Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sustainability on a Budget

One of the most common misconceptions about sustainable living is that it has to cost a fortune. In reality, every individual and family can live an eco-friendly, healthy life. I should know, I'm a college student on a pretty tight budget, but I still eat really well - and feel good about all of the food I buy. Here are some tips I scrounged up to help you bring SOLE (Seasonal, organic, local, and ethical) food to your family without breaking the bank:

1. Limit processed foods – when you buy processed foods, you are paying for packaging, preservatives, and transportation. When you eat fresh, whole foods, you get more for your dollar, and you're eating what nature intended. This doesn't have to mean cutting out convenience. Fruits, veggies, and nuts are just as portable as a granola bar, but they'll cost a lot less and fill you up more.
2. Eat with the Seasons – eating seasonally means buying healthy, delicious foods when they are at their peak, which saves money and connects you to your local environment. There are loads of resources out there to help you pick foods that are in season in your area, but nothing is simpler than heading out and seeing for yourself. Check out your local farmers market and see what the local farms are offering right now. Better yet, find out what they're drowning in - the most plentiful crops will often be the least expensive. Talk to you farmers - they want to help!
3. Eat Locally – By supporting local farmers and producers, you cut out the middleman and gain access to the freshest, most nutritious foods. The longer food takes to get from the farm to your plate, the less nutrients and vitamins are in that food. I'm totally a cheater on this one, because I often buy foods that are a bit past their prime (hooray for dollar bags and market mark-downs!), but a good amount of my food budget goes towards the freshest food possible.
4. Make your own - Starting with one food at a time, find replacements for packaged goods you’d normally buy at the supermarket, including bread, cereals, crackers, and canned beans. I'm planning on making my own crackers soon, and I don't think anyone can argue that homemade baked goods are so much better than the ones in packages. Eating SOLE food doesn't mean giving up taste or eating like a rabbit - it means eating great food that you can be proud of (this totally includes cookies.)
5. Buy in bulk – most stores have bulk aisles where you can save on packaging and processing. Find nuts, beans, rice, grains, and granola without the waste, and save money. This morning I threw a pot of Oregon wild rice on the stove, and it will last me through the week. If that's not convenience and taste on a budget, I don't know what is.
6. Grow your own – Growing your own fresh foods can be so rewarding, and everyone can do it! From a few containers of herbs on your patio or kitchen counter to a full garden in your backyard, growing your own edibles is a creative way to save money. Kids love helping out, and it teaches everyone what's in season - plus it's a great way to prove that local just plain tastes better. Tomatoes from your garden? No contest. Best tomatoes on earth.
8. Eat out less - I eat at restaurants maybe once a month (MAYBE) but I still have amazing dinners and breakfasts with my closest friends all the time, and I can tell you I don't miss the prices. Nothing beats the feeling of cooking up a great dinner with people you love. I know I'm kind of a rare breed, that spending hours in the kitchen is my idea of a day off, but it doesn't take much. If you think of yourself as a good cook, try this fun experiment - think of your favorite restaurant meal, and try to duplicate it at home with local, organic ingredients. You get to control everything about the meal, and feel good knowing that you've saved money and supported local farms.
9. Eat less meat - This one is a bit touchy for some people I know, but I can tell you, it really saves tons of money to eat animal products only a few times a week. Most of my meals are vegetarian, but when I buy meat, I try to make it the freshest, closest-to-home as possible. It's wonderful to say I know the people who buy the meat I eat, because they can tell me about their farms, their animals, and I know I'm not going to get sick from any mass-market meat scare. If you can't buy meat (or chicken, or fish, or eggs) from someone you can meet, buy organic as much as possible. Yes, it costs more. But really, if you cut back a little and find creative ways to make really filling meals without the meat, it's so worth the extra dollar to have faith in the food you feed yourself and your family.
10. Eat ugly fruit (and veggies) - This is my favorite tip. If you're a reader of my blog, you know I love to scrounge for mark-offs, dollar bags, and free tables of less than perfect fruits and veggies. Ask around at your local stores and supermarkets - they probably have an area of discounted produce. I'd tell you where I get a lot of my fruits and veggies for free, but then everyone in Portland would be competing for my bounty. That's my secret, but hey, I trust you'll find your own. It's all about being creative - a tart made with slightly ugly apples or a soup made with the farmer's less than champion squash taste just as fantastic!

Cut out the middleman! You can find affordable, delicious, and healthy foods:
- At your local farms – go to or to find local sources of everything from fruits and vegetables, to meat and dairy products. Your entire dollar goes to the farmer, and your get more value for your dollar.
- At your local Farmers’ Market – get to know your local producers, and find out about the best deals every week from the people who know the best!
- Buy a Share in a local CSA – get local produce delivered to you every week, for less than you’d pay at the store! Go to for more info.

We vote with every dollar we spend on food. When we support sustainable agriculture and organic, locally produced goods, restaurants, supermarkets, and producers respond by making more sustainable food accessible at prices that are fair to everyone. Have more tips for an eco-friendly diet on a budget? Let me know! I love to hear what other people are doing to eat in a way that makes them feel great, in their hearts, their minds, their stomachs, and their wallets!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Welcoming Fall With a Hodgepodge Dip

Since my last post, Portland decided that she wanted to pull out her sweaters, scarves, and fuzzy hats - It's fall! Who knows, another dry spell might be waiting around the corner, but in my house and on the streets, it seems everyone is thinking one thing: Brrrrr. It may be chilly, and the rain might be here to stay (oy), but I'm happy as can be. I've got visions of hot apple cider, kids coming 'round on Halloween, and warm root vegetables and squash. Summer was amazing, and, let's be honest, it's still only September - my tomatoes, peppers, and yellow squash are finally making a good show in the garden - but I'm ready to embrace the colder months, buy some long nubby knit socks, and fill up on heartier fare.

But before I can do that, I need to finish up the bits and pieces in the freezer, fridge, and cupboards. Such a familiar refrain, huh? When I lived alone last year, I'd always find myself throwing out things that had gone bad - especially true of fruits and veggies. I've found that the best way to avoid this is to do a round-up every few weeks of the odds and ends in the kitchen. It may not be the prettiest, tastiest dish (though sometimes it is!) it feels good to know that everything is being put to use. 

As I searched through the various shelves, I found a can of white beans, and was inspired. I had on hand a good amount of garlic, some basil from the garden, and some roasty vegetables from a Limbo dollar bag, so why not blend it all up into a dip/spread/delicious-mush-to-eat-straight-out-of-the-bowl?

I pureed a whole can of drain white kidney beans, threw in some water and red wine vinegar to get the mix going, and added some whole basil leaves and some of the roasted vegetables - eggplant, acorn squash, and roasted garlic (I had baked them for a little less than an hour in a 375 degree oven - I didn't have a timer, I just let my nose be my guide).

Oh, my. This was so good! I served it with an adorable purple bell pepper from my garden. The only problem I had was that my food processor, while being a great Cuisinart, is realllly tiny. Hey, mom? Dad? Want to help me out there? 

So here it is, the clean-sweep dish of the week, Hodgepodge White Bean, Basil, and Roasted Fall Vegetable Dip. Feel free to use whatever you've got lying around - this isn't a recipe, it's a method!

Welcome to fall! Eat well, and come back soon.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What do you call an upside-down upside-down cake?

Oh man, I should be working! I've been sitting in the library for a few hours, reading about Smallpox and Santa Fe, composing questions for conference tomorrow, but I'm so antsy tonight! I keep getting distracted by thoughts of - you guessed it - food. I figured I might as well do something productive with my distractability and write a blog (wow, is that twisted or what? Someday I'll learn how to REALLY procrastinate).

I love late summer. I think I prefer this time of year to the first blush of summer - the harvest is coming out in earnest, the sun sets just a little earlier and giving off that gold light at dusk, and the smells on the breeze hint of fall, but I can still wear tank tops and sandals to class. Yep, the best of all worlds - soon it will be time for acorn squash and butternuts, but my tomatoes are finally making a real show and the fruit keeps rolling in.

A bit too much fruit, if I'm allowed to say so.

I've been attacked by pears. People have been bringing them in to work, they are selling for pennies at the farmers market, and street trees are heavy with ripe fruit. They just kept piling up, begging to be made into something delicious for my friends.

One of the best ways to use fruit that's been around for a bit too long (what I like to call "ugly fruit") is to make an upside-down cake. The process is so simple, it hardly needs a recipe. Layer your fruit (slice big fruits and keep berries whole) on the bottom of a cake pan (you could toss the fruit with a half cup of sugar, but I usually don't) and pour your favorite cake batter over it. My favorite cake recipes use salted butter or salted nuts, I just adore that sweet/salty combo that seems to go really well with really ripe fruit.

I've found a new go-to vanilla cake recipe to go with any local fruit - and it couldn't be simpler. The recipe is based on Chocolate & Zucchini's Gateau de Mamy a la Poire, but I used a bunch of nuts, salted butter, a bit less sugar, and duck eggs (I got a dozen duck eggs from the farmers market and have been experimenting with them - they worked really well in my baked goods but were a bit much eaten alone - the yolks are huge and really oily - delicious, but heavy). The result is a really rich, moist cake with a crust that's to die for (almost tastes like salted caramel - yum!)

I used pears, because, well, they weren't going to last another day, but this would be so good with sliced apples, peaches, plums, or any berry you've got. This cake ended up being a right-side up cake, because the top layer of cake got so deliciously crispy that I couldn't bear leaving it under the cake and risk letting it get too moist. Presenting, a delicious upside-down upside-down cake. A definite crowd pleaser.

Enjoy these days when we're drowning in fruit - and eat a piece of this cake out on the porch at dusk! Be well, eat well, and come back soon.

Right-Side Up Pear Cake

1 stick salted butter, melted
5 large pears (or any other fruit you've got!)
1/2 cup sugar
2 duck eggs (or 3 large chicken eggs)
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup mixed nuts (I used roasted & salted cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, and pecans)
2 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Slice fruit and arrange on bottom of 8 inch cake pan (I doubled the recipe and made two in the pics above - the recipe as written makes one cake).

In a large bowl with a whisk or using a stand-mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the sugar with the eggs for about a minute. Add in the flour, vanilla and baking powder, and blend well. Pour in the butter, and blend for another minute. Pour batter over fruit and top with mixed nuts. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for a few minutes. Invert it on a plate (the fruit side will be on top). If any bit of fruit has stuck to the bottom of the pan, simply scrape them and place them back where they belong on the cake. Use a second plate to invert the cake again (the fruit side will then be at the bottom). Let cool and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Finally! A Blog and a Bunch of Beets

I guess I knew this would happen. I had wanted to start a food blog a long time ago, and when I found myself with a bit of free time this summer, it became a reality. The problem (if you can call it that) is that all but the tiniest bits of that free time are now a distant memory, and I have gone a bit too long without a new post.

And it's not only that I don't have time to blog, I actually don't have much time to cook! As you could probably imagine, this is hard for me. I've been grabbing raw fruits, veggies, hard boiled eggs, and more cashew butter sandwiches than any one person needs to eat in a lifetime. Despite the monotony, I suppose if there was ever a time to eat mostly raw fruits and veggies it's in September in Portland. The farmers markets are overflowing with late summer goods, my garden is finally producing a solid round of tomatoes, and all of the fruit trees in my neighborhood are full of fruit.

In short, I'm not suffering for lack of good food. However, call me picky, but a photo of an apple and a few pieces of bread does not a successful blog make. But don't think that this is the end of Lemonbasil. Oh, no, my parents love this blog far too much for me to pack it up (hi guys). I'm just going to be aiming for two blogs a week, and not feel stressed that I haven't kept up with the greats of the blog world. I still bake for my friends most weekends, and I can't go too long without experimenting with some new recipe. Who knows? Perhaps I'll become an expert in how to cook with fresh, local foods in under ten minutes. Top that, Rachel Ray.

Life is really sweet right now, it's just very busy. And you know what every busy person needs... more fresh, local, fruits and vegetables! Here's a delicious salad I made from roasted cylinder beets and lemon cucumbers I got at the farmers market, topped with a cumin vinaigrette (inspired by this recipe). On the side are the beet greens sauteed in olive oil and garlic, with some fresh whole milk yogurt. Yum. I wish I had taken a picture of my plate when I was done - the beets and yogurt left a beautiful pink swirl. I admit it, I may not have much time to cook these days, but I still play with my food!

Be well, eat well, and enjoy the sun while it lasts.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Penny Pinching with Roasted Vegetable Bread Soup

Its another one of those weeks. I'm scrounging around the kitchen trying to feed myself for a few more days on the random odds and ends of the kitchen. What with school starting, buying textbooks, some auto mishaps that needed immediate attention, and rent, I'm pulling out the old bag of tricks to stretch my food budget.

Somehow, this always comes back to a loaf of stale bread. It might just be coincidence, but it seems every time I go through one of these "Let's see how long I can go without heading to the store" moods, I'm left staring at a loaf of bread on the shelf, long past it's fresh sandwich slice days. I don't eat a lot of bread, and everyone in the house buys their own (we're pretty independent eaters in general), so there is inevitably a loaf of bread past its prime in the cupboard at any given moment.

Last time I had this problem, I made a delicious panzanella, but I've been living off salads recently and wanted something a bit more filling. I've picked up this habit of making a roast chicken every Sunday night, and using it throughout the week, from curries to chicken salad to sandwiches, and I had a really great broth from last week's bird. Why not make a soup? At first I was going to just make some croutons out of the bread to put on top of a bowl of soup (french-onion style) but then I thought, why not make a bread soup?

This probably is not the traditional way to make a bread soup, because I added the bread cubes at the beginning and not at the very end, but this gave the soup a thick, satisfying texture. The bread acted like a sponge and soaked up all the herbs and broth - so the end result tasted like a combination of thanksgiving stuffing and chicken noodle soup.

I had a few vegetable odds and ends lying around the kitchen, so I roughly chopped what I had (a bell pepper, a summer squash, whole garlic cloves, and some grape tomatoes which I left whole) and threw them under the broiler for about 6 minutes to get a bit toasty.

While the veggies cooked, I sauteed an onion and a diced hot cherry pepper from my garden in some olive oil. When the onions were just beginning to brown, I added two cups of chicken stock, a teaspoon each of sage, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and parsley, and a good amount of salt. I cut up about 7 slices of bread (mine was whole wheat sourdough but this would be good with most breads, I'm sure) into cubes and threw them in to the soup, brought this to a boil, and reduced to a simmer. When the veggies were browned and fragrant, I tossed them into the pot (I mashed and chopped the roasted garlic before adding it - yum!), added two cups of water, and let the whole thing simmer for about 2 hours while I went to the farmers market.

When lunchtime rolled around, I ladled a big bowl of the soup and topped it with freshly chopped basil, tomatoes, and pine nuts. So comforting, and I'm sure it would adapt to any veggies you have lying around.

Satisfied with my week of frugality - down to the last slices of bread - I took a precious $20 to the market this morning to replenish the kitchen. I met up with some of my band mates and we sang a few songs (I pocketed five bucks for three songs - not bad!) and went off to stretch my dollars. I'm so excited about how much I got! There was a great deal at one vendor - three boxes of any fruit for 8 bucks! I walked away with 5 pears, 4 big peaches, and 6 nectarines, which will certainly last me a while. I also got some beautiful cylinder beets, a bag of apples, a huge bunch of basil, a cantaloupe, a big zucchini, a baking potato, and a bag of bee pollen (nature's superfood!) - plus it was a beautiful morning to be at the market - the skies were gray but the air was fresh and not too cold.

I'll let you know what I do with my market bounty - until then, eat well!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dark Chocolate Blackberry Pound Cake

There have been so many birthdays in my social circle recently - which means there has been a lot of baking going on. Not that I ever actually need an excuse to bake, but it feels better to make something for a big group of people - that way the goods don't sit on my counter begging me to take another piece.

This past weekend was my roommate Weasel's birthday, and today was the first day of classes, so the past few days have been full of cooking and lounging - cramming in as much downtime before we all have to get back to the grind. We had a nice party on Sunday night, and I made a really tasty carrot cake that was devoured before I could snap photos, but you can see the process and result of another dessert - featuring my new pan from the Goodwill. I love the Goodwill cooking section. Second-hand baking tools, pans, and stock pots are always good buys - and it often means I can get quality, made-to-last bakeware and kitchen tools for next to nothing. Most of my cake pans, bread pans, muffin tins, and random kitchen appliances were purchased second hand, and they've served me very well. Yet another way to live sustainably - don't buy new what you can buy used!

This Chocolate Blackberry Pound Cake was inspired by a beautiful pint of big, juicy blackberries from the farmers' market. The day I purchased them, they were a little less sweet than I like them, but by the time I got around to using them in the kitchen, they were perfectly ripe and ready to pair up with every berry's best friend - dark chocolate.

I used Alton Brown's Chocolate Pound Cake recipe for the base of this yummy dessert, adding the big blackberries and chocolate shavings to the batter after mixing. The berries stayed really juicy and were a really great addition to the dense cake.

I recommend REALLY flouring the pan - or using special bakers non-stick spray - because I had a bit of difficulty getting the finished cake to come out smoothly. To mask any stray bumps or holes, I made a chocolate glaze with powdered sugar, cocoa, and butter to drizzle over the top.

Yum! My friends couldn't stop eating this, which is definitely a good thing, because if it was still around I might be in trouble.

Hold on to these last weeks of summer - go out and get the freshest of the best the season has to offer - soon the berries will be gone and we'll be swimming in apples, winter squash, and dark greens.... which actually sounds pretty good!

Eat well!

This is a submission to Monthly Mingle - August 2008 Fruit & Chocolate challenge, hosted by Meeta from What's For Lunch, Honey?