Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lots of Promises, Few Results

Starting a budget, like starting a diet, is something best done in any month other than December.

Translation, I'm not doing great on my promise from last post.  I'm going to call December a practice month, and start my food budgeting logs in January.  There are just too many parties, and food days, and St. Nick...  Oh, and St. Nick is totally local.  Regardless what he brings, it's local.  Because he's from everywhere!  Yay for citrus!

St. Nick brought a bit of an extra surprise this year - a box of organic lemons.  Watch for my future upcoming post: Put Up or Shut Up Episode 8: Limoncello.  I'm pretty excited.

One thing that I have started doing, as a part of increasing my local eating, cutting out Genetically Modified Foods, and saving money (it's the trifecta!), is making oatmeal.  I purchased a large bag of organic steel cut oats for not very much money (I think less than $6 for a five pound bag) and have been making oatmeal in the slow cooker on Sunday nights/Monday mornings.  For those of you who are not making slow cook oatmeal, I would recommend it.  I do not generally like oatmeal - but find it's much better out of a slow cooker.

I use Alton Brown's general recipe: 1 cup of steel cut oats, 4.5 cups of liquid (I use a combination of water and milk, depending on how creamy I want it to be), and whatever else I want to throw in.  Cook on low in a slow cooker for 8-9 hours.  This makes enough for about 10 normal sized bowls.  It lasts well in the fridge, and I've read online that you can freeze it too, although I have never given this a try.

Sadly, I have not taken any pictures, because I am eating it far too early in the morning to think about taking a picture, and Oatmeal is not especially pretty.  So far my "add-ins" have been:

1. Fresh cranberries and apples, and cinnamon.  I topped this one with a little bit of honey when I went to eat it.

2. Dried cherries, candied ginger (okay, not local), and molasses (also not local).  This was probably my favorite.  I also like that it got a really dark color.  Sometimes I think that the least appetizing thing about oatmeal is the weird, lumpy shade of light brown.

3. Maple syrup and bacon.  Hells yeah!  I cooked the bacon first and then toasted the oats in about a tablespoon of the bacon fat.  I did not add the bacon to the slow cooker overnight, but stirred it back in when I woke up.  It heated up well in the microwave.

The one thing I will say about the bacon oatmeal is that I talked myself into adding all water and no milk.  "Milk and Bacon" I thought to myself, "yuck!"  Also we didn't have any milk.  But I think I was wrong.  While it's good, the texture is just a little off and I think that might be a lack of creamy milk thing.  I tried pouring a little milk over when I heated some up later, and that seemed to help.

I am thinking banana next?  Or maybe taking a break from oatmeal and switching over to breakfast polenta for a while.  Any suggestions on flavors?  I will try to take pictures next time!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

December! And a Restaurant Review

And she's back!

Sorry if I scared you.  I'm still here, and I'm still eating locally.  I took November off to participate in National Novel Writing Month (if you're not familiar, check it out here and consider participating next year.  It's a pretty good time.)

I didn't finish my novel, and what I did write is pretty terrible, but that's okay.  The point of NaNoWriMo isn't to write the next best seller, it's just to encourage creativity.  And I feel like it's done it's job!  I've returned to you refreshed, reinvigorated, and with a new twist.

This year's harvest, and off of only two plants!
Imagine what I could do with a whole farm!!
I will admit that my new twist isn't totally coming from any new burst of creativity. In fact, it's a very practical, necessity driven twist.  You see, my car just kicked it something serious.  Which created the need for me to purchase a new car.  And I don't have money for a new car.  Also, I'm starting to think that it might be time to just give up and become an organic pumpkin farmer.  Which means buying a farm.  And if I don't have money for a new car, you'd better believe I don't have money to buy an organic pumpkin farm.

(Sidebar: should I do an organic pumpkin farm kickstarter?  Would anyone send me money?  I could have pumpkin dinners and pumpkins for life as the rewards!  No?  Okay...)

So it's time to start saving the money.  Looking at my budget, it's clear where I spend most of my money - Food.

I know I keep writing that you can do the locavore/organic thing on a budget if you're willing to put in the time.  Well I put in the time, but I've never really needed to force myself to stick to the budget.  But if I'm going to tell you that you can do it, I should probably prove it too.

So here we go.

Now this isn't really going to be a fair challenge.  By that I mean, you're not going to be able to play along at home.  I've got a lot of food squirreled away in my house from this past summer (and a little still from last summer!) along with a fair chunk of beef in my freezer.  So the goal is to eat as much of that as possible while also buying as little as possible and still being happy with my meal choices.  So unless you canned everything I did this year, you won't be able to follow the recipes and save money along with me.  But, maybe you'll get some inspiration for canning next year.

Guess what else I did in November.  (Warning: abrupt change in subject).  The list so far: bought a car, wrote 3/4ths of a crappy novel, and loosely decided on a future career change to pumpkin farmer).  I went to Nashville.  It was kind of cold, which was disappointing.  We saw lots of music, walked around the city, went to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and toured the Grand Ole Oppry.  And because I'm me, we went to two farm-to-table restaurants and a farmer's market.

The first restaurant, the Capitol Grill, was nice.  I mean really, really, really nice.  Fancy.  According to the menu, all of the vegetables were grown five miles away in the chef's garden.  Pretty cool.  But, while the food was good, it wasn't spectacular.  Frankly, the pumpkin that I had as the side to my pork loin wasn't better than the pumpkin I made for Thanksgiving, which is a little disappointing when you're paying so much for a meal.  I'm not saying it wasn't good.  I'm just saying it might not have been worth the price tag.

The second restaurant, Lockeland Table, was a new restaurant that had been recommended to me by a friend who used to live in Nashville but now lives in Madison.  She knows the owners, and therefore is a little biased, but now I'm biased too... because it was FANTASTIC!  My current top three restaurants are 1. Braise in Milwaukee, WI; 2. Graze in Madison, WI; and 3. Lockeland table in Nashville TN.

We started out with a cheese platter: Two cheeses from TN and one from WI (I know...).  The goat cheese (from TN) was quite possibly the best goat I've ever had.  And I enjoy a fine goat cheese!

Jeff had a pizza - the pig - loaded with all kinds of pork products, while I got two appetizers - the shrimp and pork dumplings and the bone marrow.  No complaints on all three.  The dumplings were a little spicy, which is perfect for me but if that's not your thing be warned.  The marrow was, as it should be, meat butter!  To appetizers was not quite enough for me for dinner, but the pizza was huge and I got a slice of that too.  Ending with a chocolate pot-de-creme, it was at least as good (probably a good deal better) than the Capital Grill, and half the price!  And that was including the fact that we got more drinks at Lockeland Table, and a dessert, both of which were passed up at the Capitol Grill due to the high price tag.

Mmmm... meat butter.  And a salad to make
you feel good about yoursel
The farmer's market, which is open 362 days of the year (a big deal to me here in WI), was pretty extensive.  If you are familiar with the Milwaukee area, I would say that it was about the size of three Public Markets: one totally devoted to a traditional farmer's market, one more Public Market like with prepared food vendors and an awe-inspiring and also slightly terrifying Indian grocery store, and a third building that held a flea market.

We went on a Sunday, and were later told that we should have gone on Saturday because it's a lot busier.  Still, the farmer's market area had only a few empty stalls.  Must be nice to have a year-long growing season!

While I easily could have loaded up the trunk of our car (it was cold enough!) I instead settled on two kinds of local honey, a TN pumpkin (I like pumpkins, and I'm interested in seeing the difference.  Plus it was pretty.), and a giant butternut squash.  Really.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this.

Buckets and buckets of butternut squash soup...
I did come home to one sad fact.  When I got home and checked on my stored squash, I found that one of my regular sized butternut squashes had a bad spot, had started to spoil, and had "infected" almost all of my buttercup squash.  I pulled all the bad ones out, chopped up the bad spots, and made myself 14 cups of squash puree.  So now that's on the menu!

I feel like this doesn't even require I recipe, but here goes:

Squash Puree
  • Squash.  Any type and quantity
 Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Using a sharp, sturdy knife, cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Peel the squash (using the knife, not a vegetable peeler!) and cut into 1 inch cubes.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the squash is soft.  (You could also just cut the squash in half and bake it like that, then scoop it out of the skin.  You'd have to bake it longer, but you wouldn't have to put in the work of peeling the darn thing).

Transfer to a food processor in batches and puree until smooth.

Transfer to freezer safe bags and freeze in 1 cup servings, or whatever you think you'll use.

I didn't add any flavorings (salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic, etc.) because I want to be able to control that based on the recipe.  But you certainly could add those things upfront if you wanted flavored squash.