No Buy August: Using What’s In Your Cabinets to Save Money

I’ve been struggling to save money on my grocery bill for a long time. Actually, probably my entire adult life. If you’ve read my post on “shopping from your pantry first” you’ll know that I’ve written about this before and that I use to spend upwards to $700 a month on my grocery bill. This is crazy to me now, especially considering I am still in student loan debt. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve pared my grocery bill down to a mere $265 a month, but I still have a stock pile of food in my pantry.

So with the intent to save money on my grocery bill, while also utilizing the groceries I already have in my pantry, I’m starting a “No Buy August”. This effort is mostly to help reign in my overspending, while also addressing my food hording problem. Hopefully when I’m done, I will have an empty pantry just waiting to be filled with fresh, new foods.

I’m starting this journey in August, but this post will probably be published sometime in mid-late August. You can start this challenge anytime you like. It just so happens that I was $125 over my grocery budget in July and wanted to do something about it next month. Hope you’ll Join me : )

The Goals, Save Money, Use Up Old Food Items

In recent months, you’ll be happy to hear that I’ve been much better about my grocery buying habits. That being said, I still have a jar of potato starch that has been in my pantry for a few years. I most likely bought it for one recipe and used it ONLY for that recipe. Then the rest has been sitting in my pantry, waiting for the day it will be put back in the game.

So the first step for me was, to go through my cabinets and find what needs to be used. I started with some easy ingredients. I have two jars of shitake mushrooms that need using. So it looks as though vegetable ramen and risotto with caramelized shitake mushrooms will be on the menu. Risotto is another ingredient that made the list as well which means I’m finishing off two ingredients with that recipe.

So ingredient by ingredient, I’m going through my pantry, finding what needs to be used. Then I take those items, go to my favorite recipe sites and search their site by ingredient. A pretty straight forward plan. Full disclosure, I did go a little over my food budget this month knowing that I wouldn’t be going to the grocery store next month at all if things go as planned. I made a Costco run and got a few extra items at Market Basket in preparation. But it’ll be worth it to save almost 2/3 of my grocery bill next month. Money that will go straight to paying off my student loans : )

Search for Recipes, AKA Plan Ahead

The next step for me was, to look up recipes I had with the limited amount of ingredients I had on hand. I use Minimalist Baker’s site for most of my recipes. But Love & Lemons is also a great site and one my boss swears by. But cooking is as unique as the individual. So find a site you like. Or maybe you have a favorite cookbook or some family recipes. The point is to find what makes you happy. Cook from a book, site or recipe that you know you’ll enjoy the food you make.

Yeah, we want to save money, but we also want to enjoy what we’re eating. So searching for recipes by finding your favorite recipe sites and cookbooks is essential to making cooking for yourself an enjoyable experience that you want to keep coming back to. For example, I have my grandmother’s baked beans recipe that I’ve been making for years. I had to make them vegetarian, but they’re something I keep coming back to.

Also, I have a few staples from the restaurants I’ve worked at in the past. Recently I’ve been making a black bean soup recipe that I picked up in a Mexican place I’ve worked. I got the idea from Dave Ramsey when he says to eat, “beans and rice, rice and beans”. The recipe is fantastic and the price of rice and beans are super cheap. So if I eat black bean soup with rice every other meal, it only costs me around $10 a month. That’s half of my months grocery cost and is kind of incredible.

But Where’s the Varity?

People have gone to some extremes, all in the name of saving some money. And I suppose that eating half of your meals in the form of beans and rice is up there. But it’s not something I plan on doing forever. As soon as I pay off my student loans, I plan on cooking more of the foods I enjoy. Eating well will come with being debt free. After all, I got into debt by spending money at restaurants in the first place. It only makes sense that I now reign in my spending on what I used to have poor boundaries around.

But there are also other places in my meal plan where I work in some variety. For example, my self-care dinner is usually a new to me recipe. Something I find during the week that looks appealing. Also, family dinner Fridays are usually a pleasant surprise. We take turns choosing recipes for the week to keep the meals fresh and new. As I’m writing this, we are currently preparing a lentil curry dish that I found scrolling through my bookmarked recipes.

But even while I’m picking new recipes, my goal still is to save some money. So I’m choosing ingredients from my pantry first, while also seeking out recipes with cheap components. You’ll notice that the above lentil recipe has frozen peas and lentils as their staple ingredients. Both are cheap buys at the grocery store, making this meal budget friendly. So just because you’re looking for variety, doesn’t mean you need to spend loads of cash.

What am I Eating

Maybe you’re looking at your cabinets or eating habits and came to the same conclusion I have. That something needs to change. Also, if it’s one thing I’ve learned from dating site profiles, it’s that people spend a lot of time thinking about what they’ll be eating next. Which raises the question, what will I be eating throughout the day? Below I’ll go over a short list of the meals I usually prepare for myself. Or what a usual week looks like for me. Let’s start in the morning.

Brekkie

Coffee

A sure way to save money while deciding what you’ll eat for breakfast is, stop eating out. Yes, even the coffee you grab on the way to the office. If you were like I was, I was drinking upwards to 7 lattes a day. That’s a lot of coffee! I did work at a bakery where coffee was free at the time. So I wasn’t paying for all of my coffee consumption. But even if you’re only getting one coffee a day, the money still adds up.

Let’s say you buy one latte a day at $6. Even if you only get one a day for five days a week, making coffee on the weekends, the total for the year would add up to $1,560! That’s a lot of money for coffee. But if you make your own espresso, it’s about 45 cents for a double shot. using that math, the same amount of coffee would cost you $117 annually, not including the cost of milk.

If you add a gallon of milk a week to your shopping list at $3.19 a gallon, you’d still only be spending a grand total of $282.88 a year. Coffee and milk. That’s 1/5 the cost you would be spending if you bought out every day. And if you drink tea, it gets even cheaper. So stop buying coffee out! Buy a quality coffee thermos, I like this one by Yeti, and make your own. You’ll be saving loads of money in the long run. Also while cutting back on your plastic or cardboard waste consumption.

Breakfast Foods

If you’re not on a liquid diet, (and I definitely recommend that you not only drink coffee for breakfast) then you’ll be needing some solid foods to compliment your coffee. Processed cereals cost a lot of money. And we’ve already covered eating out. So for the price, you can’t beat oatmeal for the most cost effective meal.

I usually make overnight oats. I mix a large batch of the dry ingredients in a container and make them each night before work the next day. They usually consist of oatmeal, flax meal or chai seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, a pinch of salt, maple syrup and then I top it off a plant based milk (I add the flax or chai seed after so it doesn’t sink to the bottom of the container). I shake it all together in a pint sized mason jar and refrigerate overnight. I could use water and save some more money, but I like the creamier texture it gives. Also, you can add whatever you’re craving or what’s in season to the oats. Giving you some variety to your first meal of the day.

Lunch & Dinner

I group lunch and dinner together because I usually end up eating the same dishes for both meals. Whatever I’m eating for dinner, I usually eat as left overs for lunch. This way I don’t have to buy meal specific ingredients other than for brekkie. So what am I making for dinner?

As I said above, I’ve been making black beans and rice for half of my meals. But I find that I usually have a jar of lentils in the cupboard. Or like this month, for some reason I have two jars of cornmeal. So to save money in No Buy August, I’m making polenta.

This meal hits all the right notes for me. It’s cheap, simple, I almost always have cornmeal on hand and it pairs well with roasted vegies. And with the variety of veg you can roast, there are loads of possibilities to try. While we’re on the subject, simple, for me is usually best when it comes to preparing meals.

Minimalism in the Kitchen

One of the reasons I like Minimalist Baker so much is, Dana doesn’t use a lot of ingredients. And to make great tasting food, you don’t need a lot of expensive ingredients. Simple is usually better. Lately, my favorite combo of flavors is ginger, garlic and onion. If a dish has these three, I’m more than likely going to enjoy it. Throw in some coconut milk and in my opinion, there’s nothing better.

That was one of the reason the above lentil dish was so appealing to me. Curry, mixed with the magic three and lentils, that’s a win in my book. Plus I save money because all the items on my shopping list are super cheap. Or I already have them on hand, helping me to clean out my pantry. Win win.

And this is something I plan on making a new habit. I want to do a No Buy month maybe twice or three times a year. This way I can make sure I’m rotating through my food stores, but also save money while doing it. This way nothing goes to waste and I’m also finding new recipes and enjoying the food I’m making.

I’ll leave you with a burrito recipe that has the black beans I’m making in them. The burrito is great if you’re a meat eater. The beans are even better : ) Peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: Adam Sergott

Heading Image Credits: “Colorful veggies for sale in Daley Plaza” by wsilver is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Home Cooked: Why Does Cooking For Yourself Feel So Satisfying?

Home Is Where The Heart Is Or The Kitchen Is The Heart Of The Home

Every time I step into the kitchen to cook meal prep for the up coming weeks, I get a little excited. The atmosphere is soothing, with music playing quietly in the background while I’m burning a candle and the lights are dimmer than usual. The setting is cozy, warm and inviting. This is my image of what the Danes call, Hygge. Not to mention all of the delicious meals I make!

And there’s also a similar feeling when I cook dinner with my family on Friday family dinner night. It’s a little different, we all pitch in and lend a hand so the pressure isn’t all on me to get it done. But the feelings of creating something tasty together are the same, with the added bonus of good conversation. The music still plays in the background while a candle is burning, adding the “cozy” or Hygge to the night’s event. All in all a great experience.

So I wasn’t all that surprised when I came across this article on “The Good News Network” about how taking a cooking class has a magic pill like effect on our physical and mental well-being. This was great news, and collaborated on what I was already feeling about the experience. It got me thinking about what are the elements that come together to make a house a home? And how do we create those elements for ourselves? I’ve got a few ideas on the matter. Let me show you what I’ve come up with.

The Basic Elements Of A Cozy Home Start In The Kitchen

As I’ve said above, there are a few important components to building a comfortable, inviting home. For me, the number one element is cleanliness. If my living space isn’t organized and clean, then my mind isn’t able to rest. I keep focusing on the different aspect of what’s bothering me, what’s out of place.

For example, if my bedside table isn’t clear of clutter, I feel ill-at-ease. When things feel like they are just kind of drifting around my living space without a home, that’s when I know I need to organize.

Clean, Not Sterile

And that’s not to say that I’m so obsessed with cleaning that my environment is sterile. I’ve known people who clean to the point of sterility and this carries with it almost the same ill-at-ease feelings that living in a messy or dirty environment brings.

A good example of this is that when I make my bed, I don’t pull my covers taut over my mattress. I have a neatly folded duvet on the left side of my bed and I only sleep on the right side of my mattress. So making my bed proper would take a considerable amount of time. And this is time I just don’t want to spend making my bed.

So instead, I loosely lay my blanket on top of the side of the bed I sleep on. So my bed never looks neat and tidy as a bed with tightly formed hospital corners would. Instead it has a neat yet lived in feel. As though the room is thoughtfully cared for, but still embodies the character of something that’s been utilized, loved. Clean but not perfect. And all this to say that living in a sterile environment isn’t ideal.

How Clean Is Your Kitchen? You Can Usually Tell By The State Of Your Cutting Board

I use the same methodology when it comes to cleaning and caring for my kitchen. And the same way some people feel about making your bed every morning after you wake, I feel about cleaning my cutting board after I’m done with it.

The kitchen is where we spend a lot of time in our homes. It houses most all of our nutritional needs. We create or favorite meals there and it’s the place where we get clean water from. For staying hydrated throughout the day or to clean with, water the plants, the kitchen is literally where life is sustained.

So it stands to reason that if you neglect this room of your house, you are neglecting a large part of who you are as a living being. Food is so integral to us bonding with one another, as well as connected to our own and exploring other cultures, that it’s hard to imagine a life void of this type of expression.

For me, this is most noticeable on the cutting board. The cutting board is the hub of the kitchen and where almost every aspect of our meals come together. We process almost all our foods on it, use it as a holding place for most all our ingredients while getting our recipes prepped for cooking and it is paired with arguably the most important tool in the kitchen, our knife.

For these reasons, when I step up to my cutting board and see a stain from a recently cut tomato on it, or crumbs from a cut sandwich or piece of toast, I think, “what type of animal would disrespect the kitchen in this way?” This is hyperbole, but when I see a dirty cutting board I feel that there’s a little bit of neglect happening when it comes to respecting the ways we nourish and care for ourselves. Also, I don’t want to cut a fresh piece of melon on a spot where an onion and some garlic were recently diced/minced. Garlicy honeydew, no thank you.

Also, I’ve recently been oiling my cutting board and it’s never looked better. If you have the means, or already have a wooden cutting board, I suggest you get one and/or oil it regularly. It protects the board from water damage while also giving it a warm glow that looks amazing.

My cutting board after some much needed maintenance.

How Organized Are You? It Matters

Organization is an important part of the experience as well. For the same reasons that I feel ill-at-ease in cluttered surroundings, when I’m not sure where my kitchen tools or ingredients are, or have foods that are past their expiration date, I feel as though I’m neglecting an important part of my life.

For example, I work at a family homeless shelter six days a month. A few weeks ago I decided to organize the kitchen cabinets. I jumped right in and took a look at the state of the cabinets before I started. It was pretty bad. It looked like a bomb had gone off in the cabinets, scattering food debris all over the shelves in no particular order. I opened one cabinet to find that it was housing three plates. That was it. Not to mention all the food that was expired that I ended up tossing.

So I started asking the families what they would use more of if I brought food stuffs up from the pantry? Their answers? The most common one was, “I don’t eat the food from here”. This made me sad. We had neglected the food and kitchen so badly that people no longer wanted to use the incredible amount of free resources we had for them. And there was a lot of food that needed to be utilized.

And I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to cook in that kitchen the way it was either. And they’re not any less deserving of a clean, usable kitchen just because they’re homeless. That’s when I got to work. Tossing the old, out of date items and filling the cabinets with fresh stores, the way they’re displayed in a grocery. While I was organizing, I left the cabinets open to not only to keep track of my progress, but also to show the families that we have items for them to use, so jump in.

When I was done stocking the cabinets, everyone was excited. Even those who said they didn’t eat the food there were interested and using what I was bringing up. The kitchen now looks clean and inviting, more home like. And people are now gathering in the kitchen, cooking meals and connecting. The kitchen no longer resembles that of a twenty-something’s party house that maybe had a bag of stale chips and a can of dated beef stew, with a sink full of week old dishes. No bueno.

Rotating Your Stock to Stay Organized, Fresher Is Better

Next on the agenda was to take care of the root of the problem, the pantry. While I was going through the pantry to find goods for the cabinets, I was startled by how many food items had met their expiration dates. There were bins of half opened cases of food with expiration dates later than some unopened cases. Whole cases of canned goods and other items were past date. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

I went through each item, checked their date and found a place for them on the shelves. I was rotating the stock, breaking down boxes, discarding the old, it was a dramatic shift.

I felt bad about throwing out some of the canned goods that were past their expirations by only a few months. This was because a quick google search tells me that they’re still viable usually for a year or two after the date on the can. But the more I thought about it, the more it felt like a psychological issue of using expired goods.

Imagine you’re in a homeless shelter. You have a mountain of problems and issues to get over and that’s not including taking care of your basic needs like doing your laundry, cleaning your living space and cooking meals. Also imagine that you have one or two children in tow, or are pregnant. Now it comes time to make dinner and you ask for a can of carrots because you don’t have a car to get to the closest grocery store which is only two miles away but a long walk for somebody with a child and arm loads of grocery bags. You get the carrots only to find that the expiration date is marked for nine months prior and you don’t want to dig around the cabinets that look as though an animal has nested in them. How do you feel then?

I’ve never been in that situation before, but I know for sure that it can’t be a good feeling. Feeling as though someone else feels that you’re not worth the effort of fresh food sounds like a difficult place to be. That’s why organizing and rotating your food stores is so important to feeling a sense of ease and comfort in your kitchen. For me, knowing that I can grab anything off the shelf and use it without worrying about whether it’s turned is an act of self-care.

Creating Hygge, Bringing It All Together

Once You’ve brought all the elements of the physical space together, then it will be easy to bring friends and family together, while adding the final touches to the space. I usually have a candle and some music playing while I’m bring meals together. The soft lighting from the candle and soothing sounds help to bring an element of calm to the kitchen and allows me to slow down a bit and relax.

All that’s left is to find what makes your space, more you. Maybe you have a favorite drink you can prepare for yourself to help unwind. Do you use a diffuser? Find a scent you enjoy and fill your space with. My go to is lavender oil. It brings a soothing quality to the room while not overpowering what I’m cooking.

And don’t forget the conversation! Invite a few friends over or start a family dinner night. This can be a great time to connect and get to know each other a little better while creating new memories. And don’t forget to relax. Go slow and take your time. There’s no rush and there’s something to be said for enjoying the process. I usually do just this when I’m cooking my self-care dinner on Tuesday nights now. You’ll def feel better about yourself and your surroundings. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Day 69: Inspiration” by protoflux is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Healthy Eating on a Budget: Reigning in Your Grocery Bill While Taking Care of Your Nutritional Needs

This is something I’ve struggled with for a while now. Actually, I’m still struggling a little bit. If you’ve read my post on “shopping from your pantry first“, you’ll know I’ve covered the topic before. In the above post, I went over ways to use what you already have in your pantry to eat fresher and save money. But somewhere along the line, I’ve fallen off the wagon.

I’ve been focusing on my budget a bit more closely and found that I’m consistently overshooting my food budget on a monthly basis. I may be setting my budget too low, but I don’t eat a ton, and I rarely eat out. And some months I’ll spend upwards to $750! That’s a lot of money no matter how you look at it.

So I’ve decided that it’s time to take a deeper look into my eating and shopping habits. Spending close to a thousand dollars a month on food just isn’t sustainable. You’ll be happy to know I have been slowly whittling down my food stores as I laid out in my post above, “Shopping from Your Pantry First”. But I should be saving money, not spending more this way. So how did I get here?

What’s my Relationship to My Shopping Habits

Taking the deep dive for me meant taking a look at how I was spending my money, where I was shopping and why I was choosing to shop this way. I know I’m still up to my neck in debt, so why am I still spending so much at the grocery store? I have a feeling that it has a lot to do with my upbringing and some underlying insecurities.

You are What You Shop For

I was raised in a family that largely defined themselves by what they purchased. In my youth, we were constantly going from one store to the next. Shopping and looking for deals that my caregivers called “running errands”. This is where I learned how to view shopping and the foundation on which I developed my own shopping habits.

In my teens, I was attracted to the ideals of hippie culture. I believe this was in direct defiance to my family’s buying into consumer culture. And even with all the ways I saw my caregivers substitute what they bought for who they were, I was still hooked by the act of shopping. Even in spite of my teenage defiance. So why was this so?

For me, I think it has to do with security. I was so neglected as a child when it came to me learning how to take care of my nutritional needs, that when I started down the road of healthier living, I got caught up in the colors, trastes, smells and possibilities of the food I was buying. And if you’ve ever walked into a Whole Foods, you’ll know that the store is designed to lure you in and make you want to spend your money. It also helps that they kind of align with my hippie ideals.

So it was in this way that I was confusing the things I was buying for self-care. This was also what my care-givers were doing as well. It makes sense to me now, but when I was in the throws of shopping, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. It wasn’t until I looked back and saw that I spent around $700-$750 on groceries a few months in a row that I realized I needed to corral my spending habits.

What am I Buying and Why

After I decided to take the deep dive, I opened my Everydollar Budgeting App and took a look at the places I was shopping and how frequently I was shopping there. The first thing I noticed was, there were a lot of entres.

One month’s itemized Spending list on Everydollar

And most of them were at local drug stores for between $10 and $30 a piece. This is when I realized I was in the habit of buying a lot of snacks before I was heading into my second job. So now I’m on the lookout for snacks I can take with me that I get at the grocery store when I work my long days. These along with the meals I’m bringing with me to work will cost less than the frequent trips to local drug stores.

The second thing I noticed about my habits were, I had a lot of entries for Whole Foods. And they weren’t small either. I was spending upwards to $70 dollars a visit some shops. I think this was directly related to me shopping for my self-care dinners once a week and doing it solely at Whole Foods. Add all these to my two big shopping trips a month at the less expensive grocery store at $100 a shop and you have a pretty hefty grocery bill.

And all of these shopping trips are reminiscent of the shopping excursions of my youth. Where shopping was a value. So now that I know what my habits look like and why I shop the ways that I do, what am I doing to change my habits?

Shopping to Fill the Need to Nourish, Not to Belong

Now that I’ve decided to change my habits, my new focus is on buying affordable food that has a high nutritional value. I was buying all organic food on my big shopping days. This is fine, IF you have the money. And I most definitely do not. Something that Dave Ramsey says often on his show is, you can’t afford extras because you’re broke. And owing as much as I do, I am definitely in that category.

So I’m making the switch to buying more frozen veggies and canned goods, as they’re cheaper then their fresh counterparts. It may not be ideal, but I’ll be able to buy what I want when I’m out of debt. It’s just like Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else so you can live and give like no one else.”

For me this means going to Whole Foods only when I run out of something. And even then, there’s a Stop and Shop that is equally as close and less expensive. This also means eating non-organic, frozen and canned veggies. The one saving grace is, that this won’t last forever. Once I’ve paid down my debt, I can add a little more to my food budget. Then I’ll be able to buy the things that look interesting, or shop in line with my ideals.

And it’s also important to recognize that I’m in no way depriving myself of nutrients or flavor. The food I’ll be purchasing now will be just as nutritious, if not a little less so than what I’ve been buying. I’m also lucky enough to live near the 22nd most diverse city in the US. This means I have a huge selection to choose from when I’m picking out my recipes for the week. So I’m not lacking in variety.

Shopping as a Pass Time

The other aspect of shopping for me is, that it’s something I enjoy doing. And while I’m paying off my debt, I haven’t been able to shop for myself in a long time asides from the basics. So when I go food shopping, I’m also filling a desire to buy something new.

This is why stores such as Whole Foods are so appealing to me. They’re attractive, clean and their displays are set up to make you want to spend your money. And it feels like a treat when I’m buying something from their store. Also, there’s nothing quite like a good meal. So when we associate the pleasure we derive from the food we purchase, as well as their attractive displays, something as simple as food shopping can turn into a treat. Add a high price tag and we’ll be blowing through our budgets in no time.

So for me, it’s best to steer clear of stores like these altogether until I’ve made room in my budget by paying down my debt. Finding the places that you gravitate towards and like to spend money may be helpful to identify if you’re looking to save yourself some cash.

Spices are the Spice of Life

And finally, if you want to make the most impact on the quality of your meals, investing in and learning how to use spices will go a long way to boost the flavor profiles of your meals. The best part about spices is, that for the most part they’re a once every three or four month investment. If you buy a 10oz container of garlic powder for $4.50, it will last you a few months and add a lot of flavor to your meals.

If you’re new to the culinary world and spices seem overwhelming, this post from Kitchn, about using spices in your daily cooking should be a good start to familiarize yourself with your spice cabinet. And don’t be afraid to experiment. Look for new recipes and dishes that use new to you spices. These will help you to broaden your culinary repertoire.

Black Bean Soup:

And finally, here is a recipe for black bean soup I’ve been making for years. It has a lot of flavor for being only a modest bean and you can make it on the cheap. You may not have all the spices on hand, and if you don’t, they’re good ones to buy in bulk. They are used in a lot of recipes so having them available will help improve your cooking game. And check out my Community page for links to recipe sites for inspiration.

Black Beans Over Rice

“Black Bean Soup” by TheBushCenter is licensed under

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound dry black beans
  • 2 Med onion, diced
  • 5 Cloves garlic minced
  • 1 Small bunch fresh cilantro chopped, removing woody stems. Tender stems are desirable.
  • 2 Tble Neutral oil
  • 3 Cinnamon sticks
  • 7 Bay leaves whole
  • 2 Tble Onion powder
  • 2 Tble Galic powder
  • 2 Tble Coriander ground
  • 1 Tble Dried oregano
  • 1 Tble Cumin ground
  • 1 Tble Turmeric
  • 6-8 Cps Vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Your choice of rice cooked to manufacturer’s instructions (I use a mix of basmati and jasmine. Adding a stick of cinnamon and a few bay leaves to the water to give your rice an added boost of flavor.)
  • Fresh cilantro, lime wedges, Monterey Jack shreds, sour cream, avocado or guacamole, tortilla chips and fresh sliced white onion for serving (optional).

Method:

  1. Using a large stock pot, 12 quarts, heat oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes until onion is translucent. Add garlic and spices and cook for another 1-2 minutes until the aroma blooms from the spices and garlic
  2. Rinse the dried beans and pick out any stones or dirt clods. Once clean, add dried beans to onion, garlic and spice mixture. Stir to coat.
  3. Add the vegetable broth, just to cover the beans. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the beans to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook uncovered. The beans will take between 1.5 to 2 hours to cook, so keep the remaining vegetable broth near by and add to keep the beans submerged throughout cooking. The broth will thicken and turn black from the beans, creating a rich and thick broth.
  4. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add salt and pepper to taste and the chopped, fresh cilantro. Also taste and adjust spices here.
  5. Serve beans over rice, discarding cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, with desired toppings and tortilla chips on the side. Best when eaten fresh, will stay in the fridge in an air tight container for up to 5 days.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and it aids you on your culinary journey. It isn’t always easy, reigning in our spending. Especially in a category as primal as our food budget. But with a little will power and know-how, we can eat healthier while saving money. If you make this recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments section below. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Health Tips…Drink Liquor Responsibly….Eat Fruits Liberally…Remember Both Comes From Same Source…..VeG….” by Sunciti _ Sundaram’s Images + Messages is licensed under

BPA: What You Should Know

BPA has been a buzz word the past few years around our food and the potential health risks associated with it. I’m all for using less processed chemicals in our daily routine, so I decided to do a little research on the subject before I decide that BPA is the enemy. This is something I feel as though we do too often. We find something new to hate or rail on when there could be benefits to whatever it is that’s gained our disapproval. So in the following, I’ll be writing about the research I’ve done on the subject, and the changes I’ll be making to my purchasing habits, if any. Hopefully I’ll be able to clarify some of the questions around BPA for myself and others.

BPA: What is it?

BPA stands for bisphenol A, which is a chemical that is used to make certain resins and plastics. These resins and plastics are then used in the packaging that store the foods we purchase. They’re usually found in the plastic of plastic containers or sprayed inside of tin cans that hold the food we buy. The primary concern with BPA is, that when the chemical is heated, it can then leach into the food that the container is holding. A reported 93% of Americans over the age of six have been found to have BPA in their urine.

This is a concerningly large percentage of people. And if the chemical is detrimental to our health, then it could have grave consequences. And according to this article from the National Library of Medicine, the effects of BPA aren’t wholly beneine. Some risk factors include, “…BPA has been shown to play a role in the pathogenesis of several endocrine disorders including female and male infertility, precocious puberty, hormone dependent tumours such as breast and prostate cancer and several metabolic disorders…”. That’s a good list of reasons to stay away from packaging containing BPA.

Avoiding BPA in Our Day to Day

Now that we have some idea of how the chemical interacts with the body, my next question is to find out where it can be found and how to avoid it. As it turns out, BPA is found in a lot of different products we use regularly. Here’s a link to “EWG”‘s site, which I found on “Eat This, Not That” that has a pretty comprehensive list of foods that shows which packaging contains BPA. Just type the food and brand into the search bar and see if they show up on their list. It’s stated on their site that there’s over 16,000 products containing BPA. So it’s worth checking out if you’re concerned.

Items such as plastic storage containers and water bottles, baby bottles are made with BPA and tin cans are lined with the chemical to protect its contents from the off taste of tin. Thermal register tape is coated with it, as well as certain types of dental fillings and most plastics marked with the numbers 3 and 7. This article from NPR goes into some detail about how to avoid it. This article and this one are a little dated, but have some more insights as to where BPA can be found.

Image Credits: “How to avoid BPA” by DES Daughter is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Other Perspective

There is another side to the BPA story. One which suggests that the chemical is safe in the amounts that it is found in the items and food packaging we use everyday. This site, Facts About BPA, lays out an argument for the continued use of BPA in products.

The very title of the site states that this is the truth about BPA. While they may not be lying about how they are presenting their information, they skirt the negative, potential side effects of the chemical. It’s also worth noting that the people who own and operate the website are also the largest producers of the chemical. So it would be more than fair to say they have a vested interest in the positive disposition of their product.

So Which is the Best Choice, BPA or BPA-Free?

For me and my health, I’m leaning more towards the camp of BPA free. It seems to me that taking in any amount of chemical that is proven to cause a variety of healthy malides, seems irresponsible. Why take the risk? Even if the FDA is saying that there are “safe” levels that we can ingest. We’re most likely never going to completely avoid it, but lessening our contact to it will certainly reduce the chances of the potential health risks.

This also gives us the opportunity to use fresher ingredients in our meal prep. Since BPA is mostly found in the lining of cans and in plastics, if we purchase fresh produce and proteins, we’ll be steering clear of the chemical. And our food will taste fresher in the process.

Using Fewer Processed Foods While Cooking

How I’m approaching this dilemma is by cooking more of my foods from their more whole, natural states. For example if a recipe calls for black beans, instead opening up a can, I’ll use my instant pot to cook a batch. As far as I know and this way, the plastic bags holding the dry beans don’t contain BPA and the beans are cooked to order each time.

I use to cook black bean soup at a restaurant I worked in in my twenties. So I know the time that’s involved in cooking dry beans from scratch on the range. The instant pot is an incredible time saver. Here is a link to The Minimalist Baker’s post on cooking grains and beans using the instant pot. As I’ve said above, it is a great way to save time and definitely worth looking into getting one if you do a lot of cooking. Here’s a link to some product reviews of the different brands and types of pressure cooking devices from The Spruce Eats. They cover everything from stove top pressure cookers to electric ones, slow cookers and pressure canners.

Another way to avoid processed food would be to purchase fewer premade meals. I know we’re not all afforded the luxury of time, and I recognize that I’m coming from a cooking background. So my knowledge level and cooking skills aren’t where everybody is at and save me time as well. But learning to cook is a great way to take care of yourself while also being an act of nourishing your body as well as creating stronger bonds with family and friends.

If you’re new to cooking, here’s a link to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Cooking School. It’s mostly online, and they have loads of resources for free. You can learn recipes developed by Christopher Kimball and his team, but you can also learn other cooking techniques. Their most recent class was on knife skills. A basic for any would be chef to learn for sure.

And the ultimate way to use fewer processed foods, grow your own! I have many happy memories of playing in my father’s community plot and the park next door as a child. Along with creating fond memories, and making a beautiful space to enjoy, you also can’t beat the freshness of the produce you’ll be harvesting. Not to mention the money you’ll be saving by growing your own.

Other Ways to Avoid BPA

Water Bottles

One of the big ones on the list for me was using a different water bottle. I use to use an old plastic Nalgene. Which according to this post from Healthfully, Nalgene hasn’t used BPA in the production of their bottles since 2008. And fortunately for me, I received a stainless steel travel mug as a gift and have been using it ever since. The water bottle I had been using was definitely older than 2008. So it was time for an upgrade for sure.

Stainless steel works well for my needs as I make a lot of tea during the course of the day. Especially since heat is what releases BPA into the liquid of what certain types of plastic containers are holding. So if you’re in need of a new water bottle, or you are picking up something at a store on your way somewhere, check the bottom of your bottle.

This article from The Berkey, says that any container marked with a 3 or 7 in the recycling symbol, or labeled as “PC”, may contain BPA and or other toxic chemicals, such as BPS or BPF, that could be dangerous to your health. “…even little concentrations of BPS and BPF may upset the capacity of your cells in a path like BPA”-Berkey. So it’s best to avoid these containers altogether.

Also, I do have a water bottle on the nightstand next to my bed. On the bottom of the bottle, there is an etching, stating that it’s BPA free. So when in doubt, check the bottom. Also, going to the website of the company that made your bottle may answer some of your questions about what’s in their products as well.

Thinning Out Your Plastic Collection

This may also be a great opportunity to go through your water bottles, weeding out any that could contain hazardous chemicals. But also to look at your other kitchen storage containers, devices and appliances. Maybe the plastic containers you use to store leftovers, the ones that you picked up from that takeout place, are marked with a “3”. Or the bowl of your food processor has the letters “PC” on it.

This way you’re able to take inventory of what may need replacing or just put them in the recycling. For example, if you have a blender that has BPA in it, then every time you blend something right from the range you’ll be melding more than just flavors into your sauce.

Or you can do what I’ve done which is make the switch from plastic storage containers to glass. I use quart sized Ball Jars for not only my dry goods, but also when I cook meal prep, I store all my meals in the same jars as well. And when I take lunch or dinner to work with me, I also take a glass lunch box with a bamboo lid. And for breakie I use pint sized Ball Jars for my overnight oats. This way, no chemicals and I’m also using natural materials that will be recycled or decompose when I’m done with them. Win win.

Buying Bulk

Also if you live buy a natural grocery or have a store in your city dedicated to environmentally friendly bulk products, then buying your soaps and detergents in bulk, using eco-conscious, reusable packaging is another option. There are two places that are somewhat close by to where I live that sell items like body wash and laundry detergent that you can fill your own containers with.

How it works is, you bring your own container or sometimes they have containtors there for you to use. You take the weight of your packaging, i.e. a glass jar and write it down on a sticker you then apply to the jar or container. When you bring the item to check out, they weigh it as they would weigh produce at most grocery stores and subtract the weight of the container from the product weight.

The products are cheaper than most that are similar to them because you’re not paying for packaging. But also reduced shipping weight lessens the use of fossil fuels to get the product to you. Reduced packaging and avoiding toxic chemicals, less fuel being used and the same quality of product. What’s not to like?

Wrapping Up… Or Unwrapping Rather

BPA has been linked to so many health concerns that even though the FDA says there are safe levels of the chemical to consume, my perspective is why take the risk? We have alternatives and lucky for us, they’ve been around for millenia. There’s also the health benefits to consider when we eat fresher, less processed foods. So if you’re concerned about the state of the food you’re purchasing, or just want to reduce the amount of plastics you consume, think about incorporating some of these changes into your shopping habits. And you’ll inadvertently be creating greener and healthier habits in the process. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Plastic Bottle Waste” by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Living Your Life: Self-Care

Self-care is something I’ve written quite a bit about on this blog. And fortunately, there are a bunch of ways to practice it. But finding healthy routines that are sustainable, and not getting caught in the trap of finding what feels good in the moment is a difficult one to navigate. And unfortunately, the more unhealthy habits are something that is usually passed down by those closest to us. There was no class in high-school, when I went anyway, for teaching us how to take care of ourselves and our needs.

This is an unfortunate truth for those of us who didn’t have the support to find out how to practice this skill. It is also at the core of how we grow, and become the best versions of ourselves. That’s why I go over it so frequently in this blog. Because I believe the more we take care of ourselves, the better we our at taking care of our environment. Immediate, but also globally. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at some of the ways I practiced unsustainable self-care, and the healthier habits I’ve picked up in their stead.

I think the first way I learned how to practice self care was by playing video games and watching T.V.. These aren’t inherently bad habits in anyway, but they are ones that I definitely used in unhealthy ways. I was using them, video games especially, to dull my senses. To “zone out” my surroundings so I didn’t have to interact, be a part of what was happening to, and around me. But I was also introduced to video games shortly before some traumatic events in my past took place. So in a way I was playing them to escape the chaos of what was happening in my life. It was a defense mechanism.

But they were something that I did for decades of my life, to avoid those closest to me. I was well into my thirties and still playing games like World of Warcraft for hours a day. If I had gotten a second job and worked as many hours as I played, I’d have a healthy retirement fund by now. It also took a toll on my marriage as well. I was spending more time with a video game than with connecting with my then wife. This makes me sad to think about, but I also recognize that I was still in protection mode. I still hadn’t realize that I wasn’t able to trust those closest to me, and that I was perpetuating the cycles of my past. Looking back, there was a lot of pain that wasn’t being recognized or even known about, first by me, then by everybody I was pushing away with an arrogant disposition.

But that’s the nature of what happens after we experience trauma. We go into shock and dissociate. I was definitely dissociated from all of my emotions, save for the very strong ones such as pain and anxiety. The times I wasn’t feeling these emotions, I was doing whatever I could to numb myself incase they came rushing back in. T.V. is another good example of dissociation in my case. I spent so many hours of watching others live their lives out on the screen, only to avoid what was happening to and around me. Another way for me to zone out, aka dissociate.

But again, I was still only trying to protect myself, the best ways I knew how at the time. Using this method, I could still be around those closest to me, without actually having to connect with them in a meaningful way. I could be around them, and keep up the appearance of being a functioning member of my community, while still keeping largely to myself.

And the same was true of alcohol and medication. For me, being numb was safer than being present. This was because there were so many ways I was afraid of being hurt.

But all the while, using all the different modalities I could find to dissociate, I was really seeking to numb the fear of being with those closest to me, but also with myself. The relationship I was most frightened of was of being with myself, and the ways I had picked up the habits and ways of abusing myself, in the same manner I saw my caregivers abuse themselves, but also the ways they in turn abused me. Like a cursed family heirloom being handed down from one generation to the next.

And all the while, while I was avoiding and numbing my relationships and my feelings, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t building the most important relationship, with myself. I had no idea outside of alcohol, video games and T.V., what brought me a sense of joy. I had no idea what I liked as a way to treat myself asides from using unsustainable methods and just plain hiding from my feelings and other people. This was kind of a shock when I realized how disconnected I was from who I am.

Luckily I wasn’t completely in the dark and without any resources. I knew that I liked music. Still a great source of comfort for me. Also one that has been there for me, in one form or another, for most all of my life. I can remember the first time I ever heard and loved a piece of music. I was probably not more than four or five, and I had just gotten my first alarm clock. Not that I had anywhere to be back then, but I remember scanning the stations and exploring my new device. I came across a piece of classical music and was mesmerized. The violins in particular were what stuck out to me. From that day on I knew I loved music.

But it was exactly these types of memories, this type of intimacy with myself that I had lost or forgotten. The moments of, “I enjoy this, this makes me happy”, was something I had lost touch with shortly after my trauma and then again when I was actively seeking to numb myself with whatever was easy. Aka, video games, T.V., drinking and medication. These were definitely not easy places to inhabit emotionally. And I usually felt as though there were some unattended emotions just waiting around the corner.

And there were. Lots of them. I still hadn’t dealt with the feelings and emotions from my abuse and the trauma I endured. How could I have when I was actively seeking to numb them for so long! So it wasn’t until I stopped doing those things that were keeping my emotions at bay that I truly began to feel, and understand the emotional life I was leaving unattended.

I first started with lessening my alcohol consumption. This was a difficult task, seeing as how I was drinking five to six drinks a night, just to wind down. But I did, and I’ve felt healthier ever since. I’ve replaced my nightly beers or mixed drinks with a few cups of herbal tea. This way I can relax and unwind without being intoxicated. I can stay present in the moment instead of zoning out.

It’s important to remember too, that this is a big transition. Or it was for me. I sometimes feel as though I’m drinking too much tea. This is where it is important to reality check myself. Having three, sometimes four cups of herbal tea is not the same as having four mixed drinks. I like to think of this part of me as Freud’s classic super-ego. This is also incidentally the part of me that is a perfectionist. The one that sets unreasonable standards and then will beat me up for not achieving them. This can be dangerous if left unchecked.

I’ve also been eating healthier overall, and leaving one night a week where I plan and make a special meal for myself to wrap up my work week. This way I am eating healthier foods and making healthier nutritional decisions, while also treating myself to something tasty that I am looking forward to making during the week. I also plan some sort of dessert into my special meal. So I feel as though it is a little break from the norm.

When I was drinking as much alcohol as I was at night, I was 50 to 60 pounds overweight. And the food I was eating was definitely not thought through in regards to their nutritional values. I was overweight and felt unhealthy most of the time. So the time I spend now on taking care to nourish myself brings me a sense of ease. One where I’m looking out for my health, but also finding foods I enjoy cooking and eating and that taste phenomenal as well. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to sacrifice the things I like to take care of my needs.

Yoga is another way I incorporate self-care into my routine. With the amount of T.V. and video games I watched and played, I needed to get my body moving, and reconnect with the parts of me that had been stagnant for far too long. And it’s worth mentioning that it took me a while to figure out a routine that was healthy, yet took care of my need to move and connect with my body in a healthy way.

For example, when I first started doing yoga, I was going to two 60 minute classes a week on top of running 10 to 20 miles as well. My workout routine has evolved from then and until recently I was working out three days in a row, two yoga and one run day without a rest inbetween. My cycle was three days on, four days off. This was okay, but it left me feeling depleted, drained. I enjoyed the workouts but the intensity of doing it all in one block was too much. Again with the super-ego : )

I’ve since switched to a workout every other day, with two days off in a row at the end of my week. This way I have a chance to relax a little between workouts, while also not feeling as tired on a workout day. I also look forward to my workouts more often now. Knowing that I’m taking care of my need to rest between workouts is a huge step towards me being able to listen to and care for what my needs are, all the while learning how to listen to what my body is telling me.

I’ve also been paying attention to what my body needs for rest more frequently as well. I used to stay up late, and for no real reason other than I wanted to watch more T.V.. I was usually idly wasting time, doing and gaining nothing from the extra energy I was expending doing nothing. I now go to bed when I’m tired, or at least recognize when I am tired without trying to cover over those feelings with alcohol or caffeine. It’s amazing what your body will tell you when you’re not trying to drown out its messages with something to get in the way of listening.

Another way I’ve been trying to implement some self-care into my routine is in an unlikely place but one that needs some attention nonetheless. My budget. I got into a lot of debt when I was in my twenties and thirties. Credit cards, student loans, if it was money someone was willing to lend me, I was willing to take it. Now that I’ve been paying off my debt, I’ve kicked it into overdrive and have been going hard. Again with the Super-Ego.

I picked up a second job and am funneliung all available funds towards my debt, via the Dave Ramsey method to get out of debt and live your life. I was going so far as to not buy a cup of tea or coffee on the mornings I was working 18 hour days including a three hour commute! This was a bit much.

You’ll be happy to know that I now buy myself a tea once and awhile, but I also plan on budgeting a treat for myself while I’m paying back my debt. I plan on treating myself to a massage for every 10k I pay off in loans. This way I’m still focused on my goals, but also have something to look forward to while I’m in the midsts of working two jobs and doubles. This can be stressful incase you’ve never been in this boat : D But also necessary to keep some balance and not feel completely burnt out.

These are a few of the routines I’ve developed in helping to live a healthier, more balanced life. I’ve stopped watching T.V. almost completely, but plan on watching some as I don’t want my super-ego to get out of hand in this area either. Having healthy habits isn’t always easy, but it’s possible and rewarding. So if there is something that you feel you’ve been leaning on too much, maybe try replacing some of it with a healthier habit.

Exercise is a good one to start with because a lot of what you need to start is free or cheap. Yoga with Adriene is a great resource if you’ve been thinking of yoga as an outlet. And if running is something that’s piqued your interests, all you need is a pair of shoes. And remember, you don’t have to make major changes all at once! Living a healthy life takes time and practice. Don’t give into the super-ego : ) Take your time and you’ll be in good shape. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Juicy Mountain Retreat (Göcek, Turkiye 2018)” by paularps is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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