Monday, February 28, 2011

The Soup Project: Jamaician Bean Soup with Lime and Coconut

While I was working on the Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook, a woman from Port Angeles phoned me. She said she'd gotten my first book Local Vegetarian Cooking at the library and was crazy about my Jamaican Red Bean Soup recipe. I thought the recipe would be in the Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook, since I was revising the first book to create the new book, so I talked her into waiting to buy the new book.

But as it turned out, I didn't put the recipe in because I had to shave off 20,000 words. That's more than the dog biscuit chapter, which my Cooking Assistant protested and pouted over. I had to take out recipes, plus, I added farmer and co-op recipes to the new book, so many favorites stayed in the frist book. The new cookbook had a Northwest focus, so the Jamaican Red Bean Soup no longer fit the profile. But now every time I think of this recipe, I think about the woman from Port Angeles and I wish I'd gotten her name.

What exactly did this woman like about the soup? Had to be the coconut-lime combination. For me, pepper-coconut-lime is the key to the soup's success. (Though I suppose the cumin and oregano need some credit, too.)

When I bought beans for the soup yesterday, I grabbed white beans instead of the red listed in my original recipe. The potatoes are also white, which would make it a little boring to look at, so I added a yam and then some kale for something green. For me, every soup needs a little green. My Cooking Assistant agrees.

Jamaican (Red) Bean Soup with Lime and Coconut
Peppers, coconut and lime combine to make this irresistible hearty bean soup. Serve it with warm corn tortilla and a green salad topped with pickled beets.

2 tablespoons organic canola oil
1 red onion, medium dice
1 habanero or jalapeno pepper seeded and chopped or 1 tablespoon chopped Mama Lil's peppers
10 cloves garlic (about 1 head) peeled and minced or pressed
2 medium red potatoes, washed and diced
1 small yam, washed and diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dry oregano
5 cups water
2 cans rinsed and drained white or red beans
2 cups finely sliced kale
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
Juice of 1 lime, or 2 tablespoons fresh juice
Salt to taste

1. Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add oil, onion and pepper. Stir and cook until onions are lightly browned. Add garlic, potatoes, yams, cumin, oregano and water. Bring to a boil; then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are soft, about 25 minutes.

2. Stir in beans, kale, rice, red wine vinegar and coconut milk. Cook until kale is soft, about 5 minutes. Add juice of 2 limes. Taste and add more the remaining lime, if desired. Salt to taste.

I have to say anyone who has ever eaten this soup loves it, even Tom who normally makes few comments, said, "Excellent."

This is my Cooking Assistant's portion.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Farm to Church Connections

This photo was part of a slide show in my presentation at this amazing workshop at St. John's Episcopal Church in Snohomish. Because people are so visual and they connect to presenters in different ways, I prepared a slide show for my part in the workshop, but the thing is I'd actually never actually presented a slide show. So I went to the Mac store where a nice techie showed me how to do one. It looked so easy, I created the show and was lulled into thinking it would be a snap. What could go wrong? But once we got my MacBook connected to the projector, we all stared at a blank screen. Fifty-five people and we all waited until this young techie (about 17) arrived, and everyone breathed a collective sign of relief as he saved my show.

A number of people who attended this event recieve weekly CSA boxes from Erick Fritch of Chinook Farms during harvest season. Eric had a beaufiful table near the back of the room, with one of his unique wooden CSA boxes and great photos of his farm. Eric was born and raised in Snohomish and sells his produce primarily through his CSA, but he's also planning on selling at the Edmonds Farmers' Market this coming summer. CSA members come out to his farm to pick up their weekly boxes and sometimes these folks get harvest their own vegetables. "It's fun to watch kids pull a potato from the ground and see where their food really comes from," Eric told me.

Talking with Eric made me recall an interview I did with Jabrila Via of Winter Green Farm in Noti, Oregon when I was writing their farm's profile for The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook. Jabrila had told me about a program in Eugene, Oregon called "That's My Farmer," a unique program that connects faith communities to farmers.

I wanted to share just a few of the many slides that I presented for this workshop. The picture at the top is Michael and Liz of Grouse Mountain Farm in Chelan and both it and the one below were taken at the U-District Market in Seattle.

This is Marilyn Lynn of Rama Farm at the U-District market this past fall. Why not slip some images of my farmers in first? I get Rama Farm's unique tree fruit CSA every year and I've already paid for this season, so I'm ready for Rama Farm peaches when the season arrives in August.

I also couldn't miss the opportunity to tell Nash Huber's story, just in case some people didn't know Nash instigated PCC Farmland Trust when Nash's neighbor's farm was slated for development. He's the only farmer from the Northwest and the only vegetable farmer to recieve the Land Steward of the Year award from American Farmland Trust. I also talked about why Nash's farm crew now also grows seed crops and grains. A local farm hero in Washington, Nash Huber also grows big sweet carrots that have become legendary.

I included photos of Oregon farms and I really like this picture taken Whistling Duck Farm in Grants Pass, Oregon. It really makes the word "hand-harvested" come alive. Many people forget a lot of work goes into bringing this vibrant fresh food to market.

It was my first slide show and I wasn't mortified, but some photos don't work at all on the big screen. I'll weed out the too dark photos for the next event. For comic relief and a few ahhhhh and wake-up moments I tossed in a few photos of my Cooking Assistant. He's a great prop with food because stares at everything like a wind up model.

I leave you with this one of Finn and my bottle of Dunbar Farms Red, produced by David Mostue of Dunbar Farms in Medford, Oregon, because after all, red wine has some health benefits and you can find so many standout varieites produced right here in the Northwest.
I was so inspired and enthused about this event, it was all I could talk about the rest of the day.
I hope other faith centers and churches pick up farm to community trend and help spread the word about locally grown produce from sustainable farms.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

$100 A Week--Cheating on a budget

I was scraping the last of the hazelnut butter from the jar, when the first thoughts of cheating on my food budget appeared. Oh right, a budget is so easy until it cramps your style. Anyway, I suddenly wanted almond butter, and not the kind you buy easily on $100-a-week budget. (I'm not sure there is good almond butter available for the tightwad cook, and that's the problem--I'm not a natural born tightwad; I'm shoehorning my fancy tastes into a smaller budget.) I never realized I was such a food snob until I started this budget.

What would it matter just to order a box like this? a little voice echoed in my head.

The more I imagined the flavors, the more I wanted almond butter--so creamy and fresh when spread on an apple slice. But thoughts of cheating on my so-called food budget made me remember my sour disappointment in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver when I read that they kept "emergency rations of mac and cheese," and never gave up coffee in their so-called year of eating only from the local food basket.

Kingsolver had referred to the 100-Mile Diet couple as "purists." But I was also disappointed when I discovered the 100-Mile Diet couple ate processed food from the industrial food chain whenever they traveled. On their TV show on the Green Planet, they renamed this the Randy Rule. Go out of town and what you eat doesn't count. I wonder if most Americans (oh and Canadians, maybe the whole world) are just into denial.

"The first and worst fraud is to cheat oneself. All sin is easy after that," said Pearl Bailey, an American singer and actress from the 1950s. So if I cheat on a food budget, who really cares besides me and my savings account?

I finally decided if I wanted the almond butter, I'd have to use money from my "dream box" and buy less blueberries this summer. Almost as soon I'd resigned myself to counting change and doing with less in the future, I spotted a familiar jar on the back shelf of the refrigerator. The label was turned away from me, but as I reached for it, I realized it was a full jar of my favorite Massa Organics almond butter.

Happy days! No cheating or robbing the blueberry fund for me, not yet anyway, but I'll tell you this, if I go off the budget, I'm going to call it what it is--cheating the food budget. And I'm not keeping emergency rations of mac and cheese on hand any time soon. We're so lucky in this country to have a back-up food system and all the justification we want for our food preferences.

What about you? What's your weakness?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Soup Project: Dilled Cabbage, Mushroom and Potato Soup

I stopped at Tall Grass Bakery to buy a baguette last Saturday at the market and while I was waiting to pay, I spotted the most beautiful rustic pumpernickel loaf I'd ever seen. How could I have missed this lovely bread on other weeks? I often see things I'd never noticed previously while waiting to pay, and this bread practically shouted for a cabbage or sauerkraut soup. I'd been looking for a good cabbage soup, so I bought the bread.

On my way out of the market I stopped at the Patty Pan Grill to get tickets for this dinner event. While I was there, I mentioned my bread and cabbage soup idea to Devra. She told me she had a great cabbage soup recipe in her book Local Bounty."It tastes like a corned beef deli sandwich without the beef," she'd said.

The idea of sandwich flavors in a soup bowl intrigued me. I never thought about adding mustard to a cabbage soup, but if you tried my Rustic Lentil Soup recipe, I get mustard as unique soup ingredient. And a sandwich in a soup bowl sounds like peasant food to me-- simple, good flavored food.

When you think about it soup has sustained people since the beginning of time. I wondered how old this culinary dish was, so I checked The History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat and found this illustration of an open-air kitchen in 1570. Of course it's only logical that soup's predecessors were made in big cauldrons over open fires.
Here are a few other things I discovered about soup in history:
  • Soup is probably as old as the first fire, but the oldest recorded soup can be dated to about 6,000 B.C.
  • The word soup is Germanic in origin and comes from the word "sop" which refers to a piece of bread used to soak up a thick stew
  • In 1772 a cookbook called The Frugal Houswife contained an entire chapter devoted to soup
  • During colonial days, German immigrants living in Pennsylvania were famous for their potato soups.
  • "Pocket soups" that could be reconsituted with a little hot water were often carried by colonial travelers

For this cabbage soup recipe, I combined the best of two recipes for this soup, but my main idea came from Local Bounty. I added the mushrooms, celery and carrots from Mushroom Barley Soup in Vegetarina (1984,The Dial Press) by Nava Atlas. I didn't add the barley for this soup because even though I added vegetables, the rule is: less is usually better with soup and I try not to add a starch that competes with the star of the show which means potatoes, for this recipe anyway. Get potatoes with a good flavor from the market because the soup doesn't cost much to make and a good potato flavor is worth the extra expense.

Dilled Cabbage, Mushroom and Potato Soup with Pumpernickel Bread
The idea is to place a slice of bread into each soup bowl, but I couldn't stand to do it with Tall Grass Bakery bread, it's just too beautiful.

1/2 ounce dry mushrooms (use a wild mix or porcini)
2 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 teaspoons dill weed
1 teaspoon whole caraway seeds
4 cups water or stock
2 medium potatoes, washed and cut into bite-size chunks
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
4 to 6 cups shredded cabbage
2 to 3 tablespoons mustard
Sliced pumpernickel bread

1. Soak mushrooms in boiling water for at least an hour. Remove mushrooms and chop, reserving liquid.

2. Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add oil, onion, celery, and carrots. Reduce heat, stir and cook until onions are soft. Stir in garlic, dill, and caraway seeds. Then pour in water or stock, mushroom water and add chopped mushrooms and potatoes. Cook for 30 minutes or until potatoes are done, add salt, pepper to taste. Blend in mustard and all but 1/2 cup of the shredded cabbage.

3. Garnish with remaining cabbage and serve with pumpernickel bread. Serves 6 to 8

Friday, February 18, 2011

The History of Food in Two Books

Most of us tend to have a macro lens when it comes to food. People talk about the importance of knowing where our food comes from and who grows it, but we don't usually look at food through the long lens of history. That's exactly what Devra Gartenstein does in her new book, Cavemen, Monks and Slow Food (available on Kendel).

When I first heard about this book, I was intrigued. Decades ago, I got a degree in anthropology and history from Western Washington University in Bellingham. I love reading about details from the past and speculating about the future, and I hone in on food history in the early 20th century, the 19th century and way back to the beginning of time. What foodie isn't secretly fascinated by food in history and fascinated with old photographs and even cave paintings of food? Vegetable, bean, grain, meat and fish, I like reading about foods in the past, how it was obtained, cooked and who ate it.

Before I ordered Cavemen, Monks and Slow Food, I got out this compendium from the 1990s that I picked up at a book sale a few years ago. I'd read a few chapters and returned again and again to look at photos, but since I was getting Devra's book, I thought it would be fun to compare these two books that purport to be about the history of food.

The History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat (1987; translated by Anthea Bell in 1992) has been described as quirky, inclusive and encyclopedic on one hand and also criticized for being overly French-orientated and not covering everything. I liked the book's chapters devoted to subjects such as "gathering," "hunting," "bread and cereals," "treasures of the forest," "sugar, "chocolate." At first glance this book seemed fairly comprehensive, but really, when you think about it, even in 800 plus pages, how can you possibly write the entire world history of food?

Still this book has so much useful information, you should check it out. (Look for it at used book sales or the library because it's out of print.) It's easy to look up facts about honey, vegetables, or even kitchen gardens. And I'm a fool for old pictures; and okay maybe it's a little shallow, but I never get tired of seeing drawings of how sugar was made in the nineteenth century or checking out reproductions of famous food hunting and gathering etchings, drawings and paintings.

After reading Cavemen, Monks and Slow Food, I realized the huge gap and downfall of Toussaint-Samat's book was that lame last chapter with discussion of calories, enzymes and vitamins in food. Really? What about the industrial food system? And what about the future of food? I want speculations.

That's where Cavemen, Monks, and Slow Food satisfied my curiosity.

Gartensteins's tome brings other historical books up to speed and puts a uniquely American slant on food history with our current industrial food system as well as sustainable farm alternatives that speak to shaping the future of food supply.

Don't try to rush though this book like some cheap novel though; savor the text slowly, think about our long-time hunger for "rare and expensive foods," and our current celebration of peasant or "artisan" foods today. And compare this book to other books on food history or any books that claim to have the last word on food history and you'll see how much this book has to offer. Cavemen, Monks and Slow Food, shares stories of food history and it also deals with the reasons for the deterioration of our current diets.

From the opening chapter with Jacques Pepin talking about good bread and butter, readers are invited into this amazing world history of food from hunters and gatherers, to our world of cheap grocery store food that currently looks a lot like an economic bubble feeding our illusions that cheap imported food will continue forever like our stock market convictions in the early 21st century.

I think at the heart of it, we're all curious about where our food supply came from and where it's going. The only thing that really I wanted from this book (besides some of those photos from Toussaint-Samat's book) was to learn more about how our dwindling water resources world wide will impact the future of farms and food. Maybe that's in the next volume; if so I'll be the first on my block to get that book, too. I loved the hopeful ending of this book that seemed to be a celebration of our sustainable food system. This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's worth taking the time to read it to the end. Check it out on Kindle and read this book!!!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Soup Project: Franz Kafka and Meyer Lemon Leek, Mushroom and Potato Soup

Soup for Valentine's Day? Why not? The concept of a peasant food on a holiday intrigues me. And the idea made me curious how many others (bloggers, cooking Websites, etc) included soup in the Valentine's Day celebratory meal for lovers.

At All Recipes it's the decadent lobster bisque, and at Whirled Soup it's a fabulous sweet potato soup. At Seriously Soupy, check out the chocolate soup--not sure I'd have it for dinner, but what a great idea for dessert! Okay soup isn't a traditional Valentine's Day dinner, but the search made me realize just how popular soup is these days. As for leek soup--though I missed them at the market this week, it's that time year when people make leek soup.

One recipe came to me a few weeks ago from Chris Curtis at the U-District Market. She handed me the recipe and said, "I don't know if you have this soup recipe or not yet." Oddly the same day, I got another leek soup recipe from Casdadia Mushrooms as I was buying shiitake mushrooms. And when I got home, I saw that 101 Cookbooks had just posted this leek soup recipe. It seemed like some kind of sign and when I found this quirky book at the library that afternoon, I was sure Kafka's Soup was yet another leek soup recipe.
It wasn't, but the cover was way too intriguing to pass up. When I opened the book this was on the inside flap: "If you've ever wondered what it would be like to make dinner with Franz Kafka, Jane Austin or Raymond Chandler, this is the chance to find out. Literary ventriloquist Mark Crick presents fourteen recipes in the voices of famous writers from Homer to Virginia Wolf to Irvine Welsh."

Every recipe in this little book lists ingredients and the instructions are written like short stories dictated by famous authors. Quick Miso Soup a la Franz Kafka is a very plain soup with only four ingredients--miso, silken tofu, mushrooms and a few leaves of wakame. As the story opens, K. isn't quite sure whether he invited his dinner guests or they simply showed up unannounced, and like The Trial, it isn't long before K. refers his "guests" as officials and wonders what positions they hold. K. assumes his "guests" are passing judgment over his culinary inadequacy at every turn and even as he's slicing the tofu he feels at odds and alienated at his own dinner party. Mark Crick has captured K. perfectly.

At one point K. notices his guests are already enjoying his wine that he hadn't yet offered, and he atttempts to shame them for taking such liberties. "How's the wine?" He inquires with a hint of sarcasm. They chorus, "It would be better with some food. But since you have not even granted us the courtesy of dressing for dinner we do not have high hopes."

Even if you aren't into Kafka, this book is a hoot. I loved Lamb with Dill Sauce a la Raymond Chandler as well as the Clafoutis Grandmere a la Virginia Woolf. And speaking of cherries, I've got some thawing in the refrigerator for this dessert. What more could you want from a holiday--good food, good stories and a decadent, sexy ending to the meal?

Here's the soup of the day:

Meyer Lemon Leek, Mushroom and Potato Soup
This soup is a combination of Simple Mushroom & Leek Soup from Cascadia Mushrooms Cream of Leek Soup (minus the cream) from the U-District Market and my own imagination. The shiitake mushrooms give a backbone. These mushrooms have a meaty texture when dry-fried and add a depth of flavor that compliments delicate leeks. The potatoes should be practically falling apart when done and this way, they create a thicker texture. If you want to add protein, but not meat, take a page from Kafka's Soup and cut a block of tofu into bite-size pieces and add them during the last stage of cooking, or cut some Field Roast into tiny pieces and toss them at any time.

1/2 to 1 pound small to medium shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and reserved and tops sliced (Save the stems in the freezer for stock later).
3 medium to large leeks, thinly sliced white and light green parts
2 tablespoons olive oil or 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter
4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 cup diced celery
2 medium potatoes, medium dice
1 medium sweet potato, medium dice
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon thyme or basil
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped Meyer lemon zest
5 cups water or stock
Handful of arugula, chopped
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped cilantro or finely sliced arugula
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese or bread crumbs (optional)

1. Heat a heavy pot over medium heat. Add mushrooms and dry-fry until they soften. Remove from pan and set aside. In the same pot, saute leeks in oil and butter until soft. Add garlic, celery, red potatoes and sweet potatoes. Stir to coat vegetables.

2. Add bay leaf, thyme, lemon zest and water or stock. Simmer for about 45 minutes or until potatoes are very soft. Add lemon juice and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro, chives or my favorite, finely chopped arugula. Grate some cheese if you like or sprinkle with bread crumb (a good way to use crouton crumbs). Serves 4

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cookie Cutter Classics: Lemon Sugar Cookies

I'm a sucker for simple cut-out cookies. No frosting, just the equisite flavor of butter, local whole-wheat pastry flour and sugar.

Cut-out sugar cookies were the first thing I learned to bake as a child, and when I was a teenager I collected a variety of cookie cutters. I haven't added to this collection for years, but I still love to rummage through it, looking for the perfect shape for a holiday or celebration. Just a few days ago I was looking for a heart cookie cutter to make cookies for Valentine's Day.

These are just a few of the odd shapes I found, and I have to say some of them make me wonder what I was thinking when I bought them. Okay I get the bat and ghost, but on what occasion would I bake whale cookies? And what's the story behind the carrot cookie cutter?
The most intriguring shape I found was an axe. Maybe it's supposed to be for President's day but I couldn't resist baking the heart and axe together. Why not send mixed messages this Valentine's Day?
I changed the recipe from this Sunset version that listed two eggs, a cup of butter and way too much flour. I don't need that many cookies, and since I've cut my food budget allowance, only one egg was allowed for the cookies this week. Local flour, butter and eggs improves the taste of these cookies. Trust me, even on a food budget it's worth it to go for quality. Here's the recipe:

Lemon Sugar Cookies
(Makes about thirty 2-inch cookies)
These simple butter cookies are a lot like my favorites and they get most of their flavor from locally-produced fresh whole wheat flour and the local butter. Don't skimp on the quality of ingredients for these sweet treasures.

1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon chopped lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 extra-large egg, beaten
2 1/2 cups Nash's whole wheat pastry flour
3 teaspoons baking powder

1. In a large mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar together until smooth and creamy. Blend in the lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla extract. When mixture is blended, stir in the beaten egg.

2. In a separate bowl combine the pastry flour and baking powder. Blend well. Combine the egg mixture and flour mixture, adding more flour if necessary to make the dough form a ball. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

3. Preheat oven to 350. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and roll out to 3/8-inch thick. Cut into desired shapes and lay on parchment paper on a baking sheet or on a nonstick cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes. Cool on a cooling rack.

Scary close-up with one lone crumb clinging to my Cooking Assistant's nose.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

$100 A Week--dining out on a budget

Just when I think I've got the hang of how to stick to my $100-a-week budget, something else pops up. This month it's Valentine's Day. Of course I love the flowers, the card and chocolates but when a friend recently said, "Aren't you going out?" I realized fine dining doesn't shoehorn into what I consider my tiny food budget. With $100-a-week even casual lattes can crowd out nutritious fruits and vegetables and of course cooking at home is essential.

I can whip up practically anything in my own kitchen, and my Cooking Assistant is happy to the clean bowls, but what if I seriously wanted to or had to eat a meal away from home? How does dining out fit into a small food budget?
For dining ideas for tightwads, I checked my library copy of Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson. I found these tips for frugal dining out:

  • Look for prix fixe menu deals and early bird specials
  • Check ads for 2-for-1 restaurant specials
  • Go for drinks and appetizers
  • Dine out for lunch instead of dinner
  • Share an entree
  • Skip dessert and drinks
  • Skip dinner and go for dessert and drinks or coffee
My favorite restaurant option is dessert and drinks or coffee. We get a seat at a bar much faster than waiting for a table, the price for two is usually under $20 (for one drink and dessert) and we "people watch" while enjoying dessert out. If you want a fancy dinner, you can make a "dream box" like the one I mentioned in this post, where you save a certain amount of money for special dinners at fancy restaurants. But if delayed gratification isn't your thing, check out the humble feast at the Patty Pan Cafe at 2310 E. Madison. It's new, and the first month's offerings include Chicken Stew with Dumplings or a vegan Lentil Shepherd's Pie and Apple Strudel for dessert. Sounds like an incredible humble feast to me. Advance reservations make the dinner $10; at the door the price is $12. I'm making reservations today. Hope to see you there.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Soup Project: Black Bean Chili and meal planning

Ever since Oprah's staff took the week long vegan challenge, people have been asking about vegan diets. In our house, I'm not vegan but rarely eat dairy products and Tom eats meat but doesn't shop or cook much, so our dinners tend to be vegan with dairy optional. It's not that hard to do, but when I checked the menus on Oprah's challenge week, I was surprised they relied heavily on faux meat substitutions, like tofurkey (something carnivores usually snicker about and never take seriously).

Vegan Meal Planning
At our house, we rely on grains and beans to build our meals, a much more economical way to eat than packaged processed faux meat. (One exception to this is Field Roast, a version of seitan, a wheat-gluten meat substitute that has quite an amazing texture and flavor and is worth experimenting with in recipes.)

For great suggestions on vegan budget meal planning (or even if you just want to cut back on meat consumption) check out Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson, author of Vegan Planet. Planned leftovers, cutting down on kitchen waste, and keeping a well-stocked pantry are just some of the suggestions in this useful book. Robertson also covers buying CSA memberships, produce stands, and growing your own produce. I liked the simplicity of her recipes and even selected one, White Beans and Lemon Potatoes, to make this week.
Here is a quick look at this week's vegan dinner selections at our house:

1. Black Bean Chili (from The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook), Lemon Coleslaw (from Barbara Kafka's Vegetable Love) and corn chips

2. Leek Soup (adapted from 101 Cookbooks), tortilla wraps with spicy yams and black eyed peas and Lemon Coleslaw

3. Lemon-Parsley Quinoa Pilaf, roasted vegetables with horseradish sauce

4. Shepherd's Pie with Lentils (adapted from The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook), green salad and grilled garlic toast

5. Wild Rice and Mushroom Casserole, braised kale and green salad

6. Pizza Party with roasted vegetables, Chipotle Field Roast, (cheese optional) and green salad

7. White Beans with Lemon Potatoes and Greens (adapted from Vegan on the Cheap), cornbread and green salad

One secret I discovered for a successful meal plan within a budget is to set aside a half an hour to come up with recipe ideas and generate your food list for the week. Make sure to also consider desserts. This week we look forward to Raw Apple Cake and Lemon Sugar Cookies with fruit compote.

Here's the recipe of the week:

Black Bean Chili
This recipe is one of my favorites adapted from The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook. I created it for black eyed peas, but you can easily use black beans like the ones I bought from the Alvaraz family farm last fall at the farmers' market. This chili goes nicely with cornbread or warm corn tortillas and a green salad.

2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
2 red onions, peeled and diced
1 jalapeno, finely chopped (remove seeds if desired) or use 1 tablespoon chopped "kick butt" Mama Lil's peppers
1 heaping tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 carrot, sliced
1 1/2 cups dry black beans, soaked overnight and drained
3 cups water
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 tablespoon sugar
Salt to taste
Chopped cilantro, diced avocado, copped green onions or bread crumbs for garnish

1. Heat a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil, onion, and jalapenos. Stir, cover, reduce heat to low and cook until the onons are soft.

2. Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic, carrot, black beans, water, tomatoes and tomato paste. Mix well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the black beans are tender--about an hour.

3. Add vinegar, sugar and salt to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes. Garnish with cilantro, avocado or green onions, if desired. Serves 4 to 6.

Stay tuned for ideas on how to dine out on a tightwad's budget plan. Here's a humble feast designed for those who want to dine out but often don't have the cash flow for high end meals. Check it out.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

$100 A Week--Make a List and Choose Your Food Carefully

Last month I learned that hunded dollars a week spent at the market doesn't cover everything, and I recently explored alternative shopping options--discount and outlets, big box, chain, and natural food grocery stores.

Yesterday I saw a number of people outside the local Grocery Outlet picking through the 2-for-a-dollar shopping carts outside the store. For a second I imagined they were homeless people picking through garbage cans, but I think street people could find more nutritious foods in a well-chosen garbage can than the 2-for-a-dollar offerings outside this discount store. One cart was loaded with single-serving noodle dinners where you just add water (one woman eagerly tossed about twenty cartons in her cart); the other cart contained ice berg lettuce with brown spots on the heads. I'd never seen ice berg lettuce that noticably old and it's no surprise there were more people stuffing the noodle dinners into their carts.

Choose your food carefully on a food budget because unhealthy foods aren't really a bargain. I often wonder about the tightwad coupon clippers you see on TV who claim to feed their family of 4 for $350, including household items like toilet paper. What's for dinner at their house?

Food budget rule number one: food should be nutritious have some guarantee of safety (ie not in danger of being recalled like this.)

So far, I've found that having a set amount of money to spend is enlightening and more like a puzzle. The majority of my economic pie is devoted to fresh food, and one of the first things on my list is eggs--the real thing from a farmer I know. Sure they cost more (about twice the price as organic from a natural foods store) but I don't feel as though I'm playing Russian Roulette because of all the egg recalls and problems with conventional eggs. And besides I like to help support local farmers, and buying eggs is one example.
I have a fairly well-stocked pantry with dried fruits, spices, herbs, beans and grains and a freezer that still has last summer's fruit.

Here is what a eighty dollars of my food budget looks like translated into food for two for the week:

Farmers' Market (all certified organic except bread and mushrooms):
Arugula raab
Carrots (4)
Potatoes (5)
Golden Beet (1)
Parsnip (1)
Crusty artisan bread from Preston Bakery
Apples (4)
Whole wheat/Triticale Flour (4 pounds, my market splurge of the week)
Natural Foods Store
Romaine lettuce (organic)
Cilantro (organic)
Celery (organic)
1 Garnet yam (organic)
1 Grapefruit (organic)
7 Bananas (organic)
Corn tortillas (organic)
Chipotle Field Roast (vegan grain-based sausage)
Bay leaves
Cheese (Appel brand)
Old-fashioned oats (3 pounds, organic)
Cost Co
Coffee (organic, 3 pounds)
Grocery Outlet
Onions (3 pounds, nonorganic)

After buying all this I have $19.00 in bills remaining plus a significant amount of change to feed one of the "dream boxes" from my last post. When shopping with a set amount, one important thing I learned is this:

Never spend everything in your food envelope in one place on the first day of the week.
Anything might come up later, like oh I forgot apples or potatoes. We're so lucky living in this place where real high-quality food is within walking distance, sometimes just outside your door like this blogger.

Okay, my inner food snob won't go away anytime soon, but I trust the quality of organic foods more than the large-scale conventional growers, and I like to support my farming neighbors, so that part won't change. I just need to find a way to make it all work, spending on a lower-scale. Check out these organic potatoes from Olson Farms--never a black spot in the middle and the slightly sweet flavor screams more with every bite.
When I got the apples from Jersey Boyz, Winne asked, "What are you making?" That's another thing about a food budget--most food is made at home, including dessert like this amazing Raw Apple Cake.
Tune in tomorrow and check out the menus that generated my shopping list, get the best black bean chili recipe plus an opportunity to fit dining out into a $100 food budget.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

$100 A Week Food Budget--5 Foods I Refuse to Give Up

One hundred dollars for a food budget could be a lot for some people and not nearly enough for others. When I ran this figure by people at my fitness center, one friend rolled her eyes and said, "We could never do that. We eat meat." Another woman said she never spent close to $100 because she shopped sales and clipped coupons. A number of people claimed they spent well under $100, but never officially kept tract. Some people wanted to know if eating out counted on a food budget. But what really shocked me was most people don't have a clue how much they really spend on food every week. Last year for example, I spent an average of $120 to $160 a week at the farmers' market (less in winter, more in summer). And in 2008, we ate only food from farmers' markets and my average food expense was $80.00 a week in the winter andbetween $160 to $180 a week spring through fall (without going to restaurants or eating meat).

Can two people who love fresh local foods live on a hundred-dollar-a-week food budget year-round?

The first week I was up for the challenge for this new food budget, born from necessity, and
"The Soup Project," was born. Writing menus and buying lower priced local organic market vegetables like cabbage seemed so easy, I decided to continue this plan but not like one of those year-long Julie and Julia type projects where I'm trying to lure a book publisher's interest, this is real life. Some people live on fixed or smaller incomes and world food prices aren't expected to decline anytime soon, and even Marc Kurlansky in a recent interview talked about how much of the locally produced organic food isn't really affordable to those who live lower on the economic ladder.

The second week of my so-called budget as I spooned the last of my Jasmine Pearl tea into my tea strainer, I thought about many other high-end foods I've come to love, most from shopping at farmers' markets. I didn't want to give up my favorite tea or any other favorite foods of summer, but what's a foodie supposed to do when six pints of organic blueberries can put a huge dent in the weekly budget plan. I could see my food budget crumbing even before berry season arrives if I don't change my ways. I suddenly felt like the clueless obese dieter who doesn't get that she can't eat the apple pie ala mode anymore, or can she?

I wrote a list of all the foods that could seriously eat up my food budget.

Here are 5 high-end foods I simply can't live without:

1. North Star Cherries from Grouse Mountain Farm explode with deep complex flavors with every bite. I look forward to these cherries every summer and buy enough to dehydrate for gifts and to have a special Valentine's Day dessert. It's almost time to bring out these luscious gems.
2. Rent's Due Ranch blueberries make me feel like I'm in heaven when I eat them, and though I've tried many, many varieties, I always go back to Rent's Due Ranch. I don't know how they do it at Rent's Due Ranch (maybe it's that big compost pile ), but I'd rather forego a new pair of running shoes for the chance to fill my freezer with these treasures.

3. Grouse Mountain Farm walnuts are so amazing they crack by just rolling them under your hand. Each half breaks evenly and the shells remind me of Thumbelina, a tiny fairy who slept in a walnut shell. I've never seen these unique walnuts anywhere else in Oregon or Washington markets. Though a box of these will last me all winter, and unless I stock up on staples (beans and grains) and cut back on fresh foods, purchasing a box of walnuts could seriously put me over my food budget.
4. Massa Organics Almond Butter--is one of the sweetest things in life. I couldn't believe it when I found this almond butter at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market in 2008. I've blogged about it before and I've just got to say that when someone says "Why don't you just grind your own almonds at Fred Meyer," there's no point explaining the lure of "the best" flavors.
5. Good crusty artisan bread is not the same as baking your own bread. I don't know how many people say "Can't you just bake your own bread." Not like this. I hate to admit it but bread is my favorite comfort food, and Tall Grass Bakery in Seattle is one of my favorites. The Bread Farm in Skagit County is also great but my most memorable bread experience was on Granville Island where I got a 100 Mile Loaf for $8, a price that doesn't easily fit into a budget plan.

What's a local food lover to do? I hatched a plan just this morning. Over a decade ago I took a class at Discover U called Get What You Want With the Money You Already Have by Carole Keeffe. She designed a "Dream Box" where you save for things you want the old-fashioned way by pumping coins into the box. I have two of Dream Boxes and when I checked inside one, I found a significant amount of change already saved. I'm on the road to blueberries and walnuts. Now all I need is to get out my calculator and see how much I need to save for the summer treasures I love.
Why not make your own "Dream Box," and start saving for the things that give you joy. What's the number one food that you can't live without?