So I have a confession. In my house, we waste too much food. Despite the fact that our pantry and freezer are perpetually stocked, we order in Thai or Chinese any night I’m feeling tired or lazy. I rarely finish my meal, so it ends up in the trash. Even worse, I often find myself tossing produce that’s passed its prime (but would have been delicious if I’d just gotten it together and cooked something when it was ripe).
I really hate this cycle. Not only is it needlessly expensive, I’ve come to believe it’s downright sinful. When I was a child, I used to cringe when adults urged me to clean my plate by saying, “Children in Ethiopia are starving.” I mean, those kids were hungry whether or not I ate all of my green beans, so why all the guilt? Of course, now I get it. Wasting food that would be precious to others is deeply selfish. That’s why I’m determined to change my wasteful ways.
For the next four weeks, my husband and I are challenging ourselves to eat and drink using no more than $100 per week for both of us. That means EVERYTHING- quick trips for coffee, meeting friends for beers, ordering pizza on a Friday night, plus all of our groceries. Basically, anything we eat or drink. So butter counts, but aluminum foil doesn’t.
In a lot of places, $100 per week would make a decent budget, but here in Southern California– not so much. Just dashing out to the store to pick up a few things for a simple supper can cost me $50. Granted, I have a weakness for ritzy grocers– you know the kind where all the pears are seductively wrapped in green tissue– but even run-of-the-mill supermarkets are expensive. So our budget challenge really is restrictive, and I’m crossing my fingers that living within this budget will make us more appreciative of the abundant food available to us and less likely to take it for granted.
And here’s the good news: Week One was remarkably easy! Not only did we honor our budget, we came in under it. We ate and drank very happily for the whole week on just $87. Full disclosure: I didn’t clear out my pantry before starting this challenge. But I didn’t stock up either. So while we were fortunate to have a decent supply of olive oil, spices, and wine, we had to actually buy and prepare our meals with the money allotted. Not too shabby, right?
My biggest lesson from Week One? Shop for bargains and from non-traditional sources. I picked up a lot of my staples substantially discounted at Wal-Mart and cruised the special deals sections of my regular grocery stores. My biggest find of all, though, was a local Armenian market. A friend recommended it, swearing that they were at least 50% cheaper than the supermarket. I was thrilled to discover she was right and walked out of there with sliced turkey, cheese, fresh vegetables, and tahini for less than I would’ve spent on one lunch at the bistro down the street.
I used that tahini to make a tasty hummus, and we enjoyed it as hors d’oeuvres and on sandwiches all week. Now that I’ve made it at home, I don’t think I’ll ever purchase it prepared again. Here’s the basic recipe I used:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine chickpeas with liquid, a couple of drizzles of olive oil, and a couple of cloves of minced garlic in a casserole dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the chickpeas look just a little toasty. Remove from the oven and hit it with a squeeze or two (or three) of lemon juice. Let cool.
Pour cooled chickpea mixture in a blender and add the tahini. Puree. Mixture will be a bit thick, so add water and/or olive oil and blend until you reach your desired consistency. Add cayenne and salt to taste. Serve topped with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh herbs, pine nuts, or– if you’re Budget Bertha like me– on its own!
Now on to Week Two. I’d love to hear your tips. Do you have a food budget? If so, what are your secrets for maintaining it? Is there one thing you’ll always splurge for? And one thing you absolutely won’t?
Lucie Amberg is also a contributor to Powder Room Graffiti.
Hummus photo by LAMag.com.