Friday, July 22, 2011

$100 a Week--budget breakers versus deals and steals

The 99 cents a pound for 3 pounds or more of organic squash deal at River Farm was so good last Saturday, it looks like another week that I'll be looking for summer squash. On Sunday we had patty pan squash omeletes, on Monday it was Zucchini Chowder, on Tuesday I served zucchini fries and Thursday I whipped up a zucchini quiche from an old Sunset Favorites recipe.

With such deals at hand, you might think my $100-a-week food budget for two is doing fine, but I hate to say, it's gotten sketchy this summer. I haven' gone too far over, but as a struggling food snob, let's just say, I'm not always able to meet my goal even though I also have the berry fund that I started earlier in the season and I purchased boxes of peaches last December for this summer, long before my so-called food budget started.

The problem now is that a greater variety of produce comes into the market each week, and when so many temptations are flaunted at my inner food snob, I can't resist all of them. I think I'm only about $20 over some weeks, so I added "splurge of the week" category. Meaning I'd give up movies, meals out etc. But each week I have to really think about it and choose only one or two items to splurge on.

My favorite porcini mushrooms were under $20 last year and have gone up to $30 a pound, making just a few for an omelet about an $8.00 purchase. I got them once not realizing how much just a few cost. Like pieces of gold.

And I love berries, especially the wild ones like black raspberries (black caps), but it's hard to justify buying flats of half pints of berries that cost as much as full pints of strawberries. (For two weeks I bought black caps--a big splurge.)

When cherries finally arrived at the market they were $6 a pound for organic cherries. I could swear they were $5.50 last year and the year before that $4.50. Everything on the farm goes up and so do food prices. (Stagnant wages can't keep up. It's a tighter squeeze for many people.)

I like cherries but I'm not a huge fan. However, I do love sour pie cherries, which were available from Mair Farm for $10 a pound. Last year they were $9.50. I resisted for a few weeks, but while waiting in line last week, a woman in front of me said she'd made a cherry pie and it was so good she ate the entire thing herself. How could I resist?

Food budget was as far from my mind as the word diet is to a cupcake addict.

Another impulse item I got was English peas. I made this soup with them a few weeks ago, and as I reached for them at the Rent's Due Ranch booth along with a number other eager pea lovers, we chatted about the price, but everyone agreed that peas were worth the price. We enable each other in our market addictions, but maybe peas are a good addiction.

Yesterday evening I did a presentation at the Lynnwood Library with Super Supplements on how to get more greens into your diet. Cherie Calbom, the Juice Lady was there and I've always wanted to meet her. Seven books, an incredibly busy speaking schedule and she oozes vitality. Cherie mentioned that you can juice pea pods along with other greens and vegetables. So if you have a juicer, use pea pods in the mix.

Tomatoes are another budget breaking item at the market. At home, the blossoms on my own tomatoes look as if they're frozen in time. I'm praying for sun so tomatoes appear before the cool fall comes to spoil our summer. I'll continue to buy locally grown and look for seconds--tomatoes that aren't quite perfect enough to command full price.

I save money on greens. Many people around here whine "where's the sun?" But the greens in my yard love all this cool rainy weather and are thriving. I love the spicy mustard greens and today I'm making kale chips with the kale grown from Wild Garden Seed.

Besides growing greens, I save money by
  • becoming familiar with the best ways to store produce so it lasts through the week and have the wisdom to know what doesn't
  • bringing a list to the market
  • sticking with basics--greens, carrots, beets, cabbage; unique varieties tend to command higher prices and these are splurge items for me
  • making an easy green soup the day I get home from the market

  • And buying zucchini. When gardeners and farmers grow them, they often get boatloads of them, driving the price down. The medium-size has the best texture and flavor, especially for grilling. Zucchini is too mild and tender as a baby. And it's too watery and seedy when old. I sliced zucchini like fries and roasted until soft as they cooked I drizzled organic canola oil over them and sprinkled with them sea salt when done. They were gone so fast, I didn't even snap a picture.

These patty pan squash were also in the 99 cent tub of squash. When something is different in this country many people rate it as less valuable. Americans like uniformity and shapes that repeat themselves, and are used to seeing all similar shapes of vegetables in the bin. In spite of our claims that we're all different, uniformity comforts people.

What if uniformity looked like this?

My Cooking Assistant doesn't care how they look. It's all about smell for him. He can't resist it. That photo session ended sooner than expected.

Homegrown berries is another way to save money.

That's what I thought until my Cooking Assistant discovered the berry patch. You can also check out what he discovers at Street Pickings, his new moonlighting gig.

Here's to the berry days of summer!

Who ate all the berries?


Divya said...

Thanks for the informative post! I love your "cooking assistant"!

Debra Daniels-Zeller said...

Thanks, Finn is funny, he's getting a little bolder and is quck to grab what he sees as food.

B said...

Ugh! I wish I'd read this post yesterday! I just threw out a whole load of pea pods! What a great idea!

Debra Daniels-Zeller said...

And I just read an article yesterday about someone who pressure cooked the pods for about 5 minutes, then grilled or roasted them. I can't wait to try this one. Thanks for stopping by.