I've been preparing for the December Pantry Challenge I wrote about in a post a few days ago. Next month, we will only spend $30 a week on food. The rest of what we eat will come from our pantry, freezers, and refrigerators. I've done a thorough inventory and stocked up on staples. Earlier this week I purchased 20 pounds of Bob's Red Mill organic white whole wheat flour, 5 pounds of BRM organic whole wheat pastry flour, and 10 pounds of BRM organic unbleached white bread flour, all on sale for $3.99 per 5 pound bag at New Seasons this week. (This is a pretty good deal on BRM flour--less expensive than 5-pound bags direct from Bob's.)
For fresh fruits and vegetables, we have about 30 pounds of apples on the front stoop along with a stalk of Brussels sprouts, 2 pounds of parsnips, 2 acorn squash, 2 delicata squash and 2 butternut squash. I have 20 pounds of Asian pears on order from Azure--they're a bit more expensive than apples or pears, but the kids love them and they keep well. Other than the occasional pomegranate (another kid fave), that's all the fresh fruit we eat this time of year, though I'm looking forward to the end of the month when oranges, especially blood oranges, come into season. I also have 5 pounds of beets (which I plan to ferment immediately), 5 pounds of carrots, and 5 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes on order.
For dairy, we will continue to buy 2 gallons of raw milk every other week, at $10/gallon (crazy, I know, but it's good stuff). I use most of that to make Neufchatel and yogurt. I have 5 pounds of raw milk cheddar and 1/2 pound of Parmesan coming from Azure. We used to keep a greater variety of cheeses on hand, but Azure doesn't carry stinky cheeses like Gorgonzola and brie. I could go get some if I really want it, but I don't find myself craving the more exotic flavors that my palate used to enjoy and I definitely don't relish the idea of going to New Seasons "just" for cheese (as I know much more would wind up in my cart). Rather, I find myself enjoying the simpler dairy products that I make at home: multitasking yogurt, tangy Neufchatel, and irresistible mozzarella.
With that and everything else we have in the house, I will hardly need to buy anything except some fresh green veggies. Just think how much time I will save not shopping during this busiest shopping month of the year. I loved that I hardly had any shopping to do for Thanksgiving and with the money we will save this month on groceries (and I may continue with this challenge in January), we'll be able to afford Dungeness crab for our Christmas Eve feast, something I look forward to immensely.
As I have become less and less dependent on the grocery store, I find that any extra time I spend in the kitchen is well worth not having to drag myself around fluorescent-lit markets full of stuff my family does not need. If I was the kind of person to keep track of such things, I believe I would find that I'm actually spending less total time on food procurement and preparation that I was a year or two ago. Some of that is because I have simplified meals. We don't eat the same 10 things all the time, but we eat about 10 basic meals most of the time, along with some seasonal and meat variations, special occasion menus, and craving-fulfillments...like the couple times a year that I made sushi.
What I am most looking forward to next month is planning meals solely around what we have at home. I believe this challenge will push me to greater heights of culinary creativity and to learn more of the ways of my grandmothers, who knew how to prepare meals from leftover this and that and throw together their pantry treasures into satisfying, healthy meals.