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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 (~75ยข 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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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 Powerยฎ 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. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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.

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Some miscellaneous updates

24 06 2008

PSE

The feasability study is available from the Skagit PUD! So far 79% of Skagitonians prefer local control of electric service. More information about the buyout and the latest news is available at SavePSE.

1,4-Dioxane

You may have read about the carcinogen 1,4-Dioxane being found in many organic personal care products and household cleansers. If you somehow missed the kerfuffle, you can read about it at the Organic Consumer’s Association website here.

Since so many dishwashing liquids were on the list, I thought I’d check with the fine folks at CountrySave to see if they used it. Well, 6 minutes after I emailed “info” this morning, I got a reply from President Kris stating that … well, let me just quote:

Saara – we have NEVER used that ingredient……in any product…….EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

๐Ÿ™‚ have a nice day! If you go over to the detergent shelf in the store and pick up a box you will be able to read every ingredient. One update is that while the box says differently, as of May 1st we no longer use Coconut Diethanolimide in the formula and our boxes will reflect that on the next print run……

Does that answer your question …and more? Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚ Kris

I’d say it does! I love dealing with local companies!

Mountain Loop Road

The Loop is re-opening! After being closed for nearly 5 years due to flood damage, there will be a tri-city celebration held in Darrington, Arlington and Granite Falls on the weekend of June 28th & 29th. The Loop would be a great driving and camping trip close by instead of venturing further afield. It’s exciting to have this beautiful drive back.





Tenneson Family Farm

21 10 2007

My new favorite place in Skagit County is the Tenneson Family Farm store! I’d been meaning to get there on a Saturday for a month or so, but just never got the chance. We finally did get there and we’ve been back a few times since.

Tenneson Family Farm sign

It’s not really the milk, although that is quite good. It’s not the beef, although I’m sure that is quite good. The eggs are a hot seller so we haven’t seen any of those yet, although the chickens are quite fancy with their feathered feets. The cheese is from Pleasant Valley and they are quite wonderful goudas, flavored or smoked or not. (Otherwise only available at the dairy or Everybody’s Store in Van Zandt or Beecher’s in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.)

Tenneson Farm Store

It certainly is the wonderful maple honey too, but it most definitively is, for me, the pork! Happy pigs rooting around eating grains and whey until they are big and bordering on unruly and they get turned into the sweetest most succulent pork chops, hams, sausages, and roasts. Oy vey!

Tenneson Farmily Farm Ham Steak package

When we first stopped in they were having a special on their ham steaks so we got a pair. If you look closely, you’ll see that these ham steaks traveled via Basin City, Wa which is some 250 or so miles away depending on your route. This is unfortunately what some of our local ranchers have to do in order to be able to sell their meat retail in order to have USDA-certification. Since Tenneson will also happily sell you a half or whole hog, you can choose which local butcher to use if you don’t want to go via Basin City.

This is not really their fault as it’s a problem within the system. We don’t have enough USDA-certified meat processors to handle the load. We don’t have enough processors because there are not enough inspectors. Currently, part of the 2007 Farm Bill would make it so processors, approved and inspected by state inspectors, could sell across state borders instead of having to rely on USDA-certified facilities. Some claim that state laws would be less rigorous. I don’t know, would you rather have your meat processed by, say, Silvana Meats of Snohomish County or by Swift & Co. in Greeley, Colorado? That’s a no-brainer for me, no pun intended.

Anyway, despite my unintended lapse into ranting on the issues this time, I’m happy as a pig in poop to find a local source of pork by the retail cut. I adore my Scottish Highland beef, but at heart I believe that pork’s the one you love. ๐Ÿ˜‰

P.S. Visit the store on Saturday noon to 5pm.





Loads of laundry

19 07 2007

For some reason, Thursday is always the day that I start in on the loads of laundry. Because I use the soak feature and, when weather permits, partially dry clothes on a rack, laundry “day” usually extends over several. At least I don’t have to beat them on a rock down at the river. Of course, if I did, I wouldn’t want to use a product that contained dodecyl benzene or some other nasty! Not to mention, Procter & Gamble isn’t exactly anything less than a global multinational enterprise.

So what exactly do we entrust our delicate underthings and our more important Skagit River to? Surprisingly, there are many options made right here in Washington state.

Biokleen laundry detergent

One such option is the various offerings from the Bi-O-Kleen company of Vancouver, WA. They have everything for laundry from liquid to powder to oxygen bleach products. I’ve found the whole range of Bi-O-Kleen cleanser offerings at the Skagit Valley Food Co-op.

Of course, if you’re not a co-op member (and why not?), you can find Country Save
laundry detergent and oxygen bleach at your local grocery store. I’ve even seen it up here at Albert’s Red Apple where the selection isn’t anything like the big Downriver stores.

CountrySave Bleach

The Country Save Corporation is even closer since it’s headquartered in Arlington! (I have an email out to the president to find out where manufacturing occurs, if not there.) They make laundry detergents – liquid and powder, dishwashing liquid and a general all purpose cleaner. The laundry products are safe for HE machines.

Save water

Since all our waste water goes into our septic tank, I am very careful about what goes down the drain. Of course, we also have to have the awareness that whatever goes into the septic tank and the drainfield also might end up in our well or the river. We should always work to preserve our most precious resource.





Happy cows

10 07 2007

With the holiday falling in the middle of the week, travels around Skagit County have been through a cloud of the delicious smells coming from peoples’ grills for a solid week! We didn’t have the opportunity to grill or smoke anything since we were sailing around Boundary Bay on Wednesday, but I didn’t wait too long to toss some meat on later. I decided on Indian kofta and fired up the gasser.

Highland Kofta

Of course, my ground beef didn’t come from just any old combination of hundreds of cows processed in one of four large meat packing plants in the country.ย  There are actually 10 that have 90% of the market share in the meat-packing industry, but in all likelihood it would have come from either IBP, ConAgra, Smithfield, or Cargill.

My burger started with a happy cow.

ย Hemlock Highlands

There are a few beef ranchers in Skagit County and even some bison ranchers so the options for good homegrown meat abound. We’ve happened to settle on Hemlock Highlands due to a couple of factors – the flavor, the leanness, and the cute factor. This is food with a face that we like. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Hemlock Highlands

If you’re not ready to scratch your dinner under its chin, other options include Ovenell’s Ranch for Maine-Anjou beef and Buffalo Run Ranch for bison. There are quite a few others in the county as well. Find out who is closest to you and start tasting.

Maija & Highlands bull calf

ย “Our tender, delicious Highland beef is raised on lush green pastures, grain finished and aged for 21 days. It is naturally raised with no antibiotics, hormones or animal byproducts. Highlands are naturally lean, not needing fat on the outside of their bodies to keep warm due to their thick hide and hair coat. Because we need enough fat on the outside to protect the beef during the aging process, we feed them non-GMO grain during the last two months to provide the finish that gives a tender, flavorful result.

Highlands take 24 months to mature to perfection. They live a long happy life and we want to continue that to the end. We provide a stress free situation in the slaughter by doing it on the farm where they are eating from a pan of grain in their normal surroundings. They are not taken live to the slaughter house as is the case for most USDA beef.” (from Hemlock Highlands)

Hemlock Highlands (and most of the other local ranchers) use Silvana Meats down in Snohomish County for processing. When the beef has aged, they will give you a call and ask what type of cuts you would like. A few days later, you get the call to pick it up. You write two checks, one to Silvana Meats for the processing and one to the rancher for the meat. Dog bones included!ย  Don’t forget to ask for oxtails and brisket if you like those cuts. I also requested tallow which I got, but it came from other cows. Highlands don’t have enough fat!

When picking up your beef in Silvana, don’t forget to check out their other products. They have sausages, hams, and various pork cuts too. If you don’t have the freezer space for a beef purchase, you can buy frozen cuts at the store. They’ll also custom cut most things for you on the spot.

Oh and in case you avoid beef due to cholesterol problems, my Naturopathic Doctor says that Highland cattle and bison are both lean enough to be enjoyed on an otherwise low cholesterol diet.





Bistro San Martin

12 04 2007

Birthday cake

Happy Birthday to me! I don’t know about you, but I want to go somewhere where I’ll be treated to a lovingly prepared meal and the front of house staff will not burst into song. Last year for the big even-year event, we went to Bistro San Martin in Arlington for an intimate dinner. We enjoyed it so much that this year we brought both our mothers and had an even more special time. Read a review.

escargot

 

We indulged in Italian bubbly, Spanish wine and French slugs โ€“ err โ€“ escargot! In keeping with the spirit of this blog, I will report that Pacific Northwest native people apparently included banana slugs in their diet. I am filing this information away so that should dire conditions arise, I know that I could muster up some garlic and a local gastropod. To replicate the above presentation, however, I think I would have to use my aebleskiver pan as they can get to be nearly 10โ€ long. If I ever eat a banana slug, you’ll read about it here first!