Category Archives: affordable tips

well i’ll be cabbaged update

Looks like the issues I care about are getting some attention! Margaret Shulman’s article on the cabbage was written in response to another NYT column looking at eating healthy and comparing it as more expensive than junk food. well, welcome to my world. My blog world that is.

Here is the column. They have posted my comment to it also. Thanks NYT! They also reference another wordpress blog in that article of a couple who tried to eat for a dollar a day (not sure if that is each or across the both of them!). As people who have read my about profile know, it is not easy and definitely takes commitment and time. I also have to caveat that I never fed the both of us on $30 a month; it was more like $25 – $30 a week. I was writing about the techniques I used to use…ah, the memories…. it was hard work but such a teaching experience! I will write more once I research any other interesting links or comments I find as a result of this article. Thanks!

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well i’ll be cabbaged …and a holiday nog tip

hello everyone. i am gratified to share that we are starting to get some decent viewership on this blog! hopefully we’ll find our way together to getting more of your input and foster some dialogue. but so far, i am definitely feeling a measure of contentment knowing that the three ‘tines’ of taste, health, and low-cost are resonating out in webland. Thank you!!

this is fundamentally a blog about self care. so i must come clean. my last two to three weeks of workload definitely pulled me under. literally it felt like mounds of work came in on some huge tidal wave and landed at the mouth of my office door. well, its been handled. deadlines, quality met…in the process i did the work of 3 people. I leaned on my husband alot who was so cool about figuring out how to feed me and took on nearly every personal and household chore that needed immediate attention. even making my side dish to donate for a work event. (Green beans with coconut and mustard seed. Thank you American Masala!) am i glad that’s over. but also i gave in. we ate some frozen meals…like pizza from whole foods…we ate out more than I would have liked. so, in general, it was a challenge being present. it really was. and i am sad about that.

the weight thing is steady. I have gained about a pound at most since Thanksgiving. That includes about 3 holiday parties we have been to so far. i was present at this fabulous party last night. friends with great senses of humor to the rescue.

so here i am in a weekend where i am restoring spirit. I started the day with some meditation and will go back to it after this post. My wonderful mother in law also lifted my spirits bringing me back to my big picture…Thanks mom! I don’t know what I accomplished the last 3 weeks, it feels perhaps that the sacrifice was a little too much (again). but she reminded of feeling some accomplishment along the way. I did alot!

so today, my husband and I talked about the week’s meal planning (no we don’t usually do this but it went great!)..identifying proteins, vegetables, lunches, fruits, etc. he did the grocery shopping without me!!

in terms of cooking, i am picking up the thread from the last post in that I had a half-head of red cabbage left over from last weekend. I grabbed for it which meant i really relished our experience with the indian crepes. This time though, my inspiration was mixing cabbage wth walnuts which my husband brought home because our stock was getting low. My cookbooks did not inspire and I turned to the web.

Well, its cabbage cabbage everywhere on the web it appears. First, one of my kindred spirits in healthy eating, Margaret Rose Shulman has several cabbage recipes out in December. The one that caught my eye is the one discussing its nutritional contents. Apparently, cabbage is “an excellent source of vitamins K and C, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, folate, manganese and Omega 3 fatty acids.” Another wordpress food blog writer, Jaya, also wrote about these nutrients. She also adds that these nutrients are especially good for women. As a side it seems that Ms. Shulman is also writing about how inexpensive cabbage is as a vegetable…seems like they are starting to finally combine discussions on health and dollars. Will need to investigate this further…Overall, I am definitely curious about more experiments with red cabbage because it seems really versatile in terms of texture and taste…sweet, tart, crunchy, nutty, etc!

The link to the Shulman column is here and it contains a recipe for cabbage and lentil which is essentially a twist of what we ended up eating tonight. See previous post on lentils for their cost per serving. Cabbage just by itself is about twenty cents a serving.

I did want to point you to Jaya’s blog entry on cabbage as well. Her recipe leaves the cabbage crunchy yet baked which is an awesome way to eat it. She also combines it with nuts (savory) and sweetness/tartness (by using cranberries or raisins) which is right on the money. I was not a huge fan of the overall flavor in this one and need to experiment with it more. I would likely need less chili powder in it. It is very simple and gets huge points for that as well being nutritious. Adding a half-cup of walnuts doubles the price to about $0.40 cents a serving; with the grapeseed oil and raisins this recipe goes above $0.50 cents a serving.

Finally, here is my tip on holiday nog. It a product called Silk (soy milk) and its seasonal flavor, Nog (look at the bottom of the page). It has 2 grams of fat for every half-cup serving, so 4 grams total, and it has only 12 grams of sugar which is much better than most processed nogs. You have only 3 grams of protein (in the half-cup). Real nog has more protein because of the egg but you leave out the fat from the yolks. It is so yummy and I am really loving it as my indulgent treat for the winter nesting season. 🙂 Its $2.99 for a quart (yes, its a treat) at Whole Foods. Enjoy!

Dieting affordably with flavor

The NYT article on dieting deliciously made me realize that the other aspect of dieting that can seem brutal is the cost. Some people feel, especially at the start, that they need to lean on commercial products–like Jenny Craig meals, special shakes, etc. I can’t knock them since everyone needs to do what’s right for them. But for me, those pre-packaged meals were very expensive and ridiculous when I started realizing that it wasn’t complicated to make them. Processed anything for the most part comes with its own set of demons! So if you are going to diet deliciously, what are some tips for dieting affordably?

The first one that comes to mind is to use plenty of flavor to keep meals yummy and to keep the diet motivating. Most flavor is affordable. I am going to start a short list quickly and then come back to this post.
$ Growing herbs. Whether in pots or on the ground, I have found growing thyme, oregano, basil and mint is a great way to get flavor naturally and freely in meals. These particular herbs are cheap to buy and easy to grow. They are tenacious! Must head basil continously though. I have also experienced eating micro-grated herbs and was surprised at the explosion of flavor in my mouth.

$ Use citris. I can typically get a bunch of limes for $1. Same with lemons though they are slightly more expensive.

$ Nuts. I thought pine nuts were not affordable until I found Whole Foods bulk section. I get roughly a fist-ful and keep it as stock around the house to throw in here and there (store in refrigerator for longer periods). Toasting just a bunch and to put in a salad is priceless! Similarly, now I buy halved pieces of walnuts and slivered almonds from the same bulk section. If I buy a quarter pound or so, that is typically sufficient and no more than between $2 to $5 each. Not bad considering I can stretch it out quite a bit using as sprinkles in oatmeal and salads and to punch up a baked good here and there.

$Spices, in bulk if possible. Whole Foods used to have spices in bulk. It was awesome, because I could literally just get a wee portion of a spice for a particularly recipe if needed, without needing to invest in an expensive bottle of something that would sit on myself. (Shout out to Erin for pointing it out to me). I once got something like a one-quarter or half-pound bag of FRESH ground cardamon there for maybe a buck or two and I am only at the end of it like four years later. and I use that stuff alot!! Sadly, they seem to have done away with it. Ethnic grocery stores should also offer cheaper prices on spices. I will have to do some research to get the facts to you but in the past I have noticed that whole peppercorns (black) are much cheaper in the indian grocery store. Some spices have shot up in price so have gone over to the “investment” category. For these, just buy them and have them in stock. I don’t buy anything in those little bottles anymore at the grocery store. Whole cinnamon sticks instead of ground. I use a simple coffee bean grounder as a separate spice grinder (thanks Mom!). Fast, easy to clean. oh, and definitely get a mortar and pestle. My friends always tease me the amount of spices i have!

o A favorite spice is ground, roasted cumin. Basically I roast a bunch of cumin on a stove top. The smell is worth it alone. Then I take the hot cumin seeds and grind them in my grinder. That’s it. Then I put the whole thing in my spice container. This grounded spice immediately jazzes up sliced fruit. (In fact my husband and I enjoy making a simple pear and avocado salad with toasted cumin, lemon or lime juice, and a little bit of salt as a favorite weekend breakfast pairing).

$ Trader Joes pure vanilla extract. Seems cheaper to me than at the grocery store. To research.

$Vinegars. I use Trader Joes Balsamic Vinegar for good quality and low price. I use this on everything to meats to fish to salads.

$Fresh chile peppers. The little green ones, for the Indian palate. 🙂 I freeze these since I don’t go through them as quickly as a traditional Indian household. Cut them and heat them in oil prior to adding the food and you get great sizzle and spice.

$Sliced black olives. Also, great flavor! and affordable from Trader Joes. They have a little can of sliced olives so they stay ready for me when i need them. I believe they are kept in water only. I will check that and the price and repost. I can add olives to pasta sauces, salads, even meats such as chicken nicoise.

$ Shallots. Cheap as long as you don’t get these from Whole Foods! 🙂 but can serve as a great base and flavor for most sides and entrees.

$ Stevia. I don’t think this is for everyone’s liking but its a must have in my dieting plan. My body does best when its not beset with sugar. Stevia is ground up from tree bark that is naturally sweet. It does not have the molecular structure of sugar so is not absorbed or digested in the way sugar is. I use the powder form from Trader Joes and use it in my tea, coffee and oatmeal. I sometimes even use it in baking. Its $6.99 for 315 servings, coming out to two cents a serving.

$ Dried fruit. Dried fruit such as apricots, apple rings, pineapples and figs are great flavorings in both meats and baked goods. Now, they are sugary but at least they are natural sugars. I love how they moisten and plump up while cooking. I use them in my Thanksgiving stuffings too. That reminds me. I also love having a stash of dried cranberries around. They are great in salads and even with white meats like chicken and pork. Dried cranberries come sweetended and unsweetended. Unsweetened is healthier but I have not yet figured out how to use them well as flavor. I get dried fruit from Whole Foods Bulk food section whenever possible. Again, I just buy a little bit so that each purchase is usually under a dollar!

Yes, these are all tried and true items in my pantry. What works for you? I promise to update with actual prices soon.

Coming home

Tonight, after a restorative and “fun”-derful weekend with our friends, I knew I was coming home to a surplus of tomatoes and red bell peppers that were getting on. (this was due to an slightly uber-exuberant grocery trip in NJ near my sister’s house). I had a plan to make sausage-red pepper tomato pasta sauce. When I got home, I dusted off an old recipe from the Silver Palate cookbook. It was a simple concoction of browning the sausage, cooking onions with the thyme and oregano we grow on our balcony, adding red bell peppers, garlic, red wine, tomatoes, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and my secret ingredient: organic tomato sauce from a can. I was pleased with the balance between spicy (HOT from the red peppers) and sweet (from the tomato sauce). It was a pleasure watching everything cook on low and dissolve into each other. I ladled it on top of Whole Foods Whole Wheat Linguine.

Cost Effectiveness of Cooking:
To make this dish cost effective, I always go to larger scale produce stores or Asian grocery stores which I can find between VA and NJ. I get my red bell peppers for $1.25 a pound. This is one of the few areas I cannot use products from Whole Foods or even conventional grocery stores. Too rich for my blood. The red peppers I currently have are superb–firm and succulent. I used only one in this recipe (because I was tired and only made half a batch of the sauce). In fact, I also got vine ripe tomatoes for a steal, at $0.69 a pound, which were the main reason I needed to make this sauce in the first place!

As I noted above I also used herbs that we grow. I traditionally have grown: basil, oregano, thyme and mint. These are hardy plants that can immensely boost flavor for relatively no work (or fee) at all! I do need to buy my cilantro though and I also like dill quite well so go to asian stores or some such for these.

On the wine. If I didn’t have any on hand, I would have eliminated that step though it does add tone to a meat recipe. I did use this red wine in a box that we found at Whole Foods. Its pretty cheap and good for kitchen wine. Its not really a recommendation for an approach. Its just something we had on hand.

Where I didn’t compromise–my meat. Turkey sausage at Whole Foods is about $5.99 a lb. I used a little more than a half-pound which was two links for $3.29. This is free range turkey sausage (it said on the package) plus no hormones, no antibiotics, no animal by products in the feed–so on the higher quality side.

The pasta at whole foods, at least the whole foods brand of past, I find affordable. Its a $1.69 for the equivalent of a normal box of spaghetti–something of a value, really. They have a variety of healthy grains that they make it from, and a variety of pasta shapes too. We don’t eat it frequently because of the carbs but I always make sure I have at least one or two bags of it as stock inventory in our pantry. I used tomato sauce from Trader Joe’s but right now, the price I am aware of is Whole Foods’ own brand at $1.29 for a normal sized can (15 ounces?).

Cost per serving: What does the grand price come out to? Approximately $0.90 per serving just for the sauce. I made 6 servings — 2 servings each for both my husband and me for dinner and 2 servings left over. With the pasta, the cost increases just slightly, to about $0.96 per serving. I assumed that the four tomatoes I used were nearly two-thirds of a pound. I did not include the cost of the salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Nutritionally, this dish gives you at least 2 servings of vegetables and 1 serving of protein per serving. Check out the nutrition spokes for the whole wheat pasta! It adds 6 grams of fiber and 7 garms of protein per serving with nearly no fat! I am surprised. It seems like a solid “good carb” candidate but still for weight loss, use sparingly. The turkey sausage adds some fat but also completes the protein profile in this recipe.

Potential variation: The nutritional profile for the whole wheat pasta showed that it is pretty complete in terms of its amino acid profile but lacks lysine (I hope I have this correct). It appears to require a complimentary food with a high lysine:Tryptophan ratio to fulfill its requirement as a complete protein. Go know! While turkey meat does fit, it appears that mushrooms (Crimini or Italian) would provide a vegetarian complement and nearly eliminate the fat. Que bueno!

How about you? Any twists to make it healthier or more cost-effective?