Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday May Day - Bank Holiday - Stretching the Euro

It's supposed to be a nice day today, weather-wise. I'm hoping to get out to finish painting the gates - not sure that's going to happen, we'll see if the rain comes....

Last night, Patrick made BBQ Chicken and baked potatoes; I made a salad. We started with a few fresh crab claws. Decided to skip making dessert and picked up a pre-made chocolate swiss cake roll instead. The crab was lovely, the chicken and potatoes - beautiful, the salad was new and different and the dessert although tasty had a really funny smell about it. All in all, it was a wonderful Sunday evening meal.

This post is not so much about a "recipe", as it is about my experiences with "stretching our euro". Before dinner we were "skyping" with my parents and one of my grandmothers. Dad had taken a bit of time to share some of my blog posts and facebook photos with Grandma L - which was an immediate conversation starter as she has cooked and baked all her life. Probably where I get it from. Nevertheless, she couldn't get over the presentation of the food and more so how little we spend on such delicious food. She can't wait for Patrick's cooking when they arrive in 12 days!

Where we live, there are no Wal-Marts, no Dunnes stores, no "big box" shopping centres and certainly no big business. In the words of a former colleague, we live "up the backside" of rural Ireland. That said, we/I go shopping once a week at a Tesco about 30 minutes from home. If I forget any ingredients the next closest village is Kilkee about 15 minutes away and let me just say that if it's sour cream or ricotta cheese I forget - well - there's just no substitute close by, so we're likely to go without or simply modify the recipe which is what happens more often than not. I digress.

Back to the case in point. A few weeks back, following a delicious meal of Black Bean and Spinach Burritos, we decided to figure out how much it costs to eat "so well" each day. Reason being, winters are like hibernation around here where you spend as little, in this case money, as possible. Coming full circle to the conversation with Grandma, she's spent her life cooking with minimal ingredients and not focusing so much on presentation. So, here's 5 things we figured out about our food habits.

1. We can survive on less than 8 euros a day (that's less than 11 dollars). That includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, 1 coffee each, 3 teas (2 for Patrick, 1 for me) and a sweet treat. That's about 240 euros each month and 2,200 euros each year.
2. We have about 4 vegetarian meals each week. I can buy 4 different kinds of veggies for less than 5 euros.
3. If we buy 1 whole chicken I can stretch this into dinner, lunch and soup. One chicken or other meat product costs about 5 euros.
4. We catch and freeze as much fish and shellfish as possible during the summer months. As fish would cost 5 to 15 euros each week in the store (for one meal). That's a savings of about 520 euros each year. Plus, we're able to use this fish to barter with friends for vegetables and fruit.
5. I buy "mark down fruit" to make jam, jelly or sauces which costs less than buying a jar of the equivalent (unless I buy the uber cheap, fully loaded with sugar and preservatives brand which is usually less than 1 euro). We save all our glass jars for canning (things like mustard, mayo, pickles) - all of these jars will reseal when treated like true canning jars. A savings of about 78 euros a year.

To further the euro stretching-fun, we've planted many fruits and veggies in our back garden, in hopes of off-setting our food costs. For about 200 euros, we planted 2 apple trees,1 pear tree, 1 blueberry bush, Potatoes, Onions, Shallots, Garlic, Squash, Tomatoes and a handful of herbs. We're anticipating a savings this year of roughly the same amount we spent to get started. The trees and berries will continue to produce for years to come and we'll be able to harvest seeds from what we've planted for next year, further reducing the cost of fresh produce not to mention increasing the joy of watching something grow which is priceless.

All this aside, there are days when I feel seriously challenged to create something new or at least slightly different. How easy it would have been in my previously life to hop in the car and drive straight to the nearest restaurant or fast food joint, spending a minimum of 25 dollars each time I "didn't feel like cooking". Today, these days are the days when Patrick steps in and cooks up a lovely traditional meal of bacon and cabbage or smoked fish with steamed veggies. I get sick when I think of how much money I used to spend eating out or grabbing a quick cup of chai.

A few years ago, my mom taught me to ready labels. I stick with a lot of the same ingredients each week (balancing new seasonings to change the dynamics). If I do buy something pre-made, I look for a short ingredient list and try to steer clear of the words I can't pronounce and the overly processed sugars. As it turns out, most of the veggies and things we enjoy are on the "healthy" list. Things like broccoli, dark leafy greens, fish, chicken; by sticking with the same ingredients it makes it easier to know "what" we're putting into our bodies.

The Internet is my friend, especially when I can open 20+ tabs (addicted to tabs) - I reference hundreds of thousands of recipes and experiment as I go making my own version, bookmarking my favorites - most of the time it works and sometimes it doesn't (I can think of 3 meals in the last 6 months that weren't anything to blog about and I'd sooner forget). Plus, when I get comfortable with a recipe, that's when the fun begins; I can start shaping it to be my very own!

At the end of the day, our life revolves around "good grub". An adventure in the kitchen is just as fun as an adventure outdoors and to have the knowledge and piece of mind to stretch our euro in the healthiest way makes all the difference.

Time to get out and enjoy this day! Keep smiling from your liver and laughing from your spleen!

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