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thAs I’ve said again and again, “food” is the budget category over which we generally have the most control.

You probably can’t talk your way into a sizable discount on your auto loan, mortgage or health insurance premium, but a little ingenuity and creativity can whack your meal costs way, way back.

Erin Chase can help. The frugal genius behind “$5 Dinners” and a series of cookbooks, and co-founder of “The $5 Meal Plan,” she has created a new service that combines all her superpowers. Registration for her Grocery Budget Makeover starts Sunday, Jan. 3 and ends Monday, Jan. 11.

Her goal is to “change your mindset and methods of shopping” in 10 weeks. Not just shopping, though; meal planning, couponing and cooking tactics also figure prominently.

This is not some talking-head gourmand who doesn’t understand how regular people (including picky children) cook and eat. I actually know Erin and she is a regular person – a mother of four who avoids most processed foods due to food allergies in her family.


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How to lose weight.

51V5skn-eJL._SX368_BO1,204,203,200_ “Lose weight” and/or “eat better” will appear on many a New Year’s resolution list — just as they did last year, and will again next year. Such plans often gang agley for a number of reasons.

We aren’t really invested in them. We miss our old comfort foods. We don’t know how to adjust the rest of our lives to support a new way of being in the world.

That’s why I’m giving away a Kindle copy of Victoria Hay’s “30 Pounds, 4 Months: How to Eat Well and Lose Weight – Painlessly.”

Her approach is fairly simple: Dieting isn’t something you do. It’s something you are.

“You change your way of looking at food, work light exercise – nothing extreme! – into your daily habits, and learn to eat better food, not necessarily less food,” says Hay, a former journalist and professor and current owner of The Copyeditor’s Desk writing and publishing service.


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th-1We’re in a subzero cold snap that should last at least a few more days. The temperature was eight below when I got up and managed to make it only four degrees above the zero-mark before shivering its  way back down the thermometer.

But I don’t care (much), because the house smells so good.

After DF had his lunch he filled the five-quart West Bend slow cooker with the contents of the boiling bag, some vegetable cooking water from the freezer and the water left from last night’s boiled potatoes.

(That last included little bits of spud because I got distracted and let them boil perhaps a bit too long.)

This time around the boiling bag contained carrot tops, apple cores, the tough ends of romaine leaves, onion skins, potato peelings and a handful of very small, very green tomatoes from the greenhouse project. Although all of the bigger tomatoes and some of the smaller ones eventually turned red after we brought them indoors, the little ones were stubbornly bright-green and beginning to soften. Thus we sacrificed them to the soup and are already dreaming of next spring.

 


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A tomato haiku.

thThe first tomato sandwiches of the year have been enjoyed. Maybe a little too much, since the sighs I made while eating sounded nearly coital.

But dang, there’s nothing like eating a tomato that five minutes ago was on the vine in your own greenhouse.

Hence the haiku:

Just-picked tomato

Fresh bread, mayo, salt, pepper

Jersey girl heaven. 

If this were New Jersey I wouldn’t need a greenhouse – just a patch of dirt almost anywhere. My childhood neighbor had one come up in the middle of the lawn, uninvited.

 


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Putting food by.

GetAttachmentThe photo is a glimpse of harvest mania at Chez DIY. Those underachievers in the small glass dish are strawberries picked from our tiny patch, which we hope to expand in years to come.

In the bowl and large measuring cup are four quarts of raspberries that DF and I picked in an evening, quitting before we’d gotten them all. We’ve already frozen 14 quarts of the things for his oatmeal and my homemade yogurt, and also to eat the Alaska way: only partially thawed and with a big dump of sugar.

On the left are jars of jam I’d made from a previous session; it’s the second batch I’ve made this year. Seeing those jars gives me the urge to make another one.

Not that we need a third batch, or maybe even that second one; we’re still using up jam from last year. But I don’t want the backyard bounty to go to waste — and part of me doesn’t even want to give them away.

That’s the part of me that feels, every year, that primal urge: Winter is coming. Put food by.

 


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