Monday, September 30, 2013

Eat All The Food: Week One

Top half of pantry
So far, so good.  I am eating down the stores of food I have in my apartment and trying to save a bit of cash on groceries.  We're early enough in this experiment that I haven't had to eat anything super weird, but I'm sure that's coming soon.  Note: I'm only including the food I eat at home since my work lunch consists usually of a combination of soup, sandwich and yogurt.

Pan-fried polenta topped with oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.  Accompanied by a side salad topped with Trader Joes Pear Champagne Vinagrette, and the last of the Almond Accents.

The last of the polenta, pan-fried, diced and served with Trader Joes Country Potatoes with Haricot Verts and Wild Mushrooms, and a big ole arugula salad.

Bottom of pantry
Wednesdays I work 2-10pm, so I had lunch at home. I ate the last of some Trader Joes Falafel along with the rest of Tuesday's Country Potatoes.  I also planned to oven roast a couple bags of brussels sprouts I found at the bottom of the freezer, but when I opened the bags, they were weirdly slimy, so I threw them out.  Instead, I oven roasted a bag of broccoli florets I also found down there.  I swear, the chest freezer is a black hole.

I realized that instead of eating a sandwich for lunch, I could make myself a wrap!  People do that all the time, and I had a bag of tortillas languishing in the freezer from god knows when, so I wrapped up my sandwich in one of them.  Brilliant!  For dinner, I had a quesedilla, using up two more of the tortillas, the re-fried beans that have been hanging out in the cupboard forever, the last of a jar of salsa, some shredded cheese from an already opened bag and half a can of black olives.  It was delicious, and I was pretty proud of myself.

Another wrap for lunch, and I am out of tortillas!  Butternut squash soup along with roasted broccoli and couscous for dinner.

Out of town.

Purchases: butternut squash, salad, 1 cucumber.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Eat/Use it Up

Inspired by Elizabeth over at Adventures in Life, Love and Librarianship's quest to Eat All the Food!
I am embarking on a similar quest.  Before I moved into my apartment, back in June, I managed to do a pretty good job eating up as much of the food I already had before moving.  Sure, I wound up with some weird meals and ate English muffins every day for about two weeks, but I also had to move a lot less stuff.

Trouble is, I still have a lot of food and I've been doing pretty well with eating it up, but I could be doing better.  Since I get paid monthly at my new job, I still haven't gotten a full paycheck, and somehow I've managed to spend a lot on groceries this month.

Added to the fact that I have a lot of food hordes is the fact that I have a lot of stuff hordes.  I still just have a lot of items stockpiled from way back when--mostly bathroom stuff. I realized the other day that I have about six hotel soaps, four bottles of lotion and more stuff under the sink than I think I can deal with right now.  I made a trip to Target the other day with the intention of buying body wash, but then realized that I could actually just use up that damn hotel soap instead.  Yes, I realize soap is soap, but I always think of bar soap just for hands--no longer!

Presently, in my kitchen, I have a bunch of snacks in my snack drawer that I like, but don't love.  I brought them to work instead.  Since I sometimes get snacky midday, I'm much more inclined to reach for something I've already paid for rather than going to the cafe down the hall.  So I now have a stash of Bevita Breakfast Biscuits (I bought them with a coupon, and they're good, but I just never want to eat them); 100 calorie packs of microwave popcorn (I always burn them in my microwave at home, or want more popcorn than that); and Larabars (again, totally tasty, but more of an on-the-go snack than a couch snack).  I also have a bunch of split peas and various grains and soup mixes that are perfect for this time of year.  I have a glut of frozen vegetables, and a pile of veggie burgers.  Honestly, I have enough food and variety of food that not only will I be healthy, but I shouldn't get bored.

The plan is to eat up what I already have, and only go to the grocery store for fresh veg.  This should save me some cash, and clean out my cupboard.

In the bathroom, I plan to use up all the hotel soaps before going back to body wash; go through my bags of stuff and see what's actually in there (I keep small items in cosmetics bags and have a tendency to lose things at the bottom), use up all the shampoo and conditioner I have before buying more (I don't really like the stuff I currently have, but it still works fine); and use up all of my travel size items.  I have refillable bottles for body wash, shampoo and conditioner, I don't know why I hang onto all these travel size samples I've acquired.

Last night's dinner was most of a log of polenta (I'll use up the rest tonight) with oven roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella plus a side salad.

Tonight, finish off the polenta with some kind of frozen vegetable and eat up the butternut squash bisque I bought a while back that's getting close to expired.

I can do this!!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Creeping Lifestyle Inflation

I'm settling into my new job and starting to figure out what the hell I actually do in my day-to-day, but I am starting to notice a bit of the old lifestyle inflation creeping in and I need to nip it in the bud!  So far, I'm doing ok with recognizing it, but there are also some circumstances beyond my control that I hadn't considered. I did get a pay raise with this new job, but I am by no means a fancy person now!  I still have student loan debt, after all.

Circumstance One: In which I taste a bit of my own medicine
I have always bee a pack-your-lunch-for-work type of gal.  I like to eat pretty much the same thing every day, I don't like to waste time while I'm on break finding food and I like knowing what's waiting for me (and controlling the calories in it).  I've always brought soup or sandwich and holed up in the break room for my lunch while reading a book.  It's never been a problem--until now.

Previously, while working at the public library, I always had something to read.  Here, at my new academic library, there is no leisure reading, and I kept forgetting to bring a book!  That's not a huge problem, just a minor annoyance.  The bigger problem is that the staff room is just awful.  It's tiny and shared by a ton of people.  There is nowhere to hide, no way to relax, and you're basically tripping over all the other people in there.  So I've started taking my lunch on the balcony of the building next door.  I have no idea what I'm going to do when it gets cold out, but I shouldn't have to worry about that for a little while. So far, at the new job though, I've bought lunch more times than I care to admit, but today, I have my trusty sandwich and yogurt along with my Nook.

So I've always been like "why doesn't EVERYONE just bring their lunch to work!?!  I don't get it!"  Now, I get it.

Circumstance Two: In which starting a new job is stressful/ exhausting
I've been drinking a lot of coffee lately.  Usually I drink a large cup of coffee at home, and then just have tea for the rest of the day.  These days, I'm a bit sleepy and have been availing myself of the on-campus Dunkin Donuts and the new Starbucks (which is so close to my office it's dangerous).  I know that a few extra dollars a week isn't a huge deal, but we all know that that adds up!  Sometimes though, it's just good to have an excuse to go for a walk.  I brought my tea into work and bought an electric teakettle for the staff room (can't believe we didn't have one), so I'm all set.

Circumstance Three: In which I now have an office and never need to move around
I didn't realize how much hopping I did at the public library until I started working here and realized that the most moving around I do is walking to the bathroom.  So I bought a membership to the college gym.  It sucks that I have to pay for it, but it's still about half what the YMCA (the next cheapest option) is, and since I'm here already, I will make myself use it (especially in the winter).  I also may buy an under-desk pedal machine, but I really don't know if it would be worth it.  Any one have one to recommend to me?

I also am going to upgrade my home wi-fi, and go shopping for more business casual clothes--the dress code here is slightly dressier than my last job.  Other than that, I'm keeping it in check!  I made a larger than usual payment on my student loans, and I plan to get back on track with putting money in savings and max out my Roth IRA contributions for the year.  I also almost bought a smart phone, but then stopped myself at the last minute.  Good job, self, now you can have another coffee for being so strong!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Reducing Food Waste: One Thing at a Time

One of the biggest challenges with reducing food waste is to find a way to not waste things you want to have around, but don't use that much.  In my case, I have been having a hell of a time with milk.

I'm not a milk drinker--I never sit down and have a glass, but I do need to have it around in small amounts for tea, some recipes, etc.  Unfortunately, by the time I realize that I need my milk, it is often decidedly stinky.  I throw it out, buy more, use a tiny bit, and then the rest goes bad.

When BF and I lived together, we could usually make it through a carton without throwing it away, though there were plenty of mornings when I needed it for whatever reason and had to trot down to the corner store in wrinkled clothes with bedhead.  Now that we're in separate places, we're both struggling with this.

I started buying smaller and smaller containers, but since those containers are plastic, I felt bad, and the smaller options are more expensive ounce per ounce.  So I came up with a better solution--freezing it.

I bought a case of small mason jars:
And now when I buy milk, I fill up the jars and freeze all but one.  You obviously need to leave a bit of room for the milk to expand as it freezes, but this way, I always have milk on hand, and I don't throw nearly as much away.  I can also buy a larger size container and reduce the amount of packaging I consume while saving money by buying the largest size.

The biggest enemy in terms of milk spoilage is air.  You'll notice that if a jug has been opened, but only a little taken out, the milk stays good for a much longer time.  Pour out half the milk, and the rest goes bad much faster.  That's why this system works to reduce spoliage in two ways.  I freeze what I'm not using and effectively stop the clock on it going bad, and I reduce the amount of air in the milk that's thawed and ready to use.  Plus those blue mason jars are so cute!

Another tip for keeping milk fresher longer is to store it in the back of the fridge so the temperature doesn't fluctuate as much.  We used to have a fridge that was wearing out and had cold spots and warm spots instead of even temperature throughout.  We noticed when we stored the milk in the back in a cold spot, it lasted much longer.  Now I store my milk in the back of the fridge near my Britta cooler so that it doesn't get hit with hot air when I open the door.  It really does make a difference.

Have you ever tried this?  Any other tips for reducing food waste?