Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Money-Saving Smartphone Apps

The Topic: Using your smartphone to save money (because goodness knows we’re spending enough on our smartphones) by Assistant Editor Anna Peraino

The Dish: We Americans like our smartphones. A lot. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, iPhones, Blackberrys, and their Andriod-based fellows have found their way into every facet of our lives, from waking us up in the morning to helping us find our way across town to joining us at the dinner table (and at the movies, and in the bathroom…). Smartphones are so essential to many, in fact, that a recent survey found that a third of Americans would rather give up sex for a week than their smartphone for the same seven days. Without getting all inappropriate on you, let’s just say they’re here to stay.

In that case, we might as well be as savvy about these suckers as possible, right? Sure, a smartphone in and of itself is a pretty pricey venture—data plans and text messaging on top of your monthly cell-phone bill costs a pretty penny to say the least—but it doesn’t look like Americans are giving up any time soon. And that’s where I come in folks—to let you know how to make your smartphone work for you a little bit more: the app. Everyone has their Words With Friends, their Angry Birds, their Twitter and Facebook apps, but there are thousands of free apps out there just waiting to help you save money. Check out nine of my favorite mobile apps for fitness, food, and more, and save some major money—or at least save a portion of your phone bill.

1. Bethere Deals: This GPS-based app shows deals around you, from 25 percent off coupons at a wine store to $100 off sunglasses. The pins, which will show up throughout your metro area, include deals that are active and those that are coming soon.

2. ShopKick: By “checking in” at stores like Target, Macy’s, Best Buy, and more, you can collect “kicks” that will unlock deals, gift cards, restaurant vouchers, and more. Not bad for simply walking inside and pressing a few buttons.

3. Coupon Sherpa: This app features coupons for more than 5,000 stores such as Gap and Office Depot, and products such as Dell and Febreeze. No smartphone? No worries. You can use Coupon Sherpa’s codes online, too!

4. Nike Training Club: It’s almost like you have your own personal trainer with this app (I named mine Stacey, so I could have someone to yell at when being forced to do pushups). Workouts, audio guidance, rewards, and tracking are included, as well as a thriving online community.

5. Fooducate Nutrition Scanner: This super handy app gives any food with a barcode a grade based on its nutrition content. It will also provide alternative products in case what you scanned turns out with a paltry “C+.” Don’t forget to check ingredients lists!

6. Lose It: If you’re looking to shed a few pounds, this award-winning app makes it easy to log meals and exercise, track your weight loss and view progress reports (in handy pie charts, no less!), and get support by sharing your experience with others.

7. ShopSavvy: Want to know if you can get that new food processor for less at another store? ShopSavvy is on it. Find the lowest price for that Cuisinart by simply scanning a barcode. The rest is magic (or so I like to believe).

8. GasBuddy: I’m not a big driver (honestly, I move my car on street-cleaning days only), but for those of you who get behind the wheel daily, this app will help you find the lowest price per gallon in your general area. Seriously GPS, what did we do before you? Oh right, we used paper maps and got lost more often.

9. Yoga Relax Free: If you want to warrior II it up or tree pose for a bit, this free app provides relaxing music and high-quality videos to go along with its postures. To be honest, this is not the app for you if you’re looking for an intense yoga workout, but for a chill-out session, it’s perfect.

The Final Word: Whatever way you slice it, smartphones are a big part of well, the world. And since we’re all savvy vegans here, our phones should be no exception. If you have any favorite money-saving apps, let us know about them in the comments!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guest Post: Melody Polakow of Melomeals

The Topic: In light of the upcoming first annual Vida Vegan Conference, I asked vegan blogger Melody Polakow of Melomeals, to share some tips with us on vegan cooking on a budget.

The Dish: My name is Melody Polakow and I’m thrilled to be contributing to the Savvy Vegan Blog! I have been blogging at Melomeals since 2006.  At the time I was married and cooking for my two teen sons, so I focused on big batch, frugal cooking from scratch for a family.  I have since divorced, and in late 2008 I was laid off from my job as a vegan and raw foods chef.  At the time I was sharing custody of my kids and money was so tight (my kids have since grown up and don’t live with me)—I only had $100 a month to spend on food! I realized that was around $3.33 a day, so the focus of my blog turned to creating healthy and delicious whole foods for $3.33 a day.

Fast forward to September 2010.  I had been working several chef jobs while creating more photography and I realized that I was ready to take a huge leap into working for myself. Melody Polakow Photography and Chef Services was born! Since I am working for myself and times are tough, I am still spending $3.33 a day and having a ball sharing my recipes and ideas via Facebook and my blog.

The way I cook has evolved over time into a system of preparation that is basically the same whether you are cooking for one or a family of 10! I utilize a pressure cooker and cook two pounds of dried beans from scratch and two pounds of grains. I make three sauces to have on hand: salsa, marinara, and a nutritional yeast-based sauce. I also clean out the fridge at least once a week and make a big pot of soup I call a “filler soup” which is eaten for several meals or snacks and frozen into two cup portions. You can see my blog for these various recipes. Having these bases on hand allows me to create healthy and delicious whole-food meals in less than 30 minutes! Here’s one of my favorite veggie burger recipes.

Simple Bean Burger

Makes 12-15 burgers, depending on how big you make them!
Note:  These burgers taste much better the next day

What You Need: 
3 cups hot beans (reserve bean liquid)
2 cups old fashioned oats
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
3 tablespoons soy sauce
What You Do:
1. Mix everything together in a food processer. If you don’t have a food processor, mash really well with your hands!
2. Add reserved bean liquid as needed so the mixture isn’t too dry
3. Chill mixture for at least 4 hours
4. Form into patties; cook in a cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium to medium-low heat for about five minutes per side.

The Final Word: Thanks Melody for the tips, and highlighting your great blog, which shows that you can eat vegan on almost any budget. And for those readers and bloggers who will be attending the Vida Vegan Conference this year, we look forward to seeing you!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Savor the Savings at Farmers' Markets

The Topic: Saving big at farmers’ markets with Editorial Assistant Joni Sweet
The Dish: With the local food movement well underway, farmers’ markets have been popping up all over the country, bringing fresh produce to the masses. Step into nearly any market and you can expect to see boxes of streaked and striped heirloom tomatoes, wooden bins overflowing with leafy greens, aromatic herbs, and even purple string beans! But as a savvy vegan, farmers’ markets can either be your best friend, or your worst enemy. Increased demand for local food has sent prices skyrocketing at some of the more gourmet markets, often making a bag of vegetables cost three times what you would pay in a supermarket. Yet, with the right tricks up your sleeve, you can saunter out of a farmers’ market with a canvas bag stuffed with a bounty of vibrant vegetables, knowing you’ve made even the most diligent coupon-clippers envious of your steal. 
1. Choose Wisely
The first step toward savvy shopping requires careful consideration of which market to visit. While the larger, gourmet markets may offer a greater assortment of produce and artisan foods, don’t be surprised to see price tags that match the foodie scene. Instead, try visiting smaller markets that have built their reputations on offering fair prices and friendly service. In San Francisco alone, there are more than a dozen farmers’ markets, so depending on where you live, you may have to shop around. Try visiting the weekday markets, as they are often less crowded and expensive.
2. Timing is Everything
Think the best time arrive at the market is bright and early? Think again—while the early shoppers certainly do have an advantage in terms of variety, coming to the market as it’s shutting down is prime time for savings. Unlike at a supermarket, where it's difficult to discern how long the produce has been on the shelf, farmers have to load up the truck with whatever they don’t sell and lug it back at the end of the day, risking damage and rotting along the way. Vendors are much more likely to cut you a deal if it means they save time and energy by avoiding reloading the truck. Also, scope the stands for ‘seconds,’ over-ripe or slightly bruised, yet perfectly delicious, produce, often sold at half the price! 
3. Savor the Season
While supermarkets have most Americans believing that strawberries grow all year round, farmers’ markets show visitors that each type of plant has its own specific growing season, with price tags that reflect the supply. If you make a point to ask about what’s in season, both your mouth and wallet will be pleased with the results. Toward the beginning or the end of a season, expect to pay top dollar for produce, especially berries. Focus on discovering ways of making a fruit or vegetable that you’ve never heard of (Chinese long beans or bitter melon, anyone?) taste great and avoid reverting back to the habit of buying the same produce week after week. One of the best resources of interesting recipes using foreign fruits or vegetables is the person growing them—don’t be afraid to ask questions! 
4. Buy in Bulk
When buying more than 10 pounds of a particular item, say tomatoes, farmers can, and do, shave dollars off of the price per pound. To ensure your money goes a long way, formulate a plan for those tomatoes. Make a giant pot of spaghetti sauce to freeze and save (or in my case, eat atop spiral pasta every night until it's gone, because homemade sauce is delicious!), learn how to preserve via canning, or plan a tomato-themed menu for the entire week.
5. Knowledge and Flexibility
Overall, to have the best experience at a farmers’ market requires exercising flexibility and staying informed. Before making any purchases, orient yourself with the prices and selection by first strolling through the market. Maybe you went to the market hoping to find strawberries for a shortcake for Grandma’s birthday, but your favorite farmer ran out by the time you arrived. Be flexible and try raspberries or blueberries, instead. If you’re a proponent of organic produce, you surely have felt the pinch on your pocketbook when paying $5 or more per pound of organic bell peppers. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s guide on what produce should be bought organically, so you can limit your pesticide exposure while also maximizing savings. 

The Final Word: Being a savvy, smart shopper requires little more than learning about seasonal availability, timing for buying, and speaking to your guides—the farmers—to save big at farmers’ markets. Just don’t forget to bring your reusable shopping bag!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

5 Tips for Hosting a Budget-Friendly Dinner Party

VN's signature Macaroni & Cheese 

The Topic: Fabulously inexpensive dinner-party tips with VegNews Associate Editor Jennifer Chen
The Dish: I love hosting friends and family for dinner. The best way to show off delicious vegan food is by cooking fantastic meals for the people I love, and it helps to answer the common question, "What does a vegan eat?" I recently hosted a dinner party for the VegNews staff and friends using only recipes from the magazine or VN.com (with one minor exception. More on that later).  In total, I hosted 15 people for dinner and spent approximately $70, which breaks down to $4.67 per person. (Full disclosure: I used a large bag of Daiya cheddar cheese we had at VNHQ so I didn't buy that.) Here are my five tips for hosting the ultimate vegan budget dinner party.
1. Resourceful Recipes
When cooking for a large group, search for crowd-pleasing meals like VN's signature Macaroni & Cheese, patatas bravas, or Marinated Kale Salad. Why? You can easily double or triple these recipes without having to buy expensive ingredients. The patatas bravas I made were mostly potatoes, tomato paste, cayenne, and some vegan mayo. While the macaroni and cheese might look expensive, I nixed the breadcrumbs on top and the main cheese sauce is potatoes, carrots, shallots, onions, cashews, and vegan margarine. Simple ingredients equals big savings.
2. Stress-Free Planning
I used to get super stressed when I had people over. I cut out the anxiety by simply planning out when I was going to cook what and writing down a schedule. I first made the desserts because they would last the longest in the refrigerator and freezer. The items that needed to be served hot, like the grilled cheese sandwiches and the sauce for the patatas bravas, my husband and I made a few hours before the actual dinner.
3. DIY Ice Cream
Making your own ice cream is easy. Yes, an ice cream maker is an upfront cost. I have a KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment that cost about $80, but just like a juicer, the investment is worth it. With your favorite non-dairy milk and some simple ingredients, you can make a quart of vegan ice cream that will taste just as great as any frozen pre-made pint. 
4. BYOB 
Ask your guests to bring the booze. After all, you're doing all the cooking. Plus, they can bring what they want to drink. Without having to buy alcohol, beer, or non-alcoholic drinks, you can keep your dinner-party costs down.
5. Use what you have. 
Pull out all of your plates, silverware, glasses, and serving dishes. Who cares if it all matches? Everyone is looking at the food anyway. You save money by not buying paper plates and cups, while also keeping your party eco-friendly. I used to think it was easier to buy biodegradable plates than to handle all the dishwashing, but after attending a brunch party where the hostess had everything laid out down to silverware and cloth napkins, I decided to go the same route.
The Complete Menu
Pumpkin Cheddar Biscuits (September+October 2011)
Marinated Kale Salad with baked tofu and avocado 
Grilled Cheese on sourdough (my husband's top-secret recipe)
Beer-Battered Tempeh "Fish" with Tangy Tartar Sauce 
Patatas Bravas (November+December 2009)
Coconut Cream Pie (May+June 2011)
Hot Chocolate Ice Cream (July+August 2011)
The Final Word: With careful planning and a budget, dinner parties are a great way to entertain and subtly educate those you love about the food you love. Yes, veganism isn't only about the food, but with a kickass menu you can show those who think a cruelty-free diet means eating only hummus and pita that the world is our soy-oyster when it comes to awesome eats.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Stress-Free Vegan Cocktail Party

The Topic: Hosting a vegan cocktail party on the cheap with VN Editorial Assistant Hilary Pollack

The Dish: Don’t let limited funds get in the way of your urge to throw a swanky soirée. Cocktail parties are a great way to bring your friends together, and offer the pleasantry of social lubrication without the liability of an apocalyptic house-destroying kegger. Better yet, they’re effortless to veganize and make pocketbook-friendly. The next time you have reason to celebratemoving into a new apartment, getting a promotion, spaying your catwhy not let the good times roll with some vegan hor d’oeuvres and libations? Here are some low-cost ways to party like it’s 1999, 2011-style.

Potent Potluck
Since the dawn of time (or at least since 16
th century England), potlucks have provided a great way to project the appearance of a gracious host when in actuality you can sit back and let your guests do most of the work. Attendees are generally happy to throw together a dish or two as long as you provide a venue, some tunes, and at least some of the booze.

Thrifty Thirst-Quenchers
Barnivore is a great resource for finding out which beer, wine, and liquor is vegan-friendly. Keep it simple with one or two specialty cocktails so that you don’t have to buy tons of ingredients.
  • Concoct easy, delicious homemade sangria and serve it in a giant crystal punch bowl (you can find them at thrift stores and they really dazzle). Sangria is super versatile and hard to mess up; you can use almost any variety of fruit and experiment with adding brandy, vodka, or white wine instead of red.
  • Mint juleps are perennial crowd-pleasers, especially in the summer, and require only a few modest components. Offer rum as well as bourbon and you’ve got yourselfand your thirsty guestsa mojito option.
  • Vegan White Russians are a stellar pick if you are perchance throwing a Big Lebowski party. Just don't get too riled up as the evening draws on—remember, aggression will not stand.
Apt Appetizers
You don’t need to slave over the stove for hours in order to produce tasty, satisfying bites.
  • Bruschetta is refreshing yet filling, and you probably already have at least half of the six ingredients for this recipe waiting in your pantry. 
  • Everyone loves butternut squash. This is a scientific phenomenon, like gravity. How about whipping up Butternut Squash-White Bean Croquettes that cook in only 15 minutes? 
  • (Vegan) cream cheese roll-ups are kindergarten-simple, but look and taste surprisingly sophisticated. I include cilantro to add some herbaceous goodness.  Or, turn up the heat with Cream Cheese Wontons
  • If you are truly, devastatingly broke or short on time, just go with store-bought guacamole, chips, hummus, and warm pita. These staples never disappoint. 
Here We Are Now, Entertain Us
Depending on the size of your party, you may want to indulge in some merry decorating and activities. Goodwill and Salvation Army are always overflowing with cheap crystal goblets if you want to create an air of prestige in your abode. If you have a working fireplace, throw an eco-friendly Duraflame log in for a romantic crackle. Music is also of great importance to achieve your desired ambiance. The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder or Moby’s Animal Rights are thematically appropriate options, or you can go with Andrew WK's Party Hard if you seek carnage. 

The Final Word: Being a killer host or hostess doesn’t have to come with a high price tag. An hour or two of prep time and a few simple drinks and snacks are all you need to set your roof on fire (figuratively). Skip the bar scene and bring the fun to your own domain, without emptying your funds or your fridge.
Photo via Copykat