Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Challenge Day 5 Report - Hunter-Gathering

I like to get pears to just-ready-to-eat on the counter and then put them in the fridge.

I meant to tell you about Sunday's shopping. Weis Markets was having a Grand Re-Opening of their store on Rockland Avenue. I used to go there, mostly lured by the 1/2-price day-old bakery goods. But they started donating the day-old bread to food banks instead of discounting it - good for food banks, bad for my bread pudding habit. I moved to the other side of town, so it dropped off my list of regularly-visited stores. I had a lunch with a friend near the store on Sunday, so I stopped by to look.

The draw for me was .99 bags of sugar and flour. I am picky about sugar. Most white sugar comes from sugar beets, and they are almost all GMO (genetically-modified) in the US. And, there are no labeling requirements, so you can't tell. But if the bag says "cane sugar" it cannot legally be beet sugar. Happily, the Weis store brand is cane sugar. But you are only allowed one bag at that price, and one bag of .99 bleached flour. I prefer unbleached or white whole wheat four from King Arthur, but Christmas cookie season is coming.

I also found on sale: cat food, cat litter, hoisin sauce, pretzels, imitation crab. In the produce department, they had ginger root for only .99/lb, asparagus 1.49, pears .99, red grapes 1.49. Got deli ham for SO's sandwiches, splurged on 4 Honeycrisp apples at 2.49/lb. They had DD15's preferred whole wheat Italian bread buy-one-get-one, so I got some for the freezer.

Then, I spotted a big bargain! 42-oz canisters of store-brand rolled oats at 2/$3. Only two left and I snatched them. But when I checked out, they rang at 3.59. I was distracted by the bag boy's confusion about my reusable bags, so didn't notice until I looked at the register tape - the total seemed too high. I went to the service desk, and it turns out someone put the canisters in the wrong place, and it was at floor level, so I couldn't read the shelf tag. If the item itself had been mis-priced in the computer, most stores will give you one free, but this was just a shelving error. Rats. I returned them, since I know that Aldi has the 42-oz oats for $1.99 every day. I am down to my last 5-gallon bucket of oats, so I have oatmeal high on my stock-up list.

Overall, nothing really made me want to come back to Weis, unless something else takes me in that direction. I am really pretty "over" shopping in regular grocery stores - I am spoiled by the discounters and liquidators. I do shop the loss leaders, but it's not worth the gas for a few sale items unless they let you buy a lot of it. What is a "loss leader?" It's an item that a store prices at less than it cost them, to get you to come to the store. The things on the front of the store flyer in the largest type are usually the loss leaders. They take a "loss" on a few items in order to "lead" you into the store, where you will also buy other things.

The point to this was that even though there was a lot of stuff on sale, I know my "price to beat" list and there was not much that was cheaper than anywhere else. My strategy is to wait for deeper discounts. I only "needed" the ham and the produce. I did notice that grocery prices are up. You used to find those smaller oatmeal boxes for .99 on sale in the fall - now they are $1.50. That's a big increase, and I noticed others.

On the way back, I stopped at Price-Rite, which was also being remodeled. I used to shop there more when I lived in town. They have cheap produce and I got broccoli for .99, romaine .99, cabbage .49, yams .59, butternut .69, bananas .49, and limes 5/$1. Also got lite sour cream, bagels, and tortillas. On the way back through that neighborhood around 9th and Oley, I saw a bunch of newer discount food stores I have not checked out. A new Save-A-Lot, a "Meat Outlet" and something else new about to open. I will need to come back soon and explore. They already have the Price-Rite and a C-Town, so this looks to be developing into a "destination for discount food sshopping. Ironic and appropriate, since it used to be center of the outlet-shopping district that made Reading famous in the 70s.

All-in-all, I spent less than $50. i will need milk and yogurt this week, but that would be enough food, otherwise. A friend and I are planning a trip to Trader Joe's and a grocery liquidator, but that is more for pantry-building than immediate need. I try not to run out of things and "need" them, so I can always wait for a good price.

But, see what happens when you begin to live the food stamp lifestyle? It's all about price. The most food for the money. Not quality. Not about where and how it was produced, or who suffered to produce it. Not about whether the food dollars are going to local farmers, or even if the money stays in our region. Its about where I can get the most food, for the least expenditure of money and gasoline.

I live in the middle of some of the most productive agricultural counties in the state and the country. And I am buying almost nothing that I can identify as having come from here.

Breakfast $1.49
SO banana (.20)
DD15 nothing
Grandma- oatmeal (.06) with raisins (.07) and pear (.20), yogurt with honey (.17), tea (.04) Me - oatmeal (.06) with raisins (.07) and pear (.20), yogurt with honey (.17), hot cocoa (.25)

Lunch $4.54
SO - packed ham (1.25) and swiss (.40) sandwich (.25), PB crackers (.20)
DD15 - at school
Grandma - PB (.15) and homemade jelly (.20) on raisin toast (.25), Honeycrisp apple (1.25) and worth it), tea (.04) me - chicken noodle soup (.50), crackers (.20), tea (.10), grapes (.75)

Dinner $2.80
SO, Grandma, Me: Chicken in sage gravy (.20), over mashed (.55), with broccoli (.65) Grandma: bagel (.20) with butter (.18), tea (.04), grapes (.50)
DD15 - I have no idea. She did not appear to eat anything. Me - 3 pretzel rods (.25), milk (.23) for snack

Rachel Ray did not invent the 30-minute meal. I peeled and cubed a pound of potatoes and put them on to boil. Then I turned half a head of broccoli into florets and put it in a steamer basket on the stove.

Meanwhile, I picked the meat off the rest of those leftover chicken legs and put about half in a bag in the fridge. Got out the jar of pan drippings from when I roasted the chicken - it had separated into a thick layer of fat over a jellied jar-shaped chunk of pure chicken goodness. I took off the fat and put it in a baggie in the freezer. I collect chicken fat to render into "schmaltz" periodically. I have been collecting the skin and bones in a bowl in the fridge as we use the chicken meat; I put all that into a pot of water with an onion, some aging celery stalks, a carrot, some bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme I ran out into the cold backyard to snip off in the dark. It simmered on the back of the stove for 6 hours, and then I put it in a pitcher to cool before going into the fridge overnight. I will collect the fat from that, too, and will be left with lovely stock to freeze in quart containers.

I get a lot of mileage out of $4 worth of cheap chicken. This will be the third meal from that chicken, plus schmaltz and stock. And there is still a bag of chicken meat in the fridge, and a jar of leftover chicken-in-gravy.

I melted the pan juice in a saucepan, and made roux from butter and flour in another pan. When the juices were almost boiling, I added the roux and whisk it around. Got out my jar of sage dried from my garden, and rubbed a lot of it into the pot. Add lots of fresh-cracked pepper, a little milk. A little garlic powder, a little salt. The intensity of chicken flavor was almost shocking, but the mashed potatoes will mellow that. I added a pile of picked chicken to the pot, leaving it in big chunks. That pan came off the heat and got a lid while I tossed the steamed broccoli in a hot skillet with a shot of sesame oil and a sprinkle of house seasoning.

The potatoes were ready to drain and mash with my favorite vintage cast-iron masher. Added a lump of butter, salt and pepper, a splash of milk, and the last of the lite sour cream. Divided the potatoes into three plates, ladled chicken and sauce over it, added broccoli. On our old thick ironstone plates, it looked like good diner food. I got the camera for a picture, but DD15 had run out the battery not charged it. Damn kids.

That dish for all three of us was $1.40. The chicken and pan juice were leftovers, "paid for" by other meals. The costs came from broccoli and the bits of dairy, butter, seasoning. It took about half an hour. When you get into the habit of stashing away ingredients, it's actually fast and easy to cook from scratch.

Mom ate all the taters and broccoli, but would not eat most of the chicken. Damn dementia. She wanted tea and a bagel an hour later. She only wants to eat carbs. I will get her to drink some protein shake at breakfast.

Why didn't DD15 eat? Because there is "nothing in the house to eat." She would not touch gravy if I held a gun to her head. I thawed pizza dough for her, got her favorite bread, there are potato smilies in the freezer, and Honeycrisp apples in the fruit dish. She was annoyed that I didn't bring her a Coke Slushie. ::shrug::

Total for the Day: $8.83

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