Friday, January 15, 2010

Happy New Year!

ouch. November 5 was the last time I was here? Sorry friends.

A brief summary of life since November 5:
  • I traveled to Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, and Cape Town - all were trips for work and all were incredibly enjoyable. No pictures as I had no camera, but all great trips!
  • I celebrated my 2nd Thanksgiving in South Africa - hooray turkey! We finally fried one up!
  • We welcomed Maria and Butch, our first friends to visit us in SA in December - it was so good to have friendy friends in town!
  • I saw my first lion in South Africa (I had seen them before in Zambia, but not here) - big 5 complete in SA!
  • I watched a scary movie, which I hadn't done in eons (AHHHHHHHH, Paranormal Activity!). I'm still scared. Poor Will.
  • I sang Christmas carols at the Ambassador's house! It was so great to be accompanied by an amazing pianist and to be the lead soprano on my favorite Christmas carols.
  • We celebrated Christmas in Eesterust, bringing Christmas to more than 50 children!
  • We hosted a fantastic Christmas Eve dinner, using PW recipes (beef tenderloin, rosemary potatoes, burgundy mushrooms) - yum!
  • I got fantastic Christmas loot, including tsavorite stud earrings from Will (he handpicked these rare gems and then had them set for me - yay!), a copper double bottle wine chiller, silver platters, and heck yes - a camera!!!
  • I became mildly obsessed with turning "Party in the USA" into "Party in the RSA" - because, after all, I do bob my head like "yeah..."
  • I discovered 30 Rock (awesome) and John Adams (awesome)
  • Lost Season 5 = absolutely hands down best season EVER. Jacob/John Locke... WHAT????
  • I read the best book I've read since What is the What and A Thousand Splendid Suns... what is it? Oh heck yes, its My Life in France - the biography of Julia Child! What an amazingly great read!
  • Mad Men season 3 is so incredibly dark and depressing I've stopped watching it. BOO.
I took off two weeks at the end of December and enjoyed a "stay-cation" in Pretoria, aside from our brief jaunt to Pilanesberg with Maria & Butch. It was so nice to catch up reading, lay by the pool, try new recipes, and yes, rebuild my entire iTunes library. I really needed the time off to relax and I have come back to work 100% recharged.

What's the new year's resolution? Well, I'm continuing to challenge myself to do something I'm scared of.
  • Last year? White water rafting on the Nile in Uganda. That looked like this:
  • The year before? Horseback riding on my honeymoon and ziplining in Magaliesberg (I still have a massive dent in my left shin from crashing into the side of the mountain - sigh).
  • In 2007 - a half marathon (yes, scary!) and glacier hiking, both in Alaska.
  • In May, Will and I are celebrating our 2 year anniversary to go be with the Great White Sharks in False Bay, where they famously breach seals at Seal Island (as seen on Planet Earth). Its going to look like this:

  • Tomorrow I'm getting on a helicopter flight and flying over Victoria Falls. Yes, I'm scared. Not scared like paranormal activity scared, but scared like we're-gonna-fall-from-the-sky scared. Oh well - I'll do it and bring back the pics to prove it. I have a camera now, you see. For now just know it will look somewhat like this:
We're also going on a safari, a canoe ride, and a sunset cruise. I am so excited about our weekend vacation to Zimbabwe/Victoria Falls! It will be my 3rd time to the falls but my 1st time to the Zimbabwe side (previous visits were from the Zambia side).

One thing we've been talking about here among friends is grocery shopping - spending too much, wasting food, not having a good plan in place, etc.. I feel like this is something I've recently done well so I thought it might be fun to share some tips for grocery shopping!

Will and I used to go to the store list-free and just buy things willy-nilly. While it was nice to have a stocked fridge and pantry and to make decisions on what we'd eat when we got home from work, this often resulted in us chucking loads of wilted, rotten veggies and spoiled milk and yogurt. It was wasteful, both in terms of money and in food. I just couldn't take it anymore.

For one month, I kept our receipts from our grocery trips and was absolutely SHOCKED. We were spending so much money on groceries and throwing about half of it away in the trash and stocking a good 1/4 of it in our pantry and freezer. Yikes. It was time to overhaul our behavior.

Every Sunday I make the plan for the week.

Step 1: Inventory! What do we have in the fridge, pantry, and freezer that we can/need to use and/or get rid of?

Step 2: Sit down with my cookbooks. I actually love to read cookbooks - I find them fascinating! I have tons of recipes I've clipped from magazines (Rachael Ray, Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Real Simple) and placed into a binder, but I also work from Pioneer Woman (obviously), Cooking Light, Best International Recipes, and Best Light Recipes. I also browse Pioneer Woman Cooks!, the Cooking Light website, and Tasty Kitchen (I'm a contributor there!). I look up the ingredients I have on hand and pull 1-2 new recipes that includes those. Or I just pick something new and fun!

P.S. I'm ITCHING for this and this...

I also work from a set list of our favorite things to eat, which includes:
-- Burgers
-- Tortilla pizza (I actually posted this recipe on Tasty Kitchen!)
-- Rainbow Salad with grilled chicken
-- PW's chicken parm
-- Beef stroganoff
-- Tacos
-- Sloppy joes
-- Soup and sandwich

Step 3: Make the list! I write out S-M-T-W-TH-F-S at the top of a shopping list and write out the dinner that corresponds to that night. I usually plan to make four dinner meals during the week, mainly because I've realized that we'll either go out to eat or eat at a friends house at least 2 nights a week (usually Friday and Saturday) and one night we'll eat leftovers or something simple, like a s. I also make recipes that feed 4 so that we have enough leftovers to eat at lunch and/or breakfast.

I write out the ingredient list for each of those dinners and also add regular things (dog biscuits, laundry detergent, toothpaste, sandwich meat), again, checking to see what we need versus what we already have.

I usually run the list by Will and make sure he's on board with the weekly plan. I really give him major credit for adapting to a scheduled dinner plan! He's been great about it.

Step 4: I head to the store with Will and STICK TO THE LIST. There are no coupons in South Africa so I don't really have the benefit of shopping with clipped coupons. If its not on the list, I simply don't buy it (unless its on super duper sale or its some American product that I've never seen before and am afraid I won't see again - Cholula? Its coming home with us!).

Step 5: Prep! On Sundays, I typically pack my lunch for the entire week and I may even go ahead and make two dinners in one night so I don't have to later on the week (example: maybe I make spaghetti or sloppy joes to eat another day but eat stroganoff that night).

The results?
-- More money in the wallet
-- Feeling less wasteful
-- Use of cookbooks that were previously collecting dust...
-- Feeling in control of my spending and eating habits
-- An emptier fridge and pantry (even our friends have commented!)

Some things we can't avoid. Occasionally we do go out more often than we meant to and wind up having to freeze something that was meant to be eaten for dinner one night. We still stockpile some items - but we really reserve that for things from the US, like Panko bread crumbs and brownie mix. I can't help it. While I don't think I'll ever be someone that prints out a calendar to put on the fridge but I like where we've come to in regards to our meal planning. Yay!

Next steps: I'm trying to do better at turning leftovers into something new. For example, I made carne asada tacos Sunday night (YUM) and Monday night Will and I turned them into steak fajita quesadillas simply by adding cooked onion and green bell pepper and cheese we already had on hand. I'm interested in trying this sometime too... I've been looking for a book and searching the internet, but so far... nothing.

And we're off to Victoria Falls - yay! Picture post to come soon!

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