Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Exceptions to the Rule - Eating local produce for the Summer

I've been watching the 100 Mile Diet people's show on the Food Network. The premise is that they head to Nelson, BC and ask families to sign up to eat only local food for 100 days. It's more than a minor inconvenience and the families needed to completely overhaul how and what they ate.

On Sunday they had the finale show and every got back to normal. Many of the families headed straight for some coffee, sugar and beer.

I was impressed that many of the families suggest that they will keep the majority of their new practices, like sourcing local products, making their own bread, and cooking from scratch more often. They also lost a significant amount of weight and many reported feeling more alert and ready for the day when they wake up. Clearly a change for the good!

I recently read a book by Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) who did the 100 mile thing around the same time the BC couple were at it and recorded her families quest to produce and source food from their community eating only food they produced themselves or from local friends and farmers.

In their quest for one whole year of local eating they each had one thing they could keep using. Barbara chose her herbs and spices, her husband selected coffee, and I'm afraid I can't remember what her daughters chose. They were very successful in their plan (and had a leg up having many acres in the southern US and the know-how from years of farming and backyard gardening) and pledged to maintain a similar lifestyle for the foreseeable future.

This got me wondering if I could do it - eat local for 100 or 365 days. I think not, but I am one person cooking for myself with limited skills and resources. This doesn't mean I can't do my part! With the Farmers Market season here ready to open, I perched on my chair waiting to try local produce only for the summer. I have no idea how this will fair, and I may be subsisting on mushrooms and strawberries only, but there are worse ways to live. So I encourage you, check out your local farmers markets and see if you can make a similar attempt. It's a great Saturday morning activity and you'll never know who or what you'll encounter and it's definitely an eye opening experience - you'll never believe what you can grow locally in your region.

As for what I'd pick as my exception to the rule should I want to go whole hog into the local food movement at some time in the future, I think it should be sugar or rice - something practical - but for my purposes I really think I'll miss bananas. So I choo-choo-choose you, you sweet yellow devils.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Surprise, Surprise

Surprises can be great - surprise birthday parties, free puppies, lotto wins etc. but they can also trip you up. In budgeting I have it literally down to the dollar what I can spend each month and the rest goes to debt repayment. A slip-up in planning or a surprise (large or small) throws the plan off quite significantly.

I know that I will be getting a healthcare bill in the next couple weeks for my monthly contribution to the provincial medical plan. I've never had to pay it before because I was in school and didn't make enough money to HAVE to pay for it (I was exempt when I was po') but a downside of sending in my tax return was that now the tax man and the medical people know how much I made last year and now it's a little too much so I have to pay up for the medical services I don't really use. (knock wood)

It's retroactive to the beginning of the year so it'll be about $250. That's a big chuck of my monthly taking and pretty much what I spend on groceries, so if I had to come up with it out of the blue it would be quite a hardship, and this isn't even that much money! If that's not a reason to have savings I don't know what is! There's a distinction to me made here.

I have two savings accounts. One is for "fun" like flights and trips and one is for emergencies. A medical bill, which if I was paying attention at all when I signed up with the plan I should KNOW the bill is coming, is not an emergency. I can easily pay the medical bill with my money in savings, but it's coming out of the fun pile. Emergencies are just that, unpredicable expenses which come out the blue.

See you later $250, I'll just stay closer to home this summer :( whamp wammm - At least I get to eat next month!!

Did anyone sign up for some stocks? Mine tanked today!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I'm out of money and I'm going on vacation!

The two are not mutually exclusive, but both are happening this week!

Because of some overzealous spending earlier this month I've spent only $45 on groceries these past three weeks including the amazing 10 whole dollars I had left this week. After pouting internally for a little while, I settled on a few things to get me to Thursday night.

4 bananas
4 apples
2 carrots
1 small plain yogurt
1 bunch of celery

There's nothing humbling like telling the cashier you may have to pass on the celery if it takes you over $10. Lucky for me, I'm chocked full of celery now with two whole quarters rubbing together in my wallet. Good thing! Just in case I go through a worm-hole back 15 years and I need to make a call.

I have a stash of leftover food in the freezer, a fairly stocked pantry, a head of cabbage and a baking potato in the fridge, so I know I can make it until Thursday when I'm heading to Edmonton for some Mother/Daughter bonding time.

My Plan for the week:

Sunday night & Monday lunch - coleslaw + 1/2 of a baked potato
Monday night & Tuesday lunch - lentil soup w/ carrots, frozen peas and celery
Tuesday night & Wednesday lunch - Freezer chili/soup/curry
Wednesday night & Thursday lunch - anything that's left over.. from the leftovers..
Thursday night - a delicious airport meal!?

I always bring a yogurt, apple, banana and my snack pack (almonds, raisins, rice crackers) for lunch with whatever salad or leftovers I have. This makes making packing lunch super easy since it's the same everyday, but I don't get sick of it because the main event changes. It's nice to have small components so I can snack through the day if needed. An awesome additive to my snack stash this week (and the cheapest bang for my buck I could think of) was the celery I can team with peanut butter and raisins to make some killer ants on a log to enjoy.

This coleslaw pretty much ended up just like the Waldorf salad without the apple, but I did it from memory, so maybe I invented it all over again! It's pretty much a kitchen sink salad using up the leftover cabbage from the minestrone from last week.

In my effort to be pretty much awesome in everything, especially money and food, I'm trying to eat really balanced diets, so clearly tonight's meal is a testament to that. I have all three food groups: dairy, vegetables, potatoes... riiight, a little short of protein am I? I have some eggs kicking around in the fridge, but I know I'm not in the mood for scrambled eggs this evening and it's too hot in here to cook anything else. Let's say the yogurt and walnuts are protein enough and call it a day.
Kitchen Sink Coleslaw

1/2 small head of green cabbage, chopped coleslaw style (about 2 cups)
1 carrot, grated
1/2 c raisins
1/2 c chopped walnuts
1T fresh coriander
1t fresh parsley (or whatever herbs you have)

1 small cup of plain yogurt
1 tbsp honey or maple or agave syrup
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of cumin
Salt + Pepper

Mix salad ingredients together until well combined

Stir up dressing ingredients together and tweak as needed.

----- This tastes fine, fine. You could use some onions, and lemon or lime juice and I might suggest leaving out the cinnamon, it's a bit grainy in the dressing.

I just baked a potato in the oven for about an hour at 400 degrees and doused it with some of the Naam's miso gravy. Eating baked potatoes is the only time I wish I had some Cheez Whiz and I like to avoid that craving ( I mean, what's in that anyway?) so the miso gravy is a delicious alternative.

Final Thought - Am I the only one with a lunch routine? Eat at the same spot each Friday, bring the same PB&J your mom made you all though middle school?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I get by with a little help from my friends...

I just wanted to reiterate that sharing your experiences or situations with friends and family can go a long way to relieving any tension you may feel from keeping a big bad debt secret. Sure I'm paying back "good debt" but it's still a hardship and a lot of my friends are in a better place financially than I am.

Not only can they be a support system, they might surprise you with extra help (financially or otherwise) or be able to give you some advice. Since my siblings and I are all university grads with mega debt, we've forgone our birthday presents for the past 3 years. It's great.

This week, my friend V who's currently out of town left me this message:
"Hey, can you budget me in for dinner sometime round about the first week of June? Thought I'd get in there in advance to give you some planning time ;)"

How awesome is that!? It may seem a little excessive in the planning department, but it's great to have a heads up rather than a last minute $30 beer/nachos/hockey night. You should not sacrifice friendships so you can save a buck, be proactive in seeking out some ways to keep costs down.

If you're not in debt, maybe ask your struggling buddy to go for a walk, have a potluck, or check out a free museum tour.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Best Soup Ever - Main Dish Minestrone

Sometimes there's nothing like Mom's home cooking especially on the eve of Mother's Day. In an effort to save some money (surprise!) I've been cleaning out my pantry and freezer to use up older things I've bought. I did a major trip to a big grocery store in January 2008 and I KNOW that a good amount of the back of my pantry is from that trip. Spring cleaning is past due.

I reached into the depths of the deep freeze to grab some Italian sausage and plan to make my all-time favourite dinner. I've made this meal more times than anything else ever. Except perhaps scrambled eggs and PB&Bs.

My Mom's been making this main dish minestrone "Emily's Soup" and a delicious Pasta e Fagoli "Jen's soup" for as long as I can remember. They were so good, my sister and I had to claim them.

What I like about this is that it's hearty, hot, easily freezable, can be coated in Parmesan cheese and eaten with bread. Anytime I've made this for friends they've had seconds or more. It's just a crowd pleasing soup/stew.

I should warn you this is deceptively lengthy because you need to brown the sausage and bring the soup to boil twice before simmering for 10 and 30 minutes consecutively. I would estimate cooking time to be about an hour, not including prep. I also would like to suggest that you get everything in order before you start making it. I'm always a fan of mis en place but with this recipe I find myself in (more of) a frantic mess because you need to add so many things at once.

Here you go! Awesome soup for you!

Makes about 10-12 cups of soup. However big your serving is is up to you. This freezes super well, but make sure to leave room in the container to add some water before you freeze it. The only downside is that the pasta gets a little mushy, but it's a small price to pay for the best soup ever on demand.

Main Dish Minestrone

2T Olive Oil
2T butter
1/2lb or 225g Italian sausage (I use 4 links which is ~ 1lb)

1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 celery ribs, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 green pepper (small), chopped

2T parsley (fresh), chopped
1/2t basil (dried)
1/2t thyme (dried)
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper

1 large can of chopped tomatoes
4c chicken or vegetable stock

1 can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2c green cabbage, shredded coleslaw style
1/2c any small pasta (macaroni is best)

Parmesan cheese
Italian bread

1. Remove sausage from casings so it's like ground meat.
2. In large heave saucepan heat oil and butter. Add sausage to pan and cook until brown.
3. Add onion, garlic celery, carrot, and green pepper. Cook until softened but not browned.
4. Stir in parsley, basil, thyme, bay leaf and s&p and incorporate well.
5. Stir in tomatoes and stock. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes
6. Add cabbage, beans and pasta, mix well. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes
7. If soup is too thick add water to achieve desired consistency.
8. Serve with Parmesan and bread as desired.


This is still cooking as I write this and I'm so eager to eat it!!! I can't tell you how good it is, you MUST try it for yourself.

Do you have a favourite dish your mom made that you like to make too?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

WeSeed - The Pretend Stock Market

I consider myself a pretty financially aware person compared to most people my age (a necessity of a large loan payback and a limited source of funds) but when it comes to stocks and bonds and securities... I'm essentially clueless. On Friday Kim over at Little Miss Fortune introduced WeSeed.

For where I am right now (net worth ~ -$34,500) I'm not in a place to be "playing" the stock market. No matter how clever you think you are there is no way to guarantee results in the market, especially in this economic climate. In my opinion I see most market investments akin to a really intense poker game - even in you have all the skillz, you may still not get the right hand - oh, and there's no bluffing on the exchange floor.

Since realistically it's too soon for discussions about money managers or whether you should go with an independent broker, choose an off shoot of your banking institution, or elect to fly solo, this is a great chance to take a shot on my own on WeSeed.

Signing up is easy and you can choose a pot size to begin with, I went with $10,000 which seemed more realistic and manageable than the $1,000,000 option.

Beginning on Friday, I ended up with 4 pots of $10,000 because you can make and manage several portfolios. As far as I can see this works in real time with the real stock market, so you're testing your own stock smarts with every "buy" or "sell." I don't believe it has every single public company available for your stock purchase, but it's a good start.

WeSeed is great because it's not some theoretical algorithm about your potential chances when investing, it give you immediate satisfaction or disappointment as you see your stock prices rise and fall. You can take your time to do research or just jump in and buy buy buy! (guess what I did..) If you're a little gun shy there are tons of resources on the site to introduce you to the market.

I had a few basic guidelines I went along before making my choices. Each company either:
1) is a company I know and love and/or I know it had a profitable report and is likely to continue doing well this year
2) is a company in a failing industry affected by the current global situation (Chrysler pork chop anyone?) which will almost definitely rebound in the future,
3) is a company that makes crappy cheap food or goods which always becoming high demand in a recession (check out Crunch Bars circa 1930).

Below are my portfolios, you'll see I've been doing amazing, but I can't take all the credit, the market had a really good day Monday (Look Mom! I learned! I wouldn't have know that before!). Beside the name is the profit I've made so far - keep in mind I have different numbers of shares for each company. General Mills I have 9, Sara Lee I have 900 between the two portfolios.

Portfolio 1 - general
GAP Inc (GPS) $141.00
Kraft Foods Inc (KFT) $19.80
Sara Lee Corp (SLE) $215.00
Tyson Foods Inc (TSN) $62.70

Totals $438.50

Portfolio 2 - Junk
General Mills (GIS) $1.94
Kraft Foods Inc (KFT) $98.00
Mcdonalds Corp (MCD) $13.50
Sara Lee Corp (SLE) $230.00

Totals $343.44

Portfolio 3 - Electronics
Apple Inc (AAPL) $271.80
Research In Motion Ltd $37.80

Totals $309.60

Portfolio 4 - Green Things
Whole Foods Mkt Inc $720.00

Totals $720.00

Total Totals ===== 1811.54! In one day!*

That's 4.5% of my $40,000 investment!

I'll keep you updated in the future, I'm sure they'll move up an down over time, but it's good to know I made some super choices on my first go around.

Would you try this out?

*Results not typical.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chili. Yeah.

Chili is one of those things you should be able to do without a recipe, just dumping beany things in a pot. Chilis vary widely - I grew up with a really tomato based chili with macaroni noodles, Dave's mom makes some great chili with canned corn and no tomatoes.

Last week I was running low on monies and had a whack of beans in the pantry it was time for chili.

Inspired by Smitten Kitchen's recipe I made some delicious beanerific chili which Dave and I both enjoyed quite a bit. Our digestive systems had very strong feelings about it later, but that's the chance you take with Mexican cuisine.

This recipe can be adapted to whatever you want. Add corn, add more veggies, leave out some beans, add new ones, add meat, add tofu, cilantro + sour cream for the end, etc. This is very very open to interpretation, so go for it.

Jen’s Three-Bean Chili

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 humongous onion, diced

2 carrots, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

4 white mushrooms, sliced
1 15-ounce can of white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 28-ounce plus one 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup water or stock
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper, to taste
Sliced green onions, for garnish

Heat vegetable oil in a large pot, adding diced onion, and sautéing until browned. Add carrots, celery and mushrooms and heat through. Add beans, tomatoes, water or stock and spices, including cocoa, all at once, letting mixture simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Top with lovely cheese (like pepper cheddar from Mount Pleasant Cheese) and serve. Obviously this is great for lunches and freezing.


While I'm plugging Cambie Village small businesses, I have to mention Kreation bakery in between 17th and 18th on Cambie. Check out these cupcakes! Moist chocolate cake and the icing is raspberry with REAL raspberries in it!! SO delicious. If you're ever in the neighbourhood make sure you check this place out - They have way more than just cupcakes too, check their site out.

OSAP Repayment
Final Goal Date: Sept 2009

Started: May 2008
Finished: JUNE 2009!!

$0 .

TD Line of Credit
Final Goal Date: Sept 2012

Started: May 2009
Finished: ??

Only $33,326 to go! .

$12000 in Emergency Savings
Final Goal Date: ASAP

Started: Jan 2008
Finished: ??

$12000 in savings .