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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, April 02, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Dealing with Limited Choice of Food Products

Frugal Kitchens 101

I am a very strong proponent of eating locally grown and produced foods within a 100 mile radius of our home.  We live in one of the most abundant food producer areas of Canada, and I fully believe in supporting our local food producers and farmers.  That being said, there are foods that aren't produced locally (eg. citrus fruits, tropical fruits, some varieties of fish, olives, spices, tea, coffee and etc.).  There are times like right now I am looking for a particular food product, in this case crab roe, that there is no way I am every going to find it without going into Toronto or ordering online.  The thing is there is nothing new about not being able to get a particular food product where we live.  I grew up in a small community of about 2,000 and my Mom did not drive.  She had a garden and bought what was available at the two very tiny grocery stores with a rather limited choice of food products.  Friends would bring in peaches, apples, pears and smelt from time to time.  We have lived mainly in smaller communities and last September moved from a rural location to a community of about 11,000.  There are two grocery stores (Sobey's, No Frills), a Wal-mart that has a food section, a fairly new bakery and a butcher shop.  Trust me, I can easily walk or bike to all of them.  My husband and I are very blessed in that we have two vehicles but many in our community do not have a vehicle. Their mode of transportation is walking or biking.  There is no public transportation and a cab will cost you a flat rate of $9.50 each way effectively adding $19 to your cost of acquiring groceries should you choose to use a cab.

The grocery stores here have a fairly descent selection of the basics, a bit of some borderline gourmet, very limited supply of international (Mexican, Italian, Oriental) foods but the community is very much a working class community so that is reflected in what the grocery stores stock.  Regardless where you live, some foods and food products will not be available.  Having dealt with limited choice of food products all my life, I have a few tips for acquiring those food products and ingredients I want or need:

  • larger centres - I keep a list of ingredients needed that I can't get locally.  When I am in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) or the US (day trips/vacation home), I look for those items and stock up.  
  • substitutions -   Having lived in smaller communities and rural, I keep a well stocked pantry.  I have become the queen of substitutions.  I often substitute my home canned products for a commercially canned product in a recipe.  Quite frankly, even brand name doesn't matter all that much for many recipes.  The only time the brand name really matters is if the ingredient is a propriety product and even then it is possible to substitute a homemade clone.
  • homemade - I cannot stress how important it is to make anything you possibly can from scratch using ingredients from your pantry.  For example, I dry my own herbs so with thyme, chives, rosemary, parsley, sage (and much more) and even vegetable powders I can make a wide range of seasoning blends rather than trying to find these types of blends in the grocery store. 
  • grow your own - One very easy way to get certain varieties of fruits and vegetables is to grow your own.  For the longest time I could not get fresh habanero peppers but I could get the seeds which solved my problem.  I love growing produce that I can't find in the stores like heirloom tomatoes (eg. Brandywine), beefsteak tomatoes, rhubarb, ground cherries, horseradish, and a large variety of herbs that I can't even find as seedlings here.  The neat thing is by joining a seed exchange I can get a nice variety of seeds for the cost of a stamp.  Finding seeds never seems to be a problem. You can grow indoors, outdoors, on balconies and if you have absolutely no where to grow a few plants, many communities have community gardens.
  • mail order -  Many seed companies, specialty and gourmet food companies have free mail order catalogues.  Simply request a catalogue then shop from the comforts of your home.  Once you are on their mailing list, they will send out new catalogues as they become available.
  • shop online - My favourite method of acquiring kitchen items and food products not available locally is shopping online.  It is surprising the vast variety of food products that can be ordered online!  I can even order fresh Canadian seafood and cheeses with overnight delivery to my door.  Shopping online is the eco-friendly alternative to mail order or driving to a larger centre.  The may be a shipping and handling charge so be sure to factor that into the total cost for that food item, but recently more companies are offering free shipping just to get your business.

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