Jammin’

As I mentioned earlier, over my holiday I had a chance to do some canning with my mom.  We did a whole whack of strawberry jam, and another whack of stewed rhubarb, which my mother-in-law kindly and generously cut for me from her garden.  Hooray for free food!  The strawberries were not so free, but at the Sudbury Farmer’s Market they were only $20 for two 4-litre baskets.  Yes, you read that right: $2.50 per litre, and I didn’t even have to pick them myself!

I love making jam and other jam-like things, so it was very exciting for me to find such cheap and plentiful berries to can.  I’m getting a head-start on my Christmas gifts (so anyone on my xmas list, please forget you saw how little I paid for these berries!!!!).  I also have a toddler who tends to go to bed rather late when we are visiting Grandma and Grandpa (Em and Papa), which meant we started around 10 pm and were just finishing up around 1 am.  It was a late night, but I didn’t even look at the clock until the end.

As for the recipe, we just used the one on the pectin box, which called for a bunch of crushed strawberries, plus a bunch of sugar, some lemon juice, and the pectin.  We did 2 batches, separately, which was a good thing because they wouldn’t have both fit in the pot!

Next up, I’m hoping to get enough blueberries on our next Sudbury visit to do a batch of blueberry jam.  And then we should be into apple and crabapple season, and I’m hoping to do some crabapple jelly and crabapple butter.  This will be part of my urban foraging series–I just can’t turn away from free food!  Any advice from other crabapple gleaners, especially from the Ottawa area, would be much appreciated!

Over & out.

Keeping meal costs down

I’m going to preface this by saying, keeping costs down is far from my primary MO when planning meals.  I am concerned with nutrition and taste, as well as variety, and we have been drinking organic milk since my daughter started drinking cow’s milk.

Also, as you might have seen from my previous post, I don’t have a car, so hunting down the best grocery deals isn’t usually possible for me.  I also find that buying meat on sale often means eating extra-tasteless sketchy meat.

My other weakness is the farmer’s market.  It’s not cheap, not by a long shot, but it is a whole lot cheaper in terms of environmental impact to buy food that travels less than 100 miles, and is raised without petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Farmers who act as stewards of the lands rather than just raping their fields for what they can get, are going to be the salvation of us all.  And besides, when you buy your food that fresh (picked that day by the farmer who’s selling it to you), you’re getting much more in terms of nutrients and flavour!

SO, with all that in mind, how do I keep the other costs down so I can afford to drink organic milk and local organic produce?  Here are some of my strategies:

– Trying to only make a meat-based meal once per week.  I figure, if I can buy good local organic meat once a week, it’s no more expensive than buying cheaper meat several times a week.  But it’s better.

– Buying cans of tomatoes by the flat, and use them as a base for many meals.  That means pasta sauces, soups, chilis, etc.  Buying them by the flat, or when they’re on sale, means they’re around a dollar per can, so as long as I don’t add many fancy ingredients, I can usually make a cheap meal that will last at least until tomorrow’s lunch if not tomorrow’s dinner.

– Cooking our meals from scratch.  This happens almost all of the time.  So when I shop, I’m buying ingredients, and not paying someone else to screw up my food for me.  I can do that very well myself, thank you very much.

– Making my own bread.  It’s delicious and now that I’ve found The Sandy Hill People Food Co-Op, it’s pretty cheap too!  Their organic bread flour is $1.75 per kilo, while the Herb & Spice has the same flour marked up to $4.75 per kilo!  Sure, I have to bike across the canal to get it, and pay the $15 yearly membership fee, but it’s still a lot cheaper than buying flour in centretown.  As I wrote about in this post, Sourdough is a cheap and delicious hobby, and it keeps our bread costs way down.

– Cheap breakfast foods.  My and my daughter’s favourites are peanut butter toast, and oatmeal.  My husband doesn’t eat breakfast, but he does like eating Corn Flakes at other times of the day so that is the only “commercial” cereal we buy.  It hurts me every time I pay for it, but it’s non-negotiable!

– Making coffee at home and taking it to work in a nice stainless-steel travel mug.  One of my coups is convincing my husband that Starbucks does not deserve $2.50 of our money every single day (and sometimes more than that).  Of course it’s easy for me since I am off coffee until Tiny Baby is born (HOW many more days is that???), but it only takes a *little* more organization in the morning, and it adds up to big savings, even if we buy fancy coffee by the pound.

– Urban foraging.  Now this is just a fledgeling hobby of mine, but last year I canned some truly beautiful cherries that I picked off a tree down the road.  This year I’m already eyeing the crab apple trees and the rose bushes and making plans for jellies and teas.  I’m also fishing around my Sudbury family members to find some good rhubarb patches, since there’s nothing lovelier on a winter morning than oatmeal with a dollop of preserved stewed rhubarb.  I have read the blog of a woman who forages for a huge percentage of her meals.  And while the bounty of Ottawa is nothing to compare to that of France where she is, I’m inspired to start searching for edible weeds and possibly even dumpster diving for “expired” produce . . .

– Shopping at Costco, strategically.  Costco is an overwhelming crazy place, but it does have cheap(er) milk products.  Organic milk, cream for coffee, butter, and cheese, are all significantly cheaper at Costco than elsewhere.  So are their flats of canned tomatoes, and most of their paper products like Kleenex and toilet paper.  I try to get there as often as my brother can handle it (once every few months or so).

So there you have it.  Those are most of my food-related money-saving strategies.  I’m always learning more, so this list might get updated pretty soon!

Lansdowne Farmer's Market: Open for the season!

Today was the second week of the Farmer’s Market at Lansdowne Park, and my first visit of the season.  Hooray!  

I love the Farmer’s Market.  I mean I LOVE it!  I love meeting the farmers, seeing what’s actually in season this week, and the fact that it’s possible to buy local pastured organic meats.  It makes my carnivorousness a wee bit less guilt-ridden.

Not much on the produce slate this week but I picked up some meat: some pork spareribs and some bison pepperoni.  

I almost never buy pork because I’ve read so much about the cruelty involved in raising them in CAFOs.   So it was very exciting to buy from a small local producer, Upper Canada Heritage Meats, raising a heritage breed on pasture, by organic principals.  I’m going to cook the spareribs on Friday in my new slow cooker, and will try out a new barbecue sauce recipe at the same time.  They also sell lard, for just $1 per pound, including “Leaf Lard” which I learned is amazing for pastry (and cheaper than Tenderflake!), and back fat, which I might just use to make some soap.  

The bison pepperoni was from Pykeview Meadows.  I’m planning to make pizza on Wednesday, and couldn’t find anything at Hartmann’s other than the pre-sliced Ziggy’s garbage.  I got to try a chunk and it was de-licious!  Can’t wait for Wednesday!

My only other purchase was a little head of lettuce from Waratah Downs.  It’s a beautiful curly head of red-tinged buttery lettuce, as lovely as it is delicious.  The season is off to a great start!

The most special part of going to the market is bringing my little girl.  We look for the bees, talk about what’s for sale, and she gets the idea that this kind of shopping can be a totally normal part of life.  Maybe when she’s older, it will be.