Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Urban Homesteading: Appreciating the "Bounty" of the supermarket

Just because I'm not growing anything right now doesnt mean I cant find an excuse to get out the canner, jars, clean the freezer and exercise my food budgeting prowess! When having limited space/time for growing food sometimes you have to meet in the middle with 'normal' folk and rely on the wonders of the local supermarket . Some have 'points' you get back in the form of coupons or store credit rewards, its nice to get some money back to spend on other necessities. If you pay close enough attention theres a cycle to the prices of meat and produce when they are in season and plentiful. I have price "limits" that I set for myself to know when to buy/stockup and when to pass. Just read the weekly flyers they mail you for a few weeks and you will see the trends.

For example I do not buy boneless, skinless chicken breast unless they are $1.99 a pound or less. Usual price is 4-5 a pound, but every 4-6 weeks 1 or more stores will have them on sale. Latly I havent been buying it as much since I finally learned how to cut up my own whole chicken and take the breasts off myself- which on sale is usually 69-79 cents a pound instead of 3.99 a pound. More cluck for my buck, I got some inspiration from another blogger and now I take the breasts off and freeze them separately, roast the rest of the bird and then use the bones to make stock. This week whole chickens were 77 cents a pound, so I got the limit of 3 birds and happily brought home my days 'hunt'.

My other favorite 'budget' staple is chuck roast. This humble piece of meat is more then just a pot roast. Using my wonderful slow cooker I can leave it cooking overnight until its falling apart and shred ot make tacos/fajitas. Or I add red wine and potatoes and make a Portuguese meal called Al Catra, which is a roast with red wine, lots of onions, garlic and potatoes. The shredded meat is also good stuffed in pitas with hummus like a gyro, or fried crispy with some eggs to make machaca for breakfast. Add broth and rice/quinoa and we have a gluten free version of beef n 'barley' soup. Normal price is 3-4 dollars a pound, this week Vons had it on sale for $1.47 a pound. So I bought 4 5 pound roasts to freeze and cooked one for meals this week.

London Broil is another good 'cheap' cut- also known as top round, or more specifically its the bottom part of a top round cut. ( or maybe its the other way, need to check my book again). It can serve all the functions of a chuck roast, but when cut into cubes and marinated it can be quickly cooked to make tender cubes of beef for kebabs, stir fry, fajitas, curries and stew. The trick with London broil is to cook quickly and marinate well first, or you get little cubes of rubber. I learned this by trial and error!

Ground beef always comes in sale for $1.99 or less occasionally. Its endlessly useful, from adding some protein and flavor to red rice n beans to meatloaf (stretched with rice/quinoa) to thickening pasta sauces, I love ground beef, and try to always have some on hand for a fast meal my toddler and preschooler will eat.

Last but not least theres pork shoulder/boston butt roast or a picnic shoulder roast ( with bone). Once again I rely on the slow cooker to make a nice sort of pulled pork. Sometimes I use wine and garlic, or tomato sauce and Italian herbs, sometimes BBQ sauce, sometimes salsa- the variations are endless. Leftovers have same use as shredded beef. If the roast has a bone I save the bone and boil it later to add some flavor to split pea soup. a Ham bone from Easter also works well for this and has even more flavor.

Deals on supermarket produce come in handy as well. Bananas turning brown are clearenced to 10 cents a pound before they toss them: freeze them for smoothies or make banana bread/muffins, which also freezes well. Bruised apples can still be chopped with onions and fried for a side dish. If i had a cider press I would try cider or vinegar. I got a kitchenaid artisan mixer for Christmas from my birthmom and hubby got me the attachment set for my birthday, so we now have a food mill, I want to try my hand at applesauce. In strawberry season I know the berries are local so when they are $2.99 for the flat (6 pints) I get a few and make a bunch of jam and/or syrup, so far everyone tells me my jam is better then anything store bought. That always cheers me up.

One market was carrying "rainbow" carrots (bag mixed with white, yellow, purple, and red carrots as well as orange) for the first time and no one was buying them. I guess people saw they werent all orange and didnt want to try them. So they were a managers special: 5 x 2 pound bags for only $1. Yup, 10 cents a pound. I bought a whole lot and canned them. The colors fade a bit when canned but they still look pretty in their jars, and taste very nice and sweet. It was the first vegetable I used the pressure canner for this summer.

You just have to know whats on season and know when to take advantage of the stores having alot of supply or just a great limited sale.

Stater Bros had a 2 days sale on potatoes this weekend: 10 pound bag for $1.99- so 20 cents a pound, can't beat that nowadays! I remember when that was the normal price and on sale they were 1.00 a bag...but oh well, food prices keep going up. So I clipped my coupons and hit 2 stores to get 40 pounds, (4 bags) of potatoes. I should have got more, but I'm on my last case of new quart mason jars, and now that its winter no local stores carry them- I checked everywhere. Rather then order them online I'll just use what I have, now that we're cycling thru the pantry more with better meal planning ( relying on my pantry instead of running to the stores for everything) I end up with 2-3 empty jars a week to be washed and put away anyhow.

My plan is to peel/slice 2 bags and can them in quarts, for stews, pot roast etc, and the other 2 bags peel and dice into cubs and can in pints, for quicker things like hash or soups or whatnot. I don't cook with potatoes as much as I used to- now that I have expanded my repertoire of vegetables beyond carrots, onions and potatoes. What usually gets me hung up is scrubbing and peeling them while watching 2 kids and getting other things cooked and cleaned at the same time. Rather then pay $2 per 16 oz can of sliced potatoes at the store, I'd rather just do them myself. Sounds pretty simple, peel, slice/dice, boil for 2 minutes, and hot pack into jars ( add salt is desired). Can in pressure canner at 10 pounds for 40 minutes.

Overall I'm quite proud of myself this week. I spent $40 at Vons just getting roasts and chickens that were on sale and a couple of gallons of milk and my total was about $47 with tax, and at the bottom of the receipt it said "You saved $39.85 this week" Woot! So my chest freezer has more then enough meat to last us thru the rest of this month, I have potatoes to can and I still have canned squash, green beans and carrots in the pantry. I used the last of my canned whole tomatoes and sauce tho :( Hence why I am dreaming and drooling of the tomatoes I hope to plant this year, and pray they do wonderfully in the containers I am planning.

Just because you arent completly self sufficient in the food you eat doesnt mean you can't exercise some good homesteading skills of 'waste not, want not', preserving 'extra' food for later and being in tune with the produce of the season. All it costs is a little time to plan out and patience to wait for the sales. :)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A new year...another move

Been too busy to post much between keeping up with my meetup group, freedom gardens, unpacking, and the holidays. And now we're moving, again.

yup, thats right, apparently my plans for cramming a garden into this little townhome space won't be happening this year.

As everyone knows the economy has slowed many industries to a dying crawl- including construction- and being that my husband is a geologist who supervises construction his whole industry has died as well. His whole office ( except for him) got laid off before Christmas. He's the last man tanding probably because he has a stack of files and reports that need to be completed thats almost as tall as him, since he now has to finish all the reports that belonged to the people who were laid off as well. Its a mixed blessing. He has a job at the moment, but its not looking like we can count on it for much longer. So we started looking at a fallback plan- since I have not been able to find a job in the year I have been looking for work.

His older brother- who is also a geologist, can't fid a job, and his other siblings ( also geologsts, its a family thing) are about to be out of work as well. In the midst of all this, their dad owns a home in the San Fernando Valley thats paid off, no mortgage, and happens to be realy big, ( as in, 8 bedrooms- it was a house that was damaged in the Northridge quake and sold for rediculously cheap in the '90s). Did I mention it has a pool and a hillside view of the entire valley? Anyhow their dad said we could stay there and weather otu this recession till things blow over and constructin comes back to life. So as luck would have it, we're gonna be "homeless" and staying at this huge "Valley" house along with 8 other inlaws. Its like being trapped in yuppie paradise.

Oh boy, do I have my work cut out for me. Urban Homesteading, family commune, same thing really. Much easier for 3 families and their unemployment checks to scrape by and get thru this economic dowturn then struggling to pay rent in a 'decent' area and make ends meet.

I have taken on the offical job of playing farmer to grow as much as I can, so we don't have to buy much food besides the parishables.

Since its on a hill I dont have one large flat area to work with, I have a bunch of terraced off areas ond slops where I can cram in some raised beds for veggies and maybe some fruit trees ( transplanted from our old house, the foreclosure isn finalized yet). Even the pool deck has apurpose, I'm planning on using one large open area as a "garden" of large DIY self watering rubbermaid container planters. Oh yes, call me crazy, call me paranoid, but goshdarnit I am going to grow veggies in every spot I can cram them, and then find some more places LOL.