Archive for August, 2009

Of Saffron, Blueberries, and Duckpears

potato curry2

Well, it’s the end of the week, and I’m happy to announce that I pulled off another week on the $50 grocery bill challenge!  Although I spent a cool $42.43 on produce, I dipped pretty deep into my $30-per-month bulk food fund, spending my entire monthly allowance (plus some of next month’s), at Famous Foods ($35.48).  On the flip side, I ate 3 meals out (my maximum) to the tune of $40, which is pretty much what I paid in groceries for an entire week!  Pretty crazy how it adds up, hey?  (Only one meal out is deserving of mention, which was at Chutney Villa : every Monday and Wednesday they have a 7 course vegan sampling menu based on the village food of South India.  What a treat!)

Ok, so here’s the goods:

Farmer’s Market: $15

  • org. corn- 6 ears
  • org. new potatoes- 2 lbs
  • org. garlic- 1 bulb
  • org. heirloom tomato
  • org. habenero peppers- 2

Everfresh Produce, Main Street: $2.74

  • scallions
  • local plums, 2
  • local, organic carrots, bag

Buy-low foods, Kingsway: $13.82

  • Organic Strawberries
  • Organic Honeydew
  • Local, Organic apricots -2
  • Organic Apple- 1
  • ginger
  • 1 Lb. Tomatillos
  • Local tomatoes 4
  • onions, 2
  • local cilantro

Famous Foods, Kingsway: Produce $10.59, Bulk Food Fund -$32.24 (!)

Produce:

  • Org. Granny Smith Apples- 2
  • Org. Bananas- 4
  • Local Blueberry Box
  • Mystery “Produce” items ($1.58)

Bulk:

  • Organic Chamomile (Huge Bag )
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Coriander seeds
  • Dulse Flakes
  • Veg. Shortening
  • Golden Raisins
  • Tahini
  • Org. Rolled Oats
  • Saffron
  • Unbleached Flour

With the exception of me and my boyfriend’s one-year-anniversary, it was a week of meals for one.  I gorged on tons of fruit!  I made a point of buying as much local, organic produce as I could within my budget, and was excited to realize that this was totally doable.  But the culinary highlight was the anniversary meal I packed over to Mr. Boyfriend’s house:  Manzana Chili Verde with Jalapeno Cornbread from Veganomincon.  To top it off, I made my first-ever blueberry pie,  homemade pie crust and all.  I completely forgot to take a picture of it, which means I’ll just have to make it again…(dramatic sigh). You should know that this pie is rather legendary in my family.  I begged for the recipe from my mom, who has kept it under lock and key for years.  If I were to divulge the secret of this pie, I’m not sure exactly what would happen, but it wouldn’t be pretty.  Anyway here are some pictures of the Anniversary meal:

the secret weapon in the chili verde was granny smith apples!  This was my first time cooking with tomatillos...YUM!

the secret weapon in the chili verde was granny smith apples! This was my first time cooking with tomatillos...YUM!

I know, I'm becoming so domestic!  Crust wasn't very pretty around the edges, but it was totally light and flaky and melt-in-your-mouth delicious!  I used a vegan EarthBalance shortening, and it gets 10/10!

I know, I'm becoming so domestic! Crust wasn't very pretty around the edges, but it was totally light and flaky and melt-in-your-mouth delicious! I used a vegan EarthBalance shortening, and it gets 10/10!

Mr. Boyfriend's backyard is an orchard, with pears, apples, blackberries, and even grapes!! He picked these for me <3. They were so beautiful and delicious.

Mr. Boyfriend's backyard is an orchard, with pears, apples, blackberries, and even grapes!! He picked these for me <3. They were so beautiful and delicious.

he was just too darned cute to eat.
Duckpear4fix
anniverary

Our backyard anniversary picnic! And Mr. Boyfriend's backyard punching bag.

Tonight, using up the rogue vegetables in the fridge was top priority as the week has come to an end, and grocery funds run low.  I googled the contents of my icebox: “carrots, potatoes, corn + vegan,” and landed on this gem of a curry dish.  (I chose it since the only ingredients I didn’t have on hand were the tomatoes, onions, and cilantro.)  It was really good.   It’s called “Carrot Rice and Creamy Potato Curry” Here’s the link to the recipe, and a pic:

Creamypotatocurry
Not only was it satisfying, it was surprisingly quick as well- by the time the potatoes were finished boiling, I had the rice finished and within minutes the rest of the meal came together!  Probably only 30 minutes from start to finish.  I think next time I might try adding some balsamic vinegar or lime to get a little extra brightess to balance out the coconut milk.  That said, I totally missed adding the teaspoon of sugar called for in the recipe- perhaps that would have taken care of it.  This would be delicious with some fresh corn added, which I meant to do :S  I halfed the Carrot Rice recipe, and it made the perfect amount to go with the curry.  At the end, I dusted the rice with some American Saffron, which made it even more special.  I have a sneaking suspicion that cooking some golden raisins into the rice would blow this off the charts…and I also have a few slivered almond ideas, but I’d better calm down for now.

Looking forward to next weeks treats!

Laurakins

xoxo

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August 24, 2009 at 6:18 am 1 comment

Tips for Saving Money on Weekly Groceries:

piggy_01.bmpd2b7c405-20e6-4bac-91f8-e09f62a85dc1Large

Ah, meal planning.  I’m by no means an expert.  This list is an accumulation of wisdom that I’ve gathered from friends, family, and internet strangers. If you have any suggestions, I’d LOVE to add them.  What do you do to save $ on food while still eating healthy? Just post it in the comments section.

MEAL PLANNING IDEAS: (tasty, time-saving, planet-saving, money-saving ideas)

1. Make a list of what you have in the fridge and take note of what is needed most needed to be used up.  Aim to not throw out a single scrap, if possible.  If you need a few ideas for using up produce, here are some suggestions:

  • make veggie broth with wimpy celery and whatever else you have that needs to be salvaged.  Obviously, the best broth is made with fresh vegetables, so get ’em while they’re hot.
  • make soups with veggies that are over-abundant in your fridge….some of the best soups I’ve ever made were conceived without a cookbook.  Just be sure to add the harder vegetables in before the softer ones, and don’t go crazy with 10 different herbs and spices or anything….curry spices like coriander, cumin and turmeric go well with potato soups, while herbs like thyme, oregano, and basil are great with tomato-based soups…. experiment!
  • Freeze items before they spoil.  Whenever I have a mass of brown bananas on hand, I unzip them, throw them in container and freeze them, and then wait for the midnight ice cream urge.  Throw 2-3 frozen bananas in the food processor with 1 cup of fresh fruit- mango, strawberry, whatever you have- and voila! Fat-free ice creamy goodness! Ten points if you wash the food processor before you go back to bed.
  • Juice it before you lose it! (Even if you don’t have a juicer, you can always try “Mock juicing

2.  I am not convinced that crispers work.  In my opinion, the crisper is where produce goes to die of neglect, in a pool of festering brown goo.  Instead, I’ve found it better to keep condiments that I rarely use down there, like mustard, relish, pickes, etc.  I know that I have them, so I don’t need to see them everytime I look in the fridge.  This way, I can give the priority fridge real estate to the perishable items.

3. With your list of things needing to be used up, imagine that it’s nuclear winter, you are stuck in your cold-war bunker, and must prepare a delicious meal for your clan with only the items from your fridge and bombshelter pantry.  Use your imagination- try something a little crazy.  The god of leftovers is a benevolent force.

4. If you can’t come up with anything to make based on the random contents of your fridge, start thinking about what you could buy to help use other things up.  For example, if you have a lot of cilantro that is staring to turn on you, maybe plan a mexican or southwest theme for a few meals.  It ain’t going to use itself up.

5. Consider:

  • what is in season locally?   It’s cheaper than buying it in winter, and it’s guaranteed to taste great! (Have tried a “tomato” in winter??)
  • what is the weather forcast?  If it’s going to be a scorcher, think no-cook or Raw:  Smoothies, fruit salads, gazpachos, veggies and dip, hummous, guacamole.  You won’t want to turn your oven on, and raw food will keep you peppy through the heat wave.
  • What does your body want?  Within reason, your body know what it needs.  I don’t mean coffee/sugar cravings.  My boyfriend is really good at this. He has a system when he tries something new like a tea or health food power like rooibus or spirulina.  First he samples it,  then waits a few days, and then takes another sniff of it.  Sometimes he’s attracted to it, and other times he’s put off.  Using this information, he is able to tell whether or not it is good for him.  He’s my little German Shepherd, lol!  But it works really well for him.  At any rate, think about what your body needs before you go to the grocery store. More greens this week?  More nuts and seeds?  Less starchy roots?  Lighter food? Heavier food? Cooked food? Listen.

6. Consider becoming part of a Food Coop or Bulk-Buying Club.  Save $ on your staples. If you live in Vancouver, the UBC farm has a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Programme that you can sign up for in the spring.  For $25, they deliver a box of local, organic produce to your door each week.  You could split the cost with a friend if it’s too much food…$12.50 on organic produce is a steal!  You can base your meal plans around what the farmer delivers- it adds an element of anticipation and surprise each week that is fun to work with.  I’m totally signing up next spring. (Thanks Heather, Liz, and Jimmie for the great idea!)

7. Try splitting your shopping over 2 days- I like going to the Farmer’s Market in the afternoon, getting inspired by a certain ingredient, and then going home and fawning over my recipe books.  The next day, I head out with my shopping list and fill in the holes.

cookbooks

8.  Never shop on an empty stomach.  Bad for the brain, bad for the bankbook.  I always remind myself to eat something before I leave- a smoothie, a quick salad, heck- even just a piece of fruit is often enough to take the edge off.  The opposite is sort of true as well.  Shopping on a heavily satiated tummy might take some of the drive away.  The same goes for menu planning- if you are too hungry while you flip through the tantalizing cookbook pictures, you wont be able to focus.  If you aren’t hungry at all, you will be disinterested.  I like to have a small snack while I do my menu planning.  Keeps the Hungry Bear and the Sleepy Sloth both at bay.  Plus, it’s tasty!

9.  When you get home, resist the urge to collapse!  Now’s the time to wash and prep your veggies to go into fridge containers.  I have a large, flat tupperware for salad greens, and several clear containers carrots, celery, and fresh herbs.  It takes a few minutes, but you’ll thank yourself later.  Plus, leaving things like carrots and celery uncovered in your fridge causes them to wilt within 3 days.  (Ewww rubber carrots!) Have a system for these fridge staples.  I’ve heard really good things from a number of people about Debbie Meyer’s green bags.  Pretty hokey infomercials, but apparently these things are gold. Plus, they are reusable!

10. I’m still new to this menu planning thing, in the past I’ve only worried about one meal at a time.  If you are just cooking for yourself, try buying groceries for 3 well-planned dinners.  Most recipes feed at least 2, so as long as you don’t mind leftovers, you should be able to eat for an entire week on just 3 nights of cooking.  And don’t forget your greens!  Have a container of pre-washed salad greens ready in the fridge to drizzle your favorite dressing over.  Delicious homemade dressing = no wasted greens at the end of the week.

11.  Lately, since I put so much time into planning dinners, I like to keep breakfast and lunch more laid back.  Oatmeal porridge with almond milk, bananas and berries is the default breakfast setting around here, and I LOVE having a fresh green juice transfusion every morning (got a Breville Juice Fountain off Craigslist for $70!).  Lunch is usually one of the 4 S’s: Soup, Salad, Shake, or Sandwich… Just depends what’s in the fridge.

Phew!! This is such a huge topic, I’d better post this now before it becomes an epic.  I’d love to know what you like to do in the meal-planning/kitchen prep department!

xoxo

Laurakins

August 22, 2009 at 8:09 pm 1 comment

Eating for $3/meal, Week 1:

WELL,

I survived Week One of the $50 grocery challenge!! Er, actually my total came to $54, but I’m cool with that.  It just means that next week I have only $46 to play with.  Out of my $5/week bulk fund, I spent $3.23 on coriander, so I have and extra $1.77 to forward onto next week 🙂  I’m totally digging this…sitting down and planning a whole week of groceries and meals was fun and it totally paid off.   Lots of people have been giving me advice on how to save even more money by planning ahead- but I’ll save those tidbits of wisdom for a later post…

Anyway, here’s what I bought, and how it ended up:

Wednesday, Farmer’s Market, $15.50

  • 3 heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 heirloom cucumber
  • 2 organic peaches
  • 1 heirloom eggplant
  • 1 org. hungarian pepper
  • 1 bulb organic garlic

Thursday, T&T Supermarket, Chinatown, $25.60

  • Cabbage
  • carrots
  • cilantro
  • celery
  • eggplant
  • green onion, 2 bunches
  • 2 onions
  • 3 red potatoes
  • parsley
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 3 limes
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 12 thai chilis
  • 6 jalapenos
  • galangal
  • leeks
  • thai basil
  • brown mushrooms
  • snap sugar peas

Sunday, Buy-Low Foods Kingsway, 12.90

  • pea shoots
  • 4 bananas
  • cucumber
  • tomatoes
  • 1 pink lady apple
  • Org. Squirelly Bread

On top of this, I had a fridge full of odds and ends from the week before to use up, including about 2 pints of BC blueberries (they are at their cheapest right now).

My plan of attack for the week’s menu was to pick a theme.  My reasoning behind this was that if I could build meals around a few key ingredients, shopping would be easier, more focused, and obscure ingredients wouldn’t become forgotten and rot in my fridge.  I chose a Thai theme this week, as I had some keffir lime leaves and lemongrass needing to be used up.  The Rebar cookbook has a great recipe for green curry paste, and it turned out insanely good.  The recipe made a lot, so I planned two dishes from the same cookbook that would use the paste: the “Dragon Bowl” and “Monk’s Curry.” (The Dragon Bowl was meh, but the Monk’s Curry was FANTASTIC!  Apparently it is their most popular vegan dish at their restaurant in Victoria…) For anyone that ever buys curry paste, you know how expensive it is!  As I remember, it is about $4 for a small 4 oz. jar.  This recipe made 5 times that amount, and cost probably around $3 to make!  It made so much I scooped some into cute little jars to give away as gifts! I’m assuming that it will keep for 2 weeks or so…

While I processed the curry paste, I also made a HUGE pot of veggie stock!  It’s one of those items that I always buy every week and kick myself for how much money I’m wasting.  1 litre of store-bought Veggie Stock is roughly 4 cups, and costs $4.  I made 20 cups of yummy homemade stock for $2.34.  That’s $0.12/cup compared to $1/cup for the store-bought stuff.  Plus it fills your whole apartment with warm fuzzy smells….and doesn’t involve killing any tetrapak trees 🙂

Since I had everything still on hand, and lots of homemade veggie stock, I staged a repeat performance of Sick Boyfriend Stew since it was so yummy.  (I figured hey, he may not be here, but he’s still sick, so I can make it.)

Anyway, in no particular order or quantity, my meals this week consisted of:

Breakfasts:  Blueberries,  Oatmeal with Homemade almond milk, Almond butter and Bananas on toast, Strawberries, Fresh Veggie Juices, Tea

Lunches: Tomato/Cucumber Sandwiches, Dinner Leftovers, Big ol’ Salads

Dinners: Monks Curry- 2 nights, Dragon Bowl- 2 nights, Pancakes (hey, I love these for dinner!), Sick Boyfriend Stew

Meals out (allowed 3): 3

  1. Cafe deux Soleil – $11: horrible!! Not to be confused with the wonderful Cafe DEUX Soleil!  They served me canned soup and didn’t even make their own veggie burgers.  Wrote a review at (don’t) Dinehere but it must have been deleted 😦 Yes, it was that bad.  I also wrote a review on one of their napkins before I left.
  2. Slickety Jim’s– $11: I tried to veganize one of their roasted veg/avocado eggs bennys, but the avocado they used was like a rock.  Otherwise it would have been tasty.  Plus they charged me 75 cents to not give me eggs.  What gives?
  3. The Foundation $7: less and less impressed with this place.. food was ok, but kinda meh.. Honestly I don’t know why this place is popular, aside from the late night/niche vegetarian market thing.  I was a sucker for some hummus and flatbread.

Total: $29 bucks.  Really not worth it at all.  Hopefully next week I will either a) find 3 delicious meals to enjoy, or b) omit them entirely and save muchos money!

Here’s a pic of the Monk’s Curry from the Rebar cookbook- IT WAS AMAZING!

Monk's Curry

So there you have it.  Each meal I made averaged out to $3.00 ($54/18 meals), and $50/week was totally doable.   I’m still looking for ways to cut costs even more, so stay tuned for some great ideas that people have suggested!

xox

Laurakins

August 18, 2009 at 4:06 pm 2 comments

Sick Boyfriend Red Lentil Stew

sick boyfriend red lentil stew

My boyfriend picked up a nasty cold when he went to visit his family in Edmonton last week, and I’ve successfully managed to contain him here for 3 days to recover (I don’t want him to bust a lung biking home just yet).  I’ve been feeding him lots of fruit salad (papaya, mango, melon) and herbal tea.  For last night’s dinner, I summoned the god of leftovers and made one of the most memorable soups we’ve ever had.  It was so good!  Like a thick and hearty mild curry dahl stew.  You could add chickpeas or spinach to this at the end if you wanted to make it even more substantial, or a jalapeno if you wish! But wow- it was good!

Sick Boyfriend Red Lentil Stew

~makes 2 hefty servings

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 Tbs oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, minced
  • 3 small carrots, chopped
  • 1 1/2 C cabbage, coarsely chopped (two 1/2 inch thick cabbage “coins”, chopped)
  • 1 C. red lentils
  • 4-5 C. Veggie Stock (or water with veg bouillion cube)
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 Tbs cumin
  • 1 C. leftover rice
  • 2 good tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/3 C. fresh cilantro, chopped
  • sea salt to taste
  1. Saute onions in oil until translucent, add garlic and let cook 20 seconds.  Add carrots, ginger, cabbage and red lentils.  Cover with veggie broth/water so that the veggies are covered by an inch of liquid (about 4-5 cups).  Stir in cumin and turmeric (no salt yet).  Cover and simmer on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until red lentils are tender.
  2. Remove from heat, stir in rice, tomatoes, cilantro, and season with sea salt to taste.
  3. Cover and let sit for 3 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!

I wish I would have snapped a picture of this. [EDIT: just did!]  It was such a beautiful golden yellow colour and by adding the tomato and cilantro at the end their colours (and tastes) stay vibrant.  Since I finally have a table now (lime green circa 1975!), we lit a candle and gazed into our soups- it is so nice to sit down on something other than the couch for once!

August 12, 2009 at 8:10 pm 4 comments

the picture pretty much sums it up..

Last week I moved to the Main Street neighbourhood of Vancouver, BC, which is probably the most vegan-friendly area of town.  There’s Bo Kong, which is a vegetarian Chinese food mecca, Chutney Villa, where I had the most incredible South Indian meal of my life, and I’m only 4 blocks away from Budgie’s Burritos (do yourself a favor and order the Jame Dog, vegan style.  Roasted potatoes in a burrito? With avocado and salsa verde?  Hell, yes!)  And while this is all very exciting for the tummy, it is serious trouble for the wallet!  I’m scared to even click on my VISA bill this month.  The rent here is going to be about $350 more each month than I’m used to, so I’m looking to cut cost where I can.  Since I’ve never been a receipt-saver, if I had to estimate how much money I spend on eating out every month, it would very likely approach the $250-$300 mark (one $13 meal out each day, 5 days a week average)!  Yeeesh!!  Plus, I probably spend an additional $250 in monthly groceries.  So that’s like $500, dude!!  My new plan is to allow myself only 3 meals out a week- one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner.  I’m going to have to become a whole ‘nother woman to pull this off, and dial my food willpower up to 10.  (I think it would be a fun exercise to review these 3 meals/restaurants out on Happycow.net or Dinehere.ca. )

But of course, all of this means I’m going to be spending a lot of time in the kitchen.  With 18 meals to prepare each week, I’m going to see if it is really possible to eat well for $10 a day like this woman and her family.  I figure since the current CND/US exchange rate is 1.0837, I can technically eat for $10.84 a day as a Canadian.  (w00t)

Here are the rules I’m giving myself:

  • only 3 meals out/week permitted.  If I don’t use them up, I either spend them on a friend or let them expire.
  • hang onto my receipts and divide the total by 18 meals…aim to stay under the $65.10/week.  Food staples that I already have on hand do not count towards this number.  (unless someone wants to come over here and calculate the per unit price of a squirt of ketchup, a chickpea, or a dill pickle)
  • No waste!!  Freeze it, Juice it, or Soup it.  Buy only what I need…I read somewhere that Americans throw out 30% of the food they buy.  Which really is depressing when you consider that more that 500 million people in this world live in absolute poverty.  Makes me so ashamed.
  • Continue to buy organic varieties the top 15 foods listed in the EWG’s list of most contaminated fruits and vegetables.
  • Shop at the farmer’s market once a week, and buy local produce whenever possible.

There.  The plan is in motion.  Your guess is as good as mine whether this really is possible (or practical!), but since it going to sharpen my organizational skills, save me muchos dollars, and (hopefully) taste great- I’m IN!

August 10, 2009 at 12:35 am 1 comment

Hello!

Welcome to my humble blog!

I am celebrating my 1 year “veganniversary” this month and thought that it would be fun to start up a food blog with recipes, tips, links, articles, and other stuff that I’m into.  Since I didn’t really cook before becoming a vegan, my 1st year was loaded with learning adventures.  I did several cleanses, bought a zillion vegan cookbooks, threw out all of my carcinigenic “beauty” products (see Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Database ), stuffed a holiday tofu (disaster) , did a raw food stint, and met a wonderful boy.

It’s been such an eye-opener learning about the environmental degradation associated with industrial agriculture, the numerous heath risks of the high animal protein diets, and finally giving a sympathetic ear to the cruelty this system is based on.   All of this aside, my own point of entry into veganism was nothing heroic.  I just wanted to cook a romantic dinner for a cute vegan boy I met to impress him with my domestic prowess.  Little did I know that several veggie pot-pies and curries later, I would fall in love with the cuisine (and become rather smitten with him!).

Up until now, I’ve kept a pretty low profile on the vegan front.  Reactions can range from those who are totally accepting of it to those who look at me like I’m insane, so I tend to dodge the issue for everyone’s comfort.  A few years ago, I remember meeting a girl who told me that she was a vegan and can recount my own baffled reaction.  What? Are you serious? No meat? No cheese? I could never do that.  Been there.  And then there are the people who assume I must be protein deficient.  I can handle those conversations, that is if they are actually interested in hearing the other side of the story. But then there is a whole other class of reactions that make me really upset.  They go something like this:  “Oh. Wow. I thought you liked food.”  Part of me wants to tell them how small-minded they are to make such a comment, but I hold my tongue.   Perhaps these people imagine that a vegan meal is just their typical meal minus eggs, milk, and meat.  Which wouldn’t leave much, maybe a sad plate of rice, mashed potatoes and over-cooked broccoli. If they only knew how diverse, creative and delicious vegan cooking can be.  That’s what I hope this blog will demonstrate, anyway.

xox

Laurakins

August 9, 2009 at 4:59 am 3 comments


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