Sunday, April 24, 2011

Week 5: Preserving your Food - 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic

Preserving your Food - Buy and Cook in Bulk

So, now that you've bought or cooked all that food in bulk how do you preserve it?  I’ve found that a few tools are essential to success when keeping goodies fresh for future use. Here’s a quick overview of what works for me:

Tools of the Bulk Trade

Vacuum seal – My FoodSaver is one of the most valuable tools in my preservation arsenal but I must come clean and tell you that I have a love/hate relationship with it.  I LOVE that it allows me to vacuum seal just about anything, enabling me to freeze foods for months and months at a time.  I vacuum seal meats, cheese and all our sauces (like tomato), spreads (like hummus and pesto), condiments (salsa) and broths. After sealing I lay flat and stack, like a bunch of books. However, the FoodSaver takes some practice and I’m the kind of gal that doesn’t have much patience for stuff that has to be aligned “just right” in order to work.   All in all, it's a great tool and Foodsaver seems to be improving it all the time.  (Please note that my Foodsaver is nearly 10 years old.  Also, I'm not necessarily endorsing the FoodSaver brand, I'm sure there are many other sealing systems available...)

Freeze – About 6 years ago (just about the time I found out I was pregnant with twins) we found an inexpensive freezer at a “scratch and dent” sale.  Since then it has saved us thousands of dollars because I can buy in bulk and freeze, freeze, freeze.  I freeze just about everything, especially stuff I find on sale like milk, cheese and butter.

Can – Canning is easy, fun and a very effective way of keeping your food preserved.  (Eating garden fresh tomatoes in the middle of December is such a treat.  Homemade jam rocks the house.) It seems a lot of folks think that they need to have all sorts of equipment to can properly but all you really need is with a large pot. (You can pick one up for cheap at your local thrift store.) There are many great canning resources on the web and a huge variety of classes available. Check your local community garden or recreation center for more details. 

Pickle – I am new to this and excited to pickle an enormous load of cucumbers this year.   Seriously.  I went a little nutso with the planting this year so I suspect will be SWIMMING in cucumbers around August... I’d better get this pickling stuff down right quick.

Ferment – I am inspired by my neighbor to ferment my veggies this year.   Preservation by fermentation has been going on for eons and is a nutritious way to preserve veggies and more. Some say that fermentation actually improves the nutrition of foods.  I can eager to try this soon. 

Next up:  Week 6 - Store-brand organics...  A good, inexpensive option to brand-name items.

Organically yours, 


Who has great resources on fermentation?  Would love to hear about it...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cook in Bulk - Week 5 of 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic

Cooking in bulk helps us save money AND is a tremendous time saver.  Most folks might assume the opposite but we’ve found that if we set aside a little time each week to cook in bulk (about 2-3 hours at the most) then we save a lot of time in the long run.  Plus, when I'm pressed for time (which is a standard mode of me) it’s a major de-stresser to simply pull a fave dish out of the freezer (thaw and heat!) or to have ready-to-go food to nosh on all week without "making to order."  Cooking in bulk also aids my meal planning.  Often I can determine my budget for the week based on what I may already have in the ready to go from the freezer. As you can imagine, I find myself cooking in bulk more often when I have a surplus of food (see my "buy in bulk" post) and and less in leaner times.  It all balances out.

Here's a shot of my freezer from last October:

PESTO!!  I typically make at least a quart at a time and freeze for future use...

Here’s how cooking in bulk works for us:

Designate a “bulk” cooking time
For us, this usually happens Sunday afternoon. The labor varies: One week my husband (affectionately called “Danger Dad”) might start prepping and chopping veggies and I’ll assemble the dish.  Or maybe I’ll start the process and he’ll be in charge of making sure it gets cooked, like pasta sauce.  We usually choose about 2 recipes; typically those include a side dish, a sauce and/or a main dish.

Create versatile dishes for the week
Our bulk cooking includes creating something that can be eaten all week long, in a wide variety of ways.  Good examples include:

-Beans – Excellent in scrambles, tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, with rice or as a side dish

-Quinoa – Make a “plain” batch and then reheat and toss with dried fruit or shredded parmesan or sun-dried tomatoes when a meal is needed.

-Macaroni and Cheese – A popular side or main dish at lunch or dinner. Seriously, mac and cheese rocks and my recipe won't make you feel guilty about eating it...

-Meatloaf – A hearty main dish, but also good sliced in sandwiches or crumbled into scrambled with eggs at breakfast.

-Roasted veggies  - We toss with a little olive oil and kosher salt then roast on the grill, using a grill pan…  Great for a side dish, wrapped in tortillas, tossed in pasta, layered in lasagna, scattered over rice and more…

-Chicken – Either baked, roasted or in a crockpot , a chicken is always a fave make-ahead meal since it can be used in about a thousand ways all during the week…  Shred over fresh, organic greens; create a spicy chicken salad with chipotle mayo; tuck into enchiladas and on and on.

Create freezer meals
We love keeping our freezer stocked with meals and side dishes.  Items that freeze beautifully are:

-beans (black, red, you name it...)
-tomato sauce
-pizza dough
-mac and cheese

We’ll make a big batch of any of the above, save some for eating that week, and freeze the rest. 

Next up: The tools of my "bulk" trade...  I'll share my fave products and methods for storing food.

Organically yours,


What are your fave dishes to COOK in bulk?  Share your recipes here...  :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bulk Up! Week 4 of the 10-week series 10 Easy Way to Living Affordably Organic

And we're baaaaack.... Week 5 of the 10-week series, 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic!

Sorry for the break in posts, folks. My family got laid out with a nasty bug and we're just now resurfacing.  Thanks for hanging in there.  Let's get on with the good stuff... :) 

One of the essential keys to living Affordably Organic is thinking BIG.  That means buying and cooking in large quantities. 

First, let’s talk BUYING big.  The three top places we buy in bulk are:

1) warehouse store

2) grocery

3) local farm or farmers market 

Warehouse Store

One of the easiest and most popular ways to buy in bulk is to shop a local warehouse store. Here's our fave:

We have an Executive membership at Costco that pays for itself. It may seem a little costly at $100./year but we get 1% back on all our purchases, which pay for the membership fee and then some. We make sure that we shop there as often as appropriate - we don’t shop there for the sake of racking up that 1%. Costco offers more than great deals on food and household goods. They also have lower than usual gasoline prices, which helps us get more cash back at the end of the year. I’ve found that Costco carries more organics than the other warehouse clubs in our area (Sam’s and BJ’s) and has a wider variety of things we like. Organics that we routinely buy at Costco are: brown rice, quinoa, tomato sauce and paste, peanut butter, low-sugar jam, chicken, beef, coffee, salad mix (when it’s out of season or I don’t have any growing in the garden), carrots (same), frozen broccoli (ditto), frozen veggie mixes and olive oil. They also offer a wide variety of nuts and dried fruit, although most of the latter have added sugar so you need to read the labels carefully.

Here’s some good examples of foods you should BUY in bulk at your local warehouse store:
Dried Fruit
Nut butters
Canned goods
Cereal (such as oats and granola)

Grocery Store
Another place we routinely buy in bulk is our local grocery store. I keep a keen look-out for rock-bottom deals (especially on items that I use regularly) and buy the place out when I find an especially good bargain. For example, last month my local grocery was phasing out nearly all it’s organic butter – about 14 lbs. worth at an average of $2./lb. (Regularly priced at $6./lb. Whoa!) I bought all of it and stuck it in the freezer. I saved over $56. on organic butter because I was willing to buy in bulk and freeze for future use.  

Here's my freezer door:
Not a very good picture but you get idea...  That's a lotta buttah!

Farmer Surplus
The 3rd “buy in bulk” option involves your local farmer. Consider buying end-of-season farmer surplus at GREAT prices and freeze, can or ferment for future use. 

Strawberry season has begun! And I'll be buying these babies in bulk at the end of the season...

Items include nearly all veggies and fruits especially tomatoes, peppers, peaches, cucumbers (make relish), apples, strawberries, citrus (freeze the juice!), basil (freeze after emulsifying in olive oil), root veggies and much more. Forge a relationship with a favorite seller at your local farmers market and offer to buy end-of-season surplus at super low prices. I scored bushels (and I mean BUSHELS) of peaches for pennies on the dollar at the end of last season. We cut into cubes and froze for future use in smoothies, pies, cobblers and jam. The farmer was thrilled that his surplus wouldn't end up as waste and I was thrilled to be eating peach cobbler at Christmas.  

Next up:  COOK in bulk.  I’ll include some easy recipes, plus storage methods that work for my family.

Organically yours,


Where's your fave spot to buy in bulk?  Where do you get the biggest bang for your bulk-buying buck?

Thanks to greenwenvy08 and ianmalcm for the awesome pics!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Find a Meal Plan that Works for YOU - Week 4 of 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic

Meal planning a go-go continues...  :)  Tonight my family's meal plan calls for Rice and Veggies. I'm serving organic basmati rice topped with organic corn, peas, green beans (a frozen mix from Costco) and organic broccoli (also from Costco) and a side of herbed Naan. (East Indian bread that we get from Trader Joe's.)  Easy, quick, inexpensive and healthy. 

I’m about to take a load off your mind:

There’s NO perfect meal planning system, program or schedule that works for ALL families.  Meal planning is different for everyone. You really need to try on a few for size and do what works best for your wallet, your busy schedule and the amount of cooking you can reasonably commit to without driving yourself batty.

Case in point:  Some folks create incredibly specific meal plans that they follow to the very letter.  No substitutions.  No veering off course.  No flexibility.

A specific plan might look like this:

-Breakfast - Rolled organic oats with cranberries and soy milk

-Lunch – Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat with carrot sticks

-Dinner - Chicken Broccoli Casserole with green salad

This would never work for us.  

We like to have the option of changing up the ingredients depending on our mood, busy schedule, what we might find on sale, etc.  

So, our Monday meal plan looks like this:

-Breakfast – soaked oats with barley and dried fruit OR waffles and eggs

-Lunch - Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat with carrot sticks OR grilled cheese

-Dinner – Pasta Night

Make sense?  It allows for more flexibility and, as the primary cook in the family, I don’t feel pigeonholed into making meals that we may not feel like eating.  Instead, it works for us to plan in terms of themes.

A typical weekly dinner meal plan for us looks like this:

Monday – Pasta Night
Examples:  Fusilli tossed with walnut basil pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, healthy mac 'n cheese or garden lasagna. 

Tuesday – Quesadilla Night
Stuff tortillas full of seasonal veggies and salsa for quick meal. Let the kids help!  (They love adding handfuls of cheese to the tortillas and playing chef...)  Make a huge batch of these yummy beans over the weekend and throw them into the mix.

Wednesday – Rice and Veggies
Experiment with different types of rice or quinoa and toss in seasonal veggies and/or grilled chicken. (Tip: Make the rice on a Sunday afternoon and reheat.)

Thursday – "Brinner"
(Breakfast + Dinner = Brinner!) 
Serve crustless quiche,  a seasonal scramble or strata.  Kids LOVE brinner.  It almost seems naughty to have breakfast at nighttime. 

Friday – Pizza Night
Pizza dough is easy, cheap, and fun to make. The possibilities are endless… (A great way to clean out the fridge.) Make it a family affair and put the kids in charge of putting on the toppings.

Saturday – Lovely Leftovers
Time to eat down that fridge!  Lay out a "Leftovers Buffet" (use fancy platters) and let family members compile their own meals.  Maybe make some garlic bread as a fun side that ties everything together...

Sunday – Wildcard!
This could mean something that’s in the freezer (a previously made casserole or a whole chicken) or repeating one of the other meals from the week.

Stay on top of what’s stocked in your pantry and create savvy shopping lists.  I make sure that most of the foods we purchase that can be used in many different ways. 

Next up this week:  Shopping list suggestions and recipes that will make meal planning a breeze.

Organically yours,


I want to hear your meal planning tips!  What works best for your family?  Why?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Be a Fan of the Meal Plan - Week 4 of 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic

Happy Monday, everyone!  This is the week when you learn about meal planning, which is integral to living Affordably Organic. I touched on this topic back in December but it merits a little revisit so we can drill a little deeper.

For some folks the words "meal plan" conjure up images of boring, predictable dishes that make the kids cringe and call for casserole after casserole, filled with cream of something soup and other cheap ingredients…  Isn’t that what popped into your head? 

How about this for a shopping list:
Um, this is not what I had in mind...

Nope, this ain’t your mama’s meal plan.  This is about sourcing out fresh, multi-use ingredients, some savvy shopping and creating tasty, healthy foods.

I’m a fan of the meal plan for a couple reasons (not necessarily in this order):

1 - It takes the guesswork and stress out of “what’s for dinner, mom??”

2- It enables me to shop wisely and avoid impulse buys.

Grocery store truths:

Grocery stores are designed for impulse shoppers.  They want you to be captivated by the pretty colors, SALE prices (which sometimes aren’t such a great deal, they only seem like it) and bank on the fact that you are unorganized and in a hurry.

Grocery stores strategically place certain (most) items in order to get you to spend money.  Those yummy-looking “natural” potato chips at the end of the aisle?  Yeah, those might be a good snack…PUT ‘EM DOWN.  You don’t need them.

Grocery stores are designed to get you to spend money, NOT save money.  Be a savvy shopper and turn the tables by saving instead of spending money.

This is more like it...

Meal planning truths:

Planning meals will help you save money. You plan in other areas of life so you can stay on target and achieve your goals.  (You make time for fitness so you can stay healthy.  You spend quality time with your kids to create loving relationships.  You get the idea...) Why treat saving money any differently?  

Sticking to your grocery list will help you stay on budget. If it's not on the list, it doesn't go in your cart.  Easy peasy. STICK TO THE LIST.

Create a plan BEFORE you step inside the store and you will be less likely to buy impulse items.  This doesn’t mean scribbling out your list in the parking lot. This means taking a good look at your pantry and your weekly meal plans and then creating a smart list of items you need. (Note I wrote NEED, not WANT.)

NEVER, ever, ever, ever, ever shop hungry. This is a universal truth.  Don’t. Do. It.  You will end up with items that you don’t want, don’t need and will most likely add to your waistline, not wallet.  (Side note: I broke this rule over the weekend.  I came home with ready-made Mandarin Orange Chicken. What??)

Next up:  HOW to meal plan.  What will work best for your family?  Where do you start?  Come on back...  We’ll cover all that stuff later this week. 

Organically yours,


photos courtesy of Jerry Kirkhard and Emily Carlin - thank you!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Banana Bread - Make Your Own! 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic

We're nearing the end of Week 3 ("Grow and Make Your Own!") of a 10-Week series of 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic and I just couldn't resist ending with a recipe.  

I love quick breads.  Pumpkin bread, banana bread, zucchini bread, cranberry bread – you name it.   The ready-made versions can get expensive in your local store ($5./loaf or more!) and are often chock full of sugar and preservatives.  The in-the-box varieties are worse.  I can’t even pronounce half of the listed ingredients.

Luckily, quick breads are easy and inexpensive to make and (big bonus) universally loved by all family members.  It’s a versatile food too, good for snacks, brunch or even for dessert.  The challenge is finding a recipe that isn’t loaded with sugar.  Most quick breads are just too sweet for my taste plus the added sweeteners don’t do any favors for my waistline.  

I found the perfect recipe for banana bread and only had a make a few tweaks to make it work for our taste and lifestyle. (It's adapted from a Mark Bittman favorite.) This bread is low in sugar, incredibly flavorful, very light in texture and taste, and isn’t set-your-jaw-on-edge sweet. It keeps well in the fridge (about one week) and can be frozen up to 3 months.   You can find oat flour in the health food section of your local market.

Thanks to theDelicious for the image!
Banana Bread

1 ½ cup organic all-purpose flour
½ cup organic oat flour (you can also use whole wheat but you will get a slightly denser bread)
½ cup organic unsalted butter (1 stick) – melted
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder (aluminum free)
½ cup organic honey
2 organic eggs
3-4 very ripe organic bananas

Preheat oven to 350.  
Add melted butter, bananas, honey to blender and blend until smooth.  
Add eggs and blend again. (Set aside.)  
In large bowl combine all dry ingredients – flours, salt, baking powder - and stir well.  
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir gently, just until all ingredients are combined.  
Bake in a lightly greased loaf pan for one hour or until tester toothpick comes out clean.

(For a lower fat version instead of using ½ cup of butter use 4 TBSP. butter and ¼ cup of applesauce.  The loaf will be moister and more compact but still very tasty.)

See you next week for Week 4 - Be a Fan of the Meal Plan!

Organically yours,


Do you have a favorite go-to recipe for quick bread?  Share here!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Do the Math - GROW (and make) YOUR OWN - 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic

Happy Monday!

What did you start growing this weekend?

I popped some basil seedlings into transplant pots so they could start getting hardened off on my front porch this week:


I was thrilled to see lots of little lettuce seedlings pop up in my salad pot on the back porch! I hope to have lots of baby lettuce salads before the weather gets too warm...

My strawberries bloomed!

One of the most powerful tools in my saving money arsenal?  My calculator. When considering whether you should grow or make your own food, do the math.  The cost comparison between making and growing your own food vs. buying it at a mega mart is astonishing.  

Check it out:

Amazing, right?

A homemade energy bar will run you about .25; a store-bought bar is nearly $1.50, if bought individually.  

Same with breads, such as those lovely, sweet loaves of banana or pumpkin breads at your local market. They cost as much as $5./loaf and can be FULL of sugar.  Make your own, healthy versions for much less than half that price.  (And probably less if you buy your ingredients in bulk, like I do.)  

That 32 oz. box of organic broth or stock?  It will cost about $3-4.00... Make your own for less than a $1.00! (Yup, that's a savings of about 75%!)

Quick tips that that were learned from Week 3 of 10 Easy Ways to Living Affordably Organic:

Many vegetables and fruits are easy to grow in containers and small spaces such as...
  Basil (and most herbs)

Make your own, healthier versions of store-bought food and save $$! Great substitutes include...
  Energy bars
  Quick breads
  Sauces (tomato, etc.)
  Stocks and Broths

Next up: WEEK 4!  BE A FAN OF THE MEAL PLAN! (Stick to your list!)

Organically yours,