Smoothie Foods

Last week, I was wandering around my local grocer, where I get most of my fruits and vegetables. I usually make a few rounds as there’s a lot of different foods to admire (most of which I have no idea how to prepare). I noticed they had cantaloupes for $1 each. While I enjoy the flavor of cantaloupe, I’ve always found it so difficult to select that I basically ignore it. After dicing, many cantaloupes are too soft — plus the center, with the seeds, is slimy, and it’s not always fully removed. Needless to say, I don’t eat much cantaloupe. But for $1 each? They’re healthy, and one melon can lighten and sweeten 4 smoothies. I’m not about to turn down that deal. Furthermore, after dicing it’s easy to freeze a large batch for use whenever you want.

Generally speaking, I don’t enjoy eating ¬†fruits with mushy or pulpy textures. However, those textures disappear in the blender, so it’s possible to eat a more diverse group of foods than you otherwise would. There are other foods besides melons that fall into this category. Old bananas, blueberries and other fruits can be finicky to get right, but in a blender, their worst properties are neutralized.

Blending foods that are physically tiring to eat is another option. It’s difficult to consume leafy greens, carrots, and cucumbers in volume, but these, too, benefit from blending. The texture isn’t fully eliminated, but it’s easy to eat a lot of carrots if you don’t have to chew.

The moral? Think about ways to eat cheap and healthy foods that put them in a more favorable context than usual.

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Skill a Week: Kale Chips

I was poking around online for information on kale (for my green smoothies), and I found a recipe for kale chips. It’s dead simple and tastes good. The only downside – it requires turning on the oven. But I don’t mind that so much in winter – the oven doubles as a heater.

Kale Chips

Ingredients:

  • Kale
  • Oil Spray (Pam)
  • Salt
  • Garlic Powder
  • Cayenne Pepper

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Tear or cut kale leaves off the central stem into potato chip-sized pieces
  3. Place kale rounded side down onto baking sheet
  4. Give a quick spray of pam across the leaves (I used butter flavor, but olive oil flavor would work as well)
  5. Cover leaves first with garlic powder, then a few shakes of salt, and finally a dusting of cayenne pepper
  6. Bake for 10 minutes
  7. Eat.

First off, keep a close eye on these – the cooking time is a bit sensitive and you don’t want them to char. The chips are intense. The garlic, salt and pepper really pack a punch. The texture isn’t really similar to potato chips – it’s closer to dried seaweed you might find in sheets at an asian grocery store.

I’ve heard of other variations with, among other things: soy sauce, black pepper, onion powder, etc. Try and see what you get.

Fruit Shopping

For the past two weeks, I’ve been making smoothies on average, twice a day. That’s probably 4x more frequently than I previously was. The best part, I’ve found, is shopping!

That’s remarkable for me, because I hate shopping, and I hate spending money on things. Occasionally I get an urge to buy some books on Amazon or to get some computer parts. But I feel guilty about it; I furtively sneak a few items into my wishlist. When I buy food, I feel guilty, too. It’s usually cheap stuff like ramen or eggs, but sometimes I’d indulge in ice cream or candy or diet soda. Sure eggs are healthy, but I don’t really feel great buying them. Most of the food I end up getting is stuff that’s bad for me, and bad for the wallet.

Since I started eating smoothies I’ve looked forward to grocery shopping. I enjoy thinking about all the fresh fruit and vegetables I’m going to pick up. Maybe I’ll find some deals, or maybe I’ll try a new fruit. Today I bought for smoothies: 2 cucumbers, a bunch of bananas, 4 pears, a container of yogurt, two containers of cottage cheese, 6 bags of frozen blueberries (33% off), 4 bags of frozen peaches (33% off), a cantaloupe. For consumption outside of smoothies, I picked up pomegranates, onions and green onions (with root). I had kale, carrots, ginger, already. This food can be a little pricey (berries in particular), but I know it’s great for me, and also that it’ll taste great. I spend 15 minutes walking home thinking about what smoothie I’ll try first.

It’s strange to me to feel so good about shopping. But I love unpacking all this healthy fruit and vegetables, thinking about how good it’ll taste, thinking about what combination I’ll try in a smoothie. I enjoy dicing it up and filling up the freezer. And of course I enjoy preparing and drinking smoothies.

Minimalist Goals for 2013

Last year, I really went overboard with goals: I had a lot of goals, in a lot of areas, and then I kinda just ignored them. That’s been an unfortunate trend for me. I like setting goals more than working to achieve them.

At the end of 2012, I’m pretty happy with the trajectory I’m on (I’ll probably write another post about this). I post regularly on this blog – not as much as I like, but every week or two. I’m learning new skills, becoming a better programmer, continuing to improve my finances – all things that are important to me.

The one area where I only managed to maintain status quo was my health. Sure, I lifted weights a bit, but the sad fact is that given the amount of free time I have each day, I can’t regularly work out. (I mean, I do literally have enough time to work out, but not enough slack that I can stick to the habit). Although I’ve sporadically started working out,every six months or so over the past few years, it’s just been too brittle a habit to stick with it. So, I’m changing tactics.

They say that most of being healthy is what you eat, and less about going to the gym. Eating better doesn’t really require that much more time than eating terrible food. And it can be combined with other interests I have – being more self-sufficient, and being more frugal. My weakness has always been sugar and starches, and not so much fats, so I’m going to focus on reducing intake of sweets.

I’m making a very simple resolution for 2013. The only processed sugar I want to eat is stuff I’ve made myself, or when I’m at a restaurant with friends and family. No buying candy or ice cream or soda. No going to the vending machine for snacks. No gorging on the seemingly endless cakes and cookies that people bring into work. But if I make a pie or a smoothie or cookies myself, that’s ok.

My goal initially is to re-adjust my taste buds. I’ve seen before that apples and bananas can actually taste really sweet – if my taste buds haven’t been sated with sugar. I have a super-powerful vitamix blender that I use regularly. Although I use it a few times each week, I can lean on it much harder and have a shake or two almost every day, and put a lot of healthy greens in those shakes as well.

After a month or two of that, I’ll also look to cut down on bagels, breads and pasta.

Finally, I’m going to be more active. That doesn’t mean working out all the time, but I will get out and do things more often… particularly hiking and camping… maybe some pickup games and biking. Again, I’m killing two birds with one stone: doing something enjoyable and enriching, while getting healthier.

The overall goal: have a more trim, fine-tuned body – which should make me happier, more energetic, and more outgoing.

An Ode to Spices

I hope you’ll forgive me, but… spices are the spice of life. Wait, wait… don’t go. I’m serious.

Somehow the only spices you see at restaurants are black pepper, salt, and sometimes tabasco sauce. Fuck tabasco sauce, the stuff is nasty. There’s a ton of awesome spices out there. Essentially no calories, often very cheap, and they add a ton of flavor.

A few of my favorite spices/additives (which go into almost anything):

  • Crushed red pepper. Traditionally this is usually used on pizza, but it’s great with eggs, mac and cheese, fried tofu, etc
  • Garlic. Garlic powder is good, but even better is crushed garlic – it’s refrigerated and usually has some liquid in it: a big container of it is maybe $5. After warming up some oil in a frying pan, toss some in. Smells great.
  • Mustard. Very good in Mac & Cheese. Very cheap for plain yellow mustard
  • Chili powder. Adds some nice flavor to savory dishes
  • Indian spices. Most indian dishes use some combination of the following spices: cardamon, cumin, garam masala, chili powder, coriander.
  • Cinnamon. Good for sweeter dishes. Spices up oatmeal, milkshakes, etc
  • Lemon juice. Great for fruit smoothies and other dishes, can really bring out the flavor of things
  • Unsweetened chocolate. It’s low calorie. While I’m not a fan of it on its own, it can make chocolate flavor much more intense.
  • Hot sauce. I’ll probably have to write a full post on hot sauce. I add it to almost everything. Most people only think of tabasco sauce when they think of hot sauce, and it’s just an embarrassment. It’s not even spicy. There’s a lot of great-tasting hot sauce out there that can improve just about any food. Here’s my favorite kind right now (El Yucateco Habanero)

Spices are super cheap, too. Here’s how much cinnamon I can purchase for $5:

This is fuckton of cinnamon.

That’s 16 ounces of cinnamon – almost a half kil! A lot of spices are that cheap – there’s a whole rack of these containers at the supermarket. I know spices can lose intensity over time… just use more.

Why I Want To Get Fit

If you’d asked me why I wanted to get fit a month ago, the number one reason would have been simple vanity. And vanity is still a big motivating factor.

But my focus has shifted. Partly that’s because I now realize that if I want to get strong, I’ll have to gain some fat as well as muscle. But also I’ve had a growing realization about the psychological importance of fitness.

I work a lot. I learn a bit at work – how to handle myself, how to communicate, and technical aspects of certain programming languages… but mostly it’s “wasted” time. That wasted time extends into my personal life. I don’t hang out with friends much, I’m too mentally exhausted to learn much after work, I sleep a lot or just waste time because I have no energy, etc.

In the end, I mark off days on the calendar based on how much cash I was able to save for the future. A month of my life is thus converted into a few more digits in my bank account.

With fitness, I’ve found at least one thing that I can see some tangible (objective) improvement on. I can lift more weight now than before. I’m a little bit slimmer than I was. I’m a little more motivated and excited about broadened horizons.

I can see myself improving, so each night, I can go to sleep knowing not just that I saved a little bit of money, pulled myself a little bit closer to my dreams – but that I’m also more prepared for when those dreams become real.