Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Healthy and Cheap Dinners

A complaint arises often at many of the forums I frequent: healthy food is too expensive. This, according to too many people, is why they are obese.

I know this is mean, but it needs to be said: you get obese from eating too much and exercising too little. Period. You could be a thin (and very unhealthy) person who lives on Cheetos, as long as you are eating less than 1500 calories a day of the orange poison and going for regular walks.

I always argue that it is far cheaper to eat healthy, but no one will engage. Perhaps because they know I'm right?

Here are a few super cheap, super healthy main dishes that cost less than 25 cents a serving to make:

Homemade vegetarian chili with homemade cornbread
Homemade falafel on homemade pita bread
Cajun red beans and rice
Black bean tacos
Chinese fried rice (with egg in it for protein)
Homemade minestrone
Lentil and rice casserole

This is just offhand--I'm sure I can think of more if you need more. You would need a veggie with these, but I hope the family in question is eating vegetables with their meals already. Produce is generally cheap because there's always something on sale. Plus, you can grow your own, which is more than I can say for Cheetos.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Menu Monday

You will have to forgive me for this week’s menu, at least the second half of it. We are expecting houseguests Thursday through Sunday, so the meals are going to be more… everything. More complicated, more expensive, and, yes, more wasteful. To make up for it, we are eating very simply for the first half of the week.

Breakfast: Whole wheat popovers, fruit and yogurt smoothies
Lunch: Leftovers
Dinner: Homemade cheese pizza

Breakfast: Cold cereal, bananas
Lunch: Homemade mac’n’cheese, carrots, cherry tomatoes
Dinner: Chili, homemade bread, salad

Breakfast: Raspberry muffins
Lunch: Homemade soup from broth, noodles, and veggies
Dinner: Omelets, salad, biscuits

Breakfast: Hot multi-grain cereal with bananas
Lunch: Chicken salad and spinach wraps
Dinner: Vegetable quesadillas, refried beans, fruit

Breakfast: Cold cereal, bananas
Lunch: PBJ, baby carrots
(guests arrive here)
Dinner: Steak gorgonzola, baked potato, artichokes

Breakfast: Blueberry muffins, bacon
Lunch: Out
Dinner: Chicken picata, homemade fettuccini with garlic butter, green salad, fresh bread

Breakfast: Whole grain crepes with strawberries and cream
Lunch: Out
Dinner: Butter herb turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, broccoli with asiago, rolls

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I'll only say it this once...

...I don't like Christmas.

I am not against Christmas itself. As a Christian/Jew/Buddhist, I am more than happy to have these extra days of celebration in our winter holiday repertoire. I believe in Christ both literally—as a wise man, a Messiah, a savior—and figuratively—as a symbol of peace, forgiveness, and unconditional love. Our world is a disheartening place to live right now, so why begrudge the masses a day to make merry?

First, the insane expectations. At no other time of year do family dysfunctions seem so glaring. High expectations and less-than-perfect realities clash. Long healed scars are torn into fresh wounds. At best, we get through it. Second, the waste. My kids don’t need more plastic—what kid does? How many cars are on the road as drivers search for a perfect gift? How many extra calories do we ingest while people in other countries starve? This is as American as we get: clueless in our wisdom, selfish in our giving, secular in our observance of the most religious day in our majority religion’s year.

But the real reason I dread Christmas? The materialism. It borders on extortion. Why does that Xbox game say ‘I love you’ so much louder than a handwritten letter? Because Corporate America can’t live on love alone. What is the true emotional value of a gift given because I have to? Apparently high enough, because no one on my Christmas list would happily relinquish their spot.

If I, who can financially and emotionally afford this insanity, can’t wait for the next month to be over, I can only imagine the strain felt by those who are truly disenfranchised. People without families that look like those on black-and-white movies. People who can’t afford the display of generosity, who may not have stockings even on their feet and don’t have a roof, much less a mantel. People who can’t say “It’s a Wonderful Life” without a heavy dose of irony. I’m praying as much for them as for peace on earth.

So now I am going to stop being a party pooper and try to jump wholeheartedly in the holiday fervor. Really. I'm going to ignore all of the above, caring only about how my organic vegan walnut fudge turns out and whether I find the perfect gift for my stepson's girlfriend. Really.


Friday, November 23, 2007

A Turkeyless Turkey Day

I hope all of my friends in the internet universe had a wonderful Thanksgiving. At my home, we decided to have a brunch instead of a dinner to allow our family and guests to double up on holiday visits. The original plan was to visit a restaurant later that evening for a real turkey dinner, but as evening fell we were still too full from brunch. So it was a happy but turkey-less turkey day for the Marshall family.

How can we do without a turkey? I figure Thanksgiving Day as we celebrate it in the United States is based more upon propaganda than historical fact. Much of the story we learn in school, from the 'traditional foods' we eat to the clothing worn by the fictional pilgrims and natives on our greeting cards, is a cranberry-coated mistruth.

Racial harmony, sharing, thankfulness--this is the legacy I would like to give my children. This is the history I would like to be able to teach. So, for today at least, I will. Without the turkey.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Staying warm

Yetserday morning we woke up to a fluffy white surprise--snow! The kids rushed to finish breakfast and get snow gear on so they could play in it before it melted. Today there was no snow, but everything was covered with ice and frost and the thermometer read below 20 degrees F. Official dates aside, winter has arrived in Washington.

So how are we keeping warm without polluting and spending?

1. We have geothermal heat. If you ever have a chance to install this or buy a house with it, I highly recommend it! It uses so little energy that we could keep the house at 80 degrees all winter without killing our budget. But...

2. We keep the house at 62 during the day and turn it down to 45 at night. BRRRR! Wear flannel jammies and pile on the blankets. During the day we move enough to avoid becoming human popsicles, but a sweater is still necessary. I've actually had people tell me that it costs less to keep a house warmer or to keep a steady temperature. I always wonder if these people use the same logic and leave their cars idling while they grocery shop, or keep the dryer tumbling while empty. Simply put, it takes fuel to warm a home, so the less you run the engine, the less fuel you use.

3. Eliminate all sources of drafts. Close blinds and curtains, put rolled up towels at the bottom of doors. You may want to caulk around windows or even have new insulation blown into your walls. Most repairs will pay for themselves (and then some) in one season.

That's all that comes to mind for now. What is your family doing to stay warm?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Monday Menus

I've noticed a few other blogs doing this, so I thought I'd be a copycat. :-)

But, seriously, I am always hearing how expensive it is to eat healthy. I just don't buy it. Consider the cost per pound of carrots vs. cheetos, organic brown rice vs. rice-a-roni, an apple vs. Ben and Jerry's... and on and on. I have written several articles about shopping strategies and avoiding waste. But that's only part of the equation. Planning and preparing healthy, homemade meals is probably one of the biggest money-saving habits I have! And maybe this can help someone trying to add health and economy to their diet.

Breakfast: Fried egg sandwiches on whole wheat, orange juice
Lunch: PBJ on whole wheat, carrot sticks
Dinner: Chicken and autumn vegetable stew with whole wheat dumplings

Breakfast: Multi-grain hot cereal with maple syrup, red grapes
Lunch: Annie's mac and cheese, sliced apples
Dinner: Oven-BBQ Chicken with brown rice and green salad

Breakfast: Life cereal, milk, satsumas
Lunch: Homemade vegetarian pizza pockets
Dinner: Whole grain pasta with some sort of sauce--maybe pesto from the basil plants in my windowsill?--plus green salad and homemade foccaccia

Thanksgiving! We'll be out pretty much all day.

Breakfast: Whole wheat waffles with apricot pineapple chutney
Lunch: Something with leftovers--hopefully we'll have some
Dinner: Vegetable stirfry with shrimp (I use very little shrimp, just enough that they feel like they had some), brown rice, green salad

Breakfast: Multigrain hot cereal, grapes
Lunch: Grilled cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread, tomato soup
Dinner: Black bean tacos, grilled bell peppers, spanish rice

Breakfast: Life cereal with milk, satsumas
Lunch: Annie's mac and cheese, carrot sticks
Dinner: Pork roast, homemade cinnamon apple sauce, roasted potatoes and squash

For snacks we eat fruits, veggies with homemade yogurt dip, yogurt, and homemade whole grain goodies. Most of what we eat is organic, although there are exceptions.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Christmas Round One

Yesterday I inventoried the pile of bags shoved at the back of my closet. The good news is that I am farther along on my holiday shopping timeline than I thought. The bad news is that I still have a sleigh-load to buy, most of which will have to wait until December. After a trip to the local craft store-one that will not be repeated any time soon because the carts are too small to hold more than one child and the aisles so narrow that the only restrained child could still reach shelves on both sides)-I have newly high blood pressure as well as a few homemade gift ideas and a month-long date with my crochet hook. The present factory is understaffed and underfunded, but officially open for business.

Right now my five-year-old daughter and I are finishing an embroidered picture for one of my in-laws, after which I have to crochet five stuffed bunnies. They’re supposed to be from Santa, so I have to work on them when there are no watchful little ones. Night, maybe? But I *do* like to sleep every now and then. Add to this a steadily growing parade of houseguests, the observance of Jewish holidays, and my promise to make all-new ornaments for my Christmas tree—out of recycled and salvaged materials, of course—and I am nearing the insane stress level under which I seem to function best. Let the breakdown commence!

The goal is cheap! easy! fast! personal! But I'll settle for three out of four. If you have an idea, let me know; otherwise, I'll be publishing mine as they occur to me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Green Delivery

How are you sending your gifts this year?

I’m sure merely asking this pegs me a micromanager and perhaps even OCD, but I have spent way too much time finding the perfect ecologically correct gift to bungle it in the last step. So far I consider the US Postal Service the least vile method of sending packages. For one thing, the postman is going to swing by my home, and every other home in America, regardless of whether there is a gift package or yet another credit card offer. Taking advantage of existing labor, resources, etc., is always greener than creating a need for new, right? Also, I’ve never been almost ran over on my own sidewalk by a USPS truck—which is more than I can say for FedEx and UPS.

There are other issues to consider… for instance maybe one of the major carriers uses an alternative fuel or makes massive contributions to green causes. I couldn’t find internet documentation of either, so I’ll be patronizing the old-fashioned wasteful-and-yet-best-of-all-possible-evils Postal System until someone gives me a good reason to switch.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Holiday Decluttering

I hate my ISP. I won't even tell you what I pay to NOT have internet half the time.

Complaints aside, we are gearing up for the holiday season! The first step (for me) is decluttering. We will soon have the first of several waves of houseguests crash onto our beach and I will no longer be able to hide our messes behind the guest room door. I also need to make room for the gifts that will begin trickling into our mailbox. So I am going to approach this the same way I do every challenge: make a list and schedule, then ignore both of them and run around like crazy woman at the last minute!

Did I mention I have about a trillion homemade gifts planned and I haven't even bought the supplies yet? Egad! Somehow November always sneaks up on me.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Poll Results, plus my adventures in NOT buying socks

The results are in!

Of the 10 people who responded to my poll, it is evenly split. Five were raised to conserve and five were spenders from the get-go. One reported that as a teen she was treated to $3000-4000 clothing shopping sprees regularly! I have a few teenagers around here that want to move to that household.

Americans love to "upgrade", either by buying more goods or buying increasingly expensive goods. It's hard to wean yourself from that mindset. Even the most frugal types are always trying to upgrade, although they have strategies to do so for less money. This week I am going to try to catch myself when I fall into that trap and stop the spending before it starts.

I've already been guilty once today! I was checking out my five-month-old daughter's dwindling sock supply this morning and thinking that perhaps I should buy more. She only has five pairs that I can find, although I suspect another two or three lurk in my unmatched sock basket. She could really use a few brighter pairs to match certain outfits. Plus, my Hanna Andersson catalog has been taunting me for weeks.

But how many pairs of socks does an infant need? I do laundry every day, so our five pairs are more than sufficient. Does she need to have a coordinating pair for every outfit? Probably not. If a true sock emergency arose, I could dig an unmatched pair out of the renegade sock basket. After all, the point of a sock is to keep tiny toes warm, not to advertise my ability to match or my love of organic Swedish cotton. At the rate Rachael grows, we'll need bigger socks in a month or two anyway, and then I can try to match her bright winter clothes. Until then, we'll make do with our summery whites and pastels.

See how easy that was?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The High Cost of Clean

According to American Demographics, the average Generation X household spends $85 dollars a month on housekeeping supplies. Eeeek! I can't even imagine. I suspected that we spend less than most families, but I had no idea how much less.

How much of that money is spent on paper goods that could be replaced with a few old rags? How much on caustic chemicals that will end up in our drinking water? It's really mind-boggling; the average American family spends more on cleaning than a third world family spends on all of their necessities put together.

(Shameless self-promotion alert: This is an issue I have addressed twice on my website, once as a frugal habit of the week and once as an article.) Okay, done now.

Seriously, how do you think people manage to spend so much? I'm really quite boggled by it.

Friday, November 02, 2007

And we call them role models...

Another example of celebrity excessiveness.

If you want a good example of how to ruin our planet in one lifetime, just look to American celebrities. Even those who are lauded for their social and ecological sensitivity, like Brangelina, Ted Turner, and Al Gore, utilize exponentially more resources than the average, appallingly wasteful US family to support their jet-setting, self-promoting lifestyles.

We are the heroes, my friends.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


A few weeks ago, a member of my favorite message board sent out an email asking for help. She was assigned an article on “going green” and needed ideas.

I didn’t respond. I find it slightly offensive that my lifestyle has been hijacked by the media and turned into an empty fashion statement, or worse, a way for obsolete politicians to get their name back in common use. At best, AT BEST, the piece would be in a sappy women’s magazine between “How to Tell If He’s Into You” and “Bigger Breasts in Just Nine Days!” Anyway, how does one fit an entire world view into a short article?

An afterthought: I should have sent her a polite and minimally detailed email with a few beginners’ tips, like hanging out laundry, eating vegan food, buying local, etc. I guess everyone has to start somewhere. I was raised by a pack of hippies, so my materialistic period was just a short hiatus from an eco-friendly lifestyle. Once the urge to rebel passed, I returned to my recycling, crocheting, soap-making roots.

Which brings me to a quandary. How many earth mamas and tree huggers out there are cradle conservers and how many converts? I’d guess about 40/60. What do you think? What is your eco background? Leave a message on my blog or email me at with “Blog Poll” in the message line. I’ll compile the statistics and give you a verdict on Monday.