Friday, July 23, 2004

Food, frugality, NO coupons

It's occurred to me lately that my kitchen interest is shifting to eating fresh produce, eating more toward the whole-grain end of things, stocking my pantry and freezer with basic foods, and learning skills that will make my cooking easier and less stressful. I've lost interest in clipping coupons and matching them with ultra-lowest sale prices in the local grocery store flyers, even though that's been a way to really stretch our money.

I'm going farther. Fresh fruits & veggies, more meatless meals again, more interesting meals (Chinese, Mexican, Italian are always favorites), more homemade bread and homemade breakfasts, and more from-scratch everything. Starting this spring, I also made a commitment to eat more vegetables and fruit and improve our family eating habits overall.

When I'm doing fairly well with this, every couple of weeks I inventory the fridge, counters (!), freezers, & pantry; then I plan about 12-14 dinners and a bunch of breakfasts & lunches based on what we have. The opposite would be to think of what to have for dinner tonight and go to the store to get what we need; I try not to go that (expensive, rather a hassle) route, though I sometimes do! Instead, I aim to shop to stock my pantry-freezer-fridge by using those sale-flyer lowest prices and other good deals. When I keep a good stock of basic foods at home, I can "shop" at home for our meal fixings.

The tough part is that it's summer and I don't want to cook very much! So, I'm trying to think ahead and plan ahead so it's all easy, easy, easy. Our summer meals are more about grilling burgers (thanks, hon!) and veggies, and serving a salad and beans. Or making a pasta salad in the morning and fixing a green salad to go with. Or maybe homemade bread, baked in the relative cool of the morning, and a green salad topped with slices of previously grilled chicken.

To make it easier to put together creative but simple meals, I'm trying recipes and ideas from the book with the crazy title, How to Cook Without a Book (recipes and techniques every cook should know by heart).

So far I think it's really helpful if you want to be able to take what's in your kitchen and put together a sauce for your veggies or a relish for your meat, or put together a salad with homemade dressing. The book also gets you started on omelets and other egg dishes, searing meats, sauteeing, roasting, and other stuff, but I'm more about veggies and grilling right now because we're in the middle of drop-dead-ripe, fresh, local produce season here.

I've joined a local food co-operative to buy fresh, local food nearly straight from the growers and producers. Delivery day was yesterday, and my kitchen counters have bowls of cherry and pear tomatoes, armfuls of cucumbers and zucchini squash, a bowl of beautiful orange-red bell peppers, the remaining pound of fat green beans, and a big coffee mug holding an overflowingly huge bouquet of basil (great price!). The 10 pounds of yellow onions are in a grocery sack on the floor. The heirloom tomatoes are lined up in the window.

I'm trying not to bust the budget, though — that's ALWAYS a factor for me. If I'm spending more on produce and, maybe, high-quality beef, I need to spend less in the long term on other grocery items. For me, that means even more from-scratch cooking. More snacking on veggies and fruits and homemade snacks, and less crackers and pretzels. More homemade breads and pizzas (my husband will be so happy!) and fewer soft white bread sandwiches and expensive fast-food dinners. More homemade breakfasts (muffins, coffee cake, eggs & toast, hot oatmeal) and less cold cereal. I'm reading recipes for granola and directions for making yogurt; I think I'm finally ready to try making them both.

I'm also ready to add some things to our freezer. Shredded zucchini squash, 2-cups in a quart zip bag. Quartered medium onions. Quartered bell peppers. If I get peaches tomorrow at the farmers market, maybe this week I'll blanch and freeze enough peaches to attempt to turn into jam in early fall when the weather is cooler. At the market or through the co-op I'll buy lots more green beans to blanch and freeze. If I do this stuff before we go anywhere in the morning, the whole day feels more accomplished from the start!

Tomorrow, though, I'm having tomato sandwiches for lunch, and tomato-cucumber salad with our grilled burgers for dinner, YUM! Oh. I promised the boys I'd make a peach pie — first time in years — so I need to make pie crust in the morning. Gotta get the butter out of the freezer!


Auditrix said...

I LOVE How to Cook Without a Book -- it's the one I often keep right on my counter.

Thanks for the link, by the way. What a marvy-looking blog!

You may wish to consider permitting anonymous comments, btw; otherwise commenters who don't have Blogger accounts are forced to create one just to comment.

Barbara said...

Thanks, Peony, for the visit, the comment, and especially for the tip re. anonymous comments! I missed that choice in the setup, so a very big thank you from a new blogger.

I do really enjoy your Two Sleepy Mommies blog -- and thanks for the mention. Now I'm gonna come on by and comment about cooking "real food."

Anonymous said...

Aha, I've been dying to post on your blog but since I did not want to create a blogger accountI was never able! I wanted to say that one mistake people make when moving from a prepared dinner type menu to one of fruits and veggies is that they often buy too much at a time. The rule of thumb is to buy what you would consume in three days, otherwise you lose the freshness and nutrients. Good luck with your healthy eating an kudos to you for making the change!

April said...

This is the first time that I've visisted your blog. I found it on blogarama and I'm pleased to have found a daily blogging mom! I have a 3 year old son who is on a "no food" kick, unless of course is it smothered in sugar and topped with candy but I'm not giving in! My 3 month old son is still contently breastfeeding and getting all the goods from me, a healthy eater. With 2 small children, it is even harder to prepare made-from-scratch-food-for-family-meals but I find the crockpot to be my saving grace, so dinner is always ready on time and really good, both in taste and nutritional value. Luckily, Isaac is still into eggs, toast and oatmeal so breakfast is a breeze but lunch seems to be getting the best of me. Good luck and may I blogroll you?

Barbara said...

Yep, my veggies everywhere need to be used in the next day or so, I figure. So. I can't eat it all, but I don't plan to :) I'll freeze the rest of the bell peppers, get the zucchini shredded and into the freezer, and enjoy lots of ripe tomatoes and cucumbers with the boys. The basil I may have to dry. I was hoping to make pesto -- first time ever -- but I'm not sure about that.

My main plan for easy homemade dinners is to make our favorites (barely have to think about those), do any prep in the morning or the night before (HUGE help), and make extra for planned leftovers. Leftover steamed rice becomes fried rice. Leftover grilled chicken becomes part of a green salad or pasta salad -- with leftover pasta. Low stress, high happy factor for all. That's my plan and I'm sticking to it, lol!