Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ten Things I Like to Eat Right Now - October 30, 2013

1. Pomegranates. Cut one in half and smack the shit out of it with a wooden spoon and voila, arils.
2. Real whipped cream. Yesterday was a weird day, but it was also grocery day. We're doing very well staying on grocery budget - GO US! - and shopping mostly at YDFM has worked out beautifully for a full month. My special treats have changed from a box of packaged something or other to some sort of fancy fruit or bread. This time my splurge was a one-cup container of heavy whipping cream, which I whipped by hand because I didn't think to see if the Vitamix could do it (it can, and it also can make butter by the way...) and ouch my arm. But cream plus a bit of sugar plus vanilla...and then I put dollops on parchment paper and flash froze that so that now I can have whipped cream in my coffee every morning. I am happy. (I also bought mustard seeds because I think I may try refrigerator pickles.)
3. Single-serve vegan chocolate chip cookie cake from this recipe. Note that her calorie count/nutritional information is absolutely ridiculously wrong - the cake is at least twice that and around 9 WW points, but it also makes a GIANT cake that is easily two servings. And it is delicious. I plan to halve the recipe the next time I make it but I will be making it again. Maybe with maple syrup or brown sugar or...
4. An apple in the microwave with a dash of allspice and a smidge of cinnamon. I put it in for a minute at a time and by the end I had something delicious. Also vegan apple cider donuts over and over and over.
5. Roasted cauliflower with Frank's hot sauce. Sometimes batter coated, more often not. See also: roasted zucchini chips with a sprinkling of parmesan.
6. A mini whole wheat pita from YDFM (nothing artificial, real real bread baked that day) with pears and gorgonzola (hot gorgonzola = amazing, I had no idea) and maybe some basil and spinach and onion.
7. Coffee with peppermint extract. Ideally chocolate coffee (like the iced mocha flavor I got on super clearance from Tarzhay). I am over pumpkin pie spice already and am ready for the peppermint/chocolate explosion that comes next.
8. Frozen banana ice cream. Recent realization: I always make recipes in the Vitamix by starting at 1 and cranking up quickly to high speed. But the banana ice cream comes out richer and creamier if I do that briefly and then run it on 2-3 for a short while. Ingredients? Frozen bananas and a splash of almond milk. And chocolate syrup after.
9. Brownie Brittle. It's a good thing this stuff is hard to find because it is amazing. I actually DID get sent a free sample of it from one of the various sampling programs I am hooked into, but this is the first time in a while that I have legitimately falling in absolutely love with the freebie to the point of having a friend with a Costco membership buy me a monster-sized bag that I ate rather quickly over the course of a week 5 days 4 days.
10. Steel cut oatmeal with maple syrup and almond milk. I make a cup of dry oats at a time, put the whole thing in a container in the fridge, and eat 1/4 of it as a serving - heated up in the microwave for a minute, then stuff stirred in, then another 30 seconds, it's perfection, really. And the kid likes it too.

Other things I bought on a whim at YDFM that I plan to eat over the next week: delicata squash, acorn squash, beets, radishes. My child keeps asking for strawberries, cherries, and watermelon, but I am trying to get her to understand seasonal food. It's bad enough that we buy sub-par tomatoes...

Friday, October 11, 2013

A few short updates - October 11, 2013

  • The grocery experiment is one week old and going well so far. I did a single big trip last Friday to YDFM and didn't spend a lot and got mostly fresh food and ingredients. (No coupons!) Today, a full week later, we still don't need to do another big trip. On Sunday I went to Publix to pick up some freebies, my husband went to a store for eggs, and yesterday I ran out to get milk (cow and almond). I baked - banana muffins, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes, apple cider donuts - and then froze things and we have been enjoying them all week. I also premade steel cut oatmeal (I make four servings at a time). It's working so far, and it's really important. I also set up some other strict budgets and made some plans and I am hopeful that this will help us out over the next few months.
  • I had another IEP update meeting with the special education teacher, the general education teacher, and the speech therapist. I walked in worried about what I'd hear and walked out very comfortable and reassured. Again the speech therapist added more time - I actually argued against it for various reasons but in the end we're working it out. The kid is getting more pull-out time, but she still will be in her inclusive classroom a great deal. I don't love this, I have to admit - I want her to be in an inclusive classroom 100% of the time. But there are 25 kids, neurotypical and not, and there has been some staff changeover (we're on the fifth parapro thanks to people giving notice, taking other jobs, and so on, and there's a new person starting Monday). I know that pulling her out will give her more consistency and focus and allow her to learn her academic stuff. ACADEMIC STUFF in kindergarten - this still bugs me greatly as well but it's how things are. And she IS doing well with it (reading! math! Spanish! science!), so giving her a chance to keep up with her peers is important. The IEP is going to be tweaked and updated and I suggested that we revisit it after Thanksgiving.
  • AAC-wise, the kid has started pushing her talker away or turning it off. And she's also speaking in complete sentences that are mostly intelligible, so I get it. We're working on finding a balance - sometimes she does need the talker to express complicated thoughts or to be more readily understood. But our goal and the prognosis for her has always been that she'll be completely verbal, so I get it. (Also she can read and she has been reading for some time and I credit the talker with helping her literacy.)
  • Four weeks until I turn 40!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Trying a New Grocery Tactic - October 2, 2013

If you didn't already know, both my husband and I work from home as freelancers. And this means that every month our bills are the same but our income fluctuates. It's continually a learning experience, and we always have to tweak things.

Money has been a bit tight for a few months, so I decided to dig into some of our financial choices and see where new changes could be made. After a chat with a friend of mine, I wondered just how much we were spending on groceries. We never set a specific budget, but I was sure we were fine - I use coupons! I shop sales! I'm vegetarian! I don't buy a lot of processed food!

I went into my files and did the math We were not fine. We spend way too much on groceries. And we've consistently been overspending for months.

I do shop carefully. I do shop sales. I do use coupons. And my family shops at a range of stores to get the most bang for our grocery buck...and there is what we realized is one of our downfalls. Every time we go to a different store (ahem, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods being the biggest culprits), we get the deals and the items on our list - and then, somehow, we also throw in special items that we can only get at that store. Even if those special items are on sale or inexpensive, they rapidly add up. I admit it - I was in deep denial about this. (Also my husband throws ridiculous things in the cart every time...ahem.)

I still believe that spending more at grocery stores on special treats keeps us out of restaurants and keeps us from stopping for treats (we're surrounded by amazing donuts, cupcakes, popsicles, gelato...). While we overspent in this area for sure, we also dramatically cut back on our purchases of prepared food of all kinds. So that worked. But right now we need to cut back even more. Treats? I've been making multiple batches of these amazing baked vegan apple cider donuts and I'm eyeing a recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies next. I'm working on it!

So where am I going with all this? We're trying a new experiment. For the month of October, we're going to only shop at Your Dekalb Farmers Market (YDFM) for food - or at least 95% of our food. (As I've noted in the past, YDFM is a warehouse sized grocery store that's full of organic vegetables, bulk spices, and a gigantic wine selection. It's an amazing store, basically.) I started listing the things that we can only get at a mainstream grocery store and it was very short. The prices on a few things at YDFM (which is cash/debit only and does not take coupons) might be higher than the prices at Publix, Kroger, TJs, Whole Foods, but I think that the general pricing will balance that out.

Better, we'll buy mostly vegetables and basic ingredients if we shop at YDFM. The store does carry treats and snacks, but they're higher quality and easier to avoid as well. One of the best deals is a fresh-refrigerated pizza - far cheaper than going out for pizza and much healthier (and handily beats any general grocery store frozen pizza in all ways). And I won't be swayed by sales or deals because there aren't any. I think this could work.

I will need to shop at Publix or Kroger on occasion - there's a big sale on laundry detergent coming up, for example. If there's some amazing deal on something specific, then we'll run in - and only buy that thing. Yes we will. We will! (Sidenote: I am very disappointed that Kroger has stopped doubling coupons and claims to have "lower prices" that are, in fact, not so much.) This isn't a strict challenge or a game, it's a process. It's about being more mindful.

I'm trying really hard to think of what else I might need from one of the larger grocery stores. Well...YDFM doesn't carry string cheese and I might go get that elsewhere (or skip it, haven't decided). While it does carry the almond milk I drink every day, I can get a much better price with a coupon at Kroger, so I'll probably buy it there. Or maybe try making my own. YDFM carries organic cow milk but it's not homogenized and, well, I prefer that, so we'll have to get it elsewhere. And don't get me started on YDFM's bananas....

There's also a bread issue (oh fine, I'll confess - the preservative-free fresh-made bread sold at YDFM is so much better/tastier/healthier than shelf-stable bread, and I just read Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal[that's a referral link, FYI] and I know all about the junk in grocery store bread, but the good stuff goes bad so quickly unless I freeze it and I know it is because it's supposed to's one processed food I got used to! This will be a change), but I might be able to make that work, and my entire family would be healthier if we only buy bread from YDFM.

But we'll skip TJs (we just did a giant run there anyway...oops...) and WF for the month. And also for the first time in possibly ever, I have a dollar figure that is our entire grocery budget for the month, and we are going to stick to it.

This is new territory for me - I prefer coupons and sales and "I saved 50% this week!" - but it's not working. So this is a step. I'll keep you posted on how it goes. Could this turn into "Every month I pick one store and only shop at it?" Maybe. But I actually think YDFM is the answer and the clear winner. We'll see.