Monday, April 23, 2007

The 70-cent Solution

As if it weren't enough of a challenge to restrict your diet to foods produced within a limited-mile zone, a bunch of us bozos are going to do it on a budget this week.
Visit the Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge for details.
As for moi, I already completed my challenge a couple of weeks early, but I saved details and photos to blog about this week.
I'm speaking from experience. Not only my recent experience of eating locally on a budget, but the experience of having participated in two previous monthlong local challenges where costs were not necessarily tracked.
And I can sum up my experience in two words: PLAN AHEAD.
Sure, you can swing by the farmers market and pick up some lovely local produce, eggs, fish and meat. But how are you going to cook your goodies? Is your olive oil local? What are you doing about seasonings and sweeteners? If wheat is not in your local region, what will you do to get enough carbohydrates?
In other words, this is not a project you can just wake up one morning and decide to opt into.
And I haven't even talked about costs yet.
Fortunately, at my house, a lot of the food is already local; that's just the way we shop. But for this project, I now had to cost out portions: a tablespoon of the local olive oil I use is 62 cents, for instance. I didn't know that before but to stick within my budget, I had to know now.
I kept receipts for everything we bought for the week; that was a new behavior for me. I even bought a kitchen scale so I'd know how much of a one-pound bag of beans I'd be using for soup, or how much three potatoes, at $2 a pound, weighed — before peeling, because you paid for the peels whether you're eating them or not.
Speaking of the peels: Save everything. Well, almost everything. I might have been able to dream up a use for the potato peels (oven-baked chips? Drat, shoulda thought of that), but I threw them out. All my other flavorings and trimmings, though, were saved for other uses.
Et voilà, may I present one of the highlights of my frugal week: The 70-cent pot of chicken stock, aka Garbage Soup. Everything in that pot was free except for one 70-cent bulb of green garlic (and I could have used just half of that, it was so potent). Recipe: chicken carcass, parsnip and carrot trimmings, a handful of carrot greens, herbs from the garden, and that expensive green garlic. (For the purposes of the challenge, I didn't put a price on water or salt, because they are essential for life and nobody should have to budget for them.)
Why am I showing you leftovers on day one of the Penny-Wise challenge? Because I planned ahead for them. We started our week with a grand supper of roast chicken and vegetables.
Our total expenses for the day for two adults: under eight dollars.


Katie said...

I got stuck at the 62 cents per tablespoon for the olive oil.... Yikes!!!!
I couldn't live at that rate!
My mind just got stuck - so, out with the calculator. My olive oil - which I buy in Andorra so not local, but cheap is .06 cents per tbs. It's cold pressed extra virgin and is considered expensive by local standards.
But - supply and demand, most people in Spain and Andorra buy their olive oil in 5 of 10 litre cans.
.62 cents!
The 70 cent soup is the counterweight, right? It looks good!

ChrisB said...

I don't think I would have the patience to cost everything out even for a week. Embee would say I know nothing about planning ahead because when he asks 'what's for food' I usually respond 'haven't thought about it yet'!!

KT said...

Now that IS a challenge! Just keeping track, I mean! Hey Cookie, my hard drive died and I lost all my email addresses. Send me a message to, OK? The Mac is back but I'm still rearranging fonts and such. Would you please cook something for me? And what about the dogs? Do they have a challenge too? Woof!

Dagny said...

I'm with Chris. I'd probably give up halfway through the week with costing everything out.

Ed Bruske said...

This is a terrific idea. And ever since man has had camels he's been importing certain food items. So I would not be deterred at all by olive oil, salt, pepper, certain spices, almonds, etc. Heck, even Frankincense and Myrrh had to be cameled into Bethlehem.

Sam said...

I wish I could take the challenge this week but I can't. But I have some ideas for taking it in a future week.

Amanda was cooking at my house this weekend and she made me a big pot of garbage stock too. I have never quite thought to do that before but since we spent all day cooking it made sense. We just kept it simmering on the back of the stove and threw everything in as we went along, onion skins, chicken bones, kale stalks, green garlic ends, even ginger. Now I have to figure something to do with it. I think it might form the base of the rest of the week's lunch with a few noodles thrown in

Sam said...

which olvive oil do you use?

tammy said...

Chips out of potato peels. Now you're talking.

Willa said...

The costing out is what I'm finding tough, too. And so many things will never be local here in PA- olive oil, for one- that I have had to set up a couple of categories- local, semi-local, and never gonna be local.

But it is really interesting to go through- I just had to make a trip to the store, not to buy anything, but to check prices on some of the never gonna be local items that I keep in the pantry.


cookiecrumb said...

Katie: You scared me, so I went back and recalculated. Yep. 62 cents a tablespoon. I am so jealous of your European oil. But! There were lots of counterweights to the expensive oil, including "free" bacon fat.

ChrisB: It's not something you'd want to do on a daily basis, but I sure learned a lot. Actually, I'm more like you -- "haven't thought about it yet."

KT: So sorry about your Mac. I can't seem to invent a proper email address for you; keep getting Daemon to refuse my attempts. Go to my main page and click on the "fraid that's about it" under my profile to find my addie.

Dagny: I'm a bit wonky. I really had fun doing it. Measuring spoons, scale, calculator... Fun.

Ed: I agree. The Spice Trade was a significant historical global event, and who am I to spurn that? Besides, spices travel really cheaply, being small, compact and lightweight. Though I want to brag that my salt is locally harvested (by me) and the olive oil is local too.
Anyway. Yeah, the challenge is cool. Hope you check it out.

Sam: I hate to confess how long it took me to "respect" the carcass. But. Now? Every time.
BTW, I use McEvoy olive oil. Verrry local. But pricey. (You are gonna love your chick-veg stock.)

Tammy: Except -- to make them delicious, I'd need to use too many tablespoons of 62-cent olive oil. Oh wait! Dang. Bacon grease!! Free!!

Willa: But you are doing it? Brava.
The price thing was sort of obsessive for me (I was definitely trying to prove something) although after the first few days, I really knew I had it knocked.

sfmike said...

You hippie chick.

shuna fish lydon said...

If you know how to cost out your meals down to the ounce, you're far ahead of many chefs. My livelihood depends on me knowing these numbers. But I know a lot of chefs who run restaurants into the ground because they can't do it.

But I'm really glad Cranky talked about time in the SF Chronicle piece. We forget that those in "lower" classes tend to have less time. It's at that point where one must look at time as costing something.

Sam said...

Package Tracking:

Your Guinness Marmite has now reached Redwood City

Lunch is good (it wasn't really that I dont respect the cracass - more that I rarely ever buy chicken) I am eating it now - for lunch - a thin noodle soup - but i did have to perk it up with a little fish and soy sauces and chili to make it really delicious

Anonymous said...

It's interesting in all of this simmering soups/beans/lentils/stews and cost-effectiveness and cheapness, no one ever mentions the pressure cooker and the huge energy savings by using one daily. For middle and uppper middle class Indians, this is the primo gadget to save a lot of money and eat heartily of lentils and various dried beans every day.

I have used a pressure cooker in the US for the last 20 years. Homemade chicken broth: 20 mins after pressure builds (my jewish mother-in-law has not been able to tell the difference between her 4-hour simmered chicken broth and my 20-min pressure cooker one.

We eat at least one daal (lentils) pretty much every single day. The pressure cooker time varies between 8 mins to 17 mins (regular stove top simmer is 30 mins to 1.5 hours). Another 5 mins on the stove top to carmalize onions with fresh ginger, add some garam masala and chuck the whole lot into the cooked daal and you have a fabulous dish.

cookiecrumb said...

SFMike: And I haven't even talked about the foraging yet.

Shuna: Actually, Cranky somewhat regrets his remark about being retired and having time to do this. It's doable even if you work, but you just have to allot your time wisely. Beans will happily cook themselves while you watch American Idol. You just gotta get them in the hot water.
Also, see comment about pressure cookers.

Sam: I will make you chicken soup. You won't need to perk it up. (I'm whoring shamelessly so I'll get my Marmite.)

Anonymous: I am guilty as charged. I have a pressure cooker (two, actually), but I'm still scared of it. American mothers in the 1940s and '50s had lots of memorable accidents with their pressure cookers, and the subsequent generation got spooked.
I really appreciate your suggestion. All I really need to do is get comfortable using it.

Sam said...

i only hd to perk it up because it was garbage soup - we only had a few tiny little chciken bones not the whole carcass which is why it needed some zing

Sonya said...

(This is anonymous. I finally figured out how to add my name to my post.)

Getting comfortable with pressure cookers is much much easier with the new ones in the last 20 years. I have had the Fagor one for the last 6 years and think it to be one of the most used and vital pieces of equipment in my kitchen (have enough stuff to stock 3 kitchens).

With the Fagors, there are so many safety devices (actually one more than the european version) that there is no way to have an explosion.

I used to bring pressure cookers from India but the stoves here are so much more powerful than the little gas stoves in India that the rubber handles always got heat damaged.

BTW, I'm a huge risotto fan and the fagor risotto recipe is one of the best risottos my husband and I have ever had and no stirring required!!! 7 mins.