Tuesday, October 27, 2009

So many of us are overwieght

Seeking inspiration recently, I Googled "real life weight loss success stories" and the first hit was Fitness Magazine... a story about women who have actually lost weight...which, when I clicked on it, immediately led me to a recipe for macaroni and cheese.

Such are the dangers of seeking advice on the Internet. You cannot lose weight eating macaroni and cheese. I'm sorry. We have been told that diets don't work, and this is sooo true, but there does have to be an element of restraint in one's eating. Last night I talked myself out of a dozen different eating scenarios. I wanted ice cream, I wanted mindless eating. In the past, I have given into these habits faster than you can say "eating like this will make you gain weight."

Why are so many Americans overweight? Maybe because we are all working two jobs, or unsatisfying jobs, or are battling energy draining commutes, which sets one up to look for a make-me-feel-better-fast "reward." Fitness Magazine offers a story about real weight loss, but switches to a recipe for macaroni and cheese, because, obviously that is what we really want. And, cheese is something an advertiser can sell, whereas, nobody makes a profit, or buys advertising to promote, "just not eating so much."

Not quite off the subject, I have been thinking lately how problems in our schools are a reflection of the wider community. Our kids are not succeeding academically, but its also true our society is not succeeding. I think there has been a growing sense in our nation, while our jean sizes grew, that our nation is stumbling. Didn't we all feel uneasy when housing prices were sky high? Turned out our wealth was based on derivative trading, a Ponzi scheme of an economy, we were not so much a powerhouse of innovation and valuable businesses as a nation of con artists. I think the recession is bringing us all down to reality, to trying to innovate and grow something besides our fat cells. I know I am trying. That's my rant for the day.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

$15.64 at grocery store last week

coffee $4.99
canned tomatoes $1.39
butter $1.49
fat free half and half $1.49
ground turkey $3.29
onion .90
5 lb potatoes $1.99

I made a turkey chili that lasted almost all week, and I ate some suppers of mashed potatoes, which I actually quite enjoy. Ate up food I had in my pantry: oatmeal, apples, frozen vegetables, etc. It felt liberating to have spent so little money.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Red Cabbage Slaw; Bobby Flay

Red Cabbage Slaw; Bobby Flay


  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 small red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 head red cabbage, finely shredded


Combine all ingredients, except cabbage, in a blender and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Place cabbage in a large bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper and let sit 30 minutes in the refrigerator before serving.

News flash! I just read that red cabbage may be a super food that prevents Alzheimer's Disease.

I'm going to make this recipe one of my staples. Also, apple juice shows promise in research studies.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rachel Ray

Last week I made a Mexican Lasagna from a Rachel Ray recipe that woke me repeatedly during the night. Undeterred, I brought it for lunch for four days (it made a huge pan of ground turkey, cheese, beans, corn, spice and layers of tortillas.)

I also made Pad Thai using instructions from Kevin on the blog "Closet Cooking." (He's amazing.) It came out pretty good. I used tamarind paste, a fruity addition, for the first time ever, and the Pad Thai tasted less like sweaty gym socks, than usual.

Saturday I went to a health fair and got to indulge my hypochondria and snag some free bottled water and a banana. I got myself tested for osteoporosis (I don't have it), arterial blockage in the limbs (all clear), hearing (normal) and total cholesterol 213 (borderline high.) I spoke to a middle aged woman at the Alzheimer's booth whose father came down with the disease in his 50's, who told me not to worry about getting it, since my mother and grandfather weren't stricken till late in life. She told me only the early onset version is hereditary. I told her its more inheritable from the mother's side (she didn't know that.) So, we comforted each other.

One thing I noticed was how unhealthy all these health experts looked. Lots of fat nurses testing the masses, and the lady at the osteoporosis booth looked frail, almost skeletal. What is good health? In some ways, its just the absence of pain and disability. It's being able to walk as far and as fast as you want to. It's living up to your life expectancy. I was blessed with good genes, for the most part, and I have walked a lot my whole life, never smoked, and eaten reasonably well, if too much. Mostly, I would like to not feel fat every day of my life. Weighing less would be being healthier, to me. And that is a pretty serious intervention.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ministry of Food

The famous Naked Chef, Jaime Oliver, has a cookbook called Ministry of Food, and a website where he posts how-to cooking videos. One of his goals is to teach people what we have forgotten: how to cook at home. He is really sweet and I enjoy watching him explain the simplest things.

This week I made his Fish Pie, which is just a casserole of salmon, celery, carrot, herbs, cheese, and tomato, topped by mashed potatoes. I also made his Salmon Tikka with nan bread, very easy and exotic.

I ate way too much dairy this week: chicken and ricotta burgers, a mushroom and cream with ground turkey over pasta dish, and eggs for several breakfasts. My arteries are probably clogging as we speak, except for the bits of oatmeal still scrubbing them. Next week I will focus on vegetables.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Last week casseroles

Last week I lived off three casseroles for lunches and dinners: Arroz Con Pollo (excellent recipe from Stacy's Snacks), Mushroom and Brown Rice Casserole (from 101 Cookbooks), and Chicken and Shrimp Coconut Curry from "The FoodDoctor" cookbook.) I'd spent $34.00 at the grocery store last week.

I also bought pizza for lunch one day as a friend asked me to walk with her to Amatos (it's all her fault!) $5.00. I satisfied a craving for take out Pad Thai at Pom's Restaurant on my way home from work one night $12.00. I bought a bottle of Merlot ($10.00) on Wednesday. Saturday, I had two rum and pineapple drinks and a Portobello Sandwich at Dogfish Cafe for $30.00. (Really delicious sandwich, and it was nice to socialize.)

So, basically, $80.00 for food and alcohol. For one person. Me.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

In the Garden

The morning in 2007 I learned my father had died, I turned on the radio and heard the song “In The Garden” being song in a deep baritone on a religious station I hadn’t even realized the radio was set on. The song was very moving, and perfectly matched my feelings at that moment, as it is about walking with Jesus in a garden, and it reminded me of my Dad, for many reasons.

Two years later, my sister and I visited the cemetery, where my parents gravestones had been newly installed, a very emotional visit. Then, we went to see my mother in the nursing home, where she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. I tried to make conversation about flowers and the rainy summer and how the garden outside the home seemed to be doing well. She responded to my emotions, if not my conversation, holding my hand and stroking it with her thumb, comforting me as tears escaped my eyes. When my sister and I left my mother, we passed a room where they were holding a church service. I heard a beautiful hymn being sung, and, as I paid attention, I realized they were singing “In The Garden.” The song I had asked to be sung at my Dad's funeral, after hearing it the morning I was told he had died.

This may not seem like much to you, but, for me, I was absolutely floored. It makes me wonder if, as my father told me, which at the time I ascribed to his brain injury, it isn’t true, “Amy, its all One. It’s all One thing.”

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I just like recording my grocery bills, I know its weird


can coconut milk $1.29
can diced tomatoes $1.38
chicken stock $2.49
Greek yogurt $1.79
can Tonino tuna $2.08
coffee $3.99
tomato paste .75
Lactaid milk quart $2.19
chicken $6.00
celery $1.59
basil $2.29
lemon .59
cilantro $2.29
wild Maine blueberries $4.99
onion .68

I made a fabulous coconut chicken stir fry for dinner, and froze the leftovers. Tomorrow I will make a chicken stew. I still have cereal, eggs, rice, some veggies and condiments left over from last week, so this is not quite an accurate picture of what I can do, but its a good start.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Desperate to lose weight

Last week I re-attempted my version of the Atkins diet, because I'd had it with feeling fat and this is the only diet I've ever experienced immediate success on. I ate walnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, peanuts, tuna fish, chicken salad, eggs, roast beef, cheese, Atkins drinks, minimal fruits and vegetables and no cereal, bread, rice or pasta.

Predictably, my need to pee tripled, as the protein, if not dammed up by carbs, seems to push the water right out of my body. A couple of times I felt dizzy. I lost two pounds. I really like my version of Atkins, except it makes me feel sick.

This week I am re-naming my diet the anti-Alzheimer's diet, because I really am terrified of developing that disease. I am drinking apple-pomegrante juice and eating blueberries every day, but still abstaining from grains. I truly think grain-carbohydrates make me fat. I am going to increase my greens this week. We'll see how I feel. This is all an experiment.

Cafe This Way

Last weekend I was on Mt Desert Island, in Maine, for a family reunion and afterward my sister and I had a vegan dinner at Cafe This Way in Bar Harbor.

I had pecan crusted tofu with a side of mashed root vegetables, delicious mixed sauteed vegetables and an appetiser of marinated mushrooms and seaweed "caviar," little, gelatinous balls that released a pleasant, salty taste as they popped between my teeth.)

The meal was so good, all the cells in my body sang with delight. Man, why isn't it possible to feel that good after every meal? What does it involve to eat that cleanly and happily every day? Maybe it was the absence of wheat flour products, or animal products, but my body seemed to say, "finally! You are giving me pure food, without fillers or toxins for me to sort through to find the nutrition." I felt great.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

We know what we we have to do

A new study published in the British Medical Journal, after following 23,000 Greeks for 8 years, reports that lower mortality is associated with moderate alcohol consumption, which is one glass of wine for women a day, eating two cups of vegetables, a cup of fruit, hand full of nuts and two tablespoons of olive oil a day, a quarter cup of beans a week, and eating little or no meat. Consumption of dairy, fish and grains did not seem to affect mortality, possibly because the study did not differentiate between whole vs processed grains, or low-fat vs full fat dairy.

So, basically, we should concentrate on eating vegetables, beans, nuts and fruits, use olive oil, and drink a little wine (with a meal.)

That seems so do-able, but what do we really eat? I have olive oil in my cabinet, but do I use it? Every day? How can I change my habits to increase the odds the oil winds up in my dishes? The challenge for me is to develop an automatic, unthinking, habitualy healthy diet. Because my normal unthinking diet relies on the vending machine at work and what few vegetables the Subway worker tosses on my sandwich.

For the last two weeks, I've been buying about $14.00 worth of fresh fruit and making a fruit salad with mint, almond extract and simple sugar (sugar dissolved in heated water). The salad lasts me about three days. That's a do-able habit, to get more fruit in, making a big fruit salad at the start of the week.

Last week I made some bean burgers, but, unfortunately, I failed to adequately rinse the Swiss chard, resulting in burgers with "real grit." Live and learn. Buying, preparing and consuming new vegetables takes practice.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The End of Overeating

I listened to an audio excerpt of David A. Kessler's book, an End to Overeating, on Simon and Schuster's website today, and I have been reading reviews of his book. His thesis, that the food industry is manipulating our innate preference for salt, sugar and fat to create a nation of "hyper-eaters," to increase and insure their profit, absolutely resonates with me. I do feel driven to seek out food for it's "entertainment" value, rather than being satisfied eating nutritious food. I feel the lure of potato chips, candy and cupcakes, every day. It's exhausting, fighting these urges. And fattening, if I don't!

Dr. Kessler is a former head of the FDA, who revealed to the American public how the tobacco companies capitalized on the addictive nature of their product, to the detriment of the health of the nation. He sees "Big Food" using similar practices, of hooking consumers with food engineered to create a nation of "hyper-eaters," addicted to food that stimulates our desires, rather than satisfying them. This is something the proponents of frugality intuit: how we are being programed to be rabid consumers, spending money we don't have.

Dr. Kessler's book dovetails with research I have read regarding the brain's response to "palatable food." How the reward center of an obese person's brain lights up at the sight of high calorie food, but does not register as much satisfaction on consuming the treat as a slimmer person.

From what I can gather, without actually reading his book yet, the "answer" for the individual eater, (the author has broader prescriptions in terms of public policy), is to create rules for eating, and stick to them. He recommends externalizing the desire to eat junk, the way anorectics are taught to say "it is the disease anorexia which doesn't want me to eat, not ME, not myself." In this way, you say "my conditioned response is to eat candy, but I, MYSELF, do not want the empty calories in my body."

I think the line that sums it up best for me, came from one of the reviews I read, which contrasted food that is designed to stimulate appetite vs food that is designed to satisfy it. When was the last time you ate something that satisfied your body, that didn't provoke you to go looking for something more?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Think like a Researcher

Often, I lose myself in reading nutritional research, searching for clues of how diet affects health. I love reading about longitudinal studies like the Framingham Heart Study that followed a large number of citizens in that town over years, yielding data that showed the connection between cholesterol levels and heart health. The Oslo Cardiovascular Study uncovered a correlation between heart disease and high meat intake, attributing the plunge in heart disease deaths following WWII to a long period of meat abstinence during the war.

I get frustrated, however, because I want to know what the perfect diet is, and how one can achieve it in the town I live in, on my income, in the culture I inhabit.

It occurs to me, one way to figure this out is to think like a researcher. I can learn a lot just by observing my co-workers, my neighbors, and myself. I can test various strategies by eating in certain ways and noticing the results. I am my own, most convenient, test subject.

First, what I notice about the people around me: I work in a building of about 200 people. There are a number of highly obese, unhealthy looking people here. My desk is on the third floor, across from the elevator and next to the time clock. I often see people hold the elevator for their friends while taking turns punching the clock, before going up to their desks on the fourth floor. They take the elevator, instead of walking one floor up, and they influence others to do so.

I literally feel better when I take the stairs, although the effect of watching other people rely on the elevator drains some of my motivation. I can see the effect of exercise avoidance: over weight people take the elevator more, which puts them out of shape, which makes them dependent on the elevator. I know I actually feel better when I take the stairs - funny how that doesn't seem like enough to counter balance seeing elevator riding as the norm. In my office, bad habits have social rewards: smokers take breaks together, elevator riders share a laugh, friends share candy. The other day, however, someone put lilacs on my desk. What a nice gesture! There ARE healthier ways to be socially connected.

Second, what I notice about me: I crave Diet Coke mid morning, probably because I am thirsty and there is a vending machine right across from me. (And the water cooler is broken.) But if I drink a Diet Coke, I get irritable and I also crave another one. One Diet Coke leads to another, or else an inner battle over wanting one. I'm pretty sure the chemicals in that soda are bad for me, and addictive. I would like to make a big refrigerator bottle of homemade ice tea and bring it to work. This requires a certain amount of organization and effort. It seems easier to bring quarters for the machine, but, in terms of health, the Diet Coke habit is so much pricier. How do I make the bring-my-own tea to work idea more attractive than dropping quarters into the machine?

I don't like to think about work when I'm not actually there, so I tend to drop an idea like that the minute I'm not in the office. There is so much stress at work. I was walking around the other day and I noticed how miserable people seem to be. There is only so much flowers, ice tea and stair walking can improve. Work is work. Are some of my co-workers not taking care of themselves because being healthy just means more time at a job they don't like? A greater purpose in life, and the good health needed to carry it out, seem to go hand in hand.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nutrients interacting with Genes

Reading this information in an American Institute of Cancer research newsletter made me sit up and take notice: "Choline deficiency can cause liver and muscle damage. The nutrient - found in eggs, meat and wheat germ- is also linked to influencing the risks of certain cancers, such as breast and colon." The article goes on to say that people with a certain gene variant are 15 times more likely to develop a deficiency following a choline- free diet as people without the gene. They did a study, putting people on a choline free diet for 42 days, or, until they showed "signs of liver and muscle damage." (Doesn't say how they saw evidence of this damage.)

This astonishes me, just the idea you could potentially damage your body by abstaining from eggs, meat and wheat germ. Does this mean, if you are following a vegan, gluten - free diet, you could be damaging our health? The point of the article is that diet interacts with genes in unpredictable ways - some people can lead long, healthy lives eating junk food, others can't. But what astonishes me is how being deficient in a certain nutrient can affect your body so quickly and raise your risk of developing a disease over the long term. For all the nutritional advice I have read, its still hard for me to wrap my mind around the connection between the food we ingest and the mysterious workings of our tissues, cells and organs. You can go all over the 'net reading recipes and general weight loss advice, but actual information about how specific foods interact with our genes, and influence our health, is harder to find.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Truth

Truth is, last week I was so disorganized, I bought food from the sandwich shop near work more than half the time instead of bringing it from home. Truth is, too, I let myself eat ice cream, potato chips, and candy in response to any vaguely negative emotion, at any moment. Why do I do that? It's not that I'm eating high quality treats, just eating mechanically.

Yesterday, I watched a video of Gwyneth Paltrow and Mark Bittman in Spain, doing foodie stuff, and found myself thinking "who cares how the Spanish make goat cheese?" I was more jealous of Gwyneth's hair than interested in what she was eating. I enjoy Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations; not because I want to know where to eat in Las Vegas, but because I find him such a dish. I am not a real foodie.

It all comes down to what part of your personality, you are leading with, I think. The extroverted self focuses on the culture of food, the sensual quality of the food stuff, the travel to distant lands to experience deep fried Twinkies, or the freshest tuna.

The introverted self focuses on how the food feels in the tummy, on the effect of the food on one's arteries, on the mood the food is meant to satisfy, on the statistics on the lab report, on the level of cholesterol in the blood, etc.

I am usually introverting, and as an intuitive thinking type, my focus is usually not only on how to make the best version of macaroni and cheese but on What Does it all Mean. I over think absolutely everything. Consequently, I have an expensive bottle of pomegranate juice in the fridge because I have read about its antioxidants, but I eat junk food at work because I can't figure out how to structure my environment to follow the principles of good nutrition. I WILL figure it all out. I WILL.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Food Combos Amp Up Nutrition

I was astonished to read an article on MSNBC yesterday that said there are nutritional benefits to eating tomatoes with olive oil, garlic with fish, or in drinking a glass of o.j while eating a bowl of oatmeal.

The vitamin C in the juice and the fiber in oatmeal, for example, clear away artery clogging cholesterol three times better together, than if they are eaten separately.

I was just speculating, in my last post, over the evolutionary benefits of collecting recipes. I was trying to figure out why we are so inclined to seek out a list of ingredients to cook together, rather than just thinking "I have a cup of rice in my cupboard, a half a can of tuna in the fridge, and look, a carrot." We could save so much money if we didn't insist we need cilantro, scallions and soy sauce for that rice, mayo, celery and a bulky roll for the tuna, and tomato sauce, onion and pasta for that carrot.

Then, here comes an article on food combinations, which states the sum of a recipe is greater than the parts. Apparently we have evolved to eat lemon with kale, because the vitamin C in the lemon helps release the iron in the kale. Astonishing.

"The complexity of food combinations is fascinating because it's tested in a way we can't test drugs: by evolution," says Jacobs. And, he adds, "it's tested in the most complex of systems: life." What's more fascinating, however, is that the evolution between eater and eaten might answer the long-held question about why humans live longer, healthier lives on traditional diets. "

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I Spent $57.66 at the grocery store

I recently found a blog, called Less is Enough, written by a woman who normally spends $90.00 a month on food. Last month she conducted an experiment to see if she could actually live on a dollar a day.

And she can, quite easily. I think I could too, if I made that my priority. Really, I could just live on brown rice, cabbage, orange juice and beans and I would save a bundle. I wish I were that disciplined. The catch is, I have this inner hunger artist, who demands variety, sugar and recipes with "names." Why do we focus on recipes? Who eats "tomato-bacon-wheat," or "bread, tuna, onion, oil" ? We eat Spaghetti Carbonara or, Pan bagnat, or Singapore Noodles, or Pad Thai, because our food is more than just a collection of edible ingredients, its a story. And why do we insist on eating food stories, instead of just an ounce of this and a cup of that? After all, this woman's $30.00 a month experiment shows just how much you could save if you skipped the story, and just viewed food as a carrot, some rice, and a piece of chicken meat. I think the "stories," i.e. recipes, evolved over time to help people remember to include micro nutrients in their diet. Pan bagnat isn't just a reminder: eat oily tuna, don't forget bread. It's a story that says mix tuna with capers, vinegar, onion, garlic, black olives, layer on arugula, let it chill, because that tasted good the last time we did it. And these micro nutrients are just a collection that tasted good, and which made the body say, "ah, I needed that dose of calcium with my B12. Brain, remember that combination. Maybe give it a name."

Anyway, that's my excuse why I spent $57.66 on:

Barefoot Merlot wine $6.00, Canned salmon $2.84, frozen peas $1.29, imported tuna $3.66, eggs $2.19, Grey Poupon Mustard $3.29, mozzarella cheese $1.99, ricotta $1.99, frozen fruit mix $3.99, 2 boxes of Pastene brand pasta $4.38, Omega 3 spread $2.69, shallots $1.79, celery $1.99, basil $2.29, organic carrots $2.99, 2 portabello mushrooms $2.59, shiitake mushrooms $3.99, whole wheat rolls $1.99, paper towel $1.79.

My plan is to make salmon burgers, portabello burgers, a creamy pasta broccoli dish (with broccoli from last week), a pasta primevera dish (cold pasta salad with the tuna ) and to get drunk. (just kidding.)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Mother Love

A quote from Carl Jung on the mother archetype:

. . . the mother-love which is one of the most moving and unforgettable memories of our lives, the mysterious root of all growth and change; the love that means homecoming, shelter, and the long silence from which everything begins and in which everything ends. Intimately known and yet strange like Nature, lovingly tender and yet cruel like fate, joyous and untiring giver of life–mater dolorosa and mute implacable portal that closes upon the dead (Archetypes 92).

Psychology of Food

I have read in some Jungian Psychology tomes, that food, that is the image of food, the topic of food, is associated with the mother archetype. In symbolic terms, anorexic thinking is shaped by a rejection of the mother archetype, and, I suppose, to be addicted to food is to always be seeking, and never finding, the "Good Mother."
My belief in this is influenced by the brilliant Marion Woodman, and her work including The Owl was a Baker's Daughter, the Still Unravished Bride and Addiction to Perfection. These are not pop psychology books, but imaginative psychological ruminations on women, food and the longing for nurturing.

The other night I had a dream, I was in a second floor room of a large house. People have come to the house to inspect it, or look around, or something. A chicken is in the room, and startled by the people, it flies out the window. I go outside and pick up the chicken, or, rather, it is handed to me by someone who has picked it up. I am afraid to hold the chicken, a pretty, red and yellowish bird, but I decide to hold it close to my chest, like holding a baby. The chicken is still alive, but its neck is broken, and as I hold it, it dies.

I once sat with a dying chicken, a friend's pet, that a dog had gotten a hold of and snapped its neck. I felt very sad and afraid as it labored to breath, even though it was "just a chicken," one bird similar to the thousand I had bought in a supermarket and brought home to saute.

I had made a chicken stew this week, and ate it all week till I got absolutely sick of it. I ended up throwing it out on Friday, thinking it might no longer be safe to eat.

Food and mothering are inseparable themes in my mind. I hold the chicken to me, like a mother holding a baby. When I cook a chicken stew, I am attempting to feed myself, to take care of myself, as a mother sustains a child. The chicken, in the dream, has broken its neck in a fall from a window (chicken's don't fly too good.) It is passing from the state of being a living bird, to being food, although I wouldn't eat this chicken, as I wouldn't have eaten the bird I watched die after being injured by the dog.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

$115.24 hauled home from the grocery store

Chicken breasts on sale $5.83, frozen shrimp $5.99, mushrooms $1.99, 1 broccoli crown $1.99, 1 carrot .57, Napa cabbage as big as my head $9.67 (didn't think it was going to cost that much!),
garlic .46, lime .50, 2 lemon $1.00, basil $2.29, cilantro $2.29, 1 red pepper $2.13, hot pepper .07,
multigrain bread $2.29, peanut butter $4.69, coffee $4.59,milk $4.19, pasta $1.99, oyster sauce $4.99, (not the price it said on the shelf, usual grocery store rip off), frozen fruit $3.99, oatmeal $2.75, cheddar cheese $2.29, parmesan $2.99, kidney beans .89, rice vermicelli $2.66, brown rice $2.69, tomato puree $1.55, tomato paste .50

non food: fish oil capsules $7.49, Tums $4.54, tooth paste $4.59, Ivory soap $2.47, Chapstick $1.19, Oil of Olay beauty creme $7.97, dental floss $2.00.

This always happens when I have several new recipes in mind to try. This is not a frugal haul, but I will make it last two weeks.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mashed White Beans

I never made it to the supermarket today, so I ate out of the pantry. Breakfast was oatmeal, lunch was brown rice with salsa, dinner was mashed white beans with garlic and rosemary. The beans were so good. Oh, I also finished up some ice cream.

Last Sunday, I spent $12.78 at the grocery store. Ground Turkey $3.29, 2 cans crushed tomatoes $1.74, box of rigatoni .99, cheddar cheese $2.39, omega spread $2.89, carrot .48, celery $1.11, mushrooms $1.99.

I made a Turkey Bolognese and ate that for four days, along with brown rice and cheese, for lunch and dinner. On Thursday I bought a slice of pizza for lunch $5.00, and ice cream and chips $9.00 at the corner store, Friday I bought an Italian from Amatos for $5.00, and a roast beef and boursin sandwich for dinner $7.00.

As usual, I have been reading articles on nutrition all over the internet. One article I read made a strong case for eating more omega 3's, especially by consuming fish. The author credits fish oil capsules with lifting his depression. Another article I read compared four different diets, and concluded any food combination will work for losing weight, as long as calories are controlled.

I continue to aspire to eating a "Mediterranean Diet." Basically, this diet consists of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and whole grains, with protein from beans, fish and poultry. Red meat is only consumed about once a month. I am convinced of the benefits of eating this way, however, I find it difficult to figure out exactly how to put it into practice.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Food Blogs Lead One Astray

I have become an avid reader of food blogs lately and its steering me way off course. Example: the Pan bagnat recipe I tried last week, inspired by several glowing descriptions of this fancy sandwich on various blogs (funny how the same recipe turns up around the internet at the same time.) I bought capers, canned Italian tuna, black olives, and artisan bread last week, thinking this would be my new brown bag lunch solution, and forgetting the fact I am not all that fond of capers, black olives and canned tuna. Did I think the internet would transform these ingredients into something I would love through some kind of digital alchemy? Didn't work. Oily tuna smashed between bread slices by a heavy weight. Yuck. Maybe if I had remembered to buy the arugula it called for. Maybe if had chopped the capers smaller.

Of course, its possible, in addition to being an inept cook, I am an incompetent eater. The best thing I ate last week, to my mind, were half cooked mushrooms straight out of the pan, which I was sauteing while very hungry. Truthfully, I enjoyed the half cooked mushrooms more than the dish they ended up in.

So, is it possible my palate was ruined being raised on Captain Crunch for breakfast, egg salad on white for lunch, and frozen french fries, overcooked broccoli and fish sticks for dinner? "No Pan bagnat for you, you uncouth swine!" the Nazi-like Chef might say. That can't be entirely true, as I have enjoyed fresh spring rolls, Szechuan shrimp, vegetable tempura, and other "ethnic" food in restaurants for years. Maybe I just don't like French food. The scary thing is, with the economic news as it is, I can well imagine losing my job and ending up on food stamps. Then, I would have to live on $21.00 for food a week and the question of learning to like capers would be moot.

So, I vacillate between wanting to emulate the food blog writers who whip up seafood bisque and rave about it, and combing the frugal people sites where they talk about cutting coupons for Hot Pockets. Meanwhile, I peruse nutrition sites that advocate for calorie restriction, or the Mediterranean Diet for good health and increased longevity, and that make me anxious to avoid cream of mushroom/ground beef type casseroles and other poor people staples. The Harvard Nutrition website says "no potatoes!"

You have to eat 1,800 a day, that's just a fact. The more vegetables and fruits and whole grains those calories come from, the better off you are. It's that simple. So what if your meals don't look like the food bloggers' masterpieces and you don't get the same pleasure they seem to from Tuna Nicoise?

It's not necessary to slide into eating Spam, white rice and Velveeta (its all coming back to me now. We really ate those foods growing up. We also drank Tang.) It's OK to eat simply, count pennies, and aim for those seven servings of nutrient dense vegetables a day. That's the point. Get a grip.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I spent $40.83 at the Supermarket Today

What I bought:
crusty wheat bread $3.66, free range eggs $2.99
Genova brand Tonno Tuna in olive oil, $ 3.66 Goya Capers $2.59,
linguine $1.19, Parmesan cheese, $2.39, sour cream .99,
olives $1.13, peas $1.47, thin cut steak $3.36, cilantro $2.29,
carrots .83, ginger .25, 2 green peppers $2.74, spinach $1.99,
mushrooms $1.99, lemon .50, deodorant $3.22, dental floss $2.29

Last weekend I made two recipes from Women's Health Magazine,
Jambalya and Cozy Quinoa Casserole. I ate those two dishes all week,
plus pasta with veggies. This week I have made a Pan Bagnat, which is a
tuna, vinaigrette and hard boiled egg sandwich you wrap up in plastic
and marinate overnight with a brick on it, to flatten the sandwich. I think
I'm going to like it, the Genova canned tuna was expensive but out of this world
tasting (for canned tuna.) I also made a Salmon Kedgeree from the
MediterrAsian website, (brown rice, curry, peas, hard boiled egg, salmon,
cilantro.) and a Korean style steak stir fry from a recipe on Food Network.
I don't usually eat red meat, but I felt like I needed it. I put these dishes in
individual containers in the freezer and I will eat off that all week.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

$62.04 at Supermarket

coffee $4.59
eggs $2.89
brown rice $2.69
quinoa $4.58
monteray jack cheese $2.69
cheddar cheese $2.39
Lactaid milk $4.15
spaghetti $1.49
Omega spread $2.89
Stoneyfield Banilla yogurt $3.69
frozen blueberries $3.49
chicken sausage $4.49
Shadyfarm ground turkey $2.79
asparagus (from Peru!) $2.29
celery $1.17
1 red pepper $1.36
sliced mushrooms $1.69
red potatoes $3.36
dish detergent $1.09
plastic containers $3.39
shampoo .99
kleenex $2.49
toliet paper .99

I plan to make two particular dishes: Cozy Quinoa Casserole and Jambalaya (hence the chicken sausage.) Eventually I want to have a collection of recipes I can plan around, and really get this
food shopping thing down to a science.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

How do you stay on a food budget?

Last weekend I didn't manage to get to the supermarket, so I lived off what food I had in my pantry and freezer, plus I ate out.

I spent $30.00 on take out food during the week, plus I hit the corner store for wine and a box of fish sticks, $12.00. Yesterday I went on a vending machine rampage: Diet coke, Kit Kat bar, vanilla creme cookies, and pretzel sticks. I don't even want to add it up.

I think Diet Coke is the trigger for my sugar cravings. Trouble is, my workplace is overheated and the water cooler is malfunctioning, (boss refuses to have it fixed
due to the recession.) Diet Coke beckons, although it actually makes me thirstier, I've noticed. Solution: I need to bring a gallon of water to work everyday.

Obviously, I either stay on top of the grocery thing, or end up spending too much on take out food. There is no way around it, its just better for me to be organized so I don't have to resort to take out. What I have learned keeping this blog, however, is that its just as easy to go overboard and spent $111.00 at the store, buying all the ingredients for five recipes, as it is to spent $50.00 on take out, plus eating out of the pantry. There must be a way to keep oneself fed, eating healthy food, for $30.00 a week. That's what I'm trying to figure out how to do.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Calorie Restriction for Longevity and Health

Yesterday I did lots of reading on the 'net regarding the benefits of the Calorie Restriction Diet. Animal studies have shown routinely restricting calories leads to increases in longevity and to staving off illness of aging like Alzheimer's and diabetes.

I do believe a calorie restricted life is a healthier one. It is not the same as anorexia. Anorexics don't eat enough protein and glucose. Their bodies end up destroying their heart muscles, seeking the calories to convert enough energy to keep moving. CRD adherents meticulously track their nutrient intake to avoid that fate.

If there is one state people fear the most, its starvation, but CRD is promoted as the healthiest diet in the world, severally restricting calories, while focusing on optimal nutrition. CRD, however, is clearly not a "natural" lifestyle, in that, given free rein, most people will overeat. Most eating is unconscious, directed by external stimuli, and driven by primal forces. If its hard for the average person to stay on Weight Watchers, how do you stay on CRD?

I remember fasting as a teenager. Day One was agony, Day Two I felt euphoric and free. It was wonderful not to eat, made me wonder why I ever had, or would again. Day Three I woke up driven to devour a hard boiled egg. In the back of my mind I could hear mother nature scolding me, "You foolish girl! Eat or you will die!" I felt defeated. Mother Nature wants her girls to have enough fat to be fertile and able to carry a fetus to term. That's her priority, what does she care if you want to wear skinnier jeans?

So, the question for me is, how safe is it to go against nature and one's instinct to eat omnivorously? Is a longer, healthier life worth conquering the most unconscious drive in your body? I am not a teenage girl anymore, fasting on Diet Coke, compromising my fertility. I'm a middle aged (eek!) woman, seeking to preserve my brain and arteries and live a good life.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obesity riddle solved.

Intriguing new research shows the reward center in the brain of obese people lights up in anticipation of food, more so than in leaner people's. However, their brains show less satisfaction while actually eating the food. In other words, leaner people enjoy food more, crave it less.

My experience bears this out: my imagination goes into overdrive when I'm stressed, thinking about foods that will meet my needs - I want a cupcake, I want the macaroni and cheese sold at the West End Grocery, I want a bag of Cape Cod chips followed by a chocolate truffle. My brain comes up with brand names and locations of previously secured fattening foods. But, I'm often disappointed by these treats or meals I go to a lot of trouble to make, or buy at restaurants. There are many examples on this blog where I describe a fattening meal as "gross" or just not satisfying.

I think my own obsession with recipes and meal planning may indicate I am more controlled by the idea of food, than leaner people are, who think eating a cube of cheese, a hunk of bread and apple are enough for a satisfying meal. I have been reading about the role of dopamine deficiency in the brain and its link to depression, ADD, overeating and other addictions. Just knowing that my craving for ice cream is not my body needing calcium, but my brain needing dopamine, is helpful in examining why I sometimes overeat. Its amazing to think how our behavior is influenced by the chemicals in our brains.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tagliatelle with Lemon

This week I froze 6 burritos individually, and took one to work each day. I love the idea of a zip- loc bag full of burritos in my freezer, and the easy lunch solution, but next time I would take more care with my recipe because they did turn out kind of gross.

I did a variation of the Tagliatelle with Lemon recipe from French Women Don't get Fat by Mireille Guiliano. This recipe reminded me why my favorite foods involve dairy and pasta: but that's probably not a good thing to remember. Here's the recipe: Cook tagliatelle (ribbon pasta, I used spinach) in boiling water. Grate zest of 4 lemons and reserve juice from 1. Warm up 1 tblspoon of olive oil with zest add 6 oz of creme fraiche (I think sour cream would substitute ok), pour in juice of one lemon and boil. Add 4 oz parmesan cheese as it thickens, season with pepper and salt and add drained pasta. I added sauteed mushrooms, which made it even better.

I also made a Thai Coconut Red Curry Soup with Shrimp this week, which came out a little watery, probably because I used Lite Coconut Milk instead of regular, so it wasn't very creamy. The revelation, however, was how good Better Than Boullion is. Better Than Bouillon is a paste that comes in Chicken, Beef and Vegetarian flavors. The blogger at Cheap Healthy Good recommend it.(I only found that blog after I named mine.) The Boullion really does add a fantastic taste. And it has tumeric, yay! That's a spice that is supposed to lower risk of Alzheimer's.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stimulus Package

My grocery receipt looks like a stimulus package for the grocery industry. Total was $111.51.
(At least it doesn't include any pork. heh heh.) Last week I spent $28.00 at the store, which I thought was good, but then I got pretty sick of eating my chili and chickpea/salmon salad every day. Thursday I ate dinner out $17.00, and I got a slice of pizza at lunch $5.00. Friday I ate lunch at the Japanese restaurant next door $12.00, and bought snacks at Joe's Market on the way home from work (wine, chips and chocolate. $10.00.)

Taking a different route this week, I bought more than enough for the week, planning to make food to freeze so I'm not caught flat footed, with nothing I want to take for lunch. I went to the store with three or four recipes buzzing in my head.

I bought: multigrain tortillas $3.99, salsa $2.99, creme fraich $4.49, sour cream $1.19, black beans 2@1.09, cannelloni beans $1.09, kidney beans$1.09, canola oil $3.19, brown sugar $1.33, cheddar cheese $7.69, Worcester sauce $1.59, sardines $2.50, milk$4.19, olives $1.59, can of red curry $1.19, organic crushed tomatoes 2@$2.19, tomato paste .89, tagilette pasta $3.49, Omega spread $2.89, chicken thighs $2.59, ground turkey $3.89, Better Than Bouillon $3.89, acorn squash $1.18, celery .78, green pepper $1.53, red pepper $1.45, zucchini $1.15, dill $2.29, rosemary $2.29, sliced mushrooms $2.49, 3 lemons $1.00, 5 lb onions $2.99, 2 bags frozen shrimp $9.98, toothbrushes $3.49, ziplok freezer bags $2.49, plastic containers $3.39, wax paper $1.99.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Eating doesn't change anything.

Thursday night it was really, really cold in Maine and I was hurrying from work to my second job, feeling sorry for myself. I decided to treat myself to dinner at a nearby restaurant, instead of just eating a power bar, like I’d planned. Well, the waitress was annoying, the food was pretty bad, and then I was mad at myself for spending too much money. Suddenly, it hit me: just eating a meal, even if the food had been delicious, was never going to change the fact it was so cold outside. Getting better restaurant service was not going to make me any happier about having to go to work. I really got the fact that eating doesn’t automatically make things better. This seems amazing because I always think eating something good will magically improve any of life's problems. But overeating can't change the weather. It just makes me fat! I hope I can remember that. It makes more sense to exercise to feel better, because that, at least, makes you stronger and healthier, positive changes to the body, not just adding an extra roll of fat somewhere.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A frugal grocery bill: $28.14

I will make a turkey chili which will last most of the week, and a salmon/chickpea salad I saw a recipe for on the chickpea can. I bought oatmeal and blueberries for breakfasts and soymilk to put in my coffee for a change. I have spices and oil in my pantry.

can of tuna $1.00
can of salmon $1.58
kidney beans .89
generic brown rice $2.29
no-brand Oatmeal $1.69
organic crushed tomatoes $2.19
Progresso can of chickpeas $1.30
Wyman frozen blueberries $3.49
Omega olive oil spread $2.89
ground turkey $2.79
silk vanilla soymilk $2.49
1 lb carrots .99
celery $1.49
stirfry noodles $1.49
coke zero (bad me) $1.49
bag refund +.05

chili recipe
Heat olive oil in a large pot, saute chopped onion and garlic. Add ground turkey and brown. Add the following ingredients, ( 2 tbs. chili powder, 1 tbs. cumin, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, 3 cups water, salt). Stir to mix and bring to boil.Reduce heat and simmer, covered until the sauce is as thick as desired.This could be an hour or so. Add a can of kidney beans and heat through.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Does your online checking account site allow you to create a Budget?

I only just noticed there is a Budget function on my online checking account site. I spent some time today setting myself up to keep track of expenses and create summaries reflecting the data.
Now, when I view my transaction history at Keybank.com, I can assign categories for each deposit and cleared check or debit. I can keep better track of where the money goes.

Why haven't I done this before? It's so easy. According to my first summary, for December, I spent $150.00 on eating out and $110.00 at the grocery store. Eating out is almost always a whim, or the result of forgetting my lunch, or a response to a stressful event (I took myself to dinner after I got my mammogram.) The trouble with grabbing a sandwich at Amato's is, the food is cheap but not nutritious. A sandwich from Mr. Bagel is more nutritious but not as cheap. I don't regret my post-mammogram dinner at the Thai restaurant because it was relatively economical, beautifully prepared and nutritious. I could not have prepared that meal for myself any cheaper.