Thrifty Cooking

Feeling the Food Price Pinch

I don't know about you, but in the past couple years, I've seen our average grocery bill increase by about 50%. Yes, my kids are bigger now, and the adolescent boy complains every night about how he's starving all the time, and his sisters have learned not to leave food they plan on eating unattended, but that can't account for the entire upswing. So I was glad to see some recent articles that told me the rising costs weren't all my fault.

The Wall Street Journal cites the unrelenting drought in California, which has gone on for three years, impacting the crops in the graphic below:

And USA Today expanded on the carnage at the cash register by looking at the 10 fastest-rising food costs:

1. Bacon. Possible explanation? The delightfully-named Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) in hogs.

2. Ground Beef. Culprit? Drought.

3. Oranges. Blame: Citrus greening disease in Florida and drought in California.

4. Coffee. Guilty party? Drought and producer stockpiling.

5. Peanut Butter. Pointing finger? "Poor growing conditions" and possibly increased Chinese demand, for Pete's sake!

6. Margarine. The Reason Why: who cares! You seriously should not be eating this fake food anymore anyhow. Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter. And it was called just plain Butter.

7. Wine. Whodunnit? Drought in California and general demand increases. Apparently we're drinking more to comfort ourselves for rising food prices.

8. Turkey. For want of a nail...drought led to rising corn and soy prices, which led to more expensive feed.

9. Chicken. See Turkey. That, and the whole world is eating more and more chicken because agro-industrial practices have made it comparatively cheap.

10. Grapefruit. See Orange.

What does this mean for our farmers market? I expect we'll see higher prices. After all, a rising tide lifts all the boats. I know that Skagit River Ranch cut way back on their chickens because of the feed costs, especially since they can't make up the dollars lost by cramming chickens in crates on top of each other. It'll be interesting to talk to the farmers and ask how Washington's precipitation is doing, from their perspective, and what rising costs of their own they see.

I do have a couple money-saving reminders for you, though, so all is not lost. Remember, if you can find your vegetable or fruit on the "Clean 15" list, there's no need to buy organic.

Thanks, Mary Crimmins, for the cute graphic!

I've taken to stretching a pound of meat with a can or two of black beans, and remember that saturated FAT promotes satiety faster (and slows spikes in blood sugar). Add more butter. More cheese. More whole milk and cream. Slather those bagels and pieces of toast and what-have-you in cream cheese! As I mentioned last week, to everyone's relief and good health, fat is back on the menu.

So raise your milkshake to an end to the drought, and here's hoping prices come down soon.

Talking Turkey Again

"Can they guess I reheated this from last night?"

A couple weeks ago I posted on my Skagit River Ranch turkey and how my goal was to wrangle thirteen meals out of one bird. I'm happy to report that we're through ten meals, and I still have six cups of shredded, cooked meat in the freezer and two quarts of turkey broth. Meals #9 and #10 were actually the same batch of Turkey-Tortilla Soup--the first time around it fed me and my three children, and the second time it was the four of us and another family of a mom and three kids. She supplied the rolls and salad, and we were off to the races again!

(Which reminds me of another Thrifty Organic Tip: eating in community makes the most of individual surpluses and shortages. Seriously--we still have nine butternut squash in the pantry that my husband grew last summer. Anytime we're invited to a potluck, I immediately volunteer to bring the vegetable side.)

While I was placing my monthly Bellevue Buyers Club order from Skagit, I happened to notice a turkey article of their own, featured in Edible Seattle. It's worth reading in its entirety, but several points particularly struck me:

  • Skagit raises the same "Broad-Brested White" variety as conventional turkey farmers because of the American fondness for white meat. However, The Vojkoviches' turkeys roam pastures freely during the day and roost at night in a giant, mobile turkey house.
  • "The birds’ diet is a combination of foraged bugs and decaying plant matter (up to 30% of their total diet), native grasses such as clovers, fescue, and rye, and a supplementation of organic grains like camelina (an ancient Egyptian grain high in Omega-3’s) as well as spelt, emmer, and wheat, all milled on the ranch."
  • Skagit uses no antibiotics or growth promotants, and their turkeys take six months to reach slaughter size. Compare that to 14 weeks (female) or 18 weeks (toms) in the general industry.
  • Skagit processes all birds on site in their WSDA certified-organic facility, avoiding contamination from shared processing facilities. (Check this article for cross-contamination from shared facilities.)

If you're thinking of joining me in a Lucky Thirteen challenge next year, be sure to reserve your turkey when the Market opens in May. They do sell out!

And speaking of the Market opening, the dates have been set and the countdown officially begun. How easy it is, on a sunny day, to imagine Market season is just around the corner!

2012 Opening Days
Thursday Market opens on May 10th at 3 pm
Saturday Market opens on June 2nd at 10 am

2012 Reading List

My to-read pile is pretty huge. So huge it has spawned sub-piles, one of which I thought might interest Bellevue Farmers Marketgoers. I'd love to hear if anyone has read these or has opinions on them, or we can read them together over the coming months. In any case, I'll be posting reviews here and on Goodreads.

In no particular order:

1. Change Comes to Dinner: How Vertical Farmers, Urban Growers, and Other Innovators are Revolutionizing How America Eats by Katherine Gustafson. The author explores alternatives to the industrial food system, including a farm truck that picks up goods from local producers and brings them to urban locations, producer co-ops, food grown hydroponically in storage containers. So far, so interesting.

2. Year of Plenty by Craig Goodwin. A Spokane pastor and his family spend a year changing the way they approach food, going local, simple and greener. 


3. Wildly Affordable Organic: Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet--All on $5 a Day or Less by Linda Watson. Given my penchant for Thrifty Cooking, I'm looking forward to this one. Speaking of thrifty, we've just enjoyed Meals #9 and 10 from our Skagit Turkey (see "Lucky Thirteen" post for details): Turkey-Star Soup. It made a ton, and my 10YO son even said, of his own volition, "This is really good soup" (!!! These are the moments you live for!).

4. Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty by Mark Winne. How can we prevent eating healthy and conscientiously from becoming a prerogative of the rich? 

As a foodie, a tightwad, and a wannabe good global citizen, you can see where these books fall in the sweet spot. Sometimes I just want to know I'm not the only person on the planet who wants to wring thirteen solid meals out of one organic, humanely-raised, local turkey.

Join me for a little reading?

Lucky Thirteen Meals

Your run-of-the-mill Butterball breeder

 I'm on a mission. For the third Thanksgiving in a row, I bought a turkey from Skagit River Ranch. No matter that we would be spending the holiday with my in-laws, and that Christmas, too, was spoken for, protein-wise. I parked that fifteen-pound baby in the freezer and hunkered down for the major turkey-eating occasions to pass.

Now I've got to tell you, a humanely-raised local turkey, which grew up roaming organic pastures and supplementing its organic grain diet with delicacies like flaxseed and sea kelp, is no cheap date. Mine set me back $91, roughly double the price of a conventionally-raised gobbler as pictured above. (The photo is from an ABC news report on "turkey abuse" at a NC turkey "facility.") However, in my general addiction to Thrift, I've challenged myself to stretch that turkey into thirteen meals. Why thirteen? Because it makes the math come out even ($7 of meat and/or broth per meal for 4-5 people).

Meal #1: Fancy Turkey Sandwiches. When I used to work in the South of Market district of San Francisco, there was one deli that roasted a turkey every single day, slicing it up into the juiciest, most luscious sandwiches. My mouth still waters, thinking about it. When I planned Fancy Turkey Sandwiches, I had both them and Gilbert's on Main's yummy turkey bagel sandwich in mind. Ingredients: fancy artisan bread, cream cheese, homemade cranberry sauce, lettuce, and thin slices of cucumber. Two of my kids added cheddar.

Meal #2: Fancy Turkey Sandwiches.

Meal #3: Turkey Tortilla Soup. The very day I roasted the turkey, I stripped it of most meat, freezing the meat in packs of two cups each. Then I plunged the carcass in the stock pot with carrots, onion, and water and let it simmer most of the day. When that was done, I strained the broth and froze that in baggies of two cups each, leaving out enough for the first pot of soup.

Meal #4 Fancy Turkey Sandwiches. (I grant you, these were snow day lunches, every day after the first appearance of FTSes.)

Meal #5: Turkey a la King. Two cups of meat; chopped up, steamed vegetables; creamy sauce made with turkey broth, and egg noodles.

Meal #6: FTSes.

Meal #7: Turkey enchiladas. Mix the standard two cups of shredded meat with shredded cheese and salsa and roll 1/2 cup up in each 8" tortilla. Add a strip of cream cheese, if you like extra creamy. Pour enchilada sauce over, sprinkle with cheese and bake till it's how you like it. (I like the cheese not just melted, but browned on top. Maybe 30 minutes covered and 15 uncovered?)

Meal #8: Southern greens with Turkey leg. This one goes in the slow cooker along with some broth and a chipotle in adobo.

And that's how far I've gotten (apart from having just made myself an FTS on a leftover bagel I found in the freezer). I still have the frozen meat, broth, and enough wing and leg and neck bones to do another batch of broth. Thirteen meals shouldn't be a problem!

If you still have leftover turkey hiding out and a favorite recipe idea, please share. I've got pot pies and turkey-wild-rice casserole up my sleeve, but after that I may have to repeat. I think it's safe to say, however, that local/organic can still be thrifty if you put your mind to it. Next year I might need one turkey for the holidays and one for another thirteen-meal marathon!