It's that time of year again. Summer is gone....a little early this year it seems. The crops are still lying in the fields while the cold rain continues and temperatures drop below freezing.
My kids have been fortunate enough to have been able to keep out their "summer clothes" for the last year and a half. When we packed up for Mexico this time last year we took hot weather clothes as well as their cool weather clothes. The temperature changes drastically in the deserts of Baja Mexico.
Now that we are once again facing (dreading) a Canadian winter it is time to put away the shorts and t-shirts. What spurred me on, other than the freezing yucky weather, is the fact that my boys haven't figured out that clothing is essential for warmth. As long as there are shorts, swim trunks, and sleeveless shirts in their drawers the sweaters and jeans will be neglected. They are not at all impressed by my sudden insistence on wearing confining things like socks and jackets. They have all requested that we move to Mexico. (Right about now I feel the same way!)
Once I started clearing out and sorting through the boys dressers, I moved onto Aili's dresser...then Cece's....then all the foster baby/ toddler clothes I have stashed everywhere. I compiled and sorted the mounds of clothing into this (a couple boxes were still on the floor.)
ahhh. Feels good to pretend I'm an organized person.
In contrast....this is what one bedroom looked like while I sorted. We have hand me downs, clothes waiting to be grown into, clothes that are too small, clothes of most every gender and size. I purged many of our clothes over the years but I have a supply of "foster baby" clothes now that I hold on to. This all takes space...and some sense of organization...which I often lack.
While the guys are away on a fishing trip up north (no harvest work to do again this week)...I've been on a big time cooking slump...or break. So, yesterday I decided that we needed some real food and I got creative.
I frequently cook with beans and legumes. They are both very cheap and very healthy (once your gut gets used to digesting them) which are both things I value when deciding what to feed my family. I usually buy them in bulk dry form which is a lot cheaper than the canned variety. It is also healthier because the canned variety has a lot more sodium and even some chemicals leached from the can. Canned beans are quick and convenient though so I often have some of them in the pantry too.
I bought a large bag of chick peas (garbanzo beans) a while back but have never used them. I had the idea that I really didn't like them that much but wanted to try making hummus from scratch. I realized that it wasn't the chick peas I didn't like but the tinny taste and odd texture that comes from the canned variety. The home cooked version is a lot nicer.
I put some in a pot of water to soak over night and then cook them for an hour or so the next day. I used some of the chick peas for making hummus so save for later and I used what was left for making a chick pea curry rice dish for supper. ( I threw together onions, garlic, chick peas, olive oil, carrots, chopped greens, fresh ground coriander seed, turmeric, cumin, salt, and pepper (I would have added hot red chilis but wanted to keep it mild for the food phobic three year old).
I am new to trying to make curry dishes. I couldn't use garam masala or cinnamon because of my freaky allergy boy. I think he reacted to something a bit anyhow...maybe it was the tahini paste in the hummus.
To go with it I made fresh pitas. They were hot from the oven, and a lot softer and tastier (and cheaper) than the store bought variety.
1 cup whole wheat flour
2.5 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 scant tbsp instant rapid rise yeast
1 c. warm water
1 tbsp brown sugar
1. mix yeast with the dry ingredients (if you are using old fashioned yeast mix it with the water and sugar first and let sit for 5 min.). Mix in the water and knead together to make a stiff dough. Add more flour or water if needed. Place in a greased bowl and let rise until double (about 20 minutes).
2. pre-heat oven to 475
3. punch down and divide into 6 equal portions.
4. Heat the cookie sheet by placing it upside down in oven (it is important to place dough on hot cookie sheet.)
5. Roll three balls of dough into circles about 1/8 inch thick. Take care not to stretch, puncture of crease dough. (This will not be as thin as tortillas )
6. Place 3 rounds on hot cookie sheet. Bake for 5-6 minutes until puffed.
7. Place the cookie sheet back in the oven to stay hot while you roll the next three pitas. Bake one batch before rolling the next.
Remove from cookie sheet and place inside a terry cloth dish towel. Stack the pitas together and keep covered until cool. This keeps them soft.
They are best eaten fresh but will keep in a sealed plastic bag for up to one month in the fridge.
The kids love to help with these. It is fun to watch them "poof" up in the oven. They blow up like a balloon which creates the pocket.
Have fun trying something new!
Who says that cooking healthy is more expensive than eating junk? It is true that fresh organic out of season produce is much more expensive than cases of nasty Ichiban noodles but with a little creativity you can skip the processed stuff and fill your kitchen with better options.
We are ALWAYS tight for money which means I can't load up my cart with every fresh healthy food that I want.
Here are some of my tips for buying cheap and nutritious.
1. Junk food is a splurge...a treat...not a grocery necessity. Skip the cookie, pop and chip isle. Waste of money and not healthy.
2. Stick to foods as close to their natural form as possible. This rarely includes watermelon blast flavoring, neon coloring, and cartoon characters on the packaging. When fresh imported produce isn't economically reasonable (we live in the frozen Canadian prairie for most of the year!) buy frozen vegis and add them to dishes in lots of creative ways.
3. Buy dried bulk beans. They are a very cheap and very healthy source of protein, minerals, fibre and vitamins. Look up recipes on the internet. Try something new. If you cook a big pot of pinto beans you've got lots of options for using them. Make refried beans (freeze containers of it), make chili, or make a salad out of it. Use legumes to stretch the meat in any recipes. Think outside the taco....although I do love tacos.
4. Eggs. Inexpensive (I buy them from a farm friend), lots of protein and other nutrition. I usually keep some hard boiled eggs in the fridge for the kids to eat with breakfast or for a high protein snack. (think outside the cracker box!)
5. Buy fruit and vegetables in season and on sale. Period. I plan my meals and fruit consumption around sales. (Not that I actually plan ahead...I prepare my meals with what I have).
6. Limit trips to the grocery store. Shop the sales once a week and cook with whats already in the pantry. That limits running back to the store to buy full priced items for specific meals you want to prepare...inevitably you go into the store for artichoke hearts and come out with snacks for the kids, a new set of BBQ tools, and a Latte for the trip home.
7. Grow what you can. It's fresh, organic, and basically free. Less packaging, less transporting, good for the environment, good for your health, and good for your budget. Dig up some of the grass in your yard, add some compost or other fertilizer and plant some seeds. Of course, you may have to wait until spring to try it.
Even a small city garden can provide a good supply of fresh salad makings. Get creative try planting in a raised bed or in flower pots. If you have lots of space your garden can provide produce for months past summer.
8. Make what you can from scratch. This is both cheaper and usually healthier. This does ,admittedly, take more time and in our rat race culture it has become a lost art. Once you start to think outside the cellophane you will find that it's not that hard to do. I try to add an element of convenience by making large batches of cookies, muffins, bread, soups and chili. That way I have a good supply in my freezer for when I don't have time to cook. It also helps with kids school lunches to not have to buy so much prepackaged lunch box fillers.
9. Don't get sucked into expensive health food schemes. Marketers will prey on your desire to feed your family healthy food. A good rule of thumb is the more "marketing" on a package...the more unreasonable it is to buy. Skip it and spend your money in the produce isle.
10. Try vegetables you haven't tried before. Be creative. If acorn squash are on really cheap look up ways to cook it and try something new. If yams are super cheap buy a bag full of them. Try making them into baked french fries, puree and freeze them into baby food or to add to sauces in the winter.
11. Check out the international foods isle. You can often find big bags of rice (I splurge for whole grain brown rice), beans, lentils, and spices that can be the base of many meals.
12. To keep baking inexpensive: I buy bulk bags (20kg) of rolled oats, and whole wheat flour (Although I don't pay membership fees to any bulk store. ) I grind (with a coffee grinder) my own flax seed to add to breads. I buy large jugs of Canola oil and limit use of butter or margarine in my baking. When Margarine is needed (for cookies) I buy non -hydrogenated which is more expensive but worth the extra pennies.
13. Buy less expensive cuts of meat and find better ways to cook them (note: this does not include spam or any product that masquerades as meat). Buy larger quantities and freeze what you don't use. Pull out your slow cooker. Cook and marinate with an acidic sauce (tomatoes or vinegar based). You can turn just about any meat into something you can pull apart with your fork. Stretch your meat by adding lots of vegetables (ground, chopped, pureed) and even some legumes. Look into buying locally raised farm meat in bulk.
These tips are nothing profound or enlightening just some easy ways I lower the cost of feeding my brood while not sacrificing quality, flavor or nutrition.