Thursday, January 30, 2014

Wallet-watcher meals: Veggie Enchilada Casserole


Continuing with my promise of quick, easy and affordable meals, this newbie to my recipe circulation is great for its versatility.

One of the best things about veggie-based meals is that you can choose the vegetables of your family’s liking with little to no impact on the overall outcome of the dish. For example, this recipe originally called for zucchini and spinach. I swapped them out for a red pepper and black beans instead, and got rave reviews from my husband. You could easily add other options based on your tastes or the season such as a variety of peppers, winter greens, tomatoes, squash and more.

It’s hard to mess up something that’s doused in delicious enchilada sauce and cheese, so get creative with whatever is on sale to create your family’s favorite version. Enjoy!

Veggie Enchilada Casserole
Adapted from Food.com

Ingredients:
2 tbsp. oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 red pepper, diced
1 can black beans
1 cup frozen whole kernel corn
4 oz. green chili peppers, diced
6 oz. black olives, sliced
2 ½ cups enchilada sauce *recommend Trader Joe’s brand
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
8 oz. Monterey jack cheese, shredded
8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
Sour cream (optional)
Salsa (optional)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil 9x13 inch baking dish. Add oil to skillet and brown onion, garlic and jalapeno. Add red pepper and cook 5 minutes or until tender. Add beans and corn. Cook and stir 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat and add diced green chili peppers.

Dip 6 tortillas in the enchilada sauce, and place them in the prepared baking dish, overlapping as needed to cover bottom of dish. Place ½ the vegetable mixture on top of the tortillas. Top with half the cheese. Layer with another 6 tortillas dipped in enchilada sauce and the rest of the vegetable mixture. Drizzle with remaining enchilada sauce. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and olives. Over with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, and continue baking for an additional 15 minutes or until the casserole is bubbling and the cheese is melted.

Serve with sour cream and salsa.


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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Wallet watcher meals: Zesty Bean Posole


I don’t know about you, but my wallet is looking a little thin these days. Although January is always the time of year when we focus on lightening up our bodies, it’s also the time when we’re trying to fatten up our cash reserves a bit after taking a hit during the holidays.

With that in mind, I’m using the month of January to share some recipes that are not only easy and healthy, they’re also great for those of us who are trying to save a few bucks.

As I’ve shared many times, one of the tricks I use to trim my food budget is to drop the meat. So, you’ll find many meatless recipes from me this month. The added benefit is that while you’re shaping up your wallet, you’re also reducing your impact on the environment. Score!

This recipe is a brand new one I tested last week, and will be making several more appearances before the winter is over. It takes a whopping 5 minutes of effort for delicious dinner results.

Zesty Bean Posole
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens, December 2013

Ingredients:
2 cans (15 – 16 oz.) golden hominy, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 – 16 oz.) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 – 16 oz.) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
3 ½ cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 2/3 cups medium salsa *recommend refrigerated over jar versions
2 tsp. dried oregano
½ cup whipping cream
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
Slivered green onions
Shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:
In a 4-quart slow cooker combine hominy, beans, broth, salsa and oregano. Cover; cook on low-heat setting 7 to 8 hours or on high-heat setting 3 ½ to 4 hours.

With 30 minutes of cook time remaining, increase to high-heat setting. In a small bowl stir together cream and flour until smooth; stir into mixture in cooker. Cover; cook for 30 minutes more or until mixture is slightly thickened.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Top with green onions and shredded cheese.  



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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Nature's Gate for color-treated hair

In about six weeks I turn 30. I'm actually excited about it now, but a year ago I was pretty depressed about the whole idea of not being in my 20s anymore. So, in an effort to fight my depression and impending dread about looking older, I ended a five-year break from coloring my hair and started getting highlights over the summer.

Hair-dying chemicals are hardly good for the environment or animals, but I somehow managed to justify it with my on-going use of animal- and environmentally-friendly hair care products. My newly colored hair, however, was not so thrilled. Nor was my hairstylist, who chided me for over-washing my hair AND using products that stripped the color.

I was convinced there weren't any products that would work for me and my animal-friendly beauty regimen, until a random stop at Whole Foods Body got me acquainted with the Nature's Gate hair care line, which includes several solutions for color-treated hair. Not only were the products reasonably priced (I paid about $6.99 for an 18 ounce bottle), they were all-natural, animal-friendly, earth-friendly, vegan and completely non-synthetic.

Still skeptical, I tried out just the conditioner first and was so hooked that I snagged the shampoo the following week. My hair was softer, fuller and the color remained vibrant. And, as an added bonus, their products help my hair stay fresher longer so I can now stick to washing just four days per week instead of my previous daily wash. My hairstylist is thrilled!

I haven't tried out any of the other Nature's Gate products yet, but they offer a full line of beauty products including bath care, skin care, deodorant, oral care, face care, sun care and more. If they're other products are anything like their hair care, I'm sold!

For more information, check out their website: http://natures-gate.com/

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Making up for lost time in 2014

I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on 2013. As I thought through the year and all of the incredible opportunities along the way, the once-in-a-lifetime experiences I got to have, and the immense amount of time and energy I put into professional success, I also started to think about the many things I gave up to do all that.

Learning how to bake bread and preserves fell to the wayside. Taking up barre and yoga came in fits and starts. Planting the garden ended up eight weeks late due to busy schedules. And simply being in my home – my favorite place in the world – and just sitting and enjoying a cup of tea and a book, often fell victim to endless errands, busy work or mindless tv watching.

I have no regrets about 2013. In fact, it ranks as one of the most fun and exciting years of my life. But as I look ahead to 2014, I’m determined to make it a year filled with doing the things that matter and that I’m most passionate about, and saying no to the things that take me away from doing what I love most.

Even as I write this, I feel a sense of guilt about the wonderful and very worthy things that I will say no to this year like some of my volunteering and work activities. But I also feel a sense of joy in what I will be able to accomplish by saying no to things I like to do so I can say yes to things I truly love to do.

So what are the things in 2014 I plan to focus my energy on? Here’s just a sampling:
  1. Learning the basics of food making. I want to learn how to bake bread and bake it well. I want to make preserves, learn how to make my own pies, and put up food for the winter. And, thanks to my husband’s awesome Christmas gift of an ice cream maker, I want to learn to make the best dang ice cream ever.
  2. My garden. I’m upgrading from small plots to an 8-foot by 16-foot space and am bursting with anticipation. Can spring get here any sooner, please?
  3. Building our local community. We’ve lived in our house for three years and barely know our next door neighbors, let alone anyone else in our suburb. I plan to use goals 1 and 2 to help me with this.
  4. Yoga. I absolutely adored my barre classes in 2013, but am ready to try something new. My wonderful husband is getting me started with some yoga DVDs he got me for Christmas.
  5. Living simply. Cooking more simply, cleaning more simply, shopping less, buying less, eliminating clutter, and taking as much complication out of life as possible.
What are your goals and dreams for the new year? Where will you invest your time and energy?

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Adopt a What?

Never one to turn down an animal adoption education opportunity since, well, I'm a huge advocate of and volunteer for animal adoption, I had to pass the one along given its seasonal timeliness.

This year, as you dream of the upcoming Thanksgiving spread of incredible food and juicy turkey (or Tofurky) roasting in the oven, you can also save a turkey by giving a one-time $30 donation to adopt a turkey through Farm Sanctuary.

This program, which has been around since 1986, encourages people to save a turkey at Thanksgiving through a sponsorship that helps rescue the animals and provide care for them in the organization's sanctuaries. Most of the turkeys that are brought to the sanctuary are rescued from abusive farms, fell off the trucks taking them to slaughter or are simply dumped at the sanctuary.

As a turkey sponsor, you receive a certificate plus a photo and fun facts about your adopted turkey. How cute is that?

Not into adopting a turkey? You can adopt other farm animals that call the sanctuary home including pigs, cows, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks and geese.

I'll be totally honest in saying that the concept is targeted primarily toward vegans, but even for us meat-eating folk, I don't see any harm in helping other animals that don't make it to our table as food. At the end of the day, whether or not we eat meat, we must all take responsibility for abused and neglected animals, even if they're not the cuddly, furry ones we keep in our homes.

For more information about how you can adopt a turkey, check out the website:
http://www.farmsanctuary.org/giving/adopt-a-turkey/


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Friday, October 25, 2013

Disposable Fashion

I’ve mentioned on this blog several times that I am a bit of a magazine junkie thanks to airline points that let us snag magazines for nothing. While I generally enjoy getting my monthly reading materials, I was a bit dismayed this season when the catalogue-sized InStyle magazines landed in my mailbox touting the latest fall fashions.

As I began flipping through the September issue, I was initially intrigued by all of the latest fashion trends and beautiful models showing off the looks. But as I continued on, I couldn’t help but have a sinking feeling. Pages and pages of people essentially screaming the message of consumerism at the top of their lungs. Buy this! Wear this! You need this! Ew, don’t wear that! Instead of feeling inspired, I felt sad. Are these really the values that I adhere to? Do I really give a crap what some designer thinks I should wear this season?

The answer was that yes, I sort of do. At least, that’s what my buying behavior would suggest. I love clothes and I love to look cute. And while I’m certainly not a trendy dresser, I love to look fashionable and current, which means buying the latest stuff and buying it as affordably as possible. It’s one of the parts of my life that sadly doesn’t align with my other values of health, helping the environment and living cleanly and simply. Unfortunately, this is true for most Americans. And, upon doing a quick Google search, I found that our obsession with disposable fashion is not only damaging our wallets and our self-esteem, it’s doing major global damage in ways that you wouldn’t even believe, including our massive donations of clothing.


So, it’s my new quest to work on this incongruent part of my life. I want to reduce my global impact, live more simply, and stop buying in to these messages that lead me down a path I don’t want to go. Here are some of the steps I’m already taking:

Re-imagine your wardrobe

One of the ways I get sucked into buying more clothes is because I lose creativity with what I already have. We all get stuck in that rut of wearing something the same way over and over and completely lose sight of the item’s versatility. Recently, while poking around on a clothing store website, I saw an outfit that I just loved – flared black leather skirt, black and white striped tee, charcoal gray blazer and chunky silver necklace. I was tempted to buy the $200+ outfit until I realized that I had some version of every single one of those items, except the tee, already in my closet. So, I pulled out what I already had, snagged a black and white striped tee from TJMaxx for $12, and had a whole new outfit I never had even thought of (and that I now get tons of compliments on). I’ll admit that it’s a fine line to walk – using a clothing store’s tempting website to come up with new ideas for your wardrobe – but it can really help provide a new perspective on how to combine pieces you already have into something that looks fresh and current.

Stick to the basics

It’s amazing what a little white or black tee can do in a wardrobe. It goes with denim, pants, skirts, jackets, jewelry and, well, basically everything. Instead of buying trendy pieces, I’m sticking with good quality basic tees that I can mix and match with everything to create new looks without buying more clothes.

Use consignment stores to sell

In the past few months, I’ve started taking my gently used, brand name clothes to a local consignment store. It requires a little extra effort for me as the clothes must be in-season, washed, pressed and on a hanger, but the results have been fabulous. Most of my items have sold and I get to split the profits 50/50 with the shop, so I’ve been getting some nice little monthly checks to put toward items that I truly need. Plus, my clothing is going to a new home where it will continue to be in someone’s wardrobe circulation in my community instead of being shipped overseas or taking up more space in an already-stuffed Goodwill.

Use consignment stores to buy

Consignment and thrift stores are great spots to find new additions to your wardrobe or your home. I highly recommend consignment stores for clothing. You can often snag handbags, special occasion pieces, suits and more for a fraction of the price. I recently picked up a skirt suit for a mere $15. It cost me an additional $15 to have the skirt tailored, but I still managed to walk out the door with a complete suit for just $30. Plus, I helped keep great clothing in circulation longer.

Thrift stores are great spots for finding home décor items or for repurposing old items into new. One of my favorite home décor blogs shows how to make throw pillows for winter using old cable knit sweaters found at Goodwill. Use Pinterest, design blogs like Centsational Girl, and more for ideas on how to be creative with consignment and thrift store finds.

Get things repaired

I’ve been getting my high heels repaired for years to extend their life. When the taps go bad, the local shoe repair shop replaces them and cleans up the shoes for a mere $6. The shoes look completely new and I get years more of wear out of them. Some of my favorite high heels have been repaired several times, but I’m still wearing them after 7+ years.

Consider other charitable organizations

Have a suit that didn’t sell at consignment? Donate it to Dress For Success, which provides job interview suits to low-income women to help them land a job and better their situation. Each woman gets outfitted with a suit for the job interview, then once the job is acquired, she receives a full week of suiting for the job. Have a special occasion dress? Check out the many organizations that help low-income teens look beautiful for homecoming or the prom. Think outside the thrift store box when giving away your clothes to ensure it truly has a second life.

Stop f-ing buying stuff

Ok, this is way easier said than done, but I’m working on it.

What are you going to combat the obsession with disposable fashion and consumerism?


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Monday, October 21, 2013

Eating On $4.20 Per Day

 For the past six months or so, I've been a part of the planning committee for a local, monthly food advocacy event called Seed Money Suppers. Part of a larger food advocacy organization, Community Food Advocates, the Seed Money Suppers are a way for people to come together in the community and, for just $10, enjoy a meal of yummy soup and beer from a local brewery, and hear from schools, community leaders and organizations who are trying to bring fresh, quality food to the Nashville area.

It might be a group trying to start a community garden in an economically poor part of town or a school trying to start an after school organics farming program for kids. The groups present their needs and proposals for meeting that need, and then the attendees vote for their favorite cause which then receives the "seed money" raised that night (usually about $500). It's a pretty awesome organization and way of bringing people together in the name of good quality food for all in the community.

I give you the back story because what we're planning for this next Seed Money Supper really gave me pause - contemplative pause - about how we all view food and its apparent abundance.

This month, instead of having our typical meal and our typical speakers get up and talk, we're dedicating the dinner and the entire week to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also known as food stamps) because on November 1, the government will cut SNAP benefits significantly. For the average family in need of the program, benefits will be cut about $26 per month, which means they will now have just $4.20 per person per day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, seasonings and drinks.

That's right, $4.20 per person per day. Could you eat on $4.20 per day?

When I really started to think about my lifestyle, which I consider relatively thrifty, I realized I had absolutely no clue what it would be like to feed myself on so little, and certainly what it would be like to try to eat healthfully on so little. In fact, I wracked my brain to think of even one possible recipe that could feed four for that little. I'm still trying to think of one.

My cohorts at Community Food Advocates figured about the same, so on October 28 they are issuing the SNAP Challenge to the community to challenge people to experience what it would be like to eat on so little. Here's the challenge:

  • It will last for 5 straight days October 28th to November 1st.
  • Spend no more than $4.20 per day, including beverages.
  • Only buy and eat/drink items that are allowed to be purchased with SNAP.
  • Don’t use food already on hand unless you deduct the value from your daily amount.  Salt and pepper do not count against the daily cost allowance, but all other seasoning, cooking oils, condiments, snacks and drinks do.
  • Try to include fresh produce and a healthy protein each day.
  • Don’t accept food from family, friends, co-workers and others. Avoid free food anywhere. No outside food or dining out is permitted since you cannot use SNAP benefits on hot meals. 
  • You many need to cut coupons or search grocery paper ads on days that items are discounted.
  • Keep a log of what was bought and eaten for each meal, as well as grocery receipts.
  • Keep a daily journal of the experience.  Did you feel deprived or restricted?  Did you eat differently than usual?  Were you hungry?

As part of the kickoff, we are having our monthly dinner, but this time it's a potluck in which attendees are encouraged to make a healthy dish that would be something a family on SNAP could make with their food budget. The recipes for each of the dishes will be compiled and given to families in the community who receive SNAP assistance to help them create affordable meals in their homes.

So, I need your help: Do you have any recipes that could fit this bill? We're talking a meal for four that costs about $5 to make. That $5 must include all costs for oils and spices too except salt and pepper. Please send any recipes my way!

And, I encourage you to take the challenge, even if it's just for one or two days. In our country of abundance, indulgence and enjoyment, it's always good to be reminded of how difficult it is for some folks. That being able to afford anything to eat, let alone fresh produce, farm-raised meats and organics, is a struggle. 

To learn more about the SNAP Action Week, visit http://seedmoneysuppers.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/october-event/




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