Saturday, February 28, 2009

Food Waste for the Week

Food Waste Reduction Challenge - February 2009

Here's what got wasted this week:

Nothing again for this week! Hooray! Our household has some considerable challenges if we are to avoid wasting food in the next couple of days. A dear friend came from out of town and stayed with us this week and was wonderful about helping us eat leftovers, but I wanted her to sample at least a little of our town's wonderful restaurant offerings, so I took her and my son to lunch on Friday. Then another friend hosted my visiting friend and me for dinner that same night and just that one day out of the house meant that we have quite a bit of leftovers at the moment. Today I ate a rather unappealing, yet still satisfying, lunch of a pile of assorted greens topped with beans and rice and roasted chickpeas. I work tomorrow in the hospital and my husband has kindly agreed to work through 1/2 of a turkey burger, a slice of pizza, a couple cups of cole slaw and broccoli stuffed shells in order to help with this challenge. Avoiding food waste really does require constant vigilance!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What's Cooking 2.23-3.1

I spent $31.98 at Aldi and $15.56 at another discount grocer for a grand total of $47.54! I have a dear friend from high school, who I haven't seen in 12 years, coming to stay with us this week and even though she denied any food preferences, I may find something out and go to the store again, or treat her to a meal out. Since my intention is to keep within $80 a week, I have over $30 to play with - this week's budget surplus, in fact, might necessitate a sushi feast! (Of all the food I love, sushi is the one thing I don't think I can do justice at home.) I'll post any other expenses next week.

Here is our menu for this week:

Tunisian Vegetable Stew (with chick peas, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes and currants)
Whole Wheat Cous Cous

Tuesday is Mardi Gras! Also known as Pancake Day in our house!
Whole Wheat Pancakes
Turkey Sausages (from freezer)

Roasted Root Vegetable Ragout (with onions, turnips, parsnips, butternut squash, beets, and carrots)
Creamy Polenta
Chocolate Cake (in honor of my friend, hooray!)

Pizza (with homemade sauce and crust)
Carmelized onions and peppers
Spinach Salad

My friend and I are invited to another friend's home for dinner - we'll probably bring homemade garlic bread and salad. My husband and son will either have leftovers or:
Turkey Burgers (from freezer)
Homemade Whole Wheat Buns
Sweet Potato Oven "Fries"
Cole Slaw

Broccoli Stuffed Shells
Garlic Bread
Green Salad

I work in the hospital for my 24-hour shift, so my husband and son will have leftovers
(I plan to double the Stuffed Shells recipe from Saturday night), or make some version of "breakfast for dinner".

Love Letter to My Body

This week I'm rejoicing in my body.

Last week I read a blog post which was a love letter to the author's body in honor of Valentine's Day. I already had my topic for last week's rejoicing, but I made a note of the topic for this week because I am consistently aware of how grateful I am for the body I have and I definitely think it deserves a post. I can't write this as if my body were a "third person" because we are one, but I am happy to take a few moments to document just how grateful I am to live in my body.

I don't think a day goes by that I am not in *awe* of my body. Every time I look at my son I am reminded that my body created him, nurtured him through gestation, eased him into my midwife's hands, and then nurtured him some more with years of breastfeeding. I thought my body was pretty amazing before I had my son (it carried me happily through 4 marathons), but since his birth I know that I will *never* complain about my body again. I will *only* honor and revere it.

Occasionally I've been surprised or saddened by an illness that has taken residence in my body, but I've learned to view it as a message that I simply need to take better care of myself. And once I get that message I am always happy to oblige. I figure it's the least I can do and when I really *get* it, I realize that it is my pleasure to do so.

So, here's to my body! May I enjoy many more happy years of treating my body as the amazing and glorious vessel it is!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Food Waste for the Week

Food Waste Reduction Challenge - February 2009

Here's what got wasted this week:

Nothing! (The picture looked too empty with nothing in it, so I included the pitcher of water.) Hooray! My first week with no food waste!

I'm thrilled, of course. The week of no waste comes at an interesting time because I've had occasion to think of how ancient societies have avoided waste in the past. Looking ahead to my menu plan and grocery shopping for next week I realized that Tuesday is Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. And in our home that means pancakes. And why pancakes?

As I understand it, it has been fairly common practice since the Middle Ages to prepare for the austerity of Lent by purging the pantry of luxurious foods such as eggs, butter and milk. Making big batches of pancakes became a way of using up all the fat in the house so that it wouldn't be wasted. Pretty cool, huh?

I'm especially excited about Mardi Gras (also fondly known as Pancake Day in our house) because, thanks to the Frugal Girl, I've learned of a new pancake recipe that uses all whole-wheat flour and looks delicious. Now you know exactly what I'll be making on Tuesday and I encourage you to join me. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Monday, February 16, 2009

What's Cooking 2.16-2.22

Today I spent $26 at Earth Fare, our expensive whole foods store, and
$33.26 at Aldi. That lead to a grand total of $59.26 for the week! Over $20 under my $80 budget! I am very, very pleased.

At Earth Fare I bought locally-milled and organic whole wheat flour, tea (my husband's must-have)
, and spices in bulk - buying these items in bulk helps cut down on some of the cost for the higher quality and also cuts down on packaging (because I bring my own bags) and that's important to me. I also bought local apples ($5.99 for 5 pounds) and organic bananas (.79/pound).

For many years I bought organic and locally-produced food almost exclusively, but that led to grocery bills of $150-400 a week. Now I am more interested in spending less in order to meet some long-term financial goals, but I still try to make choices that have the least negative environmental impact (eating mostly vegetable-based meals and buying locally in season when the cost is not much higher and the quality is so much better - at the moment the apples and flour are good examples of this).

And, of course, I'm still counting the days until we can benefit from the $500 share I bought into a local, organic farm that will provide our produce from late spring to early fall. This will work out to be about $25 a week for produce - the amount and variety completely depend on what is growing - which is much more than I would spend at our discount grocer, but I will always choose to support our local farm because...well, this will be an entire blog post some other time, but suffice to say I think it's the right thing to do.

Here's what we're eating this week:


Black Bean Chilequile (Layers of corn tortillas, black beans sauteed with garlic, onion, red and green peppers, spinach, salsa and cheese.)
Green Salad

Tuesday (I'm at work again for my 24-hour shift and D likes to keep it fast and simple.)
Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Meatballs
Steamed Broccoli

Halibut served over
Lentils, Sweet Potatoes and Mustard Sauce
Green Salad

Buckwheat Soba Noodles and Tofu
with Steamed Veggies (Broccoli, Cauliflower and Carrots)
and Miso-Almond Sauce

Pizza (with homemade dough and sauce)
with Roasted Peppers and Onions
Spinach Salad

Cajun Skillet Beans with Red and Green Peppers
Corn Scones
Spinach Salad

Sunny-Side Eggs served over
Fried Rice with Soy Sausage and Veggies

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Ovariad

This week I'm rejoicing in my girlfriends.

If you know me, you know I love to laugh. Fortunately, I get many opportunities to laugh every day because my boys are so much fun. I don't get together exclusively with my girlfriends as much as I'd like, but when we do, as we did earlier this week to watch a certain cable drama, much silliness and laughter ensues. And that particular brand of mirth sustains me until the magic can happen again.

What just happened?!!
(Who needs cable when you can create great drama right in G's living room?)

Thanks to L, for creating the term Ovariad for a gathering of female superpowers. And thanks to S, for snapping this priceless picture.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Food Waste for the Week

Food Waste Reduction Challenge - February 2009

I thought I was going to do so well but I forgot about some food I left in my call room in the hospital for the last several months...or years. The salsa had become a science project and the container of dehydrated "instant" chili had been there for years, waiting for a time when I would have forgotten to bring my meals from home and been unable to face the offerings in the cafeteria. (In 15 years of working in hospitals I have only eaten the food one time.) The "best by" date on the chili is 2/11/04!

So now there are absolutely no more skeletons in my pantry!

The other item is pizza dough that we made for dinner over a week ago. We were just starting to spread it out on the pan when G, our 3 1/2 year old son, asked for a piece. (When we visited friends in California they took us to a pizzeria that gave all the kids a piece of dough to play with at their tables - they had so much fun!) I gave him a small piece and he said, "No, I want that piece, please." pointing to the rest of the dough. I looked at D and said, "What do you think?" and he said, "What will we eat if he plays with the dough?" I said we had whole wheat pita pockets and could make a crust from them and he said, "Then give him the dough." I was curious about how long he would maintain interest in the dough and was quite surprised and delighted that he played with it for hours that night and has played with it almost every night since. (If you look at the picture of him from our party Saturday night you will see that he has a small ball of it in his hand.) It has finally gotten pretty hard and smelly so I will bake it up and give it to the chickens tomorrow. D doesn't think it should count as waste since it has provided a wonderful source of entertainment for G and only cost pennies (for the flour and a small amount of yeast), but I think it was *food* waste and we had to use up the pita to replace it, which also meant consumption of food energy before its intended time. I think it was a delightful use of the dough and completely worth it, I also think it is food waste. What do you think?

So there you have it! And again, I'm hoping for zero food waste next week.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Valentine's Day Vegan Chocolate Cake

As promised, here is the recipe for the super easy (only 7 minutes prep time and all the ingredients go in one pan!), super thrifty (it uses cocoa powder, not the more expensive bars of baker's chocolate), and super delicious. (I found this recipe in Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home back in 1994 - my brother gave me the book as a gift and included the date in the inscription - and it has been my all-time favorite ever since.)

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup cold water or brewed coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons vinegar

For the glaze (optional - you could just sprinkle some confectioner's sugar or cinnamon sugar or eat it plain and it would still be yummy):

1/2 pound bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
3/4 cup hot water, milk, or half-and-half (more or less)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. (This is a cake that should be served from the pan. If you want to turn it out of the pan you need mix the batter in a bowl and treat the bottom of the pan with a layer of parchment paper and butter and flour. We always eat it from the pan. Usually with utensils. Sometimes without as you will see from the pics below.)

Sift together the dry ingredients into an ungreased 8-inch square or a 9-inch round baking pan. In a 2-cup measuring cup, measure and mix together the oil, water or coffee, and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients into the baking pan and mix the batter with a fork or small whisk. When the batter is smooth, add the vinegar and stir quickly. There will be pale swirls in the batter where the baking soda and vinegar are reacting. Stir just until the vinegar is evenly distributed throughout the batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Set the cake aside to cool, and if you choose to make the glaze, reset the oven to 300 degrees.

For the glaze, melt the chocolate in a small ovenproof bowl or heavy skillet in the oven about 15 minutes. Stir the hot liquid and the vanilla into the chocolate until smooth. Spoon the glaze over the cooled cake. Refrigerate the glazed cake for at least 30 minutes before serving.


Post script: Pictures of my son after he discovered "his" cake on Valentine's Day (2/14/09).

Do you think he likes it?

Monday, February 9, 2009

What's Cooking 2.9-2.15

This is another installment in the series of posts about the food we're eating, what we're spending, and what (hopefully) we're not wasting. The Frugal Girl posts every week on these matters and I find them fascinating.

Here's what I bought this week:

I spent $29.97 at Amazing Savings, where I can usually find organic produce for 70% off of what it costs at our upscale whole foods market. I spent $48.05 at our discount grocery store. Our grand total was 78.02 - once again under my $80 budget - Hooray! I almost thought I was going to go over because I decided to buy 2 two-pound bricks of cheese (cheddar and mozzarella) at $7.18/each, and now I won't have to buy cheese for at least 2 weeks if not longer. The only meat I bought this week was a pound of turkey slices for $3.98 - which is ridiculously overpriced, but D likes to eat turkey sandwiches when we don't have leftovers and I haven't done a cost/benefit analysis of roasting a turkey for this purpose yet. :) I still have plenty of meat, fish and chicken in my freezer for the next few weeks (as you can see from our menus we generally prefer not to eat meat, but we do enjoy it occasionally), so I'm hopeful that the $80 weeks will continue!

Chiles Rellenos
Brown Rice
Green Salad

(I am in the hospital for a 24-hour shift and D usually prepares something fast and simple.)
Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Meatballs (already in the freezer)
Steamed Broccoli

Homemade Black Bean Burgers
Homemade Whole Wheat Buns
Sweet Potato Oven "Fries"
Green Salad

Asian Grilled Salmon (already in the freezer)
Veggie Stir-Fry (with Broccoli, Carrots and Cauliflower)
Brown Rice

Pizza (made with homemade dough and sauce) with Roasted Peppers
Spinach Salad

Potato and Kale Chowder
Homemade Whole Wheat Rolls
Spinach Salad

Valentine's Day Vegan Chocolate Cake! (This recipe is delicious, thrifty and very easy - I'll try to post it later this week so you can make it for your family, too!)

Basil Broccoli Quiche
Roasted Butternut Squash and Beets

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Thriving Celebration Chili and Cornbread

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was interested in serving a meal for our party last night that wouldn't break my weekly food budget of $80. (I've easily spent over $100 for dinner parties in the past and when I throw a birthday extravaganza I spend over $400.) I am happy to report that the chili and cornbread were well received and my friends asked that I post the recipes here.

I was going to call the recipe I created "Thrifty Celebration" Chili because I like the word thrifty more than frugal but I learned this week that the word "thrifty" is derived from the Middle English "to thrive". The idea of thriving absolutely captures the tone I want to have while managing our household economy.

So I'll call my recipe "Thriving Celebration" Chili instead: To make this recipe very budget friendly I used 2 pounds of dried black beans that I soaked overnight and then cooked the next morning with 3 crushed garlic cloves. I thought it might be fun to figure out just what it cost to make this meal, so I did a little research and a little math and here is what I found:

For Chili-

2 pounds dried black beans = 1.78
peppers=.89/each, so $3.56 for 4
vegetable broth (I had some dried cubes in pantry, bought a long time ago) ~.10
chipotle chile (I used 1/3 of can in chili so 1.64 x 1/3)=.49
32 ou can of diced fired roasted tomatoes (organic)=$2.49

Total for chili= 8.96, or less than $1 per person - pretty cool - *and* we have leftovers that will make up at least another meal.

For Cornbread (both types)=

1 pound of corn meal (organic)=1.19
2 cups of buttermilk=.89
1 stick of butter=.50
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (I had leftover puree in the freezer - from Christmas - and cleaning it out last week inspired the pumpkin cornbread muffins and I'm so glad it did because they were so tasty!)~.10
1/3 can chipotle=.49
(The cost of the cup of flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and other spices are so negligible I'm not going to figure them out. Our eggs, of course, are a benefit of raising chickens.)

Total for 1 large pan of cornbread and 24 mini-muffins=3.17 (We also had leftovers of the cornbread.)

1 cup sour cream=.91

I also served tortilla chips, beer, and juice boxes from our pantry and brownies and blondies from our freezer. I wouldn't have served them if they had not been "on hand", so I'm not going to include them in the cost of this meal. Our friends brought salad, salsa and guacamole.

Grand total for hosting=13.04

This is the first time I have ever "broken down" the cost of a meal and I have to say I am surprised that it cost so little: In fact, I'm surprised and thrilled. So, if you'd like to create this meal for your friends and host your own "Thriving Celebration", here are some recipes:

"Thriving Celebration" Vegetarian Chipotle Chili
It should provide 6 servings. I doubled it for our party of 8 adults and 3 children (and removed some bean and veggie mixture for the kiddos before I added the spices) and we have plenty of yummy leftovers for another meal.

2 teaspoon canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespooon chopped chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce
Cooked Black Beans (Either 1 pound dried, then prepared as above or according to package directions. If you are using canned you will probably need 4 cups, or 2 15 1/2 oz cans, drained.)
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and bell peppers to pan; saute 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add chili powder and garlic to pan; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add chipotle, beans ( I added mine with the cooking liquid), and tomatoes to pan; simmer 40 minutes or until thick. Stir in salt.

Top with whatever you like. We had sour cream, guacamole and salsa. Shredded cheddar cheese would also be nice.

Pumpkin Corn Mini-Muffins (A big hit with the little ones.)
Makes 24 mini-muffins or 12 standard muffins

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 large egg
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup light molasses
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Grease 12 standard muffin tin or 24 mini-muffin.
2. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the melted butter, egg, honey, molasses, buttermilk, and puree. Mix into the dry ingredients until just combined. Take care not to overmix. The batter will be lumpy.
4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, filling cups almost to the top. Bake until golden around the edges and a cake tester comes out clean, about 10 minutes for the mini-muffins, 20 for the standard muffins. Let stand 10 minutes before turning them out to cool completely - or serve warm!

For the Chipotle Cornbread I used my standard recipe and added about 2 tablespoons of chopped chipotle to the wet mixture and baked in a pre-heated iron skillet.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Common Denominator

"Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh." -W.H. Auden

This week I am rejoicing in my friends: Great girl friends with whom I shared a bottle of wine and much laughter on Thursday night, this morning with another friend who came over to share a walk which then became a hilarious race with G to see who could "catch" each others shadow first and tonight with a group of friends who came to our home to eat dinner and play the most fun and cool game - Say Anything.

If you've never played the game I highly recommend it. You have various questions like "What's the best song ever?" and everyone writes their own answer and then everyone votes and then the judge (the person who asked the question and a role that changes with every turn) decides. All of the questions are interesting and always elicit great silliness and often reveal things you didn't know about your friends. I thought the best question tonight was, "What would you do with a $100,000?" I know my friend, and the judge in this case, well and said "Take a trip to Ireland" but his girlfriend obviously knows him better and said "Buy the world's biggest trampoline." Everyone agreed that would indeed be the coolest thing ever and it received the highest number of bets and then our friend confirmed the win. As he said, "It would be so big that you could run and run and jump and never worry about falling off!" Very funny. Just like my friends.

Fortunately, the kids seemed to have as much fun as we did and that makes the night even sweeter. No one really wanted to go home but there will always be another Games Night next month.

"I found you!" playing Hide and Seek.

And jumping on the bed: Does it ever get more fun than this? No, and that's why adults fantasize about buying the world's biggest trampoline.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Food Waste Reduction Challenge

Food Waste Reduction Challenge - February 2009
It turns out that another blog I follow is also doing a Food Waste Reduction Challenge. The Crunchy Chicken posted a very informative article about the horror of food waste. The gist is
"50% of the garbage that goes into the landfill is edible food. Even if your food goes out into the compost or picked up by your local yard waste service for composting, it's still not only a waste of money, but it's also a waste of energy. "

I was going to post my food waste on Sunday, the day before I shop for groceries and the day I like to clean out my fridge, but the Frugal Girl posts her food waste on Friday and she includes a link from her blog, so I will just do it on Friday, too. It will help me remember to get it done.

I have no waste from my fridge this week and as I mentioned earlier I cleaned out my freezer last week (a heel of bread and two hot dog buns). So today I tackled my pantry and it was not pretty.

I had two different jars of protein powder that we used for smoothies before G was born. G doesn't like smoothies (at least not with protein powder, which admittedly is not very tasty) so we never use the stuff anymore. Really, everything - the graham cracker crumbs, the gluten-free bread crumbs I bought mistaking them for *real* bread crumbs, the wild rice, the milk chocolate chips I mistook for semi-sweet, the powdered sugar, and package of instant alfredo powder (what was I thinking?) - was purchased *years* ago and I kept hoping I would one day use them, but I am now willing to admit that day will never come and hopefully the chickens will benefit since we never did.

Now that I've (mostly) cleaned out my pantry, I'm hoping to find that I have no food waste in the coming weeks. I'm generally very good with planning/purchasing food for meals and we happily eat leftovers for lunch, so I really can't remember the last time I threw out (or gave to the chickens) much food from the fridge. And I still have months to figure out what to do with all the kohlrabi we get from our CSA that *always* got wasted. :)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Living Cheerfully on Less

The title of this post is actually a tag line from a blog I like to visit, The Frugal Girl. I discovered her after she posted to one of my favorite blogs, No Impact Man. I liked her comment and I was intrigued by her moniker because I also fancy myself as a frugal girl. I've been enjoying her posts ever since and she has inspired me to create (and stick to!) a weekly food budget and be more accountable for the food that gets wasted in our household. We usually don't have much food go to waste and what does usually benefits our chickens which supply eggs, so I don't feel too bad about it, but I do want to be more proactive.

I've been tracking our food expenses for months and generally we have spent anywhere from $150 to $400 a week for food - including groceries, dining out, and party fare. The Frugal Girl spends on average $80-100 a week for a family of 6! Fortunately, she is very forthcoming about how she spends so little, even posting her weekly menus and itemized grocery bills. For the month of February I have challenged myself to a weekly budget of $80 for all our food. (If FG can do it for a family of 6, I can at least try for my family of 3!)

This challenge is especially timely because we just bought a "share" of a local farm to the tune of $500 and I won't see the benefit of spending that money until late May when the produce becomes available. We feel a little bit of a pinch economically now, but it is well worth it to support our local organic farmers and further reap the benefits of delicious local fruits and vegetables from late spring to early fall.

From now on I will publish pictures of our food waste on Sunday and our weekly menu and grocery bill on Monday. I actually started the project last week (an old heel of bread and some hot dog buns went to the chickens much to their delight) and spent $76.73 on food for the week. We are not going out to eat this week but we are hosting a party of 8 (plus kids). In the past I have given little thought to the expense associated with hosting our regular monthly gatherings because the fun and fellowship are so important to me. It required a little more thought but I kept within my budget this week by planning on vegetarian chili and cornbread for our meal. (I had chips and salsa already in my pantry and my friends have offered to provide beer and salad, so it will be quite a celebratory feast.)

To be clear, I am not following a budget because of a sense of scarcity. I simply subscribe to a belief that I can live, to quote the Frugal Girl, cheerfully on less. And I find that it is a fun and satisfying exercise to challenge myself in that regard. A few weeks ago a friend mentioned being in debt because he had been paying for an "upper-middle-class lifestyle". It was the first time I heard a friend describe their socio-economic status and it inspired an interesting discussion with my husband. We agreed that we are wealthy. We live on $55K of annual income from our part-time employment, we have no debt other than our mortgage, we have plenty of savings, we contribute to multiple charities, and we live, I believe, very well. Cheers!