Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bean Dish

Not a very exciting name, for sure. I'll give you a little history.

I learned to cook in 2002, when I realized I was fat, started on Weight Watchers, and realized that it was easier to know what was in my food if I actually cooked it. I learned a lot about cooking from the Food Network. About a year or so later, I decided to try a cooking class. I showed up for a class one night, not realizing how lucky I was. I guess this class always filled up.

It was a reasonable price. $5 per class. Unlike some "demonstration" classes, this was "participation". It was called Family Favorite Dinners and the teacher was Dan Feeney. I took the class for a couple of years (yes, same class) because I loved the food and the people. But then, I gave birth. And budget cuts have recently caused the class fee to go way up.

Dan was the master of frugality. He chose what to cook each week by what was on sale. Even at $5 per person x 25 people x 10 classes, he managed to save up extra money to buy a grill after a few years.

This is one of my favorite Dan Feeney recipes. I think the last time I made this was the week I gave birth (I didn't realize it was going to be that way, my son was 2 weeks early). We ended up wasting about 1/2 of it, since I was in the hospital. So, it's been five years. The recipe calls for 5 cans of beans, but I substituted some dried. This picture is at the 1/2 way cooking point. It gets darker and more caramel-y the longer it cooks.

Bean dish:

1 cup dried small white beans, cooked: 0.60
1 cup dried black beans, cooked: 0.60
1 can kidney beans: 1.19
1 can baked beans: 1.49
2 small onions, diced: 0.40
4-8 slices bacon, fried and chopped (I microwave bacon): 1.49 (I buy the good stuff)

1 cup unpacked brown sugar (or less, I generally use less, and match the vinegar): 0.31 for 1/2 cup
1/2 to 1 cup apple cider vinegar: 0.25 for 1/2 cup
1 tsp dry mustard: 0.05
1/2 tsp garlic powder: 0.05
1 tsp salt (may need more if you use dried beans): 0.01

Total: $6.44 for 10 cups, or $0.64 per cup. I generally would eat 1/2 to 2/3 cup at a time.

Cook all the dried beans. Drain all beans except baked beans.

Mix sauce ingredients and simmer 20 min. Pour over beans. Mix in bacon and onions.

Cook on low several hours or on high for a few. Or you can bake it in the oven.

I have made this vegetarian without the bacon and it's still pretty delicious. And cheaper. :)

My $50/week budget

So, how am I doing? Not bad really. Spouse has traveled a bit, which helps. I've been sick, which doesn't. My pantry is slowly emptying. The CSA, of course, is awesome. And the local produce market has had organic pink lady apples on sale for $0.99 to 1.39/lb (yay!!) Plus I've been getting free fruit - avos and oranges from my boss, oranges from my friend Sara, and eggs (not a fruit, I know) from my friend Kelly.

Week 1 (1/8/11 - 1/14/11): $35.84
Week 2 (1/15/11 - 1/21/11): $34.83
Week 3 (1/22/11 - 1/28/11): $34.68

I seem to be pretty consistent. So my "overflow" bucket has $45 in it so far. I'll use this when I need it.

Just goes to show that cash is king. I really do spend less when I spend cash.

Curried Chickpeas

Last weekend I cooked up a pound of chickpeas. My favorite bean. I turned half into two batches of falafel from Vegan with a Vengeance. The other half became Shithi's Curried Chickpeas (see "recipes" tab). But I added chard.

It was pretty good, but I should have added more spice because of the chard. Spouse was on another trip this week, so the first night was just me and the boy, and here's my plate. Chickpeas, avocado, tortilla, fried egg. There's a tiny bit of curry left, that might find it's way into the trash today, along with the moldy cheddar cheese. Bummer. Hate wasting food, but I guess I haven't been using much cheese lately. In the background you see popcorn from the CSA.

I've got beans soaking for baked beans for tonight. I have a little bit of energy now thanks to an early morning Aleve Cold and Sinus. But I think I'm heading to urgent care later today for some antibiotics. I don't really like taking them, but I think I've got another sinus infection (had one last year), and the constant, awful sinus pain is just too much. I can only take so many hot showers.

Last night's dinner we ordered pizza. I had plans and instructions for my husband to make pasta with parsley, lemon, and parmesan. But he did 3 loads of laundry, took our son to swim lessons, and the park, trimmed the hedge, made pancakes and lunch, did all the dishes...he deserved a break (and he did make a salad). Yesterday he said he'd MUCH rather he be sick that me. So sweet. Of course, I'm miserable when I'm sick, so I understand.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ah Sick

You know, it's pretty interesting. I guess when you have a full-time job, a new big project at work, a husband who is traveling, a kid, a stressful search for a kindergarten, and you start P90X and Weight Watchers to lose a few kinds wears down your immune system.

Second cold in a month.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Recipes I Want To Try

Maybe not this week, but sometime:

From Oh She Glows: Red quinoa black bean salad

Eat Live Run: Vegan Lentil Loaf

Biz's: Chicken Apple Sausage

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Word On Weight

I've been working this week on losing those 5 pounds I gained last summer. I gained 5 lbs summer of '08 also, and it's just not a good habit to get into, gaining 5 lbs every two years. For the record, I was okay with the first 5 lbs. At my age, the difference is stark. The lower weight makes me look older and wrinkly, then you've got the loose belly skin from having been pregnant in my mid 30's. The extra 5 lbs fills me out a bit, and it's still a healthy weight for me.

Here's a chart (from weight watchers) of my weight loss. Starting in 2002. I started at 174 lbs (though I was at 182, and lost 8 lbs before joining WW). That big spike in there is pregnancy. You can see that it took a couple of years to lose the baby weight. My lowest weight has been about 125 lbs, and that's a weight that makes my hubby and friends go "eek". I actually had a hard time sleeping at that weight because my hipbones would dig into the bed (I sleep on my stomach).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Irish Soda Bread and some Dinners

Last week was a week full of leftovers. I made meatloaf and pasta, and then mixed them. And then on Thursday, mixed them and added some toasted buttered breadcrumbs, which does so many good things to pasta.

My plate: (no gorgeous plates and professional photography here. I looked up the price of these fancy SLR cameras that so many bloggers are getting. Yikes! That's a month or more of preschool!)

Kid's plate: Note lightning McQueen in the background.
My kid's picture of his own plate. Needs to practice:
My breakfast the last two days. SOOO many ripe avos from my boss (like, 8), and he just showed up with another 50+ pounds this week. So there will be plenty for SUPERBOWL SUNDAY GO STEELERS!! I know I'm on Weight Watchers, but I TOTALLY save points for a whole avocado for breakfast. Worth all four of them. On homemade bread, and that other piece has sunflower seed butter.

This weekend, I made risotto. I love risotto. So easy in the pressure cooker (see the "recipes" tab), and you can make any combination you like. This week, it was leek, parsley, pea, and sun-dried tomato risotto. It does get "gummy" for leftovers but eh, still good.

I also made Irish soda bread. A weight watchers recipe. It was tasty, but not fantabulous. I probably won't make it again. I was looking for a recipe to use up buttermilk.

Off topic, I am TOTALLY stressing out about kindergarten. Who knew that getting your kid into kindergarten, looking at schools, applying for transfers (or not) would be so dang stressful!! It's not like it's college!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Weekly links

Sparkpeople has another photo gem on what 300 calories really looks like.

More fruits and veggies are better in preventing heart disease.

On government subsidies this is why you're fat.

Thanks to Less is Enough for passing on a blog series on Slate/Clean Plate where a blogger strives to improve her eating habits. This one looks pretty good...I've just skimmed it so far.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sunday Cooking Extravaganza - Meatloaf, biscuits, chard, turnips

Well, with two parties on Saturday (lunchtime kid's birthday and dinnertime BBQ), I didn't have to cook at all. But I made up for it on Sunday. A bunch of new (to me) recipes:

First up: beef and lentil meatloaf. I bought ground beef because I always seem to find recipes that call for it. But when I buy it, I never remember what they are. So I told my mom that I was going to make meatballs, and she said "meatloaf is easier". So I decided on meatloaf, but also wanted to stretch it with lentils. A search for "meat and lentil meatloaf" turned up a lot of recipes for lentil loaf, but absolutely nothing for a combination of the two. So, I made this up, starting with the meatball recipe.

Beef and Lentil Meatloaf
1 lb ground beef (free range): $5
1.5 c. cooked lentils: 0.20
1/3 c. oats: 0.10
1 carrot, shredded: 0.15
1/2 onion, diced: 0.15
2 cloves garlic: 0.10
1 T canola oil: 0.03
1/2 tsp italian seasoning: 0.05
S&P to taste
Total: $5.78 for 12 slices, or $0.48 per slice.

I sauteed half the onion in canola oil. Then I decided that it wasn't enough onion. So when I assembled the meatloaf, I added another 1/2 onion raw.

After sauteing the onion, mix all ingredients in a bowl. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray. Put meatloaf in the pan. Bake at 350F for one hour.

I should have added an egg, because it did fall apart a little bit. Still, very tasty. And frugal!

I made Martha Stewart's soda biscuits (thanks to my neighbor Michelle for serving them to me last week. I had to google the recipe as soon as I got home.)

Soda biscuits:
1 3/4 c. AP flour: 0.22
1 tsp salt: 0.01
1 1/2 T sugar: 0.02
1 1/2 tsp baking soda: 0.05
2 tsp baking powder: 0.15
5 T butter: 0.31
3/4 c. buttermilk: 0.48
Total: $1.24 for 8, or $0.15 per serving.

I also made sauteed chard with bacon, courtesy of Perfect Vegetables. (Only one slice of bacon.)
1 bunch chard: 2.00 (approx)
1 slice bacon: 0.28
1/2 onion: 0.15
1 clove garlic: 0.05
Total: $2.48 for 4 generous servings, or $0.62 per serving.

And finally, turnip chips, inspired by Mark Bittman. I cut the oil by 2/3. They weren't sliced thin enough (mostly they were 1/4 inch). I really hate turnips, unless they are baby turnips. But these weren't so bad. Best turnip recipe I've found that doesn't include a pound of bacon.

Turnip chips:
4 large turnips: 1.50
1 T canola oil: 0.03
s&p to taste
Total: $1.53 for three large servings, or $0.51 per serving.

Slice turnips 1/8 inch thick. Toss with oil, S&P. Bake on parchment lined sheets at 400F for 10 min. Flip. Bake another 10-15 min.

Total for the meal per person: $1.76

I love the CSA, but it does make for some interesting meal combinations from time to time.

Oh, and I burned the bacon. I got distracted. It happens.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


If you've been reading my blog long, you know that I'm rather fascinated by food budgets, and that I periodically set a budget to reset my spending. The longest running "budget" I made was in 2009, where I aimed to alternate months $160 one month, and $320 the next month (CSA not included). I made it all the way to September before I got tired.

What you may not know is that I watch a lot of reality TV. I love the Canadian shows (high quality), and one of my favorite shows is "Til Debt to Us Part", where Gail Vaz-Oxlade counsels couples up to their eyeballs in debt on how to get out of it. She generally takes away their credit cards and ATM cards, and they live on cash, in jars. Now, this is not a new concept - financial gurus often recommend this method. This kind of renewed my inspiration to set a budget on groceries and use cash. It's hard for me to use cash. It's hard for me to GET cash.

In any event, last week I decided to set a budget of $50/week for groceries (food only). And long I can do it. I'm not going to set a goal for how long. I am just going to try. I will have a different budget for "entertainment" (eating out). Haven't set a goal for that. Maybe $40/week.

Week 1 I had $15 left out of that $50. (Uh, maybe only $14.16, but I rounded up because I had a $10 and a $5 in my wallet.)

Before you think I am insane to try this or wonder how I did that, note:
1. My CSA started last week. We pre-paid this at the end of last year. It's approximately $20 a week, and we get a good deal of veggies from it.

2. My freezer is PACKED. And the spare freezer too. I'm not sure what I've got in there. So I figure the $50 budget will force me to plan my meals around what I have. I know there is salmon (from the neighbor), a little turkey (from Thanksgiving), and some stew.

3. My husband was on business travel for 4 days this week. He eats half of our food. It stretches a lot further when he's gone. And he has two more business trips coming up.

4. I get free food from friends. My friend Kelly has chickens, so I get eggs once in awhile (pretty green ones!) My boss has avocado and clementine trees galore, and he brings piles of them to work. My neighbor brings salmon on occasion. My office has office lunches when people are in town for business. And sometimes, there are leftovers. Like last week, when there was leftover pizza. 2010 Marcia would have chowed down a slice even though I'd eaten lunch. 2011 Marcia wrapped it up for lunch the next day. And like yesterday, when I brought home Thai chicken curry and we ate it for dinner. There were also donuts, which I SHOULD have stayed away from, but I have PMS. So sue me. Earlier this week I missed out on a free lunch from a vendor because I ate what I brought, then 15 minutes later he said "hey, lunch time, I'm buying!" Ah well.

5. I have no long term goal. So I can quit when I get tired of the budget. Which might be the first time I run out of milk on Weds and don't have money until Saturday.

Also, the money rolls over (in the past, I might not do that). So last week's $15 is in an old sour cream container (my "jar"), and I can pull it out when I need it, like when I might want to have friends over for dinner and fork out $12 to $14 for a chicken at the farmer's market. Or when I run out of milk. Or have a desparate craving for fresh raspberries.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Good Links

I confess. My favorite posts to read each week are Casual Kitchen's Friday Links, and Cheap Healthy Good's. (And any other weekly links, if I can find them. Know of any good ones?) There's something about having a solid 20 minutes reading good content that relaxes me.

But I never do my own. Mostly because I don't have a whole lot of time to search around, or save up what I get via email. Today I was inspired by something in my in-box, so I'm giving it a whirl.

Some foods are worth the extra $$, some are not, from Ivillage. Pretty much sums up how I shop.

How one mom stretches her grocery shopping to once/month. (If you know me, you know grocery shopping frequency fascinates me). Penniless Parenting. I am fascinated by the way that many Europeans shop daily (and we did the same when we vacationed there). I get into that habit myself when I have the time (with almost daily farmer's markets, it's easy to do). But when life gets crazy, like it is now and will be for three months, I love getting inspiration from others on how to shop less frequently. Even if I'm only cutting it to weekly or bi-weekly. My biggest tip? Eat something else.

A registered dietitian reviews Weight Watchers new PointsPlus plan. Pretty much sums up how I feel about it. Thanks to Biz for the link.

I love pictures. I get the Sparkpeople daily emails. Usually, I delete 'em (that time thing). Today I opened it and found this gem, about how it can be cheaper to cook than eat out. I think the pictures are very descriptive, and can give some people the boost they need to get into the kitchen.

And totally non-food related, but really good advice on conflict and keeping your cool at work, from Fabulously Broke in the City. A lot of lessons to be learned here, about being an adult, acting professional, and not giving up. The ability to shrug bad things off and keep going can be applied to many areas - weight loss, saving money, work...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What I Cooked This Weekend

Well, it's another one of those weekends. If you've been reading my blog long, you know that I cook a bunch on the weekend and we eat a lot of leftovers during the week.

This weekend is no exception. Spouse is traveling again, which makes it imperative that I be prepared for the upcoming week. Without further ado:

Banana bread (with chocolate chips!)

Sesame Cashew Noodles (link is in the Recipes tab)

Moroccan Lentil Soup (link in the Recipes tab)

Roasted butternut squash

Olive bread

And...this needs no description. (Hey, I'm all about full disclosure.)

There's enough of the mains (noodles and soup) to last through Thursday. The sides...I still have those collards, that I was planning on sauteing with some bacon and onion today. But I don't much feel like it. So maybe that will be Tuesday or Wednesday. I have lots of carrots and celery left from the CSA last week. And frozen veggies in a pinch.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

CSA Week 1

Well, after 10 years of our CSA (this is the start of our 11th year), we've changed it up a bit. We switched our pick up day from Thursday to Tuesday. The reason for this was twofold:

1. Farmer's market at my son's school is Wednesday. It's easier to shop there because I already know what we got, vs. not knowing what we will get.

2. Farmer's market (the big one) is on Saturday. It's hard to shop on Saturday when we just got a ton of stuff on Thursday.

So now, we will have eaten our way through at least 2/3 of our stash by the time Saturday rolls around, at which point we can decide if we need more veggies and fruit. And by "we", I mean "me".

Here's the haul for week one, and it's a biggie:
1 head lettuce (salad)
0.25 lb arugula (salad)
1 bunch kale (kale chips)
1 bunch collards (not sure yet)
1 bunch beets (steaming as we speak to add to the salad)
1 bunch carrots (with hummus and for Moroccan Lentil soup)
1 bunch celery (Moroccan lentil soup and with peanut butter and maybe in a rice dish and blanch some and put in the freezer for soups later on)
1 bunch cilantro (Sesame Cashew Pasta)
0.25 lb garlic (everything)
1 butternut squash (roast it)

Plus my awesome boss brought in something like 50 to 100 lbs of avocados, so I brought home 7 of them. Avos, not pounds.

My general plan is to use the stuff that will wilt earlier in the week, and save the rest for later. So salads, arugula, greens will get used earlier. Root veggies and butternut squash will keep in the laundry room (which is cooler) for longer. Besides, peeling squash is a pain, so it is definitely a weekend thing.

We are pretty set for the week because I made:
split pea soup on Saturday (bit pot)
pasta with tomato sauce, veggies, and local sausage on Sunday (a whole pound of pasta, so we've got 8 servings)
a big pot of brown rice/quinoa/peas/corn and a big pot of fresh cranberry beans on Monday

When we run out of leftovers, I'll make the sesame cashew noodles.

Hey, check out my new tabs! Some of our family favorite recipes can be found in the recipes tab.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Food Philosophy

My Food Philosophy can basically be summarized by 5 statements:

1. I like healthy food
2. I like real food
3. I like local food
4. One size does not fit all in diet
5. I practice frugality and simplicity in my food preparation

#1 I like healthy food

Fruits and vegetables are my friends. When I decide what to eat and what to feed my family, I spend a lot of effort to make sure that we have a good, balanced meal. And having plenty of fruits and vegetables in the house is a BIG part of that. I realize that not everyone makes this effort.

The Standard American Diet is pretty sad. Nowadays, it's full of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, food coloring, fried foods, and not a lot of vegetables. It hasn't always been that way. Decades ago, before the advent of processed food, much of what people ate they grew themselves, preserved themselves. That meant there was a fair bit of healthy food in their diets. These days, the choices are astronomical. And even my spouse - who used to do all of the cooking - made a comment this week. As I was sick as a dog, he went grocery shopping - probably the first "real" shopping trip (as in, he was shopping because he was doing the cooking - not just picking up stuff on my list) in years. He was amazed at how much more crap there was in the store nowadays.

I've not made it a secret here that I used to be fat. I got married, started eating out a LOT, and spent a few years at 170-182 lbs (with a brief foray back into the 150's when my husband went away for a summer internship). I credit Weight Watchers for teaching me about portion control and healthy eating habits. And their cookbooks are FABULOUS, with emphasis on fresh foods, whole grains, and healthy cooking.

I don't quite understand all of their healthy-eating guidelines, or those of the dietary industry. For example: 3 servings of dairy? Really? Something like 75% of people in the world are lactose intolerant. The ability to digest lactase, in fact, is due to a genetic abnormality that developed in areas of the world that started raising cows for dairy. Which means a small portion of the people in the world digest dairy. And besides, some studies suggest that the incidence of osteoporosis increases with increasing dairy consumption, in part due to the increased protein. So, what is "healthy" for one person might not apply to another.

#2 I like real food

Which is where I have a teensy problem with Weight Watchers. You see, until November, when they re-vamped their program, they didn't really distinguish between types of calories, except for fat and fiber. Now, finally, they've given most fruits and vegetables "free" status. Before that, they did not distinguish between 100 calories of apple and 100 calories of chips, crackers, or cookies. Oh, if you searched their on-line system, and listened to their recommended meal plans, you would eat a VERY healthy diet. But they left WAY too much room for junk food.

And even now, they sometimes delve into the area of what I call "fake food". Like: fat free cheese. I just can't get behind fat free cheese. I'd rather leave off the cheese. And egg whites. I want the whole egg please.

I also love vegan food, but it has to be real food. I don't have any desire to eat fake cheese, soy cheese, TVP, soy meatballs, etc. I would rather just not eat the cheese or fake meat. I don't, however, think soy is evil. I like tofu and tempeh. I buy soy milk occasionally for baking and smoothies. We love edamame. I think there is room for natural, less-processed soy products in a normal healthy diet. I think millions of Asians would agree.

I try to avoid adding unnecessary animal products to my food. I have some great soup recipes (butternut squash, split pea) that originally were made with chicken stock or other animal products. I managed to veganize them pretty easily. Other recipes don't veganize as well. Pizza, lasagna, any food that traditionally is made with cheese. You can use cashews and other foods to make "cheeze", but that seems like an awful lot of work to veganize a non-vegan food. I'd rather just vegan food that is supposed to be vegan. I enjoy vegan baking too. If soy milk and canola oil can make a great product - awesome! I really am not interested in buying En-Er-G egg replacer however. It just isn't what I consider real food. Though I don't mind some Earth Balance now and then, I'm not particularly interested in baking with it.

Part of my desire to eat real food is my natural frugal-ness. I don't like to waste food. I like to use the rind of the lemons to flavor my food. I like to cook the bones of meat to make stock. A lot of "healthy" recipes call for boneless, skinless chicken breast. Well, what about the rest of the chicken? Is there anything wrong with eating a thigh once in awhile?

#3 I like local (and seasonal and organic) food.

Local food is one reason why I don't eat boneless, skinless chicken breasts anymore. The farmer's market sells chicken. Whole chicken (with the livers. Yum!) My schedule means that I am not able to make it to the farmer's market as often as I'd like. I get produce from the CSA weekly, but for meat, you have to get to the farmer's market. Not making it to the farmer's market means that I don't have the opportunity to buy local, free-range, organic meats that often. So, we just don't eat it as often. We generally cook meat 1-3 times per month.

Why local, organic, and free-range for meat and eggs? Well, it's no secret that the SAD (meat-heavy diet) is bad for the environment. In order to produce enough meat to provide that much to Americans, we've gone to factory farming. The living conditions of the chickens, cows, and pigs in factory farming are horrific. They are fed corn corn and more corn. Injected with antibiotics when they get sick from the corn. Stuffed into tiny cages. Living in their own filth. Is it any wonder that we have egg recalls and beef recalls due to salmonella and E-coli? But we Americans want our meat and we want it CHEAP.

Truth is, meat isn't cheap. And it shouldn't be. A cow or chicken or pig should be allowed to wander free. Eat grass and bugs. I have no problem eating eggs from my friend Kelly's backyard chickens, or eggs from the local farm, that has never sickened anyone from salmonella. I bought a turkey for Thanksgiving that got to live freely on a ranch in Santa Paula. But sustainable meat means we all pay more for it and eat less of it. Is that so bad? It also means that the lady who raises the turkeys is also the one who sells them to me, not some huge faceless corporation. She can make a living.

Even local produce isn't cheap. Organic and local often means more labor-intensive (but so much tastier). Our CSA is pretty reasonably priced. But it's still more expensive than the grocery store. As expected. If they have a bad strawberry year, then there are no strawberries. If it rains a lot, they can't get to the fields to pick. And our farm actually provides farmworker housing, as opposed to a lot of local farms that don't. So the farmworkers for other farms end up living in houses or apartments with 10-30 people. It adds to the cost to provide housing to the farmworkers and their families, but I gladly pay it.

When I was a kid, we ate fairly local, even in the wilds of western PA. You still can buy a whole cow from a local farmer. And my family hunts deer. A good sized deer in November can feed you for months. We had a decent garden, and canned stuff for the winter. Even in the winter, we ate seasonally. Sure, we were buying our oranges from Florida, but they were in season. We weren't buying apples in June from Chile or New Zealand. Of course, living in So. Cal., it's a lot easier to eat local and seasonal food than other areas in the world.

With practice, local food can expand your horizons. One of the reasons that I love vegan food is that it has introduced me to many new cuisines. With every new vegetable from the CSA, I can find an ethnic cuisine built around that vegetable. MOST ethnic cuisines are heavily built around vegetables. Have fava beans? Find some middle-eastern or mediterranean recipes. What about boy choy? Chinese cookbooks are perfect.

#4 One Size does Not Fit All (in Diet)

I read a lot about healthy food. I have a lot of vegan cookbooks. I have South Beach. I read about "primarian" eating. The problem I have with most of these "eating plans" is that they eliminate whole food groups.

I think the typical vegan diet is healthier than the typical SAD. But maybe I am wrong. I am assuming that vegans are less likely to be eating processed crap. That might not be true.

The problem I have is with the fervor that people will defend their own eating habits AND ATTACK OTHERS. Weston A. Price and Primarian eaters attack vegans. Vegans attack anyone who eats animal products. And oh goodness, DO NOT be an ex-vegan who went back to eating meat for healthy reasons. YOU OBVIOUSLY WEREN'T DOING IT RIGHT. AND YOU OBVIOUSLY WEREN'T A REAL VEGAN OR YOU WOULD NEVER GO BACK. NOT FOR YOUR HEALTH, NOT FOR SOMETHING 'MINOR' LIKE DEPRESSION. I have to say that it's interesting that the vast majority of vegan bloggers I read are in their 20's. The two ex-vegetarian and vegan women I know (who went back to eating small amounts of meat for health reasons) had to do so in their late 30's/early 40's. Which makes me wonder three things: 1. Is it possible that as we age, our dietary requirements change? and 2. Is it possible that deficiencies in our diet build up over time? One of my ex-vegan (decades a vegan) friends is a nutritional counselor with education from Columbia U. But I'm sure she wasn't doing it right. Then there's 3. Is it possible that genetics partially determines what foods a person will thrive on? (and I'm NOT talking about the Blood Type Diet)

Not just to pick on vegans. There's also the "anti-carb" camp. Lots of meat, fruits, and veggies. But no carbs. No beans, no bread, no potatoes, no starchy vegetables. Which makes "local eating" tough in the winter season of sweet potatoes and winter squash. The "Paleo Diet" people who insist that grains are bad (even though there's new evidence that grains have been cultivated and eaten for a very long time). I think millions of Asians might disagree about the evils of rice. And of course, what was the life expectancy of the Paleolithic man, exactly? Hmmm?

I really don't think one-size fits all in diet. Some people thrive on a low-fat vegan diet. Others would have a hard time with that. Allergies to wheat, soy, nuts would be a big problem. A large percentage of people cannot digest dairy. The "anti-wheat" camp seems to ignore the fact that the ability to digest wheat, like dairy, is often genetic, and due to changes in genes due to exposure. There's the "extremely low fat" camp. I've read a book by Dr. Barbara Berkeley that talks about "previously overweight" and "never overweight" people. Her obesity studies show that people who have been obese or overweight have physical reactions to carbohydrates that are DIFFERENT from people who have never been overweight. They are much more sensitive, so she recommends her clients eat "Primarian" if they've been obese, meaning: very few starches. However I do know some formerly obese people who thrive on a mostly-vegetarian and mid-level starch diet, myself included.

Did you know that Laura Ingalls Wilder lived to be 90 years old? Do you know what she ate? Vegetables. Bread. Potatoes. Winter squashes. Head cheese. Do you know what head cheese is? (hint: it's not cheese). But I bet she didn't eat twinkies or drink Coke.

I try to feed my family lots of local, healthy food. We eat a lot of vegan food. We eat a lot of vegetarian food. I don't eat at McDonalds (though we have stopped a couple of times on road trips. I'd rather let my son have a yogurt from McD's than have him wax poetic about this great restaurant that he never gets to eat at.) I still eat meat because I don't believe in eliminating full food groups. The China Study was an interesting study, but all that showed is a decrease in some cancers with decreased meat consumption. Dr. Campbell then extrapolated to zero animal products, saying "vegan is best!". Extrapolation is tricky and risky. Never did they study a vegan population. Because there really aren't any to study. Even Dr. Furhman admits now that his recent studies show NO difference in the health of a full vegan who follows his plan, and someone who eats almost the same but also eats small amounts of animal products.

Despite my love for "real food", there's still boxed macaroni and cheese as emergency rations in my house. We buy tortilla chips. We bake cookies. I mean, come on, we have full time jobs and a child. And sometimes boxed pasta, a jar of tomatoes, and some frozen mixed vegetables is the best that you can do. And that's okay.

5. I practice frugality and simplicity in my food preparation.

In 2009, I set a goal. My goal was to alternate months - $160 one month, $320 the next month, for groceries (not including the CSA). I made it to September, then got tired. Truth be told, there are other great blogs out there that can teach you how to feed your family for less than I do. The early days of my blog were pretty good, don't get me wrong. And my grocery budget is still lower than most.

But with the increasing emphasis on local and organic eating, the emphasis on frugal has slipped. I still, however, practice frugality and simplicity. What does this mean? It means:

- I don't waste food. Eat your leftovers.
- Eat less meat. More beans
- Calculate the costs of several of your regular meals. The cheaper ones? Put those in heavier rotation.
- Use everything. Lemon zest for flavoring, chicken bones for stock, vegetable peels for stock.
- Cook from scratch. Make your own bread.
- Eat in season
- Buy in bulk
- Buy what you eat and eat what you buy
- Shop around
- Eat one pot meals
- Simple: steamed, stir-fried, roasted vegetables
- Plain brown rice, sandwiches, soups

Even if your budget does NOT require feeding your family on $100-200 a month, having frugal tendencies is good. It develops good habits. If a tragedy WERE to strike and you have to cut back, you'll still have some good habits to fall back on.

And from the simple standpoint - it's not that I don't LIKE to cook more elaborate meals. I DO! But for the most part, I keep it simple. I prefer foods that taste like they are supposed to taste. Roasted potatoes. Steamed broccoli. A salad dressed simply with olive oil and vinegar. Plain brown rice or quinoa, topped with beans and vegetables. If you learn to prepare plain foods simply, you will never go hungry.

Happy New Year!