Day 336–Starting Week 49–Budget and Menu

Those of you who have children or grandchildren know that May and December seem to be the craziest months of the year. Every recital, performance, ceremony and exam seems to be crunched into these two months, as though February weren’t sitting there, all forlorn without any major holidays except Valentine’s Day. So this week will be a busy one, with PTA meetings, a winter band concert and a major holiday event for me at work. I’m planning to cook ahead on Sunday so we can have easy, quick (but healthy and local) dinners all week!

Our food expenses this week are $46.58 although one meal will be out since I’ll be working, so that figure is not indicative of our total spending.

Budget

  • Mitchell’s freezer (roasted tomato sauce, frozen tomatoes, frozen jalapenos, frozen yellow squash): $11.00
  • Mae Farm (ground beef, Italian sausage): $20.00
  • Trader Joes (manicotti noodles, cheese, chili powder, canned organic beans): $10.58 (
  • Farmer’s Market (lettuce, cucumber, broccoli): $5.00

Menu

  • Sunday–Veggie manicotti with local cheese, salad
  • Monday–leftover manicotti and salad
  • Tuesday–Chili and yellow squash muffins
  • Wednesday–Leftover chili
  • Thursday–State Tree Lighting (dinner at a food truck)
  • Friday–Stuffed butternut squash
  • Saturday–Shrimp and roasted red peppers with Melina’s spinach fettucine
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Day 333–Thanksgiving Lessons Learned

I know Thanksgiving was almost a week ago and we are all moving on to the winter holidays, but I’ve taken time to assess several “teachable moments” I had over the holiday and thought I would share them with you. Ready? Here goes…

Freezing and canning mountains of produce in the summer is totally worth it. While we are still making a dent in the food we put up this summer, it is so nice to just go to the freezer or to my canning shelf to grab pasta sauce, roasted pepper ketchup, jam or whatever we need instead of running to the grocery store, especially when we’re planning a big meal like Thanksgiving! And it tastes way better, too.

I need real knives. I’ve probably cooked more this year than I have in my entire adult life. You know what? I really like it! All the vegetable chopping, however, has taken a toll on my cheap-o knife set. This was brought home to me as I was hacking away at our lovely turkey. What we served didn’t look all that pretty, but my knives are shot. Thanks, mom, for being Santa Claus and making that happen.

Real food tastes better. Ok, I didn’t just realize this over Thanksgiving, but it did remind me that fresh food tastes far superior and it doesn’t get any fresher than local produce and meat. And when it tastes better, everyone’s hungry for leftovers. That = less food waste.

Why does anyone buy cranberry sauce? One pound of berries, 1 cup of orange juice and 1/2 cup of sugar. Combine, bring to a boil, stir, refrigerate. Voila. And you control the sugar. Voila-la!

I need more glass food containers. We switched from plastic to glass food containers this year and while our supply is good, it could not keep up with the level of leftovers generated by Thanksgiving! Yes, glass can break (I haven’t experienced that yet) and yes, it is heavier than plastic. Do a taste test though. Microwave something in plastic and do the same in glass. I’m highly subject to suggestion, but I do believe there is a remarkable taste difference. Worth. It.

So Santa, you’ve got the list, right? Knives and glass food containers (well, knives are taken care of ūüôā Oh, and if you can slip some Trader Joes pumpkin ice cream into my stocking, that would be appreciated, too.

 

Day 171–Bread and Butter Pickles

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What to do with a bumper crop of cucumbers? Why, make pickles, of course! I’ve been reading a lot about how to make cucumber pickles and the science of the fermenting process and I have to say, it scares me a little. The whole bacteria management of true pickle making is really not made for my seemingly random and inconsistent personality. I have a limited attention span, people, and I need recipes that embrace that (because at this point in my life, I will probably not become focused like a laser beam). Enter the Bread and Butter Pickle. Simple. Fresh. Easy. A pickle recipe made for a mom who often forgets why she walked downstairs, only to remember once she goes back upstairs. You know. That kind of thing. I don’t do sourdough starter for that reason either.

I made these pickles using locally grown, Kirby pickling cucumbers, which are in absolute abundance here right now. In fact, I may plant some next year because they are taste good all by themselves and they are nice and small. I like this recipe because it is pretty quick and doesn’t call for a commercial pickling mix. It also doesn’t require weeks on tending while the cucumbers slowly ferment on my counter top. This recipe is from my favorite canning book, Put ‘Em Up!

We haven’t opened up a jar of these pickles yet, but we did have some leftover brined cucumber slices that didn’t have a home and they were very good. So good we ate them all. The onion really amps up the flavor. These are a little sweet and a little tart–not too much of either. In about a week, we’ll try some and see how they are. I’m hoping they are really tasty because we now have 5 pints of them ūüôā

Bread and Butter Pickles

  • 5 lb. cucumbers (we used Kirby), ends removed and cut into 1/4″ coins
  • 1 lb. onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 c. + 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 4 c. distilled white vinegar
  • 2 c. water
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. mustard seed
  • 1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp. celery seeds
  • 1 Tbsp. turmeric
  1. Layer the cut cucumber and onion with 1/2 c. salt in a large bowl. Cover with a layer of ice cubes and let sit for 2 hours. Drain and rinse.
  2. Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, mustard, peppercorn, celery seed, turmeric and remaining salt in a large, nonreactive pot and bring to a boil.
  3. Add the drained vegetables and return to a boil, stirring to ensure all vegetables are heated through. Remove from heat.
  4. Store pickles by either ladling into bowls and jars and storing in the fridge for up to 3 weeks or can.
  5. If canning, ladle the vegetables into clean, hot pint canning jars. Add the brine to the jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Release any trapped air. Clean the rims, add lids and collars. Process for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit with lid off of the canning pot for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals and store jars for up to 1 year.

 

Day 159–Peach Butter!

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When I was little, I hated peaches. Would. Not. Eat. Them. It wasn’t the taste, I just couldn’t get past the fuzzy skin. I was a nectarine girl all the way. Then I moved farther south, where peaches grow everywhere and you just can’t resist the sweet fragrance coming from the market stalls. Fuzz you say? What fuzz? I am totally over it. When peach season hits, it’s like striking gold for me. Peach cobbler, peach ice cream, peach crisp and just plain ol’ peaches–the super ripe kind that drip juice down your chin and make you a target for every yellow jacket in the area.

If you’ve been following our blog, you know that eating locally means putting up the goodness of the season so that you can continue to enjoy locavore eating all year round without having to depend on just a few seasonal crops. I’ll be freezing peaches, for sure, but I found a recipe for peach butter that, judging from our taste of what was left in the pot, will be heaven in the middle of winter. Just open a jar and spread some summer on my morning toast. Yum. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

Peach Butter (makes about 5 half-pints)

2 c. water
1/4 c. lemon juice
8 lb. ripe peaches
2 c. sugar
1tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Combine the water and lemon juice in a non-reactive pot.

Peel and chop the peaches, adding the fruit to the water/lemon juice. Compost peach peels.

Bring the peach mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes (peaches will be soft). Puree with a food mill or stick blender.

Return the peach puree to the pot and add sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Simmer until thick (this took 50 min for me). Stir frequently so the puree doesn’t burn.

Store your peach butter in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks or can using the hot water bath method.

Ladle puree into clean, hot jars (I used half pint jars), leaving 1/4″ headspace. Release trapped air, wipe jar rims clean and put lids on jars. Screw bands onto jars just to finger tightness.

Process for 10 minutes in a hot water canner (jars should be in boiling water 10 min). Open canner, turn off heat and let sit 5 minutes.

Remove jars and set aside 24 hours. Check jar seals and set aside in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months.

Day 124–Ten Tips for Locavore Food Shopping (on a budget)

Continuing the theme of how to shop efficiently and affordably while still eating local, I have 10 tips from our own experience since January 1. I told you I like a list ūüôā Share your tips and ideas¬†in the comments section!

Tip One–Know your farmers, know your farmers, know your farmers.

Before starting our locavore journey, my only experience with asking produce questions was asking the “produce manager” in our local grocery store, who usually knew almost nothing about produce or cooking. So, I¬†was pretty shy and hesitant about asking farmers information. I thought it might be rude. But you know what? ¬†Farmers LIKE answering questions and they LOVE talking about what they grow. And guess what else? Many of them cook this food themselves! Also, farmers, in my limited experience, are pretty practical folks. If you say you’re on a budget and you have xx to spend on vegetables, they can give you lots of ideas for how to stretch your dollars and feed your family. Try THAT at your local grocery store!

Tip Two–Use Social Media

You know those picture books with Farmer Brown plowing a field? Well, those books need a major update. Most farmers who sell to local markets are pretty media savvy (or at least they are getting there). They probably have a Facebook page, an email newsletter and/or Twitter account. Crazy, right? I get weekly postings on what is available from local farmers and farmer’s markets in my area. That saves me a LOT of time when planning menus because I’m not guessing at what I’ll find.

Tip Three–Pre-order the Important Stuff

Related to Tip Two, I’ve found that I can easily pre-order cuts of meat, types of cheese, seafood, eggs and large amounts of produce (like strawberries for jam) and pick them up at my local farmer’s market. Farmer’s like this because they know they are bringing items to market that will be sold. And I love it because I don’t have to get to the market only to find out that no one has any chicken breasts left.

Tip Four–Allow Flexibility for the Unexpected

From menu planning/shopping system, you might think I’m a control freak. Well, that would be partially true, but I also love getting to the market and finding out that something new is available. If I’ve planned my menu right (see below), I may be able to add something unexpected into our menu. Or maybe it becomes a lunch snack. I can also make a note of it and work it in next week. The point is, don’t make yourself so controlled that you miss the beauty of the market.

Tip Five–Incorporate Some “Go-To” Flexible Recipes

There are some recipes (roast chicken) that are pretty straightforward, simple and easy on the brain. I like to have some other, flexible, veggie-loving recipes that are always in rotation and can use almost anything in the refrigerator.¬†These recipes are a¬†good way to¬†use up what’s left at the end of the week and a great way to incorporate those unexpected purchases.¬†Here are some examples:

  • Stir-fry (one protein + chopped up veggies + onion + a whole grain)
  • Quiche/frittata¬†(basic quiche/frittata recipe + 1 c. vegetables)
  • Pizza (one whole wheat crust + 2 c. chopped veggies + sauce/olive oil + cheese)
  • Roasted vegetables and pasta (16 oz. pasta + 2-3 c. roasted veggies + sauce/olive oil + cheese)
  • Saladpalooza (bowl of washed greens + assortment of chopped veggies + 1 protein + dressing)
  • Soup (4 c. chicken stock + pasta/rice + 3 c. saut√©ed vegetables)
  • Quesadillas¬†(2 tortillas + fat-free¬†refried¬†beans + 1 c. saut√©ed vegetables + cheese + salsa)

Tip Six–Shop With a List

Now that I’ve addressed flexibility, once you have your list, stick to it unless you are POSITIVE you will use it. Back away from the impulse purchases that have no relationship to your menu. If you don’t have a menu that will work, say, rutabegas in, then do not buy them. I mean it…scoot, scoot!

Tip Seven–Make Use of What You Have

Americans throw away an obsene¬†amount of food each year. Sometimes it happens that I get a huge amount of one vegetable in our Produce Box and it’s more than we can eat right away. Or maybe we have a last-minute change of plans and we don’t end up eating all our meals. In this case, the freezer is your best friend. Rather than throw away chicken because we didn’t make a big dinner, I can roast or bake it while we’re finishing up homework, take it off the bone and freeze it for later. Or, like last week when I received WAY more spring onions that we needed, I chopped them up, bagged them in freezer bags in 1 cup servings and froze them for later. Greens, like collards, mustard greens, kale and turnip greens, can also be cooked and frozen to eat later.

Tip Eight–Stock Up and Put It Up

Eating locally does not mean surviving on nothing but sweet potatoes and collard greens all winter. You can enjoy local peaches in February, delicious local corn in December and turnips in July. You just have to plan ahead. We’re new at this, but it’s already become a very enjoyable part of our farmer’s market trips. Food preservation is one of the oldest culinary skills around and guess what? It’s fun! You have three options when preserving your precious bounty–canning, freezing and drying. When fruits and vegetables are at their peak, stock up (prices are also lowest at this time) and save those wonderful flavors for later. You will save money and get high quality, delicious food all year-long!

Tip Nine–Ask. And Then Ask Again!

The local food network in my area (and I’m willing to bet in yours, too) is a close-knit¬†community of farmers, chefs, bakers, cheese makers, etc. If you want something and can’t find it, ask around. I was amazed at what I learned once I started asking. Somehow in my mind, I thought that our local food producers would be highly secretive and competitive. While there may be some competition going on out there, the people I have found are pretty straight up. If I want something they don’t have, they don’t try to sell me something else. They tell me who has it. Sometimes they’ll actually walk me down to the other vendor and help me out. Crazy. And lovely.

Tip Ten–Realize That Sometimes You’ll Blow It

I’m human. And I love seafood. So when fresh seafood starts coming to our local market in the early spring, I go a little crazy. And going a little crazy usually means I blow my budget. Maybe even by a lot. I think this spring we had an entire week of nothing but seafood. At the end of the day, though, it’s like a fun celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of lighter foods on our menu. As long as it’s not a usual occurence, we’re ok. We make up for it over the next few weeks and we calm down our purchases. So stay on budget, but don’t let an occasional celebration ruin your joy.

What are your tips and strategies?? I’d love to hear them!