Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Monday, November 23, 2015

Tips for Healthy Cooking on a Limited Budget

Good morning friends,

As the spring, summer, and fall gardening seasons come to a close I am no longer harvesting the abundance of vegetables and fruits from my own garden. For a good six months out of the year I am able to build meals around what is growing fresh in my own garden. With winter around the corner I have returned to produce shopping at Krueger’s Farm City Markets.

Since quitting my job and starting my own business in March I am on a tight budget for our entire household spending. Cooking healthy on a limit budget is a necessity and a reality for us. By weekly menu planning, shopping with a list, sticking to a predetermined budget, and cooking from scratch our meals I am able to feed our family of two a week of nutritious, delicious, vegetarian, whole foods meals for about $50 per week.

It is a myth that you cannot eat healthy on a tight budget. By eliminating processed convenience foods, and out of season produce you can eat healthy on a limited budget. My method takes a little planning and time to cook. The efforts are so worth it!

My husband and I both grew up with food insecurity. And as a young adult I spent many years existing on ramen noodles, boxed macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, canned soup, and frozen entrees. I did not grow up or have anyone teach me how to cook healthfully, menu plan, or create budgets. I learned my cooking lessons from the school of hard knocks.

My current strategy of healthy cooking on a limited budget is based on these tips I’ve mastered during the past 10 years:
1. Assess what you currently have in your refrigerator and pantry and build meals around that
2. Get to know what produce is in season when in your area. Trying to buy tomatoes and strawberries in December is expensive and they taste bad. Build your meals around seasonal produce.
3. Grow your own vegetables and fruits, join a CSA, or find a great produce market like Krueger’s. The farmer’s market can be expensive, but in Portland they accept EBT cards and have a matching program to give you more bang for your buck. Additionally some CSAs are now accepting EBT as a form of payment. Portland community gardens offers scholarships and garden seeds and starts are eligible for EBT.
4. Preserve some of your food. We cook with a lot of tomato sauce and stewed tomatoes. So I grow 6 tomato plants and freeze tomato sauce for winter use. We berry pick or glean berries during the summer and freeze for smoothies all year round.
5. Learn to cook with whole foods like brown rice, dried beans & lentils, etc. They are nutritious and have good bang for your buck!
6. Shop the bulk area. I routinely stock my pantry with bulk items: brown rice, quinoa, dried beans, lentils, steel cut oats, nuts, raisins, spices, TVP, flours, sea salt, honey, maple syrup, and so much more!
7. Prepare your weekly menu plan. Shop with a list and a budget. Stick to it! Don’t shop when you are hungry or tired. Shop only one time per week.
8. Give up convenience foods and precooked meals. In general they are overly processed, lack nutrition, contain way too much sugar, sodium, and weird additives and can be expensive.
9. Spend one morning or afternoon on your weekend cooking lunch for the week, plus one dinner. Individually package lunches and dinners so they are ready on the go. Decrease or eliminate eating out, especially inexpensive and junky fast food.
10. Spread the love around. Several times a month when I cook a casserole or pot of soup, I make extra to share with my loved ones. I believe sharing abundance creates abundance.

Here is an example from my current week of menu planning, shopping, and cooking. I cooked this menu plan from utilizing what was in my pantry, gleaning day-olds from New Seasons Market, shopping for produce at Krueger’s Farm Market, and purchasing everything else at Winco. I spent a total of $49.80 this week to feed my family of two. This is how it looked:

Menu Plan
2 dinners: TVP Tacos
2 dinners: Squash Brown Rice Herb Pilaf and Spinach Salad with 1 night each of artichokes and brussels sprouts
3 dinners: Root Vegetable Gratin and Spinach Salad

5 lunches: 13 bean vegetable soup with quinoa
2 lunches: Beet Borscht

5 breakfasts: steel cut oatmeal and fruit smoothies

Snacks: apples, cashews, granola bars

5 oz spinach
1 savoy cabbage
2 artichokes
1 dozen brussels sprouts
3 yellow & 3 red potatoes
6 carrots
1 rutabaga
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow squash
1 zucchini
2 yellow onions
3 pears
9 apples
Total spent on produce at Krueger’s=$18.97

13 bean dried soup, 1 pound bulk
Brown Rice, 2 pounds bulk
TVP (textured vegetable protein/soy), .52 pound bulk
Taco seasoning, .12 pound bulk
Cashews, .25 pound bulk
Corn Tortillas, 18 pack
3 boxes almond milk
Queso Fresca
Sour Cream
Orange Juice
Total spent at Winco=$30.83

What we had at home already to utilize this week:
Olive Oil
Beets, a few carrots & potatoes, celery, garlic, and a lemon
Tomatoes-from my garden the last of the season ripening on the counter
Steel cut oats and raisins
Frozen fruit
Assorted canned beans
Assorted granola and snack bars
Coffee and green tea
Sea salt & spices
Fresh herbs from my garden-parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme

We ate very well this week, as we do most weeks. Some weeks I spend $50, some weeks I spend only $25 on groceries. With a little preparation and execution you too can eat well on a limited budget. I enjoy the creativity of menu planning, art of cooking, and the joy of eating the fruits of my labor. I enjoy the challenge and it feels so rewarding.

In Health,

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Preparing the Garden for Winter

Good afternoon gardeners,

As I write you it is 3:30pm and it looks as if the sun is already going down. We are indeed moving to the shortest days of the year. It has been a week of blustery winds, wet rains, dark skies with welcome sunshine breaks. Our daytime highs have been in the 50s, averaging in the upper 40s, and nighttime lows in the upper 30s. Our average first frost in Portland is November 15th, though we have yet to experience a frost. It seems to be an awfully warm Autumn, and I am so grateful for all the rain.

You can probably relate, I am spending a lot of my time raking wet leaves off the sidewalks and garden paths. Autumnal leaf color and fall is beautiful indeed, it is also helping me develop some buffed triceps muscles.

With the cooler wet weather settling in, unfortunately my husband has his first cold of the season and I am filling him up with home cooked soups and medicinal teas. I am boosting my own immune system with elderberry, echinacea, vitamin C, drinking lots of water, eating a healthy diet, stress management, and getting plenty of sleep. Every day I get fresh air and exercise in nature.

A break in between rain afforded me the opportunity to work in my own garden. The crisp air is refreshing and I love to monitor the seasonal developments. My 3 raised beds for vegetables are sown with crimson clover seed and covered by frost blanket to protect them from nut-burying menacing squirrels during their germination and early growth. The garlic and shallots we planted October 5th have lovely green sprouts.

I have left my herb raised bed uncovered as it still provides a daily harvest of parsley, rosemary, 3 types of sage, French thyme, lemon thyme, and winter savory for my cooking. With the colder weather, fresh basil is now a summer memory, luckily I froze bunches of sweet basil for winter cooking.

In addition to my herb raised bed I grow many types of herbs in containers:

Lemon balm
Lemon verbena
Apple mint
Chocolate mint
Scented geraniums
Pineapple sage
Tangerine pineapple sage

Throughout the summer and fall I harvested their flavorful leaves and fragrant flowers to preserve either dried or frozen. As these herbaceous perennials prepare to die down and go dormant for the winter I prune them down and pack the top of their containers with fallen leaves as warming winter mulch. I gather all the containers together in groups on my potting bench and deck. Grouping containers together provides warmth in a protected location on my deck.

Pulling out my stash of frost blankets from storage, I have assessed their sizes, quantity, and quality. They stand ready in a bundle by my containers. When the temperatures and/or wind chill drop below 30 degrees I cover my containers of herbs, perennials, and conifers with frost blanket and secure for wind gusts. Plants in containers are less hardy than plants in the ground. And a good rule of thumb is a well watered plant is less stressed by cold temperatures than a dry plant.

And speaking of your plants hardiness in cold temperatures, how about use those fallen autumn leaves as warming winter mulch? I rake leaves off the garden paths and deck. I let leaves remain in all of my perennial beds. I even rake garden leaves into the perennial beds. Fallen leaves are excellent organic matter, make great winter mulch, and provide protective habitat for overwintering beneficial bugs. In the late winter before spring growth pokes from the soil I cover the rain soaked decomposing fallen leaves with a layer of bark mulch to give my perennial beds a finished look.

Leaves I rake and clean from the house gutters, street, and sidewalk I put in the curbside yard debris rolling can. These leaves can be contaminated with yuck toxins I don’t want in my compost bin, edible or ornamental garden. After experiencing 15 years of Portland streets and sidewalks flooding due to an excess of backed up leaves, I urge you to please be responsible and rake up and dispose of the fallen leaves from your trees in the street, drains, and sidewalks.

Other winter preparation in the garden I’ve done is disconnecting, draining, and storing my hoses, sprinklers and watering wands. Now is the time to find your or purchase new outdoor faucet covers. They are inexpensive and simple. I will never forget the one winter I moved into a new rental apartment and the owner had not prepared for temperatures in the 20s. The first night in my new apartment I turned on the kitchen faucet, the pipes burst, flooded the kitchen, and the furnace wasn’t working. My new home was freezing and wet. What a mess!

It seems like we were still harvesting tomatoes 3 weeks ago and that winter is so far off. But winter is right around the corner and it is best to be prepared. Your garden will appreciate it!

Winter is not all gloom and doom, today I noticed my Helleborus niger ‘Jacob’ sending up white blossoms. November seems a little early even for the “Christmas Rose” type of hellebores. My winter daphne is fully budded looking ready for an early fragrant flower explosion.

And oddly enough, daffodils, tulips and hyacinth bulbs that usually sprout in February & March have already shot up sprouts. We shall see what this winter holds for us.

Happy gardening,

Monday, November 9, 2015

Welcome November

Welcome November!

Good morning gardening friends. The end of October held a blustery wet Autumn storm on Samhain/Halloween weekend for those of us in Portland. What a dramatic seasonal shift. Whoosh, in blew November with a vengeance. Rain, rain, I love the rain! Sunny and 55, I love it too! I enjoy the variation and surprise Autumn brings in Portland. My blissful work as a gardener and horticultural therapist keeps me so joyfully in tune with the natural seasons.

Up until that October 30th storm temperatures continued to be uncharacteristically mild and sunny in Portland, and many people opted to keep their tomato plants in the ground longer than usual. By now hopefully you have harvested all your green tomatoes and pulled up all of your tomato plants for the compost bin. Though we haven’t yet experienced a frost, night temperatures are averaging in the mid 40s, day lengths have shortened, and the sun is positioned farther away. All of this means tomatoes will no longer grow or ripen outdoors.

This year I was able to freeze 10 quarts of slow-roasted tomato sauce from my small garden. What a gift! A few weeks ago I brought in the last of the green tomatoes from a garden I tend, about 30! They are ripening nicely on my kitchen counter and I am anticipating a pot of delicious creamy tomato soup this month. One last meal of fried green tomatoes is also in order before the long months of winter. Our epic tomato season has come to a triumphant close.

In addition to tomatoes, by now you will also need to have harvested, pulled out and composted your other heat-loving summer crops: basil, beans, cucumber, eggplant, peppers, summer squash, and zucchini. November is also too late to plant any other crops for a winter harvest. We can start planting veggies again in late February. Though, you do still have time in November to plant garlic for a harvest next summer. Here is some of my garlic I planted in October poking up from the cool soil.

Much of my herb garden is going to sleep for the winter. Several evergreen herb standbys like rosemary, sage, thyme, and winter savory will provide me with leaves through winter. The delicate heat-loving annual herbs like basil are wrapping up their growing season. With my ample autumn harvest of basil I froze a good stash for winter cooking. I rinse the leaves, pulse them in the food processor, fill an ice cube tray, and freeze. Once frozen, I store the basil cubes in a zip-lock freezer bag for the winter. Basil cubes are an absolutely delectable addition to winter minestrone soup, marinara sauce, and an easy fragrant pesto! In autumn, you can also whip up a batch of summer pesto to freeze by eliminating the parmesan cheese, the cheese just doesn’t freeze well.

Last Friday was an exquisite sunshiny 60 degrees and I jumped at the opportunity to do some fall clean up in my own garden. I rake leaves off the garden paths and our deck, but leave them in the perennial beds. They are excellent organic matter and make a warm winter mulch for herbaceous perennials. Our three large Japanese maples are beginning to turn a vibrant golden orange to rusty red. Every day I love watching the delicate leaves drop softly from the trees. I collect these leaves to press and use for autumn craft projects and in my therapeutic gardening groups.

This was some year for dahlias, in my memory the best ever, and my plants were still blooming full force right up until Halloween. Before frost turns them to mush I pruned their stalks all the way back to the ground. Fading perennials and annuals that have lost their seasonal interest and have been picked clean of seeds by birds were also pruned to the ground.

Spring blooming bulbs are a favorite of mine. The variation of shape, size, color, and fragrance in snow drops, crocus, daffodils, tulips, ranunculus, anemone, checkered lily, miniature iris, and hyacinth continue to dazzle and surprise me every year. This week I planted many bulbs into pots for our deck. I cannot wait for spring to come and see their delightful blooms explode into a riot of color.

In the edible garden I harvested broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, spinach and swiss chard. My fall garden was really plagued with powdery mildew, aphids, and slugs. Rather than continue to fight all these problems throughout autumn and winter, I pulled everything out of the 3 raised beds and planted crimson clover cover crops.

Squirrels are my garden arch nemesis, particularly in the autumn when they are feverishly burying nuts in any patch of bare ground. A raised bed with freshly sown crimson clover seed is like putting out a welcome mat for marauding squirrels. So after planting the seeds I covered the raised beds with frost blanket and used landscape pins to secure it to the wood. Frost blankets are permeable to sunlight and water. Under their protection, the crimson clover can safely germinate and grown to a reasonable size, before I remove them in December. By then hopefully the squirrels have slowed down and a dense mat of lush green crimson clover leaves will deter them from my raised beds.

As the day length shortens, and the garden slows, so does my pace. I am turning inward with more contemplative tasks like meditation and journaling. I am enjoying more time reading, and snuggling under blankets with my family. I am cooking up a daily wave of casseroles, soups, and stews. Gratins, risotto, and the heartier fare of the cooler months dominates my menus. I eat very limited gluten and this autumn I am missing baking muffins and bread. Discovering Pamela’s gluten-free baking mixes, in particular the cornbread and dinner roll mixes has been a life saver! Today I cooked split pea soup with rosemary-thyme dinner rolls. They were so good we couldn’t stop eating them.

I hope you are enjoying all the beauty this wondrous season of autumn brings. Every autumn leaf is a treasure, every day in the garden is a blessed gift!

Happy gardening,

Friday, November 6, 2015

Winter Holiday Crafting Workshops

Good morning gardening friends,

My winter holiday nature crafting workshops are now open for registration

Sunday Dec 6th 1pm WREATH MAKING
Portland Nursery 9000 SE Division Street
$30 Advance registration required via Portland Nursery

Portland Nursery 9000 SE Division Street
$20 Advance registration required via Portland Nursery

These fun hands-on workshops fill up fast so please register today. I am looking forward to sharing holiday nature crafts with you in December!

I have finished teaching organic gardening workshops for 2015. Please stay tuned to my blog, website and Facebook page for updates to my 2016 workshops schedule at Portland Nursery and Springwater Studio.

NEW IN 2016!! I will be teaching organic gardening for Portland Community College at the Cascade Campus in NE Portland. Portland residents, watch your mailbox for the Winter 2016 catalog.

I hope you are all enjoying this brilliant autumn sunshine and all the beauty the season holds.

Happy gardening,