Veggie and hummus bento

Hello, Spring!  Hello cool, misty mornings and dark, drizzly nights.  Hello puddles and crocuses and – 80 degrees and sun?  Hello… ten percent humidity?  Hey Boulder, get with the program!

Mud season, ubiquitous in early Maine springs, is unheard of in Colorado.  There’s just not enough moisture here for a good, old-fashioned mud season.  It was very spring-ish today in Boulder, though – partly cloudy, slightly breezy, and cool, with a hint of moisture in the air.  Boulder has so few cloudy days, let alone wet days, that we all savor them when they come along.

It may sound funny to people in wetter climates, because it is more common for people feel depressed when there isn’t enough sun.  Here, though, we all feel so dry and sunned-out that we relish the wet days.  I read an NPR article last year about summer seasonal affective disorder, which is exactly like it’s winter counterpart but happens in the summer months.  My first thought?  Eureka!  I’m not a party-pooping outcast after all – I have A Thing!  My mother and I both suffer from Summer S.A.D. – we both hate scorching sun, cloudless skies, roasting by a pool, or really anything to do with days hotter than 70 degrees.  We greet September with joy, and by October we are positively giddy.  It’s COLD!  And is that a dark cloud on the horizon? Oh goody, I can wear socks again!  Hallelujah!

I can only remember ONE time when the lack of sun actually got to me.  One May in Maine, when I had just arrived home from college for the summer, it was gray and rainy for twenty-eight days straight.  Aside from that extraordinarily rainy month, I have never once complained about a wet day.

Anyway, all that is to say that it was cloudy today, and it was wonderful.  Here’s a picture from a bike foray to the library a few days ago – also a slightly cloudy day!

I haven’t really “made friends” with the mountains, even after five years.  They still kind of LOOM, you know?  Like big rocky, looming things.  As Justin says, “Mountains aren’t my natural habitat.  I’m more of a forest and lakes type person.”  Me too, honey, me too.  But I do like the mountains when I catch glimpses of them looking so pretty.

And here’s Justin’s lunch from Wednesday!  It includes a small tub of hummus, celery sticks, cucumber rounds, apple/peanut butter sandwiches, and a mix of peanuts and “m&m’s” (actually Sun Drops, the natural equivalent without any strange food dyes).  Let’s pretend the plastic bag of corn chips isn’t there (the plastic, not the chips).  I’m on the hunt for a lightweight, non-plastic alternative.  The actual lunchbox in this photo is made of corn!  How, I have no idea.  Is it safer than plastic?  Again, no idea… probably somewhat safer, at least.

I’m a big fan of peanut butter for its protein, healthy fats and oils, and antioxidant power.  And, of course, its deliciousness!  If I don’t eat some protein regularly throughout the day, I start to feel really yucky, so peanut butter is a lifesaver for me.  Justin invented these apple and peanut butter sandwiches, and reports that they retain their sandwichy integrity even after a few hours in a lunchbox.


Frugal and Organic Week Two Tally

A cheap and healthy weekend lunch: Tuna and celery sticks, and a salad with chickpeas, leftover pasta and veggies

Sorry I haven’t been keeping up with my daily totals this week.  To be honest, I’m finding it difficult to keep track of how much everything costs and how much of it I use. Rather than trying to calculate the value of leftover food from the week before, I might just say to heck with it and present the weekly total as is.  Some weeks will be higher, then, and some lower.  On Saturday’s trip to Sunflower, for example, I bought a lot of weekly staples, so 90% of that $24 really should be in the coming week’s tally.

Anywho, here are the fascinating details:

Sunday, March 25 – Saturday, March 31

Sunday (Sprouts):  $34.30

Supplies for the week, including almond milk, romano cheese, yogurt, tea, two boxes of granola bars, organic ground beef, and tons of produce

Monday (King Soopers):  $5, Eating out at Chipotle, $14

Tuesday (Whole Foods): $5.41, Total including anniversary gift:  $11.83

Wednesday (Whole Foods):  $10.30

Thursday:  Where art thou, Thursday receipt?  According to my bank log I spent $15.22 at Vitamin Cottage, which included a $3 stain remover.  We’ll call it $12.22.

Friday:  Online banking says $15.70 at Whole Foods, though I can’t remember for the life of me what I bought!

Saturday (Sunflower):  $24.23

  • I bought a lot of stuff for the coming week, including corn tortillas, olive oil, trail mix for snacks for the week, garlic, organic chard, bananas, hummus mix, etc.

Adding all that up, we get $107.16, and $20 more if you count the anniversary gift and eating out. I had about $20 worth of food from the week before to use up, and then I bought a lot of stuff last week that I’m going to use for this week and…. ahh!  If we just call it even and say the leftovers used for the week are about the same as the stuff bought last week to use for this week, then the total of $107.16 equals $15.30 per day.  YIKES!  I admit that I wasn’t so serious about budgeting this week, and I bought a lot of packaged foods like granola bars and waffles.  My true but lame reason is it was so hot (80’s) and our sunny apartment was so muggy that I didn’t want to heat the place up cooking, hence packaged foods.  Oh well, it’s only week 2!  Better luck next time.


Frugal Fatigue Caused by “Extreme Budgeting”

Hi everyone!  I hope you are all having a great week. It’s finally Friday – woo hoo!  I wasn’t fully appreciating weekends until I started working 40 hours a week.

Budgeting has been going pretty well this week.  I read an interesting article about “frugal fatigue,” which apparently is a thing!  Frugal fatigue involves the realization that budgeting/frugality is a never-ending process that involves constant effort, and the feelings of discouragement and tiredness that follow.  Whew.  I feel fatigued just thinking about it!  Seriously though, budgeting for one week is a fun challenge, but thinking ahead to budgeting every week for as far as the eye can see (mixed metaphors aside) – it can feel very stressful.  I start to feel funny when I wake up in the morning and the first thing I think about is what I’m going to cook for dinner, and how much it’s going to cost.  I wonder if my brain will eventually chill out once I have some budgeting techniques down.  The article points out that in the end it’s all a matter of attitude – if you think of budgeting as a necessary but stressful endeavor, it’s going to be really hard to keep going, but if you see it as a fun and do-able challenge, you have a better chance of succeeding.  It’s a great article – if you have time, I really suggest you take a look.

One of my top problems with frugal fatigue is buying processed foods.  When you’re tired of budgeting and cooking from scratch, those granola bars and crackers look pretty appetizing.

Hence my trip to the Vitamin Cottage on Thursday – note that the Vitamin Cottage sells ONLY organic produce!

“Dollar bag” of shiitake mushrooms:  $1

Apples (2):  $1.19 (How the heck are TWO apples $1.19?  Geez!)

Ginger root @ $5.29/lb:  $0.53

Two boxes of GF waffles (DUN DUN DUN):  $4

Plain yogurt:  $0.59 (This yogurt is for dip… I would buy a big container but I’m not 100% sold on yogurt dip yet)

Half and half:  $1.49

Dozen eggs:  $2.45

Thursday total:  $12.03

Wednesday receipt is around here somewhere – coming soon!

Weekly total – groceries only:  $56.64  (Probably more like $60-something, with Wednesday.  Don’t think I’m going to make $70 this week either 😦

Weekly total – groceries + eating out + gift:  $77.06

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To be honest, I have no idea how to calculate what I’ve spent this week when you add in all the stuff I used from last week… hmm! I’ll have to think about that one, and hope to avoid a relapse of frugal fatigue! Or would that be basic math fatigue?  🙂

Dinner on Thursday:  Big salad with lots of veggies, hard boiled eggs and bacon.  Dinner, part deux:  Waffles!


Frugal and Organic, Week Two!

When I was at Sprouts on Sunday, I picked up two more boxes of  almond milk.  While I was waffling between Original and Unsweetened, I noticed a very harassed-looking man picking up every non-dairy beverage container and looking at the nutrition facts.

“I didn’t know some of these had so much sugar!” he told me.  “This oat milk has 19 grams of sugar per serving!”

“Wow, that’s a lot,” I agreed.  I checked the almond milk.  7 grams.

“Well, anything’s better than dairy, right?” he said.

“Absolutely!” I replied, trying to hide my huge container of grated cheese under some lettuce.

I’ve gone back and forth on dairy, but I always conclude that my life is much better – more delicious, that is – with cheese in it.  Justin and I have pretty much eliminated “regular” milk (on his prompting!), but I was never one to drink a lot of milk anyway.  Now that I’m gluten-free I’ve stopped eating four bowls of cereal and milk per day.  I’m not sure what to make of the added sugar of non-dairy milks, though – Horizon organic whole milk has 12g of sugar per cup, too, but it’s naturally occuring rather than added.  There is unsweetened almond milk, but it wins the award for Most Bland Drink Ever.

Anyway!  I had a good run at Sprouts on Sunday, only spending $35!  For that I got:

Dairy/Non-dairy

  • 2 quarts almond milk:  $4 (used a coupon, heck yeah!)
  • 2 Wallaby organic yogurt @ .89 each:  $1.78
  • Grated romano cheese @ $5.99/lb:  $2.94

Grocery

  • Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice Tea ($1 coupon):  $1.46
  • 2 boxes Nature’s Path granola bars ($1 coupon):  $4.58
  • Multigrain GF pasta:  $2

Meat

  • Organic ground beef @ $4.99/lb:  $4.04

Produce:

  • *One pineapple:  $1.50
  • *Head of garlic:  $0.50
  • *Green pepper:  $0.59
  • *(Adorable) Italian eggplant:  $1
  • 4 organic apples @ $0.99/lb:  $1.29
  • Bag organic carrots, 1lb:  $1
  • Organic parsley bunch:  $1.29
  • Organic red-leaf lettuce:  $1
  • *Red bell pepper:  $0.33

*This produce is not organic, but I wish it was 😦  Why are organic peppers so pricey, and regular ones so cheap?  I have a feeling I’m going to find out it’s because the conventional ones are loaded with pesticides making them cheap to grow, and the organic ones aren’t…

Sprouts total:  $34.30

That leaves me $35 left to spend for the week, so $5 a day.  Yesterday I stopped at King Soopers and picked up a Greek yogurt (for dip!), a bag of Terra chips (a treat – with coupon!), and a lemon for just under $5.  The wind knocked our power out last night around dinnertime, so we got takeout Mexican!  Yum!  That was $14, but we paid for it with Justin’s tutoring cash so it “doesn’t count.”  I’ll add it to the total at the end, just so see what we really spent on food for the week.

Weekly grocery total so far:  about $40

Dinners so far:

Sunday:  Pasta with meat sauce, zucchini and cheese

Monday:  Takeout tacos

Tuesday:  Cheese and avocado omelettes, zucchini and a green salad


“Budget meals” according to Delicious Living

I was just at the Vitamin Cottage during my lunch break, and I had two things on my mind.  The first was how much I adore the Vitamin Cottage.  I seriously love it there.  Something I really appreciate is their “dollar bag” shelf in the produce section – today I got four pounds of organic Roma tomatoes for $2!  My second thought as I wandered around the store in a Vitamin Cottage-induced euphoria was:  I better stop coming here so much or they’re going to think I’m really weird!

On my way out I grabbed a copy of Delicious Living, which is a free magazine published by New Hope Natural Media.  I have tried to get a job writing for New Hope a bunch of times, but so far, no dice.  I really like their magazine, and I especially like that it’s free!  One of the articles in the March issue is titled “Less Money, Healthy Dinners.”  Sounds great, right?  Except each of the budget dinners listed cost – get ready – $4 or $5 per serving.  Per serving!  If I spent $5 per serving for dinner ever night, our weekly DINNER cost would be $70, which is what I’m trying to spend on ALL meals for the entire week.  Imagine you’re a family of four, you’d be spending $20 per dinner on a “budget meal.”  How did they come up with such expensive meals?  Most of them include fish or chicken – and I’m guessing organic fish and chicken, which can be pretty pricey.  Even the lentil stew was $4/serving though, so I’m still trying to figure out how that works.  If they mean $4 per meal, well, that’s different – but I’m pretty sure they don’t, what with all the per serving wording going on.

I’m sorry, Delicious Living, but $5 per serving is not a budget meal.  It disappoints me to see an article about saving money be so off the mark… and in my beloved free Delicious Living, too!  O, the irony!  “Forget the myths that healthy eating costs too much and takes too long,” the article says.  “If you’re willing to get into the kitchen, you can make quick, inexpensive, nutritious meals every night of the week.”  Yes – you can!  But no, not the kind of “inexpensive” meals you’re talking about.

Gah.  It just makes me wonder when I will have enough disposable income that $5 per person per meal will not seem outrageous.  With my frugal Yankee background, though, I think I may always be pinching pennies no matter what my income is!


Bring on the beans and rice!

It was unseasonably warm in Boulder last week, but the wind and rain we’re having today will bring cooler temperatures for the beginning of this week – 50s and 60s rather than 70s.  I’m glad, because I can finally turn the oven back on for long periods and cook large batches of pinto beans and brown rice (separately) and a whole chicken.  Not to mention that 75 degrees in March is just weird.

This is The Week.

As if my own blog wanted to make a liar of me, I actually got fed up with grocery shopping!  Well, not with grocery shopping per se, but with never having any food in the house.  I don’t see how I can pick up food every single day and still have nothing around I can grab and eat.  At this point I’m fine with having the same thing over and over, as long as it’s there, you know? We’ll see how quickly Justin and I are ordering a (gluten free) pizza out of culinary boredom, but until then I have:

1.49 lb of pinto beans at $1.29/lb:  $1.92

1.82 lb of short grain brown rice at $0.99/lb:  $1.80

2.46 lb of green cabbage at $0.25/lb:  $0.62 (slaw!  yay!)

A whole chicken (antibiotic/hormone free, but not organic), 3lb at $1.99/lb:  $6

Dozen eggs:  $2.65

Red lentils, about half a pound at $1.99/lb (can’t find receipt):  $1

I also have two quarts of almondmilk, frozen waffles (for Justin), brown sugar, butter, cheese, hummus mix, corn tortillas and some corn chips, and a bunch of other fruits and vegetables.  I also have a pound of Laura’s Lean Beef in the fridge from last week. All in all, this cost $57, which includes a $7 jar of coconut oil.  That’s more for my skin than for cooking, so I’m not sure if I should include it in the $57.

I could absolutely, certainly, definitely live on this amount of food for a week. The only question is… will I?  I mean, where’s all the good stuff?  Included in the total above was $1.20 for 0.4 lb of toffee peanuts I bought during a low blood sugar moment at Sprouts.  After demolishing them in 10 minutes, I realized that they cost almost as much as a pound and a half of dry pinto beans.  Justin came up with an analogy:  “Low price, low flavor, and high price, high flavor.”  That’s pretty perceptive for someone who doesn’t cook, don’t you think?   I see it slightly differently, since beans and rice aren’t necessarily low in flavor when they are prepared – so for me, it’s “low price, high preparation, and high price, low preparation.”

It’s the low price that really speaks to me, and to other bloggers who are challenging themselves to live well on less.  During her Food Stamp Challenge, Rebecca from Rebecca’s Pocket said:

“The USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan (from which food stamp allotments are derived) is spartan enough, but the most recent figures provide an adult male between the ages of 20 and 50 years of age with $35.40 a week for food—part of which will be provided by food stamps, and part by the individual, depending on their income.”

That was in 2009, and as you can see if you click here, the USDA now expects an adult male to be able to eat for a week for $41.80. That means my goal of $70 per week for two would be considered low by the USDA, but I still want to see if $70/week is reasonable.  Not just possible-with-a-crazy-amount-of-effort, but reasonable.

*Another thought about the analogy – in the “low price” category you also usually find the “high nutrition” foods.  That’s something to keep in mind when faced with super-expensive organic artisan cheeses at Whole Foods.  You can buy organic cabbage for $0.70/lb, save money AND eat healthily!


What’s Your Beef?

Oh, meat!  Why are you such a conundrum?

Meat poses a a bunch of problems for me as a frugal shopper, a budding nutritionist, and an environmentalist.  Financially, meat is the most expensive part of my diet, with cheese a close second.  Nutritionally I am a big fan of the protein in meat, but I’m wary of the saturated fat and cholesterol.  I know that I eat a lot more meat than is necessary – I could substitute beans or eggs for a whole lot of the chicken, turkey, and beef that I eat.  Environmentally, growing animals is a huge drain on resources.  It’s also inhumane in so many situations.  When I see a package of chicken breasts on sale for $1.99/lb, I am torn between the cost (low – yay!) and the knowledge that the only way you can sell chicken for that price is to cram the chickens into sunless warehouses and stuff them full of unhealthy food and antibiotics.  Ugh.  Grocery stores make it so easy for us to forget the connection between the food on our plate and how that food is produced.  Sterile-looking styrofoam plates encased in plastic?  I can’t think of any way to make a chicken breast look less like it came from an actual chicken than that. 

So, when organic meat goes on sale, I get really excited!  Ground beef from Laura’s Lean Beef is on sale here this week.   Laura’s beef is “natural” because the cows are given no antibiotics or hormones, and they are fed a vegetarian diet.  Laura’s website says that the animals are treated humanely.  There’s no way to verify this, of course, and Laura’s beef is unfortunately not organic.  In my book it’s better than the average grocery store meat, but not as good as organic meat.  Two stars out of three. 

One of my very favorite websites is My Plastic Free Life, written by Bay-area blogger and author Beth Terry.  In 2007, Beth decided she was done with plastic – and she really did stop!  Her website and new book chronicle her journey from a plastic-filled life to plastic-free one.  When I first read her blog, I got really inspired to reduce the amount of plastic in my life, too.  I started small, bringing empty glass jars and cloth bags to the grocery store and storing food in my fridge in ceramic or glass containers.  It was going great!  It is VERY hard to eliminate plastic altogether (heck, my shower is pretty much one big hunk of plastic!), but I was just trying to get one simple step down before trying another.  And then… the meat.  How to store meat safely in the fridge and freezer?

Meat is is a tricky category in all kitchens because we are all really uptight about the possibility of getting infected with E. coli or salmonella.  As a result, I think Americans tend to err on the side of caution by storing meat in sealable plastic bags and by washing down countertops with germ-killing solutions like diluted bleach.  I am totally on board with these precautions, because food-borne illnesses are really serious.  Add to that the recent deaths caused by Colorado canaloupes contaminated by listeria, as well as the frequent reports of contaminated beef, spinach, and more – well, it’s pretty easy to become paranoid.  I certainly am!  But I am still interested in a better way to store foods that doesn’t involve toxic plastic. For the record, I still use plastic, and I just bought some plastic storage containers the other day.  In theory, though, I am opposed to plastic.  In theory!  That counts for something… right?

I felt a little better about my plastic use after seeing a picture of Beth’s freezer early on in her plastic-free days.  She had given up plastic bags, but she was still using old plastic cottage cheese containers to store foods.  Her answer to storing foods in the freezer without plastic?

Stainless steel containers.  Stainless steel is safer than plastic because it doesn’t leach chemicals, and more convenient than glass because it’s pretty much unbreakable. You can buy stainless-steel  containers in all shapes and sizes, which is great.  They’re very expensive, though – $17.99 for a six inch round container?? – which is not so great.  In the long run it will obviously save you money because you won’t be buying plastic bags month after month.  For investment-averse people, however, it will be nerve wracking to shell out a bunch of money for expensive stainless steel.

How about you?  Do you have qualms about using plastic for storage? Do you have feelings about organic vs. non-organic meat?  Is there a tipping point, price-wise, where you’ll go for organic rather than conventional?