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Napa Foodie Tightens Her Belt

My grocery budget has been slashed. Can I still serve dishes that meet my family's standards?

Does eating well have to be expensive?

I was having a conversation about food (of course) with a friend last week, who remarked, “I’m sure we have a smaller grocery bill than you and Kevin. The two of you eat really well!”

I agreed with her, and the topic shifted, but it left me thinking about my grocery budget.

Yes, we do eat quality food, cooked at home at least six days a week. We’ve always known that our home dining habits weren’t typical of the normal American family, and prided ourselves on it. However, I’ve had a major change in my life that will directly affect how much I spend on groceries.

I was let go last week (from my 9-5, not Patch) after three years at a certain Upvalley winery. While I look for new employment, I will have to whittle down my grocery list and keep a sharp eye on expenses.

No more wandering the aisles at Target, picking up a cute candle or fun serving tray if the whim strikes - I’ll be scurrying in without a cart so I’ll have to carry just the bare necessities.

I’ll now study the Safeway sales flier to see what I’ll be cooking in the upcoming week, only purchasing sale items and not whatever looks delicious in the butcher case, then building the meal around my bargain.

Budgeting will be a balancing act. I still won’t buy ‘junk’ meat like hot dogs or offal. I’m also trying to lose a few pounds after being stuck in a cubicle for the past 600 work days, so I won’t be able to rely on hamburger more than once a week.

Supple spears of asparagus will have to take a back seat to .

Remember that I told you about? It’ll now take a bit longer as I hunt down the best bargains. No more traipsing into for brioche - I’ll now set my sights on stores like Fresh and Easy, where I can get four huge chicken breasts for eight dollars.

I’ll also purchase more generic brand items and less luxury goods. No to truffle oil and yes to store-brand broth. Some of my favorite items will have to be eliminated, like Cracklin’ Oat Bran, which is just crazy expensive, but oh-so-delicious.

Yes, this will all take some getting used to. But, I think it will be good for me.

I’ve been very spoiled when it comes to food. These days, we’re all cutting back on a myriad of things. Now that it’s time for me to tighten the belt, I’m going to use it to my advantage and learn from it.

Tough, stringy ‘stew meat’? Bring it on, for I have a machine that will render that meat into buttery goodness.

Pork shoulder on sale? I’ll slow-cook it into submission, then shred it into something worthy of my famous fajitas. A few nights later, I’ll use the rest of it for an Asian stir-fry.

I’m actually looking forward to these challenges. Not only will I spend less, but I’ll learn more.

I’ll get better at breaking down an entire chicken, find the beauty in a simple casserole and be grateful I have a table at which to eat it.

And when I come up with some good, inexpensive dishes, I’ll share them with you here!

Jeanine Calvert July 30, 2011 at 01:56 PM
I'm sorry you lost your job, I wish you success in finding a new one. Thanks for the tip on Fresh and Easy, I haven't yet been there. Our lil family is relegated to shopping at Walmart for most of our groceries. The meats are generally horrible (no fresh, bad quality cuts), so we also keep an eye out on Safeway, sometimes their meat sales can beat Walmart, and the freshness and quality are leagues above Walmart. There's always Costco, but it's not easy to come up with the annual membership fee if you are on a shoestring budget, not to mention the money you pay upfront for a good-sized cart of groceries. Still, we might splurge on a couple rib-eyes once a month, or if we have to dress up ground beef or turkey we make a mixture of goat cheese, finely chopped rosemary and chives and either make a stuffed meatloaf or top a grilled burger with the mixture. It's a "luxury" flavor without breaking the bank :)
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) July 30, 2011 at 03:55 PM
That sounds so good! Thanks for the suggestion. I might try it with beans. Do you grow your chives? My beau moved here from New York almost a year ago and still marvels that we can go outside and pick herbs most of the year. He's not that into the chard, though, and I have a LOT of it. Anyone have a tasty chard dish I could try preparing? I do it in mashed potatoes and sometimes make a spicy Indian style green sauce, but I know chard has more potential!
Tom Emmons July 30, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Good suggestions all around.
Jeanine Calvert July 31, 2011 at 02:36 PM
No, I don't grow my own chives. I have a special ability to drain the life out of anything with roots and chlorophyll no matter how much tlc I provide. I have killed plants that people insisted there was "no way you could kill this". Cue 2 weeks later to a dry, mangled, lifeless corpse of what was once something green and alive. I don't often use swiss chard, I should - it's inexpensive and packed with vitamins! Here's a link to some great sounding chard recipes: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/534101 Chow is a great foodie site, btw!
Jeanine Calvert July 31, 2011 at 02:53 PM
Here's a pic of the goat cheese herb mixture atop a pork chop, I'm no food photographer and my cooking is frequently hit or miss, but when this was plated I felt it deserved a photo :) It certainly wasn't a low calorie meal, but it was tasty! http://oi52.tinypic.com/1zv9wr7.jpg
Tom Emmons July 31, 2011 at 04:37 PM
Yum!

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