Day 239–Starting Week 35–Budget and Menu

What is it about school starting that throws the world into a tailspin? Or maybe it’s just MY world that goes into mild chaos… Suddenly, there are evening meetings, tutoring, extra-curricular clubs and ridiculous amounts of laundry. I really enjoyed the lazy pace of summer, and my adjustment to the school year…well, let’s just say it hasn’t gone well. So this is another easy menu week that takes advantage of what is available at the farmers markets. I’m not tackling anything crazy or time-consuming because I’d like to keep what little grasp on reality I still have! The good thing is we’re on budget at $95.42 for the week and that includes some very fresh, lovely NC fish. Yay!

Budget

  • The Produce Box (apples, watermelon, tomatoes, corn, sweet peppers, organic zucchini/yellow squash, sweet potatoes): $23.00
  • Hilltop Farm ( organic cherry tomatoes, organic basil): $9.00
  • Homestead Farm (eggs): $4.00
  • Locals Seafood (black sea bass): $19
  • Farmhand Foods (hangar steak): $12.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, yogurt, soy milk): $28.42

Menu

  • Wednesday–Pan seared sea bass with cherry tomatoes, creamed corn, roasted okra
  • Thursday–Barbecue quesadillas (carryover from last week), roasted okra, field peas
  • Friday–Pasta with cherry tomatoes and roasted vegetables, salad
  • Saturday–Red pepper tart, cucumber and onion salad; peach pie
  • Sunday–Leftover red pepper tart, oven baked sweet potato fries
  • Monday–Grilled hangar steak, peppers and onions, corn; peach pie
  • Tuesday–Southwestern black bean pizza with leftover steak, veggies and cheese
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Day 232–Starting Week 34–Budget and Menu

How in the world is this week 34 out of 52? There are only 18 weeks left in the year? It seems impossible, yet the apples and butternut squash at the farmers markets tell me otherwise. We’re at the cusp of a food shift that will usher in fall vegetables and fruits and send us pining for peaches and strawberries again.

Last week’s menu was a lot of fun. Many of the recipes came from other bloggers and all of them were wonderful! I had planned to do that again and then I looked at the calendar. This is one of those frenzied food weeks where we all have something going on in the evenings, so I’m planning some quick meals this week instead.

I am just over budget this week at 103.70. This overage is due to an indiscretion of mine. I made a frivolous purchase this week through The Produce Box. They are carrying some locally produced nut butters and when I saw “Coffee Vanilla Peanut Butter” I could not resist. I probably should have ignored it, but I didn’t. So that will somehow be worked into dessert this week. Any suggestions? Thankfully I had some Mae Farm Italian sausage in the freezer. That’s a carryover from a previous week.

We’re also using our own tomato sauce and barbecue sauce this week–YUM! Since I didn’t add the cost of making these into our weekly budget, I am paying us back by charging those against our grocery account for this week.

  • The Produce Box (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, grapes, butternut squash, corn, coffee vanilla peanut butter): $40.75
  • Mitchell Pantry (one jar jam, one jar barbecue sauce, 1 package tomato sauce): $9.00
  • Locals Seafood (scallops): $12.00
  • Mae Farm (pork shoulder, eggs): $15
  • Trader Joes (oatmeal, rice, cheese, yogurt, soy milk, tortillas): $26.95

What are we having this week? Here is the list, which reflects a bit of fall!

  • Wednesday–Egg salad sandwiches, pickles (Girl Scout night)
  • Thursday–Mixed green salad with leftover pork loin and homemade ranch dressing from Creative Noshing (Girl Scout leader night)
  • Friday–Pan seared NC scallops on butternut squash risotto; salad
  • Saturday–Crockpot barbecue with homemade roasted pepper barbecue sauce; roasted okra
  • Sunday–Barbecue quesadillas, carryover quinoa
  • Monday–Pasta baked with roasted tomato sauce and Mae Farm Italian sausage
  • Tuesday–Leftover pasta (PTA night)

Day 226–Starting Week 33–Budget and Menu

Whole green beans in a carton.

We still have plenty of summer here in NC, and I am enjoying every last second of it. This week’s menu takes advantage of our sweet corn (thank you, rain!), tomatoes, okra and squash.

One of the wonderful parts of this journey is getting connected to so many other people who are interested in locally sourced foods (and cooking!). Most days I make notes of posts that feature stunning recipes or new ways to cook old favorites. Usually, the list is so long that I get overwhelmed. But this week I’m picking some yummy dishes from some awesome bloggers and I plan to do that next week as well. It’s fun to try something new!

We came in just under budget this week at $98.32. Not too bad! Two weeks in a row under budget. Let’s see how long I can continue that! Here’s how it breaks down this week:

  • The Produce Box (all organics this week!–cantaloupe, cherry tomatoes, green peppers, eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, Yukon gold potatoes + conventional okra, scuppernog grapes): $39
  • Local’s Seafood (NC wild caught shrimp): $10
  • Hilltop Farms (organic green beans): $3.00
  • Mae Farm (bacon): $10
  • Trader Joes and Lowes (shallots, rice, shredded cheese, sour cream, burger buns, pita, yogurt): $24.32
  • Farmhand Foods (small pork roast that is a carryover, ground beef): $12.00

So, what are we eating this week? Here’s the menu!

  • Wednesday–Sweet corn and bacon pasta (from Rachel’s Table)
  • Thursday–PTA volunteer night; everyone’s on their own
  • Friday–Shrimp and bruschetta risotto; local peaches (from Local Kitchen)
  • Saturday–Grilled burgers w/roasted pepper ketchup, roasted okra, sautéed squash
  • Sunday–Pork roast, green beans w/bacon & shallots (from Creative Noshing), roasted potatoes
  • Monday–Southwest black bean pizza (from Sugar Dish Me)
  • Tuesday–leftover buffet

Thanks to these wonderful ladies for sharing their recipes, their ideas and their passion for good food! Have a wonderful and delicious week!

Day 155–Starting Week 23–Budget and Menu

green beans

We’re in that golden time right now–beautiful fruits and vegetables are plentiful and the oppressive humidity of summer is not yet here. Yes, there are mosquitoes and voles and an apparent flea epidemic, but there are also soft rain showers, cool evenings and the joy of finding new green tomatoes on my plants. Life is good!

Our budget is pretty good, too! We spent just $97.82 this week and that included some really yummy Spanish mackerel a whole chicken and extra peaches for grilling and making cobbler. YUM! Have a delicious and healthy week!

Menu

  • Wednesday–Broiled Spanish mackerel, sautéed zucchini, tomato and squash, steamed green beans
  • Thursday–Melina’s pasta with pesto, potato and green beans (recipe to come)
  • Friday–Salad with grilled peaches, blue cheese and peach balsamic vinegar (thanks mom!)
  • Saturday–Roast chicken, corn on the cobb, sautéed squash and onion
  • Sunday–Grilled pork chops, roasted new potatoes, butter beans
  • Monday–Leftover stir fry over brown rice
  • Tuesday–Scrambled egg burritos

Budget

  • The Produce Box (peaches, blueberries, strawberries, corn, green beans, tomato): $23.00
  • Locals Seafood (Spanish mackerel): $13.00
  • Homestead Farms (pork chops, chicken): 25.00
  • Various farmer’s market (new potatoes, butter beans, peaches, basil): $15.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, yogurt, soy milk, blue cheese, butter): $21.82

Day 150–Starting Week 22–Budget and Menu

Does spring seem to put time into warp speed for you? I find myself stunned that today is June. What happened??? Between end-of-school-year ceremonies and performances, sports, last-minute projects that are due and weekend outings to take advantage of the weather, I feel like I’m struggling for some level or normalcy. I’m not sure I’m getting it this week, but I’ll keep trying!

Here is our menu for this week. You’ll notice I’m already two days behind in posting this, but whatevs. I’m just rollin’ with the spring tsunami of activity…

Menu

  • Wednesday–Egg salad sandwiches (a bachelorette night for me)
  • Thursday–Pasta with ham and asparagus
  • Friday–Tuna salad bowls
  • Saturday–Shrimp w/broccoli over rice; blueberry/lemon pie
  • Sunday–Grilled burgers, squash and zucchini, potato salad
  • Monday–Chicken salad in pita, leftover potato salad, carrots
  • Tuesday–Leftover buffet

Budget

Our budget this week is under control and within our goal of $100 or less! We spent $92.90 this week (and as you can see, we are eating pretty well!).

  • The Produce Box (squash, zucchini, lettuce, broccoli, strawberries, blueberries, new potatoes, asparagus): $27.50
  • Rare Earth Farm (ground beef): $12.00
  • Great Harvest Bread Co. (whole grain burger buns): $6.00
  • Locals Seafood (fresh NC shrimp!): $15.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, yogurt, soy milk, rice, lemon curd, pie crust): $32.40

Have a wonderful week, enjoy the strawberries, blueberries or whatever else is growing in your area right now. This is truly a glorious food time of year!

Day 135–Week 19–Budget and Menu

After a few days of bad eating, we are back in the swing of things with another week of healthy, local food. I’ve missed cooking on something other than a fire or propane stove and look forward to cooking fresh vegetables again! I’m excited to see fresh zucchini and yellow squash at the farmers market. I know by July I’ll be sick of it, but it’s a new welcome addition to our menu! Also, it’s always super to see strawberries AND blueberries at the market. Unlimited deliciousness come from those two combined! I went over budget this week due to a weakness for fresh crabmeat. The last time we had crab was for our Super Bowl party and that came from India, which seemed really weird. The pork roast I picked up from Homestead Farms is huge and will carry over into next week, which should hopefully save us some money and bring us back into our $100 budget.

Here is how our budget broke out for the week:

  • The Produce Box (zucchini, squash, blueberries, broccoli, beets, pointy cabbage, sweet onions): $26.00
  • Locals Seafood (fish, crabmeat): $40
  • Hilltop Farm (arugula): $4.00
  • Homestead Farm (pork roast): $24.00
  • Melina’s Pasta (spinach fettucine): $6
  • Trader Joes (black beans, rice, tortillas, fat-free refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, frozen fruit, soy milk): $26.30

Here is our menu for the week!

  • Wednesday–Spinach fettucine with lump crab and arugula pesto
  • Thursday–Penne pasta with roasted squash and zucchini, salad
  • Friday–grilled sheepshead (this is a fish), sautéed swiss chard and beet greens, whole wheat cous cous
  • Saturday–Leftover pasta
  • Sunday–Cuban pork roast, black beans & rice, cabbage slaw, beets
  • Monday–Pork quesadillas, salad
  • Tuesday–leftover cleanup

Have a wonderful and healthy week!

Day 130–Blueberry Jam

Blueberry

Blueberry jam always seems like such a luxury to me and I’m not even sure why. It’s not as though blueberries are rare, but somehow they seem a bit precious. They are not as treasured as blackberries, which will always be my favorite, but they’re still pretty special. North Carolina blueberries, when cooked, seem to have so much more flavor than they do when they are raw. I don’t think this is true of wild Maine blueberries, which are much smaller but packed with flavor. My Produce Box this week included a container of this year’s first blueberries and I added on 6 more to my order for good measure (!). What to do on an evening when Ellie has homework and Tom is playing softball? Make jam, of course! Just me and my boiling cauldrons of goodness bubbling away. Here is the recipe I used. Judging from the last bits that Ellie and I sampled from the bottom of the pot, this recipe is a keeper! It is from “Put ‘Em Up!” which is a terrific book on home food preservation.

Quick Blueberry Jam (this recipe made 6 half-pints)

  • 1-2 c. sugar (depending on your taste; I used 2)
  • 2 tsp. Pomona’s Universal Pectin
  • 8 c. blueberries, stemmed
  • 1/4 c. bottled lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. calcium water (included in the Pomona box)
  1. Combine the sugar and pectin in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Combine the berries with a splash of water in a medium nonreactive saucepan and slowly bring to a boil over low heat. Add the lemon juice and calcium water. Stir.
  3. Pour in the sugar/pectin mix and stir to dissolve.
  4. Return to a boil and them immediately remove from the heat and let the jam rest for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release air bubbles. Skim off any foam.
  5. From here, you can ladle the jam into jars or bowls, cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Or you can can the jam.
  6. To can, ladle the jam into hot, sterilized half-pint jars, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Release the trapped air.
  7. Wipe the rims clean, center the lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let the jars rest in the water for 5 minutes.
  8. Remove jars without tilting them and set aside for 24 hours. Check the seals and then store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Day 126–Starting Week 18–Budget and Menu

Our weather this spring is just plain ol’ wonky. Last weekend was in the upper 50s and by Tuesday it was over 90. So things are a little confused when it comes to crops. The chilly weather slowed things down and then the hot, dry weather pushed some greens to bolt. Still, we have a lot to choose from and starting this week we will even have blueberries! Spending was on budget this week at $99.78, thank goodness, although we do have two fewer meals this week. Ellie and I will be heading out with our girl scout troop to a Hunger Games campout (no actual fighting to the death allowed, of course) so we’ll be eating around the campfire instead of at home. Tom will be fishing, so no one will be home eating! Our weeks are getting so busy and juggling eating our precious veggies is getting to be a challenge. I’m thankful that our Produce Box gives us the option of skipping a week, although we haven’t had to do that yet.

Budget

  • Locals Seafood (scallops, flounder): $40.00
  • The Produce Box (blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, bok choi, onion, carrots, tomato): $23.00
  • Melina’s pasta (spinach fettucine): $6.00
  • Trader Joes (soy milk, frozen mango, peanut butter, lemons, baby zucchini): $26.78
  • Water Oaks Farm (eggs): $4.00

Here is what we’re having this week!

Menu

  • Sunday–Spinach fettucine with scallops and fresh peas, salad
  • Monday–Cornmeal dusted grouper, stir fried kale, baby zucchini
  • Tuesday–Egg salad sandwiches, carrots
  • Wednesday–Scrambled egg tortillas
  • Thursday–Spicy peanut vegetable stir fry over whole wheat cous cous
  • Friday–camping
  • Saturday–camping

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 🙂 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. sautéed vegetables)
  • Quesadillas (2 tortillas + fat-free refried beans + 1 c. sautéed 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!

Day 123–Local Meal Planning On a Budget

An Italian shopping list for groceries.

I am a “list person”.

Not to label myself or anything, but I do love a good list. To do lists, errand lists, shopping lists and yes, menu lists. There is something very satisfying about crossing off something on a list. Also, I am slightly absent-minded (I prefer to think of this as “intensely focused”), so lists help me keep track of things that might otherwise get overlooked. I also keep a list of blog topics. And one that has risen to the top is how we plan our meals around local foods. A friend posted in wondering about this as well, so now seems a good time to dive in.

We don’t have a lot of parameters around our eating, but we do have some loose rules for our journey:

  1. At least 75% of our food should come from local sources.
  2. We should keep spending to $100 or under
  3. No processed foods, unless absolutely necessary (see “Girl Scout Cookies”)

In the second week of our journey, I had a major “uh-oh” moment. I had carefully crafted a list of recipes I wanted to try based on what I thought might be available at the farmer’s market. As it turns out, almost nothing I wanted was available, so I ended up buying all manner of random food and then trying to create a week of meals out of it. If you’re up for that challenge, go for it, but it was a stressful learning experience for me and I learned that I need more order than that. I’ve developed a system over the past four months and I’ll share it with you. It probably sounds more complicated than it really is. I’m not recommending anyone adopt my system, but it works for me. And if it works for me, I am probably more likely to be successful, so finding a system that works for YOU will do the same. Here goes:

Thursday–On Thursdays I read emails and Twitter posts from our local farmers markets and farmers so I know what will be available over the weekend. These posts help so much. I highly recommend getting on the e-mail lists of any farmers markets or farmers near you. I can find out what vendors will be available, what they will have, what’s coming up soon and (if I want) I can even order specific products or cuts of meat ahead of time. I start making my draft menu for the next week at this point.

A note about our weekly menu: I try to make sure we have a balance of vegetables and proteins throughout the week. This doesn’t always work out–some weeks have been heavy on seafood and others heavy on chicken or pork–but mostly it works out ok.

Friday–On Fridays, I get an email from The Produce Box letting me know what is in the various boxes for the next week. I usually go ahead and order my box on Friday and, based on what is going to be in my box, I tweak my menu and make a shopping list of the remaining items I will need. Since what I get in my Produce Box is similar to what is available in the market, there aren’t usually surprises here.

Saturday–On Saturday, I go to the farmer’s market (sometimes I do this on Friday, but whatever). Since I know pretty much in advance what will be available to me, I pick up what I need as well as any orders I have placed for meat, fish, etc. While I’m at the market, I make a list (!) of new items that are available or anything interesting that I might consider for next week. Then I go to Trader Joes and get whatever else I need.

Unless something happens and I forget something on the list, I go shopping once a week. Period. And I stick to my list. This has been hard for me, but I try to make myself do it.

So far, this system has worked out well. It does mean that I spend a LOT more time thinking about food. I don’t mind this, but if you don’t like to cook or if you don’t want to sit around and think through a weekly menu, this may not make you happy. To date, we have been pretty good about not wasting food and making good use of the produce and meat we buy. Some weeks are more successful than others, of course. That’s life.

So that is our system for making sure we have local foods and that we eat what we buy. If you are eating local, how do you plan your meals?

Tomorrow I will post 10 Tips for Successful Locavore Shopping. Yay–a list!!