Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cold Salads and Homemade Granola. Not together.

After last night's grocery store frenzy and the amount of money I spent on snacks, I wondered if making our own granola bars would be cost effective and/or tasty.  I had bought the ingredients a month or two ago, so I'm going to have to hold off on calculating their cost, but the taste of the homemade bars gets a thumbs up! 

I got the recipe from Hannaford's free grocery magazine, either Fresh or Organic & Natural.  They have great recipes in them, and great coupons in the Organic one since not a lot of those products have coupons in the Sunday circulars.  I made a few changes to the recipe (Get Smart Granola Bars), using dried cranberries in place of blueberries, and baking them on a large cookie sheet instead of in a 9x13 pan.  Owen enjoyed measuring and mixing, and overall they were way easy, sweetened with brown sugar and honey and containing oats, wheat germ, flax, rice cereal, and only half a stick of butter.

I finally got around to washing up the veggies from the CSA pick up on Saturday, so we had a bunch of salads tonight for dinner, along with Kira's favorite Black Bean and Corn salad.  The lettuce from the farm is so tasty, I can't imagine I ever ate out of those bags before.  I also made a kale slaw that has a peanut vinaigrette on it with carrots and peppers.

I boiled up the Choiggia beets--I'm learning to only get enough for myself--and sliced them on top of my green salad sprinkled with blue cheese.  They are the prettiest beet to slice.  Funny aside: when I was looking up info on these beets, and how to spell them, the Google search page showed the following at the bottom of the page!
Searches related to beet varieties
turnip varieties
carrot varieties
the empire strikes back

Huh??? Harpsichord is bizarre enough, but The Empire Strikes Back?  How does that relate to the beets? Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back - Movie Poster: Advance 'A' (Size: 27'' x 40'')

Monday, June 21, 2010

Good Groceries Cost a Fortune.

First official day of summer!  I decided to spend a few hours this morning organizing my notes from the weeklong professional development institute in Georgia. I had so many book recommendations (Made to Stick looks intriguing), web links, ideas for training at my school.  I also thought about all the summer projects I want to get to--thinning out the perennial beds, organizing my yarn stash and queued projects on Ravelry, getting to the year's worth of photos to scrapbook.

My friend Mike chatted with me on Facebook while I was in the thick of it (of course, one can't work so hard that Facebook can't be open too!) and sagely remarked that the beginning of summer is when you feel you actually have a chance at getting your projects done!

So that I didn't waste an absolutely gorgeous Vermont June day, we headed out to Lake Paran for the afternoon instead of going grocery shopping.  My son has been absolutely unbearable in stores these days. He just won't take no for an answer, and seems to have become a greedy consumer.  Grocery shopping feels torturous enough without children, so why bring them if you can help it?

After swimming all afternoon they were starving and salivating in the car on the way home at the thought of english muffins with peanut butter and butter. Sounded like an ideal dinner to me! They each had two!  I had leftover pasta salad from Saturday, and let me tell you, it was so delicious after sitting for two days. The pesto was divine.

I headed out the to the grocery stores--two of them, to be exact. I hate to take the time to do both Aldi and Hannaford, but things are so much cheaper at Aldi.  I still managed to spend $85!!  While I was waiting in the checkout, a family ahead of me had to leave without their groceries since their EBT card was showing a zero balance. They said they were sure there was $53 on there.  I felt like a schmuck with my cart full of stuff, that being only my first stop of the night. Sometimes I just don't keep money issues in perspective.

On next to Hannaford. I almost pulled into Price Chopper, which I pass on the way by, but I want to support Hannaford and its commitment to local foods.  Plus it's a much more relaxing experience. But I still think it costs more than PC.  I made the mistake of shopping without planning a menu. I ended up spending another 195 frickin' dollars!!! 

I decided to do a little analysis of the food bills.  I didn't add everything, but just some main categories.  I am trying to remind myself that I probably haven't shopped for a big full trip in about a month. Here's how it broke down:
  • Fruit & Veggies....$26.25
  • Cheeses....$30.10
  • Breads....$14.60
  • Fish...$23.46 (a rarity--I splurged for Salmon)
  • Meats...$12 (boy wanted me to "stock up on hot dogs & I bought beef patties from grass fed, antibiotic free cows)
  • Snacks...$19.35
  • 2 lbs fair trade coffee....$18
  • 2 half gallons Stonyfield Farm Organic milk...$7.38
Can you believe we eat that much cheese? And it's expensive cheese. Kira likes this Dubliner cheese that's $4.50 alone.  Since we're home for the next two weeks, I needed more lunch foods and snacks. The thing that gets me is I try to have my kids eat healthier snacks, but it all costs so much more than if I spent a buck or two on a box of sugary snacks.  Or got the sugary drinks instead of the 100% juice drinks. Or got cheap milk. I guess I'm going to do what I can while I can until we can't afford it any longer.

Am I a prima donna because I like expensive coffee beans?  I seriously can't swallow the cheap grind (boy that sounds dirty.)  A few years ago I committed also to buying only fair trade coffee as well, so it's not just about my discerning palate, but am I just being ridiculous?  There's a great little book about fair trade coffee by Julia Alvarez that does a nice job using narrative to be informative: A Cafecito Story: El Cuento Del Cafecito.

If you haven't seen Food, Inc., the movie, you really ought to.  I keep thinking of the family in the grocery store who are in the produce aisle and the mom has to tell the daughter to put the fruit back because it's just too much per pound.  She knows it's crap to eat fast food, but where else can they go and eat from a dollar menu?  It's heart wrenching. 

Their partner site, Take Part, had a piece today about a study showing how kids even think the foods with cartoon characters on the outside taste better than the exact same foods without the advertising.  It's exactly what Owen does--he wants whatever he sees advertised on TV, be it food or toy.  The article points out that cartoon characters are not allowed to advertise cigarettes, so why junk foods?

I know I can't figure it all out tonight, but I really grapple with this stuff. It's why I started the blog.  Here's a photo of the best thing I spent $3.99 on. Some flowers are always worth it to me.  And my new favorite coffee, from Maine, both organic and fair trade:  Wicked Joe's!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

School's Out and I'm Just BEAT!

Can't seem to get back in a cooking groove since the Georgia trip and a crazy exam week/close of school.  I jumped at the sudden invitation from my brother to come down to the restaurant he manages out of the Crowne Plaza in Pittsfield, MA. 
He's been there three years, and it's the first time we were allowed to come dine!  He's not in the kitchen any more, but his culinary influence as Executive Chef was very apparent. He's also the banquet manager and whatever else manager!  He's got a great chef, Hank, whose food was so good I never touched the salt or pepper.  To me, that's the sign of a good chef.

I had planned to photograph the main courses--yes, courses, as he brought out several dishes for us all to try--but we were so excited we dug in to each and every one before I remembered the photo!

First, we had tomato with fresh mozzarella and basil. The kitchen makes their own cheese. (The only thing that would have made it any better was if it was served with the organic tomatoes I got from Mighty Food Farm yesterday!) Then he brought out small tastes of his clam chowder, which had bacon in it, but I knew would be heavenly and actually broke my no food with meat in it rule.  

They also brought out other meat laden dishes that looked fantastic for the meat eaters:  clams with chorizo and a chicken panzanella salad.  The fish dishes were fabulous:  a mahi mahi with white beans and then a shellfish dish with handmade tagliatelle infused with chianti!

The kids decided all on their own to get dressed up. They looked absolutely precious. 

Kira was beside herself with the fresh mozzarella goodness, which she was able to have on a flatbread pizza.  It's nice to see her growing more comfortable with eating out. She's so particular, but if it's a good place, her refined tastes will be met!

Owen got a giant steak with hand cut fries. It was bigger than him.  He relishes being the hearty meat eater in the family.

It was great to see Lee in his element.  If you're driving through Pittsfield on Rte. 7, stop in at One West at the Crowne Plaza and have whatever's on special!!!

The next day we went to the farm and picked up our Mighty Food Farm share. Heavenly aforementioned tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, kale, eggs, snap peas, parsley, and lots of fresh basil.  Kira and I noshed on the flax grain bread we bought there, the greek olives imported by a local family, and aged sharp cheddar from Henry's Market down on East Main St.  A local lunch!

 Later, we ate dinner out on the deck at mom and dad's, which has undoubtedly one of the top views of the southwestern Vermont valley.  I made a pesto with the basil from MFF, and put together a pasta salad with the kalamata olives from the Kontoulis family, feta, sundried tomatoes, and artichokes. I kept needing to add salt and pepper--I'm always surprised how much salt I add to things, but I realize that when it's from scratch, there's no salt at all. It's still probably far less than prepared foods!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

End of the School Year + Travel

The end of the school year is always chaotic, but the past few weeks were even more so since I went out of town for an entire week.  When you're a teacher, that means the entire week before is spent doing your regular day plus preparing a week's worth of sub plans for while you are gone. That's the reason for no blog posts for nearly three weeks. Now I'm in the still recovering from being gone mode, AND it's final exams right now. More chaos. 

Teachers don't travel much. It's a pretty foreign concept for us to be away for work!  After the chaotic week of preparing to leave, it was nice to have some relaxing meals out with colleagues.  We were working in a town called Cumming, Georgia, about 50 minutes north of Atlanta. We discovered a chain we really liked, called Ted's Montana Grill.  The food was fantastic.  They had no problem modifying their chopped salad by leaving off the salami--often places already have the stuff made up and won't accommodate.  I had a great veggie burger one night, and crab cakes the next.  Delicious roasted asparagus too.  My favorite thing was their environmentally aware approach--no plastic straws, recycled menus, biodegradable to go containers.

We also ate at a Mexican place called Cheeky. Their shtick was beer taps right at the tables!  This was featured in the bar area and looked pretty cool and fun. The vegetarian food wasn't too great, but we had awesome little ahi tuna tacos with avocado for an appetizer.

The last night we drove down to Decatur and ate at The Brick Store Pub.  This place was really lively.  I was driving, so it killed me to see all the local craft beer available.  But the food was just as good--English pub style. We had chips with malt vinegar and salads featuring local greens and cheeses. Totally creamy delicious goat cheese on one, and blue on the other.  Then we even had vegetarian curry of sweet potatoes and chick peas. Really awesome.

What was the most fun about the dining out experience in Georgia was the service.  Every waitperson was really nice, and not in a cheesy fake way.  They seemed to really want you to have a good, relaxed time.  They never complained about my fussy special orders.  It was totally different than dining out in the northeast!

Most of the nights we stopped at Barnes & Noble on the way back to the hotel so my colleague could get a decaf coffee. She even bought a book I'm looking forward to borrowing from her!

I've hardly cooked since I've been back, so I'll post more once I can get back into the groove!