Monday, July 12, 2010

The Shopping Has Been Reconsidered

Considering that I started this blog to demonstrate that eating incredibly delicious, home cooked, vegan meals every day was downright easy, I hate to admit that I was concerned about my move to rethink grocery shopping. I usually start each week on Sunday by going through cookbooks to choose some recipes, writing the menu on my kitchen whiteboard, checking my stores for what's needed, and finally going to the market for the necessary supplies.


This all changed when the CSA pickups started on Tuesdays. Not wanting to buy a bunch of food, then have food delivered, I shifted my process to Tuesday evenings, and chose recipes that used the CSA haul.

Still pretty easy, if mildly annoying to have to try to use up pounds and pounds of greens for the first few weeks.

But now, I have to work with what I have. That's kind of scary.

My first stab at this was inspired by my macro-living sister. She loves to eat brown rice and pickled things all the time. So I made brown rice with umeboshi plum vinegar, frozen corn and peas, and the kimchi that had been languishing in the back of my refrigerator since I first tried it and was not impressed.

I have to say, for a meal that was so easy to make, and not heavily spiced, I was pretty happy. I'm still not in love with kimchi. But that was it for the brown rice.

That was a devastating moment, since that and wild rice are my go-tos for base grains. What would I do when I made green curry? It turns out that the answer to that is ignore the doubting Thomases, use barley, and revel in a wonderful heavy and filling meal! Barley added a surprising amount of decadence (and buffer for the jalapenos I added) to my usual dish.

I won't bore you with the day to day method of devising meals. It's now the fourth week of this mode of eating, and I couldn't be happier.

Last night, I moved my oils to the food cabinet and now I have plenty of space for my cookbooks. My large pantry holds trash bags, and a few bulky items, but the food is otherwise removed. My small pantry boasts plenty of space for restocking and nothing is hidden. My freezer is a dream. Once stuffed to the point that each door opening was a direct threat to one's well being, I now have the space to put a giant sheet of no bake cookies to set. Finally, my refrigerator is easy to navigate and I won't have to risk losing the smaller storage containers behind everything else, only to discover a fuzzy nightmare months later.

Granted, it's gone on this long because of the weekly CSA box and the generous coworker who has gifted many squash, peppers, and tomatoes. Also, I have a rediculous stock pile of dried beans, nuts, grains, and fruits all about the house.

So, the best part? I'm not sure. On one hand, my grocery bill has dropped dramatically. I know this is temporary, as someday I will have to buy food again, but for now I'm living on dollars already spent. So the balance is restored. On the other, I'm more adventurous and intuitive a cook. I wasn't bad before, but now I'm getting hit with strokes of genius and I'm unafraid to combine spices and herbs in new ways.

It turns out I gleaned quite a bit from my devoted reading and use of cookbooks. I have always believed that recipes are a guide, not the law. I don't cower under what Dynise Balcavage refers to as the tyranny of the recipe. Now I look at recipes for ideas, put the book down, and go about my dinner prep.

This experience has also changed the way I eat in another way. This Saturday, I treated myself to a video game binge. Usually on those days, I subsist by popping something in the microwave during load screens. But this weekend, each time, I got up and prepared something. It was usually just sautéing some squash, eggplants, or whatever was available with some couscous, but it was prepared each time. I can't help but feel like I'm getting ever closer to my goals of cooking for myself with whole plant foods, as opposed to turning to convenience foods out of laziness.

I will return to the cookbooks eventually. In fact, when I discovered that I had just 1/2 cup of vegan sour cream tucked away in the fridge, I followed Tamasin Noyes' recipe for Cinacrunch Muffins almost to the letter (I was a little low on brown sugar) and they were incredible! I love cooking from my books, and I have two more on the way to my house now.

So in the end, my fears were allayed. I enjoyed the creative process that cooking should be. I also realigned my relationship with food and shopping. I have brought a good deal of simplicity to my kitchen and some resourcefulness to my planning.

I went to the farmer's market yesterday and came home with cantaloupe, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and onions. This week, after I pick up my CSA box, I may pick up a few extra things at the store. My return to grocery shopping will be gradual and I doubt that I'll return to doing the once weekly full-cart mega trip, though.

So I declare this experiment a success! And I declare it easy as well. It was actually so easy that I'm embarrassed to have admitted my trepidation. But I take great comfort in the fact that I'm right: it's easy to eat well and eat vegan, even when you don't have access to everything you could ever want.

I’ll share more about the recipes I used in an upcoming post, along with some after shots of the pantries. Below, the before shots!


  1. I want to do the CSA pickups so bad but I am so afraid that I won't know what to make with what I get and that I will end up just wasting what was given to me. Maybe with more cooking experience I will sign up. Such a great cause.

  2. Hey Jacklyn, I was worreid about the same thing, but I found that I was able to find ideas in my cookbooks. I'll look at recipes that contain one of the ingredients and get inspired, then change things from there. The biggest battle is early in the season using up all the greens. But now mine has moved on to squash, and those can always be sauteed!

    You're right though, the more you cook, the easier you'll find it is to break away and improv. I'm still in that process myself.

    Good luck! :)