Tuesday, November 06, 2012

STRATEGY SESSION (How to eat localish on a budget)

It occurs to me that I have developed an ability over 4 years (4 YEARS!) of eating a significant part of our diet from the local foodstream that most suburbians don't have.  I can basically walk into one of our local farmer's markets and come out in 20 minutes with food to feed my family for the next week.  Without a real plan.  My goal is to get as much of our diet locally as I can-without creating false hoops to jump through.  (I'm shooting for 75% of the volume of our food to be from the farmer's market.  I want 100% of our meat and eggs to be local, sustainably and humanely produced.).  We are a house full of omnivores but we have reduced our meat consumption over the past 4 years to about half of what it used to be.  Meat is expensive and because of that, we use all of the meat that we buy in more creative ways.

I'm going to try and start sharing what I'm buying (or getting once CSA season starts) so that maybe I can share some of how I go about selecting food and then what I do with it once I've nabbed it.  I am not trying to convert anyone to a new way of living.  I am not a purist in any sense of the word.  I AM kind of a snob in that I want an apple to taste like an apple (and not like apple flavored goop).  I don't want to eat fake food product-but if that's where you are in life, I'm not judging you.

I enjoy cooking and I realize that not everyone does.  It's a steam-release valve for me but I have lots of buddies who get freaked just thinking about making cookies from scratch.  That means that I've made enough mistakes to begin to have some 'go-to' recipes and methods.  I can be flexible when I show up at the market.  Not because I'm a great chef or I attended culinary school (I'm not and I didn't) but because I just like to get in the kitchen and muck about.  I'd like to share my mucking!

One of the things that drives me crazy is when people say you can't eat locally on a budget.  It is true that you can't eat the same thing every week of the year and eat locally-at least it's true right now in central NC.  But if you can be flexible, you can feed a family of 4 for a week for under $200.  I do it all the time and feel as though we're eating extremely well.  I could actually get it down to under $100 a week if I had to-I'm very thankful that I don't have to because I am a glutton for good food-this is not a blog about saving money after all.  However, if you really wanted to save a lot of money, you could grow a bunch of stuff yourself in your own little urban oasis....I sense another post coming on.

This week I spent approx. $170 on groceries for my family.  
I went to 3 places over approx. 1.5 hours.  
I did stop in the middle to eat lunch at Centro.  
I could have only gone to 2 places and spent a little bit more money....
but I like hunting for food.  
Please pause for a lunch break.

Here's the haul from Mid-Town Farmer's Market (I spent approx. $60).  
My market trips generally involve me with my cooler bouncing 
around from farmer to farmer.  
I do one walk-through before I buy anything.  
Then I start trying to build meal options from what I see around me.  
For instance, the hamburger purchase came after I saw that my friend 
Jason had green peppers on special (frost is coming, peppers need to go).  
It's also ok to ask farmer's what they're cooking right now for inspiration.  
They eat what they grow-they know how to make it tasty.

Farmer's Market Purchases
1 lb of hamburger  
1 pack of beef soup bones 
1 pack of sweet Italian sausage 
5 sweet potatoes 
1 lb of green beans 
2 kohlrabi 
8 large turnips 
6 small harukai turnips 
1 head of romaine lettuce 
4 beets with greens attached 
8 green peppers  
2 bunches of carrots-greens attached 
I'd like to point out an important strategy for eating locally successfully:  
buy ahead for when things AREN'T at the market. 
I will buy as many carrots as I see for the next few weeks-
because they will get scarce and they keep well in a fridge for months. 
I will buy any beans I see because my family loves them unrepentantly. 
I can blanche and freeze them for winter or mid-summer. 
I often buy more potatoes than we can actually eat in a week because 
they too will disappear and potatoes often get treated with a LOT of chemical 
to keep them from sprouting. 
For the months of August and September, 
I bought 2-4 heads of garlic a week. 
That means that I still have 4 heads to go through before I 
need to resort to buying it at a store. 
If something is on special 
(meaning the farmer has a lot of it and needs to move it) 
I will buy it and then work my menu options for the week around it.
 Fresh ginger is something I have quite a bit of right now because...
well because it was there and I like ginger so I'll figure something out.  
Winter squash, berries, corn, celery-these all have a relatively short season.  When it comes in though, it's everywhere so I do a little shuffle 
so that I can spread it out longer. 


We stopped by the Grand Asia Market and spent $10.  I am a sucker for cheap when cheap is good and Grand Asia Market really knows how to treat a girl right.  Plus, it's kind of on the way to Whole Foods for us and it's a great multi-cultural experience for our kids.  WIN-WIN!
Grand Asia Purchases
2 packs of rice noodles
2 packs of mushrooms

At Whole Foods, we stopped in for about $100 worth of stuff.  
You will notice that this list highlights my imperfections the most. 
 I try to go for organic when I can't get local.  
I will sometimes eat fruit that is local and not organic if 
I can understand how the farmer treated it.  
I have a lot more knowledge than the average person 
about what treatments mean.  
If my children want to eat apples and grapes, 
then we are going to have apples and grapes for them to eat.  
If I need a snack while on an airplane or in a rush, 
then I will have a Luna Bar.  
We're all making choices and trade-offs.  
My own growth continues and will be different next year than this year.  
For now, this is our reality and I'm okay putting my list on parade for full disclosure. 
Whole Foods Purchases
organic milk-1 gallon
organic half and half
organic sourdough bread
sliced cheddar cheese
organic jasmine rice
large can of diced organic tomatoes
organic celery
organic grapes
organic granny smith apples-about 10
organic yellow onions-about 6
1 lb of pecans
1 lb of walnuts
dried unsweetened cherries
organic unsalted butter
pre-made hummus (i'm lazy)
2 boxes of pre-cooked organic cannellini beans
Chocolate Peppermint Luna bars-1 case
What does this actually make?
Generally, I don't set an actual menu for the week.  
If I do that, then I usually end up rebelling because it's too strict for me.  
I like to have room for creativity and options.  
To balance my need for creative with my lack of actual time during the week,
I spend a large part of a weekend day cooking and prepping
 for the coming week.  
Sundays at my house are usually for dessert making, 
stock or soup making and chopping/sorting.

Tentative Menu This week:
  • Green Peppers stuffed with rice, hamburger and tomatoes
  • French onion soup made with my very own beef stock and some of those mushrooms
  • Sweet Italian sausage and kohlrabi-probably with some noodles and more mushrooms
  • A large salad with apples, nuts, and dried fruit along with those sweet little turnips
  • A gratin from the large turnips, a sweet potato and some little white potatoes that have been hanging out in my cupboard for a while doused in cream and the nubbins of cheese in my cheese drawer
Making the Meals:
This Sunday, I made beef stock with the soup bones, an onion, 
the tops of a couple of carrots, slices of ginger, and some celery.  
That just bubbled away all day on a back eye while  
I roasted beets and chopped up some sweet turnips.  
I washed, sorted and stored greens. 
I took the tops off of the carrots and scrubbed them and put them away. 
 I made the stuffed green peppers.  
Snapped the green beans.  
Even though this sounds like a actual active time
 in the kitchen was probably an hour and a half.

My point is....eating localish is not simple
but it can be flexible and creative
without a lot of stress as long as you approach it with
a strategy.

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