Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Non-Processed Project

Hey all!

One thing I'm actually pretty obsessed with is food. Mmm, food. If you ever see a picture of me, you will see that it's pretty obvious (i.e., I'm fat). However, the relationship between fat and food is a complicated one, based in a tug-of-war with love and hate. I love food for the pleasure it gives me on my tongue, but I hate how I use it when I'm out of control emotionally, or when I'm craving it like a drug.

The thing that bugs me most on the "hate" side of the tug-of-war is my addiction to "bad" foods. Mainly fast food, with an occasional processed-food indulgence. I love fast food, even though the craving and imagined lushness of what I'm eating is rarely equaled by the actual product. I realize how bad it actually tastes (esp. in comparison to real food), but at the same time I still crave it. So one thing I want to work on in general is breaking away from fast food and processed foods, PERIOD. It's a diet of sorts, I guess, but I'm more interested in clearing out the chemicals and eating REAL food.

Of course, the tricky thing about this is that we have become a culture of convenience, and there are some damn tasty chemicals out there. The idea of stepping away from all the pre-made stuff and making everything ONLY from scratch is... overwhelming, to put it MILDLY. I have a full-time job that requires a LOT of time, and as it is our apartment is barely livable (in no small part thanks to The Hubs, NOT me!). Now I want to go au naturel with the food-making, too? I mean, to be completely natural, I'd have to grow and butcher my own plants and animals. I'm not that good, and don't have those kind of resources at hand.

So we're trying to do it baby-steps style. This is no official plan, I'm making it up as I go, but here's what I'm thinking to start:
  • Shop the outside of the store, no processed foods like condensed soup, Cheetos, hot pockets, etc. Frozen vegetables/fruits and pre-made pasta are exceptions. Even better if I can buy what I need at local farmer's market.
  • If I'm buying something from the aisles for convenience, I have to recognize all of the ingredients AND no high fructose corn syrup/ corn syrup/ other obviously chemical stuff/ etc. in it. Surprisingly, I already found a granola (store-brand, even!) that the only ingredient I didn't recognize is actually ok (soy lecithin). Phew!
  • Aim for as close to non-hormone-infused meats and dairy as possible. If organic is possible and affordable, go for it. 
  • Make my own versions of favorite "fast-food" meals using real ingredients.
  • Try to quit soda again. (I've managed to cut down to non-caffeinated soda, and at work I drink only water, but it's a long-standing addiction I'm struggling to cut out). 
I almost hate to admit it, but I'm using Trader Joe's a LOT to help with this. What can I say, they offer a lot of products that meet these needs already, which is really nice. I'm also not throwing out anything which is perfectly serviceable still in our fridge or pantry (we can't afford to be wasteful) if it's chemically-based, but when it runs out it will be replaced with a "cleaner" version (if necessary).

I'm also not completely giving up on convenience foods; luckily, my "google-fu" has already found some options for replacing things like "cream of ____" soups in recipes, and I even have a homemade hamburger helper recipe that I really liked when I made it. We (The Hubs and I) are also planning on devoting a weekend soon to pre-making our own frozen dinners so we can really know what's in our food. For further "convenience", I'm also planning on making two slow-cooker dinners each weekend so we can use it for dinner during the week if we don't feel like cooking. Since we're most susceptible to grabbing the "bad" food when we're hungry and tired, having a lot of pre-made options at home will help (I hope!). Obviously, any awesome discoveries will be shared here!

Like I said, the hope is that focusing more on real food and avoiding chemical monsters will be more satisfying as a way of eating that it'll lead to more healthy choices, and that all the pre-planning will also dissuade me from being tempted to eat the chemical monsters on the way to or from work (which is an hour-long commute each way). On the menu this week: Yogurt parfaits inspired by Cooking with My Kid's version (I didn't make my own granola... YET) with a banana for breakfast, roast beef and cheddar sandwiches for lunch with carrot sticks and cheese for lunch. The carrots have been pre-portioned for the week, as has the granola and frozen strawberries for the parfaits. The hope is to just throw them all in my mini-cooler I take to and from school, and having so much to nibble throughout the day will keep me from stopping on the way to school or on the way home! I will admit that the roast beef is Hillshire Farms (so probably chemical-heavy), and I have ranch dressing that's not pre-made by me for the carrots. Baby steps, though, people. Baby steps.

I'll try to update regularly how the process is going; I'm also open to any tips or tricks from others!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I'm becoming even hotter and messier...

Ok, so, yeah.

I still totally plan on updating this regularly, it's just a matter of having spare time where I'm not dead to the world. See, I was fortunate and finally scored a teaching job. Downside: I didn't get the job until 2 weeks before school started, and didn't even get the pacing guide my subject department follows until the day before school started (so the outlining I did has to be redone). AND I'm a "roamer", in that I don't have my own classroom.

Truth be told, though, those are (so far) my only complaints. While my first week was exhausting, it was also mostly pretty awesome. I spent yesterday actually relaxing by hanging with one of my best girl friends and watching the movie "Babies" (I need at least one day where I don't do anything work-related), and today getting stuff organized and TRYING to lesson plan. I've got about 2 weeks done so far. For some odd reason, it just wasn't coming together today. So I'll be spending the rest of my spare time this week trying to get farther ahead in planning and starting unit plans... then maybe I'll have a spare moment to actually plot out a good entry?

In the meantime, I CAN update that my brilliant idea to do a chore a day doesn't really work when you come home from 12 hours of running around and your feet are killing you (I need better shoes, but I can't afford them until we get my first paycheck). Hell, I barely cooked all week. I think I made Hamburger Helper one night? I haven't even been to the grocery store in 2 weeks - The Hubs has done a couple store runs for quick refills on things like soda, but other than that we've been eating out of the cupboard and freezer as easily as possible. So basically, PB&J and ramen. Yeah. Super-healthy. The hope is once I adjust to the new schedule, we can get back on track. Any tips on finding the balance between work and home? I still haven't figured it out.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Martha Screwup: ... I have a blog?

Sorry, folks. The radio silence is unintended. Teaching has officially taken over, now that I officially have a teaching job (should update my profile!). School starts on Monday and I have to get myself all orgamanized.

I intend to do a Foodie Friday post, though. In the meantime, um... Sorry?

Well, to make this a LITTLE more relevant than an "I suck" post, I should mention that due to the various stressors of job hunting, money hurting, and then finding out I need to start planning a school year in a week (add in the "fun" of being a born procrastinator)... the house has fallen slightly into shambles. It's not HORRIFIC, but the ring on the toilet is disgusting and the dust on the shelves is starting to look at me funny. Also, our fridge is creating new life forms in some of the tupperwares that I dare not open.

Dear god, I can't believe I'm actually admitting this. EEP. Well, I swore to be honest about my housewifery struggles, so here it is.

I DO have a solution, or at least a germ of an idea. I'm going to make it my goal to clean one thing every day. Kitchen counters one day, toilet another, swiffering the bathroom/kitchen floors the next... it seems less stressful that way. Cleaning in one fell swoop overwhelms me. Tomorrow is the toilet, 'cuz it's getting gross. I'd take pictures, but I have some restraint.

Friday, August 6, 2010

FIESTA Friday! How I threw a 90's-theme party

SO. I threw a 90's party for my girlfriends this past Spring. It was agreed that it was pretty much all-around awesome. I mean, Hollywood celebrities weren't clamoring to get in or anything, but for us "normal" folks, it's a fun thing to do, esp. since those of us in attendance were pre-teens/teens in the 90's, so most of our memories are from that time.

I (of course) did a ton of research before the party - it's in my nature, I'm an English teacher for Pete's sake. I even provided a link to ideas for 90's outfits (of COURSE you have to dress like the 90's!) to help them out. My original costume idea was a blue dress with a stain on the front, but I couldn't find a cheap dress I was willing to ruin in my size, so I had to settle for a cute "Clueless"-type outfit once I found a cute mini-jacket at ROSS. I totally rocked the slip dresses over t-shirts and thigh-highs and Mary Janes in junior high, I can't lie. xD

Decorations are tricky; the 90's is just retro enough to justify a party, but not quite outlandish enough or far-away enough to have readily available decorations. Also, I was trying to do this CHEAP (and I did - most of the money went to the food, which I admittedly went over-budget with. I'm a fat girl, I like food.). So I settled for color pictures of popular 90's stuff, like No Doubt, Green Day, Bill Clinton, Saved By The Bell, etc. I even found an instructional sheet on how to do the Macarena for health! SERIOUSLY! It was awesome. The internet is a wealth of resources. So I printed them out and taped them all around my living room. I also made a MASSIVE 90's playlist, and offered Ring Pops as guest favors (which were technically developed in the 70's, but got a big commercial push in the 90's so we all remember them from our childhood).

The Menu was my crowning accomplishment. Everyone was so excited to see the food, haha. Probably because one of the items was a tray of sushi. ;p (Yes, Sushi was also developed before the 90's, but it surged in popularity in non-major cities in the 90's. I DID MY RESEARCH!)
The Menu:
  • Tray of various Sushi rolls (from our local Raley's)
  • Tray of egg rolls (from our local Raley's - not necessarily 90's, but they're good and filling)
  • Bagel Bites (came out in the 90's!)
  • Light microwave popcorn with "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" spray (ICBINB came out in the 90's!)
  • Peanut Butter M&M's (came out in the 90's!)
  • Snackwell's Devils Food cookies (which NO ONE ate, but it DID come out in the 90's!)
  • Snapple Kiwi Strawberry (who DIDN'T drink that crap in the 90's?)
  • Various 2-Liters of soda
  • A Pitcher of Cosmopolitans ("Sex and the City" debuted in the late 90's, and they don't sell Zima anymore in the US, so it was a bit of a stretch to use the infamous Cosmos from SATC but it still counts.)
Activities during the party was a movie quote game I made, with a prize of a Titanic coffee table book (found at Goodwill), a slap bracelet, a pack of scrunchies, and 2 bottles of Hard Candy nail polish (which was totally popular in the 90's - they now sell them at WalMart!). We hung out, ate, and talked, and we also watched the movie "Clueless", which is MY favorite 90's movie, and since it was a girls-only party, we were all excited to watch it.

All in all, it was a great excuse to party and we had a blast! I love planning parties, and I was really proud of how this one turned out. Also: Our costumes were awesome! I blurred faces out of courtesy, sorry for how weird it looks, but gotta respect privacy.
It's creepy, ain't it?
An example of my "awesome" decorations

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Keeping it Cheap! (I have no clever Alliteration today.)

Ah, the "joys" of being a teacher.

The good news: I got a teaching job! It looks like the school is really nice, too. (So far, the staff has been nothing but friendly and helpful, so I'm taking it as a good sign.) Which means I'll be a leetle busy (but still trying to update at least 2-3 times a week).

The bad news: I don't get paid until the end of September, and we're still waiting for Unemployment to kick in since being let go from my last (temp) job. =/ It's not necessarily PANIC-worthy, we're not BROKE. My hubby brings in a solid paycheck that covers our monthly bills and even covers gas and groceries. The only issue is that it's ALL the paycheck covers. Which is a lot better than a fair amount of people in our country, so I'm not complaining! It's just a change - we've been used to doing things a little less stringently. So NOW the challenge is to keep our groceries bill low and find ways to keep ourselves amused for cheap (preferably free).

So starting Monday night, we've been eating from the pantry and freezer. Due to our tendency to eat frozen dinners or grab fast food, they're both actually pretty well-stocked still! xD I know, so bad. This is actually a good exercise in frugality - even if it's by force. The only things we've bought from the store so far have been soda (The Hubs has quite the addiction - but hey, it beats cigarettes, which he quit this year!), and dog food for Daisy. I had a 2 for 1 coupon for Chipotle, so The Hubs (the accountant of the marriage) let me have one more indulgence for the month since I could stretch it out for 2 meals.

As weird as it sounds, it's actually kind of fun to play "mystery dinner". I mean, we're not INSANE, so I'm not just throwing random ingredients together and crossing my fingers or anything. Last night I used some cooked shrimp, angel hair pasta, and covered it in an Asian sauce that was basically from the recipe I use to make lettuce wraps. It actually turned out good, should've doubled the sauce though. Tonight I WAS going to make meatloaf (using condensed tomato soup), but it wasn't defrosting fast enough so I had to throw something together last-minute. Luckily, my beloved turkey italian sausage defrosts quickly even using the cold-water method, so I grilled those on the Foreman, and boiled some shell-pasta I had leftover that I mixed with some Trader Joe's frozen veggies I have yet to try (cauliflower and romanesco w/ garlic butter). Tasty! Plus I never had romanesco, and it was yummy! Like broccoli with cauliflower-like "flowers" on top. Tomorrow will be the meatloaf, with some sort of dressed-up rice. Like I said, it's kind of a fun challenge! It'll get tricky, though, when work starts in a week and a half and I'm commuting 2 hours a day... we'll definitely have to figure out some quick, easy meals to make (or learn to love PB&J until we can afford frozen meals ;D). I'm actually hoping to spend a day next week making some stuff ahead to freeze, like personal lasagnas - any successes will be shared here, of course!

As for cheap entertainment... well, he likes TV and I like the internerd, and we have iPhones to play on, also. We'll get out of the house, too, to go see a free movie in our local park this weekend! I'll be checking our local weekly for other free events, too. Any suggestions for two young-ish people to kill time out of the house for cheap?

How do you keep things cheap when belt-tightening is absolutely necessary?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Music Monday – “Music to Clean to” 90's mix!

As much as it pains me to reveal my age, I will admit that I am a 90's child. As in, I graduated in the 1990's (the LATE 1990's, thankyouverymuch) and spent half of my childhood growing up IN the 90's.

Even more painful is that the 90's are officially "retro" enough to start sneaking its way back into pop culture. See: Revamps of awesome 90's dramas "90210" and "Melrose Place" (the revamps are not awesome), 90's fashion being revisited in small ways (thank god), and my city establishing an all 90's channel - in which they play up the nostalgia aspect.

So for this Music Monday, we're doing the Running Man as we work! (Oh, you KNOW I was the master of that dance. For REAL, yo.) It's a 90's flashback for this week, including the 90's party I threw for a bunch of my girlfriends this year, with my tips on how I put it together!

Now, when it comes to 90's music, for me it falls into 2 categories: Alternative and Hip-Hop. This one falls more into the Alternative realm, but it's not really the "grunge" form of it. Don't get me wrong, I like Nirvana as much as any other 90's child (and I desperately tried to work a Nirvana song in but it just didn't go with the general feel of this particular playlist - someday!), but I focused on more of the happy, Pop-ish alternative music that came out in the 90's (and some of it is outright Pop - even I can't resist a little "I'm Too Sexy"). As a bonus bit of nostalgia, I'm telling the story of how I discovered certain songs, too! Some I didn't discover until this century!
  1. "Your New Cuckoo", The Caridgans My friend from my last high school (I transferred in 11th grade), Joey, introduced me to The Caridgans, for which I'm eternally grateful - for his taste in music and his friendship, we're still good buddies! 
  2. "Underground," Ben Folds Five While I didn't discover this SONG until college, I discovered Ben Folds Five when I was visiting my uncle and his then-girlfriend (now-wife) in IL. She gave me a bunch of cool cd's to check out and tape back at my Dad's place (who I was staying with for a few weeks in IL - the uncle visit was a side-trip), and Ben Folds Five's "Whatever and Ever Amen" was amongst them. They're still one of my favorite bands ever, even though they're now defunct. 
  3. "Last Goodbye", Jeff Buckley He sounds like an angel. Sadly, I didn't give him a listen until the mid-2000's. I love his plaintive wail to "kiss me" in this song. 
  4. "Here's Where the Story Ends", The Sundays
  5. "Missing", Everything But the Girl This song is part of their album "Amplified Heart", which is one of my favorite albums ever. So loved, in fact, I haven't listened to any of their other songs from other albums so as to not ruin my affection for this album. Also: this song has a cowbell! AWESOME. 
  6. "Supernova", Liz Phair
  7. "The Noise of Carpet", Stereolab Another friend from high school, Andrew, introduced me to this group and the album this came from. He's another one of my still-good friends who also gives me musical guidance; we bonded over our mutual adoration of Radiohead (my all-time favorite band)
  8. "Devil's Haircut", Beck
  9. "Buddy Holly", Weezer I know it's cliche, but I love this song - and yes, the video is what led me to loving it. Ho yeah. 
  10. "Criminal", Fiona Apple Another cd discovered via my now-aunt, and she's still one of my favorite artists ever. Not as high as Radiohead, but still up there. She's awesome. 
  11. "Brimful of Asha", Cornershop
  12. "Your Woman", White Town  I LOVED THIS SONG. For some reason, the local alternative station rarely ever played it, and never when I was close to my radio/tape player. Remember when you had to make your own mix tape? REMEMBER TAPES? GAWD, I'm old.
  13. "I'm Too Sexy", Right Said Fred I don't care, it's awesome, shut up. 
  14. "Just a Girl", No Doubt Oh man. I wanted to be Gwen Stefani SO BAD when this song came out. Those bindis, rhinestoned bra straps, and red lips? BITCHIN'. Plus it was used in some of my favorite movies as a teenager - "Clueless" and "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion". "I'M THE MARY!"
  15. "Cosmic Girl", Jamiroquai It's pretty played out at this point, but it's still a good song. I actually liked this single better than "Virtual Insanity".
  16. "April Fools", Rufus Wainwright This was a random late-night discovery on MTV one night... and it took me years to find it (thank you, internet!). Love this song. 


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