July 26, 2010 § 1 Comment
As a newly unemployed person who has been living in denial of a lack of income, I thought it might be about time for me to start seriously considering this thing known as a “budget”. I never thought about it too much before because I was always pretty good about living within my means. But now that I am living strictly off of savings until I figure out my next career move, I have to be much more careful or I’ll be out on my ass with nothing more than a fabulous collection of restaurant menus.
But while I need to watch my money (like everyone), I am not willing to compromise and start eating cheap food. It would certainly be easier to throw in the towel and start eating off the dollar menu, but not only would I start to hate myself immediately but I also know that it is totally possible to eat local, sustainable food and still stay on budget. You just have to put a little more thought into food shopping and meal planning.
I’ve been told by several people lately that this seems to be their stumbling block, so I’m going to take a stab at putting my weekly budget and meal plan on paper (er, screen). I can’t say this is the most cost effective week I’ve ever had, but hopefully it will help both me and you to write it down and see what works and what doesn’t.
$10- Pork belly, EcoFriendly Foods. This is arguably the best pork belly in America. David Chang uses this belly in his famous pork buns at Momofuku in NYC. $10 is a STEAL. It was in a broken bag, so they gave us a deal at $20 for the whole belly, which was like 10 lbs. It was so big I split it in half with my friends Hae Min and James, who apparently are cooking some Korean bbq with it (I’m trying to talk them into a guest post with recipes). I plan on making pancetta with some, and cutting the rest into pieces to freeze and use in the coming months. This is a great way to save money. Buy in bulk when the price is right; your freezer is your best friend.
$15- Tree and Leaf Farm. 4 heirloom tomatoes, 3 small zucchinis, 2 red onions, basket of heirloom lettuces, 1 bunch each green and purple basil. Zac Lester is one of my favorite farmers in this area. He is the real deal. He is passionate about growing the best possible vegetables and doing it in a way that is healthy for the earth and his customers. They were giving away free basil with the purchase of tomatoes, and with other stands selling basil for $2.50 a bunch, this was a great deal.
$3.35- 3 Yellow Peaches, Toigo Orchards. This was a completely unnecessary purchase since I am still full of ripe plums, but they looked so good I just couldn’t help myself.
$9- New Morning Farm (Certified Organic). 1 bulb garlic, 1 cucumber, 1 Purple Cherokee tomato, 2 ears sweet corn, 1 bunch parsley, 2 heads romaine lettuce. I was there at the end of market and they were having a special on romaine- $1 for 2 heads! Shopping at the end of market is a great tip, often farmers will lower prices on delicate things they know won’t hold for resale (like lettuce). I’ve seen New Morning do this many weeks.
$3.50- 1 quart Creamline Milk, Clear Spring Creamery. The best milk I’ve ever had. Hands down.
TOTAL: $40.85. Not bad, since my weekly market budget is $40. I still have some food in my fridge that I didn’t finish from last week too, like eggs, yogurt, bread, beets, short ribs, and some meat in my freezer. I probably didn’t need to even buy that much, but I’ve never been good at restraint. It’s a learning process.
I’ll start posting daily meals made, but this seems like a good start. I probably could have spent less if I had bought through my CSA, but I completely forgot to put in my order. We’ll see how the week goes. I’ll try to not do random daily shopping, that adds up so quickly!
February 4, 2010 § 7 Comments
I can’t believe my first month of local eating has already passed. I had great success, and a few failures.
One of the biggest rookie mistakes was my primal fear that I would starve to death. This caused me to buy an inordinate amount of food that I did not need. Did I eat well? Absolutely. Did I need that much food in my fridge? Probably not. I’ll be keeping a much closer eye on my spending this month, and tracking my total weekly food costs.
It’s not that what I was buying was terribly expensive on its own, it’s just that everytime I saw anything anywhere that was made in the Chesapeake Bay watershed I bought it…. regardless of whether or not I actually needed it. This may have also been because it was the first month though. Stocking my pantry is a necessity, and nothing makes me happier than a full refrigerator and a bowl of fruit on my table. I did to well with not wasting food though. Working at DC Central Kitchen as made me hyper aware of wasting anything, and it physically pains me to have to throw away food I’ve let spoil. I saved tiny bits of everything and made soups or pizzas with it; I even used the chicken bones left on my plate after a meal for stock (Oh stop with your germaphobia, I’m the only one eating it!).
Overall, I feel healthier and have much more energy. The best thing though, is that I have a greater connection to my body, and am in tune with what it craves and needs. I can acutely tell when I’ve eaten too much meat, or dairy, or need to add more fiber to my diet, or green leafy vegetables. Meal by meal, I assess how I feel, and it helps me consider what I’ll eat next. I’m sure this is something most health-conscious people do, but for me, it’s pretty new. Before this experiment, my menu choices were based solely on taste and what sounded good. Now I go for what feels good. I listen to my body. What it craves changes based on the weather, and I fully expect that as certain foods come into season, I will suddenly start to crave them. I don’t crave strawberries or asparagus right now, all I want is dark, nutrient rich kale, and warm, filling meals. Come May, I imagine I won’t even be thinking about kale, but instead trying to figure out how to include as much asparagus as humanely possible into my diet. That’s the good thing about eating seasonally, you stuff yourself with what it’s seasons to the point where, once it’s gone, you don’t even want to look at it for another year. I don’t think I could ever feel that way about kale… but ask me again in April.
Here is where I went right (and wrong):
Eating More Fat, Losing Weight– No low fat anything here, what’s the point? I have been deliciously subsisting on butter, creamline whole milk, bacon, cheese, crispy roasted chicken, hamburgers and even pasta. Obviously, I’ve also been eating lots of winter fruit and veg (kale, potatoes, carrots, spinach, mushrooms, apples, and the occasional hothouse yellow tomato), but I certainly haven’t been trying to limit my calorie intake. And yet, from January 1st to February 1st, I have lost exactly 10 lbs. Frankly, I had it to lose, but it’s not like I was drinking soda and eating fast food right up until Dec 31st, 2009. My eating habits haven’t changed all that drastically, but I do know I am eating more fat, and because of that, smaller amounts of food fill me up. Also, I haven’t seen the inside of a gym since August and it being January and rather frigid, I definitely wasn’t outside romping around, so truly the only thing I have done is focus on the food. It’s quite remarkable really. A traditional diet really is the healthiest!
Eating Meat– I have decreased the amount of meat in my meals, mostly because of the expense of sustainably raised animals. One roasted chicken can last me for a very long time. The breasts are generally so big that I can easily get two or three meals out of each one, as long as I use the meat as a component of the meal and not the centerpiece (which makes more sense anyway). I will usually have one or two meals per week that focus on the meat as the center of the meal (like Friday roast chicken- leg and thigh, and a grass-fed hamburger at Cafe Saint Ex), but everything else will focus on vegetables and grains, or other protein sources like cheese and eggs. Bacon has become a great source of meaty flavor for my meals, and gives you the impression of eating lots of meat when really it’s just a few tablespoons scattered in pasta or in an omelet.
Cutting out refined ingredients and preservatives– I believe this may have had the biggest impact on my overall health. Nothing I eat has artifical preservatives, and I now eat very little refined sugar or flour. I have about 1/2 tsp of raw, organic sugar in my coffee each morning, but I use honey and maple syrup to sweeten anything else. Most of the bread and pasta I eat is whole wheat, and I’ve included new grains such as wheatberries and buckwheat (which is actually not a wheat at all, and therefore gluten-free!). I don’t ever have rice anymore, but I do eat a fair amount of polenta/grits.
Star Hollow CSA– I think everything went right with this one. I spent about $45 every 2 weeks on local, and often organic, fruit, vegetables (including mushrooms- a great meat substitute), cheese, butter, eggs, and a stew hen that I used for stock. The fruits and veg I buy are usually used up within the 2 weeks, but the butter/cheese etc always last me longer. Read about my first order here.
Stocks– Making a weekly batch of chicken stock has been essential for my success. For the chicken bones, I’ll get a little stewing hen from my CSA ($5), or some cheap/free chicken backs from EcoFriendly, and always save the carcass from a roast chicken. Then I throw in saved vegetable scraps, a few of the cheap “juice” carrots and onions from my CSA, and whatever herbs I have (dried or fresh). Then just fill the pot with water, bring to simmer, and leave it all day (or overnight like I often do). I freeze the stock in 2 or 4 cup containers, and just throw it in the microwave to defrost. Good chicken stock with random bits of veggies, meats, or noodles makes an easy, healthy dinner (and lunch the next day!).
Whole Foods Market– Surprisingly, WF proved to be a great source for certain items, but also a trap for overspending. They carry Homestead Creamery milk in glass bottles, but you have to remember to bring the glass bottles back or you won’t get your $2 back! (just take them to the Customer Service counter). The half gallons are about $3.50, which is about the same as the Organic milks (many of which are ultra pasteurized- yuck, owned by multi-national corporations, and not nearly as “organic” as one might think.) They also carry some local produce (for CSA-off-week emergencies), cheeses, beer, and my newest favorite find- bread from small local bakeries. They also carry Bell & Evans chicken, which is a local, large-scale chicken processing company. As far as bigb meat operations go, they are one of the best… and they are located in central PA, so it’s local for DC and NYC. When I want a chicken and can’t get one from EcoFriendly, I’ll get a Bell & Evans. It’s not the MOST ideal (the chickens are barn raised, not pastured), but it is a good company and, since it’s a big company, it’s less expensive than other sustainably raised meats. I usually get 1 whole bird per week (or every 2 weeks) and can make it stretch a long time.
Bread– I came to the decision that it just wasn’t feasible for me to be baking all my own bread (though I do buy only local flours from Wade’s Mill for other baking) so I’ve decided to compromise and buy my weekly bread from local bakeries. There are rules though- no obviously exotic ingredients (like kalamata olive bread or something), and no weird modified corn or soy based ingredients (like soybean oil, which is usually genetically modified, or HF corn syrup). I try to buy from Atwater’s Bakery at the Dupont market, but sometimes I just don’t make it on Sundays. Whole Foods has been great alternative source- I buy organic whole wheat pitas and barbary bread from local bakeries right in their bread aisle. Barbary bread is a fantastic pizza crust, and a flatbread pizza with whatever I have in the fridge makes for a delicious and quick supper.
January 18, 2010 § 6 Comments
I feel like it’s been ages since I put a real post up… my apologies, it’s been an insane week.
I did, however, have a fantastic weekend in New York City with 2 of my best girlfriends, Tara and Laura. We have known each other since we were about 10 years old, and we live all spread out across the East Coast, so it’s very rare that we are all in the same room anymore. Trying to explain my fairly recent devotion to eating all local foods was a bit daunting at first, but as only the best of friends can do, they immediately accepted it and we all went foraging for food I could eat.
Lucky for us, we only had to go about 14 steps out Tara’s front door and into the Union Square Greenmarket. I proceeded to buy waaay too much food to take home, thus making my train trip rather cumbersome. But it was totally worth it, because among the many delightful things I bought, one is far more exciting than the rest.
POPCORN!!! I am holding in my hand a 2lb bag of local popcorn kernels, and I’m just not sure I could be any more excited. I love popcorn far more than the average person, and not having it for the past 2 weeks has been torture (ok I’m being slightly overdramatic but you get the point).
I was convinced I’d be able to find it in Virginia with all the corn they grow there, but apparently not. I had to go all the way to New York City to find some freaking sustainable popcorn. But it was worth it. Oh yeah and I got to see my best friends. And get POPCORN!
Other fun purchases were maple yogurt (good, but runnier than I like it. I’m sticking with Blue Ridge Dairy.), kefir, cow’s milk mozzarella cheese, real maple syrup, whole wheat flour, and fresh whole wheat fettucine and tri-color penne pastas.
After a strenuous morning shopping, we headed to Union Square Cafe for lunch- a place I’ve been dying to go for years. They change their menu very frequently (I think daily) based on what is available in season locally. I had a gorgeous bibb and red leaf lettuce salad and a small portion of Berkshire pork lasagna (I clearly feel the need to tell you it was the SMALL portion, lest you think I am a pig myself. Feel free to judge me. It was delicious.)
We were feeling very “Housewives of New York City” with our wine lunch at USC… and then realized we were showing our Florida roots when we took off our coats to reveal a veritable sorbet selection of cardigans. I swear we are not that lame in real life.
Oh wait, yes we are. (see below: Laura and I crocheting at 10:30pm on Saturday night in NYC. Super lame. But so happy. The drunken dress up dance party followed. )
As far as food (and everything else) goes, it was a pretty stellar weekend.
Friday night Dinner at Tribeca Grill– had Long Island Grilled Duck and localish oysters
Saturday morning- Union Square Market
Saturday Lunch at Union Square Cafe– bibb and red leaf salad, Berkshire pork lasagna
Saturday dinner- poking around house eating market food
Saturday drinks- Jack Daniels (TN isn’t THAT far) and Boylan’s Root Beer (made in New Jersey with cane sugar! I found one lurking in the back of their fridge, really lucked out on that one.)
Sunday brunch at Craftbar- delicious Eggs Benedict with local farm eggs and bacon. And a Bloody Maria (made with tequila. I’m sorry. I can’t give it up.)
I learned a good lesson this weekend- eating local food while you are staying at other people’s houses is really hard. But I think I did an OK job. I brought some of my own food, hit up the local farmers market, and chose restaurants that buy from local farmers. Sometimes it’s not all or nothing, you just do the best you can.