Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Tofu and lentil curry soup

March 1st, 2012 by Reinder


1 350-gram block of tofu

2 small onions

1 clove garlic

1 leek

3 carrots

4 cups (1 liter) of water

3 tomatoes

1 jar of pre-cooked lentils with added vegetables* (610 ml, containing 385 grams of lentils)

1 vegetable stock cube (optional for extra _umami_ and salt)

1 tb chana massala

1 tb hot curry powder

1 tsp lemongrass

Sunflower oil


Cut the tofu, garlic and onions according to preference. In a large steel pot, fry the tofu, garlic and onions for about five minutes, starting at high heat and readjusting to medium as you go along. Add chana massala and hot curry powder. Meanwhile, cut the carrots and leek. Add these to the frying mix. Give this a bit of time, which you use to cut the tomatoes. Add lemongrass and cut tomatoes, add water and turn up the heat to bring the soup to a fast boil. Add stock cube if desired. Add lentils with the water in the jar (if using dried lentils, add an extra cup of water). Bring to boil again, briefly. Cook at low heat until you can't stand waiting anymore.

Serves four, or three with seconds for everyone. Suitable for vegetarians.

This was a recipe I improvised to test out the lentil product and use some tofu that needed to be eaten. Rona asked if it was from a book and when I said no, she said, with some regret, that that meant she'd probably never taste it like this again. So to preserve it for posterity and allow it to be made as close to exactly the same again as possible, I decided to type it up. Sometimes my improvised dishes don't turn out that good, but this one was a hit.

*) Or use dried lentils (suggested amount: 1 cup for a soup that's slightly thicker than this one, plus one cup of water). We'd normally do that, but the whole point of developing this recipe was to try and find a use for a jar of these lentils I'd picked up at a discounter.

Windowsill gardening in an abbreviated season

February 20th, 2010 by Reinder

During my last two long stays in the US with my fiancee, I got the gardening bug, bad. But right now, I'm over here in Groningen and not over there in middle Tennessee. And I'm moving out in May, so it's not like I can complete a growing season here. The solution: windowsill gardening with a sharply abbreviated season.
I have bought a bunch of seeds, a propagator, potting soil and some inner pots (I had some outer pots left) and have got on with preparing/soaking seeds and planting them.
The whole project assumes that no plants are going to be planted outside (except one), so I have decided to ignore the start date instructions on the packaging; plants are going to be sown now or next week, in standard potting soil, using the same procedure for each of them, and we'll see what comes up and what will be ready to eat in the next few weeks. The one good thing about not having a real growing season anyway, and doing this for the first time, is that I can make mistakes and not regret them - all that will be lost is 25 Euros worth of supplies. Whatever I learn from the experience will be usefull next year, when I will be in the US and doing real gardening and farming.

I am going to grow:
Cayenne peppers
Leek (as a sprouting vegetable)
Red cabbage (as a sprouting vegetable)
Spring onions
Fennel (as a herb)
Celery (as a herb)
Spring spinach (this is the one that's going to go into the ground as it is a fast growing variety that should be ready to eat within two months)
Basil (not planted yet as I ran out of pots).

If all this stuff just grows as I hope for, this will probably be the only post about the windowsill gardening project. If anything interesting goes wrong, though, I'll let everybody know.

Groceries for October 10: pre-travel week

October 11th, 2009 by Reinder

This week's groceries bill: €5.66. I only bought half a loaf of bread, a litre of milk, some bananas and a kilogram of tangerines.
It's gonna be an unusual sort of week though. I'm leaving for the United States (staying in Amsterdam overnight) on Friday, and the odds are I'll be doing stuff in preparation leaving little time to cook. At the same time, I do want to empty out the pantry some more, and that played a big part in my decision to buy very little. By Thursday, I'll probably be eating lentils for breakfast and canned food for dinner (keeps stuff to clean that last day to a minimum) and then on Friday and Saturday I'll eat mostly on the go, spending more on food and drink on those two days than I have in a month.

After that, ultra-frugal eating will go out of the window as I'm not going to inflict it on Aggie and her boys... but for me doing this the past few weeks has not felt like deprivation at all. I haven't missed more expensive food and have in fact enjoyed getting creative with what I had in the pantry and with the smaller amounts of food I bought at the € 15 limit. And with those tax bills coming in, and the cost of travel, plus the urgent need to save up for a wedding, emigration and a chance to get off the salaryman treadmill at an early age, it's very much a good thing that I can live for a month and a half of that little money (even though I did fall off the wagon a bit last week - but even then I merely went from being ultra-frugal to being frugal).

The one thing I didn't get rid of was the occasional craving for salty snacks. Apart from that, I adjusted well to snacking a lot less and not eating meat unless someone else paid for it. I think I ate a whole lot healthier as a result of simply being more mindful of what I bought and brought into the house. Like I mentioned last week, I lost quite a bit of weight as well, in combination with my increased running schedule. In fact, I lost so much that I began to worry about it and am now making myself eat a little more.

I'd do it again. Maybe I should have done it from the moment I came back from the US and saved a little more money that way.

Some quick food/budgeting notes

August 22nd, 2009 by Reinder

This week's groceries expenses were €35 - they'll be €37 when I get the peanut butter, which I forgot. Most of my groceries were bought at the farmer's market, and because I brought a list and stuck to it, I did not splurge on expensive cheeses and sun-dried tomatoes.
Last week's groceries expenses were €27; the week before it was €70 because I was re-stocking after my trip to the US (and got tempted by said expensive yum-yums). Numbers not exact because I don't always get receipts and I don't always keep them when I do. Even this week, I am still buying a lot of stuff to replace what was in the pantry before I left for the US; when I get the peanut butter, re-stocking will be complete though.

This week, my meal plan will be based on the How Low Can You Go meals Trent has posted on The Simple Dollar; specifically, meals will include Potato-peanut curry and Moorish-style chickpea and spinach stew. I will also have Fish curry and Sweet potato and lentil curry. Yes, it's a week of mostly curry, and mostly vegetarian food. Going (mostly) veg for a while after 2 1/2 months on a meat-heavy American diet with large portions has helped me fit into my pants better already. It's not a lifestyle for the long term for me but I can do it for a few weeks.

The recipes on The Simple Dollar are pretty much the first bit of food advice from any frugality blog that I'm taking action on. Most of the food-related advice from frugality blogs is either stuff that I figured out for myself ("dried legumes are cheap!") or things that I've been doing all my life, i.e. box up your lunches, make your own coffee, cook from scratch. In fact it is fair to say that frugality blogs have introduced me to a lifestyle of wanton profligacy: until I started reading them, I was not aware that there were people on average, middle-class incomes who ate out for lunch and drank coffee at Starbucks every day. To me, boxing up my lunch and making my own coffee is not something I call "frugal", it's something I call "normal" - one of those unquestioned assumptions about my life in comparison to other people's.
Advice like that, advice that tells me to do things I already consider normal, annoys me, especially when it's repeated over and over again. Of course, to a person who regards eating a nine-dollar lunch every day as normal, these repeated messages count as counter-marketing: they need the repeated messages telling them to consume less just to counter the endless bombardment of media messages telling them to consume more.
(Another one that irritates me but is probably useful for many people is the one telling people to turn off their TV and use the time saved to do other, more productive or interesting things. I haven't had a TV in the house since 1995, apart from a few months when I borrowed one, but most people do and waste a lot of time on it)

Anyway. I'm glad that there is some advice there that I can actually follow and it does look like I'll be eating very well on a budget this week. I may be ready to move onto frugality-related material that takes more of a "guerilla" approach like the old Tightwad Gazette used to do, or that questions fundamental assumptions more, such as Early Retirement Extreme.

Update: Thirty bucks a week may come in handy for bringing my budget down further.

A Wonko the Sane moment, on a pack of whipped cream

October 24th, 2008 by Reinder

Ingredients label found on a pack of heavy whipping cream bought in middle Tennessee:

Ingredients: Heavy cream, carrageenan, mono and diglycerides and polysorbate 80.
Contains: Milk

Isn't that just the sort of thing to make you wanna live in an inside-out house named "Outside the asylum"?

I Heart Kale

August 30th, 2008 by Reinder

While I'm on the topic of food, I heart Kale looks like an excellent resource if you like the bitter winter vegetable, kale, and want to do something other to it than use it in a mash. I like kale mash, or stamppot boerenkool but I always end up buying more of the vegetable than I need.

The blog has a lovely, upbeat tone, simple recipes and photos of the finished product as made. I'll forgive them their occasional adulterous escapades with other seasonal vegetables.

In Defense of Food and my shopping list

August 30th, 2008 by Reinder

I have broken down and bought a copy of In Defense of Food: A Eater's Manifesto. I'll take it off my Amazon wish list in a minute; in the event that someone's bought it as a birthday gift for me as suggested earlier: thanks - I'll make sure it finds a good home.

On first reading, there are some things in the book that I'm skeptical about, particularly when it comes to his own unexamined assumptions regarding the so-called obesity epidemic. I also noticed that writer Michael Pollan's working relationship with nutritionism is much more ambivalent than you can tell from the summaries, reviews and promotional excerpts. Still, on the whole, it's a valuable, mostly well-argued book with some practical tips for enjoying food and staying healthy (beyond the big one: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants).

One of Pollan's tips is to shop the periphery of the supermarket, and another is to avoid the supermarket alltogether. I'm going to try that last one for a week, to see if it's possible to get everything I need just from the farmer's market in Groningen. Note that while I say "Farmer's market", the stalls located on the Vismarkt do not form a true farmer's market: about a third of them are fishmongers and many of the others are run by grocery and dairy merchants, not farmers. But a lot of the produce on offer is local, and there are some farm-oriented businesses selling their wears there every day the market is open.

As part of the experiment, I'm going to bore you with my shopping list, because I need to write it down somewhere and then be able to find it again later. Here's what I got:
2 kilograms of tomatoes, from the organic produce stall, for snacking on and cooking with. These are a bit pricy but well worth it for their flavour.
1 cauliflower, also from the organic produce stall.
1 kg potatoes (cultivar Andijker Muizen) from the potato farmer.
1 sliced Waldkorn bread from a bakery stall;
1 1/2 kg bag of gingerbread drops (kruidnoten) from the same bakery stall. These are strongly associated with St. Nicolas' Day (December 5) in the Netherlands and people will grumble about them being on sale so early. I don't care - I'd eat them year-round.
3 bananas from one of the fruit sellers.
1 1/2 kg box of strawberries from the same fruit seller. This time around, I managed to get them home undamaged, which was partly due to this lot being better quality to start with.
1 250-gram box of wasabi peanuts from a nut stall.
1 1/2 kg bag of party mix (peanuts, cashews, raisins and some other things) from another nut stall.
2 bell peppers from a vegetable seller.
1 broccoli from the same vegetable seller.
200 grams of sun-dried tomatoes from Moritz the food snob (easily the priciest indulgence on the list, but worth every penny)
1 liter of buttermilk from a dairy stall.
1 liter of yoghurt from same.
1 kg red peppers, to snack on.

Total budget: € 40. Still in my wallet after the visit: €10. Clearly, if frugality was my only motivation to shop at the market, I might as well not bother. I do save money on stapels (and would save more if I were buying for a household of more than one person) but it gets canceled out by upgrades to organic produce or pricy yum-yums. Also, the large number of separate transactions makes budgeting more difficult.

I did get all my shopping done reasonably fast and with money left over to get more bread later in the week. I could get nearly everything I wanted: the only exceptions were milk, durable crispbread and potato chips, and I don't really need the latter two anyway. Because I was puzzled by the absense of milk, I asked at the dairy stall; they said they do offer it early in the week, but there's little demand and no structural supply chain as everyone gets it from the supermarket. That's why I got the buttermilk instead, but the lack of milk may turn out to be the factor driving me back into the supermarket later this week.