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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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.

Marriage: thoughts on consistency and spontaneity, commitment and change

My grandma, hip lady that she is, posted this status on Facebook yesterday:

“Sixty five years ago today I married my best friend. Would I do it over again? In a heart beat. We are older and possibly wiser but love the choice we made.”

What a legacy! First of all, sixty-five years is longer than most people have been alive. But also, to commit to one thing, one person, one relationship for six and a half decades (and counting)– it’s a kind of commitment that’s becoming rarer year by year. I remember talking to a friend a few years back (pre-marriage, for both of us) about the claustrophobia of tying yourself down to one person and the realization that brought her to the point of readiness for the big Yes. “What I’ve realized,” she said, “is that it’s not stagnation. You’re not tying yourself to a static person. You, ever-changing and ever-growing, are tying yourself to another ever-changing and growing person, in a relationship that will have to grow and change as constantly as each of you does. So marriage isn’t actually about settling down and settling in but about introducing this whole other dynamic factor into your life!”

Saltcoats sunsetGeoff and I got in the car yesterday after an appointment in Glasgow, and we made it halfway home before we just sort of didn’t take our exit. We drove west through farmland and hillside villages until we reached the seaside, and we had way too much fish and chips for dinner, and we climbed a lookout tower and joked and sang and watched the sun set, and throughout all of it we talked about our emerging dreams and shifting roles and evolving understandings of God and the world. I’ve changed so much in the two and a half years that we’ve known each other, and he’s changed as well, and we’re both more of who we really are, and we know less than we used to know, and through it all– through it all, we’re being woven together in trust and dedication and togetherness.

We’re older (a little) and possibly wiser (?) but love the choice we’ve made. We’ve made it every day, and we’ll keep making it every day, whether we feel like it or not. Whether, in that moment, we like each other or not. There are two constants for us: we’re in this together as long as we’re both breathing, and that age-old constant of change. But with the first in place, we can get in the car and miss an exit or two and know that wherever we’re going, we’re going together.

Geoff & Molly at Saltcoats

And, my friends, there’s something in that.

Just do one thing (and Bramble Gin Liqueur)

Rye Humour -- Bramble Gin Liqueur

This may come as a bit of a shocker for those of you who know me, but I sometimes display a hint of a tendency to get carried away. It starts with good intentions: “Oh, the brambles are ripening, I should pick some and bake that cake that I liked!” (Brambles, by the way, being the Scottish name for blackberries.)

And then it grows: “…and I should make jam and I should make a pie and I should freeze some for smoothies and I should make liqueurs for all my Christmas presents and also I should write down all those recipes and take pictures and blog them and…”

Until the few berries I did pick on my way home (before the high school let out and I was surrounded by high schoolers– why am I still so intimidated by high schoolers?) have grown a fuzzy little coat of mould because I was so paralyzed by the vast scope of all my million ideas that I didn’t act on any of them.

This year, with moving into our flat and preparing to transition jobs and dealing with feeling unwell so much of the time, I’ve found myself overwhelmed both by my overambitious good intentions and by the reality of all the little things that do need to get done in a day. My mindfulness project lately has been to catch myself in that first moment of good intention and then to get up and do one thing.

Like pulling that half-bottle of gin that we never drink out of the freezer, popping a few handfuls of berries and a bit of sugar in through its tiny neck, giving it a good shake, and then hiding it in a dark cupboard to work its magic until just before Christmastime.Rye Humour -- Bramble Gin Liqueur

I even made an event in my calendar. December 8: Bramble Gin Liqueur is ready!

Rye Humour -- Bramble Gin Liqueur

Bramble Gin Liqueur
Makes about 400ml of liqueur

8-9 oz (250g) brambles (blackberries)
2/3 cup (125g) sugar
1 1/2 cups (350ml) gin

Note: A wide-mouth jar would work best for this, but don’t let that be what stops you! You’ll just have to pop the berries into the neck of a narrower bottle one at a time, but it is actually an oddly satisfying task.

Wash berries gently but thoroughly. Add sugar into gin, then add berries and shake together. Leave out on a counter where you’ll see it for about three days, giving it a good shake daily until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved.

Once sugar has dissolved, place your liqueur in a dark cabinet somewhere and forget about it for about 3 months. After three months, strain out the berries and enjoy! More sugar can be added at this point if needed.