Tuesday, June 29, 2010

eating healthy on less than $1 a day, or epic coupon gaming

Elusive Quaker Tearpad Coupon for $3.00 off when you buy any 5 Quaker products, cc by-sa image by Hotcouponworld.com on Flickr

This fellow was able to eat healthily for 30 days on nothing more than $27.08 and an incredible amount of coupon jockeying. Jeffery's "Eat Well on $1 a Day" challenge turns out to be less about finding coupons for healthy food, and more about gaming the bizarre world that is the grocery coupon industry. Noting that "getting good deals while grocery shopping is a game," he set forth the rules of his month as such:

1. I will begin on May 1 and will have no accumulated food of any kind. I have $31 to spend ($1 for each day of the month). I can start buying food on May 1 and can not exceed the $31. I must document the cost of the food with receipts.

2. I can only use 2 computers to print coupons. Although I have access to more which would make this challenge much easier, we agreed that not everyone will have access to a lot of computers. However, we also agreed that anyone reading this has access to at least one computer and should be able get access to another one using a bit of creativity.

3. I can only use 2 inserts from the Sunday paper each week. Although I have access to many more than this (I usually pick up anywhere from 3 to 5 copies for free from the local coffee shop alone each week), we decided that not everyone would have access to dozens of inserts. We agreed that anyone could get the coupon inserts from at least 2 Sunday papers with a bit of creativity. I am allowed to use up to 2 of previous week’s coupon inserts that I already happen to have.

4. I can use as many coupons as I want that I can get in the grocery store where they are available to everyone.

5. I can only buy food from retail outlets (grocery stores, drug stores, food markets, etc). I can’t supplement what I buy at the store with free food from trees, dumpster diving, friends, food banks, donations, growing my own, etc.

6. I can only use deals that anyone else would have access to getting.

What follows is his fascinating day-by-day account of how the challenge played out. To set the theme for his process, it's worth noting that his first purchase was for cleaning solution, just to get the coupons at check-out who's net worth in food was more than he paid for the cleaner. (As with the rest of the excess product he acquired over this month - a surprising amount - he donated it to a local food bank.) While most people won't have the time or patience to equal this feat, it does show that with some ingenuity and research, frugal shopping for healthy food is possible by gaming the system. Go here to read his account, as well as his follow-up experiments in the weeks after.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June 10 CSA share

And so it came to pass that real life did throw a flaming, tar-coated curveball my way, and I was forced to take the time to catch it with appropriate fire precautions. As such, while we got our second CSA share on time, we were forced to be out of town on family business for the third. All that noted, it is time for life, and food, to get back on track. Our second share:

The roll call: radishes, strawberries, spring onions, eggs, bread, white potatoes, peas, zucchini, and swiss chard.

The June 17 share, which a friend of ours picked up on our behalf, consisted of: cherries, lettuce, spring onions, white potatoes, squash, cucumbers, peas, bread, and eggs. We ended up with the lettuce, onions, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, and peas on our return from travel.

Given family issues, time was more limited than usual, resulting in us using the above in very basic ways. We didn't get a chance to try the week two or week three recipe suggestions, although there are some excellent ideas therein. Also appreciated were their produce storage suggestions. A few experiments:

  • baked beets - based on the week one recipe, I used beets, squash, onion and garlic. I haved the onions and cut the squash into rounds, which worked well for both. The beets I left whole, which was an issue - although they turned out acceptably well, they were large enough that halving them would have improved their "doneness" significantly. Although a time investment, this is an incredibly easy veggie dish, and I look forward to revisiting it in the future.
  • chard and onion mix - sauteing chopped chard with diced onions and butter over several minutes of medium heat was a quick and extremely flavorful vegetable option.
  • squash zucchini soup - I adapted Paul's recipe, opting not to skin the veggies first, adding a copious amount of parsley and cilantro for the herbs, and flavoring with sea salt. The result was refreshingly different and damn good. Just... don't start prep at 8:30pm if you want any sort of "reasonable" dinnertime.

Tomorrow comes share four, and we will be ready. Oh, yes.

Monday, June 7, 2010

June 3 CSA share

Inspired by the experiences of friends I trust in the culinary arts, and the fact that Breezy Willow Farm came recruiting at Sinai, we have joined a community supported agriculture program. Behold, our first share:

The roll call: beets, radishes, strawberries, eggs, bread, squash, spinach, and two kinds of lettuce.

The grander experiment here is in the forced cooking that will result from the influx of fresh foodstuffs each week. While I enjoy cooking, busy schedules and low energy levels lead to me normally relying on quick meal plans that involve, as Thom likes to point out, more "heating" than actually "cooking." One of my intentions behind posting my CSA experiences here will be to see exactly how I end up using the produce we get. It may not be amazing or epic in terms of dishes and recipes, but it will be interesting to see play out. Breezy Willow is being extraordinarily helpful in this regard, as they are posting recipes each week that match up with the contents of that week's share.

Which is good, because beets and I have had a Mutual Avoidance Agreement for some time... and now, I have a bunch.

Since getting the above share on Thursday, the following experiments have occurred:

  • strawberry radish salad - chopped strawberries, radishes, and lettuce tossed with a lime juice/olive oil emulsion. Basic, easy, and damn good. The addition of nuts and a crumbled cheese, such as blue or feta, would make this better.
  • radish green pasta - sauteed radish greens in a dash of olive oil and butter, mixed with cooked fusilli pasta, dried garlic powder, chunks of breaded chicken, and shredded mozzarella cheese. The flavor profile was fair, but this ended up being far too dry, namely due to lack of having any mayo or adequate dressing on-hand to use as a base.
  • Irish cheese, apple, and lettuce sandwiches - also basic, easy, and damn good.
  • scrambled eggs with sauteed spinach, onions, bacon, and shredded cheddar cheese - continuing the basic, easy, and damn good trend.
  • grated beets with onion - I used Madhur Jaffrey's Grated Beets with Shallots recipe as a base, substituting a medium yellow onion for the shallots (being shallot-less), a 4 ounce can of minced green chilis for the hot chili pepper, and sea salt instead of table salt. The result was surprisingly subtle and flavorful, and I expect to return to this again if beets continue to show up in future shares.

Looking ahead, I seeing squash soup and baked beets attempts in my near future. And then, the next share will be upon us... Until then, I'll point out that not only is Ryn discussing her CSA shares and freezer cooking plans, but Dree is also documenting her own foray into a CSA program, currently in her third week.