instagrammed meals

I’ve had such a busy week [tennis, meetings, business planning, a field trip to Lake Johnson, Triangle Restaurant Week at Chamas, etc] so I haven’t been cooking very elaborate meals for lunch or dinner. Here’s an overview of some of my simple, thrown-together snacks and meals this week!
Edamame pulled from the freezer, sprinkled with sea salt, and defrosted over night then microwaved for ~30 seconds at snacktime

Sharp cheddar cheese cut into cubes and thrown into an Easter egg!

Cherries from the Dupont Farmers’ Market
A delicious simple summer salad: chopped tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and corn cut off the cob with olive oil, gluten-free soy sauce, sea salt, pepper, dried red chili peppers, and garlic powder
Edamame pulled from the freezer, sprinkled with sea salt, and defrosted over night then microwaved for ~30 seconds at snacktime

Salted tomato slices

Cheddar cheese cubes

Trader Joe’s Organic Foursome vegetable medley

Pan-fried Harris Teeter sun-dried tomato polenta with a scoop of ricotta and sun-dried tomatoes

Round two of sun-dried tomato polenta

Pickled cucumbers, carrots, and edamame {recipe to come}

Green olives

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Also on this week’s list of “gluten-free wins”: I went to a luncheon and was faced with two options: a light salad or a sandwich. I filled up my plate with salad and then grabbed a tuna sandwich; I put the filling of the tuna sandwich on top of my salad and set the bread aside. Yes, it’s wasteful and no, it wouldn’t work for a Celiac but a gluten-free girl’s gotta  be creative!

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In other news!

to my friend Sara D!

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changing consumer behaviors: the dc bag tax

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Did you know if you bring reusable bags to Trader Joe’s, you can enter their BYOB (bag) raffle for $100 worth of groceries? When I was shopping there the other day, I asked the cashier how many people enter. She said they estimate it to be 30,000 per month! That number- much higher than I expected- got me thinking about measures that businesses and governments implement to change consumers’ behaviors.

While I was living in Washington, DC, the city implemented a city-wide bag tax- called the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act of 2009- meaning $.05 was charged for each disposable bag a consumer received from a retailer. $.01 of this revenue went to the retailer and $.04 to a government-run Anacostia River clean-up project.

The bag tax was heralded as a win-win-win. Consumers had an incentive to change their behaviors; businesses paid less money for plastic and paper bags; and the Anacostia River would be cleaned up if people didn’t change their consumption habits. Also importantly, consumers had a relatively easy choice in the matter: don’t make an effort and pay the fee or bring a bag and save $.05. In a way, it was an optional tax.

According to an article in the Washington Post, the bag tax netted $2 million, which was half of the expected amount. This is interpreted to mean that consumers changed their habits, opting to bring reusable bags instead of spending $.05. Some studies claimed that this was a negative result, but the tax naturally pans out with more revenue netted and the same amount of bags consumed or less revenue but fewer bags consumed; by nature, it can’t be both. The Washington Times adds that “A city official said the fee has already made a positive impact by reducing the amount of garbage in the river.” Estimates say the amount of trash  produced by bags in the river was reduced by 50%. Another study showed that overall, “customers used 3.3 billion bags in one month, compared to an estimated 22.5 billion being used prior to the law taking effect.”

As with any law, there’s been some fall-out (though some of it is debatable): As I mentioned, opponents state that the lower-than-expected levels of revenue are a negative outcome, but I would disagree with that point based on the rationale above. According to studies, purchases in Washington, DC decreased because of the law; this allegation is contended by many proponents of the tax. One assertion against the law may have some merit though- as one snarky commentor said, “D.C.’s poor and elderly who rely on public transportation aren’t likely to have a Subaru Outback or Volvo station wagon in which to keep all of their Life is Good canvas bags handy.” Additionally, opponents claim that the majority of reusable grocery bags contain unsanitary amounts of bacteria because they are rarely cleaned.

Overall, yet another interesting example of an argument having two valid sides. As for me: I will continue to bring my reusable grocery bag to Trader Joe’s in the hopes that I will one day win the coveted bag of groceries! And I just might pop my bag into the washing machine every so often too 🙂

Another good example of a business positively reinforcing beneficial behaviors: Starbucks subtracts $.10 every time you bring your own cup! You get a discount, they buy fewer cups: win win!

Would the bag tax encourage you to bring your own reusable bag? Know of any other interesting taxes or measures that encourage more conscious consumerism? Does positive reinforcement (like the Starbucks discount) or negative punishment (like the bag tax) work better for you? 

on the menu for the week

A few new(ish) ones:

Plus some snacks:

  • Pistachios
  • Fiberful Ends & Pieces
  • Watermelon
  • Chobani

A few things I didn’t get around to making the past few weeks:

And lastly, a few of my go to favorites:

a week of “cupboard meals”

As you know, I was determined to not go grocery shopping this week and instead make meals from the ingredients my cupboards, fridge, and freezer. Mission accomplished (minus the $5 taco buffet at the Dos Taquitos Margarita Run!).

Among the less interesting things I consumed: rice cakes with cream cheese {which are surprisingly filling}, apple sauce, veggies {like cherry tomatoes, carrots, and bell peppers} with homemade sour cream veggie dip, honey sesame cashews, trail mix, and almonds.

But I also put together some interesting food combos:

Not half bad for a week of eating at home. And I still got plenty of vegetables in 🙂

end of the week lunchbox meal

What do you get when you’re trying to clean out your fridge for Friday’s lunch because you know you’ll be eating out all weekend? A very random assortment of thrown-together sampler-sized dishes!

My friend is coming to Raleigh for his spring break…and St. Patty’s Day! I know we’re going to be grabbing dinner out {I need to introduce him to Raleigh Times pork nachos!}, as well as probably brunch and late night snacks 🙂

Sooo I was determined to clear out my fridge. Several things went into the freezer, several stayed put for next week, and most went into my motley lunch.

Cherry tomatoes and carrots with ranch dipping sauce

A mini marinated caprese salad

An Italian sausage sauteed with onions and peppers, drenched in Buffalo sauce, and served with potato wedges

A small cup of South African Smoke tomato leek soup {recipe to come!}

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Wondering what this South African Smoke thing I keep referring to is? Another Trader Joe’s gem, just like 21 Seasoning Salute! It’s a very well-priced seasoning grinder that, according to the link, “begins with African-grown paprika that is slow-smoked for 48 hours over a sustainable African hardwood called Acacia Saligna, commonly used as barbecue coals. This process enriches the paprika with a smoky, roasted flavor that evokes the South African braai, or barbecue.” It also contains sea salt, garlic and basil.

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Photo credits 1, 2, 3, 4

from store to store

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I recently saw this article, entitled “What to Buy and What to Skip at Trader Joe’s,” and immediately sent it to my friend Sarah, who did an article on grocery store vs farmers’ market pricing when we were in college.

So as I was bouncing around from store to store this weekend, I decided to jot down a few prices.

A cauliflower- organic or not- is $3.49 at Harris Teeter and only $2.69 at Target. Canned tomatoes are $1.24 at Target but $1.44 at Harris Teeter. Chobani Greek yogurt is $1.22 at Target and $1.38 at Harris Teeter.

Let’s take a look at the difference in the Chobani pricing. It’s a difference of $.16 per container. Let’s say you eat one for breakfast each weekday morning for a year- $.16 x 5 x 52 (weeks per year) = $41.60.

If you had shopped at Target, you would have saved $41.60 over the course of a year. Say you get paid $20 per hour- that’s just two hours of work over the course of a whole year (out of a total of 8,750 hours).

But on the other hand, we’re only talking about one item. Let’s say you save an average of $.16 per item on 40 items each week. That’s now $332.80, which could almost get you a cruise to the Bahamas!

But think about these important factors and their value to you:

  • Your time- running from store to store takes time; think about it in terms of opportunity cost from econ class 🙂
  • Gas- Target is about 12 minutes from me, so it expends quite a bit of gas over the course of a year
  • Experience- Where do you have a better experience? How important is that to you? I love going to Trader Joe’s and Harris Teeter, but could live without the customer service at Target
  • Quality- Are you willing to pay a premium at a grocery store that you consider to be higher quality than another? Are you willing to pay for perceived quality as well?
  • Ethics- Likewise, are you willing to pay a premium at a grocery store that you consider to be more ethical than another?

21 seasoning vegetable pasta

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Did you read “21 seasoning” and feel a little overwhelmed? Don’t! This is the easiest recipe ever.

Remember when I wrote about Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute and the soup I made with it? Well, I was determined to make a delicious pasta dish using only this seasoning. Success!

You can really use any vegetables for this {cauliflower and broccoli would be good} but here’s what I did:

Prepare pasta {gluten-free if you’d like} according to directions. Reserve some of the pasta water. Set aside.

Drizzle a skillet with olive oil. Over medium, saute a shallot, half an onion, and half a leek until they begin to caramelize. Add in chopped zucchini, yellow squash, and sun-dried tomatoes. Sprinkle with 21 Seasoning Salute. Saute until tender. If needed, add some of the pasta water so the vegetables don’t dry out.

Combine vegetables and pasta; sprinkle with shaved or grated parmesan cheese and fresh parsley. Done!

Tips:

  • I didn’t have any fresh parsley so I popped a parsley cube on top of the prepared pasta in a Tupperware. By the next morning, the parsley cube had melted!
  • I think this pasta is actually better the next day; it allows time for the seasoning to marinade with the other flavors.
  • This would be an even quicker recipe if your vegetables are already chopped. If you’re more tight on time than money, pick up pre-chopped vegetables at the grocery store. I even saw one blogger who grabs vegetables from the salad bar and uses them in recipes!

21 seasoning salute soup

Though I’m a big fan of mixing my own spices, I’m also a fan of efficient, simple cooking, so I was delighted when I came across Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute.

It’s an all-purpose spice medley that contains onion, black pepper, celery seed, cayenne pepper, parsley, basil, marjoram, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, savory, rosemary, cumin, mustard, coriander, garlic, carrot, orange peel, tomato granules, lemon juice powder, oil of  lemon, and citric acid.

Overwhelmed by that list? I was too, but trust me, the flavor isn’t overwhelming- the seasonings mesh perfectly and are light but flavorful.

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After some careful consideration and a Google search, I decided to make a beef soup using only 21 Seasoning Salute for flavor. Was it flavorful enough? You betcha!

Saute chopped carrots and celery with olive oil in a large pot over medium. Toss in lean stew beef, diced potatoes, canned corn, canned diced tomatoes, and four cups of beef broth. Season with 21 Seasoning Salute until you get the flavor you want. Remember -you can always add more as you go! Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the meat is cooked and the potatoes are soft. 

So easy! This seasoning is also apparently fantastic on eggs, salads, pasta {gluten-free for me of course!}, you name it. I sprinkled some on top of my cream cheese-covered rice cake! Stephanie of Noshtopia {one of my new favorite blogs} described it as the “cross trainer of spices.” And Carrol from What I Crave said for her, it’s like the Frank’s Red Hot ad- “I put that [bleep] on everything.” Haha!

lunchbox meal: gluten-free “chicken parm”

Photo credit: Trader Joe's

If you need a quick (and gluten-free) lunch that’s easy to put together in just a few minutes, try this:

In a shallow Tupperware, layer a Trader Joe’s Roasted Chicken Patty with jarred tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. At work, microwave for one minute.

Done.

It’s an even more absurdly easy version of this and a gluten-free version of this!

It wakes me up daily, don’t need no Starbucks

After lots of searching and taste-testing, I’ve determined my four favorite coffees to brew at home. Brace yourself, because none of them are from Starbucks! Like my reference to this song in the title?!

Just like I did with wine, I’d like to do a coffee tasting to narrow in on my preferences. From the four coffees below, I think it’s safe to say that I prefer light-medium roasts over dark roasts. But I think it’s easy to confuse one’s likes/dislikes about strong vs weak with light vs dark roasts.

Dunkin Donuts Decaf- Medium Roast

photo credit: dunkindonuts.com

Archer Farms Coconut Macaroon (found at Target)

photo credit: findingcoffee.wordpress.com

Trader Joe’s Organic Fair Trade Breakfast Blend (Medium Roast)

image credit: tjsdeliveryservice.com

Harris Teeter Limited Edition Toasted Almond

Photo credit: my Droid!