Friday chit-chat

Ouch! Sorry to see you go but I understand. But still, ouch! To those of you who are still around, thank you for reading this blog by email, or in your reader. And to those of you who have taken the time to comment, I appreciate every single word. I really do. This past week has been incredibly long and hard.

Writing on a daily basis is not easy. Writing an eloquent post is even more difficult. I appreciate all your thoughts and comments, especially on this post, which I had to publish before proof-reading and editing. My internet connection went down at exactly midnight, eight minutes after I hit publish. I cringed and wondered if I should try editing using my phone but Android browsers suck worse than Internet Explorer. I never thought I would ever find a worse browser but I did. Two of them. But in this case, I am willing to cut the developers a whole lot of slack: they aren't backed by a whole empire of badly written software that my small business pays a lot of money to purchase. These browsers are open source, free to use and the Android OS is still very new.

But let's move on to other things, shall we? There are several things I want to talk about.

If child nutrition is important to you, then you want to keep reading instead of skimming over this paragraph. Quaker Oats is sponsoring a challenge called Awaken Your Senses, where food bloggers have been invited to share their best food memories. A springy host then tries to recreate the memory by converting it into a quick topping for their instant oatmeal. The food bloggers choose a charity which will receive $500 at the very least and if you vote for your favorite blogger topping, her charity will receive $10,000.

This is your favorite food blogger, OK?

Rockstar Jen, with the pink sunglasses, is in this current round and she has chosen the Farm to School Network as her charity. Jen says:
There are children in this country whose best meal of the day is their school lunch. The National Farm to School Network works to make that meal healthy and fresh by connecting school lunch programs with local farmers. Exposing young people to fresh produce and educating them on where food comes from helps to promote long-term healthy eating habits. Our nation’s family and local farms benefit too. It’s about community, education, health, sharing… it’s about our future.

So go to Quaker Talk, then click on the button that says Vote (you may want to do that quickly cos otherwise the guy in the purple sweater will start talking). Next, click on Cherries Jubilee, watch cool Jen and listen to her lovely memory. While you are watching click on the green thumbs up icon to vote for her. Simple! (And thank you!)

Next in food news, a bunch of bloggers are getting together to raise awareness about hunger by developing nutritious meal plans that cost at the most $30 per person for a week. Why? Because the national average (for the US) for those receiving food assistance is between $21 and $24 a week. The Eat on $30 Project starts on Sunday and if you want to join in, let Tami of Run with Tweezers know as soon as possible.

I would have loved to participate in this challenge because I have been there. We didn't need food assistance but we had to clamp down hard on our expenses. Anyone remember the dotcom bust? We went from $150 a week to less than $150 a month when times were tough and this included milk. I started cooking more, we ate better and our health improved. It also introduced Medha to a variety of vegetables and got her hooked onto dal.

Unfortunately, my schedule is on fire from this weekend till the end of October. To prepare for that, I stocked up on essentials for the next couple of weeks but buying in bulk and in advance is not an option for those on a tight budget or with a poor cash flow. Any pricing of meals made from these supplies would only be skewed. I also think it would be wasteful to purchase more perishables for a week, when I already have enough. Add to it the fact that it takes a lot of effort from me to serve a different dishes for every meal. When I cook, it's enough for at least 3 meals, some of which we eat right away, some of which is stored in the refrigerator for lunch on a weekday and the rest is frozen.

So, no, I am not doing it. But if you like a challenge, go for it. I do have a few tips about where and how to buy produce, without the need to go dumpster diving:
  1. At the Farmers Market. Wait till almost closing time and the larger farm stands will start their $10/bag sale. Anything you can fit into the bag is fair game. I come back each week with seasonal produce that would have easily cost me $40 or more had I purchased it from the grocery store.
  2. At Ethnic Grocery Stores: look for Indian, Pakistani, and Asian stores in the vicinity. Ginger (and please note, it's not a root) sells for $6.99/lb at Whole Foods, $2.99/lb at grocery stores but can be bought for anywhere from $0.99/lb to $1.29/lb in ethnic grocery stores. Buy your spices at these stores, too. Smaller packs of spices are cheaper than the packed spices at grocery stores. Two to three bunches of cilantro can be bought for $1 instead of $0.79 a bunch. Beans, dals and red lentils - in their dried form - are also cheaper at ethnic stores.
  3. Look for overlapping sales to get the lowest price, especially when it comes to meats. Sunflower Market in Boulder has overlapping sales on Wednesdays.
  4. Grocery stores will put good meat on sale as the sell by date nears. There is nothing wrong with that meat and you can either cook with it right away or freeze it for another day.

Next up is the request for some advice and thoughts. I canceled milk delivery at the end of September and have started buying lactose-free milk because the writing is now deeply engraved on the wall. Calcium supplements aren't going to cut it and Medha won't eat enough yogurt in a day to get her daily requirement. She used to love to drink milk but started loathing it because of what it did to her. Lactose-free milk is working out so much better but it is sweet! The sugar content is only 12g per serving as opposed to 15g in regular milk but it tastes sweeter. Does the lactase enzyme do this? Or is it because the sugars are now more free to move about (sic) in the milk? She doesn't much care for soy milk - it's even sweeter. Is there lactose-free milk that tastes like regular milk?

In less than a week, I have already spent $9 for 1.5 gallons of milk ('natural' or organic lactose-free skim milk). And I will have to spend more to buy regular skim milk to make yogurt. Our monthly milk expenditure will now reach almost $50. I realize this may be a lot less than those with several children and/or cereal-eating adults in the house but I am aghast nevertheless. Is there something I am missing or that I could do differently to bring this down?

Which takes me back to the under $30 per person challenge. How does one include milk in this budget?! It's crazy. I know there are those of you who consider $30 a luxury and it is a luxury in so many countries in Asia and Africa, where people live in less than $1 a day. I wish I wasn't so completely desensitized...




Jen Yu said...

You are awesome for spreading the word on the Quaker challenge and the Eat on $30 challenge, thank you!! Love the tips you offer up as well. In the process of planning and shopping for the food, I found that time is a big suck in exchange for $. Don't know how people who hold multiple jobs can swing that kind of time :(

As for the milk. Jeremy says they add a lactase enzyme to the milk to digest the lactose and a simpler sugar is the by-product (glucose), which is probably why it is sweeter. There is unsweetened soy milk which you can add sugar to. Chinese use it for sweet or salty drinks or soups.


Nandini Vishwanath said...

I love this post. The tips are worth it all. Voted for Jen :) I'd love to do the Eat on 30 Challenge, but sigh, we are moving this month and were affected by the Atlanta floods and what not. And looking for jobs to boot (ya!) So I think I need food to keep sanity. And I do think with just the both of us, we do eat within $30 if not less than that.

Anothr thing is probably to raid your pantry or freezer for things you've forgotten. I did that challenge a couple of months and was amazed at what I came up with.

About milk - never thought of it the way you have, frankly. Didn't know there was lactose free milk ( do you mean the almond milk, rice milk kinda stuff?) I dunno if I'm ready for it yet.

Pelicano said...

How about not relying on dairy so much? These are calcium-rich veggies, and Vit B-12 shouldn't be a problem if you are eating fish and/or meats.

I live on less than $30/week...closer to $20, even if that. But I preserve every summer and autumn from what I grow and and buy at the Farmers' markets- that's a big savings for the veggie-flow! I buy legumes in 4-lb bags, rice in 20-25 lb bags (ethnic grocery stores, yes indeed...but not always; moong was the dhal-du-jour for quite awhile...); I personally don't eat meat much (maybe once every 2 months), but I do try to cook 1 lb of fish every week or two; I don't think I could do it without my bulky stash of dried things and preserves- that, for me, is essential: I consume about 1.5 bushels of tomatoes in one year. So, my expenditure goes up at the end of summer/early autumn and goes way down in the rest of the year.

Indian Food Rocks said...

Jen, you have to win! ;-)

Shopping is a time suck initially because we're scouring for those deals. But once you have it down pat, it's much easier. It took me a couple of weeks and then I knew exactly when to go where for what deal. It becomes second nature, almost. It does get difficult the farther away you live from your work place and the stores.

In India, we used to shop for veggies and bread on an almost daily basis - the market was on the way home from the train station. Grains, legumes, beans would be purchased once a month in small quantities because we didn't have much storage space in our apartment. Certain spices once a year and so on. A largely seasonal buying pattern.

Please thank Jeremy for me! I wasn't sure if we were dreaming it especially since there is no added sugar or sweetener and the sugar content is lower. I have been looking for unsweetened soya milk but everything in the local stores is sweetened. I guess I will need to look in POM or H-Mart soon.

Nandini, it's hard to do this challenge with so many things going on at the same time, which is why I am not doing it. I think the paradigm might be slightly different for ethnic communities who eat/cook their ethnic foods and may not be comparable with the general American population. This is my uneducated guess. My pantry gets cleaned out every so often. My freezer doesn't accumulate frozen stuff because as soon as I have enough in the freezer, I stop cooking and only supplement with salads, rice or rotis. For you, everything will be made fresh!

Lactose-free milk is regular milk to which lactase enzyme has been added to break down lactose to a more digestible form for those who are lactose intolerant. We can handle cheese and yogurt (the lactobacilli does the trick here) but not milk. Our stomachs complain so much you can hear the gurgling from the next room, develop lots of gas and even diarrhea. Granola with yogurt for us, not milk.

Pel, that's a great list of veggies however, I think there needs to be more info than just the amount of calcium in that veggie. We eat a lot of spinach but the calcium is wasted because of the oxalates in it, which prevent absorption by our bodies. Perhaps that is the reason why Medha's pediatrician pushes for milk - because it is most easily absorbed in that form?

The Eat on $30 challenge is more for those who live from week to week, rather than those of us who plan ahead and save accordingly to pay for higher expenses in those months.

You, in any case, are an aberration!

Anita, I tried my best to make this reply longer than the post itself. Just for you!

Anita said...

The lengths we go to...for friends! :)

Poornima said...

My son has the same problem with milk.I give him milk shake with a little soy milk and a big banana everyday,lots of organic cheese,and organic milk some days.It is hard and like you said expensive.Lactose free is sweet so I give him organic soy un-flavoured.And lots of yogurt with his rice meals.Hopefully all this is adequate?