Serving Suggestion

Courtesy of the local Fred Meyer produce department, here’s the world’s most hilarious “serving suggestion”: a serving suggestion for bananas.

Serving suggestion for bananas

There you have it. In case you weren’t aware of it before, you can use bananas in a fruit salad. Or — believe it or not — you can “simply eat fresh for a natural boost of energy”. Now, if only they could tell me what I should do with these blueberries…

Temptation and Permission

I’ve struggled with my diet over the past six weeks. Part of this is because I’ve intentionally tried to move from “weight-loss” mode to “stasis” mode. Finding balance has been more difficult than I anticipated. But most of the problem has come from the constant temptations around the house.

First, there was the holiday season, which was filled with cookies and candy and all sorts of other good stuff. For a time, I exercised a bit of restraint. And I had no problem eating modestly when we went to holiday parties. Eventually, though, my willpower at home collapsed, and I started sneaking food I knew I oughtn’t. We had a bunch of cheap root beer left after Christmas, for example, and I’ve spent the last two weeks drinking the rest of it.

This recent bout with temptation has simply reinforced what I already knew: I can’t allow crap in the house. If there’s bad food here, I’ll eat it. Instead, I need to train myself that cakes and donuts and the like are only for special occasions: for dinners out, for parties, and so on. It’s not wrong to have junkfood now and then, and I don’t want to practice complete self-denial; I just want to be sure I’m not constantly exposing myself to temptation.

As part of my attempt to wean myself from the junk I crave so much, I’m going to implement a policy I used last spring. I’m going to give myself permission to eat anything I want, as long as it’s healthy for me.

Note: When I say “healthy for me”, I mean healthy by my current definition. Because my diet philosophy is constantly evolving, “healthy” will gradually change. Also, my healthy may not be the same as your healthy.

I’ve been going to the corner market for candy bars lately, for example. Because I’ve been hooked on the junkfood at home, it’s just too easy to rationalize junkfood at the office, too. To thwart this, last week I went to the store and bought 20+ packages of “simply natural” fruit cups from the refrigerator case.

Yes, I know that actual fruit would be cheaper. At $1 a pop, these fruit cups aren’t very cost effective. However, it’s too easy for me to rationalize not eating actual fruit. It rots too quickly. I have to peel it. And so on. I just make excuses. I can’t make excuses with the fruit cups, so it removes some passive barriers.

I view the fruit cups as a transition from the candy bars to real fruit. And so far, they seem to be working.

I’m also giving myself permission to eat expensive cuts of meat for dinner. This keeps me away from the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and other crap that I’ve been drawn to lately. And I bought a liter of grapefruit juice to stand in for root beer. Etcetera, etcetera.

My hope is that by removing the temptations from the house (and from my office — I threw out a bunch of junkfood yesterday), and by granting myself permission to spend on whatever healthy food I want, I’ll be able to feel good about my fitness again.

“I feel fat,” I told Kris yesterday. And while it’s true that I’ve gained half an inch to my waistline this month, my actual weight (based on my weekly average) is the lowest it’s been since I started this fitness regimen a year ago. In other words: Things are fine, and I’m just obsessing. That’s just what I do.

Junk Food: A Character Flaw

I have no self-control.

This is the fundamental reason that for so long I was fat, in debt, and unable to do anything productive. Instead of doing what I ought to do, I always chose what I wanted to do. These rarely overlapped.

When I decided it was time for me to get out of debt, I had to find ways to short-circuit my lack of self-control. That meant setting up automatic payments and deposits, whenever possible. That meant finding ways to make frugality fun. That meant removing temptation when I could.

For example, I cut up my personal credit card. Without the ability to spend charge my purchases, I was less inclined to buy on credit. (I still found ways, but they took work.) And one of the best methods I found to stop spending on stupid stuff was to steer clear of the stores where I was most likely to do so. For a long time, I wouldn’t go into a comic shop, for instance, because I knew that doing so was dangerous.

Another example: I have no self-control when it comes to videogames. If they’re installed on my computer, I will play World of Warcraft or Starcraft II to the exclusion of all else. In fact, I wasted much of this past August playing Starcraft II for 6+ hours each day. How do I stop? I have to uninstall the games. Lately, I’ve been playing iPad games 1-2 hours per day. To short-circuit this lack of self control, I’m taking my iPad to the office and leaving it there.

The same problem holds true with food. I have no self-control when it comes to sweets. If there are cookies or candies in the house, I will eat them — sooner rather than later. And I have a tendency to indulge every craving my body has. Hungry for donuts? Boom! Have three! Want some cookies? Bam! Here’s a package of Oreos.

I’ve lost forty pounds this year. That’s great, but the truth is, I could have lost fifty with ease. How? Exercising self-control.

Last week, Kris bought two packages of Oreos to re-purpose for Christmas truffles. (She makes an Oreo truffle that everyone loves.) I found these cookies, and I couldn’t help myself. I had nine Oreos and a glass of milk. Thirty minutes later, I had another nine Oreos and a glass of milk. Before the end of the day, I had another nine Oreos and a glass of milk.

This isn’t healthy, but it’s how I operate. And I know it.

Because I know my self-control is weak, I’ve taken steps to thwart myself. Since I can’t be disciplined on a micro level, I try to be disciplined on a macro level. Translation: Since I know I’ll eat the Oreos if they’re in the house, I try not to have Oreos in the house. Or breakfast cereal. Or ice cream. Since starting my diet in April, I’ve done my best to keep the house junk-food-free.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have junk food. I do. I just don’t have as much.

I often think of the conversation I had with Sally Parrott Ashbrook when she came to town in 2007. (She and her husband were the first GRS readers that Kris and I ever met.) She had recently begun her regimen of “self-care”, and as part of that, she was trying to give up junk food, too.

“I try to tell myself that I don’t need this cookie or ice cream,” she told me. “If I really want ice cream, I remind myself that I can have any ice cream in Atlanta.” What she meant by this was (I think): Instead of keeping store-bought junk food in the house, she gave herself permission to occasionally go out and buy some good junk food. So, instead of having always-on-hand ice cream, once in a while she could go get the best ice cream in town. Or the best cookies. Or the best cake. The key was to ditch the everyday temptation.

That’s what I’ve tried to do this year. For the most part, it’s worked.

Mind Games

Here’s one way I’ve made this work: Whenever I have the urge to eat junk food, I try to tell myself that I can eat anything I want. If I’m driving home from Crossfit and I crave donuts (which happens often), I consciously think to myself, “J.D., you don’t have to eat that shit. You can stop now and buy any food you want, as long as it’s healthy.” So I do.

My definition of “healthy” is broad in this instance, but it rules out breakfast cereal, cookies, cakes, donuts, chips, and soda. It includes fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and meats. As a result, instead of donuts for breakfast, I’ll often eat a $15 filet mignon. No joke. Yes, it’s expensive, but I’m okay with that.

The point is, I’m trying to train myself to forget about the shitty food and eat stuff that’s better for me. When I remember to do this, it works like a charm. (But I’ve been forgetting recently.)

Why this rant about self-control? Because my friends and family have unknowingly sabotaged me this Christmas. They’ve kindly given me Life Savers and jelly beans and candy bars and cookies and, best of all, a giant Godiva brownie containing over 5,000 calories. I’m grateful for these gifts, but I have no defense against them.

I see the jumbo bin of jelly beans, and I grab a handful. I eat them mindlessly. By the end of the day, I’ve had three or four handfuls, for about about 500 calories of pure sugar. And so on.

As I say, I have no self-control.

A part of me wants to keep this food around the house because my family and friends have given it to me. To show my appreciation, I want to eat it. But I can’t. I have to draw a line. I sent some of it to work with Kris on Tuesday. She took the big barrel of jelly beans today. All that’s left in the house is the gigantic brownie — and soon that will be gone, too. (But that’s because it’ll all be in my belly, not because I’ve magically developed self-control.)

Maybe someday I will have enough discipline to not eat the junk food in the house. But that day isn’t today. And it won’t be tomorrow, or anytime soon. It’ll probably take years. I’m okay with that. For now, I’ll continue to exercise self-control on a macro level since I don’t have it on a micro level. We won’t have junk food within easy reach. When I crave junk food, I’ll give myself permission to have anything healthy that I want. And if I absolutely have to have it, I’ll let myself go buy the best ice cream (or candy or cookies) that I can find in Portland.

For now, though, I’m going to go pour myself a glass of milk. There’s one last brownie to be eaten.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Meals

Kris and I had lunch with my cousin Nick today. He wanted to take us to Sushi Kata, a Japanese place in a strip mall not far from our house. But Sushi Kata isn’t open on Sunday, so we scrambled for a replacement. “Let’s go to Ohana,” I said. “I eat there all the time.”

Playing favorites
Because Kris and I eat out fairly often (especially in the winter), we develop favorite restaurants. My favorites are those that are both cheap and good. (These are harder to find than you might think.) Ohana is a Hawaiian joint located in downtown Milwaukie. It’s not super cheap and the food isn’t great, but the prices are fair and the food is consistently good. Does that make sense? In other words, it’s not a bargain, but it is a good deal.

So, about once a week, I walk (or ride or drive) the 2-3/4 miles to Ohana for lunch. The guys there know me now. They don’t give me a menu, and they just wave for me to take any seat I want. They do check to make sure I’m ordering the usual (the Huli Chicken, which is basically just a flattened, salted chicken breast, with greens — two slices of lemon, no dressing — and a cup of rice), and to see what I want to drink (water or diet soda or, rarely, some sort of juice), but then they just leave me alone for an hour or two while I write. I like it.

I’ve probably eaten at Ohana more than any other restaurant this year. And I’ve probably had their Huli Chicken more than any other dish. Which got me to thinking: What are the restaurants and dishes that we’ve loved most over the past couple of years?

A few of my favorite meals
Thinking back, Kris and don’t know if we actually had regular restaurants before 2007; we just rotated around instead of picking favorites. But in late 2006 or early 2007, Amy Jo introduced us to Gino’s, a local Italian joint. For a variety of reasons, Kris and I fell in love with the place. It’s not always great — but it usually is. (I say that Gino’s is great 80% of the time and lousy 20% of the time, but those are odds I’m willing to play.) For most of 2007 and much of 2008, Gino’s was our go-to restaurant. We ate at other places, but mostly we ate at Gino’s. (Which was an expensive habit.)

Original Leipzig Tavern
Doesn’t look like much, but Gino’s is usually awesome. (Photo by vj_pdx.)

On 25 March 2008 (my 39th birthday), we tried Pok Pok, which serves “street” Thai food. Instantly, I was hooked. So, for the next year, that became my go-to restaurant. Because it’s open for lunch (and Gino’s isn’t), I conducted many business lunches at Pok Pok, as some of you know from experience. It’s rough to conduct business while eating the messy (but tasty) fish sauce wings, but I make it work.

Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings
My favorite meal of 2008. Spicy, tangy, and amazing. (Photo by roboppy.)

I’m not sure that Kris and I had a favorite spot in 2009. We ate a lot at Gino’s and Pok Pok, but we also enjoyed the local diner, Sully’s, and I ate many lunches at Cha Cha Cha, a Mexican joint in Milwaukie. But nothing stands out as the place we had to eat in 2009.

This year, however, there’s no question that my favorite restaurant has been Screen Door on east Burnside. We actually ate there for the first time in the summer of 2009, but it wasn’t until 2010 that I became obsessed with their fried chicken. Screen Door serves southern food (I’m not sure how authentic it is), and boy is it good! Their boneless, batter-fried chicken is fantastic, especially when served with mashed potatoes and gravy. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Yummy Fried Chicken
This is my favorite meal of 2010. Delicious beyond words. (Photo by trustella.)

Which restaurant will be our favorite in 2011? There’s no way to tell. We did have a great dinner at the Doug Fir Lounge the other night, though, and we both agreed we should go back there more often. We’ve eaten there a few times before and liked it, but for some reason, it never occurs to us to go back — probably because Screen Door is just a few blocks away.

Keeping score
To summarize, here are my favorite restaurants and dishes from the past few years:

  • 2007 — Gino’s, where we always order the clam appetizer with two extra sides of bread.
  • 2008 — Pok Pok, where I love love love Ike’s Vietnamese fish sauce wings (spicy) with a tamarind whiskey sour.
  • 2009 — No stand-out.
  • 2010 — Screen Door, where I order the crispy fried buttermilk-battered chicken with mashed potatoes and ham gravy. (Ohana‘s Huli Chicken wins for lunch.)
  • 2011 — Who knows? Maybe the Doug Fir Lounge? (Kris says they have the best brownie sundae she’s ever tasted!)

In any event, there’s no question that Kris and I like to dine out. We’re not doing it as much as we used to (probably only once every couple of weeks instead of once a week), but that may be because I’m eating out for lunch about once a week. I’m the one who really likes restaurants, I think.

We look forward to exploring Portland’s vibrant restaurant scene for many years to come!

Vanilla Extract Recipes

This post is from Kris. It’s part of the Christmas package we’re giving to friends this year.

Tahitian Vanilla Beans are prized for their traditional vanilla flavor and are perfect for pastries and other sweet treats. Vanilla moleculeThese beans that Santa has brought you are from Papua New Guinea, and the resulting extract is smooth and aromatic. It stands alone or can be used to complement other flavors.

Store your Tahitian Vanilla Extract in a cool, dark place. When the extract is gone, you can remove the bean pod to use its tiny seeds in one of the recipes below — or refill the bottle using one teaspoon dark rum and the rest vodka. Allow to sit for six weeks before using.


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Winter Vacation 2010, Day Seven: Homeward Bound

Black Rock Lodge
Black Rock Lodge from along the Macal River

Alas, Friday saw the end of our time in Belize. We spent a quiet morning reading and watching birds. We wrote in our journals. We ate breakfast and lunch, savoring our last meals from the lodge’s excellent kitchen.

The food at Black Rock Lodge deserves a special mention. It’s great stuff, though not great in the same way you might think of a great restaurant. Instead, it’s great in a home-cooked way.

Breakfasts and lunches are ordered from a limited menu. They include traditional American fare (yogurt, french toast, tuna sandwiches, hamburgers) as well as Central American stuff (fresh tropical fruit, nachos, quesadillas, burritos). I loved the fact that I could order a breakfast with one slice of french toast, two scrambled eggs, a slice of ham, and a dollop of refried black beans. Delicious! (And I learned that I love refried black beans, something I hadn’t had before. I’m hooked now.)

The Belizean jungle as seen from Black Rock Lodge

As I mentioned before, dinners at Black Rock are served family style. Each cabana is assigned a seat ever night, usually next to somebody you haven’t dined with before. Everyone chats and gets to know the other guests. You only have two choices for dinner: meat or veg. Otherwise all guests (and staff) eat the same thing.

Dinner starts with fresh bread and soup — and what soups we ate! They were delicious! Even soups I might not care to try turned out to be fantastic: cream of celery, cucumber, pumpkin and coconut, potato dill. Following the soup, we’re served a salad (a different salad every night) and our entree. And then, at the end, comes a small dessert.

Here, for example, is a typical dinner menu:

  • Fresh-squeezed juice
  • Fresh-baked rolls
  • Cream of celery soup
  • Onion salad
  • Herbed snapper with linguini and peas (for meat-eaters) or curried lentils and chickpeas with peas (for vegetarians)
  • Coffee cake (literally coffee-flavored cake)

As I say, the food was great, but not in a restaurant-y sort of way. More in a “my mom is a great cook” sort of way. Some things that helped to set the food apart:

  • Most (all?) of the produce is fresh from the lodge’s own garden.
  • The poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from the local Mennonite population.
  • Dishes are tasty without being complex.
  • Portions are reasonable, not jumbo-sized American portions.
  • All the food is real food; there’s nothing artificial.

Before we left, I asked the kitchen staff if I could take their photo:

The Kitchen at Black Rock Lodge

As you can see, this looks more like your average church kitchen than a commercial kitchen. Very homey. Also before we left, a couple of the guests requested the recipes of their favorite soups. We didn’t get to try the tomato-lime soup below (it was served the day before we arrived), but we hear it’s fantastic:

Tomato-Lime Soup

2 pounds tomatoes
2 onions
2 tablespoons complete seasoning
1/4 cup lime juice
salt to taste

Wash and cut tomatoes and onions. Cook until soft. Blend. Put to boil for 10 minutes. Stir in lime juice. Serve hot.

Black Rock's Garden
The Black Rock garden

We did, however, get to try this celery soup, which is much much better than you could possible imagine:

Cream of Celery Soup

2 bunches of celery
1 big onion
1 stick of butter
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons complete seasoning
3 tablespoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons black pepper
6 cups water
1 cup milk
1/4 cup lime juice

Wash and cut onion and celery. Sautee onion and celery with butter. Add seasoning. Add water and milk. Bring to boil until soft. When the mixture has cooled, blend. Stir in lime juice. Serve hot.

Rock Formation

On Friday afternoon, we joined Brian and Lauren and the couple from Saskatchewan (Leon and Pat) for the two-hour drive back to Belize City and the airport. Elvis (our guide for birdwatching and the nighthike) drove us to the airport.

As we started down the bumpy six-mile road to the Great Western Highway, Kris lamented that she hadn’t seen an iguana in Belize. It seemed like all of the other guests had seen one, but not us. And what did the seemingly-magical Elvis do? He slowed the van and pointed to a fence-post at the edge of the orange orchard. “There’s one,” he said.


But he didn’t just show us one iguana. For the next six miles, he pointed them out all over the place along the side of the road: on fences, in trees, sunbathing on rocks. (And he pointed out an enormous iguana roosted in a tree above a gas station in San Ignacio.) Elvis didn’t just point out iguanas. He stopped and showed us a crocodile that lives in a pond near the Black Rock property. Plus, he and Kris spent the next two hours showing each other birds they spotted in the air and on the roadside.

As they shared their love of nature, Kris and Elvis chatted. She learned that he works 12 days at black rock, and then gets 3 days off. (Some of the other employees work 10 days on, 4 days off.) He commutes 1-1/2 hours by bus to get to work, then lives on site, then commutes home.

As we drove south of Belmopan, Elvis pointed out the brick house he built over six years next to his older wooden home. He has six children, the oldest of which is 17. He doesn’t like driving jobs (such as hauling us to the airport) as much as nature jobs (like birdwatching and nighthikes). Elvis — and all of the other folks at Black Rock — was fantastic, and we hope he gets to do plenty of nature-oriented stuff in the future. It’s in his blood.

Our flight home was uneventful but jarring. The layover in Houston seemed like we were in a foreign country. It’s amazing how in just a week you can forget the omnipresent American media (remember, I noticed the same thing after returning home from Europe in 2007), our egotism, and our obsession with fake food. (I’m very guilty with the fake food stuff, no question.)

On the flight from Houston to Portland, we were seated in front of a pair of loud, annoying women. One of them owns a dessert place here in Portland, and she drove us nuts with her self-centered inane babble. Plus, she kept kicking Kris’s seat. I won’t say which place she owns, but let’s just say I won’t be having a piece of cake there ever again. (Which is fine since I didn’t like her stuff, anyhow.)

Even as we were driving home at one in the morning, I was already thinking about where I could travel next. Mac and I will spend a week in Alaska during May. I’ll be doing Cycle Oregon in September. And then Kris and I will spend three weeks in Europe later this year. But what about next year? And the year after? I like this travel stuff, and I want to do more. Who knows where the future will take me…

Food Rules

Tonight I read Michael Pollan’s latest book, Food Rules which is a short list of 64 guidelines for eating right. These are based on the findings in his last book, In Defense of Food, the thesis of which was:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Pollan’s food rules build on these three main points to create a sort of blueprint for right eating. “Think of these food policies as little algorithms designed to simplify your eating life,” he writes. “Adopt whichever ones stick and work best for you.” (This sounds remarkably like my personal motto: “Do what works for you.”)

After spending an hour reading Food Rules (I told you it was a short book!), I’ve decided to try incorporating the following policies in my own life. Some will be more difficult than others:

  • 3. Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.
  • 4. Avoid food products that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
  • 5. Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed in the top three ingredients.
  • 11. Avoid foods you see advertised on television.
  • 12. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
  • 13. Eat only foods that will eventually rot.
  • 17. Eat only foods that have been cooked by humans.
  • 22. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
  • 23. Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food.
  • 27. Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.
  • 30. Eat well-grown food from healthy soil.
  • 35. Eat sweet foods as you find them in nature.
  • 39. Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.
  • 43. Have a glass of wine with dinner.
  • 44. Pay more, eat less. (By which Pollan means pay for quality.)
  • 45. Eat less.
  • 46. Stop eating before you’re full.
  • 49. Eat slowly.
  • 53. Serve a proper portion and don’t go back for seconds.
  • 56. Limit snacks to unprocessed plant foods.
  • 59. Try not to eat alone.
  • 60. Treat treats as treats.
  • 64. Break the rules once in a while.

For me, 2010 is the year of fitness. While writing my book, I sat at my desk all day, ate junk food from the minimart next door, and as a result gained 20 pounds. (And I was none too healthy before that.) As a result, I started this year at 213 pounds, chronic insomnia, and a complete lack of physical aptitude.

I lost five pounds last month, and I have good momentum moving into February. My breakfasts are good right now (1/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill whole grain cereal with flaxseed, 1/2 ounce of raisins, pinch of salt, 2 packets of Sugar in the Raw, and 1/4 cup of skim milk), but I haven’t found a routine with everything else. I want to work on that. In particular, I want to move toward eating far more fruits and vegetables than I do now. (Which shouldn’t be too difficult since that number is near zero.)

This ought to be interesting. I’ve never actually had rules for my eating before. (Have you? Do people actually set food rules for themselves?) Maybe I should print out my policies and carry them with me!

Note: I remember reading the article(s) Pollan wrote while prepping for this book. One of the rules that didn’t get included here (because it’s not about eating) is “don’t yuck somebody else’s yum”. I’ve really tried to adopt this. I’m a notorious yucker of other people’s yums. But I’ve also had fun scolding others for making faces at the food I like…

Clam Chowder Season

Autumn is here. Or at least it’s trying to be here. I can feel it trying to push summer out the door. “Go home,” it says. “You’ve stayed along.”

But wait! Didn’t I just say this has been my best summer ever? Yes, I did. But I’ll always prefer fall to summer. I look forward to this being my best autumn ever. For one thing, this is clam chowder weather. Kris and I have both been craving the stuff lately. Tonight I made the first batch of the season.

Because I’m that kind of guy, I’ve set down my ingredients here. I’m always fussing with this recipe, trying to find the perfect balance of everything. Tonight’s batch seems especially good (though there’s no way to know until its rested for a day or two in the fridge — I always serve this to guests 24-48 hours old because this allows the flavors to meld I always let this stand for 24-48 hours before serving because it allows the flavors to meld.).

Anyhow, for my own edification, here’s this batch’s ingredient list:

  • Four 8-ounce bottles of clam juice used to boil five pounds of russet potatoes. Also, I added juice from two 6-1/2 ounce cans of minced clams.
  • Four tablespoons of butter (half a stick) used to fry a 20-ounce package of Fletcher’s thick pepper bacon. This produced too much fat. The bacon wouldn’t brown and it wouldn’t stick. I think I need to cut back to two tablespoons of butter for next time.
  • One bulb of garlic (bulb, not clove), one bunch of celery (bunch, not stalk), and two HUGE yellow onions. Also two bay leaves.
  • After combining the bacon and vegetables, I thought I had way too much stuff. The big pot was half full. But after I added half a cup of flour and stirred vigorously, everything was reduced to a pulpy mass. It was perfect.
  • I used a 51-ounce can of chopped clams from Costco as my main meat source (adding the meat from the two cans of minced clams). I used the juice from the big can for the roux. There were about three cups. I added about 100ml at a time and stirred to thicken. It was perfect.
  • After the roux, I added 1-1/2 teaspoons of hickory smoke salt. Previous batches have been a little salty, so I’m trying to cut down. I also added one tablespoon of Tapatío hot sauce. I only used two cups of half-and-half because I have notes that bumping it much higher mutes most of the flavors.
  • After adding everything (including the potato mixture), I ground pepper for a couple of minutes.
  • Things tasted fine, but I wasn’t getting enough hickory flavor, so I added a few drops of liquid smoke. That seemed to help.

As I say, the first tastes of this batch are quite good. Delicious, in fact. The true test will be how the stuff tastes for dinner tomorrow night.

The funny thing (to me, anyhow) is that I’ll be making a second batch of this over the weekend. If my Saturday gathering breaks up early, I’ll make it then. Otherwise I’ll be whipping it up bright and early Sunday morning. We’re serving it for book group on Sunday evening.

Ah, clam chowder season is a happy time of year.

Behind the Scenes with Buying Food

One of the things I’d like to do here at Foldedspace is to have a little fun with some of the things I write about at Get Rich Slowly. When I write at GRS, I mainly play it straight. I can’t provide a lot of extraneous info or make fun of the things I’m writing about. That’s not the case at Foldedspace!

This morning, for example, I posted some grocery shopping tips from the 1950s. These tips are taken from an old educational film about buying food. Here’s the 11-minute video, in all its gender-role-specific glory:

As with all of these old insructional films (I’ve watched dozens over the past couple of months), I love Buying Food in oh so many ways. I love the cheesiness and the earnestness. But I love it for non-ironic reasons, too. I love the glimpse into the past, I love the writing (it does a great job of distilling ideas into a short segment), and I love a lot of the individual frames.

Here are some of my favorites (and, incidentally, a short summary of the film):

First up is this glimpse at a supermarket circa 1950. Self-service grocery stores were introduced in 1916, though they didn’t gain popularity until the 1930s. (Many people were resistant to the idea at first.) Supermarkets were still relatively young in 1950. I like to think that they were trying to discover their “vocabulary”.

Although early supermarkets did not contain the thousands of products we’re accustomed to today, they did flood consumers with choices. Which beans to choose? And which size?

I love this example of comparison shopping: Which beans have the lowest price per ounce?

The film belabors the point that hamburger is a cheap cut of meat, and less desirable than a t-bone steak. I find this interesting. Was hamburger once marginalized? Did people have to be persuaded to eat it? Nowadays it’s accepted as a matter of course. And look how it’s being served here! It’s in the butcher case, being scooped up oh-so-casually. I’ve never seen such a thing.

And look at this, too. “Quality frankfurters” and “skinless wieners” outside of their packaging. The film has an hilarious example of creating a tasty and attractive frankfurter salad.

I also like this comparison of food quality. Why are the grade A peaches tomatoes better than the grade C peaches tomatoes? They both look unattractive here!

Finally, here’s a shot of the happy housewife after she’s finished pleasing her husband. I wish I could tell what they were eating!

Anyhow, the Internet Archive contains hundreds of old instructional films like this on a variety of subjects. There are films on dating, diet, and driving. My favorite sources of these films are the Prelinger Archives (browse by subject) and the A/V Geeks collection (browse by subject). (You can find more from A/V Geeks at the blog.)

Meal Planning

I do a lot of writing — and a lot of reading — for my personal finance blog. During the process, I’m exposed to all sorts of ideas: some old, some new.

One new idea (to me) that Kris and I have adopted is once-a-month shopping. According to Steve and Annette Economides of America’s Cheapest Family, their family has gone grocery shopping only once per month for the past 25 years. When Kris and I read this last fall, we agreed to give it a try, but with a slight alteration. We’ve been trying twice a month shopping. Now that I’ve finally broken my habit of “quick trips to the store”, it seems to be working well.

Meanwhile, I recently read Tracy Rimmer’s free e-book, More Month Than Money: Tightening Your Food Budget While Feeding Your Family Well [356k PDF]. One of Rimmer’s tips is to devise a meal plan. She writes:

Meal planning is becoming a lost art…But planning can take a little of the rush out of the equation. Having a planned menu that we can work from can streamline our meal preparation time, and save us money at the grocery store checkout.

Kris and I have been talking about the notion of meal planning for the past couple of weeks. It appeals to us, and for a variety of reasons.

  • First, meal planning could help us actually eat the food we’ve already purchased (or grown). We have a huge pile of beef in the freezer, and we don’t use it often enough.
  • Second, meal planning would help us save money by fitting well with our already-practiced twice-a-month shopping plan.
  • Next, meal planning would help me to eat healthier meals. I’m a creature of habit, and I tend to just do what’s easiest. Easiest is rarely healthy. With meal planning, I could thwart my bad habits.
  • Finally, meal planning would allow us to try more recipes. We both like to cook, but we don’t do it as often as we’d like. Again, we’re creatures of habit. We tend to make the same things over and over. Meal planning would allow us to explore a little.

Last night, Kris and I spent ten minutes drawing up a tentative meal plan. We’re sure that this will change as we test it, but this is what we’re going to start with:

  • Monday: Beef (tacos, hamburgers, steaks, roasts, etc.)
  • Tuesday: Italian (pasta, pizza, etc.)
  • Wednesday: Crudités, by which we actually mean fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, olives, etc.
  • Thursday: Dining out (it’s Kris’s Friday!)
  • Friday: Chicken or fish (we’d both like to eat more fish than we do)
  • Saturday: Dining out
  • Sunday: Soup or salad

We intend to be flexible, of course. If we get an invitation to dine out on Tuesday, we’ll dine out on Tuesday. If we have leftover tacos from Monday, we might eat those on Thursday instead of going out. And I forgot it last night, but we need to try something Asian at least every two weeks!

Anyhow, it may be that many people already do meal planning, but I get the impression that it’s not very common. I know Mom used to do it when we were young, and so did many of her friends, but that may have been something encouraged by the Mormon church. I’m not aware of anyone our age who does it. (Although, again, I wouldn’t be surprised if some families did.)

Will meal planning save us money? Help me lose weight? Become an incredible bore? Only time will tell.