Feeling really frugal, I made my own salad. Here's my recipe:
1. Large serving of pre-washed organic salad: red and green romaine, oak leaf, chard, arugula, and other mixed greens. Thankfully, we had a bag of organic mixed greens in the frig.
2. Baby carrots
3. One vegetarian Morningstar chicken patty. (My favorite restaurant charges about $3 for that addition of veggie meat.)
4. Chopped almonds, walnuts and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds.
5. Chopped onions.
6. Minced, crisp miniature pickles.
7. Italian salad dressing.
Arranged on a large glass plate, my homemade gourmet salad was just as pretty as the $10-plus salad that I would have picked up at the restaurant. My own creation was a riot of color and taste, washed down with a tall glass of Asian Plum White Tea, sweetened with honey, which would have cost $3 at the cafe. For dessert: a generous serving of Oreo cookies, with the yucky cream center scooped out. (Yeah, I love the chocolate cookies, no cream.)
Bottom line: I didn't feel deprived; I felt pampered for a total cost of less than $2. And I learned several lessons from my salad plate:
1) Keep the kitchen well-stocked: Without the nuts, pickles and other perks, my meal would have just been lettuce on a plate. That so-called salad would have been no competition for the color-coordinated eye-candy salad at the cafe. Having a few extra ingredients in my cabinet and frig really saved me a lot of money.
2) Be creative: I don't normally put sour pickles on a green salad. But in a festive, anything-goes mood, I chopped and sprinkled the pickles onto my salad plate. My creativity was awarded with extra crunch.
3) Be patient: It took time to wash the pre-washed salad. (I never trust pre-washed salads!) It took patience to chop the carrots and the onions. Even reaching into the assorted bags of nuts was an exercise in persistence. But if I want to save money and live well, I'll have to stretch for the higher shelf, open the bag of baby greens and sprinkled the nuts myself.
4) Be honest: This is the big X-Factor. When I started to reach for the $20 bill on the dining room table, I initially told myself a lie, namely: I don't have time to make my own salad. It was easier, I thought to just walk out the door with my money and just hand over my green bill for a plate of green food.
But here's the actual invoice of time:
- Leaving my house is at least a 10-minute process.
- Walking to the little cafe near my home or the competing restaurants involves a brisk 10-minute sprint if I do that swishy hip-heel-toe weird walk demonstrated by speed-walkers that make little kids giggle.
- At this time of the year in Miami, my neighborhood is overrun with snow birds and the wait for a table at my little cafe could take as long as 20 minutes, with an additional 15 minutes to be waited on and served.
- The remaining balance of time: 20 minutes to eat, 10 minutes to wait for the bill and to pay my tab.
- And finally: 10 minutes to walk home.
Final cost of home gourmet salad: 10 minutes of prep time.
Bottom line: I saved about $18 in cash and over an hour in time. My gourmet salad was worth the effort.