We moved to Port Townsend (our current woodsy heaven/hell) so my boyfriend could attend the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building (which has an amazing set of programs with great teachers, supportive staff, and wonderful facilities). It has been an amazing experience for him so far. He beams daily as he tells me of the struggles and successes with wood, chainsaws, and planes. A few days ago he sent to sea the first boat he worked on from start to finish (like he and his group had a blueprint and some wood – then they drafted it and put it together into a fully-functioning, totally floatable boat). Here are pictures of the boat, finally finished, being placed in water for the first time.
In my new life, the one where I live in the woods and my better half is in school (ie we are broke) I find myself cooking more at home than ever before in my life. I cook as much as possible to avoid buying things, as in I make granola so we don’t have to buy cereal. Not only is this cheaper, and usually tastier, but it also lets me control what is going into our food. My granola has organic oats, dried cranberries, nuts, organic flax seeds, honey, and coconut oil – that’s it, no weird preservative or packing gas or additives.
I have taken to this lifestyle quite quickly, probably on account of my cheffing background – the idea of making something from scratch that will last for a while (in quantity and quality) is not foreign to me. I want to share with you the tricks I have picked up over the last several months of my domestication.
I buy lots of milk on sale (which is usually close to it’s expiration date) then I turn it into kefir or yogurt after a few days of using it. Doing this extends the life of the milk and you can still use it for pretty much everything you can use milk for (the yogurt you make will undoubtably be the thin “drinkable” kind). I use it in place of any milk product for baking (great in scones, biscuits, cornbread), eat it on my morning granola (sometimes with a slash of milk to lighten the tartness of it), or add it to smoothies. The great news is, these homemade delights have the same nutritional value as milk, with the addition of probiotics (great for immune health and easier digestion), B vitamins, and phosphorus.
I buy all our beans dried. Canned beans are not only packed with salt and weird preservatives and other CRAP, but they usually have such a miserable texture, too. You don’t have to soak your beans if you don’t want to, just set them to boil and cook them until done – better yet, get acquainted with a pressure cooker. I like to cook lots of beans at one time and then freeze what I don’t use in small ziplock bags, that way I can just pull out a bag of chickpeas whenever I want to make hummus or a bag of kidney beans when I want to make red beans and rice.
Making granola instead of buying cereal. Holy smokes cereal is SO expensive. Granola is easy and relatively cheap to make – and much better for you than most of the cereals out there. (I am working on a granola/granola bar blog post.)
Don’t buy things in boxes: make your own crackers (they last for a really long time!), make your own cookies (it literally take 15 minutes to put the dough together), make your own granola bars!, make your own mac’n’cheese, make your own stock, and definitely don’t say to yourself “It’s too expensive/time-consuming/hard” because if it is nominally more expensive, it is MUCH better for you and your family – if it takes a little longer, then think about how this can become family bonding time (you can even still watch your favorite shows while you do it) – and everything is hard the first time, the more you do it the easier it becomes and the faster you get at it.
Think before you shop and cook. Plan at least some (if not all) of your meals ahead, to stop yourself from buying frivolous or unnecessary foods. I usually plan my meals for the week around the protein or a theme, like : Thursday we have that pork roast, so I’ll need sides for that & Friday I want to make Mexican, how about cheese enchiladas & etc. Think of how your ingredients can work from one meal to another – you have a lot of rice leftover from Mexican night, then make chicken and rice soup with that chicken stock you have in the freezer. Planning is really the key to saving money and your mind! Get everyone involved, have fun with it. (Check out my meal planning post!)
Make food you can enjoy all week long. On sundays I like to make one soup and one salad (like potato salad, quinoa salad, pasta salad), this way when someone gets peckish there is always something to grab in the fridge. And it’s even hearty enough to serve as the “I don’t feel like cooking tonight” dinner.
Freeze. Freeze. FREEZE! The freezer is your best friend when it comes to saving time and money. Making soup, stock, bread, beans, pastries (like empanadas or samosas), and sauces in bulk and freezing them gives you something made and ready to heat up for a quick and cheap dinner – or – buy big pieces of meat or meat/fish/chicken on sale and freezing it can save you lots of money.
You don’t need years of culinary training or tons of money to make great meals for you and your family – just a sense of planing and a few great recipes under your belt. Let me know if you want any simple recipes to get your foundation started – I suggest a soup or two, a great pasta dish, a great bean dish, a braised meat dish, and (of course) granola!
“Meal Planning” – I know, the phrase makes you a little sick to your stomach either with anxiety or with the sheer lameness of it all. “Meal planning is for boring suburban housewives” is swarming around your head. Well party people, I am here to tell you that this is just not simply true. Meal Planning is For YOU!!! Even if you are an awesome rock star, a revered DJ, or an edgy artist – you still need to eat. And if you have these aforementioned careers, than you are most likely pretty damn broke . So instead of subsisting off of PBR, frozen pizza, and bumming food off of your friends that cook – it’s time to do the cool thing: plan your meals and then cook them. There is no better way to stick it to the man than to cook your own damn food! I really feel passionate about meal planning for a dual reason: I am an industry trained chef (i.e. planning is super super important to a financially viable and lower stress kitchen) and my better half is currently a student (i.e. we are broke as a joke). Life is better when I can plan what we eat because this means:
- I can budget our tiny income.
- I can control what goes into our food, instead of opening a box of CRAP made in a factory and hope that the owner of said corporation has my best health interests in mind.
- Making food from scratch doesn’t become a burden when I plan it.
- I can reuse ingredients over and over, i.e. the I bought a lot of butternut squash on sale and roasted it all, we ate some for dinner with salt and pepper and then I used the rest to make a big batch of soup which we ate all week long. I got strawberries on sale which I used in morning granola, made strawberry cookies, and then turned the rest into jam – and did this all in under an hour.
Just because you meal plan, doesn’t mean you can’t go out to eat or have an impromptu meal – it just means you help yourself by having a few meals a week planned out. There are a few steps before you can even really start:
- Be honest with yourself. This isn’t the time to be all like “I’m going to make every single thing I eat from scratch!!” and burn yourself out in a week. Start slow, be honest, do you really want to make mac’n’cheese from scratch? or does that blue box beckon.
- How much time do you actually have to commit to this? It will take a while at first, but once you get the hang of your favorite recipes (and maybe bribe your friends to help) the whole process will go by so much faster.
- How much money do you really have for food? This is tricky, but this is supposed to save you money – not force you to buy the most expensive organic ingredients. Go to the store with a calculator and a budget in mind. Don’t buy crap you don’t need.
Now that you have an idea of how much time, money, and energy you have for this – then you can start deciding what you will make for the weekly meals. First let’s trim what you don’t need and see how we can make it at home. These are the places that I always spent too much money as a hip young person:
- Breakfast. Oh god, so many breakfasts at the neighborhood coffee shop or diner – that’s at least $10-$15 that would have cost me like $4 if I had eaten at home. Make yourself some oatmeal with fancy toppings, cook an egg and pull some sausage from the freezer and I’m sure you know how to toast bread.
- Lunch. So so so many lunches out before my night shift, or the famous “there-is-nothing-in-the-refrigerator-so-I-have-to-go-out.” Make yourself some damn soup on Monday and eat it all week long. Have a quinoa salad made with nuts and dried fruit and ready to eat. Add a hunk of delicious bread that you keep in your freezer (frozen bread is a miracle) and you have a full meal.
- And coffee, it really can be good at home – I’m pretty sure you won’t die without your $5 double cappuccino, save that for when you really need it.
If you can make most of your breakfasts, lunches, and at least two dinners a week – you’ll be making so much happy progress! Now for meal planning! This part is the easy part:
- Decide what you want/need to make.
- Decide when you can make it.
- Make a shopping trip.
My week is a little like this: shop Wednesday and Sunday – Do bulk cooking on Sunday and Monday, and cook dinners as many nights as I can. Here are some links to some actual menus that might be helpful: The Nest Modern Meal Planning Cheap Healthy Good The Kitchn There are even websites that will do it for you: Food on the Table & The Fresh 20
I love scones, because they are basically a biscuit that you can fill with any amount of fun things – sweet or savory!
The last few times I made scones I tried all different kinds of combinations:
Cheddar and Cashew
Sunflower Seed, Dried Cherry, Mexican Chocolate
Flax Seed, Pecan, Dried Cranberry
This is my simple scones recipe:
I often write recipes to myself as just a list of ingredients (ask any one of my former employees and they will surely roll their eyes about it), so it’s not surprising that there are no directions. In baking, I like to make sure I have measurements for the ingredients, as I am not a good enough baker (yet) to guess on the amounts of leaveners, etc. The technique on scones is a basic biscuit technique – simply: mix dry ingredients, cut in butter, add liquid and other flavorings/additions (like nuts, berries, or cheese).
A few words of wisdom from my years of baking at work and at home:
*Make sure your baking powder and baking soda are no more than one year old. Everything in your kitchen runs out of life eventually (even dried beans can become inedibly dry after a few years) and these items are not an exception. If you are in doubt, just get new ones – it’s not that much of an investment to ensure successful baking.
*Use unsalted butter. Always. Salt is a preservative, meaning salted butter is more likely to be a lot older. Plus you want to be able to control the salt content in your cooking.
*Don’t get overwrought about “room temperature butter,” just let it sit out for like 10 minutes – that’s it. It just has to be slightly pliable.
*Don’t overwork your dough – unless you are making bread or pasta, you don’t need to knead a dough. Stir it until it is wet and everything seems evenly distributed.
*Last, but certainly not least, don’t get stressed out. Food is like a reflection of your mood, if you are stressed about making something it will most likely turn out tough/undercooked/wrong because you nervously stir it/open the oven too much/skip a step. Relax, enjoy the feel/smell/taste of it all.
makes 12 small scones
3 c flour
1/3 c sugar
2.5 tsp baking powder
.5 tsp baking soda
3/4 c butter, room temp
1 c buttermilk, milk, cream, or yogurt
1. Preheat oven to 400degrees.
2. Mix dry ingredients in bowl, add butter pieces. Cut butter with a pastry cutter or using hands until you get a gravely texture.
3. Add liquid and any other flavorings (nuts, dried fruit, cheese, etc) and stir until combined.
4. Separate dough into thirds, and turn each third on a floured surface until a cohesive ball – form into a 4″ puck and chill for about 30 minutes.
5. Remove from refrigerator and cut into fourths. Bake on a baking sheet for 15-25 minutes, until slightly browned.
note: You can keep the puck in the freezer for up to three months. Just pull it out and let it thaw on the counter for an hour or two, cut into fourths and bake as usual.