Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Grows Attempt to Grow a Garden

A weekday off seems like a special treat, so much more indulgent than a weekend off, perhaps because of its relative rarity. My husband and I both took the day off yesterday, and off to the nursery we went, in search of some finer plants to put in pots and try our hand at growing our own food. We have limited space on our patio, but certainly don't want to be left out of the organic, home-grown food club. So this is what we came home with:

- 3 kinds of tomato plants (heirloom varieties - all gorgeous!) including: Siletz (good basic red type), Red Pear (little pear-shaped sweet ones), and Health Kick (yellow tomatoes with 50% more lycopene than your average tomato).
- 2 types of strawberries (Eversweet and Quinault)
- 1 yellow bell pepper plant
- In the herb window box (which I found adorable and had to buy): rosemary, flat leaf parsley, lemon thyme, mint, and basil.

I can't wait for things to start growing and to reap the benefits of our labor! I'll let you know how it goes, unless it dies due to lack of sun (which worries me because of the angle of our apartment). I'm hoping for a delicious growing season! Any gardening advice for us?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Courageous, Outrageous First Attempt at Making Tofu for Dinner

Did you know that April is National Soy Month? American soy milk and I get along fine, perhaps owing to the choice I have between vanilla or chocolate, both of which are fine with me. Tofu and I have a more complex relationship. Chinese stinky tofu is a big no. Just no.

In America, sometimes I enjoy tofu (as in pad thai, miso soup, etc.), but I have encountered two problems: 1) The distinctly fermented taste may come through too strongly or 2) The texture gets too slippery and slimy at times. However, I also know that there’s a lot to love about soy products, which are believed to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and isoflavones.

So, for this week’s Meatless Monday, I decided to add more protein to our daily diet, and the easiest way to do so was to try adding tofu to my vegetable and udon noodle stir fry. I was determined not to end up with slimy bars of goo, so I consulted my most recent cookbook acquisition: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. (Supposedly, it’s the Bible of vegetarian cooking, and was written by the long-time chef from Greens restaurant in San Francisco.)

I have learned that the key to a nice, golden brown, slightly crisp, non-slimy tofu is to follow these steps: Start with extra-firm tofu and drain it between paper towels for maybe 10 minutes. We want to get rid of the extra liquid it has been stored in. Then, slice the tofu into cubes. Next, heat a pan or wok with canola oil until the oil gets really hot and starts popping a bit.

Then, fry the tofu in the oil until it’s brown on both sides. (This is easier said than done if you have a fear of sizzling hot oil popping out onto your arms, as I do. I wore long sleeves as a protective measure.) When golden brown, remove the tofu and place on a plate and set aside. Now you’ve got your crispified tofu all ready to be added to your stir fry, and coated with plenty of sauce if you don’t want to taste too much strong soy flavor. Excellent!

Monday, March 29, 2010

An Unexpected Shout Out Makes My Day

A blog is a funny thing. One moment, you may feel as if you're sending your words and thoughts into the black hole of cyberspace, somewhat anonymously; then the next, you connect with a stranger or get a shout out on another blog and suddenly, your invisibility cloak is swept away. (I like to throw in a good Harry Potter reference where I can, though I'll never forgive Rowling for doing away with Dumbledore. Never, I say!)

I have been blessed to make several new friends through blogging this week, and also be recognized by my friend Mark on his own blog, Noce Stories. Mark is a skilled writer and probably on his way to becoming a published author, so check out his blog for bragging rights that you knew him before he was a household name. My favorite quote from his review of my blog was was this:

"One part cookbook, one part philosophical, and two parts fun, “In Search of the Finer Things” appeals to pretty much anyone with a soul!"

See how articulately he summarizes everything I post? And here I thought it was just stream-of-conscious randomness. I only hope to live up to this praise! Thanks, Mark! Keep up the good work with your writing.

Pukkolla: Quick, Delicious Make-Ahead Breakfast

I think everyone who knows me knows what a huge Jamie Oliver fan I am. This week, I’ve been watching "Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution" on ABC (perhaps one of the most important shows on TV at the moment, in my opinion). Then, my husband procured the entire BBC production of "Jamie’s American Road Trip", and so far we’ve followed him as he explored the Mexican community of east LA and cowboy culture in Cody, Wyoming. Yum!

All of this Oliver mania left me hungry for even more Jamie, so I pulled out my old cookbook "The Naked Chef Takes Off" and found a recipe that I’ve been meaning to try. It’s basically a sort of muesli, and it has a beautiful silky, not-too-thick texture. I have made muesli before, but always with yogurt; I prefer it Jamie’s way. This dish is extremely healthy, and convenient, since you can make it all ahead of time. Both my husband and I absolutely loved it.
The name "Pukkolla" is a play on the British slang "pukka", which means something like "wicked" or "awesome". He’s very informal in his measurements - it’s all part of his natural, laid-back approach. Love it!
(Jamie Oliver’s Muesli)

several handfuls of rolled oats (not instant or quick)
a handful of dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, dates, etc.)
a handful of crumbled walnuts
a few tablespoons of bran meal
a few tablespoons of flaxseed meal (This was my addition for the nutritional benefits of flaxseed!)

This mixture may be kept in an airtight container for several months if you want to make a large batch and take out a smaller amount each day to prepare. Here is how you prepare it:

The night before:Cover the mixture with milk (or soy/rice/almond milk). Grate in 1 apple, stir, cover and place in refrigerator overnight.

The next morning:Remove the bowl from the refrigerator and stir. Slice up a banana and stir it into the mixture. Can add a little honey for extra sweetness if desired. Serves 2.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Making Your Own Dreams Come True

"Do something every day that scares you."-Eleanor Roosevelt

Sometimes I wonder how many things in life we miss out on because of fear, be it insecurity and self-doubt, or just the fear of failure. Although I have experienced these in my life in the past, I am getting to a point of greater stability where I am making an effort to stop listening to the voice in my head that says I can’t and just do things that I want to do. Here are some recent examples:

1) I began taking a yoga class to pursue a long-time desire to learn that had previously always landed squarely in the "someday" category. I was nervous to try yoga because of my limited flexibility and minimal upper body strength. However, I discovered something that I truly enjoy and which nurtures the body, mind and spirit. I can't always do all of the poses or hold them for long, but it's a start down a road that I've been sitting and staring at for a long time.

2) I planned a dinner party, although I have always worried about not being a good enough hostess/cook/conversationalist/etc. I realized that I’m never going to learn how to entertain if I don’t invite friends over, so I’m going for it! (And I'm really excited to plan it, too!)

3) On the booking-reading social network, I couldn’t find a group to cater to my interest in Food Writing, so I formed my own group. My first impulse was to negatively wonder: "What if no one joins and I look like a loser?" But then a positive voice shot back, "What if people with the same interests do join? What if I can learn more about something that interests me? Why not?"

I am slowly learning to tune into the positive voice and shut out the negative one. I once heard that almost all women (in particular) struggle at times with a negative head voice, or negative self-talk. Maybe the negative head voice is the real enemy for us. Perhaps the only thing holding us back from living the life of our dreams is our own underestimation of our potential. If so, the possibilities are thrilling.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ode to the Sacramento Soup Nazi

Today, nearly a year since I wrote this review on Yelp, I wanted to share a memory of the most unique, wonderful daytime dining experience I have had in this city...

It was a cloudy, drizzling April morning and I finally had the day off. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it - finally try La Bonne Soupe Cafe, after reading many positive reviews on Yelp. With the restaurant's limited hours of operation, I work too far away to make eating there a possibility under normal circumstances. So, I planned my trip carefully, parking at the Westfield parking lot, walking 2 blocks or so to the restaurant, and arriving right about the time it opens, just a little before 10:45am, before the lunch rush.

The Frenchman does carry somewhat the air of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. He's a little abrupt, but I merely found myself marveling at his presence of mind with a line so long and only him to man the station. He created each sandwich as carefully and attentively as if there had been a single customer in line.

I chose the goat cheese with olive and roasted pepper (a daily special) and the cream of vegetable soup, then sat down at a table and perused one of the books on the bookshelf about the meaning of names as I enjoyed the most perfectly crafted lunch I've had in ages. The sandwich consisted of a good baguette (crispy on the outside, soft on the inside) filled with lettuce, tomato, mild, creamy goat cheese, just one olive and one red pepper, both cut in half, and a few secret sauces that linger in your mouth throughout the day like a haunting melody. The key here is quality over quantity, in true French style. What vegetables were in the cream of vegetable soup? I neither know nor care. Perfect temperature, perfect spices, perfect blend of flavors.

My meal at La Bonne Soupe Cafe was more than a lunch. The food and ambiance transported me back to a Parisian cafe in springtime, flooding me with memories of a study abroad long ago. Would that I could return daily. Alas, I shall await my next day off.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How To Hold A Supper Club

The latest idea that fascinates me is that of a supper club, or dinner group. There are a couple of ways to go about doing this, but the version that most appeals to me is this: A small group of people gather together on a regular basis (weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, etc.). On each occasion, one person or couple is in charge of making dinner, with enough food to serve however many people attend. This person/couple also provides copies of the recipe. The dinner is an opportunity to meet new people and learn about new foods at the same time.

The biggest obstacles to carrying off a scheme like this would appear to be:

a) Conflicting schedules. But meeting at a generally open time (like Sunday night, once a month) would seem to be an easy fix to this problem!

b) Food preferences/allergies. You can’t please everyone, and I think some picky people might do well to expand their boundaries. However, any one with food allergies or special needs should make them known at the outset so that a lactose-intolerant person doesn’t end up sitting down to a plate of lasagna!

c) Size. I think a group of 3-5 couples (6-10 people) would be ideal. When you get too many people and opinions and food preferences together, it might get a bit out of control. For this reason, I think a smaller group would be best.

That being said, nothing draws people together like food. I love the idea of the supper club, although don’t get me wrong, I also love sipping a simple soup at home on a quiet, cold evening with just me and my husband, and savoring the silence. But just think what you might learn from your fellow club members, what new experiences you might have, and what friendships might be forged!

Has anyone ever done something like this, successfully? If so, how did it work? If I do form a supper club, I will surely blog about it in the future...

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Food Revolution and YOU!

When I watched this 20 minute clip tonight, I knew that I had to post it on my blog. It shows one of my heroes, Jamie Oliver, giving a speech upon receiving the TED award this year. He discusses our role in health care and child education... and it all starts in the kitchen. I found his speech to be moving, interesting, and really- where else are you going to see kids who can't recognize a potato or a tomato? Maybe on Oliver's TV show that debuts March 26th...

To find ways to support Oliver's Food Revolution, see:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Food Festivals I'd Like to Try

I love going to food festivals. Last summer, I attended the Peach Fest in Marysville and enjoyed the adorable main street of town, buying fresh peaches, and feasting on delicious peach pie.

Here are some of the yearly Northern California festivals that I think sound especially cool or interesting:

July: Marysville Peach Fest (Marysville, California)
"Enjoy food, entertainment, arts and crafts with the forty thousand plus other people who regularly visit the annual Marysville Peach Festival in Historic Downtown Marysville!"

July: Gilroy Garlic Festival (Gilroy, California)
"10 tons of beef … 4 tons of pasta … 4 tons of calamari … 2 tons of scampi …plus 2 tons of fresh Christopher Ranch garlic. " Intriguing. They say garlic is wonderful for the health... but I think the long ride home to Sacramento might be a little smelly!

August: Tomato Festival & BBQ Championship (Fairfield, California)
"Draws over 45,000 people; Tomato Festival Cooking Contest; entertainment, arts & crafts. " There's nothing like a fresh, ripe tomato! And I love me some good BBQ!

October: Lambtown, USA Festival (Dixon, California)
"National Lamb Ribs Eating Contest, Lamb Barbecue Cook-off, Fiber Fair, Sheepdog Trials, Shearing Competition, Mutton Bustin', Fiber and Open Sheep Shows. " This one sounds the most unique. I didn't know there WAS a Lamb Ribs Eating Contest! Sounds entertaining, in a slightly barbaric sort of way.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Persian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

For many years, my elderly Irish co-worker was married to a Persian man. During this period of time, she learned to cook many of the "comfort food" dishes that her husband loved, and is very knowledgeable concerning the cuisine of this ancient country. Now known as Iran, Persia has a rich history of tradition and the food is a part of that.

This co-worker lent me an old, weathered cookbook called "In A Persian Kitchen" that was first published in 1960 by a woman who came from Persia and made America her home. The author shares many family recipes that her mother passed on to her, that she has successfully made for American friends who enthusiastically embraced the exotic, delicious fare.

I have long been wanting to try one of Ms. Mazdah's recipe, and since my husband and I have a tradition of eating cabbage on St. Patrick's Day, I decided to try the following recipe (which has been adapted slightly to our tastes and the modern kitchen). It's a fascinating dish - the sauce is just sugar and vinegar (at first I wondered, "Where's the tomato sauce?"), but it adds a delightful sweet and tangy touch to the cabbage. The meat inside stays moist and flavorful. If you have never tried cinnamon and meat (common in Middle Eastern cooking), it's a wonderful combination! If you want to try something a little exotic that doesn't require too much effort or any strange ingredients, here's your chance!

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves with Sweet-and-Sour Sauce

1 large head of cabbage
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 c. medium onion, finely shopped
1/4 c. Minute Brown rice
1/2 c. parsley, chopped
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. water
1/3 c. white sugar
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar

Core cabbage, set it in a pot of boiling salted water, cover, and cook until almost tender (be careful not to overcook it). Drain well and remove leaves, cut out midribs. Put ground beef in a bowl. Add onions through seasonings and mix well. Take each leaf in your hand and put a tablespoon of meat mixture on it. Shape into little packages. Line the bottom of a saucepan with cabbage leaves that couldn't be used. Pack in stuffed leaves, placing any remaining leaves between layers. Pour water on the cabbage, cover pan with lid and simmer on low heat for 35 minutes. Mix sugar and vinegar and pour over the cabbage and let cook for another 20 minutes. Makes 4-5 servings.

A St. Patrick's Day Quiz - How Well Do You Know the Holiday?

How did you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Our small law office had a potluck - all employees brought something green or Irish to share!

The spread was impressive, and included: lime green punch (orange and pineapple juice, ginger ale, and green jello mix); fried cabbage (contributed by a good ole Southern gal); glazed corned beef and Irish stew; Irish soda bread; green salad; green jello with whipped cream frosting (and pineapple - not crushed, nor tidbits, nor chunks, but rings for some reason. Yes, it was brought by a male); green shamrock cupcakes; and a pistachio cream cheese pie.

All of these delicacies were enjoyed with my husband’s selection of traditional Irish jig tunes (that he procured from who knows where, but they really added a festive ambiance!). We even held a contest of wits, awarding a prize to the person with the highest score on a quiz I personally put together for the occasion. Care to try your luck?

1) What city famously dyes their river green with vegetable dye in honor of this holiday?
a) Dublin b) Philadelphia c) Chicago d) St. Louis

2) In the US, Irish ancestry is the second most frequently reported race, second to:
a) English b) Spanish c) German d) Mexican

3) Where are the two biggest celebrations of this holiday held in the US? (1pt each)
a) Pittsburgh b) Los Angeles c) New York d) Boston

4) In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was traditionally a religious occasion, for which the pubs were closed. When did this policy (and the nature of the holiday) change?
a) 1895 b) 1785 c) 1995 d) 1965

5) Irish ranks in the top 5 ancestry in every state except these two (1 pt each):
a) Texas b) Hawaii c) New Mexico d) Arizona

6) Which of the following states is Irish NOT in the leading ancestry:
a) Vermont b) Delaware c) New Hampshire d) Massachusetts

7) St. Patrick was born in:
a) a barn to poor parents b) Britain to wealthy parents c) What is now France to pagan parents

8) After being kidnaped by Irish raiders from his home, St. Patrick spent six years in captivity working as a(n):
a) shepherd b) priest c) carpenter d) sailor

9) St. Patrick studied for how long in order to become a priest:
a) two years b) seven months c) five years d) fifteen years

10) True or false: St. Patrick is credited with introducing Christianity to Ireland.

11) True or false: St. Patrick drove all of the snakes out of Ireland. That is why the island to this day is snake-free.

1) c
2) c
3) c and d
4) c
5) b and c
6) a
7) b
8) a
9) d
10) F (There were already a small number of Christians in Ireland, and his mission included both ministering to them and to the pagan population)
11) F (This is a popular, but not necessarily literally factual, myth)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Afternoon Delight (Tea, That Is)

"America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between." -Oscar Wilde

Ah, Oscar. You sadden me with your British cultural superiority complex. Or so I felt, until last Saturday, when I discovered that the famous British playwright was indeed entitled to boasting rights, if merely for the fact that the British invented a delightful custom known as afternoon tea.

A couple of girlfriends and I experienced this refined and "civilized" tradition firsthand at an adorable little tea shop in the nearby city of Davis. Here are some pics from our get-together:

My tea: Tangerine Ginger

My friends shared the Rooibus Chai Tea, pink peony on the side

Our tea platter: sandwiches, scones, pastries, and fresh fruit!

Over warm, comforting drinks and tasty tidbits, we enjoyed the early spring sunshine that streamed in the window and even met some new friends, fellow lovers of the finer things who were seated at the table next to us. It was a beautiful thing!

Where did this glorious tradition become discontinued in America? Was it after the Boston Tea party, a rebellion against that wicked tea tax imposed on us prior to the Revolutionary War? My opinion: afternoon tea is right up there with siesta as deserving of being (re-)incorporated into the American lifestyle.

For a detailed description of the food, see my Yelp review here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

How to Make the Most of A Roast Chicken

Photo courtesy of Cooking Light

After a couple of experiments with cooking whole chicken (the most economical way to eat this popular poultry, I have learned), I believe the most efficient course of action to be as follows.

1) Roast your chicken with vegetables. Eat all the vegetables and a little bit of the chicken, but save as much as possible for later use.
2) Strip the carcass clean of meat. Freeze the meat in 1 plastic bag for later use, the carcass in another for making broth.
3) Make one, or preferably two, meals out of the leftover chicken meat; one or two more with the chicken broth.
4) Voila! You have made as many as 5 meals out of one chicken!

I found this recipe for using up my leftover roast chicken and loved it. Seeing as I cook with Asian ingredients fairly often, I already had almost all of the ingredients on hand. If you want to omit the cilantro or peanuts, no problem- it's still a tasty dish! I went light on the sambal oelek, to tame the spiciness down a bit.

This is the first time I had ever used rice sticks in my cooking, but it won't be the last. Common in Taiwanese cuisine, these noodles were a breeze to prepare - just submerge them in hot water for 10 minutes, no boiling required! Trying new ingredients is part of the fun of cooking! Give 'em a try.

Spicy Asian Noodles with Chicken
Adapted from Cooking Light

  • 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil, divided

  • 1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 cup chopped roasted skinless, boneless chicken breasts

  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar

  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

  • 2 teaspoons sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)

  • 1 (6.75-ounce) package thin rice sticks (rice-flour noodles)

  • 2 tablespoons chopped dry-roasted peanuts


1. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add ginger and garlic to pan; cook 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Place in a large bowl. Stir in remaining 1 teaspoon oil, chicken, and next 6 ingredients (through sambal).

2. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water; drain. Cut noodles into smaller pieces. Add noodles to bowl; toss well to coat. Sprinkle with peanuts.

Is It Worth It To Eat Local? The Debate You May Not Know Existed

Hedonistic: the self-indulgent pursuit of pleasure as a way of life.

I was aghast when I read an article in which one person used this word to describe the locavore movement, which has interested me since I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal Vegetable Miracle. How could this effort to reduce pollution and use of fossil fuels and rely more on our local resources possibly qualify as self-indulgent?

There are two sides to every issue, and part of being well-balanced includes becoming aware of them. An August 6, 2007 article in the New York Times gave one example of how eating locally grown food sometimes causes an increase, instead of a decrease, in the carbon footprint. Their case in point: Lamb raised on New Zealand’s clover-rich pastures and shipped 11,000 miles by boat to Britain produced 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton. On the other hand, British lamb produced 6,280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton. This was in part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed. In this example, it is four times more energy-efficient for Londoners to buy lamb imported from the other side of the world than to buy it from a producer in their backyard. Perhaps this issues is less pertinent to my fellow residents of California, who enjoy rich local resources; but what of those in a less human-friendly environment - say, Las Vegas, which used to be desert?

The potential good of locavorism is minimized in one study done by two engineers at Carnegie Mellon University, which declared that only 4% of all the greenhouse gases emitted by the food industry comes from transporting the food from producers to retailers.

In a Forbes magazine opinion article published in August of 2009, writer James Williams shares his stance: that the real answer to reducing one’s carbon footprint is to go meatless, rather than local, as raising vegetable life is so much less energy-intensive than raising animal life. He points out, "The average American eats 273 pounds of meat a year. Give up red meat once a week and you'll save as much energy as if the only food miles in your diet were the distance to the nearest truck farmers."

Despite these adverse opinions, I still feel there is a lot to be said for the locavore effort. On Wikipedia, I learned that a study in the 2007 Dewey Health Review included 100 individuals ages 18–55 eating local food grown within an 80-mile radius. The study revealed that a locavore diet resulted in a 19% increase in sturdiness of bowel movement and an overall drop in sleep apnea and night terrors.

Besides health benefits, there is a certain level of social responsibility that weighs upon us as consumers as well. To paraphrase Kingsolver’s observation in Animal Vegetable Miracle, we would hate to have our posterity wonder why we used up the last of our fossil fuel resources so that we could eat pale, flavorless watermelon in January.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Awesome, Easy Veggie Recipe: Black Bean Soup

Photo courtesy of Cooking Light

We did it! My husband and I joined the Meatless Monday movement 2 weeks ago by pledging to go meatless once a week for all 3 meals. This week, with carnivorous leftovers in the fridge from Saturday night that begged to be eaten for lunch on Monday, we decided it was more economical to do our meatless day on Tuesday.

Since we are in the infant stages of our experience, we are still on the lookout for good vegetarian recipes. Today we made a delicious Black Bean Soup, served with cornbread. We started with dried beans, soaked them overnight, and let them cook in the slow cooker all day. They came out fantastic! I didn't feel deprived in the slightest, and this recipe simple and perfect for working people. Enjoy!

Note: I substituted a jalapeno for the serrano chile, as I didn't want it too spicy. Also, didn't bother with the cilantro - I'm not a huge fan.

Black Bean Soup
From Cooking Light
  • 1 pound dried black beans
  • 4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 serrano chile, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
  • Cilantro sprigs (optional)


1. Sort and wash beans; place in a large bowl. Cover with water to 2 inches above beans; cover and let stand 8 hours. Drain.
2. Combine beans, broth, and next 5 ingredients (through chile) in an electric slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW 10 hours. Discard bay leaves. Stir in juice and salt. Ladle 1 1/2 cups soup into each of 6 bowls; sprinkle each with 2 teaspoons chopped cilantro. Top each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons sour cream. Garnish with cilantro sprigs, if desired.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Living Off Of $25 a Week - Possible?

I confess one reason I haven't posted as many recipes lately is because of trying to cut back on grocery store expenses. Naturally, I was interested when a blog I follow, Cheap Healthy Good, recently did an experiment: The blogger's husband was to cook for his family for a week, using only $25. I was interested to see what the guy would eat (seriously!). Granted, he used a fully-stocked pantry in addition to his grocery store finds, but still impressive!

The ideas that were shared at the conclusion of the successful experiment were helpful to me, as an economically-minded shopper, and also since I do the grocery shopping in our family. Some of the things that worked well for this man were:

  • Starting with a big chunk of meat and stretching it as far as it would go. This guy used a 3.5-lb pork shoulder over and over: in tacos, on top of egg noodles, as a breakfast side, in a peanut sauce, etc. I think this is a great idea; it also helps limit meat consumption.
  • Making a big pot of chili at the beginning of the week. This veggie-and-bean dish provided useful leftovers for many days. I'm going to keep this in mind next Meatless Monday!
  • Coupons, shopping from the circular, and unexpected discounts. By staying flexible and open minded, he found many unexpected deals.
  • Big, healthy breakfasts. Hello, oatmeal!!!
  • Baking. Homemade just about anything trumps store-bought any day! He mentioned cookies, but I think this is almost always true for baked goods.
  • Starches. He built almost all of his dinners around potatoes and grains, which are cheap and filling. I would add beans and legumes to this category - they make the foundation of some great, cheap meals too! (Think split pea or bean soup, stewed lentils, chili, etc.)
  • Fruit. Especially bananas. I wouldn't support the last part because bananas aren't local and overall produce a negative effect on the environment due to shipping. (Although I still cave in and buy them every now and again. I'm still human and I still crave banana bread sometimes!) However, I agree that fruit is the perfect naturally sweet snack. Apples and oranges are usually easier to find local and cheap in California.
  • Peanut butter. A good source of healthy fats, I would just add to be sure you buy natural. I feel sorry for those kids who die if they smell a peanut, cause they're missing out. And what's up with schools outlawing PB&J? Sacrilege! (Just kidding)
I hope you were inspired by this awesome husband like I was to save more on your next trip to the grocery store!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Fascination with CSAs Will Soon Come to Fruition!

Imagine this: Locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables delivered in a box to your door regularly. Could anything be better than that? Amazingly, that's exactly what you sign up for when you patronize a CSA (community supported agriculture) program.

When I was a kid, I loved to grow vegetables and pick fruit off our trees. Nothing beats the taste of freshly picked produce. Living in an apartment now, it's not something I can easily access. It seems that the next best thing would be a box of produce from a CSA program.

I have been wanting to try a CSA program for over a year now. The cost put me off for a while, but really it's not as bad as I expected. For example: at Farm Fresh To You, located in the Capay valley, the boxes start at $25 a box, and you can control how often your deliveries come. Your produce box includes a letter from Thaddeus the farmer on the progress of the crops, as well as recipes using the contents of the box. I get excited just thinking of all the experimentation a mystery box of goodies would lead to!

When the year progresses into the more productive months (ie, late spring/early summer), I think I am finally going to take the plunge and see what old Thaddeus will bring to my door.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chinese Medicine- Fact or Fiction?

I first experienced Chinese massage at a Relief Society function in Hong Kong. I was thrilled when it was announced that we would be learning massage. Then we just sat around pressing different points on our own bodies! I felt disappointed and didn't think it felt good at all.

I didn't really "get it" until I had a companion who had severe problems with her hand. An elderly member of our ward was a Chinese masseuse who offered to work on her hand for free. I accompanied her to these appointments and listened to her cries of pain without a bit of jealousy.

One day, the good man turned to me at the conclusion of the appointment and asked if I was sore. I assured him I was ok as I was, but he strode up to me, grabbed my shoulder and squeezed. For about a minute, I yelped in pain. However, when he released, it felt like every muscle in my back relaxed. I became a believer in acupressure!

Another question I have that's related to reflexology is this: The center of my feet are always sore to the touch. According to this diagram, this part corresponds with the digestive organs. I wonder if this could be related to my IBS issues? I wonder how much truth there is behind it!