Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I think I'm going to put this blog to sleep for a while.  I'll just do more sustainability posting on my other blog.  Maybe I'll come back to this one, more inspired and with more material soon... or maybe not.  Thanks for your readership, sorry it's been so slow!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Great Food Budget Compilation

I found someone that put together an amazing list of ideas to share.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

How are you economizing?

I was so discouraged today after my weekly grocery shopping trip. I went to Trader Joe's and our local produce store, and spent over $100 on the bare necessities. I was actually expecting to pay about $75, with some extra for the week to buy eggs, milk and some local produce, but I went over on the week's allowance and still see a semi- empty fridge. Prices have really shot up around here in the last couple of weeks, and I am trying to figure out what I might be able to do differently. We are already eating less meat, and really don't do much dairy at all anymore, since Amelia is allergic and Jeff is on a special diet (I eat kefir and yogurt.) I don't buy ANYTHING that is pre-made, not even salad dressing! I still refuse to shop at Walmart, and really want the money that I spend on food to go to farmers and to stay in our local economy.
Things I currently do to stretch the budget:
Buy lots of beans and grains in bulk, so I don't have to buy canned beans and always have something on the shelf that I can cook, like lentils or rice.
Only buy the produce I know we will eat-- we never end up throwing food away.
Buy whole chickens and make chicken stock and save the meat for lots of soups.
Use leftover grains and beans in soups.
Buy produce in season, and buy lots of it when I find a good deal (especially onions!)
Buy as much as possible from local vendors (although I had to stop buying the world's best bread from a bakery here because it was really expensive-- back to TJ's, only I am just now starting to bake my own at home, so hopefully that will help a bit.)

I think Jeff and I eat significantly less than the average person. I would rather buy less food and have higher- quality ingredients to cook with, but there is only so far you can go-- we need fuel! Food is just becoming a lot more expensive. Our budget is certainly not growing at this point, and when it does we need to be saving the extra income-- so I am determined to figure out how to make it feed us well. What are you doing to stretch your food dollars?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Finally, We Have a Garden!

Well, I thought our garden would just never happen. First of all, unlike all the smart people, we didn't put cardboard down all winter over the spot where we wanted to put our plot. Instead, we had to dig up thriving grass, by hand. During all of that digging, we found that our soil was about 25% rock (really, a very modest estimate.) We double- dug our bed by hand, and I'd say that was easily 50 hours of work-- so we feel like we got a pretty late start on actual gardening.
I did do a lot of starts, but the neighbor's cat came and knocked all of them off of our porch repeatedly (I guess this had been its favorite lounging spot when the previous cat-loving owner was here.) The ones that survived the cat did not survive Amelia's curiosity, and so they were all destroyed in the end. You must understand that we REALLY DO NOT have a good place for these, it wasn't just a stupid place for them-- it was the only place! Next year we'll get one of those flimsy greenhouse shelves with a cover-- lesson learned.
I had spent a modest amount of money on organic, open-pollinated seeds with all of those other virtuous qualities, and hadn't planned on growing much else besides what was in these packets. But then a pipe broke under the sink where I was keeping them, and they got soaked. I figured I could still plant them, as long as I did it soon, and so I put them in the oven to dry. I mentioned this to J, but in the morning brainfog he forgot and baked them at 350'. Luckily, I had found someone to trade seeds with on CL, and had an egg carton of 12 kinds of seeds separated in the little compartments with a little label. I put these out of Amelia's reach, so I thought, but she must have grown a little taller and she managed to get ahold of these and jumble them all up! All of this happened in a couple of days mid-April, when I was finally ready to sew seeds in the barely-ready garden plot.
So I have bought starts with money I made selling yard stuff on CL. I actually planted some of the baked seeds and picked out the jumbled seeds that I recognized, and so we do have some things sprouting from seeds as well as some vigorous, purchased starts. I am happy. I thought it just wouldn't happen after all of the hassles, but here we are, growing food!
Our yard is in a state of overhaul, and actually looks pretty bad. The long-term plan is to do as much edible landscaping as possible. I am particularly excited about the artichoke plants that we're growing-- they are beautiful all year. We just took a big hedge out from under the kitchen window in a full-sun spot, and my plan is to plant that bed thick with all kinds of culinary herbs.
Here are some garden shots:
The main garden plot-- notice we're "making lemonade" with all of the rocks, using them as borders. We have three long rows and three square plots, the last one is still being dug/sifted for the second time-- hopefully plantable this weekend.
Just a portion of the rocks we took out of this plot! We plan to use them for pathways and other landscaping purposes, since we don't know what else to do with them.
A favorite: Nicoise salad green blend with chicory, dandelion and mesclun.
Something new-- we're growing potatoes this year. When I planted them, I didn't really realize what growing them entailed, namely building a mound of dirt higher and higher as they grow... I need to get some wood frames to put over this plot so I can build some height.
Some of our edible landscaping over by a lilac tree. Guess what our biggest garden pest is so far? Squirrels! They dig up the newly placed plants and then bury their nut, and fill in the hole! You can see a mound of dirt here, they dig holes all over the beds. The ones in our neighborhood are very cheeky, thanks to a squirrel-loving, semi-crazy neighbor who feeds them and lets them in his house.
We never really intended to have a lawn, so I figured I was off the hook for lawn care, cutting grass, etc. What I completely forgot about was the fact that things grow anyway! These weeds are shoulder-high. At least they have pretty flowers, and smell nice too. We are borrowing a neighbor's weed whacker this weekend, and need to use it all over our entire yard-- it's looking pretty ridiculous.
Items planted so far:
Salad greens of all types
French Green Beans
Red Peppers (3 kinds)
Tomatoes (3 kinds)
Cucumbers (2 kinds)
Eggplant (2 kinds)
Potatoes (2 kinds)

Basil (3 kinds)
Thyme (3 kinds)
Rosemary (several starts for landscaping)
Lemon Balm
Mint (2 kinds)

Strawberries (25 plants!)
Concord Grape
Apple-- Espalier style, with four varieties, not quite in the ground yet.

We are really hoping to make a dent in our food bill this year, and plan to preserve as much extra produce as possible for the colder months ahead. We spend a lot of money on produce throughout the year! I can't even imagine how much easier next year's spring planting will be, after all of the work and lessons learned this season. Whew!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Local Find

Our financial constraints have made using local resources really challenging. We were buying eggs and milk from the farm we support, but they cost3.75/ dozen of small eggs, and the milk prices doubled for the winter, making it impossible to keep buying from them. I recently found a family selling free range, organic eggs on 30 count flats for 7.50, or $3/ dozen. The eggs are large, and the fun part is that they are a mix of green, brown and white. I am happy to buy from them weekly, and it's only a few miles away. I think we'll go back to buying milk from the farm again when the prices go down, but I'm really the only one drinking it, and having to drive half an hour each way to pick it up each week, then driving about three to four hours once a month to do our share of the pickup duties seems like way to much commitment for a gallon of milk. We'll see if we end up getting produce from the farm-- our hope is that our garden will be almost enough for us. We'd like to keep supporting the farm, but I'm not sure we are getting enough out of it to continue. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Local, Seasonal and... Ethnic?

For a long time, I have wanted to become proficient in Middle Eastern cooking-- beyond falafel, tahini and tabouleh. I almost never follow recipes, though, so I've been stunted in my abilities to learn from cookbooks, and usually just try to replicate flavors from restaurants. But I have decided to devote myself for the next couple of months to a really wonderful cookbook about authentic Arab food. So far, I have made a couple of the recipes, and it has been really exciting to cook using different techniques than I have tried before.
Tonight I made a meatball and rice soup, and it was really nice.

There are a lot of types of cuisine that are counter-indicated for eating locally in the Northwest-- especially Asian food, with all of the tropical produce, and special ingredients. But Middle Eastern food, I have realized uses lots of fresh herbs that are growing in my garden as we speak, plus lots of other staple grains, legumes and nuts that can be bought locally. Even feta cheese is made locally, and California isn't too bad of a source for olives. Extra bonus: it's my very favorite kind of food.

My plan is to make every effort to blog about the Arab foods I'm cooking, and if there is interest, I'll share recipes. I am really a terrible food-tographer, but I'll keep trying. I am always so curious about what other people eat. I'd like to blog a solid week of dinners, and I'd like to encourage anyone else that wants to, to do it with me-- I'd love to see and hear about everyone's meals and kitchen activities.

Tonight it was Shorabat Ruz Bi Lahim, or Rice and Meatball Soup. I had to make beef stock, which of course was more effort than usual for a dinner, but now I have a couple extra quarts for the week. Besides the stock, it was really pretty simple, attractive, and very very tasty. We have a lot of ground beef in the freezer, the remnants of a portion of a grass-fed cow-- we preferred the steaks and roasts-- so now we need to come up with some great ways to use the ground beef.
I added chopped kale to make it a more complete meal, and it was a really nice, light but satisfying dinner.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Doesn't get much more local than this!

We have so many things growing in our yard, and I know some of them are probably not only edible but also medicinal. I am borrowing a good book from Chris D. to help me identify these plants, but until I'm more certain on the ones I'm not familiar with, dandelions are a no-brainer. I chopped up a bunch of greens the other day to put in with a ham, onion and gruyere quiche-- super tasty, and the greens were so bitter on their own that I know they did our bodies good! I have also been picking the yellow flowers and making tea. Not the best tasting, but it's supposed to be pretty good for you, and it's a lot of fun to just take advantage of what's already growing while I'm waiting for seeds to sprout. I think I have some kind of cress or other edible salad green growing, it tastes really good but I'm not eating a bowlfull until I'm more clear on what it is. Maybe I'll take some pictures and see if anyone can help me identify them. In the meantime, we have plenty more dandy greens to experiment with!