Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Guilt...and honesty about my spending

This is today's topic. So why guilt?

This is a blog about Frugal, Healthy, and, mostly, though I do delve into other topics. And I do a pretty good job of feeding my family in this manner. But I don't want to give anyone the wrong impression about my awesomeness (or lack thereof).

Earlier this year, I was at a race, and Kalli came up with her friend Krystle to run it. My friend Monica and I were running the 10 miles. As we were chatting before the start, Kalli mentioned my blog and how much I spend on food (which Monica hadn't heard of, and asked "a lot or a little?"). Now, I don't really go out of my way to *hide* my blog, but a lot of my friends wouldn't quite understand my obsession. Some of my good friends think I'm downright weird. Monica said something like "frugal food, what?" and we moved on. (I do, for example, have a link to it on my facebook page, so I'm not hiding it.)

But I try not to toot my own horn too much. Why? Well, my food is frugal, but it's not the be-all-and-end-all of frugal. I could feed my family for less, if I chose to. I could shop at Walmart if I was willing to drive to one. (But really? Why? I don't approve of their methods and the cost of gas would make it prohibitive. Though when visiting family, they are the only game in town.)

There are other blogs, websites, and books that show you how to feed your family for way less than I spend. People who combine coupons and sales and feed themselves for $5 day, $3 a day, $1 a day. Grow their own food. Order in bulk 25 lb bags of rice. I don't do that. And if you do, you are beyond me. All I can really do to help is come up with more creative ways to serve beans and rice. Still, I certainly feel that my blog can be helpful to others. For example, if you look here, you'll find the approximate weekly/monthly cost for families' food at home at four levels. When I'm really working hard, I fit us into the Thrifty Plan. Lately, we are firmly in the "Low Cost" plan however. If your grocery bill is higher than mine, I can help. Maybe.

So that's where the guilt comes in. For much of 2009, I was doing this alternating month thing. One month, budget $160. Next month, $320. I made it to September, and then I just got tired. At that point, our budget moved in the direction of about $425/month, not including the CSA. I think. Maybe. Why maybe?

Here are my confessions of a sort-of frugal cook:
1. I buy food at the farmer's market every week. Using cash. And I don't write it down anymore. It's probably about $10 a week. But I don't really know. So my total at the end of the year? Not gonna be accurate.
2. Sometimes wine gets counted in my food budget.
3. I've been buying convenience foods. As much as enviromental me hates the mini yogurts and applesauces - I have a four year old. And he likes them. And dang it, I'm buying them right now. And they are pricey.
4. I buy school lunch for my son once a week. Not counted in the food budget.
5. My food isn't at frugal as it could be. I don't buy very much processed food. When I do, I read labels. And I won't eat certain things. So I may end up paying more for something, because I refuse to eat HFCS or MSG or partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil.
6. I don't shop around for loss leaders on produce. I prefer to buy local and organic. Which means my totals on my recipes might be higher than yours could be. I can afford it.
7. I don't eat much meat. So, it's easy to eat more cheaply when you are doing beans and rice.
8. I get a lot of free avocados at work.
9. My spreadsheet of grocery store prices? (a spreadsheet version of a price book) - haven't updated it in a year and a half.
10. I don't do coupons. Not anymore. The amount of effort I was spending to cut out 20 coupons a week and comb the sales flyers, for the one chance every month where I could get brown rice or whole wheat pasta for cheaper than Trader Joe's...was not worth it. And, I've been into this frugal thing for a long while. In fact, read my post here, where I listed the coupons available one weekend and the likelihood that I would use them. No combination of sales on cheese with coupons is cheaper than Costco. Dried beans are cheapest at Smart and Final. TJ's has good prices on pasta and rice, and it's rare to find a sale that is better. The effort to cut coupons and get sales on toilet paper, tissues, and toothpaste? Also not worth the money.

If I find coupons on local organic produce though? I'm there!

Some of my methods, however, can still be helpful, as long as you aren't looking for "please just tell me what to eat!" Like:
1. KISS. Keep it simple stupid. A main dish and a side dish is going to be cheaper than a four course meal.
2. Shop wisely. Figure out WHAT you like to eat and HOW to get it more cheaply. Coupons. Loss leaders. Buying in bulk. Discount stores. Direct from the farm. Ethnic stores. If you are coming to my blog to figure out how to get inexpensive meat and cook it for your family 2x a are in the wrong place. If you want tips on how to save money on produce...come on down!
3. Cook wisely. What kinds of food are you eating? Are there more frugal meals that your family likes? Increase their frequency in the rotation.
4. Leftover management. Both creating leftovers so that you do not have to eat out and eating them so that you aren't wasting money.
5. Eat wisely. I have to say, when my bills get out of control, it's the snacks. The chocolate, crackers, pre-made hummus, chips and salsa. Which I don't need, really. I have nuts, dried and fresh fruit, bread, cheese...
6. Consider your time and what it's worth. If it's worth it to you to shop at 6 different stores to save money, have at it. If you want to drive 40 miles to the nearest Walmart (assuming other stores are closer), go for it. But gas isn't free. I've found that three of my "regular" stores are not regular anymore, because they are in areas of town where I just don't need to go anymore. And it seems silly to drive 10 miles round trip, which is 1/3 gallon of gas, or $1.25, to save $1-2 on something that's on sale.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Free Lunch - an inspiration

I get inspiration from a lot of places. This week it's Sheri, who feeds her kids amazing meals, and who found organic raspberries at $1/ box and bought 14 boxes. Then got her kids busy freezing them on trays for smoothies for the winter. Because this week, I had a lot of leftovers from my party. I'm actually tired of them. The rest just went into the freezer or got composted.

While filling my fridge with leftovers, the strawberries (organic, local, fresh, delicious) got pushed to the top shelf. Which normally wouldn't be a problem. Except a month ago, my spouse cleaned the coils on the fridge. I pulled the berries out last night and they were frozen solid.

Inspired by Sheri, I sliced off the green tops and put them in the freezer. And today I had smoothies.

I also get inspiration from coworkers. I have a new coworker named Mark, whom I haven't spoken to much. But rumor has it he lives on a ranch and sells goat cheese and chicken eggs and chickens.

I have a coworker named Kelly. And she is my inspiration of the free lunch. Or almost free lunch.

Yesterday, her lunch was the epitome of frugal, healthy, and simple. I realize that not everyone has our luck, but here goes Kelly's lunch:

Steamed chard (in microwave): I'm not sure where she got the chard. Her garden? My CSA from last week? the farmer's market?
sliced zucchini: our accountant has a pretty big garden and the zukes have found there way into work (snagged one myself)
a diced avocado: have I mentioned the amazing boss? With the avocado orchard? Who every two weeks brings a large postal box full of them?
a drizzle of organic yogurt
sriracha: public sriracha (I bought a huge bottle and brought it to work, to replace the one the boss brought a couple months ago. I can't tell you how many people I see just slicing open an avo and putting on sriracha for lunch or a snack)
a grapefruit (the boss again)

I didn't take a picture (didn't have a camera and wouldn't have wanted to freak her out!!)

So, the trifecta:
frugal (the cost of a drizzle of yogurt, and maybe the chard)
healthy (look at those veggies! and healthy fat!)
simple (what is simpler than just steamed or raw veggies and fruits?)

Today we both got actual free lunch at work (birthday lunch!) Yum. Hers looked better than mine. I was hungry again by 3 pm.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fruit Salad

So, yesterday I had a HUGE birthday bash. It was GREAT to celebrate with all of my friends. It was a bit of a zoo because a lot of my friends have kids, ranging in age from 5 to 3 months. When the first guests arrived, the house was neat. When they left, it looked like a tornado hit.

It being my birthday party, my goal was to not have to cook. So we had it catered. NOT cheap, but delicious, and a ton of leftovers. I will be eating leftover chicken and tri-tip for months (I did, in fact, send some home with friends and will probably take some over to the neighbors today. Truly, we eat so little meat that it could honestly last months.)

The single item that we ran out of was fruit salad. This would be the item that I actually made. I hit up the farmer's market in the morning and went to town. I should have made more. I still had more fruit.

I did not take a picture, but here's what was in it:

strawberries: two pints, hulled and sliced
grapes: about 1/2 lb each red and green, organic
plums (very dark)
pluots (green with a pink center)
white nectarines (yes, I went crazy at the stone fruit stand)

a teeny bit of sugar (a couple of tablespoons) and the juice of a fresh orange on top.

I think I'll make up another batch tonight to eat tomorrow for lunch.

Friday, June 25, 2010


'nuff said

Thursday, June 24, 2010


It's been awhile - I just got back from a 2 week vacation, which means I missed 3 weeks of CSA (CSA pick up is Thursday, we left on a Friday). My friend Kelly was the lucky recipient while I was gone (it's nice to donate your share to someone who appreciates the good stuff).

I was SOOO excited to finally get my share today, that I had to take a picture.

So here goes:
1 bunch onions
2 baskets strawberries
1 small head lettuce
2 peaches
2 oranges
1 basket cherries
1 lb zucchini
1 bunch carrots
1 bunch arugula
1/2 lb salad mix

The fruits are destined for just eating. The berries and cherries will be gone Saturday morning, at the earliest. I've been craving salad, so there won't be any problem with the mix (I made one tonight with the LOVELIEST avocado).

Some of the zukes and carrots went into a pasta salad for a potluck for my son's last day of school tomorrow (his preschool starts up again in 2 weeks). I also made arugula pesto for the pasta salad. Plus black beans, olives, and some sliced string cheese (it is for 2 to 5 year olds, you know).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Skillet Spaghetti

I'm kind of obsessed. You know, I tend to eat pasta once every week or two. And the skillet pasta is practically a one-dish meal. Which makes my hubby happy. There's a fair bit of opening up jars and cans, and I apologize if you expect more from me by now. But, I've got a full time job.

Here's also a pic of some carrots from our garden. I bought the seeds from Freedom Seeds. I think the carrots can tell that our square foot box is only 6 inches deep.

Skillet Marinara Spaghetti
1 Tbsp canola oil: 0.03
1 onion, diced: 0.25
2 cloves garlic, pressed: 0.10
12 oz whole wheat spaghetti: $0.97
1 25-oz jar organic marinara: $2.29
3 cups water
1 can artichoke hearts, chopped: 1.99
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes: 0.44
4 sliced kalamata olives (I ran out): 0.20
1 cube homemade pesto from the freezer: 0.25
pepper to taste

Total: $6.52 for about 6 to 8 servings. Traditionally, this would be six 2-oz pasta servings. But we served it with green beans and bread, so we stretched it further. It helps that our child is not a teenager. Serving cost: $0.81 to 1.09 per serving.

Saute onion in oil until brown. Add garlic and saute 30 sec. Add marinara, water, pasta, and artichokes. Cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 to 25 min, stirring occasionally. Add olives, tomatoes, pepper, and pesto, cook for a few more minutes to let it thicken. Serve with grated parmesan if you like.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I'm while on vacation.

In case you've wondered why not very many new's the deal. I was on vacation for two weeks, visiting family. And I know better than to post it on Facebook or on the internet.

I'm going to discuss fitness while on vacation. I could discuss diet while on vacation. But really, I gained 4 or 5 lbs, so I'm probably not the best person to discuss it. I did a pretty good job of mostly avoiding sweets. But I still ate too much on this trip. And of course, the salt that you end up with from "travel food" doesn't help either. Hopefully by Tuesday I'll be less bloated.

But exercise, that I can discuss. I like to have vacations that are active. And even though I like to relax on vacay, I find that if I don't schedule my workouts, it doesn't happen. Easy options if you don't have access to a gym (and I didn't) are running, walking, biking, videos - I took DVDs, but never used them. Swimming, frisbee, hiking, surfing.

So here's a summary of what I accomplished on my 2 week journey through the states of PA and NY:

Friday 6/4: walked 4 miles. This was a workday, but we drove to LAX after work.
Saturday: 20 min walk/run in the hotel plus 15 mins of weightlifting, before getting on the plane.
Sunday: 25 min yoga podcast from (thanks to fitnessista for leading me to them!). You see, we arrived to tornado watches. It was nasty.
Monday: Ran 8 miles through the woods in rural PA, while my spouse gamely followed me on a too-small bicycle. Saw a deer run across the path in front of me. This run was almost all through the woods.
Tuesday: Walk 5.2 miles with my sis. Yeah, lotta gabbing.
Wednesday: Nuthin. It was raining. Threw me off my game. Let's call it my "rest day".
Thursday: Run 3 miles with the spouse (my sister in PA has this "loop") plus pushups, dips, and crunches.
Friday: Walk the 3 mile loop with the spouse, before heading off to rent a car and go to Cornell in Ithaca, NY. My husband's college reunion. He's old.
Saturday: Run 3 miles through Cornell. Remarkably, my hubby showed me the way on a map that was generally flat. Remarkable for Cornell. Beautiful university. Fun fact: Cornell costs about $50k per year (tuition, room, board) these days. And the dorms are still crappy.
Sunday: Walked about 7 mins before the downpour started, ended up doing the 25 min yoga podcast before driving to Syracuse to briefly visit friends (before heading off to family in Schenectady later that day).
Monday: Run 3 miles through my hubby's old 'hood.
Tuesday: Walk 3.75 miles with hubby, around Collins lake.
Wednesday: Run 7 miles along the Mohawk River Bike path. Plus crunches, pushups, and dips.
Thursday: didn't get started first thing in the morning, so did a short 2 mile afternoon stroll.
Friday: Run/walk 3.25 miles through the 'hood. Run one song on the old Ipod, walk one song.
Saturday: Walk 3.75 miles around Collins lake with the hub, before heading to the airport to fly home. Running on a day I'm flying is bad...all sorts of leg cramps ensue.
Sunday (today): Too many chores, hubby is working. Met my friends at the beach with the kids, did some shopping, including buying patio furniture so we have a place for our guests to sit at my 40TH BIRTHDAY PARTY THIS WEEKEND.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Veggies! - frozen and canned.

I love veggies. If you've read this blog for long, you know that I LOVE fresh veggies and belong to a 10-month a year CSA. And I shop at the farmer's market.

But sometimes, you are left with frozen or canned. In the winter. If you don't live in Sunny Southern California. If, like us, you eat so many veggies that before the next pick-up day of the CSA (Thursday), you have run out of all your fresh veggies. I do like to keep frozen veggies on hand for this case, and also like to have some canned veggies around sometimes too. Like when I don't feel like cooking up a pot of beans.

So here are couple of pictures of recent creations of the frozen-and-canned sort.

First: frozen mixed Normandy vegetables. The kind you'd get at Costco in a big frozen bag. This has cauliflower, squash, carrots, and broccoli. The problem with "mixes" like this is the mush factor. The squash gets watery and mushy sometimes if you try steaming. However...roasting.

I surfed the net for roasting frozen veggies, and found that it is possible. In this case, I tossed the frozen (unthawed) veggies with olive oil, dried basil, dried oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Roast at 425 for 20 min or so, flip, and roast some more. Be sure to use foil on your pan for easy flipping. Yummy!

Next up: Canned. I had an avocado, and I was feeling like a black bean and corn salad.

1 can black beans
1 can corn
1/2 can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup salsa
garlic powder, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
vinegar (plain white in this case, but balsamic, white wine, or rice would be good too)

No measurements here, I just played around with it. Delicious!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Vegan Mac Daddy Salad

I did not necessarily intend for this to be vegan. I found Barilla macaroni on sale for $1 a pound. I also had a can of black olives (I know, as far as olives go...but, my son loves them).

I had this recipe from a cooking class as the "jumping off point". But that's where the similarity ends, because I liberally substituted what I had in the pantry and fridge. And it is very, very good. And we've got lots of it.

Vegan Mac Daddy Salad
1/2 lb macaroni, cooked according to package directions, tossed with a tsp of olive oil (to prevent sticking), and chilled: 0.50
1 cup frozen peas: 0.50
1 large carrot, shredded: 0.15
1/4 c. diced fresh onion: 0.15 (I used sweet onions, because that's what I had. Bought 'em accidentally).
1/2 can black olives, sliced: 0.50
1/2 cup vegan mayo: 0.37
1/4 cup diced bread and butter pickles: 0.12
1 Tbsp dijon mustard: 0.10
1 Tbsp white vinegar: 0.01
paprika, pepper, and seasoned salt (I make my own) to taste: 0.15
Total: $2.55 for 12 cups, or $0.21 per cup

There's also some pics of my leftover couscous with some blue cheese and an egg, and our al fresco dining on the Memorial Day weekend. Nitrate free all-beef hot dogs and all. And the trip up north to pick blueberries. My four year old is a GREAT blueberry picker. He's low to the ground and found the berries that a lot of the other folks missed. We're working our way through them. I think I'm making muffins tonight after dinner.

Secret of the day...Did you know...that my spouse and I met in the military?