Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bulk Food Series - Part 2

So what do I order? And what do I *do* with it all?

Today we’ll tackle the ‘what’ part.

What you order depends on your priorities and food philosophy. I’ve been heavily influenced by the Weston Price Foundation and Sally Fallon Morell’s “Nourishing Traditions”. Maybe you just want to go organic or vegetarian or macrobiotic or you have a child who needs to be on a gluten free diet- these are all things that ordering from a co-op can make easier. Our family’s priorities are these:

1. No high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils or MSG or artificial food colorings/preservatives
2. Avoiding pesticides
3. Dairy products which have not been subjected to the homogenization or pasteurization processes
4. Clean meats, humanely raised and slaughtered
5. Local and sustainable whenever possible
6. Natural sugars and fats

The reality is that I live in Alaska, I have kids, I’m not super-homemaker, and we have a budget with very, very little budge. I don’t soak my grains religiously. I often buy my bread from the local bakery. I drink coffee and tea. I don’t much like sourdough bread. And sometimes, you will see me coming out of the drive-thru. Some days are like that.

So here’s what I do order:

Frozen berries- I'm ordering 72 lbs of them to make jam. Raspberries are a favorite here but the blackberries are much cheaper so we're doing 24 lbs of raspberries and 40 lbs of blackberries and 8 lbs of strawberries.

Produce- I'm writing at the end of July so what's listed now won't be what is listed when we order. Hopefully there will be large quantities of pickling cucumbers and tomatoes available then. I got a great deal on tomatoes last year and canned ketchup. It was really good but only lasted about 8 months so this year I know to do more. I would like to end up with 12 quarts of ketchup and 12 pints of barbecue sauce in addition to 40 quarts of pickles and at least 12 quarts of salsa. We tried a weekly CSA box this month and I go to the Farmer’s Market pretty religiously.

Nuts- cashews & almonds. Walnuts and Pecans are cheaper at Costco and since I totally can't afford the organic and we don't eat enough to make the potential pesticide load worth freaking out over that's OK.

almond meal- great for baking, a nice way to sneak some protein into sugary stuff and for gluten free things. Miss V loves making macaroons. They’re a little sweet for me and they don’t really work as well if you cut the sugar.

coconut oil- sometimes. I can get a better price if I order direct from wilderness family or Tropical Traditions when they are running specials but only if there are other people to share the shipping costs with. Azure doesn't carry palm shortening which is nice for holiday baking - another consideration when ordering oils.

almond oil- for adding to my mayo oil blend. Organic Olive oil is now available at costco less expensively than through azure when shipping is factored in.

pasta- we like the spelt and rice pastas

sugar- sucanat, 50 lbs. Honey- maybe. I'm waiting to hear back from a local producer to see if I can get a similar price if I take my own 5 gallon bucket when they harvest in august. I order maple syrup direct from a grower I know in Maine.

rice and grains- sweet brown rice, white sushi rice, wheat berries, spelt berries, kamut berries, rolled oats (oatmeal, granola, cookies...), barley, arborio rice, popcorn

ginger paste
corn tortillas
baking soda (aluminum free)
unflavored gelatin
cocoa powder

cheese- we prefer to have as much of our dairy intake in an un-pasteurized form and the raw milk cheese sold in 5 lb blocks at Azure is much less expensive than the 2 lb blocks available at Natural Pantry. When I'm unable to get what I want in raw form and must buy it pasteurized I try to buy local so the creamery just down from the school is my first source for that.

Dried fruit: We like their dried cranberries much better than craisens . Dried apples, apricots, currants, raisens, sultanas and coconut all find their way into granola and baked goods throughout the year. I bought the 25 lb bag of dried apples last spring and that was a little more than I really needed. I also bought a bag of date pieces for granola and the kids rejected them outright. Want some?

Vanilla: Good prices on good vanilla. No fake icky stuff and nice reusable bottles.

Powdered Milk- an emergency stash item as well as used to make home-made instant hot cocoa mix

Things I don't buy from Azure:

Meat- I like to know my farmers whenever possible. I like knowing that the cows making my milk are well cared for, that the steer munching its way into a starring role in winter pot roasts has eaten only grass and a little barley and had a happy life, that my chickens spent their days chasing bugs and pecking in the grass and running from shadows overhead. We split a hog with another family and slaughtered it ourselves in May and that was a pretty good deal financially and flavor-wise. Duane Clark comes to the Friday Flings as well as the Saturday market in the Natural Pantry parking lot with coolers of frozen local raised, grass fed, grass finished meat. He has a counterpart with pork who is usually at the Saturday Markets but not the flings.

When I can’t handle a half of a hog or cow, I’ve found that the gentleman running Mt McKinley Meat in Palmer is a very sympathetic soul and I can at least know that they animals from there went as easily as he could dispatch them, they weren’t in a miserable feed lot for months, and they weren’t fed all corn (barley is cheaper by a lot here). From Mt McKinley I can also buy leaf fat for making my own lard with no preservatives and no hydrogenation as well as sliced side pork for home brining bacon without a trace of nitrates, nitrites or MSG.

Lamb comes from Costco- the positive to that is the meat is grass raised and has good color; the negative is that it is shipped frozen from Australia. That’s not exactly a low-fossil fuel endeavor. Someday I might be able to have some sheep of my own to keep me in meat and fiber but until then, the Australian grass fed stuff looks a lot better than the pale slabs at Fred Meyer.

In a perfect world I could barter some moose meat or- the holy grail- caribou this winter. His Majesty has many outstanding skills but he doesn’t hunt. Some women live in houses decorated in a heavy taxidermy motif and have to pay a mechanic though so I know just how fortunate I really am.

Milk and yogurt: We’re big fans of milk in its natural state so our milk comes from a herd of cows in which we are part owners. I use some of my weekly share to make yogurt and we supplement with the oh-so-addictive Greek Gods honey whole milk yogurt. There are better choices than Greek Gods- Stoneyfield organic cream top for instance- because Greek Gods is pasteurized and homogenized but it’s really, really tasty. And effortless.

Fish: If we didn’t catch it or have it given to us, I’ll buy from The Salmon Guy where I can be sure it was at least wild caught and as local as I can get it. Finding shrimp that hasn’t been farmed or messed with is becoming a very difficult and expensive task. Thanks BP! I’m doing some lox and smoked fish this year and I love, love, love my salmon roe. Yum.

Butter:. I make some from our milk shares, I buy Kerry Gold at Costco, and I buy some of the organic regular stick butter at Costco.

Soy sauce: My family’s favorite brand of MSG free stuff is at New Sagaya so I pick it up when I’m in the city.

Spices: I’ve ordered from Penzy’s in the past but now that we have a local option I’m going to check them out.

Tea- Same deal as spices + some comes from Natural pantry, some from the Kobuk

Coffee- Azure doesn’t sell it. I am working valiantly to kick my expensive coffee habit. $50 to $100 a month on coffee is really ridiculous especially since it’s made with milk that is bad for me and sugars and flavorings not found in nature. I’ve tried the local roaster who sells at the Fling. I’ve tried some organic free trade beans from Freddy’s and Natural Pantry. My problem is that I have yet to find anything that doesn’t have that tastes-like-an-old-ashtray-smells aftertaste. We have a French press, we have a grinder, I buy only whole beans but I have to load in so much sugar and/or homemade chocolate syrup and milk that I’m getting too little caffeine and too much sweetened milk. Suggestions most welcome!

Vinegar for cleaning supplies and pickling - Costco. I’m sure that artisan made apple cider vinegar is superior environmentally and in taste but the price difference is HUGE.


Aelwyn said...

I think the most difficult thing with co-op buying is the comparison shopping. I am not good with this. I want to just buy the bulk stuff at one place. My husband is much better. If I am ordering from Azure, he almost can immediately recognize that Costco has something cheaper. That said, I like to order nuts, Main Street Bakery granola (a treat!), sometimes dried fruit,... In the past, I have order bulk Celestial Seasonings, but This year, I am trying to dry my own German chamomile and spearmint to make homemade "Tummy Mint" tea.

We go through A LOT of Costco vinegar for cleaning.

Steph said...

Have you tried making granola? It costs a small fraction of what you pay to buy it and is very simple to do.

AKmamaOf6 said...

And don't forget "the grain lady" at Wholy Living. She often has many bulk items in stock and not for much more than you might pay at Azure. I get my oatmeal and grains in 50lb bags from her.

If you do another Azure order would you let me know? I'd like to get in on one.

Steph said...

Anna- ordering on 20th. I should have my group # by Friday& I'll let you know then.