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
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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 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!!

Day 104–A Locavore’s Lunch–The Little Hen

A recent girls night out had me wondering if sustainable, locally produced food can truly be accessible. A friend and I had dinner at a locally sourced restaurant in Holly Springs called The Little Hen. The restaurant is not new, but it has received a lot of press lately, so we were eager to try it. While I associate Holly Springs with gated communities and McMansions, it hasn’t exactly been a location for high-end dining, so I figured we were probably in for a nice and affordable dinner. I wasn’t quite on the mark for that one. It was nice, but the pricing made me wonder if it is possible to be local and affordable. Maybe it isn’t. Or, maybe local sourcing has become so trendy that families are now priced out of sustainable dining.

The Little Hen is located in a suburban shopping center and while the exterior is very “shopping center,”  the interior is very trendy and cool. We arrived at 5:30, were greeted and asked if we had reservations (we did not) and told that the restaurant was “very busy” (it was not) so our only option was to share one of two available tables with others. Weird, but ok. We settled in and were given menus and our utensils wrapped in little dish towels, which also served as our napkins (cute). The menu features three entrees, about a half-dozen appetizers (mostly salads or cheese plates) and two special group dinners (either $45 for two or $50 per person) that feature a large carving board with different kinds of food to sample. We weren’t hungry enough for the sampler, so we headed for the entrees. In hindsight, we probably would have done better with the “Big Board” sampler.

The three entrees available were a cheeseburger and fingerling potatoes ($14), a pork chop and vegetables ($22) and a farm egg with ramps and garlic spaetzle ($14). Salads and cheese plates ran between $7 and $14. Not wanting to have ramp and garlic breath, I ordered a salad and the hamburger. I asked the server where their beef sourced from and she didn’t know (not good). She offered to find out, but never did. That, in my book, is a big red flag. I do notice that they claim “we use only sustainable pasture raised proteins from local farmers almost exclusively”. Almost? Well, where did my $14 hamburger come from? With only three entrees on the menu, someone should have been able to tell me.

The burger was good, but overcooked. The potatoes were truly amazing–slightly smashed and fried, then topped with sea salt. The salad was good–baby spinach and arugula with shaved apple, raw beet and cucumber. I’ve decided that while I love beets roasted and pickled, I’m not a huge fan of them raw, but they were ok. We shared a dessert that was some kind of bread pudding, but was really like a big, huge muffin. My total bill was about $40–almost half our weekly grocery bill for a burger, salad, part of a muffin and wine.

In eating out at sustainable, local restaurants, this was my first “meh” experience. It was fine, but not great and well more than many of the downtown Raleigh restaurants serving locally produced food. At one point, a family with small children came in and I wondered if somehow the kitchen has a children’s dinner, because I can’t imagine spending $14 each for 3 hamburgers. As a mom myself, I think I would have run screaming for the door.

I really think that if these locally based restaurants are going to survive, they need to lose the pretension and just get down to offering people good, local food. I get it that locally produced food costs more–I know because I’ve been buying it for my family for the past four months. But the model that sustainable, ethically produced food is only for the upscale trendy will be the locavore movement’s biggest downfall.

We’ve proven that we can eat sustainably at home for a reasonable amount–and we have been eating very well on our budget. So part of me has no patience for businesses that can’t do the same for their customers. If local eating is really to become a bigger reality, then we need to engage a larger audience. That isn’t The Little Hen’s job, of course. They are one business and they have a vision for what they want to do and that’s fine. I’ll be surprised if they are still open in a year, but then, I never thought Build-A-Bear would take off either, so that shows you what an economic genius I am. As for my family, this restaurant is not affordable enough to become a regular place and not special enough to become a new “special occasion” restaurant.

Meh.

Day 76–A Locavore’s Lunch–Crema on Fayetteville Street

When it comes to food, you really can’t tell a book (or a restaurant) by its cover. I’ve been to some trendy “local” restaurants where it was clear that they spent more time picking the font for the logo than testing the menu. Conversely, I’ve been to some wonderful places that, from the outside, didn’t have a lot of spark, but actually had satisfying, fresh food. Crema in downtown Raleigh, is like that. Good food, but it’s easy to miss. Glad I remembered it yesterday when I was running low on energy and didn’t have any leftovers to bring for lunch.

Crema is on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh, just a 1/2 block south of the Capitol. It’s main claim to fame is homemade ice cream, which in the summer is actually hard to find downtown. I’m not ready for all that, although the temperature was 85 degrees yesterday afternoon. I was looking for a fresh and light lunch, so I entered the easily passable storefront and I was in for a wonderful surprise. Crema purchases much of their ingredients locally and they make almost everything from scratch.

In the end, I took my marinated tomato and brie sandwich with cucumber salad to the grounds of the Capitol for a picnic lunch. At $4.99, it was a genuine bargain for a downtown lunch. The sandwich was so good, I need to remember to make it at home, where olive oil dribbling down my chin is a little more accepted. The sandwich was just sliced tomatoes marinated in a vinaigrette, with slices of brie cheese and field greens on a warm baguette. Easy and more interesting than the standard sandwich–so why don’t I ever do this?

Crema is open 6 days a week, so if you are looking for the elusive downtown Saturday lunch spot, give them a try!

Day 71–Starting Week 11–Budget and Menu

This has been a roller coaster week, full of highs and lows, bottoming out with the temporary “loss” or our cat, but ending on a super high note with an award from Sugar Dish Me and a fun, family learning event.

Our family trek to the Dig In! community gardening conference was fun, informative and inspiring. Tom and Ellie are working on their guest blog posts for this week and we have made contact with a couple of community gardens in our area. And Ellie wants chickens, which she will share with you later. And we’ll be sharing with you some of what we learned about canning, worms and herb spirals. Not necessarily in that order.

All this excitement has re-energized us and given us some great ideas for spring. Which means we have a lot of work to do!!

Somewhere in the chaos of this week, I made it to the State Farmers Market for our weekly shopping. We had our most efficient shopping week yet, spending just $88.95. This was in part due to our cat escaping and subsequently one dinner being carried over. We’re also making recipes from two fellow bloggers! 

Shopping List for the Week:

Rainbow Farm (chicken breasts): $12.00
Mae Farm (eggs): $4.00
Farmer’s market (broccoli, collards, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion): $13.00
Farmhand Foods (skirt steak): $15.00
Trader Joes (frozen fruit, lime, soy milk, Greek yogurt, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil): $28.02
Lowes Foods (chipotle sauce, sriracha sauce, ginger, black beans): $16.93

Total $88.95–$11.05 under our weekly goal!

What are we having? Here’s the menu:

Eats for the Week

Sunday–Chicken pot pie, sautéed greens, triple chocolate raspberry “cheesecake” squares from The Scrumptious Pumpkin
Monday–Leftover pot pie, salad
Tuesday–Stuffed sweet potatoes, salad
Wednesday–Grilled cheese and homemade chicken soup
Thursday–Asian spicy chicken salad from Creative Noshing
Friday–Chicken soup and buttermilk biscuits
Saturday–Grilled skirt steak and red pepper fajitas, black beans, quinoa

Whew! Well, that’s a wrap. Have a great week–may all your vegetables be organic and may all your kittens be safely corralled inside 🙂

Day 67–There’s An App for That

My phone knows where my food comes from. That seems like crazy talk to me. Wasn’t it just yesterday I was using my brother’s super fast Commodore 64K to play Space Invaders?

I don’t think I can say it enough, but I love my iphone. My poor little laptop is becoming more of a doorstop as I marvel at the possibilities of my phone. The number and variety of apps continually amazes me, even if most of them are fluff. And as much as my daughter loves Plants vs. Zombies, I tend to favor those apps that help me get through my days in a more practical way. My newest find is HarvestMark, an app that actually tracks the source of your food. For reals.

There are limits, of course. Your food has to include a bar code or QR code, which does limit the possibilities. But for me, food with a bar code is where I have more concerns. I typically know where my whole foods come from–the processed and pre-bagged foods are more of a mystery. The database of bar codes is still improving, so while some things like canned soup are not listed yet, others like packaged fruits and meats, are. It isn’t perfect, but it is the start of something exciting. Another tool to help me be an informed consumer.

I’m enjoying using the tool, but trying not to irritate other shoppers in Trader Joes by becoming one of “those people” who blocks food access by busying myself on my phone. Lord knows, I am usually the person not-s0-patiently tap, tap, tapping my foot while waiting for someone to back away from the Greek yogurt. So for now, you will find me in the empty aisle by the fiber supplements, scanning my food. I am not playing Plants vs. Zombies. Probably.

Day 64–Starting Week 10–Budget and Menu

Well, we are beginning week 10 of our journey with lots of good eats and with an eye toward spring and all the delicious fruits and vegetables that will be coming our way in another 4-6 weeks! So rather than look at sweet potatoes as “sweet potatoes…again??” we’re looking at them a bit nostalgically, knowing that it may be another 5-6 months before we see them again. Here is how we did at the market–a pretty typical week by this point. We went $4.00 over, but I splurged on two fresh, pasture-raised chickens, which just seemed too tempting to let go!

  • Heaven on Earth Organics (sweet potato, tomatoes, broccoli, onion, greens): $16.00
  • Mae Farm (chorizo): $8.00
  • Rare Earth Farm (local buttermilk): $4.00
  • Rainbow Farm (fresh chickens-2): $28.00
  • Lowes Food (pastry): $5.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, limes, grated cheese, organic sugar, peppers, lettuce, etc.): $35.00
  • Earps Seafood (NC shrimp): $8.00

Our total for the week: $104.00

So what’s to eat this week? We have a mix of hearty home cooking and fresh spring dishes–that seems to match our weather as well! In honor of National Pound Cake Day, I’ll be making a lemon pound cake–yum!

This week’s menu

  • Sunday–Roast, fresh chickens, sweet potatoes, sautéed kale, whole wheat buttermilk biscuits
  • Monday–Chicken and chorizo taquitos, multigrain mix, salad
  • Tuesday–Leftover taquitos
  • Wednesday–Roasted broccoli and shrimp over brown rice
  • Thursday–Chicken pot pie, salad
  • Friday–Leftover pot pie and greens
  • Saturday–Chicken noodle soup and biscuits

 Have a wonderful, healthy and delicious week!

Day 62–A Locavore’s Lunch–The Busy Bee

The Busy Bee is located in what was the Busy Bee Cafe in the 1920s.

I have to say that lately, I’ve had such great lunches from home that I haven’t been eating out for lunch much (good for my health and my wallet!). But when I do get lunch out, I typically frequent one of our many downtown lunch spots that serve local food. The Busy Bee on Wilmington Street (www.busybeeraleigh.com) is one of my all time favorites. They were, in fact, the catalyst for my new love of the fish taco!

Located in a former cafe of the same name, the Busy Bee features fresh, local, organic produce and NC sourced seafood. Their beef apparently comes from a distributer (according to my server), but much of the rest of the menu comes from local and/or sustainable sources. My favorites are the fish tacos and the spinach and artichoke burger (a hand-made veggie burger with spinach, artichoke and feta). Their sides are also wonderful. If you are a mac & cheese lover, get thee to the Busy Bee! Lighter than many mac & cheese dishes, it is very flavorful and filling. I usually go the unhealthy route on the sides with either the mac & cheese, tater tots (seriously–so good) or the fried green tomatoes.

I’ve also gone to the Busy Bee for staff happy hour, and the place has a terrific vibe in the evening. If you like beer, they have a pretty incredible selection of artisanal brews. If you don’t like beer, I can vouch for the Queen Bee martini with local honey and elderflower (a note: I do not sample adult beverages at lunch. Not that I haven’t been tempted, but still…).

If you’re in the Triangle looking for wonderful, fresh, locally sourced food, give the Busy Bee a try! And if you’re not local, check out their menu for some great flavorful inspirations that you might try at home!

Day 58–Small Shrimp, Big Footprint

Shrimp Boat

I love good shrimp, especially over grits or in pasta. Living in a state that produces shrimp for the rest of the country, I used to think that most of my shrimp was caught within a two-hour drive from my home. Checking grocery store sourcing, though, I found that most of it is imported. Imported!! Shrimp comes from 120 miles away, but it’s imported from Asia??? Now we get all our seafood local, thanks to Locals Seafood and Earp’s Seafood Market. I recently read a report that has me even more convinced that local shrimp is the way to go.

The article is from Mother Jones Online and it proclaims that “Shrimp’s Carbon Footprint is 10 Times Greater Than Beef’s”. Say what??? I thought grain fed South American beef was the worst food in regards to carbon footprints, but apparently not. Highlighting Taco Bell’s $2.79 shrimp taco and Red Lobster’s “Endless Shrimp” feasts, the article focuses on America’s love of cheap, plentiful food and the practice of farm raising shrimp in Asia. Twenty years ago, 80% of the shrimp Americans consumed came from wild domestic fisheries, with an additional 20% imported. Today those percentages are flipped, with more than 90% of the shrimp we consume coming from outside the U.S. and mostly from shrimp farms throughout Asia.

Why is that bad? Well, to read about it, apparently these foreign shrimp farms are increasingly built on former mangrove forests across Asia. The devastation of the mangroves is huge. Mangrove forests are biodiverse fisheries, where many species lay their eggs and where young fish can develop in clean waters. The cutting down of these mangrove forests results in “fetid dead zones” that are devoid of life except for what is farmed there. Mangroves are also rich in carbon. When the mangroves are destroyed, that carbon is released into the atmosphere as global warming gas. And since the farms can only be used for about 5 years until the water is too toxic and laden with pesticides, viruses and antibiotics, these shrimp factories are not at all sustainable.

So, what is a shrimp lover to do? Well, first, back away from the shrimp taco and all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet, because the odds are good that those shrimp came from someplace pretty gross. And then buy U.S. shrimp, which are plentiful and which will support jobs in fisheries here. Domestic shrimp may be more expensive when measuring by the dollar, but they are less costly in terms of the environment and your own health. Now I just need to find a good recipe for shrimp tacos!