Tag Archives: fruit

Thought for Food

Several months ago I wrote an article extolling what an awesome grocery shopper I was. I boasted that my husband and I were rocking the $100.00 a week budget we set, even including toiletries, pet food, and alcohol. In that article, I wrote that “[t]he choices to substitute good, healthy choices with even better, healthier choices has to be deliberate and strategic.” What I meant was that while we were buying lots of whole grains, produce and meat at the grocery store, we were not at all concerned about organic, free-range, hormone-free, pasture-raised, etc. We were being good citizens, but not great ones. I wrote then that in order to stick to the budget we could not really put any organic, grass-fed, free-range, local items in the shopping cart since eco-friendly and organic usually meant wallet unfriendly. To have done so would have meant either buying, like, five things or blowing the $100.00 budget–or so I thought.

One night–I believe it was in late spring–my husband watched a documentary. These things happen when you cancel cable and get bored and start to flip through Hulu. You watch documentaries. That documentary happened to be Food Inc. and he was horrified. Rather precipitously, he decided we were done with buying food at the grocery store. He also caught a great TED talk by Vicki Robin that summed up many of the ironies and foibles of our current food industry. He then decided we were going to eat local. Local and organic–and all the other adjectives that really only serve to equal expensive?! I looked at him like he was nuts. He is nuts, actually. Not because he wanted to shop differently, but because he though we could do it still for $100 a week. I laughed. I mean, that was what had gotten us into the $800 a month grocery tabs–the increasing number of trips to Whole Foods and Trader Jo’s, dabbling in organics, and starting to care about hormones (Not mine–which are completely in balance, dear husband–but the ones they inject into all the animals we eat). He said, “Let’s just try it.” I rather smugly said fine, you go to the farmer’s market and see how much food you can buy for the week.

I forget what produce he came back with, but I do remember that he brought back a whole chicken. It cost about $16 and was frozen solid. I think this and a pound of ground turkey for $10 was the only meat he managed to get. So… almost $30 for about four pounds of meat. I think in total he spent about $50 between meat and produce. Sounds pretty good, right? Except, we still needed supplies and food for the cats, general toiletries, dairy, bread, pasta, and random “exotics” such as rice, olive oil, and bananas. And he really didn’t get that much food.

Back to this chicken. Previously, I would get a chicken for roasting when they were on sale for around $2-$3 from the grocery store. At that price, you don’t feel bad about roasting the whole thing and having it for one meal. However, at $16 for one smallish chicken, the damn thing has to stretch for 3-4 meals. My husband handed it over like I would automatically know what to do with it.

Well, of course I did. I was just annoyed that it meant a lot of work for me. It was the beginning of what I now call my Sunday “homesteading.” To work with this damn chicken, I had to partially defrost it enough for me to take apart the pieces. Luckily it was a “cut-up” whole chicken which meant that I didn’t have to hack it apart. Once it was defrosted enough to pull apart, I had the breast bone and ribs, two leg quarters, two wings and some on other bony part. I took the breasts off the bone and put them in the refrigerator for one meal, stuck the thighs and wings in the crock pot for another meal and got out my largest pot to make chicken stock/soup. I did manage to get 3-4 meals out of the little sucker, but it took hours to prepare!

After many, many months of undergoing this transition, we have done a pretty good job at staying around $100.00, though we are probably closer to an average of $110.00 per month. Not bad. Especially when you consider that our dairy alone is 20%-25% of the budget. We spend more on meat and eat less of it. And I get really creative with grains, beans and produce. Especially now in the lean Winter months. We have established certain rules that are still changing with the intent of finding local providers or better choices for those items that we still buy at the grocery store. Currently, we do not buy meat from the grocery store, though we continue to shop at the grocery store for some fruit that does not grow here, like bananas and avocados, and also for pet food and supplies, tea, coffee and natural peanut butter and jelly, etc. We even found that our local grocery store carries a few local, healthy products, like bread and honey. There are many things that we would prefer to buy local, but have not been able to find a reliable vendor, such as pasta and pasta sauce. I intended to have so many tomatoes this year that I would have a ton of freezer sauce on hand, but the weather and lack of experience in gardening conspired against me. I even tried making pasta once, and found that it was fairly easy, but time consuming. However, that is really the trick to eating really well on a budget–you spend a lot of time preparing and cooking. Like I mentioned above, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen on Sundays. Though I enjoy it, it takes up a lot of time. Did I mention it was time-consuming?

On the bright side, I am no longer daunted by making chicken soup from bones and I can make one 1 pound chicken breast stretch for three great meals. My husband, who previously refused to eat asparagus and squash, has gotten more adventurous in eating, which I very much appreciate. He even accepts that we will probably eat a completely vegetarian meal at least once, if not twice, a week, and that the remainder of our meals will have less meat in general. Best of all, on most days this past summer and fall, we can look at our dinner plate and know that almost everything we were eating was grown within 50 miles of our home–and more and more was grown by our own hands.

We’ll continue to get better at this as time goes on but we have made an excellent start and we have learned so much about where our food comes from. We have gotten to know local food growers and have started to pay attention to what is going on in the food industry. I am not a non-GMO, anti-Monsanto fanatic, but I do have a deep appreciation for farmers growing food to feed the local population and I feel that we need to support that. If you are not already supporting your local producers, start now!

The easiest first step (ala Vicki Robin–you really should watch that TED talk ,it is short and funny) is to go to your grocery store and figure out which local, small producers have made it to your grocer’s shelves. Even in places like Whole Foods and Food Co-ops, this is surprisingly small. I know that our grocery store carries local honey and bread. Your purchasing power carries a lot of weight and the more those items fly off the shelf, the more the grocery store will carry local items. You can even request that your grocery store carry a certain local product.

Second, visit your farmers market and/or check out your local CSA (community supported agriculture). You may have to do some basic research on which vendors actually grown their own food (just because it shows up at the farmer’s market, doesn’t mean that it was grown locally.) Support those farmers that had their hands in the dirt that morning to cut your fresh head of cabbage. To do this, you will probably have to understand what is in season. A vendor in Illinois that has cucumbers in March probably did not grown it himself/herself. Don’t forget checking out your local agri-tourism industries such as the places you can pick apples or strawberries.

Finally, grow or find your own food! Replace your useless ornamental bushes with bushes of herbs or fruits. Plant fruit trees. Start or expand the garden, or include vegetables interspersed with the flowers.

If you have started a shift from blindly buying items at the grocery store, I would love to hear some of your accumulated knowledge and experiences.

 

Advertisements

Picky Eaters

I know little bit about plants.  Okay, okay–I know quite a bit about plants, probably more than the average person. Nonetheless, I am still surprised that many people don’t know how to recognize wild raspberry brambles. I always kind of thought that picking wild berries was a rite of passage of any midwestern kid (I am from Illinois). Yet, I get strange, if not horrified, looks from people when I eat berries straight from the bush, or pick mulberries from the tree. It’s almost as if because the fruit is not presented in a plastic clamshell, there must be something wrong with it. I admit, this is sometimes true. Foraged fruit tends to be less pretty than store bought, and sometimes more…I don’t know…insect-y. But this is good! It means the stuff has not been doused with chemicals. And do we really have to talk about what the FDA considers acceptable for insect parts in the processed foods you consume… we can, if you stubbornly insist you never consume insects. But if you are that much in denial, I don’t want to ruin chocolate for you. Back to the subject. Once you get past the fact that food does not all come from the grocery store, you realize that there is a world out there of stuff you can eat!

Since I am not homesteading or living off the grid, I am not going to eat things that I have to boil a couple of times to get the toxins or tannins out, or that I have to douse with butter and and garlic to overcome the bitterness.  I mean, I don’t have to eat this stuff. The point is, I want to eat delicious, healthy things. If they are free and found in nature, then it’s even better.

Some of my favorite things to forage are black raspberries, mulberries, and apples. Remember, I live in the midwest, and these types of fruits abound in the spring and summer.  However, most areas have lots of food that can be foraged. If you have no idea where to start, go to your library and get a book. Or look on-line. You will find a lot of options and the only trick is to decide how adventurous you would like to be. For example, I keep reading cat tails are edible…but I don’t see myself plucking them anytime soon.

Now, I happen to live in an area that has rural areas, conserved areas, and state and county parks and preserves. I have a few go-to places with wide, open fields that I know I have permission to pick and explore.  But beware, you can’t just pick fruit, flowers and seeds from just anywhere.  It may, in fact, be illegal, if not just rude and tresspass-y.  I recently found out, however, that State parks in Illinois allow people in the collect edible “fungi, nuts and berries on Department owned, leased or managed lands where such collection would not be incompatible with resource management activities…and where such collection is for personal use only and not for re-sale.”17 IAC 1/10(a) (3). From what I understand, though, you can’t go off trail to collect it.

Perhaps this is where I should add the disclaimer that there are a lot of poisonous and toxic plants out there. And many plants that are diuretics. And some plants that give you that woo-woo feeling. Please do your research. Do not pick something you do not recognize.  If looking through a book or website does not give you the knowledge you need, attend a program put on by your local university extension office, conservation district, forest preserve, or state park. Or go with a friend that knows a thing or two about plants, and has a few favorite spots for picking!

The Juice Experiment: The Reflection

When my husband and I first started talking about this, the testimonials we came across all touted the health benefits about doing a juice fast. And I am not talking about losing weight. I mean, they discussed the energy, the surge of nutrients, the cleansing of your system, the clearing of your skin…the wonders of the universe, basically. I went into this thinking it was a healthy lifestyle choice. But in the end, this total absorption with juicing to the exclusion of healthy balanced meals was just a diet. It really was just a drastic reduction in calories.

And I don’t do diets.The entire time I wasn’t really thinking about health or nutrients, I was just thinking about my weight. I had pretty great results for just one week. I lost about an inch on my waist, and about 5 solid pounds. Pretty unbelievable for only 5 (and 1/3) days. If nothing else, that would motivate me. Looking back, I appreciated doing this for a week so that I could get a sense of what I liked about juicing and which combos really appeal to me. And I did get about 3/4 of the picture below inside of me!
20130420-222127.jpg
I may do this again (fast, that is) right before vacation, but probably not just for kicks. It is really inconvenient. You have to be home at all meals. Unless maybe you live in California, there are probably no healthy juice places around you, so you can’t do it while you are at large. Although… my sister did tell me that they have a juicer at her office, which I thought was pretty progressive. But she said that she never used it because the clean up was a hassle. It is. Like, a big one. You are cleaning up all the time. It’s messy and particles splash every where. And like I said before, fasting is boring. And tedious. Plus, for really fresh vegetables, you have to go to the grocery at least twice a week, too.

This also produced a lot of pulp by-product, which I did not really deal with because I was feeding it to my worms for compost. We ran every batch through twice to get as much juice as possible out and saved the rest for the little red wrigglers. In the future, I may play around more with that because the daily output of pulp in this reboot was a bit too much for my worms to handle. I’m just hoping to get to it before the smell gets too bad. Maybe I can play them some classical music to motivate them.

Also, the pulp is still food, and could be used for a lot of things, which made me feel bad about just tossing it to the worms. There are lots of good ideas like at this the kitchn.com site. But I couldn’t eat anything so I sure the heck wasn’t baking or making pancakes or cheese spreads. It didn’t occur to me to freeze it, though. That is a good idea. However, if you are going to save the pulp for cooking, I suggest you remove seeds and parts that are fibrous or tough. Maybe even peel things like ginger and sweet potatoes.

On a good note, since I was using a lot of citrus, I ended up with a ton of zest, which was a nice by-product. Plus I threw all the peels down the disposal, so it smelled very fresh.20130420-222049.jpg

Overall, the process was interesting, especially being a couple that had never juiced anything before. Don’t get me wrong, I plan to use my juicer a lot, and already have some ideas percolating. I would likely use it as an occasional meal replacement or supplement. But the secret to not going crazy and wanting to binge all the time is by balancing the juicing with real, healthy meals.

If you are thinking about rebooting, I would suggest the following:

1) Do it with a partner. It’s no fun to juice alone.

2) Supplement with whole fruits and veggies. Not having something solid is really psychologically challenging.

3) Adapt recipes to what is in season, on sale, and what you prefer. Skipping all that meat should really save you money, so you should bulk out your juice with whatever is cheap and not blow it in sticking to a certain recipe.

4) Never prepare juice with a white shirt on that you plan to wear to work! Wear an apron. Carrot and Beet juice stain.

5) Choose a time frame where you have nothing going and can be home for most, if not all, meals. Having to attend events where you are the only one not eating is weird and not helpful to your task. Also, spending several dollars on an Odwalla is not my idea of a good deal.

The Juice Experiment: the impulsive decision

20130416-221550.jpg20130416-214259.jpg20130416-214332.jpg

Last week my husband and I made a really impulsive purchase: A Breville Juicer. It was the middle of the week and my husband was watching a documentary called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. I was inadvertently watching it with him–he was right next to me, after all. I have to admit I was impressed with the story, though I questioned why the guy had to come to America…maybe because there is absolutely nothing in the middle of Australia, certainly not enough fat, unhealthy Americans.

Anyhow, this Australian guy named Joe drives across America in a zippy little convertible. He vows to drink only juice made from fruits and vegetables for 60 days, and munches the occasional apple. Of course, at the beginning he is fat, sick, and nearly dead, by all accounts. Not surprisingly, by the end he is kind of a hot Aussie, replete with wet, half-naked at the beach imagery. All that, plus he’s loaded. Not bad, Joe. Oh, and along his trip across America he meets many fat Americans, and one fat guy named Phil reaches out for help. Joe comes back and then starts Phil’s journey. Again, not surprisingly, Phil drops a ton of weight. He does not reach hot status, though. By now we all see the other probable genius of Joe’s trip, the marketing! Reboot with Joe is born– and my husband and I are completely reeled in. We rose to the challenge–but decided on just for one week.  We recognized our limits–and we were both average, healthy, and no where close to death…

So before we could think twice about it, we ordered this fancy juicer. And once we ordered it we were committed. That doesn’t mean, however, that we did not immediately have second and third–and fourth– thoughts about juicing. We read soooo many accounts, including many blog articles that started out just like ours did. I appreciated Beach Veg*n’s recital of her 2 week juice fast. It was honest and realistic.  But we also read several stories about the health risks and side effects. We had a lot of concerns: would we stick to it? would we be impossible to deal with? would we be cranky? was this a good idea to do during a work week? and what the hell is this I hear about body odor or bad breath?

When we got the juicer last Friday, we immediately opened it up and tried a tester juice with fruit on hand: 2 pears, an apple and strawberries. It was delicious, and our resolve was immediately strengthened. We put our doubts aside and decided to move forward.

We planned to start on the following Sunday because we had friends coming over for dinner on Friday and then a dinner thing on Saturday…plus we had to do the grocery shopping. I told you–it was an impulsive buy. So after a last hurrah of Sunday pancakes, we set out to do our grocery shopping. We went to a chain grocery store we know has great produce prices (Sorry, but Dominick’s just wouldn’t have cut it on this one.) I do not exaggerate when I say we bought a *$&# load of produce.

20130416-225728.jpg

My husband did a lot of research on recipes and then tallied the number of fruits and vegetables we would need. I highly recommend this so that you can avoid going to the grocery store several times a week. We bought what we thought we would need for most of the week, but left some things for the trip in the middle of the week so our leafy greens could remain fresh.

Our normal food budget is $100. This grocery trip cost us around $50. But…due to some health and weight loss concerns, but husband decided to supplement his juicing with sources of protein, so we spent an additional $25 at Dominick’s. If we ever do a one week juice fast again, we would probably not spend as much money on the actual produce. We bought things according to recipes that were not necessarily in season or on sale. For example, the grocery store we were at had strawberries on sale for a dollar. ONE DOLLAR! Meanwhile, the blueberries were terribly over-priced, $2.50 for a small container. Of course, we bought two containers. If we were more experienced and comfortable switching things around (I totally was) we would have bought just the strawberries. So the bottom line is that this experiment will probably not be much under our $100 budget. This juicing thing chews up produce like it’s its job!

Check Back in for our progress!