In New York, eating seasonally is cool. It is a choice that food enthusiasts, myself included, make. Sometimes. When we feel like it. But when the only thing at the farmers market is turnips, cabbages, and onion, it is off to Whole Foods to get the rest of what is on the list. In New Zealand, eating out of season is a luxury. I first noticed this when we were grocery shopping in Auckland, and two red peppers rang up as $9.98. WTF?! I begrudgingly asked the cashier to take one of the peppers out of my bag, while I had silent adult tantrum in my head: But I waaaaant it.
I really should have removed both from my bag, but I was caught off guard and being stubborn, so I kept one. One stupid, $5 capsicum. However, this was more than just red peppers being expensive. This was cramping my dinner stye. I, like many people, express myself through food. I like to make good food for other people to say “thank you,” or “I like you, let’s be friends.” And most of us who enjoy making food have our go-to recipes and ingredients that are relatively inexpensive, easy to prepare and taste delicious. Red peppers, specifically roasted red peppers, are one of my staple ingredients. They make my dinner distinct. And now, I had to make dinner without them. (Wah.)
Well, we are on an island. Everything here is expensive. Especially things that are not grown or made here. And as it turns out, red peppers are summer vegetables and it is winter here. If you want them, you are going to have to pay for them to come over from Mexico. Or wherever they come from.
Which is how it should be, isn’t it? There is plenty of produce that I buy year round from Whole Foods and it doesn’t even dawn on me that it isn’t the season. I mean, strawberries are obvious because there is no replicating a perfectly sweet June strawberry. But how about eggplant? Or Spinach? Or bananas? They are amongst my staples, yet I am unaware of their growing season because I can get them for the same price and they have about the same taste, year round.
Until I came here and found that I can’t afford to cook the way I did in New York.
Another curve ball came when we found out that our WWOOF hosts only provide us breakfast and lunch. Usually 3 meals are provided, but we are only doing about a half a days work each day and therefore are only provided 2 meals. This makes sense, and the details of the work trade agreement do vary from host to host. However, making dinner each night was an unexpected expense.
We hit the local grocery store in search of ingredients that are equal parts healthy, hearty, tasty and inexpensive. In New York, I would find recipes and make my grocery list before heading off to the store, whereas here we are going sans list and searching for ingredients that fit our criteria. Our first haul included onions, bean sprouts, garlic, carrots, broccoli, white button mushrooms, pasta, pasta sauce, parmesean cheese, a pineapple, Tim Tams and a bottle of wine, all for $45. We have supplemented that with rocket (a variety of arugula), lemons and rosemary from the garden and the occasional butter, sausage or eggs left over from breakfast and stretched it for 5 meals.
$45/5 dinners= $9 per dinner, $9/2= $4.50 per person. Not bad.
Cooking here is a real lesson in back to the basics. No spices other than salt and what is in the garden. No fancy ingredients, just what’s in season and what’s cheap. The challenge then is to make it taste good. We have lucked out so far, with some hearty salads and pasta with veggies, with just one flop when I tried to incorporate some baked beans into a stir fry and wound up with barbecue sauce flavored bean sprouts, but we don’t need to dwell on that one.
So while it is taking some adjusting, shopping and eating what is in season, and what is affordable, feels a bit like an experiment, or a challenge. A challenge that we are totally dominating.