Friday, September 30, 2011

New "30 Day Challenge": October Unprocessed

A few months ago I set out on a thirty day challenge.  It went like this: for 30 days spend absolutely no money on food other than the regular grocery shopping trips I make.  Easy to state, difficult to do, but so incredibly worth it.  We succeeded, we learned a lot, and it did leave some lasting impact in our day to day life.  (No, we didn't give up going out to eat, but we do it a lot less and we are more selective about the food we do choose to spend money on.)

That focused on one part of my quest: to find affordable food to eat.

But there are two other parts to this journey I am on.  As you can see by the little blog description above, I am on a quest to find delicious, nutritious, and affordable food for my little family of two.  This whole blog is dedicated to this task, but I am going to focus on the nutritious part this time.  Hence, a new "Thirty Day Challenge" -- which will actually be 31 days being the month of October.  Are you ready for it?

I am joining a group of people who have pledged to have an unprocessed October.

What is this, exactly?  Well, according to the mastermind behind it, Andrew Wilder, it is a push to get people to stop and think about what they putting in their bodies.  For the month of October, over 1,800 of us (yes, you read that correctly) have decided to put away packaged goods and go for it. 

Of course, each person might consider something processed that another does not, so here is the working definition for unprocessed food that we are using for this challenge (taken from Andrew's blog, Eating Rules!).

Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with readily available, whole-food ingredients.

If you have been following my blog at all, I am sure you know that I am someone who tends to lean in this direction... for dinner at least.  But I haven't always been that way.  Actually, for anyone who has known me for longer than two years your jaws are probably dropping as you read this.  Let's roll back the film of my life just a tad and look at my college years:  Junk food galore.  I kid you not.  I am was the queen of Ramen and Mac-n-Cheese.  My veggies consisted of tomatoes found in my burritos from Taco Bell.  Pop Tarts for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, Pasta-Roni with tuna for dinner.  This was how I ate. 

Today my life looks a lot different.  I have grown up, married a man who was raised on fresh food, and have found that between Jamie Oliver and my Advanced Health Education for Teachers class drilling into my head, I am finally starting to the value of eating healthy food.  I have made incredible growth in this area and I hope to continue to do so.  Which is why I decided to do this.  Like my no-going-out-to-eat challenge, I expect that this will be difficult, that I will have to be a little more creative, but ultimately, that I will realize so much about what I can do -- and then start to do it. 

This doesn't commence until tomorrow, but the preparations have already begun.  This week as I was grocery shopping I picked up this or that, carefully reading through the ingredients list.  Tsk, tsk, I would think, putting that item back on the shelf.  I am not putting that into my body.

Yes, I am becoming one of those people.

Oh, well.  I am OK with that.  I have a great (and easy) bread recipe from my mother-in-law so Paulo can live without his bagels, Trader Joe's has some excellent preservative-free pastas and what not, and I am going to learn to make chicken stock from scratch.  But am going to miss Skippy peanut butter this month! 

(Yes, that is peanut butter in my purse.  No, I did not set it up that way for the picture.  It is actually how I walked out the door this morning on my way to work.  What can I say?  That's how I roll.)

For more information on Andrew Wilder and his crazy/awesome idea, please visit
And of course, feel free to join in!  The more the merrier :)

Meet "Couve" -- better known as "Kale"

This is the leaf of couve.

Couve, or as we call in America -- collard greens and kale -- is my husband's favorite vegetable.  For the longest time we didn't know the translation in English and so he lived without it.  But about three months ago I found out what is was online, hopped in the car to go shopping, and brought him home some.  You should have seen his smile.  BIG.  He, in response, immediately hopped onto Skype, called down to Brazil to talk to his mamae, and got her recipe for it.

Once again, three simple ingredients:

One great side dish:

There's nothing to it, really.  Just chop the leaves into small strips and cut the garlic up, as well.  Saute the garlic over medium-low heat, add the couve and a dash of salt, and cook for about a minute or two.  That's it!  How simple, huh?  And quite tasty, to be sure.

COST: $1.40                   COST PER SERVING (4): $0.35 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Brown Sugar + Carrots = Yum

I have never been a fan of carrots.  They were always either too crisp (and hard to bite) or too mushy (and tasted like cardboard).  So for a good part of my life I avoided them.  That is, until my grandma made me carrots one night.  Oh man, suddenly carrots had a place in my life... until I forgot about that recipe and moved on.  But a year or two ago I stumbled across the same recipe in my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.  I whipped that little dish up and it was a hit.  Paulo loved it, I was reminded of how good carrots can be, and this vegetable I once avoided was given a prominent place in our lives. 

As you can see, there are three simple ingredients.  Rather unusual ingredients for a vegetable dish, to be sure, but the right ones.

Here is how it goes --

Chop 3-4 carrots.
Boil for 5-6 minutes (long enough to soften, short enough to not make it too mushy).  Drain.
In the bottom of the pot, over medium-low heat, add 1T of butter and 1T of brown sugar.  Stir until melted together.  Add carrots and a dash of salt, another dash of pepper. 
Cook for 1-2 minutes. 
Enjoy!  (Trust me, you will!)

PS - I like carrots raw now, too.  But I still always have the fear of breaking my teeth when I bite into them.  (Can that actually happen?)

COST: $0.90            COST PER SERVING (4): less than a quarter

Monday, September 26, 2011

Rollin' in the Dough (The Green Kind)

I don't know about you, but I kinda like money.  Wait, never mind, I do know about you -- you like it, too.  Now, before you get me wrong, I am not saying I am in love with it or need it for my happiness, but we must admit that the world we live in does run off it.  And being a member of the human race, particularly of the American species, I need money to survive.  I work so dang hard for it -- as do you -- and I just don't like the idea of throwing it away. 

When I talk to people about how much I try to spend on groceries each month a lot of people are blown away.  "Can you actually do that?" someone asked me this summer.  Another person, at another time, said, "But you don't get anything good, do you?"  Yes, and yes!  Yes, I can do that, and yes, it is good stuff.  Tasty stuff.  Fun stuff.  Just smart stuff.  This week I was asked by someone to share "my secret".  Well, I don't really have a secret; I am still learning and improving.  And if there was a secret, there wouldn't be just one of them.  I put some thought into it this week about what I do, and I came up with five ways I am able to spend a little but still  get a lot.  So, without further ado, here they are -- Tiffany's Tips to Saving Your Dough:
I know a lot of people don't/won't like this one.  Some are adamant that making a list makes you spend more because I guess... well... I don't know.  For me I find the exact opposite.  I make my list, plan it around things I already have on hand, and then buy ONLY WHAT IS ON MY LIST .  Yes, you read that correctly.  No impulse buys.  But that's OK, because I make sure to have things like Joe-Joe's (think Oreo's) on the list.  Or ice cream.  However, it is on the list.  As for the meals I plan each week, they go along with what is in my kitchen.  Have a half used jar of pasta sauce?  Better get some pasta.  Have some celery sitting in the bottom of fridge next to carrots?  Vegetable soup with dumplings it is.  The list, then, isn't too long, but just the things I am lacking.

What do I mean by shopping smart?  For me it is mostly Trader Joe's.  Lots of people look at it and think it is pricey, but I have been a price-tag-checker for quite some time, and for most things, a trip to TJ's will save you cash.  But it doesn't have to look like that -- it could be stocking up on commonly used items while they are on sale OR (and this is a big one) not buying things just because they are on sale.  (Seriously, just because that stuff that you never needed before is $1 off, you still don't need it.  I promise.)  Price check, guys.  Realize you have options, and go for them. 

I am not a vegetarian.  I was for several years, but I like meat too much.  And my husband?  Yeah, he is vegetarian -- from midnight until 6am!  But just because we eat meat doesn't mean we eat it every night.  We have this sort of plan worked out: Fish-ish meal once a week (salmon or tuna, it matters not), chicken or turkey once, red meat once, maybe a dish with sausage or bacon (usually chicken/turkey again), and then the rest are usually centered around other proteins.  Beans and nuts and mushrooms are great sources of protein, plus they taste great and are easy on the wallet.  Meat costs a lot of money.  Cutting back on it a bit saves some of that money. 

This is huge!  Leftovers = easy lunches and weekend meals.  We are a small family of two, but I cook for four.  You know how it goes, most of the time doubling a recipe doesn't cost twice as much, but a fraction of the price.  So I cook like there are four of us, and we automatically have lunch the next day or something to eat on Sunday night when I am too lazy/tired to cook. 

And last, but not least...
Yup, you heard me.  Except for our Joe-Joe's and the occasional carton of ice cream, we don't buy packaged food.  What am I talking about?  Chips, crackers, fruit snacks, etc.  I like 'em, but I don't need 'em.  And I am sure you could say the same.  When I want a salty snack I make toast with garlic salt; when I want something sweet I have a banana with peanut butter.  Not only does it save me money, but it saves me grief at the gym.  It's a win-win if you ask me.

So there you have it.  It may not be a perfect list, but it works for me.  I eat well, and still have money left over at the end of the month to live well, too.  All in all, I like it.

Have anything you would like to add to the list?

Watch out, FoodGawker. Here I come!

There is a whole foodie world out there I am just discovering.  I started this little blog not even knowing the places it would take me to.  Specifically, I did not know all of the other cooks (or like me, wanna-be-cooks) out there that I would "meet" and learn from. 

I also didn't know how much the internet world is set up for people like me: people who cook, take pictures of it, and write about it.  There is a huge supply of places to visit on the web if this is what you do.  HUGE.  The one I was introduced to via another blog is FoodGawker.  FoodGawker, like Taste Spotter, is a place for all the pretty food to live.  You can submit a picture to them and if it is just right they will accept it.  But if there is anything not appealing to the eye -- anything not making it to be a great picture -- they will just say no.  I had seen/heard about it before, but as much as I know I am a pretty good photographer for most things, my food photography is definitely lacking.  I know that and that fact doesn't bother me.  It is what it is.  Hence, I had never submitted something to FoodGawker.

Until now. 

Earlier this week I just tried.  I sent them a picture.  Guess what?  They liked it!  

Shoot, I thought, this is easy.  Yeah, yeah, hold your horses, Tiffany.

See, the thing is, they are picky.  Really picky.  Every time you submit a picture they actually look at it and see if it measures up.  And if it doesn't, SLAM, you're out.

Let's just say that I have experienced FoodGawker's door slamming on my face several times now.  First time's a charm, right?

But I like that.  For one, I know that if I get a picture on FoodGawker, it is a GREAT picture.  And two, they always tell you why it didn't measure up.  "Composition too tight" or "Under exposed".  This is real feedback I can use.  These descriptions of my flaws point out exactly where I am weak and need to improve.  As I mentioned above, I know my food photography is lacking, but it doesn't mean I want to keep it that way.  It is a process, it takes time, and I am willing to do the work to get it to where I want it to be.

So, for now, I am proud that I have one picture on FoodGawker.  It is only one, but it is a beginning.  No, let me rephrase that... it is the beginning, the beginning of better things to come. 

FoodGawker, you better watch out.  Tiffany is coming your way!

my foodgawker gallery

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tortellini with Green Beans and Tomatoes

This was our lunch today.  Three main ingredients (but sometimes we add an additional one).  Fresh, healthy, and scrumpteous. 

Wanna know how to make it?  It is really quite easy.


COST: $7.00            PER SERVING (4): $1.75
With bread and butter: $2.10
With chicken sausage: add $2.69 (Trader Joe's) = $2.77 per serving

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Beach Bonfire (OR --> How we do Fall in California)

Sometimes you need fancy equipment to cook.  Other times you just need a stick and a fire --  caveman style.  There is beauty in simplicity.

Yes, this is how we do Fall in California. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

SUCCESS: Chocolate Covered Strawberries

This time I got it right.  Woo-hoo!  Without further ado, I give you my chocolate covered strawberries :)

I tried to do the double-boiler thing, which I can do no problem with a pan, but the glass dish I was using was not working well.  So I just grabbed a smaller glass dish, threw the chocolate (a chocolate truffle bar... yummy) in there, and let the water lightly boil around it.  It worked :)

Sooooo much better than last time.  This totally made my day.  Well, this and the great fish and scalloped potatoes we had for dinner last night.  Overall, good food day for the little family of two!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eggplant and Veggies in an Eggplant Bowl

A month or so ago I headed to Borders one last time, sad that they were closing their doors, but excited for the price discounts that I found in there.  (Honestly, though, I would rather they stayed open... but if they were going down I decided there was no reason I couldn't enjoy the sales.)  I didn't get much, but I did find cookbook called "Simple and Fresh".  Simple and fresh, two adjectives I really really like.  I haven't had much time to look through this cookbook until this weekend as I have been so incredibly busy that past few weekends/weeks.  On Sunday I finally had the chance to prop my feet up and flip through some of the pages and I found some great stuff in there.  Here is the first recipe from this new book:

First, I started with some pretty great ingredients -

This is the epitome of fresh.  If you are anything like me, then you understand my pure delight when I have ingredients such as these.  I think it is amazing to be able to make something out of things you could have grabbed out of your garden, if you had one.  (Living in an apartment, I do not.  But someday I will, you can count on that.  The basil leaves did come from my mini-garden, though.  Love that feeling!)

I then chopped up the veggies, steamed the eggplant pulp (which I cut out of the eggplant skin leaving a 1/2 in margin so the two halves could later be used as bowls), and started cooking in a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.

You know the smell that goes through the house when onion and garlic are sauteing?  I adore that smell! 

I added the rest of the vegetables and the eggplant, cooked while stirring occasionally for 12 minutes or so, and then scooped into the eggplant shells. 

This is what I got -

So easy, and all fresh ingredients.  Comepletely dairy free and meat free.  This a vegan dish that all can enjoy (I am not vegan, and I greatly enjoyed it!).  I served it up with some pita chips with hummus and a side salad.  Sooooo gooooood.

  • carrot, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • bell pepper, diced
  • medium sized onion, diced
  • eggplant with center removed and shell intact
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • fresh cilantro, chopped
  • fresh or dried basil
  • juice of one lemon
  • Pita cut into wedges
  1. Steam eggplant pulp in steamer basket
  2. Use lemon juice to brush inside of eggplant shells with
  3. Saute carrot, bell pepper, onion, and celery in olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes
  4. Add tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, basil, and eggplant to vegetables.  Cook for 10-15 minutes until thickened.  Add a bit of salt to taste.
  5. Spoon into eggplant shells and serve with pita wedges (which can be baked for 5-7 minutes on 350 to make a little crispy)
COST: $3.15         PER SERVING (2): $1.58
With pita, salad, and hummus: $2.85

Sunday, September 18, 2011

FAIL: Chocolate Covered Strawberries

As I mentioned before, I am not much of a fruit person.  For some odd reason I like veggies better than fruit.  It isn't because they are sweet, because everything else sweet I adore, but fruit for some reason is OK to me, but nothing I crave. 

Except berries. 

Oh how I love berries!  Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries... yum yum yum!

Every so often there is a guy selling strawberries on a street corner on my way home.  I have never stopped and bought any because I am always longing to be in my house instead of in my car.  Today, however, we were both in the car together driving home from the beach, relaxed and unconcerned about time schedules.  So we decided to get some strawberries.

Paulo used to hate strawberries.  I guess in Brazil they are really sour.  Both my husband and my sister-in-law declined strawberries here in America when offered but finally gave into the pressure and quickly changed their tune to, "Oh, they taste so good, so sweet!"  (I think in Brazil they pick them early so when they export them they will be sweet.  Good for us, but bad for the Brazilians who have to eat the sour strawberries.)  So now we are able to enjoy this treat together.  And what a better way to eat strawberries than turn them into chocolate covered strawberries?

I looked up the recipe online.  Hmm... I needed chocolate chips.  I don't have any chocolate chips.  So that wouldn't work... But wait!  I thought.  I have cocoa powder!

Yes, you heard me correctly, cocoa powder.  (All of you real cooks out there are moaning, I know.  But remember -- my blog is called A Clove of Garlic, A Pinch of Salt  NOT  A Spoon of Sugar, A Dash of Baking Powder.)

So cocoa powder it was.  I had just been looking at a recipe the other day that used butter, cocoa powder, sugar, and some other stuff, so I figured I would just see what I could whip up.  It went something like this:

(That would be mixing my ingredients, then realizing it was way too bitter so adding more sugar, and then melting it all together.)

But then I faced another problem:  I needed more sweetness but the more sugar I put in the more grainy it got.  And then I got my second great idea:

That's right, honey. 

Think about it for a moment: it is sweet AND it is already ready smooth, not grainy.  Really, I thought this move was quite brilliant.  I added a bit, stirred, and tasted.  You know what?  It didn't taste that bad!  SCORE!

Except, this is what I got:

I don't know about you, but really, I don't want to eat that.  I know what some of you are going to say, though.  Yes, maybe it doesn't matter what it looks like as long as it tastes good. 

Well, it didn't taste good. 

It tasted so bad that I spit it out in under a second and quickly jammed a clean strawberry into my mouth to take away the awful, awful taste.  Luckily I was smart enough to only coat three with chocolate before I tasted them again.  (That taste test from the pot must have been the one good spot!)

So, you live and you learn.  Now I know to trust the experts and know if there is no recipe that says make chocolate covered strawberries with cocoa powder, there is probably a reason why. 

At least I have some good, fresh strawberries waiting for me.  And you know what?  Plain sounds just fine.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Favim Box People" -- Say What?

Every once in awhile I click on "Traffic Sources" on the stats page so I can get an idea of where my visitors are coming from.  Most come from Facebook (Yay, Friends!) or Foodbuzz (which makes a ton of sense as they sponsor my blog), sometimes they are sent here from other blogs, but once in awhile they wind up on my page from random Google searches.  Today I saw one that said: Google Search -- favim box people.  Huh?!  What the heck are favim box people???  And why did the people searching for that, whatever it is, wind up here? 

Of course, I couldn't just leave it alone.  I moved my little courser to the Bing tab at the top of my browser and typed it in: favim box people , clicked on the images tab, and the first picture I got was this:

I know it is just boxes put together, but man, that cardboard sure is adorable!  So now I get the picture of what these "favim box people" are, but I still have no idea why they were referred to my blog!  (Anyway, searchers of the box people, you are more than welcome here.)  I then figured out the actual search was for "box people" and favim was just some photo uploading sight.  When I adjusted my search and typed in just box people I stumbled across several other images that were just too cute to pass up. 

Apparently there is a whole world out there of these sweet little cardboard people being made out of Amazon boxes.  It does seem to be a rather odd hobby, but you know what?  I like it.  To look at anyway.  But you never know, you might see some little cardboard men in my pictures someday soon ;)

Monday, September 12, 2011

One Thousand Days, Millions of Reasons

Disclaimer:  This blog post has nothing to do with food.  Nada, zilch, nothing.  Being a food blog, I thought it is important to let you know that up front.  However, I do have a really great recipe at the end, one that everybody can enjoy.

This weekend we headed up to Yosemite to spend some time in nature with friends.  Not only do I (along with the rest of the world) love Yosemite, but it holds very special memories for me.  As a child I attended summer camp there and enjoyed my days shooting bows and arrows, riding horses, making a lots of new friends, and trying scary-to-me things like rock climbing walls.  Later I returned there to be a camp counselor and had the most fun and exhausting summers of my life under the tall trees, breathing in the sweet scent of pine.  A few days before we headed out I realized that we had been married for 992 days. (I like doing random math problems, what can I say?)

992?  Wow, that is incredibly close to 1,000, I thought.  And being such a good sounding number, I decided we needed to do something to celebrate our 1,000th day of marital bliss -- and yes, it really has been bliss.  But when I looked on the calendar, I realized I would be in the middle of the trees, surrounded by people, and nothing "special" in sight.  Ah, but Yosemite is special, right?

What a beautiful place to be!  Much better than a restaurant or downtown somewhere.  So, on the morning of our 1,000th day I took my man on a walk with me to show him around.  I showed him the rock where I took my first photography picture (rather than snapshot).  It was still there, just as it was over 16 years ago when I was a twelve year-old kid taking photography class at summer camp. 

That first picture, taken on film, developed in a dark room, looked something like this... but blurry and slightly off balance.  And with awful lighting.  Yeah... basically it was terrible.  My pictures may have improved over time, but the rock remained unchanged.  We kept walking, passing next to the tall trees that covered the sun...

Finally, we took a seat and I handed Paulo a box.

Nope, I didn't get him shoes...

I gave him a jar.

And on that jar were the words, "I love you," written in Portuguese.

Inside of the jar, however, were many more words... reasons that I love him written down so that he could know.  There were so many that I came up with, but I ran out of paper at 50, so it stopped there.  That's OK, though, there is still room to add more.  And yes, I can definitely add more!

RECIPE FOR A HAPPY MARRIAGE (according to Tiffany):
Mix equal parts of communication, patience, and forgiveness together. 
Add a heaping teaspoon of a sense of humor and another of a willingness to be a student of the passions of your partner. 
Blend together with some sugar and spice and everything nice, and enjoy.

(Remember to make a fresh batch everday to have the best results.) 
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