Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thinking About Thinking

I’ve been thinking about frugality lately. I started for practical reasons, I need to make better use of my money. This was originally a short-term goal, but the more I think about it, the more I think that it should be a lifetime goal, a value.

Being frugal is not the same as being cheap, or even being thrifty. Those focus on spending as little as possible. Frugality is about the mindful use of resources. That phrase “mindful use of resources” came from my dictionary and I just love it. I’ve been rolling it around on my tongue all day. It doesn't have to be all about money, there are all kinds of resources I should be more mindful of. I can hardly claim to be the Queen of Green, but I do my best. I try to save energy, recycle, reduce and reuse whenever I can.

Mindful is, I think, the key word. Whenever I rinse out a can or resist turning up the thermostat, I am reminded about why I do those things. The simple actions of living green remind me to do so, and reinforce my commitment to do so. Furthermore, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have the option. There are people who can’t afford to heat their homes, people who can’t afford thick sweaters and hot chocolate to stave off the cold, people who don’t have homes at all. My sweaters and hot chocolate don’t seem like luxuries compared to some, but there are others who would think so.

I think gratitude is inherent to contentment. It’s all too easy to look at those who have more and feel bitter. It’s harder to be thankful for what you have, especially when that doesn’t seem like very much. But when I can manage it, I can be happy, and it makes the road easier.

There’s a transit strike in my city right now, so last weekend I walked to the mall to meet friends. It’s a 45 minute walk and it was dark, windy and snowing. It would have been easy to call a cab, or to spend the whole time wishing I had a car, but I really focused on this walk. I thought about co-worker who has a physical disability. She lives far from the office and relies on transit. She said, “Thank goodness I have friends I can get a ride from”. If she can be thankful for that, I can certainly be thankful for my strong legs. I also made myself think about my good boots and coat, my warm mittens, my mp3 player (which certainly isn’t fancy but sure made the walk more fun) and all the wonderful people I was walking to see. Honestly, by the time I got to the theatre I was in a pretty good mood. Plus, I’d saved $15 and a couple litres of gas and gotten some exercise to boot.

It’s really hard, it takes a lot of discipline, to be mindful all the time. But even after such a short time I’m already seeing the benefit. I’m finished with the diet/binge pattern of spending that I’ve been on, I’m tired of feast and famine. I want my spending to reflect what I value, and not convenience or impulse. I want to be mindful of how I use all my resources, and how lucky I am to have those resources in the first place.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

An Unsponsored Recommendation

Robin Hood Nutri-Blend flour is awesome. I don't normally recommend products, because I genuinely believe that, for the most part, one brand is as good as any other. And that may be true in this case as well, but Robin Hood is the only one offering this in Newfoundland right now.

I'm sorry, I'm so excited I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.

I am fairly committed to healthy eating 80% of the time. Besides the obvious health benefits, I like the wholesome feeling I get from eating healthy foods. My brother's godfather always credited his health to a simple credo: "avoid the three deadly white powders; white sugar, salt, and white flour." This has always been held up to us as an example of disciplined healthy eating. I don't follow it. I do try to keep it in mind, and reduce those ingredients. Can I use honey instead of sugar? Can I half the salt? Will whole wheat flour work? Sometimes yes, but sometimes no. And those times when it's no I go ahead with the white powder, because I do need my treats sometimes.

So, I eat whole wheat bread, muffins and pasta, because those taste really good, but never whole wheat cakes, cookies, or pizza crusts, because they don't. Or do they???????

I first heard about "white whole wheat flour" from Orangette. She wrote about a flour that had all the wonderful properties of white flour (the lightness, the flavour, the texture) while still having all the fibre and nutrition of whole wheat flour. Apparently the difference is in how the flour is processed. It seemed incredible, but I could not find the brand she mentioned in St. John's and I certainly was not about to start ordering my flour online. It remained a far-away dream.

Until a month or so ago. There, in my grocery store, was Robin Hood Nutri-Blend Flour, making the exact same claim. I quickly bought a bag, even though it was more than I'd usually spend. (It was about $3.50 for a 2kg bag. I usually buy the 10kg bag for $7. Once in a rare while I get it on sale for $5).

I tried it out on the recipe that Orangette had used it for, "Everyday Cake" (see link below). The first thing that I noticed was that the swapping of flour did not make for a particularly healthy dessert. The cake still calls for a fair bit of butter and sugar. But it was an improvement over white flour. Also, it was delicious. Boyfriend and I agreed that it was a phenomenal cake, and were quite sure that we wouldn't be able to tell the difference with white flour.

So I put it to a harder test: pizza dough. I seriously hate whole wheat pizza crusts. They never taste right. The biggest problem is that pizza dough is such a basic recipe, the flavour of the flour is front and centre. You don't think about it that way, but there is nothing else to taste in pizza dough. Whole wheat flour gives it a lot of that whole-wheaty taste. That's great to have in bread or muffins, but not in my pizza.

I was a little worried about it when I saw it. The dough was definitely off-colour, much darker than my usual crust, but I needn't have worried. It tasted perfect. The product had lived up to the hype.

I still use regular whole wheat flour for everything I always used to. And I use white flour for those desserts which are so decadent as to be unsalvageable, such as frosted cakes or butter cookies. But for my more in-between desserts, everyday cakes and cookies, I use the new flour. A bit more nutrtious, without having to compromise a thing.


* Robin Hood has given me exactly nothing to endorse this product. But if they'd like to.....