Thursday, August 30, 2012

Peppers "Real Food" Eating- on a Budget

I wish I could pick which 12 top the dirty dozen.  If I could, you had better believe peppers would not be on it.  We love peppers around here.  Not a day goes by that a pepper doesn't appear in one of our meals or snacks so when I realized they were something we were going to buy organically, I began to panic a little.  I don't know when the last time was that you priced an organic pepper, but at my local grocery store they are right around $4 for one.  I find it really difficult, if not impossible, to bring myself to spend that on a tiny little pepper.  The time had come to search for a frugal solution. 

In Season-  As much as I would love to have my own garden, I do not, so the next best solution for us is our local Farmer's Market.   To technically have the "Certified Organic" stamp of approval,  a farmer has to pay a fee. Many of the small, independent farms don't have the means to do so, but are practicing "organic" methods so in theory, you are getting an organic product.  Of course, not all the produce at a farmer's market would be considered organic so don't be afraid to ask.  Most farmers are more than willing to share the information with you.  Plus, you are "shaking the hands that feed you." 

Out of Season-  We have decided we will not be spending $4 on a pepper out of season so I have been busy freezing peppers for the winter.  It's an investment of time now, but I am looking forward to pulling a bag of pre-sliced peppers out of the freezer come winter.  I will not lie to you and pretend that a frozen pepper has the same property values as a fresh pepper.  A pepper that has been frozen tends to take on a soft, almost mushy texture. Luckily, most of the peppers we eat in the winter will be in something so you will likely not even notice the difference.  The good news is, from a nutritional standpoint, you are still doing pretty well with a frozen pepper. Especially considering produce from the grocery store in the middle of winter is often shipped long distances and tends to loose much of it's nutrients before it reaches the store.

This year, I really lucked out and was able to buy all of my peppers for the winter from a local Amish grocery store.  They were home grown, chemical free, and dirt cheap.  I walked away with 43 peppers for $14.  That is about 33 cents a pepper!  Had I purchased them all organically throughout the winter, I would have spent around $172.
I was so thankful for my food processor and the handy attachments that came with it.  It saved me a ton of time and effort! 

There is really no trick to freezing them.  First I washed them, dried them, and cut out the stem and core.  From there I cut them according to the recipes I plan to use them in and measured accordingly.  It did take me all day and my kitchen needed a good scrubbing after, but it was well worth the savings in my opinion.  Bring on the snow....  did I just say that out loud?...
Ready for the Freezer!
A nice addition for our compost bin. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Real Food" Eating- on a Budget

There are two words in the dictionary that are polar opposites:  Organic and Frugal.  It seemed entirely foolish to me to spend 3 times as much for "higher quality" food.  Sure, I could taste a difference in much of the produce but to save money I was more than willing to make the sacrifice.  I mean, taste was all  I was sacrificing by buying the "cheap" stuff, right?.......

This question led me on a  full year journey of researching, reading, watching documentaries, and talking with people who stand on extreme ends of the "organic" controversy.  My main goal in the beginning was to simply make an informed decision for myself on where I stood on the topic and why.  Little did I realize then, that eating organic was only the tip of the iceberg and would get pushed down the list of importance for me as more significant realizations and discoveries began to surface.

Along the way, I shared much of what I was learning with my husband and as certain things clicked, we began to make changes.  This wasn't an overnight thing for us and to be honest, I feel like I am only beginning to sort out the puzzle pieces.  To keep this blog post to a minimum,  food author Michael Pollan says it best: "Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants." 

Our goal is primarily to eat "real food", minimize the amount of meat we eat (about 3 meals a week), and substantially increase our daily fruits and vegetables.  "Real Food" tends to have 5 ingredients or less (all of which should be pronounceable and familiar).  Easy way to remember it, real food eventually rots and it is likely the kind of stuff your great grandparents ate.  Most "real food" hangs out along the outer edges of the grocery store which is now where I hang out too. 

"You are what you eat eat's too."   That is our new attitude with meat and animal products.  Not only are most animals on factory farms given preventative antibiotics as a part of their daily diet and growth hormones to increase their size (meat) and milk production, but most are fed corn.  (more on that later)  We want to be able to "shake the hands that feed us" and currently are able to do this with our beef, chicken, eggs, and have switched over to almond milk.

And last but not least, fruits and vegetables.  Turns out we really like the stuff!  Since they have become a significant part of our diet, the whole organic debate that was the instigator of this quest comes into play.  Basically,  most fruits and veggies are sprayed with some type of pesticide, herbicide, or fungicide which I assumed would be safe enough for humans to eat.  Funny though, that 20 ingredients found in pesticides have been found to cause cancer in animals... and atrazine, a commonly used pesticide in the US has been banned for use in all European countries.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that atrazine has a world market worth of $400 million?.... (stats taken from Harvey Blatt's book America's Food)  I could go on and on, but the more you look into it, the more complex and scary it becomes. 

For now, what we have settled on for fruits and veggies is eating organic off the "Dirty Dozen" list.  (the top 10 most contaminated)  Everything else I buy as I always have unless it is easy and comparable in price.  Organic carrots for example, are not on the dirty dozen but it's about twenty cents more at Walmart so we splurge.  We also try to eat locally and in season to get the most nutrients. That means a whole lot of canning and freezing for the winter.  Sounds like another blog entry for another day! 

And now for a few final thoughts on sugars and labeling.  I look at every label of everything I buy.  I use to look at the nutrition facts and calorie counts but no more. The ingredient list is my go to.   I avoid high fructose corn syrup (a highly processed sugar) and if sugar is listed as one of the first 3 ingredients, I check out the sugar amount.  You would be shocked at what has sugar in it that shouldn't.  I have also learned not to trust health claims on packaging.  Quick example:  Kellogs Smart Start Cereal boasts "lightly sweetened" on it's box but if you trust that, you should have just went with a serving of oreo cookies which has the same amount of sugar....   How about "natural"?  It means nothing at all, just sounds good.  Oh, and ever read the slogan "good source of"?.... Is 10% to 19% of your daily requirement really a good source?  Repeat:  I now read the ingredient list of everything I buy.  We also only buy full fat foods.  No more reduced or diet for us.  Turns out when they take the fat out, otherwise known as flavor, they fill it with other sweeteners and fillers to make up for the taste which is harder on your system than if the fat had stayed in the first place.

So there you have it.  A glimpse of what "real food eating"  looks like for us in a nutshell. I do have to say, as much as I know you are thinking "wow, they are really extreme, forget inviting them over for dinner or out to eat ever" that is not the case at all.  We are choosing to eat this way a MAJORITY of the time, NOT ALL the time.  Really, last night we went out to eat with friends and my husband ate a burger covered in peanut butter (don't ask), we drank soda (high fructose corn syrup) and had greasy fries and enjoyed every bite of it! 

Now for the challenge.... how to be frugal and continue to eat this way MOST of the time.  Much more to come.  Thanks for reading. 

Resources I've found helpful in no particular order:
Eating Between the Lines by: Kimberly Lord Stewart
The Safe Food Handbook by: Heli Perrett, PhD
Eat This Not That by: David Zinczenko*
Fork Over Knives Documentary*
Fork Over Knives- How to Companion by: T. Colin campbell and Cabwell B. Esselstyn*
Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead Documentary
The Unhealthy Truth by: Rachel Kranz*
In Defense of Food by: Michael Pollen*
100 Days of Real Food Blog*
Perry's Plate Blog*

* Favorites

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

It's Not Over Yet- Garage Sales

It is true, fall is upon us once again.  With' back to school' supplies lining the store shelves and apple crisp recipes filling the pinterest home page, it is easy to forget that there might still be time to fit in that summer activity you didn't get around to.  For me, that activity is garage sales.  I don't know what happened but here we are, well past the season prime and I am sad to say I didn't make it out half as many times as I had hoped for. 

Last weekend we went down to visit my parents and my Mom and I got up bright and early to scoure the neighborhood for some end of the season sales.  To make a long story short, I think I made up for all the sales I missed this year!  Sometimes you just hit a good one and boy did I find a good one.  Well I know little about the lady having the sale I do know a few things: 

1.  She was my size to a 'T'.
2.  She was a shopoholic.... the kind with a closet full of clothes with tags still on.
3.  We have very similar taste in clothing.
4.  She could care less about making much at her garage sale.

Needless to say, 10 shirts (4 still had tags), 4 headbands, 3 purses (1 with tags), a watch, a dress, and a pair of mittens, shoes, and earrings later I was one happy girl.  My grand total.... just under $20.00! 

Some other fun and random finds from that morning consist of an original Nintendo system with controllers and 6 games.  My original thought was to buy to resell but my husband seems to have hijacked the idea for now.... guess what he has been doing all week?  Asking price for the whole thing was $2.... total...

Another thing I was super excited to find was a brand new I-pod speaker hat with headphones built into the hat.  It will be perfect for running during those chilly fall mornings.... and for those of you that know me well, take a stab at the color.  Yes, it is yellow!  It was meant to be and all for only $1.

So long Garage Sale Season.  Until next year that is...