Spicy Indian Cauliflower

I love this Spicy Indian Cauliflower.

spicy indian cauliflower

It’s so delicious, I could eat the whole recipe. I would probably regret that later. I use less oil than the recipe calls for, about 1/2 tsp just to make the mustard seeds pop. Then I add a bit of water to help distribute the spices. I would serve this with basmati rice, or as a side dish to Crockpot Channa Masala. It would also be good stuffed into some naan or pita bread for lunch.

SNAP Hunger Awareness Challenge: Day 6

Today is my last day on the SNAP Challenge. I look at food a little differently. $5.00 for a coffee drink? Really? The 5 Dollar Footlong… that’s 2 meals, right? (What about breakfast?)

Breakfast today was on the run, with a little convenience food. I would not have eaten the relatively small breakfast pita at this price (nor would I have bought them unless they were 30% off) had I not had so much money left over for the week. It was not a good choice for the price… not filling at all. I also ate a slice of wheat bread with peanut butter. No fruit or vegetable.

  • muesli breakfast pita: .49
  • 1 slice homemade wheat bread: .08
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter: .09
  • Breakfast total: .66

Lunch was a near repeat of last night’s dinner, Spiced Cauliflower.

  • 1/2 head cauliflower: 1.00
  • onion, garlic, spices: .17
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil: .08
  • red pepper chutney: .32
  • wheat bread: .08
  • 1/2 cup applesauce: .16
  • Lunch total: 1.81

I’m fortunate to have a microwave and refrigerator at work. If I didn’t have these resources, what would I bring? I think I would be more tempted by convenience foods. I can’t believe the amount of pre-portioned, over-packaged food in the store. I appreciate the time it saves for a busy family though, especially if you had to plan all these costs per serving like I’m doing, and using my own containers. But they’re still outrageously expensive, and the amount of waste is outrageous too. My son just started Kindergarten, and I recall the outlay for reusable lunchbox containers.

And what would happen if I forgot my lunch? I couldn’t run over to the cafe for a $4.75 hummus wrap like I normally would. Or order Jimmy John’s with the rest of the office.

Speaking of Jimmy John’s, that’s what the rest of my family had planned for dinner before we were to leave for a weekend road trip. Not for me. I carefully calculated the money I have left over for the week: $4.50 for today + $1.31 surplus for the week, subtract breakfast and lunch, and I guess I could go without the apple I brought for a snack… equals…

Not enough – $3.37 left. Short of the $4.45 I would need for the Vegetarian, hold the cheese and mayo to make it vegan. (Do you think a person on this budget would throw away the cheese?) It’s worth noting that a “Plain Slim” is $3.25 (bread + cheese and meat), so I guess I could buy that, throw away the meat and cheese, and eat a plain loaf of (very expensive) bread.

My dinner was a taco salad, and it was a lot better than a plain loaf of bread.

  • 2 cups spinach (not baby or organic): .83
  • 1/2 cup Chipotle Black Beans: .16
  • 1 cup iceberg lettuce: .21
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels: .12
  • 1/4 cup salsa: .31
  • 1 cup vanilla soy milk: .50
  • apple (afternoon snack): .60
  • Dinner (and snack) total: 2.73

Day 6 total: $5.20 (up $ .64 for the week)
Calories: 1,075

Did I get enough nutrients?

I used the free tool at Sparkpeople.com to track nutrition information for the last 6 days. Here’s a summary.

NUTRIENTS: GOAL 9/4 9/5 9/6 9/7 9/8 9/9 9/10
Calories: 1,449 1,058 1,261 1,014 1,262 1,118 1,075
Fat: 32 – 56 32 25 15 23 17 32 26
Calcium: 100 – 150 18 20 35 12 17 48 57
Fiber, total dietary: 25 – 35 33 27 18 26 28 32 33
Iron: 100 – 150 54 58 51 40 53 38 56
Sodium: 0 – 2,300 1,349 1,305 361 539 1,192 1,411 1,149
Protein: 50 – 62 39 48 29 35 42 48 40
Carbohydrates: 300 – 375 271 169 269 175 258 167 185

I did not eat enough calories to sustain a 33 year old woman of my height and weight, resulting in 1.5 lbs lost since the beginning of the challenge, despite exercising less this week.

  • Fat is low, but I believe the recommended guidelines for fat in a diet are too high, so I’m ok with this.
  • I never met my calcium requirement during the week. I usually eat more broccoli, cereal, and tofu than this.
  • Plenty of fiber here, thanks to a big effort to get plenty of fruits and veggies.
  • Iron and carbohydrates are low on most days.
  • Sodium looks great. Probably from a low amount of processed food.
  • Protein is ok, but could be a bit better on some days.

If I had been eating more calories, most of these numbers would have improved.

I learned a lot on this challenge. I’m glad it’s over, because I was hungry all the time. I did my best to eat good food, but I think I needed more of it. I have a new appreciation for being able to choose my meals at will.

The planning time it takes to get by and eat healthfully on such a small budget is intense. It was difficult at times to get a variety of fruits and vegetables. But I think there are many healthy foods are not more expensive, if you’re willing to do some cooking and shop around for deals. It matters what is available in your area. And it seems that luck sometimes helps, too.

SNAP Hunger Awareness Challenge: Day 5

Planning seems to be getting easier, but still takes so much time. I miss strawberries and red peppers. I have a stack of recipes I can’t afford to make. I do have some money left over again today, but we have plans to go out on Friday night. I might want a coffee drink, or to eat at a restaurant. But I don’t think I’ll have quite enough for that, especially for vegan options. (WHY is a salad more expensive than a burger?)

I baked some whole wheat bread last night, from frozen loaves I bought at a 30% off sale – which has turned out to be quite the windfall. It might not be less expensive than an ordinary store-bought loaf, but it’s probably less than the $5+ sprouted grain loaf that I usually get. I added some peanut butter and a cup of store-brand organic vanilla soy milk for protein. The cup of black coffee was free at a work meeting.

  • 2 (generously-sized) slices homemade wheat bread: .16
  • 1 Tbsp natural peanut butter: .09
  • 1 cup Meijer organic vanilla soy milk:
  • black coffee: free
  • Breakfast total: .25

Lunch was leftover scrambled tofu with Chipotle Black Beans I cooked up over the weekend. With 2 sprouted grain tortillas, some lettuce, and a bit of guacamole, it made a nice taco salad. Plenty of protein and fiber kept me full until dinner.

  • 2 sprouted grain tortillas: .44
  • scrambled tofu: 1.00
  • 1/2 cup black beans: .16
  • 1 cup iceberg lettuce: .21
  • 1 tbsp guacamole: .13
  • Lunch total: 1.94

I wonder if my meals reflect the American average. I don’t think so. The proportion of processed foods is low. I did some batch cooking last weekend, which takes more time than a busy family often has. I wonder about the quantity, and how it compares with the average. Would it keep a construction worker going all day?

The other two people in my family have different tastes, and I think their meals are more typical of the American diet. I priced out an example dinner, similar to what they ate tonight:

  • 2 hot dog buns: .26
  • 2 Oscar Mayer all-beef nitrate-free hot dogs: .75
  • ketchup, mustard, onion, relish (very approximate): .32 (?)
  • 1 cup iceberg lettuce: .27
  • 3 tbsp italian dressing: .13
  • Dinner total: 1.73

It’s close in price to my own dinner, below, but it’s more processed, and I’m sure it contains fewer vitamins and minerals. All of the above items were on sale. We purchase condiments in large containers and refill smaller bottles. Spices are usually purchased in bulk at a local ethnic grocery store. I save a lot of money this way. My dinner:

  • 1/2 head cauliflower: 1.00
  • onion, garlic, spices: .17
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil: .08
  • red pepper chutney: .32
  • wheat bread: .08
  • kiwi: .33
  • Dinner total: 1.98

I still have “extra” money, but I was full tonight, so I’m not using it. I’ve been craving the Indian Spiced Cauliflower dish, which happens to be relatively inexpensive. Would the average person be satisfied with a big plate of cauliflower? I would expect more hot dogs.

Day 5 Total: $4.17 (+ $ 1.34 for the week)
Calories: 1118
Fruit/veggie servings: about 7

Tomorrow (Friday) will be my last day of the SNAP Challenge. I would encourage everyone to try this challenge when it officially begins on September 19-25, even if it’s just for a day. Hunger is a grave concern in this economy, especially in Illinois. You can learn more at FeedingIllinois.org.

Although I like a challenge and I found this interesting, I do not take this experience lightly. It has opened my eyes and my heart. Approximately 1 in 10 families in Illinois experience food insecurity. It could be a friend, a neighbor… even yourself.

There but for the grace of God [or what/whomever you believe in], go I.

Chipotle Black Beans

Put some beans in a large bowl (or big pan) of water before you go to bed. Cook them up for breakfast or dinner (takes about an hour) the next day.

CAUTION: The chipotle-scented steam will make your house smell fantastic, but DO NOT inhale it from directly over the pot! I speak from experience.

1 lb dried black beans
1 dried chipotle pepper, broken into chunks
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt (or to taste)

Soak, drain, and rinse beans as directed on package. Add beans, chipotle, garlic, cumin, and bay leaf to cooking water in a large pot. Cook beans as directed, about 1 hour. Add salt after cooking.

Remove pepper chunks after cooking, or smash and blend into the beans for extra spice. These are even better the next day.

SNAP Hunger Awareness Challenge: Day 4

After last night’s dinner, and small surplus of change, I was feeling good about Day 4. I noted in the morning that since the challenge began, I’ve lost 1.5 pounds. I thought this might happen based on daily calories. I’m getting the healthful food I normally eat (naturally low in fat and calories, donuts not withstanding), but I’m reducing the quantity, adding fewer condiments, etc.

Breakfast today was more of the same: oatmeal. Still good, still keeps me going through the morning. I added some (non-organic) grapes for an extra serving of fruit and felt quite full all morning. (Grapes are one of the most heavily sprayed crops, so I normally buy organic grapes or none at all.)

  • oatmeal, 1/2 cup: .08
  • applesauce, 1/4 cup: .08
  • raisins, 1/8 cup: .08
  • 1 cup red grapes: .60
  • Breakfast total: .84

Lunch was leftover vegetarian split pea and lentil soup from yesterday, pretzels, and cantaloupe. Tasty and filling. Bean or lentil-based soups are great – easy, freezable, and plenty of protein.

  • 2 cups lentil soup: .50
  • 1 cup cantaloupe: .24
  • pretzels: .12
  • Lunch total: .86

Dinner was a chance to clean out the vegetable drawers, as it usually is on nights when we pick up CSA produce. Out with the old, in with the new. I feel as fortunate as ever this week to receive such a bounty. But using prices I would pay for these items in a store, I can’t eat some of them until the challenge is over (baby bok choy!) Dinner was eggplant ratatouille (eggplant is more expensive than I realized), with sauteed zucchini and tomatoes, served with couscous and topped with nutritional yeast (a good source of protein and B vitamins). It was my most expensive dinner so far, but with the surplus from yesterday, still within my budget. And I managed to fit in 10 servings of fruit and vegetables for the day!

  • 1 cup couscous: .64
  • 1 small zucchini:.50
  • 1/2 of a medium eggplant: .98
  • chopped roma tomato: .32
  • olive oil: .04
  • nutritional yeast: .52
  • Dinner total: 3.00

Day 4 total: $4.68 (+ $ 1.01 for the week)
Calories: 1104
Fruit/vegetable servings: 10 (yay!)

SNAP Hunger Awareness Challenge: Day 3

I’m spending at least an hour each evening planning and budgeting meals for the next day – far more time than I thought. Ordinarily, I carry my lunch to work, so I’m used to a fair amount of planning – but not at this level.

I thought since I eat mostly whole foods (and no meat), that vegetables, beans, and grains would all be cheaper choices, and I could just combine them as I pleased. That has not been the case.

I priced out a zucchini last night for dinner, from our Prairieland CSA share. To be fair, I acted as if I bought it in a store, thinking that someone on SNAP would not have $400 to buy a CSA share at the beginning of the year. The small zucchini was $1. I can eat a lot of zucchini, usually more than one… sauteed with a little olive oil, garlic, and fresh basil… Yes, I am fantasizing about fresh vegetables.

I’m reminded of a scene from Food, Inc. The family is shopping for produce, weighing apples to decide how many they can get for a dollar. They put them back when they realize they can only get two. Later, they go through a drive through and order burgers from the Dollar Menu. It was incredible to me at the time, that someone would trade wholesome, real food for burgers from the Dollar Menu. I’m sure it happens all the time.

Today’s breakfast was about the same as yesterday (minus the soy milk) and was still filling. Because I ate it later in the morning and had a large glass of water, I wasn’t very hungry by lunch. I had packed 2 cups of lentil soup, an apple, and some pretzels, but only ate the apple and pretzels on the way to a meeting. In a moment of hunger, on the way back to the office, I snagged a donut – oops. But I counted it toward my total for the day, based on the current price of donuts at the supermarket from which they came.

It turns out the donut was comparable in price to the soup, and actually lower in calories. Quicker to grab on the go, but certainly not as nutritious. I saved the soup for Wednesday.

Because I had significant change left over for the day, I enjoyed a larger serving of black bean tacos, and a side salad with some luxurious-tasting guacamole and salsa. I still had quite a bit left over at the end of the day, but I was satisfied from all the protein and whole grains at dinner.

  • oatmeal, 1/2 cup: .08
  • applesauce, 1/4 cup: .08
  • raisins, 1/8 cup: .08
  • Breakfast total: $ .24
  • donut: .50
  • pretzels: .12
  • organic apple: .60
  • Lunch total: $1.22
  • 2 sprouted grain tortillas: .44
  • scrambled tofu: 1.00
  • 1/2 cup black beans: .16
  • chopped onion: .04
  • 1 cup iceberg lettuce: .21
  • 2 tbsp guacamole: .26
  • 1 tbsp salsa: .08
  • Dinner total: $2.19

Day 3 total: $3.65 (up $ .86 for the week)
Fruit/Vegetable servings: 4

I always pay attention to prices when I shop, but not as judiciously as I do now. Why is a bag of yellow potatoes $1 more than a bag of white potatoes?

SNAP Hunger Awareness Challenge: Day 2

I woke up hungry, and early. But I had gone to bed earlier the night before, primarily because I really wanted to eat something and I knew I could not. Since it was only about 7am, I decided to hold off as long as I could to eat breakfast. I love oatmeal. This was an especially good-tasting bowl.

  • oatmeal, 1/2 cup: .08
  • applesauce, 1/4 cup: .08
  • raisins, 1/8 cup: .08
  • vanilla soy milk, 1/4 cup: .12
  • breakfast total: .36

A cheap, healthy, and filling breakfast. (I think I’ll be eating oatmeal all week, not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Lunch was a lucky find. I don’t use many processed foods, but at the going-out-of-business sale at Jerry’s IGA (SAD!), we picked up two Taste of Thai noodle kits (noodles + sauce) for $1.99 each (30% off). One box is two servings, and although I ate less than half of the box, I counted the whole serving toward the total. I think it probably compensated for the tiny bit of oil I added to the wok for stir-frying.

You might have noticed by now that I’m not eating meat. Or eggs. Or dairy. I was mostly vegetarian before this week, but today I am also beginning the first week of PCRM‘s 21-Day Vegan Kickstart. I had thought it would be a bad idea to do both at once, but as I planned my SNAP menus, I noticed a distinct lack of products like cheese. It’s expensive, not very healthy, and I would like to learn to eat less of it, especially since reading The China Study. So expect more plant-based meals all week.

For this pad thai, I stir-fried an egg and some chicken for the non-veg people in my house, and added it back in after I’d taken my portion.

  • pad thai kit, 1/2 box: .99
  • bean sprouts: .33
  • whole wheat & honey fig bars (clearance at IGA): .66
  • crushed peanuts: .08
  • cucumber & onion salad: .55
  • lunch total: $2.28

Confession: the pad thai plus cucumber salad (cucumber slices + pickled onions from the refrigerator pickle jar) did not fill me up. While cleaning up lunch, I ate 4 whole wheat and honey fig bars, which are normally more expensive – but I had obtained them on clearance from a store that was going out of business. Were it not for luck, I probably would have walked away hungry.

In the afternoon, I grabbed a few pretzels from a large bag for .32.

Dinner was disappointing. I had cooked up some brown rice, and half of a bag of fresh spinach that was about to go bad. I’m trying to get better at using produce before it goes bad, and someone on SNAP would certainly not want to waste food… so I steamed the spinach. I added this to a cup of brown rice, along with some curry powder. Although quite nutritious, the taste and texture were not good. I left about 1/4 cup behind, but counted the full serving toward my total. A person on SNAP would not have the option to throw it out and eat something else.

Thankfully, I was able to eat the ear of sweet corn that my son didn’t want, and it fit into my budget. Still, I went to bed hungry, but probably because I walked for more than an hour after dinner.

  • 1 cup brown rice: .18
  • 1 cup cooked spinach (12 oz bag): 1.29
  • corn on the cob: .25
  • dinner total: 1.72

I usually run at least 3 times a week, but I did not have the energy. My calorie intake for the day was approximately 1260. On day 1, it was even lower, at 1060 – far below my Basal Metabolic Rate. I know I could have easily chosen cheaper, more calorie-dense foods, but I’m trying to eat as healthfully as I can on this budget. I don’t see how anyone who has a physically demanding job or leads an active lifestyle can sustain this level of calories.

Day 2 total: $4.68 (+ $.01 for the week, with leftover cents from yesterday)
Fruit/vegetable servings: about 6 (a lot of spinach)

SNAP Hunger Awareness Challenge: Day 1

Hunger Action MonthThis week I am taking part in the SNAP Hunger Challenge from Feeding Illinois during Hunger Action Month. I’m eating for $4.50 a day, the average SNAP benefit (formerly known as food stamps) for an individual in Illinois. My goal is to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to obtain healthy, nutritious, and filling food on a limited budget. Will I get enough protein, fruits & vegetables?

Day One: “Expensive” Breakfast and Batch Cooking

The day began with what turned out to be a relatively expensive breakfast. At least, it felt expensive:

  • 1 Ezekiel sprouted corn tortilla (small): .22 (33% off at Jerry’s IGA closeout sale)
  • 1/4 cup scrambled tofu w/ onions & peppers: .50
  • 2 tbsp chipotle black beans (homemade from dry beans): .08
  • Breakfast potatoes (homemade): .10
  • Breakfast total: $.90

Flavorful and filling (especially the beans), but not very large. For lunch, I made the guys some chicken parmigiana with frozen chicken patties, leftover marinara sauce, and mozzarella and asiago cheese. I would normally throw in a Boca or Morningstar chik patty for me, and hold the cheese, but at the usual regular price of over $6.00 a box, one chik patty would have blown my budget. So I cooked up a package of mushrooms that were getting old – I already find myself more sensitive to food waste. I topped the mushrooms with marinara sauce, and paired it with some couscous from the bulk bin at World Harvest.

  • 1 cup couscous: .64
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sauteed w/ Earth Balance: 1.50
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce: .33
  • 3 organic strawberries: .20
  • Lunch total: $2.67

I didn’t plan to eat the strawberries, which were relatively expensive at 2.50 per quart, even by my usual standards. But there were just a few left, and they were almost past their prime, so I enjoyed what now felt like an indulgence. I’m glad I did too, because we went bowling in the afternoon. By the time we finished 2 games and headed home at 4pm, I was feeling hungry again.

Dinner was a vegetarian split pea and lentil soup, cooked from a Bob’s Red Mill mix that I picked up at the Jerry’s IGA closeout sale. (I had no idea they had such a large natural foods section!) I added my own chopped carrots, celery, onion, garlic, vegetable broth, and spices. The soup was good, nutritious, and relatively filling with the accompanying cantaloupe from our CSA share. At .25 per cup, I’m glad I have a ton of leftover soup. It will be good for packing in my lunch this week.

  • 2 cups vegetarian lentil soup: .50
  • 1.5 cups cantaloupe: .24
  • Dinner total: $.74

Day 1 total: $4.31
Fruit/veg servings: 5

Crock Pot Channa Masala

PCRM’s 21-Day Vegan Kickstart begins tomorrow. I’m going to give it a try. I don’t feel like I’m “giving up” all the things I can’t have (or more accurately, that I choose not to have). I see it as an opportunity – for better health, to reduce my footprint on the world, and to discover new tastes. Many of the dishes I already love are vegan. Like this one, a family-favorite Indian dish. It’s easy to prepare in a slow cooker, and the chickpeas turn out perfectly.

If your slow cooker has a removable stoneware crock like mine does, you can even assemble it the night before and store the crock in the fridge, then pull it out in the morning and plug it in. Dinner will be waiting for you, and your house will smell amazing.

Crock Pot Channa Masala

1 29 oz (large) can chickpeas, undrained
1 28 oz (large) can crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
5-6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 inch piece fresh ginger, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 black cardamom pods
2 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp dried parsley flakes
2 tbsp garam masala
few dashes cayenne (or more to taste)

Combine all ingredients in crock pot. Cook on low for 8 hours, with the lid off for the last hour so it can thicken. Serve with hot cooked basmati rice or naan, and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.