BBA #3

30 05 2009

Bagels

Bagels

The best bagels to be had, outside of your own kitchen of course, are at The Bagelry up in Bellingham.





Where the Deals Are

2 12 2008

My focus on this blog generally has been to show where local foods can be purchased here in the Skagit Valley. Price hasn’t really been much of an issue since it’s actually often less expensive to buy products and produce locally and, in the long run, it is better for our local economy. The greater economy, however, is affecting all of us in one way or another and it’s a good time to share what I know about the cost of eating.

One caveat about my information is that I have barely set foot in a standard grocery store for years. I occasionally go to Albert’s Red Apple and pick up a half gallon of Organic Valley milk or some toothpaste, but unless I really really need something out of season or I notice some great deal on an organic item in Haggen’s weekly flyer I’m pretty clueless about what the going rate is for anything. I do know that, except for loss leaders, grocery stores charge a lot for stuff.

I tend to buy things in bulk, seasonally, organic whenever possible and limit the ready-made and processed. I don’t use a microwave. We’re omnivores, but we eat mostly plants. There are two of us. We love cheese. We spend a lot of money on cheese. :) Since I’m under-employed currently, we’ve made a few changes in our shopping (including cheese) and I’ll note those. So here goes, I’ll start with the big ticket items …

MEATS

Beef: Hemlock Highlands, unquestionably the most tender and flavorful beef out there. It’s a great value and I try to make many meals out of each cut every other week. We try to buy a quarter in the fall. The key here is buying it by the quarter, half or whole from your favorite valley rancher.

Chicken: Not in the budget. We used to purchase a chicken (~$18) or so per year from Skagit River Ranch, but they’ve stopped raising them for the market due to the cost of organic feed. We have a couple of Ranger chickens and some parts in the freezer from special sales, but chicken is generally unaffordable. I won’t compromise quality here so no chicken. (Although the co-op just had breasts with ribs for $2.50/lb. when buying the case. Not sure if that is still on.)

Fish: Costco is the go-to for wild-caught salmon fillets (varies ~$6.99/lb.), Trident salmon patties and *gasp* Trident fish sticks (60 count 4 lb. ~$13). I’ll also buy the farmed trout ($3.99/lb.) there for grilling and smoking. Our local fish markets are also a good source. Kirkland albacore tuna is a good deal. I’ll buy a couple of Trader Joe’s tuna in olive oil ($2) as well. (The fish sticks are a recent addition, taste pretty good and make great quick fish tacos. They’re inexpensive and yes, processed and even breaded, but we’re poor and it’s real fish at least.)

Pork: Silvana Meats or Tenneson Family Farm for all our piggy needs. I get bacon ‘ends and pieces’ since they’re less expensive ($3.89/lb.) and we use bacon only sparingly as a flavoring component. Great sausages and landjaeger too if we’re feeling flush. Inexpensive ground pork from which to make sausage when not.

DAIRY

Milk: Golden Glen Creamery gives us our two half gallons (or so) of milk per month. At $3.50 they’re usually less expensive than the grocery organic equivalent. It mostly goes to Keith’s coffee or baking. Cash and Carry usually has the best price on coconut milk (~75¢ per can).

Butter: I used to buy the organic butter at Costco, but it’s from Aurora so I’m not paying a premium just so they can stretch the rules and abuse their cows anyway. I buy the regular four 1-pound blocks (~$8.50) and will change as soon as they do. As a treat, I’ll buy Organic Valley pasture butter from the co-op for fresh bread use only. ;)

Cheese: Costco – Tillamook extra sharp vintage cheddar, Dutch Gouda, Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano and Jarlsberg. Occasionally Beecher’s or something else pricier. I’ve knocked down the cheese bill lately a little by buying the 2 pound brick of Frigo mozzarella and smoking it, but our food budget just goes to heck in this category. *sigh*

Eggs: We have chickens now so I don’t buy eggs, but I used to buy the Wilcox Omega-3 eggs (18 for ~$3) from Costco. They’re a good value. They’re much cheaper than keeping chickens what with organic feed and scratch and building coops and whatnot. :)

Yogurt: Nancy’s plain honey whole milk yogurt in the big 64 oz. tub from the co-op. It keeps well, can be flavored with jam or fruit, diluted with water for baking, and costs about $5. Do not waste money on tiny containers of flavored lowfat yogurt, the food value is in the whole milk. Reuse a small container to take it to work for lunch. If it’s on sale, buy two!

STAPLES

Flour: Pendleton Grain Mills Power® brand flour (50# sack ~$28) from Cash and Carry. It’s not organic, but it’s not GMO and it’s milled in Oregon. When I can afford it, I buy organic from Bob’s Red Mill either from the co-op or from the mill store. I can’t afford Fairhaven Mill’s flour anymore either. :(

Whole grains: Wheat berries, barley, rye and oat groats from our wonderful co-op bulk section or Bob’s mill store. Thick rolled oats (25# sack ~$14) from Cash and Carry.

Legumes: Beans, lentils, peas, etc. from the co-op in bulk when I can’t get to Quincy. I cook up a pot of beans in the pressure cooker nearly every week.

Rice: Daawati organic brown Basmati rice (15 lb. sack ~$15?) from Costco. Others bulk from the co-op or from 99 Ranch in Edmonds (it’s Lynnwood, if you ask me).

Pasta: Costco carries organic Garofalo pasta including whole wheat spaghetti (3kg ~$8). Trader Joe’s also has delicious whole wheat pastas, but they’re more expensive.

Sugar: 50# raw cane sugar (~$35) from Cash and Carry. I whizz it up in the food processor when I need finer grind. This has replaced the organic fair-trade Wholesome Sweeteners sugar from Costco (10 lb. bag $8). (This one hurts because we gave up both organic and fair-trade, but at least it’s less processed and packaged.)

Bread: Pretty much all home-baked since good bread is otherwise too expensive. I’ll occasionally buy the 90 count corn tortilla pack from Costco for $2.99. (Fish tacos, right?) I vacuum pack and freeze them in smaller quantities. Also organic tortilla chips occasionally.

Oils: Coconut oil and/or Full Spectrum shortening on sale from the co-op for various uses including oiling the cutting board and seasoning cast iron. I get them at the co-op. My cooking and deep frying oil is grapeseed oil (3L ~$15) from Cash and Carry since it’s cheaper than organic high heat canola. Regular canola is usually genetically engineered. Organic EVOO (1.5L ~$13) comes from Costco and is so dear that it’s only used on salads and for bread anymore.

Nuts: Costco for whole nuts and peanut butter. Adam’s crunchy is $7 for the 5 lb. tub. I keep the nuts in the freezer or in vacuum-sealed canning jars. (I wish I could find pine nuts that weren’t from China! *grr*) Also whole walnuts in the shell from the co-op just because they’re so good and from Washington.

Spices: Costco, Penzey’s or the bulk section at the co-op. Kosher salt (3 lb. box $1.87) is least expensive at Cash and Carry.

PRODUCE

Fruit: Seasonally usually the best price is directly from the orchard. My favorite is Jones Creek Farm. We also pick organic blueberries up at the Johnson’s U-pick in Rockport ($2/lb.). Strawberries come from Sakuma and yesterday’s can be half price and are great for jam. Winter is citrus season and I buy only organic from the co-op so I can zest or candy the peels. I save mandarin peels for spicing up tea.

Vegetables: Farmer’s Markets, CSA, farm stands and homegrown! Freeze, dehydrate and can. I won’t compromise on organic potatoes (varies, 50# box $32), but I’ll buy BC hothouse red bell peppers from Costco (~$1 each) in winter. Costco also carries organic frozen peas, corn and beans! They also have S&W organic canned diced tomatoes (8 cans $7*) and tomato paste ($6 dozen). *$2.50 off coupon until 12/17!

Foraged: Miner’s lettuce, nettles, wild berries and mushrooms are used plenty in my kitchen. Free!

HOUSEHOLD

Cleansers: Baking soda (12 lb. $5) and white vinegar (2 gal ~$3.50) from Costco. CountrySave dish soap from the grocery store or co-op. Either CountrySave or Kirkland environmentally friendly laundry detergent. Sorry, can’t find the receipt.

Pet Food: This used to be Canine Caviar for both cat ($35!) and dog ($50!), but now it’s Kirkland brand ($13 and $26) all the way. The dog also gets a daily Kirkland glucosamine pill tucked into peanut butter each morning.

Coffee, Tea, Wine: These are consumed, but generally not purchased. My mother provides spoils from all her travels and her wine clubs.

Okay, those are the ‘highlights’ more or less. This blog post would be a marketer’s dream except there’s not very much in that processed category. Also, you’d think I know what we spend on food monthly, but I don’t really since some things last a long time. I usually tally it up at the end of the year when I do my taxes, but last time (and the first half of this year) the budget was pretty free-wheeling in the food category.

I realize this was a tedious post, but I was trying to illustrate that it’s possible to eat good mostly organic healthy food and source much of it locally even though one is poor. :) Hopefully by including some of the prices I was able to indicate where many of the best deals are to be found locally. Yes, I know that many are at Costco, but the cost of membership is quickly recovered in savings. Also don’t overlook the ethnic groceries and the scratch and dent corner at places that carry organics like Fred Meyer. I haven’t been to the Grocery Outlet in years, but I used to go before I got all ‘picky’. I’ve heard there are some organics once in a while. I plan on checking them out.





Good Mews for Little Poopers

30 10 2008

Last month we got a new kitten, Dax, after becoming abruptly catless back in July. He’s been settling in nicely, but we did need to quick pick up some litter after a week or so. Kale pretty much used the great outdoors, but our new little guy isn’t ready for that sort of responsibility yet.

While running our errands, we popped into our favorite pet store Walker’s Healthy Pet and picked up some kitten chow (First Mate) and more of the usual litter. Once we got home and I was looking over the receipts, I saw that we’d just paid about $1/lb. for something to crap in! What?! Usually we get it at Skagit Farmer’s Supply and I recalled it costing about $6 per bag.

With the current distressing changes in the economy, not to mention our budget, this was not a reasonable use of our pennies. Since I didn’t want to open the bag, we played around with sand from the beach. This had marginal success. Dax liked it just fine, but it was heavy in the box and didn’t absorb any odors.

The next time we were driving around, we stopped in at Whatcom Farmer’s Supply up on the Guide to have a look. There was our usual cat litter at a more reasonable $8, but the price still had risen from last winter or whenever I’d purchased my last bag. So there we were, staring at an assortment of overpriced pelletized litters and unsuitable clumping (bad for kitty lungs) or clay (high mileage rocks, bad for septics) litters.

Oh, but what have we here? Crown Animal Bedding in the “small” 25 lb. bag for $8.66. Some pets would rather sleep on it, but they had me at “absorbs ammonia odor” and “biodegradable”. Canby, Oregon? OK!

At home, we pour it out and I realize that I recognize it. A little research and I discover that it is, in fact, made by the same folks that make Good Mews cat litter. It’s pelletized from recycled newsprint so, until the last newspaper is replaced by web-only news delivery, it should be available.

Dax christened the new litter kitten-approved!

Next time we’ll pick up the 40 lb. bag for $11.49. I’ll update here when I see where it is carried locally. I assume Skagit Farmers Supply will have it, just not by the cat litter. Good Mews is widely available in grocery stores and SFS.





There’s no free lunch, but …

14 10 2008

… breakfast can be pretty cheap!

We’ve been eating oatmeal every weekday morning for a year or two since it’s quick, easy, healthy, variable and inexpensive. It’s not exciting, but I can manage to muster up dog food and people food while waiting for coffee instead of the other way around. Also, while it’s technically the same breakfast every morning, it’s really quite different depending on whether it’s walnut blueberry, peach cardamom, almond date, or apple cinnamon.

Since I refilled my oatmeal supply yesterday, I thought I’d examine more closely the cost of breakfast. For a long time, I’d buy Bob’s Red Mill extra thick cut oats (organic) from the bulk section at the co-op. They’re a pretty good deal at something like a dollar per pound. Whenever we’d get down to the mill store in Milwaukie, I’d grab a 25 pound bag. Recently I discovered that Cash and Carry in Bellingham carries Bob’s oats in 25 pound bags as well. Unfortunately they don’t have the organic, but at least they have the thick cut and $14.28 seemed like a good deal to me.

Not too far from the oats, I noticed something that I hadn’t seen before: a 50 pound sack of raw sugar! I tend to get raw sugar as a bit of a splurge and set it out for company coffee since it’s fairly pricey so our “house sugar” has been Wholesome Sweeteners organic cane sugar which I buy from Costco for $7.99 for a 10 pound bag. I also get regular C&H brown sugar which is $2.79 for a 2 pound bag. Well, $34.68 is a bit to spend on sugar all at once, but it can be used instead of both of the others and at 69¢ per pound is a pretty good deal. No, it’s not organic and it will color some of the paler foods, but I can compromise a bit. In fact, the budget dictates pretty much that I have to! At least it’s less processed than both white and brown sugars, simplifies my pantry, and gives me one giant recyclable paper sack instead of many smaller plastic packages.

How do I store these giant sacks of oats and sugar? Right next to the giant sack of flour in my office closet! It’s a cool, dry and dark location and relatively handy to the kitchen. I keep my flours in large Rubbermaid tubs and will most likely get another for the sugar once I open the bag. It helps keep the mess down and provides some protection.

Oh yeah, back to breakfast.

I generally make two servings because there’s two of us, but I did the math for one serving so it can be easily multiplied for each family situation.

3 ounces (3/4 cup) oatmeal = 10¢

1/2 tablespoon butter = 3¢ *

1 ounce frozen blueberries = 12¢

1/2 ounce walnuts = 15¢

1/2 ounce sugar = 2¢

So apparently, besides being the answer to life and everything, 42 cents is the price of a healthy oatmeal breakfast! Of course, the price varies depending on add-ins, but you get the idea. It’s unlikely that any pouch of instant oatmeal would provide so much whole food nutrition for that price. Besides the options mentioned above, I will also often substitute 1/4 cup of oatmeal with 1/4 cup of kasha in a 2 serving batch. I like the nuttiness that the buckwheat imparts and it raises the protein level as well. By switching up fresh and dried fruits, different types of nuts, and different spices, it seems like the variations are limitless. At least limitless enough to not need to have the same thing every morning.

Then there’s oatmeal cookies …

* Butter purchased at Costco $8.49 for 4 pounds (this went up $1 in a month!), 3 pound Kirkland walnuts for $14 and change purchased last spring, and U-pick organic blueberries at $2/pound





Mushrooms

11 10 2008

One of the great things about fall (besides the sunny brisk days, changing leaves, and slower pace) is the abundance of free food just lying about the forest floor. The cycle begins with morels in the spring, oyster mushrooms throughout the summer, shaggy manes, myriad boletes, then chanterelles and lobster mushrooms, and finally blewits. That’s a lot of foraging! Go slowly and start with the easy ones, we add about one mushroom per year to our repertoire. Last year we picked morels and chanterelles, this year we added shaggy manes and lobster mushrooms. We’re still working on the boletes (there’s hundreds of them – not all good) and blewits. Puffballs are also a good mushroom, but Keith doesn’t seem to like them so we’ve stopped picking them. Do give them a try!

Of course you can’t just willy nilly pick whatever mushrooms you find and pop them into your mouth so a little research and hopefully help from someone who’s picked, eaten and lived to tell the tale. Remember there are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters, but no old, bold mushroom hunters. Start with a few good mushroom books, we prefer ones with pictures instead of line drawings, and a couple of handy websites. The co-op and our local bookstores have a pretty good selection. We carry (that’s the ‘royal we’, the dog carries the books, containers, extra bags, mushroom knife and brush in her pack!) The Pocket Guide to Mushrooms and Common Mushrooms of the Northwest. I like All That the Rain Promises as well. The co-op is also a good source to purchase (or inspect) wild mushrooms which can help you identify them in the wild.

Pacific Golden Chanterelle - Cantharellus formosus

Pacific Golden Chanterelle - Cantharellus formosus

Some websites with useful information are:

Fungi Perfecti (Paul Stametz, our local PNW guru, whose books are a must read on the topic)

Morel Mania (check ‘Sightings’ to help with timing and lots of articles under ‘Information’)

The Great Morel (another specialty site)

Edible Wild Mushrooms (good ID reference)

Rogers Mushrooms (good ID reference)

MushroomExpert.com (another good ID reference)

Northwest Mushroomers Association (Bellingham group, good ID links too)

Now that you’ve got your books and some websites, mark your calendar for October 19th and get up to Bloedel-Donovan Park in Bellingham for the 2008 Fall Mushroom Show put on by the NW Mushroomers. $5 gets you entry and lots of information about mushrooms, tastings and even identification of any mushrooms that you bring along! We’re not doing much driving these days, but this is one worthwhile event. Carpool anyone?

Once you’ve picked your mushrooms, you need to do something with them. Not all mushrooms get the same treatment so keep that in mind. I learned this when I bought a lobster mushroom so we could taste it and found that it tasted nasty. This year I picked some, did a little research, and then cooked them differently and was very pleasantly surprised! Live and learn.

Chanterelles on the chopping block

Chanterelles on the chopping block

Morels, oysters, chanterelles, shaggy manes: Chop coarsely, place them in a dry pan and sweat over medium heat without crowding. Once they’ve given off all their moisture, douse them in butter, garlic and maybe cream. Alternatively, cool them and refrigerate for later meals or pack into vacuum bags and freeze.

Shaggy mane mushroom - Coprinus comatus

Shaggy manes don’t store well so pick them and cook them right away or they’ll turn black. It doesn’t hurt anything, but does make everything muddy so it’s best to just work quickly. Also don’t use any wine in the cooking or drink any alcoholic beverages before, during or after eating shaggy manes.

You can see the ones on the left are blackening and should be discarded

You can see the ones on the left are blackening and should be discarded

Lobster mushrooms: Lobsters are actually a short-stemmed russula that’s been colonized by another fungus. I’ve noticed that they tend to be kind of dirty and bug-infested so the best strategy is to pick about 3 or 4 times as much as you need and then rinse them thoroughly. I cut off any questionable parts until I’m left with nice clean white interior with no tunnels. Slice the lobsters very thinly and quickly saute in butter and garlic. Serve over pasta, in risotto or on a salad. The flavor is delicate and very much like lobster! They give off a lovely red-gold color so you can use extra butter and drain it off to use in other dishes too.

Lobster mushrooms - Hypomyces lactifluorum & Chanterelles

Lobster mushrooms - Hypomyces lactifluorum & Chanterelles

Apparently boletes taste best if they’ve been dehydrated before using. I still haven’t positively ID’d edible boletes so I haven’t tried them, but I’ve certainly dehydrated morels and chanterelles for storage. Morels do quite well, but chanterelles get a little tough. The flavors are more pronounced for both, however, so it’s a worthwhile practice. I dry them in my food dehydrator and then store them in canning jars with vacuum sealed lids. Sealing them in jars keeps the moisture out and helps them last much longer.

sauteed, refrigerated chanterelles, dried chanterelles, commercial mix, dried morels and tree fungus

L-R: sauteed, refrigerated chanterelles, dried chanterelles, commercial mix, dried morels and tree fungus

Finally, even with all this bounty, I can’t resist buying mushrooms. Every once in a while I’ll pick up a pack of fresh button mushrooms, portabellos, or shiitakes and I always have a big jug of dried mushrooms on hand. I make sure to get Pistol River Mushrooms since they’re nearby in Oregon. I get them at Cash and Carry up in Bellingham for about $14 per jug. I try to make sure that I’m not buying mushrooms grown in China unless it makes sense. I happen to have some tree ear fungus from Hong Kong for example. Not shown in the photo above is a large jug of shiitakes also from China.

So what do I do with all these dehydrated mushrooms? Rehydrate! A little hot water and 30 minutes of time will usually yield good results. A little more time and some Sherry or Marsala wine is even better. They can be tossed into stews as is and I like to powder them up in the food processor and use the mushroom flour for flavoring gravies, soups, meatloaf and even bread dough. It’s great wherever a bit of umami is needed!

Vietnamese salad rolls with lobster mushrooms

Vietnamese salad rolls with lobster mushrooms

Besides just being delicious, mushrooms are a great source of vitamins and minerals particularly B6 and iron which are important for vegetarians. They also have Vitamin D making them a good winter food for us Northerners. Hunting mushrooms is good exercise since it gets you out into the fresh air and it also saves you money. This year I noted that morels were $23/lb., chanterelles were $8/lb., and lobsters were $11/lb. I guess they do tend to up the consumption of butter, garlic and cream, but we can’t win ‘em all.








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