Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Food Stamp Challenge

In total, I managed to follow the Food Stamp Challenge rules about 2/7 days. Not the greatest track record. It's hard when you work long hours and don't have extra money for snacks. It's also hard to stay on track when working at a job where they all but throw free food in your face. Even so, the exercise was an interesting one. On $31/week one can either eat very unhealthily (ramen every meal) or spend all of your time planning ahead with a slow cooker (rice and beans every meal). In order to have a well-balanced diet it helps to have more than one family member to pool resources (allows the flexibility to buy fresh fruits or vegetables).

At the very least, I have a better appreciation for just how well I can eat. I love being able to walk downstairs to the cafeteria in order to buy a bag of swedish fish or a latte now and then. I love going out to dinners with friends and family and not having to worry (too much) about my budget. Most of the world does not eat the kind of variety of foods we enjoy in the U.S. As someone who likes to eat something different every meal, I'm definitely spoiled when it comes to food.

And now, about that latte...


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Food Stamp Challenge: Day 3

So I'm going to go ahead and say that today's attempt at adhering to the Food Stamp Challenge rules was a total bust. We met family at the Tabard Inn in Dupont circle for brunch. The Tabard Inn, by the way, is a fantastic place - adorable, in an old-fashioned-slightly-off-kilter kind of way. The food is fantastic (the homemade donuts are killer).

Day 3:
Brunch - Basket of baked goods (muffins, banana bread etc...) Poached eggs, fried oysters, cheese grits, pork belly confit. Lots of hot coffee.

Lunch - Grilled cheese sandwich.

Dinner - Tomato and butternut squash sauce with poached egg on spaghetti.

Dessert - TBD.

So far my batting average isn't that great. We'll see how things go tomorrow...


Friday, October 28, 2011

Food Stamp Challenge: Day 2

Today was tough. There were pastries at a morning seminar, munchkins in the break room, and cookies at a going away party. I'll admit, I had a scone during the seminar (they were homemade...) Otherwise, I stuck to the plan.

Day 2:
Breakfast - Oatmeal with milk and brown sugar, spiced with cinnamon and ginger. Hot tea.

Lunch - PB&J (all store brand items).

Snack - banana and second PB&J.

Dinner - Tomato sauce with poached egg on spaghetti.

Dessert - Bananas foster on yogurt.

I have to say, the pasta dish was particularly good...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Food Stamp Challenge: Day 1

This week, my husband and I agreed to enroll in the Food Stamp Challenge:

The SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge gives participants a view of what life can be like for millions of low-income Americans. Most participants take the Challenge for one week, living on about $4 per day worth of food – the average food stamp benefit. Challenge participants are forced to make difficult food shopping choices, and often realize how difficult it is to avoid hunger, afford nutritious foods, and stay healthy.

We started our week with a shopping trip and $30 each. Our goal was to stay within the rules (~$1.50/meal) while still eating healthy.

Day 1:
Breakfast - Oatmeal with milk and brown sugar. Hot tea (Lipton was cheapest).

Lunch - PB&J (all store brand items).

Snack - banana and second PB&J. Hot tea (I brought a thermos of the stuff to work).

Dinner - Lentil soup (blended with sweet potato and a little apple).

In the end, my first day of the Food Stamp Challenge was a fail. I succumbed to a bacon wrapped date stuffed with blue cheese at a reception event (the rules specifically say no free food at receptions!) Ah well. Tomorrow is another day (of oatmeal and PB&J).

Wish me luck!


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Baked and Wired

Having just moved house, my first order of business was to stake out some good espresso. After two years of Java House glory I wasn't sure that DC coffee shops would be up to snuff. Fortunately for me, a fantastic shop can be found right in Georgetown.

Baked and Wired is pure delectable heaven. Walk into this hippie/hipster style coffee/bake shop and look to your left - gorgeous baked goods abound - from enormous and creatively flavored cupcakes (I had the "Tessita", a vanilla cake with dulce de leche filling and chocolate hazelnut satin icing) to an impressive assortment of bars and hand pies (the Bee Sting is a perfectly crisp shortbread topped with just the right amount of honey caramel and sliced almonds). As if that weren't enough, look to your right and you'll find a fully equipped coffee and espresso bar. Baked and Wired takes coffee seriously, sourcing their beans via Direct Trade from Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Intelligentsia Coffee. Their organic milk comes from Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, PA. I love a place that tells me exactly where they source their food, don't you?

I ordered an iced latte to go with my pastry treats - it was fantastic. The true test, of course, will be the quality of their cappuccino. Is it up to Java House standards? I'll just have to go back again to find out.

Until next time,

Baked and Wired
1052 Thomas Jefferson Street NW
Washington, DC 20007

Image from

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap

As strange as it may sound, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap really is, well, magical.

Supposedly, one can use this liquid Castille soap for anything - from everyday body and hair washing to heavy-duty household cleaning. You can even (so they claim) use it as laundry detergent (1/4-1/3 cup per regular load plus a dash of baking soda).

Interestingly, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps is embarking on an "edutainment" tour, which includes (but not limited to), a giant bathtub, a fire truck, and of course, their famous fair trade organic soap. David Bronner, Brand President calls it an "interblastive Foam Experience."

What's with the firetruck?

Well, according to David Bronner,

My grandfather Emanuel Bronner created the liquid soap that people love today, but what is less well-known, is that my father, Jim Bronner, invented the leading Class-A firefighting foam used by firefighters in structure and forest fires across the country. The ALL-ONE Ark Interblastive Foam Experience brings together my grandfather and father's visions and allows us to share the joy of foam with thousands of people.

Foam Tour participants will have an opportunity to be blasted by soapy foam as part of an ecologically friendly spa experience.

If only I lived on the West Coast.

My curiosity peaked, I headed to the nearest co-op to find some of this magical miracle soap to test out for myself.

Thus far, I would have to say that Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap is pretty awesome.

It works great as a body wash and did well as a shampoo (only requiring a few drops for either task). I tried a load of laundry using 1/4 cups of Dr. Bronner's plus a dash of baking soda (as suggested) - works great and smells minty clean. Some have recommended Dr. Bronner's as a toothpaste as well. Being the brave soul that I am, I spotted a few drops on my toothbrush and gave it a go.


I'll admit, it does the job - cleans the teeth and smells like mint. Tastes like...well, soap. I ended up gargling with Listerine post brushing just to get that awful soapy taste off my tongue.

I have yet to try Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap as a general household cleaner, but I suspect it will work just fine. The drawback to this magical miracle soap is that it's on the expensive side. Probably if one were really devoted, a $50 gallon bottle would be the way to go. Any of the cleaning options (except for the laundry) requires a minimal amount of Dr. Bronner's, so a little goes a long way.

Something to consider perhaps after we move cross-country...?

Happy scrubbing!


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Summer Goals

For some reason, despite being relatively conscientious about composting and recycling, I have always had plastic bags in the house. We bring our own grocery bags to the store, but still use those thin plastic bags for produce and bulk foods. Not to mention the fact that when we go shopping for non-grocery items, we often end up carrying home a plastic or paper bag along with our purchase.

Inspired by Bea's Zero Waste blog, I've decided to make two summer goals:

1) Stop using plastic bags
2) Stop using paper towels

According to Citizens Campaigns,

Every hour, approximately 200,000 plastic bags are landfilled and may take 1,000 years to break down. For the plastic bags that become litter, rain washes them into bodies of water where they threaten the lives of avian and marine species that can die from consuming or choking on the bags. Plastic pollution travels through our local waterways, eventually reaching the global oceans. On average, 46,000 pieces of plastic are swirling in each square mile of our oceans.

Like water bottles, plastic bags harm the environment and are easily replaced by reusable alternatives. Seeing as we already have enough cloth grocery bags to last us through the next several years, I've now turned to produce bag alternatives. On the Zero Waste blog, Bea suggests Flip and Tumble reusable produce bags and organic cotton muslim bags. The produce bags are light so if the cashier forgets to tare the bag it's not a huge loss. The muslim bags are perfect for bulk dry goods (pasta, rice, nuts etc...), which we buy anyhow. These come with the tare weight written on a sewn in tag, which can easily be subtracted at checkout.

Paper towels have always been a hard thing for me to let go. I don't like using old rags on my countertops, but I clean so frequently that using paper towels each time is wasteful. My goal is to start using microfiber cloths that are machine washable. Eventually I'll be able to eliminate most purchased household cleaners as well (there are effective homemade cleaners that are cheaper and less toxic).

We'll see how well I can stick to my no-plastic-bags-no-paper-towels regime, but in the long-run I expect that it will save money, space and the environment. All good things.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Zero Waste

As we count down the months until our last days in Iowa (how we will miss this place!) I am faced with the prospect of whittling down our spacious and fully furnished midwest home to fit into a compact little apartment in DC. Fortunately, my husband and I are not of the packrat variety, even so, things do collect. For example, over the past two years we have amassed a decent collection of kitchen appliances (you will have to pry that ice cream machine from my cold fingers), two couches, an obscenely large flat screen TV, and other items too numerous to list.

This is why I was so excited to find an article in Sunset Magazine about a family who lives a "Zero Waste" lifestyle. More on this in blog posts to come.

In a lot of ways, city living will be far more sustainable than suburbia. We'll drive less, use less energy to heat and cool our home, and we'll have less stuff.


Working on reducing it...

Already we have started to downsize. Books we no longer want to keep are sold at a wonderful local used bookshop, The Haunted Bookshop was always one of our favorite spots downtown. Filled with a great selection of fiction, non-fiction, and children's books (along with a few friendly cats), the shop is a quiet, relaxing respite from daily life. Since the shop has recently expanded they have been especially happy to buy used books that are in good condition.

Clothes that are cute and seasonal can be sold at my favorite clothing shop downtown. Revival has a wonderful mix of new and vintage pieces. Sorted by color and always fun for perusing, the racks inevitably have some treasured skirt or adorable top to try on. The shop recently set up a back area filled with adorable clothes for children and babies.

And of course there is always craigslist or Goodwill for giving away furniture or other household items that we no longer want or need. Better to have someone actually use our stuff than to throw it away or haul it with us halfway across the country.

We'll see how this goes...