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!

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Day 355–A Local Holiday Menu

brussel_sprouts

 

I love cooking at Christmastime, but the rush of the holidays sure does make it hard to carve out large amounts of time to really get focused. Still, whenever I do have the time, I enjoy it so much. We have a pretty standard menu for Christmas Eve (our fancy meal) and Christmas supper (more casual), but we do like to change it up a little. This year, I am trying to cook our meals from local foods that are available at this time of year or that I froze/canned this summer. Here is what we’re having!

 

Christmas Eve

 

  • North Carolina seafood casserole (recipe to come tomorrow)
  • Mini tortieres (Canadian pork meat pies)
  • Brussel sprouts with apples
  • Local garden salad
  • Virginia rolls from Great Harvest Bread Company
  • Peppermint ice cream and chocolate pie (not local–just good)

 

Christmas Supper

 

  • Smoked mini boneless ham from Mae Farm
  • Mashed sweet potatoes
  • Collard greens cooked with Mae Farm jowl bacon
  • Field peas
  • Virginia rolls from Great Harvest Bread Company
  • Pecan pie

 

What about you? What are your favorite holiday foods? Do you have a traditional menu or do you experiment each year?

 

Day 354–Reindeer Pancakes

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How cute is that?

We’ve been talking about the need to add a “breakfast for dinner” night to our menu and I found a way to make a pancake supper that also celebrated winter (although it’s still in the 60s here) and Christmas. Enter, the reindeer pancake. I saw this idea online somewhere and couldn’t wait to try it. The version I saw used candy for the eyes and nose, but I subbed out some of our frozen fruit instead. So easy, so cute and it put everyone in a cheery mood at the table–given the news this past week, that was really needed.

Reindeer Pancakes

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels or a tea towel. Sit a wire cooling rack on top of the towel and put in the oven.
  3. In a frying pan, cook bacon until crisp. As bacon is done, lay strips on the cooling rack in the oven to keep warm. This will keep your bacon crispy yet let it drain as well.
  4. Clean the pan, coat with a thin layer of butter or cooking spray and heat over medium/low heat.
  5. Make one 8-9″ pancake per person and one 3-4″ pancake per person, plus extra for eating later. As pancakes cook, add them to the cooling rack in the oven to keep warm.
  6. When ready to serve, arrange a big pancake on the plate, with a smaller pancake (to be the muzzle of the reindeer) on top and toward the bottom of the larger pancake.
  7. Arrange bacon antlers on either side of the large pancake.
  8. Add blueberry eyes and raspberry/strawberry nose.
  9. Serve immediately with warm maple syrup and plenty of good cheer!

Day 348–Farmer Spotlight–Carolina Bison

English: Bison bison. Original caption: "...

While I like to think I have a creative brain, some things are difficult for me to envision. Take clowns for example. I can’t imagine them NOT being creepy. likewise, I have a hard time imagining a fall without football. Or Lindsay Lohan without drama. Add to this my difficulty imagining the western North Carolina mountains and foothills teeming with bison. Well, that’s not quite the same as Lilo without the po-po following her, but still. Bison?

Yet, it is apparently true. At one point, millions of American Bison roamed the plains of what is now the United States. I’m not sure they ever called North Carolina home, but that is changing quickly. Several farmers in North Carolina are raising bison as a healthy alternative to beef. Carolina Bison in Asheville is one such business. The business began in 1985, when founder Dr. Frank King noticed that his patients who ate a diet of grass-fed bison noticed substantial health improvements. And so, a business was born!

Why did bison offer those benefits? Well, bison has less fat than beef (almost on par with chicken) and an extremely high amount of digestible protein. So, you get the taste of grass-fed beef with the health effects of eating white meat.

Carolina Bison offers grass-fed, steroid-free and antibiotic-free bison in the form of steaks, ground meat, roasts and stew beef. Since Asheville is a good 5 hours from Cary, I’m going to try the mail order service and see how that works. In the meantime, at least one North Carolina farm is selling bison at our farmer’s market, but I don’t know much about their protocol. We did pick up a pound to try this weekend as burgers for our famished selves after the 2012 Reindeer Romp 5K this Saturday!

For information about Carolina Bison, click HERE! For anyone in NC, they will offer ranch tours in the spring and I definitely want in on that! Maybe it will help with my visualization issue!

Day 347–Butternut Squash and Kale Pizza

Winter squash is one of those fall vegetables that can make the transition from sweet to savory very easily. Butternut squash is one of my favorites because it has a great flavor, but it’s not overpowering, making it a nice partner with all sorts of other foods. We had stuffed squash earlier this week and it was hearty and very delicious. Since I still have one squash left from our last Produce Box delivery, I was hoping to find a good way to use it up along with some lovely fresh kale we bought at the farmer’s market.

Ta-da!! Heather at Sugar Dish Me came through again. I love her blog–it’s funny, insightful and chock full of great recipes. Which is good because this is my Christmas crunch week with something scheduled every night except Friday night and while I want to cook, I’m in need of some inspiration. I’m going to make this pizza with our homemade whole wheat pizza dough. The combination of bacon, caramelized onions, and cheese is enough to make me go for it. But it also has butternut squash and kale, two amazingly healthy foods that are in plentiful supply at our local markets!

Get the recipe HERE!

Day 345–What’s Fresh at the Market

Brussel sprouts

The weather here in central North Carolina is having a case of indecision. Although we have had some chilly days, most of December has been in the 70s. I’m not complaining, mind you, but it is a little hard to get in the holiday spirit when you’re wearing shorts and a t-shirt. And flipflops.

One of the wonderful side effects of this warm weather is that our farmers are still harvesting lots of great vegetables! Here is what’s fresh this week!

  • Apples
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Collards
  • Bok choi
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Pecans
  • Sweet potatoes (orange and white)
  • Greenhouse tomatoes
  • Winter squash–acorn, butternut, pattypan
  • Beets
  • Turnips
  • Rutabegas
  • Radish

Have a wonderful week and don’t forget to support your local farmers as you make your holiday meal plans!

Day 344–Stuffed Butternut Squash

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It doesn’t look all that spectacular, but this dish is flexible, easy, inexpensive and full of fall goodness!

I love winter squash and for me, stuffed squash is a great way to turn one or two squash into a family meal. Stuffed squash is one of those crazy, flexible meals that can vary depending on what you happen to have handy. For me, that’s some awesome Mae Farm sausage, onions, leftover sage, breadcrumbs and cheese. You could add sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, kale–the possibilities are endless! Here is the process: roast, saute, scoop, fill and bake.

Stuffed Butternut Squash

1butternut squash
1/2 lb. sausage
1 yellow onion
2 carrots
1/2 c. dried breadcrumbs
4 fresh sage leaves, chopped fine
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
2. Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Put squash cut side down on the baking sheet and bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until squash is soft, but not mushy.
3. Remove casing from sausage and cut into bite sized pieces. Brown in a saute pan over medium heat until all pink is gone.
4. Peel and dice the onion and carrots.
5. Remove sausage from pan and cook onion and carrots in pan drippings (add olive oil, if needed). Cook about 4 minutes or until onion is soft and translucent.
6. Add sage and bread crumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add sausage back to pan.
Keep warm until squash is done.
7. Remove squash from oven and, using a towel to protect your hand, hold each half and scoop flesh out of skin and into the saute pan. Take care to leave the skin intact!
8. Mix the squash into the stuffing and combine. Fill each squash half with stuffing, mounding over the top. Top with parmesan cheese.
9. Put squash back in the oven for 20 minutes or until stuffing is hot and cheese is melty. Serve immediately.

Day 343–Starting Week 50–Budget and Menu

Although winter is just around the corner, we are still experiencing daily temperatures in the 60s and 70s. The farmer’s markets are still offering a wide variety of fall and winter vegetables, no doubt helped along by the unseasonable weather! This week’s budget is $63.46, far below our $100.00 limit. While I would love to say this reflects some creative frugal spending on my part, we have two evening events to attend this week, so that’s two fewer nights for me to cook dinner. On a real plus side, I found two NC farmers/ranchers who are raising bison and we will try some bison burgers as our celebratory meal after the Reindeer Romp 5K next Saturday!

Budget

Mae Farm (bacon): $8.40
Rare Earth Farm (eggs): $4.08
Farmhand Foods (small steak): $5.00
General farmers market (sweet potatoes, kale, onions, cauliflower, brussel sprouts): $13.50
Greenland Farm (bison): $8.60
Trader Joes (burger buns, spiced pecans, soy milk, cheese, sour cream): $23.88

Here is what we’re having during what I hope is our last super busy week before the holidays!

Menu

Sunday–chipotle steak and sweet potato quesadillas, kale
Monday–quiche lorraine with brussel sprouts
Tuesday–Evening event
Wednesday–leftover quiche, roasted purple cauliflower
Thursday–evening event
Friday–pasta con sarde (prep for the Reindeer Romp 5K)
Saturday–bison burgers, mashed cauliflower, kale

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 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