Apr 102011

In Part 1 of the Minimalist Kitchen I wrote about reducing your appliances down to a select few and eliminating single use devices.  In this post I’ll be writing about one of my favorite subjects, food.

As I said before, I love to eat.  I don’t follow the trends, I don’t do the fads.  I eat what I like and don’t care what anybody thinks of my taste in food.  If you want to debate me about it I’ll be a happy to, over dinner, you’re buying.

When you live on an island your food choices are not quite as varied as those on the mainland.  In some cases you may have to travel 20 miles just to get to a grocery store.  So you want your trips to the grocery store to count.

Currently there are about 9 or 10 big chain grocery stores in the Keys.  And about another dozen or so small mom and pop types.  There are also several specialty stores, mostly of the seafood variety, which is good if you like seafood.  And boy do I love seafood.  There are also several flea markets and the occasional street side vendor selling fruits or vegetable out of the back of a pick up truck.  If you are willing to make the trip and spend the gas there are some real nice farmers markets in Homestead and Florida City on the mainland but you better be real hungry to spend the money to go up there.

The Keys are a unique chain of islands in that they are actually made of coral rock.  What is now exposed used to be sea bottom a few hundred thousand years ago.  So growing stuff on the islands is not the easiest venture.  You have to bring in top soil to grow a garden or do what a lot of people do and have a bucket garden.  A bucket garden is exactly what is sounds like.  You fill a bucket with whatever combination of soil and fertilizer you need, add seeds, and grow.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, herbs, lettuce, all grow well in our sub tropical climate.  Key Lime trees do real well along with some citrus trees.  All it takes is a green thumb and some patience.  Of which I have neither.

I spend most of my food budget at the grocery store, or to be more specific, Publix.  If you live in Florida you know that Publix has a reputation  of being one of the best supermarket chains out there.  And they are despite their inability to put the whole canvas bag over plastic thing into actual use.  The other chain, Winn Dixie, lost my business years ago.  Dirty stores, poor selection, and since then they have enacted that stupid discount card which gives you discounted prices on food in exchange for waaay to much personal information.  A hint, you sell food, we buy food, that’s all the information you are entitled to.  You don’t need to know where I live or what I do for a living when I come in to buy some bananas.

I bring up Publix specifically for several reasons.  The stores are clean, food is fresh and they have the following:

A killer bakery with all kinds of fresh breads, rolls, cakes, cookies, and for a chain store, some surprisingly good key lime pie.

A very nice produce section with organic as well as non organic choices.

A decent seafood section with fresh stuff brought in along with some good sushi.

A deli that serves up good sammich’s and some awesome fried chicken.

But one of the best features of Publix is their extensive line of generic Publix brand products.  Walk around the aisles and next to most of the brand name products you will find the Publix brand right along side.  Check the ingredients and you will find they are identical.  The difference is the Publix brands are about 20 to 30% cheaper than the brand names.  With few exceptions, they work the same, taste the same, are the same, other than the price.  You can save a bundle by going generic.  Soaps, shampoos, toilet paper, bread, milk, butter, the list goes on.  Other stores may also have the same sort of generic line of products available.  If you are looking downsize your food budget this is a good place to start.  Buy generic.

I mentioned seafood and the Keys is the place to find good seafood.  There are some fine seafood markets in the Keys like Key Largo Fisheries, who supplies most of the restaurants in the Upper Keys, or the Islamorada Fish Company.  You walk in and you surrounded by both local and imported fish, shellfish, shrimp, stone crab, lobster, and more.  It’s not cheap compared to your regular meat and taters, but it’s tasty as hell and healthy to boot.  If you have a taste for seafood you are going to love it in the Keys.  And of course, you can always go out and catch your own.  Line fishing, spear fishing, lobster diving, is available to all with the proper equipment and license.  It’s just not as cost effective as buying your fish at the store but a heluva lot more fun that playing bumper cars with the tourists who can’t handle a food cart.

From a minimalist perspective, I try to limit my monthly food budget to $300.  That includes not just food, but toiletries, pet supplies, etc.  As said before I rarely eat out so that saves a bundle.  An average dinner at a restaurant can cost the equivalent of 3 days worth of groceries.  My average dinner at home costs around $7.00 when it’s all done.  When I shop I take one or two canvas bags and no more.  Never use a cart as you will just end up spending more as you fill it up.  I use the bags, when they are full, I stop shopping.  I tend to get just enough food for about 2 to 4 days at a time.  It means a few more trips to the store than normal but it also means fresher food, and a tendency to spend a little less per trip.  I take advantage of sales when ever possible.  Publix loves to do the buy one, get one free deal on their line.  If it is something I normally get I will stock up a bit like with shampoo or toilet paper.  If you put your mind to it you can eat real good without spending a lot of money.  Here are a few more tips:

Keep your meals simple.  A bag of potatoes, a loaf bread, a pack of chicken, and maybe a vegetable can be stretched out into several good meals.  Nothing wrong with going all out with a big fancy meal once in a while but if it is just every day eating, downsize.

If you happen to know anyone who lived during the Great Depression and WW II ask them for some old time recipes.  If there is anyone who knows how to stretch a food budget it will be someone who has had to do without many of the food choices that we have today.  My dear grandmother raised 9 kids during the 1930’s and 40’s on a railroad engineers salary.  She could take a bag of flour and some sugar and feed everyone for a month.

Try to stay away from canned, prepackaged, pre cooked stuff.  Look at the ingredients on some of that crap.  Most of the stuff in there is designed to keep what little actual food is in the box from rotting.  Learn to cook from scratch.  Get that $1.99 paring knife and learn how to cook.  It’s easy and can be fun.  You can cook most stuff in less than 30 minutes if you know how.  It beats waiting at a table for 40 minutes while some wait staff is too busy to get you a drink.  If you don’t know how to cook, find a good cooking website or app and learn.  The very basics are simple, food, heat, eat.

Stay away from fast food.  A no brainer here.  Did you know that 9 of the ingredients in a  Whopper require a hazmat suit to handle?

Skip the individual packaged stuff, like the little bags of snacks for lunch bags.  Those single servings are expensive and waste a lot of packaging.  If those snacks are what you want get the big bag, throw some in a tupperware bowl and take them for lunch instead.

It pretty much goes without saying, if you work and have a lunch break, brown bag it, or canvas bag it as it were.  Going out to eat lunch can tear up a paycheck pretty fast.

Applying minimalist fundamentals to your diet is not difficult.  As I said in the beginning, I love to eat.  I don’t always eat the way I should but I do a lot better without breaking the bank.  Be smart on how you spend your food dollars.  Look at the price tags that show the price per unit for a good clue as to the actual cost of something.  If you really want to track your food budget set up a spread sheet with the cost of every item of food you buy and calculate the cost of every meal and snack.  Run it by the ounce, or gram if you are into the whole metric thing, and find out what the actual cost of eating is.  Then see where you can cut back.

Buy what you eat, eat what you buy.  And enjoy it.  Food is good.  Don’t believe me?  Try going with out it for a few days.

The Fritter

Recipes coming later.