Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Benefits of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Program

Ever year I say I'm going to join a CSA. Each spring (after I've obsessively plotted my garden, ordered seeds, and become stuck in the mud attempting to till early) I search the internet and local ads for CSAs in my area. I narrow down the list based on farms closest to me and within my budget and sometimes even call or email to see if they have openings for the year.

Then I wuss out.

I start wondering what I'll do if I get a box full of stuff no one will eat. Won't I save money just buying what I know everyone likes (and that I know how to prepare) rather than take the chance of having a mess of plant matter that will end up going to the chickens. What to do? What to do! I always end up talking myself out of joining.

With this summer's experiment of staying out of the box stores and sticking to a strict budget I decided to look at a CSA program again. In Week 1 and (so far) of Week 2 the only produce we haven't gotten from the farmer's market were bananas and a couple hothouse tomatoes. Hmmm....we don't really need the box store, do we? So I went back to my notes and looked at all the CSAs I had decided on earlier this year. After weeding out those that were full for the season, or that would put me over the current budget, I was left with a two farms, one nearby (and that I usually hit at the farmer's market) and one a bit further away.

I ran the numbers.

The nearby place, Winter Green Farm, offers a half share program. The program lasts till the end of November (24 weeks) and costs $326 with delivery to a local drop-off point (in my case it would be the farmer's market). That ends up being $54.33 a month.

Wait. My plant matter budget is $120 a month. $120!!! That's a savings of $66ish bucks! True, I may still need to buy something from the farmer's market, but in theory the CSA share would have most of what we'd need. Hmm...

The farm offers a variety of organic veggies and meats (certified by Oregon Tilth), is owned and run by three local families, and works closely with local programs to provide produce for those in need. The farm is designed to leave plenty of area free of development for wildlife and has won several awards. Definitely people I want to support, with the sustainable production practices and high quality produce. The second farm was about the same in goods and pricing but after figuring in the added cost of driving into the city I decided to go with Winter Green.

So I signed up. 

We got our first box today Just. WOW. Hubby came in packing three STUFFED grocery bags full of veggies:

Look at all that! I could barely get it to fit in the fridge. Munchkin tackled the carrots as soon as I unpacked them and ran off with two (she doesn't do that with store bought). Was this a good deal? I certainly think so.

Are you part of a CSA? 

There are so many benefits to belonging to a CSA I'm kicking myself now for not joining years ago. What are some benefits? Well...short of U-Pick its the best way to get the freshest, most local, fruits and veggies around. Many CSAs pick for their customers first, then for their market stalls (or so I've been told) so the very best produce goes in the CSA boxes.

It forces you to try something new. I'm already eye-ballling the fennel, trying to figure out what to do with it. Its an interesting looking plant and I've often used the dried seed, ground, in pizza dough but the plant itself? I feel rather excited at the challenge.

Buying from a CSA ensures that your dollar stays in the community.

You know where your food is coming from. Most farms have no problem showing customers around their acreage and talking about their growing practices. Its almost like growing it yourself!

Saves on time... Sure, you might get a box full of beets (Hubby's fear) or have to figure out what to do with something you don't care for (that Swiss Chard looks so tasty, yet my taste-buds hate it) but considering what an adventure it is to get everyone up, dressed, and out of the house early on Saturdays to hit the big city market I'm willing to give up the fun of picking through many different stalls to find what I want. Heck, by the time we usually make it to the big market its so crowded that all the joy of talking with different farmers are gone-they are just too busy to chat. Its crowded, hot, and within 15 minutes I'm getting cranky. I've tried going at different times but I've yet to find that quiet time. Its worth it to me to go to the small market in our little village, pick up a huge box of produce, look over the few other stalls and chat with the farmers (I really wish our market was bigger), and have a fun, leisurely trip. And not having to drive into the city? Bonus!

...And money. I'd budgeted $120 a month on produce since that's what I've been spending, on average, going to the two farmers' markets. I've NEVER brought home 3 grocery bags stuffed full. Now, our grocery bags aren't standard, they're a collection of cloth bags we've slowly picked up over the years but each one is at least the equivalent of a standard brown paper bag. My usual haul from the farmer's market is 1 1/2 bags full for an average of $25. The CSA is about $14 a week and we got 3 bags full. Come on, that's math I can do!

Need help looking for a local CSA? Try searching Local Harvest or Organic Ag Info. Your local Extension Office or Food Bank would be another good place to start. My Food Bank provides a free guide called Locally Grown: Guide to Sourcing Local Food that provides a list of farmer's markets, farm stands, U-Pick, CSA, and other local food interests. its outstanding! Look and see if your local organizations carry something similar.

If you still aren't sold on a CSA then I highly encourage going to the farmer's market and talking with the farmers. I've been buying from Winter Green Farm for two years now and so I knew they had good produce. It made moving from buying at the farm stall to the CSA easier (I knew I was getting quality).

Now to find a recipe for that fennel. Know of any good ones?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Budget Review-Week 1

Oh...goodness! Am I ever glad that Hubby's last day is this week so we had a week to "practice" and do any tweaks needed to the budget because...well...

This is just flat embarrassing but here goes:

Farmer's Markets: $29
Farm visits: $34
Grocery Store: $85
Total:       $148

So the weekly budget is $84.25. Yikes! I mean....YIKES!!! We spent that just at the box store! Well, I know what the issue is, I walk in with a list but something (I don't need) is on sale, or there's a new product that looks interesting, or I walk past a display of something shiny and decide to add it to the menu. Half the time that new item doesn't taste as good as expected, or fit in with the menu like I hoped, and ends up becoming mush in the back of the fridge till its dumped on the compost heap.

Sticking to the list is going to be this week's main budget goal.  No detours!

The week was cool and rainy but we managed to get out to the farm and pick cherries on Sunday. In about 20 minutes we picked close to 24 pounds of cherries and I've been busy pitting and packing them for winter. So far I have put up 3 quarts of whole cherries in a light syrup (water, cherry juice, and a touch of honey), made a huge cherry cheesecake, and have plans for a mess of cherry jam and liquors.

The garden is coming along. The pumpkins and other squashes are doing great and the pole beans are climbing up the trellis. The tomatoes seem to be at a stand-still, just like they do every June when the weather is rainy. I really need to get out there and weed though.  Right now the weeds are only a half inch high but I know next time I turn around they'll be a foot or more if I ignore them much longer.

I haven't been cooking anything exciting lately, mostly your basic grilled proteins and steamed veggies. At the moment the fridge is so full of bags of cherries awaiting the jar that I'm trying to not have leftovers-there just isn't room for another container! Its times like this I really wish I had a second fridge. It would be a waste, but it would sure be nice.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes (The New Food Budget)

After nearly 9 years working for the same company, and with no forewarning (not even a rumor) Hubby got the news that he, as well as quite a few others, would be let go. His last day is the 27th and he's scrambling to get all his stuff organized, turned in, cleaned up, and cleaned out.

On one hand this could be a good thing. Change is always stressful but maybe there's something better waiting just over the horizon. A better job with a more stable company, maybe a move to a different location, maybe this...maybe that. Maybe something just in general 'good' will come out of it. On the other hand I feel slightly panicked at the thought of the baby coming and no steady income. How will we pay the mortgage? What about this bill or that? What can we give up to stay afloat? Will anyone hire a waddling pregnant woman so I can help bring in something while Hubby is looking?

I was talking with a friend online and the first thing she wrote was "Are you going to give up that silly, expensive, diet now? Mac n cheese is so much cheaper than bacon." Um, no. No, we are not. (And who in their right mind gives up bacon for powdered cheese???)

The paleo/primal lifestyle is not expensive.

Let's look at my newly planned food budget for the summer/early fall (now till mid-September):

I'd been planning on purchasing a bulk meat order before we got the news and I am going to continue with that. The total will be around $300 but we'll have enough meat for 3 months (at least). Yeah, its a lot to pay all at once, but it averages out to only $100 a month for 3 carnivorous appetites.

Its summer and all the farmer's markets are going strong, plus there are the U-Pick farms. On average I'll spend $20 to $30 a week filling the fridge with greenery, fruits, and roots. Figure $120 a month for plant matter.

We are lucky that we have chickens and normally we don't have to worry about buying eggs. Lately though, the girls have not been producing as much for some reason so we've had to supplement. Figure $15 a month for eggs (2-3 dozen, $3 to $5 a dozen depending on which farm we are able to get them from). Dairy-wise we eat butter, cheese and heavy cream; I'm going to guess and say about $35 total a month for dairy items (just to be on the high side). At the moment I have 3 pounds of different fats (duck fat, bacon grease, goose fat, coconut oil/butter, and tallow) hanging out in my freezer. I would like to add lard to the mix but I'm actually set for cooking fats for now.

That makes up the core paleo/primal food groups.

Then there are the extras-stuff that is mostly for treats like almond and coconut flour, arrowroot powder, dark chocolate, maple syrup, other baking type items. We don't do a lot of baking during the hot summer so for now I'm not going to budget them in With tons of different types of local fruits coming ripe I know the family won't be lacking for sweet treats. I have some baking supplies already so those will just have to be stretched out over the next couple months.

During the summer we often buy produce in bulk to can or freeze. I really have no idea how to budget these since it has varied so much over the years and I really haven't paid that much attention. Some years we've purchased already-picked, others we've done U-Pick (cheaper than already picked), and sometimes friends and relatives have given us extras from their garden/purchases. I'm going to set aside $200 to cover these types of expenses ($67 a month). That may be rather high but better safe than sorry.

Where are we at? Meat- $100. Plants- $120. Dairy/Eggs- $50. Canning/Freezing-$67. That's a food budget of $337 a month for 3 people over 3 months. Granted, the bill for June is going to be closer to $500 because of the meat purchase, but then the bills for July, August, and September will be much lower since the meat will already be paid for.

What am I missing folks? I have to be missing something.

OK, yes, I may go to the farmer's market and have no desire to eat cabbage or chard. Tough! If that's what's in season that's what we're eating. Thank goodness for the internet and all the awesome paleo/primal chefs out there that share their recipes. I will NOT allow something to waste away to mush in the bottom of the drawer just because I'm not in the mood to cook/eat it. What is bought will be eaten!!

Yes, there may come a time I'd happily trade the car for a slab of chocolate. Tough! Right now strawberries are coming ripe and after them are all the other berries, then peaches and nectarines and melons (oh my!). Not only are they healthier but for the cost of a decent candy bar I can hit a U-Pick farm and get a pound of fruit. Thankfully I bought that ice cream maker a few weeks ago so we'll be able to make healthy cold treats for the hot summer days without buying anything off budget.

No, not everything will be organic. The meat will no doubt be a combination of grass-fed/finished and grain-fed/finished items from free-range animals. The plant matter will be purchased from local growers so it may be certified organic and it may not be. I'll no doubt trade some of my garden produce with a friend or neighbor who may or may not use organic methods. Does this bother me?

Not one bit. 

I could purchase only grass-fed and finished pastured animals. I could be a stickler and only hit the certified organic farms. I could be that 100% perfect paleo person. But why? I know where my protein is coming from, I know how its raised, slaughtered, and processed. I know my critters and plants are grown locally so my dollar is helping my community. I know it all tastes delicious. These things are more important to me than only putting "perfect" food in my mouth.

For the summer I will have to be very strict with myself. To be honest I've been doing a horrible job following any type of budget, even though Hubby and I constantly say that we need to put more into retirement and savings. Well, now we HAVE to stay on track.

It is going to be a very interesting summer.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Depression, Hormones, and the Dread Pirate Roberts

Having dealt with severe depression and anxiety when I was younger (and to some small extent every winter) I should have realized last Wednesday that my grumpiness was out of character. At my 21 week appointment the next morning the "wonderful" ultrasound tech managed to make things worse, turning what should have been a happy time into a mishmash of sadness, stress, and flat out angst intertwined with joy and confusion.

For a fleeting moment I wondered what would happen if I punched the woman in the face. And not just a little girlie slap either, my dad didn't raise no weaklings. Yeah, that's how bad it was.

From then till last night I had major sobbing fits, zero appetite, a strong desire to do nothing but sleep, and a long list of thoughts that started with I'm A Horrible Mother, wandered past I'm A Horrible Person In General, made a pit stop at Life Sucks, and finally came to a halt at Must Eat Chocolate (And I'm A Horrible Mother Who Shall Forever Be Fat).

Somewhere around Life Sucks I realized that this wasn't just preggie hormones gone wild and started making an active attempt to strangle every I-hate-myself thought that tried to join the party. And finally I let myself cry it out, call it the Ferber method for grown-ups. (Did I mention that, even though all I wanted to do was sleep, I couldn't sleep? Yeah. However, after sobbing for almost an hour I finally fell asleep and slept straight through the night.)

Lets face it, as The Mom I rarely let myself feel unhappy stuff.  There's just too much to do, not enough hours in the day, and whining and whinging in the corner doesn't get shit accomplished, no matter how much I just want to sit and bawl at times. Happy feelings? Allowed to show. Angry/frustrated/ sad feelings? They can sit in a mental box till I have time to deal with them.

I think its a woman thing, I mean, Hubby has no problem complaining about work problems, and I don't remember my dad or brothers having any issues but I can remember my mom flipping out over something tiny, only to learn later she was still upset about that incident a month ago.

Lisa Simpson: But I'm so angry.
Marge Simpson: You're a woman. You can hold on to it forever

ALLOWING myself to feel like utter crud helped, as odd as that sounds. And once I got the feelings out of the way I could try and figure out what was causing them. Which...well...I could list everything but in a nutshell? Pregnancy jitters, second-guessing, and all that other stuff most preggos go through. Basically-WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING HAVING A SECOND BABY??? Only to a higher anxiety level than normal. I also had to re-visit (and re-feel) the loss from last year (thank you insensitive bitch of an ultrasound tech) which, no matter how much I think I'm completely over, seems like a wound that never truly scars over.

Today I knew things were getting better. Munchkin and I were watching The Princess Bride at the scene where Wesley fights the ROUSs. As the rodent knocked him to the ground Munchkin exclaimed "Oh MY!" (complete with hand to her cheek and (I swear) a slight southern accent).  I burst out laughing.

I have no idea why I found it hilarious but I did. When I finally got it under control I realized it was the first time I'd really laughed all week. As I wiped the laugh tears off my face Munchkin turned to me, patted my arm, and said "Its OK. Its OK."

Yes, Munchkin. Its OK. Your mom is a little crazy and emotional right now but its all going to be OK.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Summer Fun

I had a hard time waking up this morning and mostly oozed from the bed to the kitchen. My stomach was still roiling but I knew skipping two meals just wasn't going to work (ah, the joys of missing a gallbladder). I sliced off some of the roast from last night and cut up a tomato that was on its last legs:

After eating I started to feel a little better, at least I wasn't going to hurl in the next five seconds. After an hour I felt back to normal. Good ol steak to the rescue!

Munchkin asked for pizza for lunch so I combed through my small collection of cookbooks. I've had great success with Your Lighter Side's Original Cauliflower Pizza Crust but I was feeling really lazy and didn't want to drag out the food processor. Well Fed to the rescue! Melissa Joulwan's, (of The Clothes Make the Girl) Meatza recipe looked quick and easy-about what I felt like doing. Best of all, Munchkin was able to help smooth out the "dough" I used the original recipe from the book but there is a Mexican version available on her website (in case any of you are needing a pizza fix as well.)

We made the crust and then spent the morning in the garden waging war on the weeds. By lunchtime I was starving, and I hadn't given any thought to pizza toppings. I found a few slices of prosciutto in the back of the meat drawer, plus a can of pitted olives and some shredded Parmesan. What the heck, they couldn't taste BAD right? I tossed those on the crust along with a 1/4 cup of Mezzetta's Homemade Marinara and baked till everything was hot and bubbly.

Since I was so hungry I decided to throw together a tuna salad as a side. Why? 'Cause it sounded good and I had a spinach plant getting ready to bolt that needed eating. I mixed a can of Bumblebee Very Low Sodium Solid White Albacore (the only canned tuna I've found without soy-WHY do they put soy in with canned fish?? why???) with homemade mayo, a teaspoon of mustard powder, a dash of salt and pepper, a small stalk of celery, and half a canned peach (from last year's canning experiment). I love mixing sweet and savory items together and this salad was a perfect mix. It would have been better with a fresh peach though, the canned was pretty mushy. I spooned the salad onto the larger spinach leaves and wrapped them up (er...tried to, they didn't want to stay wrapped).

Munchkin pronounced everything as "YUM!" which is like getting a stellar New York review. I'll have to remember these items for later in the summer. I bet it wouldn't be hard to make up a bunch of pizza crusts and freeze them for quick pizzas later.

By mid-afternoon I was tired and cranky. I revolted and announced to everyone I was not cooking tonight. I may have said something along the lines of "you can all starve", or some variant. There may have been some cussing involved. I'm not sure where this mood swing came from but...yeah.

Hubby surprised me by not bringing home the ever-popular U-bake pizza but instead picked up some steaks and veggies. He and Munchkin chopped and grilled and here's the end result:

I'm going to bed. Hopefully a solid 8 hours will get rid of grumpy gardener. Good night everyone.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Back in the Kitchen

Hi everyone! Sorry for the silence, I decided to take a break from the internet for a couple days.

Summer has magically appeared and today is hot and sunny. For breakfast I fried up a couple eggs and sausage patties:

As long as I just eat the yolk this is one tasty meal. I really like the sugar-free pork sausage we get from Long's Meat Market. It is very good, especially dipped in egg yolk.

I cleaned out the fridge and threw together a pot of chicken bones for bone broth. With the sunny weather we probably won't be having hot soup again till fall, but its always good to have different flavors of bone broth saved in the freezer. Plus, I feel bad throwing bones away that I haven't simmered for hours.

For lunch I warmed up leftovers (baked chicken breast with gravy) from the weekend and threw together a salad.

Remember how I said a few days ago that I really need an ice cream maker? I got one!

This make and model has gotten great reviews from the Paleo Parents so I figured it would be a safe bet. I still haven't gotten to the store so I don't have any of the ingredients I need but I can't wait to try the Paleo Parents' Salted Nut and Caramel recipe or the Primal Palate's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough or maybe just a rich, rich vanilla bean. Mmmm...summer's here and this preggie wants ICE CREAM!

While Munchkin napped I nibbled on the last square of Theo's 70% Dark Chocolate with Salted Almonds, and an entire bar of Theo's 70% Dark Chocolate with Spicy Chile. I really didn't mean to eat all of it but it was sitting right there and I'd have another square and suddenly...*sigh* I can't even say it was really good, honestly it tasted like normal dark chocolate with this odd end note of...something. It wasn't really heat, wasn't really spice, wasn't really...anything.

For supper I grilled a tri-tip roast after marinating it in a dry rub of salt, garlic, red pepper, and black pepper; sauteed fresh green beans then cloaked them with a demi-glaze sauce (which promptly broke-gah! I need to take a cooking class...or three), and nuked some taters in the microwave for a starch. I'm not a big lover of potatoes, they were the most eaten starch of my childhood and I'd much rather have rice or nothing at this point. But, I'd gotten a couple with intention of making a chowder when it was cold and, now that it's hot and no one wants soup, I didn't want them to go to waste.

I'd been fighting a headache all afternoon and between that and getting overheated fussing with my sauce my stomach waged a mutiny by the time supper was plated. I opted to hide in the AC-cooled bedroom chugging ice water while everyone else ate, but here's a pic of Hubby's plate:

Munchkin didn't care for the green beans but Hubby said they were tasty. The local farmer's market starts up on Friday and I can't wait to pick up more fresh veggies. I sense more kitchen experiments in the future.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Merry June 1st!

Wanna see what I had for breakfast?

Yep, a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino. I don't even WANT to know what's in this thing because I'm sure its horrible for you but I needed caffeine if I was going to stay awake while in town. Yes, I know there are healthier things at Starbucks (like, just regular coffee) but I said "screw it"-which is how I usually get in trouble. Oh well, a little bit of jitters and a slight headache later everything was good.

I made up for it at lunch: polish sausage pan-fried in duck fat, onions sauteed in the 'dirty' pan of left over grease, a big heap of sauerkraut, and a handful of snow peas and carrots.

The afternoon was, thankfully, much quieter than the morning's rush, since it was spent working in the garden. I really need to go to town more often so I stop trying to run a hundred errands in one day. And I didn't make it to the grocery store (frappuccino power was fading by that point) which means I have to go back in. Ugh. It was the one thing that didn't get done, but it forces me to use up what little is left in the house, which means there shouldn't be anything to waste. Poor chickens, they prefer it when I'm not so frugal, more treats for them.

For supper I defrosted a whole chicken, browned it in duck fat (thank goodness for buying meat in bulk a few months ago, the freezer still has something in it); then baked it till crispy and golden. The veggie drawer yielded a bunch of slightly wilted kale. After soaking in water for an hour they perked up and were soon sauteed with bacon. For a third side I warmed up the final spoonfuls of mashed yam. Next time I'm not making so much at once, a week's worth of mashed yam is waaaay too much. Munchkin gave it the evil eye when she noticed it on her plate. Note to self: Don't serve yams for a while.

I am beat and I still have a bunch of flowers to plant tomorrow. Oh well, the sun was out all day today, and tomorrow its supposed to be sunny as well. I wonder if I'll jinx it if I drag out the pool and set it up? It's officially summer now, right?

Merry June 1st everyone!