Sunday, October 31, 2010

Supporting the Local Newspaper, Fair Trade and a Simple Curried Lentil Soup Recipe

One of the regular readers of this blog has commented about the amazing amount of money she saves by combining coupons with store-run specials. I've never been a coupon-clipper because I try to eat as much locally grown, minimally processed, minimally packaged food as possible, and that's not the sort of food you can buy with coupons. So for me, coupon-clipping hasn't seemed worth the time.

However, I do buy personal care and household products which aren't made locally or available at the co-op. And, as this reader points out, I could contribute more to my local food bank if I were finding the sorts of deals she finds.

This gave me a great excuse to buy our local paper today.

As it happens, I've been feeling badly about not supporting The Day. The paper is struggling. Employees have been laid off and others have taken furloughs in order to avoid being laid off. I rely on this paper for information on local politics, other local news, and events around town. I have friends who rely on The Day for employment. And yet, because I read most of my news online, I'm part of the reason the paper is fighting for survival.

The truth is I can't afford to buy a newspaper daily, nor am I comfortable generating so much paper waste. Even $2 per week for the Sunday paper adds up to $104/year--a lot for someone with my income. However, if I were to start using coupons from the Sunday paper for items like tooth brushes and toilet paper, I could potentially give the paper a little support at no cost to myself. And regarding the paper waste: Jake and I can use most of it to line our pet rabbits' hay area and recycle the rest.

Jake and I also went to Bean and Leaf today to buy a pound of coffee. We pay $10.60/lb. for their locally roasted, organic fair trade coffee. Other than pet food, this is the biggest luxury in our weekly budget. We don't pay this much because we're coffee snobs (although Bean and Leaf's coffee does taste remarkably good.) We do it because we believe in fair trade. I'd rather stop drinking coffee than buy it cheaply because I exploited people I'll never meet. (It may come to that very soon.) We also each drank a small cup of coffee at the cafe while listening to a local musician.

Sorry about the bad photo.  I took it late in the day with poor light.
Lastly, in case you were wondering what I did with the lentils I bought earlier in the week:

Simple Cheap Good Curried Lentil Soup
2 cups lentils (I used small brown lentils)
1 fairly large carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 hot pepper, minced (more or less to taste and depending on the heat of your curry powder)
1/4 cup curry powder (I used organic curry powder from Mountain Rose Herbs, one of the suppliers I use for my business.)
A few tablespoons olive oil or other oil of your choice
salt to taste

Soak lentils in plenty of water overnight or most of the day. (This is optional, and I know most cookbooks say not to soak lentils. But I find that soaking lentils makes them more digestible as well as shortens the cooking time.) Rinse and drain lentils and set aside.

Lightly sautee garlic and onions in the oil without letting the garlic brown. Add celery, carrots, hot pepper and curry powder and cook a few minutes more. Add lentils and water to generously cover. Bring to a boil,then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Stir once in a while and add more water as needed. When the lentils are soft--in as little as half an hour if you've soaked them--add salt to taste. I like quite a bit of sea salt, about a teaspoon. If you have a blender, blend a portion of the soup and return it to the pot. But it is also good as is.

I like to eat this as soup the first night, then serve it over brown rice the next day.

Consumption Totals:
Newspaper: $2
Coffee for home (my share) $5.30
Coffee as entertainment: $2
Miles driven: 0

Tomorrow I'll take a look back at my weekly consumption totals.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Netflix, I love you but it's time to say goodbye (at least for now.)

Today I put my Netflix account on hold. This stung because I love watching movies, and I think Netflix offers a great service at a great price. But this month there's at least one local play I want to see--Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Kato McKnickle--and my entertainment budget is limited. And just as I'd rather support local farmers than big agribusiness, I'd rather support local theatre than Netflix.

At the farmers market where I sold soap today, the vendor next to me was an author and former writing instructor of mine. Along with his books, he sells eggs from his free range chickens.

Beautiful, aren't they? We bartered soap for eggs and talked about solidarity economics. This was a term I'd never heard before, but it encompasses everything from worker-owned cooperatives to local currencies to social justice issues. In short, it's buying and selling with not just money, but also the greater good in mind.

Today is a short post because, having been a vendor at two different events today, I'm low on time. But I did want to briefly post that I bought more food: bananas, an avocado and some hazelnut milk (on sale) at the co-op. And I had my first wasteful impulse purchase of the week: a take-out cup of coffee. I bought it because my author friend said, "I'm going to Bean and Leaf. Would you like a cup of coffee?" And I felt like one of Pavlov's dogs. "Yes" flew out of my mouth before I was conscious of having made a decision. I even used a disposable paper take-out cup because my travel mug was full of soup.

On the other hand, Bean and Leaf is owned by friends of mine. They run a socially-responsible business, using compostable cups, and roasting organic, fair trade coffee. I'm sure I would have turned down coffee from Dunkin Donuts.

All of my driving today was to and from the events where I was a vendor.

Consumption Totals:
Food: $7.02
Coffee: $2
Bartered: one dozen eggs
Miles Driven: 3.5

Friday, October 29, 2010

Generating a Little Less Waste at the Farmers' Market.

Photographing my purchases for the last few days, I've been bothered by the clear plastic produce bags.  They're ugly; they're non-biodegradable.  Yes, they're recyclable, but...

And then it dawned on me--a couple of decades later than it should have--that oh my god, I don't need to use them.  I can buy lettuce without the clear plastic bags.  This is probably obvious to you.  But for me, this was like the earth cracked open and I fell into an alternate reality.

The funny thing is, a few days before I started this blog I'd bought some reusable plastic produce bags which are supposed to keep veggies fresh longer. 

So I'd been buying kale and whatnot in the clear plastic bags, then transferring them to the reusable bags when I got home.  (Yes, I hear the collective duh.) But today I saw the light, and brought my reusable bags to the farmers market, bypassing the clear plastic bags altogether. 

About these bags: they work by allowing the produce to breathe, thereby reducing the ethylene gas which causes vegetables to rot.  They also prevent the vegetables from staying too wet.  Thinking about this, I don't understand why these bags would be better than cloth produce bags.  So although I'll give myself a few points for switching to something reusable, I'm going to subtract a few for not making the bags myself (using this tutorial?) or buying them from another Etsy artist.

I walked to the farmers market and came home with as much as I could carry.
Five green peppers, two yams, a head of broccoli, a head of purple cabbage, a head of Romaine, a carrot and a dozen pears for $11.  (I got a little discount from my vendor friends because I was a vendor at this market last year. ) I bought more peppers than I can use immediately because they were only 25 cents each.  I'm going to dehydrate most of them early next week.

Despite my best efforts, I did come home with one clear plastic bag.  The Romaine was already packaged that way in the farmers' cooler.   What are you going to do?

This was the last day of the season for the New London Farmers Market, held in the parking lot of Fiddleheads Food Co-op.  Fortunately the Fiddleheads Winter Farmers Market, held inside Fiddleheads, will begin for me tomorrow. 

The farmers' market is dead!  Long live the farmers market!

Consumption totals:
Food: $11
Miles driven: 0

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I thought today would be a purchase-free, zero milage day. Ha. Ha. Ha.

I really thought I wasn't going to buy anything today.  It was my first day volunteering at the food co-op, and I brought lentil soup for lunch so I wouldn't buy something pre-made.  I had plenty of food in the house for dinner, and I wanted to wait until tomorrow's farmers market to buy more produce.  And because the co-op is only half a mile from my house, I wouldn't be doing any driving.

"Heh," I thought.  "No purchases.  No driving.  Today's blog post is going to be awesome."

Then I got an e-mail asking me to pick up 15 lbs. of locally roasted coffee for the co-op.  So much for no driving.  And then I spent much of the day trimming, arranging and admiring the leeks, the collards, the fennel, the the bulk bins...Who was I kidding?  Did I really think I wasn't going to buy anything? 

I limited myself to these:
Two yams and a cup of pecans from the bulk section for just under $5.  I only wanted about a tablespoon of pecans, but I didn't want to waste a paper bag for so little.  If I'd brought my own little bag instead of using the bags the co-op provides, I probably would have bought less.

As soon as I got home, I steamed both yams, then mashed them with a little organic extra virgin coconut oil, some cinnamon, garam masala and salt, and topped them with a few chopped pecans and a drizzle of honey.  So good.  So satisfying.

Late in the afternoon, Jake and I decided to enjoy the rare 70 degree October day.  We walked to our community garden plot and pulled up some plants that weren't producing anymore.  We also harvested a few  beets, tomatoes, peppers and lots of arugula.  And look: our late planting of mesclun mix is coming along nicely.

After we finished tending the garden, we decided to take our cat to Harkness, a coastal park on Long Island Sound.  This involved yet more driving, but hey, I'd already blown my zero-milage day.  My camera batteries died, so I don't have photos from this excursion to show you.  But here's our cat Trilby at Harkness on another day:
Overall, I'm happy with my consumer decisions today.  The food I bought was nutrient dense and delicious, and though it might have cost less at ShopRite, I really love shopping at the co-op.  I also volunteered enough hours there today so that Jake and I will have a 5% discount on our groceries for all of November.  And to top it off, because I was at the co-op I ran into someone who bought two bars of soap.  That's the way local economies work!

I will say that I was startled when I checked the odometer and realized how many miles it is to Harkness and back.  

And do I ever, ever go a day without buying anything?  I'm starting to wonder.

Consumption totals: 
Food: $4.97
miles driven: 9.3 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Money Can Buy Happiness. It Costs $2. (And Here's My Yummo Delicious Thai-inspired peanut sauce recipe.)

Happiness for $2?  You bet.  Because according to this article, the more friends you have, the happier you're likely to be.  And where are you going to hang out with (or meet) friends?  At a coffee shop!

So this morning when I went with Jake to a local coffee shop to chat with a mutual friend, I wasn't really interested in this:
What I really wanted was some conversation with people I like.  But I paid $2 for the cup of Kenya, because I think if someone is good enough to provide me with a place to sit down with friends, I ought to thank them with at least a few dollars.  And besides, I want them to stay in business.

Going to this particular coffee shop is a Wednesday morning tradition for Jake and me because Wednesday is also half price day at the thrift store just down the street.  Today I did indeed go to Salvation Army (henceforth known in this blog as Aunt Sally's Boutique) after coffee.  I was looking specifically for mixing bowls and/or soup spoons--how is it that two middle-aged people only have one soup spoon between them?  But I didn't find either, and I didn't have time to look through the clothes.  So today...ta dah!..I only spent $2.

However--and I do feel badly about this--I drove to the coffee shop.  It was raining lightly when I left, and I was afraid it would soon be raining harder.  But the rain eased and I wish I'd walked. 

Now for the good stuff: what I did with the peanut butter.  The recipe is approximate because geesh, I never measure.  And it might change depending on what I have in the house.

Spur-Of-The-Moment Thai Peanut Sauce

1/3 cup peanut butter
a tablespoon or more of water depending on how thick you'd like your sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 squirt or two of Thai fish sauce (optional, not vegan)
1/2 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger (more if you really like ginger.  I used more.)
juice from 1/2 lime
about a teaspoon of tamari or Bragg's Liquid Aminos or soy sauce
I think a bit of hot pepper would be good, though I didn't use any.

Put it all in the blender and blend away.  Today I ate a gigantic bowl of broccoli topped with this and it was yummo delicious.  It would also be great with stir-fried vegetables over brown rice.  Jake stirred a little bit of it into his noodle soup and said it was the crowning touch.

Today's consumption totals:

Happiness: $2
Miles driven: 1.5

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Peanut Butter, the Farmers' Market and A Simple Oat Groat Recipe

Heh, I caved and bought the peanut butter.  I was feeling more flush today because I'd gotten some unexpected sales. (Thank you!)  And when I went to the supermarket this morning to buy olive oil and distilled water to make soap, I found organic peanut butter for $2 less than it cost at the co-op.  So as much as I want to support the co-op, the truth is I'll buy something elsewhere if I can save a few dollars.  Especially if I'm elsewhere anyway.

I also went to the farmers market for pears and Swiss chard.  Jake and I each eat a pear, an apple and a handful of greens most days in our breakfast smoothies, so these are items we go through quickly.  The turnip was an impulse buy because it cost twenty five cents.  I've used my food processor to turn raw parsnips into something resembling rice, and I think this technique will work well with turnips, too.

Speaking of food processors, it occured to me that people might wonder how to prepare the oat groats I bought yesterday.  You can cook them like rice, but you don't need to.  I soaked mine overnight, rinsed and drained them, then buzzed them up raw in the food processor with a few tablespoons of water, some dates and some cinnamon.  Then I topped them with a small chopped apple and sunflower seeds.  I wouldn't say it was gourmet--palatable would be more accurate--but it was healthy*, filling, quick and cheap. And you could make it yummier by adding honey, maple syrup, nuts, raisins, bananas...anything you'd like in traditional oatmeal would work in this raw porridge.  And of course you could heat it up.   

*Healthy is a relative term.  If I had more money and if the garden was still producing a lot, I wouldn't be eating oats or rice.  Over the summer I lived almost entirely on vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.  I must have eaten twelve cups of vegetables a day.  So when I ate my oat porridge for lunch, it felt almost like junk food to me because what I really wanted was an enormous salad.  (I did treat myself to an enormous salad for dinner.) Now don't get me wrong--I know I spend more than most people do on food, and that the way I eat is a luxury.  But I wish that eating healthily--even super healthily, with at least a pound of greens a day--wasn't a luxury, for me or for anyone.

I've decided not to include my business purchases in the blog, at least for now.  That would be more work than I want to devote to this, and I don't think it would be useful or interesting for most people anyway.  So, minus the olive oil and distilled water, here's today's total purchases and gasoline consumption:

Food: (Swiss chard, pears, peanut butter, turnip) $7.49
Miles driven: 4.2

Monday, October 25, 2010

My first post: What did I buy? And why am I making it public?

See that pile of groceries?  That's what I bought today.  A head of locally-grown Romaine lettuce, some toilet paper, an onion, a head of garlic, some oat groats, date pieces, brown rice, brown lentils, Chinese cabbage, spring mix, shoyu, and a couple of tablespoons of arrowroot powder.  I bought it at Fiddleheads, our local food co-op.  I spent $22.07.

Nowhere in this photo is there a jar of organic peanut butter and a box of chai tea.   I wanted them.  I held them in my hand.  I thought about how wonderful it would be to make a Thai-inspired peanut sauce to accompany the broccoli I have in the fridge, and to drink hot chai tea in our cold house.  But sales were slow at the craft fair this weekend, and peanut butter and chai would have added another ten dollars to my grocery bill.  So I didn't buy them.'s what this blog is about.

I decided to keep this record of everything I buy--and sometimes don't buy--for a couple of reasons.  First, like just about everyone I know, I'm having trouble paying my bills and am wondering where I might be frittering money away.  Second, I like to think of myself as someone who uses my money ethically, but is it really true?  A close look might reveal otherwise. 

And why make it public?  I thought maybe someone out there would be interested.  There are a lot of us who are watching our budgets carefully, almost obsessively.  And it's an exercise in honesty: you learn a lot about someone by knowing their spending habits.  I also wonder if knowing I'm going to blog every purchase will cause me to think twice before opening my wallet.  Would I really want to post that I'd just bought, I don't know, false eyelashes and a pound of salami? 

As it happens, today was an unusually virtuous shopping day.  I shopped like a saint.  I bought all organic food; I supported local farmers and our local co-op; everything was nutritious and vegan.  I didn't even consume any gasoline because I walked to the co-op. 

And yet--just so you know the demons I battle--my very first thought after deciding to start this blog was, "I'll need to buy a blackboard to keep track of everything."   Yeah, I resisted.  For today.