Category Archives: Groceries
I used to eat broccoli a lot. It was THE go-to veggie for my family. I’d purchase, at a minimum, enough for two dinners’ worth, and prepared it in innumerable ways, but most often, just steamed. We hardly ever eat broccoli any more. I like broccoli. I just usually can’t bring myself to buy it.
“…the United States is a net importer of broccoli overall. In 2010, the United States imported 524.5 million pounds of frozen broccoli valued at $243 million. The majority of the frozen broccoli came from Mexico (72%), followed by Guatemala (15%) and Ecuador (8%) (Vegetable and Melon Data, ERS 2011).”
To be clear, if you are eating FROZEN broccoli, it is almost certainly from another country; producing broccoli florets is labor-intensive, and since labor costs are higher here than in other countries. If you eat fresh broccoli, there is a better chance that it came from the United States, most likely California. If you eat organic, fresh broccoli, chances are even GREATER that the broccoli came from the U.S. But, still…
I live in the desert, here in the Phoenix area. I know that broccoli is harvested here for a very limited time of the year, usually in March.
And how do I know that? Because a majority of my family’s veggies are from a local farm, Crooked Sky Farms, in a year ’round CSA. Before 2013, our veggies came — for 20 weeks out of the year — from a different CSA. The window for local, fresh, organic broccoli is very small.
So, when I’m shopping in the heat of summer, and that broccoli is looking mighty fine for a stir-fry, I ponder and think, “It’s August. It’s stinkin’ 120° out there. I know, Grocery Store Broccoli, that you did not come from any place even remotely close to here.” And I usually pass on by… I might cave if it’s from an organic producer in California; that’s not too very far. But usually, I just pass, and choose a summer veggie. Or, I just live off of what the CSA provides.
I purchase very few veggies any more. Year ’round, I do purchase mushrooms, lettuces (when not from the CSA), celery, and red bell peppers (when the CSA doesn’t provide other bell peppers).
And… I think that’s about it. Oh! Potatoes I purchase year ’round, though they are available from the CSA for a good portion of the year. I also purchase frozen organic sweet corn and frozen organic green beans, both from Costco. Again, both green beans and corn are available for a time from the CSA. And, I froze as much corn as I could this year, but we’ve already eaten it all. :)
That sounds like a lot of purchased veggies. But, really, it’s not, compared to how many veggies our family eats.
And when I finally have my garden up and going, it will be even fewer, but that’s another story.
I sent this to my CSA members this morning:
I just wanted to send out a note of encouragement to each of you. I’ve heard from several who are growing really weary of eating the same things from week to week. Well, it hasn’t been exactly the same thing, but there have been several items — especially okra and cucumbers — that folks seem to be tiring of. I do understand! I intended to turn a batch of lemon cukes into pickles this past week, and with two different sets of houseguests, I didn’t get that done. I also decided to give away a bunch of okra, rather than freeze it. So, I do understand the weariness.
I do, however, want to remind each of you that eating seasonally is much healthier for YOU and for the planet. Studies have shown that produce that is grown seasonally (instead of imported, or grown locally in forced, non-natural environments) to be much higher in nutrient content.
Eating seasonally is a true return to ancestral ways of eating. Our ancestors ate what they could grow in their own environment, according to the season. They would eat a glut of what was fresh, and preserve what wouldn’t keep. We’re simply not accustomed to that. We live in America, which is, in many ways, a tremendously blessed country. Each of us very likely lives less than a mile or two from a supermarket. In that supermarket, we can buy broccoli year ’round. However, broccoli bought in the deserts of Phoenix in October likely grew in Mexico or South America, and traveled thousands of miles to get here. (The U.S. does grow broccoli in California, but we import more than we export. Most of the broccoli eaten in the U.S. comes from Mexico, Guatemala, or Ecuador.)
I’m not trying to guilt-trip you out of buying broccoli on your next trip to the grocery store, I promise! And in some ways, I do realize that I’m preaching to the choir; most of us don’t have to be convinced of the benefits of eating locally, seasonally, and organically.
For another perspective:
“Better nutritional content and overall health – Most grocery stores and food chains jazz up their fruits and vegetables to keep them looking attractive and inviting when they’re out of season. This naturally compromises the nutrition level of the food. Non-seasonal foods require bending of nature’s rules in order for them to survive the improper season in which they are brought into the world. Therefore, these foods are often full of pesticides, waxes, preservatives and other chemicals that are used in order to make them look fresher than they are.
By eating freshly harvested produce, you will be rotating your foods, thereby keeping your body from developing intolerances to certain foods and reaping the health benefits of a diet that is diverse and naturally detoxifying. Seasonal foods also have a much higher antioxidant content than non-seasonal foods.
Sustainable and environmental benefits – By eating seasonally, you will also be supporting the local farmers and local markets, which, in turn, works well for the sustainability of the entire economy. Seasonal eating helps the environment by reducing the number of food miles your food has to make before it reaches your table. The more local you eat, the less chances exist that you are consuming food that has been flown in from half way across the world, in effect consuming that much more fuel.”
And here’s another article: http://life.gaiam.com/article/benefits-eating-what-s-season
And another: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=faq&dbid=28
ALSO, when farmers (and gardeners) plant the things that grow best in our rather extreme environment, and they don’t try to FORCE things to grow here that shouldn’t be growing in the desert, that helps to eliminate the need for pesticides and fungicides, etc.
So… if you can find the time, DO pickle those cucumbers — refrigerator pickles are easy and don’t require pressure canning. Okra is easily freezable: Cut off the stem end and pop them whole into a freezer bag. Similarly, you can freeze summer squash without doing anything special: wash, trim the ends, and dice them. Then, just put them into freezer bags. Store your onions and potatoes in the fridge, and they will last for MONTHS.
I’m still enjoying greens that I froze this past spring, and summer squash from my freezer as well.
Preserving helps you maximize the value of the CSA, as well. I know I feel GREAT when I pull out some dried basil from the cabinet or diced rutabaga from my freezer, long after the season has ended. I feel like I’m being an excellent steward of what has been provided to me!
That said… cooler weather crops will very soon be available! I don’t have an exact timeline, but I did receive this message from the farm:
“Good day Glendale CSA. Thank you so much for participating in supporting your local farmer. Eating seasonal takes that ancestor heart that brings us back to eating the way nature intended. This is the best way to ensure your family is putting chemical free produce in their bodies. Farmer Frank always says “we fight GMO’s with our actions, not just our words.” While your taste buds are craving autumn, sweeten your palate with winter squash like butternut squash, spaghetti squash, baking pumpkins and more. Also look forward to soooo many greens, such as swiss chard, spinach, kale. Lets not forget our root crops. This year we plan to wow you with colored carrots, watermelon radishes and more! Jazz up your plates with Romanesco, graffiti cauliflower (purple), lettuces and rare onions. We are just beginning to scratch the surface. Thank you for your patience and commitment. We delight in serving you with many treasures.”
“Naturally Grown, Naturally Yours”, the Crooked Sky family
Again, NONE of this is said to guilt anyone into doing anything. I also understand about being on a budget, and the continual pull between eating more healthily, and being wise with my family’s resources. That’s actually the main reason I started hosting!! I primarily get paid in veggies. ;) It’s a huge benefit to my large family to be “given” about $40 worth of organic veggies every week. But, before I hosted, I participated in CSAs for several years, in addition to growing my own garden…
I do understand that you have to do what works for your family… I truly do.
And I THANK YOU, all of you, for participating, whether you’ve been with me from the beginning and are absolutely committed, *OR* if this whole CSA thing is new to you — or eating healthy is new to you — and you’re just trying it out. Everyone is on a different point in their journey to health and wellness, and I’m so very, very pleased to assist any of you at any point in your journey.
The short version of this very long post is that it is an EFFORT to eat well. It requires something of you. Time, money, effort, convenience… All of those, or a combination.But the result is worth it, I do believe.
This morning, my five children and I sat around our island and shucked sweet corn.
My oldest, Ethan (who will be 16 on Sunday), expressed a new appreciation for pesticides.
I was a bit shocked, as was Grant, who is 13.
It was, however, somewhat understandable.
The corn we were shucking was from the CSA, from Crooked Sky Farms. Organic, fresh, but quite wormy.
Wednesday is CSA Day, where (currently) 24 people come to my home and pick up their share of local, organic, single-farmer-grown produce. However, on Wednesday, I thought that I was going to have a baby, and I called in the troops — a fellow CSA member who had volunteered to host the pick-up, should I be giving birth or something like that, especially since we’re planning a homebirth.
In retrospect, I feel like a chump for calling her, because here it is, two days later, and I still don’t have a baby.
The instructions from the farm said to give everyone three ears of corn. She was about halfway through the afternoon when she realized, “We are going to have a LOT of corn left. A LOT.” She upped the remaining people’s share to four ears, but was also worried, like perhaps the farm unintentionally gave too much corn, and they were going to ask for it back.
So, she came to my home yesterday with all the leftovers, including four boxes of corn — each box holding 25-40 ears of corn. Clearly, each member could have had SIX ears, and we still wouldn’t have run out. I’m not sure what happened — if they delivered too much accidentally, or if they just gave extra so that folks could pick through the ears and get the best ones, or what.
In any case, she kept two boxes, as did I. I assured her that she had done nothing wrong; sometimes, you just have to go with the flow and adjust, and she just didn’t know that, as this was her first time. And, one of the perks of being the host is that you get to decide what to do with the leftovers, and one of the decisions you are free to make is, “Why, I’ll just keep it!”
The substitute host has seven kids; I have five (almost six). We happily kept our corn.
HOWEVER… I must say, this corn was definitely picked-through, and not nearly as pretty as what you’d see in the grocery store. Most of the ears were, as I mentioned, wormy. (However, cut off the top third or half, and voila! You have a beautiful half-ear of corn.) Some of it was way too mature — dented kernels throughout, telling me that it was over-ripe, and that the sugars had turned to starch, and that it wouldn’t be good eating. Some of the ears were just too worm-eaten or even moldy, and the whole ear had to be chucked into the compost bin.
So… It wasn’t exactly pretty work, shucking this corn. There was a lot of, “Eeeewww…” and ears dropped like a hot potato when pulling back the husk revealed three caterpillars, happily munching away at the kernels.
Wesley (age 11) eventually got grossed out and became mostly the guy who carted all the shucks, silk, and “dead” ears off to the compost bin.
Audrey (age 7) became distraught that I wouldn’t allow her to make a habitat which would enable her to keep all the caterpillars. Indeed, I was insisting that everyone simply throw away the caterpillars in with the shucks. She was horrified by my casual discarding of life.
However, Ethan, Grant, and 4-year-old Fiala hung in there like champs to the very end.
I wish I had a “before” picture to show you just how ugly this corn was… But, I didn’t take a pic.
I found myself, though, reflecting on the treasure we uncovered, in pale yellow and white kernels — one that required a little work. One that required us to “extract the precious from the worthless.”
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
19 Therefore, thus says the Lord,
“If you return, then I will restore you—
Before Me you will stand;
And if you extract the precious from the worthless,
You will become [a]My spokesman.
We have enough “pretty” whole or mostly-whole ears of corn to give us two — maybe even three — nights of sweet corn feasting with our dinners. And that is for our aforementioned large family of seven.
I also took the not-so-pretty ears — those which were less-than-half-sized, those which needed multiple kernels trimmed out, or even whole sides cut off, due to being dried or worm-eaten, etc. — and cut the remaining good kernels. Those efforts resulted in a couple of knife nicks on my left hand, a partially numb right index finger from grasping the knife for six passes per ear… AND, five quarts of kernels to add to our freezer.
I feel like that’s a win.
This song was running through my head this afternoon, as I extracted the precious sweet corn kernels from what previously appeared to be two boxes of worthless, picked-over, dried, wormy, partly moldy corn…
I don’t know how to explain it… It just feels redemptive and rewarding to have rescued all that corn… to have worked for it, toughed it out when the going was gross, and now my freezer is stocked and we will feast on hot, buttered, salty corn-on-the-cob tonight.
I am 31 weeks pregnant. I had two and a half glorious months, post-morning-sickness, where I felt AMAZING. Now, my large belly has caught up with me, and I am feeling rather crabby and swollen and it’s hard to breathe, and I generally feel uncomfortable. I’m also getting exhausted in a way… well, prior to my diagnosis with Celiac Disease, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome*. I remember how it felt in the evening, anticipating even ONE outing the following day, and having to fight despondency, because I knew that ONE outing would wipe me out, entirely. That is where I’m at, now.
Until the last few weeks, the worst I could say was that the mass of varicose veins on the back of my right leg was giving me pain. All things considered, being a 39-year-old pregnant woman, I figured that was quite good. I got my stinkin’ expensive “pregnancy support garment” — which is very much like a girdle, or a compression garment. On one hand, it’s a blessing: It allows me to walk around without feeling like my leg is going to fall off; it minimizes the pain and pressure, as well, from vaginal varicosities. However… it is 80% nylon and 20% spandex which, apparently, my skin doesn’t appreciate. If I wear it for too long, I get hives. But if I’m NOT wearing it, I can literally be on my feet for maybe 5-10 minutes at a time.
I went to Illinois this past weekend. I went to my maternal grandmother’s memorial service and visited my paternal grandmother, who is very ill. I traveled with my sister (who lives in the Phoenix area, as well) and my brother (who drove down from Utah to travel with us). It was, all things considered, a wonderful trip, in spite of the sad catalyst for the journey. I could write for a very long time on my thoughts and the events of the four days, but I likely can’t: My experience is so intertwined with others’, for whom I deeply care. Telling my tale would necessitate telling theirs, as well, and I don’t know if they would appreciate me broadcasting their story; it’s not mine to tell.
Still, in spite of late nights, days spent going hither and thither on necessary business, spending my days in the endless company of others (which generally drains me, as an introvert) — whom I needed to see and wanted to see and LOVED to see, cramming a couple of weeks of events into those four days, in spite of unending exhaustion of both body and mind, an aching leg, and the aforementioned hives, it was an exceptionally worthwhile journey.
I love Illinois. The above picture was taken from the back steps of my aunt’s home. I took it, steaming coffee in hand. The sun was shining, it was about 7 a.m., and the temperature was 35°. The view is a corner of a field, which will likely have corn growing in it within a month or so, and a little pond beyond that. In the timber behind the pond is the remain of an old road, likely last used in the early 1800s. It had rained torrentially in Illinois, the day before our arrival, so the ground was saturated and impassably muddy in many places, and I didn’t own the boots which would allow me to go down that lovely road-path.
My husband, though, is considering having our family return to Illinois for our family’s summer trip this year — which would be our first time as a whole family — and I will most certainly meander down that road…
It shouldn’t be odd that, with the absence of The Mom, there are many things, upon my return, that have needed my attention. Life does go on, even when I’m not here at home. Laundry continues to pile up. Children still need attention in their schooling. The dog’s medicine runs out.
Today was much busier than I would have preferred, even if I weren’t pregnant. So far, I have:
- Gone to a grocery store — needed especially for milk and meat for the week. (In related news, I got three gallons of organic milk for $4.99. This was accomplished due to the fact that Shamrock Farms organic milk was 50% off this week, with the final price of $2.49 for a 3-quart container. Two containers were near their “best by” date, and were marked $2.50 off. In other words, FREE. I figured that even if they went bad before we finished drinking them, no harm done; they’re free. I got two other containers, as well. Four containers, three gallons total, $4.99 spent.)
- Done two large loads of laundry — it’s still not folded, yet.
- Overseen school with my three older children. I will admit my first grader, Audrey, did pretty much nothing today, other than some self-directed art and Lego-building.
- I fertilized my mini-garden with fish emulsion and epsom salts — something that should be done every two weeks, but of which I was very overdue.
- I called LG for my washing machine — again. It keeps having issues. I’ve needed to call them for a couple of weeks now, but kept putting it off.
- I ordered Algebra 2 on Teaching Textbooks.
- I had an overdue, hour-long conversation with another homeschooling mom, helping her (I hope) with some issues she’s having with one of her children.
- I went to Trader Joe’s for more groceries.
- I returned some overdue library DVDs. Yes, even with a smart phone, I kept forgetting to renew our family’s DVDs while I was away, resulting in $7 in new fines. :(
- I went to the pool supply store and got chlorine tabs and shock. Our poor pool… It really needs a new pump. It is under warranty until July, but a repairman has already been out once, and he said that there’s really nothing he can do, under our warranty, until the pump breaks. If it breaks entirely before July, the $400+ cost of replacement will be covered. If it only limps along inefficiently, as it has been doing, we’re out of luck. I must admit that I am tempted to sabotage the pump to “help” it completely break. My husband, though, man of absolute integrity that he is, wouldn’t hear of such a thing. But, it’s in the 90s now, and our pool-cum-pond is unusable.
- I went to pick up more fluconazole for our dog, Tally, who is still recovering from Valley Fever.
- I stopped by a used furniture store and bought a small chest of drawers for the new baby ($25 — it needs to be either painted or lightly sanded and revarnished — I haven’t decided which, yet). I also bought a very solid, medium-sized bookcase for $35. It has a blond finish, and appears to be from the 60s. It is almost cool. Tomorrow, I will clear out the beleaguered particle board book case which is currently holding most of our school books for this year. It keeps collapsing.
- I still need to shower.
- I need to make dinner — which will be the Crockpot refried beans I made last night, reheating a roasted Costco rotisserie chicken, and likely some roasted beets from the CSA I host each Wednesday. Easy peasy.
- I need to pick out the worship set list for tonight’s small group. It is definitely one of those nights where, if I didn’t have to go to small group, I probably wouldn’t. Frankly, I’d rather put up my feet, watch baseball, and read my current book** during the commercials. When I’m actually there at group, I always enjoy it. Always. But, right now, I am tired, and wish I wasn’t compelled to attend by my responsibilities there…
So, that’s it! That has been my day. Too busy for me. Still not over. But, life could be worse, eh? All things considered, life is still good — many things have happened in the last week that are stellar, and on which I cannot comment.
If you’re still reading, thank you. :) Since it has been nearly three weeks since I posted, I felt that this post was overdue, as well… Not my best work, but it will have to do for now.
Blessings to all my readers, those whom I know personally, and those whose acquaintance I’ve only made through this blog… I’ve been feeling particularly thankful for you, lately.
*Virtually all CFS symptoms disappeared when I went onto a gluten-free diet. I do believe that the underlying cause of my chronic fatigue was celiac disease itself.
**In spite of middling reviews (which I have not read — only noticing it has only about 3.5 stars on Amazon), I am still very much enjoying it. Well, I just peeked at some reviews. It appears that those who love Anne Perry’s mysteries, set in 1800s England, are most disappointed. Perhaps that explains why I like the book: I don’t care for Anne Perry. (I did read her four-book series which was set in WWI, but once the series was completed, decided that any more of Perry would be a waste of my time.)
It’s not quite two p.m. as I type this, but today has been one of the sorts of days that I hope for, but rarely occur. To me, a “good day” is one in which I get things done in the home, outside, with the kids’ school, and that something pleasant happens for me, too. It has a nice pace: Filled, but not frenetic. I hate busy, deadline-driven days. I hate days where I feel like I’m doing stuff all the livelong day but nothing gets accomplished. I hate days in which there is an abundance of strife amongst the children. Today has been good, full of the things I like, and with little to none of the things I don’t. So, I thought I’d document it, if for no other reason, than to encourage myself.
- Let the day begin! The day started just as I prefer: On the back patio, with a cool breeze blowing, coffee mug in hand, reading the Bible. I have an odd (?) affinity for Old Testament prophets, and was reading from Zechariah. Then, my four-year-old, Fiala, came outdoors, sleepy-headed, and crawled up into my lap. It was just right. What started as a bright and breezy morning has turned into an all-out windy, dusty day, but that’s OK. It’s keeping the temps down to the high 70s, which is fine with me.
- Gardening. I am out of large and medium pots, now! In what I semi-affectionately call my “fake garden”, I now have 10 medium or large pots filled with plants and seeds, in addition to my two, 2′ x 4′ planting boxes. Today, after creating a mix of native “soil” (clay, really), compost (from a bag; my homemade stuff isn’t ready yet), and vermiculite in a wheelbarrow, I transferred two large heirloom tomato starts into my last two medium pots. I planted cilantro seed around one and cumin seed around the other. I also transferred three small tomato starts (not ready to plant outside) into larger containers. In related news… I thought that with such a small garden, that there was NO WAY I’d forget what I had planted. Wrong. I have three different kinds of squash (I think) plus a few cantaloupe plants and a couple of cucumber plants, and they all look identical. I have no remembrance about what is planted, exactly, and where. Around each larger plant, I also planted smaller things like chard, scallions, various herbs, and flowers. Some things are pretty easy to tell: Chard, for one. Scallions, too, are pretty apparent. But the various herbs and flowers??? I have no idea. AFTER I had planted cilantro seed around one tomato plant today, I noticed that some seedlings in another pot were getting real leaves. “That looks like cilantro!” I thought, “Or is it parsley??” I sampled it. Cilantro. From now on, I am making markers for each pot.
Yard work. I am happily transforming our back yard. Our home, into which we moved in July 2012, needs some serious work to the back yard. The front, too. But, the back is where the living and the gardening takes place. We have plans to seriously overhaul the back yard, but one bad thing about this being a larger property (almost 1/2 acre) is that the bigger the yard, the more it costs to re-do. We need a pool fence, a completely redone drip irrigation and sprinkler system. We need more trees. We need to install my REAL garden (which, blessedly, my husband does consider a high priority!!). We need to re-do at least some of the landscaping so that grass is not growing right next to the swimming pool. The cool-decking needs redone. We need gutters. The whole yard needs to be Roto-tilled, as the clay soil is VERY compacted. The list goes on. But for now, we’re doing small things. For instance, every Monday, I’ve been moving a sprinkler around the yard. I let it soak a spot for an hour, then move the sprinkler. It has very much greened-up the yard. Regrettably, a good half of what’s growing is weeds. But, when the collection of grass and weeds are mown, as my 15yo son did on Saturday, the yard is looking quite nicely. There are a number of bare dirt patches, still, though. I decided today to start aerating them, to see if that will encourage the grass to spread. Today, I only did a maybe 5′ x 20′ section with an aerator we already had. It’s just a four-prong step-on device.
- Homeschooling. In spite of the above, I still got school done with my four school-age children. Actually, I’m sitting at the dining room table with my son Ethan (who is a sophomore) while he works on science reading and questions… I read in several subjects to my 11 and 13-year-old sons, and gave them instructions for further self-directed work. For my first-grader, Audrey, well… I should have done more with her. I only had her do her workbook items (phonics and math) and then let her play with her new Play-Doh contraption all morning. That’s fine motor skills and creativity, right?? (It was her birthday on Saturday… Can’t believe she is seven!!)
- Laundry. I also washed, dried, and folded a giant double-load of laundry, and loaded the machine with a new load to start tonight, after the electricity rates go back down for the evening…
- Food, etc. I noticed that some red oak leaf lettuce, obtained from the CSA on Wednesday, was looking decidedly water-logged this morning. So, I sorted through that, as well as some CSA spinach, and started a small salad for my lunch, and a large salad for our family’s dinner tonight. And I used up the rest of the Red Russian Kale I had on hand, too, though that went on top my eggs this morning. It feels good to use something completely. I also harvested ten small-to-medium-sized Red Rhubarb Chard leaves this morning to add to the salads. It was the first chard harvest of this spring… I love my organic CSA veggies, but there is nothing better than plucking something from the back garden, which you’ve grown from seed, and nurtured into maturity.
Birds! I finally positively identified a hummingbird that has been flitting around our back yard for the last couple of weeks. It’s an Anna’s Hummingbird. I got to get quite close. “Male, medium-small, short beak, red gorget, throat, and head, green back, wingtips not quite as long as the tail… Think it’s an Anna’s.” Then, I went back inside and checked my Sibley guide. It was an Anna’s. Those are fairly uncommon here — I usually see Black-Chinned or Costa’s hummers. It wasn’t quite as satisfying as ID’ing a new-to-me species, but still very nice.
- Pain. The ONE bad thing about this pregnancy — I am now 28 weeks — is that I have a mass of varicose veins running up the back of my right leg, from my knee area up into my rear. It sucks. It is often incredibly painful. I am WAITING AND WAITING on a stupid, expensive, girdle-looking “pregnancy support garment” that I purchased about two weeks ago. I hope it works miracles. I do take Horse Chestnut Seed extract for leg vein support and pain, as well as cod liver oil to thin my blood. That worked brilliantly until about six weeks ago… Some days are better than others, and today, even though I’ve been on my feet for much of the day, has been good.
- The one bad thing about today: Last week, we took my truck — I call it The Land Barge — in to get fixed, as the RPMs were revving with little corresponding power to the engine. The shop found a cracked gasket somewhere that was letting air into the system. Problem fixed. Except that it wasn’t. On my way to the zoo on Friday (a 25 mile trip), the truck started to lose power and we had to pray it into the zoo parking lot. My husband came to our rescue and traded out vehicles. (Originally, all five children were going to go to the zoo with me, but my husband said that Ethan, our 15yo, needed to stay home and work on school. I wasn’t quite in agreement, but did go along with it. Well, if Ethan HAD been with us, we wouldn’t all have fit into my hubby’s small commuter car! As it was, myself and the four kids fit snugly but fine…) The truck completely broke when my hubby was driving it, and he had to get AAA to tow it back to the shop, which is closed on the weekend. (I don’t mind single-owner, small businesses that close on the weekend and give themselves and their employees a break.) Today, we heard from the shop that they had to take it out for a spin for a good 20 minutes to get the truck to repeat the problem, as no codes were showing up on the computer diagnostic system they use. The good news, I guess, is that the truck DID lose power and they DID determine the source. The bad news is that we need an entire new transmission for the truck. That’s an expensive fix! :( One good thing, though, about being 39 and gaining the perspective of years, is that I have seen provide for us NO MATTER WHAT, and I wasn’t worried. No, I don’t know where the money will come from — we’ve been saving money for a tax bill and the midwife — but that’s OK. God still provides, He still takes care of us, and I found myself saying, “At least it broke down now, not on some big, long summer trip.”
- Now, I’m blogging, which I’ve been working at, off-and-on (mostly “on”) for the last hour and 20 minutes… I’m always happy when time allows for that.
- Next, I will sort through Sunday’s coupons and plan my four-store grocery trip, which will be this evening, after my husband comes home from work with the car, instead of this afternoon…
No matter what happens the rest of the day (it is now 4:00), I can look back and say, “Today was a good day.”
If you think this is a post in which I
berate encourage you to do a better job planning, it’s not.
I don’t plan. Not really. Well, sort of, I do.
But not like my friend Daja at the Provision Room. She’s a pro.
A friend asked me yesterday, “Do you have a website that you use to plan meals or do you just wing it?”
Here was my response:
Somewhere in the middle. I don’t use a website. What I do is see what is on sale for the week, and plan my meals — roughly — around that. “OK. Pork roast is on sale. I can do a Crockpot with green chile pork.” And I know that I always have green chiles, onions, garlic, and the spices to make that happen. “OK. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are on a smoking sale. I’ll buy four packages, put one in the freezer, do stirfry with one, grill two packages using one batch of grilled chicken for dinner that night and saving the other grilled chicken for chicken sandwiches on the night I have small group and I need a fast meal…” Like that. I also purposefully make LARGE dinners, both so that Martin can take leftovers for lunch at work (he prefers that, and it saves money) AND so that we can have at least one night during the week (usually Saturday) where we have a whole meal of just leftovers.
And then… if there isn’t a cut of meat on sale at a price I want to pay, or if there are other staple items that have taken a big chunk out of that week’s grocery budget, I pull stuff out of the freezer.
So… I don’t plan stuff out like with a website. But, I do make a rough plan in my head, based on what I know I keep on hand in the pantry, dishes I know our family likes, and dishes that will best use what’s on sale that week.
Hope that makes sense.
This does bring to mind a few things:
- I have quite a few standard pantry items. When I run out of one thing (or come close to it), I always put it on my grocery shopping list. I know my pantry well, and I ensure it stays stocked.
- When I make my grocery shopping lists, I combine both what I know I need with what is on sale that week, using the weekly ads, if the store has one. With the sale ads, I can see what “occasional buy” type items might be found at a good price that week. For instance, in my shopping trip last night to Sprouts, I had, among other things, arborio rice, chia seeds, and yogurt on the list. When I looked at the sale ads*, I saw that Sprouts also had bulk quinoa at $2.49/lb, Mom’s Best cereal (not g.f., not organic, but all-natural and my older two boys can eat it) at $2/box, and Cascade Fresh 6 oz yogurt cups at 2/$1.00. Those are all things that I can and will use, even if they weren’t initially on my list. Yes, there was yogurt on my list, but I usually only buy plain. Cascade Fresh is one of my favorite brands — all natural, fruit-juice-sweetened, and it was nice for a treat. So, I purchased. (I also purchased one soy-based yogurt at $0.99 for my son who can’t have dairy. It was a brand that uses non-GMO, organic soybeans… I’m not a huge fan of soy, but when he only has one soy yogurt every month or two, I think his body can weather it.)
- I have a mental file of what is a good price for pretty much everything. For example, on my shopping list were dry beans and canned pumpkin. However, this shopping trip, both were expensive – - not on sale. So, I didn’t purchase. I’ll wait until next week or another store to get a good price. Can I wait for a few days or a week or even more to purchase those things? Yes, I can.
- I cook exclusively from scratch and mostly without using recipes. I know not everyone has this skill… My mom taught me how to cook, starting at age seven. I’m 39. That’s 32 years of cooking. I enjoy it, too! So, while I often keep an eye out for a new recipe to try, I would hazard to say that nine out of ten dinnertime meals are made without a recipe. This allows me to be more flexible. I know what I can make, I know what our family likes, and I can make those items, sans a recipe. I don’t have to pull out a recipe card, look at the 15 items, realize that I don’t have 13 of them, and then put all 13 things on my shopping list. In other words, what’s on sale dictates the menu, not the other way around.
- If I have a hankerin’ for something or someone makes a special request — like homemade pizza or homemade Caesar salad — I’ll put mozzarella cheese, (nitrate-free!) pepperoni, and tinned anchovies on the list, and I’ll purchase them if I can find them at a good price, and make that special item. Often, though, I will “plan” to make a special dish for two, three, or even four weeks before I find all the items needed to make that special dish at the right price. If those items cost too much that week — or if they don’t otherwise fit within the budget — I will add the “special purchase” item back to the grocery list for next week.
- My flexible approach makes participating in a CSA, farm share, or other “random” produce plan work well: It really doesn’t matter what kinds of produce I get that week. Whatever comes in the basket, I can find multiple ways to make it work.
So, I guess that’s what it boils down to: I prefer flexibility and saving the maximum amount of money OVER having all my ducks carefully lined up in a row and me knowing a week (or a month!) in advance what I will be making on any given day. But, like I wrote to my friend above, that doesn’t mean I don’t plan at all; I just don’t plan in what might be considered a traditional, menu-planning way.
So, how about you? What tools do you use? Any? Are you looking to change your meal-planning habits any time in the future? If so, why? If not, why? Inquiring minds want to know….
*As a bonus, Sprouts has double-ad Wednesdays. Each sale ad starts on Wednesday and ends Thursday, eight days later. So each Wednesday, two weeks’ worth of ads are valid. So, when there is a screamin’ deal — like navel oranges at 4 lbs/$1.00, I know I can buy 10+ this Wednesday, and 10+ lbs next Wednesday, too. I virtually always shop at Sprouts on Wednesdays to take advantage of double ads.
Finally watched Food, Inc with my boys today, as part of school. The 91 minute movie took us more than two hours to watch, because of the little girls needing attention, and for pausing to comment on the movie itself, both by me and by the boys.
I would say that I already was aware of about 95% of it, having learned from other sources the same/similar information. But, it’s just GOOD to have what I already know be reinforced, and to learn even that 5%.
Most of what I didn’t know had to do with the human element: The progression of how subsidized American corn has been exported to Mexico, putting Mexican corn farmers out of business. Then, slaughterhouses advertise in Mexico, soliciting illegal immigrant workers — often ex-corn farmers — and even BUS them to the U.S. Then, the employers have basically slave labor because the illegal employees don’t want to get busted by ICE and deported. So, they have zero voice, and they’re one more source that keeps the price of low-quality meat unnaturally suppressed in the American market. I had never heard that, nor pieced it together for myself, but it makes total sense.
I told my boys at the end, “I know that you already knew much of this, but sometimes, it helps that, instead of hearing your mother harp on you –” Twelve-year-old Grant interrupted and laughed, “You can hear OTHERS harp on you!” Ha! He said this with good humor, as none of the boys felt “harped upon”; they all appreciated the content and found it interesting and confirming. They also commented that, at the end of the film, where all the suggestions are made for how to be better food consumers, “We already do all of that!” My oldest said that, instead of our family being the health-freaks amongst our circle of friends* and being the odd man out, that, maybe by the time he’s a grown up, the weirdo will be the guy who regularly eats fast food cheeseburgers. Most touching was 10-year-old Wesley saying, “I hope you get to be in a movie like that some day.” :) Not that I aspire to be an interviewee, or that I even merit that, but that’s how he sees me, which is so precious to me.
*Not that we’re the ONLY people we know who are committed to eating healthy, but it’s still not the norm, by far.
Wee little garden update:
This morning, I harvested $6.58 worth of fresh, organic produce. Here’s how I figured it:
- One head of lettuce (Simpson Black Seeded — one of the BEST choices I made for my garden this spring). Seven oz, after being torn and washed. Five ounce containers of organic lettuce are typically $3.99. At that rate, my lettuce is worth $4.49.
- Two ounces broccoli — actually my largest head of broccoli so far, only about 5″ across… Turns out that broccoli typically doesn’t produce well at first try… Still, I’m not giving up. I may try a different variety next time, though. And plant it later, as the best of my broccoli has been harvested this month, when it’s warmer. Anyway. I can typically get organic broccoli at the store for $1.49/lb, so my two ounces equals $0.19 worth.
- Turnips — 3.5 oz. Actually, they’re not turnips. They’re the roots of Tyfon greens, which is a cross between a turnip and a kind of Chinese cabbage. Tyfon was a good choice when they were young and it was cooler, and we ate a ton of it, usually garlic braised and mixed with red chard. But as the weather has warmed, the Tyfon has been an absolute aphid MAGNET. Gross. So, I pulled the remainder of them out this morning, and a few of them had biggish, turnip-looking roots. Thus, 3.5 oz of “turnips”, at $2.99/lb = $0.65 worth.
- Six ounces carrots. We have a spot at the end of the garden where my daughter Fiala dumped an entire packet of carrot seeds. Even with regular thinning, it has turned into a carrot forest. I did a little research, because these carrot tops were developing powdery mildew. It turns out that powdery mildew — which is fairly harmless on carrots, though it can spread to other plants and stunt growth — flourishes in dry days, in shady conditions, and in crowded plants which inhibits circulation. The “carrot forest” is, unfortunately, largely shaded by a tree. It’s dry here. And, they’re crowded. Thus, I’ve had to pull out lots of baby carrots, which really aren’t akin to grocery store “baby carrots”. When they’re not full-grown, they’re rather bitter. But, they’re still edible. So, 6 oz carrots at $0.99/lb = $0.38 worth.
- I also harvested eight cherry tomatoes — 4 yellow and 4 red. Organic tomatoes are really expensive — typically $3.99/lb. So, my 3.5 oz of cherry tomatoes is worth at least $0.87.
If my math is right, that is $6.58. And that’s just from today! I’m daily harvesting produce. AND, there’s still a bunch of red chard I need to harvest before it bolts, which I will do later today. Organic red chard is typically $1.99/bunch this time of year, and I have enough for a good 4, 5, 6 store-sized bunches. Maybe more. And there are some lovely green onions that can be harvested. Even though my garden is small — about 7′ x 20′ — it has been extremely productive, once I got it going… Definitely more productive this spring than last; I’ve learned a lot in quite a short period of time.
“Two minutes. I’m walking Mommy out. I’ll be back in two minutes. Don’t come out. Let me have TWO MINUTES with Mommy,” my hubby Martin stressed to the children, who were finishing dinner.
It’s a weekly event. I go grocery shopping on Wednesday nights, and he walks me to the car, carrying my shopping bags and unlocking and opening the car door for me. When you have five children, it’s pretty amazing how valuable a tiny slice of time together can be.
“So, even though I didn’t start this diet to lose weight, I’m pretty happy to have lost some. Guess how much!” I demanded as we walked slowly toward the car.
I was thinking that he hadn’t noticed; he hadn’t mentioned anything about it. I thought he’d say, “Two pounds? Three?” and I could return with a triumphant grin, “No! Almost EIGHT!” I’ve lost 7.7 lbs, to be exact.
He looked me over with a thoughtful, “Hmmm…” Then, he confidently guessed, “Seven point five pounds.”
At that point, Audrey came running out, barefoot in the 45° weather, in tears, “Granty ran into me and hit my mouth!!”
Our two minutes were clearly up, so we quickly kissed, I stuffed my near-shock at his accuracy, got into the car, backed out, threw “I love you” hand signs*, and went off to the grocery store, smugness deflated, as Martin tended to the crisis.
I asked him about it again this morning, and I’m still not sure if it was just a good guess or an accurate estimate based upon close observation. It’s his secret, I guess.
*We have a “secret” sign in our family. It started with my hubby saying, “Love yas!” as he held up the normal “I love you” ASL short-cut, usually to Audrey, as he was backing out of her bedroom door at night. When she was really little, Audrey started one-upping him by holding up both hands with the sign, saying, “Double love yas!” Then, she raised the bar by crossing her two forearms into an X, with the “I love you” sign flashing on both hands, “Triple love yas!” So, now, we all “triple love yas” each other… :)
- After writing this, I thought, “How cliché! I’m writing about a diet and it’s the new year, when everyone has made new commitments (again!) to some diet or another.” But, for better or worse, that’s not what this post is about.
- It appears my three-year-old, Fiala, has a crazy-bad body-wide yeast infection, and I was reading up on Candida overgrowth for Fi’s sake, when, to my particular interest, I read that Candida is frequently the source of hives in adults. I’ve been getting intermittent hives for about the last two or three months, and the last two weeks have been AWFUL, with nightly hives (they’re always worse at night) and day-long burning and itching skin, especially on my hands, forearms, thighs, belly, and neck. The whole world of Candida overgrowth is confusing and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. Trying to establish some sort of anti-Candida protocol is really hard for a three-year-old; you just can’t make them quaff a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, no matter how you disguise it. For me, though, it’s a little easier. I am embarking on a week-long cleanse. I don’t even know if I’m doing it “right”; I’m just following what seems logical: Eating a all-sugar-free-even-honey-and-fruit, super-low-carb diet, basically a Paleo diet. I’m counting my carbs (minus dietary fiber), and maxing them at 30g/daily. I’m also supplementing with probiotics (lots) and with apple cider vinegar (lots). Part of me is concerned that I don’t know enough to start the diet knowledgeably, but the other part of me has decided that doing the best I can, and adding to my knowledge as I proceed, is what I need to do, otherwise, I’ll keep dragging my feet and eating toffee. :) I figure that even if the hives are not from Candida, at least I’ll probably lose a few pounds this week. At least, I hope I only have to do one week. We’ll see. Maybe it’ll be as easy as starting a gluten-free diet nine years ago, where I felt SO MUCH BETTER that how much “trouble” it was became a total non-issue, and I knew I could never go back.
In news related to the above (and below), avocados, though they are technically a fruit, have NO sugar! Well, not “no”: An average-sized avocado has 0.4g sugar and 0.1g starch. That’s pretty close to zero. And they’re super high in fiber, avocados have a reasonable amount of protein (especially for a fruit!), and are crazy-high in Omega 6 fatty acids, and EFAs are also supposed to be good for Candida sufferers. And, oddly enough, avocados are related to cinnamon! I’ve long known that Fiala can handle cinnamon with no allergic reaction. I wish I would have discovered the connection, long ago. Fi’s been eating avocados like crazy the last week or so; a local grocer has them on sale for 4/$1.00 (Bashas’, for those readers in Arizona — the sale is good through Tuesday.) I found this page very interesting; it’s about different varieties of avocados. I was trying to find what kind we have. I’m still not sure.
- Speaking of Fiala, you may have seen on OSC’s Facebook page that there was a chance she has Type I (juvenile) Diabetes. I’m happy to announce that her urinalysis was clean — no glucose. Part of me was kind of hoping that diabetes was at the heart of her life-long health struggles, because that would be a clear path, and it’s treatable. But since she doesn’t… we’re back at square one. I was really unhappy about that for a few days, and now I’m OK. Better than OK, actually. We see the naturopathic doctor again on Friday. She’s planning on ordering up some blood tests based on what did or didn’t show on Fiala’s (very, very clean) urinalysis. I’ll ask her about Candida then.
I got carded last night at Trader Joe’s, buying some sparkly for New Year’s. That cashier knew how to perk up the outlook of a down-faced 38-year-old. I had a good laugh with the lady right behind me, who congratulated me on the event. She was friendly and warm and had a Nigerian accent, and I left with a smile on my face.
At the previous store, Costco, I had decided that despite my current state of affairs — a really ugly situation with my ten-year-old son and a neighborhood boy, which has escalated into three families boycotting our family, and which is still not even remotely resolved — that God didn’t intend for me to:
a) walk in shame
b) treat people like crap just because I’m feeling badly.
When I go on my weekly marathon grocery shopping trips, where I typically visit 4-6 stores and spend 3-4 hours doing so, I make an intentional effort to be kind to customers and cashiers, to go above and beyond what might be expected of a typical late-night shopper, and to spread the love of Jesus, if only a smile at a time, to those I encounter. This approach almost never fails to have some sort of positive effect on someone, and often results in some really interesting interactions with shoppers and/or store employees. Last week, a cashier at Bashas’, Nina, told me that I was her favorite customer. I laughed, and then she prompted me, “Now, you’re supposed to say, ‘And Nina is my favorite cashier!’” I complied, although, honestly, she’s not. She’s kind of grumpy and gets on my case about often needing assistance to find out-of-stock sale items late at night: “What do you expect? It’s 10:45 at night! We close in 15 minutes. Of course the butcher isn’t here and there’s no one who can help you in meat.” She also makes fun of me for taking so long in the store. I check my list, I check my coupons, I read labels endlessly… I’m sure I take longer than the typical shopper. In spite of this, though, she likes me. :) I think I like her more, for liking me.
Nina thinks I’m amazing for having five children and tells everyone about it — other employees and customers alike. I don’t particularly think that’s a reason for merit, but I’ll take it. She wasn’t there last night, though, to prop up my ego; her son got married on the 27th and she took the whole week off.
Anyway. Back to Costco.
My cashier there was Richard. He’s tall and very thin, and I have often wondered where he purchases his jeans, though I have never mustered up the courage — or would it be cheek? — to ask him. He asked me the standard question about whether I had found all I was looking for. I replied that I had, thank you, and made eye contact with him, smiling. He paused, responded cheerfully, and with what seemed to be an intentionally friendly manner, finished up my order. Not friendly-flirting. Friendly as in, “Wow, you are treating me like a person and I appreciate it.” As I walked away, I marveled at, truly, how little it takes to make someone’s day a little better.
That’s when I resolved to still do my normal, intentionally kind shopping trip, instead of wallowing in the misery of the situation with my son.
Misty Edwards helped me, too. To be honest, I’m not a rabid fan of hers. Those who like her tend to REALLY like her. I’m not like that. I just don’t often enjoy listening to endless Misty-IHOP music; it just doesn’t float my boat, even though I love, love, love worship.* Last night, though, when I got into my hubby’s car to go grocery shopping, he had Fling Wide on, and I let it play, needing some soothing for my sore soul. Track 5 came on, the title track, and I almost fast-forwarded it because I just don’t like the opening lines, “Awake, awake oh north wind, awake, awake oh south wind…” But, I let it play because I love the electric guitar on that song, and I was thinking, “How does the chorus to this song go? I think I remember liking it.” And I did. I do. I hit repeat, really listening to the lyrics the second time through, part of which say, “Come, oh winds of testing…”
“What??” I thought, “I’m not liking winds of testing right now.”
I really do NOT have a “bring it on!” mentality to testing. At all. I don’t like being tested. I don’t know if Misty really does, or if she simply has made peace with the value of being refined by it. In any case, she appears to be further down that path of maturity than I am.
To most of the song, though, I really can yield, singing loudly and with full agreement, “Fling wide the door to my soul/Open up the door to my heart/Have Your way, have Your way…” even though I have to will myself to sing the next few lines about “I won’t be afraid/I’ll embrace the flame” and I’m sure any fly buzzing around the cab of the car would note the lack of conviction in my voice at that point…
I hit repeat on that track about six or seven times before I just resigned myself to the fact that I needed to put the song on a continuous loop-repeat.
Even though I really need to update that 101 Random Things About Me page, #43 is still in full effect: “When I’m upset, I love to go on an errand by myself and BLAST worship music in the truck, singing my guts out.”
*Gross generalization: I find that most IHOP worship tends to be really internally-focused, introspective, “search my heart… I am weak and lowly…” kind of worship, and I tend to prefer songs that focus directly on Jesus and His character and ability, and/or a little more transcendent worship/rejoicing in who He is… Hard to explain. Not trying to pick any fights with anyone, just trying to explain where my worshiper’s heart is at, and it typically doesn’t beat in quite the same place that Misty Edwards, et al, seem to beat.