Friday, May 20, 2011

Grocery shopping, couponing and becoming a millionaire.

For some reason, I've stumbled onto two completely different articles in the last two days about how to become a millionaire. I like to think someone is trying to give me a sign. Hmmm. Maybe I will be millionaire some day. All I need to do is follow the steps. Which, according to one article, means socking away something crazy like $2,400 a month. Riiiiight.

At any rate, about once every six months, something triggers me to re-examine my budget, bills, spending, etc, to see if I can come up with any more spending money. I love spending money. This is why I'll actually probably never be a millionaire.

Anyway, these millionaire aspirations of mine, combined with TLC's new show Extreme Couponing, have got me thinking about grocery shopping. Oh, by the way... I. LOVE. THAT. SHOW.

Here's a secret: I love grocery shopping.

There. I said it. I really do. It's like a game. Try to get out of the store with the most stuff for the least amount of money. That,  and the fact that I just I love food. I love shopping for it, and I especially love eating it. I know exactly how those people feel when they say they get a rush from grocery shopping with coupons. I do, too. Although, my couponing habit is no where near Extreme Couponing.

One thing that struck me about the show (and I have noticed over the past couple years) is that generally, coupons are for processed foods. There is rarely a coupon for fresh produce. But there are a blue million coupons out there for Gogurt. (Yuck. Who eats that stuff, anyway???) And, on the show, I noticed one lady had A WHOLE GROCERY CART OF TEXAS TOAST. She was getting it all free or something crazy like that, but I can count on one hand the times I've eaten Texas Toast in the past two years.

The point is, it's so easy for me to get caught up in couponing and the promos at the grocery store. And, I get discouraged when only have $20 worth of coupons for a $100 grocery order, especially when I see these people on tv get $800 worth of groceries for $4 or something. And one lady paid off her house and bought a new Jeep with money she saved on groceries with coupons. Those are the things that really get my attention.

Is couponing the path to prosperity?

If it is, and it's paved with processed food, I'm not sure it's worth it.

I thought I'd snap a picture of my grocery cart the last time I went shopping.

I'm not proud of the pepperoni (for pasta salad for a cookout I'm going to) or the frozen pizza (I fell victim to a store promo--buy 10 selected items get $5 off), but the 4 bags of salad and produce score me points, right? I did have coupons for the bags of salad (and I can't believe I bought bagged salad when my garden is overflowing with fresh lettuce, but they were less than $1 with the coupons and on sale) but the rest of the produce? No coupons and not even on sale. But I buy it because it's healthy and I like to cook with and eat fresh food.

Even though they don't print coupons around here for fresh bananas or mushrooms, there are ways to reduce the amount of money you spend on healthy food.

First, frozen fruits and veggies are a decent alternative to fresh versions. They are about the same nutritionally. And you might actually find coupons for frozen veggies. Just make sure you're buying plain frozen veggies. Birds Eye and Green Giant have some frozen veggie products that come with sauce on them that is astoundingly high in sodium. You can make your own with a little effort that has a fraction of the sodium.

Second, buy fresh produce in season locally. Pound for pound, the fresh produce sold at the farmer's market is generlly cheaper than in the grocery store. This is a no brainer. The produce is fresher, since it hasn't been picked unripe and shipped hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles. And, you're supporting your local economy.

The third thing you can do, which probably involves the most work, is to grow your own. I've found it's ridiculously easy to grow lettuce. Seriously, you sprinkle the seeds on top of the dirt and about two weeks later, you come back and pick it. That is all. Even if you didn't have a lot of space you can grow a tomato plant in a pot on a porch easily. The next logical step is to put up what you grow (or if someone "gifts" you a pile of squash/tomatoes/peppers). Canning is easy once you get the hang of it, or if you don't have the equipment, freezing is even easier. I didn't have to buy tomatoes until a month or so ago because I was using what I canned last year. Now, I just have to try to can more next year, so I don't have to buy any at all...

So, maybe I'll never make it to being a millionaire through couponing, but I still am really proud of myself when I don't spend that much on food, AND I'm eating healthy and delicious. I just need hope for a winning lottery ticket, I guess.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Cinco de Mayo for 800 calories. For real.

So, yesterday was Cinco de Mayo. I love Cinco de Mayo. Actually, I love any occassion that celebrates the customes (read: FOOD) of a particular culture. I make Irish stew on St. Patrick's Day every year, for example. And tomorrow, I'm making a southern style pecan pie and mint juleps for the 137th Running of the Roses, like I do every year.

But this year on Cinco de Mayo, I am in the middle of a big-time two-week crack down on calories. Like living on 1,740 a day kinda crack down. It SUCKS. We're getting a Jones family portrait taken next weekend, and I'm not sure if it's finalized, but we might all be wearing khakis for the picture. Well, I own a pair of khakis and a khaki skirt--both of which I look like a sausage in, so hence the crack down. But that's another story.

So what's a guacamole-obsessed girl to do while staying within 1,740 calories?

Answer: Healthy Chicken Nachos

Serves 2

39 Baked Tostitos scoops (that's how many covered the pizza pan I made them on)
1/2 grilled skinless breast of chicken, shredded
1 cup canned black beans, drained
1/2 cup shredded taco cheese
4 Tb. regular sour cream
1/2 cup salsa

Spread chips on a pizza pan. Put a little chicken on each chip. Top with a little of the beans on each chip (it came out to about a half a tsp on each chip). Sprinkle cheese on top and broil about 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and cover with chopped lettuce. Serve with sour cream and salsa on the side.
495 calories per serving

Jeremy and I actually agreed that these nachos were better than the usual way I make them with refried beans and venison. They were tastier. So, if I have chicken handy, I'll definitely opt for this recipe when I make nachos from now on.

I also made quite possible the best batch of guacamole I've ever made. Here's my tried and true recipe, adapted from Tyler Florence's Eat This Book.

Better Than Store-bought Guac

5 ripe avocados
juice of 2 limes
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic (or tsp minced garlic)
1 big handful of chopped cilantro
1 tsp kosher salt

Halve and pit the avocados and scoop the flesh into a big mixing bowl. Add all other ingredients and mash together until mixed and a chunky consistency. Taste and adjust salt or lime juice as needed. If not serving immediately, place a piece of plastic wrap right onto the mixture to keep air from touching it. (avocados will brown quickly like apples do, once cut).

I've found the best thing to use to mash the ingredients together is a pastry blender. Don't have one? Try a potato masher, or a even a dinner fork.

1/2 cup of guacamole has 228 calories (it's also really high in fat, but it's healthy fat--omega 3's, just eat it in moderation) + 10 Tostitos Baked Scoops with 80 calories = 308 calories.

The guac, chips and nachos come in at 803 calories total. Not too shabby compared to standard Mexican fare with all the cheese/grease/meat. And, it was a pretty hearty-sized dinner. The hardest part is passing up the obligatory margarita... 170 calories, if you're wondering. I checked.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On eating less meat.

 A few weeks ago, I read about a the documentary, Forks Over Knives. A couple years ago, Food, Inc. rocked my world, so I was immediately curious about another food documentary.

Forks Over Knives, however, takes more of a health approach than that of an overall food policy approach. The "knives" the title are referring to are scalpels, i.e. as in heart disease and related illnesses.

Here's the trailer:

It's pretty gripping, I think. At any rate, Dr. Oz did a show about the movie last week, and had some of the folks from the movie on his show. While I didn't agree with everything they said, they do make pretty good points.

That, and the fact that I picked up from the library, Mark Bittman's new cookbook The Food Matters Cookbook, have had me thinking about how much meat I eat recently.

Please don't take this as me endorsing becoming a vegan, or even a vegetarian. It's a personal choice, and I like steak and bacon as much as the next person. But, for those interested in health and living well into old age, I think it's worth entertaining the idea of cutting back.

Afterall, it appears we have plenty of meat everyday to spare. In the introduction to Mark Bittman's cookbook, he states that Americans eat on average 200 pounds of meat each year--twice the global average.

All this, of course, is much easier said than done. Especially, in a place like rural West Virginia. And, especially in the winter, since I'm trying to eat seasonally now. There just isn't much by the way of vegetables and fruits in the winter.

The guy Dr. Oz had on his show had a some pretty restrictive eating guidelines. In addition to avoiding processed foods (duh!) and conventional meat, he said to stay away from oil (because it's also a processed food, even the cardiologists' favorite, extra virgin olive oil) and to avoid fish (because it wasn't nearly as healthy for you as we've been led to believe). Even Dr. Oz was raising his eyebrows about those two things. But both he and Bittman tout the humble bean as being the logical replacement for meat, as well as unrefined grains such as steel-cut oats and quinoa.

All this has gotten me thinking about how much meat I eat regularly, and if I could make some healthy changes without feeling too short-changed. Recently, Jeremy and I have waded into the quinoa pool and are liking it! My mom got a recipe last year for a quinoa salad that she has mastered, I think, and I've made it a couple times that hasn't turned out too bad. It's actually a seed from a grass native to South America, and is one of the only, if not the only, non-animal souce of all the essential amino acids.  I'm trying to add beans into meals more now, too. Problem is Jeremy isn't too keen on beans because they seem to mess with his gut. (In different ways than they mess with a normal persons gut...) So, it's tricky. I try to make sure they aren't the "star" of the meal, and that there are lots of other components like vegetables, grains and even meat mixed in with beans when we have them.

The good news about all this healthy scaled-back meat consumption is that it's spring and all sorts of vegetables are popping up at the farmers' markets. That will be the case for about the next 7 months, so it should help with the creativity in planning meals with either less or no meat.

Here's one of my favorite early spring vegetarian healthy meals from The Junior League of Boston's cookbook (as modified by me):

Spinach Pesto Linguini
Serves 2

4 oz. fresh spinach
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated fresh parmesean
2 cloves of garlic (or more to taste)
1 tsp dried basil
a handful of grape tomatoes, halved
4 oz. fresh pasta

Soak fresh spinach in warm water for 10 minutes. Drain well. Add spinach, parmesean, garlic and oil to a food processor and pulse until mixed and pesto consistency. Cook pasta until al dente (about 3 minutes for fresh--can substitute dried pasta). Add pesto to hot pasta with grape tomatoes. Stir well and serve immediately.

So tasty and fresh and springy. I didn't really miss meat and I felt good about eating it. It was healthy and I got the spinach from the Spanglers Greenhouse via the Monroe Farm Market. Extra credit points!

Don't worry about me getting too comfortable with going meatless. I'm planning on eating pork bbq this weekend...