Saturday, January 26, 2008

What we eat

Regular readers of this blog know I think about food a lot. Growing food, buying food, cooking food, eating food, writing about food, food politics, etc., food is almost always on my mind.

The photo essay about family food purchasing around the globe really caught my interest. (Quite possibly because it give me something to think about other than work these days, the stress of which is causing to me chew on my pillowcase in my sleep.) So I decided to post my own photo with list and notes.

I'm a big proponent of buying locally, but this is an area I really struggle with during the Maine winter (this morning's 8°F temp is not veggie friendly, at least until I get one of these). With just 2 of us at home now, a winter share at our local CSA farm is just too much food, especially of food that Dan and I are, shall we say, learning to appreciate more, like kale. So, what we don't have in storage from our garden or local farmstand purchases, I purchase at a grocery store like most other Americans. This week, I spent $160 on that food. My purchases:
    • 1 Empire sweet onion
    • 2 avocadoes
    • 3 heads garlic
    • ½ lb piece ginger root
    • 1 bunch cilantro
    • 4 lbs yellow onions
    • 1 bunch celery
    • 1 head cauliflower
    • 5 lbs organic carrots
    • 1 lb spinach
    • 2 lbs parsnips
    • 3 lbs butternut squash
    • 3 lbs 80% lean ground beef
    • 1 lb Cabot pepperjack cheese
    • 1 lb parmesan cheese
    • ½ gallon whole milk (for yogurt)
    • ½ lb half 'n half
    • 8 oz sour cream
    • 1 lb coffee
    • 2 lb bag blue tortilla chips
    • 2 lbs (36) corn tortillas
    • 2 bxs Ghiradelli brownie mix
    • 3 lbs old fashioned rolled oats
    • 2 lbs honey
    • 16 oz can cannellini beans
    • 16 oz natural peanut butter
    • 5 oz tomato paste in a tube (Italy)
    • ½ lbs sea salt (France)
    • 4 whole-wheat rolls
    • 2 ltrs extra virgin olive oil (Italy)
    • 1 bottle wine
    • 12 bottles microbrew beer

Unless noted, all items are produced domestically, and some are organically produced. I usually have a few meals in mind when I grocery shop, but my primary method is to have a well-stocked pantry that allows me to be 1) inspired and have on hand what I need, or 2) uninspired and in a big hurry, and to have the makings of a quick, nutritious and from scratch meal.

Of course, I was in a rush at the grocery store, and forgot a couple of things --some dried pasta for the pantry, frozen peas, vegetable broth, and black beans. I also plan to stop at the Co-op in a nearby town for yogurt culture, pepitas, whole wheat flour and some herbs and spices. All those items will add another $25 - $30 to the list, I suspect.

What will all those items become, meal-wise? Dinners will include a big Mexican feed tonight (with company for dinner), shrimp chowder (with Maine shrimp from the freezer), squash soup and/or squash enchiladas, meatballs with tomato sauce and pasta or (for Dan, his favorite) meatloaf with potatoes, roasted cauliflower soup. Spinach salad, carrots, parsnips, squash will all be seen as vegetable sides. Lunches will primarily be leftover dinner. Breakfasts will include fruit from the freezer in smoothies, oatmeal, or, you guessed it, Henbogle eggs. There may well be a quiche or eggs for dinner some night, too. Brownies are always on hand for company or a chocolate emergency. We will make bread from flour and yeast on hand, and other pantry staples like rice and potatoes will also find their way into this week's meals.

You'll notice there are few pre-packaged foods, and that is not unusual. I did not have macaroni and cheese from a box until I went to college (boy, was cafeteria food in the mid-80s an unpleasant surprise!) and I learned to cook from my mother. Dinner at our house started as ingredients, and I've cooked that way pretty much ever since, although I will say Annie's macaroni and cheese and Classico (no corn syrup added) spaghetti sauce have been seen in my pantry. Since then I've discovered roma tomatoes heated on the stove with olive oil and garlic is better tomato sauce, and Kyle is not here as often to inhale the Annie's mac and cheese (and much else) from the pantry. I do purchase some treats from Trader Joe's when I get the chance, namely their ethnic sauces or my big weakness, TJ's tuna in curry sauce (YUM YUM YUM).

Many years ago now, a new-ish friend was at my home, and looked in the pantry and asked me where all the food was (huh?) I didn't really understand at the time that she meant where were all the cans of soup, boxes of mac n cheese, jars of spaghetti sauce, etc.? I was not enlightened enough to know then that the way I cook was not typical, and sadly, is becoming less so all the time.


Kim said...

First of all, let me just say that I have major pantry envy after seeing the fabulous space that you have. I shove food into every available nook and cranny in my kitchen. Someday...!

I enjoy seeing what other people eat, not sure what the particular draw is, but I'm definitely a pantry voyeur!

One of my goals this winter was to eat down some of the stuff in my pantry that sits there too long. I promised to post a photo of my that my computer is working I should get back on that project. Stay warm!

Meg said...

Wow, that's great! I love that photo essay you posted a couple days ago and it's cool to see a local/sustainable-conscious family's food supply. This is far more appetizing to me than a lot of those other grocery arrays (soda, chips, microwavable dinners--blech!). Kelly and I are striving to make our freezer and pantry look a lot more like yours. Though we don't buy processed things, we could do a better job at buying local stuff and preserving our own food.

Ali said...

Kim, when we looked at our house, I almost lost it when I saw the pantry. Our buyer's broker had to grab my arm and squeeze and remind me to seem to eager would weaken our negotiating position.

Meg,to be fair, I did have a big bag of Bearitos Blue Corn tortilla chips on hand to be dipping in the avocado-soon-to-be-guacomole. As for preserving your own food, I highly recommend a class on canning from the Cooperative Extension Service, I took one and it was pretty helpful. Yard sales are an excellent source of canning jars and you might even find a pressure canner if you're lucky. I opened a jar of my tomato sauce this weekend and nearly swooned, it was that good.

Meg said...

Ali, that's a good idea. We have a couple books that talk about canning, but they're too intimidating. My mom found a good deal of the supplies at yard sales last summer, so we have the stuff but we've just got to use it. I would like to take a class--the CE office is nearby and the community college has stuff like that, too ... hmm

Bri said...

Hi Ali, I came by way of Food on the Food, and love that you did this rundown of your food. Jennifer, the Baklava Queen, did a great post a couple weeks ago figuring out what percentage of her income she spends on food, month by month. It's so great to see what people are doing, how they handle the cold months (I'm lucky to have a vast local California foodshed), and what kinds of packaged foods people just can't resist. I'm a big fan of the tortilla chips too. I've been eating more and more whole foods, but the last few years I've really focused on local too, and it just feels so great to get to know vendors at the farmers markets. Thanks for your photos and lists as a tool for everyone.

Anonymous said...

So tidy, and you even have a shelf for your chickens! Wow. MY pantry would need a ton of "photo styling" before I'd ever take a picture of it. But I agree: meals can be so much more inspiring if you have the basics close at hand...and in your instance, in someplace you could see. Great work, Ali.

And just think: maybe this time next year you can go out and pick some carrots out of your own greenhouse.

Ali said...

El, you are teasing me! I so want a greenhouse, but not unless this year we can figure out a winter storage strategy. We lost a lot of potatoes to a freeze, and it broke my heart.

Bri, you are right, it is so fun getting to know the farmers who produce your food. One farmer we visit frequently has been farming for 61 years, and he and "mom" are still going strong. I just love supporting their farm; it really saddens me that they don't have a successor in sight.

Ali said...

ps El, looking at the photo tonight I'm appalled by how dusty some of the shelves are! With a working pantry like mine it is easier to keep it tidy, since everything is out on the shelves, and I need the counter space!