Friday, May 30, 2008

Ode to a sponge!

Image: Left sponge after 6 weeks of heavy use Right: Brand new

I know it sounds psychotic - but I love this sponge.
I came across it the first time in Whole Foods in Union Square and I was skeptical. After all $3.99 for two sponges - not exactly budget conscious. But I soon realized that it has outlasted any other sponge - and I have tried them all.
Grungy, grimy germ collecting sponges that look gross and supposedly help you clean dishes, when all they are actually accomplishing is redepositing germs everywhere are a pet peeve of mine. They really can gross me out - but this one has held its shape, doesn’t smell and does not look worn out after - drum roll - 6 weeks.
I never meant to keep it that long - mind you it is the only sponge by the sink - I just never was prompted to throw it out. This is with some heavy cooking going on around here - with lots of super staining tomato sauce and curries galore.
It never had that awful chemical, plastic smell it is biodegradable and it comes in a nifty paper packaging - that - get this - can be made into a birdhouse!
I know this sounds like paid advertising - I wish!
Anyway excited about this product “Twist - Loofah sponge #50” - two thumbs way up. I think the next pair I buy, I will try to actually cut the sponge in two - it was almost too big in my hand.
That way it would bring the price down to $3.99 for four! Not bad.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

List of my CSA pick up May 27th

Here is the list of produce picked up compared to in store prices:

1 pound Kale $ 4.98 ( I found Kale from 3.99 for 1/2 a pound to $1.99 per pound)
1/2 pound mustard greens $ 3.99
2 heads lettuce $ 2.79
2 bunches radish $ 3.00
1 pound asparagus $ 4.99
2 bunches arugula $ 5.98
1 bunch lemon balm $ 1.99
1 bunch lovage $ 1.99
1 bunch winter sorrel $ 1.99
1 bunch mint $ 1.99
1 bunch tarragon $ 1.99
1 bunch thyme $ 1.99
1 bunch oregano $ 1.99
1 bunch sage $ 1.99
1 bunch garlic chives $ 1.99

Total: $ 43.64

So, I am putting down $43.64 down for this week's booty. Let's see how it will turn out next week.

First pickup at the CSA!

I am really psyched about my first pick up at the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture - if you really have to ask).
I have been looking forwards to it ever since I signed up in February. I really learned my lesson from last year, when I tried to sign up in March but they were sold out - in March mind you! This year they sold out again and it’s been really hard waiting for the first pickup.

I will actually document my pickups - so you can see if this is something for you in the future. I know that for a lot of people it is a huge leap of faith to dole out anywhere from $400 to in my case $855 (wow - I went with the ‘bells and whistles’ - $775 full share plus $80 optional berry share) in advance without any guarantee - so I will actually do the math this year and dutifully tally up at the end of the season in November.
I know that that does not actually include intrinsic values such as - doing a great service to your immediate environment, and reducing your environmental footprint enormously and of course the nutritional superiority of produce that has been picked the very day you eat it - but I am just curious - how close money-wise I can get to coming out ahead, financially speaking. I’ll keep you posted...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The 10 Commandments of the Frugal Vegetarian!

1.Buy in Bulk:

The basis for your everyday meals shall be found in the bulk section of your health food store. If your store does not have one – switch stores! You’ll be amazed – alternately buy online. If you have the inclination and the space to store, 25 pound bags of your staples you can save an extra bundle.This is one online source but there are many others.

2. Organic or not organic - that is the question.

You shall shop organic only what you must and can. It’s easy to get caught up in the organic black hole – financially speaking – but if you avoid – the dirty dozen as they are often called – you’ll lower your pesticide exposure by about 90% – that’s already pretty good. Check out this handy Wallet Guide.

3. The four Seasons:

What’s in season – when produce is out of season prices can quadruple – why go there – who needs asparagus in November?

4. You are the Boss!

You shall enjoy the freedom of changing recipes at will – Rachel Ray, Emeril or the Naked Chef can all go jump in a lake – you are in charge – and you can make changes! I know this sounds obvious but a lot of people fret over one ingredient and spend way too much money on one miniscule speck of an ingredient that barely registers on the palate – instead of seeing the big picture. This somewhat excludes spices because…

5. Learn your Spices

You shall learn your spices, spice-mixes and how to use salt. The reason why restaurant meals are so “wow” sometimes is that professional chefs (who are by the way constantly on a budget) – really know seasoning. I would recommend organic spices because they are usually inexpensive anyway – wrong place to save – and they are not irradiated. A little spice goes a long way – and salt has had a bad wrap – it is vital to survival and as long as we cook fresh and add salt ourselves there is almost no way to really go overboard. The “bad” salt is the one hidden in canned and over processed food that needs all the salt it can hide in order to taste like anything at all.

6. Come on go ahead and give it a try!

You shall give store brands a fair try out – that goes hand in hand with buying in bulk – since store brands are just that – the big chain supermarket bought something in bulk sometimes from the very manufacturer of the name brand – and markets it to the customer directly. Not particularly everybody’s first choice - but let’s get real here! For the frugal vegetarian products of note are – store brand soy milk, store brand tofu and some store brand cereals. Give it a try, you might like it. Also you will reinforce the impression of the big chain that there is a market for healthier foods, encouraging them to do more. A special mention to Whole Foods who although they don’t have a bulk section – shame – their own brand 365ยบ features a lot of organic products that are quite good.

7. Point in Case

Look for case discounts – often 10-20% – if you know you’ll need 10 packages of soy milk every week to feed your family’s ferocious appetite for milk – buy by the case – also eliminates schlepping every week. Sometimes you have to outright ask for the case discount – stores don’t always promote this service.

8.Set your inner Farmer free!

You shall try to join a local CSA or Food Co-op – Lots of like-minded people – local produce in abundance – work exchange – need I say more. Go to to search for a local CSA.

9. Substitutions will be extra!

You shall be wary of too many meat or cheese replacement products – they are usually quite pricey and zap up your budget quickly. Nutritionally, many of these products are suspicious and over-processed.

10. Snacks anyone?

You shall watch out for snacks that may be zapping up your $$$. All these meal replacement bars some of which run up to $4 or more seem very little food for a lot of money. Think about it – $4 buys you almost 3 pounds of rice – that could be your rice budget for the whole week! Three meals based on rice for a family of four --> about 3 pounds!