Monday, May 28, 2012

Slow (Food) Progress

I've been reading the archives in the 100 Days of Real Food blog, and I really find the posts informative. There is a lot of information here, from links to the Environmental Watch Group's "Dirty Dozen" to notes on fast food ingredients and how hard it is to find a birthday cake without preservatives. It's a neat read. And while I've been reading this blog and thinking about all these whole foods/locavore/vegetarian/vegan/juicing movements springing up, I'm also comparing our little household to the big food bloggers to see what we're doing "right", what we're not doing, and what we can potentially change.

For background: I've always considered myself a "healthy" eater but until recently I didn't pay much attention to where my food was sourced. My parents didn't take us kids to fast-food restaurants and candy wasn't kept at home except for the major holidays (Easter, Halloween, and Christmas). We didn't buy or drink a lot of pop. Both mom and dad gardened, cooked, and preserved some of our food and encouraged us to eat our veggies. Dad was always into organic/local food so some of that rubbed off on me and I've been researching food since college when my vegan friends introduced me to the delights (not) of factory farming! Rick's family wasn't as into health choices but his grandmother still did a lot of home cooking, so he learned to cook too - although his meal of choice when we were in college and he was working full-time was minute rice and fried chicken! He gained a lot of weight in high school and college and is trying to drop it, which is a motivator for eating better.

So when we got serious and got a house and I started thinking about feeding us, and he started thinking about losing weight (again), we decided to make some changes. We picked up some cookbooks for new recipe ideas... and promptly allowed them to gather dust (oh well). He dropped his Mountain Dew habit and cut back (little by little) on coffee. I quit buying pop for us and started a tea habit. Last year I got serious about making whole wheat bread and rolls; last winter he started making pizza crusts. And I've always tried to garden, with varying degrees of success. Little by little we're moving away from packaged foods and toward real healthy foods.

So here's to progress, and to still having more (a lot more) to do. "Right" here means good for our health and (usually) our budgets... not perfect, but moving in a good direction.

Things we are doing right:

  • Not eating out, although I occasionally buy lunches at work instead of bringing.
  • Buying whole wheat sandwich bread (ever since that Girl Scout project in third grade where they had us make 'clay' beads out of white bread, glue, and food coloring, I've greatly preferred wheat)
  • Buying in bulk when we can (bulk organic baby spinach, anyone?)
  • Gardening! This is of course an ongoing project.
  • Looking for healthier snack options: veggie straws instead of chips, whole-wheat pretzels, fresh or frozen fruit instead of ice cream.
  • Eating slightly less meat. We'll always eat meat, but I've cut my usual serving size and am filling the space with veggies.
  • Starting these changes while we're still in our 20's, childless and not in a food rut. I see a lot of bloggers talking about making changes when they've already started a family and are relatively settled in their ways of preparing and eating meals. There's always time to improve and I applaud anyone trying, regardless of age, eating habits or family status, but I think doing it younger and without having children does make it easier!

    Things we could improve:
  • Cut out white bread (still do a lot of white rolls for hot dogs and burgers)
  • Make most/all of our bread at home, learn to do pasta too!
  • Find local eggs
  • Buy more organic and local produce
  • Figure out if purchasing a whole, grass-fed locally-raised cow is an option! We can't afford to buy the "good" meat from the store and often default to the cheapest chicken breasts and pork roasts we find. I don't particularly love the idea of eating factory-farmed meat, but protein is protein and I'm not giving up bacon. I'm hoping that as our incomes rise, so will the percentage of healthier meat in our diets.
  • Start making our own 'processed' foods - things like applesauce, which is almost impossible to find without HFCS, and pretzels, which are a takeoff on the bread recipes I'm learning.

    Things that are at a stalemate (Either he or I don't want to give them up):
  • White-flour pasta. It's not going anywhere, although we've looked into making our own. The wheat pastas, aside from being more expensive, are also less appealing to Rick and harder for me to cook well (longer cooking times throw me off). We're probably going to stick to the convenience and speed of regular bulk pasta for a while.
  • Condiments (lots of yucky ingredients in the generic brands, but making them all at home is daunting and we tend to buy in bulk so they are very cheap!) If buying cheap condiments means we can afford better veggies or cuts of meat...
  • Cleaning and hygiene products. There are a lot of make-it-yourself recipes out there and we don't have much excuse not to switch (well, except for the recipes that encourage you to make your own soap... I'm not prepared to make my own soap yet), but I think I'd feel guiltier than I already do if I made my own cleaning products and still didn't clean the house!

    I think we're doing ok but there's a long way to go before I consider our diet really healthy. In the meantime, I'll be working on the garden and trying to remember how to preserve fruit.

    Any suggestions for things we could improve, or easy changes we could do this summer? I've considered doing a "real food" challenge - do you think it would teach us something new? What are your best healthy eating ideas?
  • Herbs and Veggies

    The other day I harvested a HUGE basket of oregano, including some delightful golden oregano. The basket looked so good I didn't want to disturb it. I felt like it belonged in some Better Homes & Gardens photo spread, not in my hands.

    There's more left on the plants because I couldn't fit it in the basket. My lemon balm has also quadrupled in size since I planted it two years ago, and it's spread across the walkway somehow and is coming up in the weedy space in front of the gas meter. Time to cut that back, too! Anybody want a clump of lemon balm? :D

    The chives are up (I planted them 2 years ago, and the first year I wasn't sure they'd even come up, and last year they were so tiny and fine and I was so bad at watering I was sure I'd killed them... this year they're bigger, and healthy - herbs never cease to amaze me!). So is the garlic (it came up pretty early, actually) and the lavender is still alive. The monarda (bee balm) came back, too. I'm impressed with that one. It all died back last fall and I was so sad! It hasn't flowered yet, but it looks healthy.

    The pill bugs (sow bugs? I know there's a difference but I can't tell!) have eaten away at the base of my bean stalks again and this is threatening to kill the beans, and the cat chewed the rest of the seedlings inside, and I have no more seeds. This summer is looking like a bush bean summer since I have loads of those seeds courtesy of my dad! This evening when it cools off I'm headed out to plant more tomatoes (I started some inside, and the seedlings barely sprouted and then wilted on a rather hot, dry day when I sadly didn't water them - I'm an awful gardener, really), some bush beans, cucumber, broccoli, and flowers of various kinds. I figure I might as well use some of my huge seed stash...

    Next week I'll start hardening off the few pepper seedlings that made it, and I hope this year we'll actually have peppers!

    What does your garden grow this summer?

    Monday, May 21, 2012

    Harvest! (Already?)

    (Yes, already).

    So I think I told you guys that I planted radishes, and lettuce, and turnip greens. Did I? Tell you, that is. I definitely planted them, about a month ago when we had a few deceptively warm days and I thought "Oh, good! Spring is here!". Except it wasn't quite, and there was frost, and for a while I didn't know if anything was going to survive, but the seeds that had germinated (about half of the ones I planted, which was better than expected, given that I planted a rather old mix of seed packets) came up and grew. And now...

    I have radishes!
    German Giant 'Parat'

    And lettuce:

    And I'm right this moment eating a lovely salad of fresh lettuce and grated carrot, seasoned with thyme and garlic powder and a dash of pepper, and tossed in olive oil and red wine vinegar, along with a nice cold plate of radishes, mozzarella, and sweet pickles. Yum!

    There's nothing as awesome (in the grand, amazing sense of the word) as being able to step right out your front door, snip off some greens and have them for dinner five minutes later. It is all the blessing I could ask: to be able to feed myself.