Being Smart About Food

Earlier this year I figured out a way to shop for groceries every two weeks and to save money in the process. The goal was to have nutritious meals and snacks but to be more strategic about it during a No Spend Month. I’ve held onto much of what I learned because it simply works well for me.

First of all, you quickly learn which produce items last the longest. For example, apples and oranges have a longer shelf life than grapes or berries. So you use the grapes and berries during week one and save the rest for later.

Salads are best enjoyed for the first week while frozen veggies are a nice change for week two. Although, if I’m in the mood for salad, I’ve been known to cheat and stop at the store to grab a few things!

At some point I realized that all my bananas were going into smoothies so I could buy ripe bananas, dice ’em up, and freeze them to be ready when needed.

In fact, many things freeze well. I buy mushrooms for stir fry and flash freeze the extras for later. Lots of foods can be frozen for cooking and other things keep well when properly stored in the fridge far longer than most people think.

I prefer fresh foods but usually keep some plain frozen steak fries and lots of frozen veggies. I rarely buy the cook in the bag kind because they’re more costly and I never need an entire bag of frozen peas at one time. Buy a regular bag of cheap frozen peas and you can cook them as needed.

Plain and simple, you find ways to be less wasteful and to meal plan better. I made the above pictured pasta primavera using a combination of stuff from the fridge and fresh veggies that I had flash frozen last weekend. The sauce was something from a jar that I had leftover from another dish. The pasta was the end of a package I had opened a couple of weeks ago.

This ability to plan, salvage and preserve has come in handy these last few weeks. Very little is getting wasted right now. I even discovered that leaf lettuce can be frozen for smoothies!

Another thing – when I come home from the store I jot down a list of things that need to be used first and hang it on the fridge. Things tend to get shuffled around and forgotten to languish in the back.

Given how much food is wasted in this country, I would hope that people are using this uncertain time to be more careful and thoughtful about food. That’s probably a pipe dream but this seems like the perfect time to embrace the old adage- use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

I’m not advocating that anyone do without but I would like to think we could embrace using and making do.

What about you? Are you being more careful with resources? Have your attitudes about shopping and using what you have changed lately? Let’s talk!

Cinnamon Spice Granola

Since realizing how easy it is to make homemade granola, there is always some kind of tasty granola on hand in my house. Most of my concoctions use just a handful of ingredients that the typical home cook has on hand and they always come together quickly.

This weekend I found a recipe that I didn’t care for because it used a lot of oil and a ton of brown sugar but it did contain just the right combination of spices. So I stole the spice idea and improvised the rest. When I make it again, I’m going to reduce the brown sugar more. The original recipe called for five tablespoons and I opted for three but that’s still more than I want to consume.

Nonetheless, friends, it’s delicious. Want the recipe? Look no further!

Cinnamon Spice Granola

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cloves

3 Tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 agave nectar ( or honey if that’s what you have)

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup walnut pieces

Golden raisins (optional)

Mix together the first four ingredients. Then add the maple syrup and agave and mix well. Add the walnuts and oats, stirring well to coat.

Spread out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for ten minutes and remove from oven to stir. Bake another ten minutes and remove from oven. I added some golden raisins at the end and gave it another good stir.

And yes, it is as easy as it sounds.

It takes about five minutes to prepare and twenty to bake. I leave mine on the pan for a while to let it cool and become crispy.

In addition to having delicious granola to eat, your house will smell divine.

Cheese Sauce?

It’s hard to believe but it’s been about six months since a vegan friend encouraged me to try his way of eating for thirty days

This plant based journey has taught me a lot but one of the most valuable lessons is that it’s important to make the right choices for yourself in the kitchen.

Many vegan cooks manipulate ingredients in attempts to recreate familiar dishes in new, plant based and healthier ways. For example, there are scores of recipes on the internet to help you create a “cheese” sauce, ideal for nachos, mac and cheese and scores of comfort food dishes that you may remember from your past life consuming dairy.

I’ve tried a few of these imaginative recipes. Many use cashews and nutritional yeast. Some add a host of seasonings or use roasted red peppers. Nearly all create a neon orange sauce that resembles melted Velveeta. Well, resembles it in appearance at least.

In taste, perhaps not so much.

I have finally learned to cut the recipes in half so that I don’t feel as bad throwing away nearly all the completed product. After the last batch, I stood in the kitchen for a long time, contemplating whether to throw it away right then or stash the concoction in the fridge with hopes I would think of some way to salvage the two cups of mediocrity.

In other words, should I throw it away now or wait till later? This is the inner dialogue sometimes.

I’ve met plenty of people who think these recipes are great. Lots of bloggers, online reviewers and even some real life friends rave about how tasty, how authentically cheesy their favorite recipe is.

I’m happy for them but it’s not for me.

From now on, if I want mac and cheese, I’ll go to a restaurant and enjoy the real thing. It can be a treat, something to be savored and enjoyed occasionally.

For me, plant based eating should be about eating clean and eating well. There’s little more delicious than sautéed mushrooms, onions, peppers and zucchini heaped on top of a baked potato. No sauces, just some pepper and sea salt to taste. In-season blueberries are so delicious they’re hard to resist and homemade soup packed with veggies makes for a tasty dinner.

All of these things can be enjoyed in the simplest form possible. Torturing ingredients into forms they weren’t mean to take on isn’t necessary or worthwhile when you have such tasty meals and snacks at your disposal.

I’ll save my cashews for snacks and occasionally treat myself to the authentic cheesy dish.

After all, food is meant to nourish the body but I think it’s also meant to enjoy. It’s ok to take a break, especially if you’re doing it infrequently. At least, that’s the right choice for me.

Healthy Eating On The Go

Eating healthy on the go is tough. Eating healthy and plant based on the go is nearly impossible.

A lot of times I just need something to grab and go, preferably to eat in the car. These choices are deplorable. Yet, when there’s time to sit down for a meal, the choices are almost as bad.

Everything is double meat, loaded down with cheese, packed with sodium and deep fried. It’s all bread and pasta and sad little iceberg lettuce salads that are also smothered in cheese and croutons.

Yuck.

I’ve come to accept that true plant based healthy eating isn’t easy and often impossible in the outside world. A packed lunch can remedy the problem some days but isn’t always feasible.

I have figured out that Meijer is a great source for healthful food. They offer a nice selection of fresh salads and cups of cut up fruits. Some salads have meat while others like their Mediterranean, garden salad or nuts and berry salad are meat free. And yeah, it’s a lot of fruit if the salad contains fruit but it’s better than going hungry!

About $5 for a salad and $2-3 for a cup of fresh fruit and it’s more nutritious than the Impossible Whopper at BK which is the usual alternative.

The above picture shows a salad I had for dinner in Michigan last month and a container of fruit I had bought for breakfast.

When I do have the opportunity to eat in a restaurant at a table with a knife and fork like a real human, it’s fun to enjoy a treat that I normally don’t have. Pizza comes to mind. So does diner grub like grilled cheese or pancakes. I have adopted a sort of go big or go home mentality when it comes to these dining experiences – enjoy the grilled cheese and fries in the great old diner atmosphere but go back to normal eating the next meal.

It’s not a great plan but it works.

So I’m dying to know- what are your healthy eating on the go tips? Bonus points if you have vegan ideas!

Around here

It’s a three day weekend for me so today marks the halfway point rather than the end of the weekend.

I’ve accomplished some things this weekend and failed miserably at others.

Yesterday featured some cleaning projects. This was a requirement because the house was littered with cat toys and things that little Scout had knocked on the floor. Johnny Cash sang about killing a man in Reno just to watch him die. Scout knocks things over just to watch them fall.

But my work ethic didn’t last long. It was raining and cold so I ended up in a comfy chair, determined to finish this book so I could move on to some less traumatic material.

This book is graphic, emotional and compelling. The author expertly weaves the story of Emmett Till into the context of the Jim Crow south to create a narrative that’s impossible to put down and hard to stomach all at the same time.

How anyone could be so hateful, so intolerant or so so certain of their superiority over another group of humans is beyond me. And yet, it relates closely to a lot of the sentiments we hear today in this country about immigrants and still about African Americans.

Around here, I’m also doing some cooking this weekend. Today I’ll make a bean and veggie soup, pancakes for the freezer and some granola for the pantry. Yesterday I adapted an internet veggie burger recipe to meet my needs and to use up some odds and ends of leftovers in the fridge.

It was far better than store bought veggie burgers and I know exactly what went into the mix. Interested? Here’s the recipe:

Brandi’s Quick Break From Reading To Make Dinner Veggie Burger

1 can pinto or black beans (drained and well rinsed)

3 Tablespoons tomato paste or ketchup

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 Tablespoons flour (I used whole wheat but use what you have)

1/2 cup cooked vegetables – I didn’t cook mine but ran them through the food processor so they were finely chopped. Mine were onions, carrots, corn, spinach and mushrooms

Run the beans through the food processor and mix well with the other ingredients. Shape into patties and place on parchment paper. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for nine minutes on each side or until a bit crisp.

This is an extremely forgiving recipe because it’s designed to use up what you have. Don’t have tomato paste? Use ketchup or maybe some salsa! Whatever veggies you have will do. Want to add a favorite seasoning? Go for it. Can’t eat them all right now? Freeze them.

It really is easy. My apologies for having no photo to share.

Instead, I will leave you with this image. I dared to move Scout’s tent from the kitchen to make mopping the floor a little easier. Here’s the aftermath. It seems there was some kind of riot.

Here’s hoping today is a good day for us all and that I make it back to the list of things I failed miserably at today!

The Small Things

One of my No Spend Month projects is to do some organizing. This weekend, I gathered up my most commonly used dry smoothie supplies into a basket. Flax and chia seeds, unsweetened coconut, protein powder and even the measuring cup live together in this basket so that I can easily move all these ingredients from the pantry to the blender.

Since I make a smoothie for breakfast most mornings, this promises to save me some effort every day. It will also go a long way toward keeping my pre-work routine organized and peaceful. Sometimes it’s the little things that really do matter.

The Dymaxion House

How would you like to live in a cool looking round house that’s energy efficient and easy to move?

If Buckminster Fuller had his way, that’s exactly how we all would live – in his Dymaxion House. Sadly, his ideas about affordable, environmentally efficient and portable housing were ahead of his time in the thirties and forties.

That’s right, all those soldiers coming home from World War II may have ended up in communities of these shiny houses that resemble an Airstream trailer or maybe a Jetson’s house.

Instead, squares and rectangles of wood and brick won out and houses continued to balloon in size with every passing year.

Fuller was an inventor and architect who reimagined human shelter and dreamed of how mass production could revolutionize the way people live.

With space saving moves like revolving closets, a gallery kitchen complete with built-in appliances, and an easily adaptable floor plan, it sounds pretty appealing to the modern mind. It could even withstand harsh weather.

Sadly, Fuller never found financial backing for his project. A prototype was created by Beech Aircraft Corp in 1946 and was the only one ever sold. It was purchased by a fellow named William Graham who combined this house with a traditional ranch. I’m guessing it simply wasn’t big enough for his family but he liked the idea.

Graham’s family donated the house to the Henry Ford Museum in the early nineties and it’s been on display there for going on twenty years. This is a fantastic exhibit. You do have to wait in line for a few minutes on busy days because they limit the number of people allowed inside at one time. I thank them for that.

It’s a cool thing to tour and would be an amazing place to live if you don’t have many possessions. As a hoarder of books, handbags and assorted oddities, I would need to build on a ranch home as well!

Not to mention, the kitchen is way too tiny for my brand of dish hoarding and recipe experimentation.

If you go, be sure to read the posters and displays on your way in to the house and watch the short film at the end. It tells the story beautifully.

This is just one of many unusual things you’ll find at the Henry Ford. If you go, allow a day for the museum and a day for Greenfield Village. Click here to visit their website!

I’ve also written about it a few times including my experience at the Rosa Parks bus and about the planes, trains and automobiles here.