I am the bag lady.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Admittedly, I am one of those people who will load up with bags to the point where I can barely walk just so I don't have to make two trips to the car. Are you? If not, I'm sure you know someone who is. One thing that has made my life easier is reusable bags that are sold at practically every store these days. They only cost about a dollar and are absolutely wonderful, yet so few people use them. I don't get it. You don't even have to be all about "green" to get something out of their use.

Sure the bags do make carrying in groceries (and transporting them, too!) much easier, but they do so much more. Just think about it... If you grocery shop once a week, you easily acquire 10+ plastic bags. That's a low number because we all know that baggers tend to put only one or two items in each plastic bag ;) So let's take that 10 and multiply it by 52 weeks a year and that's 520 plastic bags being brought into your home each year! Ridiculous! Can you honestly say that you get a second use out of all those bags? No, they probably go into the garbage or add to a cluttery corner. So cut the crap out of the equation. Spend five bucks and get yourself some reusable totes. Need more convincing? Here are some good reasons:
  • Less plastic going into landfills
  • Less clutter coming in your home
  • Less groceries getting spilled all over your car
  • Less to carry in from car
  • They look spiffy!
I agree it takes a bit of a habit to get into using them, so you have to think about your own routine and have the bags where you'll remember to take them and use them. That may be in the car or in a certain spot by your home. Maybe you keep a running grocery list. You could add "TAKE BAGS" to the top of that list.

I have definitely gotten into the routine and have now been able to take it a bit further. I keep about five totes stored at home and grab them along with my shopping list when I head out to the grocery store. They've held up very well for more than a year. To eliminate flimsy produce bags, I found some reuseable mesh ones with a drawstring that I take with me, too. I have a spare tote tucked away in the car for unplanned stops at the grocery store. And here's the kicker...I have a cute fabric bag that tucks itself into a pocket that I keep in my purse for double back up. I even bust this out when I am buying non-grocery store items. And I have no shame using one bag to carry all my purchases from different stores in situations like shopping at a mall. Call me crazy, but I hate hate hate bringing home unnecessary plastic bags. I may be the local bag lady, but I do my sanity and the earth a favor :)

For the love of baking!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

There is something special about biting into a warm gooey cooking or having an awesome piece of cake with a fresh cup of coffee. Fortunately for me (and even more fortunately for my husband!) I like to bake. I mean really like it as in having visions of friends getting together a baking up a storm just for the fun of it. :) As if knowing what crap was in pre-packaged baked goods wasn't enough incentive, knowing that I can make something better at home pretty much seals the deal that I don't need to sacrifice my health for my sweet tooth.

This week, I had the chance to try an awesome new recipe from Post Punk Kitchen. The Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodle Cookies are killer good. My expectations were definitely exceeded and I was very happy with how quick they were to whip up! My husband gave the thumbs up right away and we both took some in to work where we got a lot of good feedback. I'll admit, the cookies aren't for everyone because they do pack a lot of kick. But if that's a problem, the recipe could probably be modified to use less or no cayenne pepper at all. Even though I liked the recipe as it was written, I am going to see how it fares with using applesauce instead of oil.

Speaking of applesauce...

I had the opportunity to attend a vegan baking class by Veronica Menin of Peace a' Cake, hosted at Whole Foods. She is a sweetheart and obviously very passionate about making delicious yet healthy goodies. She made an orange chocolate cake on the spot and I will vouch for how tasty it was! The reason "applesauce" led me into this is because she uses applesauce in the recipe instead of oil. And as a vegan, she also wasn't using eggs or butter. I've used applesauce as a sub before, but I was so pleased with the recipe she showed us that I am going to try using it a bit more. Tonight she also introduced me to spelt flour. She explained that she finds it to be lighter for baking and easier on digestion. Sounds reasonable to me! The final eye-opener I had was yacon syrup. I have never heard of it before! It did great in the recipe, Veronica swears by it, and supposedly it is an extremely healthy vegan option. I have some reading to do! We all had samples of the yacon syrup and I can describe it as very similar to molasses...maybe just a little lighter, but with the same kind of depth in flavor. It was just sweet enough and I could see it being used in a lot of ways.

So much goodness going on in baking in just one week! I'm looking forward to experimenting a bit more this weekend.

Walk it Off!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wow, when I came home from work did I have a brain full! It wasn't that work was following me home, so to speak, but I was letting myself get caught up in a lot of "what-if's" of my personal life. It's all good stuff, but it still had my thoughts going a mile a minute. I couldn't focus on anything but the multiple combination of hypothetical situations, none of which I could do anything about today.

Ever been there?

A couple years ago, I probably would have made an emergency trip to the store to buy a personal pint of ice cream and zoned out in front of the television for the night. Ahhh...drowning my thoughts in food. Thankfully, I have gotten better with dealing with days like this and I know the solution is in my tennis shoes! I lace 'em up and head out the door.

There is nothing like a brisk walk to clear my mind. No, the weather's not perfect. No, I don't always feel like glistening (I don't sweat - I glisten!). And no, it's not as easy to get into as being lazy is. But the payoffs of getting outside for a walk are huge! Totally worth it!

By walking today...
  • I burned at least 300 calories
  • Got my vitamin D from the sunshine
  • Saw some cool little animals
  • Spent less time getting over my thought tornado than I would have on the couch
  • And most importantly, I came back feeling a lot better!
No walk needs to be huffing and puffing for miles to work. Even a stroll for 10-15 minutes can be really helpful.

Now, if I can just get people that I pass and greet to quit looking at me like I'm crazy, I think I'll be all set. While I'm working on that, give walking therapy a try for yourself!

Adventures in Grocery Shopping

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I love grocery shopping. I love the whole process of checking for sales, planning a menu, and bringing in bags of goodies from the car. Strange, perhaps, but it's true. Although I don't remember ever hating going grocery shopping, I think I have finally found a routine that makes it pretty efficient and therefore truly enjoyable. Here's a few of the things that work for me:

  • Find out when the store posts its sales and what produce is in season. Generally this will get you a decent price. It also inadvertently adds some variety to the food that you eat throughout the year. If you have coupons stashed, see what matches up with the sales 'o the week.
  • Check the family's social calendar and preferences for the week. You don't want to plan on going all-out shopping just to be too busy to eat all you'd bought!
  • Got it all together? Now make your menu and shopping list!
  • Get to the store at an off-peak time so you can take your time shopping. Nothing worse than bumper carts! And don't forget your reuseable bags - save yourself the headache of bringing in 100 flimsy plastic grocery bags. Lifesavers, really.
  • Bring it all home and put it away. If you can carve out some time right afterward to prep food (like chopping fruit for snacks, etc), gold star for you!
If you really want to spice things up, add this fun challenge. Make a point of trying one new thing each week. The word "thing" is used broadly here. It could be a new item, new flavor, new recipe...you get the idea. You'll find some winners and losers, but no matter what, it'll keep your menu fresh. My recent "new" things have been "Follow Your Heart" vegan jack cheese (new item), green tea and lemon "Kombucha Wonder Drink" (new flavor), and tonight's raw berry crisp (new recipe from Whole Foods).

Any new items you've been impressed with? Tips to get in and out of the store faster? Good source for vegetarian and vegan recipes? Please share!

My food evolution

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I've always been a girl that likes to eat. Fortunately, I grew up around a lot of home cooking, so it's not a big surprise that I love to cook today! Unfortunately, as a kid we also had an endless supply of Kool-Aid and junk food...but in defense of my family, it was the norm for the neighborhood. That reminds me, I never cashed in on all the Kool-Aid points I painstakingly clipped!

My taste buds have changed drastically in the last 10 years or so. Back in college I was good to go with some Ramen Noodles (who wasn't?). When I got my first apartment, I entered phase of really learning to cook and plan for myself. There were some major learning curves as I got my first job with a cafe in walking distance and had to figure out the hard way that cafe chicken strips and cookies were a sure fire way to outgrow my jeans. Let's not even talk about the waiting job I had where the house specialty was a creamy french onion soup laden with butter.

It was at that point that I discovered the South Beach Diet. I am not a nutritionist by any means, but I think that there are some ok qualities about the plan. After all, it helped me shed an addiction to processed carbs and start incorporating a lot more produce into my meals. I never disliked produce, but a bag of pretzels was always more convenient. The South Beach Diet also got me trying new recipes on a regular basis, which is a habit that I am very glad I started. There's nothing worse than feeling like you are in a food rut.

My next food phase was Weight Watchers, which I also think has some good points. I learned a lot about portion control and conscious eating through their program and lost the couple pounds I'd gained after discovering Papa John's breadsticks and garlic dip. I followed the program with and without the formal group for some time, but I have to admit that I did get tired of points, tracking and worrying about nutrition labels.

Fast forward to summer 2009. I had slowly started decrease the amount of meat in my prepared meals and was replacing it with more veggies. A friend introduced me to In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan and The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. These books blew my mind. I had no idea what was going on the the world and what it had to do with the food that I was putting in my mouth.

Before even finishing reading, I declared myself a vegetarian. I lost all interest in eating meat and meat by-products. After easing into meatless meals, this wasn't a huge shock for me, but it was a big move for my husband who I am eternally grateful to for his support. I have been meat-free for a year (with limited dairy and egg consumption) and hubby eats the same as I do at home. When he's dining out, he orders whatever he feels like. However, he's noticed more and more how he feels heavy after eating animal products, and has been making veggie choices on his own. Good for him!

My personal decision for going veggie was first and foremost for health reasons. A lot of the information in the books I read (and materials I continue to read) point to animal products as the source of countless health issues. No thanks. I prefer being healthy. The other drivers for me are animal cruelty (cause for two years of semi-vegetarianism back in the day) and environmental impact of animal agriculture. I won't get into all the details here - maybe on another day when I have some citations handy. For now, check out the books I mentioned as a starting point.

There you have it. My food history. Today I am within days of being a vegetarian for a full year and I LOVE it!. I don't worry about calories, fat content and the like because I am eating fresh produce, whole grains and healthy sources of protein. I do have cheat meals and treats just like everyone else, but I try to keep those in moderation so I don't have to stress about it all. Besides, the healthy stuff tastes just as good as the cheat stuff most of the time! I'll be sharing some of the recipes I've found and tested as well as a few things I have discovered for myself. Enough now...I'm making myself hungry talking about food!

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