Well, I haven't posted in over a month. There really hasn't been anything to write about. Nothing new in the garden or yard, the weather has been decent and non-dumping of snow, no new seeds.. Not much going on in the solarium. Even Christmas prep has been really low key.
But I wanted to write up a rant about something I've seen commented on by people lately, especially with the holiday season coming up. The notion that gourmet food means expensive, that healthy food has to be more expensive than junky pre-packaged food.
I try to make the argument that neither of these things need to be true- but to no avail. But anyone that lives in a place that can have a few pots on the porch, or a bit a land can have a garden- and there is a great start to gourmet and healthy eating. Back in our grandparents age of WW2, there were victory gardens for a reason- because it was too expensive and resource consuming to go out and buy produce. Meat was in short supply, yet cooks managed to get protein needs met for their families. Sweets were expensive, but still existed by means of making every ounce of sugar count.
Now, we aren't in the middle of a world war... but we do seem to be in the middle of a food war. Battle lines of what diet to be on, what product to buy or avoid, a thousand bombardments launched at you by commercials, a massive propaganda campaign by every food manufacturer.
I'm here to say you can fight this war- and win. Resistance is not futile. But it does take time and effort.
Let's start with gardening. Even if all you have is a windowsill, you can grow your own herbs. Herbs are tasty additions that can "gourmet up" pre-packaged food. For example, grow basil and parsley, and instead of paying for spaghetti sauce in the jar, pay half the price for canned tomato product and add your own homegrown parsley and basil to make your own spaghetti sauce. There are also veggies you can grow on the windowsill, like mini tomato plants that stay tiny or can be planted in hanging baskets, pepper plants both hot and sweet that just naturally stay very small and can be grown in a pot. Lettuce and spinach can be grown on the windowsill as well.
If you have a porch or patio, you can grow almost anything. Because most veggies have dwarf or bush varieties, or can be long vined and trained up poles and trellises.
If you have a yard, you can grow even more. There are some places that have a say in what you can grow in your yard, but there are many ornamental varieties of edibles- in fact there is a whole culture of edible gardening, which combines beauty, healthy, and quite often gourmet quality.
Shopping- man, I look in peoples carts at the store, and sometimes I'm shocked by what I see- or don't see. Soda by the case is the biggest wow- for that 20 bucks you just spent on soda, you could have bought healthy food, or drink mixes that are far better for you than fizzy sugar water. Boxes of sugary cereal- get oatmeal, it's healthier, more filling, and costs about the same. People pay a couple bucks for a half pound of frozen veggies that are already prepped up and just toss the bag into the nuker- get yourself over to the produce department and get the same thing fresh, and learn how to cook it. Get bone in meats, and eat well- first off the meat, then from what you can make with the leftovers, then what you can make with the stock you can make with the bones. For example, get that bone in ham, eat a good dinner, have enough leftover meat for a couple more dinners, then make stock with the bones for a couple more dinners. Or buy whole chickens instead of boneless breasts, and again, good dinner, good leftovers, use the carcass to make stock for yet more dinners. Turkey is incredible at the right time of year and can feed a family of four half a dozen times between meat and stock for soups, stews, and flavoring grain dishes. Stock in the store is too expensive and too much sodium? Get those bone in meats and make your own, and you will never go back. Bake your own bread- the initial expense seems like a lot, but it bakes up into more loaves that what you pay for commercial. And you can control factors you can't with commercial bread, you can add things to make it even more nutritious, and it smells great while baking and you feel good about it. Buy stuff when it's on sale and stock up. Don't be afraid to use "cheap stores" like Aldi and Big Lots.
Which leads us to cooking. Learn how to cook. Yes, cooking can take time you don't think you have. But yes, you have that time. Get a crockpot and a wall timer, and you can set up a ton of different dinners to be done at any time you want. You can take a boxed something and add in other stuff to make a bla junky box into something tasty and healthy. You can preserve food!! All that produce that you grow or can get cheap while in season you can learn how to freeze it, can it, ferment it, dry it.
For example, jelly and jams. A good gourmet 8 oz jar can be several dollars. But grow yourself some strawberries, and for the price of that one jar, you can make several jars of your own gourmet strawberry jam. And you just extended sugar cost. And heh, anyone who has followed my blog at all knows how much I dehydrate food and use dehydrated food, and how much I can food.
Don't be afraid of seasonings- there's more to life than salt, pepper, and perhaps parsley. Don't be afraid to use a lot of herbs! Dill can brighten herb tones the same way adding acid like lemon or vinegar can brighten dishes. Savory can be added to many dishes to add depth. Bay leaves should go into most soups, stews and stocks because it imparts a flavor like nothing else does. Oregano is excellent for Mexican food- it's not just for Italian. Nor is basil for Italian only either. Ginger and nutmeg are for more than just dessert, and cumin is your warm friend.
If you like to bake, it's worth the expense to buy yourself a few vanilla beans and a big bottle of Everclear, and make your own vanilla extract. Ends up being cheaper than regularly buying little bottles of the stuff.
Poor food can be gourmet too. Humble rice and beans are super healthy, and can be seasoned however you like... and is super cheap. Greens are good for you and can be prepared in dozens of ways according to taste- and there's more than just lettuce and spinach to choose from! Canned tuna can be cheap, provide a ton of protein, and be made into a multitude of dishes- Yes, there is something other than tuna salad and tuna noodle casserole. Heck, I have a tuna hater in the house and she loves my mini tuna loaves. Especially with my homemade tartar sauce.
And hey, if your house uses tartar sauce, make your own. The stuff in the jars is pretty much just mayo and pickle relish. If you normally keep mayo and pickles in the house, you can make your own. I tend to use pickles, capers, lemon juice, and mayo- sometimes I use pickled nasturtium seeds or add in some dill. If you use cocktail sauce, that's just ketchup and horseradish.
Learn how to make your own boxed food kits. Yes, I'm serious. There's a bunch of cookbooks out there, especially this time of year, on gifts in jars. A lot of them are more sweets based, but there are a lot that have savory goods too. Like I make up my own jambalaya kits by the half dozen, and keep them stored in a big jar on the shelf. I also have jarred up Italian bean soup kits, and instant potato corn chowder kits.
On to another subject- learn how to forage food. Those dandelions you hate in your yard are actually good salad greens. Plantains are great stewing greens. Those pretty blue flowers in ditches are chicory that's used roasted in gourmet coffee. I have a lot of wild chives growing in my lawn, and have saved myself hundreds of dollars in chives by picking them and making chive butter, chive oil, and drying chives as well as using them fresh in dishes. Ditch lilies are edible- the fleshy tubers, young stalks and the blooms.
I've probably ranted enough, lol. But if you take some time and effort, food does not have to be expensive to be gourmet or healthy. We humans figured out how to feed ourselves well for way longer than the commercial industry has existed. Next time you sigh over a cooking show- don't. Take it as an example, and make something of your own. Next time you reach for that box of riceoroni- don't. Take your butt over to the dry goods aisle and get a bag of rice and season it up how you like instead. Next time you are thinking about taking the couple hours to go out and eat- don't. Make something at home, and save yourself some money and sodium intake.