Friday, February 19, 2010

The Trouble With Transition

As this post is my entry in Fight Back Friday (generously hosted by Food Renegade), I feel I should warn you that it is written from the position of one who is shaken. If you conjure in your mind the image of a scrawny kid being suspended in the air by a hulking bully, the scrawny kid swinging like mad even though he knows he's about to be pummeled- that scrawny kid is at the point where I feel like I am today.

I shouldn't complain. Because relatively speaking, my family is doing pretty well shifting to a real foods diet. My problem is three-fold: I'm simultaneously shifting to eating real food and learning how to prepare real food, the local foods available to me right now are limited in scope and prohibitively expensive, and I can't afford screw-ups.

Because I never learned how to cook with real foods (with a few exceptions), I don't have a bank of tried-and-true recipes to substitute real foods into. So, every night's dinner is a game of chance. Last night I lost. Again. On the upside, I learned that nobody in my family likes scallops- except the dogs, who like them lots thankyouverymuch. On the downside, dinner's failure left us hungry and unsettled since nobody wanted any more fruit and there aren't any prepared snacks in the house. I need fallback possibilities! It probably sounds dumb to those who've been at this a while. But in my household, every ounce of my time is fought over by the myriad things to be done. I need to learn things that can be done cheap and fast that will be healthy and filling. And don't involve eggs or bacon, since I'm the only one who will eat them. *sigh* How do other single parents make this transition?

I'd really like to buy more local foods. But doing so presents a real dilemma for me. For example, I have in my freezer one .70lb local, grass-fed bison steak. It was $13.99/lb, so my steak cost me $9.79. I am terrified to cook this thing. If I screw it up I will have to beat myself. Twelve ounces of local-ish bacon...$6.79. Local-ish grass-fed but non-raw milk is about $6/gallon. The butter is roughly $5 for half a pound. (And who the heck is buying the $22 pastured chickens?!) If the rest of my bills didn't add up to so much, I would happily pay these prices. But I can't very well stop heating the house, or paying my friggin' property taxes (for which, apparently, I get my driveway packed solid with plowed snow).

Perhaps the most discouraging thing to me right now is the screw-ups. I know this is part of the learning curve. But I so can't afford it. I took a chance on the scallops. They were on sale. I love it when I can buy shrimp on sale. They keep well in the freezer, everybody likes them, and I know what to do with them. Seafood is so good for you, I was hoping to expand the offerings a little. But no. Even at the sale price, that loss stings. Recently, I even screwed up one of my old stand-bys- beef stew! How I managed I do not know. But I do know that $10 of local beef were in that pot and it was absolutely inedible. Surely this is one of the reasons the family cook fell for standardized industrial foods! I don't want to go back to that life, but ooh, the pain of transition.

You're probably wondering, by this point, what's up with the picture at the top of this post. That's what I miss. I miss my garden being open for business. I miss knowing that if I screw-up dinner, I can run out back and come back with a full meal in no time. I miss my garden being full of things I know how to cook (admittedly, because I don't actually have to cook most of what comes out of my garden).

My plan is to keep swinging and hoping not to get pummeled. I would welcome advice from those who have gone before me on this journey. What recipes do you fall back on? What real food snacks are popular at your house? How do you stretch the expensive ingredients? Enlighten me. Please!


  1. I'm sorry you are having a tough time! I think grass fed beef is a challenge because it's so lean. The cooking is different and the taste is different too. We've definitely had some hits and misses with this challenge. Our fall back snack around here is popcorn. Easy to keep around and quick to make with a little butter and salt on top.

  2. what happened w/ the scallops? scallops are usually delicious, unless youover cook them, then they taste rubbery.

  3. I once wrote a post on eating Real Food on a budget. I'd link to it here, but I think my comment would be caught in a spam filter. So, you can find it at my site for my personal pointers.

    I also wrote a post on cooking grass-fed beef called 5 Steps to Grass-Fed Beef Nirvana. Look it up before you make that steak!

    For snacks we eat: hard-boiled eggs (cheap & easy to have on hand), cheese, yogurt, nuts, fruit, homemade snack bars or muffins (using nuts ground into flour in a food processor), mini liverwurst sandwiches, etc.

    Thanks for joining in Fight Back Friday! I hope to see you around more.

    All the best,
    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  4. Marcella, Oddly (and really, its a miracle) I've done okay with lean beef. I don't think the beef stew failed due to the beef. The only thing out of the ordinary was I started with a beef broth I'd made from local bones for the first time ( so, naturally, now I'm nervous about using the rest of it). Popcorn is a good idea. We have some in a cabinet. I'd stopped using it after my mom convinced me it was deadly.

    Emily, Since I hadn't prepared scallops before, I can't say for sure. I followed (compulsively) the directions for cooking them (pan seared) and they were not rubbery. I had read they should be a little bit sweet, but ours were a little bit sour. It was pretty gross. Usually I can finish foods the kids give up on, but the scallops were just gross. The dogs loved 'em, but they're nuts.

    KristenM, Thanks for stopping by, and for pointing me toward your articles. I've actually read the one on preparing grass-fed beef. And actually, I'm doing okay with beef, but for some reason can't make the leap to bison, which my kids love when properly prepared. I'm starting to wonder if I have some genetic mutation anti-cooking disorder. I'll definitely look up your real food on a budget pointers. Do you have anything on your homemade snack bars posted? Well, I'll just go look. :)

    Thanks so much for the suggestions!

  5. I feel so bad that you are having such a difficult time! Fact is, most of us can't afford to make all the changes we'd like to make. So...we make the changes that will make the most difference. I'll use whatever unsalted butter is on sale, but won't ever buy bologna again! I'll spend the extra on organic, grass fed beef, but will use it in a stir fry where it will go further, rather than grill it and eat it as a steak.
    Some quick and/or easy meals here might be chicken or beef tacos, a pot of vegetable/bean soup with some crusty bread or biscuits, a pot of chicken chili with tortilla chips...
    I would wonder if the scallops were fresh, as they should never be sour. Keep your receipts next time and perhaps bring them back? (That goes for anything that tastes a bit "off")
    And remember, take baby steps! You can't change your whole way of eating in one fell swoop! It's taken most of us years to make significant changes, and we are still not there!


  6. Cindy, You are always good for a dose of common sense, aren't you? That's good, because sometimes my common sense goes on hiatus (like when I'm stressed, and boy am I stressed!). One good thing that has come out of my frustration, though, is the resolve to make sure my kids learn to cook real food before they go off to college. Naturally, they have opted to start by learning to make dessert.

    Thank you for the reminder to just do what I can. And thank you for the food ideas. Do you make taco seasoning from scratch? I made tacos a couple nights ago but used a prepackaged seasoning on the beef- that I'd used a million times before- and had a bad reaction to it. I guess that's also part of my frustration- the more real food we eat, the more reactions I'm having to industrial foods when we don't eat real.

  7. I know exactly how you're feeling! It can be so overwhelming to try and implement all these new changes, especially with kids. We've been traveling down the traditional foods path for over a year now and I still feel like a beginner. Let me share with you somethings that helped us:

    When you're making something you know everyone likes, make a double batch and put it in the freezer.

    Convert your most cherished recipes.

    Make dishes that stretch your meat, like chili, stir fry, casseroles, soups, and salads.

    Buy in bulk where you can, and make sure it all gets used! That means spices, too! Here at my home, we take an inventory of the food before I make the weekly food plan.

    Eat more beans! They are so nutritious when properly prepaired, and very cheap when purchased dry. I mix lentils in with my taco meat to make it last longer.

    We eat a cup of soup and a side of salad with every meal. That nourishing broth and enzyme rich dressing will aid in digestion, and help you to feel more satisfied with your meal. And if dinner didn't turn out, then oh well, have more soup and salad ;)

    We'd all love to eat seasonal-local-organic produce, and make our own sourdough, sprouted grains and fermented veggies, and have the best seafood and local pastured meat, but not all of us can afford it (user of food stamps talking here!). The thing I had to remember when having trouble with this was the fact that any change in the right direction is good. Buy the things that pack the most nutritional punch for your money, use them strategically, and don't feel guilty.

    Big hugs to you, momma.


  8. Shawnee, Girl, where to begin? You are a tired momma's dream come true. So many helpful hints, wrapped up in a healthy dose of perspective. Such generosity! Thanks so much- I'll be in touch soon.

  9. I feel your pain, even though I only cook for myself; money is super tight and I have to stretch things. I don't know if my little tricks will help you, since you've got to cook for more people than yourself, but I figured I'd mention them anyway. :) What I do is buy what I can afford and then make them into whatever sounds good (in other words, no meal planning). I do a weekly food budget, figure out how many servings of each item I need for a week, and buy that much. I keep things as simple as possible regarding ingredients. As in, meat-wise I only buy ground beef, nitrate-free bacon, and boneless chicken breasts...none of it fully grass-fed, but it is the non-antibiotic kind; I haven't yet found grass-fed locally, and probably could not afford it yet anyway. So this is my compromise. I have recently added whole chickens to that list, since I have learned to make bone broths, but I only buy one about once a month. What I do is cook (bake) an entire package of meat at a time, eat one serving when it's done, and refrigerate the rest so I have cooked meat for the next day or so. THEN I figure out what to do with the cooked meat. I experiment or just reheat & serve with veggie & salad.

    Making bone broths is my new favorite thing to do; I even came up with a yummy way to use stock: I bake a potato (organic, so I can't buy a lot of them due to price--cannot WAIT to grow my own), then when it's done, I split it open and top it with butter, cut up chicken or beef (whatever is precooked in the fridge; I also like to reheat cooked chicken by frying in bacon grease), maybe some cheese & herbs, maybe beans if they are cooked...and then I warm some stock and pour it over the whole thing like gravy! Oh my, yum yum yum! Super simple, but it's now one of my favorite dinners, lol!

    Right now I only make chicken, bacon, and ground beef-based concoctions, with organic potatoes, yams, bulk dry beans, tomato sauce, and frozen veggies. I spend the most money on butter, eggs, raw milk cheese, and raw milk when it's available. But it's amazing how good "plain" foods are when you've got lots of butter and cheese and stock to add! :)

    Hang in others have said, even the small changes mean so much. I think upping our intake of fat-soluable vitamins via good quality butter, cheese, eggs, and good old bacon grease will help as much if not more than grass-fed meat. :)

  10. Sara, Thanks so much for taking the time to share all this with me. Every comment that comes in brings with it another "ah-ha!" moment for me. And I think you have a really good point about fat-soluble vitamins/real dairy. And broth. I think broth may be my new best friend in the kitchen. You are right- you are all right- its important to keep the changes I can make in perspective. Meat has been hanging me up though. For a long time, I kinda sorta knew something was wrong with how meat is produced in the US. But not knowing the specifics let me go on with life without meat-guilt. But, now that I know more about it, I find myself at an ethical full stop when it comes to CAFO meat. I just can't go there anymore. We've been eating a lot less meat. More "less" than I'd like. And chicken used to be our main meat, but I've had a really hard time wrapping my head around the idea of paying $20 for a 4 pound bird, knowing that eventually I'll toss maybe a pound of bones, post broth. I guess I just need to bite the bullet and see how far I can stretch it. I just feel like beef is easier to stretch. I'm not sure why. Maybe because those 4lb. birds looks sooo small. I'm still working on this. :)

  11. bison needs to be prepared correctly and that means no more than medium. If you cook it more than that it'll be tough and flavorless. Even bison burgers need to be no more than medium.

  12. Homemade taco seasoning is a cinch, if you are still interested. Just use equal parts of cumin and chili powder and add as much salt and pepper as you want. For one pound of beef I usually start with a tablespoon of cumin and a tablespoon of chili powder. We've discovered that we like even more than that, to give the meat a powerful flavor, but if you are trying to conserve, one tablespoon of each will get the job done. I'm sure you can add all sorts of other spices to it, but with those four ingredients, it is totally recognizable as taco seasoning. Good luck!

  13. Heather, thanks so much for this! I will give this combination a try.