Sharing with community

For many people having fresh produce like fresh green veggies or fruit is simply not in their budget so they stick to processed and bad for their health foods mainly because it's cheap. But what many people don't realize that there are many options that they can tap into - like asking their local CSA farms for left overs; checking with local farmer markets or even food banks when something is in season or even if there are local community gardens that they can participate and maybe grow their own produce. Now granted, for those in large cities this might not be as easy, but for those who are in suburbs it's very much an option.

In my area we have alot of farms and many people do gardening. Some are just flowers and some are orchards and many are interested in growing their own, but not all can afford to upgrade or maybe even buy new seeds or seedlings. So quite a few people have decided to join a subgroup of our Freecycle group and dedicate it to free exchange of seeds and seedlings and also anything else that is garden-related. Now I've used Freecycle in the past year quite a bit when I had more greens that we could eat and had people come and pick some directly from my garden. Having this dedicated group established gives me more options and also will allow me to trade with others for things that I probably wouldn't buy myself in the store. The group allows anyone to post on the group page what they have extra and what they're looking for in exchange. For example, I posted that I had too many strawberries and in exchange I wanted some flowers to improve my garden borders. So someone offered me to dig up their hydrangeas in exchange. Win-win for both. Come spring we'll be more active to exchange seedlings and plan is to meet once a week and see who has what. Since I will be planting my own seeds I'll be doing many heirloom seedlings for my garden but of course I always plant more than I will use in my garden - you have to plant more because never know how many will survive through transplanting process so when i have extras I'll be able to offer them to others in exchange for something else that I normally wouldn't grown on my own. Can't wait for spring :)

Home made soda

For this Christmas my DH asked me for a Soda Stream that would allow him to make his own soda. He loves his soda and can drink quite a bit of it every day, but it's also expensive and from what I've seen in past year prices will only continue to rise. In the past I could stock up with soda when it was 5 cases for $10 but this is just a dream now. Normal price for 12 pack is $4.95 and when its on sale it's 4 for $12 which is not that much better. Buying large 2 litter soda bottles is alternative except for the whole using plastic that I'm not a big fan off (aluminum cans at least can be recycled and reused while plastic not always makes it back into the reuse even when we do recycle it). So we got soda stream and so far I like it mostly because I control what I put inside - sugar or syrup or premade mixes. Honey likes his sweet and I not so much so I can make mine with just a little of sugar syrup or with maple syrup or a fruit juice. Technically what we make is a fizz watter - seltzer - using regular water, CO2 and a flavoring. I like with homemade ginger syrup - which also makes candied ginger as result which I can use in cookies.

So the most obvious question would be - is it worth it. Let's do a bit of math.

Soda stream original price = $130 makes 130 liters of soda because it comes with full bottle of carbonator equals to 65 2-litter bottles in store. So not exactly less expensive on first pass.

Next carbonator refill pack comes with 2 bottles that can make 130 liters each so that's 260 liters for about $50. If you buy it in BedBathandBeyond then you an use 20% coupon to lower price.
This would equal to 130 2-liter bottles soda in stores on one refill. Definitely price saver. I guess it eventually equals out if you add original price and then will be savings afterwards.

And what's more important in my view - no chemicals :)

Stretch that chicken!

One thing that my hubby likes is his chicken breast. So we alternate fish and chicken to make sure he has his protein for lunch and dinner. But of course being a big guy who burns through calories fast it's not easy to make sure that he gets full and that it won't cost too much. Normally this is the type of plate he gets - two chicken breast pieces (or one piece if it's super large type), side of greens and starch. In this case it's breaded chicken, green beans and squash mash. But chicken prices have really gone up lately so I have to do some smart planning to make sure he stays full and still has his chicken. I know that we all eat with our eyes first - including the volume of food we see on the plate. So once in a while I will do Asian style chicken - thinly sliced chicken breast mixed with veggies (recipe at the end of the post). On this skillet are the two chicken breast from the same package as above because I bought family style pack and placed them into individual airtight packs and froze them for each use for later. But if you're looking at the skillet it has alot more volume than just two chicken. It's also looks like alot more food on plate, especially over rice. Add a side of steamed broccoli and he's a happy camper. And so am I because instead of just one meal this is at least 3 meals.

To make this chicken dish you will need:
  • two small celery stalks thinly sliced on a bias
  • 1/2 onion also thinly sliced
  • 2 chicken breast also thinly sliced on the bias against the grain
  • 1/3 cup of flour
  • mix 1/3 cup of Marsala, 1 teaspoon of brown sugar and tablespoon of soy sauce.
  • you can add spoon of General Tsao sauce if you like it spicier.
  • sea-salt and pepper to taste

Heat up a spoon of veg oil or grape seed oil on a skillet and quickly saute onions and sliced celery for about 3 min until it's softened. You can use EV olive oil but it tends to have stronger flavor and might overpower your dish. While it's cooking, mix flour, pinch of salt and pepper and toss sliced chicken until it's uniformly coated with flour. Remove veggies to the plate and add another spoon of oil to the skillet. Toss the flour-coated chicken on hot skillet in one even layer and slightly brown it on both sides (use large wide spatula to flip it) for about 3 min. When chicken is almost cooked add mix of Marsala, brown sugar and soy sauce and stir it all together. Add veggies and stir one more time to incorporate. Because of the flour the sauce will thicken up a bit so don't keep it on the heat for too long or it will start burning. Just cover with a lid and let it sit for 5 min as it will finish up cooking. Serve over rice and any additional greens (i had leftover green beans so I added to the chicken). Enjoy :)

The Big Waste

Last night I watched a foodnetwork show The Big Waste and it nearly brought me to tears. Huge piles of perfectly good food tossed out by stores, farms, wholesale places and restaurants. I saw a preview of it while watching another show and it got my attention - I had to see just how much food people waste every day. And I expected it be allot. But never in my mind did I expect what I saw - 5 billion eggs wasted in the US alone every year; every day a football stadium can be filled with tossed good to eat food. Piles of not expired food that had a blemish or a scratch or just wasn't pretty enough for people to buy in the stores were tossed out. I have to admit, it's the piles of fresh tomatoes, peppers and other produce that was wasted on the farms that really knocked me down. In my garden we don't waste anything - I even picked out green tomatoes and used them in chutney or let them ripen with time so we could use them, and on the screen I watched enough tomatoes to make hundreds of jars of marinara going to compost because they "don't look pretty" or have a crack from dry weather. One U-pick farm owner said that they have 40% waste. This was insane and very surreal experience for me. I guess you really have to experience hunger at least once to really appreciate what you have around you and not to allow anything like that happen. What makes it really sad is that we have millions of people who are going to bed hungry because they can't afford food and definitely can't afford good fresh produce but instead of letting them have food it goes to waste. I know that our local supermarket have policy of not giving away food that they want to throw away because of the fear of lawsuits but there has to be some common sense here. It's time to wake up people. One day there simply won't be enough food to go around considering explosive population growth and we have to start saving that food now.

Using alternative proteins

Many of my meals this winter are based on mushrooms that I picked during summer/fall in our local forest. It was a double benefit - I got to have my walks and exercise and picked enough alternative protein that can be stored for winter. Fall time was especially good for me as I was able to find quite a bit of Maitake - sometimes called Hen of the woods. Many stores carry it in fall/winter time but depending on the store you'd also have to shell out quite a bit for each small package.
It's a bit hard to really see the amount of maitake on the table but you're looking at over 15 lbs of it. That small part on the right hand corner is what you'd get in a store for about $5 on sale. And if you got Wholefoods you're looking at about $20 per package. Just to make it easier to understand I also took a picture of cleaned and sliced mushroom.
I used 12" skillet to saute it with sliced onions and olive oil, packaged it into small portions and vacuum-sealed it for freezer - and had to repeat it 4 times to cook up everything because it just didn't fit on one skillet. And whenever I'm in a mood for good meal with alternative protein I take a package in the morning, leave in the fridge to defrost while I'm at work and then toss on skillet with a bit of cream and add to either pasta, rice or mashed potatoes. Yummy and it didn't cost me anything :)

Shortcuts on savings for the kitchen

Sometimes we really don't notice just how much we spend on little things like herbs and flavorings. It's easy to just go to the store and buy a small jar of parsley flakes and keep it but if you start adding up all those small amounts it's not so small at the end. A small bunch of thyme, oregano, parsley or cilantro is generally around $1.99 or higher depending on store/season. In winter prices go up. And face it, when a recipe calls for a spoon of chopped parsley we buy whole bunch but rarely use it all before it goes bad. Since I hate wasting any kind of food I used to dry remaining herbs in the oven at 180 degree for few hours but then it gets my electric bill higher.

So now I have much better solution - I keep narrow boxes of herbs in the house and available at all times. If I only need a spoonful of something I just pick it fresh and chop what I need. No waste of either herbs or money in the store. Remaining just keeps growing. And since most of the herbs get along with each other I can keep more than one variety in the same box - parsley next to oregano and thyme. Only basil and mint needs it's own space.

Using what I grow for dinner

Now I know this blog is mostly for garden items but wanted to add one post that would show why I do my garden - home made meal that cost almost nothing. I made pirogi's tonight using the potatoes that I grew this year, one small sauteed onion mixed in the filling. Dough was done with 1 egg, 1.5 cups of water, pinch of salt, 1 table spoon of sour cream (you can skip it but i like that it makes dough smoother) and 4 cups of flour. I'm sure someone can calculate what it would really cost but i look at it from meal view - it gave me 4 full meals for me and my hubby. That's 2 dinners and 2 lunches for each of us.

This year we lost alot of our crops to the hurricane but I was still able to save a bit of those veggies, including 2 crates of potatoes - roughly 40 or so pounds of them. Now I know potatoes are cheap in stores but I also know that mine are pure of any pesticide because they were grown in organic environment. No chemicals were added. We've been using them since Irene arrived and I'm only now reaching bottom of my first create so plenty left over for the rest of the winter. And more available for future pirogi that my hubby loves so much :)

Joining Money Saving Challenge!

Welcome to the new year everyone. As I promised in the past my intent this year is to restart my savings and hopefully stash some for the future. You probably notice a banner on my right side with a little piggy bank - it's a link to Precious website. She's the one who's starting this challenge. Now my participation will not be as drastic as hers. While I understand that she's nervous about future and constant raise of prices I don't really think that penny pinching to the point of restricting yourself on everything is in my agenda. In my view that will only make me miserable. I've done enough penny pinching in the past few years and had to refuse myself anything other than basic necessities in order to pay off debts that I took on from Mom. While that tactic worked on paper balance it nearly drove me insane. I can no longer live that way. So I will try to save but within reason. My areas of savings are going to be:
•Growing as many veggies as I can fit into my garden to supplement our food source.
•Using farmer markets and local farms to get organic protein sources like meat and seafood.
•Use natural resources whenever possible to reduce bills - solar for energy and natural light to do most things around the house eliminating the need for extra use of lights at night.
•using home made cleaners whenever possible.
•Minimizing extra spending on eating out and entertainment.

This doesn't look like too many things but in reality this is what i need to focus on this year. I know that in the past year we've spent way too much on eating out, travel and out of pocket expenses. I hope to minimize that damage. What I really need to do is to save at least $10K in the next year so I can get a new (used) car. Hopefully my current one will last that long. Since I was not able to sell it because it's really not worth what I wanted for it I had no choice but to keep it for now. So my target is to save enough to pay the new one in cash. I also have secondary target - additional $5000 for future savings. Ambitious plan but hopefully it will work - one step at the time.

First step - update my hydroponic with fresh nutrient mix and get new set of seeds for salads. This week I've picked the last of the greens from the cold-frame and it's too cold now to replant in the coldframe. I also brought several containers into the addition kitchen where I can place them on the counters and plant my herbs. It's cooler than our main house but it will work best for such things like parsley and salads. Just in case you haven't been in a store lately a head of salad is now $2.99 and since I eat alot of it then I'd better get on with seeds. Thankfully salad grows very fast :)