Shave Time, Shave Money

We are nothing if not simple folk. I know some who know us might disagree — we’re not Amish, by any means (and if I’m offending any Amish…what the heck are you doing on the Internet??). But, ultimately we feel that it’s better to live a simple life than a life full of too much stuff, too many complications and too much drama.

So, simple we are.


That said, when the Dollar Shave Club (yes, that Dollar Shave Club, founded by Mike, himself) asked if I’d be up for a “Shave Time, Shave Money” challenge, I was like, “You know who I AM?!” Er. Stay cool, Meg. Stay cool. I was like, “You betcha!” in my best mock Sarah Palin voice. Seriously, I’m a sucker for a challenge, even if it’s failing miserably while attempting it. See also: junior high basketball attempt…and volleyball.

I thought I’d share a handful of ways that we have stumbled upon that have shaved time and/or benjamin-spending from our family’s daily routine. See if you’re doing any of these simple life hacks already or if they’d help you out…

Tea and coffee, coffee and tea. Hot water + plant life that’s been toasted beyond recognition = an item that many can’t make it through the day without.

And know what takes more time than you may realize on a daily basis? Waiting in line for your morning fix. Even if it’s a drive-thru, it takes at least 7 minutes in our neck of the woods (and if you have to go inside? Fuhgettaboutit.). Not to mention the cost. Even a basic $2 coffee (and we all know it’s not $2, especially a soy mochafrappamachiacino) adds up to $10 a week, or $40 by the end of the month. So, yeah. We don’t play that game.


Instead, while we’re running around putting lunches together, we put on the teapot or get the coffee going. By the time lunches are done, our hot beverage is ready for sugar or honey or milk. A big pro here is that we have complete control over the ingredients. Let’s just say that even organic coffee or tea is mere cents a cup made at home vs. $2 at Dunkin’ or Starbucks.

You can be like my awesome stepdad and measure out the coffee and fill the machine with water to make it easy in the morning to just flip the switch when you’re ready.


Speaking of lunches, prep is key. If you make a conscious decision to make, say, one huge salad on Sunday night, it’ll make weekday mornings markedly easier. I kid you not; stay in bed 10 more minutes. Just store items like sliced tomatoes, sliced strawberries (seriously, don’t laugh, they’re soooo good with feta in a salad), or diced cheese separately to avoid slimy grossness, then just assemble quickly in the morning (or, better yet, the night before).

We’re cool with salads (plus some grilled chicken or varied toppings) everyday; just grab a cup of yogurt, an apple, and a bag of pretzels or popcorn. We throw in a wrap (also made in advance, filled with some of the salad ingredients) or leftovers once in awhile so that the salads don’t get boring. Packing a different flavor of dressing or vinaigrette, or using a variety of ingredients helps, too. We find that a handful of almonds can really add another level of flavor.

Not only does this provide a healthy option, but it also makes it easier to “just say ‘no’!” to a takeout or fast food lunch. It’s definitely way cheaper to do the Ford assembly line method, too.

Is “Just Say ‘No’!” too 80s to reference anymore? Too Nancy Reagan? You can be honest, I can take it.


– This one’s for you die-hard money saving fools out there. We’ve talked before about our decision to switch off the cable, but it’s the perfect time to bring it up again.

We were sick of the high cost of cable and the fact that we only watched, say, 20 of the 70 channels. So, we bravely switched to the 11-station plan. Um, I say “bravely” because we were addicted, and we didn’t know anyone taking that step. (Compared to, say, soldiers…we ain’t brave.) Since then, we’ve adjusted fine and even have a few friends and family cutting back, too.

If there are certain shows you need to, like, exist, don’t sweat. Hit up Google to find out what streaming device will hook you up with your faves and put a chunk down to buy it. Seriously, still way cheaper in the long run.

Luckily, Dave and I love PBS (hellooooo, Downton, History Detectives and Sherlock!), Hadman’s also a PBS lover (Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger!), and we’ve had Netflix streaming on the Wii forever. It suits us just fine.

Share and share alike. What’s simpler than purchasing only ONE of everything? This is a tad different with a toddler around, but the Dorky Daddy and I share a lot of the basics, and it cuts back on extra purchases and makes shopping super easy. We use the same toothpaste, soap, shampoo (I’ve even been known to use Hadley’s), deodorant…yeah. A lot. It’s also helpful to keep an eye out for coupons and know that you’re saving even more. 
But don’t share razors. Ew. If you’re looking to streamline your shaving experience and pay less doing it, try the Dollar Shave Club. For one low monthly price, they send you “f$%&ing great” razors and keep you smoother for cheaper. Seriously, for as low as a buck; what’s cheaper than that? $12 a year?! That’s nothing. Have you BEEN through the razor section of a store lately? Insane.
 
Dude, shop at a grocery store. This may sound weird, but my advice is to shop at a grocery store for your groceries.

*crickets*

Yyyyyyeeeeaaaaahhh. By this…what I mean is…okay. If you’re used to shopping for groceries at a store like, say, Schmalmart, think about how many times you’ve come home with something that wasn’t food or food-related. I’ll wait.

*clicks on Canadian TV station*

*clicks off*

*looks around*

*takes a drink*

Figure it out? Back when I used to shop at Schmalmart, in my glamorous bachelorette days, I spent about the same amount of cabbage that I do today at my local grocery store. While buying just food. For THREE people.

What busted my bill so badly back then? Extra crap. “Oh! $5 t-shirts! Seasonal candles! Clearance flats!” See what I mean? I ALWAYS bought something else — something I didn’t need — when I went grocery shopping.”

Side note: I also bought stuff like bottled water, soda, and a million more processed items back then. We’ve since gone “real food” and while organic is more expensive, the fact that I’m not adding on stuff like that helps balance the cost. Just sayin’.

While I know there are pitfalls of shopping at a grocery store (I do get my dish soap, washing detergent, toilet paper, etc. at the grocery store), it’s mostly food, so it’s harder to fall prey to the “buuuuuuyyyy mooooorrrre” monster. Also, I don’t kill an entire afternoon or a couple of precious hours shopping anymore. 

Make more sense now? Sweet.

Think old. It’s no secret: Dave and I are old souls. We probably over-romanticize the past and long for simpler, wholesome times (without all that bigotry and hatred). To be blunt, I wish we could live in a Capra movie. And it looks like Hadley is on the same track, preferring ’40s big band for dinnertime listening to anything else and he still kicks up his heels to Fred Astaire songs. (It’s like he knoooowwwws.)

But, I’m not suggesting that you take it to our extremes or start dressing all vintage or join a swing dance club. What I am suggesting is that you just take a step back and think about life back then and how you’d like to slow down your modern life a bit.

People grew gardens. People knew their neighbors and said ‘hi’ and sat on their stoops and dropped off cookies for no real reason (except maybe to say ‘thanks’ for watching their kids last-minute the week before). People only owned a handful of outfits, enough to fit into a single armoire. People owned the basics, but knew how to be happy. People were thrifty by nature and it wasn’t looked upon negatively.

How can you fit some of these into your daily life? We try to purge every season (and sometimes more than that) and keep only what we love. We question our purchases. We stop to talk to neighbors when we have a minute. We shovel their walkways when we have extra time. We wave when we drive to or from home.

And the occasional day offline helps you feel more connected with the life around you, a well. Our grandparents were the original YOLO generation; it’s good to look to them as models of a good life.

So, there we have a handful of methods that we like to utilize to “cut” (get it? Cut…) back our money a-spending and time a-wasting. Do you already use any of them? What tips would you add to the list? Did I rise to the “challenge”? Am I the only 30-something who joneses to watch “This Old House” and “Antiques Roadshow”? Answers! I need answers, people!

***Disclaimer: I was not monetarily compensated or provided with free products for my feelings. Dollar Shave Club and I partnered for the topic of this post. As always, all thoughts are completely, 100% my own.***

Bad Grocery Juju

Why, oh why do I stray from the norm? Seriously, Meg: stick to Hannaford, the occasional Aldi stop, and go nuts with farmers’ market trips.

I was in the need of a handful of stuff. You know. Not a “stock the cupboards” type of trip; more of a “just the necessities that we’re out of” thing. So, I thought naively, why not give the new local Price Chopper a go? And bring the guys along?

Ugh. So. Dumb. *points to self*

Mistake #1: Assuming that this new, snazzy Price Chopper was going to be equal in options to, say, the same branch about half and hour away, or even (goodness forbid) our local Hannaford. *buzzer*

Totally different. Not much room to maneuver, especially the areas we needed (namely produce). And HARDLY ANY NATURAL/ORGANIC OPTIONS!!! Hannaford wins, hands-down, in that department just be, um, HAVING “that department.” I walked through a ton of aisles just to see what options they had mixed on the shelves. ONE organic cereal, and it was Kashi (which we don’t buy thanks to some unsavory practices…say, being owned by Kellogg).

Lesson: Stick to what you know. Locally, Hannaford is our best bet. It just is. Prices were generally comparable, there are occasional sales at both places on the organic produce so it’s hit-or-miss, and there’s just SUCH a selection at Hannaford, hands-down. 

Mistake #2: Assuming that bringing the guys along would be a pleasant experience for all involved. I should’ve known better on this one, honestly. It’s completely my fault.

Considering I had seen in advance on their new flyers that an ex from college is apparently in management at the place…that created one awkward environment. I can’t be the only person to whom this type of ridiculousness happens, right? Normally, I’m cool talking to people from my past, but this guy clearly wasn’t over…well, anything. Just…awkward and stupid.

Lesson: Shouldn’t I know better by now? Don’t subject family to potentially awkward situations if at all possible. (smacks forehead)

Then, the “toddler itch” kicked in. Oh, yes. The grab items (a non-organic Granny Smith apple which he proceeded to chomp down on…eh, at least it kept him quiet for awhile. “Go ahead, sweetie. Eat the sticker.”), squirming to get down, fine-poor-daddy-will-walk-you-all-over-the-store itch. We later figured out that the little guy’s teething up a storm, so I feel a tad less upset about this whole part. Not to mention it was a very big “I told you so” moment since Dave has a crystal ball and realized the place wouldn’t be as well-stocked as Price Chopper. :-\ Eh. He’s right, what can I say? When the man’s right, he’s right.

Lesson: Well…I kinda wish Dave had voiced his concern beforehand, but I’m stubborn and not sure I would’ve listened. However, I have already learned that a) a shopping trip with Dave and Hadley along always has a different level of “excitement” (and takes longer). I should’ve just gone on my own and been done with it. Not to mention, Hadley wouldn’t nap when we got him home, so that made for a crazy visit at my parents’ later in the evening.

FINAL THOUGHTS (I’m Jerry Springer!): If you aren’t looking for natural options, this new Price Chopper would be a fine choice. If you’re not dragging a brood along (seriously, it’s tough to maneuver those aisles!), it’s a fine choice. If you haven’t dated any of their employees who have clearly not yet dealt with their issues, it’s a fine choice.

If you WANT good organic and natural choices, if you WANT everything on your shopping list, if you WANT a pleasant environment, if you WANT to have a fun grocery shopping trip with your entire family…maybe not the best choice.
By the way, your situation may be completely different, and this could be an isolated thing. It’s entirely possible.

Summer Eats

Am I the only one who gets a bit of a jolt when one season melds into the next? Don’t get me wrong, my favorite thing about living where we “feel” four seasons is that new transition into the next one; the new smells and sights and feelings of temperature changes. What hits me a little harder, aside from figuring out what the heck to wear, is what to eat.

I always seem to forget what “got us by” the previous year. Plus, now that we’ve got a little guy who eats dinners right alongside us, it’s a tad more challenging to come up with meals that he’ll partake in, as well. There was a time that Dave and I could live on salads almost every night for dinner, but that won’t cut it with the munchkin and his super-human appetite along for the ride.

So, here are a few ideas. Feel free to add more in the comments!

Grilled stuff. Grilled chicken, grilled veggies, grilled pizza…grilled freakin’ siding from the house. Seriously, almost anything? Grill it. It’s the new “put a bird on it.” (Hadley is hit-or-miss on this. If it’s, say, a grilled cheeseburger, he’ll generally eat it. Grilled chicken is a 75/25 chance [75% of the time he doesn’t eat it]. It is what it is. Gotta keep trying!)

– Low-key sandwiches. In the winter, it’s a quasi-weekly “soup and sandwich” night (which my husband inevitably turns into a “salad and soup” or “salad and sandwich” night…); in the summer, it’s a “sandwich night” (with something as normal-yet-unhealthy as chips on the side, or something healthier like carrots or cooked veggies — which is more for the toddler than anything). This is also what my mom used to call a smorgasbord night. Just grab some hoagie/sub/whateveryouwannacallthem rolls, set up a station of veggies, meat, cheese, and condiments, and go wild. Hey, it’s better than Subway!

– Another variation on the “smorgasbord” is the “let’s see what’s in the fridge” meal (probably closer to what a smorgasbord really is). BTW, I feel like the Swedish chef every time I say “smorgasbord.” K. So, this is something my sister and I used to do when we ate “picnics” on a blanket on the living room floor. It entails finding cold cuts, cheese to cut up, pickles, olives (if you’re into those; I am, but Dave isn’t, so it’s useless buying them), crackers, carrot sticks (any veggies, really) and dip, granola bars, apples with peanut butter…seriously, anything in the pantry or fridge that could be considered a finger food. It’s not necessarily the healthiest thing ever (well, actually, it CAN be, depending on what you have), but it’ll work for those “so hot my brain won’t work” nights.

Paninis. Sure, this is a variation on “grilled” (especially if you put something grilled on it) AND “low-key sandwiches”, but they’re still kind of their own thing. You make the sandwich (including SOME sort of cheese…it’s gotta get melty!), then throw it on the grill pan (less messy and less work than a regular grill, honestly), and you’re done. You can use no-nitrate cold cuts (or don’t, no judging) or leftover grilled chicken; whatev. If you’ve got a picky eater on your hands (like, I doubt Hadman would eat a balsamic carmelized onion mushroom panini…just a hunch), just make him a grilled cheese and call it a day. Don’t stress, guys.

Pasta. I know it sounds heavy, but seriously — (lightly cooked) veggies + pasta + pasta water + grated cheese + lemon juice (optional) and seasoning = dinner. Bam.

Wraps, like sandwiches, are a great light option for those sweltering evenings. They can turn a boring sandwich into more of a restaurant-like experience. Just think of what you’d like to order and see if you can recreate it at home! And don’t worry if you don’t wrap it up perfectly; it’s the taste that counts. (And toothpicks help!)

Stir-fry. Again, it sounds heavy, but when you don’t go heavy (like teriyaki) and aim more for veggies (and maybe chicken) on some rice, you’d be surprised. Especially if you keep it bright and light with some citrus. Yum…I think I’ll make that tonight. 🙂 I did. Don’t forget to use soy sauce…instead of Worcestershire.

Quesadillas. You can make this as complicated, traditional, or simple as you’d like. Here’s a recipe for a black bean quesadilla I made awhile back, but you could easily just make a simple chicken or beef quesadilla, or push the envelope with something more “daring” (as daring as food can be, I guess) like a breakfast version with sausage or a buffalo chicken version — which my husband would go nuts over. Oh, and you can probably tell that if there’s melted cheese on something, it ups the chance of our little guy’s eating it. Clearly.

– Speaking of breakfast, this is a go-to anytime of the year for me: breakfast for dinner. Whether it’s pancakes, french toast, omelets or simply eggs/toast/hash browns, this is a quick, relatively light way to get some food down your family’s gullet.

And if all else fails, make a couple of grown-up salads will grilled meat and give your munchkin some of his own grilled meat, some heated-up frozen veggies, and a cheese stick (or, our son’s latest FAVORITE, pineapple) and call it a day. It’s hot, after all. Don’t knock yourself out.

Whole Foods Experience

So, a couple of weeks ago, we took the Friday off and left insanely early to take a quick trip. Dave was set to be on a local Massachusetts TV show to do his Dorky Daddy thang while Hadley and I had the privilege (no, really!) of hanging out with a good friend and her little guy. We all had a BLAST while Dave made us laugh through the TV set.

Then, both of our husbands arrived and we got to hang and laugh and chat even further. We headed to an AWESOME eatery that serves lots of locavore treats for lunch, then trekked to find a street sign that would help our agreed-upon parenting decision — to tell our children that a TOWN was named after THEM!!! (There’s a local town near us with their handsome little guy’s name in it…and, needless to say, they live near “Hadley”. *high pitched* Awesome!!!) Holding a sleepy toddler up to a wonderfully aged sign was just the ticket to cement the agreement. Perfect.

So, after we bid adieu to our buddies, and since Hadley was so dang sleepy, we plugged the local Whole Foods into our GPS. We had discussed, in advance, that we should check out the Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s since a) we don’t have EITHER one near home and b) it was the baby’s naptime, so I could run in and Dave could hang out with the air cranked.

My first impression was that the place reminded me of an insanely busy beehive. I couldn’t believe that pedestrians and vehicles weren’t getting into tangles with the sheer number of people heading in various directions and cars pulling in and out. (Hence my not standing in traffic to take an exterior picture.) There were a plethora of organic seedlings for sale outside, but at $4 a pop I didn’t think it wise to spend my entire gardening budget on the plants alone. (Mind you, I was tempted. Oh so tempted.) We also didn’t have my SUV, so I didn’t want to dirty my mother’s impeccable car.

Once inside, I found just as crazy a mass of worker bees. Of course, I forgot my shopping list, so I just meandered (as much as one can) throughout the store and grabbed things that I thought were a deal or that I would NEVER find locally.

Organic wine?! So cheap! Okay…yeah…but that $%#* adds up. I bought, like, six different “varietals.” (Is that the right term?)

Organic strawberries the price of REGULAR strawberries?? Get me the largest container, STAT!

MEAT?? Every combination of organic or grassfed or humanely treated you could imagine.

Organic white AND whole wheat pizza dough? Be still my heart.

Mind you, I would’ve bought more stuff. A lot more. But…see…I’m a touch disappointed to admit that all the rumors and online bashing are accurate. Most of the people I tried to maneuver around were downright…um…well, let’s just say self-involved and rude. Can I say that? Okay, we’ll just say that. I’m thinking far more appropriate, but LESS appropriate things, if-ya-know-what-I’m-sayin’.

Seriously, I was kind of surprised that pretty near EVERYONE shopping was the same exact way. At my usual Hannaford stop, I stumble upon the self-involved…the “won’t look up from their cell phone, won’t move from the center of the aisle” folks. But, they’re generally in the minority. Most people will say “sorry!” and scoot over for you, just as I frequently do for them. It’s a give-and-take.

Not at Whole Foods. Young hipsters. Middle-aged dudes who should know better. Mamas. Hippies. Somewhat normal 30-somethings…okay, these ones surprised me. I could’ve been looking in a mirror, seriously. Except that they remembered to take their apathy pills for the day, and I clearly didn’t get the memo to take mine. Like, really? Gonna give me the “move or I’ll get cut” look?

At one point, I sneezed. Then I sneezed again. And, because I’m a genius (I’m superstitious), a final third time. The last time, a lady working there glanced up, then back down. So, apparently the concept that workers are on the opposite spectrum from their shoppers is kinda bull crap, too. I could feel the seething judgment of the cashier, whom you could tell would rather be working at a GAP (y’know…full of a different type of narcissism). That was lovely.

But, regardless, aside from the warm fuzzies from the actual social experience of perusing a Whole Foods, I enjoyed the place. No, really. The aesthetics were gorgeous. I found myself turning a corner only to gasp at the beauty of the meat section. I’m not deranged; they were just stocked wonderfully with items I could have only dreamed about…and at relatively low prices. They just HAD. SO. MUCH. I wanted to weep.

Only, I really did kinda want to weep. When I got to the car with my booty (which, thanks to booze — and a special organic, non-GMO 6-pack for the husband whom had entertained the, of course, NOT napping toddler in the backseat the entire time — cost a touch more than I had expected), I was glad the experience was over.

Let’s just say…I’m kind of glad for my over-priced Hannaford finds and a relatively stress-free shopping experience. I’ll probably go back some day, but I’ll be better prepared.

As we slowly entered Memorial Day weekend traffic, I stretched my neck to glimpse the Trader Joe’s across the way. Next time, Dellecese. Next time.

Digging In

So, the day that I shared this garden plan with you, I happened to be busy at work lugging picking up supplies, prepping the soil, and planting the darn thing. While I still have some more outdoor chores to tackle (*ahem*flowerbeds*ahem*), I’m ecstatic to have this checked off the list. After all, it can’t grow until it’s in the ground…or, in this case, the raised beds.

The drawing I showed you Monday, of course, got changed a little bit. As with all things, life seems subject to availability, doesn’t it? So, I grabbed 8 (9, although I didn’t end up using the last one; will keep it for next year) bags of organic dirt and some peat moss (as my mother calls it “poor man’s fertilizer” — although I always assumed that’d be manure), then headed out to get plants.

First, I ventured to a local joint, T&J’s, to see what they had. I got a handful of marigolds (wish I’d gotten a second tray, but whatevs) and two types of lettuce, then headed to Lowe’s. I would’ve hit up a couple of other local places, but I was on a time crunch and trying to avoid Memorial Day parades, so this was my last stop. This is where I had to hit the brakes on a couple of the veggies we were hoping for.

So, due to lack of supply, we cut out the peas (we were late planting those, anyway) and added a couple of squash plants and cucumbers (my husband’s new favorite water flavoring). I grabbed six bell pepper plants rather than, um, a ton (two red, two yellow, two green…like a stoplight) and juggled around the arrangements a bit. I also didn’t get any potatoes, but since those wouldn’t be ready until the fall I’m still considering them.

Here’s a pictorial play-by-play of how it all went down. (And feel free to use my example as a guide, but remember that I’m a trial and error type of gardener, so don’t blame me if something goes wrong!)If you already have raised beds, weed ’em. If not, build ’em. (This is the closest to how we did ours, although in hind sight we would have build them taller. Ya live, ya learn.) Yup, those are weeds, not veggies…

Then, rough up the bed and spread that dirt. We add a few bags every year to each bed; this year, we added FOUR bags each.

Oh, and that peat moss. Mix that in.

Sexy Band-Aid, lady.

 



Then, I like to take the plants out of their containers (unless they’re biodegradable) and place them where I may like them in the beds. This way, I can move them around and adjust accordingly BEFORE they’re in the ground. I also try to take into account what the packaging/tags say regarding distance from other plants and so forth.  


Then, dig your spot, plunk the plant in, and cover that business with dirt. I gently tamp it to ensure that any larger stalks are able to stand straight. It’s really pretty self-explanatory and simple.

Pretty cool, huh? So, in each of the four corners, I planted three different types of jalapenos. (Must say with inappropriate accent.) In the middles I planted four marigolds, but kind of wish I’d doubled up on both types of plants to evade cat and bug attacks.

Since the back bed is full sun (but still gets less of that super hot afternoon sunshine with a fence and tall bush/tree thingies behind it), I planted my romaine and “mixed” salad greens on the left, a cucumber in the middle, and two tomato plants (which will take over the planet if given the chance) on the right.

In the front, I planted the three types of sweet bell peppers on the left, some carrot seeds in the middle (hence lookin’ all empty), and the two squash plants on the right. And, in all honesty, I thought I was grabbing a squash and a zucchini, so this pissed me off royally.

I’ll be sure to provide some updates (weekly? Bi-weekly? Monthly? Does anyone caaaaare?? ;-)) to let you know a) how it’s growin’ (see what I did there?) and b) if the neighborhood cats win the battle. You know what I’m saying, right?

Right??

Oh, and it’s SO silly easy to plant plants that, of course, we made a video. I mean, how could you not?

Garden Drawing

It was a casual Saturday afternoon while the baby slept and it rained depressingly cold outside. I was sick of the immobility of winter, the constant laziness, so I picked up a pad and pen and insisted, “What do you want to eat this summer?”

Pulling poor Dave from his own restful thoughts, he gave me a list. “Well, tomatoes. We don’t really eat cucumbers. Maybe peppers?” Before too long, I jotted down the items we’d be growing. On the top of the page, I drew two rectangles — the main event (raised garden beds) — and a few smaller circles — potted plants to be located at a later date. Maybe near our garage, maybe one our deck.

This is what we came up with…

Hard to look at a bit, I know. Sorry! The asterisks are for marigolds or oregano (funny, we don’t each much oregano)…or maybe thyme, which are all good for keeping pests at bay and adding nutrients for the other plants. Oh, and pretty. They’re pretty. The jalapenos are for eatin’ but also to keep pests (namely, the neighborhood kitties) away. The numbers of the other plants are up for debate, but they’re a good starting point. The bell peppers are so “plentiful” because I’m hoping to have a few kinds.

Oh, and I’m also thinking of putting up some sort of short fencing to keep things looking orderly (and, yes, keep pests at bay).  

Last year, we tried to grow all of our raised bed plants and herbs from seed with middling success. (We also had a couple of hand-me-down tomato plants that took over our front porch.) If I had the space/capability of starting my seeds indoor without risk of cat interference, I’d be all over it. But, a few years ago (we’re talking pre-Jasper), Winston took matters into his own hands…and we remain a “let’s just buy the plants” family. Maybe some day.

I think half the battle when gardening (whether your gardens are massive fields of food or a tiny container set-up) is admitting your boundaries. Don’t over-buy, but don’t underestimate how much you can grow in a small area. Bringing this sketch along will help me to remember approximately what will fit where. It’s all in the planning.

While sketching, I also brought up a chart similar to this one on my phone to determine what plants work well together. This way, I knew that carrots and tomatoes could be in the same bed without fighting each other off. I also took into consideration that the tomatoes like to take things over, and since they’re a high-growing plant I put them in the back so that the carrots will *hopefully* still get enough sun. I’m also going to try to be obsessive about caging them this year. Good stuff to think about.

So, as I write this, I’m anxious to get my hands dirty. In Upstate NY, it’s wise to wait until the end of May to plant anything (frost abound), and I’m jealous of folks I know who have already been out working. We’ve had some crazy arse weekends that have left us with minimal time and/or energy to get much done. I mean, dude, I haven’t even weeded yet. It’s jungle city over here.

I’ll keep you posted on our garden journeys (anyone ever hear that phrase before? Our local news station has a segment called “garden journeys” and I always wonder if that’s a “thing” or if they pulled it out of their you-know-whats), and do tell — what are you growing this year? Anything?  

Chobani vs. Stonyfield

I’ve stated my love for Chobani Greek yogurt here a long, long time ago. I’ve used it in tons of recipes (especially as a thick replacement for sour cream and in dips/dressings) and used to eat it religiously everyday as a snack. Since it’s a local business doing huge things, I’ve generally been proud of the work they’ve done.

Since we’ve gone mostly organic, however, and now that Hadman’s a toddler (ie it’s cheapest/easiest to buy generally the same products), all of our milk products are made of organic milk. Any time I’m cooking with a yogurt, I’d rather it be whole milk since he’ll be eating it, too (and there are plusses to whole vs. lowfat), although we “adults” still eat Greek.

So, we had to do some soul-searching on our yogurt choices.

That said, Chobani isn’t the best in the world as far as its ingredient transparency. While I try not to be down about such things, especially when they’re providing so many opportunities for local workers (although I have heard mixed reviews on working there), the fact that their cows are fed GMO ingredients (and, for that matter, are raised in the “traditional” less than humane way), I had mixed feelings about feeding the stuff to my son. Plus, Greek yogurt, by nature, is lowfat or 0% fat. Not the greatest thing for a youngin’.

So, we made a jump to Stonyfield. We were already buying their milk (since it’s from humanely-treated, mostly grassfed cows), so it was an easy decision…once I let the guilt of not purchasing Chobani fall off my shoulders.

Stonyfield makes all kinds of yogurts, but we purchase the regular (plain is always in the fridge; once in awhile vanilla, but since it has added organic sugar, I limit this), the Greek cups for work (I love the “super fruits” flavor with pomegranate and Dave’s a blueberry guy), and half the time I either buy Hadley the baby cups (way less ingredients than the toddler or kid versions, and less sugar) or make little take-along cups with my small Ball jars. Apparently we eat a lot of yogurt. 😉

Oh, and let’s just say we were shopping at a different store last week in a hurry and I found our Greek cups for $1 apiece. Let’s just say I literally jumped back a couple of feet and squealed amidst the very busy dairy area, I was just that excited. Yes, folks. A proud moment for my husband, I’m sure.

Yes, it’s usually kind of expensive, but not by much. Almost every week, I go onto Stonyfield’s website (that’s actually a link to sign up for special offers) to see if there are any printable coupons, and I receive the occasional email offer to print. Let’s just say that I had a coupon that was expiring the next day and I didn’t have use for the item, so when I saw a woman picking up that very item I stopped her and handed the coupon over. She couldn’t believe it and kept saying “Are you sure? Are you sure??” Yep. I’m sure. Spread the organic love, folks.

Oh, and if, by rare chance, I find organic no-name yogurt at Aldi, you know I grab every last carton I can find. Cheap + organic = gold. (Probably why that lady was so shocked I was handing her a coupon.)

I feel super happy, though, knowing that the cows that have made our yogurt aren’t pumping GMOs (through their corn-based feed…naughty corn), antibiotics, growth hormones, and pesticides into our milk products. The fact that they’re generally grassfed also helps me to sleep soundly (as soundly as one can with a toddler nearby). 

What about you? Are you a yogurt eater? Whole milk? Or Greek? What brand wins your own yogurt showdown?   

Food Revolution Day — Again

It’s that time again! Rollin’ right around the corner, May 16th is Food Revolution Day (#frd2014), hooray!!

What’s this? Well, simply, it’s a way to engage with food in a public way. This can mean a bunch of things and can be achieved a kazillion ways, but in essence it’s meant to bring attention to the fact that eating responsibly-grown and -raised foods is a) healthier, b) more beneficial to the local economy, and c) way better for the environment. All awesome things. It’s also about learning how to cook from scratch, which tends to be a bit cheaper and healthier for all of us.

(Side note: Clearly, hittin’ up McDonald’s and calling it a day won’t cut it. Sorry!)

Last year, I had high hopes of making an awesome meal, but the fact that Dave was out of town and I was feeling crappy took it down a peg. Luckily, I still found my own way to celebrate — even if in a pretty private way.

This year, I’m hoping to celebrate a little more as a family since, well, Hadley eats regular food now and Dave should be home. So, while we may just do one or two of these things, it may help you get your mental juices flowing (ew) if you decide to take part, too. Here are a few ideas I’ve got for our family (there are a ton more to check out here, and I’m sure you could come up with a ton more far better than mine):

Go out for a lovely dinner. I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t this all about making your own food?” Yes, and I know what you mean. However, we have a handful of kick-arse locavore joints that we’re dying to try out. It’d be nice to have a date night with the hubby and know that the food we’re eating is Besides, we hardly ever get formal dates, so when we do we tend to try new places or old favorites (which, ahem, tend to be slightly more expensive places; we don’t eat out much normally, so we put more value in what we’re eating when it’s locally-grown and well-prepared).

Try something new. I’m thinking it’d be fun to trek out to the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market, buy a new ingredient (plus any other “needs” we might have), then try a new recipe. My meals lately have been pretty one-note, so this might help kick-start me into getting back into the swing of preparing summer-type meals (which tend to be more creative…or to me, at least).

Plant our garden. We’ve already drawn out (literally) a simple plan for our veggies (and one fruit), and one of my biggest issues is usually not planting early enough. Given that our frosts are gone for the season — which they may NOT be, given our crazy weather patterns — this would be the perfect weekend to buy our plants (I don’t think I’m growing anything from seed this year; I’m taking the lazy mama’s way out) and get ’em in the ground.

You may notice that these ideas are ones you really can’t complete in one day…er, at least, not at our house! I tend to look at Food Revolution Day as more of a weekend celebration than a one-day thing, especially since it generally lands on a Friday (a work day). It’s kind of like how some celebrate the whole weekend of Memorial Day, y’know?

So, you’ve got a little over a month. Are you planning on doing anything for FRD? (Or FRD weekend, as it were?) If so, what? I’d love to hear! 

Organic For Less

Happy Monday from a very snowy CNY! I’m back from a “mid-winter break” and ready to get back to normalcy. Now, if I could only find the energy to match my enthusiasm. Eh, on with the show…

Every couple of weeks or so, I find myself hitting up our local Aldi (a unique grocery store with mostly generic-ish brands where you rent your grocery cart, bring your own bags, and may only use cash, or debit or EBT cards) before making my usual Hannaford haul. It helps to lower my regular food bill, and I’m ecstatic to see their choices in organic products is generally increasing. Woo hoo!

Now, before I share my budget-trimming selections, I’d like to briefly state our current eating philosophy. I wish I could say that we eat only fruits and vegetables; minimal quantities of organic, grass fed, humanely treated meat and poultry (and eggs); whole grains; and raw, grass fed milk and cheese. Period. But, we don’t. A great majority of what we eat is organic OR grass fed OR GMO free OR 5-ingredients-or-less, but we still consume processed foods – frozen pizzas, part-skim cheese sticks, breads, snack crackers, granola bars, etc.  We try to eat minimal meat, but it’s still a part of most of our meals (most dinners, at least).

It is what it is. Our consciences are relatively at ease on the subject. About 90-95% of the food in our house is organic or at least GMO-free. That’s a heck of a lot further than we were a few short years ago. We don’t stress out over the occasional ordered-in pizza or diner breakfast or meal shared at a friend or family member’s house; they’re quite rare and we know the rest of the time we’re doing our best to put good things in our bodies. {And we’re still profoundly against fast food (I’m going to attempt to pack some appealing meals for our next vacation so we don’t fall victim).}

It’s an evolution that I’m not rushing. To force a thing means that it will be a stress rather than a pleasure to enforce in our own lives. So, for now, I let someone else make my bread. (Either an organic brand or a few-ingredient, locally made one.) And I sleep just fine. 😉

For some tips on grocery shopping for “whole foods”, check out this old post. I’ll have to do a farmers’ market one when things warm up. Yay!

So, anyhoo! I ended up spending a lot for an Aldi trip (less than $60), but couldn’t help myself. For once, I found so many new organic products, I felt like I was robbing the place. “Ohhhh, yessss!!” I shouted each time I spotted another. I’m sure folks thought I was crazy, but I know for a fact that crazier things DO happen…especially at this joint.

I’m showing my haul in categories – fruit ‘n veg (one organic pile – left, one non-organic – right) and processed stuff (bottom).

I still subscribe to a small extent to the “clean 15” list to cut back on cost (although it’s also a matter of supply/demand; if they supply an organic version, I’ll often buy it). So, at Aldi I purchased a pineapple ($2.49), mushrooms ($.99!), a trio of onions ($2.69; I’m a tad wary here; the last time I did this, I cut into them THE NEXT DAY to find they had soft/browning middles…happened recently at Hannaford, too, though), garlic ($.79!), green onions ($.79!), asparagus ($2.99…and already gone…I should’ve bought two), and a bag o’ potatoes ($2.99 for 5 lbs! But…on the dirty list, but it’s tough to find organic here :-P).

As for the organic produce, I FINALLY caught their fresh bananas (I think $.79/lb.), bag o’ apples ($4.49), spinach and spring mix ($1.99 each; if we don’t use the spinach by the time it starts to go, I can boil it quickly and flash freeze) and baby carrots ($.99; this is the price if you’re LUCKY for non-organic at Hannaford). Lots of “booyah!” and heel kicking in the aisles, I tell ya. Oh, and I grabbed two bags of frozen organic strawberries ($2.69 each) and one of blueberries ($2.99). If you want to count apple juice, I hunted down an organic container for $2.49 ($.50 – $1.00 less than usual).

Then we get into the more processed (yet organic) stuff. Diced tomatoes for $1.49, two boxes of $1.99 chicken soup, a box of $1.79 chicken broth, a box of $1.19 linguine, a $1.99 peppercorn ranch dressing, hormone- and antibiotic-free bacon (just like the kind we get at Hannaford, only $3.89…similar price, just want to check it out), $1.99 “toasted oats” (organic Cheerios, folks!), and TWO organic pizzas for $3.99 each (TWO DINNERS for $4.00 each! Yes, we’ll probably have salad, too, but c’mon…can’t buy a pizza from a local pizza place for that little, and they’re made with ORGANIC ingredients!!!).

Whew. So, yeah, minus a $2 bag that I purchased because I ended up finding way more than I had expected, it came to around $57.63. For comparison, I usually spend around $30 there. If only they’d start carrying WHOLE organic milk instead of 2% (don’t get me wrong — I was ECSTATIC to see that they even had milk).

On a final note, this is just an example of a random grocery trip. I’ve had some interest from folks to know what one of these trips looks like, how much we spend on stuff, and what selections we make. This is by no means a bragfest (although I was dancing in the aisles to see what deals I could find); it’s just putting myself out there to see if what I do might help any of you. 🙂

So, how about you? What are some ways that you find to eat healthier (no judgment zone: healthier doesn’t always mean organic; it’s just our personal philosophy) for cheaper?

What’s Good About Aldi

I’ve chatted with y’all about our Aldi grocery store before, but I made a recent stop and wanted to say that I just LOVE the place!

I haven’t been shopping there regularly, for various reasons. I was lucky enough to get a coupon for $10 off $40 spent, and with two different food drives going on at school (one for vets, another for families in need), it was more than worth a trip to see what I could pick up.

Since I last checked in with you about Aldi, they have begun carrying a handful of organic products. Sure, they’re only packaged items (no fruits or veggies), and they only pop up from time to time, but it’s better than nothin’. The occasional half gallon of milk, spaghetti sauce, or what have you. It particularly excites me because the Aldi in our area is utilized by many lower income families and elderly (and is often the only grocery store they’re able to visit), so the fact that there’s ANY availability to healthier* options gives me hope.

So, here’s what I found for my donating purposes on this particular day. When I buy for a donation, I do a weird thing (I think?) and imagine that I’m buying for one individual. Yes, yes, I know the stuff gets divied up, but that’s just how my brain works. This is for “the veteran”…

I like to buy the stuff for a turkey dinner in case they’re able to get a turkey, so I sent along stuffing and potato mixes, two canned veggies, cranberry sauce, and fruit cocktail (for snack or dessert). For a normal day, I sent a couple of cans of soup, 100% juice, granola bars, cereal, and some mini Snickers. I recently heard that veterans appreciate candy bars when overseas; not sure if it applies here, but I thought I’d try it. I know it’s not healthy, but we all deserve a treat. Besides, the fruit cocktail (in juice, not syrup), cranberry sauce (no corn syrup), veggies, juice, and Raisin Bran were all relatively healthy. 

Here’s the stuff for “a family” (again, I purchased as if one family would get it all…I know they won’t, but play along, won’t you?)…

Again, I like to put a holiday meal together, again with veggies, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and, in this case, the makings of a chocolate pie (just add milk, which they’ll hopefully have). They also got fruit cocktail, 100% juice, two cans of soup, but also a couple of extra meals: buttermilk pancake mix with pure maple syrup (which will actually provide far more than one meal, woohoo!) and whole grain spaghetti with sauce. Additionally, I threw in some snacks: cheese and breadsticks (there was a time I would’ve been all over those), raisins, and graham crackers.

This was my first taste of the holiday giving season, and I’m feeling peaceful yet ecstatic to be able to give anything.

Oh, and of course I couldn’t leave without SOMETHING for myself. 😉 

 
A few cans of insanely inexpensive organic diced tomatoes (the huge the big 28 oz cans) and organic spring mix, plus some non-organic asparagus (it’s on the clean list, and since I can never find it organic, I just go with it — I like roasted asparagus too much not to get it from time to time ;-)). Not bad for less than $40 (after the coupon).

As a side note, on this particular shopping day, I had to grab a couple of items at Hannaford, as well, to round out a fun “breakfast for dinner” meal I was making for my sister and her daughter that evening. Here were what I thought of as the GOOD and the BAD of the shopping trip…

 Heavy cream? Bad. Horrible. Naughty. Baking powder? Great! Awesome. Nice.


See what frustrates me? The cream was full of carrageenan (a known cancer-causer…and not Narraganset, as my spell checker insists) and several other hard-to-pronounce ingredients. What’s even more upsetting is that this is the only option I could find at the store; no organic heavy cream to be found. Wop, wop. How’s a girl gonna make homemade whipped cream for her hot chocolate and holiday desserts??

The fact that the baking powder was not only aluminum-free but non-GMO made my day. Generally, baking powder contains corn starch, which I tend to avoid BIG-TIME in my food. If I’m going out of my way to cut out the consumption of pesticides, GMOs, and the like, why on earth should I eat products laden with corn bi-products (some of the most highly contaminated crops we produce)? This is the reason that I (and many others) am so anti-corn syrup. So, here’s a HUGE win for me with this powder, considering I’ll be using it for many months to come.

So, how have you been with your food shopping lately? Or have you made any donations, small or large, lately? Give us the chance to pat you on the back for making a difference! 🙂

And how did your Thanksgiving festivities go? I can’t believe I haven’t shared any recipes for the holiday, but we have a tradition of going to one of our parents’ homes. Hoping to have my own mini-celebration soon, so keep an eye out.

 

*When I say “healthier,” I don’t mean it in the traditional sense. Some say that organic foods are not any different, nutritionally, from mainstream foods, but in the long-term and medical senses (not the forever-obsessed-about “Nutritional Facts” printed on the packaging), I disagree. What’s less healthy than eating a food that is known to cause chronic issues or serious diseases?*