3:30 in the morning feeling awful. I couldn't quite describe it at first: a vague nausea, slight stomach pain, thirst, but I just thought my stomach was a bit off. I got up for a glass of water and went back to bed.

Then I started to feel worse. My stomach started churning. I thought it was the Indian food I had eaten for dinner upsetting my stomach. I ate a packet of Rolaids. That was when it got interesting. My stomach started growling and rolling and at about 5 a.m. I began a series of throwing-up sessions. I still thought it must be the Indian food and continued to think I'd feel better once it was all out of my system.

With all the food gone, I then started to feel really bad. I laid in bed writhing from the stomach pains. I kept getting up, pacing around the house, trying to throw up, and going back to bed to continue writhing and screaming. I felt so alone in the house all by myself.

I made it until about 6:45, when I called my parents for help. I was crying and screaming on the phone. I'm not a big fan of the doctor even, but when my mother suggested the ER, I didn't argue.

We arrived at the ER at about 8 a.m. The nurses gave me an IV with anti-nausea medicine, strong painkillers and fluids. They took blood and began a barrage of tests. They thought it was a stomach virus or food poisoning.

The tests all came back negative, so that ruled out the viruses and food poisoning diagnoses. The doctor then ordered an x-ray. Somewhere during all of this, I vomited Exorcist-like neon green bile. The doctor couldn't find a definite cause for the pain and vomiting, but hypothesized that my diet of rich foods over the weekend, combined with the Indian food could have triggered something in my gall-bladder. He wants to refer me to a gastro-specialist to do an ultrasound. Once again, I'm not going to argue. I don't want to go through that pain again. He told me to stay away from rich foods for the time-being, so I'm heeding his warning, staying away from large amounts of saturated fats, meats, and spicy food.

Since returning home yesterday afternoon, I've felt fine, and I resume my healthy eating regime. I now have yet another reason not to stuff my face with unhealthy food!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Baaaad Weekend

Imperfection from me once again, I'm afraid. This weekend, I've been focused on getting my house on the market and have worked morning 'til night Friday, Saturday and Sunday getting ready for my open house today. I haven't had too much time or opportunity to cook. My kitchen has been a mess. I've had my parents over, who won't eat "rabbit food," drink tea ALL the time and are pretty driven individuals, so it's been hard to take a break to make food or snack.

My mother and I have managed this quite well over the past month or so that we've been working on the house and we've mostly made healthy choices and meals, but the past couple of days have been really down to the wire. Yesterday, I ordered pizza for the parents. Today I made fruit tea and cookies for the open house (I ate a couple of cookies!) and when it was over, my mother and I went to Logan's for dinner. I wasn't too well behaved there either. I ordered a good meal: petite steak vegetables and rice, but I did eat two rolls before dinner arrived.

Tomorrow, life returns to routine more, so I am getting up and going running in the morning before I go to my 1st job. No excuses from me now. I am penitent and determined to do better this week.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Children Are Starving in Africa

A comment Ms. RD made about "The Clean Plate Club" in an earlier post got me thinking: how many of us were told to finish everything on our plates as kids?

Last semester, in the Freshman English class I taught, we watched Supersize Me, Morgan Spurlock's documentary about his experience eating McDonald's for three meals a day, for thirty days. One of the topics we discussed involved where our attitudes towards food come from. We decided that while parents do have a lot of influence over the food choices their kids make (especially younger kids), older kids and teens are often influenced by their peers, teachers and school staff, the families of their friends, and advertising.

As a child, my mother would let me munch on raw vegetables as she chopped them for dinner. My grandma would always complain that I wouldn't eat any vegetables when it got to dinnertime. My mum would say, "so what, she's getting the vegetables either way, and they're probably better for her raw!" My parents didn't make me eat everything on my plate, but they did make it clear that if I didn't eat what was there, then I didn't get to pick anything else instead. Either eat what everyone else is eating, or have nothing. I didn't get the "Clean Plate Club" attitude at home.

However, this message did sink into my pysche somehow. One courier of the message was Catholic school. I wasn't a picky eater, but the dinner ladies could be pretty mean about making you eat everything on your plate, even if you didn't like it. One day, an older boy, a "server" at our table, made me eat liver (which I hate) and then blancmange (which if you have never heard of, is this vile wobbly pudding with a skin on top). I proceeded to puke all over his shoes. They never made me eat anything I didn't like again.

I did hear this message also perhaps from my grandma, who now wouldn't dream of saying such things, but did when I was younger, and I know I heard the "children are starving in Africa" line from various adults. I remember learning how far away Africa was and trying to make the connection between the leftover brussel sprouts on my plate and the children Bob Geldoff sang about. I could go ahead and leave the brussel sprouts and give them to the starving children, but wouldn't my brussel sprouts be both cold and moldy by the time they flew them to Africa? Or, I could eat them, but if I ate them, how did that help the starving children? They didn't get the brussel sprouts either way. This mode of thinking doesn't teach children healthy eating habits or social and global responsibility. It just, rightly, confuses them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mild Food Porn

Out of nowhere today, I got a craving for a cold Asian noodle salad. I don't even know where I've had anything like this dish before, or if I have, but I was thinking about it all the way home before lunch today and decided that I did have most of the ingredients at home to make it. The "recipe" below is more of a general guideline, as there are several things you could add to this or substitute and still get similar results taste-wise. Just adjust as you need to for taste. I did measure, but your preferences may be different to mine. This makes enough for about 3 servings.

6 oz whole wheat spaghetti (or you could get fancy and use Japanese buckwheat noodles, but it's not necessary)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1-2 cucumbers sliced into long pieces
1 red, yellow, or orange pepper diced
2 green onions
sprinkling of sesame seeds
about a handful chopped cilantro
about 1 inch cube of fresh ginger, grated into dish
sprinkling slivered almonds
1 serving pre-baked tofu - I used teriyaki flavor cut into small chunks.
garnish with lime if desired.

Just boil the noodles until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Combine noodles with all the other ingredients and enjoy. This really is a yummy recipe and it could be made the night before for easy transportation to work or as a side dish for a party.

Some variations that might work:

crushed peanuts
mandarin oranges
thai basil
red cabbage
daikon radish
dried red chilis
snow peas

By the way, it was totally delicious and I will make it again, soon!

For dinner, I was equally adventurous. It must have been writ in the stars today. Here is the recipe for chickpea cutlets I keep seeing everywhere posted on the interwebs: Chickpea Cutlets. I also made multi-color chard sauteed with garlic and fresh lemon juice. The chickpea cutlets are delicious, almost like a giant falafel. Next time, I will bake them instead of pan fry because I think this will give them a firmer, more meaty feel. Even if you're a die-hard meat eater, try these because they're good and they have an interesting taste and texture. They remind me of these gravy-filled deep fried breaded meatball things (I don't really have a clue what exactly they were) I once had in The Netherlands.

To Meat or not to Meat

My unhealthy weight requires me to lose weight. To do this, I don't need to give up meat, but early on in the process, I decided to give it up, for the time being. I'm not sure exactly why I made this decision and I'm trying to analyze my reasoning for it.

As I started to eat healthily, I found that most of the meat I like is fattening. I'm not a huge fan of chicken, unless it's breaded and fried - then it's really good - but there's really nothing about a boneless, skinless chicken breast that gets me culinarily excited. I also think that somewhere in my mind, boneless, skinless chicken breasts are synonymous with diet. I think it's those early-nineties super low-fat diets with their "zesty chicken" recipes. Dry chicken marinated in gloopy, chemical-laden non-fat Italian dressing. Seriously, this was enough to put a person off weight-loss efforts for life. My mother's weight loss efforts around this time centered on recipes like this. Yuck.

I also began to think that meat engenders other fattening ingredients. It just goes well with them. Perhaps this line of thinking was perpetuated by me reading The Hip Chick's Guide to Macrobiotics at the time, which I picked up from a used bookstore on a whim after a conversation with a friend about macrobiotics and what it entails. I was really confused by the practice until I read the book. I thought that macrobiotics don't eat meat or fish, and were some sort of really extreme vegans, but then I discovered this wasn't true. In trying to explain the practice to a friend recently, I said that all food is a balance. Macrobiotics believe that you should eat in balance and some foods, like meat, are extreme and require that you balance them out with food or drink from the other end of the spectrum, thus creating a balance, but one that can create mood swings and health problems. The dietary restrictions of macrobiotic eating come from the person's desire to eat foods from the middle of this spectrum, foods that don't create extreme physical reactions within the body. Therefore, macrobiotics usually eschew meat, dairy, some "extreme" vegetables, and hard liquor. They do eat lots of whole grains, fermented foods, some fish, beer, pickles, vegetables, and beans. All of these foods, in theory, do not tax the body and keep the body and mind on an even keel.

After reading this, I decided I probably couldn't go, as Jessica Porter puts it, "whole hog," but I could start to incorporate some elements of the good ideas in the book. I liked the author's approach. Her lack of pushiness and judgementalism helped me to keep an open mind about the practice. She suggests just cutting down on extreme foods like dairy and meat, and introducing more whole grains and seeing where that leads you. That's basically the approach I've taken. I'm trying little by little to eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and less stodgy foods (what she calls "sludge") like dairy and meat. I love dairy. I love it very much, and I don't see myself ever giving it up completely, but I'm using it now in moderation, as a carefully thought out addition to a meal, rather than a default.

The restriction of meat in my diet has led to more creativity. Even if you're eating fish, eventually you get sick of the whole fish, grain, vegetable plan for a meal, even if you vary the fish, grains and vegetables. This is how I've felt for the past week or so, so I'm now trying to explore other options, like tofu, tempeh, homemade meat substitutes, and also simply using more legumes in my cooking. Legumes have been severely looked over in my diet and I've recently allowed them to play catchup a little. Tomorrow I plan to make a recipe for chickpea cutlets with wilted chard and a bean and corn salad. This is going out on an extreme culinary limb for me, so we'll see how it works out.

I also plan to make hummus this week and come up with creative ways to use tempeh and tofu in sandwiches and salads. Wish me luck and inspiration!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Nutrition Month

So March is National Nutrition Month, and honestly as a dietitian, it's a month I've always loathed because it means more lame projects at work for me. And I can't help but wonder...does anyone really give a damn that this is National Nutrition Month? I mean sure, it's great to spread good messages about health, but sometimes I feel like the general public is so overwhelmed with health and especially diet advice, that the good stuff just gets drowned out. Of all the patients in the hospital I've educated, about 90% of them know what they should be doing, they just aren't doing it! I feel like I'm wasting my breath sometimes.
What many people need is not a dietitian with a set of rules, but a personal motivator/psych expert. Not at all to say that those who struggle with eating need a shrink, but there is no denying that there is a strong emotional link to eating. This is one of the reasons that I like to add as part of a food journal the column of "what were you feeling/doing at the time" when it relates to meals/snacks. When I think about the emotional tie to eating, I often think of people with eating disorders. The typical eating disorder person is someone who feels like they lack control in their lives and they use food as the one thing that THEY can control alone. Although dietitians no doubt play a role in recovering from eating disorders, its more of a psychologists job than anyone.
Now for the non-anorexic/bulemics out there, the psychological link to eating is still a factor, but often for different reasons. Eating out of boredom is a big one. Eating out of habit, just like smoking when drinking. Eating during nightly TV shows. You've got to stop and ask yourself, "am I even really hungry?". So often when we find ourselves reaching for the not so great foods, the answer is no. If the answer is no, then you're eating out of emotion. I try to teach people to listen to their bodies. If you're hungry, eat! If not, don't! And by all means, screw the clean plate club. This is the worst idea ever, especially considering that restaurant portions are 3-4 times as big as they should be. I don't care how much food you feel you'd be wasting, if you're full, stop! And one other thing, in order to give your body time to send the "I'm full" message to your brain, you can't shovel in the food like it's a pie eating contest. Eat slower! Also, don't be distracted when you eat your meal; focus on your food. Don't watch TV, drive, etc while eating your meal. It takes your mind's focus off of how your stomach is feeling and turns it to whatever other activity you're doing.
OK, I'm done ranting for now :)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Vegetarian Sandwich Idea

I have groceries again! Yippeeee! Inspiration has returned. Here's an idea for a yummy vegetarian sandwich:

This serves 2

4 slices Sprouted Rye Bread (60 cals per slice)
1 oz herbed goat cheese
flat leaved parsley
1/2 packet pre-baked tofu
1 cup arugula (how effete of me)
1/2 red pepper
sprinkling of walnuts

First, spray a baking sheet with olive oil. Slice tofu thinly and lay on sheet. Put the 1/2 pepper in the middle of the sheet, skin side up. Spray olive oil across all. Broil on high until one side of the tofu is golden. Turn the tofu, but keep the pepper the same side up until it starts to blister (that's what gives it that lovely roasted taste).

When the tofu and pepper are done, lay both on the bread. Top with 1/2 oz crumbled goat cheese, a sprinkling of walnuts, some parsley and the arugula. Spritz with olive oil if you need some wetness to keep the sandwich together.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Thanks Alexandra

My friend Alexandra, of the blog Sweet Tempered, attempted to leave this lovely comment and was unsuccessful, so she e-mailed me these wonderful helpful hints, which I thought I would pass on to you too:

Hey Claire! I'm loving your blog and get excited about new posts. For some reason (probably something with my computer) I'm not able to leave a comment although I try frequently. Anyhoo- way to go on losing a stone! Well done indeed:) In response to your latest post I thought as a fellow fresh foods approach eater and cook I would offer some of my favorite things for eating healthy on a budget. First off this lady inspires me all the time, and she has gorgeous cookbooks too (although, I feel like you probably already know about her)

and some of my other favorites....

Also, check out Mark Bittman and his blog on the NYtimes. He's a fucking genius.

Again, you probably already know about these, but if you don't they are great little sites of inspiration. Other things I suggest are:

Homemade soup: you can never go wrong with a big pot of veggies (especially hearty greens), veggie broth, beans and tons of ethnic spices. You can eat on it all week long and soup freezes wonderfully. A good chance to make homemade bread too for dipping:)

Homemade veggie burgers: all that rice and vegetable stuff you make? Make extra sometimes and with the leftovers (best with leftovers because it's more solid) form it into little patties and shallow fry them on the stove. Can throw it in the food processor for a more consistent texture, although I really like the big bits of veggies in the homemade patties. Add a poached egg on top and it's heaven. Kind if like bubbles and squeak?

Breakfast for dinner: Nothing says you can't make a pot of porridge with fresh fruit and a bit of maple syrup and call it dinner.

Try the asian aisle for things like soba and udon noodles toss with them with cabbage, soy sauce and chili garlic sauce....easy and yummy.

I could go on and on about this but I leave it at this. Hope this helps for inspiration. Keep up the great work!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

More Minus!

Just wanted to tell you: I'm a couple of pounds lighter! For all you anglophiles out there, that's almost a stone!

Groceries for Granted

I'm probably, time allowing, going to go to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods to do my big grocery shop for the next couple of weeks tomorrow. I try to buy enough stuff to last for a couple of weeks, and I think it's been over two since I last shopped. The supplies are looking rather lean and have required some creativity on my part to fashion a varied group of grains, veggies and proteins into a somewhat edible, pleasing meal.

I find that I'm getting a little bored with my fish/grain/veggie combinations I've been making lately. I've fallen into a rut of cooking a piece of fish, usually sauteed, with some veggies and either rice, polenta, or quinoa. Although these are usually delicious, I am going to have to branch out a little this week to avoid getting bored with these fabulous foods.

I digress a little here, but what does it say about our society that I'm complaining about getting bored with my food, which is by no means cheaply made or produced? I could go on and ask what it says about our society that I'm even overweight? I could write another blog on that though because processed food has so skewed the perception that obese/overweight = wealthy. In fact, the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be obese or overweight because the more likely you are to buy cheap processed foods with harmful, fattening ingredients and chemicals, and the less likely you are to have access to inexpensive fresh vegetables. I can't find the link for you (I did try) but I read an article in the Nashville Scene perhaps a year ago about large poor urban areas of town that are not near any grocery stores and are not on direct bus routes, so the people who live there can mostly only shop at gas stations and fast food restaurants, unless they make a two hour bus trip or have a car, so most people living in these areas have no access to fresh foods.

I'm complaining right now about all the foods I've had to give up or limit. I'm complaining that I don't have a decent job and I don't have much money, and groceries are expensive. At least I have a car though and at least I can drive to the grocery store of my choice and buy, within reason and strict budget, enough healthy fresh food to last me for a couple of weeks. I should be grateful, right?

O.K., Lenten mental self-flagellation aside, I do run the risk of getting bored, so any suggestions of delicious recipes that don't take the fish/vegetable/grain format are very welcome. I am going to try a Gillian McKeith (of BBC America's You Are What You Eat) recipe for a vegetable "meat"loaf that looks delicious, but beyond that I just don't know. I don't want to run the risk of going to the grocery store tomorrow and buying all the same things and then getting them home and not wanting to eat them. Help!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Food (b)Log #12

I still need to do these every once in a while, just so I can let Ms. RD know what I'm eating and she can check up on me and make sure I'm still doing everything right.


1 small whole wheat roll with 1 tsp butter and 1 tsp jam.
Mandarin Orange


1 bowl of leftover spaghetti carbonara (made with minimal olive oil, 1 beaten egg, and about 1/2 tablespoon parmesan cheese per serving). I made the carbonara with vegetables instead of meat, so it contained onions, mushrooms, green beans, green onions and tomatoes too.

I pear


4 oz Mahi Mahi, sauteed
1 serving Polenta, also sauteed (there were about 3 slices)
1 tomato, sauteed
About 2 cups fresh spinach, wilted
About 1 tablespoon olive oil (I "misto"ed, but quite liberally as the polenta was sticking).


1 banana
1 tablespoon semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon pecans

Things to do With a Banana

First, get your mind out of the gutter! I am suggesting that you eat it. I bought some bananas a couple of weeks ago and I've kept them in the fridge, but they are starting to go brown and it's no fun to eat a banana that's gone all brown and slushy. So what can you do apart from throw them away or make fattening banana bread?

Well, I stole this idea from my Girl Scout days. Take the banana and slice into it vertically all the way down lengthwise, so you have a huge slit. Open up the banana and stuff it with a tablespoon of chopped nuts and a tablespoon of chocolate chips.

You can be lazy, like I was tonight, and put the stuffed banana in the microwave for 1 minute, or you can wrap it in foil and bake it at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. However, the best way to cook this is wrapped in foil and nestled in the embers of a fire, or the coals of a charcoal grill. That way you also impart some smokey flavours. Yum.

This is a great antidote to a sweet craving, and it's even mostly healthy, except for the chocolate chips.

You'll also be pleased to know that the moratorium on alcoholic beverages is going well. I haven't freaked out yet. I'm hoping though, that the calorie reduction is worth it. I had better lose some weight for giving up my precious Savignon Blanc. I sound like Gollum:
"my preciousssssss." I went out for a 30th birthday party on Saturday night as the virtuous DD and had a great time, sans booze. I think I might be more obnoxious without it, if my singing along to eighties videos loudly and dancing badly is anything to go by.

I haven't had a chance to blog much in the past few days. I'm putting my house on the market in the next few days, so all efforts have been devoted to that. Happily for my metabolism, this has involved much physical labour, including many hours yesterday spent digging, raking, pruning, weeding, bagging leaves, and hauling around bricks and rocks. I became aware of many muscles in my buttocks and thighs I had forgotten I owned.

I also have a little side job at my friend's flower shop (Brocade Design Arts) in downtown Nashville. Most of the deliveries are on foot, so I get to jaunt around town carrying flower arrangements, which gives me a little exercise here and there. So I've been getting up off my arse and moving around, even if I haven't had time to schedule dedicated work-outs. I hope to be able to resume my walking/running very soon when my house is finally listed, but until then, I continue to wield paintbrush and rake.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Skinnying Your Pocketbook?

You might wonder how much it costs to do this "diet"? You might look at some of the ingredients I'm using - the abundance of fish, the fresh vegetables and fruits - and think you could never do this because surely it would cost a fortune.

Well, I am currently just out of graduate school and chronically under-employed. I'm working a couple of part-time jobs to survive, trying to unload an expensive mortgage, and trying to find someone who'll give me a forty-hour job with benefits. Yet, I'm still managing to eat pretty well. You might think I'm crazy, but I argue on a regular basis that my way of eating is actually cheaper than buying processed foods or take-out/fast food.

There are a couple of tricks to eating well on a budget. I love fresh, natural food and I'm not about to give it up and start hitting the $1 value meal at Wendy's or McDonald's because I'm a little skimpy about the wallet. Here are some hints to keep you healthy during the lean times:

1. Grains are cheap. Try buying grains from the bulk bins. This means you will have to invest in some containers for them and some stickers to remind yourself what they are, but it's a one-time investment that you can pick up pretty inexpensively at Wal-Mart or Big Lots. Try bulk quinoa, whole-wheat couscous, cornmeal polenta, wheatberries, or bulgar. All are about $1.50 - $2.00 a pound at Whole Foods or a couple of the local natural food markets.

2. Legumes are cheap too. The same applies as above. Even with buying some in cans, like black beans and chickpeas, you'll still get a lot of bang for your buck. Now if you decide to go hardcore and purchase big packets of lentils and dried beans, or, as above, purchase them from the bulk bins, you'll save even more. Keep in mind though, that a lot of dried legumes have to be soaked overnight.

Fresh vegetables that are in season are cheaper. Look for these deals. In winter, carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, and leeks, to name a few, are pretty cheap, even the organic versions. If you can find a way to buy locally grown, at a farmers' market, a natural grocery, or even your local market, do, because you'll probably get better produce for as cheap if not cheaper. Organic, locally grown produce has more nutrients too, so you're getting a better nutritional bargain overall, and that's the best kind of bargain. Corn, salad greens, peppers, basil, spinach, and eggplants are all plentiful during the summer and spring, so stock up on the fresh versions of them during the warmer times. Just watch the prices and what your local market has a lot of, and you'll start to get an idea of what is in season.

4. Don't totally discount frozen fruits and vegetables. In winter, when you can buy fresh corn, but here in Tennessee, it doesn't taste anything like the fresh local corn you can get in summer, so I get frozen. Frozen is fine to add to dishes like chili, pastas, and mixed vegetable dishes. I also buy frozen peas. I can't really taste the difference. If I'm making a spinach dip, lasagna, or ravioli, I'll use frozen. Again, I can't tell the difference, so why not go with the cheaper option? In any other season but summer, berries are ridiculously expensive and they come from far, far away, leaving a great big carbon footprint. However, having frozen berries handy for adding to cereal, yogurts, for snacks, for smoothies, is great, especially if you're having a sweet craving.

5. Shop the deals: Even swanky grocery stores like Whole Foods have deals. Look in the meat and fish sections and see what's on sale. Sometimes you'll be surprised at how cheap things are if you're willing to be flexible and creative. I got an unbelievable deal there last year on sirloins. It was only around for a week, but I scooped up enough of them on sale to feed me for a couple of weeks.

6. Buy condiments. If you have a good supply of condiments and seasonings at home, your home-cooked creations will be tastier and you can express more creativity in your cooking. Even with basic ingredients, spices, herbs, oils, mustards, seeds, nuts, and vinegars can help you create unusual dishes. I like to just pick up a couple of these items with every major shopping trip so I have a good supply on hand. If you try to buy them all at once, obviously this could get expensive, but just picking a couple makes this expense manageable. Some condiments, especially Asian and Mexican ones, are cheaper at Asian or Mexican markets, so don't be afraid to go in and check out their selections.

7. When you can, shop at the best place for the best item. No one has unlimited time to go grocery shopping, but you have to admit there are some places that have a great selection of some items, and a horrible or expensive selection of another category. I try to shop around a little. In the summer, I buy limes and cilantro from the Mexican market down the street. Year-round, I buy fish, olive oil, and parmesan cheese in bulk from Costco. Aldi has great and constantly changing deals on a variety of items. Whole Foods sells bulk grains for cheap. They also sell Lavash, unusual fruits and vegetables, and specialty items you can't find anywhere else. I buy local farm milk from The Produce Place down the street. I also stop in there for things that need replenishing often, like eggs, bread, and some veggies. My major shop I do every two weeks at Trader Joe's, but I stop into the aforementioned places throughout that time too.

6. Don't buy ready-made, processed meals. These are expensive. If they are not expensive, they are probably no where near real food. There is also no possibility for leftovers (which are big moneysavers) and this is where stores make most of their profit. There is a reason for that. You are paying for the convenience with your wallet and your waistline.

8. Know the price of everything you buy. Some items can be surprisingly and inexplicably expensive. Watch the cashier ring them up and check your receipt. I recently didn't follow this advice and brought home a $7 container of orange juice I thought was $2.99.

I generally spend under $40 a week on groceries, all stops and all places included, and since I eat over 90% of my meals at home, this represents the bulk of what it costs to keep me running. I consider the expense worth it and I don't think that the equivalent of what it costs to eat two meals out is too outrageous for supplies to make approximately 21 meals, sometimes more.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Less of Me

There's a pound and a half less of me! Yea! People are saying they can "see it in my face," which to me means I must have lost one of my chins. I think there are still a couple of superfluous chins to go though. I'm happy with this, although I am typically weight-loss greedy. I'm not just naturally greedy for food, I'm also greedy for pound-reduction. What does that say about my psyche, I wonder?

I've been working more this week, which is good for my wallet, but more challenging for my eating habits. Yesterday and today I had to scoff down a hurried lunch. Yesterday I managed the time to heat up a bowl of soup, but today's lunch consisted of a slice of bread and butter, a quickly put together bag of trail mix and an orange. I didn't like being so rushed because that's when I make bad decisions, usually. However, the trail mix held me over until dinner time quite well. This then, is my challenge of the week: be prepared for extremely rushed meal opportunities, especially at lunch; carry snacks at all time; have drinks available, either fizzy water or water bottle; find quick meals that travel well. In other words, get organized.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

We Can't All Be Perfect All Of the Time, Even Me.

This weekend I indulged a little. A friend I recently went to Ireland with got drunk and browsed the Internet looking for a Tea Cosy, but ended up buying it and an entire Full Irish Breakfast kit complete with bread shipped to his house. He text-messaged me late that night (I was already asleep) and said he had a surprise for me (see other blog about people sabotaging my diet!) and when he told me, initially I was panicked because I really wanted to eat it with him, but I was worried about packing on the pounds. However, I thought, screw it, I'll do what Ms. RD says to do with alcohol and fit it in. I'll just go light the rest of the day. Plus, I gave up alcohol this week, so I'm saving calories anyway. I love a good Full Irish Breakfast, and it's such a rare treat for me living in this neck of the woods that I had to jump at the opportunity. I googled the calories (a Full Irish with rashers, sausage, black and white pudding, grilled tomatoes, eggs, and Brennan's bread) and came up with a 1000-1300 calorie range. I bet on the higher range and ate with gusto. I wasn't hungry until later that night, so I had a little snack before bed. I enjoyed it. I relished it. I also planned for it, and didn't treat the rest of my day as having gone to shit just because I ate a big breakfast, which normally I would have done. I went back to healthy eating today too.