5 Frugal tips for eating organic

Many people struggle to add more organic foods to their diet, and do it in an affordable way. I have been working on this like crazy the last couple of months, ever since checking out Linda Watson‘s book, Wildly Affordable Organic, from the library. It is a wonderful resource, full of simple yet delicious recipes, and a big plan for cooking your meals from scratch, seasonally.

The author offers ways to do a little or a lot, but all will help you find ways to save money and add organic food to your diet in a frugal manner. Actually, the techniques and strategies in the book will help you save money on food whether you choose to buy organic or not!

Here are some pointers I picked up from reading. This is not a list copied directly from the book, but rather some general ideas that I have found useful.

1. Eat more beans! This is probably the most important strategy in the book. Beans are cheap, nutritious, versatile, protein rich, and filling. And did I mention they are cheap? By preparing my own beans, I have found a way to make the equivalent to a can of organic beans for under a dollar–that’s less than conventional beans on sale! I’m taking the time to cook them mind you, but using the crock pot makes it easy.

2. Cook from scratch. It’s amazing what a loaf of bread costs these days. I mean a high quality loaf of healthy organic whole-grain bread. Baking your own bread is just one example of how making it yourself from scratch can save you a lot of money, and give you a higher quality option. I probably pay less than a third of what a good loaf costs in many stores, for my delicious home made bread. And the same goes for casseroles, pasta sauces, pizza, etc., just to name a few possibilities.

3. Do the bulk of your cooking on the weekend. In the book she offers seasonal meal plans and prep lists for doing the majority of the work on the weekend. I’m not following her plans closely, but this strategy of doing what I can on the weekend has helped to make many things possible, such as making my own yogurt. By planning and taking the time on the weekend, it is easier to do more from scratch. Of course many things can’t be done this way, but giving myself a head start on whatever I can saves me time, and reduces the chance that we’ll have to run out for a pizza during the week.

4. Buy in bulk when you can. In the introduction, Linda talks about shopping on a food stamp budget. She tells of  how much more costly things like sugar and flour are in small packages compared to the prices she is used to with getting things in bulk. I find that even buying smaller quantities from a bulk food store can be cost-effective. But not always! Keeping track of prices and trying different stores certainly help me to decide where to buy, but buying in bulk doesn’t always mean storing sacks of food around the house.

5. Go plant-strong. Even if you don’t decide to eat as many beans as Linda Watson proposes, you can certainly reduce your grocery budget by choosing more grains and veggies, and less meat. I can buy a lot more plant food–even organic food–when I choose veggies, grains and beans over meat. We still do eat meat, but I get more value when I use meat as an addition to the meal, not as the main event.

I highly recommend this book! I checked it out from the library, but then ended up buying it because it was so useful. While I don’t follow her meal plans or cooking plans to a T, I have still found the book incredibly useful, and am trying more of her strategies each week. All of which is motivating me to save more money while eating more organic food.


The Holy Grail of Cookbooks for Moms?

The other day I told my partner, “I just want a cookbook of really really easy recipes for super nutritious foods that kids will love.” To which he replied, “And I think it would be cool to find the Holy Grail. And maybe also the Philosopher’s Stone. Yeah, that would be pretty cool. We could use them as bookends . . . ” And I finished “. . . to put on either side of ‘The Cookbook’.”

We’re a hilarious comedy duo; you should check us out some time.

Well the next day, I went to the library where I spotted this cookbook I’ve noticed a bunch of times before and completely dismissed as pretty but not at all interesting to me. This time was different. This time, it was ‘The Cookbook’ I’ve been longing for!

covershotIt’s called Deceptively Delicious, a well-designed book of recipes written by Jerry Seinfeld’s wife Jennifer. And while I haven’t actually *tried* any of the recipes in the book (I have much more time for reading than I do for cooking these days, and even that means like 20 minutes a day!), the concept is absolutely brilliant in its simplicity!

And what is this amazing revolutionary concept you ask? Simply this: puree vegetables and fruits and add them to everything. Any recipe you can think of can probably take an extra quarter- to half-cup of fruit or veggie puree. Brilliant! Now you can get your kids to “eat their veggies” without the begging, bribing or cajoling.

The book has some great strategies: First of all, do a bunch of purees at the beginning of the week, portion them in ziplocks and stick them in the freezer for use later in the week. That way you can build up a stock of different veggie purees, for use where they make sense.

Then you simply thaw a puree when you need it. Cooking strategies include: Mixing veggie puree with the egg for breadcrumb coatings (chicken nuggets, tofu nuggets, mozzarella sticks). Using sweet veggies like squash, sweet potato and carrots added into sweet breakfast items and baked things. Matching colours to add yellow veggies secretly to carb dishes like couscous or “buttered” noodles, orange veggies like carrots to cheese sauce or cauliflower puree to potatoes.

So, while I haven’t yet tried any recipes, I got my partner to pick up a squash, a cauliflower, some sweet potatoes and some frozen spinach at the grocery store today. If I get some time tonight I’m going to roast a bunch of stuff for pureeing very soon.

I will update you on the success of this trickery. In any case I’m hoping to increase my own veggie intake. While my daughter has been fattening up on mama’s suddenly abundant milk supply (and foregoing most food while she’s at it), my own diet has been distinctly lacking in anything fresh and colourful lately. So anything that allows me to quickly and easily add veggies where there were none before, is a great, great thing. Maybe even the Holy Grail.

Taking Refuge in the Moment

buddhistI just finished reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Art of Power“, a wonderful book with a deliberately and cleverly misleading title, since the “power” he talks about is not the power that people are generally seeking, but rather the power to be calm and spread peace wherever you go and with whomever you meet.

Two of the practices he describes in this book (besides sitting meditation which most are familiar with) are a) general mindfulness, and b) walking meditation. I think he focuses on these practices in this book because they are very easy to incorporate into even the busiest of lives, but they help to centre you very effectively and quickly.

Mindfulness is the skill of bringing your mind into the present moment and not being taken away by thoughts, memories, worries, etc. Most buddhists do this through the breath. When you follow the breath you are drawn into your body, into the present moment, and you allow your thoughts and worries and regrets, etc. (as well as your plans, and desires, and nostalgic remembrances), to drop away, leaving you considerably less stressed and more focused.

Much is made of the power of sitting meditation where you watch the breath for extended periods, but Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that you can get some benefit by bringing mindfulness into your daily life in short snatches. For example, when the telephone rings, you can use that as a recall to the moment, and take one or two deep breaths to centre you before you answer. Or stopping at a red light, this can also be an opportunity to watch the breath.

He has a lovely poem that helps with this simple meditation. The word pairs are said silently with the in and out breath:

in, out
deep, slow
calm, ease
smile, release
present moment, wonderful moment

I’ve been watching my breath and reciting this poem regularly over the last few weeks and it has given me access to many moments of calm and peace, helping me cope with some of the stresses of being heavily pregnant and parenting a toddler in the heat of late summer!

Walking meditation is an expansion of this mindfulness practice, but instead of focusing on the breath, you focus on your feet as you walk. Whenever you walk, the author explains, you should make your steps gentle on the earth. You are free, you do not need to hurry: walk calmly and slowly as if the purpose of walking is simply to walk.

As you walk, you can say the poem in pace with your breath, which will be in pace with your footsteps, maybe one in-breath for every two steps, or more.

Walking to work every day is so often a blur for me. It’s a short walk, but I usually spend the time thinking about work–sometimes bringing back some conflict from the day before, or worrying about what will be in my email inbox today. But since I’ve been practicing walking meditation, this time is so calm, such an island in my day, that I really feel that I can start taking refuge in the moment.

Now what does this have to do with a frugal or green mindset? I think plenty.

In terms of frugality, many of us turn to shopping and spending money when we are stressed. I am so guilty of this. And most of my stress-fuelled purchases have been big ones, undoing months of savings from baking my own bread and using baking soda for deodorant. The more tools I have to reduce stress and encourage a peaceful frame of mind, the less likely I am to go out shopping.

What’s more, the more value I place on being mindful and present, the less likely I am to seek distractions like magazines or shiny electronics. Think about it: if everyone started practicing mindful breathing on the bus, Blackberries would cease to exist!

The more unmindful consumerism in our world, the more energy and resource waste, the more landfill produced, the more waterways polluted. When we make our footsteps gentle on the earth, we also tend to reduce our ecological footprint by reducing consumption, waste and pollution.

Try these mindfulness techniques and see where you can fit them into your day. And please refer to any book by Thich Nhat Hanh to get a deeper, richer explanation of these practices. Check out his 1996 book The Long Road Turns to Joy on Google Books–a Limited Preview release specifically about walking meditation.

Confessions of an Organized Housewife

I mentioned upon my return from my holidays that I had borrowed a couple of books from my mom.  Well, this is one of them, and frankly the more exciting of the two.  I’ve borrowed it at least once before, and it’s really quite awesome.

To begin with, there’s the title.  For some reason, it speaks to me.  She is confessing her clean little secret, and really, she’s proud of it.  I guess part of me really wants to be an organized housewife, just like her.

So what does she offer? Plenty!  Here is a breakdown of the gems to be found in this book:

– pep talks that work.  Really.  After reading this book I often come away actually excited about cleaning and organizing my house.  She points out that by working on improving your technique, you raise houswork out of the mundane into a craft. She also discusses the benefits of having a clean and orderly house, including the feelings of peace and enjoyment of the home.  To me, this is a frugal thought: if we like being at home, we will be less driven to leave it for expensive alternatives.

– six “Basic Organizing Principles” including: Think Before You Act, wherein you stop working by habit and instead think through all the steps of a project or day or organization of a room, looking for the most logical time-saving way to approach it; Discard and Sort, wherein you de-clutter each area of your home so that there is “a place for everything and everything in its place” and everything you have on hand is useful and used; Group, which is pretty self-explanatory, except that she often groups by use instead of by type so that you might keep all your baking spices with your baking stuff and all your savoury spices near the stove if that’s where you use them, instead of keeping all your spices together; Be Motion Minded, considering how you move in a room, and saving time by putting things close at hand; Use Your Accrued Benefits, wherein you learn that it makes more sense to iron 6 shirts at a time, than to iron one shirt at a time six times; Do it Daily, so that things don’t get out of hand; and finally, become an “Indoor Scout“, leaving a room better than you found it each time.

– advice for building your own planner that will accomodate your and your family’s needs.

– efficient ways of moving through the house methodically so that you’re not re-tracing your steps or wasting time.  The coolest idea here is her housework cart that she uses, like a hotel chambermaid.  It’s totally collapsable and handles garbage, laundry, sorting of “stuff”, and cleaning all in one amazing little buggy!  Seriously, I’m building me one of these.

There’s lots of other tips here, many of which involve using labelled containers to sort stuff in cupboards, etc., but you should really read the book if you want to get into that much detail.

I’ll end with the most reassuring part of the book, the second-last chapter which is called “Where to Start”.  In case you have a tendancy to get massively overwhelmed by books like this, she has a little checklist with the basics that should be covered before you move on to more ambitious home organization projects.  The basics:

– I am able to keep the house picked up; check, for the most part.

– I am able to keep the laundry current; check.

– Meals are well-prepared and served regularly; check

– The kitchen is usually in good order; thanks to my partner doing the dishes every night, this is also a check

– Bathrooms are cleaned and straightened regularly; this is a new one, but I’m doing pretty checking good on it so far

– I am able to keep entry areas clean and tidy; hmmm

Well, I’m doing pretty good on 5 out of 6, so maybe the entry way is a good place to start.  In any case, I’m very reassured that I am winning at 5 of these basics.  Her recipe for starting a new level of cleanliness is to give yourself and your family six weeks to get used to it.

So, starting today I will aim to keep my entry area clean and tidy, thus basically completing all six of her basics, and preparing to enter a new level of household organization.

That is, until Tiny Baby arrives.  After that, I make no promises.

“Many a little makes a mickle”; The American Frugal Houswife and why I love Google Books

I came across this book by doing a random search for “frugal” on Google.  It’s written in 1841 by an American woman who dedicates the book to “Those who are not afraid of economy”.  Well, that’s me!  Only 170 years later . . .

I found it as a full-text book on Google Books.  For those not familiar with Google Books, it is a search tool for books, old and new, in copyright and out.  You can search words, phrases, etc.  Most newer books will show your search phrase in context, but you won’t be able to read beyond that.  Still others will allow you to read a limited number of pages.  But a few of your results will give you the option to read the whole text of the book.  Even easier than the library!  You can download a PDF to read at your leisure, or add it to “my library” which is saved in your Google account.

That  is how I found The American Frugal Houswife.

The book is written as  a series of tips, or instructions, for running a household economically.  It’s a bit ADD to read, with tips running from keeping up with mending once a week, to always keeping meats “under brine”–and that’s just on one page!

You can imagine, it would be more than a little antiquated.  It knocks me out to hear her tips on using an Ox’s gall to set the colours of calico, and using “rotten-stone and rum” to clean brass “andirons”.  I have no idea what these things are!  There are also several hints which involve using quicksilver, “black lead” and turpentine, which we now know lead a slow but sure path to death’s door.

But for all that out-dated amusement, this book carries within it a real kernel of truth about living frugally, especially her insistence on living within your means.  She says, “If you have two dollars a day let nothing but sickness induce you to spend more than nine shillings. If you have one dollar a day do not spend but seventy five cents. If you have half a dollar a day be satisfied to spend forty cents.”

In the quote I have pictured above, she discusses how a family should never throw anything away that can be useful to someone because “many a little makes a mickle”.  (I’m guessing it means “lots of little things adds up to a lot” but I’m quite enamoured of her expression and will probably baffle a good half-dozen of my friends and family members by quoting it to them before I get sick of annoying them.)

She also reminds readers not to over-spend with the desire to get into better company, and not to “let the beauty of this thing and the cheapness of that tempt you to buy unnecessary articles” when furnishing a home.  Take that, Ikea!

I’m still making my way through the thing, and it is a truly amusing and instructive read.  How could Mrs. Child imagine that her book would end up being read on a crazy picture-tube 170 years in the future!  Next on my reading list is another bestseller by the same author, this one entitled “Hobomok” . . .

Mindfulness Monday

In the past month, two books on this subject have come to me randomly.  One was a free “after hours yard sale” find, and another was put in the “giveaway” area of the garbage collection zone in our building’s basement (something I am grateful to our superintendant for!  It’s our own internal “freecycle”).  One book was A New Earth by Ekhart Tolle, and another was Peace is Every Step by Thich Naht Hanh.  

Talk about synchronicity!  Sure, it took me taking notice of these books to pick them up, bring them home and read them, but they both came to me for free from different sources within a week or so.  The basic message of both books is the same: be mindful of the present moment.  It is all we have.  If we experience it with peace, enjoyment or enthusiasm, these energies will spread through our lives and to everyone we encounter.

So, why are you reading about mindfulness, a Buddhist practice, on a blog about frugality?  I think mindfulness can help to cure the ills of society, one of which is overconsumption and dissatisfaction with what we have.

These books teach that the present moment, right now, is all we have.  When we are carried away with our memories, good or bad, or when we engage in thinking or worrying about the future, we forget that we are alive right now, not in the past or the future.  Right now is the only moment we have to be happy, to feel the fullness and richness of life, to experience joy.

A lot of spending comes from dissatisfaction with where we’re at.  If we consciously decide that “now” is all we have, and thus to experience the richness of each moment, the fullness of life right now, it reduces some of our desires for new toys, new clothes, a new “look”, a new life.  

Some ideas summarized from these two books:

– Use your breath to bring your attention to the present moment.  Feel it go in and go out, and the pauses between.  Focus on the breath and quiet your mind.  Feel peaceful wherever you are.

– Your thoughts are not “you”.  Your thoughts lead you away from the present moment and are quite likely to make you feel worried and anxious.  Realize that you have a consciousness that is deeper than your thoughts, and you can separate yourself somewhat from the constant stream of thoughts that flood your mind.  Your problems will seem less urgent when you create this kind of space.

– Smile.  A smile relaxes your face, sends endorphins through your body, and melts your worries away.  A smile sends positive, peaceful energy into the world.  A smile connects you to the present moment because the only time we can feel happy is right now, today, this moment.

Being frugal isn’t just about denying yourself expensive pleasures.  It is just as much about cultivating satisfaction with what you have, and joy in the present moment.

Being vs. Doing

I’m reading a very frugal-minded book right now, called “A New Earth,” by Eckhart Tolle.  It’s not ostensibly about frugality but it contains several frugal messages.  

One is that consumerism–buying things for the sake of competition or boredom or to make yourself feel good–is an action of the ego, just as all mindless and evil actions and thoughts are.  People believe that they will be perceived as being better for owning some new thing, but the satisfaction gained from purchasing something new is short-lived and soon the ego want something else, and something else, and something else, to fuel its quest for “more”.

Another frugal message is regarding the roles we play.  One danger we have as a parent is that we will fall into a habit of constantly “doing”–“acting” in our role as parent–and never relaxing into simply “being” there with our children, as people, respecting them as individuals.  

The advice is to practice “being rather than doing”.  Simply relaxing, not always thinking about the “next thing” that has to be done, can be healing to both parent and child, as it allows them to exist as they are without playing roles for a short time.  “Being” rather than “doing” will let the child feel valued as they are, and let the parent experience the child as she is without pressures or agendas.

I was glad to be reminded of this, because I often get so caught up with “doing”–getting the groceries, making dinner, washing the laundry, cleaning the bathroom, etc. through the never-ending chore list–that some days I forget to share those relaxed times just playing with my girl.  Heck, I even forget to give those relaxed moments to myself, always feeling the need to be “doing, doing, doing” . . . and I know exactly where it came from in my upbringing.

My husband, on the other hand, has a much easier time sitting down and reading a comic book in the middle of a busy day.  Does this drive me absolutely insane sometimes?  Yes!  But I can also see that he will be much more capable of, and just playing with our daughter without feeling the pressure of “we have to get to the park”.  My hope is that he is passing this on to our daughter, so she will hopefully be able to relax and just be herself and not let the dirty floor or smelly cat litter make her anxious.

And where does the frugality come in here?  I know that there are days that I feel compelled to go to the grocery store because we “need” something, without stopping to think that perhaps we don’t really “need” it until tomorrow.  Or ever!  Maybe we don’t really “need” it at all; it’s just that it was on the agenda as the next thing to “do”.

The urge to shop often comes out of this urgency of “doing” something.  I feel I must start some new project, and the next thing that follows is the urgency of buying a bunch of supplies to start doing it.  Once it goes onto my mental list, it’s there nagging me until it’s checked off.  Practicing “being” can help me relax and enjoy the moment without needing to schedule new unnecessary projects or shopping trips.

So, the message of the day is: relax, don’t worry about the next item on the agenda, enjoy life, and really cherish each moment of simply “Being” with her.