Savor The Earth

eat tastier, eat greener, eat cheaper

Cheap Tricks—Maximizing Micronutrients on a Budget April 27, 2010

Filed under: capital area food bank,hunger awareness project,thrift,vegetables,vegetarian — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 6:03 pm

For folks in direst need, the main food goal is obtaining sufficient calories.

We Texans face another frustrating dichotomy in that our citizenry ranks 14th nationally in obesity rates for adults despite our next-to-the-bottom food security standing.  Again, problems with resource distribution and food quality (to oversimplify the situation, mind you) pave the path to an underfed/undernourished population.  Coupled with a pandemic lack of knowledge of nutrition and health, often compounded by inexperience in good food preparation and lack of time to cook, these features of the modern Western world lead to both an unhealthy, overfed burden on our health care system as well as the unacceptable hunger accompanying poverty.  Regardless of circumstances, education or income, an empty belly begs for fullness, without any bargaining power to negotiate macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), let alone micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and phytochemicicals.  The USDA’s MyPyramid Food Guidance System may as well be in Egypt, as far as the hungriest Texans are concerned.

spaghetti special supper

Fortunately for the hungry in central Texas, a respectable 80% of the Capital Area Food Bank’s provisions place in the top 1 or 2 nutritional scoring categories (out of 5).  But for fresh produce, the sample food pantry distribution for our Hunger Awareness Project offered only a five-pound bag of potatoes.  Fairly full of nutrients, and certainly belly-filling and high in energy value, spuds have nearly single-handedly sustained entire populations.  We humans derive maximum health benefits, however, from a polychromatic plate—taste the rainbow.  (Skittles® was right!)  A typical food bank allotment provides deep red in the spaghetti sauce, the sunny yellow of canned corn, and even a bit of green from canned green beans (and jalapeño slices for those who can take the heat).  The canned fruit, with its diluted pastels, certainly seems to promise less nutrition than peak of season local glories such as strawberries, peaches, melons, apples and citrus, but current theory (and the gastric growlings of empty bellies) behooves us to accept its comparability to fresh.

But what’s for dinner?

Spaghetti and “spaghetti sauce” of course.  There’s our scarlet, loaded with lycopene, actually rendered more bioavailable by the cooking and canning process.  Tonight there’s no meat on the table (remember the food pantry allowance must be stretched for an entire month), but we’ve got our brown in the form of meaty Texas-grown portobello mushrooms, purchased on sale (today’s the last day!) at Central Market for $3.99 a pound.  That comes out to about a dollar per large ‘shroom, each one sufficient for an adult.  Quickly sauteed with a spot of olive oil plus a pinch of thyme and antioxidant champ oregano (bought dried in bulk for just pennies), the seared chunks lend textural and nutritional heft to our simple pasta meal at minimal cost.

these roots were made for plantin'

We’re fresh out of canned green beans around here, and in the spirit of the challenge I’m shopping minimally.  So broccoli stems it is!  Hastily trimmed and coarsely shredded from a $2 locally grown (and chemical-free) head, this throwaway vegetable contributes good green while bulking up our sauce.  Brown it a bit in a hot pan, the same one you just used to cook your mushrooms, with a restrained drizzle of olive oil.  Add a little more verdigris to the mix by topping each portion with fresh basil chiffonade.  Basil grows easily in our long season here, even in a pot.  For our garden we never purchase a plant or even seeds.  We buy fresh local basil from the produce department (located with the other herbs) for a dollar or so and root the fecund fronds in a glass of water at home.  Pluck leaves as you need them, and the readily rooting cuttings will be primed for transplanting in three weeks or so.  Fancy and nearly free!

Buon appetito!

 

Food Pantry Manifest—Provisions To Live By April 24, 2010

Here’s the list of groceries participating bloggers received of items typifying a share of food provided recently by a local food pantry.  This allotment represents a family’s one month allowance:

2 cans spaghetti sauce
4 cans veggies (choice of green beans and/or corn)
4 fruit cans (choice of sliced pears and/or mixed fruit)
1 meat selection: Anything and everything HEB has. Most of what was available was whole chickens, fryers and pork chops. But we really get everything from pig trotters to ham.
3 drink items: choice of large bottle of cranberry apple juice and/or powdered milk (shelf stable milk) boxes and/or apple juice boxes
1 bag spaghetti or bag of egg noodles
1 bag of pinto beans or white navy beans
1 bag of white rice
1 package of jalapeno slices
1 ready-made dinner (hamburger helper)
1 bag/container of rolled oats
1 bag of cheerios
5 lb bag of potatoes

I see potential here!

spoonful o' oats

We already eat oatmeal almost every morning.  I’ve come up with a method for cooking rolled oats that conveniently yields a less-sticky texture, with the individual oat groats nearly separate.  For my two children and myself (my husband’s not on board for this breakfast), I measure a rounded cupful of oatmeal into my pan and turn the burner on to HIGH.  I swirl in ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon and let the oats toast a bit.  Then I pour in just over ¾ cup water and swirl the pan to distribute the liquid (do NOT stir to achieve this texture).  As soon as I can hear the water steaming, I turn the heat off and let the pan sit there for a couple minutes (my stove is electric).  For the fluffiest texture, you can soak and steam the oats over boiling water, but I find my method a texturally-satisfactory compromise.

Lactating moms appreciate medium-chain fatty acids so in my normal life of luxury I dollop some coconut oil on top.  The kindergartner enjoys honey on his share.  A qualifying food pantry recipient’s food stamp benefits, which max out at $50 per week for one adult, may not leave room in the budget for such gilt, but the canned fruit off the list would complement the morning’s porridge.

I had stocked up on organic bulk rolled oats, quick oats and steel-cut oats when Newflower Market last had a great sale on those items.  We had already eaten our way through the rolled and quick oats (the quick oats I buy for baking but I’ll cook them for breakfast when necessary), and now are working on the steel-cut.  In the spirit of the challenge, and frankly, keeping within my  own budget, I am trying to hold out on purchasing more oatmeal until another sale comes along.  So, steel-cut it is!


 

Beans and Rice, Always Nice April 23, 2010

Filed under: beans,capital area food bank,easy,hunger awareness project,rice,thrift — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 4:45 pm

beans and rice, dependable staples at our house

We’ve been eating our pinto beans and rice for a few days now.  Actually, we eat some kind of beans and rice almost every day.  Click “beans” on my categories for more posts on leguminous variations.  This current batch of beans, very basic, contains a couple of chopped onions (nutritious and generally inexpensive), some garlic, a homegrown bay leaf, toasted backyard Mexican oregano and a bit of paprika.  I used the slow cooker and added a dab of bacon grease to the pot—never throw away tasty fat!

For the kindergartner’s lunch I make quick tacos:  I heat up a flour tortilla in the toaster oven with a little cheese (the glue!) and fill it with the beans and rice.  It’s portable and requires no utensils, perfect for a young bean lover.

Beans—good and good for you!

 

Hunger Story

Filed under: capital area food bank,hunger awareness project — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 2:36 pm

beans & rice, included in a typical food pantry allowance

Austin area food bloggers have embarked on a cooking & blogging project to promote hunger awareness in Central Texas.  Given a list of contents from a current local food bank allotment, we are challenged to cook from the box and recount our experience.

Fortunate kitchens we food bloggers inhabit, our participation in this adventure constrained by such happy conditions as our children’s snack day at school or soccer, a weekend festival, groaning larders that must be purged promptly, lunch dates, dessert addictions and other hallmarks of a comfortable life.  Plus our gardens groweth over:  local asparagus season is short, sweet Texas strawberries beckon, and few foodies can resist the prickly charm of spring artichokes.  Happy circumstances allows us to pick and choose, experiencing food insecurity by proxy, on our own terms, not having to decide between food and rent, food and utilities, or food and medicine.

When I read Addie Broyles’ post on the project, I was disturbed (although I can’t say surprised) to learn that Texas nearly tops the list of states in percentage of hungry residents.  Mighty Texas—whose nearly teflon economy dipped much later than the rest of the nation’s, never sank to the widespread miserable depths, and began its recovery ahead of the other states—ranks second from the top in state GDP yet second from the bottom in food security.  The economic mechanisms, politics and cultural schisms underlying the gross inequalities in distribution of wealth, power and access to resources are worldwide topics for (mostly) another blogger, however.

Lisa Goddard, Online Marketing Director of the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, gave the Austin Food Bloggers a tour of the 60,000 square foot CAFB warehouse, located in south Austin.  Working with 350 partner agencies in 21 surrounding area counties, the warehouse distributes 1.2 million pounds of food per month to local food pantries, feeding 48,000 people each week.  A key asset in supporting the food bank’s goal to reduce area hunger 25% by 2014, volunteers give some 6,000 hours of help every month to the CAFB.

Austin Farm to Table‘s Kristi Willis, a longtime volunteer with the food bank, revealed that many people in need of food delay seeking assistance as long as they can, ashamed to ask for help.  I’m reminded of a story told by my musician friend, Amanda Hickey, whose 5+ siblings never realized as children that the wolf was at the door.  Her mother didn’t let on about the hardship and uncertainty of feeding the brood.  The occasional visits from the grandparents, bearing sopa, fresh garden produce and homemade tortillas, seemed a celebration to the kids, not a graciously answered—reluctantly voiced—call for help.

The partnering of local food bloggers with the CAFB supports the mission of the food bank “to nourish hungry people and lead the community in ending hunger” and reinforces the ideal of fellowship in our society.  The CAFB’s “Hunger is UNacceptable” campaign encourages all of us to take steps towards ensuring that no one, in this world of more than plenty, goes without food.  My own beat, on this blog, springs from an eco-friendly angle, so I recall my current favorite quote, from environmentally outspoken chef Dan Barber, who asks, “How can we create conditions to allow every community to feed itself?”

The myriad answers to that question are varied and complex.  As always, we begin with awareness.  We brainstorm and plan.  We come together as a community and we take action.

We hope to help.  Check out Goddard’s bloggings for updates on the project.