Friday, June 18, 2010

Rethinking Grocery Shopping

My Google Reader has been informing me for the past few days I have 1000+ unread items. Oh man. If I like an entry in a blog, particularly a vegan blog, I'll throw it in the list. Some days, when work is slow, I'll add one person's entire blog role to my list. So I have a very full reader.

But then I don't feel like reading, and I let it go, and next thing you know I have 200 posts on squids to read.

So I removed the ones I've stopped reading or that haven't been very interesting, but I kept all of my vegan blogs. (And just now, I added a new one - I usually write in snippets throughout the day).

All of this led me to actually reading my blogs, including the four unread Savvy Abby entries. A particular post repeated an idea I'd read there before and also in Robin Robertson's work, and this time, it really struck a chord.

The brilliant idea was this: put off grocery shopping and clean out the fridge/pantry.

Time to Clean!

I am definitely guilty of over-stocking. I love food, I love shopping for food, and I love sales. Sales are only economical if you use the products you buy though. I also love new things, so I've amassed quite a few exotic ingredients that don't get used much.

In the past few months, my household of two found that it was hemorrhaging money at the grocery stores. I'm fine with that in some ways. Waste isn't much of an issue and quality food is worth the price. Even still, it was out of control. And I'm normally quite frugal.

Robertson authored a guest post some time back on Savvy Abby, and I revisited it for what might end up being her most important tip:

Postpone Grocery Shopping. See how long you can put off going to the supermarket by using up what you have on hand. You may actually be able to go nearly a week beyond your normal shopping day, cutting the total monthly grocery budget significantly. This also encourages you to rotate on-hand items such as frozen foods that are approaching their "use by" date and nonperishables from your pantry, as well as stray produce that might otherwise go bad. It also stimulates your creativity. I like to choose a few items from my stash and put them on the counter, then let my imagination take over how to combine them. For example, a can of white beans, crushed tomatoes, garlic, and a box of pasta have "yummy dinner" written all over them. Some rice or quinoa, walnuts, frozen peas, and an onion can make a flavorful pilaf [...]

So this is my new project. I already subscribe to a CSA and already have to figure out how to use up loads of greens each week. Maybe this will free me from scouring my cookbooks for ideas. Now I have to get creative.

But I've been having to do that thanks to CSA and I don't mind admitting that I sort of resent it. I have a nice little cookbook collection and the vast majority of the recipes have gone unmade. Restricting my ingredient list annoys me at times, but I know that it's the better option.

The good news is that I have loads of canned goods and spices and sauces. I also have jar after jar of rice, grains, beans, and nuts. And you know what those go well with, right? Greens!

So I may get a little bitter and resentful at times, but I'm confident that this experiment will do a few things:
1. Clean out my cabinets
2. Inspire and foster (and probably demand) culinary creativity
3. Save me some money
4. Get me to rethink my buying habits

I'm really curious to find out how many days I can put off grocery shopping. (I'm declaring coconut coffee creamer exempt from this arrangement now). I can't start for another week, since I'll be out of town, but Tuesday is my normal shopping day, so I'll post my innovations, frustrations, and durations. (OK, I know, one duration, but can you blame me?)

Oh I'll be starting this at the same time I begin my bike commute to work!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More CSA Weeks

Yesterday marked week four of collecting CSA boxes. I dropped the ball on photographing the last two, but the recent weeks brought leeks, cauliflower and broccoli, which was a welcome departure from the radishes and greens onslaught.

Though I admit, I have a new fondness for roasted radishes.

And even the new-to-me white radishes are lovely.

The biggest issue so far is using the greens before they go bad. I get dandelion, spinach, radish, mustard, mixed, and a few unidentified greens. And then lettuce to top it off. I have to make it a point to prep them immediately and use them right away.

First thing now, I clean and pack them all in (reused) ziploc bags. My mom got me a salad spinner years ago, and I used it occasionally - I'm not actually one to eat a lot of salad - but now I'm gaining some serious arm strength spinning bags and bags of greens each week.

Second, I've employed some new cooking habits. I've double up the greens in the daily green smoothie. It means a lot less fruit, but fruit is easy for me to eat throughout the day, so no big loss.

I've come to love the Stir Fried Greens recipe from Veganomicon. It's a quick and flavorful bed for millet, barley, beans, rice and leftovers. The Vegan Brunch recipe for Swiss Chard Frittata is another easy way to get through some greens fast.

Of course, you can always throw a handful into any soup or pasta, but I'm on the lookout for more creative ideas. Vegan Burnout has a similar abundance of greens and linked a recipe for Green Mashed Potatoes that I'm going to have to try. I notice that it requires an oven temperature of 400°, just like roasted radishes. Extra points for efficiency!

Easy Summer Eating

These days, easy is where it's at. Appropriately, two new easy treats have worked their respective ways into my eating routine.

Chia pudding is a perfect pre-workout snack. Well it is for me at least. It's light and hydrating, but I feel satiated without feeling bogged down. As I've recently taken up running and biking, I'm getting more exercise than I thought was possible. The issue here is that I really like to come home from work and eat cookies, cupcakes, or whatever treat I've baked for the week.

Those are a less perfect pre-workout snack, but they are a perfect dessert. Enter National Hemp History Week and the easiest chocolate chia pudding ever. The week kicked off on May 17th, and of course, hemp products were doing promotional sales. I snagged some chocolate hemp milk and the rest is pretty obvious.

This isn't even a recipe, it's just three things in a dish:

2 tbsp Chia Seeds
1/2 cup Chocolate Hemp Milk
As many sliced strawberries as you can stand

Let soak 30 mins or over night, top with strawberries in the morning (or et them soak too) and you'll have some of the best chocolate chia dessert workout pudding ever. Of course, the variations with fruit and nut butters are endless.

My other new fascination is Overnight Oats. I've read about them and was honestly a little grossed out. However, I went camping on a very hot weekend, and decided they weren't a bad option for easy camping food. I've since determined it's an excellent and filling quick breakfast.

I first encountered the idea at Oh She Glows!, and I used a hybrid of her recipe and her inspiration recipe. I've since found this list of recipes for them. I won't reprint them here, as I don't have permission, but once I come up with my own ideas, I'll follow up.

So far, I really like the hot cereal mix I have around the house, vanilla coconut yogurt, almond milk, cinnamon, chia, a mashed banana, and peanut butter in the morning. I'm thinking of adding wheat germ in the future too.

A few tips:
-Make a half serving the first time. Seriously, it's a pretty big serving and I'm struggling to finish mine this morning. Plus, if you hate it, it's less to waste.
-You don't need the chia seeds. In fact all you really need is liquid and cereal grains, so don't hesitate to make omissions and substitutions.
-You can use whatever hot cereal mix you have on hand.
-The texture is weird to me right out of the fridge, but once it gets to room temperature, I'm happy.
-Peanut butter is a great topping.
-Experiment and have fun!

I've begun preparations for bike commuting to work and I have all kinds of opinions on why it's an important endeavor to me as a vegan. Also, I have several weeks of CSA to post about (thanks to Vegan Burnout for reminding me and inspiring me for greens), so stay tuned!