Tuesday, June 4, 2013

May Results And The Beauty Of One Ingredient

Green Onion   Green Onion
(Photo Credits Here & Here)  

May was a tricky month for finances, at least towards the end. The alignment of payment dates for several substantial bills (mortgage, credit card, home insurance, etc.) did not coincide with the arrival of my paycheck. I ended up having to dig into my savings to pay these off, and will replenish is once I receive my bi-weekly salary check. For the record, I keep very little in my checking account because my savings boasts a much higher interest rate. Sometimes I have to pull money out if the bills and the checks don't line up, but I always put it back as soon as I can. So, officially "on paper," May ended in a tough spot. But after tomorrow, everything will be back on track again.

I basically broke even last month. I didn't have any extra to set aside for savings, and I really hate that feeling. I went over on my flex spending but came in well under my grocery and car fuel budgets. Gas prices have spiked again (Yesterday it was $3.79 per gallon; today it's $3.99 per gallon), so the math nerd in me calculated how many fewer miles I need to drive per month in order to keep my gas budget the same. It's not much; I strive to use at least 2 fewer gallons, which equates to about 45 miles based on my vehicle's fuel economy.

This means I'm going to be freshening up the old bicycle for my work commute! I only live about one mile from the office, but during the school year I often have to lug equipment to various locations for video shoots. Now that summer's here and school will be out, I'll only have office work to do... which means less stuff to transport. One mile is nothing on a bike, and if I ride home for lunch in between, I'd compensate for gas price hikes in just ten workdays. I told you I can be a math nerd!

I'm making additional cuts in the food department as well. My grocery bills are easily the highest bill I pay outside of my mortgage. My food waste has diminished, but I still spend way too much. I end up impulsively buying ingredients for a recipe I want to make without bothering to see if the ingredients are seasonal or if I can use the remaining product in another way. I've had a small bag of hazelnut flour for ages because of this very reason! I can't even see the back of my spice cupboard, and I shudder to think how old some of them are

I'm challenging myself to "eat my pantry" this month for as long as possible. This means I'm going to make meals based on what I already have in my pantry, freezer, and fridge for as long as it takes to empty them out. Completely. Honestly, I've never had an empty pantry or freezer. That makes me very fortunate. But it also means there is potential for more waste (in product and in spending) because I forget what I have and then it spoils. I'll still have to buy perishables like butter and eggs and fresh produce, but I hope to drastically reduce grocery by spending in this way. It will also make me more mindful when I do replenish my pantry: What items will I choose to buy and store? How many do I really need?

I also plan to use this transition as a way to fill my kitchen with seasonal foods. Summer means a wealth of fresh produce and the occasional farm-raised animal products, so the need to go to a supermarket should be virtually nil. I signed up for my CSA through High Cross Farm again this year, and deliveries will begin in mid-June. By then, I hope to have my kitchen heavily cleared out of residual "winter food." I have the opportunity to eat locally thanks to my CSA, co-ops, and farmers' markets... Why shouldn't I strive to eat that way? It's healthier, cheaper, better for the environment, better for local business... and each food item consists of only one beautiful ingredient.

I've tried a lot of challenges over the past couple of years (Whole30, juicing, no spending, Beachbody Insanity workouts, etc.) but I'm most excited about this one. This is a process that will become a lifestyle change. Eating (and cooking with) one-ingredient foods is a tremendous accomplishment in an age of convenience foods and overwhelming variety. Most of human history has required people to eat seasonally and locally, and now people are so used to being able to visit the produce section of any generic supermarket and buy berries in the winter!

I went to the farmers' market for the first time this season last weekend. The beau and I shared a fresh baked apple cider doughnut and authentic lemonade as we meandered through the rows of vendors. He bought a grass-fed ribeye steak and some asparagus. I picked up some garlic scapes (their season is so short!) to use in a pasta recipe. Then we picked up some frozen local soup to take back and reheat for lunch. I left the market feeling like I'd had a wonderful day, instead of the droll of shoving my cart up and down aisles of items that may have been on the shelves for weeks.

It's such a lovely thing to explore the booths at farmers' markets: seeing just-picked produce with the dirt still on it, sampling foods, meeting and speaking to the people who grew the food, learning about the cows and pigs and chickens and bees that the farmers raise, getting recipe ideas for wacky vegetables, wandering down the paths in the sunshine, inhaling the fresh smells of flowers and veggies and breads and soaps. That, to me, is more enjoyable (and natural) than plodding through a crowded space with inferior produce illuminated by fluorescent lights. It becomes an experience, not just an errand. It's also full of surprises because you never know what will be available or what new food discoveries you may encounter. It sparks creativity in meal-planning.

I know eating these one-ingredient foods is a healthier option for my body, but it also feels healthier for my mind to select and purchase my food this way. I'm establishing relationships with other people in my community. I'm seeing where my food comes from, and I can ask questions about how it is grown or raised (something I can't do regarding the beef at the grocery store). Food should be a pleasurable process, rather than a chore or a source of stress. And it's most pleasurable when you feel good about eating it.