Category Archives: Groceries

“I’m Gonna Pop Some Cans – Only Got 20 Lbs of Strawberries”

“Whatchu know about making jam? Whatchu know about doing some can-nin’?”

This guy gets it...

This guy gets it…

OK. I’m done with the Macklemore references.

It all started when…..
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We got invited to a blueberry farm with some friends last year & we froze most of our bounty. It far from lasted us through the winter, but it was a start. It doesn’t SEEM like freezing really counts, but I think it does. If you deliberately stock up on produce for the purpose of freezing it, I write that as a self-preserving win. Freezing has its drawbacks, but this is true for all forms of stockpiling.

Later in the summer, Mr. Ender’s boss swung by a roadside stand & snuck a box of apples & pears into the back of our car. Did I say box? I meant a banana-shipment size box, half full. It was probably the end of that summer (before we even started blogging or fully committed actually), I decided that I needed to learn to can because all I could think to do with this huge box was make applesauce & pear butter — but had no means of keeping it from going bad quickly.

Canning!? Isn’t that… like… what Grandmas do so they can gift you jelly for Christmas?
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Well, yeah. But canning is actually SUPER cool. If you are going to be self reliant & don’t want to eat hearty crops of kale & broccoli ALL winter long, canning is totally the way to go.

So, how DID our first venture into canning go?

I present: Danny & Brian’s Adventure into Midnight Canning

Mash ALL THE BERRIES!

Mash ALL THE BERRIES!

Boil & add nearly a friggin bag of sugar & whatever the hell 'pectin' is

Boil & add nearly a friggin bag of sugar & whatever the hell ‘pectin’ is

Sanitize for safety!

Sanitize for safety!

Learn how to eyeball 1/4 inch of head space

Learn how to eyeball 1/4 inch of head space

Scald your face on steam trying to dump the things back into the bath canner

Scald your face on steam trying to dump the things back into the bath canner

Attempt not to burn one self, thy spouse & give plenty of room in case you drop it & it kersplodes all over the floor

Attempt not to burn one self, thy spouse & give plenty of room in case you drop it & it kersplodes all over the floor

Listen to the POPs & admire your handy work

Listen to the POPs & admire your handy work

Wake up & cringe the next morning at insane amount of dishes

Wake up & cringe the next morning at insane amount of dishes

All in all, I’d call this a success. I was told by veteran canners that I was going to have a love-hate relationship with canning. I find this to be true. I love the end results. Seriously. Best damn jam I’ve ever had in my LIFE.¬†I love feeling like I accomplished something awesome. I love that my husband took interest in doing this. Much like myself, he enjoys learning. The nerd in him says, “This is chemistry! I f*ing love chemistry!” The future farmer in him says, “This is smart, economic & necessary”. I hate how hot it made the apartment. I cannot believe you crazy heads down south where it’s like 80,000 degrees actually do this in the dead of summer! We were dripping buckets of sweat & the house was so disgustingly humid after we were done, we both had issues getting to sleep. I hate that my kids aren’t the type to listen when I say “GET OUT OF THE WAY! Boiling strawberry jam crossing! Unless you want to look like that Rocky kid from Mask, get the hell out of the way!”, so if I want to can…. I get to can at midnight. And dishes… they suck! Among other things I hate: the inability to reuse lids, not knowing what people used instead of pectin back in the day, pressure canning scaring the hell out of me &… the fact I waited so long to try this!

It really was a lot of fun & I’m excited to share with my friends & fam bam.

I seriously walked out of the kitchen & strutted into the bedroom like this…

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Yeahhhh, boyyyy!

PS: I’d also like to give a super big shout out to the following people who helped me BIG on this one….

– Sherry Brooks Vinton, whom I saw at Mother Earth Newsfair first thing, first day & it was like a sign. I said I was gonna do it & I needed to get on it.
– “Pammykins”, my heterosexual life mate & probably the greenest Mama I know. Thank-you for rolling your eyes at my bazillion questions behind the computer screen rather than in my face ;D You said, “JUST DO IT ALREADY!” & I DID IT!!
– Auntie Amy: Couldn’t of done this without you…. rather, I couldn’t of done this without your potato masher & ladle after I got started & realized I didn’t own these particularly handy kitchen utensils.
– The Dickinsons for helping us pick 17 lbs worth of strawberries at Biringer Farms.
& of course, Mr. Enders… Always willing to get his hands dirty with all my crazy ideas. You? Me? Pineapple chunks in quart jars? Tonight? ;D

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Christmas in June? No! It’s Farmer’s Market season!

Here are the highlights from our trips to Opening Day for Mukilteo Farmer’s Market last Wednesday & our first time at Everett’s Original Farmer’s Market on the Marina in which I was recognized for being their 1,000th Facebook fan!

Mukilteo, Wednesday the 5th

Not many places in the world you get to travel by ferry boat often

Not many places in the world you get to travel by ferry boat often

If you ain't shopping farmers markets, you're doing it wrong

If you ain’t shopping farmers markets, you’re doing it wrong

 

 

Don't mind if I do!

Gladly bite into Bite Me Cupcakes!

Monster Kid's favorite & must have every trip to the market, Whidbey Island Ice Cream Co.

Monster Kid’s favorite & must have every trip to the market, Whidbey Island Ice Cream Co.

Liked your service? Tip a farmer!

Liked your service? Tip a farmer! Thanks, Pioneer Farms for letting me snap a photo.

Our haul for the day: Hayton Farm strawberries

Our haul for the day: Hayton Farm strawberries

 

Everett, Sunday the 9th

20 years & going strong!

20 years & going strong!

The bell has rung & the farmer's market mayhem has commenced!

The bell has rung & the farmer’s market mayhem has commenced!

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I know quite a few monkeys who would agree.

Princess Cthulhu loves the Everett Farmers Market -- & strawberries!

Princess Cthulhu loves the Everett Farmers Market — & strawberries!

I spent the entire $10 credit Everett Farmer’s Market gave me for being their 1,000th Facebook fan on three-pints of strawberries. $10 well spent.

Everett Market, over & out.

Everett Market, over & out.

Shopping at Farmer’s Markets is my favorite time of the year. Looking at the photos, you’d be right in assuming there isn’t much in the way of produce at this time of the year — but some of the local U-Picks I follow are announcing opening this weekend for berry picking & there was still quite a few vendors with specialty items & handcrafted wares making the markets worth checking out this early in the season still.

Why shop at Markets? You get to shake the hands of the people who grow your food! You get to ask questions about how it was produced, what methods were used & how much love went into getting it from soil to table. I’d like to see you get any kind of answer beyond deer-in-the-headlights at a grocery store produce section. You get the freshest available, meaning the highest nutritional value & tastiest And sometimes, it’s even cheaper believe it or not. A head of organic lettuce runs me about $2.49 on a good week at the store & although organic means less pesticides, it doesn’t necessarily mean it came from a nearby farm. At the market, one stand had romaine for $2, another red leaf for $2 & another had a crazy guy shouting “LETTUCE SALE! 2/$3!” FRESH & ORGANIC lettuce for $1.50 a head? I’m there! Most importantly, you’re keeping your voting dollars in your community. Farmers are just like YOU. You want to send your kids to college. You want to go on vacation. You want a new car or television or to be able to reshingle the roof. Buying from a farmer means you’re allowing a farmer to afford to do the things you’d like to do.

They just prefer to hawk carrots & eggs instead of sit in a cubical to get there ūüėČ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheap Organic Food?? Check Alternative Sources.

The other day, I got in a “heated debate” regarding the recent story covering a petition to urge Kraft Foods to remove additives in their US version of their classic blue box macaroni & cheese that are not included in the UK versions due to concerns over cancer-causing ingredients. (Read about it & sign the petition if you feel so inclined here)

To put it bluntly, a¬†user¬†implied supporters of this petition are¬†“on a high horse”,¬†that we “all can’t afford a Whole Foods meal”.

Hold the phone.

I’d like to think we eat relatively healthy, but I’ve never stepped foot into a Whole Foods. Even if I had visited this “designer health food store” as I like to refer to it as, we certainly couldn’t afford to do our regular once-a-month shopping trips there.

Yet, somehow, we manage to budget to eat GOOD food.

I get asked this question more than anything when people want to ask about our more natural lifestyle: “How do you afford the organic food?

As with any method of saving money, you need to combine methods, mix & match what will work for your own individual situation. But here are some suggestions….

I use coupons. Primarily, they are ones I receive from emailing companies or following my favorites online. Annie’s Homegrown, Earthbound Farms¬†& Bob’s Redmill are all popular natural products that put out coupons occasionally or will send them upon request. I scan sales flyers & check for clearance quick-sale meat & often find salad mix bags or precut fruit cups at 50% off, nearing their expiration date. I use my loyalty rewards¬†from shopping on things that don’t normally have coupons (fruits, veg, fresh meat) & buy from bulk bins.

I shop farmer’s markets & with my local butchers. Two summers ago, I would of paid .59 cents for a conventional cucumber in the grocery store, because the $1.49 organic cucumber was “too expensive” in my opinion. Last summer, I would buy cucumbers at the local farmer’s market for .79 cents each & while not USDA certified organic, the actual harvesters who maintained the produce & were selling their hard work assured me they were not treated with pesticides (USDA organic certification is an expensive & lengthy process, making it unreachable for many smaller scale farms). Draper Valley Farms produces chicken is available in most QFC stores. However, you can also go to the local butcher who works with the same distributors & get the same breasts for a fraction of the price the grocery stores ask.

Know the BIG ones to splurge on: Meat. Dairy. Vegetables. Fruit. Wheat. Corn. Sugar. Soy. & any product that contains any of them. Always aim for local. If not local, organic. If not organic, natural. And print up a copy of the Dirty Dozen. 88 cent a pound broccoli is nothing to shake a stick at, but maybe 99c conventional strawberries may be something to walk away from.

Stop relying on convenience foods. This is the big one. This is where the masses have come under this delusion that organic food is somehow significantly more expensive¬†& thus significantly out of their reach. A bag of¬†Cheetos can run you $1.99 whereas a bag of say, Pirate’s Booty can run you $3.49. But do chips really need to be a staple food in your diet? American “cheese” slices (I use the term “cheese” loosely) are pretty cheap… Say 99c a pack on a good sale. So, why fork out $4.99 for a block of Tillamook? Because… the Tillamook block will give you at least 3 packs of 99c “cheese” plus some shreds. Don’t even get me started on the sheer laziness of using shredded cheese & those adorable baby carrots you can easily cut yourself…

But I can’t! I love my convenience foods! I could never give them up!

Fair enough. While I usually push localvorism, there are a few items that are just easier to buy off a shelf instead of making from scratch or trying to find a vendor for (like ketchup). To which I say… You don’t need to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or heck, even Albertson’s.

Feast your eyes upon the organic, natural & reasonably priced wares I found at “alternative” grocery stores.

New ImageBoy, that’s an awful lot of green & white USDA organic symbols….

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For those who aren’t scratching their head because they don’t know what they’re looking at:
Yves vegetarian lunch meat for $1.49
Organic chicken broth for 79c a can
Back to Nature macaroni & cheese for $2.99 for a 3 pack (that equals about $1 a box — Take that, blue box!)
Pacific organic soup starter for $1.29
Stretch Island fruit leathers: 6 for .99!!
among others….

The above items were found at two stores: Grocery Outlet & Big Lots.

I shop these stores occasionally (also not my primary source for groceries), but I recall these stores being once upon a time labeled as the “second-stores” or “grocery thrift stores”. This is where cast off dented cans & that one flavor of Kool-Aid went that nobody liked to be sold for pennies on the dollar.

Really? Because from the looks of it these stores meant to serve the under-served are serving up the good stuff that the rest of the population complains are too expensive in their conventional grocery store.

I even found natural-brand leaders in more than just food:

Toiletries
Softlips Organic for 99c
Earth’s Best diapers for $15 for 64 count (that comes to about 23cents a diaper — about a 3cents difference from the Target generic brand)
And don’t give me anymore excuses why you CAN’T change your incandescent light bulb to CFL! 2/$1 energy-saving light bulbs.

A few things to remember about “alternative” grocery stores…

1. Because prices are already so low, most of these stores do NOT accept manufacturer coupons. They often times will have an ad that DOES contain some coupons that pertain to only their store.
2. Inventory is often sporadic & unpredictable & often will not restock. We went into Big Lots to get more Bob’s Redmill gluten-free brownie mix, but ran into only the granola & bean soup mixes… But we did find Earth’s Best organic cookies (“Cookie Monster cookies” as the Spawn likes to call them) for a $1 a box! (These retail for about $3+ a box). I certainly wasn’t looking to find buy one, get one organic Kettle Chips at Grocery Outlet, but I knew they had $1.99 packs of Tillamook cheese (usually).

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3. It’s really… really… really… REALLY easy to get distracted & buy something (or 6 somethings) that may not be entirely organic or natural (or of any nutritional value beyond taurine & a mess of B-vitamin supplements). Make a list of things you hope to find¬†& know how much you usually pay for them to know if the deal is worth stocking up on. Also, be prepared for deals you may not know you need because you never know when a wall o’ Monster Energy… err… I mean $5.49 100% organic maple syrup will be in stock or out of stock.

There you have it. How we manage to survive on a peasant’s budget yet eat local, organic, natural — or highly caffeinated.

Now go forth & improve your diets – whether at the designer health grocers or your own back yards!

PS: YES! I know. We need to kick the energy drink habit. They offer nothing to value & are a waste of energy to manufacture, package & ship. But man, having a 3yo & 1yo make for some long nights & sometimes… you just gotta do whatcha gotta do to make it through the day.