Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I'm revamping our budget. I have felt scattered and undisciplined when shopping for groceries for a while now. I go to three different stores as well as the farmers' market. Between meal planning, hunting for the healthier convenience items at the lowest prices and everything else that comes along with being home with my boys (and taking care of two more four days a week), I find myself lost at the moment.

We shop at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Target and the farmers' market. Trader Joe's has great prices, there's no denying that. But they won't disclose where their private label meat comes from and some of their ground beef identifies up to three possible countries of origin in one package (yuck!) not to mention the only grass-fed beef offered in our local store comes from New Zealand. Their produce and eggs are questionable as well. So I don't buy meat or eggs at Trader Joe's nor produce with the exception of the occasional bag of organic potatoes or lettuce.

So on to Whole Foods. I was listening to a program on sports talk radio and heard the host refer to Whole Foods as "Whole Paycheck." It made me feel better to hear someone that I feel it safe to assume makes a decent salary say this. I still can't help but feel out of my "tax bracket" while shopping there. And regardless of how smart we try to shop, it still results in a significant bill. So frustrating. We buy our meat including lunch meat, eggs, milk, some produce and the occasional prepared item. Prepared food = lots of money, I know.

Next stop is Target. Besides household basics, I buy bread, pasta, sometimes coffee, Annie's Whole Wheat Bunnies and Greek yogurt. They have the best prices on all of these items almost all of the time. For instance Whole Foods sells my favorite Greek yogurt for $1.69 each and the same yogurt is $1.29 at Target. Adds up when you're buying five at a time, every week.

Finally, the Farmers' Market. Sometimes produce is less at the Farmers' Market and sometimes it's more. Ultimately, I feel better about buying my produce there even if it's more because I know exactly where it came from and I'm supporting the farmers. And my boys always see or learn something new, that makes it even more worth it. Besides fruits and vegetables, we occasionally buy beef and bread from the Farmers' Market. The beef is local and 100% grass-fed. The meat is some of the best tasting meat I've ever had. It is a bit higher in price than the local grass-fed beef sold at Whole Foods. The only time we don't buy the beef at the Farmers' Market is if our schedule that day prevents us from going home directly after the market or keeps us from the market entirely. In those cases, it's added to the Whole Foods list.

Just writing about this is giving me anxiety, that's how overwhelmed I've become. My first step to feeling in control again is using a new budget software. My hope is it will help me create a new budget and keep us out of the "hole." Next is coupon clipping and mapping out sale items. I just hope the $1.50 I spend on the newspaper to get the coupons gives me more than that back in savings. Finally, meal planning must be consistent. Is there a meal planning software? I bet there is, I'll have to look into it. A free download would be ideal!

I have followed other budget series on other blogs and certainly appreciated the information but haven't been able to make it work as they seem to have. Specifically, 100 Days of Real Food's series. I was so happy when the author decided to do a budget pledge because I was getting a little irritated reading about eating real food from someone who was obviously not short on cash. But even with the information published, I still question if it was truly $125 a week, all week, every week. Not to be a skeptic but I have tried and have consistently failed at buying all organic, real and/or whole foods for my family of four for that amount. Maybe it's geography? Maybe it's something else? I don't know. Regardless, I'm going to give it a go again. Motivated by the absolute need to reduce our outgoing and the perceived success over at 100 Days of Real Food, let's do this!

I'll post about the results as they come in. Posting will help me keep on top of things sorta like Weight Watchers weekly weigh-ins do! Looking forward to getting started.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Recipe: Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Peanut butter and chocolate. Oh yes. I love, love, love peanut butter and I love, love, love chocolate. So when I came across a "healthier" peanut butter and chocolate cookie, I was in. I found the original recipe at Honey, What's Cooking?

I thought these would make a great addition to our Father's Day gift for the hubby and a decent treat for the boys. So I headed to the kitchen and got started. I made a few changes based on my personal preference. I used all brown sugar and no white sugar. I also added a touch of sea salt and used a mix of dark and milk chocolate chips.

These cookies came out great. They are thick, chewy and chocolaty. My dough was thick and didn't spread much. I gave them a little push down a few minutes before they were done baking. Next time I may just shape the cookies into hockey puck like rounds and see how it goes.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 9 big cookies (using a two-inch scoop)

1 Cup Old-Fashioned Oats
1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Tablespoon Flaxseed Meal
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
1/2 Cup Natural Peanut Butter, salted or unsalted
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Reduced Fat 2% Milk
1 Egg
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Chips
1/2 Cup Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Chips
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment.
2. In a medium bowl, combine oatmeal, whole wheat flour, baking soda, flaxseed and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream butter and peanut butter. Add brown sugar, milk, egg and vanilla. Mix until well combined.
4. Add oatmeal mixture to the wet ingredients, mixing gently until combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
5. Scoop cookies onto baking sheet and bake for 15 to 17 minutes. Let cool (if you can) and enjoy!

You can find this recipe and lots of other sweet treats over at Sweet As Sugar Cookies. Check them out. Get inspired.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Carrageenan is a seaweed extract. It's a common and cheap food additive used as a thickener and emulsifier in ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, soy milk and other processed food products. It is also a vegetarian and vegan alternative to gelatin.

I recently read, in a weekly newsletter I subscribe to from Dr. Weil, that based on results of animal studies, Carrageenan has been tagged by some as an unsafe product that may cause ulcerations and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. I did a little more research and found other articles that say the same. "I think the evidence is compelling to avoid carrageenan in any product, and especially if you have irritable bowel disease." Andrew Weil, M.D.

I eat low fat dairy often. After reading more on Carrageenan, it kept coming up in low fat products. This prompted me to take a look at the items I had in my fridge. And, yes, there it was. In the cottage cheese and sour cream. Both of the low fat variety and both from Trader Joe's. I know that it is better to use the real and/or full fat versions of these kind of foods and do avoid fat free items, except Greek yogurt and avoid fat free and low fat cheese because of the junk added to them but as I mentioned, I do eat dairy often and like to offset some of it with low fat varieties. Luckily my favorite yogurts (low fat and 0%) do not contain Carrageenan.

I was able to find a few options for low fat cottage cheese and sour cream. Not surprisingly at Whole Foods. My husband picked up a low fat cottage cheese from Kalona Super Natural. This stuff was the cream of the crop. Organic, reduced fat (2%) and grass fed. The taste was fantastic. And I usually don't eat cottage cheese straight (I use it in recipes like lasagna) but I would consider it if it was Kalona. It happened to be on sale for $3.29 for a 16 oz. container. I believe the everyday price is $3.99. I also found that Daisy Brand low fat cottage cheese and light sour cream do not contain Carrageenan. I picked up a 24 oz. cottage cheese for $3.59. A little cheaper and a little larger. I haven't had a chance to try it yet though. I think I've heard some decent things about Daisy Brand products but maybe only from their ads and famous jingle. Not too sure.

Among the many articles I came across on Carrageenan, I wanted to share the one from the TLC Cooking website. Click here to check it out. It's a quick read and I like the info. It sends a message about processed foods that a lot of people don't think about. I especially like the mention of "food scientists" and the "normal cook." And the part about Carragennan being "completely natural" reminds us that just because something is from a natural source initially or even entirely, doesn't make it good for us.

One day my family and I will eat grass-fed dairy 100% of the time but until our budget evolves, I will at minimum avoid buying dairy containing Carrageenan. Now onto researching Locust Bean Gum! :)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Recipe: Blueberry Banana Bread

Having two large super ripe bananas on hand, the recipe for Honeyed Banana-Blueberry Bread at Cookbook Archaeology I stumbled upon presented the perfect opportunity to use them! I changed the recipe just slightly and the results were worthy of sharing.

This bread is very moist and packed with yummy blueberries. The recipe calls for honey as the sweetener, there is no white or brown sugar. I might even suggest cutting the honey to 1/4 cup because I think the bananas and blueberries add a good amount of sweetness on their own. I'm gonna try it next time. I'll let you know how it compares. The ingredients are all fairly economical and using organic frozen blueberries instead of fresh made it even more affordable to make.

If you're looking for a different twist on banana bread, give this one a try. The boys loved it and I had to hold myself back from eating half the loaf all on my own. It's oh so perfect with coffee and would be equally delightful with tea. Enjoy!

Blueberry Banana Bread
10 slices/servings

3/4 c. Blueberries, frozen
1 3/4 c. White whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp. Baking powder
1/2 tsp. Sea salt
1/2 c. Oats, quick cooking
1/2 c. Honey
2 Large eggs, beaten
1/2 c. Greek yogurt, 0%
1 c. Mashed ripe bananas

Preheat the oven to 335 degrees and spray a 9×5-inch bread pan with baking or cooking spray.

1. Whisk flour together with the baking powder, salt, and oats in a large mixing bowl.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the eggs, honey, yogurt and banana.

3. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ones and gently mix, just until combined. Then (gently) fold in blueberries.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour. The batter for this bread is very moist, so a little may cling to the tester even when it’s fully baked.

5. Cool the bread completely, then wrap it up overnight before slicing and serving. Can be frozen.

Note: I did not wrap it up and wait to slice it. It tasted great after it was slightly cooled but I will admit it tasted even better the next day.

Quick nutrition stats per serving (10): 179 calories, 1.7g fat, 37.8g carbs, 3.2g fiber,  5.8g protein. Weight Watchers PointsPlus: 5