Tiny Space Gourmet on a Budget

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I have a confession to make. I LOVE my tiny kitchen. Which is crazy. I’ve had all variety of kitchens from cramped u-shapes to open floorplan chef. When we bought our last refrigerator, we literally walked into the store and said, “Show us the biggest unit you’ve got.”

I’ve always loved kitchens. Their design. Their flow. My ever growing walk-in pantries. My countless cabinets. The miles of counterspace. And yet, I have more fun and and have been inspired by more creativity in my tiny camper kitchen than anywhere else.

I think it is because I have to be so aware, so selective of what I bring into this tiny space. I have a drawer’s worth of counterspace, a cover for the stove to extend that space, a slightly larger dorm fridge with a teensy freezer, and two cabinet doors worth of pantry. That alone inspires creativity for feeding five people.

Then too, there is location. We are mobile. We’ve traveled over 20,000 miles in these last twelve months and visited 27 states. Sure we could shop at Walmart or Kroger or whatever big box grocery store is prevalent in the region and keep the same food going all the time. But I don’t want to do that. Especially when we’re in an area full of roadside markets, hand-painted signs, trucks overloaded with fresh fruit, or even urban areas bursting with local shops.

Our motto really has become: Shop local. Shop simple. Shop fresh.

So we look for roadside stands, farmer’s markets, produce markets, bakeries, butcher shops, and fish mongers. I’ve become a cheese, jam, and dressing addict. I have discovered that I LOVE fresh food. And when you’re somewhere like the vicinity of Seattle, you can even do it on a budget.

The girls and I went on a food adventure today. Seriously, grocery shopping has become an adventure. Something we crave. We set out with a plan that we knew would take all day. It’s cool, we brought coolers.

First stop was the bakery. Normally this is my trouble spot. We’ve cut out nearly half of our bread intake since adopting our more vegetable focused diet but I’m still a sucker for fresh bread dipped in herbed olive oil and muffins in the morning. Jesus must have taken the wheel today because the shelves were almost bare. There must have been a run on pastries because there wasn’t even a loaf of bread to be found. Just a few months ago this would have had me in a carb depression but today I just shrugged it off and turned the truck to more exciting things. We were headed to the produce market.

I admit I may have left my better judgement at the door. We walked into this roadside market and found Heaven. Fruit and vegetables as far as the eye could see. Fresh herbs in pots. Dried herbs on shelves. Milk, eggs, cheese. I looked at the girls with a mad gleam in my eyes and said, “Let’s buy ALL the vegetables.” The ladies behind the counter gave a chuckle and handed us a basket. We perused the entire shop before putting a single item in the basket. Then we delightedly started picking out produce. We dropped off our basket at the checkout counter. We asked questions. We grabbed another basket. We circled the shop again. We dropped off a second basket. We discussed the various merits of duck and chicken eggs before heading over to grab a dozen. And then…we saw the bread. Glorious fresh loaves. Italian, French, Rosemary. I told you I lost my head. The lady that rang us up was so delighted at our enthusiasm that she even gifted honey sticks to all the children. As I watched it all get rung up I was a little nervous at what our cost might be. Don’t worry, I’ll break it all down for you at the end.

Next up, we needed meat. We actually drove a little further for both butcher and fish monger but only because the reviews were absolutely amazing. I’ve never been afraid of driving for both a good deal and good service. I was even more afraid of the price at the next two shops since specialty shops tend to be more expensive, but I decided quality won out. Here’s the best part about butcher shops and seafood markets, they’ll cut everything exactly the way you want it. That’s a huge deal for a tiny space gourmet who doesn’t have a lot of time to feed hungry children before they start considering cannibalism. They’re also willing to discuss the different types of meat and fish so you can find exactly what you need. I went in with a few dish ideas but not exact recipes. This was especially helpful at the seafood market where I needed different texture fish for different dishes. Now that we’re on the coast where seafood is plentiful we’re trying to fit it in more frequently for both health and taste. I left both shops with more than I had intended to buy but still managed to come in under budget. Somehow it all fit in the cooler.

When we got home the girls all went to play and Bishop came out to bring in groceries. I decided to put my feet up for a few minutes before I started the monumental task of prepping everything and putting it away. Bishop, in perfect teenage boy fashion, managed to bring in every bag in a single trip. He poured out all the produce and in a very exasperated voice asked, “What happened?!”

I swear I managed to look embarrassed as I squeaked out, “It escalated.”

Okay, I probably didn’t look embarrassed. The produce will last us a week. The meat and seafood two or three weeks. So here’s everything we got.

Produce Market $81.40

(All organic or grown without pesticides)

  • 7 types of Summer Squash
  • Sweet Onions
  • Red Potatoes
  • Garlic
  • Garlic Chives
  • Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes
  • 2 loaves of bread (Italian and Rosemary)
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Rainbow Chard
  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage
  • Green Onions
  • Lemons
  • Blueberries
  • Purple String Beans
  • 2 varieties of Eggplant
  • 2 varieties of Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Free Range Eggs
  • Honey Sticks

Meat Market $67.27

(All items portioned and cut to order.)

  • Pork Shoulder Roast
  • Chicken Thighs
  • Skirt Steak
  • Apple Smoked Bacon
  • Pepper Jelly
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Goat Cheese

Seafood Market $63.51

(All items portioned and cut to order.)

  • Alaskan King Salmon
  • Jumbo Shrimp
  • Red Snapper

TOTAL $212.18

Y’all. I normally budget $250 a week for groceries. I have plenty left over for cereal, noodles, and tortillas. (We might have a slight veggie quesadilla and ramen addiction.) Plus, at least half of the meat will carry over to next week because it was so easy to portion out.

So what do I do with all that food once I get it home? I’m glad you asked. Prepping is the key to not wasting.

The meat was simple. The butcher had already sliced the skirt steak and thighs for me so I simply transferred them to freezer bags and portioned them out for two dinners each as I did it. One package of bacon went into the fridge and the other to the freezer. The pork roast went into the outside fridge because it is going into the Crock-Pot very soon. I found an Apple Bacon BBQ Sauce at a roadside stands a few weeks ago and have been waiting for the perfect cut of meat to use it. The seafood was just as easy. The fishmonger had suggested snapper for soups and sauteing because it keeps a firmer texture. He also cubed it and set it into two portions for me. It was as easy as sliding it into freezer bags. The shrimp was prepped as well, no need for me to shell or devein anything. Into a freezer bag it went where we can easily pull it out and add it to ramen on the fly. The salmon fillet went straight to the fridge. It has a special date with the oven tomorrow night.

The produce was not so simple. The lemons and blueberries were easy. They go straight into the bin.

I’ve learned though that if I just put away whole vegetables, they don’t get used. If I put in straight leafy anything, it turns slimy. No bueno on either score. First I took the apples, plums, peaches, and pears out of the equation. They live in the fruit basket. The cherry tomatoes commandeered a cereal bowl next to the fruit basket. I pulled out my big mixing bowl for the onions and garlic. I chop those as needed or the whole refrigerator starts to smell.

I would love to chop the squash and potatoes but they have to wait until I have a wee bit more space in the fridge. So what about the rest of it? The leafy vegetables (cabbage, bok choy, and rainbow chard) got sliced into ribbons and put in freezer bags. I labeled the bags and then lined the inside of them with paper towels before adding the greens.

I’ve noticed this extra step keeps them from getting slimy and makes it super easy to just grab a handful when I’m cooking and struck with inspiration. I keep a clear bin in the fridge so I can stand up my greens’ bags and easily see the labels. I also chopped up my green onions and keep them in that bin though they don’t seem to need the paper towel lining.

Everything else gots chopped up and bagged ahead of time. It fits better in the fridge that way.

So there you go. A week’s worth of real food for five, on a budget, in a tiny space. What will your kitchen inspire you to do this week?

I wonder if it will look bigger if I show it twice…

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