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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Beating the high cost of produce?

Our summer cottage comes complete with warm childhood memories, beautiful lake sunsets, friends and relatives I don't get to see any other time of year -- and no internet connectivity beyond our phones.
The nearest free wi-fi is Tim Horton's Cafe and Bakery -- the source of many of the pounds I am now working so hard to shed. It's right across the street from my gym making it an easy daily stop. I get to smell the bagels, watch others eat bagels and think hard about why I can't yet eat bagels every day.
When I finish my online catch-up and large herbal tea with one Splenda I invariably stop at the nearby grocery store-- famished.
It's a daily treasure hunt for the low calorie, low carb, high protein options I might have missed the day before.  Over the past three weeks, I've largely exhausted the possibilities.
But a new display appeared magically last week at the end of the organic food aisle, snack bags of a specially processed zucchini with only 30 calories a bag. There was no price on the bin but I grabbed a couple bags, already imagining the taste of a new guilt-free option.
The less-than-an-ounce, not-much-bigger-than-my palm, bag rang up at $1.69. A quick calculation told me I was paying more than $33 a pound for this stuff -- so it had to be good.
When I opened the bag that evening, the pieces looked like the stuff we sweep out of the corners and cobwebs of the cottage after a winter. The small curds of desiccated zucchini appeared to be mummified -- and tasted just like hard ancient zucchini. I swear I could see the word "sucker" in the folds of the bag.
In Western New York -- where I grew up and the location of our summer cottage -- the summer season has a changeless rhythm starting with strawberries coming in mid-June, then blueberries, then cherries by mid-July -- at that point everything starts appearing at roadside stands and tomatoes, sweet corn, melon and salads appear on our table daily.
With nothing but the local strawberries at this time, produce prices are absurd.  Crazed from a morning's work out, bagel sniffing and fruitless grocery attempt, I stopped at a nursery on the way back to the cottage to get my annual container garden tomato plants. With the memory of a rejected $4 cantaloupe still fresh, I added a few cantaloupe plants, some egg plant, cucumbers, sweet peas, green beans, onions, jalapenos, banana peppers, more tomatoes, chives, cilantro, catnip, rosemary, tarragon, lettuce, more tomatoes, and watermelon.
Of course I needed several new containers, a couple of trellises and ten bags of container soil. Nearly $200 later, I am ready to save money.
Financially and emotionally, the needs of my diet have me more invested than ever in my garden. I check the plants and soil moisture several times a day and have been known to run from the porch to sunny-side-of-the- cottage garden at the sight of a well-fed robin scoping out the scene.
Friends told me human hair clippings discourage varmints, so I've been calling salons trying to score. Not all of them hang up immediately.
I dropped my seedlings and weaker plants in a small patch in the backyard hoping to serve it up as enough of a feast for the raccoons, rabbits, birds and their friends to keep them away from the main event. I find myself silently rooting for the carnivorous coyote who prowls the night.
Irrational? Perhaps.
But no more so than paying $2 for a hothouse tomato.