by Lanya Butler, with special thanks to Brendan Buell
Welcome to Fort Franklin: a multi-family that I currently call “home” with 4 other young adults. The 200 year-old building, we jokingly call a “scrub-den,” referencing TLC’s hit song “No Scrubs,” has chipped half-painted walls, perpetually dusty floors, and a kitchen that can barely fit two people at once. This will be the laboratory where we conduct a grand foodie experiment.
Since starting to work for Local Pickins, I have been regularly asked, “Can you actually afford to eat local food? Farmers markets are sooooo expensive!” Being a recent college graduate, I haven’t added farmers markets to my regular cycle of food stops because of my preconception of their high prices. At quick glance, the $17/lb steak flanks don’t give much hope for budget cooking. However, I enlist my roommate Brendan and together we set out to find exactly what kind of a meal we could make for $20.
Lets’ first talk about our ingredients. Our first stop was to Siena Farms. The small farm store operates in the South End between Tremont and Waltham streets. As I walked past the Butcher Shop, a well-known Barbra Lynch establishment that also sells house-made charcuterie and pate, I was guided by tall sunflowers lining the street overflowing from the farm store. After stepping inside, I was overwhelmed by the bright array of vegetables, canned goodies, and other treats. My eyes fell on curly-leaf kale. At $3 dollars a bunch, it fell well within my budget. In my head, I thought back to a peppy friend from California who used to rave about green apple kale salads and kale chips. Okay, sold. But somehow just kale felt lonely. “What about some beets? The candy striped ones are a lot of fun!” the cute lady at the counter offered. $3 dollar for a bunch of candy striped beets.
Our next stop was to head over to the Brookline Farmers Market to find a source of protein and starch. After debating between beef, chicken, or pig and walking back and forth between stalls with furrowed brows, Brendan and I settled on buying the $11 chicken thighs from Copicut Farms.
We wandered back to the Stillmans Farm stand for 3 sizable golden potatoes that added another $3 added to bring our budget spent to a full $20. As an added bonus, I purchased a dinosaur drawing from a young 6 year old farmer for 5 cents (It didn’t count towards my budget but now proudly hangs on my fridge!).
Finally home, we started organizing how to cook everything. I had to stop and admire the beautiful candy cane beets. They stole the show with their eye catching vivid pink and white centers.
As we preheated the oven, smoke filled the room sending the fire alarms into frenzy … oops, I guess we won’t be using the oven. Instead, we settled with boiling the beets in some water and sautéing the kale in light olive oil with salt and pepper. The potatoes were crisped with a bit of oil, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. After sprinkling the chicken thighs with some salt and pepper, we threw them into a pan with caramelized shallots and a bit of red wine.
“I think the chicken is done! Is the chicken done yet?” I asked like a broken record while the chicken simmered happily away in the wine sauce. And finally after the 8th time of asking it seemed that our dinner was finally complete.
Brendan plated the finished food with a flourish and dinner was served. We comfortably fed 3 people with even a bit of leftovers. Admittedly convenience is still an issue that will stop me from regularly shopping at farmers markets. But the price? At $7 dollars a plate, our fancy dinner was cheaper than any restaurant I’ve been to. It sure tasted a whole lot better than the ramen and frozen dino nugget dinners that were regular staples in college.
And hey, if we can do it, then so can you.