What’s for Supper?

As promised in my last post, today’s topic is familiar to everyone.  Since I’m trying to lower my food bills and wastes while at the same time eating a healthy diet, I thought it might be helpful to offer some tips that I’ve found for getting a decent evening meal on the table without a lot of fuss or money. I no longer have young children living at home, nor do I have a day job anymore  (writing this blog is my ‘night job’ 🙂 )  but I haven’t forgotten the challenge of putting together the evening meal. I had four kids and a picky husband that I fed 3 times a day, 365 days a year, for oh, at least 25 years. Eating out happened only once or twice a year back then.

Michael is not picky, except for his desire for our meals to be as low-fat as possible. Since he contributes almost as much time in the kitchen as I do, and since I’ve learned the dangers of a high fat diet to my health, I’m accommodating. That said, my desire for keeping the food budget low so that we don’t have “more month than money” is important to me too. Where do we start then?

Breakfast for us is always crock pot oats (bought in 50 lb bags for $26) doctored up with apples (dried or fresh), raisins and cinnamon. A dab of honey is mixed into the crock at the end of cooking so that it mixes well into the hot oatmeal. A potful is stored in the ‘frig and lasts us 4 or 5 days.  Lunch is always leftovers from the previous night’s meal, so we simply make sure that we prepare enough to provide us with that noon time meal, even if it means stretching it with extra beans or potatoes. Or, if there’s not quite as much left from supper as we’d like, we simply supplement this meal with a salad from the garden, leftover cornbread from the night before or perhaps green beans or peaches that were canned last summer. That just leaves supper to deal with.

Since we eat a plant-based diet, we don’t have to worry about the price of meat. Instead, we spend our grocery dollars on what’s fresh and seasonal. We buy in bulk when it’s cost-effective to do so, doing a monthly (or even bimonthly) shopping trip to stock up on staples. Trips to the store ‘between times’ are limited to fresh soy milk or produce specials.

I believe the one thing that makes it easiest to stick to my ‘food values’ is planning ahead. After a full day of activity, staring into the refrigerator at 5 PM with no idea of what I’m going to cook, is a recipe for disaster.  I like to determine ‘what’s for supper’ each morning by taking a quick peak in there to see what needs to be used first. Then I plan the evening meal based on that. Wednesday I made a big pot of curried split pea/cauliflower soup, because I had a half head of it that needed to be used. We enjoyed the soup with slices of the homemade bread Michael had made over the weekend, and had sweet cranberry/nut bread for dessert, using up the remaining fresh cranberries we’d bought at Christmas. Last night he made ‘Lentil Tacos’ using the lentils I’d cooked ahead and frozen in the 2 cup portions that we need for most recipes. I do this with all kinds of dried beans since it doesn’t take any longer to cook a pound than it does to cook a cup or two. Adding condiments and spices to the thawed lentils gave them a taste and texture very much like real beef tacos. We enjoyed it wrapped in fresh corn tortillas, topped with chopped lettuce from the garden, diced tomatoes, plain homemade yogurt (in place of sour cream) and summer-canned salsa. (I forgot to take a picture of the tacos-from-lentils that he made, but I did take one of the ‘Sloppy Lentils’ and oven baked ‘fries’ that we enjoyed recently. It was yummy too!


Because I had cooked a big pot of brown rice earlier in the day (an everyday staple also bought in bulk) he made a big bowl of rice pudding for dessert that  used up the remaining cup or so of plain soy milk that had been opened for mashed potatoes recently. Adding creamy milk, raisins and spices (bought in bulk too!) like cinnamon and cardamom to the rice reminds me of chai tea. YUM! There’s still enough pudding for several more bowls and tonight’s stir fry will be served over the remaining rice. Like beans, cooking rice in bulk saves time and energy.

For a balanced diet, I try to rotate meals by including rice, potatoes, pasta or beans as the basis for the main entrée, then add sides of salads or fresh cooked veggies that we’ve grown or purchased fresh and on sale at the little grocery store that’s within walking distance of our home. Soups are a limitless mainstay around here, and a great way to use small amounts of leftover foods. Salads don’t have to be filled with exotic or expensive veggies to be good. Letting the lettuces be the ‘belle of the bowl’ keeps costs way down, as does making your own dressings. 


The point is, by planning ahead, growing and preserving what we can (oh! we’re going to miss our bees’ honey when it’s gone!), eating seasonally and cooking from scratch, we’re able to eat on less than the USDA’s recommended ‘thrifty plan’, which is about $4 per person, per day. Not buying sodas and juices, processed or snack type foods keeps our food costs down and our bodies healthy. We drink cups of (bulk) hot tea or water with our meals and snack on a wide variety of fresh or dried fruits, popcorn, sweet breads and muffins, nuts, smoothies and fruit tarts made with little effort. We collect recipes the way most shoppers do coupons and enjoy the cooking process and discovering new ways to use old ingredients! I’ll occasionally use a coupon for the weekly deal at Earth Fare, which is close to our home and sells the kind of food we enjoy, but otherwise, I find they’re just not needed for rice, beans, oats and fruits. 

Having a food system that’s COMPLETELY dependent on oil, huge monocrop farms and globalized transport makes me feel powerless, but sticking to the basics of fruits, grains and veggies enables me to make easy substitutions when those factors that are out of my control affect price or availability. This built-in resilience assures me that the eternal question of “what’s for supper?” gets answered every day.

A month of FOOD

Naturally dyed eggs

I’m going to try something new, in this newish month of this New Year. For the rest of January, I plan to write about everybody’s favorite subject-FOOD! We’ll discuss seasonal eating, growing and preserving tips, local food,  plant-based recipes, nutrition, food costs, food waste, food storage, and…well, you get the idea. I may run out of month before I run out of topics!

Michael and I have kept track of all of our expenses since Day One. So after a dozen years of tracking, we know what’s ‘normal’ and what’s not. We’re seeing an upward trend in our monthly food costs, and in trying to figure out why, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all aspects of our food, which is why I thought this may be a good month to write about all things foody. I’m betting many of us have resolved to eat less, spend less, waste less, cook more, or in some way do something different where our food is concerned. May these January posts inspire or in some way be helpful to you.

Before I get into any specifics though, I have some wonderful news to crow about. The friend that co-founded the local C.O.O.P. group with me last year received a letter today from the city that said in part: “Thank you for helping resolve the complaints we received. My codes officers tell me they see no health issues at this time…therefore I will close this case.” I was with Emily last Friday when the zoning code/public health officers came to her house to inspect her chicken coop and hens. As always, the hens were clean, quiet, and happily enclosed in their predator proof, moveable chicken tractor. He couldn’t find one.single.problem. He took a picture, and left postcards at her neighbors’ homes informing them of her chickens’ presence in her backyard (they already knew it though) and said he’d be back this summer to further ensure there are no smells. This small revolution is a HUGE HUGE victory in our city folks, and gives new meaning to the terms “Local Food”, “Sustainability”, and “Resilient” for those of us that want nothing more than to put food on our family’s dinner plates. (Or breakfast plates, as the case may be.) 😉  If you are inclined to get your own little flock, please please follow all the rules so that you don’t run aFOWL and ruin it for the rest of us that want to enjoy our own backyard flocks too.  Here are some simple and common sense things to remember:

1. NO roosters!

2. Maximum 4 hens

3. Hens cannot be allowed to run loose, they MUST be in an enclosed area, with a MINIMUM of 4 square feet per bird

3. Feed (grains, scratch, etc) must be stored in a galvanized steel can with a tight-fitting lid, secured with a bungee if necessary

4. No slaughtering of birds

5. Scoop the poop and keep the roosts and nest areas clean

6. Build your coop like Fort Knox or raccoons, dogs and other critters WILL dig under and kill them. Chicken wire is NOT a suitable barrier between your ‘girls’ and predators. Use hardware cloth instead.

7. Be respectful of your neighbors. Talk with them before you get your hens, educate and inform them, and by all means,  share eggs with them! Consider carefully the location of your coop and run area, so that the birds are comfortable and accessible, yet are not looking into your neighbors’ bedroom or kitchen! (All this is to say, once again, that building community with your neighbors is the single best way to help you both transition to a future of climate changes and rising food or oil prices)

8. Attend the free, on-going chicken care classes that Emily and I will be teaching throughout the year. The next one will be held at Mize Farm and Garden, in Johnson City, on Saturday, Feb. 2nd, at 10 AM. Please register beforehand by calling the store: 434-1800

One final word about this initial C.O.O.P. victory: this first-time inspection and approval is fragile and will have to be REconsidered if there are any neighbor complaints. I encourage you to seek out and support those candidates in the upcoming commissioner elections that will support our local food efforts.  We’ll also be monitoring the ongoing city code revisions that are currently being considered and will let you know if the current code regarding hens in the backyard comes up for ‘discussion’. Next post: What’s for supper?


To Everything

I took the picture of the strawberries back in early April-they were the first berries I’d seen growing this year and I was excited to see them ripening in the kids’ plot at the community garden. Now, less than three months later, the June-bearers have completed their life cycle, and with the rising heat across the land, the first  blackberries ripened today. Also on this day, our spring planted vegetables came to and end as we cut the last of the broccoli, cauliflower, mezuna and lettuce. I picked the final peas, harvested 22 pounds of red and green cabbages and about 20 celery plants, dug up a hill of red potatoes and had some for supper tonight cooked with the first picking of green beans. It’s all according to a master plan, and right on schedule. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is!

The first day of summer is officially 3 days away, and with this new season will come bushel baskets of beans and peaches, zuchinni and eggplant, spiny, slimy okra and sweet, sweet corn. These are the days that I feel positively rich. Celery rich:

Nothing has ever impacted my life like growing my own food-besides raising my four daughters of course. Who knew I’d fall in love with the whole process, from seed to table? Who knew I’d be taking pictures of  food for crying out loud? I love knowing that my life energy is going into the soil and the seeds and the plants, right along with sun and water and compost. I can’t tell you how alive and empowered I felt today as I stooped over those bean plants and plucked the sun-warmed pods, filling my basket; or how GOOD it felt to snap those beans, and cook them with those  just-dug potatoes and garlic cloves; or how delicious they tasted alongside slices of  red, red early tomatoes and a spicy cauliflower  curry! The culmination of spring and the beginning of summer all came together on my dinner plate tonight, while the earth turned slowly on her axis, and a new season began. As I chopped celery to go in the dehydrator tonight, I was reminded of this scripture:

To everything there is a season

a time for every purpose under the sun.

A time to be born and a time to die;

A time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

a time to kill and a time to heal…

a time to weep and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn and a time to dance…

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to lose and a time to seek;

a time to rend and a time to sew;

a time to keep silent and a time to speak;

a time to love and a time to hate;

a time for war and a time for peace.

ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

‘Slow Food’ is slowing me down
May 3, 2012, 10:07 PM
Filed under: Slow Food, Uncategorized

 There’s an international movement afoot, called Slow Food. It aims to be everything fast food is not. Slow Food strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem. It is part of a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members in over 150 countries, which links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment. There are chapters in Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga and Memphis. Oh yeah, and right here in my garden, in my kitchen and at my table. I was thinking about this today as I watered, weeded, mulched and harvested out in the garden, then again as I washed, cut up and cooked the freshest food money can’t buy. It doesn’t get much slower than seed to table but Michael and I have grown so accustomed to growing, preserving and cooking this way that fast food simply doesn’t appeal to us anymore!

This morning I piled straw around the growing potato plants-we’ve found this so much easier than the recommended hilling up of dirt around them, and-this is the best part-it seems to confuse the ‘tater bugs so we’ve never ever had a problem with them. As a bonus, that straw breaks down and simply decomposes right into the soil, adding much needed plant matter to our clay soil.

The local farmer we buy our rye straw from tells us he doesn’t use chemical herbicides or pesticides on the growing plants, so we feel safe using it in our organic garden. At least it hasn’t produced the dreaded ‘killer compost’ that I’ve read several scary reports about. This farmer also happens to be our neighbor and he’s a good steward of the land. He tells us farming will no longer support his family, so he’s taken an outside job as a firefighter. When we bought our bales from him earlier this week, he sat on the tailgate of our old farm truck, dirty and exhausted, telling us about the problems he’s facing with higher-MUCH higher- costs of everything connected with his operation of beef, sheep, and their food and bedding. He said even the baling twine for the straw bales has gone sky high, not to mention corn seed, diesel fuel for his tractor, and the liquid fertilizer that he buys by the tanker load. He also bemoaned the latest Farm Aid bill that simply ignores the little guy like himself, as well as new regulations that make it ‘illegal’ to hire seasonal help of anyone under 18 years old. He’s used local teens as seasonal help for many years, and now he can’t do that, and the teens of course will lose the income (which probably also helps their parents with some of the many expenses that teens have and severs their exposure to the actual experience of raising food!) He told us that the federal government is also fazing out 4-H, FFA (Future Farmers of America) and that there are new regulations against the showing of animals at the county fair that are over 6 months old. Even with all these mounting odds against him, he said he loves the farming life and will keep on until he simply can’t any longer. I’m pretty sure our farmer friend is promoting slow food in his own way. Slow food is not just cooking in a crock pot, it’s a lifestyle, and Chris certainly embodies that lifestyle!

Anyway, I digress. As I mulched the Chieftan Reds and Yukon Golds this morning, Michael set out heat resistant lettuce seedlings in a new bed, and fed some of the older stuff to the chickens…

We’ll have great salads again in a couple weeks, just about the time the lettuce and arugula growing in the greenhouse has bolted. I think part of the appeal of growing our food is the anticipation. It’s often hard to keep sowing successively every 10 days, to eliminate breaks in the favorite food supply. But  it’s those very breaks that can make it so desirable. If we had salad every single day I don’t think it would be as special as it, having it in spurts like we do.  I guess the closest we come to fast food these days is picking something fresh from the garden and eating it right where we stand- we’re both guilty of that pleasure. Growing organically can sometimes test our patience;  none of the organic sprays or home remedies are nearly as fast-acting as conventional methods, but knowing that our slow food only requires a quick water spray before we eat it, makes it worth the wait. Can you see all that garlic growing in the picture above? Talk about slow food! We planted that last fall, and it won’t be ready for harvest til June, but it will keep us supplied for an entire year. That’s a LOT of garlic, because we use it almost daily. But once it’s planted and is then mulched for the winter, it’s carefree. 

We’re going to be making a couple of longer trips in the next couple of weeks, so I decided to wash the van and vacuum it. (Junie’s ‘nose art’ had become a bit of a blur on all the windows.) As I went through the process of that infrequent chore, it occurred to me that I could’ve taken the van through the car wash. But the day was perfect, the birds were truly singing their hearts out, and I simply relaxed into the process and enjoyed it. While I had the hose out, I watered the slow growing celery that is growing right here in this first bed beside the driveway:

Celery is notorious for being finicky to grow, and you guessed it, being sllloowwww. But this bed will provide us with enough celery to eat fresh for many weeks and then enough dried to last the remainder of the year too. Worth the wait, considering a bunch of organic celery is going for $4-$5 each! And now we know why. I’ve always said that we couldn’t afford to eat as well as we do  if we had to buy all this organic food. But this blog post isn’t so much about growing food as it is about the sensual pleasures and importance of  our food choices in general; this movement seems to me to also be about a slower, simpler way of life that I’ve been talking and writing about for over a decade now. Slow Food is part of that too. It’s an idea, a way of living and a way of eating that’s good, clean and fair to everyone involved. And that’s worth slowing down for.

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