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Serious SourdoughContinuing with the “local” beat, I decided to pay a visit to the Austin Farmers’ Market and ask a simple question; why is it important to shop local?  I apologize in advance for the shoddy audio, my little Flip Mino HD was working as hard as it could, but between the plodding bass beat from the band from across the parking lot and that killer harmonica solo during the second section, things got a bit rough.  Regardless, it is a good taste of what it feels like to be caught up in the local spirit on a Saturday morning.

Of course, it always sounds great to be a supporter of the local economy, but there are other important benefits to factor in when shopping at a local market.

1. It may be healthier for you

And I am not just talking about cutting down on pesticide covered/unnaturally fertilized vegetables.  The use of honey, such as that from Round Rock Honey, made from local wildflowers is known to help cut back on allergic reactions due to pollen in the area.  Think of it in terms of getting a flu shot; a little dose in advance can go a long way toward preparing your body for the onslaught of debilitating conditions later.

2. The quality is outstanding

The effort by vendors, such as Jean Brooks from Serious Sourdough (featured in the video), to painstakingly prepare their products by hand day after to day pays off.  Typically, what a vendor has to offer outclasses most of what you can find in your everyday supermarket, but do be aware you will likely be paying a premium for that freshness.  As always, this is choice each person will make on an individual basis, but in many cases that little extra expense is worth it.

3.You get to be an active member of the community

For many students who choose to spend four or more years here in Austin, it is easy to get locked into that university “bubble.”  You eat in the cafeteria, you go to class, you study in the library, you might go out a night or two, and then you end up back in the “comfort” of your dorm.  But if you never break out of your mold, you will never get to experience the little things that Austin has to offer.  A farmer’s market gives everyone an opportunity to spend some time with a group of people who just enjoy being alive on a Saturday afternoon.

Of all the precious things this city has to offer, always make the effort to spend time with those who have been here all along.  You might learn a little bit more about yourself in the process.

(Here are a few more pictures.)

(Map to the location.)

The Austin Farmers’ Market runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday.

(Photos by Shannon Wade.)



Ming’s Cafe (located on Guadalupe St., near Kerbey Lane) is one of the many places in the university area that accepts the Go Local Card, so when 2 o’clock rolled around today (like it normally does) and I felt the pangs of hunger (like a person should) I decided to pay Ming’s a visit.

One thing I enjoy about Ming’s in particular are the rock bottom prices for their fried rice entrees. I am a big fan of sauteed (or, I guess in this case, “fried”) vegetables, so although the chicken and shrimp based meals are tasty, my go to is the vegetable fried rice.

The fried rice comes with broccoli, snow peas, onions, carrots, bean sprouts and pieces of scrambled egg. And as you can tell by the photo, they don’t skimp when it comes to providing an ample serving. (I ordered the small!)

But perhaps the most satisfying aspect is the price. With the Go Local Card, the plate costs only $3.89, which easily rivals the dime-a-dozen Americanized Chinese fast food restaurants we have all had the displeasure of regretting later.

So I say do the Austin thing; support your Austin businesses and keep Ming’s Cafe in mind the next time you are in the area.

Vintage Ad #743 by jbcurio via Creative Commons

The weekly ritual arrival of the grocery store circulars are one of the few things you can count on, unless you happen to live in a dorm. Although some might find them to be a nuisance, today’s grocery store ad pamphlets should not inspire thoughts of our parents and grandparents clipping coupons to save a few cents on cans of soup. Many stores have acknowledged that keeping up with those flimsy slips of paper are a hassle, with some (such as HEB) going as far as making them freely available in store.

So what is the proper mindset to have when dealing with these bundles of savings? Here is a little advice.

1. Just because it is on sale, it does not mean you need it.

Sometimes there will be an amazing deal on Hass avocados (35 cents a piece!), but that does not mean you need to load down your cart with them if you have no plans to make guacamole.  A good deal only goes as far as the usage you plan to get out of the item.  If a discount makes you want to purchase more of an item in order to stock up, really think about how your future self will feel about cleaning out your fridge in a week or two, still half full of the “good deal.”

2. Look for savings on typically expensive items.

I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who is not a moderate fan of pot roast, but it is pretty universal how much people dislike buying the piece of meat at full price.  Almost every item has the point in the year where it becomes either “in-season” or “out-of-season,” and when it goes out it shows in quality.  But if you are on the ball you can take advantage of these moments to get fabulous deals.  Just be weary of the fish.  Ask your local fish monger when the fish arrives each week, and avoid the day or two before then.  You do not want to be a part of the “purging.”

3. Go into grocery shopping with a battle plan.

If you just go to the grocery store without a list or a guide, you are just asking for trouble in the form of wasted money and unhealthy indulgences.  Take the time to look through the circulars and find what appeals to you the most that week, and build a meal or two around that item.  Saving a few cents or a dollar here every once in a while does not seem like much; but when you are consistently saving those amounts it starts to add up.

Don’t know where to start?  This page on Coupon Sherpa provides links to the top 100 (in their opinion) must-have grocery store circulars.

For those of you in Austin, I suggest you take a look at the following for the best opportunities in town.  And if you have the ability, get your ads via email if at all possible to help cut back on paper waste.

HEB Market
Dollar General
Family Dollar

Fries in a basket with ketchup

Fries with that? by klynslis via Creative Commons

One of my proudest health related moments came during my second year of college.

When I first moved into Jester my freshman year, I, like many others, went through that culture shock of immediate freedom.  I could order pizza whenever I wanted!  Sleeping in was no longer considered a bad thing (everyone was doing it)!  And thanks to my dining plan in the dorm, food was constantly available as long as I could find a merchant that would accept the card.

But I was already in bad shape. When I walked across the stage at my school graduation, I weighed 210 pounds, and not much of that was what I would call “muscle.”  Diabetes runs in the family on my dad’s side, and high blood pressure on my mom’s.  I came to the realization that something needed to change, and quick.  So I started being more structured with my meals. I hired one of the personal trainers in training at the Gregory Gym (conveniently located across the street) to get me started, and once that ended I kept going.  To make a long story short, I ended up getting down to 150 lbs by the beginning of my second UT fall, became a lot happier with myself, and felt a lot more secure about my future.

It is safe to say that almost all of us could do for a little more respect for our bodies, but when you are taking that leap of faith into the “real” world of a college student, sometimes that is one of the last things on your mind.  And even if you do decide to take control, where do you even begin?  Who can you talk to?

Brandy Shih’s job, as Dietitian for the University of Texas’ Department of Housing & Food Service, is to do just that.  I spoke with her to ask about common concerns and sources of confusion for beginners, and to find out just what it is that pushes so many students to succumb to the “Freshman 15.”

Austin Appetite: Many people have heard the advice that you are supposed to get 2000 calories in a day, but is that true, and where does it come from?

Brandy Shih: Basically, the nutrition fact label says that the daily intake is roughly 2000 calories, but that is really not the best. Everybody is different. When I do calculations for figuring out how many calories you need, I need to take in account your age, your weight, your height, your activity and everything, so that is a little bit better of a ballpark number. Just saying 2000 calories, that’s just really general. Looking at my consulations I do with the students here, it basically ranges from 1500 calories up to maybe even 2800 calories, depending on how active the person is.

If someone recognizes they are having issues with being over or under nourished, what are some of the things that you would recommend for them to rectify that?

[With students I advise] I always go through the different food groups and what recommendations of how many servings they need of each one. So, how many servings of the green group, how many servings of fruits and vegetables, and the dairy, and the proteins. I just kind of go from there, and having those amount of servings generally add up to the amount of calories they should have.

If there were three things you wish everyone was more aware of (in particular, the student population), what would they be?

1. Portion control. I always tell people about portion control. People go way overboard all the time. They don’t realize what an actual “portion” is. If you go Romano’s Macaroni Grill you are going to get a plate of pasta that is probably like 4-5 servings. There is no reason why we need to be eating all of that in one sitting.

2. Having a variety. Variety is such a huge and broad term, but it really is [important]. I mean, one of my good friends, he just eats fast food every single day, and basically it is a burger, fries and a drink. And it is like, there is a lot more foods out there that can meet your needs that are tasty. So having a variety of food is always good and something I suggest to students. Maybe at home they only had a set amount of things they were exposed to, but there are so many types of foods out there you may like. You should always try new things.

3. Physical activity. I get a lot of people in here that want to lose weight, but they kind of don’t want to go move. It is a pretty big part. You know, studies have shown you can diet [and get results], but it is not going to do as much good as doing diet and exercise, changing your lifestyle. So that’s what I tell students, it is not a diet, it is basically a behavior change, that you are going to eat these foods, and then incorporate the healthier physical activity by getting out there and moving. We lead such sedentary lives, and you have to get out and move at some point! People kind of forget that they need to do that.

In your opinion, what is the biggest problem you see students having?

When I go upstairs to eat during my lunch time, I see a lot of food, piles on people’s plate, and I’m just impressed with how much they are eating. I know that they are moving around a lot, they are active and things like that, but sometimes it is such a huge amount I can’t help thinking if they keep that habit up, and never slow down, it’s just going to get bad. I think part of the issue is a lot of people don’t know how to eat healthy now, and you are setting in your habits now, so once you get out into the “real world” with office work and doing things on your own and are not having mom and dad to help you cook foods, you are not going to incorporate those physical activities in order to have a healthy life. Keeping up the healthier behaviors throughout the college years and into the 20s, it makes it a lot easier later.

Do you have any resources you would recommend to anyone who wants to get serious about monitoring their own nutrition?

Lance Armstrong has a website called The Daily Plate, and you can put in what you eat during the day, what you exercise during the day, and you can enter your height, your weight, and if you want to lose weight or maintain or gain muscle, those kinds of things, and it will help you see what you need to do. For example, you have your breakfast, you had this many calories, and then maybe during the day, you went to run for 30 minutes, so it will now say you have a negative amount of this because you only had this much to eat. So it kind of helps the person track down what exactly they are doing. That’s what I tell people; if you keep a food journal, it helps you keep track of things, because you have to write down everything. You can’t just skip the part where you ate a piece of candy or [drank the] soda, you have to write everything down. It is just keeping log and seeing the calories in verus the calories out, and seeing where exercise comes into play.

There is even, that’s where the food guide pyramid is, and they also have their own program where you can track different foods. It shows you what servings you should have, so that is also a great resource to have.

Brandy Shih is available to talk by appointment to all students living in on-campus through the Division of Housing & Food Services. Her contact information (along with more helpful advice from Nutrition Services) can be found here.

Bad cup of coffee

worst coffee ever by massdistraction via Creative Commons

Here at Austin Appetite, we have covered coffee a few times, but for me, that advice falls on deaf ears.  For the longest time I tried to convince myself that I had what it takes to be a part of the coffeehouse scene, but eventually I simply had to admit it to myself: I am just not a consistant fan of coffee.

Don’t get me wrong, when I could find a place that served coffee with taste just to my liking (shout out to Lava Java on Medical Arts), it was heavenly.  But I reached a point where wading through tons of subpar mugs of the stuff (while wasting quite a few dollars) was something I just could not sustain anymore, and the thought of making it myself at home (buying a maker, grinding my own beans) was just tiring.

So I turned to my other flavored water love, tea.  Sure, you can also get as involved in this process as you would like, but for tea all you really need is a method to heat up some water, some sweetener, and the time for the tea to steep.

A friend suggested Tea Embassy as a good starting place, and although their selection was amazing, I still found it a little steep in price for my needs (I do highly recommend the place to anyone wanting to experiment or take it to the next level).

Ceylon Tea Collection

My collection of Ceylon Tea

After testing out the standard Lipton’s and Nestle’s and store brands, I happen to stumble upon a box from the Ceylon Tea Company, almost hidden on the bottom shelf of the local HEB.  For only $1.99 for 25 bags, I figured it was not too much money to put toward a test run of this new brand, and picked up one of their Earl Grey and an interesting one called 1001 Nights.

For being an off the shelf brand (blasphemy in Austin, I know!) I was blown away.  The Earl Grey’s bergamot comes through better than almost any other Grey I have had before.  1001 Nights blends black and green tea with bits of rose and strawberry, and it has just about changed my mind on floral teas (which I am typically not a fan of at all).

I do not mean for this to be just a plug, however, there is a moral to this story!

Take the time to investigate all your grocery store has to offer, and that means searching both high and low (from top shelf to bottom shelf) to find the hidden treasures that do not get the privilege of being at eye level or at an end cap.  Grocery stores are not trying to do you a favor by putting the “best” things within reach, in fact, there tends to be other reasons for doing so.

You just might find your next culinary surprise.

In the hunt for a healthier breakfast, oatmeal almost always gets suggested as an alternative to the sugary bowls of cereal and artificially sweetened pastries.  However, our culture of instant food preparation has made it a lot easier to assume that a packet of “just add water” instant oatmeal is the right way to go.

Packages of Instant Oatmeal

Three sugary servings of instant oatmeal

There is a trade off for that instant gratification, and the sacrifice involves a lot of sugar and sodium.  Although these packages like to tout flavors such as banana nut bread and apple cinnamon, the truth is that you rarely get something that actually contains real representations of those flavors, or, in other words, you end up with apple flavored “chips.”

But I have a confession to make.  I am notoriously bad at making oatmeal that is actually enjoyable to eat.  Typically it ends up too watery and too bland, and that is never a good start to anyone’s day.

So in the interest of finding some alternatives for breakfast (and to find a use for that massive canister of steal-cut oatmeal I bought a long time ago), I decided to take another shot; but this time, I brought backup.  Instead of resorting to just adding in my own cinnamon and artificial sweeteners, I wanted to have a complete overhaul of my standard oatmeal preparation.

Read the rest of this entry »

*Quinoa is actually a psuedocereal; I explain below!

For many Americans, our go to filler grain tends to be rice.  If we are feeling particularly adventurous, we might even turn to brown rice for the “extra” fiber. (The industry likes us to believe that brown = wheat = healthy, but brown rice actually is not much different from white, but it still has its benefits.)

A pan of toasting quinoa

Toasting Quinoa by tombothetominator via Creative Commons

But what most people do not know is that there is an entire world of grain-like products out there that in many ways outdo rice in the health department.  Today, I am going to highlight quinoa.

As you might have noticed, I have been stopping just short of calling quinoa a grain.  That is because it actually has more in common with chenopods such as spinach and beets.  But for our purposes (and yours), quinoa is an excellent alternative for situations where a good, hearty grain-like base is needed in a dish, and it blows rice away in terms of health benefits.

Quinoa’s high protein profile makes it a great choice for vegetarians and vegans, and quinoa comes with one of the most balanced servings of amino acids you can find.  Another benefit?  Quinoa is gluten-free.

So where can you find it?  I suggest you skip the “grain” aisle at the grocery store and visit the one of the bag-your-own stations found in many supermarkets.  Not only is it cheaper when purchased in bulk (my last batch I got for less than a dollar a pound), you typically find a much more varied selection than what you can get of the bagged varieties.  Here in Austin, I suggest you try either Whole Foods Market, Central Market, and some HEB stores also carry it.

Bowl of Cooked Quinoa

Bowl of Prepared Quinoa by sweetonveg via Creative Commons

To prepare Quinoa, you take most of the same steps as rice, although when you buy it in bulk you want to make sure you take the time to soak it in water for a few hours to remove the bitterness (if you buy it prepackaged, this has likely been taken care of for you).  Bring two cups of water to boil, throw in some salt and butter/oil to mature the flavor a bit, and then add one cup quinoa and cover.  Once the germ begins to separate from the seed (you will see a little curl coming off), it is done!  As I said before, treat it like rice; serve it under chili or toss it in a soup!

Including quinoa in your diet every once in a while is a great way to sneak in more nutrients with very little effort!

A bowl of Fruit Loops

Image Credit terren in Virginia via Creative Commons

Like many of my fellow college age students, I grew up in a fast paced family that rarely made time for a well thought out breakfast.  Although this was probably dreadful for my health, at the very least my young self got to participate in the biweekly ritual of cereal choosing.  And, like most children do when given free reign over the cereal aisle, I based all my decisions on which sugar based goodness appealed to me the most.

But as I became more informed about making healthy choices, I realized that there is probably something to that sugary gloss found on Fruit Loops that I should not be happy about. (Fruit Loops first ingredient? Sugar.)

Making the switch to a healthier lifestyle does not mean a person has to make drastic changes to their eating routine to get results.  Success comes from making those little changes here and there that eventually add up to a decent decrease in calorie intake.  Although in a perfect world we would all have time to cook ourselves a nice breakfast every morning, it simply is not the case.

Image of Fruit Loops Nutritional Label.

Fruit Loops Nutritional Label

When choosing a cereal, you want to be on the lookout for three key things.  You want a high amount of fiber, to ensure that hunger does not debilitate you before lunchtime, a moderate amount of calories, to provide some energy to get through the day, and as little sugar as possible.

But when you visit the cereal aisle, things are not always so clear cut.  Just about every box out there has latched on to the buzz words of “More Fiber!”, but it is important to understand that there are no standards that regulate when a cereal can claim to be a good source of it.  Also, just because a cereal has moderate levels of fiber does not mean that the producers of said cereal also did you a favor in lowering both the amount of calories and sugar.  Take a look at Fruit Loops again.  The 3g of fiber per serving is completely overshadowed by the 12g sugar that tags along.

So, what do you do?  The king of fiber cereals has the word right in the title: Fiber One Original.  Fiber One comes with a whopping 14g of fiber per serving, with absolutely no sugar (0g) to worry about, and it has only 60 calories per portion.  Although no sugar at all sounds a little “bland,” it is nothing that cannot be solved with some sliced strawberries or bananas.  (I am a fan of almond milk, which adds its own sort of sweetness to the mix.)

Box of Kix Cereal

Image Credit gentlepurespace via Creative Commons

A little too drastic on the scale?  Still feeling the tug of childhood?  There is always Kix.  Yes, the classic kid’s cereal actually does a decent job of providing a balanced offering of fiber (3g per serving) and sugar (3g per serving) with an okay amount of calories (110).  Just make sure to keep the portions under control!

If neither of these appeal to you, that is fine, but I encourage you to spend a little more time on your next grocery trip while picking a cereal, and take a glance at the nutritional facts.  What you thought was good for your body might have a sugary secret.

An olive oil caddy found in the House of Olives

An olive oil caddy found in the House of Olives - via Shishberg on Flickr

During my early years, my parents never really prompted me to try my hand at preparing my own meals.  In hindsight, that probably was not a good thing, but it did give me an opportunity to develop my own cooking style and preferences from scratch.

One of the first things I learned was that “butter = bad,” “oil = good.” (The truth of that is neither here nor there, let’s just say I no longer feel that way.)  And thanks to the prompting of Food Network staples like Rachel Ray, I began my infatuation with extra virgin olive oil.  And for a while, I never questioned it.  Every time I needed a refill, I would cringe at the high costs of quality oils, but bite the bullet and do the best I could.

But something was not right.  Every time I made scrambled eggs, they were greasy and overpowered by the oil, and hamburgers always had this faint hint of earthiness brought on by the extra virgin.  It quickly became obvious what someone should want out of a cooking oil.  When cooking, the oil should stay out of the way!

House surrounded by canola plants.

A canola field surrounding a farmhouse - via Paraflyer on Flickr

So how do you pull this off?  You have two, very healthy, choices.  First, take a look at canola oil.  Not only is is very good for you, it has a neutral natural flavor that does not threaten to over power your food.  Pair this with the optimal balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids provided by the oil and you have something you do not have to regret using.

Second, there is plain olive oil.  Yes, there is a difference!  Extra virgin olive oil comes from the first press of olives, and it is not mixed with other oils that will dilute the flavor.  So, extra virgin has a robust flavor (and price premium).  Regular olive oil (also known as “pure,” confusing, I know) is mixed with virgin olive oil and pomace oil (the leftover oil from processing virgin olive oil).  This oil has a less defined flavor, and as a result, it is cheaper.  So if being pulled away from olive oil as your go-to lubricant is too radical, give pure olive oil a try, your wallet might appreciate it!

Image of the Go Local card

The Go Local card for Austin.

Austin has a powerful local oriented charm about it, which rewards those who participate with both the satisfaction of helping local restaurants, and sometimes, a better meal to boot.  But if that is not enough, there is something else out there that might help with that prompting.

The Go Local card (at publication their website was down, but they are in the process of pushing forward a new design, found here) gives local businesses and restaurants the opportunity to provide discounts to cardholders.  Like any other membership based card, all you have to do is present it at the register (or include it with the check).

I originally came across the Go Local card at the Austin Farmers Market, and in my early financial ignorance I never found a way to justify the $10 purchase, but I was quickly proven wrong once I finally picked it up.  Although I am a big supporter of cooking at home as much as you can, being a college aged student I still find myself on the other side of town once in a while and hungry, so any opportunity to knock back the price is appreciated.

So who participates?  If you live (or travel often) to the university area, there are quite a few places that do you may already regularly visit.

  • Kerbey Lane (all locations) – M thru F, 10% off Food & Non-Alcoholic Drinks
  • Ming’s Cafe – 10% off
  • Torchy’s Tacos – 10% off
  • Amy’s Ice Cream – 10% off

(A Google Map mashup of the locations)

(All locations can be found here.)

For me, I visit Ming’s enough (the past two days, as a matter of fact) that the card probably paid for itself in two weeks.  I suggest you take a look at the list (including the non-food related ones) and see if is worth it to you.

The card can be found at most retailers that support it, and is valid for one year.

Hello everyone!Ryan (Me) Playing Mini Golf

My name is Ryan Murphy, and I guess you could say I am responsible for the “cheap” beat.  I am always on the hunt for ways to save money when it comes to food (and well, everything), but at the same time I try not to sacrifice healthiness as well.  I will be hunting around this city we call Austin for any opportunity I can find for a typical college student to get the best bang for their buck when it comes to eating.

If you have any questions/comments/suggestions, you are welcome to leave a comment on any post I make!  Also, I can be found on Twitter, so I encourage you to shoot me an @ or direct message if you want to ensure I see you.

I’ll be back soon with more.  Until then, good eating!

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