Friday, July 3, 2009

Money: saving it and spending it

I was a very good home economist this year, or so I believe and so my collection of monthly receipts confirms. I managed to feed my horde of 5 kids and myself mostly organic, lots of fresh vegetables, and quite a few yummy treats on an average of 200E a month or just under. I started out the year by spending a whopping 450E at the organic wholesale market on the basics, filling the larder if you will:

15 kilos of various flours
3 cases of pasta (12 packets of spaghetti, 10 bags of fusilli and 12 boxes of lasagna)
3 kilos of green lentils
5 kilos of brown rice
5 kilos of basmati rice
3 kilos of couscous
3 kilos of quinoa
10 kilos of grated gruyère cheese (which I promptly stuck in the freezer)
a case of sweet butter (ditto, into the freezer)
10 boxes of rice cakes (6 packs to a box)
3 liters of soy sauce
3 liters of cold pressed sunflower oil
3 kilos of brown rapadura sugar
3 kilos each of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds
a case of crushed tomatoes
a case of plain tomato sauce
a case of ketchup
a case of plain puffed rice cereal
3 kilos of 5 mixed flakes (for granola, breads, galettes, etc.,)
and 30 eggs (something I try to get twice monthly)

plus household supplies:

5 liters dishwashing liquid
5 liters laundry detergent
6 liters wc liquid

I didn't need to return to the organic wholesale market for a while after this-- flour is the only ingredient I go through really fast making weekly batches of bread, brownies, muffins, pancakes, quiche, tarts, etc.,. Come December, I started spending somewhere between 50 Euros and 100 Euros monthly on organic basics.

I then made a pass by the huge grocery store near school, Auchan, for sponges, gloves, tea and coffee, chocolate, strawberry jam, salt, dog food, etc.,

Weekly I pick up fresh fruit and vegetables from the local farm (about 15-20 Euros a trip), jars of honey from Sophie, the beekeeper (a kilo lasts a month plus with us -- at 10 Euros a kilo), and on average twice monthly I collect 8 to 10 liters of fresh raw milk from the farm down by Erick's house. This the kids drink fresh, in hot chocolate (a breakfast standard till it became simply too hot), in cereal, and when it goes off, I use it to bake muffins, cakes, biscuits, soda bread, and more.

Once every ten days or so, I fixed animal protein. I keep a stash of some bacon or ham around for quiches, fried rice, etc., and then pick up a nice chicken or rabbit, or even tasty sausages or org. hamburger to enliven meals.

My girlfriend Pascale, returning to Switzerland once monthly with her boys to see their father, brings me back huge quantities of recycled paper for the WC and paper towels. Enough to last the year, and no more than 25 Euros for the year's budget.

With the above, we made do. Dinners were variations on a theme: lots of grains, vegetables and either cheese or eggs as a protein. Breakfast was generally my slow-rising multi-grain bread, but also the occasional batch of pancakes or soda bread. They were all addicted to basic strawberry jam, so this became a weekly staple. Throughout the winter I made large batches of vegetable soups with whatever was in season. All but Leo (not a lover of soups) ate their way through onions, fennel, turnips, rutabagas, squash, cardoon, cabbage, celery root, beets and (easiest of all) carrots. Lentils were a hit with some, not with others. Quiche was a very popular option, as long as there was nothing green in it. Squash required some hiding (a great addition to mac-n-cheese!) and went into cakes and muffins as often as on the table in its more identifiable form.

The nights I just couldn't face cooking -- generally after my weekends at the winery, or a particularly long day touring with clients -- it was pasta and salad, or even bread and butter and salad, or bread with melted cheese and and slices of melon. There were no complaints from the masses.

Afternoon snacks varied from the simplest: rice cakes with jam or honey or chocolade (an organic nutella); to whatever I'd been inspired to put into the form of a muffin -- with a constant stash of turned milk or whey, baking soda, organic sugar and flour, eggs and vegetable oil, I simply played around with extras like chopped dark chocolate, bananas, apple sauce, spices and carrots, cocoa, vanilla, apricot jam... whatever was at hand and tempted me. The rare batch of brownies never lasted too long, but there I had to resist all personal temptations to add spices or coffee... my boys were inevitably terribly distressed if the flavor wasn't pure chocolate. Vanilla was the only permitted additive. Fruit, particularly as spring and summer made their appearances, was a constant. During the winter, we went through kilos of tangerines and oranges.

Lasagna was quick and easy, and I always had the ingredients on hand. Chicken with honey and spices could be stretched into at least two if not three meals.

As for drinks. I didn't buy either fruit juices or sodas, ever. It was water, raw milk and my batches of home-made syrups with the garden herbs (mint, lemon verbena, elderflowers, lemon balm) and organic sugar. I enjoyed my evening glass of wine (a benefit of having a vintner as a friend). And voila.

If there were indulgences, they were rare, but appreciated: a case of organic chocolade was an investment at nearly 50 Euros, but the kids do adore it. And I brought back stashes of Tazo black chai from the States as my morning beverage.

When I decided to limit dairy in my diet due to my constant sniffles, I purchased a case each of rice milk and soy milk, plus bars of palm oil from the organic wholesaler. The former, being simply to add to my tea or for the occasional bowl of my home-made granola, last quite a while in their sterilized containers. The palm oil is great for baking, helping my tart doughs be flaky and my chocolate cakes purer in flavor.

And now. The house is nearly empty. I put what was left of the dry goods under the stairwell and brought the perishables with me to the winery. JP and I ate the last of my two kilos of organic lamb from Gaetan's father yesterday.

Come September, I'll start over again, with a different set of boarders, my kids a year older, and perhaps a different weekly rhythm of English classes, translations... we'll see. The first year could be classified as a successful experiment in living simply yet well. Non?

Just in case you're wondering, nearly all the recipes for the above mentioned foods (and house staples) can be found in earlier blog posts.


Airelle said...

hello Madeleine, i am a keen reader of your blog since I discovered it (and by the way, I hope you don't mind i put a link on your blog since i am all the time on look out of english blogs of quality on the south of france).
where is this organic wholesaler and do you need some sort of professional card to do business with them? I regurlarly pass by avignon so it would be interesting to me. though i am far from beeing the domestic goddess you are, i would like to buy more basics goods of organic variety if i wasn't barred by the cost.
have a nice summer and bises,

The Sabbatical Chef said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Sabbatical Chef said...

(I goofed up the first time! Oops!)
It seems that you've had a good year, Madeleine! Bravo! I hope that Leo and Jonas have a wonderful Michigan summer playing with their cousins and that you enjoy your trip. Bon voyage et bonnes vacances!

Madeleine Vedel said...

Airelle -- I go to Probabio in Monteux. Yes, you need a professional status -- mine is as an association 1901 dealing with food (my past life). Eventually, you could set up an association with a couple of friends and go there... it does make a difference, if not for everything. A friend who is very much the careful spender has noticed that the high quality org. margarine and organic baking chocolate is less expensive at Auchan. However, for dry goods (flour, cereal, grains, etc.,) it is a marvelous resource. Take care!

My Teresa, thank you! the year ended up well, but goodness, how intense it was. I'm setting myself up for more live in children next year... and hopefully more writing, translating and teaching -- in a flexible and sane fashion. much love!

Airelle said...

thanks for info and thanks for your blog full of good ideas!