Day 365–A New Blog Is Born!

Happy New Year’s Eve! Thanks to all of you who have commented, emailed or texted me information about what you like in this blog! I’ve used your comments and some goals of our own to create a NEW blog SOLE Food Kitchen, http://www.solefoodkitchen.com (since the link is not apparently working) that focuses on eating Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethically-sourced food. Please check it out!

This is very much a work in progress, but I’ve posted my first entry and hope you’ll take a look! I still have a LOT to do. A GINORMOUS thank you to Heather at Sugar Dish Me, who provided a lot of information. Heather, I still have lots of questions (like why are my links not working!), but I’m starting to figure things out–thank you!

Year of Healthier Living will still be up–no worries. Eventually, I will transition some of the better recipes to the new blog and add some additional yumminess!

Happy New Year, happy new beginnings and happy eating!

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Day 363–Our Year In Review

budget

What is going on with the time? It seems like the months are moving in warp speed. It is hard to believe our year experiment is almost up! I’ll be reworking the blog a bit (and hopefully not crashing everything!) and returning on January 1 to start again, this time with a new challenge and a slightly different twist.

This is the time of year when everyone is doing some kind of retrospective on the past 12 months and since we started out with a year challenge, it seems fitting that we will do this, too.

The goals of our family challenge were threefold:

  • Eat at least 75% of our food from local and/or sustainable sources
  • Spend no more than $100 per week on groceries
  • Increase our walking destinations.

How did we do?

Well, we did pretty well for our first time out! Overall, we kept our average spending to just under $100, but missed our mark of 75%. Here’s how the numbers break down for the 43 weeks that I recorded our budget and menu (I’m missing 9 weeks due to schedule craziness, vacations, and whatever else was going on, but I believe those weeks would probably even out to about the same numbers).

  • Total amount spent on groceries:          $4,199.51
  • Grocery $$ spent on local food:             $2,684.91
  • Percent of food budget that was local:  64%
  • Average spent per week:                            $97.66

That averages included our Christmas and Christmas Eve feasts, which were way over budget (but also supremely awesome). I did not include trips to Whole Foods as local, although they were organic and sustainable, because they did not reflect a direct payment to farmers. So for the year, almost $2,700 of our food budget stayed within our community. I’m pretty proud of that!

Where we have not done so well is increasing our walking to local destinations. That is definitely going to be on the agenda for next year.

I personally had some good health outcomes this year. I dropped 15 pounds, lowered my overall cholesterol by 17 points and raised my good cholesterol by several points.

More importantly, I have met some wonderful new people, reconnected to eating seasonal foods, reignited a love of cooking, learned how to can my own food and all around, just had a great time!

What’s next?

Here are some goals for next year:

  • Work on my food photography skills
  • Incorporate more plant-based dishes into our diet
  • Visit our local farms and include our experiences outside the farmer’s market

What would you like to see in this blog for next year? More recipes? Fewer recipes? More research-based information?

I’ll see you back here in 2013–just a few short days away. Have a happy and safe New Year!

Day 353–Starting Week 51–Budget and Menu

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We’ll be harvesting some of our own Swiss chard for dinner this week!

The holidays are almost upon us and while I am not at all ready, I am sprinting to the finish line of 2012. Later this week I will post some of our traditional holiday recipes and how we are using local ingredients to improve our standard Christmas Eve and Christmas menus. As for this week, we are keeping it simple and trying to have fun in this last rush before Santa arrives.

Our budget is $77.93 for the week. Here is what we spent:

Budget

  • Walker Farm (ground bison): $8.50
  • Mae Farm (ground pork, pork tenderloin, bacon): $28.00
  • Rare Earth Farm (eggs, buttermilk): $6.00
  • The Mitchell’s pantry (sticky fig jam, strawberry jam, green beans, corn, applesauce, tomatoes): $12.00
  • Trader Joes (cheese, bread, frozen fruit, steel-cut oats): $23.43

Here is what we are having this week!

Menu

  • Sunday–Bison meatloaf, roasted cauliflower, kale
  • Monday–Angel hair pasta with roasted tomato sauce
  • Tuesday–Whole wheat reindeer pancakes and homemade applesauce
  • Wednesday–Sauteed Swiss chard topped with eggs
  • Thursday–Grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup
  • Friday–Leftover buffet
  • Saturday–Pork tenderloin with sticky fig jam, summer green beans, corn

Day 341–SOLE Food

20120419-081249.jpgI’ve been struggling a bit with a semantics issue. We use the term “locavore” to describe how we have shifted our normal eating pattern. But sometimes that doesn’t quite capture it. If Whole Foods has a special on grass-fed bison, I may pick some up because bison is healthier than beef, tastes good and the meat is humanely raised and processed. But it may not be “local”.  Or we may purchase sugar, which is not local, but may be organic and minimally processed. So how do we describe that?

I came across another blog using the acronym SOLE to describe food choices (Sustainable, Organic, Local and/or Ethically sourced). The more I think about that, the more I like it. While our first priority is local, organic food, we also have the priority of purchasing sustainable and ethically sourced food that may or may not be local. Great to know that there are so many others thinking this through as well!

As we near the end of our Year of Healthier Living, I’ll be thinking about what to do with our blog–should we rename it and begin again? Tweak it a bit? Hmmm, lot’s of decisions to be made!

Day 334–What’s Fresh at the Market

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turnips (Photo credit: Joanna C Dobson)

Our farmer’s markets are definitely in winter mode. At the NC Farmer’s Market, many farmers who feature summer crops are gone and have been replaced with Christmas tree and firewood vendors. Our weekend markets have reduced their hours because, really, who wants to get outside at 8am when it is 30 degrees outside to score some fresh kale. Not me, that’s who. Even though the markets have lost their summer bounty and a bit of their festive air, they are still full of goodness!

Here is what is available now at central NC markets:

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Turnips (and turnip greens!)
  • Beets (and beet greens!)
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Lettuce
  • Greenhouse tomatoes
  • Rutabegas
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Pumpkins
  • Butternut squash
  • Acorn squash
  • Cabbage
  • Onions
  • Pecans
  • Apples

Day 316–Finding a Local Farm Near You

 

One of the greatest joys we’ve had on our journey this year is developing relationships with local farmers and farmer’s markets. But we are very fortunate to live an a quasi-urban area that has close proximity to lots of farmland and a great deal of support for small farmer’s markets. We also have several produce delivery services that source from farms statewide. Those resources make locavore living a great deal easier. But how do you find local farms if you don’t have farmer’s markets? Here is a great resource!

 

Local Harvest is a web-based tool that searches by zip code and/or farm type to help you find local food sources in your area! Most farms have a little description of the kind of farming they do, what they grow and roughly what their growing/production season is. I did a search in my area and found several sources that were new to me, including local honey producers!

 

Depending on where you live, you may be able to find the resources you need to buy local produce, meat, eggs and honey all winter long!

 

Day 260–Starting Week 38–Budget and Menu

Now that the summer growing season is shifting to fall, our menu is changing as well. I’m hoping we will have fresh greens from our garden this winter–we have planted two kinds of kale, collards, bok choi, Chinese cabbage, and Swiss chard. If we can keep the bunnies away, we might just have some really wonderful and truly local meals this winter!

Our budget is good this week at 84.92! We benefit by having a free pound of shrimp thanks to a special last week with Local’s Seafood (BOGO shrimp is something I can’t pass up) and some butternut squash I roasted and froze a couple of weeks ago.

Budget

  • The Produce Box (apples, field peas, eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes, bell peppers): $23.00
  • Mae Farm (boneless pork chops): $12.00
  • Harvest farm (whole pasture raised chicken): $12.00
  • Locals Seafood (Pamlico green tail shrimp): free!
  • Melina’s Pasta (lemon ricotta ravioli): $6.00
  • The Mitchell family pantry (homemade raspberry jam): $3.00
  • Trader Joes (pie crust, frozen fruit, yogurt, soy milk, oatmeal): $28.92

Breakfasts are shifting to steel-cut oats with apples! Lunches are the usual leftovers, which are always yummy. Dinners are looking more fall-ish with apples and sweet potatoes.  Another positive this week is that with the chicken, I’ll also be able to make homemade chicken stock and freeze that for later as well!

Menu

  • Wednesday–Butternut squash risotto
  • Thursday–Working; leftover leek and goat cheese tart from Tuesday
  • Friday–Shrimp with lemon ricotta ravioli
  • Saturday–Pan seared pork chops w/sautéed apples, baked sweet potatoes
  • Sunday–Roast chicken, field peas, sautéed squash and zucchini
  • Monday–Chicken pot pie with leftover vegetables
  • Tuesday–Leftover chicken pot pie

Is fall catching up to you yet? If so, what is on your fall menu this week?

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 223–A Freezer and How Much Do We Really Eat?

“Can I ask you a question? And I want you to answer me honestly…Are you preparing for the Armageddon?”

This was the response from a colleague when I mentioned my exciting news. I bought a freezer!!! Well, actually, Tom bought me a freezer, which makes it even sweeter 🙂 I thought about her response though. Am I becoming a food hoarder? Is this locavore thing out of control? And should I stop bringing jam to my colleagues if they are going to make snarky comments? After consideration, I decided “no” is the answer to all of these questions.

Here was my response to her question–if there were a local cereal season, for example, and you could only find high quality, fresh cereal for four weeks out of the year, you would have to make a decision and your options would be:

  • Eat as much fresh cereal as you could while it was in season, knowing you wouldn’t have cereal for another 11 months;
  • Eat the fresh cereal while it was available, then buy an inferior, sometimes tasteless imported cereal the rest of the year;
  • Stock up while the cereal is fresh and preserve it so you have enough to last you through the year (this would be a LOT of cereal and some might accuse you of planning for the cereal Armageddon)

As an example, here is the math on jam. We (mostly “I”) tend to eat one half-pint of jam per week (Ezekiel bread + homemade jam = breakfast perfection). So that is roughly four half-pints per month or 48 half-pints per year. My jam “gifts” = about 4 per month (employees, teacher gifts, neighbors, my boss–hey, in tought budget times, it can’t hurt). That’s about 96 half-pints to get me through a year. I currently have 70 half-pints of jam. With apples and figs still in season, I can make 96 happen. But see, who would think that a small family (or really, one person) would eat almost 50 jars of jam in a year? Seems like a lot, right? Thank goodness, I don’t have to consider my coffee consumption in the same way. I think my head would blow up.

I realized for truly the first time that most of us (including myself) have no earthly idea how much we eat. Because we tend to shop once a week or more, we really have no real perspective on say, how much jam or cereal we consume in a year. Same for pasta sauce, ketchup, peanut butter, bread, salsa, etc. And, in truth, we probably throw away a lot of that food because it goes bad before we have time to eat it.

Enter the freezer.

I’ve done such a great job socking away tomato sauce, berries, corn and pesto, that our kitchen freezer was full. And I mean it was so full, you couldn’t fit anything else in there. Which also meant that I couldn’t find anything in there, which made getting dinner ready a frustrating problem. So I was super excited to find an upright freezer on sale at Sears. It is just 56″ high, 22″ wide and 24″ deep, so it fits in a small space in our laundry room and we only had to do some minor adjusting to make the space for it. I am now ready for another round of making tomato sauce and blanching crowder and field peas for the winter. And I’ll be able to (hopefully) save some shrimp and grouper for those winter months when we don’t have fresh shrimp available.

Since this is the first year we are putting up fresh, local food, it remains to be seen whether this is too much or not. I think I’ll have a better perspective on that next summer. Until then, I’ll keep putting up the foods we enjoy most and I will be mindful to keep track of how much we really eat vs. what we tell ourselves we eat. It really has been astonishing so far.

If nothing else, I have a new appreciation for my great grandparents, who lived on a farm and had to feed 13 children, even in the Canadian winter. Mercy. Good thing they didn’t eat cereal.

Day 221–Fresh Fish with Cherry Tomatoes

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We have the most amazing heirloom cherry tomatoes in our produce box this week. They are by far the best we have had all summer–soooo full of flavor! In fact, they are my snack at work because I cannot stop eating them.

I found some lovely, fresh Spanish Mackerel from Locals Seafood on Wednesday and made this Italian dish last night. Spanish mackerel is a local fish that has a good flavor, but is not as fishy as king mackerel. We thought it was pretty spectacular, but I would only make this with super good tomatoes. If you don’t have good tomatoes, make something else because the flavor really depends on them. We served this with roasted okra and sautéed summer squash and onions, all from our produce box. Locavore summer magic! Enjoy!

Fish with Cherry Tomatoes

  • 1-2 fish fillets (we used Spanish mackerel, but you could use almost anything)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and whole
  • 3-4 tbsp. olive oil
  • Kosher or sea salt and pepper
  • White wine
  • 4-5 cherry tomatoes per serving
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
  1. Add olive oil to a saute pan that is big enough to handle the fish. Heat to medium low.
  2. Add the whole garlic cloves and saute for about 3 minutes, just to infuse the olive oil. Remove cloves.
  3. Turn heat up to medium. Sprinkle salt and pepper on fish fillets.
  4. Add fillets to the oil and over pan. Cook for about 2-3 minutes. Do not turn the fish.
  5. Remove lid and add a splash of white wine and the tomatoes. Cover and cook until the fish is flaky and cooked through (unless you are using a very thick fish like tuna, this will probably be another 2 minutes).
  6. Remove from heat, add chopped parsley and serve.