Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Ideal vs. The Reality — Grocery Edition, part 3

After reading the last couple of posts, my friend Kathy told me that she wanted to go grocery shopping with me!  Hahaha!  I sort of dismissed the idea, because I thought that it would probably be really, really, really tedious for her, and didn’t want to subject her to three or four hours driving hither and thither, reading endless labels.  Selfishly, the more I think about it, the more I like it, just so I can enjoy her sweet company.  😀  So, is it a date, Kathy???

Just to recap my aims in this grocery series:  I balance on a thin line, trying to:

  • Accommodate my family’s special diets (gluten and/or dairy-free, multiple food allergies, etc.)
  • Stay within a budget — which is roughly $4 per person, per day
  • Eat as naturally, and as cleanly as possible — unprocessed, no chemicals, organic when I can
  • Just FINDING the foods I need, locally

(Part 1 here, Part 2 here.)

So, to continue, here are some more of my current grocery-store faves, some healthy, some not so much:

  • Hormel Natural Choice Deli Sandwich Meats are (collectively) one of the best products to hit store shelves in recent memory.  They are minimally processed, and contain no preservatives, nothing artificial at all!  Take, for example, the ingredients in Oven Roasted Deli Turkey:  Turkey Breast Meat, Water, Salt, Turbinado Sugar, Carrageenan (from seaweed), Baking Soda, Natural Flavoring, Lactic Acid Starter Culture (not from Milk).  The price is slightly more expensive than most packaged deli meat, but, again, stock up when it’s on sale, and use a coupon when you can!  The best price I’ve found is at SuperTarget (of which I’m not a huge fan, actually);  their NON-sale price hovers around $2.50 per 8 oz package.  The price in most other stores is $3-4.  Hormel labels the packages as gluten free, as well.  (Granted, gluten-free labeling is not yet regulated in the United States, and I don’t know what Hormel’s official policy is on it.)
  • This three-for-the-price-of-one entry comes to you courtesy of Trader Joe’s.  I really love Trader Joe’s.  A friend who recently started eating healthier visited a local TJ’s and was overwhelmed.  She left discouraged, and said that she felt like the store was just for rich people.  That really surprised me, as so many of their items are REALLY cheap, and I’m not rich.  However, the store is set up differently than most grocery stores, and they do definitely have a healthy/natural/trendy twist on just about everything, and I suppose it could be disorienting, and maybe even off-putting to newbies.  Their meat is expensive;  I almost never buy fresh meats from there.  However, in my opinion, the pros of Trader Joe’s way outweigh the cons, and if you have a TJ’s near where you live, it is very much worth the effort to acquaint yourself with it.I have a fairly long list of must-have from Trader Joe’s but there are three particular items I would really miss if they became discontinued (which does happen from time to time, and without warning, at Trader Joe’s):  Basmati Rice Medley, tri-color baby potato medley, and Spanish Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.
    • The Basmati Rice Medley cooks just as fast as normal white rice, even though it contains wild rice and is generously flecked with dried veggies.  I almost never prepare it with straight-up water:  pan juices from roasted chicken, olive oil and organic veggie bullion, broth made from Chicken Better Than Bullion… there are endless ways to prepare it.  Each bag contains about 4 cups of rice (which, even in a big family like mine, is at least two dinner’s worth, plus leftovers), and is a steal at $1.69 per package.  Where else can you make a healthy, good-sized, tasty, easy, quick side dish for under a buck???  Not many other places.  Therefore, we eat this rice at least once a week.  My only beef with it is that it contains a too-generous amount of dried orange peel.  Orange ZEST would be great.  CHUNKS of orange peel??  NO.  When I make the rice, I fish through to weed out the orange peel.  This is over my husband’s protests, as he likes the occasional shock of biting into the world’s most bitter mouthful of rice.  Ugh.
    • I don’t know the “official” name of the potato trio at Trader Joe’s — it just contains a mix of baby-to-small-sized Yukon gold, red-skinned, and purple potatoes.  They are beautiful.  And, at $1.99 for an 28 oz bag, really very reasonable.  I saw a similar bag — a 16 oz package of Melissa’s organic Gemstone Potatoes for $3.99 in my regular grocery store.  That’s more than three times the price of the TJ’s potatoes!  Plus, any little bit I can do to save the world from the monoculture of the Russet is good by me.  The recipe on the blog from which I lifted the above pic goes with a wonderful-looking veggie-potato salad recipe but I must say that my favorite way to serve these tasty tubers is to make a pouch of large, heavyweight foil, toss quartered potatoes with olive oil, sea salt, cracked pepper, thickly sliced onion, and an herb — fresh rosemary or dried thyme are my favorite — seal it up tight, and throw it on the grill over low heat for about an hour, turning once or twice.  Mmmm…  Caramelized onions, rich roasted color, potatoes infused with the flavors as they steam and sizzle in the pouch…  It’s potato heaven.
    • Speaking of olive oil, my current fave is Trader Joe’s Spanish extra-virgin olive oil.  TJ’s adjusts its prices up (and down!) with supply and demand, but as I write this, the Spanish EVOO is $5.99 for a 1 liter glass bottle, which is really a fabulous price.  It has the perfect flavor for olive oil, in my opinion:  more peppery than fruity.  I say “peppery”, but it’s not overwhelmingly so, and I both cook and bake both savory and sweet goods with this olive oil…  I typically run through a good liter per week.  🙂
  • Ritter chocolate.  I am a huge fan of chocolate:  nice, deep, dark chocolate.  I would say “the darker the better”, but I can’t eat straight-up unsweetened, so I guess I do draw the line somewhere.  From time to time, when I’m grocery shopping, I treat myself to a bar of chocolate.  My favorite, hands down, is German-made Ritter Sport.  I’ve sampled a number of Ritter products, but my faves are the dark chocolate with whole hazelnuts or the dark chocolate with marzipan varieties.  Either one, and I’m in chocolate heaven.  Speaking of Trader Joe’s, they carry the dark-with-hazelnut kind, and it’s $1.99 per 100g bar (about 3.5 oz.  For comparison’s sake, Hershey’s Dark comes in a 41g bar.).

The Ideal vs. The Reality, Grocery Edition, part 2.

(Part 1 is here.  And if you have any snarky comments about hot dogs, I’m just going to refer you to Part 1.  So there.)

I had intended to make this a post of 10+ Grocery Items I Love, all gluten-free (or, at least, made without gluten ingredients — for additional thoughts about that, please see Part 1).  However, I got talky, so we’ll start with two:

  1. In a recent grocery trip, I spied some organic hot dogs from Applegate Farms, the uncured, no-nitrite kind.  I couldn’t believe the price tag:  Normally $5 or more, they were on sale for $3.50 a package.  Additionally, I had a coupon, $1 off of two.  On principle, I won’t spend more than $2 for a pack of hot dogs.  But, these were organic.  And all beef!  It worked out to $3/pack, which isn’t bad.  I salved my grocery-budget-conscience by telling myself I could grill them for a dinner, something I don’t normally do with hot dogs.After I got home, I discovered that they rang up at $7 each.  SEVEN DOLLARS!!  And I had purchased TWO of them!!  Even with my coupon, I spent $13 on two stinkin’ packs of hot dogs.

    I called the grocery store the next day, and they told me that I could bring them back for a refund, and that I was the second person who had called that day to complain.  She said I had purchased the wrong variety, that the all-beef ones weren’t on sale.  Well.  If I was the second person duped by the sign being in the wrong place, or vague as to what varieties were included in the sale, might not they reconsider their signage???  Hm??

    Let’s see…  30 miles for a round trip, at 14 mpg, at $2.75/gallon for gas, I could spend $5.50+ to get my refund.  No thanks.  We ate our solid gold hot dogs, and they didn’t taste that great, though it might have been due to the fact that they were slathered with several layers of regret.

    ENTER OSCAR MAYER INTO THE HOT DOG FRAY. A while back, OM debuted some all-natural hot dogs, which were wonderful.  Normal price was around $4.50 a pack, but when they went on sale, and when I had a coupon, I could pick them up at my $2 threshold, or less.  Then, they disappeared from existence.  Now, they have — sort of — reappeared, as “Premium” hot dogs, in a number of varieties, including “normal“, beef, and Angus, all with NO NITRATES, but… with sodium phosphates.  I think sodium phosphate helps with water retention.  It’s not as insidious as nitrates, but still a compromise.  ~sigh~


    See?  Not organic.  But, no nitrates, no artificial colors or flavors…  As far as I can tell, the “Classic” ones have nitrates, and the “Premium” ones do not.  You win some, you lose some, right??  And as far as readily-available, reasonably-priced TASTY hot dogs, Oscar Mayer Premiums score, big-time.

    (Just as a note of annoyance, the Oscar Mayer website, and that of its parent company, Kraft Foods, is ridiculously difficult to navigate.  It’s really hard to find what you want there, largely because the search boxes don’t actually produce search results — they produce suggested recipes, or send you to a page for a contest.  It’s really frustrating, especially when you’re trying to do something nice, like praise a product.  In fact, I can’t really find an Oscar Mayer website, though the above link will send you to a page where you can print out a $1 coupon for Oscar Mayer Selects hot dogs, which are — I think — what are labeled on the package as Premium hot dogs.)

  2. Would you buy a product labeled “Light”???  I don’t usually.  In my grocery-shopping experience,  99% of the time, “Light” is a euphemism for Lots of Artificial Sweeteners.  But, a few months ago, I picked up a jar of “Light” pasta sauce.  Here are the ingredients:  TOMATO PUREE, DICED TOMATOES IN PUREE, ONIONS, SALT, OLIVE OIL, GARLIC POWDER, ONION POWDER, SPICES, BASIL, NATURAL FLAVOR.  Would you buy THAT pasta sauce??  I would.  I do!
    Surprisingly, those ingredients are for Ragu Light No Sugar Added Tomato & Basil.  There is an additional variety of Ragu Light, which is… Tomato & Basil.  From what I can tell, it subtracts the olive oil and adds sugar, which is not a fair swap, in my book.

    Overall, I think Ragu Light No Sugar Added Tomato & Basil is a fabulous, natural pasta sauce, well worth its $1.67 price tag at my local grocery store.

    Ninety percent of the time, when I make pasta sauce, it’s semi-homemade.  I typically start with a bottled sauce, and add goodies like fresh garlic, fresh rosemary, dried thyme, crushed fennel seed, canned petite-diced tomatoes, minced onion, more olive oil…  In other words, I probably don’t need bottled pasta sauce.  But, I like it as a base to my sauce, and in a pinch [read:  for dinner when my hubby is not at home], I always have it on hand to serve as-is.

The Ideal vs. The Reality — Grocery Edition, part 1

The Ideal: I live on several acres of rich, loamy soil, in which my own organic garden is planted.  On the property is a little henhouse, with a dozen or so birds to supply our eggs.  Placidly roaming another part of the property is a small herd of sheep — maybe six or so, who clip the grass, killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.  From my sheep, I make my own cheese, craft my own milkfat soap, shear and card my own wool, and knit lovely things after I’ve dyed the wool with natural, homemade dyes.  We raise a number of other animals, including some miniature cattle, which are always grass-fed, and from which our year’s supply of meat is derived.  For the things I cannot grow, I visit, weekly, the farmer’s market in the nearby, picturesque village.  I know all the farmers by their first names.

The Reality: Um, not that.

To add to the conflict I feel about not raising my own food are some of the e-mails I receive from a local Yahoo celiac group.  The moderators of the group are AWESOME.  They are ladies of expertise and experience, with the word of kindness and graciousness on their tongue fingers.  There are some members, though, who continue to stipulate that a product is objectionable unless it is, apparently, farmed by celiacs, using organic, gluten-free fertilizer.  To avoid cross-contamination, each item is processed and packaged in hermetically-sealed facilities, which ideally (of course!) are small and family-owned, and whose specially-educated employees are well-versed on the needs of the gluten-free consumer.  Additionally, all packaging contains no plastic and is printed with soy-based ink.  Otherwise, said members won’t purchase the products, and send tersely-worded condescending e-mails out to those (like me!) who would deign to buy from, say, Oscar Mayer, and worse, those (like me!) who might be foolhardy enough to recommend them.

To add to that, I must also stay within other bounds of reality, including a budget, and limits on my time and energy, not to mention that I cook for SEVEN, which carries its own set of demands and limitations.  I love to cook — I really do.  And, I love natural food.  But, I can’t spend $7 on four small organic muffins that were made in a dedicated gluten-free facility!  I can spend $5 on a 5 lb bag of organic carrots, but I can’t spent $5 on a 1 lb container of organic strawberries.  I can travel 25 minutes to a natural foods grocery store, but I can’t travel one hour to the closest organic farmer’s market.  Most often, I can avoid ready-made, packaged foods (saving money), but there are a few that I keep handy, to save time.  I have to pick and choose, based on what is do-able, balancing the ideal and the reality as best I can.

As it is, I split my grocerying between six stores:  Fry’s (a Kroger affiliate), Bashas’ (a local, family-owned chain), Sprouts (a locally-based chain of natural foods stores), Trader Joe’s, Lee Lee (a local Asian market), and Costco.  Each week, I typically visit 2-3 of those stores, usually in a marathon 3-4 hour run, most often after the kids have gone to bed.  🙂

On Tuesday night at Fry’s at about 10 p.m., one of the night stockers stopped me.  “How is my favorite customer?” he greeted me.

Wha–???” I was flustered, as I have never said word one to this man, nor did I know his name, though I did recognize him as a store employee.  “How in the world could I be your favorite customer?” I wondered aloud.

“Well, you always shop at night, when I’m working,” as if that explained anything.

Internally, my eyes narrowed.  Though I’m now unaccustomed to the scenario, I began to suspect that he was flirting.  I put a stop to that the best way I knew how:  “Well, I have a lot of kids.  Five of them.  I find it easiest to shop after my husband and I put them to bed.”  It didn’t stop him.  So, I excused myself as politely but as quickly as I could, and continued with my shopping…  Night stalker, more like it.

Next post:  The Ideal vs. The Reality, Grocery Edition, part 2

Wes Gems

Wesley will be nine years old, later this month.

He’s an interesting little cookie, that boy, and if there is one of my children who I’m afraid I just don’t “get” well enough, it’s Wes.

Three things have tickled me in the last couple of days about Wesley:

  1. Last night, as I was making dinner, Wesley asked if he could help.  “Sure!” I said, handing him the veggie peeler and a pound of carrots.  After that task was completed, I asked him if he wanted to learn how to use the knife to slice about 8 oz of mushrooms.  His face lit up.  Mistakenly, I thought it was because of the knife.  He set me straight, saying with enthusiasm, “Girls like boys who can cook!”  Um, yes, Wes.  Yes, they do.
  2. Wesley’s Teaching Textbooks Math 5 arrived in the mail, late Tuesday afternoon.  I loaded it onto the computer yesterday morning, and by the end of the day, Wes had cranked out four lessons.  Today, he has already done an additional four lessons, plus a quiz.  He has spent virtually all of his spare time doing math and, in two days, he has accomplished about two weeks of math.
  3. On Monday night, I took Grant to a baseball game (he had won a free ticket in the summer reading program).  During the game, I took a few pictures of Grant with my phone.  Upon reviewing the snaps, I saw that Wesley had confiscated my phone and taken about 15 photos of himself, his sisters, and at least ten of various Lego men.  I laughed hard.

(For those of you who didn’t catch the title’s reference…)

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