Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Brief Thoughts on...Yogurt

We are big fans of yogurt. I hated yogurt as a kid. Hated it so much it made me gag and I would refuse to eat it if at all possible. But then, I got older and discovered a beautiful thing: full-fat, creamy, thick, delicious yogurt. It deserves a choir. It is to be exalted. I no longer gag when I eat yogurt, I do happy dances at the counter with spoon in hand. The important thing about all this is that I am more health-conscious than most people I know. I know a great deal about nutrition and find it incredibly interesting. But I will hold true to this perhaps improbable tenet of what I consider healthy eating: eat the fat. Eating the full-fat or reduced-fat versions of many foods (as opposed to their fat-free counterparts) has a number of benefits. Foods taste infinitely better so you are satisfied with the correct serving size. They have lower levels of weird emulsifiers and artificial flavoring and sweeteners whose names I can only pronounce because I took two years of college chemistry. They make recipes taste complex and delicious while still only using small amounts. We buy our yogurt from local dairies whose products are sold at Whole Foods and get flavors like Wild Blueberry and Lemon Cream. Running at 150-200 calories for 8 oz, they are a delightful indulgence that satisfies like ice cream while still providing the nutritional benefits of live active cultures and calcium-rich dairy. I have to admit though, this last week I got a particular brand of yogurt that was on sale and at 250 calories (!!) a serving, I can't eat it all in one sitting because it's just too rich. I've been working on the same French Vanilla all day and it's still not gone. From now on, I'll stick to the slightly less rich while still incredibly delicious brands we're used to. I can also attest to the fact that it's still possible to drop weight without trying while eating 3-4 of these indulgent yogurts per week. So ladies, raise your spoons to something other than that Yoplait shit.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Home Cookin'

This week our goal was to decrease the amount of money we spend on eating out. This includes not just meals out, but extras like Starbucks, ice cream, etc. To that end, we planned four meals to cook for dinner (we'll eat leftovers the rest of the time) and shopped with restraint yesterday. Our weekly allotment of grocery money is to stay under $100. It's appalling to me that this is how much it costs to eat healthy, local, organic (but still affordable) food in NYC, but that's life. As a kid, I recall my mom spending about $150 a week to feed a family of six but that was ten years ago and in the small town where I grew up, which is about is different from the city as you can get.

Alix and I both have high standards for food. This doesn't mean we spend money stupidly, but it does mean that we buy organic produce from the farmers' market near us instead of the tasteless, albeit cheaper produce from the Morton-Williams grocery store a block from our apartment. The lessons I've learned from books such as Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver make it so that the guilt trip I put on myself for not buying local seasonal foods dictates that our eating and shopping choices be both moral and sustainable. So far, our spending this week has been in line with our goals. We spent about $80 at Whole Foods yesterday, which leaves $20 to spend at the market tomorrow on produce. We will probably get fruit (peaches, Concord grapes, and maybe a watermelon) as well as vegetables (salad greens, radishes, and beets).

Our menu for the week includes the following meals:
1. Sirloin steak with grainy mustard sauce + marinated green beans
2. Tuna noodle casserole + marinated green beans
3. Black bean soup + cornbread + salad
4. Pasta Florentine + peaches

Steak with mustard sauce
The steak and tuna casserole recipes came from a cookbook that Alix got for her birthday: So Easy, by Ellie Krieger. We made the steak last night and it was delicious! I have almost no experience cooking meat so Alix bravely took control of pan-searing the sirloin while I made the mustard sauce (reduced chicken stock with sauteed onions, flour, salt, pepper, and grainy mustard). I had made two pounds of cold marinated green beans the night before so we ate those last night, tonight, and probably tomorrow night too. The marinade is a spicy tangy sauce of onions, garlic, green chilies, oil, and vinegar that is poured over lightly steamed green beans and left to soak in the refrigerator for as long as you want.
Tuna noodle casserole
We made the tuna casserole tonight and were less than impressed. It was more work than we anticipated and the end result was boring and bland. Not so bad that we won't be eating it tomorrow, but not great. We consoled ourselves by getting gelato after dinner. As you can see, we take three steps forward and one step back.

And my last thought for the night on being healthy - we are back to taking our vitamins. My mom had me swallowing handfuls of vitamins for as long as I can remember but I grew lackadaisical about taking them while I was in college. After going to the doctor a couple of weeks ago, I was told that my vitamin D levels were extremely low. This has inspired me to start choking down the dreaded pills again. Since I feel like doing something halfway is worse than not doing it at all, I am not content to take just D. I am back to taking the following: calcium, magnesium D, C, flaxseed oil, and a daily multiple. Alix, bless her, indulges me by taking all of them too. We gag and complain and, in my case, spill my juice glass in protest, but they go down. Here's to growing up (and growing healthy)!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Life Ain't Easy...

Although we are attempting to save money with all the best intentions, life keeps getting in the way. Despite the birthday celebrations coming to an end, it seems as if the bills are piling up with increasing intensity. The harder Cait and I try, the more we need to spend.
Over the last three days we've had a series of setbacks:

#1 I, being the klutz that I am, awoke to find that I had placed my cellphone in a full glass of water during the night. Seemingly impossible... but here we are. Not only did I get my phone wet, I marinated it.

#2 Rupert, our lovable, bumbling puppy, needed to take another unplanned trip to the vet. Over the past few months Rupert has fallen victim to some odd yet oh-so-expensive illnesses. This time, he seems to be losing his precious fur. Lucky for us, we paid a few hundred dollars for the vet to tell us that Rupert needed to take a bath with special shampoo.
A good word of advice -- pets are expensive! If you are considering getting one, the cost far exceeds your expectations. Food is only one of many expenses. Don't forget the toys, the leash, the bowls, the toothbrush, the doggie bags ($12.75 for eight rolls!!!!) ... and the list goes on. That being said, while he may be helping us rack up the bills, Rupert brings so much joy to our lives on a daily basis. We love our pets like they were our children (or maybe because they are our children). No cost could make us think they are not worth it.

#3 A smooth transition from one Rupert-related cost to another: less than 3 weeks after purchasing a charger for my computer, Rupert chewed straight through it in one bite. Alas, one more unforeseeable cost.

What do you mean I look guilty? My face always looks like this.
The moral of the story: we cannot plan for every expense because life is highly unpredictable. I guess we will just have to keep trying.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Slow Start

Alix and I, while both highly motivated, are also expert procrastinators. It should surprise no one that knows us that this ambitious plan of ours is starting rather slowly. Or not yet. At all. See, the problem is that Alix just had a birthday. And I, well I'm a sucker for birthdays. We spent her actual birthday at my parents' house upstate where I made her a blueberry pie. Once we were back home though, I wanted to make more of a day of it. I didn't have to work on Monday so we slept in, took the puppy to his favorite dog park, and then went to see the Bodies exhibit at the South Street Seaport. Right before we were about to enter the exhibit, Alix stopped dead in the street, pointing wildly to a spot about twenty feet in front of us and started yelling, "Look! It's here! It's here!" She was referring to the famous Wafels and Dinges cart which has been eluding our grasp since I saw it featured on the Food Network. Our plans to spend no money that day went out the window as we decided to sample the famous chewy warm waffles covered with toppings of your choice (Nutella and strawberries for me, just Nutella for Alix). It was worth every penny spent, and every gooey bite before we entered the shadowy halls to contemplate the waffles' journey through the epic disassembly line that is the human digestive system.

Later, I made the dinner that Alix had chosen: chicken served on a bed of wild mushrooms (from The Silver Palate Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins with Michael McLaughlin), steamed artichokes with Hollandaise sauce (from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck) and chocolate chunk cookies for dessert. Nothing about this dinner was cheap or particularly healthy - Hollandaise sauce is butter with egg and a side of butter and, oh yeah, butter - but it was special and delicious. I've been told before that one of my greatest attributes as a cook is that I am utterly fearless. While I have a hard time believing most of the compliments I receive, this one I acknowledge as true. I taught myself how to make bread, pie, and almost everything else I can do in the kitchen by assuming that if one follows a recipe, has good intuition, and isn't afraid of messing up, anything can turn out delicious. This was true of the birthday dinner since everything I made was new to me (except the cookies, those are old stand-by's in our home).
The birthday feast
Next on our mission: order our DVD workout plan with its accompanying diet guide, figure out shopping lists based on said diet plan, and stick to the following budget guidelines:
Rent: 40%
Groceries: 10%
Utilities/Phone/Transportation: 6%
Pets: 4%
Miscellaneous (healthcare, car insurance, extra unexpected costs): 11%
Debt: 15%
Savings: 14%

I realize that's pretty convoluted, but this is a work in progress. Things they do not teach you in a liberal arts education...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Beginning

Hi everyone and welcome to our blog!

Here we will be writing about our adventures in New York and our quest to live healthier, happier lives on a budget. While New Yorkers are famous for continuously complaining about how expensive everything is (the rent! the parking! the food!), the truth is that Alix and I (Cait) are living off of one income and a rapidly depleting savings account, paying a rent we can't afford (go figure) and supporting a sulky cat and a dopey dog. This all sounds so much more tragic than the laughter-filled and love-blessed life that we are lucky to have but since we both want to remain healthy and financially viable into our next seven decades, the time has come for us to tighten our belts a little and make some changes.

The last three months since I moved into Alix's studio apartment in Hell's Kitchen, we've been a bit, shall we say, loose with our money. We appreciated the constant availability of take-out and became all too familiar with We also spent a large chunk of money transforming the apartment from the haphazard bachelor pad Alix was inhabiting into the cozy and furnished home we now share. Finally, we paid precious little attention to our spending habits at places like Whole Foods, Screme (the most delicious and over-priced gelato joint on the West side), and Unleashed (the boys' favorite holistic pet supply store). Now that we're settling into our respective routines - I work about fifty hours a week as a nanny, while Alix will soon be starting her second year of law school - we've decided to address our growing waistlines and shrinking accounts by changing our spending, eating, and exercise habits. We've designed a budget, sworn off eating out, and are starting a crazy workout plan (more on that later). We'll be doing our best to document our adventures here, in an effort to keep us honest and keep you amused. We invite you to read along and share it with us.