Sometimes the less we spend on food, the better we eat. Maybe because I have to plan a little more, put a little extra work in to coax meals out of dry beans or little bags of buckwheat groats that have been sitting in the pantry too long. I love cooking with buckwheat. The taste reminds me of the savory buckwheat crepes I ate in Brittany all those summers ago, and because buckwheat is actually a seed (and not a true grain) it is gluten-free and I think agrees with my system much better than real flour does. So recently I decided to use some buckwheat to make a dutch baby pancake (basically, a one pan, eggier version of pancakes). I love the texture of these, and one “pancake” will work pretty well as a weekend lunch for John, Will, and me. We had some blueberries in the freezer so I tossed a handful of those in, and added ginger for a little kick. We ate it with the last drops of the maple syrup. And butter and milk. Perfect, filling fall weather food. Blueberry Ginger Buckwheat Dutch Baby 1 c. buckwheat flour (or half buckwheat and half regular flour if you aren’t used to the earthy taste of buckwheat– though John usually doesn’t care for things made of 100% buckwheat, and I don’t think he even noticed that this was made with something other than regular flour– the soaking process seemed to mitigate the buckwheat flavor) 1 c. water plus 2 T yogurt or whey or apple cider vinegar (or instead of water and the whey or ACV you can use one cup of buttermilk or yogurt) 4 eggs 1 t. vanilla extract 1/2 t. salt 1/2 t. ground ginger dash of cinnamon 1 c. water (or whole milk) 4 T butter or coconut oil 1/2 c. (or more) fresh or frozen blueberries 1. Soak flour overnight (or up to 24 hours) in the water plus yogurt, whey, or ACV. (After adding the liquids, stir to make sure everything is well incorporated before letting it soak.) 2. The next day, or when ready to cook, heat oven to 350 degrees and add coconut oil or butter to an 8″ pan. Place in oven until oil/butter is melted. 3. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and add them, along with the remaining ingredients, to the flour that has been soaking. Pull out the pan with the melted butter or oil, swish melted fat around to coat the pan and then pour the rest of the oil into the batter. Stir batter until everything is incorporated, pour into pan, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the pancake is lightly browned on the edges and set. *Obviously, you can leave out the ginger and blueberries if you’d like. Substitute another kind of fruit, or add chocolate chips instead! Or leave plain! Or omit vanilla extract, fruit, and spices and add a cup of grated cheese to make a nice savory variation.
So the last days of August (yes, forever ago!) brought company (my dearest childhood friend and her beau– they brought bottles of wine and fresh lobsters from the city) as well as the start of my job. Which I haven’t written about much (at all?) here, but I work as a chaplain at a college here in town 12-15 hours a week. Which is just enough hours to make life feel pretty crazy around here. BUT I completely and totally love what I do, and it is pretty much an ideal job in every respect.
Anyway, all that is to say it’s taken me forever to write about the last week or so of the cleaning out the pantry/freezer adventure of August (while spending only $150 extra on groceries for the 3 of us– See here for what our pantry looked like on August 1). And sadly I don’t remember much of what we ate those last days! When Heather and Chris were in town we had lobster one night, and I had to spend some extra money on bread, butter, eggs, etc. for them, and we bought a pork loin from our local butcher for dinner the other night.
So I ended up going over my $150 allotment by about $50. But STILL, we only spent $200 on groceries for a whole month!!!! And I cleaned out the recesses of the fridge, freezer, and pantry and decided what to eat and what to toss. It was like hitting a reset button in the kitchen, which is a good feeling.
The one downside is that we started September low on things I typically store up, but that will just mean that September is another lean month as I use our regular budget to slowly stock back up on beans, pasta, olive oil, etc.
I LOVED doing the month of August like this, and I will probably do similar clean out the pantry months once a year from now on, if not more often.
We just finished our second week plus a day of eating from the pantry (and only spending $150 for groceries for the month of August). The pantry was a little barer than it was when we began, but our fridge was full of beautiful vegetables from our CSA. Two very sweet friends brought soup on two different days early in the week as I was recovering from being sick. And one of them gave me a whole, cooked (local, organic) chicken later in the week. I pulled all the meat off, made stock out of the bones, and then cooked a warming soup with coconut milk, lime, and ginger. And odds and ends of vegetables.
I’ve had a bad cold all week, and John came down with it later in the week, so I actually cheated a little and bought several boxes of Traditional Medicinals tea and a jar of honey that I’m not counting toward our total for this month. I’ve been thinking about how it’s such a fine line between food and medicine– what actually counts toward the grocery budget, and what doesn’t? Anyway, I made the executive decision to just buy the tea and honey and not stress about it.
One somewhat unexpected benefit of eating from the pantry this month is that I have been just thinking about the overall functionality and aesthetics of our kitchen space. Like I wrote earlier, we’ve lost a lot of pantry space because of Will, and we also lost the storage space under our kitchen island, so I’ve moved a lot of things around over the past few months. But some things were moved hastily and not planned out very well. So I’ve decided that I want to make our kitchen space work a little better. And if possible… be a little prettier. The latter is the hardest, because I also don’t want to spend much money at all. But I’ve changed a few things around, bought a few new glass jars for things, and hopefully soon I can show you all the somewhat improved space! (Baking supplies below– I already had most things in glass jars, but I transferred baking powder to a glass jar, got rid of some old odds and ends, and peeled the labels off a few bottles (vanilla, ghee, and molasses) and replaced with paper labels to create a somewhat more unified appearance. It’s still, as you can see, not Pinterest-worthy glamorous, but it’s uncluttered, and I like it.)
Anyway, here is what I’ve spent on groceries over the past week plus a day or so:
Aug. 10 $16.50 For 2 dozen eggs (local, pastured), a pound of organic butter, and a block of not organic cheese
Aug. 11 $24.50 Cheese, corn tortillas, organic pork sausage (a pound and a half), 4 avocados, 7 bananas, and a small amount of real salt from the bulk bins for some pickles I planned to make
Aug. 13 $4.00 bread
Aug. 17 $15.50 Raw, organic cheese, coffee filters, smoked oysters (for Will), 5 bananas, and dill (for some pickles I started a few days ago)
Total: $60.50, Remaining: $55.50
And here’s what we ate:
August 10, Sunday My fever was gone this morning, but a terrible cough has settled in. Sigh. Once again John has fended for himself and the baby for breakfast and lunch. I ate about a third of a cup of yogurt in the morning, and a piece of cheese toast for lunch. A dear, wonderful, angel-heart of a friend brought us over a big pot of lentil soup for dinner.
August 12, Tuesday Breakfast was eggs and toast all around, plus banana and cheese for Will. Lunch: I ate the rest of the lentil soup my friend brought. Will had another egg, some beans, and sweet potatoes. John took our last two pieces of bread and a tomato to work to eat with some tuna fish he had in his office. Dinner: ANOTHER super sweet friend brought us soup for dinner. Along with a loaf of bread. Truly manna from heaven because I’m still feeling not great and the kitchen is piled with dishes I haven’t done from earlier in the day.
August 13, Wednesday Dinner: I made some pesto from CSA basil and we ate it with pasta, a small amount of the sausage I bought on the 11th (and froze in small portions) cooked up with onions and all tossed with finely chopped celery leaves.
August 14, Thursday Breakfast: More soaked porridge with raisins and cinnamon, plus 2 eggs for Will. Working on organizing the spices and overhauling the pantry in general and as I was cleaning out one dark corner I discovered half a bar of chocolate that had fallen down out of sight! Not too old, either!
August 15, Friday Made coconut chicken soup from the chicken a friend of ours gave us. Used my last can of coconut milk and ginger powder instead of fresh ginger (didn’t have any fresh). John has come down with a cold as well, so lots of soup and tea for both of us.
August 16, Saturday Chicken soup for lunch and supper. Odds and ends for Will, some chicken and vegetables from the soup, bits of avocado, scrambled eggs.
August 17, Sunday Lunch: chicken soup Dinner: Roasted potatoes & tomatoes with heaps of pesto (pretty much all either from our CSA last week or this)
Here’s the pantry (when we started on the left, today on the right):
Our CSA this week: 5 heads of garlic, several onions, a bag of basil, sun gold tomatoes (most of which I ate straight out of the carton this afternoon– I am obsessed with these things), 2 heads of purple cabbage, potatoes, and red and golden beets. And oh this garlic, fresh and shiny and purple under the dry outer skins.
Also, I got this gorgeous cookbook from the library yesterday. I’ve been reading this woman’s blog for awhile, and the book is just rich with recipes for wholesome, good food. I wanted to buy it, but I’ve been on a no-spending kick lately, so I didn’t. I cannot wait to cook as many things out of this as our limited budget will allow this week!
And we’ve been drinking a mixture of equal parts apple cider vinegar and raw honey for our colds. A tablespoon here and there. And drinking lots of tea. Still have quite a cough and might go back to the doctor this week if it doesn’t get any better.
Our CSA yesterday: a couple of pounds of small, red potatoes, celery, kale, basil, lettuce, tomatoes. And a green pepper and two cucumbers. Not, as is suggested in the photo below, sweet potatoes, alas. Those we already owned but John had taken them out of the fridge to dry (because our fridge has been leaking water inside for awhile, and John somehow miraculously fixed it yesterday afternoon). I made some pickles according to this recipe this afternoon with the cucumbers. We’ll see how they turn out.
This week: some potatoes, 2 tomatoes, purple beans, a bunch of carrots, celery (with lots of leaves), a box of some super hot peppers, a box of blueberries, some basil, and a couple of turnips. A good haul, and enough to help us get through this week without spending too much of our tiny allotment for this month. John left this morning and won’t be back until Friday, so lots of hours of just me and the babe. Fortunately, he’s going through a phase where he throws his arms around my neck and squeezes me and nestles his cheek in whenever I pick him up, so I think we will survive. Also, this and this:
(And yes, our house is messy, and yes Will isn’t wearing pants, and yes that’s a twin mattress on the floor in our living room. Our neighbor just moved and was giving it away, and I decided I wanted a place for Will to climb and jump and cuddle. So far it’s a success. Our neighbor also bequeathed us an heirloom tomato plant, but no tomatoes so far…. I’m hoping we get at least one before the cold weather comes.)
Somehow we have ended up with an overflowing pantry. (See above. Please note the bottom shelf and floor, which used to be very handy, usable space, and have recently been surrendered to the indomitable Toddler. I hope everyone’s heart is welling up with sorrow and pity at the way in which I have lost fully one third of my already quite tiny pantry space. But then again, I have a tiny pantry full of food, and there is more food where that came from, and potable water flows from our faucets with zero effort on our part, and there are many, many people in the world who would be overjoyed to have running water and four pantry shelves full of good food with more to be had with the swipe of a plastic card.)
Anyway. Since our pantry is so full, and since we’ve spent quite a bit of money the past couple of months on trips and the dentist and eye doctors I decided that we are going to clean out the pantry/freezer this month and my goal is to spend only $150 on anything additional this month, to cover eggs, a lemon here and there, etc. That’s going to be about $30/week. I’m already getting a little nervous, but I think the discipline will be good. And we do get a heaping bag of veggies from our CSA each week. So we should be fine.
So here’s what we have in our capacious pantry, full of food: a few extra bags of dry beans, a huge jar of black eyed peas, lots of rice and buckwheat, several boxes of Barilla Plus pasta (which I picked up on sale at Target), some cans of tuna and salmon and little jars of red curry paste. A can of coconut milk. Some packets of flavored oatmeal left over from our trip. A not insubstantial jar of ghee. Lots of peanut butter and cocoa powder. 2 bags of Thai chili lime cashews from our recent trip to Trader Joe’s. And some random things (not sure what, but I suppose we’ll find out, won’t we?) in the freezer. I am almost positive I have at least one ham hock, which will help us take care of the black eyed peas. The fridge is bare after our 8 days out of town, but we’ll get our CSA on Sunday. John will be out of town most of this upcoming week, and Will and I can get by on lentil kitchari (basically his favorite food of all time, except for blueberries) and grilled cheese sandwiches.
And we did just buy 2 cases of wine at Trader Joes, so that will help (one case of 2 buck Chuck, and one case of a variety of $4.99 wines, which after the case discount were $4.50 per bottle). Stay tuned for weekly updates and menus! (And if anyone has any ideas for good pantry meals, let me know!!!!)
More sugar snap peas, yellow wax beans and green beans, snow peas, turnips, squash, cucumbers, one carrot, one tomato, swiss chard, green onions, and oh my word basil. I had some cabbage, a little broccoli, and some yellow beans left from last week, so I tossed them all with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them for about 15 minutes on 450. (The cabbage I sliced into 1/2 inch pieces). It felt satisfying, finishing off three vegetables in one meal, and I never cease to be amazed by how wonderful roasted vegetables are, even in the summer.
Usually Will eats sardines straight out of the can and has done since he was 6 or 7 months old. Well, I hand them to him out of the can; I don’t let him take them out himself because he obviously might lacerate his hand. But I am telling you, sardines with skin and bones, he will eat half a can at a time.
Usually. Yesterday I opened some and gave him a nice little morsel, and he wouldn’t touch it. That was pretty much my only protein idea for him for that particular meal, and as much as I do not want to become a short order cook for this baby, as darling as he is, I decided to mash up the fish with some leftover rice and an egg and make little cakes.
I added a dash of cayenne pepper and then cooked them in a pan like pancakes (about 2 T of “batter” each), and Will loved them. I sprinkled a little salt on after they had finished cooking. I ate half of them myself, they were so delicious.
Anyway, these pictures are terrible, but I promise you these were amazing. You could make them with tuna or salmon or whatever other kind of fish you might have on hand. I like sardines because the smaller the fish, the less mercury they will have!
I’ve also been making similar cakes out of leftover vegetables lately– 1/3 c. mashed sweet potato plus one egg, mixed well, to make sweet potato pancakes! Or 1/3 c. mashed beans, any kind plus one egg! I’ve never actually measured anything, but I think it’s usually a ratio of about 1/3 to 1/2 c. of mashed whatever to one egg. Will loves them, and it’s a nice change of pace from eating plain vegetables. (And he hasn’t been loving plain eggs so much these days, so it’s also a way to get more eggs into his little skinny body.)
Little Fish and Rice Cakes
1 can sardines, mostly drained (about 4.5 oz, preferably the kind with skin and bones!)
1 large egg*
about 1/3 c. cooked rice
Mix all ingredients, mashing the fish thoroughly. If you want, add a 1/4 t. of paprika or a tiny dash of cayenne (if your baby likes things spicy like mine does!). Heat some butter or coconut oil on med. in a skillet, and then cook as you would pancakes. Cook for a minute or two on each side, or until golden brown. Sprinkle with salt, let cool a bit (and check to make sure it’s not too hot before you give it to your baby). Makes about 10 small cakes.
*Obviously please follow your pediatrician’s advice about when to feed baby egg whites. Many people recommend waiting until 1 year to give the whites– if your baby is under 12 months you can make this with 2 or 3 egg yolks instead. I started giving Will whites around 10 months and he seems to have survived so far….
Our CSA this week: one bag of spinach, a bunch of cilantro, two bunches of radishes, some green garlic, kale, (a ton of) collards, and micro greens. It’s quite a heap of greens, and it’s going to take awhile to wrestle it all into the fridge. I found a copy of Deborah Madison’s book Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets at the used book store this week. I had store credit, so I decided to get it for some fresh ideas for our weekly vegetables. Some of her recipes for greens include: Hearty Pungent Greens with Anchovies and Garlic, Chard and Cilantro with Noodle Nests (little fried noodle and cheese dumplings), and a simple Shredded Salad of Many Greens with a lemony dressing. She also has a recipe for radish butter for radish sandwiches. So I’ll try to cook through some of those this week and report back. Oh, the peonies bloomed overnight and John went out this morning and picked one for me.