Get out there – leaving the comfort zone behind, we tried a new grocery store

My husband and I were out running errands when we bumped into our old friend Jerry. Jerry’s always a guy to speak his mind – “you guys are crazy to shop at Safeway!” he opined. He suggested Winco and Food Maxx, assuring us all their stuff was high quality.

We realized we did need to shop around.  We’ve shopped at Safeway for years because it is an easy bike ride from our house, but we thought we were being smart, buying on sale, and supplementing our pantry with trips to discount stores like Cash and Carry and Walmart. We hadn’t tried another grocery store for years.

Coincidentally we got a coupon from Food Maxx, offering not only cheap prices but free items – a 5 lb bag of russet potatoes, a case of bottled water, and a ROTISSERIE CHICKEN! Get the heck out! So we drove over to check it out.

The first thing I noticed was the strip mall it’s located in has seen better days, but the front of the store was no dirtier than Safeway has been the last year or so, and no bums standing around the entrance. The carts were clean, that’s a plus. But I was kind of intimidated by the unfamiliar surroundings.

That’s why I need to get out more. I get in a rut, and when unexpected changes come up I feel a thousand years old and suddenly senile. I couldn’t help but notice my husband and I were clinging to each other like a couple of baby bats. 

We came out of it immediately in the produce section – lots of nice fruits and vegies, very fresh, and a lot cheaper than Safeway. We came for a free bag of potatoes, but I noticed bulk potatoes were half as much as Safeway. Some things were not that much cheaper, but really nice, like the spinach. It’s hard finding spinach that’s not all bruised and rotten in the center of the bunch. You can understand why a lot of people don’t like spinach. But Food Maxx had nice, firm, crisp green spinach for about $1.99 a bunch, I wish I had got two. 

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Here’s what you can do with spinach – spinach tacos!

We’d had chicken tacos the night before, and there was plenty of meat and beans left over. As I opened the bunch of spinach and handled those nice crispy leaves I immediately came up with an idea for lunch – we heated up the leftover taco filling, washed some big spinach leaves and lined them with strips of cheese and avocado slices. Look at those spinach tacos! Delicioso!

Of course for dinner that night we had half of our FREE ROTISSERIE CHICKEN. Pardon the caps, but it was exciting – we got two meals out of that bird, at a time when we are busy and tired in the evening and too broke to eat at a restaurant. 

We spent $40 and got almost as much in free stuff. We were so happy with the little russets we got, we’ve had potatoes in one form or another at almost every meal. I always cook two extras for breakfast.

So, yeah, it does pay to change your habits and try something new once in a while. Get out there! 

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Tried single living for a couple of days, didn’t like it – but ate well!

When I took the picture the flash caught the swirling mist all around me.

Something we haven’t had here in a few years is fog. I used to hate fog, but since the drought, I am glad to see it – this indicates our weather is changing in a new direction, maybe out of drought.

Well, be careful what you wish for.

We  get all the best weather right here in the North State!  

My husband went out of town for a couple of days to visit his dad, so I have been on my own with the dogs. I want to give them a good walk, dogs need their routine, but I worry that I  can’t handle both of them, especially if a bigger, more aggressive dog comes along. So, I hit the trail at about 6:30 am to beat the Sunday crowd, my headlamp beaming back at me from a thick wall of fog. 

In the light of my headlamp  I could see why everything on my patio was dripping wet this morning. 

I did not see another soul. We tramped along the trail, trying not to slip in goopy mud, watching all around for signs of life. January is usually a very gloomy time in Chico.

Gloomy  time to spend a weekend alone!  I try to keep myself cheered up by spending a lot of time outside with the dogs, working in the yard, keep the camp stove hot.  And, you might think it’s not much fun to eat alone, but I always make myself a meal that my husband doesn’t particularly care for.  At his suggestion, we went to Safeway the day before he left and bought me a pound of mussels.

This is about half a pound of mussels – about $3 worth – and more than enough for a skinny old lady.

Clams are nice, but the shells are heavier and they’re a dollar more a pound. You get a lot for your money with mussels, which are also very nutritious. My husband will eat them, but finds them a little strong, preferring clams.  So when he’s out of town, I feast for a couple of nights on mussels. 

Here’s another thing – they are a great one pan meal.

I start with vegetables cut up small, here an onion, half a zucchini and two mushrooms.

I’m too embarrassed to tell you how much butter I use, you be your own judge, jury and executioner. I like to get the vegies good and brown before I add a few ladles full of broth (which I had made earlier in the day by simmering some leftover romaine, cabbage, and celery hearts for about an hour). I slop in some cheap white wine too, never cook with anything that costs more than five or six bucks. I put in just enough liquid to steam the mussels.

I’ve eaten this two nights straight and looking at the picture I could sit down for another helping.

I cover those for three minutes while I hack off a piece of sourdough. Bob never gets stale, he ages to perfection, and a good rubbery sourdough heel is just what you need for a dish like this. Reminds me of sopas, the Portuguese bread soup, only with shell fish instead of beef. 

A cabbage, carrot and celery salad with yogurt dressing and a slice of avocado on the side, and you got yourself a $20 meal. 

I know I used to pay $12 for a side of mussels, no salad, at the Black Crow, and that place has been out of business for years. Why bother to eat out when you can get yourself a meal like this at home? The whole thing took me less than half an hour, and that’s counting the time it took to make a big bowl of salad and wash the mussels. Cost less than $5. 

 

Another nice thing is, easy clean up –  I ate everything but the shells and the pot!

 

Roast your vegies!

 

We got  those dumping rains I was hoping for, and Weatherman says more next  week. I  gave Estelle another brooch and set her back on the shelf – your happy voodoo doll, is your safe voodoo doll.

As usual for this time of year, we’ve been cooking and eating alot. My new favorite is roasted vegetables.

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I cut the cauliflower, beans and carrots into small pieces because they roast faster that way. Then I stir in some olive oil and toss it all with salt and pepper.

 

When I was young we were told to steam our vegetables, that boiling took the nutrients out.  It’s easy to over steam, and then you get the same as boiled. So I tried par boiling – 3 minutes in fast boiling water, then a cold rinse. That works okay for green beans, asparagus, and thin sliced carrots, but it’s still boiling. 

I quit eating broccoli and cauliflower because it was easy to over cook and under cooked they gave me indigestion.

Then I saw a recipe for grilled asparagus, wrapped with bacon slices. We loved it, and realized, we can do this in our oven, without the bacon. Roasted asparagus is one of my favorites now – Cash and Carry has big bags of asparagus for about five bucks.

So we started roasting all our vegies. Cauliflower and broccoli cook perfect, no more gas or stomach ache!

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I turn my oven on 400 and put the cookie sheet in for about 10 minutes, get it good and hot. Then I spread the vegies out and set them back in for another 10 minutes, stir, then 10 more minutes.

 

This is the only way to eat green onions, the ends get crispy, roots and all. That little tip on the string bean toasts perfect. I like a little crunch in my vegies!

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For me they’re done when things turn carmel brown. That little pepper will melt in your mouth. We topped it off with roasted chicken breast and a cabbage and carrot salad with some homemade yogurt dressing.

Those little sweet peppers roast perfect whole. I get those in the bag at Safeway, they’re a good deal, but Cash and Carry has a bigger bag for about the same price, if you feel you can use them fast enough. 

And lately Safeway has had bone-in chicken breast for 99 cents a pound, which is crazy cheap. I like bone-in chicken breast because it’s easy to cook – 350 degrees, bone side up for 20 minutes, flip it, skin side up for 15 – 20 more. I use my grandma’s old meat thermometer so I don’t have to worry about over cooking it.  The skin gets good and crispy brown, and the meat stays so tender and juicy. One of those feeds the both of us for dinner, and there’s usually enough scraps for cheese and crackers the next day. We cook two, so we have two dinners in one pan. 

Cold roasted vegies are a great salad topper the next day.

I’m probably the last person on Earth to find out about  roasting vegies, but I figured I better hip any of you who might still be in the dark!

 

 

 

 

Focus on the food

I’m conflicted on Thanksgiving. For one thing, it’s so forced, so frantic – like, Release the Lemmings!  Looking at the tv news, I see people lined up in airports, cars lined up on the roads. On the home front, I try to get my groceries by the Tuesday before, shop for at least three or four days, because something really weird happens to the average shopper on Wednesday, and the desperation makes me nervous. I’m afraid somebody’s going to carjack me over a can of cranberries.

I mean, I’ve seen full grown men, pushing a shopping cart full of kids, none of whom have been in a grocery store more than three times a year, wandering the aisles of Safeway with this frightened expression, a tiny slip of paper in hand.  That either means, Mom is at home getting ready for company, and she’s sent the pack of them out of the house on some fool’s errand so she can have 5 minutes peace, or it means, Mom didn’t have time to shop, God help us.

Yeah, that’s the other thing – this holiday largely falls on the backs of women, who feel some sort of weird pressure to show the world that while they work 40+ hours a week they still know how to put a gourmet meal on the table for a family of 10.

On the other hand, it’s a food holiday, and you all know how I love to eat! And I love to see my kids sitting across the table. So we start early and enjoy ourselves at home. 

We haven’t done a turkey for years, too much work, but the best turkey we ever did was on the bbq with indirect heat. Here’s a good blog for bbq:

http://juanchosbbq.blogspot.com/search?q=turkey

We do most of our meat on the bbq or smoker these days – with the smoker, we can cook a big quantity of meat ahead, relax the rest of the holiday weekend. We already had an enormous chicken we’d bought at Safeway – we watch for whole chickens to go on sale at 99 cents a pound and we usually buy at least two.  But we needed something else to make it worth firing up the smoker, so Tuesday we went out, hunting and gathering. At Cash and Carry we found a pork shoulder roast for about $11, just the right size.

My husband had the meat in the smoker by 10 am. The chicken only takes a few hours, but the pork had to be on for 10 hours, and then foil wrapped and loaded into the oven for the finish. My husband explained to me, taking the meat up to 200 degrees breaks down the fats and proteins and gives it that stringy texture we all love – pulled pork!

My son pulled into town about 2 pm, the smell of smoked chicken greeted him in the driveway.  We carved the chicken Tuesday night and over half is sitting in the fridge for tacos tomorrow night. The pork was ready for sandwiches yesterday at lunch and tacos for dinner last night, we’ll finish off the rest over breakfast, maybe have another sandwich for lunch. 

We asked our kids last week what they wanted to eat for Thanksgiving dinner and without a pause they answered “steak.”

We get meat from Grandpa once a year when he butchers a steer, and when we’ve eaten all that we go to Cash and  Carry for a big boneless rib roast.  This time we bought a real whopper, cause we wanted steaks to send home with our kids. My husband cuts them with his super sharp filet knife, and I stand by with a box of plastic film wrap and a big freezer bag. I wrap each steak and stack it in the bag – when we want a steak I can separate them with a spatula. I’ve done the calculations, and depending on the price, it has worked out between $5 – 6 for a steak big enough to feed two adults, with leftovers for breakfast.

A steak dinner really takes the stress out of Thanksgiving. 

Cash and Carry also has a good deal on asparagus, and they have bags of small potatoes for about $4.

So what am I grateful for this year? 

It’s always good to have swell kids and a great spouse. It’s good to have a home that you love. It’s good to live in California – as much as I gripe about The Moonbeam. I’m thankful for the family that raised me to be tough and mean, while also showing me how to enjoy the little things that make life great.

Happy Thanksgiving, however you spend it, whatever you eat with whomever, I hope it’s a good day for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grill it!

Here’s a meal for two under $10.

Safeway has asparagus for $2.99 a pound – the skinny kind I like, instead of the big fat ones. You can grill the skinny ones. My husband wraps them with a piece of bacon to keep them from falling through the slats. Three or four spears grill well together, wrapped up and held tight with a toothpick. 

You can pick up a six-pack of big, juicy bell peppers at Cash and Carry for $2.99. Those grill very nicely, getting tender and mellow, also good cold the next day on a sandwich. 

And we’re still eating that boneless rib roast we bought and cut into steaks. That worked out to less than $6 a steak. One of these babies is big enough for the two of us, and we usually have a little chunk left over for breakfast. 

Shop ahead and these meals just fall together.  I got two big bunches of that asparagus and that lasted almost a week. We ate it almost every night and chopped up any leftovers and for our scrambled eggs – wow! 

The word for the day is “mmmmmmm!” 

Best laid plans of mice and moms – squeakin’ by!

Wednesday my husband and I got the check for the sale of our old rental, and we spent the morning paying down various bills. My husband was gleeful as he phoned in a payoff of the credit card he’d taken out just for the repairs and other expenses for the house. It’s one of those cards that carries zero interest for six months, so we actually got a good deal out of it.

Just in time to pay our son’s college tuition., woo-eeeee, that was a close one. We were down to putting every day expenses on the card, we were so cash poor. 

Yesterday we went shopping for purchases we’d been putting off – for example, we needed to replace a toilet that’s been broken since about March. We’ve  been flushing it with a bucket of water so long I had got into the habit of setting the bucket in the shower to keep it full. 

We owed our son some money for work he’d done when we hadn’t any money to pay him. His girlfriend has a birthday coming up, aside from their household bills, he was getting anxious about having some money to spend.  He’s feeling pretty good about his new job, but won’t get paid for two more weeks.

And yeah, the other boy was working away at his part-time job, worried about being laid off when school started – his boss announced he would be kept on, no longer a “student” worker, but now a “permanent part-time” worker.  Out of a crew of three or four kids, he’s the only one they kept.  

You can’t see me right now, but I’m doing my Snoopy dance.

Yeah, life is a bumpy road. You better dance when you get a chance.

So we went out and stocked up on groceries. Our chest freezer was sitting dark and empty in the garage, long enough for us to notice, it hadn’t affected the PG&E bill very much, just sitting down there frozen. We turned it back  on and packed it full of meat. 

I’ve spent the summer having a giant anxiety attack. Even after the house sold, we had to wait for the money because we’d done a “tax exchange”. We bought a house for our older son with some of the proceeds of the sale, which saved us paying taxes on that amount. So the money had to go through a “stakeholder”, and that whole process seemed sketchy. For one thing, our title officer, who we are supposed to trust, was very confused, didn’t know anything about exchanges, and we and our realtor (who didn’t know much either) had to walk her through it.

And even while they treated us like a pest every time we contacted the exchange company, toward the end, we found out there were forms we were supposed to submit to get the money, and nobody had told us. We had to stay on top of the exchange company, e-mail them about once a week, ask if there was anything else we needed to do. “Oh, yeah, you guys again…”  We felt like we  were in a “Repo Man Grab”  situation, but we finally got our money.

I’ll say, buying and selling real estate these days is like a trip to the old carnival! Step right up!   We’ve bought and sold before, so we were somewhat ready, and we studied up about other stuff before we even talked to the realtors. We took our time choosing a realtor – I was shocked when the guy we chose immediately offered us a 5 percent commission instead of the standard 6.  

He turned out to be  worth the money – we had  a buyer at the Open House, it just took a while for them to work through the sale of their own house, get all the inspections, make needed repairs, etc.  He stuck with us through all the ups and downs, he urged us to be tough, and we got the money we wanted, and was happy with his share.

I will still feel anxious – I don’t ever not feel anxious about the future. My husband and I are moving out of our little apartment the next few months so we can rent it, pay off the mortgage on this property. We’re downsizing into a smaller house, with fewer conveniences, and I’m looking forward to simplifying my life. 

We’ll see.

 

 

 

Dirt plumes and smoke – it’s August in NorCal!

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Chico is laying under a blanket of guck.

My husband and I took the dogs for a walk up Hwy 32 yesterday. The air is cooler just 15 minutes above town, and the dogs like a change of scenery. Me too.

Coming back into town, we saw the valley is covered with a thick layer of dirt and smoke.   We’ve had fires burning in every direction for the last couple of months – the Minerva fire near Quincy was only announced contained yesterday.  Now we are in harvest season.  If you look hard in the upper left corner of the picture you can see the dirt plumes – somebody is sweeping their orchard, getting ready to shake their nuts. Prune harvest is already in full swing, next nuts, then rice. 

Remember that old kids’ song –  Thank you dirt, thank you a bunch, cause Dirt, you made my lunch…

I know it’s cooler lately, but seeing that picture, I’m almost afraid to open the windows at night. We open them up after 9pm, and slam them shut again by 7am.

The air is still clear enough to enjoy the rise of The Giant, about 5 am. Right now Betelgeuese is burning red above my neighbor’s trees.

It’s still to hot to bake – again we’ve fallen onto store bread. I miss things like pizza and bread, so I’ve been experimenting around with my son’s old toaster oven. We bought it for him when he went to college but now his roommate has a better one, so he left his old cheapie with us. I realized, I could plug it in on the patio table and bake outside instead of heating up the house.  It worked like gang busters! I made three tiny pizzas the other day and yesterday I made three tiny loaves of bread.

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It looks like a big hot dog bun, which reminds me – I could wrap some dough around a frankfurter from the meat locker and have a giant pig in a blanket! Next time!

Yes, they were so cute, we ate the first one before it was even cool. We loaded it full of leftover chicken and a nice tomato from the garden and that was the end of it. That’s a problem around here, trying to keep a fresh loaf of bread for more than a day. 

We did something new the other day – we made a trip over to Food Maxx. We don’t shop there very often, but saw an ad for whole chickens, two in the bag for 79 cents a pound. Can’t beat that. They also had 12 packs of Scott tissue for $3-something a pack, that’s crazy cheap. So we indulged in hoarding, it was like a run on an Argentinian super market.

I harvested my grapes last week – as usual I was surprised how many there were and how long it took me to process them.

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This was the first basket, all picked off the stems and ready for the juicer.

Again we had a hard time keeping our hands off these. We ate a lot of the grapes while we were picking them and then we drank the pint of juice we got for breakfast. Luckily there were more left.

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More and more.

I pick them off the stems while watching tv. Luckily there was a good Charles Bronson picture on the movies channel – Break Out! – and I was able to do the whole wad in one day.  I got three pints of juice!  I froze it and will be glad to see it in January.

I actually still have a nice bag of grapes in the fridge, they are wonderful in my morning smoothie, and I put them out on the counter in the morning so my husband will eat a mouthful.

The sun is just starting to light up the sky, time to go outside!