Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Key to eating Locally and Seasonally . . . . . .

Is a Local and Seasonal Meal Plan.

I have a Menu Plan up in the corner, but I'll confess now, I don't use that much anymore. It was a good start, and I think that it is a good idea in general to have a menu plan. If you go to the store/farmer's market without a menu plan, then you end up buying stuff, but not having a plan of how/when you are going to use it, and too often, then food goes to waste. Also, when I don't have a menu plan, WAY too often, it gets to be 6:30 at night and I'm still scrambling around trying to figure out what to fix for dinner that night.

One of the things that I really like about Local/Seasonal meal plans is that it ensures that you use items that are available during that season. It also helps so that you select recipes that use those kind of items instead of using recipes that use items that aren't available at that time of year.

I talked about the idea of setting up Seasonal Notebooks and one of the main things that I was planning on doing was including a Seasonal Meal plan and the recipes for the different meals. Uh, I haven't had time to do it yet. But I still feel like it is a great idea. I need to break up the job into small chunks so that I can get it done. I need to remember to do that with lots of things - too often, I get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing.

Anyway, here are some general tips for local/seasonal menu planning.

1. Check your refrigerator (focus on things that you need to use up before they go bad) and freezer to see what you have.

2. Check your pantry/food storage to see what you have. It is helpful if you use inventory sheets, especially when you are starting out. Now I pretty much have the list of what we have in memorized and it just takes me a quick glance to see how many we have used. And the beauty of canning (and freezing and drying) is that it lets you eat local food that isn't in season without having to BUY it out of season.

3. Look at a list of what foods are available in your area for that month. (Again, here is where preserving food is helpful in say, WINTER. There is very little that is growing in Illinois from December through March, so if you don't preserve food, your menu would probably have to lean heavy on food that is available locally year round like beef, chicken, pork, eggs, milk, and cheese.)

4. Create a menu. I find it easiest to plan for a month, and buy most things once a month, but I also create a weekly shopping list for produce and dairy. Focus on meals that use the items that are available that month and the food that you have in your fridge/freezer/pantry/food storage.

5. Find recipes for your meals. Focus on recipes that use the items that are available that month and the food that you have in your fridge/freezer/pantry/food storage.

6. Check your spices/cupboards, etc. to make sure you have the items necessary for your recipes.

6. Make a shopping list. Like I said in step #4, I make two shopping lists - a monthly shopping list and a weekly shopping list.

I would like to get a Summer menu plan done in the next week or so before the bulk of fruits and vegetables are ready for harvesting. When I finish, I'll probably post it here, but please just use it as an example. What my family eats and your family eats is probably different. And if you don't live in Illinois, what you have available is probably different.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Local/Seasonal/Organic .... On A Budget???

The local/seasonal/organic movement has been building for the past few years, and Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle brought even more attention to it. I've been interested in eating like that for years, but for awhile, I, like many people, figured that it was just more expensive to eat that like.

And if you want to have 17 different varieties of fruit and vegetables at one time, it probably is. And when you are just starting out with canning/dehydrating, it probably is.

Over the years, I've shifted slightly the way that I eat. And to be brutally honest, I still have some non-local/non-seasonal/non-organic food in my home, but it is primarily for the preschool/daycare children that I take care of in my home. I still strive for healthy snacks and lunches, but I don't always serve them the food that I buy for the rest of my family because I know that they won't eat it, and I don't want it to go to waste. I also have some non-local/non-seasonal/non-organic in my food storage, although I am striving to preserve more and more of food from my garden for my food storage.

Anyway, I started with just Organic. And I started by trying to buy Everything Organic. That lasted about a month. We didn't need Organic or Non-Organic Oreos. So then I went mostly the other way, where I only bought a few things Organic (primarily milk and apples.)

Then I started with Local (and by default mostly, also Seasonal.) I went to our Farmer's Market and I'd buy things, but that first year, I'd get frustrated when I'd go there that first week, and the only thing that they would have was radishes, spinach, and herbs. I wanted corn. I wanted carrots. I wanted tomatoes. So I'd buy what was there, but I'd buy what I wanted at the grocery store. At the grocery store, you can get whatever you want, whenever you want.

And then a couple years ago, a new Health Food store opened in town and they sold milk from a local dairy. I started getting my eggs from a local farm. And I started in earnest to study about vegetables that I wanted to plant in my garden. And I started noticing more about when fruits and vegetables came into season.

Last year was the first year that I canned by myself (well, not by myself. I canned with my sister. But it was the first time I canned as an adult. It was the first time I canned when I wasn't just helping my mom.) It was almost magical how I could preserve food from my garden and be able to eat it during the many months in Illinois when there aren't any crops growing.

So here we are to this year. My first priority is Local. I buy my milk from a local dairy. I buy my eggs from a local farm. Same with my cheese. I buy cream from the local dairy so I can make butter. I'm asking for a yogurt maker for my birthday so that I can make local/organic yogurt.

Then I go for Seasonal. This is either bought at Farmer's Market or from the Health Food store (they sell local/seasonal food as well as organic food.) BUT, and here is the real Kicker. I only buy either ONE type of vegetable and/or ONE kind of fruit per week that is in season. I budget a certain amount per week for produce and that's what I spend. I supplement with food that is grown in the garden, although most of the food in the garden is preserved.

There are some slight exceptions to this rule. For example, earlier this month, I went to a Strawberry U-pick and picked 15 pounds of strawberries and made strawberry jam. That was over my produce budget. Later on, I'll buy lots of peaches and can them, and in the fall, I'll buy lots of apples, and make applesauce. But when I buy lots of fruit for preserving, I buy them when they are in season, and I buy them locally.

Another exception is I do buy things, like yogurt, which I don't make yet, and I don't have a local source. So I get organic yogurt, and I pick the yogurt that is produced as close to Illinois as I can.

And there are just some things I don't buy anymore. If a fruit (or vegetable) is ONLY grown outside of the continental United States, we don't buy it.

So with the food I buy, there really isn't a lot of variety. Like I said, basically, during the growing season, I buy one local/seasonal/organic vegetable and/or fruit each week. But with preserving food, and that year's garden, we are often able to have two or three choices per week. And I am able to do this AND stay on budget.

Postscript - I didn't address meat in this blog post. During the growing season, I honestly try to cut WAY back on our meat and eat mostly fruit and vegetables. During the late fall and winter, I buy organic beef and chicken. I buy sometimes from local sources, although I do sometimes buy it from the store. My goal is to have a chest freezer/upright freezer by next fall, and to get a quarter of a beef, some pork from a local pork farmer, and a large order of whole chickens from a local chicken farmer.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Running in Circles . . .

No, this isn't a metaphor for my life. I've actually been running in a circle lately. Well, technically, it is an ellipse.

Let me back up a bit.

I've been overweight for 14 years now. I had been average to thin for most of my life before that. But I'd also had an eating disorder for 14 years before I became overweight. I decided to stop, finally, and right around that time, I was involved in a serious car accident, and I was in physical therapy for almost a year. I was actually eating a normal amount of food, and I wasn't exercising hardly at all, and so I just gained a lot of weight.

I did lose some weight a few years ago by just watching my portion sizes, but then I put all of it back on. And then in March, I got on the scales. There is a weight that I'm generally around. When I got on the scales in March, I was 30 pounds more than my "usual." I jumped off. The number couldn't be right. There must have been some error, or the batteries were low, or I was leaning over, or something. So I changed the batteries, and stood up straight. And it still said 30 pounds heavier than my usual. And my "usual" is not even remotely a good weight for me, so to add another 30, well, let's just say, I was pretty horrified.

I knew I needed to do something but I wasn't sure what to do. I knew that I needed to lose weight, but I felt like I mostly ate healthy food, so what could I change there? I knew that I needed to exercise, but where would I find the time?

And so I thought about it. And thought about it.

And what I finally decided was that I needed to eat healthy. Not mostly healthy. (To me, that means eating local, seasonal food and I need to watch my portion sizes. And it meant that I needed to drink water, even though I didn't like it.)

And I needed to exercise, which meant for me, getting up at 5 AM.

Now, I was a fairly active person before the weight gain, and I did all sorts of physical activities, but my favorite thing to do was to run.

It all started when I was 11. My dad had had a heart attack, and the dr's encouraged him to start walking. It was January 1978, and I would bundle up in my parka and go walking with my dad. By the summer, my dad had worked up to jogging. He would go over to the Catholic High School in the evenings and run around their track. I would go over with him most days of the week. When I was high school, I joined the track team. (I would have preferred to do cross country, but I had weak ankles that gave out on uneven surfaces, so I decided that a flat track was probably a better idea.) When I moved to Utah to go to college, I started running longer distances, and up into the canyons, etc. When I moved back here, I went back to running with dad at the campus recreation center. So until I was about 28, I considered myself a Runner. Or at least a Jogger.

So at the end of March, I decided to start my new lifestyle of healthy eating and exercise. I joined a gym and I started walking on the treadmill. I would do this for 30 minutes, 5-6 days a week. I would also go on a walk on the local bike trail every weekend. After a week, I started adding a little bit of jogging. And then after 3 weeks, I met with a trainer, and he created a schedule of light weights to add to my routine.

By this point, it was starting to get nice outside, so I started jogging/walking to the gym, doing my weights, and jogging/walking back home. (It is 3 miles round trip.)

A couple of weeks ago, my girls started doing swim team, and their morning practice is from 7 am to 8:30 am. The pool is right next to a junior high that has . . . you guessed it, a track. For me, a track isn't necessarily my favorite place to run. Of all the places in town, the trail is probably my favorite place to run, but running on the track was very convenient to the pool. It is also like visiting an old friend.

It reminds me of running with my dad so, so long ago. (Wearing very fashionable tube socks and Nike running shoes, I'm sure.) It reminds me of high school, where I used track as a way to escape from all of the stuff that teenagers need to escape from. It reminds me of running the track at the Rec center and racing my dad for fun.

Now when I run around the track, I don't look like that 12 year old. That 16 year old. That 25 year old. I'm not in shape AT ALL. I shuffle along. I am REALLY slow. I still walk at least a mile of the 3 miles that I do. Some mornings, the little boy that I watch gets dropped off at the track, and I run, while pushing him in the stroller. I don't remember running with a stroller back in the day. But now, some mornings, it is run with a stroller or don't run at all. For many years, I could have run with a stroller, but I didn't. I chose to not run at all. Or much of anything else, for that matter.

But something happened to me in March. I found that I couldn't NOT do it anymore. There are plenty of days that I wish that I could still get a York Peppermint Patty and a Diet Pepsi for an afternoon snack, although I'm finding that I really do enjoy having fresh fruit and vegetables for snacks. I don't hate water anymore. And with the exercising, there are PLENTY of mornings that I don't want to work out. I'm tired, it's hot, my muscles hurt. I just don't want to. But I just do it. I've just been doing it for almost 12 weeks now. I eat healthy, I lift weights at the gym, and I jog. It is just what I do.

And what I hope to continue doing. My goal is to get to my goal weight by next March and to be able to run in a half marathon by next March. I've also talked with my older brother and my sister about doing a marathon and we are all going to train to do the St. George Marathon in October 2011. I know that I'm not there yet, and maybe I won't be capable of doing a marathon by then. But I think I will be. I've got 17 months to train. And if I just make sure and eat healthy and exercise 5-6 days a week between now and then, I think I can do it.

When I told my dad about the marathon, he said "That is so exciting. I think that you will do a great job. I wish that I could have done a marathon." (Technically, he probably could. He still runs most days. But he is 72 years old and generally doesn't run more than a couple of miles, and he just isn't at the point of his life that he feels up to training for a marathon.) So I told him that I would use his first name as a middle name for the marathon in honor of him. If it wasn't for him, I probably never would have started running.

And I hope that I never stop again.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Aging . . .

Sorry to any young folk reading my blog. Feel free to skip this post if you feel like it. But I did say in a recent post that I was in the middle of my midlife crisis, so it isn't like I didn't warn you. And any older readers, well, feel free to mock me for talking about this when I'm "only" in my 40s.

Anyway, for years, I looked younger than I actually was. This was downright painful when I was a teenager. When I was 16, I was brought the children's menu on more than one occasion. Ouch. (Of course, I was only 5 feet tall and less than 100 pounds at the time, so it wasn't completely unreasonable for them to assume, but still . . .) But I heard "I never would have guessed you were X years old" SO many times over the years. I heard it so many times that sometimes I wanted to scream. I thought I would never stop hearing it. And then 3 years ago, I suddenly stopped hearing it.

3 years ago, I was 40. And I swear, overnight, my eyes started to sink in. I had to color my hair on a much more regular basis if I wanted to cover the grey. My skin just didn't look as refreshed. The skin on my neck wasn't as taut. And although I had been overweight for quite a few years before that, it suddenly became harder to lose weight, and easier to gain. And I don't think I've heard one person in the last 3 years say "Oh, I never would have guessed . . . "

It probably doesn't help things that I don't wear makeup. Well, let me rephrase that. I usually don't wear makeup. I sometimes wear makeup to church and I wear makeup for special occasions. But I've never been someone that wore makeup regularly before either. I've also noticed that when I wear makeup, it looks less natural and more like I'm trying to make myself look better.

And it isn't like I really care, I guess, in the grand scheme of things. I mean, I'm not going out and getting a facelift or botox or lipo or anything. And while most of my friends are younger than I am, most of them are at least heading into their late 30s now, so I'll have company in the 40s soon.

But on the other hand, I really thought that I wouldn't care at all. Or that I would just be like Dick Clark or something, and always look pretty much the same and so I'd never have really deal with looking at my face in the mirror and realize that I was looking my age - or on bad days, even older.

I know that it really just shows that I've been around long enough to experience some things in life (oh, I have a post brewing about being young and inexperienced too. One of these days. Right now, I have a lot of posts that I want to write, but I don't have that much time to write them.) And I'm mostly o.k. with that. I know that I probably will only start to look older and older too, and I'm mostly o.k. with that too. But sometimes, I wouldn't mind hearing that "I would never guess . . . " just a few more times. I promise I won't scream.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Garden Update - Early June

Well, things will be different with the garden this year, what with my sister moving away and all (how dare she! LOL Seriously, nothing but good luck in the new place, sis!) And so far, it is going pretty well.) FYI, The garden plot is 15 feet across by 20 feet long. (One of these days, I swear I'll post a picture of the garden.) There are about 10 other plots in the same area. It is behind our church. It gets full sun all day, which is good, but if you need to water, it is a bit tricky because you have to use the pump by the church, fill a bucket, and walk about 500 feet to the plot. So far (this year and last year), I've just been depending on rain. And so far, so good.

I planted a couple rows of green beans, and they are growing pretty well. Broccoli was planted (10 plants) and I harvested a couple stalks last night. Seemed early, but I didn't want them to start flowering. A couple of weeks ago, I planted 29 roma tomato plants and they are to the flowering stage (I did see a couple of small tomatoes too). The romas are for making tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and salsa. There is 1 beefsteak tomato plant for sandwiches. Last night, I planted two cucumber transplants, 1 green pepper transplant, 1 yellow pepper transplant, and 1 red pepper transplant. I'll be surprised if any of them make it. They were looking really wilty when I planted them. On the other hand, there was a big rainstorm last night. I also planted a zucchini transplant.

Still to plant: another row of beans and corn (from seed) and sweet potatoes (from transplants). I've been meaning to get the corn in for a couple weeks now, but whenever I get time over at the garden, I've only had time to do weeding. And then I always mean to go back the next day and do the seeds, but something always comes up. But I have been managing to get over to the garden a couple times a week, so the weeds haven't had a chance to get totally out of control like last year. Really hoping to avoid a repeat of that! But I've really got to get the rest of the plants in by this weekend.

Speaking of weeds,and watering too, I guess, I keep meaning to put grass clippings down. I have someone who is helping with the garden and she was going to bring the clippings, but so far, she hasn't had a chance to get out there since mid May. I think this weekend, I'll have to go to the City outside waste area and pick up a couple bags full. Grass clippings certainly help keep the weeds under control and keeps more moisture in the ground too.

At the home garden, I have strawberries (in season right now, and they are delish!) I need to grow more. Right now, I just have enough to snack on. We will be going to a u-pick this weekend to get enough to do some jam and some to freeze for smoothies. In the herb garden, I have basil,oregano, parsley and cilantro. In the front of the house,I decided not to do annuals this year, but I am planting some perennials instead.

There is a small apple orchard next to the garden plots and later in the season, I plan on using apples from there and some other local orchards to make applesauce and dried apples. I also plan on getting some peaches from local orchards and canning some peaches.

I still won't be able to be self-sufficient on the food that I grow/preserve, but this year, I will be able to be much closer than I was last year. Progress. Of course, most of this is dependent on the garden doing well. It is always easy to assume at this stage, that everything will grow. Here's to hoping anyway!