Archive for the ‘community’ Category

At the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, I perform various cooking demonstrations with my assistants.  In past years, we’ve created a lot of food that needed to fill empty bellies, but we didn’t have the means to do so.  A couple of years ago, we developed a way of performing the cooking demonstrations and feeding the cast.  Last year, we dubbed the concept as The Family Table.

There, cast members could get some hand crafted meals, water, and a place for the community to connect.  We prepared a meat and vegan dish each day.  On a couple of the list serves, that I belong to, I posted some facts about the family kitchen.

  • Each day of the 2010 run of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, The Family Table served between 85-125 people.
  • On Saturday, October 2, 2010, we broke a record by serving 122 cast members in 40 minutes (shortest time for service).  We believe it was due to the cold weather.  On Sunday, October 3, 2010, we prepared for the day and fed 185 cast members.
  • MRF provides a stipend for a food budget, but following it would allow us to feed the cast through 5th weekend.  The cast’s tips and donations help us stretch the budget to feed the cast throughout the entire season.
  • Each week, Cub, Rainbow, Kowalski’s, Lunds, Sam’s Club, and Costco are all shopped to get the best prices
  • Every bowl is washed and bleached so that they remain food safe.  At the end of the run, every bowl, cast iron pot, and wooden utensil is oiled and prepped for storage over the winter.
  • All of the equipment for The Family Kitchen weighs 1750 lbs and includes two tables, tent, fly, cast iron pots, travel stove, shelving, period kitchen, shelving, coolers, etc.
  • I kept a running tally through the season.  We went through a lot of food (roughly):
    Black Beans    14 lbs
    Chickpeas        22 lbs
    Lentils 8 lbs
    Zucchini           100 lbs
    Rice    100 lbs
    Bread     65 lbs
    pumpkins    23 lbs
    leeks    30 lbs
    onions    15 lbs
    potatoes    117 lbs
    carrots    130 lbs
    chicken    140 lbs
    beef    150 lbs
    pork    72 lbs
    meatballs    27 lbs
    kielbasa    30 lbs
    turkey    60 lbs
    mushrooms    16 lbs

    I hope that The Family Table can become a not-for-profit entity for next year.  I am looking for a lawyer who specializes in filing for not-for-profit status in Minnesota and is willing to work pro-bono.  If you have any referrals, please let me know.

In today’s economy, many are making cutbacks in all areas of the household budget.  Anything that can be eliminated is considered.  For many, the days of eating out everyday are gone and are being replaced with brown bag lunches.  It’s hard on a lot of families who were used to living in one lifestyle and suddenly, they need to change the way they live their lives.9017_150093804438_579144438_3443213_6130643_n

Often, the food that is cheap (and highly over-processed) is not good for you as it is often contains unhealthy fillers, high fructose corn syrups, nitrates, MSG, and/or other unhealthy ingredients which can increase behavioral issues with children and adults alike.

In an earlier blog (, I touted the benefits of buying  locally.  It is idea and helps the environment and the community, but can also hurt the pocketbook.  Below are some suggestions at buying good food, which can lead to healthy and tasty meals which help with the budget.

A couple of suggestions.  Consider finding a meat slicer (used or new), chest or upright freezer, food dehydrator, and a “food saver.”   Each of these items as well as some good food storage containers can help keep your food fresh for a longer time period.  Buying in bulk and cutting the items down to family-friendly servings are ideal.

  • A 14 lb. shoulder beef roast at Sam’s Club can cost around $22-$25, but can be cut into 30-40 steaks or 5 smaller roasts.  Roasts can be sliced up for sandwich meat.
  • Buying a whole chicken and cutting it up is significantly cheaper than buying processed chicken.  Remember, some scraps can be used for other things. Chicken backs which are usually disposed of can be used to make broth or stock.
  • Check out the local ethnic food markets for fresh fish and rice at cheaper prices
  • Consider adding more vegetables and fruit to your diet.  It’s not only healthier, but easier on the budget that processed meat.
  • Left over vegetables that may not be enough for a serving, can be used with other vegetables and made into soup, stir fry, etc.
  • By drying fruits, you can have a healthy snack at less cost that can be kept for a longer time.
  • Review the packaging and read the ingredients.  Are you buying a name brand and/or a lot of chemicals?
  • Dried beans are better for you and less expensive than canned beans.  They do require some planning by soaking overnight (24 hours) prior to use, but the higher magnesium, protein, and fibers levels will be much more beneficial.
  • Pay attention to your local store’s coupons.  Two-for-ones are great for saving money especially on items that can be used to offset eating out prices.  Pick up things you go through quickly and that are versatile so you always have items for an easy meal:  rice, pasta, pasta sauce, etc…
  • Get creative with recipes.  Some times, when money is really tight, you can take an inventory of what you have and visit some websites that specialize in recipes with four or five ingredients.  I like  You can do a search based on some of the ingredients you have.
  • Selecting a day where lunches can be made in advance.  For example:  A family size lasagna can be cut up into 12 different servings
  • Be eco-friendly and buy a water container and avoid buying bottled water.  Water is good for you, but the disposable plastic bottles are not good for the environment.
  • Date the items you put into the freezer with a permanent marker on the packaging so you don’t lose it to freezer burn and your money won’t go to waste.

I hope you found these suggestions useful.  There are other locations and resources in other states that can help families that are really struggling to feed their families.  If you are one of these families or people, visit Second Harvest Heartland or your ear food shelf.

If you are one of the fortunate ones, consider donating to an area food shelf and help others who may be struggling.


This past season and year have been amazing.  First, I became the official food writer for “Renaissance Magazine.” 

Second, despite the weather, the appearance at Siouxland was well wmrf090913143orth it between the demonstrations and cookbook sales.  The cold and rainy weather did not diminish our spirits!

Third, we experienced some amazing weather at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.  There was no rain until final weekend.  The demos went well, fed an average of 100 people each day, amd sold more cookbooks.  Also, the community kitchen in which we help feed the cast members, were nominated and received the “Best Group Award” in 2009 at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.  We were touched by everyone’s generosity and kindness; we couldn’t have done it without your help. 

I almost forgot to add that I also won a $100 gift certificate for my website as part of a Passion and Quality campaign.

We plan on returning in 2010.  Thank you all.


Eating on a budget

   Posted by: anj68 Tags: , ,

With the troubling economy and unemployment rates at a higher than average level, people are looking for ways to cut costs where ever they can.   Everyone needs to eat.  There are ways to cut back and make the most out of your food budget.  If you’re willing to work towards the cost savings, you can find rewards.  Investments that help make the most of your food budget include a Food saver or similar device that vacuum-packs food, food processor, and a deep freezer.

The deep freezer allows  you to hold more food in cold storage and saving it until  you need it for a longer time.  At our home, we have two of them (both were inherited).

The food processor, allows  you to make the most of the food products, pureeing them to use in soups and stocks and adding to their nutritional value and enhancing flavor.  For example, pureeing garlic or onions can add flavor to any dish.  Once pureed, place plastic wrap in an ice cube tray and add a tablespoon or more of each into one of the trays.   Cover with a zip lock bag so the odor doesn’t affect your other food items and freeze.  Once frozen, empty the tray to add more.  This can be done to carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, etc for instant mixing to other dishes.  The carrots and other items can be shredded or julienned and frozen to be added to other dishes.

The food saver helps in buying bulk and cutting it down to appropriate servings.  The culture in North American tends to lend itself to overeating.  By portioning out the food, you have enough for your family with out adding to the waistline.   My family and I will often visit a food warehouse such as Sam’s Club or CostCo and buy a large shoulder roast and cut it down to steaks or smaller roasts.  A $22 shoulder roast, can be cut down to about 36 steaks.  A single chicken, can be cut down  to 2 legs, 2 wings, 2 thighs, 2 breasts, and 1 back).  Depending on the size of your family (just you or more) you can determine the serving size.  The back can be boiled and used as chicken stock for future soups and stews.  Chickens are significantly cheaper whole then cut up.

For my vegetarian friends: Dried beans are an excellent source of fiber and protein.  Buying in bulk and zip locking distribution sizes so that you have enough.  It’s always a good idea when money is plentiful, to stock up on standard items – canned beans, dried bean, canned veggies, pasta, rice, etc.  S0 that when money is tight you have something to fall back on.

alicef.jpgCheap places to get food:


  1. I’ve mentioned before the grocery warehouses.  These places often require a membership fee and unless you go often, it may not be worth it.
  2. Local farmer’s markets.  I adore them.  You are buying locally and helping out independent farmers as well.
  3. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA):  By paying in, participants receive packages of fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, and some ma received eggs, bread, dairy, and meat products.
  4. Community/Communal Gardening: By working the land, you can reap its rewards.  You can do it at home, if you have a yard, or by participate in neighborhood gardening projects.
  5. Larger grocery stores:  You don’t have to buy a paper to get the coupons.  Visit your store, or preview the sales online before venturing out.  The store’s home brand may be cheaper than the more familiar brands.  Generics are NOT always cheaper.  Take a close look at the cost per ounce, you might be surprised by costs savings.
  6. Aldi Z and other food wholesalers.  Many of the stores are cash only and you pay for the extras like bags and carts.  If you bring your own bag and shop wisely, their prices may afford you some of life’s luxuries.
  7. Smart shopping.  By buying what you need, you will have less waste for our landfills and more money in  your pocketbook.
  8. Don’t fill up on junk food.  By buying “real” food, you will feel better and so will your pocketbook.



Giving Back

   Posted by: anj68 Tags: ,

One of the non-profits I support is Second Harvest Heartland.  Second Harvest Heartland is the Upper Midwest’s largest hunger-relief organization with a mission of ending hunger through community partnerships, and is a 501(c)(3)nonprofit organization.  They count on volunteer hours, food and cash donations.  

Last month, my place of employment hosted a Week of Service where employees are encouraged to give back to the community via donations of goods or services.  Several of us volunteered a couple of hours to Second Harvest.  It was fun and educational.  

At the end of the run each year at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, my members of my kitchen donate our tips to Second Harvest Heartland.  For every $1 that is raised $9 of food is purchased for the community.  

If you would like to consider a donation, visit their donation website HERE.  Every little bit helps and offers an opportunity to help those less fortunate.


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