Becoming Jill: Adventures in Adulthood


Chapter 23: In Which I Stop Eating Grain and Learn to Love the Butter
January 31, 2012, 11:49 am
Filed under: Food, Primal | Tags: ,

So, you may have noticed from my last few posts that I stopped eating grain. Why would a sane person do this to themselves, you ask? Well, for me, the answer is quite circuitous, but here’s the summary: because it makes me feel like a new person.

Here are just a few of the things that have happened to me since I stopped eating grain in October, 2011:

  • I’ve lost 38 pounds, nearly effortlessly
  • I have cut my antidepressant medication in half
  • I have completely eliminated the Metformin I took for my blood sugar
  • I have boundless, endless energy
  • My skin is softer, with no more dry patches, even on my elbows
  • My hair is thicker and shinier
  • My face no longer breaks out once a month, if you get my drift
  • The Queen of Sinus Infections hasn’t had even one!
  • I no longer have extreme intestinal distress for months on end
  • I no longer feel like I have been swamped by a wave of exhaustion every afternoon
  • I don’t have to eat every 2-3 hours to keep my blood sugar from dropping
  • In fact, sometimes I go an entire day without eating (but not very often)
  • I no longer have to avoid going to the grocery store at a busy time, because my improved mental health means no more panic attacks
  • My mind feels clear and sharp, instead of tired and fuzzy
  • I sleep better
  • I stopped snoring
  • My lower back, which has hurt constantly since my senior year of high school, hardly even bothers me, even while exercising
  • Need I go on???

In short, stopping eating grain is easily the best thing I have ever done for myself. I feel like it’s given me my life back, and the thing is, I didn’t even know it was possible to feel this way. I thought it was normal to feel half-dead all the time. I knew some of it was depression, but even during times of mental healthiness, I never had much energy. Guess what? Apparently it’s not normal to feel like you are constantly underwater!

As my energy levels have increased, I have started doing more physical activity, just because my body has energy and wants to move. It’s a weird, weird feeling, people. Now I take walks frequently, run up the stairs in my apartment building every single day, and do strength-training exercises every other day. I am gaining muscle along with losing weight, and I feel great while I do it– not like I am on the verge of collapsing, like I always felt during previous attempts at exercise regimens.

So, how did I arrive at the decision to stop eating grain? It’s a bit of a long story, but I’ll try not to ramble too much.

Last summer (2011) I spent spent several extremely hot, extremely humid months in Missouri helping to care for my Venter grandparents. If you have ever taken care of an elderly person, you know it’s a lot of very physical hard work. There’s a lot of sweat involved in changing a grown man’s clothes, bedding, and adult diaper several times a day, and having 100+ temperatures for months didn’t help. In short, all the sweat led to a yeast infection in my armpit, which apparently is a thing. Who knew? Now I do!

Despite repeated attempts with medication to get it to go away, it wasn’t budging, and it was extremely uncomfortable. Also, my stomach was in constant uproar, and I was hardly eating because it produced rather unpleasant results. During a late-night googling session, I read that my real problem might be systemic yeast overgrowth, and everything I was eating was just feeding the yeast. I immediately embarked on an anti-candida diet, which starves off the excessive yeast in your system by eliminating sugars and most grains, and a few other things. Within a day or two of starting this diet, the rash began improving, and eventually went away, never to return! My tummy settled down, and I could eat without fear!

There were a few things I didn’t like about the anti-candida diet. For one, it said no dairy, and it was much easier for me to give up pasta than to give up cheese… It also eliminated other things I really like, such as mushrooms, olives, and chocolate. In the course of scouring the internet for anti-candida-friendly recipes, I came across this thing called the Primal or Paleolithic lifestyle, which seemed fairly similar to anti-candida, but added back some dairy, and those yummy mushrooms, olives, etc. Best of all, you could have dark chocolate and red wine as a sensible treat!

The science behind this lifestyle is based on looking at the diet that humans ate for thousands of years before the agricultural revolution which introduced grain cultivation about 10,000 years ago. Since our hunter-gatherer ancestors evolved without grains for so long, our bodies aren’t adapted to processing them, which causes all kinds of problems. By eliminating them from our diet, our bodies function better. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s a simple summary. There are tons of great resources on the web and also in books that can explain the science of it all much better than I can. But here’s what I know: it works for me. If it’s not your thing, that’s fine! I am not here to tell people how to eat– I am simply trying to say: This Changed My Life. Period.

gimme!

So if I don’t eat grain, what do I eat, you might ask? Well, I eat tons and tons of veggies. Some fruit, mostly berries because they are very low-sugar. Some dairy, mostly goat or sheep, because cow dairy and I don’t get along. Healthy, natural fats, like BUTTER (which is awesome, if you didn’t know), olive oil, coconut oil (which deserves it’s very own separate post), and avocados. I wrote previously about my love for guacamole, and boy is it great! Lots of protein: eggs, beef, pork, chicken, oily fish, seafood. Some nuts and seeds for snacks. My favorites are English walnuts, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, pecans, and almonds. Since legumes are discouraged for reasons I won’t go into here, I don’t do peanuts or cashews, which is sad, but I have adjusted and discovered a love for walnuts!

So, lots of whole foods, prepared relatively simply. Some people like to do all kinds of fancy Primal-ized baking, like making cake with almond flour and stuff like that, but I figure I would rather just have a little bit of the “real” thing and call it my treat for the day. Which brings me to my favorite thing about Primal! The 80/20 principle recommends that you follow Primal eating for 80% of the time, and then have sensible treats for the 20%. For me, this is enough to keep me from feeling deprived, as there is absolutely nothing you can’t eat in that 20%! Over time, I have come to realize that most of the things I used to really enjoy no longer taste good and make me feel awful, so I don’t get too carried away with the 20% very much anymore. I usually have 2 squares of 85% chocolate and call it good. On the other hand, if I am eating at someone’s house, I will gladly eat what they serve me without feeling like I am “cheating” on my diet (hello, dinner roll!). I never, ever want to turn into that person who imposes her dietary whims on others, so I just go with the flow, and call it my 20% 🙂

In short, this has made me feel great, and I am never going back to the Demon Grain. I ate pasta nearly every day, so this was a big change for me, but you couldn’t pay me to go back. Luckily I have always loved veggies, so that’s easy. It’s taken me a while to get used to eating lots of fat (Primal folks aim for 60% of their calories from healthy fat) after a lifetime of being told that fat is evil. Guess what? Natural, healthy fat is not evil: it’s actually necessary for your body to work properly. Man-made fat is a different story, though. The hardest thing for me has been getting enough protein. I aim for 100 grams a day, and I don’t always make it. I have never been a big meat eater, but I am getting better! Buying the highest quality meat I can afford helps, as it tastes a lot better. I tend to do a lot of things with large, budget-friendly cuts and then eat them for several days in a row. Cooking your meat with healthy fat makes it taste even better!

the Primal eating guide, from http://www.marksdailyapple.com

If you are curious about learning more about the Primal lifestyle, there’s tons of info on the web! My favorite website is Mark’s Daily Apple, which has lots of great, free stuff. I did end up buying the Kindle editions of a few of his books, but you can find everything you need for free.

Here’s a few good places to start:

Primal Blueprint 101: A fantastic list of some of the resources available on Mark’s Daily Apple. This will answer the majority of your questions.

How to Succeed With the Primal Blueprint: A short, sweet summary of the basics

The Definitive Guide to Fats: Or, Why Fat Is Not The Devil

HuntGatherLove: A great roundup of resources

I know this isn’t for everyone, but if you are the slightest bit curious, just try it. Give it 2 weeks, and see how you feel. I think you’ll like it!

Advertisements


Sausage Egg Casserole Goodness!
January 26, 2012, 3:51 pm
Filed under: Food, Primal | Tags: ,

breakfast time!

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I agree! I have always loved breakfast food, and one of my favorite things about the Primal/Paleo lifestyle is getting to eat lots of yummy breakfast foods like bacon (nitrate/nitrite free!), eggs, and sausage.

I find that I feel best if I have a fairly substantial breakfast (400-500 cal) with lots of protein. I almost always have eggs, because eggs are cheap, delicious, and you can do a million things with them. I used to do omelets with lots of veggies every morning, and even though I always pre-chop my veggies, it seemed like a lot of hassle every day, plus it created lots of dishes to wash. Since I have to wash my dishes by hand, I am always looking for ways to have fewer dishes to wash 🙂

So I came up with this casserole!  Like most things I make, you can use whatever veggies you have on hand. I almost always have a big container of bell peppers (all colors) chopped up in the fridge, so I tend to put them in every time I make it.  Use what floats your boat, just make sure to get lots of veggies! I would love to try this with spinach or kale, but I never seem to have it around when I make the casserole. Maybe next time! In the casserole pictured below, I used:

  • 12 eggs (cage-free, please!)
  • 1 lb sausage (try to get it as chemical free as possible! Jimmy Dean makes 100% natural sausage)
  • Bell peppers, chopped (red, orange, green, yellow)
  • onion, chopped
  • Baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
  • cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup extra sharp cheddar, shredded  (would probably taste great with feta or swiss!)
  • Salt, Pepper, Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
  • butter, olive oil, or coconut oil for sauteing veggies

look at all those colors!

Heat butter and/or oil over medium heat and saute veggies about 3 minutes. When done, transfer to 9×13 casserole dish greased with olive oil. In the same skillet, brown the sausage and then add that to the casserole dish as well. In a large bowl, beat together eggs and seasonings. Add shredded cheese, then pour into the casserole dish. Mix all ingredients together to make sure there’s an even distribution before baking at 350 for 30 minutes. Let it sit for a few minutes before slicing. I cut it into 6 large pieces, but 8 small would work, too.

This reheats really well, and is an easy make-ahead breakfast. Cook on the weekend, then just grab a piece out of the fridge and stick it in the microwave every morning! I tend to do a lot of meals this way– for me, eating healthy is much easier if I set myself up for success. If I have healthy food ready to go (or quickly assembled, like pre-chopped veggies for salad) I will eat that quite happily! If I am starving and am faced with the option of cooking from scratch or ordering chinese, I don’t always make good decisions…

Based on the food tracking website I use (www.myfitnesspal.com) one serving of this has:

  • 407 calories
  • 2 grams carbs
  • 31 grams fat (the Primal lifestyle recommends getting 60% of your daily calories from natural, healthy fat)
  • 27 grams protein

I always have a 1/4 cup of blackberries with breakfast– lots of good vitamins and such, and very low sugar.

 

 

 

 



Spicy Roasted Chicken Drumsticks and Guacamole
January 15, 2012, 11:47 am
Filed under: Food, frugality, Primal | Tags: ,

I am working on a longer post about my switch to the Primal/Paleo way of life and eating, but in the meantime, here’s what I made for dinner last night:

please pardon my sub-par food-styling-and-photography skills!

It was super easy, super delicious, and super nutritious! A winning trifecta of NOM. Oh, and it was cheap, too. WINNING!

I borrowed the drumstick recipe from The Pioneer Woman, and decided to use my homemade taco seasoning instead. I think it turned out really great! Here’s what I did:

  • 6 chicken drumsticks, skin-on (I can’t afford organic, grass-fed meat, but I do my best to get it w/o hormones and antibiotics)
  • 1/2 stick butter (next time, I will add a TB or two of coconut oil to the butter)
  • 1 batch taco seasoning (you could use any spice mixture you want, but I did taco so I could eat it with guacamole)
  • 2 TB lime juice

Jill’s Homemade Taco Seasoning

  • 1 TB chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 freshly ground black pepper
  • dash cayenne pepper, or to taste

Melt butter over high heat. Stir in spice mixture and lime juice (the original recipe called for lemon, but I only had lime, and it worked great). Working one drumstick at a time, use tongs to place drumstick in pot and completely coat in butter. Transfer to baking pan with roasting rack. When all 6 drumsticks have been coated and placed on rack, roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Turn heat up all the way or to broil for a minute or two at the end.

This was hands-down the best chicken I have ever made! I have never liked making chicken, because it always seems dry and flavorless. Once I switched to buying higher-quality meat, the flavor improved tremendously, but I was still disliking the dryness. Let me tell you, this chicken is anything but dry! I had juice actually running down my chin– it was really attractive! But seriously– great flavor and superbly juicy. I will be trying this method for thighs and breasts in the future. Thanks, Pioneer Woman!

I ate my drumsticks with a big helping of guacamole, which is full of good fat and lots of fun antioxidants. It’s not hard to make your own, so if you are in the habit of buying yours at the store, STOP! In under 10 minutes, you can make it yourself and know that it’s 100% healthy.

Here’s what I use:

  • 4 ripe avocados, peeled and smushed (it’s a technical term)
  • cherry tomatoes, halved (use as many as you like– I like lots)
  • 1/4 onion, chopped (I prefer red, but I mostly use yellow because I always have them)
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced (mmmm, garlic)
  • dash sugar (you want just a tiny hint of sweetness, but not much)
  • 1-2 TB lime juice (or lemon if that’s the way you go)
  • seasoned salt, to taste

I like to add the onion very last thing, and in small amounts, because if your onion is old, you can get overpoweringly oniony FAST. I don’t like spicy guac, but if you do, add chopped jalepenos or cilantro!

I eat lots of guac, because it’s a really easy, tasty way to get healthy fat. I am still getting used to eating it without tortilla chips, but I’ve found that it’s great with chopped veggies. I must admit that I mostly just eat it with a spoon, though… YUM!

So, I made dinner from start to finish in about 35 minutes, and it was grain-free, additive-free, almost sugar-free, and low dairy (Primal allows for some full-fat dairy, but it upsets my tummy mightily. I should probably switch to using clarified butter, but I am lazy. You could make this entirely with coconut oil, but I love me some butter). I will definitely be making this many, many more times– I always need cheap, fast, high-protein, DELICIOUS meals in my arsenal!

 

 

 

 

 

 



Chapter 12: In Which I Support the Local Immigrant Community. Massive Amounts of Produce are Procured.
August 3, 2010, 4:00 pm
Filed under: Food, frugality, money | Tags: ,

One of my favorite things about living in a real city is the abundance of food shopping options! Here in the Twin Cities, there are more ways to get food than I can even list. We have super-fancy high-end markets like Byerly’s and Lunds, middle of the road options like Cub, Rainbow, and Super Target, and of course, my new favorite budget-grocer, Aldi’s. However, in the summer, we also have innumerable farmer’s markets, hooray! The big markets in the two downtowns are a really fun shopping experience, but the prices aren’t much (if any) cheaper than you would find at the store.

Since this is a real city, however, I don’t have to settle for the big, overpriced markets! Minnesota is home to a large immigrant community, mostly from Southeast Asia and Africa. The twin cities are dotted with ethnic markets catering to these populations, but nothing stops me from shopping there, too! In the summer, many of the stores also have weekend farmer’s markets, and this is where you can find some of the best (and cheapest!) produce around.

There’s a good-sized Hmong farmer’s market about a half-mile from my apartment every weekend during the summer. I absolutely love going there! I take my own bags in my ongoing efforts to be environmentally friendly, and I come home loaded with more produce than I can easily fit in my little refrigerator. I am usually the only white person there, and most of the vendors don’t speak English. If they have their kids along, they usually speak English, but most of my transactions are accomplished with pointing and smiles. I don’t even recognize a lot of the traditional Asian vegetables, but they also sell all the boring things I want, like lettuce and potatoes and cucumbers.

I usually spend about 10-12 bucks per trip, and I get so much stuff that I couldn’t possibly eat it all in a week! Once tomatoes are in season here, I’ll be going every weekend, though. Mmm, tomatoes! The place is always packed, and negotiating the parking lot can be hazardous! Lots of people bring their whole families, and things can get a little crazy. I just go with the flow, and wander around smiling and pointing when I find 20 cucumbers for a buck. You heard me! One dollar.

Here’s my latest haul: Lettuce, cucumbers, potatoes, carrots, zucchini, yellow onions, red onions, and green peppers.

Price: $12. Not bad, huh? Who wants to come to my house for a giant salad?



Chapter 7: In Which I Fall Off the Map. People Harass Me.
April 6, 2010, 8:21 pm
Filed under: Food | Tags: ,

So, apparently people actually kind of read this blog! I know this, because I have received several mildly harassing emails in the last week, wanting to know why I haven’t been updating. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

Basically, I haven’t been writing because I haven’t had much to say! I am kind of stalled out on further financial progress until Karen and I meet again to discuss how much money I can put towards my credit card payment. Hopefully we are going to do that this weekend!

Ooh, also this weekend: for you Twin Cities readers, my St. Paul VISTA group will be volunteering on Saturday morning for the St. Paul Parks and Rec Department’s Annual Spring Clean-Up Day! We’ll be helping clean all the winter debris out of the parks and such… if you would care to help, just give me a holler, and I’ll give you the details. You wouldn’t even BELIEVE all the crap on the ground now that the winter snow has melted. Socks. Scarves. Mittens. Beer cans. Condoms. (Really?!? You REALLY want to do that outside when it’s below freezing?!?) Shoes. Purses. Small children. It’s insane out there, people.

***

In my last post, I wrote about my newly acquired baking habit, and people have been asking for pics and recipes, so here you go!

Cherry Chocolate-Chip Scones

Here’s the link to the recipe I used, with some variations. Basically, I doubled the amount of cherries and chocolate chips. I like my scones chunky! If I repeat this recipe, I’ll probably add even more. Also, I left off the last step where you dust the finished scones with powdered sugar and stick them under the broiler. I figured there was enough sugar already. I didn’t miss it.

Unfortunately, I ended up leaving them in the oven about 4 minutes too long… so they are a little crispier than I would have liked!

They were really yummy, and despite the fact that I had to improvise just a tiny bit, really easy! My hands nearly fell off during the part where you cut the butter into the flour. Since I didn’t have a pastry blender, I used two forks, and it took about 20 minutes! Also, I don’t have a pastry brush, so  I just used a paper towel, which seemed to work fine.

***

Blueberry Buttermilk Scones

Here’s the link to the recipe. Again, I doubled the amount of blueberries, which I highly recommend! I also attempted to add lemon zest, but since I was mostly zesting my knuckles, I quickly abandoned that process… For those of you with proper micrograters, I am sure it would be a yummy addition!

This time, I underbaked the scones by about 4 minutes… Much like Goldilocks, I can’t seem to ever get it just right! They were yummy anyway. Also, I ignored the part where it said to cut out the dough in biscuit-sized circles, and I really wish I had! The dough expanded a ton, and all my pretty triangles ran together. Alas.

My second attempt at scone making was less taxing than the first, due to spending 3 bucks at WalMart to buy a pastry blender (sorry, Karen! I am pretty sure I had enough in my household budget to cover it, tho…). Let me tell you, that pastry blender is my new best friend (again, sorry Karen!). It only took me about 5 minutes for the whole flour/butter cutting business, and my hands didn’t want to shrivel up and die! Neat.  My favorite part of this recipe was stirring the blueberries into the dry ingredients to get them all coated. Apparently this keeps them from sinking to the bottom, and keeps them from bleeding into the surrounding batter! I love learning new things!

My helpers aren't a lot of help, actually

***

Fresh Lemonade


Here’s the link to the best lemonade recipe ever!

I made this to go along with the blueberry scones, and the lovely Karen came over for a Sunday afternoon snack! It was pretty much delicious. Since I have a freezer the size of a loaf of bread, I never have ice cubes, and I was worried about the lemonade being cold enough. I ended up pre-meauring the 4 cups of water and sticking them into the fridge for a couple of hours to get nice and cold, and then made the lemonade immediately before drinking. It worked pretty well, but I am sure ice cubes would be even better!

Of course, I didn’t bring any pitchers with me, due to the limited kitchen storage. I decided to make it in a large pyrex salad bowl and ladle it out into our glasses! Since I don’t have a juicing device, I just squeezed the hell out of the fruit with my hands, which led to a lot of seeds and pulp in the bowl, but I solved that problem by plunking a mesh strainer on top of the glasses and just ladled into that. I think Karen and I were both pretty pleased with the results! The addition of the orange gave it a really subtle, yet interesting twist. I think I would cut back on the sugar a little bit next time…

***

Thanks for coming along on this exciting journey into my baking habits! Hope you’ve all enjoyed the ride.



Chapter 6: In Which I Enjoy Domesticating Myself. Surprise Ensues
March 26, 2010, 5:28 pm
Filed under: Food, frugality | Tags: , ,

So, I have spent the last week working on a post about all my different financial goals, but you know what? That post is pretty much boring me to death! Of course, it’s important for me to get that one finished, as it’s a key component of this whole financial reformation of mine, but on this pretty Friday, I find that what I really want to write about is baking.

WHAT, you may say? That’s right, baking.

I’ve never been much of a baker… it’s always required too much attention to detail for me. When cooking, I can pretty much choose to ignore or improvise large parts of recipes, and I pretty much measure by saying, “hey, that looks like a cup!” If you have any acquaintance with baking, you realize that it’s actually a SCIENCE, which probably has a lot to do with why I have never liked it.

Baking and I have never gotten along very well. I think it all stems from the traumatic summer when I decided to master… BOXED BROWNIES. I probably wasn’t even 10 yet, and this seemed like a REALLY BIG DEAL. I specifically remember at least 2 flops in a row– one time, I forgot the eggs, another I forgot the oil. Being greeted by pan after pan of completely flat, burned brownie pancake can really do a number on a young baker’s psyche!

In middle school, I decided I didn’t hate making cookies quite so much if I listened to Green Day on my Walkman at the same time! This led to the disastrous incident in which I used 2 TABLESPOONS of salt instead of 2 TEASPOONS. Details, details. Let me tell you, there is no recovering from that kind of error!

In high school, there was the infamous time I decided to double a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but forgot to double the FLOUR. Those were some really rich cookies!

As you can see, my relationship with baking has been rather fraught, and since my family is filled with excellent cooks and bakers, there’s never really been a need to overcome this slight imperfection in my make-up. However, my financial situation since I started AmeriCorps hasn’t really left me with a lot of money to spend on yummy things! I eventually came to the conclusion that making my own would be cheaper, and healthier too, since I could control what goes in them. I have a lot of free time on my hands, since I can’t really afford to be out spending money all over the place, so I eventually found myself… BAKING. Weird, right?

And here’s the thing– I actually LIKE it! I have discovered a lot about myself in the past year or so, but this has been one of the more unexpected things. Baking (and to a lesser degree, cooking) has always stressed me out, irritated me, and made me feel inadequate. I have decided that this is because I a) set impossibly high standards for myself in all things, and b) treat baking (and to a lesser degree, cooking) like I am competing for the prize in a Top Chef Quickfire Challenge. Why have I always approached baking and cooking like someone is timing me with a stopwatch? I have no idea!

Living in a studio the size of a shoebox with a kitchen the size of a postage stamp has effectively forced me to stop behaving like a Tasmanian devil in the kitchen, and as a result, I enjoy the whole process a lot more! My kitchen is set up in such a way that there are no counters at all (I repeat, NONE) and really limited space to move, store things, or what have you. I do all my food prep on top of the stove (precarious!) or on the small walnut table that previously belonged to my step-grandma. If you’ve looked at any of the pictures of food I’ve posted, you’ve seen this table. It’s pretty much the most useful thing in my apartment! Since my prep space is so limited, I am forced to only do one thing at a time, and then clean it up before proceeding to the next step. This makes the whole process take a LOT longer than I was used to, but I eventually started to relax and realize I am enjoying myself!

Here’s a list of some of the things I have baked FROM SCRATCH(!) in my tiny kitchen:

  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Brownies
  • Ginger-Molasses cookies
  • Gingerbread
  • No-Knead Bread
  • Banana Bread
  • Cherry-Chocolate Chip Scones
  • No-Bake Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookies
  • Cornbread

There are lots of things I still want to try!

  • Pumpkin Bread
  • Pumpkin Scones
  • Zucchini Bread
  • Flat bread
  • Sourdough bread
  • Buttermilk biscuits
  • Truffles
  • Double-Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies
  • Shortbread
  • Pound cake (for Trifle!)
  • Pizza dough
  • Whole wheat No-Knead Bread

One problem I haven’t been able to overcome is the lack of equipment. I only have 2 small cabinets to store things in, so when I was packing to move, I had to be really careful about what I brought with me. Really useful things like the blender and muffin tins didn’t make the cut. I had to send home my pizza pan and cookie sheets because they didn’t fit in my tiny oven! I definitely don’t have the room (or money!) for wonderful things like a food processor or a stand mixer. I do have a hand mixer, but due to space limitations, it’s kind of a pain to get to. I have to rule out some recipes I would like to try if they involve equipment I don’t have, but I can figure out how to work around it a lot of the time. I just wish I could make pesto and hummus! Alas.

I am proud of one thing, though! I knew I wasn’t going to have any room for pantry goods once I stored all my dishes, so I came up with quite an ingenious solution, I think! Since I am such an insane reader, I have tons of bookshelves, and since my studio is so small, many of the books and shelves would be staying behind. I decided to bring one of those cheap 5-shelf Target affairs and turn it into a pantry! Larry was able to wedge it in next to the stove, and Mom and I used a small suspension rod and the curtains she made for my very first apartment to disguise the contents. It works wonderfully, and I don’t know what I would do without it!

To keep the chaos under control in such a small space, I have to keep everything pretty organized, but I guess that’s good for me anyway. For me, being really poor has had a lot of unexpected upsides! I get lots of free exercise on the way to the bus, I’ve discovered I am much more resourceful than I ever knew, and I’ve found new, useful, and yummy ways to spend my time! I think this year is really going to influence how I live the rest of my life. While I am looking forward to a less-precarious financial situation, I have discovered that it takes a lot less to make me happy than I ever believed.



Chapter 3: In Which I Get Over Being A Snob and Shop at Aldi’s. It’s Amazing!
March 13, 2010, 9:30 am
Filed under: Food, frugality | Tags: ,

Due to the cancellation of my food support, I hadn’t purchased groceries since mid-January, and other than the occasional bottle of milk, I was getting by with increasingly odd meals from my pantry. Last week, the pantry began to fail me, and I was seriously wondering how I was going to feed myself until my food support is (hopefully) re-established.

Luckily, my wonderful grandma swooped in and saved the day! She sent me fifty dollars to buy food, which is amazing beyond all belief. Now that I had the cash, I had to figure out how to get the most bang for my buck. Since I don’t know if or when I am getting foodstamps again, it was key to get as much nutritious food as possible, and to get things that I could use in lots of different ways.

I recalled the advice of my excellent friend of Candace, an inveterate Aldi’s shopper. She’s been trying to get me to shop at Aldi’s for years, but I had severe middle-class hang-ups about it. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that had never needed to shop somewhere like that, and in my snobbish opinion, I wasn’t the kind of person who shopped at Aldi’s.

Luckily, in the past year or so, I have been forced to confront all kinds of my middle-class hypocrisies, and it hasn’t hurt me a bit! Is riding an inner-city bus a thrilling experience? No. It’s been a wonderful growing experience, however. Yes, some of the stereotypes are true—some of the people are clearly homeless and just looking for a warm place to spend the day; it’s very crowded, and often uncomfortable for me, as I tend to be a bit claustrophobic; sometimes there’s a crazy person holding forth at top volume about the impending demise of the human race. On the plus side, if I take the 50 cent bus and walk, it’s crazy-cheap; the people-watching is unbelievable; my carbon footprint is smaller; I get to learn all kinds of interesting things. For example, I learned from the above crazy person that a gigantic “tuhsumi” is going to wipe out half the population! Good thing I live in the middle of the continent.

Anyway, back to the point at hand. As it turns out, I am the kind of person who shops at Aldi’s! One trip was all it took to make me an enthusiastic Aldi’s shopper. I was afraid that the lack of choices would be depressing, but I actually found it quite soothing! No need to try to figure out which of 8 brands of canned corn I wanted to buy—there’s only 1 or 2! I often find grocery shopping to be overwhelming, but this was the easiest, most stress-free shopping experience I have had in years!

Despite arriving at 4:45m, the store was not a complete zoo. Of course, there were other people there, but nothing like the chaos that you would find at the SuperTarget a few blocks down the street. The store was clean, and although all the items are arranged in their shipping boxes on the shelves, everything was neat and well-organized. I was initially disoriented by the lack of signage I am used to, but since the store itself is so small, it was pretty easy to find everything I wanted.

I went into the store with the idea that I would look around for the items I wanted, and if (as I assumed) they didn’t meet my standards, I would just go on to Target. I was especially apprehensive about the produce and dairy stuff, as I am the first to admit to being a huge food snob.

To my amazement, the produce was the freshest and cheapest I had seen outside of the Hmong farmer’s market! I got 2 lbs of carrots for 49 cents! 2 crowns of broccoli for $1.50! 4 lbs of oranges for 2 bucks! I could go on, but really you should just hop on over to your nearest Aldi’s and see for yourself! All the fresh stuff I bought is high-quality, and tastes delicious.

Look at this haul!

At the end of the trip, I had spent nearly 43 dollars, and got a huge amount of food, almost all of it healthy! I was disappointed that I couldn’t find steel-cut oats, but decided to stop at the fancy co-op on the way home to see if they sold them in their bulk bins. To my amazement, in the store where oranges cost a buck each, I can get steel-cut oats for 99 cents a pound! I bought 3.5 pounds, which will last me quite a long time.

Even if my foodstamps get approved, I am going to keep shopping at Aldi’s. In a lot of ways, I feel like my experiences in poverty are making me a better, less-judgmental person, and that can never be a bad thing!