Vélib’ in Paris

Just spent the most satisfying day testing out Paris’s bike hire program. It was fabulous on every level.

Bike stations are everywhere which makes it easy to pick up and drop off. The kiosks are multi lingual and initial rental was relatively painless. If you only have an American credit card, set it up online ahead of time, but with a British chip and pin debit card it was seamless then and there. I

We found the roads only mildly scary, even Boul. St. Michel. There are bike/bus lanes on main routes, although I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for anyone except confident, experienced cyclists. Tealgeen daughter, aged 11, did just fine.

The best part was that we covered way more ground than we ever would have by foot and enjoyed more scenery than being underground on the metro. Our routes were fairly circuitous, stopping to check the map and reorient only occasionally – but that, of course, is half the fun.

You don’t need anything special to ride a bike in Paris – no slinky bike shorts, loud jersey or special shoes. We just wore what we had on (and both Tealgeen daughter and I were both wearing skirts and sandals – it was fine). The seats are hugely adjustable and comfy, there are 3 gears, easy to operate, and a basket for gear.

We all came home convinced that you absolutely could survive without a car in Paris, between the excellent metro system and the bikes, and in a pinch, the electric car share program. More on that tomorrow.

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Good eats for cheap

So here’s the thing.  Every now and then, someone I know, or am even related to, trots out the argument that eating healthily is too expensive for most people.  Of course they are saying this to me, in the context of my very comfortable, middle class, suburban lifestyle.  And I get that.  But that fact that I can afford it doesn’t mean its unaffordable. That kind of logic drives me crazy.

On a very small scale, here’s a perfect example.  Recently, I made some strawberry jam.  A good friend made a comment to me about how great that was, but wasn’t it so expensive.  I wasn’t really sure, so I decided to work it out.  2 quarts of fresh strawberries (from a farm stand – supermarket would be cheaper): $12.  Bag of sugar $2.89.  Box of Certo, $3.99.  A lemon, $0.49.  Washed out jam jars – free. Bear in mind that I only used half the bag of sugar and half the Certo.  So the layout cost was under $20. This made 8 jars of jam.  I just checked Peapod.com and a jar of Bonne Maman, the supermarket equivalent of homemade jam, sells for $4.99 (heck, even Smuckers is $3.79).  So the retail value of my jam comes to nearly $40.

Making something yourself is almost always cheaper and equally,  tastes better (after a little practice perhaps) and is usually healthier.  Jam’s a perfect example.  I can short the sugar a little and my kids don’t even notice.  What I make is literally fruit, sugar and pectin.  Tell me again why you would put anything else in it?

Now, I can extend this argument to just about anything in the kitchen.  But here’s the rub – you need some equipment, some know-how, time, energy and motivation.  Equipment isn’t really that hard. You need less than you think you do. Unfortunately, as with so many things in the states, people seem to think you need fancy, expensive stuff to cook.  I still use the cheapo stock pot I got almost 20 years ago for everything from cooking pasta to making soup to making jam.

So think how happy I was to come across a copy of Clean Eating magazine at Super Cuts the other day.  Each month, they produce a list of budget recipes and a shopping list to go with it.  They provide a list of 5 family meals for 4 people (ie 20 servings) for $50.  That’s $2.50 per meal per head people.  And they look darned good.  But you do have to put in the effort to buy the good food and actually cook it. To get the recipes, looks like you probably have to subscribe, but it makes its point.  http://agilityfiles.cleaneatingmag.com/PDFS/ShoppingLists/ce30grocerybag.pdf