Lest you think we always eat like kings around here, for the past two weeks we've actually been on a diet--of sorts. You see, on February 1st, I went to the grocery store to buy a few staples, and for the first time in my life the bill broke $300.
Now, after three years in northern Canada, I have become accustomed to higher grocery prices--generally 20-percent higher than what I paid in the States. But this was ridiculous. I mean, there was hardly any meat in there, and I had bought most of my produce at the farmers' market that very morning! Furthermore, it was the first of the month, and I had already spent almost half the month's grocery budget, and we still had to pay for five pounds of fresh seafood to feed a dinner party for 15. So, it was time to get creative. From February 2nd to February 14th, we were going to eat almost exclusively out of our pantry.
The rules were pretty simple: the bulk of each meal--including lunches for work--needed to be made from ingredients we already had at home, either in the fridge, the freezer, or the pantry. Allowances could be made for obligations we had for eating out with friends and for picking up a few perishables that go fast in this house, such a whole milk and cereal for Colin and fresh grapefruit for mama. (I can eat 2-3 per day; it must be some weird mid-winter pregnancy thing.)
And I am pleased to say we met our goal--for the most part. I think there were one or two days when I was forced to buy a lunch at work, and there was one Friday night when I had to work late and said "Screw it, let's go out for pizza." But other than that, we ate about 20 meals just out of our pantry, and we ate well.
Here were some of the highlights:
Home-made chicken noodle soup with home-made wheat bread
Vegetarian chili with cornbread (from a mix)
Spaghetti with meatballs (made with a little left-over breakfast sausage)
Chicken curry with rice
Minestrone with wilted veggies, home-made focaccia bread and the last of the farmers' market chevre
Quiche with home-made scones
Bread pudding (from week-old home-made white bread), with golden raisins and sun-dried cherries
Left-overs from our Mardi Gras dinner: fried cat-fish with butter-pecan sauce and shrimp etouffée over rice
And last, but not least, my favourite meal of the fortnight, in part because it was created with a whole bunch of little bits of things: A smorgasbord of left-overs, including wilted-spinach-and-wrinkled-tomato quiche; Valentine's Day pancakes made from the last of the eggs, some puréed sweet potato, and a bit of sour buttermilk; and a grapefruit salad made with the last of the pecans, feta, sesame oil, and mustard. I know, it probably sounds kinda gross, but, trust me, there is nothing wrong with these ingredients once they are cooked, and it really did taste great.
So how did we do it? The trick was having a well-stocked pantry to begin with. I generally make bread and soup from scratch on Sundays, so I already had the ingredients to make several meals like that. (And almost all the meals we ate for this week-and-a-half were some variation on a soup or stew and homemade bread.) Also, I clearly don't have an aversion to making use of wilted vegetables: soups and quiches are great for that, and no one can tell the difference. That didn't take a lot of creativity. What I am really please about was how I managed to avoid buying meat, which is about twice as expensive (per pound) as back home. Everything on the week's menu came out of two little chicken breasts or a bit of breakfast sausage or chicken stock I had stored up in the freezer.
My downfall? Dairy. Cheese, milk, whipping cream, butter, buttermilk--if it's made in the breasts of a cow, I can't get enough of it. Nor can Colin or Kevin. We probably spend about twice as much a week on dairy products as we do on meat (in part because of the huge price-hikes instituted by the Canadian Dairy Farmers' Association). So, going forward, I'd like to try to figure out how to eat less dairy in this house. Although if I'm not substituting it with meat, then I'm substituting it with fresh produce, which--in northern Canada--is in no way cheaper and certainly less fresh this time of year. Still, it's a "diet" I might try once the farmers' markets reopen ... in June. Until then, I'm looking forward to going back to the supermarket this week and restocking my pantry.