Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Gluten-free and Frugal: An Oxymoron?

I’ve always had a minor wheat allergy. It’s kind of like an irritating acquaintance: popping up when least expected, and always at the most inconvenient times. Every illicit tryst with a grilled cheese sandwich leaves me wanting more, but I am forced to face the fact that my skin does not appreciate that sandwich nearly as much as my brain does. In a way, I am lucky. I am fortunate that I do not have celiac disease; that I can enjoy gluten-filled foods a few times a week without becoming ill.

But I really shouldn’t. I would be so much healthier if I just cut wheat out of my life permanently.

Temptation is all around me, in restaurants and grocery stores, at work, and with friends. And the price for gluten-free foods can be staggering. It’s so easy to just slip into bad habits. So how is it possible to stay frugal on a gluten-free diet?

In short, it’s not. At least, not if  you don’t cook or bake much, and expect to live with the same kinds of convenience food most people have access to for far less money. Gluten-free bread? Five dollars for one twelve-ounce loaf that has a slightly off-putting texture. Regular bread? Two to four dollars for twice as much to a loaf. Gluten-free cookies? Four dollars for two. Regular cookies? One to five dollars for an entire package.

However,there ARE several ways to reduce food bills on a gluten-free diet. It may not be possible to be as frugal as someone with no dietary restrictions, but it is possible to live gluten-free and spend somewhat less than the average person does on food.  Though it can be a time-consuming and frustrating lifestyle, there is an upside: gluten-free products tend to be healthier and often organic. Here are some of the ways to save:

1) Buy naturally gluten-free whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, and gluten-free grains (quinoa, rice, etc.)

2) Bake your own bread and other baked goods. Gluten-free baking can be difficult and frustrating, but once you’ve mastered a few recipes, you will always have something delicious to take to a friend’s house for dinner. There are many excellent blogs and books on gluten-free baking.

3) Cook enough food so that you don’t have to cook every night. Prepare grains ahead of time so that you have some on hand when you need a quick meal.

4) Buy in bulk if possible. Costco sells Larabar variety packs, quinoa at two dollars a pound, and amazing gluten-free chips for much cheaper than at other stores. Gluten-free flour, which can cost as much as eight dollars for twenty ounces, sells online for about three dollars a pound in bulk. And yes, I am the girl that carries food home from Costco in a backpack while riding the train.

5) As always, take advantage of sales. Many times, I will buy nothing but sale items in a trip to the grocery store.

6) Eat well. Don’t settle for food that doesn’t make you happy, just because you can’t consume gluten.

It can be so hard to choose the bag of brown rice pasta that costs twice as much as the semolina pasta next to it, but I usually have to make that choice for the sake of my health. Though I’m not always the best at staying on track, I’ve found that it is possible to save money while living a gluten-free lifestyle. And for those times when I absolutely need a cupcake right away, there’s always the Whole Foods down the street.

I’d love to hear of any tips anyone else has for saving money on gluten-free food!

Advertisements

The Aftermath

It’s that time of year again. Smart people looking stupid in flat hats and polyester gowns that have a suspicious odor. It’s been just over a year since I walked the walk, and in many ways I feel like I’m no closer to any answers about my life.

In the aftermath of graduation, there are so many possibilities. They are pretty scary most of the time. I found that as time passed, my portal to possibility seemed to be getting smaller. I couldn’t find a job, I felt useless, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t really get to know Boston because I felt scared and unmotivated. The problem was, I didn’t feel like I was doing much, or learning anything. I enjoyed working on my culinary skills, because I love to cook, and I was happy to improve at it. But that wasn’t enough.

Then, in April, everything started happening at once. My dad decided that May would be the best time for our long dreamed-of Africa trip, I got a job, and I started educating myself again.

The trip was incredible; I did and saw so many amazing things and met many great people. Coming back felt strange. Though much of Africa is developed, the development doesn’t suppress the raw, wild beauty of the continent. In Namibia, much of the country is desert, kilometer after kilometer of dust, rocks, hardy bushes, and heat. In Botswana, an elephant might casually cross the road, not paying attention to the bus full of tourists hanging out the window with their cameras. And everywhere in Southern Africa, baboons stalk people for food and empty garbage cans, looking for choice morsels.

I have been so fortunate to travel the world with my dad and the rest of my family. I feel like one of the luckiest people alive, because I have seen the Pyramids, and I have seen Big Ben, and I have gazed upon Macchu Picchu. And more importantly than the monuments, I have seen how other people live. I have seen the possibilities, and I relish them.

Life is all about possibilities for me. If I see no possibilities in the future, I start to panic. Which is what happened to me when I couldn’t find a job after graduation. It felt like all the possibilities were disappearing.

I love the idea that I might live in London or Cape Town, South Africa for a while. I love the idea that I can try to make any new dish I like. I love the idea that I can always keep learning and doing new things. Which is why I love to read and write.

As I walked the streets of Southie after I returned from Africa, I knew I wasn’t likely to see anything more exciting than a French Bulldog cross the street. Then I saw a group of schoolchildren who had just “graduated” from elementary school. For a moment, I felt despair. What if the possibilities were running out for people of all ages? It’s becoming harder and harder to make it in this world; school budgets are getting cut, and there are many more restrictions these days.

But no. I can do the things I want if I try hard enough. I can travel, I can write, I can sing, I can cook, I can work with dogs. I may not make money doing the things I love, but I know enough about possibilities and learning that I know I’ll never be bored.

I may not be close to answers about my life, but if I had the answers, where would the possibilities be?

This year!

Last year!

Still smiling 🙂

Rebranding Leftovers

I find there is an odd phenomenon that happens when there are leftovers in my refrigerator. I either devour them within a few days, or they get a “meh” and tend to stay in the fridge until I am forced to throw them out. As actually eating one’s leftovers is pretty important to leading a frugal lifestyle, I think it’s awesome when I can take my leftovers and make them into something even better!

Since I have the food photography skills of a five-year-old and an ailing camera, I will have to refrain from photo proof of the kitchen magic. But you should be amazed anyway, because our kitchen is so small that I am continually shocked we can make anything at all that involves more than dumping a packet into a pot of water and heating it.

So anyway, I made black bean/chicken enchiladas last week. Bob loved them, so we didn’t have the “meh” leftover syndrome with those. However, I did have some filling leftover and a TON of garlic and cumin rice I made from a recipe in The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas. The next day, I found myself looking at the rice, wondering how on earth we were going to eat all of it.

Bob made his leftover rebrand simple: he made a burrito with the filling and rice. Since I am currently not eating wheat, and corn tortillas don’t make good burritos, I decided to make soup.  I put in some leftover tomato puree in some chicken broth, added spices, then put in the leftover rice, enchilada filling, and some refried beans. The result? Awesome chicken tortilla soup!

Then, a couple days later, we mixed up the rice with some leftover refried beans and ground beef for some excellent stuffed peppers.

The moral of this story? Do not despair! There is hope for the “meh” leftovers! A the very least, they may almost always be reborn into soup.

Frugal Adrenaline

Sometimes, saving money isn’t just satisfying for me, it actually produces adrenaline which allows me to do things I never thought I could do otherwise. I became aware of this on Saturday after I flew back from Seattle to Boston with all this:

100 pounds of crazy

Challenge Accepted!

Although conceding to bag fees never makes me feel good, I decided to check two bags on this trip after finding out it would cost $30 to ship my awesome new typewriter via the USPS. It seems that bag fees really are one of the cheapest ways to ship things.

Since I was flying by myself and Bob was on a different plane, I was, of course, worried about getting the bags back to the apartment. We don’t have a car, and because of this, we have two options for getting around: subway/bus or cab. Now, in the past, I have taken both methods of transportation from the airport at one time or another. When I moved out to Boston with two 50 pound bags, I took a cab. When I had only a carry on, I took the subway. On this trip, however, I felt a bit torn on what type of transportation to take.

Before you decide I am crazy for even considering taking the subway with all that luggage, please keep in mind that the subway costs $1.70 per trip from the airport, while a cab costs $40.

A miniature drama was going on in my head in that baggage claim:

Frugal Me: “The cab fare is ridiculous!”

Rational Me: “Your four bags weigh a combined total of about 100 pounds!”

Frugal Me: “But two of them are roll-y bags!”

Rational Me: “Correction: one of them is a roll-y bag. The other one has weird 80’s wheels that are actually less than useless.”

Frugal Me: “I can handle it.”

Rational Me: “You’re a weakling! You have no upper arm strength whatsoever!”

Frugal Me:  “But I could save thirty-eight dollars!”

Rational Me: “You’re going to look like a crazy person.”

Frugal Me: “Don’t I always?”

Rational Me: “Whatever. You obviously don’t need MY help.”

Frugal Me: “But wait! Don’t leave me alone!”

Silence.

After this little exchange, I called Bob and informed him of my decision in a much more confident manner than I was actually experiencing. I placed my duffel on my roller bag and set out on my incredible journey.

I honestly don’t know how I did it. Even if I worked out all the time I would be surprised I could do it. All I can attribute my success to was the adrenaline provided by the $38 I was saving. My adventures included getting stuck in the turnstile, almost throwing out my back, accidentally hitting a man in the knee with my weird 80’s bag (sorry), and braving several frightening staircases. When a young woman commented: “That’s a lot of stuff,” I was tempted to quote Calvin and Hobbes and reply: “Brilliant, Holmes.” Luckily, I was really too tired and overheated to put up much of a fight.

When I reached the final staircase at our subway stop, I didn’t know if I could make it:

The Final Frontier

As it turned out, luck was on my side this time. That close to the entrance, I was able to get cell service. Bob came to the stop and helped me get it all home through the freezing winds.

My sore muscles the next day were like a badge of honor. And when my parents heard the story and my mom said: “Your father and I are very proud of you,” I knew where frugal me came from.

Now that it’s over, I would probably go back and do it again to save that much money. But during the adventure, it definitely felt like I made the wrong choice.

If anyone else has a story of frugal adrenaline, I’d love to hear about it!

Walking to Nowhere

I was thinking a lot about home today. Especially about my dogs. When I get homesick, I like to go outside.

Though it was cold, we decided to go for a walk across the Charles river. I love how the experience of walking changes with the seasons. Right now, it holds a special magic for me, since this happens to be my first New England autumn. The sun was setting as we walked, so it felt much later than it actually was. Luna was especially beautiful–huge and yellow, and she cast a gold light across the Charles as we walked over the bridge.

The only downside to the beauty was the amount of light pollution. I miss the stars.

I love walking from Boston to Cambridge. It’s an immediate change in atmosphere–bustling and abrupt to quiet and thoughtful. Both are enjoyable in their own way; I like the contrast. I picked up a yellow oak leaf on the way back and wanted to take it home, but I knew it wouldn’t hold the same wondrous power over me once it was inside. Once inside, it would become equivalent to some of the damp leaves stuck to my shoe. It would be out of place.

For me, walking is awesome because it’s free, it’s good exercise, and it allows me to get to know my area. Most of all, it gives me a chance to contemplate and organize everything floating around in my head and allows me to really appreciate the beauty around me.

Today is an excellent day for contemplation: Veteran’s Day and 11/11/11, which only comes once a century. I somewhat childishly wonder what people in 1911 were doing here one hundred years ago. Making a wish at 11:11? What about people in 1611?

Who knows? That kind of stuff doesn’t often make the history books, but it’s all important to me.

And somehow, I don’t think I’ll find a better, more frugal way of battling homesickness than walking to nowhere.

A terrible representation of the moon's beauty tonight.

Even in November, there are some roses left over.

Autumn

EVERYTHING’S NEW!

Moving to Boston really didn’t take that long. Perhaps two days of packing and one day of flying. Preparing to move, stressing out about moving, and stressing out after moving were far more time consuming.

So here I am. In Boston. Haven’t felt like blogging because of the stress, but I moved about a month and a half ago, so I really need to get over it.

So here I am. I’ve been pretty homesick, especially since I have no furry animals to pet thus far. However, I have found something new that is most splendid: my new library! In a city where everything is expensive, it’s comforting to know that libraries will always be a mecca of free awesomeness.

The Central Library is GIANT. I think I may have been wandering around with my mouth open the first time I went there. I don’t think I would have even noticed had I started drooling. Because of its immense size, the library is a tad overwhelming, but it more than makes up for this with the number of books it contains. Especially old books. I found a manuscript called “Letters from Afar” by Mrs. Worcester Reed Warner. It was written in the early 20th century and was apparently the saga of some epic trip she took, which was never intended for the general public to read. I wish I knew how it ended up in the library.

I would be very surprised if someone has ever placed a hold on it. But I am weird, so I checked it out. I love huge libraries for that reason. They have large collections of old books, and sometimes you can read about tiny portions of history that no one else has for years. Plus, I must admit that I adore the smell of old books.

To my fellow bibliophiles, what is your favorite thing about a massive library and/or old books?

I know that this didn’t really end up being about frugality, but please bear with me, because EVERYTHING’S NEW! Plus, libraries are free, so I didn’t go on too much of a tangent.

Thrown Together Episode 1: Bruschetta

Hello folks!

I’ve decided to start a new recipe series: Thrown Together. I love to cook, but I don’t love expensive, hard-to-find ingredients and convoluted recipe steps. Thus, this series is going to be about the things I like: the end result (good food) and relatively simple prep/cheap ingredients that you can make in small to medium quantities. So here we go, starting with episode 1: Tomato and Artichoke Bruschetta.

I love this because it can make an awesome appetizer or a full lunch. It’s also very flexible, since it’s good with or without the artichokes and you can put in as much/little fresh basil and garlic as you desire. I get a huge jar of artichoke hearts at costco so I always have them on hand. They’re a lot more affordable in bulk!

This has been a very rainy July, even for the Northwest, so I’m hoping that making summer foods will make the weather improve. I think that’s what the weatherpeople do too. Maybe? 😛 But then again, they’re always wrong.

P.S. I have found that this bruschetta often tastes better the day after preparation, since it gives the garlic time to flavor the tomatoes

Component List (adjust quantities to taste and as needed):

Makes 2 lunch servings or about 4 appetizer servings

2 on-the-vine tomatoes

2 cloves of garlic

4-5 marinated artichoke heart halves

chopped fresh basil to taste

salt to taste (very little is needed)

good, crusty bread

optional: cheese blend (parmesan/asiago etc) or fresh mozzarella

Chop tomatoes into small pieces and mince garlic. Slice artichokes into thin strips. Mix tomatoes, garlic, artichokes, basil, and salt in bowl.

Toast bread. If using mozzarella, place on bread before topping with bruschetta. If using cheese blend, sprinkle on after topping bread with bruschetta.

Yay food!

🙂

If anyone has suggestions for something I should try to make, let me know and I’ll see if it’s possible!