Eating Healthy on a Budget

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A friend of mine emailed me yesterday and asked for some advice on eating healthy on a budget. Since this is an area of passion for me, my email back to her basically came out in the form of an essay, which I’ll share with you!

Geoff and I have a budget of £45/week (about $65) for groceries.

Here’s how we make it work:

-Cut down on meat and dairy and opt for veggie meals at least a couple times a week. I know it might make you feel like you’re wasting away, but that’s mostly psychological. You will not die because you’re only eating half as much meat. You will, however, have a lower impact on the environment, save a good chunk of change, and enjoy meat more when you do have it!

-Learn about substitutions: chicken thighs are way cheaper than chicken breasts; ground turkey can be cheaper and healthier than ground beef; and you can almost always cut down the amount of meat in something and add more veggies or vegan protein like lentils, chickpeas, or beans.

-Cook meat as an ingredient rather than a main course. We don’t generally have chicken breasts or steaks or whole fish fillets for dinner at this point except for on special occasions. Instead, we’ll usually have pasta with a little chicken cut up in it, or stew that has a little beef and lots of carrots and potatoes.

-Buy meat in bulk or on sale and freeze it. Most stores have shelves with just the food that expires today or tomorrow, at really reduced prices. I always go here first and grab whatever they have, and then I just throw it in the freezer as soon as I get home if I’m not going to cook it that day. I end up saving at least 1/3 on meat this way. Score! Same goes for buying more meat than you need. Wrap whatever you don’t use in foil, label it clearly, and freeze it

-Opt for whole foods rather than pre-packaged! They are so much cheaper, and you also get to avoid all of the terrifying-sounding mystery additives in processed food. Cooking whole foods does take longer, and this will be an adjustment for most people, but below are a couple of tips for making it work for you.

-Set aside a block of time once or twice a week for prep work. If you’re already chopping veggies, it doesn’t take that much longer to chop a few more. Most things can be prepped a few days before you cook them. Then, when you go to cook a meal, you’re like the guys on the cooking channel with all their bowls of pre-chopped veggies and it takes you 20 minutes to cook a meal.

-Cook in bulk. If I’m making chili, I make about 4 times what I need for a meal. Then I freeze half of it, leave a quarter of it in a tupperware in the fridge, and eat a quarter of it. 4 meals, one cooking time. Bonus: Most foods are less expensive per pound when you buy more of them.

-Eliminate waste! I am hyper-vigilant about waste. If I buy something, I’m going to eat it. This means I’m always watching expiration dates, ignoring them where acceptable (veggies), freezing food before it expires (meat and dairy), and cutting out bad spots rather than throwing a whole food item away. I decide what I’m eating on any given day based on what is going to go bad soonest. Yes, sometimes this means I don’t get to eat a frozen pizza (guilty pleasure) because my leftover vegetable soup is one day away from destruction.  But I’m saving money and learning something about appreciating the resources I have. The Western mindset about waste is one I don’t want anything to do with.

-Remember that a luxury is a luxury. Steak is a luxury. Alcohol is a luxury. Really good chocolate is a luxury. We do buy those things, but only when we have extra money left over within our budget. We’ve had to do some redefining about luxury versus necessity in our lives, but I find myself appreciating the luxuries that much more as a result. They’re special again.

Does it take some adjustment? Yes. Do we always end up safely within our £45? No. Do we make exceptions for special occasions and celebrations? Absolutely.

Give it a try!

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Literal Lemon Cake

Rye Humour -- Literal Lemon Cake

Is it as rainy where you are as it is where I am?

Rye Humour -- Literal Lemon Cake

Yes? Here’s a bit of cheer for you. No? Here’s a bit of cheer for you anyway.

I bought a giant stash of cake-decorating supplies last week. A couple of friends asked me to make their wedding cake this spring, so it’s time to up my game! This is my very first-ever attempt at fondant (I made the fondant as well– no store-bought here!) and, while I’ve definitely got learning to do, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out!

The cake itself is a lemon-almond madeira cake, filled with lemon curd, and iced (under the fondant) with lemon-almond buttercream. Fairly delish.

Quick and Easy Broccoli Beef

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One pan, ingredients you just might have in the house already, and a delicious cheaper-than-takeout broccoli beef for dinner? Yes, please!

Here’s something I’ve been working on lately: having people over for dinner but NOT being a stressful mess when they arrive. Because actually, when people come to our house for dinner, it’s really because they want to spend time with us. If they wanted a gourmet feast and a cranky chef, they could go to any number of restaurants nearby. But I get myself all excited about cooking for people, and the menu grows and grows, and by the time they walk in the front door they’re confronted with Mrs. Patmore on her worst day.

That didn’t happen this time.

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Here’s how it goes: Whisk together a few odds and ends for a marinade/sauce.

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Slice up some thin steak. (Don’t break the bank here– this is your chance to cash in on the budget stuff. Save the fancy cuts for steak night.)

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Nestle your steak bits down into that sauce, cover, and marinate in the fridge for as much time as you have. Overnight is great, but all day is more than enough, 4 hours is fine, and 30 minutes will do the trick.

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30 minutes before dinner, toss that whole pile of steak and sauce into a hot wok and cook until the sauce is simmering and the steak is cooked through. At the same time, throw some rice into a rice cooker.

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Add a big old pile of broccoli. Toss and cook and toss and cook until the broccoli is soft and bright green.

Serve it over a nice pile of rice. I didn’t take pictures of that part because I was (gasp!) drinking wine and spending time with friends.

Quick and Easy Broccoli Beef
Serves 4

1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp ground ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1 lb (1/2 kg) thin steak, sliced into small strips
3 crowns broccoli, separated into florets

  1. Whisk together lime juice, soy sauce, dark brown sugar, chilli flakes, ginger, and garlic.
  2. Submerge steak in sauce mixture, cover, and chill. 4 hours is ideal, but overnight or all day is fine, and as little as 30 minutes will do in a pinch.
  3. 30 minutes before dinner, throw the whole steak-and-sauce mixture in a hot wok. Cook, stirring, for 5-7 minutes or until steak is cooked through and sauce is bubbling. (Start your rice at the same time!)
  4. Add broccoli and cook, stirring, until broccoli is tender and bright green.

Sourdough Pancakes (for Grandpa)

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I woke up feeling fragile this morning.

Some combination of aching muscles, impending goodbyes, recent grief, and a weird night’s sleep* left me feeling groggy and disorientated upon waking. Since my New Year’s resolution could best be summed up as “take care of myself,” I decided today was a chance for some radical self-love in the form of breakfast.

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*Nightmares always feel like such a cheap shot– how can I choose joy and peace if you’re picking on me in my sleep? How am I supposed to wake up and face the day with whales and wars and drowning still floating around in my brain?

I mentioned the other day that we lost my grandpa a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a hard and homesick season, with Christmas and loss and all of us so scattered across the globe. But we’ve been sharing memories back and forth over the internet like we would over a kitchen table, and I have loved welcoming each treasured one as it floats to the surface of my mind.

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Summers for me as a child were wild, Alaskan affairs, full of wandering and discovering and moose. My grandparents had a house in Anchorage and a cabin in Cooper Landing, and we would stay with them– sometimes as a family, sometimes just me. This particular memory has very little specificity to it, just shades of comfort and freedom and love. I’m a little girl, maybe seven or nine, and I’ve just woken up at the cabin, and Grandpa is standing at the stove making sourdough pancakes with a big old smile on his face.

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Since I’ve been bringing my sourdough starter back to life this week and it’s just about to overflow all over the counter, sourdough pancakes seemed like the right choice. Tangy and lighter than normal pancakes, these are decidedly still a treat.

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Sourdough Pancakes
Serves 1, generously

1/2 cup (113 ml) sourdough starter, fed the night before
1/4 cup (31 g) plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 1/2 tbsp oil

  1. Whisk all ingredients together thoroughly.
  2. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto a greased, medium hot griddle or skillet. Flip when batter looks dry around the edges and a few holes remain without filling in when bubbles pop.
  3. Cook another 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown on both sides. Don’t flip more than once.

Hello, 2016! (And bramble gin liqueur, continued…)

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Remember these guys? Waaaaaay back in September, at the very end of bramble season here in Scotland (blackberries, for the other 99% of the world), I fought off the urge to try to do everything and just did one thing: I jammed a few handfuls of fresh berries into a half-empty bottle of gin with some sugar, gave it a shake, and hid it in a dark cupboard.

You guys. It was worth it. Somewhere in the midst of all the craziness that has been the past two months (leaving my job, traveling to Copenhagen, having visitors, celebrating Christmas, our anniversary, and the new year, losing my grandpa, starting a business…) I remembered to welcome this bottle of berries back into the light, strain it twice for good measure, and re-bottle it.

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Geoff’s eyes popped wide open when I gave him a taste. “This tastes like home! This is blackberry pie!”

So we’ve been sipping away, enjoying a little taste of summer in the Pacific Northwest while we wait for these Scottish winter days to get a little longer and brighter.

And here I am again, faced with a million directions this day could go, just doing one thing. It’s good to be back.