All posts by BudgetEpicurean

Long-time student turned young adult with varied interests, mostly food and frugality. Pursuing wealth so I can help others pursue health.

Weekly Eating – 7/30/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Last week I got a big ol box of tomatoes from Whitaker Farms. This weekend I finally got the time to make a huge batch of my easy peasy blender sauce, and canned 2 huge quarts and several pints. I LOVE homemade tomato sauce so much! The sweetness and complex flavors of locally grown organic tomatoes just can’t be beat.

budget epicurean weekly eating

And since I’m visiting my sister this weekend (more about that below) and she recently learned she has an intolerance for gluten, soy, and corn, I am bringing her a jar of sauce (because I know exactly what is in it) and tried my hand at a new gluten-free noodles recipe using almond flour and tapioca flour. I have no idea if these noodles will hold together or taste good, but at least I tried!

budget epicurean weekly eating

 

Monday:

Breakfast – fruit smoothie with watermelon, local peaches, banana, and blueberries + flax & amla

Lunch – half batch of tuna salad as lettuce wraps, plus some raw veggies and hummus

budget epicurean weekly eating

Snack – cut up fruits

Dinner – I did a crazy clean-out-the-fridge veggie burger with a Turkish twist. I had some roasted beets, leftover cooked potatoes, pinto beans and brown rice. So I tossed it all in the blender with spices and some flax to bind it, and make it into 8 patties, which I lightly fried in coconut oil.

budget epicurean weekly eating

I had some leftover pita bread and tzatziki sauce, and stewed some fresh veggies and cashews in Za’atar and curry powder. It turned out AMAZING all together! Cleaning out the fridge is a great frugal strategy, veggie meals can be truly outstanding, and it prevents food waste, all things that I love.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Peaches & Cream oatmeal. 1/ cup oats, 1 cut up peach, 3 diced dried apricots, 1 cup almond milk, handful of walnuts. The walnuts added a bit too many calories, so I won’t use them again.

budget epicurean weekly eating

Lunch – leftover shrimp and broccoli fettuccini

Snack – more fruit!

Dinner – Wheat penne with the homemade sauce <3 I steamed some broccoli and cauliflower on the side.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – another round of Peaches & Cream oatmeal, sans walnuts

Lunch – the rest of the curry vegetables and brown rice. Cauliflower, bell pepper, onions, garlic, and fresh tomato. YUM.

budget epicurean weekly eating

Dinner – Chipotle was giving away free guac today only, so of course we had to jump on that! Chipotle is definitely both of our favorite ‘eat-out’ places. The flavor cannot be beat, and I’ve tried to make the chicken and the rice. It is never quite right.

budget epicurean weekly eating

Thursday:

Breakfast – cheerios, because sometimes I just don’t wanna

Lunch – leftover Chipotle. Another reason I love them is because it is almost always enough for 2 meals for me, so basically like half price and I get to eat it twice in a row.

budget epicurean weekly eating

Snack – no way, more fruit?!? 🙂

Dinner – The boy had a tiny bit of ground beef left from making himself burritoes for lunch, and I was craving some warm soup to go with the icky rain. So I tossed together a cup of rice, some stock from the fridge, frozen mixed veggies, and the beef. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Boom, easy peasy and super cheap comfort food.

budget epicurean weekly eating

Friday:

Breakfast – fruit smoothie with watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, and cherry juice, plus frozen blueberries and banana

budget epicurean weekly eating

Lunch – canned soup from my desk at work, because I didn’t have any pre-made leftovers today.

Dinner – on the road!

The Weekend

I’m driving to Ohio this weekend for a wedding shower.

Yup. I agree with you, I am crazy.

It’s about a 10 hours drive both ways. But family. Ya know.

I packed a cooler with some road snacks, granola bars, PBJs, bottled water (re-useable bottles, don’t worry). Hopefully I can make it without giving into temptation for fast food, but who knows. I’m going to give myself grace and roll with whatever happens this weekend. Plus my mom doesn’t know, so it will be a total surprise to her. I can’t wait to see her face. 🙂

Food Total: $27.03

This week I did not go to the grocery store at all! It went by in a blur actually. I meant to go Wednesday but then it was monsooning. Then I was going to go Thursday, but the rain was even worse. So we scrounged and figured it out and it worked out. The produce delivery box was more than enough to get us by combined with what’s in the pantry.

Lessons Learned

Apparently I have far more food in the house than I even realized. We didn’t go to the grocery store this week and barely even noticed. I may be able to spread out grocery shopping to every other week soon, and just stock up on enough yogurt and bananas to get the boy through to the next trip.

Also I need to get back to batch cooking on the weekends again. I’ve been lax on planning and prepping, as summer is just plain crazy. We are definitely gone more weekends than we are here, and weekends are when I have the time, energy, and mental space to do these things. So I’ve been scrounging for lunch and snacks lately, and had a few ‘what the heck do I make for dinner’ moments. Those prepped “food, fast” meals are definitely required.

 

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

 

Minestrone soup is one of my favorite soups out there. Not only is it packed with veggies, it is also super easy to adapt to whatever odds and ends you have in your refrigerator, and is very filling.

Many soups leave you ravenous a few hours later, but with all the lovely fiber and nutrients from the veggies, and extra staying power from beans and noodles, this hot and hearty soup keeps your tummy from growling all day long.

You can thicken it up easily by pureeing half the beans, or using mashed potatoes rather than chunks of potatoes. Or you can thin it out by doubling up on the stock, adding extra water before serving, or adding extra tomato juice.

I’ve written before how easy it is to make minestrone in ten minutes, but sometimes you want deeper flavors. That is where the slow cooker comes in.

slow cooker minestrone soup

The slow cooker is a great option because you can just “dump and go”, then come home to a delicious smelling house and a hot and ready meal. It’s also great because, unlike a boiling pot on the stove, you don’t need to constantly watch and stir. The soup won’t burn or stick to the bottom, and there’s no risk of boiling over.

And a programmable slow cooker is the best option yet, that way there is no risk of over-cooking it either! But don’t worry, if you don’t have the kind with a timer it will still work just fine.

Leave it on longer, on low rather than high, for the lowest risk of burning or over cooking. You can add the pasta noodles at the beginning, if you want a truly one-step meal and don’t mind soft pasta. If you want “al dente” slightly harder pasta, it’s best to boil it separately and add just before serving.

slow cooker minestrone soup

Ingredients:

  • ~1 cup fresh, canned, or frozen green beans
  • ~1.5 cups cooked pinto beans (or any bean you prefer)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 carrots, diced
  • 2-3 stalks celery, small dice
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 1 can tomatoes (whole, stewed, diced, etc)
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen spinach
  • Either: 1 cup mashed potatoes or 2-3 small potatoes, diced
  • 4 cups broth, stock, or water
  • 1/ pound pasta noodles, any shape you like

slow cooker minestrone soup

Step 1: Dice up your veggies, by hand or in a food processor.

slow cooker minestrone soup

Step 2: In slow cooker, combine all ingredients (except noodles, if you are cooking them just before serving). Cook on low 6-10 hours, or on high 3-4 hours.

slow cooker minestrone soup

Step 3: When you’re ready for dinner, just boil your pasta according to the directions. I prefer shapes, such as elbow macaroni, shells, or bowties, but any noodle works. Drain, mix in the noodles, and serve!

soup, salad, and smoothie

This soup is hearty enough to be a meal on its own, but it also pairs well with salads, or a nice thick garlic bread for dipping. It is super healthy, vegetarian but meat eaters will also love it, and quite cheap! Especially if you have a garden to get some of the vegetables.

You can easily change it up, for example if you hate green beans but have some fresh zucchini, go right ahead and swap. Bell peppers go great here, and you can use fresh diced tomato or canned or even juice. Or forget the tomato altogether and just use broth, you’re in charge!

Weekly Eating – 7/23/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Having the in-laws in town was really great. I’m lucky that they are awesome and we enjoy spending time together. We explored the area, did some shopping, went for walks, cooked good food and went out a few times, and they helped us fix our fence that got smashed in a storm a few weeks ago.

budget epicurean fence fix
The big ol tree that did the smashing is still there next to the fence on the right.

I’ve also decided that I need to get back to my pre-cruise diet habits. I’ve gotten quite lazy about working out (i.e. I don’t…) and more generous in portion sizes, and it’s showing on the scale and in the fit of my pants lately. I hate it.

But it’s all my own doing.

Since I’m tracking other things anyways (like our trash) I started tracking calories on my Fitbit app again. And have been consistently over-shooting my target range by 300-500 calories… whoops. That explains a lot.

So, after we work our way through the silly amounts of leftovers (am I the only one that ends up with infinite leftovers when family comes to visit?) meals will get more boring for me.

 

Monday:

Breakfast – a peach Almond milk yogurt

Lunch – leftovers from the weekend

Dinner – shrimp garlic fettuccini with broccoli & cauliflower

Tuesday:

Breakfast – homemade wheat toast with raspberry jam

Lunch – leftover turkey gyro & fries

Snack – 1 peach, 2 matcha energy balls from a previous food trade

budget epicurean weekly eating

Dinner – Leftover sopas from the weekend. Sopas are a super easy corn pancake basically, then you top with whatever toppings you like. I had pinto beans, guac, tomato, a tiny bit of pulled pork, and lettuce.

Tonight was also a Bull City Food Swap, to which I took my pickled watermelon rind, and some fresh rosemary garlic bread.

In exchange, I brought home Cherry Rum Jam, 6 oz fresh smoked bacon, spicy and garlic dill pickles, gingersnaps, “British flapjacks” and the happy feeling of making several new friends. 🙂

budget epicurean weekly eating

Wednesday:

Breakfast – 2 slices of homemade wheat bread with 1 tbsp PB & jelly

Lunch – Big salad with avocado, cucumber, and tomato

budget epicurean weekly eating

Dinner – we went out with a couple from work to a Mexican place, and got some delicious fried things with beans and rice and all the fixings. I swear, my diet starts tomorrow…

Snack – a peach

Thursday:

Breakfast – fruit smoothie with watermelon, mango, banana, flax, and amla powder

budget epicurean weekly eating

Lunch – tuna salad sandwich and peach & tomato salsa

Dinner – pinto beans & brown rice with steamed cauliflower, broccoli, and corn on the cob

budget epicurean weekly eating

Friday:

Breakfast – green tea matcha latte

Lunch – leftover tofu alfredo. Seriously some of the best alfredo I’ve ever had, ridiculously healthy, and tons of protein. This needs to be a staple in our meals. Also you can see the hand towel I brought to work peeking into the corner of the photo 🙂 This has been awesome to wipe my fingers after lunch, and dry my hands after washing.

budget epicurean weekly eating

Dinner – we had some people over for games, bonfire, and fun. I didn’t have time to eat dinner beforehand, so food ended up being all the snacks: pepper jelly cheese dip, chili cheese dip, raw veggies and hummus, and chips and my soon-to-be-famous Carolina Reaper Salsa! I made a new triple batch with fresh peppers, and a whole pint disappeared easily.

budget epicurean weekly eating

The Weekend

This weekend was supposed to have a food tour, but it ended up getting cancelled. That’s okay by me. We have a huuuuuuuge pile of mulch from cutting down some trees that we need to spread all around the various gardens, some weeding to do, watering, and hopefully some harvesting. And of course a big dose of relaxing.

Food Total: $34.73 + $27.51 = $62.24

This week we got our second delivery of a local produce box, and supplemented it with a trip to ALDI. I’m going to give it a few more weeks, and then I’ll tell you all about this service.

$27.51
Dairy $4.18 Staples $10.93 Fruit/Veg $12.40
Almond milk 1.89 Tortillas 4 4.66 Watermelon 2.69
organic hummus 2.29 pita chips 1.99 Pineapple 1.65
blue tortilla chips 1.89 Mini bell peppers 2.39
gallon vinegar 2.39 Mango 0.59
Celery 0.89
Bananas 2.06
Cherries 2.13

I adore ALDI so much for their low prices and no-frills shopping experience, but boy do they love packaging. The produce especially makes me sad now, all the things are individually wrapped.

I get that people want a sanitary food shopping experience, but why do I need peppers wrapped in plastic, apples in plastic, plastic boxes for the fruits and lettuce, styrofoam under my mushrooms and zucchini and jalapenos with more plastic wrapped around it?

I don’t.

Give me my produce naked! The way god intended.

Take that however you like.

Lessons Learned

The process of cutting down on grocery shopping waste is going to be a long one. Tortillas are a not-optional meal staple here, as the boy will wrap literally anything in one and call it dinner. And though I have made my own tortillas, both corn and flour, it is not an easy process. And without a tortilla press, I can’t get them thin enough without breaking or sticking to my counters.

Another part of the process will be having ‘convenience’ foods on hand at all times. We decided to have people over pretty last minute (like, barely 24 hours in advance last minute) so I did not have time to make things that require forethought, like homemade hummus which requires overnight soaking.

So perhaps I need to rethink the freezer situation. Once we work our way through all the things still waiting inside and empty it out more, I’m thinking a big batch cooking day is in order. That way I can stock it with pre-prepped things like rice, beans of all sorts, waffles, breads, cookies, granola bars, etc.

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Restaurant Review: Morgan’s Tavern & Grill

 

In case this is your first Review, let me remind you of the rules.

The Budget Epicurean has not been compensated in any way for this review, and all opinions are my own. For reviews, preference will be given to unique, local, family-owned establishments.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (Buckingham Palace)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

This is a review of a local diner in New Bern NC, called Morgan’s Tavern & Grill. We had come to historic New Bern for our anniversary knowing little about the town. After exploring the downtown Farmer’s Market, we were getting hungry. We wandered around, and just as we were about to pull out Google, we saw their adorable outdoor patio space, like a beacon in the dark.

It is made of beautiful multi-hued brick and wooden beams, and the interior is astounding. The super high cathedral ceilings and exposed brick, metal, and woodwork merge with multiple skylights and segmented dining areas to create a feeling of openness and airy comfort.

Morgan's Tavern Review

Their stated philosophy is simple: “Provide great service in a casual and comfortable atmosphere with quality ingredients.” They also say “At Morgan’s, we believe in tradition, not trends.”

The waiter was super pleasant and funny, he made us feel like we were lifelong friends. He made several suggestions based off our answers to questions about what we were looking for in our lunch. The sweet tea was hurts-your-teeth sweet, the way it should be, and I never saw the bottom of the glass long before another full one was set in front of me.

We also tried 2 of their local brews, Morgan’s Porter and Morgan’s Nut-Brown Ale. They were both splendid, smooth and crisp with no bitter hoppy after-taste (just the way I like it). Sort of dangerous, because you keep wanting more… unfortunately you can only get it there and on tap, so we couldn’t take some back to our airbnb.

Morgan's Tavern Review

Before anything else, your table gets a plate of fresh-from-the-oven flaky croissants drizzled with honey butter. These things were so light and buttery, we inhaled them in seconds flat. And wished we had more. I’m sure they would have brought more too, but we held ourselves in check, waiting for the good stuff to come.

We also decided to try the Lobster bisque as an appetizer, because we were at the coast, after all. It was light and creamy, and not at all ‘fishy’ tasting. There were some pretty good chunks of lobster meat as well. I normally don’t like bisque style soups, but this is one I could have eaten a whole bowl of by myself.

Many of the menu items had creative and clever names, and it was difficult to choose because they all sounded so good! Their lunch and dinner menus are similar, though the dinner one adds more delicacies from “Sound to Sea” and “Pasture to Plate”.

The menu was clearly written by someone with a great sense of humor. It included all kinds of classics like chicken sandwiches, a Reuben, a black & bleu cheeseburger. But they also have such offerings as portobello burgers, tuna lettuce wraps, and a grilled salad for the health conscious among us.

And for those who want the opposite of healthy? Well… they get what we ordered!

*The Why Did You Do This?
Our half a pound burger on our classic kaiser roll but this time
we top it with smoked bacon, melted cheddar cheese, fried onion
rings, fried cheese and roasted red pepper ranch sauce. This is
not for everyone!!!!! 12.50

Morgan's Tavern Review

This burger… was… massive! Why did we do this??

I’m glad this was mostly the boy’s responsibility to finish. I could barely get my mouth around the whole thing. The crispy fried cheese and onion rings were pretty awesome when combined with the burger and bacon, I must say. And the roasted red pepper sauce was on point.

Meanwhile, I wanted something slightly less filling.

Hot Turkey, Bacon & Raspberry
Thinly sliced roasted turkey topped with melted provolone cheese,
bacon, raspberry jam & ranch…… Sounds strange but it works. Your choice of sourdough or wheat berry.
Served with your choice of side item. 8.50

Morgan's Tavern Review

This sandwich sounded like Thanksgiving on a plate, and it was essentially that. The sweet jam and the salty bacon was an awesome combination. And the fries were seasoned with something slightly spicy which we both enjoyed. It was more than enough, I ended up eating half and taking the rest to go.

They also have a cart with all their desserts on it sitting in the aisle so you can’t help but walk past it once or twice. When I saw something molten and chocolatey I knew I wasn’t leaving without it! So even though we were stuffed by now, we went all in and ordered the molten lava cake with ice cream!

Morgan's Tavern Review

It was ooey gooey amazingness drizzled with even more chocolate and caramel sauce and I was in heaven! Pretty sure between that and the four glasses of sweet tea I’ve doubled my diabetes risk but what can I say… worth it.

All the food was amazing, the service was great, and the atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable. We would definitely come back here again if we lived nearby to try more of the menu offerings. Overall I’d rate Morgan’s:

  • Taste: 9.5
  • Atmosphere: 9
  • Value: 8.5

 

Want more? Check out the Reviews page!

Tracking My Trash

 

So after my big declaration of wanting to move more towards a zero waste lifestyle, I approached it the same way people wanting to make big money changes should: tracking all your expenses so you get an accurate picture of your current situation.

I decided to track all my trash for one week.

At work, at home, on the go.

Every cup, wrapper, paper, bag, container, and paper towel.

And this is what I had after 7 straight days:

tracking your trash budget epicurean zero waste lifestyle

Minus a few things from our travels:

  • a Starbucks to go cup and sleeve
  • an empty water bottle
  • a paper bag and to go container
  • wrapping from a Torchys taco
  • a paper plate and 2 napkins
  • a paper plate and tin foil
  • a synthetic wine cork

I’m not going to lie, I was a little surprised. I thought we already did a pretty great job of recycling and not buying a whole lot. But this was quite eye opening. This is only 7 days worth of trash!

The empty box of ziplocks is evidence that I have or had at least 50 more plastic bags somewhere in my house. A plastic takeout container that I had been reusing for work lunches got smashed to pieces. A styrofoam container from portobello mushroom caps. A plastic wrapper from a stick of butter. Some non-recyclable plastic windows from mail envelopes. We run through sunscreen and bug spray like water in the summertime.

With the obvious exception of toilet paper, anything I normally would trash at work got put into a plastic bag. Things that I might normally toss that could be composted, I brought home instead to toss in my compost bin. Like a banana peel, or some yellowing leaves from my lunchtime salad.

And this is the bag I kept at work:

tracking your trash budget epicurean zero waste lifestyle

And you can see it is much less heavily food-focused and more weighted towards snacks and paper products. I have always brought my own lunches to work in reusable plastic or glass containers, and have a set of silverware and cups there that I wash daily. This helps cut down on my overall waste at work.

I honestly do not think I could, nor do I really want, to get my household waste to less than a mason jar full per year. But this definitely showed me that there is more room for improvement.

I love the aptly named “Near-O Waste“, which more accurately describes the lifestyle I’m shooting for. I still want to enjoy modern conveniences and not live like it’s the 1800s. But I also want to be gentler to Mother Earth.

Lesson #1

I use a lot of paper products! Like, a silly number of kleenex and paper towels throughout the day. Obviously to blow my nose, but also to wipe up small spills around my desk, to blot grease or lipstick, after washing my hands or my lunch containers. And every single time I use the restroom at work, I use 2-3 paper towels.

Paper takes a lot of energy, water, and deforestation to create. And we waste a LOT of paper products as a species. Toilet paper, paper towels, actual printer paper, magazines, books, newspapers, paper plates… the list goes on.

With how much paper waste we produce yearly, we could build a 12 foot high wall from New York to California. Not that we should. Paper also gives off a lot of methane when it rots in a landfill, rather than being composted. And taking away trees means decreasing oxygen production, and less protection against climate change.

What can I do about it?

Well, I’m going to bring an actual kitchen towel to work. When you wash your hands after using the bathroom, they are clean, right? You just need a towel to dry them. Lets see how long it takes to get comments or weird looks 😉

I’m also going to try to remember to bring home any paper towels that I use (because you know I’m not going to remember or bring a towel every time). At least once a day I’d toss the towels in the trash and just as I walk out the door think shoot! I meant to keep that to compost… so clearly this will take some re-training.

Lesson #2

Even the Budget Epicurean, who revels in homemade goodies and snacks like energy balls, KIND barsgranola bars, and homemade granola, has emergency packaged snacks, and uses them. Sometimes it’s a crazy day, or the afternoon munchies hit, and for the good of my co-workers I must keep the hangry at bay.

What can I do about it?

Stock my desk and pockets with homemade, no waste goodies. This includes things like my homemade bars and balls, but also whole fruits and bags of nuts or trail mix. If you have any great zero waste snacks you love, please share in the comments!

There is a balance between tasty yummies that can sit at room temperature for days at a time without getting gross. Perhaps I will try bringing weekly batches, which will require more memory muscles. Or else get comfortable with being hungry until I get home.

Lesson #3

We go through a lot more packaged food than I realized. When I think of “packaged food” I think junk food. Which is a big part of the SAD (Standard American Diet) and a general no-no in my house.

However. ‘Healthy’ foods can also come in packages.

See above: edamame, sliced cheese, granola bars, frozen mixed veggies, frozen berries, radishes, carrots. All healthy, whole foods… yet all are also wrapped in plastic that gets thrown away. Not great.

What can I do about it?

I am now moving more towards ‘zero waste’ principles when grocery shopping. I will be scoping out the options in all my usual shopping haunts, as well as branching out more into my Durham co-op market and Farmers Market.

Ethnic grocery stores are also usually pretty good options for things like cheap produce, baked goods, and I’ve found a place I can buy seafood and whole fish right off the ice. I will start preparing better for shopping trips, asking more questions, and seeking out package free food options. And next year, we may get a CSA.

 

Is There Any Good News?

This week also made me much more aware of not just my own habits and consumption but also those around me. Waste and plastic packaging has become so convenient, normalized, and ubiquitous.

We don’t even think twice about using multiple plastic cups, straws, utensils, and bottles. Daily.

I think we should think.

The good news is, we are starting to catch on. More stores are offering bulk food sections, package free produce, local produce, discounts for bringing your own bags or mugs. The Zero Waste lifestyle is spreading, as awareness of the plight of and concern for the environment becomes more mainstream.

And I had several small wins throughout the week:

  • A friend asked to meet up for afternoon tea at Starbucks to catch up. It was spur of the moment, but I had brought coffee from home in a to-go mug. So I rinsed it out and took it, rather than use a Starbucks cup. Bonus, I got 10 cents off! And, maybe, planted a small seed in my friends’ head to bring her own cup in the future.
  • While walking to my office, I saw 2 paper napkins on the ground that must have blown off someone’s lunch or breakfast. I usually would at least pick it up and toss it in the trash. This time I took it to my desk to put in the ‘take home to compost’ bag.
  • One day there were 2 plastic bins with broken lids sitting by the recycle bins. Clearly they were no longer usable for their original purpose, but they could be perfect for another idea I’ve got brewing… so I snagged them and took them home to perhaps give them a second life.
  • When collecting mail from the week, I realized… it is super easy to make paper from old paper scraps. So I pulled out the little plastic windows, and got crafty. I even sprinkled wild flower seeds into it so the paper can be planted when I’m done with it! I think I’m going to use it to create a nice wedding shower card.
  • I saw an awesome bag that said “I used to be a plastic bottle“, and asked about it. That led to a fun conversation about plastic and waste and how we can all do better.

So there you have it, week one of my Near-O waste initiative, and lessons learned. I’m sure this will be a very long process, with a lot of ups and downs. Much like everything else in life. 🙂

 

Want to join me??

I’d love that! Just keep all your non-compostable and non-recyclable items, for one day, one week, one month. And then come back here to comment, or post about it on social media (maybe we can make #TrackYourTrash a trending phrase on Twitter?) and tell me what you learned.

 

Have you done a trash tracking week? Where do you struggle with low or no waste options? Do you have any zero waste snack ideas besides nuts or raw veggies??

Weekly Eating – 7/16/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Monday was our travel home day from a family funeral. We were smart, and prepared a batch of blueberry muffins ahead of time, so we would have something on the plane. I had also packed a bag full of healthy granola bars, energy bars, and fruit snacks.

It was nice to get home, and check in on the gardens. Turns out 4 days of no watering isn’t enough to get these plants down!

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

The zucchini finally has oodles of little baby squash coming.
I CANNOT WAIT TO DROWN IN ZUCCHINI. I’m weird and I know it. #sorrynotsorry

The tomatoes are also starting to produce fruit, there are several dozen tiny green globes. Not quite large enough to pick for fried green tomatoes, but I am so antsy. I’m dying for a taste of home grown tomato sauce on pasta. I’m also stoked that the volunteer cucumber is doing so well, since the ones I planted on purpose never came up.

Oh, and since our fence got smashed by a tree in a storm a few weeks ago, we’ve caught deer in the yard a few times. I absolutely hate this, as they are very destructive towards those things I love so much, my plants. And, the poo in my yard. Which is apparently infinitely interesting to our dogs. To the point that they want to wear it as a fragrance.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan
He knows what he did.

Yeah, green, stinky deer poop. The dog rolled in it. His face says it all.

Monday:

Breakfast – Blueberry muffins

Snack – Granola bars

Lunch – Leftover frozen burrito fixings

Dinner – White bean & pork soup. I pulled a frozen package of pork out of the refrigerator when we got home for burritos, then used some more of it to make a quick soup for dinner.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

White beans are a favorite of mine, so simple and delicious. I added some onion and carrot and radishes that were wilting in the produce drawer. Simmered on the stove for a few hours, it was a delightful just-got-home meal.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – thawed pancakes with raspberry jam

Lunch – Leftover soup from yesterday

Dinner – Quesadillas: pulled pork & BBQ for the boy, thawed black beans and cheddar for myself. With avocado, salsa, and plain Greek yogurt as toppings.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Snack – someone at work brought walnut brownies and was kind enough to share, so I had two of those

The brownies made me think Hey self, you have tons of black beans still, why not make black bean brownies?? They count as breakfast, snacks, dessert… so I did, and used this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

They came out a little gooey, but that’s how I like my brownies. They were almost like chocolate-chip-dotted fudge. That I don’t have to feel at all guilty about eating!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Cherry Vanilla overnight oatmeal. I layered the last of my steel cut oats in a jar with some ground flaxseed, vanilla soymilk, and frozen cherries and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

Lunch – Leftover black beans & rice with salsa

Dinner – I pulled out some chicken from the freezer, and threw it in the crock pot with a jar of my sweet pepper jam for the boy, and thawed a black bean burger for myself with steamed fresh broccoli and white corn to go with it.

Snack – an amazing black bean brownie

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Thursday:

Breakfast – cherry vanilla smoothie: I had some oatmeal left that I didn’t finish, so I tossed it in the blender with some cranberry juice, extra frozen cherries, and a banana

Lunch – Chickpea sweet potato curry with brown rice, thawed from the freezer

Snack – you’ll never guess…. yup, brownies!

Dinner – Vegan alfredo on wheat pasta, made with silken tofu.  Recipe from Saving the Crumbs.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Sounds crazy but I promise it was actually really amazing. The sauce was thick and creamy and the flavors complex thanks to a dash of nutmeg and cayenne. Even the boy said it was some of the best alfredo he’s ever had. Except it had “too much chunky stuff” LOL (that’d be zucchini & squash)

Friday:

Breakfast – smoothie with cantaloupe, frozen berries, banana, amla powder, cherry juice, and flaxseed

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Lunch – Leftover veggie alfredo

Snack – fresh fruits: pineapple, pears, blueberries

Dinner – Leftovers, or else out somewhere with the parents

The Weekend

The boy’s parents are in town this weekend, bringing us some things we’ve inherited. So we will be finding places to put things and use what we picked out, and will get to spend a little less stressful downtime together. This also means the ‘eating out’ costs will likely be high this weekend, and I probably won’t cook at home as much. I’m okay with that.

Food Total: $27.60 + $27.03 = $54.63

We used up a bunch of things from the freezer, which is awesome. The chest freezer is getting a little out of control, so it might be time for a deep clean and defrost soon.

I still have tons of bags of frozen vegetables, pork chops, various seafood, several types of ice cream and frozen treats. We will slowly work our way through these things and then I will only re-stock with pre-cooked items like rice and beans and veggie patties.

Fruit/Veg $27.09
forelle pears 2 1.77
avocados 2 4
yellow peaches 2 1.65
black plums 3 1.49
zucchini 2 yellow squash 1 2.94
kale 1 bunch 0.99
broccoli 2 4.58
mango 1 1
cauliflower 1 1.99
pineapple 1 2.99
yellow corn 5 2.5
bananas 6 1.19

Lessons Learned

I had my first attempt at Zero Waste shopping, at Harris Teeter. It wasn’t even pre-planned, which I am a little embarrassed about, but I did a great job of not needed plastic bags and bringing home very little waste, which I am thrilled about.

I bought solely fresh produce, so there were of course bar code stickers, and the cauliflower in particular I was sad about, since they were all individually wrapped in plastic.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan
All the produce in the cover photo above fit in these 2 bags

However, this is plenty of produce for the week & weekend, in addition to another service which I will tell you more about soon! #Spoilers… The true test will come when I need to go re-stock pantry staples like pasta, rice, and oats. Oh, and there was 0.51 in tax on the groceries… but I thought food wasn’t taxed? Color me confused.

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

BE’s Black Bean Burgers

 

A new favorite one pan dinner — asparagus and black bean burgers!

🍔 Black beans are SUPER healthy; they have tons of fiber and protein to fill you up, folate, potassium, and vitamin B6, and eating lots of legumes 🥜 can decrease your cholesterol and blood pressure as well as lower your risk of heart disease 💓 and cancer! Plus this burger is damn delicious. I call that a win-win.

BE Black Bean Burger

Burger recipe:

  • 1 can black beans drained (or 1 1/2 cups cooked)
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas (can use lentils or mushrooms instead)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup breadcrumbs (can use whole oats here instead)
  • 1/4 cup Olive oil (or vegetable or coconut)
  • 1/4 cup fresh herbs – parsley, cilantro, chives
  • Spices to taste – I used dried onion, garlic salt, cayenne, & ~2 tbsp McCormick steak spice mix

Step 1: Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse. Add a bit more breadcrumbs for drier texture, olive oil a few drops at a time to make it more moist.

Step 2: Shape into 4 large patties (they will not shrink when cooked as meat patties do) and place on oven safe pan with your choice of veggies drizzled with olive oil. Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, zucchini, beets, green beans, all good choices.

BE Black Bean Burger

Step 3: Roast at 350 , covered in foil, for 20 minutes. Uncover and roast another 20 minutes. Flip patties and roast a final 5-10 minutes, until veggies are tender. Patties should be slightly crispy on the outside.

Top as desired. I suggest fresh lettuce & tomato, whole grain mustard, and purple sauerkraut!

BE Black Bean Burger

First Ever Guest Post!

 

So, one of my goals for my Seventh Year of Blogging was to post at least one guest post and accept at least one guest post.

I’d been working on a mammoth post, on a topic that is becoming more and more near to my heart, for several days. It was getting longer and longer every time I went in to edit, and was nearing completion. I was polishing up the last edges, when Angela over at TreadLightlyRetireEarly posted her One Year blog birthday post.

Now, I had “known” Angela for almost a year, since Military Dollar convinced her to join Twitter (and thank you for that!). Then in May I had the absolute honor of staying with her and her family in Seattle.

Turns out, she’s just as cool in real life! Cooler, actually.

And as it so happens we have a lot in common. Like frugality (duh) and saving money and investing. We both still have a lot to learn too, of course. But we also are both passionate about the Earth, loving it and treating it well.

So, since this article was all about my thoughts on our wasteful society and what I hope to do to help in any small way I can, I figured this could not be more perfect for a cross-blog post!

Angela agreed, and so today, I bring your Budget Epicurean’s first guest post as well as Tread Lightly Retire Early’s first published guest post!

Pursuing A Zero Waste Lifestyle (Guest Post From Budget Epicurean)

 

Weekly Eating – 7/09/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Gosh, it feels good to be back y’all!

This summer has been a lil crazy, and we haven’t been great about meal planning with being gone or hosting family pretty much every weekend. But that’s ok, sometimes life is like that.

Over the weekend I made a huge ol pork roast and a big batch of ground turkey, because the boy was sad about how long it had been since we had burritos. So… lots of meat in the fridge. He was pleased. I also made a giant crock pot full of black beans which became my best black bean soup and black bean burgers.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

While my sister was in town last weekend, we also went shopping and picked up a ginormous box of honey cheerios on sale, because she has discovered that she has a gluten, soy, and corn intolerances. As you can imagine, that significantly limits ones food choices. Turns out cheerios is one cereal that has no HFCS or soy or wheat in it.

And, we also made a batch of macarons! Because almond flour is just fine. And I’ve always wanted to make them! They turned out pretty darn good looking too. I added a few fresh strawberries to the filling and we put cocoa in the batter for some chocolate strawberry flavors going on. Delish.

Oh I also got a big-a$$ watermelon, and turned it into all kinds of goodies! I pickled a big batch of rinds for a Food Swap next week, we ate tons of it fresh, it became a watermelon-feta-mint salad, and several smoothies.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Monday:

Breakfast – Honey cheerios + a banana + soymilk

Lunch – Black bean soup!

Dinner – Enchilada casserole. This used up some small corn tortillas, black and pinto beans, pulled pork, corn, and tomatoes. Topped with pickled jalapenos, cheddar, guac, and salsa. SO DANG GOOD.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Snack – a macaron

Tuesday:

Breakfast – same cereal, bc I’m boring!

Lunch – leftover enchilada and a salad that happened to match the skirt I was wearing that day, haha

Dinner – portobello stir fry

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smoothie with watermelon, pineapple, frozen blueberries, blueberry kefir, and greens

Lunch – leftover stir fry, and a Greek salad

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Dinner – Leftovers! We are going out of town again for the weekend, so I’m busy using up or freezing all the perishables

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Thursday:

Breakfast – smoothie with watermelon, pineapple, frozen blueberries, blueberry kefir, and amla powder

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Lunch – uhhh it was a bit of a crazy day, so I didn’t get a lunch per se. I did sneak a maple bacon donut that was brought in to work. #noregrets

Snack – a cranberry yogurt

Dinner –we were tired of all the leftovers, so we decided on a spontaneous date night to AYCE sushi at RocknRolls!!

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan
In case it was unclear, I REALLY love salmon sushi. Also I ate three teenage boys next to us under the table!

Friday:

Breakfast – I finally successfully used up all the watermelon, so today’s smoothie was frozen blueberries and cherries, pineapple and flaxseed powder

Lunch – Black beans & rice

Dinner – whatever we can scrounge up before heading to the airport. Everything else will get frozen while we’re gone.

The Weekend

We had a death in the family, so we are out of town for the weekend. It will definitely be interesting seeing how expensive and wasteful traveling is. I am going to try to plan ahead and pack at least some nuts or trail mix to take so I don’t give into temptation to buy things at the airport.

Y’all are in for something BIG on Monday, so stay tuned!

Food Total: $5.92

All the major expenses happened last week or earlier, so I’m not counting them for this week. When we return though I’ll have to do a stock up trip. If you really want me to fess up, that pic at the top was an ALDI stock up last week that cost us $68.79.

The only things purchased were on a whim, a stop-in at Walmart on my way to work. I desperately needed Ibuprofen (one to keep in my car) and some cold sore medication (BOO cold sores, the worst) and while there I grabbed some bananas and avocados.

Luckily, I remembered to grab one of my reusable canvas bags from the car! So no plastic bag, yay!

Lessons Learned

So, the boy actually eat way less meat than I think he does. Especially now as I am borderline vegetarian and am not very helpful in eating it. And I think… that… I may have actually burnt him out on burritoes! I did not know that was possible. But he said he actually got tired of the ground turkey and pork (I guess that’s what happens when that is all there is to eat for lunch and dinner for a week straight…)

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

5 Freezer Meals for 1 or 2 in 30 minutes

 

I know that’s a lot of numbers in the title, but what do you expect from a finance & food blog? 😉 There are many ways to save money on one of most people’s biggest budget categories (after housing): food.

  1. Eat at your parents house
  2. Eat only Ramen noodles
  3. One meal per day
  4. Intermittent fasting
  5. Freeganism
  6. Vegetable garden/farming
  7. Bulk buying
  8. Couponing
  9. Meal planning
  10. Freezer meals

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

But every tip will not work for every person and every situation.

If you are in a dorm with just a small refrigerator and 6 months until you move again, your life is drastically different from a family with four children in the suburbs with two chest freezers.

I’ve designed meal plans for the Dollar Tree, one week of dinners from one pork roast, and 10 freezer meals in one hour.

The Freezer Meals For 2 Plan

This plan is designed for smaller households, who have a freezer.

One or two people.

I made all of these meals for a friend who was about to have a baby. Having freezer meals on hand makes feeding yourself when sleep deprived and stressed so much easier! But these meals are also great for single people or couples who don’t like to cook, as they are super easy and stress free.

So if you have a big family or a big appetite, these recipes might not be for you. However they are very easy to scale up, simply double or triple the ingredients, and use larger freezer bags.

This is also designed to go straight from ingredients –> bag –> freezer –> thaw in refrigerator –> oven or crock pot.

5 freezer meals in 30 minutes

To complete these 5 freezer meals, in addition to the food ingredients you will need:

  • 5 quart sized freezer bags
  • Sharpie or other permanent marker
  • Container in which to thaw the bags in the refrigerator (otherwise they will leak condensation all over)

The ingredients are pantry staples (at least in my house!) and items you can easily find at most any grocery store. You can of course step up your game slightly and use dried beans you cook yourself, or produce straight from your garden. These tricks will lower the total cost even further.

But the total for this should be less than $30, for 5 nights of meals for 2 servings each, possibly with leftovers. I will also include some tips at the end on how you can jazz up each one to make it your own.

Per serving total = $3 or less

Recipes included:
  • Chicken & Rice Casserole
  • Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • 3 Bean Vegetarian Chili
  • White Bean & Barley Soup
  • Corn & Potato Chowder

5 freezer meals in 30 minutes

Entire Ingredients List:

  • 2 cans pinto beans
  • 1 can white beans
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 can corn (can use frozen)
  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 large chicken breast, cut in half, or 2 total
  • 1 cup barley
  • 3 large carrots
  • 1-2 large baking potato
  • 1 onion, diced, or dried onion
  • Garlic powder or fresh garlic
  • Italian seasonings
  • Chili powder
  • Bouillon
  •  1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup rice

You will be using half or a third of some of these cans, I did not measure it out, I just eyeballed it. If you feel more comfortable with exact numbers, go ahead and get out a measuring cup.

Step 1: Cut up your carrots and potato and onion into a small dice. I did not peel either the potatoes or carrot, but you can if you want. You can also use canned potatoes, though the end product will be soggier. You can also use dried onion, like I did.

Step 2: Label your bags and write the instructions out. Trust me, you want to do this part before the bag is full and possibly wet outside.

Step 3: Open and drain all your cans.

Step 4: Cut a large boneless skinless chicken breast in half, or use two smaller cuts. You can leave the breast whole, or dice it up, either way works. You could also use canned chicken, 1 per recipe.

 

Once you have your labeled bags ready, just dump the ingredients into them, in the order listed. You want to put the meat in last, so it is the first thing to come out when you cook it. Then push out any air in the bag, and seal. Freeze laying flat if possible, as they are then easier to stack and take up less freezer space.

 

Chicken & Rice Casserole

  • 1/2 can corn
  • 1/2 bag frozen mixed veggies
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 bouillon cube
  • 1 chicken breast

*Thaw overnight. Bake at 350 in a casserole dish for 1 hour, or in crock pot on low for 2-3 hours, shred chicken before serving.

 

Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • 1 can pinto beans (or black beans)
  • 1/3 can diced tomatoes or 1 cup salsa
  • 1/2 bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • Diced or dried onion
  • 1 chicken breast

*Thaw, simmer on stove for 1 hour, or in crock pot on low 2-3 hours. Top with tortilla chips, sour cream, cheddar cheese, avocado…

 

3 Bean Vegetarian Chili

  •       1 can of 3 different kinds of beans
  •       1/3 can diced tomatoes
  •       Dried onion, garlic powder
  •       2 tbsp chili powder

*Thaw overnight. Add to slow cooker with 3 cups water, cook on low 6-8 hours, or high for 4-6 hours, stirring every hour or so if possible.

 

White Bean & Barley Soup

  •       1 cup white beans (or 1 can)
  •       1 cup barley
  •       ½ – 1 cup cut up carrots
  •       ½ white onion, diced
  •       1-2 cubes bouillon
  •       1/3 can diced tomatoes

*Thaw overnight. Add 6 cups water, simmer 2 hours on the stove or cook in crock pot on low for 6-8 hours.

 

Corn & Potato Chowder

  •       2 potatoes, diced
  •       ½ can corn
  •       ½ cup flour
  •       Garlic, onion, bouillon
  •       Optional: 1tbsp Italian seasoning

*Thaw, add 2 cups water and simmer 2 hours on the stove or cook in slow cooker on low 4-6 hours.

 

5 freezer meals in 30 minutes