8 Ways to Save Money on Organic Food

8 Ways to Save Money on Organic Food

Going organic doesn’t have to break the bank. A few tricks of the trade will help you save money on organic food.

Everyone would “Go organic!” if it was easy. Green is a pretty color, and no one wants to admit they are part of the problem. But cost, seasonal supply, weather related shortages and in-store BOGO offers on name brands just make decisions a little more complicated. You can save money on organic food if you know what you are doing.

First, accept the fact that change takes awareness and effort. It’s OK to work harder for a little less (in the beginning). Resisting the effort it takes to create new habits and try different things will keep you from success. There is nothing wrong with a little idealism. If we want to be healthier, save the planet and live to tell the story, it’s going to take leg action, elbow grease, and trial and error. On the upside, doing the right thing helps you sleep better at night.

Full disclosure: Organic food is not cheaper than conventional or processed food unless it’s a bit rotten or a tad misshapen. Adjust your expectations. But any extra money you spend need not be considered an indulgence. It directly impacts and supports the farmers, little and local artisans and even (gasp) large national corporations that are risking their own bottom line in pursuit of the greater good. Though it’s not a legal tax write off, it’s a moral investment.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered on my organic journey.

1. Buy grains, legumes and beans in bulk.

 Not only will you save money, but you’ll reduce consumption of unnecessary packaging included with the brand name labels. And with the money you save, invest in a rice cooker. I’m NOT kidding. You can cook everything from quinoa, couscous and oatmeal to lentils, black beans (Don’t forget to pre-soak!) and split peas. It’s magical. Oh, and feel free to splurge on a cheap one. The high-end varieties are heavy, counter space stealers. I bought mine three years ago for $17. I use it almost every day.

2. Focus your meals around seasonal produce.

 Get out of your conventional grocery store where acorn squash sits next to lettuce, and strawberries are next to the apples. Go outside to a farmers market or local farm and you’ll learn that there are differences between spring, summer and fall that are not all about footwear and party themes. Get to know your food like you know your holidays. And if you can tell me schedules for off-season, pre-season, playoffs and championships, you certainly have room to know that asparagus is not a summer squash.

3. Look for reduce-priced produce, on the downside of ripe, for canning or freezing.

You don’t have to have a commercial kitchen or live with your grandma to do this. Literally, throw those strawberries in a freezer bag (that you will re-use) and enjoy them for up to 6 months. Now, technique can make a difference. Freezing fruit is best done at the peek of ripeness, washed, dried and frozen individually on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, you can combine in a bag. Vegetables need to be blanched (dipped briefly into boiling water) to stop rotting enzyme action, keep color bright, and retard the loss of vitamins. See 

The National Center for Home Food Preservation for specific instructions.

4. Don’t be afraid to buy frozen or canned items during the off-season.

 Organic foods have no pesticides or unnatural preservatives (maybe a little organic salt!), they’ve simply been minimally and properly processed to provide food for the winter.

5. Shop online.

 I use companies like Vitacost.com and Green B.E.A.N. Delivery because this is what works for me. They deliver baking suppliesbulk, dry and spice products and even produce right to my front door. Many of them have for vegan, gluten free and other limited diets, making your shopping experience simple! Though price points of their local products seem higher, my grocery bills are significantly lower since I made the transition because I no longer go to the grocery store on a regular basis. And that’s not a figment of my green-colored imagination. According to a J.D. Roth, more than half of in-store grocery purchases are impulsive. And half of us make “quick stops” at the store three to four times per week, spending, on average, 54 percent more than we planned. As everyone who’s been domesticated already knows, in most relationships, there is a Coupon Clipper being undermined by a Budget Blower.

6. Adjust your spending in other areas.

 I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but supporting the organic movement is part and parcel of saving the world. You can’t expect it to always be easy. According to the USDA, in 2009, Americans spend less than 7 percent of their budgets on food. If we continue to keep the quality of our food in such low priority, the monetary costs of sick care, healthcare, pollution and a toxic environment will continue to rise exponentially and be the least of our concerns.  You get what you pay for. What are you buying?

7. Clean up your diet. 

Buy and eat less crap. Instead of 2 for $5 bags of twenty oz potato chips, buy 1 fourteen oz bag of organic (The salt and vinegar variety are food art!) for $3 and let everyone have a handful. Why the hell would anyone need that many chips? You don’t even notice more than the first few. The rest of the process is only mechanical hand-to-mouth and jaw action. Yes, that sounds bad. And it is.

8. Communicate with your neighbors.

Share your bounty and your leftovers with your friends. Leave a comment here about what works for you. Supply, demand and price are intricately interwoven, and we must work together to right the system.

What’s the Easiest Way to Make Nut Milk? Ditch the Nut Bag…

What’s the Easiest Way to Make Nut Milk? Ditch the Nut Bag…

Maybe it’s just me (entirely possible), but making my own plant milks has been the biggest challenge in the quest for self-sufficiency. Here’s my truth: the nut bag is stupid. Human civilization is advanced, productive and intelligent-ish. So spending hours working myself into a sweat as I kneed and squeeze the stupid nut bag, spilling half of it in the process and turning my kitchen into a crime scene is not a sustainable procedure. There’s got to be an app for that.

While I appreciate modern convenience, our family goes through boxes of soy, almond and rice milk like it’s free. Only it’s not. At price points of $2-4 each, this is an easy category to target when budget cuts are necessary. I push water as often as possible, but I’ll agree that it doesn’t really work for cereal.

When I purchased my Vitamix for $450, I vowed to reach a break-even point as quickly as possible. So, following my personal financial principal of “spend money to make money”, I purchased bulk quantities of organic soy beans, oat grouts, shredded coconut, almonds, rice and hulled hemp, and began to search for the perfect recipes. I bought Rubbermaid containers that fit in my refrigerator door, and ordered the nut bag that was required in every recipe.

 

I was excited to get started. This was going to be awesome, for sure. Each recipe was a little different, but they all had one thing in common.

No matter which milk you are preparing, it will need to be strained. And every recipe I read calls for using a nut bag. And they all produce happy people drinking delicious milk made from whole ingredients in an easy process.

Either I’m doing it wrong (likely) or they left out the part where working the milk through the nut bag is akin to doing laundry on a wash board down in the creek.

I tried so many times. Soy, almond, rice, oat, hemp and coconut milk alike. I’d pour it into the nut bag and it would just….sit there. Gentle coaxing, full out beating, tears and bad words were employed. Nope.

I even attempted to construct a homemade vice, considered purchasing a cheese press for $200, and tried to get smart with a spaghetti squash.

After deciding that a commercial grade sieve was the answer, an out-dated word in the product description caught my eye. It was a simple word that is no longer tossed around at parties. Because it’s 2012. But back when Def Leppard ruled rock n’ roll, and before Spanx and spray tans made mini skirts an option for women over 30, nothing beat a great pair of L’eggs like control top NYLONs…

Nylon!

In a far away drawer, tucked in between a pair of leg warmers and the last can of Aqua Net, I have a pair of pantyhose saved for emergency use only.

Who would have guessed that making my own soy milk would constitute an emergency of such drastic proportion?

I got the nylons. I cut them up. I poured the milk into the pouch and held my breath.

It was perfect. Painless. In less than a minute, I was squeezing the last of the liquid and dreaming up other recipes for the leftover okara (pulp).

I have tried it with every kind of milk. Many times each. (I’ve been working on this for months!) Almond, soy, rice, coconut, oat and hemp.

The only one that I didn’t love was the hemp. It is grassy and bitter. But it tastes the same in the nut bag too. I threw away the rest of the hemp and called it a success.  I’ll take 5 out of 6. And they are fabulous!

You’re welcome.

How to Dry Herbs

How to Dry Herbs

How to dry herbs. (Also, how to grow common sense . . .)

I have a confession. For years, I’ve grown different herbs. From lavender and various mints, to my favorite Italian seasonings like basil, oregano and thyme, there is nothing better than pulling a leaf, rubbing it between my fingers, and inhaling the beautiful and healing scents of the garden as I stroll around my yard.

But I’ve always grown more herbs than I can use. And at the end of the season, when they fade with the first frost, I stock up on the dried versions from the grocery store.

Because I have no idea how to dry herbs.

But my quest to take every ingredient I use as far back to the original form as possible included the dried herbs in my spice cabinet. I had no idea what the drying process entails, but it can’t be that complicated!

For sure. It’s not.

Before the weather turned cold, I cut the plants at the ground and placed them in reusable shopping bags on a high shelf in my pantry. I left them there for a few weeks while I researched various drying techniques.

Meanwhile, they dried. No help from me.

But then…ugh. How do I get the leaves from the stems and into storage? I considered my various choppers, grinders, blenders, and food processors and procrastinated for another week. This was going to be messy and complicated!

This weekend, I pulled them from their hiding place to force myself to finish. And while I ran around the kitchen preparing dinner, my daughter sat on her stool and started playing with the parsley. I told her that was fine, but to please “play” over a bowl. She began rubbing the leaves between her fingers. They crumbled away from the woody stems without effort. Within a few minutes, she had the stems removed, the pedals finely ground and a winter’s worth of flavor ready to be stored.

She didn’t google “how to dry herbs” or consult a farmer for technique. She just instinctively knew what to do. Because kids are a lot smarter than adults sometimes.

Gardening is beautiful in so many ways. And so are my kids.

Cooking with Cast Iron Skillets

Cooking with Cast Iron Skillets

Living in West Virginia for a few years, I learned to love things au naturale. I make cocktails in ball jars,

But one thing about the Wild and Wonderful state continued to perplex me: everyone has a cast-iron skillet on their stove-top. What’s up with that? Old-school vintage may be the new high fashion, but I believed non-stick cookware to be a perk of the future.

But when my mom bequeathed the cast iron skillet that my great-grandmother (1897-1985) used her entire life, I was nostalgic enough to try it. And while there’s no infomercial with a b-list celebrity inspiring loyalty to a brand, a little research revealed what new technology has forgotten.

Benefits of Cooking in Cast Iron:

  • Finding a rusty, old, beat up skillet in a garage sale is BETTER than buying it new. But even if you buy it new, expect to pay a fraction of the cost for nonstick, stainless steel pans.
  • Teflon and other non-stick surfaces can’t produce restaurant quality food. If you want a deep, high-quality, seared flavor, cook with cast iron. Plus, non-stick coating breaks down when scratched or over-heated, and can be ingested or inhaled.
  • Cast iron has high heat retention, and is environmentally friendly because it requires less energy. It also can be used on any cooking surface. So if you are a camper or a survivalist, this is perfect for you.
  • Cast iron can be moved directly from stove top to oven, which reduces dishwashing time.
  • Health benefits are amazing, and especially helpful for the vegan diet. Cooking with a cast iron skillet actually increases the iron content of food. The following research is by Pyroenergen.

Iron content of raw food per 100 grams/Iron content after cooking in iron skillet

Applesauce, unsweetened: 0.35mg/7.38mg

Spaghetti sauce: 0.61mg/5.77mg

Chili with meat and beans: 0.96mg/6.27mg

Medium white sauce: 0.22mg/3.30mg

Scrambled egg: 1.49mg/4.76mg

Spaghetti sauce with meat: 0.71mg/3.58mg

Beef vegetable stew: 0.66mg/3.4mg

Fried egg: 1.92mg/3.48mg

Spanish rice: 0.87mg/2.25mg

Rice, white: 0.67mg/1.97mg

Pan broiled bacon: 0.77mg/1.92mg

Poached egg: 1.87mg/2.32mg

Fried chicken: 0.88mg/1.89mg

Pancakes: 0.63mg/1.31mg

Pan fried green beans: 0.64mg/1.18mg

Pan broiled hamburger: 1.49mg/2.29mg

Fried potatoes: 0.42mg/0.8mg

Fried corn tortillas: 0.86mg/1.23mg

Pan-fried beef liver with onions: 3.1mg/3.87mg

Baked cornbread: 0.67mg/0.86mg

How to Season or Re-Season a Cast Iron Skillet: For new cast iron skillets, or rust spots, uneven color, and poor results with sticky-food, you’ll need to season, or cure it.

Cover the bottom of the skillet with a thick layer of salt. Add 1 cup of a vegetable-based cooking oil and heat until oil begins to smoke. Pour the oil/salt mixture into a bowl and use a “wad” of paper towels to rub the inside of the pan until it’s smooth. Put oil/salt back into the pan and bake at 350 for one hour. Pour off oil/salt and rub the cast iron with the wad of towels one last time. You now have a seasoned cast-iron skillet. Cook away!

Do I Need a Vitamix? A Tale of Four Appliances

Do I Need a Vitamix? A Tale of Four Appliances

I’ve only heard about juicing through my yoga practice. It is widely believed that going on a juice fast delivers macro-amounts of micronutrients directly to your bloodstream, while letting your digestive tract take a rest.

But my digestive system doesn’t get tired often. It does get hungry every few hours, though. Vegetable juice might work as an appetizer or a palette cleanser between courses, but I’m going to need some substance.

The HVH (hot vegan husband) requested that I look into juicing after he read some articles on it and became interested. After browsing, my official opinion was quick and uneducated: why throw out the fiber? Just eat your vegetables!

But when I watched the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, about a man at the cross-roads of his health who decides to go big or go home; my skepticism became vulnerable. He embarks on a 60 day juice fast and finds life-saving health. I decided to buy a mid grade version for about $100. I’ve been hearing about the Vitamix*  which is touted as the best thing ever, but even a refurbished model starts at $350.

I spent the $100. Then I put it in the pantry, where it remained unopened for three months.

The tipping point that brought the juicer to life was an impending case of the sniffles, and the words CONCENTRATED SHOT OF MICRONUTRIENTS were all I could remember. I wasn’t hungry; my throat hurt. I had no sense of smell. I found some kale, carrots, spinach and an apple, juiced them and took a sip. It was very good. I poured a small glass for each kid and held dinner hostage. One (who is in my witness protection program) asked for seconds.

Drinking the juice in little shot glasses became a fun part of our morning routine–not every day, but a couple times a week. When my kids ask for smoothies, I start with a green juice base, and then add it to the blender with blue or blackberries (which help hide the color) along with a banana, apple, orange and/or pear. I usually throw in flax for a nutty flavor, enough ice to fill it to the top and a tbsp of honey or agave. They drink it like soda pop!

I take my veggie pulp and put it in my food processor, along with fresh garlic and peppers and create the batter for Raw Vegan Wraps/Crackers.

*A word about the ever so popular Vitamix. I’ve heard they are amazing. They blend like no blender before them, and considering you could get an old car for the same price, they should. The Vitamix is not a juicer. So there is no left-over pulp. And evidently, on the right setting, it will turn fruit into an ice-cream-like consistency. If you have the cash, go for it! But I already have a nice food processor, a decent blender, an adequate juicer, and even a small grinder. So while there are a probably a lot more dishes I could create, I can still accomplish wonderful things with what I’ve got.  And if I’m wrong, don’t tell me just yet (or do, of course…)

note: Since writing this post, I have purchased a Vitamix and absolutely love it. I made the decision as I was developing the banana sorbet and fresh mint ice cream with chocolate chips. My food processor just couldn’t handle the bananas. The investment is paying off exponentially as I now make my own vegan butterhomemade peanut butter, soy milk and even laundry detergent. Start saving for your Vitamix. Seriously. 

No-Pressure Pressure-Cooking

No-Pressure Pressure-Cooking

There are so many gidgets and gadgets for sale in the home goods section of any retail store, and we all know how tempting it is to buy that magical item marketed to save us time and energy, and turn our meals into envious works of art, unmatched in presentation and flavor.

Coincidently, most of us have at least one cabinet full of abandoned appliances: food processors, blenders, juicers, grinders, smoothier makers, bread machines, Panini grills, George Forman grills, batter mixers, waffle makers, pancake shapers…an endless list of broken resolutions.

Specifically, my pressure cooker has gone unused for a number of years. I purchased it with the intent to learn how to can. “As Seen On Tv” promotions can turn anyone into a romantic, dreaming of simpler times when we all used to can our own tomatoes, bake our own bread, and worry about the A-bomb.

But in the end,  I found it to be labor intensive, cost prohibitive and with my short attention span and low production levels, a big sticky mess. I bought some applesauce from the store and moved on with my life.

But a gorgeous array of fall root vegetables arrived in my Green B.E.A.N. Delivery this week, and I felt a little overwhelmed. Do I bake? boil? saute?

 I don’t even like beets and radishes, and those little squash are cute and colorful in my fruit bowl, but what do you do with them?

Pressure cookers can be intimidating to the uninitiated. And indeed, you need to read the directions. Basically, it uses high temperature under pressure to rapidly cook just about anything.

Those bulk beans that need to soak for two days and then simmer for 3 hours? From thought to finish, they can be done in under an hour, no Bean-o or GasX required.

Wild and long grain rice that even the pricey rice cooker can leave chewy and undercooked? Soft, tender and plump in about 5 minutes.

I’ve been told that you can cook anything in a pressure cooker, as long as you don’t fill it more than two-thirds of the way full. Beans and apples that tend to foam can clog the release valve, and adding a dash of oil can alleviate this issue.

So I did a little bit of research on cook times and techniques, and then threw everything in together. Baking potatoes, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, radishes, onion, shitake mushroom and 8 cloves of garlic. I even added the squash–I simply cut in half and scraped out the seeds. I left the skins on EVERYTHING.

The veggie medley made the pot half full, and I then added about 2 inches of water. You don’t want to run out of steam mid-effort, but too much water that must be drained leaches a lot of the vitamins and minerals. There are specific instructions available in cookbooks and on-line, but I prefer the guess-and-go technique, which works fairly consistently for me.

I did add a bit of salt before I closed the lid, and a bit more with the first taste, but the flavor was divine. I decided to mash with a hand-held mixer and casually present this dish as mashed potatoes. Those silly kids bought it, loved it and asked for more. I had a box of Pacific North portobello mushroom soup (vegan), which served as gravy and took the taste to a new level.

If you’re wondering about the squash skins, I’ll admit, texture wasn’t perfect– I did pull out a few seeds and crunchy peeling from a couple of bites. But for the most part, they disintegrated and added only fiber and nutrients that would have otherwise been lost. And eating meat often means pulling out gristle and bone chunks, so I don’t think I’ll worry about that.

My pressure cooker is an 8 quart, which is perfect for my needs. Check out all of the pressure cookers on Amazon and get yourself one.

And then visit your abandoned appliance cabinet and choose a few things to give to Good Will. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with having all that stuff, but your unused impulse purchases may inspire someone else to create healthier, whole food. Pay it forward. Besides, you need to make room for your new pressure cooker…:)

Why and How to Use Fresh Garlic

Why and How to Use Fresh Garlic

Until about a year ago, I thought that adding garlic to a recipe was as simple as dashing with garlic salt or adding a few tsps of the minced variety.

Fresh garlic is just a pain, right? Garlic smell on the fingers, garlic breath, and time spent peeling and chopping are deal-breakers when there are so many convenient ways to get your garlic.

But while staying with my parents during our move last year, my mom kept insisting that I use the ‘real thing’. I found that severely annoying. She really should outgrow the whole ‘hippy’ thing. Woodstock is now available on DVD, and garlic comes in a jar.

But she kept making me taste ‘the difference’. And I could smell it too. But as any self-respecting daughter does when faced with being wrong, I acted unimpressed. Whatever, Mom!

But in the next few weeks, whenever I added my jar-garlic to the skillet, I was disappointed. It was not the same. I knew ‘the difference’, and I missed it. So I bought some bulbs at the grocery and gave it a whirl. But the smell of garlic lingering on my hands for days and the dread of spending an additional fifteen minutes on dinner prep made the whole process less appealing. No fresh garlic for me.

But the memory of the aroma and the flavor stuck in my craw. Surely people who cook with garlic aren’t plagued with stinky fingers and lost productivity. There had to be a way.

So I did what any self-defeated-daughter does when faced with being wrong. I called my mom and pleaded for help. And she whispered in my ear the wisdom of the ages. That was a year ago, and I’ve never been tempted to buy anything but fresh, organic cloves. Chopping garlic has become a stress-relieving and fun way to begin every meal, and opening a bottle of wine to breathe while you work takes the experience to a whole new stratosphere.

Chopping garlic is not just for the culinary professionals. It’s easy, and it’s all in the technique. All you need is a sense of adventure, a good knife and less than 60 seconds.

Watch.

Only one bit of advice. Be sure to point the blade down.

Fresh garlic is actually very good for you. It is a natural antibiotic, and has been shown to relax blood vessels, increase blood flow and decrease risk for various cancers. Benefits show up starting with about 2 medium cloves per day. But once you start using the real thing, you’ll want to add it to everything, all three meals included. Two cloves per day is basic and boring.

When purchasing garlic, go organic to avoid pesticides and fertilizer residue, and choose large, firm and plump cloves that sit tightly in place. Store it outside of the refrigerator, and use a good knife to finely chop each clove, as opposed to a garlic press, which smashes the herb, releasing the natural oils and reducing the flavor.  Remove all of the paper casings. After chopping, let it rest for 15 minutes before cooking, maximizing flavor, nutrient levels and aroma.

Why can’t you just buy prepared variety? Because the garlic in the glass containers has often been bleached to retain color, packed in low-quality oil, and there is no way to know how it was processed or where it was grown.

To counteract garlic breath, dine with other garlic lovers. Also, chewing a piece of parsley, adding fennel or cardamon to the meal, and drinking a soy or almond milk can neutralize odor. Brushing your teeth and using a tongue scraper after the meal can eliminate the bacteria that causes halitosis, and is a good idea whether you consume garlic or not.

Add whole cloves to roasted vegetables, boiling potatoes and your favorite oils. Experiment with cooking as minimally as possible, which will maximize the nutrients, enzymes and health benefits.

Thanks Mom, you were right. :p

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