Friday, November 15, 2013

100 Days of Real Food--Day 25: My Budgeting Technique

I started talking last week about eating real food on a budget.  In the first post, I talked about finding somewhere local which for whatever reason has real/clean food for a better price--Asian or other "ethnic" supermarkets, bulk stores, etc.

This time, I thought I'd show you in detail how I go about saving money on purchases, and also optimizing the food I have.

I usually make half of recipes, unless it's something that can't easily be halved (like bread for instance), because I don't really want to have 6-8 servings that I have to eat in a few days.  So I also often have unused portions of things like diced or crushed tomatoes, since unfortunately, the only size cans they seem to come in is large!

In the past, before I started this 100 Days of Real Food, I would probably have forgotten all about the part can of diced tomatoes in my fridge, until at some future time I decided to clean out the fridge and saw it among all the other things I forgot about.

How much food and money have I thrown away in all these years?  I have no idea, though I hear that the average person wastes 40% of what they buy, and that doesn't even include the food wasted before it even gets to our kitchens.  Isn't that crazy?!  Check out this article by David Suzuki, "How to End Food Waste".  Also click here for 5 ways to end food waste.

Fresh things still to use:

Container egg whites (1/2)
Kale I'm going to make kale chips out of this today or tomorrow
Romaine hearts (almost 3)
Tortillas (8/10) will use 1 1/2 tortillas with lunch, so 6 1/2 left
Chicken broth (1/2 tetra pack)
Herbs--dill, parsley, cilantro, chives
Butternut squash (1/2) will use half of this with lunch, so 1/4 left
Spaghetti squash (1 small)
Acorn squash (1)
Tempeh (2 packs)
Carnation 2% condensed milk (1/2 can)
Sugar snap peas (about 10)
Mushrooms (most of a pack)
Zucchini (2 baby)
Red bell pepper (3/4)
Carrots (most of bag)
Onions (2)
Greek yogurt (1/2)
Apples (4 small)

Stuff still in the freezer:

Bananas (3)
Fruit (blueberry, strawberry)
Shrimp (1 1/2 bags) will use 1/4 bag with lunch
Whole wheat pizza crusts (5 single thin-crust balls)
Beef, strips (about 1 lb)

So obviously I need to use the fresh stuff first, and of that the stuff that will go bad first...first!

I have today and Monday off (needed some down time!) so I'm able to actually make my lunch when I intend to eat it!

Oh wait, here's what I made for breakfast:

It's a whole-grain waffle with frozen blueberries and a drizzle of honey. :)

Anyway, for lunch I'm making pumpkin shrimp roti.  It's not authentic because I use tortillas (or pita if I have that) instead of real roti, but the pumpkin/shrimp mixture is pretty authentic.

Other than the AMAZING flavour, the best thing about it is it's the easiest thing in the world to make!  You can find the recipe here.

Pause to eat my lunch...

Back to budgeting and using up food!

I see that I have carnation milk, chicken broth, and mushrooms.  At first I thought I'd make fettuccine Alfredo again, but now I think I may make chicken pot pie!  I love pot pies, but I've never made one before.  Sounds like fun!

I found this recipe, which also uses some of the ingredients I already have: yogurt, parsley, eggs, carrots, 2% milk (carnation), and onions!  I can half the filling recipe, but I'm not going to mess with the crust.  What I'll do is freeze half of the crust recipe!!

Pause to do some

Tomorrow, I'm going to make the temeh gyro recipe from that I've been meaning to try
for the past couple of weeks.  Every time I go to make it, I'm reminded that I have to marinate the tempeh strips for at least 4 hours, or even overnight.  DOH!  So THIS AFTERNOON (aka just now) I sliced the tempeh and it's marinating in the fridge.  Look at me go!  Preparation is key!

With the frozen bananas I think I'll make banana muffins (yum, and I use honey instead of sugar!), as it's always a good idea to have tasty snacks around.

What else is on tap for next week?  Don't stay tuned!

Recipe: Authentic (Ish) Pumpkin Roti

This recipe is really tasty, not at all expensive, and easy to boot!

Authentic (Ish) Pumpkin Roti

For a hearty single serving or 2 smaller servings you will need:

About 2 cups of some kind of winter squash (I like butternut, but pumpkin is good too)
About 1 small white or yellow onion, diced
10 large frozen shrimp, thawed and diced
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
Teensy bit of sambal oelek (traditionally use small very hot pepper)
Sea salt to taste (just a dash unless you want to use more)
Spritz of oil
Black pepper (just a wee bit) optional
Roti, whole-grain tortilla or whole-gain pita (about 1.5 or so)

In a medium pot over medium heat, heat healthy oil of your choice (olive, coconut or safflower--I
used safflower this time) and throw in onions, garlic, sambal oelek, salt and pepper.  Saute quickly and then lower temperature to low, and cover.  Allow the onions to "sweat", stirring occasionally, until they're turning a little translucent.  Don't allow them to brown.

Cooked onions + squash

When the onions are finished, raise the temp to medium-low (depending on your oven) and add the winter squash cubes, and cover again.  Stir every 5 minutes or so, helping the cubes along as they break down.  When the squash is nearly cooked, add the shrimp, and fold it into the squash.  Cover and cook for about another 5 minutes, or until all the shrimp have turned white and pink.  If there's any grey, or if they appear translucent at all, they're not quite cooked.  

Shrimp added - still raw
When it's finished, place it into a bowl.  Using small pieces of bread, scoop the mixture with your hands, and eat!  You can use a spoon to put it on the pieces if you like, but it's more fun the other way. :)

What's left after I finished eating - forgot to take a before pic! lol

This recipe re-heats really well, just be sure not to over-heat it, so that the shrimp don't overcook and get tough.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

100 Days of Real Food--Day 22

Yesterday marked the three week point for this 100 Days of Real Food!  It also means that I'm nearly at the 1/4 mark!  WOW!  It went so quickly--from this perspective anyway. :)

I've spent the first few weeks of this time settling into the idea of eating only real food, which has been a great idea.  It was nice to ease into the idea (though no easing into the food!) because in this world, it's sometimes difficult to stay away from processed foods etc simply because it's everywhere.  If I'd started with the, "I can't haves" I think I would have dived into a vat of chocolate mint iced cream and never come up for air!  But allowing myself to feel the things I was feeling, whether joy, contentedness or resentment, and knowing that it was all OK, that it was all completely normal and it was all a good thing, really helped me to stick to it.

This past weekend I was thinking about what I wanted for my life, and specifically what I wanted for the food part of my life, moving forward.  As you may know if you've read any of my other posts, I'd like to ultimately lead a plant-based life.  One of the things I want to accomplish during these 100 days is to transition from where I am now, to eating mostly (but not all!) plants.

So, in this post, I'd like to share my thoughts on it, and clarify a few misconceptions people seem to have about it.

"Plant-based" is becoming a bit of a buzz-word recently, and with good reason.  There are so many benefits to eating mostly plants, and scientists and health-care professionals are doing a lot of studies on the subject, and coming to a unanimous conclusion that HEY!  They're not only good for you, they're REALLY good for you!!

There are some people who think that being 'plant-based' means having to be vegetarian, or even vegan.  That's OK, they can definitely have their opinions, but the truth is that being plant-based literally means that most of what you eat is plants of some kind--fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, chickpeas, lentils, grains, etc.

What that means specifically depends on YOU, not what someone else tells you.  If being plant-based to you, means no meat or fish, but you eat dairy and eggs, then go for it.  If being plant-based means no animal products of any kind, then go for that too!  If plant-based means you eat mostly plants, with some animal products, then great!

To ME, it means eating mostly plants.  It means a little bit of meat, though not a lot, and making sure that the meat I do eat is of good quality.  It means also eating some dairy in various forms, though rarely the "low fat" or "fat-free" kind, because it's hard to find those which are not full of chemicals.  They're out there, but they're rare!

To me being clean and plant-based, also means limiting processed foods.  Having them occasionally if I feel like it, but not part of my regular life.  So if I want a chai tea latte one day, and I'm not 100% sure what's in it (though it probably has processed sugar), that's OK, because it's not part of my normal daily eating.

While most everyone was brought up hearing "eat your veggies!", we never knew WHY, and for that matter, what was being served up wasn't really saying "EAT ME!" was it?  The bane of my existence were things like canned green peas.  DIS.  GUS.  TING!!!  Smooshy and grey/brown?!  EEEEEEW.

Because of things like canned pea-shaped THINGS, I grew up thinking that I hated peas.  Loathed
them!  But you know what?  Then I tried fresh peas.  Like I picked it off the vine at a farm, opened the pod, and ate one.  They're sweet!  They're crunchy!  They're chewy!  They're DELISH!

Turns out a lot of the things I heartily disliked as a child were because of the poor quality of the food I was eating.  I thought I didn't like cheese--turns out it was processed cheese slices I didn't like.  I thought I didn't like carrots--but I didn't like the over-cooked zombie carrots!

Anyway, long story short, turns out I actually like the majority of fruits and vegetables.  Loathe raw tomatoes with the passion of 1,000 hells, but other than that I'm pretty good.  Well not a fan of green lima beans either, but I haven't eaten them since I was a kid, so who knows, maybe I would like them now.

I didn't come to enjoy them until I learned how to cook them properly.  That's the key.  Over-boiled vegetables and super boring salads just aren't good to anyone are they?

So anyway, that's what I'm up to at this point.  I'm going to increase my plant intake slowly over the next couple of months.  I don't know what my percentage of plants vs not plants will be, but you know what?  It really doesn't matter.  What matters is that I'll be plant-based by the end of January.  And my body will LOVE me for it!

I found this great food pyramid today, which explains what I want my diet to look like by the end of January (or at the very least am very much on the way to achieving).  I love infographic don't you?  I won't be sticking to any percentages, as I mentioned, so the numbers you see won't apply, but the rest gives you a good idea. :)  Lots of veggies on the bottom, followed by lots of fruits.  Then things like beans, seeds, nuts and other healthy fats.  Then any animal products I may eat, then anything else, but only rarely.

(image belongs to Joel Fuhrman, MD)

Also for your enjoyment, here is a great video that explains the whys about eating a plant-based diet.  I liked it so I thought I'd share!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

100 Days of Real Food--Day 20

Good morning!

Life has been a little crazy lately, which is why I couldn't find time to do a proper post, so I waited until today.  Just because it's been nutzo, doesn't mean that I haven't been eating whole foods though!

I've taken pics of some of the things that I've eaten over the past week or so, and I'll post them near the end of this blog.  I also have a recipe or two to share, so that will be later in this blog too!

What I want to chat about first, though, is how things have changed in the past 20 days, and some of the realizations I've come to in the past few days.

* I used to waste a lot of food and money.

I had my budget, which was $80/wk (CAD), the same as it is now for this 100 Days of Real Food.  But I would often "pick something up" or "get a snack" which 90% of the time was NOT a healthy real-food choice.  For the times that those "pick-ups" replaced a meal, that meal worth of food that I'd already purchased went to waste. So not only was I spending more than the $80 I budgeted for food, on things I ate (aka junk), I wasted the food I'd already bought, so not only was that a waste of food (which is a crime), I was wasting the money I'd already spent.  All the good, fresh food would go bad and contribute to the thriving ecosystem in the back of my fridge.

I came to this realization when I saw how much money was left in my bank account at the end of the first week.  Because I'm also not eating out as much (not too many places offer decent meals which are in-line with this plan), I'm suddenly finding myself with more mad money!

*  I rarely/never used to take into account what I had left from the previous week, when making plans for the meals I would (supposedly) make in the following week.

Aka wasting money and food again.  I like to pride myself that I'm doing things in my life to reduce the carbon footprint I have (I recently switched to organic/biodegradable personal products and household cleaners for instance), and yet there I was wasting food.

So, that's stopped! :)

This week, one of the things I'm planning to make, is fish tacos.  I'd never even heard of fish tacos until a couple of years ago when I was in Columbus Ohio and tried one of them and really liked it!  I've never seen any place here which serves them, so I decided that this week I was going to try making them.  The kind I'd had in Columbus were actually pretty healthy (as far as I knew anyway) so I knew it could be done.  I found a recipe here that I will try today.  I'll have them for either lunch or dinner today, and for lunch tomorrow.

Thing is with this recipe, it only uses about 1/4 of a head of cabbage (I halved the recipe for only 2 servings).  What the heck am I supposed to do with the majority of it?!

Well, after thinking about it, because I could really only eat so much of it when it's fresh, before it went bad (there would be a lot of tooting I think!) I had an inspiration!  What about making home-made sauerkraut?!  I like sauerkraut!  I really enjoy the kind that has flavour as well as sourness.  I also know that fermented food are good for you, and that I don't really have them in my life very often.

Of course, I had no idea how to make sauerkraut!  I wanted to find a recipe online, but it had to be easy, with items and ingredients I have already, or can get really inexpensively.

What I found was this recipe.  It's from a site called The Kitchen.

It seems pretty easy.  There are only 3 ingredients:

1 medium head green cabbage (about 3 pounds)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoons caraway seeds (optional, for flavor)

I love caraway seeds, but for whatever reason I don't have any (and thought I did!) so I used Ajwain seeds instead.  Yes, I'm aware of the irony of not having caraway seeds, which are pretty common, but having Ajwain seeds, which I had bought because I'd never used them before...  I hope the sauerkraut tastes OK!  The flavour of the Ajwain seeds are different than caraway, but I thought they may work anyway.

For full recipe instructions, click here: The Kitchen--Sauerkraut Recipe.

I only made it about 2 hours ago, and it is around a week away from being ready to eat, but here is a pic of what I've done so far:

If you go to the site, you will see that the writer recommends using a cleaned stone in a jam jar to hold down the cabbage.  I don't have any rocks just hangin' around my apartment, so I used what I had on hand--some dry chickpeas!!  Hey man, gotta use what you've got, right?

They're in a jar, so I'm hopeful I can still use the chickpeas when the kraut is finished krauting.  

One of the things I made in the past week or so is home-made pizza crusts.  I cut the dough ball into 8 equal pieces, which are the right size for a single-sized thin crust pizza.  You can find the recipe I used here.  It's a REALLY easy recipe.  It takes some time, but the hands-on bit is really quite short.  And the dough balls freeze really well too!

As toppings, I used crushed, no-salt-added tomatoes, and added dried herbs.  The cheese is organic mozzarella, and I threw on some veggies.

The great thing about this crust, is that you can add the toppings right on the raw dough, and bake the lot on about 400F, for about 15 minutes, depending on your oven.  How easy can you get?

In the last week or so, I've also discovered a fool-proof way to make delicious oven fries, CRISPY delicious oven fries!!  OMG I LOVE fries, and was worried that I'd have a really hard time staying away from either the deep-fried kind, or the oven kind you can buy at the supermarket (which are so NOT a healthy alternative!!).  So, instead of fighting the fry cravings for the next couple of months, I decided to research and experiment.  

Here's the recipe.  The fries in the pic are of seasoned ones, but the recipe works just as well for naked fries.

Real Food Oven Fries

Pre-heat oven to 400F (adjust to your oven).

Slice whole potatoes into fry/wedges.  Be sure they're close to the same size (even if it can't be the same shape without waste) so they finish cooking at the same time.  

Place tin foil on a baking sheet, and place a cooling rack on top of that.  The cooling rack is key to the recipe--that's why the fries are crispy!

Place raw fries on the cooling rack, being sure to leave enough room that the fries don't touch.
With a pastry brush (you can find cheap ones, I got mine at the dollar store!) brush each fry with some oil.  I like coconut oil, but you can use any real oil, as long as it can handle the heat.

Place tray in the oven.  The fries should take about 45 minutes to cook, but it will depend on how large you make the pieces.  Smaller pieces will take much less time than wedges for example.
Set your timer for 15 minutes.  When the timer goes off, rotate each fry so that another side is facing down, and brush on some more oil.  Don't worry, much of the oil will drip off (that's why there's tinfoil!).  Place back in the oven.

Set your timer again for 15 minutes, and repeat the above, in 15-minute increments, until your fries are done.  **Note if you are making skinny fries, your timer minutes will be less, so please adjust accordingly**

When the fries are finished cooking, dab them with paper towel if you wish (I did because I don't like greasy fries) and enjoy!

Last Tuesday was the first of three Tuesdays where local food trucks were coming to my work.  Normally I'd be all over it, but I was resigned to the fact that there wouldn't be anything I would be willing to eat during this 100 days.  I looked into the trucks just in case, and found that one of the trucks, a Mexican-fusion truck, had a couple of things which would be a good choice, with one small change--I would bring whole wheat wraps, and replace the white wrap in a dish, if everything else is OK.

I had this really cool fusion chicken burrito, which I unwrapped, and then re-wrapped in my whole wheat wrap.  I don't have a pic, since I scarfed it down before it occurred to be to take a pic! LOL

One of the other trucks was a British bakery truck with cupcakes and fruit pies, and that was kind of tough to stay away from, but I just got my food, and went back to my office.  Enjoy what I do have, instead of dwelling on any choices that I choose not to indulge in right now, right?

Today is the last day of the 2nd 10-day phase of the 100 Days of Real Food, and things are going pretty darned well.  Yes, there have been challenges, and occasionally I've had to leave the room of something that's calling my name, but in the end it's been worth the effort so far.  The things I like that aren't good for me, honestly I was eating way too many of them.  At the end of this 100 days it's not like I'm never going to have anything unhealthy again, but it won't be like it was.  It will be occasionally, not every day or every other day.

20 days down!  Still going strong!  And pretty proud of myself so far!!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Saving Money While Eating Real Food

I wanted to write a quick post to tell you about some of the ways I've been saving money during this 100 Days of Real Food, other than the farmer's market, which is a no-brainer if you live in an area that has one:

1)  The Asian/International Supermarket!

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine went mostly vegan, and said she wished there was a farmer's market where she lived, because she was finding it expensive to shop where she'd always shopped.  I suggested that she take the time to look around at other grocery options, and also to check out her local Asian/Indian/International supermarket.  She was skeptical at first, after all, do people who aren't from those regions shop there?  I said you bet, if they want to save money, AND want to try new ingredients and flavours they may have never tried before!

So she went, and it's become a part of her regular grocery shopping since!

At my local Asian supermarket, the produce section isn't as big as this one below, but it's still got a decent amount of food:

In my area, the comparable prices I've see include:

*  Fresh young coconut for $1.29 (can be as much as $3 at the regular supermarket)
*  Fresh shiitake mushrooms (the expensive kind) an entire large pack for $3 (I don't even think I have seen super-healthy fresh shiitake mushrooms at the regular supermarket, but if they were they'd be SO expensive!)
*  Things like a pack of 4 lovely little Asian pears for about $2, a pack of 5 heads of garlic for about $1.29, lots of fresh herbs you simply don't find in regular supermarkets.

There are also many frozen fruits, like the ones below, which if you look at the ingredients list, contain only the fruit.

Those are the 2 things I currently have in my freezer from my local Asian supermarket.  Both were less than $2.  Coconut is usually quite expensive at my local supermarket, and jackfruit isn't available at all!  Jackfruit smells weird, but tastes amazing!  Kind of like if a coconut a mango had a love child. :)

The Asian supermarket is also an excellent place to get soy products like tofu.  Not only are they ofextremely restricted in China?  99% of soy produced in North America is GMO.  If you eat soy ANYTHING, you need to shop at an Asian supermarket!
better quality than the ones usually sold in regular supermarkets, but did you know that GMO's are

Another way to save money, especially during the winter, is to buy bags of frozen fruit.  The fruit is frozen when it's at its peak of freshness, and as long as you read the ingredients list (as you should always do) and make sure that the only thing in there is fruit, then it's real.  I tend to steer toward the local stuff in the summer, but I live in a part of the world where it's cold in the winter, and nothing is local, so the frozen stuff is actually a better choice not only because it's a good price, but because it's more nutritious.  Think about it--what would be more full of nutrients, berries picked ripe and frozen in just a few days, or berries picked before they're ripe, which ripens artificially on a truck (no new nutrients from the parent plant) and is sold to you as "fresh"?  Have you even had strawberries which LOOK good, but taste like water?  That's artificially-ripened fruit.  BLECH.

It may seem like a lot of trouble to go somewhere new, maybe even a little scary, but definitely check it out.  I do most of my grocery shopping for the week on Saturdays, and I take the bus, so if I do it, so can you!  Buy a grocery cart and get going!

Friday, November 1, 2013

100 Days of Real Food--Day 12

At the beginning of this journey, I said that I'd be sharing everything about these 100 Days of Real Food, and sharing both the ups, and the downs.

Today was hard.  I felt very put-upon today.  I was feeling like I'm being deprived, I was kind of angry, and feeling very sorry for myself.  It was pretty silly, but that's how I felt!

Part of the problem is that I found out that there's a fundraising initiative at work (which is great) over the month of November.  The problem (from my perspective) is that the fundraising is in the form of food trucks coming to my work on 3 Tuesdays during the month.

Now, I didn't even know there WERE food trucks here, and I love the idea, I'd love to try them...but I'm not sure I can find something suitable.  Well, actually I know that I can have a cheeseburger from one of the trucks, but I will have to bring my own bun because they only use white flour in their buns (I emailed them and asked).  The Mexican truck is out entirely (I also emailed them).  The English baker truck (baked desserts, pot pies, etc) is out completely (I didn't bother to email them--they won't have anything for sure).  There's also a Korean truck coming, which I'm hoping will have stuff I can have.  I should re-phrase that--The Korean likely will have some good choices that I can purchase and enjoy. :)

In the mood I was in today, all I could think about was what I COULDN'T have.  I didn't see that even if there wasn't ANYTHING I could have, it really wasn't the end of the world.  So what if I can't have anything right now?  Are food trucks winking out of existence?  Um, no.  Am I going to DIE if I don't get to try everything, or even anything?  Nope.  Will I feel super guilty and like a complete failure if I give in?  YOU BET!

Is it worth it?  No.  But it sure tormented me nevertheless!

Now, it's evening, and I'm feeling better about things.  This is the single best thing I've ever done for myself, and I need to remind myself of it more often I think.  I also need to dwell more on the positives of these 100 days, because quite honestly, they FAR outweigh the negatives, even just at day 12!

I know I would want to know specifics, so I'm guessing there will be at least some people reading this blog who also want specifics, so here are some benefits I'm noticing already:

1)  My "time of the month" cravings (sorry guys) are WAY easier to take.  I don't feel like a ravening monster, saliva dripping from my sharp teeth, grasping at chocolate/fried stuff/baked stuff, completely out of control.  The feeling sorry for myself today so did NOT compare to that!

2)  I also "during this time" am a lot more even-keeled emotionally.  I haven't experienced the roller-coaster ride I usually do.  There have been a few tougher moments, but again, not NEARLY as bad as usually happens.

3)  My body FEELS different.  I don't really know how to describe it, though the word "content" keeps popping in my mind when I try to think of a good descriptive word.  Can your body have emotions?  I don't know, but my body feels...content.

So day 12 down.  I think overall things are going well.  My resolve hasn't changed (well, maybe for a few minutes today!) and I'm glad I'm staying strong.  On to day 13!

Here's a video I watched today, which helped me with my little temper tantrum. :)

Money left from this week: $.30!