Sunday, April 26, 2009

The skinny on weight and the environment

Over at the Environmental Blog, there's an interesting look at weight loss and its affect on the environment. Simply put, consuming less leads to lower food-related production, which results in less energy used and lower emissions. And if that's not enough, visit the link for a picture of Michelangelo's David that's sure to make you chuckle.

link: Weight, Health, & the Planet

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring in the City

While Christmas may be the most glitzy time of year to be in New York City, Spring is definitely the prettiest. Trees are blossoming, grass is covering up the muddy spots created during winter, flowers are blooming and hiding the rat holes, it's warm but not hot enough to make heat rise from the sidewalks or the garbage smell: it's a glorious time to be in the city! Below are some pictures from the many excursions we've had over the last week while Columbia was on break and the weather was nice.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

America's Favorite Pastime has me Cheering (at the Radio)

For Christmas '07, JC gave me $50 worth of "Bomber Bucks" to use towards buying some Yankee Tickets. We didn't get a chance to use them last year, so I went up on Friday to see what I could get for their first year in the new stadium. You might have heard that the prices in the new stadium are not entirely in line with our economic situation. Catch a game on TV, and you'll see a lot of empty ($375) field level seats. Last year, sitting with the bleacher creatures would set you back $12, while hiking up to the nosebleeds would cost $19/seat. This year, bleacher tickets are $18 and upper level start at $23. Happy to watch any game, I thought I'd go up to the Bronx and just pick up two tickets to any game. I got to the window and found out that the lowest priced ticket left is $60... for the rest of the season. All the "cheap" tickets are sold out until the 2010 season.

How has the national pastime become so expensive? I guess it could have something to do with a 1.5 BILLION dollar stadium. When JC lived in the Bronx, she could show up on game night and pay $5 for bleacher tickets. Today, if a family of four decides on a whim to catch a game (given what's left), you're talking $240 before you walk in the door. It makes me more and more interested to watching some local minor league games, like the Brooklyn Cyclones or the Staten Island Yankees.

My first few games cost me more in sausages and beer than the ticket price, but I later got wise to going for the game, and learning the stadiums rules on bringing in outside food. At this point, I can't justify spending an extra $70 for "free" tickets, so looks like I'll have to hold on to the gift certificate until next year. This year I'll have to enjoy the new stadium through the magic of my AM radio.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Says Food to consumers, "Rescue me before it's too late!"

You had great intentions for that rice, right? "Oh, I'll just eat the rest tomorrow," you said. Then tomorrow came. You took a bite of what used to be soft and fluffy rice and instead nearly broke a tooth at the dry and unappealing cold, sad rainy-day-in-a-bowl staring you in the face. What to do when life gives you old rice? Make lemonade!, rather in this case, "fried rice."

A NY Times article from last year claims that we throw out about 27% of food that could otherwise be eaten. Some is discarded after being put on a plate, and some never makes it there to begin with. Since this equates to cash-in-the-trash, JC and I have three ways to keep this number much lower: The Weekly Plan, The Deep Freeze and Improv Night.

  1. The Weekly Plan. We look at what's on sale or what is in the house, and try to build a weekly menu out of it. We've found that if we don't know what we're having by about noon, we're probably going to pay for take-out. It's nothing too fancy, just enough to help us prepare for our week, what needs to come out of the freezer the night before, etc. What's "nothing too fancy?" Here's last week for us:

    (click for a larger version)

    (Lunches with "L.O." means left-over from the dinner before. In that case, we plan to make enough dinner for the next day's lunch.)

  2. The Deep Freeze. This one takes a little effort, but we've found that it's well worth it. Rather than buy small portions of food for a night of cooking, we try to buy family packs when they're on sale. For instance, 3-pound family packs of sausage were on sale at Pathmark last week for $1.99/lb. This is about as cheap as we ever find it, so we bought three. We wrapped them in 3's in saran wrap, then put them in Ziploc freezer bags. When we need sausage, we easily pull 3 links out of the bag, or more as needed. Since we only take out what we need, we're not left trying to make additional sausage meals, or worse -- Throwing out meat due to spoilage.

    Measure twice, cook once: Want to only eat 4 cookies? Don't make a batch, just pull out cookies (ready in 14 minutes), sausage or a meal of chili. Want not, waste not. I'm sure I could think of more cliches that are apropos, but you get the idea.

    We do the same thing with ground chicken/turkey/beef (flattened bags of 1.5 lbs, which thaw very quickly), larger batches of crockpot meals (chili, tomato sauce, etc.). There's no (apparent) loss in quality in using frozen meat, and the savings in cost combined with the convenience of a mini-supermarket in your freezer makes planning meals so much easier. An added benefit is that the sales for these items usually coincide with our stock, so when the sausage is out, it's usually on sale again.

    Super space-efficient, the right side is a stack of 1-Gallon Ziploc bags with ready to thaw: Chicken breasts, sausage, ground beef, Chili and more.

  3. Improv Night. The idea for this post started when JC and I were making a fritatta for dinner. That meal should have lead to a post about kitchen safety and 2nd degree burns, but I digress. We had some cooked string beans from the previous night, and thought -- eh, throw them in! It got us thinking about meals that can be made with leftovers. Leftover white rice from Chinese take out? The next day it' perfect for making a quick Fried rice. Are your strawberries or bananas starting to head towards the light? How about making fruit pancakes (and freezing what's left) or making a batch of fruit muffins? Leftover steak/roast/london broil, etc? Cube it and toss it into a chili and making it what what we call "Cowboy chili". The idea is to find a way to save the food before it winds up in the trash. Be the "Cinderella Man" of your kitchen, and give those onions one last chance in the ring....

    You can google what to do with your leftovers, or check out sites like Love Food Hate Waste for suggestions.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Paying too much for produce? Try your green grocer

One of the best parts of my commute to Elmhurst is passing by the local fruit stand, "Mango Rico". I stopped by one day because the produce I needed was so expensive at the nearby Associated Supermarket that I couldn't bring myself to buy it. So I thought, eh -- I'll try it. Now I can't remember the last time I was in the Associated.

CBS News ran a video the other night -- it seemed a fluff piece, easy to ignore -- but I looked over at JC and we both nodded a telepathic "that's what I'm talking about" at each other. The piece was about knowing where to get groceries in this time of recession. (You can watch the video or read the transcript if you missed it.) It claims the best places to get produce, fish, meats and more are:

  • Chinatown
  • Astoria
  • Flushing
  • Arthur Avenue
  • Flatbush Avenue
I can attest to the deals around Canal Street and Mott streets too. Perfectly high-quality produce for insanely cheap prices. Big bunches of slim asparagus for $1, gorgeous bundles of baby spinach for $1.25... While most people try to get out of jury duty, my recent stint on Centre Street might have been the best thing that could have happened to dinner.

link to video
link to article / transcript

Friday, April 3, 2009

Change of Mindset Yields Change of Pants Size

A funny thing happen on the way to the scale -- I lost about 45 pounds.

It's funny, because I didn't really diet, per se. I didn't head off to the gym each night, and I didn't take the latest and greatest pills. I didn't starve myself and I didn't join weight watchers. I just lost weight.

Around the middle of the summer, I hit the scales at the heaviest I'd ever weighed. I was in a rut at my job, and had little energy to make a change in my life. Luckily, change found me. Maybe I got caught up in politics, but lets just say I was overwhelmed by this phrase I kept hearing, "yes we can!". So I did. Weight loss has tapered recently, but it hasn't gone back up yet, so I'm happy to be in a healthier place and state of mind.

If you're reading this for weight loss tips, here are the things I found helped me to lose weight, but with this disclaimer: Without the change of mindset to want a better life for myself, any attempts at change would probably have been given up on after a week.

  1. I started walking more. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I think it was a critical early effort to raise metabolism. Get off at one subway stop further from your house or job, if it's a possibility. Or just walk anywhere. Walk to the movies, to the park, to the next post office, to the further Starbucks. We all have to walk to get where we're going; my advice is to just walk more.
  2. We started cooking almost every meal. JC is home with the Pumpkin, and has taken on the duty of head chef. Cooking at home has done three things:

    • We eat healthier. Fewer oils, fewer preservatives, fewer ingredients that sound like they were made in a laboratory.
    • We eat less. Take-out portions are huge, but if, like me, you eat with guppy mentality, "everything is servings per container: 1"
    • We don't have to buy lunches. Lunches are packed when dinner is dished out. This means smaller portions than take out, with the added benefit of massive savings, the amount of which I can't imagine.

  3. I rarely drink alcohol anymore. This was mostly a financial decision, but the calories avoided from my nightly beer(s) surely add up. I'll still enjoy a drink with friends, but we almost never drink at home we're really jonesing for it.
  4. We eat more fruits and vegetables. I stop in my fruit stand in Elmhurst about twice a week and pick up what's cheap and looks good. I've gotten pineapples for $1, 3 red peppers for $1, and so on. Filling my belly with fruits and vegetables means filling it with less processed ingredients or "bad for you" food.
The recession is hitting everyone hard, but we found ourselves ahead of the curve when we decided for JC to stay home and raise Pumpkin. Who knew we'd be preparing for the storm? We've given up a lot, as I imagine everyone is doing now, but I have to say I really don't miss any of it. Every so often I yearn for a pricey tech gadget, but for the most part I really just stopped "needing" all the things I don't have anymore... including those 45 pounds!