Eat from the Pantry Challenge Update

In my first Eat from the Pantry Challenge Post last week I announced our goal to spend $25 per week on groceries and use up the stores of our pantry for the majority of our meals. My biggest concern was that we might have to compromise on the quality of our produce. For both ethical and health reasons I strongly prefer to by organic fruits and vegetables. And so, I was quite pleased to find good prices on the items that I was buying and on my first two grocery runs it all worked out.

Groceries:

$17.79: 1 gallon 2% milk, apples, clementines, eggs, celery, carrots (all organic, excepting eggs)

$26.01: broccoli, bananas, red peppers, vegan cheese, eggs, bath soap for Little Boy Green (all organic)

$8.35: 6 Pack Dales Pale Ale beer for Mr. Green Me.

Total for week one and two: $52.15

At this point you may be wondering what we have been eating. Frankly, weve been eating like kings! The treasures that can be found in our freezer continue to astound me. Last Sunday we had a  most delicious meal of sauerkraut, potato dumplings and bratwurst. The entire meal was local. The sausage was from a small scale sausage maker here in town (they only produce in the summer and sell at the Farmers Market). The sauerkraut, apples, potatoes, carrots and onions all came from either Farmers Market or a CSA and were prepared and frozen by me in the fall. I cooked the meal and served it in my new cast iron skillet (thank you Santa!) and we practically licked our plates clean.

 

On Monday night we had a vegetarian pasta dish with a side of roasted acorn squash and sauteed mushrooms, garlic and onions. This meal was again quite gourmet and enjoyed by all. Little Boy Green even went so far as to say of the sauteed mushroom mix this is delicious Mommy!

On Tuesday we had a meatloaf made from frozen beef and various pantry items. This dinner was served with a side of roasted Brussel sprouts and purple mashed potatoes (the potatoes I have left are all purple).

Wednesday we finished off the meat loaf and started on a vegetable soup that Id made from canned tomato paste, CSA vegetables (carrots, beets, turnips and onions) and rice. The soup ended up too hot without a lot of flavor, so Wednesdays dinner was not so well received.

Thursday, I had the clever idea to mix sauteed garlic cloves, sliced dates and some Earth Balance in with the soup from Wednesday. Served over rice it gave it a distinctive Morrocan flavor and was quite delicious. Well be having that again for dinner tonight.

Meals for the weekend will probably included roasted sesame broccoli, brown rice and winter squash. Breakfasts will be pancakes and eggs. Lunch will likely continue to be left overs from the previous nights dinner.

The hardest part of this has been going to the grocery store. I am quite familiar with how to handle cravings for sweets and it is pretty easy for me (although not for many people) to just eat a square of chocolate and return the rest to the cupboard. However, it is amazingly difficult for me to walk by a little yellow sale tag at the grocery store and not stock up. A fact that just might explain my pantry that is bursting at the seems!

Have a wonderful weekend and may you eat well!

Orange Cinnamon Granola

Mr. Green Me loves to eat cereal for breakfast in the morning; however, in our Eat from the Pantry Challenge, cereal is not permitted on the grocery list. I may be okay with scavenging from the cupboards for breakfast, but I want to send my husband off to work with a full and happy belly. And so, I last night I invented my own granola recipe, based on ingredients that we have in our pantry. Mr. Green me had two servings for breakfast and proclaimed it Not too sweet, not too complicated, but just right! And, then he went so far as to say it was in his top a contender for best granola ever (the other contender is homemade granola we had at a B&B on our honey moon).

4 Cups Oats*
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp peanut butter
2 Tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup honey
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp orange extract
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees, while collecting all of your ingredients. Next toast the oats on a cookie sheet or in a casserole pan in the oven at 350F for about 20 minutes. Stir them every 5 minutes to achieve even browning. Remove oats from oven and pour into a large mixing bowl. Combine peanut butter, canola oil, honey, cinnamon, vanilla and orange extract in a microwave safe bowl and nuke for about 20 seconds until warm, but not bubbling. Pour mixture over toasted oats and stir well to coat. Spread oat mixture back into toasting pan and bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Remove pan, flip, stir or toss oats and return pan to the oven for 10 minutes. Remove oats from the oven just as they begin to turn golden brown. Let cool completely (at least an hour) before pouring into a food safe glass container. Leave lid off for 4 to 8 hours (or over night) to prevent moisture condensation and keep the granola nice and crunchy. Add in 1/4 cup dried berries, mix well and the granola is ready to serve!

Eat from the Pantry: Tex-Mex Bi Bim Bop Casserole

How much do you think your family spends on food each year? Family Green Me spent 2009 tracking our spending in Mint and we were shocked by the reality of our food spending.  I knew that we spent a decent amount on food and my estimate was pretty accurate for our dining out expenses, but my grocery estimate was about 1/3 of our actual expenses!!! (Ill let you in on how much we spent at the end of this post.)

Id like to attribute part of my massive grocery expense to the fact that I like to stock the pantry. In fact, if I didn’t look so human, you might think I was part squirrel (and or I watched the Crash Course one too many times) as I’ve accordingly acquired a huge amount of bulk, frozen and pantry goods since the summer months. With this in mind and I had already decided in December that we need to eat more from the pantry and buy fewer impulse foods or meal ingredients at the grocery store. And so, I was ready to bite when I saw a friend post a link to the Eat from the Pantry Challenge for January, which is being co-hosted by MoneySavingMom and Life as Mom.

We were actually pretty successful with our food budget and eating from the pantry for December and so I am quite excited at the challenge to really batten down the hatches and eat primarily from the pantry this month. The meal I made tonight was absolutely delicious and rescued multiple food items that normally would have been snugging up in my compost pail rather than my belly! It truly is immensely satisfying to have combined both left overs, frozen veggies and old veggies to make a delicious vegetarian meal!

Tex-Mex Bi Bim Bop Casserole (Food Fusion at its best!)

4 cups pre-cooked white rice

1.5 cups pre-cooked black beans (previously seasoned with cumin, allspice, bay and paprika)

1 small napa cabbage, chopped

1 small red onion, chopped

1 cup corn kernels

1/3 cup Veganaise

6 tortillas (I used homemade, gluten free)

12 oz tomato sauce (unseasoned or fire roasted)

1 tsp Kosher (or coarse) salt

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp paprika

1 to 2 cups grated cheese (vegan or dairy)

Directions: pre-heat oven to 350F and pour 1/2 of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 913 casserole pan. Next, dump your rice, beans, corn, chopped cabbage and onions, and spices all into a big mixing bowl. Measure out 1/3 cup Vegenaise and stir all ingredients together until coated and evenly distributed. Lay 3 tortillas in bottom of casserole pan (you may have to break one in pieces to get full coverage). Spread mixture into pan and top with remaining 3 tortillas. Sprinkle grated cheese on top. Cover with tinfoil or a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil or cookie sheet and bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Cut and serve like you would a lasagna and enjoy!

I realize that this recipe sounds totally nutty; however, it was really, truly, delicious. Mr. Green Me even went back for seconds, a rare event in our household! Another bonus? This was a mostly local meal! The beans, corn, cabbage, tomatoes and onions were all grown in CO and either stored, frozen or canned before use in this meal! If you dont have identical ingredients on hand you should be able to keep spices, tomato sauce, rice and Vegenaise (I prefer the grapeseed variety) the same, but substitute celery, carrots, potatoes or any other kind of vegetable in place of the cabbage and the corn, and achieve similar results. I served ours with a side of turnips au gratin (left overs from the previous night).

This month we have already spent $126 on grocery stores and $54 dollars on dining out. However, for the rest of the month the goal is to spend $25 per week on groceries, netting out at $250 for the entire month. We are going to leave our dining out budget at $150 per month as that is generally not a problem and still brings our total Food Budget for the month to a very reasonable (IMHO) $400.

Goals:

  1. Spend $25.00 or less per week to purchase milk for Little Boy Green; some cheese; and, our weekly eggs. Green veggies or fruit may be included on an as needed basis.
  2. Eat and use leftovers until they are gone versus ignoring leftovers until they are fated to be reborn in the compost.
  3. Eat meat two times or less per week. Eat vegan or vegetarian 5 days per week.
  4. Use frozen vegetables, remaining vegetables from our CSA winter share (still have beets, squash, an onion and potatoes), and frozen fruit before buying new fresh fruit and veggies.
  5. Make bread or pasta from scratch with my vast bulk reserves rather than buying the pre-packaged kind.
  6. Use dried rice and beans until I start to make a dent in our bulk stores. I think we might have enough to get us through March on simply rice and beans!
  7. Send Mr. Green Me to work with leftovers for lunch rather than buying him stand alone lunch packing items.

Hopefully this post has inspired you to both join the Eat from the Pantry Challenge and also to take a look at your food expenses. Who knows, if you are like us, you very well might be able to afford that dream vacation (or solar panels or new windows or preschool for your kid) if you could reign in your food spending!

Dont believe me? While reviewing our year we discovered that we spent nearly 14% of our income on food (groceries, eating out, wine and beer, etc.) in 2009. Now, if you believe statistics, this percentage is on the high end of average. However, that would assume that our family income is also average, which it is not, so I am pretty sure that we spend way more on food than the average American. According to statistics our household income definitely puts us in the category of folks who live a pretty comfy life. My food goal thus for the year 2010 is to cut our food budget in half, while also donating to our local food bank on a more regular basis! Ill let you know how that is going as the year progresses!

Fluffy Gluten Free Free Pancakes

Last week my family and I (Mama and Daddy Green Me plus Little Boy Green) took a little stay-cation right here in Colorful Colorado. We drove south about an hour from the north Metro Denver area and stayed in the Park Meadows and Tech Center area. On Wednesday night we enjoyed a delicious Gluten Free dinner at PF Changs followed by an early night (we slept from 9 PM to 8 AM) in a very comfy over-sized King Room room at the Marriott Denver South for $52.80 (plus tax). The next morning we got up and headed to the Wildlife Experience followed by lunch and a gluten free shopping expedition at Deby’s Bakery & Cafe.

We bought a full selection of items at Deby’s from prepared baked goods to her pastry flour mix. One of the extra bonuses of the Deby’s bakery is that nearly all the goods sold there are also dairy free and many are either vegan and or avoid what they call the allergenic 8. The 8 allergens that many of their products avoid include: gluten, trans-Fat, dairy, caesin, corn, soy, peanut and tree nut.

I thought this was kind of neat although I was disappointed to find that 4 of the 10 products that we bought were mislabeled in some fashion. For example, my pecan pie claimed to be a cherry pie on top and an apple pie on the bottom, a dangerous mistake if someone was allergic to tree nuts! My cinnamon rolls were delicious, but the label said they contained 4 and yet we only found 3 inside and so on.

Nevertheless, everything we bought tasted delicious and upheld the Deby’s tagline: Gluten Free Food So Good You Will Want to Eat It! If you’ve ventured very far into the frozen gluten free goods case at any grocery store, you will know that most gluten free baked goods taste like goat feed. Or worse.

My most exciting purchase, since I generally prefer to make my own baked goods rather than buy them, was a 5lb bag of her pastry flour mix. The mix is somewhat similar to Bobs, but clearly has some variation as the taste was very pure and wheat flour like. And, most importantly to this post, it made wonderful pancakes!  If you do not have access to Deby’s flour you can likely substitute your own gluten free flour mix.

Dry Ingredients (sift together):

  • 1 1/2 cups gluten free flour mix*
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp flax meal
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Wet Ingredients (stir together well):

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups soy milk (or your favorite milk product)

1. Sift together the dry ingredients

2. Beat together wet ingredients

3. Combine wet with dry and stir vigorously for about 1 minute. Make sure that everything has combined well. Stir again for another minute. Batter should be very thick, but spreadable. Similar to cake batter. Set aside.

4. Prepare your griddle or pan, while letting batter sit for about 5 minutes. You will see the leavening starting to react and make the batter kind of puffy.

5. Scoop 1/4 cup of batter (plus a little) onto your seasoned hot griddle (or your frying pan). Spread it out a bit if needed. Cook 1 to 2 minutes until firm enough to flip. Cook another few minutes until golden. My batch made exactly 11 pancakes about 4 inches in diameter.

6. Serve warm with fried eggs or your favorite breakfast sides! Delicious, light, fluffy with just the right amount of crisp on the outside!

*Deby’s Gluten Free Pastry Flour ingredients are listed as: Rice flour, Potato starch, Tapioca flour, xantham gum. If your were to mix up your own you might try 3/4 cup Rice Flour, 1/4 cup each Potato Starch and Tapioca flour, plus 1/4 tsp xantham gum.

P.s. I will eventually post a picture, but I took it with our back up camera, before realizing that its memory card does not plug into my lap top.

Health, Wealth and Happiness in the New Year!

My high school boyfriends family was of Polish decent. Every Christmas Eve they shared a beautiful and sad story about his great grandmother being taken during World War II from Poland by train and sent to a prison camp somewhere in Russia. When the war was over she was not sent home, but left to her own devices with other prisoners. From this unhappy situation she walked several thousand miles across a harsh Russian landscape, meeting with many tails of both adversity and kindness along her way. Eventually she made it home to her family and her husband. At this point her family chose to emigrate to the United States and a new story began in upstate New York.

For many years her family has thus celebrated Christmas Eve as both the Eve of Christmas, but also of the beginning of the New Year, wishing each other and their guests Health, Wealth and Happiness for the coming year. And although it has been many years since I have spent the holiday with this tale, I continue to appreciate the significance and history behind this New Years Greeting.

In this world of ours there continue to be stories of both adversity and kindness in our very own communities and around the world. The economic woes of the past few years and the political, military and religious woes since 2001 have served to highlight adversity in a world that is continually striving to do better and yet continually encountering set backs.

For better or worse 2009 presented me with multiple opportunities to both give thanks for the gifts that I have been given, but to also contemplate the fragility of life. My nearly invincible grandmother had a stroke in April and then broke her hip in December (she is amazingly going strong, although with a bit less steam). One of my cousins underwent surgery for a rare type of cancer, but just as she was healing her brother (another cousin) died of a cardiac arrest at the relatively young age of 40.  And yet again, the first cousin again underwent surgery for cancer. She is doing well, but there is much to be hoped for in the New Year.

Id not been close to the cousin who passed on as hed moved away after high school; however, several years before hed moved, hed introduced me to MTV. Perhaps an insignificant event in the world of many children, but for a child who lived in the mountains without a TV and with parents who did not pay much attention to pop culture, it was a significant to me.

I specifically remember watching the music videos of 3 musicians who have have since had an influence on my life. The first was Paul Simon (self contemplation, world music and politics), the second was Robert Plant (the simple love of melodies and rock music) and the third was Michael Jackson. Today, I am going to focus on Michael Jackson. The young me was hugely influenced by the Michael Jackson persona of the 1980s and early 1990s that was genuinely concerned about making the world a better place. From his collaboration with a handful of artists on We are the World to Man and the Mirror or even Heal the World and to the millions of dollars that he donated to helping children around the world, I definitely took the lyrics of these songs to heart. And I so you might say that my theme song going into 2010, is going to be Man in the Mirror.

A willow deeply scarred
Somebodys broken heart
And a washed out dream
They follow the pattern of the wind ya see
Cause they got no place to be
Thats why Im starting with me

Im starting with the man in the mirror
Im asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change

Taking the time to look in the mirror and making a change based on what we see is such a wise, yet simple recommendation that it could have easily come straight from a Buddhist tome on Enlightenment. And, it is a theory that I have pretended to follow for the last decade or so. In fact my original screen name on Live Journal (I deleted the account long ago) and various other online venues was waterreflecting, a term I had used in a meditation given by Thich Nhat Hanh.

We all have ideas about who we really are, but our actions (our reflections) speak to the reality of our being much more accurately than our thoughts. What is a dream without action?

In theory I pride myself on being a family person and yet as my grandmother has grown older and frailer, I have spent less time visiting her in persona and or speaking with her on the phone.  I am uncomfortable with the changes in her life and unsure how to react. I dont want to offend her or God forbid be offended by her and so I hold my silence and my distance. I understand the reasons for my behavior, but I am not proud of it and so this year I will let down my own ego and do what I can to help my grandmother enjoy the last years of her life.

Awareness of the fact that Ive been ignoring my grandmother, to put it bluntly, has been heightened by the loss of my cousin last summer. Id always intended to visit or to mention to him that hed had a positive influence on me as a kid. That hed opened up the world of music (outside of classical) to me and that I was forever grateful, but I was too shy to take the first step. He didnt contact me, so why should I take the first step? It is so easy for us to put things off for another day, but honestly, we never know that their will be another day, and so we might as well seize the day.

Seizing the day goes not only for my relationships with my family and friends, but also for my personal life. My own health, the health of my immediate family. Our physical health, spiritual health, and even our financial health. And so, going into the New Year I am going to focus on a few goals that will promote Health, Wealth and Happiness for myself and for those around me.

Happiness Goals:

– I will make an effort to connect with my living cousins. Facebook is oddly a wonderful forum for keeping tabs on busy families and kids, but perhaps we should take the time to actually have some Face-Time. First I need to visit with my cousin who just had surgery for cancer (the second time in since last year). It is clear that her experience has taught her to seize the day and yet I keep putting off making actual plans to visit with her.

-I will write my grandmother a letter with real pen and paper and send it by pony express each week. I actually made this promise in person to my grandmother the week before Christmas. I have not sent a formal letter, but I did write a nice note with her Christmas card and included another with a small gift that I sent her last week.

-I will make time to spend with both of my parents. Ive been better about this since the arrival of my son 2 years ago, but I still feel as though we dont see them enough.

– Take the time to read books that both broaden my horizons and stretch my noodle. It seams that since having my son I have gone from reading 4 books per week to 4 books per year!

– Be calm.

– Practice yoga.

Health Goals:

– Figure out exactly what is up with my digestive system and potential gluten intolerance. Right now I am actually eating a small amount of gluten and dairy each day, so that I can be tested again later in the month. So far it has been tolerable and honestly a little bit of fun just yesterday I had some Truffle Tremor Cheese. It is also bittersweet, because depending on the results, I just may never have this chance again!

– Get adequate sleep, so that I can continue to get up at 5:45 AM and walk with my faithful morning walking partner!

– Weight train at least 2 days per weeks, so that my body retains proper balance and strength and I do not re-aggravate old injuries whilst running or hiking.

– Get back into running. My walking partner and I have been doing some jogging with our walks a few days per week and so this goal will start off with the Oatmeal 5K this Saturday. (Thanks to a A Mama’s Blog for the motivation!)

Wealth Goals:

– reduce spending on groceries (we tracked all expenses in 2009 and our food budget was OUTRAGEOUS!)

– continue a vacation savings plan started late in 2009

– continue to pay ahead on car loan and mortgage

– jump start my own retirement savings program (hubby has his down pat)

And More on Happiness (because you just cant have too much!):

– Become an expert gluten free baker and possibly turn this into a career

– Continue to walk, jog and exercise regularly

– Spend dedicated time playing with Little Boy Green Me each day

– Have date nights every 6 weeks or so with Mr. Green Me

– Plant a garden