Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Thrift Week 2018: The Edible Edition

Over the years, I've covered a variety of different topics for Thrift Week. I've looked at the seven top items in a typical household budget; explored seven different things you can do to help the environment; discussed seven essential websites and seven essential books for the ecofrugal; and taken a tour of my area thrift shops. And as 2017 was drawing to a close and I was casting about for an idea for this year's Thrift Week, I started worrying that maybe I'd just run out of ideas.

However, it eventually occurred to me that there's one perennial topic I never grow tired of discussing in this blog's pages: food. I've got far more articles devoted to food than any other subject, currently numbering 219 out of the nearly 1,000 articles on the site. Over the years, I've shared (virtually, at least) hundreds of meals with you guys, including all my Fruit and Veggie of the Month picks from the past five years and numerous recipes of Brian's own invention, from his hearty bluefish chowder to his granola bread and butternut squash pizza.

So I decided maybe the appropriate way to handle Thrift Week this year would be to cover seven of our favorite ecofrugal recipes. Brian has agreed to make a different dish each night, as needed, so I can get photos of them, and I'll present you with the actual recipes if I can.

As it happens, however, he didn't need to do anything special tonight, because one of our ecofrugal staples was already sitting in the fridge. Last weekend, he'd whipped up a big batch of our favorite Mushroom-Barley Soup, and we still had some left over. So I ate a bowlful of this for lunch, marking the start of my Week of Ecofrugal Eating.

Those of you who were around when I did the One Harvest challenge back in 2013 have heard me mention this recipe before. It was one of the ecofrugal homemade meals I matched up against the food packages offered by One Harvest to see which was more cost-effective, and it helped contribute to our ecofrugal menu's triumph in the challenge. (The prices for the two were essentially identical, but that's because ours was made largely with organic ingredients; if you bought everything as cheaply as possible, our menu would have been the clear winner.)

You can find a recipe for mushroom-barley soup in just about any vegetarian cookbook, but the one we use comes from Vegetariana by Nava Atlas—a whimsical collection in which recipes are interspersed with drawings, quotations, and interesting facts about food. In a comment on the 2013 post, I was asked for the recipe, so at the risk of copyright infringement, I'll repeat it here:

Chop 1 large onion and 2 large celery stalks, and slice 1 large carrot. Put into a large soup pot with 3/4 c. raw barley, 2 bay leaves, 2 Tbsp. margarine, 1 tsp. dried dill, 1 tsp. seasoned salt, 1/2 tsp. dried summer savory, salt and pepper to taste, and 6 c. vegetable stock or water. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, over moderately low heat for 30 minutes. Coarsely chop 10-12 oz. white mushrooms and add to pot. Simmer 20 minutes more, or until veggies are tender. Stir in enough low-fat milk or soy milk (or use skim milk, as we do) to achieve a slightly thick consistency. Let stand 30 minutes off the heat before serving. Serves 6 to 8. This soup will thicken quite a bit if refrigerated; when reheating, add more milk or stock as needed and adjust the seasoning.

The soup is hearty, nourishing, and tasty, packed with veggies and whole grains—all the stuff doctors (well, most of them, anyway) want you to eat more of. And, using the ingredients from our local stores, it only costs $2.71 per pot:
  • 10 oz. organic mushrooms: $1.56 ($2.49 per pound at the Whole Earth Center)
  • 3/4 c. barley: $.50 ($1 per bag at Stop & Shop)
  • 2 onions: about $.20 ($1.49 for a 2-pound bag at H-Mart)
  • 1 organic carrot: about $.15 ($1.75 per pound at the Whole Earth Center)
  • celery, garlic, and spices: roughly $.30
  • veggie stock: free, because we make our own from vegetable scraps we store in the freezer
We usually serve this with homemade biscuits, which add another 75 cents or so for flour, milk, butter, baking powder, and salt. That brings the total cost of the meal to $3.46, and it provides at least six meals' worth of food: one dinner and two lunches for each of us. That comes to about 58 cents per serving—a price that's pretty hard to beat for a satisfying meal.

However, in the week to come, I will try, and we'll see if some of our other ecofrugal favorites can top this recipe for value, or at least come close. Stay tuned for the next day's menu.
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