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Monday, April 11, 2016

Because really good food starts with. Really. Good. Food

I top-dressed the strawberry beds last week. This was the most sickly of
 the beds. I'm hoping the top-dressing will help in the rejuvenation process.

Do you remember the first really amazing strawberry you ever tasted? I remember mine. It was picked directly from the garden. I couldn't believe that this delicious, sweet, flavorful berry was related to those other things I'd always bought at the supermarket.

Being frugal with the grocery budget isn't just about buying the cheapest foods available. It's about obtaining the best foods possible within one's budget. Many of us do things like keep a garden or make our own soup stock from bones. These activities not only save us money, but they yield really delicious foods. Berries that taste like berries were meant to taste. And chicken stock that tastes just like chicken stock is supposed to taste.

We sometimes find ourselves fooled by the manufacturers, fooled into thinking "they" know what chicken stock is supposed to taste like, or the cheese sauce on boxed mac and cheese is how cheese should taste. And then we make something from scratch and wonder why ours doesn't taste like the manufacturer's version. Why doesn't grape candy taste anything like grapes? Why does strawberry jello only remotely taste like strawberries? Why does canned chicken-noodle soup taste more like salty broth than chicken?

I began growing a garden to save money and make sure we were eating enough healthy foods. What I found was that freshly harvested vegetables and fruits taste amazing. And to take this even further, I discovered that fresh apples, purchased or homegrown, taste way better than apple, fruit-flavored snacks.

I'm an accidental foodie, you could say. I didn't set out to prefer really fresh produce, or scratch-baked breads and treats. I set out to save money on groceries. I just discovered, somewhere along the way, that these foods taste really good.

Do you remember the homemade ice cream I made with my surplus of whipping cream, back in December? I had made a quart of chocolate ice cream, to save for my daughters's birthday in the freezer, over winter. This was some of THE best chocolate ice cream that I have ever tasted, made with real whipping cream, whole milk, real vanilla extract, cocoa powder and sugar. It was a bargain to make, and turned out to be as good as any "premium" ice cream available to purchase.

Because I have a small grocery budget, I need to dedicate almost all of my budget to really good, whole foods. I don't sweat that organics and free-range are not in my budget. I buy the very best foods available that do fit into my budget.

And as I am able, I go to the effort and work to keep a large garden. Why? Because really good food begins with


  1. Hi Lili,

    I had to smile about strawberries. My dad has always grown strawberries and we look forward to having them. There is a rule that we all must live by. That rule is that mom gets the first strawberry on Dad's birthday (June 3) and he feeds it to her. If anyone dared to pick and eat a strawberry prior to that, they were in big trouble. Some years the strawberries are ripe prior to June 3 and then dad still picks the first one and feeds it to mom. Mostly he has to scrounge around for that first one on June 3.


    1. Hi Alice,
      What a wonderful story about your mom and dad, and the home-grown strawberries! Love it!

      Have a lovely day, Alice!

  2. Very true! Though I began gardening more for flavor and the the fun of it, I'm now also beginning to reap the rewards of cost savings. The last couple of seasons since beginning soil testing and remineralization, things are growing like crazy. I shared on my fb page last night that I picked a 5 gallon bucket of kale and a huge bowl of spinach last night before an impending bad storm, with many times that still out in the garden. But I washed, spun dry, and froze most of that for future meals, trying to maximize my cost savings and increase the percentage of extra-nutritious homegrown food eaten. My husband also helped me freeze 4.5 dozen eggs from our own hens/duck, in baggies of 6 each, for future use. Most years, when I've had an abundance, I cook more foods with them and give quite a few away, but this year have decided to try to freeze more of them for the height of summer and then for winter. Maximum production is spring/fall here.

    1. Hi Cat,
      I am working on our soil this year, Cat, motivated in part by comments you made about "fixing" your own garden soil. That is a lot of kale and spinach! And it will be so welcome in summer when the heat is really on.

      Have a wonderful day, Cat!

  3. So true! One of my favorite memories from childhood is strawberries my parents grew. The taste is amazing!
    They also had one of the crank ice cream makers, and would make strawberry vanilla ice cream. Yum. One of these days, I'm going to add strawberries to our garden. For now though, the apple, peach, and pear trees, and blackberry vines that came with the property are keeping me busy, along with the vegetable garden.

    I need to plant rhubarb, as well. I had rhubarb at our previous house. I miss it.

    Have a great day!

    1. Hi Angie,
      We had one of those crank ice cream makers, too! I'm sure we used it other times of the year, but mostly I remember using it on the 4th of July. Very fun memories! now I have an old Donvier, which is a type of crank machine, just doesn't call for ice and rock salt.
      When you have the time to add the strawberries, I'm sure you'll be glad that you did. But as you say, you do have a lot to take care of for the time being! Rhubarb might be an easier item to add. Wish you lived nearby, I could give you a division.

      Have a great day, Angie!

  4. I think a lot of it also comes down to eating food seasonally. We have gotten spoiled here in the US that we can almost any produce almost any time we want. Strawberries in January, no problem. Raspberries in November, sure if you want to pay the price. Growing up we are what was in season, and it was so delicious. Then we eagerly waited for our favorites the next year. I think that is part of the secret to eating really good tasting and bountiful food.

    1. Hi Valarie,
      Oh you are absolutely right! I do salivate over the produce from warmer climates in mid-January, but both price and the thought that it won't taste as good as I expect deter me from buying any of it. Where I live, you can only get fresh, locally grown strawberries for a handful of weeks. The rest of the year they all come from California. And the varieties to be shipped seem tasteless to me. Eating in-season really gives the best flavor and price.

      have a lovely day, Valarie!

  5. I have rarely had a strawberry or tomato as an adult that has tasted as good as the ones grown in my parent's garden. The one successful summer I had cherry tomatoes growing -- they were amazing. And sometimes I can find truly delicious strawberries (usually grown locally). I am still trying to develop my green thumb, but frankly what I am able to grow doesn't always taste the best. I think our soil is just so depleted of mineral that not a lot of flavor develops. I'm going to try growing a few things in self-watering containers t his year, and see if that makes any difference.

    But, I DO try to find the best quality food for my money. Sometimes this means spending more in places it really matters, but using less of that product. I am skeptical of the origins of cheap bacon and I don't enjoy turkey bacon, so when I do buy bacon it can be a little expensive. I cut each packet into five or six sections and use those to flavor recipes, rather than cooking up the whole package in strips. It works for us and I make the best refried beans this way.

    1. Hi Laura,
      Don't beat yourself up over your gardening. Your garden's success may have less to do with a green thumb and more to do with the soil. Good luck with the self-watering containers.

      I agree - starting with the best ingredients really does make a difference in flavor. Your beans sound delicious!

      Have a great day, Laura!

  6. I prefer homegrown and homecooked meals (from scratch as much as possible) over storebought, restaurant cooked meals anyday (well...most of the days). When we are out shopping and can forgo the temptation of takeout and restaurant foods, and can come home to eat our humble foods, I know we are doing it right. It is not even about the money saved, because there are days we make a conscious effort to find somewhere to eat "just because" we want to treat ourselves, yet we find nothing out there that would be worth the taste and value of home cooked. We used to eat out a lot more, in the past we liked buying our lunches out, even taking a longer lunch break to find some ono plate lunch, but over the years we made the transition. I think the more we eat at home the more eating out becomes unpalatable. The reason is as you said, good food starts with REAL. GOOD. food, not imitation flavored, processed, food science wizardry on supermarket shelves (which I never considered food to begin with). I remember, as a foods and nutrition student, thinking of those food science majors as the "dark side" lol


    1. Hi YHF,
      You made me laugh -- the "dark side" (food science majors). But I think there is real truth in that joke. These non-food foods are pushing real and healthy foods out of the diets of many Americans. adding to life-threatening diseases. Plus I think it's a lot harder to overeat when you're eating whole foods, like whole grains, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, high-quality meats/fish and legumes.

      I have the same thoughts on eating out in restaurants. It is so hard for me to find a restaurant with meals worthy of spending our hard-earned/saved dollars. Although, there are times when I just want someone else to do the cooking, for a change.

      Have a wonderful day, YHF!

  7. There is nothing better than food fresh from the vine/plant. I have also learned that about meat. I'm not a big meat eater, but am amazed how well I like a hamburger that has been freshly butchered. When I was in high school, my family and a couple of others, would go together and butcher a couple of cows. In the evenings after school and work, we would work together to cut and wrap the meat. At the end of every night, we'd fry up hamburgers to eat. They were really good. Nothing like we ever got at the store. If hamburgers tasted like that every day, I might eat them as often as my husband does.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I've never had meat that fresh. I can only imagine how good it was. Myself, I'm pretty picky about burgers. I don't want to waste my time on cheapo burgers like from the super cheap fast food places. They just don't taste like meat.

  8. Back when I was growing up my family used to make these elaborate holiday dinners and then serve it with Instant tea. Looking back now after all the years of home brewing my own tea, I don't know why we shortchanged people on the tea back then. Home brewed tea is delicious. Instant, not so much.

    The same came be said for restaurant meals. My daughter loves to go to Olive Garden for the salad. But they really let you down on the croutons. They are like store bought or something. You would think a good Italian restaurant would know how to make homemade croutons. They are so much better than store bought.

    1. Ha. My mom always made instant iced tea. I can't stand it now. Same thing with homemade cranberry sauce versus the canned stuff. The odd thing is, they are both easy and quick to make.

      I was surprised to discover how much sweeter garden-grown carrots were than the supermarket variety. And nothing beats a homegrown tomato.

      Very good post, Lili. Isn't it funny how we start off doing something for one reason and discover other reasons to appreciate what we've done? I started cooking (and honing my cooking techniques) to lose/manage my weight and in the process, discovered that it saved a lot of money and that much of my cooking tasted better than restaurant meals.

    2. Hi Belinda,
      Oh, now this is too funny! M family always drank instant tea, too! I'd never thought about that, but really, tea is so easy to make, and virtually fool-proof. So why did our moms always do the instant? Personally, the instant tastes horrible in comparison than even brewed from bags (and we're not even getting into the fancy-schmancy loose teas). Maybe this was a generation thing. We also had "instant" lemonade in the pantry, growing up.

      That is surprising about Olive Garden using packaged croutons, as their salad bowl is a signature item for them. You would think they'd make their own croutons daily, and boast about them. Go figure, when croutons are so easy to make.

    3. Hi Kris,
      In addition to the instant tea in our house, my parents also always drank instant coffee. I think it was a generation thing for our moms. All of these food companies promised to save our moms all of this work, by providing instant everything.

      We also ate instant mashed potatoes (that's what my dad preferred). The first time I had mashed potatoes made from real potatoes, at a friend's house, I came home and told my mom all about it, and how amazing they were. From that point on, I was begging my mom to make "real" mashed potatoes, and even got my friend's mom to write down instructions for my mom. My mom was NOT impressed with my efforts to get "instructions". LOL

  9. I love fresh in season produce. We are blessed to have many
    local markets that sell farm fresh fruits and veggies. I am not having a lot of success with my patio pots but I will keep trying. I think heirloom produce taste the best. Again
    real food taste better than fraanken foods. We are blessed to have sooooo many local real food farms in San Diego. We had strawberries last week that tasted like they were out of my grandpas garden yum. My first wonderful strawberry and tomatoe were out of grandpas garden. We also had a crank ice cream maker and the kids
    took turns. Now I want real homemade ice cream.
    Have a wonderful day

    1. Hi Patti.
      I would imagine in San Diego that there are a lot of produce markets that are year round, too. I grew up in Orange County, and we had a great produce market nearby which sold very fresh, local produce. And they were reasonable, too, until they discovered they could build a nicer store, up their prices and sell to the wealthier people in the area. :-( But back when I was a teen, they had great prices. I would go with my mom to the market and she'd buy a week's worth of fresh produce, much fresher than supermarket stuff, and with a lot more variety, too.

      Good luck with your patio pots. A friend of mine had some large patio pots on her deck, in which she grew peppers, tomatoes and basil. Those all did well for her, and were on a very hot deck (hot for our area). I do basil in a large pot on the deck, and it does better than in the ground, here. This summer, I'm trying peppers in pots, hoping to actually harvest more than one or two itty bitty peppers.

      Have a lovely day, Patti!

  10. I agree, Lili. I grew up eating out of boxes. That's just how my mom cooked. But when I began cooking for my uncle's harvest crew, I learned from my aunt how to work with real ingredients. How to make a white sauce, how to fry a chicken, etc. When I got married, it was more out of necessity that I cooked from scratch. (I also enjoyed cooking.) Now, it's not only necessity, but because we all enjoy home cooked food so much better. Recently a friend confessed to me that she threw out her turkey carcass. Her kids are all grown & out of the house, so she didn't see the need to make stock. I'm sure the shocked look on my face wasn't very appropriate:) I mean, who couldn't use homemade stock stashed in the freezer? Melissa

    1. Hi Melissa,
      My mom also used a lot of mixes/boxes. Some of them just seem silly to me now, like taco seasoning or spaghetti sauce seasoning. So when I as first married, I, too, bought those little packets of seasonings. I find that I am grateful that finances pushed us towards eating more basic foods, and from-scratch meals, as they're just more flavorful.

      I had to laugh at your reaction to your friend throwing away her turkey carcass! I suppose you could ask her to kindly save the carcass for you, next time! I know exactly what you mean, "who couldn't use some homemade stock in the freezer?" Go figure.

      Even if someone didn't want to pick any tidbits of meat off the bones after simmering, they could still strain the liquid for a more flavorful soup the next time they make a pot. But maybe that didn't occur to your friend. Sometimes very obvious things don't occur to me until it's too late.


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