The Popcorn Files

OK, so how did I manage to make it weeks without posting? And I just started? WHO KNOWS?

The truth is I’ve been kind of lazy. I’m not preoccupied by school (I’m fortunate enough to have a light schedule this term and only have to go in 3 days a week – 2 after this week) or exercise or cleaning (ha!) but I’ve been making some good progress on a few small goals.

1) We received a supplemental financial aid check due to me dropping a course the first week of the term. This is gone already on our final car payment + associated fees (YES!!!) a new rear bike tire for me, some school related purchases (one textbook that you have to bring with you to a national exam, so there’s no avoiding the purchase, a lab coat for clinic, and some dressmaker’s pins for a facial points project involving a styrofoam head) and — wait for it– a $20 air popper from Amazon! I feel like this is the score of the century! Especially because those offered online from the big box stores were upwards of $30 and I got this with free 2-day shipping, so good for me. Next stop: Union Square greenmarket for some organic popcorn, straight from the farm.

I’ve managed to spend only about $250 on groceries so far this month, which (if the trend continues) means we’ll hit about $500 for the month. I’m not quite sure how I achieved this, but several bags of dried beans have been cooked in the past two weeks, and I’m sure this is somehow related to the overall grocery savings. In other news, my son told me yesterday that he thinks he has iron-deficiency anemia due to lack of meat. LOL. I told him to eat more greens — their iron is just as accessible and easily processed as long as he’s receiving adequate vitamin C (more fruits and vegetables!). He was obviously thrilled with my advice.

The grocery savings was somewhat (not entirely) offset by a ginormous electric bill, which made no sense at first since we’ve had a really mild May and June and have turned on the air conditioners maybe twice, during a mini heatwave.

However, we had a refrigerator crap-out (it was running all the time and frozen things started to melt) that I think might account for the high bill. It turns out that mice (eeeeew but yes, that’s NYC apartment dwelling – there are nasty uninvited critters all over the place, no matter how much people deny it**) had been taking the insulation out of the back of the unit and using it for nesting. Gross. But the landlord sent over the refrigerator fix-it guy and things seem to be functioning normally; now we just need competent exterminators who come more often than once a month. *SIGH*

Sidenote: I researched natural mouse repellants after this incident. Did you know that mice hate peppermint oil and vinegar? Who knew? So I soaked several cotton balls in apple cider vinegar and strong peppermint tea (I didn’t have any peppermint essential oil but I’ll pick some up this week) and tossed them in back of the refrigerator, in back of the stove, and in the vicinity of the known mouse holes, which are filled in with steel wool. We’re in a large apartment building and it seems that the mice have made a network from apartment to apartment. Anyway, I haven’t seen any since placing those cotton balls, but the sources I read say that the effect wears off unless you refresh it. Just thought I’d share in case anyone else has rodent issues and wants to avoid traps and nasty chemicals.

So, humans 1, mice 1.

In the meantime, I’m psyched about the bike tire purchase. This means I can implement my long-pondered plan to become a half bike commuter.

I say half because I live about 15 miles from my school, which would be fine if I lived on pretty, winding, smooth country roads, but I don’t. I live on pothole riddled Bronx streets which are treacherous not only for the poor road conditions, but also for the crazy a-hole drivers all over the city. I am fortunate enough to live within close proximity to the NYC Greenway system, which is both safely car-free and freshly paved, but taking it means I have to go a few miles out of my way and the trip could verge on 20 miles one-way. Since I’m not a fast rider anyway, and city traffic means lots of lights and delays, that means it might take as much as 2 hours to commute (plus, I haven’t ridden in a while and 30 to 40 miles a day seems like a lot). So my big plan is to take the train in, with my bike, chain the bike up outside, and ride the bike home. This will actually only work on Fridays (Mondays I have a night class, and no, I won’t be riding my bike home through the potholed streets of sketchy areas of the Bronx at 10:30 pm) but it will be decent practice run for fall, when my schedule changes dramatically. I figure I can save about half of my commuting costs and get some great exercise in at the same time.

Alright. WALL OF TEXT. Evidently I had  a lot to say there. Next time, I will discuss my personal snowball credit payment method and the ripoff that is payment protection, but in the meantime, have a great day, avoid the critters, and enjoy those dried beans!

**Second sidenote: During a period of unemployment, Mr. Frugalacupunc found a temporary position with an exterminator. He said rich people have roaches, rats, mice and bedbugs just like everyone else. Ewww.

 

Homemade Yogurt

The bone broth is STILL in the crockpot, but it’s looking and smelling good and I’m about to shut it down, strain it, and wait for it to congeal a little (due to the high gelatin / collagen content) before pouring portions into baggies and freezing them up. Yeah, productive days off!*

Next up is yogurt. Eeep!

Much like the broth, I have never made my own yogurt. I do have vague, dusty, Instagram filtered memories of an electric yogurt maker my parents had during a hippie-frugal phase in the late 19070’s or early 1980’s, but I have no recollection of actually seeing said yogurt-maker in use. I found this recipe a few weeks ago and decided to give it a go.

The economics of home yogurt (if I’m successful, that is) make it a no-brainer.

For example, Greek Gods plain 24 oz. tubs are on sale this week at Fairway for $2.99. That’s a decent price but it’s not even organic. Trader Joe’s house brand organic Greek yogurt goes for $2.49 for a 16 oz. tub. That makes $.13 and $.16 per ounce, respectively.

I’m using a half gallon of milk – 64 fluid oz. – for this experiment. A half gallon of milk is 64 ounces by volume but 67 ounces by weight (I’m rounding up). I’m also using fancy, yuppie milk. An ordinary half gallon is usually $1.99 or less around here, but I’m using fancy-schmancy Fairway organic grass fed milk (for the same reasons that I want grass fed beef, I want grass fed dairy because the animals in question produce a much more favorable ratio of Omega 3 fats to Omega 6 fats – and yes, we always buy whole milk, not that sad, unwhole skim stuff), which is $3.75. That means I’m potentially getting 66 ounces of yogurt at $.05 per ounce for fancy, or $.03 per ounce if I go the conventional milk route.

I haven’t been eating a whole lot of dairy for some time, but I used to have a raging Greek yogurt breakfast habit. That got pricey and I started avoiding dairy for other reasons, largely because in Chinese medicine dairy is viewed as contributing to dampness, or a condition that expresses itself in the body with headaches, overweight, and chronic sinus congestion / stuffiness, and digestive issues, among other things. Since I have all of the above, I typically stay away from delicious milk, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt, but have a little goat milk in my morning coffee (speaking of outrageous prices, goat milk is $4 a quart. DAMN!) However, yogurt is a cultured, fermented, live food, which means I’ve been missing out on some probiotic goodness. This is dairy I can live with, for only 5 cents an ounce!

*So, days off… This term, my class schedule is only three days a week, Monday, Thursday, and Friday. Because of Memorial Day classes were cancelled this past Monday, which means I’m wrapping up nearly a week off. What?! I need to get my head back in the game, because I’m going to be greeted back with biochemistry and anatomy quizzes on Friday and a points location practical on Monday. Happily, my brain will be fed with bone broth and organic yogurt, so I’m pretty sure I’ve got this.

Slow Cooker Lamb Bone Broth

It’s bone broth day!

I’ve never done this before, but I keep hearing about it from all the Paleo people, and it’s kind of a thing in Chinese medicine too.

There’s a lovely breakdown of all that is good about bone broth from the Jade Institute.

Bone broth is prepared in cultures around the world as both a tasty, healthful soup and an easily digested medicinal food. The prolonged cooking of bones in water results in a broth rich in nutritional constituents that promote strength, tonify blood, nourish in times of sickness and rehabilitation, and help to prevent bone and connective tissue disorders.

If this is the first contact you’ve had with Chinese medical theory, you should know that when the author says bone broth “tonifies blood,” she means that it’s something that almost every woman can benefit from, as most of us are considered “blood deficient” by Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is a condition that can come about a number of ways, but is heavily influenced by the menstrual cycle, certain deficiencies that come about when one avoids animal proteins, and the tendency by many women to eat a preponderance of cold, raw foods (salads!) year-round. If you’re blood deficient you may feel fatigued, weak, dizzy, and especially may get very light headed when you stand quickly. You may also have a pale complexion or be diagnosed with anemia from a biomedical perspective. I fall under this category and wanted the broth to act medicinally for this and other purposes (I also want to support my kidneys and spleen). I get regular acupuncture through my school clinic and often use Chinese medicinal herbs, but the preparations often run upwards of $30 for 1 week’s worth of doses, and making this broth from scratch cost about $5.

Anyway, here’s what I did:

The Union Square Whole Foods carries frozen lamb, pork, and beef bones for stew in the butcher department. Pork is not supposed to be the ideal animal to use for bone broth (I have no idea why; I just do what the internet tells me) and even though Whole Foods is excellent at sourcing quality product, I still shy away from using beef bones from grain fed cattle, because I feel that if the animal hasn’t been consuming quality nutrition it won’t pass quality nutrition on to me, (For more on this and the environmental impacts of grain fed beef versus grass fed, see here). To avoid the issue altogether, I went with lamb, and got a few packages at $1.99 a pound (your mileage may vary, but I read at least one report of an organic butcher in Oregon charging $22 per pound for organic grass fed beef bones, so I think this was pretty reasonable).

I started out by roasting the bones in a foil-lined glass baking pan in my oven at 400 degrees for close to two hours. I can report that the smell drove Miko crazy, which I will take as a good sign. When the bones were thoroughly browned, I took the tray out of the oven and dumped the bones and their liquid into my slow cooker with about 10 cups of water (which was enough to cover them all) and three tablespoons of rice vinegar, since I read that you should go with two tablespoons of vinegar, lemon juice, or other acid for every quart of water to draw the marrowy / cartilagenous goodness out of your bones.

The bones have been in the slow cooker on the highest setting for about three hours now, and they seem pretty brothy already, although I’m probably going to keep them in for 24 hours and add an onion and some garlic cloves toward the end, for extra nutrition and alium goodness. I was instructed to “skim the scum” that would form at the top of the cooking water, but so far there has been no scum to skim. Am I doing it wrong? Did I not purchase scummy enough bones? Bone broth insecurity!

As noted above, this adventure costs about $5 plus the use of the oven and slow cooker.

I’ve started to become really interested in using nutritional modifications in favor of herbal medicine to treat a wide variety of symptoms. This isn’t because there’s anything wrong with herbal medicine (there’s not: in the hands of a properly trained herbalist and a compliant patient, herbs can have some powerful positive effects). The issue as I see it is that many, many patients either won’t take their herbal formulas consistently, or won’t make other changes in their diets that would otherwise help the herbs along. I also think that cost is a factor that the alternative health community should address and take seriously. I have a lot more to say about that, but for now, it’s sufficient to point out that you have to buy food regardless of any other concerns about health or budget. To buy and prepare food that also acts as medicine is a one-two punch to your wallet and your body, and I’ve decided to prepare my future guidelines and recommendations by using myself as an experiment of one (while simultaneously saving all of that herb money).

If you’re interested in learning more about eastern nutritional therapies, check out Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford. It’s kind of dense and difficult to digest, but full of solid information about nutrition from a Chinese medical perspective.

Happy Memorial Day! To all of the veterans

Happy Memorial Day! To all of the veterans , service members, and families of the same, thank you.

We spent the day in typical fashion by driving upstate in our Subaru Forester (just paid off, boo-ya! One financial misstep cleared) with the family, the dog, and Mr. Frugalacupunc’s brother. As city dwellers, we crave outdoor space, especially outdoor space that doesn’t cram us up close to other families and their music and noise and litter and other assorted bullshit, so we made the drive up to Clarence Fahenstock State Park in Putnam County to grill, hike and relax. This was easy because we almost always have a “go-grill-pack” including a hibachi, charcoal, lighter fluid, and barbecue utensils stashed in the back of the car.

So, two things about that, as pertain to our new goals of frugal living:

1) Why the hell do we own a car in New York City? Well, a few reasons. For one, at the time we were feeling flush, had 2 dogs and a tween, and gas prices were a lot lower than they are now. That made sense in terms of travel for vacations or visiting family – what’s cheaper, maintaining a vehicle and driving 300 miles a few times a year, or paying boarding fees for two dogs and buying 3 sets of round-trip air fare a few times a year? I’m not actually sure if this math works out, but it’s what we thought at the time. Given that we still commuted via mass transit and used the car exclusively for this sort of thing, it would have made more sense to use Zipcar (if you’re not familiar, it’s a by-the-hour rental service to which you subscribe for a monthly fee in exchange for the use of a car for a few hours whenever you might need it), but I think the massive quantities of cheaper groceries we’ve been able to buy and transport with our little Forester have chipped in to the overall value of owning a vehicle in a city with the best utilized public transit service in the U.S. In any case, it’s ours now, and if we’re headed upstate we’re going to need it (and probably another).

2) We narrowly averted crisis when I sent Mr. Frugalacupunc to shop without a list. See, where I prefer and feel most secure with some tight controls and like having a number in mind when I head to the store (otherwise, I’d probably get lost in Fairway and come floating home on a raft of out-of-control groceries) my better half gets focused on a “go big or go home” mindset and thinks a lot about everybody having plentiful food and good times when we stage any sort of event, even something like driving up to a park to grill some burgers. Therefore, between the regular groceries and the cookout groceries, he came home with almost $200 worth of foodstuff.

This was an issue. For one thing, I’m trying to hold us down to $600 a month or less in groceries (that sounds high – that IS high – and I’m working on paring it down a lot further. However, when you account for general NYC inflation, the fact that we cook the vast majority of our meals from scratch using whole foods with maybe two or three takeout or restaurant meals a month, and the fact that one of the mouths we feed belongs to a 16-year-old black hole, I’m alright with how we’re doing for now). Also, he just bought too much, so there are now hot dogs and hamburgers for daaaayyys.

Whereas this might have caused a fight in the past, this time it was an opportunity to get on the same page regarding our future goals and what we need to do to get there. Mostly, I sit down and try to figure out the budget and the bills, and he listens an absorbs but has a real block when it comes to prioritizing our finances. But today, I think it got through that paying attention to what we spend now is a way of being kind to ourselves and providing for our future.

To that end, I’ve got to figure out how to incorporate random picnic salads into our meals all week… the hamburgers and hot dogs will freeze for the next cookout, we had an awesome time, and we took one of the first steps of many toward a sweet place upstate. Excellent start!

Test, test…

Hello!

Welcome to my new blog. I’m writing for financial accountability, fun, making new connections, and ideas about frugal living, mindful living, and small business (phew! I guess I have a lot of goals). I used to write about distance running and triathlon from a back-of-the-pack perspective, but since I started acupuncture school last September, my interest  in those pursuits has taken a huge back burner to studying and trying to figure out how to pay the bills for a family of three in radically inflated NYC with one income and student loans.

Come along and help me out!