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September 26th, 2011

Brown-Bagged

FN_Healthy-Eats_bro#2578AF6We’re teaming up with Food Network’s Healthy Eats and fellow food bloggers to host a Brown-Bag Challenge, a month-long initiative to eat consciously and save money by packing a lunch each weekday through the month of September instead of eating out. Join us here and share what you’re eating on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #brownbag.

Sigh.

If I were a movie critic, I would give my last week’s efforts at brown-bagging only about two stars out of five. I did a lot of planning and had enough ingredients to make lunches for the whole week, but got distracted and busy with other activities in the evening and didn’t get to put them together. So I managed to bring lunch only once this week.

Tuesday’s Lunch

• Campbell’s Healthy Request Mexican-Style Chicken Tortilla Soup
• Santa Claus melon (the last of this melon—it supplied a lot of servings!)
• 2 slices Irish wheaten bread from McCarthy’s Tea Room & Restaurant at Donegal Square in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
• Banana

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By the time I got my food all nicely styled for this photo, the soup was cold. And again I realized that I was missing parts of the color wheel. I had greens for supper.

The brown bread from McCarthy’s is extra-special. It’s made from an authentic Irish recipe. A loaf thrown at someone’s head could kill him. Imagine a bowl of oatmeal so thick you could form it into a loaf—that’s how dense it is. But with wheat instead of oats. Yum!

Inspired by my shame over this week’s crash-and-burn, next week’s menu has more homemade food made from fresh and local ingredients. And I’m already off to a better start, since I’ve packed today’s lunch already. Wish me luck!

September 19th, 2011

Brown-Bag Tales

FN_Healthy-Eats_bro#2578AF6We’re teaming up with Food Network’s Healthy Eats and fellow food bloggers to host a Brown-Bag Challenge, a month-long initiative to eat consciously and save money by packing a lunch each weekday through the month of September instead of eating out. Join us here and share what you’re eating on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #brownbag.

I finished my second week of brown-bagging last week, so I thought I’d recap the week’s lunches.

Monday, September 12

Fell off the brown-bag wagon today. Not enough planning on the weekend! But I ate healthy whole-grain pasta from the Rodale Café, while managing to stay away from the desert display.

Tuesday, September 13

• Tuna salad (water-packed tuna, fat-free mayo, onions) on toasted farm-grain bread from Saxman Breads in the Emmaus Farmers’ Market, with tomato from the Organic Gardening test garden and organic red lettuce and hearts of romaine. Eric Saxman’s farm-grain bread is unbelievably crunchy-nutty-delicious!
• Cup of Santa Claus melon
• Nature’s Promise Organic Honey Wheat Pretzel Sticks

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Wednesday, September 14

• Two eggs scrambled with onions, on toasted farm-grain bread with lettuce and tomato (see above)
• Cup of Santa Claus melon
• Glass of fresh apple cider from Hausmans Fruit Farm in the Emmaus Farmers’ Market
Maybe I was especially hungry since I had worked up a sweat in the test garden, but this was one of the best lunches I have ever eaten.

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Thursday, September 15

• Cottage cheese with pineapple chunks and walnuts (one of the few elements of the old Scarsdale Diet that I actually liked)
• Cup of Santa Claus melon
• Nature’s Promise Organic Honey Wheat Pretzel Sticks

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As I was photographing this lunch, I realized everything was yellow! So I made sure I got lots of leafy greens and orange carrots and red tomatoes for supper. I ended up saving the banana for later because I was so full. I’ll cut the portion of cottage cheese next time I eat it.

Friday, September 16

Did not have time to pack a lunch today because I found out the night before that a Realtor was coming to my apartment to photograph it so my landlord could put the building on the market. Hilarity ensued.
So, more whole-grain pasta from the Rodale Café for lunch—but a sumptuous organic feast later at the Rodale Institute in honor of the 2011 Organic Pioneer Awards winners. Aren’t we lucky?

Lessons Learned So Far

• I want a gadget for chopping vegetables. This is the most time-consuming part of the prep process, and if I can make it easier, I’ll have one fewer excuse not to cook.
• I want another coffee grinder that I can reserve for chopping nuts.
• I hate buying produce in the grocery store, even if it is organic. I’d rather give my money directly to the grower. So I need to plan my farmers’ market shopping so that I can hit the Macungie Farmers’ Market on a Thursday and have fresh ingredients on the weekend to prepare the week’s meals. If I wait until Sunday to shop at the Emmaus Farmers’ Market, that’s too late.
• I’m going to miss picking my own veggies from the test garden and my driveway planters when winter sets in.

September 12th, 2011

The Reluctant Cook

FN_Healthy-Eats_bro#2578AF6We’re teaming up with Food Network’s Healthy Eats and fellow food bloggers to host a Brown-Bag Challenge, a month-long initiative to eat consciously and save money by packing a lunch each weekday through the month of September instead of eating out. Join us here and share what you’re eating on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #brownbag.

nancy-80x80Full disclosure: I’m not a “food blogger” and I’m definitely not a foodie. But as a blogger for Organic Gardening magazine, I am concerned about food—where it comes from, what’s in it, who is producing it, and how it’s produced. So I was glad for the opportunity to help promote the Brown-Bag Challenge along with Healthy Eats.

I found out about the challenge on the last day of August, but since I had already done my grocery shopping for the week, I decided to start the challenge the following week. Not that there’s a shortage of healthy food here at Rodale: Our Organic Gardening Test Garden has supplied an abundance of tomatoes, onions, peppers, and zucchini. And as my colleague Eric Hurlock pointed out in his blog, our in-house café spoils us rotten. It serves healthy options made from sustainably produced ingredients, many of them local and organic. The downside is that it also offers all-too-convenient temptation—particularly in the form of deserts (which I seldom eat at home). I need to break this workday desert routine or face not being able to wear any of my clothes.

I had no illusions that this was going to be easy. I live alone, and though I enjoy cooking for others, I think everyday cooking just for myself is a serious drag. So on weekdays, I’ve grown accustomed to eating my main meal of the day in the Rodale Cafe (good) and microwaving a store-bought frozen meal for supper (bad, for me and the planet). On nights when I work late, I sometimes skip supper altogether—a habit that encourages unhealthy snacking before bedtime. For this challenge, I knew I would need to replace not only my lunches but my suppers with homemade meals.

I also know myself well enough to know that cooking during the week is just not going to happen. I sing in two different choirs (which means rehearsals every Monday and Thursday evening), serve on two church committees (two more weeknights per month spent at meetings), and belong to several community groups (more weeknights accounted for). On many evenings, I need to squeeze supper between work and another commitment.

I began this challenge with an ambitious plan: Prepare four different recipes on Saturday and Sunday that make at least 4 servings apiece, which would allow me to coast through the following week on reheatable leftovers for lunch and supper.

Well, that plan didn’t last long. I was in a mood that matched the foul, dark weather we’ve been enduring lately in Pennsylvania. I procrastinated all of Saturday and Sunday and half of Monday (which was the Labor Day holiday). I did take an hour or so to plan my menu for the week, but I didn’t get to the grocery store until 1:30 p.m. on Labor Day. When I emerged about an hour later, I was more than $130 poorer. This is much more than I usually spend on groceries in a week; we’ll see if I actually save any money during this challenge once I total my grocery bills for the month and compare the difference with what I normally spend in the company café.

At 4:30 p.m. on Labor Day, I began to labor. I spent the next 5 1/2 hours peeling, chopping, and mixing and came out with four completed recipes:

• Zucchini Cheese Squares, from The Garden-Fresh Vegetable Cookbook, by Andrea Chesman (recipe claims it serves 6-8; I claim 4—they’re just too delicious)
• Black Bean and Goat Cheese Burritos, from Fresh Choices, by David Joachim and Rochelle Davis (8 burritos or 4 servings)
• Fresh Salsa, from The Garden-Fresh Vegetable Cookbook, by Andrea Chesman (2 cups)
Lemon Basil and Pistachio Nut Snaps, by Renee Shepherd at Renee’s Garden (recipe estimates 5 dozen; mine made half that)

Other recipes I wanted to make but never got around to:

• Chili-Lime Chicken with Broccoli
• Chicken Mozzarella
• Roasted Beets and Sautéed Beet Greens
• Gazpacho al Chile Poblano
• Homemade soft preztels

Here’s the good news, fellow procrastinators: Though I blew my plan (only 8 servings of main dishes instead of 16!) and my menu was repetitious, I still got through the work week without buying lunch from the Rodale Café. My menu:

Tuesday, September 6

Lunch:
2 Black Bean and Goat Cheese Burritos with Fresh Salsa
2 Lemon Basil and Pistachio Nut Snaps

BeanBurritos

Supper:
Zucchini Cheese Square
2 Lemon Basil and Pistachio Nut Snaps

Wednesday, September 7

Lunch:
Zucchini Cheese Square
2 Lemon Basil and Pistachio Nut Snaps

ZucchiniCheeseSquare

Supper:
Zucchini Cheese Square
2 Lemon Basil and Pistachio Nut Snaps

Thursday, September 8

Lunch:
2 Black Bean and Goat Cheese Burritos with Fresh Salsa
2 Lemon Basil and Pistachio Nut Snaps

Supper:
Skipped meal to perform in concert at retirement community. Bought 3 peanut-butter cookies from kindly senior citizen at fund-raising bake sale instead. (Can’t resist kindly seniors. Sigh.)

Friday, September 9

Lunch:
2 Black Bean and Goat Cheese Burritos with Fresh Salsa
2 Lemon Basil and Pistachio Nut Snaps

Supper:
Zucchini Cheese Square
2 Lemon Basil and Pistachio Nut Snaps

Those of you playing at home may have noticed two things: I didn’t eat any meat, and I didn’t use up all of my recipes. Both are true. My week’s protein came from dairy and legumes, and I still have 2 burritos in the freezer. Plus I had enough cookies for snacking on the weekend.

One week down and three to go!

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