Category Archives: Finances

Articles concerning finances. This is the “budget” Epicurean after all.

Twice the wine for half the calories!

Just in time for Thirsty Thursday, a smart trick to let yourself enjoy two glasses of wine for the caloric price of one!

Whether at home with your girls or sweetie, or out on the prowl at happy hour, this is a sneaky trick to help manage your weight without putting a damper on your social life. 

Disclaimer

Now, before I tell you the trick, let me say this is in no way an endorsement for drinking. I am not giving anyone permission to over-indulge or anything like that.

There is much mixed information in the news about how red wine contains antioxidants and resveretrol, so it has to be healthy; or alcohol causes lowered inhibition, weight gain, and loose morals, so it’s the devil.

There is some truth to both sides, and my life motto is all things in moderation.  Women are recommended to drink no more than one beverage per day, and men two.

An alcoholic beverage means:

  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, such as vodka (a shot)

While it is true that some studies show various mental and physical health benefits of moderate amounts of alcohol (specifically wine), alcohol also contains “empty” calories.

This means that you are getting calories from the drink, but no health benefits from vitamins or nutrients. So you need to take into account the calories that you will be adding on top of all your food calories for the day, or you will gain weight over time.

This also goes for other “empty” beverages like soda pop or sugary coffee drinks. 

Calories in Wine

Depending on the type of wine, one 5 ounce glass can contain between 100 and 300 calories. That is the typical size of a midday snack or breakfast. The range is large because it depends upon the type of wine and the sugar content.

Sweeter wines tend to have more sugar, and thus more calories, than dry wines. Which is unfortunate, because I can kill a whole bottle of moscato in one sitting, but take two hours to force down a dry red. I guess that’s the idea…

The website GetDrunkNotFat is aptly named, and specializes in exactly the type of information you would think. They have a great chart here that summarizes many types of beverages (including things other than wine) broken down by calories per serving, serving size, even grams of carbohydrates per serving.

You should also check out this amazing infographic on “Wine for Beginners” by Madeline Puckette from WineFolly.com

The part you’ve been waiting for!

Anyways, there is a way you can have you wine and drink it too. (Nonsensical metaphor, check). Simply ask the bartender or yourself to mix half wine with half soda water.

Carbonated water or seltzer water have as many calories as regular water: Zero.

Therefore, you can have 2.5 oz of wine plus 2.5 oz of sparkling water, twice! That’s nicer than having one glass of wine, and one glass of water, don’t you think? 

Carbonated water gets its fizzy property from dissolved carbon dioxide. Many names are basically synonymous, including: soda water, seltzer, carbonated water, club soda, sparkling water, and mineral water, with small distinctions.

The exception, which is not synonymous, is tonic water.

This is definitely not water-flavored; if ever you have tried it you are aware of its bitter taste. This bitter property comes from the organic compound quinine.  

What quinine looks like. In case you ever need to
organic chemistry your way out of a situation at a bar.

While bitter compounds are typically rejected by your taste buds (from an evolutionary mechanism which protected early people from ingesting poisons, see the comic below), quinine has been used in medicine for centuries.

In fact, quinine has been and is still used occasionally to treat malaria. Interestingly, it is also naturally fluorescent.

So if you’re at a club with black lights, you could always order a gin & tonic and amaze your friends with your glowing beverage. 

The same logic applies to foods and drinks. If it was bitter, it might be poison. At least nowadays we know better.

So now that you know, choose your fizzy calorie-free mixer, and your wine of choice. May I recommend not diluting a very expensive fine wine, but going for something like (now) three-buck-chuck?

Simply because, if you can afford a $200-bottle of wine, I assume you want to enjoy the wine itself. In that case, please proceed, and maybe email me so we can be friends?

You can even use flavored soda water so that you don’t notice a taste difference, or improve the taste of a wine you aren’t terribly fond of, but are tired of that 1/3 full bottle in the fridge.

It makes a bubbly beverage that feels special. And good news, there is no scientific evidence that carbonated water harms bone health, in case that was a concern.

Enjoy responsibly!


For more health effects of alcohol, check out:

 
Do you have any healthy or frugal drinking tips?

 

How to: Set up an online bank account

Most people by now are in the online banking game. Technology has enabled deposits, transfers, and account balance checks at our fingertips for a long time. However, for those who have never done so, setting up an online bank account can be quite intimidating. It is scary to think that with a few clicks and some personal info that you can send money zooming about the inter-webs. But it is true. Setting up online banking is quick and relatively painless, and can be such a financial lifesaver. Especially when combined with mobile banking, you will never have to worry about a bounced check, declined card, mystery charge, late fees, or too-late-to-deposit check again. Well, maybe you can worry about those things, but you will have less of an excuse.

How to choose a bank

Your first step will be to choose a bank to work with. This depends on many factors, including what you will be using the account for, what banks are near you or if you don’t care about brick-and-mortar locations, if you will need a checkbook or card attached to the account, how much of a balance you intend to carry, etc. If all you want is somewhere to put a smallish chunk of change where you can’t spend it and watch it grow, an online provider is a safe bet. They don’t have physical locations, saving them money and allowing them to offer a slightly higher than average rate of return. CapitalOne360 (which acquired ING) is a great way to go, and they are always offering deals and promos. You can choose to have a checkbook or credit/debit card linked to the account as well. Ally is another top “branch-free” bank offering savings, checkings, loans and CDs. While no bank is perfect or 100% guarateed ‘safe’, both these providers are FDIC insured.

Online banking requirements

To sign up with an online only bank will require:

–You choose which type of account you wish to open (savings, checking, IRA, CD, money market, etc. Read the details on the bank’s website for % APR, etc or call the help number on the website to be sure you understand all terms and conditions.)
–Your social security number (and any others if you will not be only person on the account)
–A current mailing address, NOT a PO box
–A valid e-mail address
–Various personal verification data such as date of birth, mother’s maiden name, etc.
–Usually requires an opening deposit (bank rules vary as to whether or not there is a minimum) which can be linked from another account or a check you deposit


Of course, if you already belong to a traditional bank, setting up online banking is a great next step. Not only will you save trees and stamps by switching to electronic statements, you may also get some sort of reward from the bank for doing it, like a lower credit interest rate or no checking account fees. Check with your local branch to see if they have any promotions for going sans paper. Most banks you can simply go to their website and somewhere will be a button to set up online banking for your current account(s). If you have problems stop in a branch or call their help line. It is the same basic process for online only banks, but you will need your account number to link current open accounts.


Should I get a rewards card?

Once you have online banking set up, you can view account balances, set up automatic transfers or payments, link a line of credit for overdraft protection, and so much more. It may seem overwhelming to consider all the various banks and rewards policies out there, but if you don’t already, you should consider getting a card with some sort of reward system. If you feel lost, just starting with something is better than nothing. You can switch cards or banks or reward systems at any time, but you can never get back the 20,000 miles or $500 bonus cash you would have earned with last year’s regular purchases.

What about mobile banking?

If you have a smartphone, you could definitely benefit from enrolling in mobile banking as well. Most larger banks already offer apps to take care of banking needs on the go. You can deposit checks with a click of the camera, check balances, make payments, and transfer money, all while rushing to catch the 5:15 bus, dropping off the kids, heading to happy hour or picking up a rotisserie chicken on the way home. And with no fees associated (yet) there is no reason to not have mobile banking.
Photo from MindFieldLive


So whether you just want a quiet place for a nest egg to grow, to stash your vacation fund until cruise tickets go on sale, to hide some ‘fun money’ from a spouse, or to have a free checkbook delivered to your door, online accounts are the way to go. Just be sure to pick a password you can remember! {Look for my upcoming post on internet safety and creating creative passwords!}
Do you bank online?

How to: Save money on your grocery bill

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Groceries are a fact of life. Unless you are one of a VERY small minority, you do not raise and/or grow all the food you eat. Also I’m sure there are people out there who never cook their own food, but rely on take-out and fast food for daily nutrition. That blows my mind of course, because I find such joy in cooking, creating, and enjoying homemade meals.
There aren’t many things more exciting to me than to bring home a big load of groceries for less than I intended to spend. Every time I go grocery shopping, I have a certain number in my head that I am allowing myself to spend. If I get everything I need for the week for less than that number, I am excited. If I go over that number, I just know I need to plan better, or have better impulse control, next time. 
 
My plan of attack when it comes to grocery shopping is always the same. It comes down to:
1. Knowing what you use most often
2. Paying attention to sales & in-season produce
3. Price comparing between a few stores
4. Buying generic or store brands
5. Making a budget and sticking to it

Know what you use most often

To know what you use most often, simply pay attention to what you run out of the most. What types of foods do you and/or your family want to eat often? Do you make a lot of pasta? Maybe cereal disappears within a day. Is there a tradition in the family like Taco Tuesdays? Noticing what you use often will help you plan around sales and stock up on staples. What I use most hasn’t changed much over the past few years: rice, canned diced tomatoes, canned beans, frozen mixed vegetables. These things make up the bulk of my weekly diet. I don’t know that I’ve ever gone a week without eating each of those things somehow.

Pay attention to sales & in-season produce

Sprouts Farmers Market is a place I go often because of their amazingly cheap produce. I get weekly salad greens, fresh fruits and vegetables there. Most staple items like bread, tortillas, canned goods, etc, comes from King Sooper or somewhere else. Which reminds me, if there is something or certain kinds of food you need a specialty store for, keep them in your rotation of ads to watch.

All this produce was under $30! And most of that is just their everyday low prices, not bargain sales. However, most grocery stores will greatly discount whatever produce is in season, because they have a lot of it and it needs to sell before it goes bad. Pay attention to what is in season, and maybe try a new fruit or vegetable you’ve never had that’s on sale. You may have found a cheap new favorite!

Price compare between stores

Every week I get ads from at least seven different stores. I have a few favorites that I pick out, the others I discard because they are too far from me or for some other reason I don’t shop there. Typically Sprouts Farmers Market, King Soopers, and Albertson’s ads get saved and looked through.

I will sit down and look through each ad quickly, circling items which I know are a good deal, or which I use often and are on sale. Then I compare amongst the three which has more deals that week. Sometimes I will go to all three if the deals are worth it, usually I end up going to only one or two with the most things I want to buy. 

When there is a really good sale, I mean one that you only see once or twice a year, I will stock up. For example Albertson’s sometimes has “buy one get two free” sales on meats, or King Soopers often has 10 for $10 sales. I know how quickly I go through my pantry items, so if kidney beans are 50 cents, I will be bringing at least a dozen home. Because they usually are 69 cents, which saves me 19 cents per can. That may not sound like much, but it’s little things like that, added up over years, that makes a big difference in bank account balances. 

Buy generic or store brands

If you are a loyal brand-centric consumer and you don’t trust generics, start small. Try the store brand of flour, or salt, and cook with it. When you can’t tell the difference, try some granola bars or oatmeal. Pretty soon you will see what items you can’t tell the brand name from generic and which items are really different in quality. By this point, the things I refuse to buy generic I could probably count on one hand, because there just isn’t enough of a difference in quality for me to justify the price difference. And that saves me hundreds every year!

Make a budget & stick to it

As mentioned earlier, I look at a budget as a game. It is a number I set in my head, based on how much I think I’ll buy, that I try to beat. If I find some deal or coupon that brings down my total, I have a better chance of winning. If I plan and price compare, I have a better chance of winning. The lower the total at the register, the higher the total in my checking account!

You can read more in my earlier article on making a budget & sticking to it, which includes how to add in all the things you spend money on monthly, not just food.


I have read tons of articles that advocate for making a weekly or monthly meal plan, stressing those items on sale that week, and then buying only those things you need to complete the plan. I am not quite that organized to pull that off yet. Instead, I have a rotation of meals that I know I love and can make quickly, which all use the same basic ingredients. Then I add in a few meals I’ve found recently that I want to try making, or if there is an event coming up, I’ll add any items I need for those things to the list. 

If I’m feeling extra over-achieving, I will even split the list into types, like “dairy”, “carbs”, “produce”, etc.  to make navigating the store easier. But if I don’t get around to it, I don’t beat myself up. And almost every week for several months, I get more than enough groceries for under $100. I’m sure I could pare that down to half or less, but I also enjoy cooking new and more expensive foods now and then, and experimenting with things for this blog. 

Anyhow, if you normally only grocery shop when there’s nothing left in the house but a can of spaghetti-os and some green sour cream, try these simple steps. Check around and price compare, make a list before you go, then pick up only those things on the list. Short, sweet, and you can be sure you’re saving yourself some cash. You can look over those grocery receipts and smile.


How often do you shop for food?

Perfect refried beans – low-fat, high protein!

Refried beans, known as frijoles refritos, are a staple in Mexican and Mex-inspired cuisine. It translates into “well-fried beans”, which is an accurate description. Most often pinto beans are used, though sometimes pink or red kidney beans can be used as well.

The beans are fully cooked, and any water or broth is drained from them. Then they are mashed well, and put into a frying pan to be cooked again over low heat. Refried beans tend to be made with bacon grease and/or lard and/or bacon added, which sure boosts the flavor, but also may boost your hip size.

It’s super simple to make your own at home with only three ingredients, and no added fat.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can pinto beans, drained (use no added sodium kinds if you can find it. you can also make your own from dried)
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp cumin

Step 1: Drain the beans. Rinse them as well if not low-sodium to remove some excess sodium. 

*Side note: bean cooking water is apparently awesome for watering gardens
or house plants. So if you cook beans from raw, keep that in mind!

 Step 2: Pour the beans into a frying pan. Add about 1/4 cup water, and cook on low until the water bubbles and beans are heated through. Mash with a fork or potato mashed until mostly soft and creamy. 

Step 3: Add bay leaves and cumin. You can also add salt and pepper if you like. Mix well, continue to cook on low heat for 10 minutes to an hour. Add more water periodically if they seem to dry out too much. Enjoy as a side dish, on tacos or burritos, or with eggs at breakfast.


Think Geek has more in-depth info on how they are prepared and when to eat them, Food Timeline has a neat comparison of various historical accounts of what refried beans are and when they originated, and Wikipedia covers why the mistranslation into “refried” is wrong on two counts.

What is your favorite way to cook beans?

How to make & stick to a budget

How to make a budget


Part of any healthy financial plan, a budget is a critical tool to help you find out and control where your money is coming from and more importantly where it is going. Many people cringe as soon as they hear the word “budget” because they think that means never having fun ever again, which is simply untrue. The beauty of a budget is that YOU are in charge of it. You call all the shots, from what categories there are to the amounts allocated to each. And they can be amended as your life situation changes to allow for schooling, a raise, a job loss, a move, a marriage, a baby, a divorce, etc. 

So how does one go about creating a budget? 

Your first step should be sitting down with a pen and piece of paper, or a Word or Excel document, and writing down every single thing on which you spend money on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis. Include housing (rent/mortgage/taxes), transportation (bus pass/gas/parking), food (groceries/dining out/coffee shops), and entertainment (movies/books/games/hobbies/vacations), as well as any other special categories you might need (children’s activities/debt repayment/investments). 

Your next step is to either: a. keep track for a month to see what level of spending is in each category, b. use an online tracker such as Mint.com to track spending, or c. estimate the amount spent each month. This is your total spending. Now estimate or calculate your income each month. This can include paychecks, investment dividends, interest on savings, gifts from relatives, inheritance, side jobs, etc. This is your total income.

Your goal: Make the difference between your income and your spending as large & positive as possible

This is the “spending gap”, as covered in several great articles (Minding The Gap & The Gap Matters More Than Anything) by Trent from The Simple Dollar. You can increase your gap by either spending less or earning more, or ideally doing both. The larger your gap, the more room you have to pay down debt, invest, and sock away savings, and the less stressed you will be. 

Let’s look at an example:

In the scenario on the left, the person in question makes about $54,000 a year (take-home of $4,500 a month) plus some extra from interest (assuming there are investments). The smart thing to do would be to re-invest that interest each month, thus adding to the principal amount invested and increasing the amount of interest. 

Anywho, that adds up to $4,750 coming in each month. This person also appears to have a rather nice home and car, as well as a lively social life, causing spending to total $2,450 per month. Even at this spending level, this person’s “gap” is a healthy $2,300 per month. They could use this to pay off debt like cards or loans, save for retirement, pad an emergency fund, or take a nice vacation.

On the other hand, the person on the right makes about $26,400 per year, and has no income other than their paycheck, which is $2,200 per month. While they have a lower housing payment, they have the same social and entertainment level as the person with a higher income, leading to a tiny “gap” of only $50 per month. 

The best way to approach this, with the intention of increasing the gap, is to consciously choose a number smaller than the current spending level. If you then hold yourself to those smaller numbers, you will naturally see your spending gap widen in your favor. 

If, for example, the person on the right were to move to a smaller housing situation or obtain a roommate, drive a smaller or older car, save money on groceries and eating out, decrease shopping and eliminate unnecessary spending like going out to the movies, the gap can widen to as much as $1,150 per month! That can become a nice savings account to eventually full-out buy a nicer car, a house of their own, make a job transition, or whatever dreams are yet to be fulfilled.

How to stick to a budget


Once you decide on the amount you want to spend per month on a certain category, now all you have to do is hold yourself to it. Easy right? Not so much when you’re new to budgeting. Or really at any point in your life. You see, we all have a tendency to get used to whatever lifestyle we currently lead. Our “wants” will always greatly outnumber our “needs”, and that leads to lifestyle inflation. That means when your income increases, you can fulfill more wants, so you expect a nicer lifestyle. Investopedia explains how this keeps us in the “rat race”, working just to pay the bills. 

This more expensive lifestyle then becomes the new normal. Inexpensive or free activities aren’t as appealing because it seems “beneath” you since you have such a nice way of living. Unfortunately things happen which may decrease your income, but will not decrease your expectations. It is also more difficult to save and get ahead financially. The Simple Dollar also has a great article about Avoiding Lifestyle Inflation.

There are several ways you can avoid the temptation of lifestyle inflation. 

  1. If you get a raise, pretend you didn’t by putting that money straight into a savings or retirement account. If you don’t know it’s there, you can’t spend it.
  2. Do NOT take on unnecessary debt. Just because you make enough doesn’t justify a huge loan for the newest car out there or a bigger house or more credit cards or whatever.
  3. Forget about the Joneses. What other people have doesn’t matter, there will always be people with more money and things than you. Focus on your life, your relationships, and the things that bring you joy.
  4. Continue finding free and inexpensive activities that fulfill you. Teach, tutor, volunteer, read, or go for walks. Enjoy the simple things in life.

For more ideas see YahooFinance, GetRichSlowly, or FabandFru

The single best tip I can give you on sticking to a budget is to automate as much as possible. If 10% of your paycheck goes straight to a savings account minutes after it is deposited, you don’t have a chance to spend it at the mall. If you have accounts set up for grocery spending or entertainment and put only the amount you want to spend, then you can only spend as much as is in the account. This takes a lot of the work out of budgeting, and makes you accountable. Just be sure to keep an eye on amounts and balances every month.

How to save money


Another problem people have with budgeting is not being able to “find” any extra money to cover the bills, savings, investments, as well as social fun. A lot of people view being frugal as the same thing as being cheap or miserly. This is not necessarily the case. You can still have a vibrant social life and enjoy leisure activities without spending large amounts of money every month. And many easy tips that save you money over the long haul don’t even make a noticeable impact on your daily life. 

You don’t have to go to the extremes of making your own laundry soap, living with a 55 degree home in the winter and 85 in the summer, or eating wild flowers to supplement your diet if you don’t want to. There are boatloads of frugal money-saving tips, and of course each one will not work for every person. You need to evaluate each tip according to your needs and lifestyle, try a few out, and keep only the ones that work for you. 

My favorite way to save money is on food of course. I combine many different techniques to keep my grocery bill as low as possible. For starters, I very rarely eat out. Nearly every breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack is made by me in my home. This saves me a TON of money yearly. Say I got lunch at work each day, for an average of $8 per day. $8 x 5 days per week x 48 weeks per year = $1,920! Nearly $2,000. That’s 2 1/2 months of rent for me, or 7 1/2 months of car payment, or 10 months of groceries. By making my own meals, I save that amount and put it towards savings, retirement, and other goals. 

I shop what’s on sale at the store, I stock on up frequently used items if there’s a good deal, I buy in bulk when I can, I pay attention to “per unit” prices, etc. I also take the bus to work in warmer months (I’m a student and we get a free bus pass, saving me $50/month in parking fees and gas), I insulated my apartment windows so the heating bill is lower, I buy clothes at Goodwill and consignment stores, and so on. 

For more great tips on daily money saving strategies:

America Saves – 54 Ways to Save Money
Daily Finance – 5 Tips for Frugal Living That Won’t Leave You Feeling Miserable
How Stuff Works – 5 No-Brainer Money-Saving Tips Everyone Forgets
Learnvest – 9 Frugal-Living Tips from the Great Depression
Little House Living – Frugal Tips
Living Frugal Tips website and Savings category
The Simple Dollar – Little Steps: 100 Great Tips for Saving Money for Those Just Getting Started
US News – 8 Painless Ways to Save Money
zenhabits – The Cheapskate Guide: 50 Tips for Frugal Living

What’s your favorite frugal tip?

How to: Make a “Door Snake” or “Draft Stopper”

Want to know a great way to help your budget in the colder months? Winter-proofing your house or apartment.

If you live somewhere that experiences temperatures below 60 degrees (which is much of the world) your skin and wallet will thank you for taking some simple steps. Winter-proofing is beneficial because it can help your heater work less hard (due to plugging up drafts and beefing up insulation), keep your living areas warmer, decrease your energy needs, and decrease your energy bills. All good things.

Some tips will not apply to you depending on what type of structure you live in and how much space you have to heat. A quick Google search brings up Yahoo’s list of 12 Ways to Winter-Proof Your Home, Women’s Day’s Guide to Winter-Proofing Your House,  and UK Money’s How to Winter-Proof Your Home and Beat the Big Freeze

A common thing among all winter-proofing lists is insulation.

Regardless of whether you have a 5-bedroom home in the suburbs or a one-bedroom apartment in the city, insulating your doors and windows will keep drafts at bay and heating bills manageable.

One way to insulate windows is to use plastic window cling or bubble wrap. I mashed several layers of bubble wrap over the bedroom window and duct taped it in place. There is definitely a noticeable difference in how much cold gets through the window now.

This guide is to show you another simple way to avoid under-door drafts: by making a door snake!

It may seem intimidating, but my friend B and I made two gorgeous draft stoppers in under 20 minutes.

 

You will need:

  • 1 sewing machine (or needle, thread, time, and patience)
  • Material approximately 1 yard by 1 foot (use thicker cloths to stand up to more wear)
  • Approximately 6-10 cups filler (rice, beans, sand, salt, kitty litter, etc)

Step 1: Lay your fabric pattern-side up, and flip it over onto itself so the ‘inside’ faces out. Pin along a straight line.

Step 2: Use a basic stitch to sew along the pins from end to end. You can measure the length of your doorway, leave an extra 2 inches per end. This doesn’t have to be super exact.

Sew all the way along the length. This will create a tube with open ends on both sides.

Step 3: Sew up one end of the tube. Make sure the two sets of stitches overlap to fully close that end.

Step 4: Now flip the tube inside-out so that the stitches are on the inside and the pattern is on the outside.

This is one of B’s 2 cats, she was very interested in what we were doing. Mostly the parts involving string.

Step 5: Measure against your door frame to make sure you fill the tube to the right length. Cut off the extra, leaving a few inches on the un-sewn end.

Step 6: Take the filler material, and hold open one end. Fill the tube up until the length of your door frame.

B proudly holding our first filled door snake. =) This is before cutting off the extra end material and sewing up the open end. Also of note, kitty litter is cheap but very dusty. Maybe try rice in yours.

Step 7: Fold the ends in by about 1/4 inch so that you have 4 layers of material. This puts the frayed, cut ends on the inside and creates a cleaner look & hemline.

 

Step 8: Sew along the double fold at the end. Make sure it is nice and tight, and goes all the way to both sides of material. You don’t want filler bits leaking out on your floor.

Step 9: Make sure your door snake is the right size for your door frame, and admire your hard work.

 

There you have it. A simple solution to cold wintry drafts that saves you from needing to double-sock and saves you some cash. You can re-use these for years, depending on the type of material and your level of sewing prowess. I’ve even heard of people sewing extra washable covers for these so they can wash the cover when it gets dusty/muddy/gross.

What’s your favorite money-saving craft idea?

 

What to Do With Vegetable Scraps

With one big cooking holiday down (Thanksgiving) and another mammoth of a food-waster coming up quick (Christmas!) most households probably have a lot of food and vegetable waste.

What should you do with leftover vegetable scraps?

You know, the butt of carrots, potato peels, mushy tomatoes. If you throw it into the trash can and send it down to the curb, it’s out of your house, but then what?

Channel4 in the UK wrote an article about visiting a landfill, a common feature of pretty much every country in the world by now. It’s something we don’t think about too much in our hectic, fast-paced, self-centered world these days. 

According to an article by the Huffington Post, Americans throw away nearly half the food we buy each year.

This is a waste of good food, a waste of hard earned money, and a waste of valuable and diminishing space on this planet.

But if something in the back of your mind nags you every time you replace the trash bag, then this is one small step in the right direction for you.

We can all try to reduce the amount of food we buy at one time, plan properly to use the food we do buy each week, eat leftovers and creatively use leftover food, and find uses for even the most seemingly unusable scraps.

1. Compost
If you’re lucky enough to have a yard, then there isn’t much excuse to not have a compost pile.

Even if you ‘don’t have time’ or ‘don’t have space’ or ‘don’t have energy’ to have a garden, composting just makes sense, and you can spread it around trees or in flower beds or even give it away on Craigslist once made.

If done right it doesn’t smell bad, and merely requires occasional turning to aerate. There are certain things that are great for compose and others not so much. NEVER put meat or animal bones or fat into compost because they will attract wild animals and cause unwanted reactions.

For more information about how to build a proper pile see here.

Photo from I Dream of Eden.

2. Muffins
This of course depends on the type of food scraps you have.

Carrot peels or leftover sweet potato can become carrot cake muffins, or be added to homemade coleslaw. If you have veggie pulp because of using a juicer, you can substitute that for part of the wet ingredients in a muffin mix.

Pay attention to what was in the pulp you juiced though. I think cucumber/grapefruit/kale muffins might be a little weird.

But who knows.



3. Vegetable stock
This is by far my favorite option, since I live in an apartment and don’t have composting access yet.

What I do is store all the scraps in a bag in the freezer as I make recipes. Potato peels, slightly brown pieces, ends of veggies, etc.

Once I have a full bag I put it in the Crock Pot and cover it with water, adding any other herbs and spices that sound good. Then just leave it on low overnight or all day, usually at least 8 hours.

The nutrients and flavors will boil out of the veggies and create a beautiful, healthy, salt-free stock you can then use in future recipes. The best part? It’s totally free!

Just freeze the stock in plastic bags laid flat in the freezer, or in ice cube trays to make little cubes.

You can then pop these into soups, stews, flavor rice, or in whatever you normally use stock. This same theory works for meat as well.

If you’ve made a lovely roast chicken and have the carcass left over, toss it in the slow cooker with some water for several hours. If you have shrimp tails, a bone-in pork roast, corn cobs, or some T-bones, do the same for some flavorful bases to use in the future.



If you know of a way to use leftover scraps not mentioned here, please share with us!

 

Oven Roasted Whole Chicken

 

When I moved into my new apartment, I went on a stock-up grocery trip as I always do. One thing that was on sale was whole chicken (90 cents a pound or something). Since I had already brined and roasted a whole pheasant, I figured a whole chicken shouldn’t be much more difficult. So I got one and stuck it in the freezer.

Then one day I decided it was starting to get cold enough to count as fall, and chicken soup is great fall weather food! Of course, I roasted the meat and just enjoyed some tasty baked chicken meat first. The carcass is in the crock pot today to make stock for chicken soup.

I took out the bird, made a nice brine*, and roasted it the next day. And it turned out tender and amazing!

*If you don’t want to brine it overnight first, don’t worry about it. Skip right to the roasting part.

Ingredients for brine:

  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup pink moscato (because I had no open white wines)
  • 5 bay leaves
  • sprinkle garlic, sprinkle black pepper
  • About a gallon of water

Step 1: Mix all ingredients in a pot large enough to hold the whole bird. Add water to the top (once bird is added, not before, or you’ll spill everywhere. Not that I’ve ever done that…).

Step 2: Stick it in the refrigerator overnight (or at least for 4 hours. You can put it in there in the morning, head off to work and finish roasting it later that night too). I had to put my milk sideways on the bottom shelf to make room for a day, but I feel it is well worth the space-hogging.

Ingredients for the bird:

  • 1 whole frozen chicken, thawed overnight
  • Several gobs of margerine or butter
  • 1 whole apple, lemon, orange, and/or onion cut into quarters (I used one whole Gala apple)
  • Salt, pepper, and paprika

Step 3*: Take the bird out of the liquid, and pour the brine down the sink. Wipe off any moisture with a paper towel and place in a large baking pan. Rub it down all over with margarine. I despise raw chicken, so this part is super disgusting for me, but it is a necessary evil of epicuriosity. (*IF you skip brining, this is where to start)

Shove some butter chunks under the skin if you can too. If there are bits and pieces inside the cavity, take those out and dispose of or cook separately. Then sprinkle it all over with spices, and shove the aromatics (apple, onion, lemon) up the butt. Sorry, inside the cavity…

 

Step 4: Put the bird breast-side down into an oven at 425 for 15-20 minutes covered with aluminum foil. Flip it over, take the foil off, and roast uncovered for another 10-15 minutes. This will lead to a nice crispy outside skin. Then lower the heat to 375 for about another hour, or until the temperature is at least 165 F.

 

Once it’s all nicely browned and roasted, it looks and smells divine!

 

Take the aromatics you stuffed it with out and discard (or compost it). Use the meat any way you like! It is tender and moist and super flavorful. Not bad for $5 a bird.

 

I served it with broccoli cheddar rice and candied carrots on the side. Perfection.

Now I think I also need to work on learning how to properly carve the thing rather than just stabbing and sawing until a piece falls off…