Affordable Organics?

Learning to Double Your Vegetable Dollars Is the Secret

“I’d like to buy organic vegetables, but they’re so expensive.”  Ever catch yourself dreaming of more affordable organics?  Try this on for size:   What if, every time you purchased an organic vegetable, you actually got not just one but two or three vegetables?  No doubt that would make the  economic equation a lot more attractive.

Red Wagon Beets, Golden and Red

Red Wagon Beets, Golden and Red  (Picture Courtesy of Red Wagon)

Here’s how to make that his kind of magic happen:  Waste Not.  For example, in last week’s Farmers’ Market Excursion class, we made beet relish, using a gorgeous bunch of organic red and golden beets from Red Wagon Farm.  The bunch cost $4.00, but

  • we made enough relish for two meals,
  • the next day, the beet greens were the centerpiece for another meal, and
  • the following day the beet stems went into a lentil soup.

In other words, that’s four meals’ worth of vegetables for $4.00, or $1.00 per meal for amazingly delicious, don’t-harm-the-environment, don’t-harm-me, super-nutritious vegetables.

Beets with luch, full beet greens

People in my classes always exclaim, “You really don’t waste anything!” In our food culture which routinely wastes tons and tons of food, I guess my actions do seem odd: Retrieving kale stems when class members mistake them for compost, saving the ends of grated ginger root for tea, stuffing onion ends and skins into a bag to make my own (very cheap) broths. But maybe it’s time for the new, less-wasteful food culture that Every Day Good Eating is bringing about.  (Picture Courtesy of Red Wagon)

Bear in mind, too, that this was no ordinary bunch of limp beets with scraggly tops.  They were firm and dense, the tops lush and huge and the stems plentiful.  Every part of the beet was rich with flavor–leaving the taste buds completely satisfied and providing plenty of vegetable nutrition.  Could anyone really argue that  $1.00 per meal is “too expensive” for this caliber of vegetable?

“You get what you pay for” is a universal law.  Pay little and you get little.  Happily, it works the other way, too, however.  Pay a fair price and you get a fair–often more than fair–product.

Now that you know the magic that makes organic affordable, begin learning how to use all parts of a vegetable.  Join us for our last class on beet relish at Isabelle Farm on Thursday, July 26.  Then check out the next blog for a quick way to use beet greens.  For the stems, just saute and toss them into your favorite lentil soup (which could be a canned variety, too.)


Women, Weight and Protein

Canned Chicken to the Rescue!

Did you know there’s a connection between what’s in your pantry and what’s on your thighs?  It’s true, so pay attention to this often overlooked part of the kitchen–not only to what’s there, but also to what’s not there–like high-quality canned chicken that can stave off a hunger attack in a hurry.

Weight loss is a perpetual issue among us, sadly.  Eating loses so much of its fun when accompanied by worries about weight.  So can I share a trick that helped me break out of the

I just discovered Shelton's brand but assume it will be good, as I've always been impressed by their products.

perpetual eating cycle that was threatening to turn me into a weight worrier?

Protein Balance It’s nothing new and it’s very simple, as with everything else about healthy weight eating.  And I know it works.  Just yesterday, I was on the road and had breakfast at a Whole Foods:  roasted veggies, roasted beets and yummy chicken curry salad.  I was amazed when lunchtime rolled around and I hadn’t even registered a blip on the hunger meter.

So if it’s simple and effective, what’s the catch?  As always, implementation.  For me, carbs like bread, cereal, tortillas, bagels, muffins, pretzels, chips and crackers were always easy things to have on hand.  And they were easy to grab quickly to stave off hunger.  Proteins, on the other hand, were far more problematic.  I cooked animal protein only rarely, and it was rarer still that I had any leftovers.  Plus, animal proteins have to be refrigerated, are messier to eat, and just didn’t hold the satisfying appeal of, say, a muffin.

Pantry Stockers for Healthy Weight Meal Making So it was with delight that I discovered canned chicken, but not the miserable, indescribable stuff swimming in salt water that’s sold at drug stores.  No, a can of Valley Fresh Organic Chicken is packed with clearly identifiable, very moist pieces of breast meat in a tasty broth (which can be used as a cooking element of its own as explained in the Bits and Pieces article.)  Would I serve canned chicken as a main dish for dinner?  Of course not.  But is it perfect for adding a hit or protein to a salad I’m throwing together for lunch?  You bet, and here’s a recipe where I used it:  Green Salad with Chicken plus Fresh Fruit and Herb Dressing.

Now, About the Cost. Valley Fresh is more expensive than vapid drug store chicken because of a time-honored principle we all know:  “You get what you pay for.”   Pay $1.79 and you get barely a serving of chicken that tastes like nothing, is mostly water and grosses you out.  Or pay $3.69 and get a can of chicken that makes two, really tasty protein servings and is not contributing to environmental degradation.  Make it even cheaper with a 10% case discount at Vitamin Cottage–and then you always have something on hand that can turn off the perpetual hunger machine–and help you return to a place of eating joy.

Learn more about how to stock the pantry to make healthy weight meal making easy in the Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Meal Making.

Looking for a Quick Lunch?

Green Salad with Chicken plus Fresh Fruit and Herb Dressing

Think you can’t cook?  This recipe’s great flavor comes not from fancy cooking skills but simply from good ingredients.  Stellar ingredients make a cook’s life easy!  So be sure to read the Buying Notes for each ingredient to help you get the best.

Making the Strawberry Apricot Dressing

The combination of apricots and basil is as lovely to look at as it is to eat.

Step 1  Make the Dressing

If you can dump things into a blender and push a button, you can make this dressing:

  • 3/4 cup fresh apricot-strawberry puree (from about 3 apricots and 6-8 small strawberries)
  • 2 Tbsp. walnut oil (or high quality olive oil)
  • 1 Tbsp. brown rice vinegar (if you don’t have some, it’s worth stocking)
  • Double handful of fresh basil leaves (see picture)
  • Single handful of fresh parsley (see picture)
  • Just a small spoonful of fresh tarragon leaves (they are a lot stronger than basil and parsley)
  • Sea salt (start with 1/4 tsp.)
  • Freshly ground pepper (start with 1/8 tsp.)
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar

Directions Combine everything in the cup of an

A double handful of basil

immersion blender (or food processor or blender) and process for just 20-30 seconds to combine.  Now comes the most critical step:  TASTE.  For ANY recipe, there is a 90% chance that the flavors need to be adjusted to suit your taste buds.  So pour the dressing into a small bowl, dip a piece of lettuce into it and taste.  Stir in more salt and pepper first, then more chopped basil, parsley or vinegar to find a taste that is good to you.  Always go slowly and taste after each addition.

Serve dressing at room temperature.  To my taste buds, fruits taste better when they aren’t chilled.

Buying Notes Flavor-less fruit = flavor-less dressing.  For fruit that taste like fruit not

A single handful of parsley

cardboard, head straight to the source:  the grower, usually an organic one.  Next, taste before buying very much.  If the grower doesn’t offer samples, buy just one piece and taste.  Once home, let stone fruits like apricots and peaches ripen.  Doing so in paper bags is often recommended.  Let the fruit get pretty soft, since that point, just before it goes overboard, yields flavor most reminiscent of heaven.  Keep a close eye on the fruit (especially if it’s hidden in paper bags!) and keep tasting each day, watching for optimal flavor.

Variations Could be equally good with whatever fruit is in season: sweet cherries and apricots, peaches and raspberries, or pears and raspberries.

A Double Handful of Basil

A small spoonful of tarragon leaves

Step 2   Make the Green Salad

  • 4-6 cups very fresh lettuce, washed and torn (or cut with a serrated knife if you’re in a hurry)
  • 1-2 med. carrots, grated finely

Directions Nothing too complicated about this step, although it does help to wash the lettuce in a good salad spinner, so you end up with crispy, not soggy lettuce.  Another trick:  Wash the lettuce the night before.  Place in salad storer, cover with a clean, folded tea towel, then seal and refrigerate until the next day.  The tea towel extracts excess water, leaving the lettuce crispy and light.

For the carrots, grate using the fine hole on your box grater for something different.

Buying Notes A salad is only as good as its greens.  They need to taste fairly good on their own, so the dressing is just enhancing flavor, not making up for an absence thereof.   Good lettuce is where local farmer’s markets shine, since lettuce is a crop that really tastes best when fresh picked–so good you barely even need dressing, if you can believe it.

In mid-summer, finding good lettuce can be tricky, since it’s is a cool weather crop.  I always taste a bit before investing in a bag to make sure it’s not bitter.  Also look for farmers who have taken steps to work around the heat issue, like Oxford Gardens at the Boulder Farmers’ Market, where owner Peter Volz sells a heat-tolerant variety that is quite good.  Abbondanza, also at the Boulder Market, seems to have perfected a technique for hot-weather lettuce growing as I’ve gotten great lettuce there even in July and August.

Step 3  Add Chicken to the Salad

  • 1-2 cups chicken, shredded or cut into small pieces

Buying Notes Again, this is another simple step with finding good chicken being the only tricky part , since not all store chickens are not created equally.  Again, it is usually local and/or organic birds that have more flavor.  This salad is a great way to use of leftover bits and pieces.  If you don’t have any however, then try canned chicken for a highly convenient option.  Before you blanch at the thought of canned bird, read the next blog entry on two, surprisingly taste brands I’ve recently discovered.

Want to learn more about the little tricks and tips that make everyday good meal making natural, stress-free and even a little creative?  Join Mary Collette in one of her Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Meal Making classes.

Investment Thinking at the Grocery Store

Coming home to an empty frig after a long vacation reminded me of the importance of a good pantry. I put a fair amount of time into stocking my “larder” each autumn, a use of time that might seem crazy.

Normal people likely wonder why I buy bags of potatoes, winter squash and onions at the Farmers Market; lots of frozen vegetables on sale, boxes of frozen fruits and fish from a supplier in the Northwest and part of a whole beef with my neighbor. It takes time to order, pick out, pay for, haul home, clean shelves and then put away and organize everything. With three grocery stores within a couple miles, why not just run to the store and get something for dinner?

That’s where my post-vacation story comes in. There are times (e.g., after arriving home from vacation) when we don’t want to go to the store. In fact, I wonder if there is ever a time when we want to go trudge the concrete aisles of a mega-market, breathing stale air, getting sensory overload from so many products, being buffeted by insane amounts of marketing and packaging, fighting crowds of frantic shoppers and then having to deal with check out and crazed parking lots.

Remember these parts of grocery shopping and “running to the store to get something for dinner” loses a good part of its appeal. Think how much more pleasant it would be to shop just once a week or every other week and stock up when you go.

This kind of thinking is called “investment thinking.” People with an investment mindset don’t fret themselves into a frenzy about spending 15 seconds to throw a couple extra cans of tomatoes in the shopping cart. They will even spend 30 extra minutes bagging up several kinds of bulk frozen fruits without going into a panic. They might also clear space for a basement pantry where they could keep things like a 25-pound bag of rice.

How can they do that? Don’t they know they’re wasting precious time?

Actually, what they know (and a lot of us don’t), is that time spent stocking the pantry is not a waste of time at all. It is an investment of time that ends up saving boatloads of unnecessary shopping time.

Think about it: That “quick” trip to the store requires a minimum of 15 to 30 minutes. Whether you buy one thing or a hundred, you must still drive to the store, find a parking spot and walk in, trudge down most if not every aisle, wait at the check out line, check out and pay, then cart everything to the car and drive home. Time consuming? Yes! Aggravating? You bet! And the bigger the grocery store, the greater the aggravation!

Smart shoppers know that minimizing trips to the store means minimizing both time and aggravation. There’s a reason they don’t get wigged out taking all of three minutes to pick out several cuts of meat that will go to the freezer. They know that three extra minutes at the meat counter, one extra minute in the pasta aisle and 30 more seconds in the frozen foods aisle eliminates two, three or four “quick” trips to the store at 15 to 30 minutes a pop.

Now that’s a good investment!

So the next time you’re at the store, don’t listen to the voices in your head saying, “Hurry up and get out of here. This is a big waste of time.” Instead, experiment: Slow down, have a little patience and see if there aren’t a few things you could buy for the pantry. Then notice how nice it is when e.g., you get home late after work and there are the fixings for a good meal, right in your kitchen. No “quick” stop at the grocery store necessary!

But how do you know what to buy to stock the pantry? Two ways: Check out my book, Take Control of Your Kitchen, which explains what to buy and how to store and organize it for easy access, or email to set up some individual kitchen coaching where we focus on setting up a helpful and healthful pantry. Also, check out tomorrow’s blog: Some Pantry Meal Examples, and then read all the articles in this series:

Invaluable Kitchen Resource Gets No Respect

Remedy for the Post-Vacation Refrigerator Blues

Time Spent Stocking the Pantry Isn’t Wasted, It’s Invested!

How Many Great Meals Are Hiding In Your Pantry?

. . . or Do a Better Job Working the One You Have

Good News:  The Fun of a Pantry Journey Lasts More than an Afternoon

Pantries Save Time, Reduce Stress, Save Money, Produce Intriguing Meals and Maybe Even Lead to Enlightenment

How to Breathe Fresh Air Into Yours

The Post-Vacation Refrigerator Blues

Get a Happily Supplied Frig without the Hassle of Grocery Shopping

We just got back from three weeks in Argentina and Chile. Traveling in and about the Andes is no less amazing than you would expect. However, as we made the final leg of our journey from airport to home, the usual post-vacation gloom began to settle in.

To my mind, vacations have one fundamental flaw: They end. Fortunately, most of us don’t dwell on this too much. We might never leave home if we seriously considered the mountain of stuff that spoils the end of every vacation—mail to read, clothes to unpack and launder, newspapers to dispatch, emails to answer, projects to complete, and so on and so forth.

Eggs & beer could be good for dinner?

Eggs & beer could be good for dinner?

As annoying as these tasks might be, what I dread most at the end of every journey is the empty refrigerator. I know we’ll stumble hungrily into the kitchen with all our bags and there will be no leftovers to kick start a meal, no fresh vegetables to counter the road food we’ve endured on the way home, and no fresh fruit to bite into.

Of course there’s an easy remedy for an empty, uninspiring frig: Head to the grocery store! But that’s got to be the most depressing way for anyone to end a holiday—worse than sifting through the mail and paying bills in my opinion.

Happily, there is a strategy that provides a happy medium: Stock the frig from the pantry.

Opening my frig this morning I was amazed at how it had gone from forlornly empty to happily full in the space of a day:

  • Left over from yesterday’s breakfast was half a jar of luscious peach sauce (canned last summer) that I had brought up from the downstairs pantry to top pancakes.
  • My husband had thawed a bottle of fresh squeezed apple juice from the Farmer’s Market
  • Left over from lunch was a dish of rice, veggies and beans (I had frozen the last bit of brown rice and slow cooker beans that were remaining before we left; these I combined with some frozen mixed veggies and homemade salsa made last fall and frozen as well.)
  • Left over from dinner were salmon (from the freezer), a fresh batch of rice and pumpkin cornmeal pudding. I had combined these last night with sautéed petite whole frozen green beans for a complete—and completely delicious–meal.
  • In need of something to add pizzazz to the salmon I grabbed the jar of green onions packed in olive oil that I had prepared last summer and stashed in the downstairs frig.
  • Also pulled up from my downstairs frig were apples and pears, still hanging in there (even if just barely) from the Farmer’s Market. Added to these were some oranges and grapefruit from the boxes I had purchased from a fundraiser before leaving.
  • I also dredged up the last two heads of cabbage from the Farmer’s Market, as well as bags of carrots and celery root.
  • An extra dozen eggs had survived our vacation in fine order, as well as a hunk of unopened Mozzarella and some Parmesan I’d thrown in the freezer at the last minute.
  • Completing my frig ensemble was a Tupperware container of roasted pumpkin, from the store of squashes, potatoes and onions in the basement.

Surveying the happy clutter of dishes and Tupperware filling my frig, I felt a smile creep over my face. Maybe it’s only a nutcase foodie that is so easily gratified by a frig full of Tupperware. Nevertheless, I’m feeling a lot more confident that I can successfully wrap up all the post-vacation stuff that must be finished today, before work begins tomorrow.

And likely as not, I can put off going to the store for another week! Check out the next post for the meal plan strategy that will make this feat possible, and then read all the articles in this series:

Invaluable Kitchen Resource Gets No Respect

Remedy for the Post-Vacation Refrigerator Blues

Time Spent Stocking the Pantry Isn’t Wasted, It’s Invested!

How Many Great Meals Are Hiding In Your Pantry?

. . . or Do a Better Job Working the One You Have

Good News:  The Fun of a Pantry Journey Lasts More than an Afternoon

Pantries Save Time, Reduce Stress, Save Money, Produce Intriguing Meals and Maybe Even Lead to Enlightenment

How to Breathe Fresh Air Into Yours

Holiday Stress-Reducing Secret No. 2: Steer Clear of Holiday Shoppers

Fighting crowds of frenetic shoppers can zap the magic right out of your holiday buying. So avoid last-minute shopping–which is easy enough if you took the first Stress-Reducing Secret to heart and planned out your holiday meals in advance.

Thinking ahead yields so many surprising benefits. While more inspired meal ideas may be the best, knowing exactly what to buy at the store is a close second. Imagine coming home without forgetting several key ingredients. What’s more, you can head to the store now, ahead of the crowds, and enjoy finding just the right ingredients to make your meals sparkle. There will also be plenty of time to place any special orders for unusual foods.

But don’t buy any of the critically fresh produce for your meals, e.g., the fresh green beans, asparagus, broccoli, etc. At this time of year in most parts of the country, those items are completely out of season. They are brought in to satisfy our holiday palate from distant places, which means they will be on their last leg when they arrive at stores. So wait until the day before to buy them.

If you’re thinking this sounds like two separate shopping trips, you’re right. As a time management expert for the kitchen, I always advocate planning ahead to minimize trips to the store. But the holidays warrant an exception to the general rule.

For the sake of sanity, make a first shopping trip in advance of the heavy holiday crowds to get all the pantry-type foods that will easily last a week or more, e.g., flour, butter, canned pumpkin, potatoes, etc. To be efficient, this shopping can be done a week in advance while doing your regular grocery shopping. Likely as not, this will knock off 75 to 80 percent of your grocery needs.

Then, a day or two before your holiday meal, a quick in and out is all that’s needed to get those few items that must be purchased super fresh.

So make a list, check it twice and shop on!

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