food, fun, holidays, home life, natural living

4th of July

Happy 4th of July, American friends! How are you celebrating this holiday?

I love having a cookout on the 4th, or going to one. This is such a social holiday to me; Thanksgiving and Christmas of course naturally mean a lot of family is getting together, but it always feels a little more formal – even though my family is pretty casual! I love the 4th because it’s all about eating and being together and waiting for darkness so you can have fun with sparklers and fireworks!

Do you use disposable plates and utensils for the 4th of July?

plates

It’s logical since you’re eating outside and don’t want to risk your regular dishes breaking – or being too heavy if you’re balancing it on your lap. I have hosted a few “dinner parties” with friends eating inside, and then I always use my own dishes and cups because it’s more formal. But outside events are more casual so you want to accommodate your guests while still being conscious of the environment.

Using disposables is so easy because you can throw away all the napkins and recycle the cups, plates, and utensils – depending on your city’s recycling policy. But I still feel like it’s creating so much waste – and a lot of plates can’t be recycled, if they’re coated with that weird filmy plastic.

There are companies that sell biodegradable party supplies, which is something to look into. I don’t often host anymore, usually just attend others. But I could still stock up on these supplies and offer to bring the plates and utensils as my contribution to the party!

This tableware collection in particular looks great to have on hand for parties – I love the idea of just being able to toss the “trash” on your compost pile! Have you ever tried biodegradable products? What do you use when you host parties?

101 in 1001, food

Banana Bread Recipe

One of my 101 Things in 1001 Days goals is to try a new recipe every month. I was thinking gourmet dinner recipes, but the idea of working in the kitchen in summer isn’t appealling, so I used our two leftover mushy bananas to make a loaf of banana bread from scratch using this recipe, with a few modifications.

bananaingred

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 peeled ripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Bit of salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C), and butter a loaf pan (I used butter-flavored cooking spray).

2. Mash the ripe bananas with a fork and stir in the melted butter.

3. Mix in the baking soda and salt. Stir in the sugar, beaten egg, and vanilla extract. Mix in the flour.

4. Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour at 350°F (175°C), or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

5. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for a few minutes. Remove the banana bread from the pan and let cool completely before serving.

bananabread

The bread turned out beautifully. It was a little dark on the bottom half, which you can see in the picture. As noted, I used butter-flavored cooking spray instead of real butter to coat the pan, so that might have made a difference? I also baked it for 50 minutes and my oven is pretty fickle, so if I do this recipe again I will probably bake it for a shorter period and check it. It wasn’t burnt though, and still tasted really good. Next time I will probably use a tad more sugar and definitely add another banana – it was a little dry, but I only had two bananas to use so I made do!

I really recommend this recipe if you want to make banana bread from scratch. I’ve loaded up slices with a ton of butter (so healthy, right? But so delish!) as a late night snack, or after-work snack, or… just because!

food, money, shopping

Giving Up Starbucks

I gave up Starbucks for Lent. It wasn’t a huge sacrifice, because I hadn’t visited very often since my son switched schools. His old school was right down the street from a Starbucks, so I’d drop him off, place a mobile order, then run in to get my massive iced coffee and go. It was easy, and only a few bucks… right? Except this iced coffee was like $3 a visit, and while I didn’t do it every day, I did it at least once a week. Spending $12 a month on iced coffee when I already made my morning coffee at home… why?!

After giving Starbucks up for Lent, I went back once. Then all the news stories started coming out, and while I know the stuff that happens in Starbucks stores isn’t necessarily endorsed or encouraged by Starbucks as a company, and they seem to be reacting well to the concerns… I just wasn’t sure I wanted to support them anymore.

Let’s be honest: Starbucks is not good.

If you like plain coffee, you probably prefer to brew your own. I’ve never had good plain hot coffee from Starbucks – it always tastes too strong, or too weak, or is gritty. I like their iced coffee with cream, which has never tasted bad to me (except the time the barista added sugar I didn’t ask for – yuck!).

If you like milkshakes disguised as coffee, you probably like Starbucks. I used to live off Frappucinos as a teenager. It’s how I got hooked on coffee, so thank you for my addiction, Starbucks. But as I started to love coffee, I started to hate Starbucks. We’d place a group order on Fridays at work and the sugar brighten up the slow day. But when you want coffee, it just won’t do. Too sweet, not enough coffee taste.

PLUS the price. People are paying $5 for a medium cup of overly sugared coffee that contains their calories for the day. And that’s a BASIC drink from the menu. If you want to add flavors and shots, then you’ve added another 2 bucks. A large drink is like $7… That could be a fast food MEAL! An entire meal for the price of a cup of coffee.

Not to mention that you visit every week, so you’re spending over $20 a month on coffee. And by “you” I don’t just mean you, I am included. I would happily spend this for “coffee”, and then at the grocery store I would balk over buying a $7 BAG OF COFFEE that can make two weeks worth of POTS of coffee…

Let’s do the math: I make a pot of coffee every day, and a bag lasts me close to two weeks. Let’s say 12 pots of coffee, just to be safe with our numbers. 8 cups of coffee per pot, which fuels my mornings from 9 to noon. 8 cups per pot times 12 pots is 96 cups of coffee. For a bag of coffee grounds that costs $7, which, if you remember, is about the price of one large Starbucks coffee. 96 versus one – what should win?

96 medium cups of Starbucks coffee would be about $480. That’s my kid’s school tuition each month. And I know it would be damn hard to drink 96 cups of Starbucks coffee in a month – you’d blow up from sugar or calories or something, but still.

I honestly couldn’t drink 96 cups of Starbucks in a year, and the star rewards really help – free coffee after 125 stars, which aren’t too hard to obtain. That’s how they hook you – the thrill of the chase, the contest! I have a gold Starbucks card. Not a credit card – a card I transfer money to, to spend money at Starbucks. But it’s gold, Jerry! It has my name on it. I am important. It shows everyone that I spend a shit ton of money at Starbucks.

But that’s stopping. I mean, I have money left on my card, so I’ll have to drain it, or give it to someone. And use my last free coffee reward – I always go all out on my free drink with extra espresso shots, flavors galore, the biggest bucket you can give me! (And then don’t eat for the rest of the day…) But after that, I’m letting go of this Starbucks gold. I don’t need to spend the money when I can make my own delicious coffee at home. If I want to go out for coffee, there are local coffee shops I really love and should patronize instead.

food, money, shopping

Coupons

I missed the whole “extreme couponing” movement, and I’m not into it now. I used to collect paper coupons, but usually forgot them when I went to the store – even though I clipped them to the fridge RIGHT NEXT TO THE GROCERY LIST. Go figure. I think I saw them so often that they just blended in with the fridge magnets.

A friend told me about Kroger’s digital coupons, so I started stalking those and adding them to my card. I base my grocery list around coupons, to an extent. I don’t have much brand loyalty – I usually buy store brand because it’s just as delicious as a “real” brand, but a lot cheaper. But if I see a coupon, I’ll make a note of the brand name on my list, as well as how much the coupon is worth. At the store I can see if the coupon is really worth it, or if the item is still more expensive than another brand.

I like using any type of coupon because it makes me try different brands, and sometimes different foods. I usually have the staples I buy – I still remember my weekly grocery haul when I lived in my studio apartment: eggs, apples, a block of cheese, milk, and bread. Once a month I’d buy a bag of salmon fillets, vat of peanut butter and some coffee. My breakfasts were eggs, my lunches were peanut butter sandwiches and apples, and my dinners were salmon. I’m still in that mindset, because my kid eats the same things every day. But I’m trying to cook more, eat healthier, and go paleo, so I’m buying different things. Using coupons makes me feel like I’m being “practical” when I try different stuff.

Kroger also has free items on Friday – you add the coupon to your card on Friday, and can use it for about a week, so you don’t have to go to the store ON Friday. A few weeks ago, I got a free bag of chips. A free bag of chips! It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s worth $3 or $4, and can be doled out into my kid’s lunch for a good two weeks or so (unless I eat them all in one sitting).

When I go shopping for the big monthly haul, I usually spend about $140. That provides most meals for the month, but I’ll stop back in two weeks later for more produce and some things I might need for upcoming meals. My groceries have been about $300 a month, but I’m trying to get better about that – or at least better about WHAT I’m buying. The coupons really help, though they are rarely for produce. Meat coupons have helped a lot, as well as random things I’ll get for my kid to take for school lunches. Coupon savings usually add up to $25 or $30 per big haul visit!

Kroger also gives you codes on your receipt to get fuel discounts – don’t forget to do this! The points add up and I’ve gotten $.50 off per gallon before! The surveys are pretty boring but it takes five minutes and you can do it every 7 days, so it really adds up.

food, home life, natural living

Yeast

Both of my grandmothers used to make sourdough bread every week. One would make crusty loaves, and one made tray after tray of rolls to take to all of her social functions. My mom would occasionally borrow a cup of the starter to make loaves and rolls for our family. Sometimes she even made homemade cinnamon rolls – yum!

When I was in my 20s, soon after I bought my house, I decided I wanted to make bread, too. It seemed so domestic, but also I loved the taste of the bread so I wanted to have the power of making it for myself! I made the starter based on my grandmother’s instructions, and fed it every week, and made bread every week. At the time I had a great job and my coworkers were all like family, so I would make bread for myself, then take all the rest to them. They loved the rolls and would often ask when I would be making the next batch.

I stopped not long after I met my husband, because it was a lot to keep up with, and I wasn’t eating the bread anymore. I love making bread for others and making them happy through food, but it was too much effort. Not long after that I had a tough pregnancy and then had a kid, so making bread hasn’t really happened since then.

My husband found a recipe for ice cream bread and made that once, but it was too dense and dry for me. Lately I’ve found myself craving the fluffy, moist, crusty sourdough I used to make. I want the habit of feeding and making bread again, too, but I also know I can’t really take on a new “chore” with everything going on right now. I might have to find a different recipe, a bread I can make once a month instead of having to maintain weekly.

Do you have a favorite bread recipe?