Sunday, May 4, 2008

more thoughts about groceries...

Aside from the fact that it’s very alarming how much decent food costs these days, it’s one of the few line items on my monthly budget that I have any control over. Our mortgage payment is not going down anytime soon, car insurance costs what it costs, and although I’m cutting my electricity and water usage as much as I can, the monetary savings are a nice side effect – but those changes were primarily motivated by environmental concerns, not by any expectation that they’d fund my retirement account any time soon.

I mentioned yesterday how I bring a list to the store with me, with alternate meals ready in case any of the ingredients needed for my “first choice” meals are ridiculously expensive.

I’ve also taken the idea of mix and match out of the closet and into the kitchen. I don’t waste much food, but I would be lying if I said I never pull out a container of something and find it all covered with fuzzy green mold. So I’ve started doing mix and match meals. All this means is that I try to make sure that I can use ingredients that I’m purchasing (or making) for more than one meal. For example, if I have quesadillas one night, and serve sour cream with them, I’ll make potato torte or potato pancakes later in the week to use up the sour cream before it turns into a penicillin factory.

I’ve also started putting more thought into cooking. I’m not a super instinctive cook, but I do have a tendency to be lazy about it – I follow the recipe exactly rather than thinking about why it’s calling for each ingredient. I’ve been trying to break this habit. For example, a lot of soups call for veggies that are not all mandatory, when I think about it. Ok, for potato leek soup, you don’t want to skip the potatoes, but if you’re making a veggie soup featuring kale and chard, why not throw in the beet greens that you haven’t figured out how to use? Leave the carrots out if you don't have them. If I have all the ingredients on hand except one or two that are non-vital, I can skip a trip to the store…because too often, even with a list in hand, a trip to the store means I grab more than what I really need.

I’ve also been trying to find ways to use the bits I would have previously discarded as “scraps.” Those beet greens I mentioned above? I didn’t even know they were edible until recently. Hey, I paid for them, so why not use them? Heather suggests saving water from steaming veggies to freeze and use as soup stock…where I live, we pay for water, and I paid for the vitamins and minerals that leeched into the water…and more importantly, it saves me from having to buy a soup base next time I need one. When making butter, instead of pouring that milky stuff down the drain, I set it aside. I can use it in bread or pastry crusts.

Speaking of crusts, I made one today for a pot pie…I also threw an extra one in the freezer. It was just as easy to make a second one while I had the stuff out, and it’ll save me time on a busy day in the future. It’ll also save me from caving to the temptation of take out if I know I have an alternative that’s just as easy, and free.

Ironically, my effort to save on my food budget has necessitated a few purchases recently. I got a used canning and regular funnel on ebay. I’ve made the ginger ale a few times more, but I’m embarrassed to admit I was using a funnel I made myself from a yogurt lid and a stapler. That part would be fine, if it worked, but it doesn’t really. I’m not that handy. It kind of just makes a mess. Since I get bored drinking just water, and I think making the ginger ale myself is a good compromise versus buying sodas and juices, I figured a small investment was worthwhile in the long term rather than risking getting fed up with the messes I was making and giving up on the whole project altogether.

Finally, in line with Blue Collar Crunch’s challenge this month, I’ve realized one area that I need to be more present when I’m shopping…I get super irritated when somebody drives while talking on the phone because they’re usually swerving or sitting at a green light until it turns red. I realized today that the same effects happen whatever you’re doing while talking on the phone - including shopping. While on one level I appreciate the fact that my sub-conscious grabbed a pint of Rum Raisin Haagen Das and put it in my grocery cart while I was engrossed in my phone call, that’s not really being mindful.

And now I feel hungry…


Debbie said...

I feel that cell phone usage is out of control. I have had many conversations with people regarding cell phone usage - and have decided that people are afraid to be alone with their own thoughts and with themselves. Many mindless acts are committed because of cell phone use. Of course, I realize that many people use cell phones in place of old-fashioned landlines but that doesn't mean we all need to hear each other's personal conversations. Maybe I should start a 'Cell Phone Challenge' ~ use your cell phone only in an emergency which is why I bought mine in the first place. I will share one of my favorite things to do if I am in a feisty mood: I like to pretend I don't realize that a person is talking on their blu-tooth headpiece when they are in the store and I ask them what they just said to me or respond if they asked a question. Yes, I get some stares but maybe they will stop and think that the whole world doesn't need to know their business.

Green Bean said...

Good thoughts on wasting less in line with BCC's challenge. I tend to ebb and flow and how much thought I put into a week's worth of meals and need to get back into that.

As to buying stuff to make your own, I think of it as a long term investment. By making your own, you'll eventually get surpass the savings (economic and ecological) of buying stuff in containers, etc. When making yogurt whipped me five times in a row, I finally invested in a Yogotherm and haven't messed up a batch since. I figured all that ruined milk wasn't worth it and the plastic and styrafoam of a Yogotherm will ultimately be better than the plastic containers for storebought yogurt. You can only reuse those suckers in so many ways.

Verde said...

I think mindfulness is the spiritual outgrowth of our efforts. We become more in tune, more observant, more thankful.