Know MSG

Reasons to Ring the Dinner Bell

 

I totally get it.  Whether you’re a family of two or twenty-two, it’s not easy making family dinners happen.  But getting everyone to the dinner table at the same time even a few times a week is a great idea.  Some reasons might surprise you.

Staying Connected

One of the more simple reasons is that being together for dinner helps families stay connected.  When families are together with phones set aside and TVs turned off, conversations emerge that help us understand what’s happening in each other’s lives.  Even without profound conversation, time around the dinner table builds family bonds and sends the message that family is important.

Saving Money

Saving money is another reason.  When families eat dinner separately, it usually means some or all of us are eating out.  And eating out is more expensive than a eating at home.  A family of four can easily spend thirty dollars or more even at a fast food restaurant.  In contrast, a simple dinner at home costs half that, or less.  As an example, the My Street Grocery Brazilian Black Beans and Sausage Meal Kit is only $12 and makes 4-6 hearty portions.  Take the savings and put it aside for a family vacation.  The dollars will add up fast.

Adding Variety

Eating out not only costs more but it can also discourage eating different varieties of foods.  Introducing variety is important because it’s often healthier, and because it encourages kids and adults alike to explore the world around them.  Kids in particular sometimes need a little nudging to experiment beyond chicken strips and cheeseburgers.  They’ll grow up to be more interesting people if they learn to try new things.  Experimenting with new and different foods is a great place to start.

Building Family Memories

I have fond memories of certain family recipes while growing up.  Cheese enchiladas, Swiss steak, and lasagna are all comfort foods that I enjoyed at the family dinner table.  Even if they don’t know it now, kids in particular will appreciate family favorites later in life.  When they come home from college they’ll be asking for their favorite dinners that remind them of loved ones and of simpler times.

Staying in Control

When preparing dinner at home for the family, you control the ingredients.  This helps makes for a healthier meal.  Even seemingly innocent restaurant meals can be loaded with surprise and less-healthy ingredients.  I once asked a chef friend of mine how he makes his scrambled eggs so delicious.  His reply was “Butter, lots of butter.”  Even a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs away from home can contain more fat than you thought possible.  I walked by an open kitchen at a local restaurant once to see the chef painting loads of butter on top of a grilled steak with a brush.  Even simple foods can have unexpected (and not-so-healthy) ingredients.  Going out to eat is great fun and I encourage it.  But with a family dinner at home it’s likely you’re eating fewer calories and healthier ingredients.

Give it a Try

Bringing the family together at home for dinner is a great way to stay connected, save money, and add variety to our diets and our lives.  It also creates fond memories of favorite family recipes.  Finally, when you prepare dinner at home, you control the ingredients.  Most often this results in a healthier meal.  With a bit of effort, even the busiest families can get everyone at the dinner table at the same time a few nights a week.  Give it a try…You’ll be glad you did.

Confessions of an Impulsive Food Lover

 

I think it’s time that I finally admit it: I have a problem. For some women, it’s shoes, handbags, or jewelry. But for me, it’s all about food. Maybe you haven’t noticed yet, but we are in the midst of the apex of food season here in Portland and its surrounding areas. If you’ve been to a market lately (and you’re anything like me), you’ll be amazed and overwhelmed at everything our local farmers, ranchers, and food producers have to offer, and you may find yourself getting a little too excited. You can find everything from kale, berries, melons and tomatoes to hot and sweet peppers, apples, and even winter squash. Seriously…strawberries AND greens AND peppers AND pumpkins? How can it all be happening at once?!?

Must have all of them. 

(I joke about my experience at local markets, but this type of unplanned spending can happen even if you can only make it to the store on limited occasions. The typical big-box grocery store can be very overwhelming and enticing.) Because I’m a bit excitable and impulsive when it comes to food purchases, it’s easy to overspend. Money that I shouldn’t really be spending seems to magically disappear from my bank account without my knowledge. It’s as if a couple of little Marxist one dollar bills decided to fly the coop, but they keep rallying their friends to join them in their exodus, so they’re leaving in armies now.

The moral of this little confessional is that when you don’t create a food budget, and when you shop for one meal or a few impulse items at a time, you lose track of your spending habits and you begin to feel like food is far too expensive. Luckily, there is help out there! Our friends at Food Hero know our pain (that’s me and you – fellow food lover), and they’ve created lots of user friendly tools to help us budget and spend appropriately. The best part about it is, we can still buy the healthful, seasonal, fresh foods that we so desire AND stay within our budgets. In fact, buying locally and seasonally is a great way to save money on food.

At this wonderful site, you can find tools to help you create a food budget, waste less food, transform your leftovers, and identify when your favorite produce is in season. While you’re there, I encourage you to browse around and see what other tips and tools Food Hero has to offer. It’s a great resource.

At My Street, we’ve got tomatoes, berries, zucchini, melons, peaches, pears, and corn (to name a few items), and we’d love to help you add these seasonal, affordable foods to your well-planned food budget. You can even check on me while you’re there and make sure that I didn’t go rogue and buy another pair of beautiful, shiny tomatoes that I didn’t need, since we all know I already have at least three more pairs at home…

A Bounty of Figs

 

Last Thursday we pulled up at one of our new stops in Milwaukie, The Springs at Clackamas Woods.  A resident was sitting comfortably on a bench near our truck enjoying the sunshine and a cool breeze when she saw us set out a flat of figs.  “Are those figs?” she said.  “Yes, fresh Mission figs.” I replied.  She said “I’ll take the whole flat.  I’m going to take them home and eat them all right now.” Of course she was joking about eating them all in one afternoon, but she did buy an entire flat of 12 overflowing pints.  It was a treat to see how excited she was to enjoy figs again for the first time in long time. “I used to eat these as a kid,” she said.  So we packed them up and watched her march off happily with her bounty of fresh figs.

Figs have been a popular item at markets for us lately, and it occurred to me that I’d never cooked with them.  So I set out to change that. This recipe from Cooking Light was a clear winner.  It’s quick, easy and really delicious.  Try it for a late-summer picnic or a holiday party.  You won’t be disappointed.

Fig and Goat Cheese Bruschetta

Prepare the fig jam for this savory-meets-sweet appetizer up to three days in advance, and store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature, and assemble bruschetta just before serving. For smaller groups, use half the amount of bread. Leftover jam is great on toast at breakfast.

Yield: 20 servings (serving size: 2 bruschetta)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups chopped dried Mission figs (about 9 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped orange sections
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice (about 1 orange)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 40 (1/2-inch-thick) slices French bread baguette, toasted (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
  • 5 teaspoons finely chopped walnuts

 

Preparation

Combine first 7 ingredients in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until figs are tender. Uncover and cook 5 minutes or until mixture thickens. Remove from heat; cool to room temperature.

Preheat broiler.

Top each bread slice with 1 1/2 teaspoons fig mixture and 1 1/2 teaspoons goat cheese. Arrange bruschetta on a baking sheet; sprinkle evenly with walnuts. Broil 2 minutes or until nuts begin to brown. Serve warm.

Maureen Callahan, Cooking Light
SEPTEMBER 2008

You Say Tomato

 

If you’re a tomato fan, you may have noticed that they are currently EVERYWHERE. Grocery store shelves have increased variety, friends are bringing tomato dishes in all forms to potlucks, and farmers market stalls are overflowing with rainbow colored heirlooms in all shapes and sizes. It is officially tomato season in Portland, and we’re pretty excited about it. So, what to do with this proliferation of fruits? Of course, you can take the Southern approach and layer big slabs of perfectly ripe tomatoes on sandwich bread painted with mayonnaise (Duke’s, if you want to be authentic) and dusted with salt and pepper. However, no matter how many tomato sandwiches you can eat, it may be tough to find ways to use up all of this season’s bounty. Well, imagine this: it’s sometime in February. The rains have set in and Portlanders are in full hibernation mode. The farmers markets are closed, and vine-ripened tomatoes are just a faint memory of summer, about as rare as the sun. Then, you open your cupboard hoping to find some inspiration and you see…jars of whole peeled Roma tomatoes preserved in their own sweet juices just begging to be turned into a quick pasta sauce, spicy heirloom tomato jam ready to be smeared over roasted chicken or steak, or fresh summer salsa to top your favorite enchiladas. Doesn’t that sound nice? All of this to say, summer eating doesn’t have to end! Here are some ideas about how to bring a little bit of your summer bounty with you all year long. Trust me, your winter self will thank you.

Tips for Tomato Canning Season

This article has links for brilliant ways to preserve tomatoes. We are big fans of the canned whole peeled tomatoes, both of the tomato jams (classic red and yellow with lemon and basil), and the slow roasted and frozen Romas, which take just about as much effort as throwing a piece of bread in a (very long) toaster.

Summer Salsa

Here you’ll find some information about the role pH plays in safe tomato preservation. There is also a good-looking salsa recipe that is calling your name, now that not only are tomatoes in full swing, but peppers are also starting to make an appearance at the markets.

We hope you’ll give some of these ideas a try. Even if you’re a beginning canner, the recipes are easier than you might imagine, and the satisfaction is well worth it. Come by any of our pop-up markets to pick up some beautiful tomatoes to get you started.

A New (and different) Customer

 

My Street Grocery has a new customer.  It’s Montgomery Park, a business complex in NW Portland.  You’re used to hearing about us visiting apartments, senior centers and other neighborhood communities, so this new stop is a bit different, in a very good way.

You may know that NW Portland has some of the best restaurants and shopping in the city.  But Montgomery Park is just far enough away from those good eats that employees can’t get there and back during their lunch hour (or half-hour).  Aside from a lone burrito stand, there are no healthy options close by.

This is where we come in.  On Mondays from 11 to 1:00 My Street Grocery is now on the scene with some fresh new choices.  We offer our exclusive snack kits that contain whole grain crackers, Tillamook cheddar cheese and fresh grapes, blueberries or cherries -  it’s a hearty and healthy option for only two dollars.  We also have containers of freshly-cut cantaloupe and watermelon and containers of fresh Oregon blueberries.  On our first visit, customers really went for our new grab and go spinach, garden and Greek salads.  In addition, our new Irish Pub salad was a popular choice (even without a pint included.)

Our new friends at Montgomery Park also loved our Meal Kits.  The idea of a quick and easy dinner without a stop at the grocery store on the way home was a real winner.

While Portland is a great city with lots of healthy food options, My Street Grocery is finding locations all over town with limited access.  We’re glad to have Montgomery Park on the schedule and it looks like they’re glad have us.

Business…for good?

 

Did you know that My Street Grocery is a social enterprise? That means we are a business that exists to address a social need, which, in our case, is access to fresh, affordable, healthy food. We created our business to address this issue, and that is why we come to work every day.

Organizing ourselves as a for-profit entity was a very deliberate decision on our part. We want to earn the money that we need to provide a service to the community (rather than ask for it), and to do so in a way that benefits our company, our customers, and our community. With an economically sustainable business model, we can streamline the decision-making process, set long-term goals, and create a lasting impact.

We’re not the only ones that believe in this approach, by the way! Social enterprise is a growing field gaining momentum around the world. Some companies show their commitment to business for good by choosing to become certified B Corporations, which means they have gone through a rigorous assessment process to ensure their business practices are responsible and transparent at every level. (Ever heard of Patagonia, or Etsy? Both certified B Corporations.)

Right here in Portland, we have some amazing resources for and examples of SE. I have great friends, colleagues, and mentors who are creating positive social change in our community through the power of business. (Visit B-Line, FMYI, and Sustainable Harvest for some inspiring examples of this kind of work.) We ourselves are proud to be graduates of the Social Innovation Incubator, which creates a space for organizations like ours to grow and thrive. Through the SII, we’ve been able to tap into a community of like-minded social entrepreneurs and innovators that are changing the face of business every day. (Learn more about them here.)

So, we hope this helps to shed a little light on the idea of business for good. We believe in it to our core, and our daily challenge to ourselves is to make our actions speak louder than our words.

For more on our structure and our philosophy on social enterprise, please visit our FAQs.

 


Dinner at Home…Save Time in the Kitchen

 

Have you seen chefs on TV cook with all the ingredients prepped and placed in little containers ready to be professionally swirled into a pan at just the right time? Have you noticed how when the chef reaches for a pan or a knife just the right one is always right at his or her fingertips? Now flash back to the last time you followed a recipe. If you’re like me, you’re sometimes bouncing from one cupboard to the next searching for ingredients or slicing and chopping in a rush to get something in the pan before it’s too late.

Well, it’s no secret that TV chefs have prep cooks running around before the show and behind the scenes making sure everything is ready when the cameras start rolling. Their job is to make sure the TV chef can prepare the food quickly and efficiently. While most of us don’t have a staff assisting with dinner prep, it’s still easy to save time at home using this technique.

Wondering how to get started? The first step is to read through the recipe from beginning to end before you even turn on the stove. Next, simply prep and measure out each ingredient as described in the recipe and set aside. Set out pans and other tools you know you’ll need. You can do this anytime during the day like when the kids are napping or when you have a few extra minutes. Now when it’s time to start dinner, you’ll feel like a real pro. Dinnertime just got a little less hectic.

A Day in the Life

 

After a long day, we arrive at our final stop and get everything squared away for an hour and a half long market.  A few minutes later, I hear the roar of the bike gang rolling towards us.  I always get a kick out of these regulars.  Good guys, but definitely a handful.  They always tend to take things over, but they’re good people, and always make me laugh.

The leader, Jose, asks me in broken English whether he can have some free food.  I chuckle, and inquire, again, if he would ever walk into another store and ask for freebies.  He flashes his toothless grin and suggests that maybe he and his buddies could work for some food.  I hand the six of them some fliers and they race off to distribute throughout the community.

When they get back, I offer a pint of cherries to the crew, and Jose looks perplexed.  He informs me that he’s never had a cherry before.  After a warning about the pits, they chow down and I see that toothless smile again.  As the eight year olds peddle off, Jose yells that he’s going to go ask his Mother for some money so he can buy more cherries.

This is one example of the little things.  Others are Eve telling me that her day is going great now that we’ve arrived, Marion and her puppy Phoebe greeting us upon our arrival, as they always do, and then returning four more times over the hour we’re there in order to buy milk and produce for all of their friends who can’t make it outside that day, and Norma, who is convinced that I have a special talent for “always picking the most perfect cantaloupe for her” (it’s the smell test!).

Starting and running your own business can be extremely challenging sometimes.  However, working with amazingly intelligent people and organizations, as well as feeling as though we’re truly on to something, and making a difference in wonderful peoples lives, makes it all worthwhile.  Although it’s sometimes difficult to let go of some things that are out of your control, it’s all part of the learning process.  I couldn’t be happier with this amazing thing we’ve created, and the incredible reaction and support we receive from all of our communities.

Organic or not?

 

I reached for a bunch of organic bananas the other day and had a bit of sticker shock.  Wow…nearly twice the price for organic compared to conventionally grown.   Buying organic can put real stress on a family budget.  So if I can’t have it all, what organic produce provides the most benefit?  For help I revisited the Environmental Work Group’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen.”

The Dirty Dozen are those fruits and vegetables that put you at the highest risk for exposure to pesticides – buy these organic if you can.  The Clean Fifteen are those with low risk – buying these non-organic is probably okay.  Of course, don’t avoid all fruits and vegetables for fear of pesticides. Whether you choose conventionally grown or organic, a diet full of fruits and vegetables is best.  In other words, eat lots of fruits and vegetables however you can.

Non-organic fruits and vegetables with the highest risk of exposure to pesticides are apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines (imported), grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries (domestic), and potatoes.  This year the environmental Work Group added green beans, and kale/greens.

The Clean Fifteen are onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, cabbage, sweet peas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, kiwi, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, watermelon, and mushrooms.

In most cases, other fruits and vegetables fall somewhere in between.  If you’re looking for a tie breaker, consider products grown closer to home.  Fruit that hasn’t traveled as far usually tastes best.  And very often, local farmers use organic growing methods but can’t call their produce organic because they don’t have the resources to pay for an organic certification.

Whether you choose organic or not, remember to add fresh fruits and vegetables to every meal and enjoy them for snacks in between too.

Community Cookbook

 

One of the things that I adore about food is its versatility, not only of preparation, but also of purpose. When I think back to some of my most cherished memories, whether they be of world travel, family events, gatherings of friends, or solo adventures, food is often the medium around which things come together. Throughout the world, a meal is a common gesture that can serve as a communication tool when language fails. Food is used to symbolize milestones, to soothe grief, and to celebrate diversity. We believe that a home-cooked meal provides so much more than nourishment, and we want to share that joy as widely as we can.

At My Street Grocery, we weave this philosophy into our mission, particularly through our Meal Kit recipes and the relationships they help us to form with our customers. So, we’re thrilled to announce a project that reflects this ideology: our Community Cookbook! We’re drawing recipes from community members to build a cookbook that celebrates delicious, nourishing recipes and the stories behind them. If you’d like to participate, email your favorite recipe to cookbook@mystreetgrocery.com. If we choose your recipe, you’ll not only be featured in the cookbook, but you’ll also be entered to win coupons to use at any of our My Street Grocery market locations. Look for the Community Cookbook in various locations around Portland later this fall, and don’t miss out on the chance to share your food story!

You can download and print the recipe entry form here. Thanks to project sponsors Ecotrust, Alberta Co-op Grocery, People’s Co-op, and Abby’s Table, for championing this mission and helping to make the Community Cookbook a reality.