January 12, 2013

Money money money...and happy second birthday (part 1)

So, the blog is officially two years old now! This is the first of two posts revisiting notions I addressed on Trash to Table's first birthday, so keep an eye out for the next one.

Something I vowed to do upon the blog's first birthday was to start keeping track of how much money I DO spend on groceries, and therefore how much I save over the course of a year.

A 2009 study conducted by the independent bundle.com (pictured above) estimated Baltimore's average grocery spending per person for the year to be $2,769.00, coming in at $230.75 per month. Based on some additional research, as well as the amount I receive from the government in food stamps, around $200/month seems to be a fair estimate of the norm.

In 2012, I kept a spreadsheet of how much money I spent on groceries, as well as the quantity of each item I bought to see what items are the least likely to be dumpstered, as well as what items I purchase most frequently. At the beginning of August, I also began receiving government food stamps, which changed my dumpstering habits considerably. I started grocery shopping almost exclusively, and dumpstered far less since I also moved around that time and had trouble finding new dumpsters.

So, there are two things to present here. One: how much I spent for the whole year and my savings compared to the Baltimore average and two: how my spending changed from January-August versus August into the new year. Looking at this second item will tell me how much I COULD have saved if I had kept up my habits from the first half of the year.

So, down to the nitty-gritty. In 2012, I spent a total of $806.60 on groceries. This means I saved $1,962.40 over the year compared to the average Baltimore-based consumer. That's a LOT of money! This means I spent an average of $67.21 on groceries every month, which still sounds pretty high to me.

Now, for the more interesting part. How did my spending habits change from the time I was regularly dumpstering compared to the time I wasn't? When I was primarily using dumpstering as my method of gleaning food, $64.47 was my monthly average grocery spending. After that, the average raised to $71.05 per month. This amount isn't that drastic of a change, but I'd like to also account for the fact that in the last 3 months of the year, I didn't make much food at home since my work provided meals. In my mind, this would have changed the statistics considerably, since I would have been cooking those meals instead of getting them for free.

So, what would have happened if I hadn't stopped dumpstering? I would have spent roughly $773 and saved around $30, coming in at $1,996 lower than the Baltimore average. This doesn't sound like much savings for my own spending habits. However, according to the rate I was spending AFTER I stopped dumpstering, I would have spent $853 over 2012, making for a difference of $80 over the year, which starts to sound more substantial, especially accounting for the fact that I wasn't spending money on groceries much at all in the last 3 months of the year, which decreases the numbers. My guess is that I could have saved between $100-200 if my spending habits were more regular, and there's a lot of things someone could do with that amount of money. Money is just one more incentive to dumpster!


1. Garlic - 13 cloves

2. Eggs - 10 cartons

3. Milk - 10 cartons/half gallons/etc.

4. Bread - 8 loaves

5. Red onions - 8

6. Greek yogurt - 8 packages

7. Bacon - 7 packages

8. Avocados - 7

9. Kale - 7 bunches

10. TIE Honey - 6 jars, Earl Grey tea - 6 packages

Almost all of these make a lot of sense. Garlic, eggs, milk, yogurt, bacon, (good) avocados, tea, and honey are very rare dumpster finds. However, bread, onions, and kale are the surprises of the list. All of these are fairly common to dumpster. I'd say I use onions and kale a lot - maybe more than any other food in the house, so it stands to reason that they'd be high on the list. Also, I have many recipes that call for onions, so when they weren't found in the dumpster, I would go buy them out of necessity. I typically don't use much bread, but in the latter half of the year I developed a very heavy nutella and toast habit, so I'm guessing that padded my bread buying stats.

Now that I know the staggering amount I saved this year by dumpstering, the goal for next year is to spend even less and dumpster more. Also, something I plan to start doing is keep track of how much I spend on "going out" to eat and compare that with the Baltimore 2009 average of $2,333.00 per year per person. This, as well as how much landfill space I saved in 2012 are coming up soon!

December 22, 2012

November Bounty - Sharing is Caring

I haven't put up a "bounty" post in a while because...well...I pretty much stopped dumpstering for a while after I moved. I couldn't find dumpsters I liked, I got food stamps after leaving my job, and the amount of effort it took to dumpster food on even a bi-weekly basis began to overwhelm me. Since Thanksgiving just occurred, I got inspired to start dumpstering again and buy groceries with my leftover food stamp money to give to a homeless shelter or food bank. Yes, I know this is probably unethical, but it doesn't seem like there are any rules against it in the food stamps rules book. As in, I'm pretty sure I'm not doing anything illegal. Anyway, I made up for lost time by going to a plethora of old dumpsters, checking out new spots I'd heard or speculated about, and bringing a new dumpster buddy, Door. Door's household dumpsters pretty regularly, but he's been tight-lipped about his amazing dumpster locations. I understand why - one of the best, untapped dumpster spots I used a few years ago will now have 3 or 4 cars of people driving up on a given night. Many of these people have poor dumpster etiquette, and I end up leaving with very little food. A good dumpster is often treated like a diamond: something precious and not to be shared. So, I needed to find these secret spots Door and his roommates were privy to. The only way that was going to happen in this secret dumpster economy was by trading information about spots. Luckily for me, the spots I went to near my old house were closer to Door than the over-picked dumpsters. So, we went out on an adventure and toured all the spots near my old house with great results. Ollie's Bargain Outlet - Body pillow - Mixing bowls - Dishwasher detergent Mom's Organic Market - Nothing TJ's - 4 mini ciabatta loafs - 1 loaf healthy nut bread - 1 bag potatoes - 1 bag snow peas - 1 pkg heirloom tomatoes - 4 roma tomatoes - 1 pkg bratwurst sausages - 1 pkg sliced dry toasted almonds - MY FAVORITE TO USE WITH BREAKFAST AND HOME-MADE GRANOLA!!! - 2 bags pre-cut sweet potatoes - 1 eggplant - 3 bananas - 1 apple - 11 eggs - one broken in a carton of 12 - Crispy crunch oatmeal raisin cookies - 1 can cuban-style black beans or corn chowder...surprise? Odwalla - Found the dumpster, but it was empty - need to figure out the schedule again Food Lion - 1 coconut Door also got a bunch of pork loin that I passed on since I had so many Thanksgiving leftovers and knew I couldn't make it in time before it spoiled. Door's theories on dumpstering meat vs. produce are very interesting. They differ from mine. He used to work in a grocery store, and his theory is that meat or dairy gets thrown out at the sellby date, meaning it's still good for a week or so. This is true, and especially in the winter, food borne illness is less of an issue to worry about since the dumpster is basically a refrigerator. The crazy part was this - Door will almost categorically not dumpster produce! His logic was that produce gets thrown out when it's bad at most places. He basically won't eat dumpstered produce, with the exception of Trader Joe's, which will pack items in bulk and throw out a package of 4 or 5 tomatoes when only one is bad, or a whole bag of apples when one is bruised. This is a different outlook from most, but a valid point. I've never gotten ill from dumpstered food. Period. Regardless, it's important to educate yourself about what food looks and smells like when it goes bad. Sometimes, this means holding onto something longer than you want. Sometimes, it means erring on the side of caution...and sometimes, it means taking a risk. Try not to do this one, guys. I'm not going to say I haven't cooked some suspect food, but I usually try to prepare it in such a way that will make it safer to eat by applying heat/etc. Generally, the risk is higher with fish and meat because the type of sick you can get from it is worse than eating bad dairy or produce, which is why I'm a bigger fan of dumpstering produce than meat. E. Coli and salmonella are way worse and more potentially fatal than bruised fruit. Still, Door held a very valid point. To each his own. Hopefully there will be a post in the near future about the dumpster Door introduces me to...and hopefully I'll have a dumpster closer to home that's reliable soon and will be able to post more in the near future.

November 15, 2012

Apricot Compote


Delicious by itself, drizzled on some pork or chicken, or as an accompaniment to vanilla ice cream.

- 10 apricots, halved and pitted
- Zest from 1 medium lemon
- Slightly less zest from 1 orange
- 3/4-1 cup white sugar
- 6 cups of water
- A few drops of vanilla extract

Stir together the apricots, zest, sugar, water, and vanilla extract in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until the apricots are soft and the compote has thickened, 40 to 50 minutes. If it's getting too thick, you may need to add a little extra water for it to reduce more. Taste before removing from heat.

Makes a few cups.

Ingredients not dumpstered or donated: Vanilla extract

November 8, 2012

A quick fix and the glory of sandwiches

Sometimes, it's nice to just stop by the dumpster and pick up a few ingredients for dinner. In this run, I ended up picking up broccoli & zucchini for a side dish and enough fruit to make a fruit salad for dessert. Yum!
- 4 pkgs strawberries
- 1 zucchini
- 1 broccoli stalk
- 4 oranges
- 6 apples

Also, when you pick up odds and ends, it's really easy and wonderful to make sandwiches to take with you to work for lunch. I got a lot of pre-cooked turkey breast, bread that I'd frozen, and some tomatoes and greens in a recent haul. It's a nice, healthy way to use up all the ingredients outside of a salad. There's nothing easier than a sandwich!

November 1, 2012

Fennel-Crusted Salmon


Normally I will never dumpster fish.  It's a rule I stick to almost 100% of the time.  Fish goes bad extremely easily.  So, unless it's still frozen, hasn't passed the expiration date, and looks perfect, I will not eat dumpstered fish.  Sometimes, though, I'll find something that meets my exacting standards and I'll go ahead with it

- Salmon
- Fennel seeds
- Dill
- Olive oil

Rub salmon with olive oil. Place it skin-side down on a tin foil covered (greased) baking pan. Sprinkle liberally with dill and fennel seed.

Broil for about 10 minutes, depending on the size of the fish (again, the internet can take care of these questions for you).  The fish is done when it flakes easily.  If you smell burning, it's probably the fennel, and it's probably past time to take out your fish.

If you want to make this last even longer, you can put it over a salad or make it into a sandwich. 

Items not dumpstered or donated: fennel seeds, dill, olive oil

October 25, 2012

Baingan Bartha, Bounty, & Food Stamps

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned.  I went an entire month without dumpstering.  How is this possible?!  I'm pretty upset about it.  Still, I think I have some decently good excuses why I haven't been as active in the trash lately:

I moved a few months ago and haven't found good dumpsters close to my new house. I was going to the dumpsters near my work...until I left that job in August (explaining why I didn't dumpster at all in August). 2: Leaving my job allowed for me to get food stamps again (I need the money for non-dumpster-able items like olive oil, etc, I just also started using it for everything else too)...now, I know this makes me a lazy dumpster diver and probably shows you that a big motivation for my dumpstering is saving money as opposed to saving the planet. Still, that motivation is there.
Bottom line is this: I have decent excuses for not dumpstering a whole lot lately. I have some friends who are showing me some new spots, soon, though...so hopefully I'll resume my normal dumpstering routine in no time. Since I got food stamps, I've been taking the leftover amount of funds I have in the account and have been buying dry or canned goods and have been donating them to a food shelter so they don't go to waste (shh, don't tell)! I think a good idea might be to start dumpstering again so that the amount of food I can donate increases (I've also been cooking for starving artist friends a lot lately, so that sort of counts as donating food to a worthy cause too).

July Bounty (really out of date, I know, but:)

7/24/12 – Food Lion

-       Bag of broccoli
-       2 pkgs cherry tomatoes
-       1 red bell pepper
-       1 loaf honey wheat bread
-       2 pkgs kiwis


Tried a new Trader Joe’s during the day – nothing good this time.


Chamomile tea, morrocan mint tea left in a "free" box by co-workers.


I had gotten really tired of making my usual eggplant dishes: eggplant parmesan, ratatouille, baba ganoush...and then I dumpstered another eggplant.  So, I tried going WAY outside my comfort zone to try an Indian dish out.  I'm really unfamiliar with Indian cooking, so the picture looks pretty gross below.  However, it still tasted pretty good, even if it was a little off from the baingan bartha I'm used to having at restaurants.  Hopefully this is my first and worst foray into the land of Indian cuisine, and that practice will be on my side with this one.

-  A few cups of brown cooked rice to put the mixture over (pasta will suffice, but will be weirder)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 1-4 jalapenos (depending on how you like your spiciness), chopped & seeded
- 3-4 chopped garlic cloves, minced
- 1-2 inches chopped ginger
- Olive oil
- Yellow curry powder - optional
- Coriander to taste

Step one: roast your eggplant.  Here's a nice video with instructions here.
Step two: take the pulp and put it in a saucepan with about a tbsp of olive oil.  Add the onions until they're soft, then the jalapenos, garlic, and ginger, then tomato.  Keep at a medium or medium-low heat until you start to smell the aromas mixing together.
Step three:  Add salt, coriander, and curry to taste.
Step four:  Taste and adjust flavors until it tastes right, then serve!

Ingredients not dumpstered or donated: Spices, olive oil

October 18, 2012

Oxtail Stew & Crock Pot Fears

Okay, so I've been a bad mommy to this blog.  I've been out of town.  Plus, I got food stamps and have yet to find a dumpster that feels right now that I've moved again. I feel like there are fewer things to write about since I'm sticking to cooking tried and true recipes that I've already posted and I just haven't been dumpstering as often.

That all said, here's a nice recipe for the fall and winter that involves very little effort. I have to start by saying that I'm terrified of slow-cookers and crock-pots. Some part of me just doesn't feel comfortable leaving the house for 8 hours with a heated appliance on. Horrific fantasies of my house burning down because I wanted to make a delicious stew run rampant. Still, I do OWN a crock pot, so I decided I should try to use it more often. My way of getting around fire-by-soup anxieties is to use my crock pot at night when I'm sleeping (the idea being that I would hopefully wake up if my house were on fire). It turned out really well, and now I'm excited to actually keep trying it out more and more...If you don't own a crock-pot, most thrift stores will have one, or you can just try to cook the stew using a slow (time) and low (temperature) method of cooking on a stove or in an oven with a dutch oven. There are guides for how to do this online.


First off: what's oxtail? It's the tail of some type of cattle, typically a cow. You can get it for much cheaper than most other beef. In my case, I dumpstered some. It comes out super tough unless you cook it slow-and-low, which makes it juicier and more tender. Also, cooking oxtail with the bone in is great because the bones provide more flavor for your soup or stew. I'll use oxtail when I make a stock for Vietnamese pho - recipe forthcoming.

- 2 lbs. oxtail
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled & chopped
- 2-4 whole peeled garlic cloves (depending on how garlic-ie you want it) - 3-4 dried ancho chilis, chopped
- 2 parsnips, peeled & chopped
- 1 turnip, peeled & chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1-2 potatoes
- 2 cups of full-bodied red wine
- 1.5 cups chicken or beef stock - you can substitute broth or water if you're out
- Thyme, salt, pepper, & parsley to taste
- A few tablespoons of olive oil

The bottom line is, whatever you have in terms of veggies that would taste good in a stew or that is close to going bad - throw it in there! Also, a word of caution about seasoning - since you're cooking for so long, the dish will really have time for the flavors to meld together, so a little goes a long way in crock pot cooking. Also, if you over-salt, it will just dry out your meat and your veggies, so wait until after everything's done cooking to add the majority of your salt.

Step one: Brown your oxtail in a skillet with a little olive oil.

Step two: THROW EVERYTHING IN YOUR CROCK POT. Leave the oxtail, potatoes, and carrots closer to the bottom. Try to get the liquid covering everything.

Step three: Cover it and leave it revved up for 8-10 hours. You'll know the oxtail is cooked when it easily falls off the bone and the potatoes are cooked all the way through. Try not to take the lid off during this process, since that's what's keeping the hot air in that's doing the cooking.

Step four: If you're health-conscious, there can be a LOT of fatty oil involved in this process. A way to get rid of that is to put your stew in a bowl when it's finished and refrigerate. That will coagulate the fat so it will easily be scooped off the top of the bowl with a sieve or spoon after a few hours chilling. You can remove the bones at this point if you want as well. Reheat whenever and enjoy! It's also possible to freeze this if you make too much to make it last another week or so.

I made this right before a bunch of food was going to go bad. I also knew I'd be meeting up on a climbing trip with some friends. So, I went to their house expecting a fridge to keep it in...only to find that their house had lost power. So, we invited over a bunch of our local buddies with propane camping stoves, cooked it all up, and had a feast! Later that evening, we also made a delicious blueberry-oatmeal crisp on the camping stoves out of the limited amount of food we had. It turned out great!

Items not dumpstered or donated: olive oil, bay leaf, salt & pepper, parsnip, wine