Wednesday 21 September 2011

Budget Permitting

I feel very strongly that, whenever possible, we should buy locally grown produce, meat, and eggs.  It’s good for the earth, good for local farmers, good for our community, and good for us too.  Sadly my budget is now preventing me from putting my money where my mouth is.  Health problems have kept me from working for several months now.  Because I’m self-employed I don’t qualify for unemployment benefits, and I don’t have private disability insurance.  Our spending has been drastically curtailed but, even so, rapidly rising food prices are making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. 

Some time ago, we made a decision that in order to buy locally raised, better quality meats, we would eat meat less often.  Now, if we limit ourselves to locally raised meats, our budget will not allow us to eat meat at all.  I’ll admit to a certain selfishness here:  I could forgo meat altogether—it would be the planet-friendly choice and probably better for my health—but I like meat and I’m unwilling to give it up entirely.  The few meat meals we eat (three or less each week) must now be made using meat purchased on sale at our regular grocery store.

Even purchasing meat on sale at the grocery store and limiting our consumption of it will require that we cut back on other things.  Dairy goods are becoming increasingly expensive so cheese is now a treat for us, limited to one or at most two meals a week. 

We have to carefully consider how much nutrition our dollar gives us, so processed breakfast cereals are no longer an option, and when we eat oatmeal or Red River cereal we eat it plain or with yogurt.  We often have to choose between buying yogurt and buying milk so we’ve opted for the yogurt because the beneficial bacteria in yogurt cultures make it the healthier choice.  We limit our consumption to a single serving each day so choosing yogurt for breakfast means we don't have it as an option for dessert.

Our choice of vegetables and fruits is becoming increasingly limited too. While we would love to continue buying local organic produce, it is often too expensive for us to do so.  We buy only what’s seasonal and on special these days, and we use every single bit of what we buy.  There’s not a lot of stuff making the trip from our apartment to the dumpster!

I know this sounds like I’m complaining but I’m actually quite proud of how well we eat on the money we have.  I’m writing this because I know that an awful lot of people are facing the same, or greater, challenges to achieving good nutrition at a price they can afford.  That being the case, you’ll likely see the focus of my blog changing to reflect these challenges. 

Tonight, though, we feasted.  I cooked a pork shoulder roast in the slow cooker today and served it with smashed potatoes, steamed cabbage, and carrots that were cooked along with the roast. We had a baked apple topped with an oatmeal crumble for dessert.  

Here’s a rundown on how I prepared our pork roast feast:

I started by placing a quartered apple, a quartered onion, several cloves of garlic, and some carrots in the bottom of my slow cooker container.  I seasoned the outside of the roast generously with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and poultry seasoning.  I put the roast on top of the fruit and vegetable layer in the slow cooker at about 8:00 this morning, set the temperature on low, and let it do its magic.  Shortly before dinner I took the roast out of the slow cooker, set it on a metal rack in a rimmed cookie sheet and tented it with foil.  I let it rest for 20 minutes before trimming the fat from the outside of the roast and then slicing enough meat for supper.

To make my smashed potatoes I boiled some unpeeled red skinned potatoes until they were fork tender.  I drained the potatoes and then mashed them with the garlic cloves from the slow cooker, a little butter, and some low fat evaporated milk.  (We keep this on hand because we don’t buy a lot of milk but I do sometimes need it for recipes.  Mixed with an equal amount of water evaporated milk can be used in any recipe that calls for milk.  It can also be used undiluted as a lower fat, less expensive alternative to cream.)

My steamer takes a while to get going so I started steaming the cabbage right after I took the pork out of the slow cooker.  The carrots I scooped from the liquid in the bottom of the slow cooker and directly onto our plates just before serving.

I prepared our baked apple just before I took the pork out of the slow cooker.  I preheated the oven to 350 degrees.  While it was heating, I cut a golden delicious apple in half and scooped the seeds out of the middle using a melon baller.  I cut a small slice off the peel side of each apple half so that they would sit in the pan without rocking and then placed them in a buttered pie plate put them in the oven. 
While the apple halves started baking, I assembled a crumble topping from 1/4 c. each of oatmeal, flour and brown sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and 2 Tbsp. melted butter.  I stirred the dry ingredients together with a fork then mixed the melted butter in.  When the apple halves had cooked for about 20 minutes (right before we sat down to dinner), I took them out of the oven and pressed the crumble topping onto the top of each apple half.   

The apples went back into the oven for about 20 minutes longer.  I served them straight from the oven, piping hot.

It was a simple, inexpensive, very flavourful meal; comforting on a grey day like today and tasting of the season.  We both felt fortunate indeed to have such a feast in front of us.

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