Category Archives: Informative

Weekly Eating – 2/12/18

 

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!

 

Over the weekend I cooked up a big batch of black beans in the slow cooker, which became some meal prep black beans and rice lunches, my best black bean soup, and a little left over for burritos or whatever is needed later.

black beans and rice lunch meal prep

I also finally got up the ambition to make a butt-load of pierogi! If you have had pierogi, you know how damn delicious these carb-on-carb dumplings are. If you have not, you are missing out on some serious buttery deliciousness.

mashed potato pierogi

Not going to lie, there is almost zero redeeming nutritional qualities to pierogi, but they are amazing, even more so when homemade, and I intend to take them to the next Bull City Food Swap. These will be a very high-ticket trade item, so I’m hoping to get some good swag in return!

mashed potato pierogi ready to freeze

Monday:

Breakfast – Cherry Waffles! The boy’s favorite fruit is cherry, cherry everything and anything. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day this week, I picked up a can of cherry pie filling with the intent to make some sort of delicious things with it. And I did.

cherry pie filling waffles

They came out very soft vs. crunchy, but I actually preferred them that way. And I turned more of the cherries into a berry sauce by boiling it down with some cherry juice added.

cherry pie filling waffles

Snack – So there were some muffins left over at work from last week, and we all know I can’t say no. So I had a second breakfast of a banana nut muffin. No regrets.

banana nut muffin

Lunch – there was a grilled cheese & soup potluck today! It was amaaaazing, and so perfect on a chilly, rainy day. I stuffed myself silly on jalapeno popper grilled cheese and southern Pimento grilled cheese, chili, tomato soup, and I brought my best black bean soup.

grilled cheese

Snack 2 – I was feeling a little guilty about the carb-licious day, so I snagged a cupful of fresh raw veggies from the veggie tray someone brought to snack on at my desk all afternoon.

veggie tray

Dinner – I’ve been jonesing to try a spicy Thai carrot and sweet potato soup ever since I traded for some at December’s Food Swap. I roasted some carrots and sweet potatoes, and whizzed it up in a blender with ingredients including cayenne, garlic, ginger and tahini.

spicy carrot and sweet potato soup

Topped with some cashews and golden raisins, it was absolutely perfect! I’m in love. Just in time for V Day. (Even if the boy said it looked and tasted like baby food…)

spicy carrot and sweet potato soup

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I found this recipe at my friend Stephanie’s blog, and for once was excited for a smoothie with turmeric! It has a pretty strong flavor, even for a die-hard exotic spice lover like myself. This turned out great though, the yogurt makes it smooth and the mango was the major flavor that stood out.

mango and turmeric smoothie

Lunch – Black beans & rice with salsa, steamed broccoli, and leftover lentil veggie burgers

beans and rice with veggie burgers

Dinner – Tuna noodle casserole, a childhood classic 🙂

tuna noodle casserole

Tonight was also spa night! The puppers needed a trim badly, I cut off almost a whole dog’s worth of fur. Yes, I did it myself, and yes I used scissors. He is an amazing animal and calmly stood still the whole time. That face though, right?!?

puppies after a fur trim

And mama also got a haircut finally! I’ve been complaining about it for months, but my frugal heart won’t allow me to spend money on going to get it cut at a salon. So usually I ignore it, and go 2-3 years between cuts. But I figured, hey, the dog doesn’t look completely insane, may as well try myself next! (Yes, I used different scissors).

giving myself a hair cut

And you know what? It came out ok! I took off almost 6 inches, and there was still so much left that not a single person commented on it all week. LOL.

Wednesday <3:

Breakfast – For breakfast on Valentine’s Day, not only did hubs get his usual coffee in bed, but I also used the remainder of the cherry pie filling to make cherry heart shaped pancakes! With some cherry sauce and a little melted chocolate, oh my, it was heaven.

cherry pancakes with chocolate sauce

And then proceeded to make Twitter jealous, ha, not my intent…

Lunch – Black beans & rice with salsa, and leftover turmeric mango smoothie

black beans and rice with turmeric smoothie

Snack – our admin gave us cute valentines with a KitKat, and a coworker brought in special white chocolate dipped cookies!

Valentines

Dinner – I cook 364 days per year, but this day is the boy’s day to cook 🙂 He did a fantastic job, with bouquets of flowers inside the door and on the table.

Valentines day bouquet

We opened a bottle of the “good wine” (yeah an actual bottle, not a box!), and he impressed me with a salad to start, followed by fresh baked bread, and mozzarella stuffed shells. He even got a bunch of parsley and diced it to put on top you guys! It was soooo tasty, omg.

Valentines day table set with wine and flowers

Didn’t even get a picture, because a) we scarfed it down too fast and b) no tech allowed tonight. He got a cute handmade card from me, and a chocolate bar that said “you’re one in a billion”  🙂

Thursday:

Breakfast – Mixed berry smoothie

mixed berry smoothie

Lunch – the rest of the carrot-sweet potato soup & blueberries

spicy carrot sweet potato soup and blueberries

Snack – handful of peanut M&Ms on my way back from a meeting

handful of peanut mms

Dinner –I made the split pea soup recipe from Plant Powered For Life, and it was damn delicious. I can’t believe I’d never had split pea soup before now! And I had some green beans that were going to go bad soon, plus a half bag of cranberries, so I simmered them together with a little lemon zest for a tasty tart side dish.

split pea soup and cranberry green beans

Friday:

Breakfast –Loaded baked sweet potato with black beans, sauerkraut, salsa, and avocado. It’s a pretty weird flavor combination, but I’m finding out more and more that that’s what I’m all about! I love the sweet potato sweetness, plus the creamy avocado, and the red cabbage sauerkraut is just the right salty tang.

loaded baked sweet potato

Lunch –black beans & rice & salsa! I may be boring but it is always guaranteed to be delicious. And super cheap.

black beans and rice and salsa

Snack – blender hummus and bell peppers/cauliflower

blender hummus with raw veggies

Dinner –Stir Friday! It has been a while since a stir Friday has happened, so I was excited about this one. Basmati rice in the rice cooker, and I found a stir fry mix on sale $1.69. It was so green and totally vegan, and the boy said “for what it is, it didn’t suck, good job”

green veggie stir fry

The Weekend

This weekend we are taking the leap and finally doing TSA precheck! We have some serious travel coming up between a back-to-CT trip for work, a long overdue vacation, and at least two family weddings this year, so it made sense to finally get it. Hopefully it will make traveling slightly faster and less stressful.

We are also ripping off the band-aid and doing our taxes! Who knows if we will owe or if Uncle Sam will owe us, but I will feel 1000 times better having this particular chore off the to-do list.

Food Total: $80.12

Well, I overshot my $75 stretch goal but I’m under my $100 goal, so I’ll call this week a win! It also included a trip to both Harris Teeter and Kroger, to take advantage of sales and coupons unique to each place. I am lucky that I live about a mile from both stores.

$25.77 coupon $8.56
Dairy $10.99 Staples $0.00 Fruit/Veg $11.15 Extras $3.63
Chobani 4pk x2 7 Stir fry veggies 14oz 1.69 Vday choc bars 2.97
HT brand yogurts 5 2 Stir fry broccoli 12oz 1.69
Sliced provolone 8oz 1.99 Bananas 11 3.14
Asparagus 1lb 1.84 Tax 0.66
5lb Potatoes 2.79
$54.35 coupon $19.10
Dairy $0.00 Staples $17.61 Fruit/Veg $14.11 Extras $22.63
Sargento sliced cheddar 0 Garlic bread loaf x2 3.58 Frozen pep/onion mix 1.5 Foil 200 sqft 6.99
Sesame bread loaf 1.49 Sweet potatoes 99/lb 2.65 Cracklin’ Oat Bran 4.99
Bagels- plain 6 0.89 Avocado 0.99 ZZZquil 5.99
Canned tuna x3 1.5 2lb green beans 2.99 Toothpast 3 4.66
Pasta x5 2.5 Bell peppers 2 1.98
extra wide noodles 1.99 Pint blueberries 2 4
pasta sauce can 0.89
Pancake/waffle mix 1.79
Grits 1.29
Pancake syrup 1.69

I do find it slightly amusing that aluminum foil is more expensive than any grocery item I buy… but 200 sq ft should last quite a while. And it makes me feel pretty great to have no spending at all in the “Meats” column this week.

Lessons Learned

We have been going pretty hard on the carbs lately, and I’m not sure why. Other than they are constantly on sale. I’ve gotten super cheap pasta, rice, bagels, and bread lately. It’s unfortunate that our food system encourages the consumption of pretty nutritionally void foods while making things like “salad mix” cost $6 or more… but also, during the winter and rainy season I really am not feeling salads. Winter is for comfort food. So long as I keep fitting in my jeans, I won’t panic yet. I know spring is right around the corner, and with it the abundance of produce I’m beginning to crave.

 

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

My most expensive vice

There are many things that we all just know are a bad idea, and take a lot of money to obtain and/or upkeep. Most addictions fall into this category. Y’all might have read the title of this article and thought, oh wow, is she going to talk about cigarettes? Alcohol? Gasp, maybe a drug problem??

Nothing quite so intense. My most expensive vice?

Procrastination.

While you may be scratching your head, or nodding it in agreement, let me tell you a few stories.

First, the story of my steering wheel cover.

So, I have an old 2005 Honda Civic. It has a slim, faux-leather steering wheel that originally came with the car. It is beginning to crack around the edges from years of holding, turning, and sliding hands and gloves. It gets finger-freezingly cold in the winter, and near-1st-degree-burn level hot in the summer sun.

Therefore, I decided I should get a cheap steering wheel cover to solve all the problems.

As is my default these days, I turned to Amazon. I browsed different colors, prints, faux leather versus fuzzy zebra print. Just a simple, classic black cover is all I needed, preferably as cheap as possible. I found one for $11 that seemed to fit the bill, added it to my cart, and clicked order.

I then forgot all about it, until 2 days later, when it arrived. After excitedly opening the box, I again forgot all about it for a few more days, as it sat in my den on a pile of other boxes. Finally, one day it was super hot, and I took it out to the car to try to install it.

Guess what I didn’t do before ordering it?

Yeah. Measure the diameter of my wheel.

I pulled and stretched and tried with all my might, but a 17 inch cover won’t fit on a 19 inch wheel. Shaking my head at myself, I tossed it in the back seat, to be dealt with and returned later.

Later has still not come.

That cover is still sitting in the back seat of my car. Several months later. That $11 is still Amazon’s. I’m not proud of that.

Okay, so what, that’s just a few bucks, you may say.

Time for story number two.

My poor little Civic is sorely neglected by me the majority of the year. Like most major and minor appliances, and joints, I only really think about it when it has problems or doesn’t do what I want it to.

One day, I started it up, and it did a crazy shaking thing with some accompanying weird noises. Definitely cause for concern. I tried to back out and go about my day anyhow, hoping it would magically fix itself. The car couldn’t make it above 20 mph down my road, and continued shaking.

Weirdly, it didn’t just magically fix itself.

I parked it back in the driveway, and thanked my lucky stars that I have a work-from-home husband, who has a second vehicle I could use. This would otherwise have been an even more expensive and frustrating story had I not had a backup transportation option. I was able to get to work just fine, leaving my car in the driveway to be dealt with later.

And a month later, I was still driving his car, and mine hadn’t moved.

(Are you seeing a pattern here?)

I did in fact google the problems, and talked it over with my father, who is a much more car-adept human. We diagnosed it as a spark plug issue, which is easily fixable. I stop at a car parts store and pick up some extra plugs, and doodads to change them, totaling about $40. Hubs is pretty confident that with some assistance from YouTube, he can handle it.

Turns out, there are even more tools, and extenders, and what-have-yous that we would need, which would add on another $100 or so in one-use items. For a job that is only necessary every 100 thousand miles or so, it seems like it costs more to DIY than it’s truly worth, and we decide to take it in to someone after all.

After several weekends go by where we keep saying “we will take it to the shop today, I swear”, and we still haven’t taken it to the shop, I finally got fed up. I just wanted the dang car fixed and off my to-do list. So I google all the mechanics open, and there aren’t many on a Sunday in the South.

I picked one that had decent reviews and was nearby, and off we went, me in my shaky loud Civic, with hubs loyally trailing behind to take me home while it gets fixed.

This guy, is an interesting character. He has “good old boy” values, I can tell by the way he talks to me like I don’t know a damn thing about cars (I don’t, but that’s not really the point) and calls me “little darling” (eye-rolling and groans are appropriate here).

I keep my annoyance and rage in check, because I just want him to make the car work. I even brought the brand new spark plugs, that I had bought, so all he has to do is the work to change them. I hand over the keys and we drive off.

He calls back with an estimate that seems pretty silly high to me.

I call my dad and talk it over. He agrees to talk to the guy before we authorize anything. When he calls me back, I get the whole story of how hard it is to make a living, and we’re paying for the time and expertise really, yada yada yada. Whatever dude, fine, just fix the car.

We are both pretty annoyed by now, but finally he calls and my car is all ready to roll. We head back, pick up the car, and pay the outrageous $115 and change.

If the story ended there, I would just chalk it up to a good life lesson, and find myself a mechanic I liked and trusted more. But.

About a month later, my car starts doing the exact same thing. It’s shaking, making weird noises, having trouble turning over and starting up. The check engine light is on yet again. I’m so over this I can’t even.

So I’m driving hubs’ car for another few weeks… bless his heart.

There is no way in hell we’re going back to Patronizing McJerkFace, so I google more options. Turns out, Jiffy Lube can do spark plug changes, and there’s one super close to my house. Excellent.

We go there on a Saturday, and the people are super nice. They listened to my whole saga, and let me watch while they took the engine apart. They explained where all the things go and what they do. And then when they took out the plugs, they tell me, “there’s no possible way these were changed recently. This guy basically took your brand new plugs and charged you for not doing this job.”

By now I’m so mad I’m seeing red and shaking.

“I SHOULD SUE! I should drag his name through the mud, what’s the number to the Better Business Bureau!?”

Hubs is being very sweet and talking me down. After much discussion and debate, we decide that it really isn’t worth the time and energy (and money of going to court) to wreak justice upon this predatory asshole. Karma will get him what he deserves someday.

At least by this point, my car HAS actually had its spark plugs changed, I saw it happen with my own eyes. This second change cost another 35 for plugs, and ~85 for labor. It has now taken me a total of about $275 and nearly 4 months, to change my damn spark plugs.

Least you think my procrastination is only of the automotive variety, let me leave you with one more story. This one having to do with a different type of modern vice: the internet.

So we all know that buying your own modem and/or router is the WAY cheaper and better route to go than renting one and paying every month, except in certain cases. Since we bought our home from 1000 miles away, we started our internet service by renting a router from our new amoral bloodsucker internet provider.

This router came at a cost of $11/month.

We unpacked all the things, began organizing our new home, and realized by the end of the second month that we had an old router which would work! Rejoice! The boy set it up, got it working, and we put the rented router back in its box, to be sent back to its home.

package brown box

And there it sat, in a box, on a shelf. For months.

First, we needed to contact the company and get the shipping label printed. We put that off for several weeks. Then we needed to actually package it and get it to a USPS or FedEx… which seemed to keep getting pushed further and further down the to-do list. Life happened, we had vacations, dinner parties, weddings to attend, exploring our new home city, and holidays.

Before we knew it, we had lived here a whole year!

And that damn router was still on the shelf.

We finally got our act together, after giving the ISP an extra $143 or so, and sent it back.

Y’all. This is a problem.

With tax season upon us, this is a problem with really big implications this time around. I’ve never actually been late filing taxes, but there have been some close calls. So this year, we took a weekend to go around the house and internet, collecting all the paperwork and proof and such that we need into one big envelope.

Of course, that envelope is currently sitting on the filing cabinet…

I’ve given us a deadline of March 1st, to at the very least run a practice filing through TurboTax, or make an appointment with our “tax guy” (last year was ridiculous with the wedding/name change, filing in 2 states, and buying a house, so yeah we had someone help).

I’ve set an alarm and everything, each day leading up to it, to hopefully annoy us into finishing the task.

 

 

Do you procrastinate, or are you a “do it now” kinda person? Have you already filed taxes, or are you waiting? Do you want to file ours for us (for free)? 😉

Weekly Eating – 2/5/18

 

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!

 

So remember that sweet deal on a waffle maker I got last weekend? Well, this past weekend I decided to go big, and made a huge batch of sweet potato waffles! The recipe made 14 big, fluffy waffles, which we happily ate 4 of and then I packaged the rest into Ziplocks for the week’s breakfasts.

sweet potato waffles with syrup

For lunch, we decided to explore a bit, and ended up at a pizza place in Chapel Hill called Magone. I got a “small” bacon ranch pizza, and this thing was ‘UGE! And delicious. And filling. The boy couldn’t even manage more than 3 slices of his Hawaiian. I ate 2 slices, and took the rest home, so there was a ton of pizza left over.

chicken bacon ranch pizza

Monday:

Breakfast – Sweet potato waffles! I’d tried reheating in the microwave, and it made them kinda soft and mushy. So I heated them in the toaster, and that came out perfect! New fave breakfast for sure.

sweet potato waffles in the toaster

Lunch – Veggie chili; I made a big ol batch in the Crock Pot with dry beans I’d soaked overnight. We had plenty for dinner, and I packed up the leftovers into several containers.

vegetarian chili

Snack –cuties & more coffee

cuties

Dinner –Black bean & corn California burritoes, with some purple cabbage for color and baked in the oven for crunch.

black bean and corn burritos

I thought I did a pretty good job wrapping, though one ripped a bit, but I’m not nearly as expert as Cheesy Finance 🙂

black bean and corn burritos

All day Monday I had a dull ache in my abdomen, thinking it was just hunger or a stomach ache. It turned into roaring cramps by the end of the day, and I was unprepared. On a suggestion from a friend, I wanted to use a heating pad, but we don’t have one. So google said, make one from putting rice in a sock!

sock rice

I’m here to say that it actually does work. I used a funnel, and filled up hubby’s sock with rice. Microwaved for 1 minute at a time, 2 or 3 times, it holds heat for quite a while. However, microwaved sock rice smells very weird. And hubby refuses to eat it after I’m done with it… so that’s a waste of 2 cups of rice! Haha (Would you eat sock rice?)

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I slept poorly and my body was still confused, so I didn’t know what to do about food. You know how some days, every thing you think of your stomach is like “Nah, I don’t want that”. I almost made toast, almost made eggs, almost had waffles. I made some sauteed greens because for some reason it sounded good, but that wasn’t enough. So I added it as a topping on the leftover pizza.

pizza with greens

Lunch –Can of chicken noodle soup. Nothing exciting, just needed to have some calories and still wasn’t hungry.

Snack –bag of sunflower seeds

sunflower seeds

Dinner –Tomato soup & grilled cheese with leftover tomato juice from the chili and some freezer pesto. Pesto is one of my favorite secrets to delicious and layered flavors in a simple tomato soup.

grilled cheese and tomato pesto soup

Wednesday:

Breakfast –Tropical smoothie; and this finally used up the rest of the frozen fruit mix I don’t like!

tropical smoothie

Lunch –Chili! With some mixed steamed vegetables on the side.

vegetarian chili with steamed vegetables

Dinner –I met up with a new friend after work at Starpoint Brewery/ Beer Study in Durham, and had a Chocolate Stout that was seriously amazing. It tasted sort of like a chilled hot cocoa, but with beer in it. It was worth every penny of the $8 for a 16 oz glass. When I finally got home, I didn’t feel like cooking, so I had more leftover pizza; at least I added some greens on top.

chicken bacon ranch pizza

Snack –Pineapple & cucumber. Cucumber isn’t the best alone, I should have made some hummus to dip it in. They were also close to going bad, so the other container I decided to quick pickle for later.

pineapple and cucumber

Thursday:

Breakfast –Tofu scramble with greens. I used up the last container of tofu, and the rest of the sauteed greens I’d made. I also added some cayenne and nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor. But honestly, it was pretty not great. Word to the wise: scrambled tofu tastes 0% like eggs. I won’t be making this again.

tofu scramble with greens

Lunch –leftover black beans & corn taco filling with brown basmati rice, salsa, and avocado (basically, a burrito bowl)

burrito bowl

Snack- Ghiradelli sea salt caramel & a tiny Snickers

candy

Dinner –Burgers: bison and lentil. I had some bison meat in the freezer that I bought on sale a while ago, and made burgers from that to make the boy happy.

bison burgers

Then I also tried a new recipe for lentil veggie burgers. I’m trying to find the perfect recipe to balance taste and texture and health. I used the ends of a loaf of bread in this instead of bread crumbs, rather than throw them out.

lentil burgers

These were good, but a bit too dry. Maybe I need to tone down the amount of bread, or add more liquid to the mix before baking.

burgers with potatoes and edamame

Friday:

Breakfast – the last of the sweet potato wafffles w blueberry sauce. I’m loving this quick sauce option: I microwave 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries with 1 packet of splenda and some lime juice, then mush the berries with a fork. It’s so simple and sweet and perfect.

sweet potato waffles with blueberry sauce

Snack – I had a busy morning, and knew lunch would be later than normal, so I had half a protein bar around 11

protein bar omega 3

Lunch –leftover lentil burgers with Green Goddess dressing, salad, and edamame

lentil burgers with green goddess dressing and salad

Snack 2 – We had a meeting at which they gave out muffins. I can’t say no to a moist and tasty lemon poppyseed muffin! But now I know I shouldn’t take any drug tests for a few days.

lemon poppyseed muffin

Dinner – My stomach was confused again, so I was hungry but nothing sounded good. Eventually around 6:30 pm I had a bowl of homemade yogurt with the remaining blueberry sauce from waffles and some tropical granola.

homemade yogurt with blueberry sauce

Then I was informed by Twitter that it was National Pizza Day, so naturally I can’t not celebrate a food related holiday. I was going to try this taco pizza recipe I read in a magazine later this week, but now it seemed like a good time to try it out.

taco pizza recipe

And it turned out pretty good. I liked the corn crust, but I need to cook it longer or roll it thinner next time, it was still soft and chewy in the middle and stuck to the foil a bit. The cauliflower, onion, and pepper toppings I used were tasty, and it used up the last bit of pasta sauce from the vegan meatballs last week. So that was a win.

masa harina corn pizza crust

The Weekend

This weekend is predicted to be rainy both days, which is kind of a bummer. It means it’s perfect “start spring cleaning” weather, but also that I bet there’s a 98% chance we will lack motivation to do so. I do need to return a library book, and maybe will browse and pick up some new ones while there. We also need to “adult up” and get our tax paperwork together… #adultingishardthoughyaknow

yoga and beer in durham

Oh, but I might have a friend who is interested in attending Beer and Yoga on Sunday with me! Two of my favorite things. We shall see.

Food Total: $26.21

I was very pleased that we got through this week without spending any more money at the grocery store! And not going out to eat either, besides one beer. Last week I was a bit of a spendy pants

The only groceries this week were obtained while Erin from ReachingForFI was in town, and we needed some wine for our hangout and chat time 🙂 And then avocados were on sale 2/$1, so naturally we both had to get a least a half dozen! She had a hilarious way of carrying her bounty home too.

Fruit/Veg $8.39 Extras $18.32
Avocado 6 3 wine 4L 16.89
Bananas 6 1.4
Mandarins 3lb 3.99 tax 1.43

This week, I’m trying to learn from my previous mistake of not taking a list, and going grocery shopping while hungry. This week I have a plan, read the ads, scoped out my current stash of coupons, and am making a meal plan after checking the freezer and pantry first. In other words, I’m taking my own advice 😉

Lessons Learned

Well, I’d say there were a few lessons this week. For one, using up leftover odds and ends isn’t nearly as hard as some people think it is, if you’re willing to be creative and eat potentially strange food combinations. There are also so many different way to re-purpose bits of this and that into different recipes.

For another, you need to plan to change your mind occasionally. I had taken the pesto out of the freezer with the intent of making pasta with pesto, which was actually my second choice when shrimp linguine began to not sound great. Then I didn’t feel like pesto pasta, so I decided it would be better used by adding it to the tomato soup. I think we changed up the meal plan every single night this week.

And finally, cooking is an experiment! Don’t be afraid to try new and different recipes. The absolute worst that can happen is it is inedible and you throw it out. People waste about 40% of their food, but if you can find new recipes your family will love, it may cut down on waste over time. Several things I tried this week didn’t work out, but that’s okay. We will keep trying and keep learning!

 

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

Restaurant Review: Straightaway Cafe

When you think of the state of North Carolina, there are generally a few cities and areas that come to mind. There is of course the Research Triangle, an industrial and tech hotspot ringed by Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Smack in the center of the state is the Piedmont Triad, consisting of Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point. And of course the Charlotte area and surrounding suburbs.

But aside from all the man-made areas, NC also offers two of our most loved natural features: ocean, and mountains.

The coast, with over 300 miles of barrier islands and beautiful beaches, offers tons of vacation options and watersports galore. From the charming Knott’s Island to Ocean Isle Beach just minutes north of Myrtle, there is plenty of beach to explore and enjoy. Of the mountainous side of the state, where the state line tracks the Appalachian Mountains, the most well-known area is Asheville.

The crown of the NC cities along the Blue Ridge mountain range, Asheville and its surrounding towns have an unmistakable mountain town charm. Life has a slower pace, in a place where they believe “Life isn’t just about the climb. There’s also the view.”

The view from the Straightaway Cafe

Highways soon give way to steep, craggy, and winding roads, which eventually turn into gravel and dirt. Only the most adventurous or well-vehicularly-equipped travelers should attempt the back roads in weather or after dark. But the climb is worth the view. Thick lush trees surround you on each side, with more shades of green than you can count in a Crayola box.

On the way to Asheville, there is a small town called Black Mountain right on Highway 9. We happened to be on Highway 9, actively on the lookout for dinner. It was late and getting dark, and we were at a cabin not too far away. However, in these remote mountainous areas, food options are rather limited. When you can drive for over 20 miles and see no sign of civilization beyond some fences and an occasional driveway, you know you’re pretty remote.

So imagine our surprise and delight when we saw the sign for the Straightaway Cafe!

Straightaway Cafe Black Mountain NC

We did not know that had we continued on Route 9 for a few more miles we would have hit downtown, but we weren’t looking for chains like Taco Bell, Denny’s, or Subway. We wanted somewhere local and cute and dive-y. And that is exactly what we got!

For this review, let me remind you of the BE Review rules.

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 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

After turning in at the sign, the first impression is admittedly not a great one. We both looked at the dilapidated, boarded up structures and were like “lord I hope that’s not where we eat!”. I don’t know why they wouldn’t demo these buildings after buying the land and putting up the nicer newer restaurant, but rest assured, this is not where the food is prepared!

Parking is ample, and all along a dirt & gravel road/lot. We got there around sunset, and there was a good-sized crowd.

The weather in May is quite mild, so the outdoor seating was prime real estate. Luckily we had several things going for us: there weren’t many people there, local or not, because it was a Sunday. We got there right around 7pm, the kitchen closes at 9pm. And there wasn’t live music until after dark, when several more tables full of people began showing up.

I totally loved this glass, and also really enjoyed drinking a beer from my old home state (Colorado’s Coors) out of a mug offering such a lovely tribute to my new home state.

cheers to a great lunch at the Straightaway Cafe

Cheers!

Now, about the food…

Slammin Salmon Sandwich $12

I was a little leery about trying seafood in a mountain town, figuring it must certainly be frozen, but for some reason I was craving salmon. And a salmon sandwich for $12 was something I couldn’t pass up. Boy, am I glad I didn’t!

They were very generous with the fish, there had to have been at least 6 ounces of salmon on the bun! And it was cooked perfectly for me, just slightly charred on the outside with a sticky sweet sauce. It was flaky and tender and awesome. I didn’t love the tartar sauce, but then I don’t like most creamy dressing like sauces. The tomato and lettuce and onion added a nice touch though.

Fried Buffalo Chicken Wrap $10

Hubs got the Buffalo Chicken Wrap, as boys will do. At least they included some spinach in there, to make you feel like you ate some vegetables! The chicken definitely tasted like frozen store-bought chicken tenders, but man, can we talk about how awesome this buffalo sauce was?! It was awesome. I don’t know if it came from a bottle or not, and I don’t care, it was good.

Speaking of good, the fries were also pretty fantastic. They were the thick cut kind, where they are nice and soft and chewy on the inside. We both inhaled them, and then were sad when they were all gone. They were just slightly not salty enough for me, which means most normal humans would enjoy them or find them slightly too salty 🙂

Right after our food was delivered, a local guitarist hopped on stage for a set. The lights came on, the amp was turned up, and we all sat back to enjoy dinner and a show. He played some covers of classic rock and country songs, as well as a few originals. The music overall was not too loud to drown out normal conversation, and added to the laid back atmosphere.

Unfortunately we didn’t realize there was a whole giant field behind the stage as well! I took a walk after the first set, to use the bathroom and check out the inside of the place. There is a large field just behind the stage, where there were people sitting at picnic benches, tossing frisbees, kids on swings, and what seemed to be a volleyball court!

The inside was darkened for ‘mood lighting’ I assume, and there are two large rooms with an adjoining door and a bar in each one. The bartenders were chatting, as the inside was considerably emptier, and they all smiled and waved. They pointed out the restroom door before I could even ask where it was. The walls were covered in typical bar memorabilia of license plates, neon signs, jerseys, etc. Everything appeared clean and well maintained.

Straightaway Cafe Rocks
From the rock garden with each staff’s name painted on one, it is clear that they all think “Straightaway Cafe Rocks”!

The waitress was adorable, and clearly a local girl paying her way through school or some such. She was very friendly and sweet, and gave us recommendations of things we could do in the area. Hiking seem to be a very popular attraction! Go figure.

We also started up a conversation with a few tables around us. One was a table of 3 older women who were all living in the area, one of them originally from Asheville. They all wore tie-dye clothing and seemed like a blast to hang out with. Another young couple near us was doing a cross-country road trip, and this was their 13th state in 2 months! They were planning to go to some organic farm in Utah to work for a few weeks next. It was quite the story.

 

Overall, I’d give the Straightaway Cafe:

  • Taste: 8 – not a very extensive or creative menu, but all the food tasted quite fresh and was way better than going to bed hungry!
  • Atmosphere: 9 – the view alone was worthwhile, and I’d be happy to sit there all day and night. The music was a bonus.
  • Value: 7 – obviously, you need to already be in the area, otherwise this is a bit of a road trip for diner food. Most items were typically priced of restaurant fare, $8-13, and was more reasonable than comparable places we later dined at in Asheville proper.

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

20 Things I Learned From My 20s

With 3 decades of life and experience under my belt now, it’s a time to look back and reflect, and to look ahead and hope.

I’ve gone through several large life changes, including moving across the country from Ohio to Colorado for a PhD program, leaving said PhD program after 2 years of soul searching and deciding it wasn’t for me, making a leap to a new and exciting career field, hiking 6 “fourteeners“,  moving across the country again to Connecticut for the hubs job, moving up from $14/hour to 50K+ per year in salary, getting engaged, getting married, buying a house from 1000 miles away, and moving YET AGAIN to my dream state of North Carolina.

Gosh, that’s a long list.

It’s weird to see it all put together like that. But honestly, that is sort of how I always imagined my life would play out. As a kid, I was known as “the gypsy” because I loved going new places. I loved visiting my grandparents, my aunt, and traveling. I loved sleep overs and flea markets and vacations. When I sat still, I sat the hell still and read books for 8 hours. But when I wanted to move, I was gone.

There are many things in my life that I definitely do not regret.

I’m glad I moved around so much, lived in over 30 different houses and apartments, met many many people, tried different courses and careers, and had tons of great experiences. I’m thankful my parents taught me a lot about money, to pay yourself first, and to be on guard against predatory credit card lending (I did get a few free t-shirts, for sure, but I never carried a balance).

At the same time, there are many things I regret too. Like not opening a Roth IRA the second I was legally allowed to, going on several expensive vacations that could have been put towards paying off loans faster, and not negotiating any of my salaries.

People love to give advice, but like Baz Luhrman said:“Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth”.

So without further ado, here is some of my past, wiped off and ugly parts painted over, hopefully for your education and amusement:

  1. Life is all about progress, not perfection
  2. This too shall pass
  3. Change can be scary but it is so worth it
  4. You’ll regret the risks you don’t take more than the ones you do
  5. “Marry your best friend” isn’t trite, it’s true
  6. Relationships are everything
  7. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. (Unless we’re talking about fruit flies. They LOVE apple cider vinegar)
  8. Any # of dollars is more than zero dollars in investments
  9. Flattery will get you everywhere
  10. Balance in all things, including balance
  11. GET MOVING, start a regular exercise plan ASAP
  12. Your mom knows what’s up: eat your damn veggies
  13. That which isn’t tracked and measured cannot be improved
  14. Don’t fear failure, or feel the fear and do it anyway
  15. Make the world around you a better place than you found it
  16. Someone always has it better, someone always has it worse
  17. NEGOTIATE YOUR SALARY, BROS, and don’t be afraid to job hop
  18. Sometimes it’s okay to be selfish
  19. If at first you don’t succeed… try, try again
  20. Life is a marathon, not a sprint

These may seem superficial, or useless to you. You will hear tons of advice, most of it well-meaning. Your job is to accept and put into practice those things which make sense and improve your life, while weeding out and filing away those things which do not serve you.

I do know that I wish someone had told me in my 20s that I was doing a lot of things right by cooking at home almost all the time, having a budget and meal planning, not giving a damn what others thought and not spending tons of money on beauty products, and avoiding going out partying to the bars (it is way cheaper to have a potluck or drink a bottle of wine at home with friends!).

I wish someone had shown me how easy it is to set up a retirement account and start putting money into it, even tiny amounts. I totally did force my younger sister to open a brokerage account, even though she can only put away $25/month right now. It’s more than zero! And she will have more than me saved by the time she is 30. And I wish I had actually bought a house sooner, so I could have rental properties in 3 different states! And perhaps have been a bit smarter about my daily commute…

I cannot tell you how to live your life, nor would I want to. I never listen to anyone who tries to tell me how to live mine. Adulting is hella hard, but the rewards are worth it. Every stage of life has its own challenges and its own beauty. All I can tell you is that this life we live is one crazy ride, hang on tight and regardless of how bad or how good it gets, each day is indeed a gift.

 

What have you learned so far in life? Anything you definitely do, or do not, regret from your younger years?

The Pearl Earrings Saga

So as you may or may not know, if you’ve been reading lately, I recently passed my 3rd decade marker. For my 30th birthday, we wanted to celebrate in a big way, and so were in the beautiful Caribbean on a cruise, looking and feeling great.

Before going, I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to bring back souvenirs/a gift to myself or hubs. Lots of people asked if we would be exchanging gifts for Christmas or our mutual 30th birthdays. My immediate reaction was, no silly, we just spent a crap ton on a cruise!

But then I also thought how cool it would be to have some physical object that would bring me joy and remind me of the trip and this particular point in life forever after.

flowers and gift box

I went back and forth between consumables (y’all know I love good food, and exotic food) versus physical keepsakes.

I hate cluttering up the house with “things”. Even if decorative, they take up space, and must be organized, cleaned, and maintained. Even if useful, they will eventually get pushed to the corner and forgotten, and also take up space and must be maintained.

But with consumables, you enjoy them, and then they are gone. You have eaten all the chocolate, drank all the coffee, used the whole jar of spices, and all that’s left are the memories. Which I am terrible at holding onto and recalling.

There are few gifts I’ve gotten over the years or things I’ve bought for myself that, if analyzed honestly, I feel were worth the money paid and space taken up. Most of those things have made the three cross-country moves with me over the past decade. Many, many more less worthwhile gifts lay discarded in various Goodwills and dumpsters across Ohio, Colorado, and Connecticut.

How could I choose something that would be worth keeping for another decade or more? Something that would fit in my suitcase to come home? And also fit in my budget? Why do I feel the need to purchase anything at all?

Where is the line between indulgences and unnecessary purchases?

Where is the line between being frugal and being cheap?

Finally, I decided that a nice pair of real pearl earrings would be an appropriate choice. They would be very small and portable, hopefully not too expensive, and something I could wear and use over and over again for years to come.

Flash forward to the day of my actual birthday, and we are in town, fresh off the boat at our port of the day. I’ve already been wished a happy birthday many times and had an awesome breakfast of my absolute favorite: bagel with cream cheese and lox. It’s sunny, and 70s, and in a word, perfect.

We are strolling through the shopping centers, where jewelry seems to be the main focus. How convenient.

fancy ring surrounded by diamonds

At the first shop, I find a nice pair, though slightly bigger than I prefer. I ask how much, and am told $88. Though I didn’t react outwardly, the number shocked me a bit. I’m not sure what I expected price-wise, to be honest. I don’t make window-shopping at jewelry stores a habit, so I’ve no idea if that is a good price range, or highway robbery, or a screaming deal.

As a naturally very frugal person who needs little to be happy, I rarely spend more than a few dollars at a time (on anything but food… all bets are off there. But even then, this was more than I usually spend on food per week).

At least now I have a baseline.

I go to a few more shops and ask around. One has a nice set, but only set in gold, which I dislike. 99% of my (admittedly small) jewelry collection is silver. Several more have drop pearls, or pearls set in larger settings, or pearls and diamonds together. The lowest price I can find is a small stud set for $50. At each place, I say no thank you, I’ll keep looking.

Have you ever had something jump out and grab you by the soul? You know as soon as you see it, it is the thing you were seeking? And years later, you still smile every time you see it?

I didn’t have that moment.

None of them clicked. None of them ‘felt right’. Each set I saw, there was something about it I didn’t want. Too big, too small, too plain, too fancy. At least that is what I kept telling myself.

Where is the line of being frugal and being cheap?

Where is the line between indulgences and unnecessary purchases?

We shop some more, and then drift off to find lunch, and a beach. Eventually, the day almost done, we headed back to the boat, and I was still empty handed. They offered to go back to any store, to get any set that I wanted. And still I refused, and said I didn’t really want them after all. I felt happier and more content about my $5 beach margarita and the $40 we spent on a few bottles of island rum to bring home, honestly.

Now, weeks later, I must admit, I am still torn.

Part of me feels some regret that I backed down and didn’t buy the earrings. There are very few occasions which call for a fancy enough outfit to justify nice jewelry, but I do have two family weddings coming up this year. I may feel further regret at those times.

But a larger part of me also doesn’t care. On a day to day basis, in which we live the vast majority of our lives, I do not need pearl earrings. In fact, I already have two sets of earrings which I nearly never take out. I have real diamond studs that hubs bought me for our wedding anniversary, and a set of small silver hoops which were a Christmas gift from my mother years ago. Having different ones to change out would be a minor pain actually.

I also already have a real pearl necklace, which is a double edged sword. Had they matched, it would have been utterly perfect. Had the earrings not matched, I probably would wear them together anyways, but it would have bothered me. Not having brought it with me on the trip to match, I will never know.

Close up of woman hands holding red gift box

In the end, the best gift was the time, and the experiences. It was sitting on a beach, listening to the waves crash, and reading a good book. It was a frosty cup rimmed in salt. It was exploring a new place. The best gift was relaxation, being away from everything, including cell phone service so there was no checking Facebook, Twitter, and emails constantly. It was slowing down, doing nothing, and eating 3 dinners every day. At least, that’s what I’ll keep telling myself.

 

Have you ever made a purchase and regretted it later? Or regretted NOT buying something? How do you handle splurges?

Carolina Reaper Pepper Hot Sauce

In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a new top dog in the world of spiciness. You probably know all about jalapeños, maybe even serranos and habañeros. If you’re a true spice afficianado, you might even be aware of the previous holder of the record for the world’s hottest: the Scorpion Pepper.

Well, since August 7, 2013, the new top dog in town, crowned by the Guinness Book of World Records, is a gnarly looking pepper with a shape reminiscent of a flame: the Carolina Reaper.

Bred as a child of the previous record holders the Bhut jolokia (also known as the Ghost Pepper or ghost chilie) and a red habañero, the Reaper was developed by pepper expert Ed Currie in South Carolina. A man driven by the pursuit of health which led to the pursuit of heat, Ed has been breeding and processing peppers for several decades.

One day while strolling, I noticed a bush, with some strange looking orange fruits. Of course I was interested, as an incurable foodie and forager. I snapped some pictures and went home to research. In short order I found out the above information, and confirmed these were indeed Carolina Reaper peppers! They happened to be in a public garden space, so I quickly snatched a few with no recipe in mind, but a burning curiosity (see what I did there??).

Carolina Reaper pepper plant

Once I got home with my trio of terror, I started googling recipes. Turns out not many people want to tangle with the Reaper in their kitchen, and for good reason. Too much heat can produce burning sensations, raise your temperature and blood pressure. In extreme cases, you can lose feeling in your hands or face, start shaking or even have a seizure, and become unable to breathe.

The way pepper heat is measuring is using the Scoville Heat Unit scale. An average jalapeno hits about 8,000 SHU, whereas pepper spray (the kind meant to completely disable attackers) is around 2 million SHU. The Reaper averages about 1.5 million, with the hottest plant on record hitting 2.2 million Scoville units.

So basically, a Reaper is the equivalent of pepper spray.

This recipe is for a homemade hot sauce; if you are using Reapers or other similarly strong peppers, please use caution. Make sure you have food-grade gloves to protect your hands, and make it in a well ventilated area. Leaving the seeds in always makes it hotter, so if you truly want to bring the pain, leave in the seeds. I did not…

The recipe works with all types of hot peppers, so you can sub in your favorite kind, or mix and match. This makes about 14 ounces of hot sauce.

Carolina Reaper hot pepper hot sauce ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 2 Carolina Reapers
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 a red onion
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • garlic salt to taste

Carolina Reaper pepper hot sauce ingredients

Step 1: Cut the tops off the peppers and discard. In a food processor or blender, chop the garlic, onion, and peppers. Add the vinegar and spices. If you want it totally smooth, add the tomatoes and blend well until liquid. Otherwise, add the tomatoes just before canning.

Carolina Reaper pepper hot sauce

I could have cooked the sauce down to thicken it a bit more, but I didn’t want to take the chance. Even just boiling it on a stove might create fumes that I didn’t want to deal with.

I jarred it in two glass jelly jars. If you want to process them in a canning or pressure bath the sauce can be stored in the pantry for years. Otherwise, store in the refrigerator for up to one year.

Hubs insisted on labeling the sauce appropriately: “Death For Sure”.

He had a burger, and put about 4 drops on it, spread all over the patty. He said that was a good amount to create a “nice burn” for the next several hours. I stuck a fork in the sauce, let the actual sauce drip off, then licked the fork, and my mouth and tongue tingled for at least 2 hours after… suffice it to say, I won’t be using much of this! The sauce should last us a good long time.

 

Have you ever, or would you, try a Carolina Reaper? Do you make your own hot sauces?

Weekly Eating – 1/15/18

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!

 

Well, turns out we got iced in on our trip to Texas! With freezing rain that turned into snow, followed by days of below-freezing temps, flights were grounded and hills were un-navigable. Just walking out onto the porch was a bit of an ice skating adventure. The dogs did not want to leave the house. We saw several cars in ditches in the following days because they didn’t think it was “that bad”.

And then the following day, our destination city gets hit with a foot of snow! I thought we moved south to get away from this winter crap? Several people who have lived in NC a long time say it’s been the coldest winter in memory. And we usually get a few snow days, but a foot in one day is kind of ridiculous. It meant extra time with family though, so overall it was kind of nice. 🙂

Monday:

Breakfast – I had the honor of hanging out with Kara from BravelyGo this morning at Summer Moon! I happened to be in town and she agreed to stop by and chat about all things Austin, business, and food with me. I really enjoyed getting to know this spunky, driven woman, and hope we stay in touch in the future.

Also, Summer Moon moon milk is magical, and their breakfast tacos are really dang tasty.

Lunch – Leftover chicken and dumplings soup from the weekend

Dinner – Chicken tortilla soup – it was served with crushed up tortilla chips, and it was like a piece of the puzzle of the universe aligned inside my head. Ahhhh, that’s why it’s called tortilla soup!

Snack – I had brought along some Miracle berries, so we had a fun experiment night! Miracle berries come from West Africa, and they have a compound in them that binds to your taste receptors.

Anything bitter, and especially sour, starts to taste sweet. Limes and grapefruits become absolute candy. The effect takes a few minutes to kick in, and lasts about 30 minutes to an hour. It’s very fun to watch people’s reactions to drinking pure vinegar!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I was inspired by yesterday to make breakfast tacos

Lunch – turkey sandwich, just because there was lunchmeat in the fridge and we had eaten all leftovers already

Snack – Pecan pie! We were snowed in today, with just about everything in the state cancelled. So we took stock of the pantry, to make sure we could survive. Mom in law found all the makings of pecan pie, so how could we not?

And if you’ve never had warm pecan pie just out of the oven and covered in caramel ice cream, don’t wait for the next blizzard, go make that happen!

Dinner – Pasta with meat sauce. Because no matter the weather or what else is happening, a big plate of carbs covered in sauce always sounds good. We did sneak quite a bit of veggies in though, there is bell pepper, onion, jalapeno, and tons of spinach in there!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Greek yogurt with granola and blueberries

Lunch – BBQ brisket sandwich and mac-n-cheese. We took a friend out for an early birthday lunch at a local BBQ place. The brisket was fatty, but I know what I’m getting into when I order brisket. The mac n cheese was phenomenal though, so creamy.

Dinner – Tex Mex. We were in Texas, after all, how could we leave without some enchiladas?

Thursday:

Breakfast – blueberry smoothie

Lunch – Our flight was delayed an hour, which was fine because I was starving. So I got a (way overpriced) beer, burger & fries.

And then, just as I’d paid the bill, some guy runs in and yells “if you’re on the flight to Raleigh Durham, chug your beers and pay your bills, the flight is back on time!” And so we ran…

Dinner – We finally made it home, and basically collapsed into bed. Oh, and this is what we came home to…

car covered in snow

Friday:

Breakfast – I made toast with peanut butter on one piece and jelly on the other. So naturally I was like…now it’s a sandwich. Not a song.

Lunch –I was not feeling great, apparently traveling just inevitably makes me sick for a few days. I heated some minestrone soup from the freezer.

Then I passed out for a 2 1/2 hour nap. The good news is, I felt so much better afterwards.

Dinner –Ribs (also from the freezer), potato wedges and edamame. Again, a very nice one-pan dinner.

The Weekend

This weekend is for resting and recovering, I’m feeling better but now it’s hubs’ turn. No more travel for a while, which is good. We have to unpack, do laundry, and restock the refrigerator eventually. Someone needs to remove the foot of snow in the driveway, and if we feel up to it there’s a post-holiday party at a friends’ house. I also got the “How Not To Die Cookbook” from the library, so I plan to spend some quality time with it and get some new ideas!

how not to die book and cookbook

Food Total: $72.43

I did a grocery run one day while in Texas to help re-stock. They were very generous with buying all the food, but I felt bad about drinking all the green tea and eating all the flip yogurts. (Y’all know that choco coco loco is my weakness.) This also includes the Summer Moon run, and the lunch we bought for our friend. And the silly expensive airport lunch. (Seriously, $7.50 for 10 oz of Bud Light?)

Lessons Learned

You just gotta roll with it, because life will throw you all kinds of crazy curves. From sickness to weddings, traveling is bound to happen. And you can pack all the granola bars and trail mix you want, but you will probably want real food and have to pay for it at some point. Just accept that. And having meals in the freezer is such a life saver. You can get home, just pull out a few bags or jars, put it in the fridge, and know that tomorrow you can eat real food.

And you never know what mother nature has in store. It is far better to be safe, than sorry and in a ditch. Always pack layers, lots of layers, no matter how warm you think the place you’re going will be. And take the dang vitamin C like your mom said. Who cares if it’s real or placebo effect, if you think you’re gonna get sick it’s better to be over-ready. On the same note, bring Claritin! Because cedars, yo.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Weekly Eating – New Year Edition! 1/1/2018

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!

 

Welcome to the first Weekly Eating of 2018! This series got a bit off track back when I decided to tackle my Holiday Weight Loss Plan for a Christmas/double 30th Birthday/NYE cruise. My eating got pretty boring for a few weeks. (Though, maybe that’s a thing readers want to know? Shoot me an email or leave a comment if you’d actually be interested in that).

For those of you who are used to being on the edge of your seats every Sunday morning, just waiting to drool over the BE family week of goodies, despair no longer, it’s back! There will be some twists this year though. As most people make “eat better” new year resolutions, the BE family will be tackling a big one:

Eat 80% Vegetarian in 2018!

*collective gasp from the audience*

But WHY?! You might think. What about all the flank steak, BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, and bacon wrapped pork roasts? Won’t you develop anemia and deficiencies and die without eating 300 grams of proteins in the form of cooked animal muscles at every meal??

Well, dear readers. Let me first assure you that these are all quite common myths. There are some legitimate nutritional concerns to be aware of, such as getting enough vitamin B12. But on the whole, even a fully vegan diet can supply more than enough protein, vitamin and nutrients for an Olympic pro athlete.

My in-laws got me a book for Christmas which I’ve been desperate to read for some time: How Not To Die. It is a compilation of all the food science and nutrition articles, and what we know about the links between food and disease. And I’ve devoured it cover to cover in under a week. (My husband is not thrilled.) Between that book, Forks Over Knives and a bazillion other blogs, books, movies, and resources, I can fight it no longer.

Science says: to avoid, alleviate, and even reverse disease, it’s super simple: Eat plants. All of them. All the time.

So, that is what I intend to do. I rather like living, and particularly enjoy my hubs being alive too. (Sometimes he hates that I try so hard to keep him around). Unlike myself, who loves a good steak, but wouldn’t die without it, he really does love meat and might die without it in his diet. And he is allergic to vegetables*.
*not really, he just says that so he doesn’t have to eat them

A happy marriage is all about compromise, so to avoid the all-out war and depression announcing we are now vegan would cause, we settled on a bargain. 80% vegetables, 20% meat/dairy. I think we can both live with that, and live with it a whole lot longer to boot! 😉

Without further ado, here’s our first week of the New Year’s meals:

Monday: January 1, 2018

Breakfast – A fun souvenir from traveling is coming down with a cold! I spent the first few days of the new year sniffling and coughing and generally feeling suuuuuuuuper exhausted. I was too tired to bother with actual breakfast, plus we slept in a bit. (We also went to bed by 10:30pm on NYE, woooooo 30s!)

Lunch – Didn’t have the energy to make real food yet, plus the fridge was wicked empty from cleaning it out before traveling. So I just pulled a bag of mixed veg and a frozen bag of beans & rice from the freezer, boiled it together, and called it soup!

Dinner –I did manage to pull a pork roast from the freezer and soak some black eyed peas overnight, so that I could produce the required New Year meal of pork, sauerkraut, greens & black eyed peas. We definitely want luck and prosperity in 2018, so I made sure we had peas & pig for luck, and collard greens & sauerkraut for money. I added just a tiny bit of pork to flavor the greens, and the rest of the roast was just ‘around’ for whenever hubs needed meat.

I got a bit of an energy boost once the DayQuil kicked in, so I meal prepped for the week a bit by batch roasting a bunch of veggies and cooking a big slow cooker full of black beans. They will become lunches, black bean soup, and possibly black bean hummus.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – smoothie with banana, blueberries, and some spinach thrown in for greens

Lunch – black beans & rice, salsa, and roasted brussels sprouts

Dinner –Falafel balls served over rice with mushroom gravy. They were delish, though not quite the flavor I was looking for. I will keep playing with the recipe until I get it right, and then I’ll share it here.

Snack – RUM CAKE! Erin from ReachingForFI.com and I did a little holiday swap, my famous Cracker Cookies for her famous Rum Cake, and boy was it tasty! Sweet but not too sweet, with just enough rum to know it was there. It’s a good thing it was a small size cake, because I’d eat a whole one without a second thought.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – strawberry banana smoothie

Lunch – Leftover black eyed peas & collards with sauerkraut & a salad with radish sprouts. The greens and peas had a creamy earthy flavor, which was complimented beautifully by the salty tang of the sauerkraut. Plus, since I made it using red cabbage, it was such a lovely bright pink color! I’d eat this on the regular for sure.

Dinner –Veggie packed alfredo mac n cheese, using plain yogurt instead of milk. It gives it a nice tangy flavor. I added chopped collard greens and broccoli for extra veggies and fiber.

Thursday:

Breakfast – I wanted oatmeal with strawberries and goji berries, but we evidently had some pantry moths. Those little #&@*ers ruined a whole bag of dried goji berries. >:( So I ended up with chocolate maca peanut butter instead, which I managed a few bites of before my stomach was like “nope, you’re done.”

Lunch – I made a big batch of my best black bean soup with the crock pot black beans, and this was an awesome comfort meal on a cold day when also feeling sick. Quite filling too.

Dinner – Mushroom risotto with collard greens. I had a pint of mushrooms and another head of collards still left from NYE that needed to be used up. I also had some barley from the Indian spice store (more below), so naturally I was thinking risotto.

I found this recipe from Williams-Sonoma, and of course adapted it to what I had on hand. It turned out pretty tasty, but be warned, it makes a LOT of food! We each had 2 bowls and there is plenty left for at least another 3 lunches.

Friday:

Breakfast – I did my trick of putting jam in my yogurt to make natural fruit-on-the-bottom, and topped it with my homemade tropical granola. Delightful!

Lunch – Black beans & rice with salsa and a small sweet potato. I added turmeric to the beans, and cinnamon & ginger to the sweet potato for extra antioxidant power.

Dinner – Oh my goodness, so many leftovers!

Snack – A friend at work went home to S. America over break, and brought back fancy chocolates to share. I enjoyed her generosity with a blueberry chocolate bar.

The Weekend

This weekend will be low key since we are both recovering from traveling and being sick. I am searching for tofu & tempeh recipes that will convince the boy that plant based eating isn’t the worst thing in the world. Give me a shout if you’ve any to share! I’ve found several BBQ recipes I’d like to try, so there will probably be some experimentation going on in the kitchen.

We are out of frozen berries, so a grocery run is in order to procure that and some soy or almond milk. Also Kroger is running a 1 day only $0.99 sale on cheese… is it worth it? So torn… I want to cut down on dairy but also burritos are hubs’ source of strength in this world, and that’s a really great price point…

Food Total: $162.70

My first adventure of the new year was to visit an Indian grocery nearby to check out the goods. Many cultures around the world have thrived on a plant based diet for centuries, so I assume they know how to do it right. I plan to cook many more Asian, Indian, Ethiopian, Latin American, etc. dishes this year.

I spent $62.61 there, and for the money I got a total bounty! Plant based eating can be super cheap, y’all. The haul included: shredded coconut, soya wadi, sesame seeds, ginger & garlic paste, 3 types of lentils at 2lbs each, barley, bulgur, tahini, golden raisins, turmeric, beets, cloves, and Amla powder. Not a single thing cost more than $5. I would highly recommend checking out an ethnic grocery near you for cheap staples like grains, beans, rice, and spices.

The rest of the grocery shopping was from Harris Teeter, where I stocked up on tons of produce and other healthy staples. They had a surprise sale on tofu and tempeh, which is perfect timing. I also snagged Black Rice at a cheaper price than Amazon offers, along with crazy-cheap canned beans & tomato (4/$1!!). That should be enough produce to last us quite a long time, though I will still have to restock the things that spoil (like greens/spinach, frozen berries, almond/soy milk, bananas) weekly.

Lessons Learned

So I did basically double my target grocery goal, but I’m hoping that now I am pretty much set for all of January. Except for occasional re-stocks of fresh and frozen produce, yogurt for the boy, and nut milks, we should not need groceries for a very long time. We will see how that plays out in real life. I’m a notorious menace in the “mark down” aisle of a grocery store.

Also, an initiative I’m taking on for this year is to purchase at least one grocery item every week to donate to a food pantry. It blows my mind and completely saddens me how many people in our country do not know where their next meal is coming from. Especially when I am so blessed and spend 70% of my waking hours thinking about food and recipes and meal plans.

Given the hullabaloo of the #BombCyclone this past week, did you even think what impact that has on children and families that depend on free or reduced meals at school to make their weekly budgets work? After much research, I think Urban Ministries of Durham will be the place to which I donate. And hopefully, I will even get to go cook and serve some meals there at some point.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Holiday Diet Details: Results

 

The year of 2018 has begun, and along with it, many New Years Resolutions. I’m not a huge fan of resolutions in general, though I do have several goals for the blog in the coming year. Also, this year I sort of did things backwards… I started a diet & exercise plan before the holidays, with the intention of loosening up once January started! I know, crazy, right?

This is the post of the original plan
Here’s how I was doing after 2 weeks

 

And this is the story of how it all turned out.

The 7 weeks of the plan were definitely a bit of a roller coaster. I had all the predictable pitfalls and slip-ups: too much wine during girls’ weekend, more than zero cookies, a lot of grazing over the Thanksgiving holiday (compounded by not-so-healthy travel snacking during the 10-hours drive both ways), and Christmas temptations galore.

But the good news is, every time I just couldn’t stop myself from shoving that sugary/carby thing I knew I shouldn’t have into my mouth, I just acknowledged it and moved on.

The whole purpose of this diet started out as a silly joke challenge, because we were going on a Christmas week cruise. And also both my husband and myself were turning 30 the same week! So I said I wanted to look and feel my very best, as I was sure lots of photos were going to be taken (I was right), and you always gain weight on a cruise (also right). We were going to Turks & Caicos, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Bahamas. That meant lots of sun, sand, sea, and bathing suits!

Me enjoying the crystal clear water and white sand beaches of the Caribbean!

So I cleaned up my diet, started tracking actual portion sizes to limit calorie intake, and ramped up my physical exercise. It was slow going, but by week 5 I was feeling the looseness of my pants and began getting actual comments on how I looked like I’d lost some weight from coworkers.

Conveniently, during the final pre-cruise-crucial-week of mega clean eating and restriction, the hubs had to go on a week-long work trip. Yearly reviews were due, a big project needed worked on, and the office holiday party were all happening and required his IRL presence (he works remotely, lucky duck!).

So good news for him, he didn’t have to smell broccoli and brussels sprouts all week, and good news for me, I didn’t have the temptation of his burritoes and beer around!

Workout Plan Results

  • Week 3-4 (Nov 17 – 30):
    • Daily – 20-30 minutes of yoga, 20-30 minute walk
    • MWFSat (or 4x/week) – body weight workout video or run
    Week 5-7 (Dec 1 – 22):
    • Daily – 30-45 minutes of yoga, 30-45 minute walk
    • 6 days/week – body weight workout video or run

     

I would say that I did stick with daily yoga about 80% of the time, but I found that 10-20 minutes was about my daily maximum. Except on weekends when I didn’t have a time crunch to leave the house, a 30 minutes long yoga video just felt like too much. A couple days I did a longer one at night, but in the mornings I can now say that I can stick with it, but about 20 minutes is my maximum.

Walking/getting enough steps every day was easier, because I have a job where I have to walk long distances occasionally (by that I mean cross a street and down 2 blocks). I also made a conscious effort to take the longer way to places, to use the bathroom a floor or 2 down from me, take the stairs rather than the elevator, and to stroll the long way to the parking garage.

Weekends continue to be my biggest struggle, especially now that it is so cold outside. Outdoor walks tend to be the only really active thing we do on weekends, and when it is 50, 40, 20 degrees, that ain’t happening. One night I got desperate enough that I stood up and just marched in place in the living room while watching a movie (yes, the whole hour and 26 minutes) and that seemed to do the trick! So maybe that will be my winter activity answer.

The cruise week was overall quite active, and I was proud of myself for going to the gym 3 times! On the days we were in port, there was a lot of walking, and even on the ship there is a lot of walking up and down stairs and doing laps around the decks. The 27th, which was our stop in Puerto Rico, is my new personal record! This is because I was up early, so I hit the gym for 60 minutes on the elliptical. I was at 10,000 steps by the time we got off the boat.

Once on land, we then proceeded to wander around town and shop, walked all the way to the coast, toured a 6-story old fort, and then walked back to town to sightsee some more. Hence nearly hitting 25 thousand steps in one day! It was a great day. Also, side note, if you’re ever in Puerto Rico, definitely get the coffee! The coffee was so amazing. I’m pumped to have brought about 4 pounds home. Oh, and try the pork and mofongo (plantain or yucca).

I also was able to stick to a 3x/week workout schedule thanks to YouTube and FitnessBlender.com. Working out in my own (warm) house whenever I want to works best for me. If you are the type of person who needs an instructor telling you what to do, or thrive on the competition with strangers next to you, by all means sign up for classes or go to a gym! Whatever works. For me, it is putting on my spandex, surfing through HIIT workouts until I see one that suits my fancy and time needs today, and hitting “play”.

Eating plan results

Food Plan

  • 3-5 meals per day, for a total of ~1000-1200 calories
  • Very limited carbohydrates
  • Daily green drink + vitamins
  • One cheat meal or snack/weekday, one per weekend
  • Only snacks allowed are green tea, raw whole fruits, raw veggies (RV) or steamed veggies (SV)
  • Unlimited salad greens or raw non-starchy veggies

Since measuring out actual portion sizes, I’ve gained an even greater disdain for how outlandish American portions have become, and how used to this we all now are. The human body only needs about 1200-2000 calories to maintain an active, healthy weight, and yet we nibble, bite, and slurp our way to easily 3000 calories per day without a second thought.

Cups, plates, tables, chairs, coffee mugs, bagels, muffins, pizzas, waist sizes. What do these things have in common? They are about 30% larger now than they were in 1980! A 2012 review of 245 restaurants found that 96% of meals exceed the (already generous) USDA recommendations for fat, salt, and overall calories. I bet now, 5 years later, that number is pushing 99%.

The good news is that now I have a more reasonable approach to portions, which I hope sticks with me for life. Your stomach can adjust to fit the volume of food you give it, just like your taste buds adjust to the flavors you normally give it. The bad news is, on a cruise you can have whatever you want, whenever you want… and I definitely took advantage of that!

A whole week with never less than two dinners and sometimes four, plus all the appetizers and desserts, means that my stomach was in pain a lot of the time, and my taste buds are soooo confused by all the fat, salt, and sugar intake.

Ready for the damage a week of pigging out does?

I gained back 10.4 pounds in one week!

Oops 🙁

Cruise birthday cake is seriously amazing, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like cake. And yeah, those are 3 more dessert plates. Don’t judge.

But hey, now I have the knowledge, habits, and belief that I can do this again, and then some.

 

Overall Results

  • Pounds lost: 16!
  • Inches in waist: -2.5
  • Inches in thighs: -2
  • Inches in stomach: -1
  • Inches in arms: +1 (hooray, bicep muscles!)

Starting weight: 156.2

Ending weight: 140.4!

Post-cruise-weight: 150.8

So, no, I did not hit my goal of 130 pounds

But you know what? I’m okay with that, because 16 pounds in 6 weeks is still really great! And there are SO many other benefits I have realized in this short amount of time.

  • I can do jumping jacks for a full minute
  • Planking is not even a challenge anymore
  • I can do one-legged squats
  • My balance is WAY improved
  • I can do 20+ perfect form pushups
  • Literally all my work pants are loose now
  • I feel way more confident physically
  • Portion sizes make more sense
  • I can actually do this now:

    Those are called “Eagle arms”. Which makes no sense because you’d think that means sticking your arms out to the sides super-far like you’re trying to fly, but whatever, I didn’t make the yoga naming rules…

The biggest benefit of this by far is that I actually look forward to workouts now! If more than 2 days go by without doing HIIT, I start to feel lethargic and miss it. It is definitely still hard to get over the “activation energy” to get started, but that high of finishing a workout, when you’re a little sore, sweaty, and out of breath, but all your muscles are warm and happy, is so worth it.

OMG who have I become? lol

So the moral of the story is, although I didn’t get to my goal weight (yet!) it was a totally worthwhile endeavor. I’ve started tons more healthy habits that I hope to keep as part of my life forever. We all could use a little more movement. Flexibility and muscle mass starts decreasing with age, so it’s up to us to make the time to get and stay in shape.

All of these changes are meant to be a way of life for the long term. This is not a fad, just to lose 10 pounds and be beach ready (though that is how it started). I want to incorporate more movement into my days, strength training and flexibility every week, and pack my plate with healthy, whole, plant based foods as often as possible. Science says that eating lots of plants and moving your body more is the key to health, avoidance of disease, and longevity.

Let’s have a salad and a walk, shall we?

 

 

How do you stay fit & healthy? Are you resolving to eat better or workout more in the new year?