Four ways to improve your grocery shopping

 

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An oldie but goodie: My haul during one grocery trip in which Cherry Coke Zero was on sale.

I take grocery shopping seriously. I’d often join my mom when I was a kid, following her around Kroger, grabbing things on lower shelves, checking out the latest Little Critter book in the magazine aisle.

Then, I became a grown up. I had to buy my own food. I learned a valuable lesson during my first trip to Kroger on my own during my first summer internship away from home: Food is expensive. I lived on chicken and potatoes that summer, mainly because they were filling and relatively inexpensive.

It’s been *gulp* 12 years since my first solo grocery shopping trip, and I’ve honed my habits like an athlete. By doing so, I’ve been able to save a lot of money for the Thompson Wolf Pack (aka me, Rob and Roscoe).

And the truth is, I love to shop for groceries. I like surveying the selection of food, imagining all the things I will cook and how we won’t have to eat out and, therefore, will save money. And for someone who loves food as much as I do, being in a store full of it is heaven. And I think I’ve turned it into a personal challenge in which I have to figure out which items to get at which stores for the best value.

Sift through your cookbooks and Pinterest boards

Before you get your grocery list together, you need to decide exactly what you want to cook. Yep, I’m talking meal planning. DON’T PANIC. It’s really not as hard as you think.

Take some time the day before your grocery trip to sift through your favorite recipes or look on the internet for something new. Don’t forget to take your own schedule into account when you’re planning your meals for the week. If you have plans most nights of the week, forgo tedious recipes for simple ones that you can make ahead of time and/or quickly. Hint: breakfast for dinner aka brinner aka some bacon and fried eggs is always a good option.

Bring a list or GTFO

Forgetting my grocery list is amongst the worst things in life, right up there with making a sandwich with the end pieces of bread or your DVR clipping off the end of your show. A list keeps you on task. It’s like a set of rules when you go to the grocery store. True story: I’ve been known to turn around and go home if I pull into a grocery store parking lot and realize that I’ve forgotten my list.

I picked up this little tip from The Kitchn blog: I created a template of the basic groceries I get (not name brands just types of products). I organized the items on the list by where they are in the store (yes, I know the layout that well). But I also leave some blank spaces.

A list centers me. It’s easy to get distracted by everything going on in a grocery store, especially as they keep getting bigger and bigger to load in more merchandise that has nothing to do with eating.

Order of operation is key

Remember when you had to learn which order to solve math equations – everything in the parenthesis first, exponents, etc.? Well, there’s a rigid order I follow when it comes to which stores I visit first. I always start with the basics, so Aldi is my first stop. I tend to do the bulk of my shopping there (my love for this store runs deep, y’all), but it’s a good first stop because it’s the cheapest place to get staples like flour, sugar and canned goods. But as much as I love Aldi, I know I can’t get everything there, especially personal hygiene stuff I like, certain cleaning supplies and good coffee (no offense, Aldi). That’s when I head to other grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s, Lucky’s, Paul’s Fruit Market and Kroger to fill in the blanks. And we’re also dipping our toes into farmers’ market season, so keep that in mind, too.

Over time, you’ll eventually learn what you like from particular stores and whether or not you’re willing to make a special trip to get it. For example, the Italian sausage from Lucky’s is HEAVENLY, but I only stop there if I have other items to make the best use of my time and gas money.

(Blogger’s Note: For those who follow me on Twitter, you know a post about grocery shopping across Louisville is coming. I just needed to crank this one out first.)

Decide what’s important to you

Some of you might be giving me some mean side-eye right now. Lists? Planning? Multiple stores? I get it, y’all. Time is a limited resource. We’re all super busy. Take a moment and decide what matters to you and your household when it comes to groceries. Is saving money the priority? Buying local? Organic only? A combination of all three? None of the above? Once you have your grocery priorities in check, it will be easier for you to develop your own game plan.

 

A few things to remember before Christmas

*dusts off blog*

*cracks knuckles*

*girds loins*

Christmas is less than 72 hours away. Like most of you guys, I’m trying to fit in last-minute shopping, baking and a little bit of blogging, too. There’s no time for dilly-dally, so let’s dive into a few items to keep in mind as we wait for Santa to arrive.

  • I wrote a piece for WFPL about how to outsource your Christmas cooking. TL;DR – Order meals and desserts from your favorite bakeries and delis, make reservations or eat a little Chinese for Christmas dinner.
  • Big Momma’s Soul Kitchen on West Broadway offers a free meal for those in need on Christmas. Unfortunately, the restaurant needs donations and volunteers to keep this seven-year tradition alive, according to WAVE. Big Momma’s is in my book, Louisville Diners, and the restaurant is run by a great family with big hearts. Consider lending a hand or a couple of bucks for their Christmas dinner.
  • And speaking of my book, Louisville Diners, it would make a great stocking stuffer. Just sayin.  

OK, this was a nice break. But onward with Christmas shenanigans.

Let’s take a break from food to talk about race

What is the word to express how I felt when I opened my laptop to see that nine people were killed at a Wednesday night Bible study? What word can describe the sorrow that washed over me as I saw the release of the victims’ names and thought about the lives that hate cut short? Is there a word better than unsurprised? Frustrated that hate once again rears its ugly head? Angry that I live in a country where someone can harbor and act upon racist ideology with lethal force in a sacred place?

Weary.

I am weary.

I’m weary because I am black, I am an American and I’m a human being who is tired of seeing a world in which other humans harbor inexplicable anger toward a group of people for looking different.

I spent a lot of Thursday on Twitter retweeting folks who captured the frustration I felt after the church massacre in Charleston, S.C. late Wednesday night. I didn’t know what to say. Do I have a place to say anything? I’m just a food writer and oven reviewer, for crying out loud. But I’m a human. And I have a platform. And this is the time for the weary among us to step up for Clementa, Sharonda, Cynthia, Susie, Ethel, DePayne, Tywanza, Myra and Daniel.

Racism is real. It is both subtle and overwhelming. It’s hiring managers passing you up for jobs because of the “ethnic-sounding” name on your resume. It’s store managers following you around their business because of the color of your skin. It’s strangers assuming that you are an unwed mother. It’s sitting by as someone tells a racist joke. It’s not telling authorities that your roommate is planning a shooting spree on a group of innocent people. Racism ranges from inconvenient to deadly with lots of gray areas in between.

For my white allies: Recognize racism. Call it by its name. Acknowledge that racism and unequal treatment didn’t end with the Civil Rights Movement. Identify your own prejudices and ask yourself why they exist. Stop accepting casual racism by remaining silent. Have the tough conversations with your kids about how adults can hate other adults just because they look different. Empathize with someone who doesn’t look like you. Try to imagine the pain and frustration and weariness, and feel all of that, too. Use those feelings to propel you to take action.

For my black folks: We can’t just survive. We must thrive in the face of domestic terrorism. We might be weary, but we are resilient, too. Centuries of struggle have taught us to keep pushing. We must succeed in spite of hate. And we can’t let hate build and fester in ourselves.

I’m tired of being weary. You should be, too.

The homeless need help during #LouSnow

I’ve crept out of the warmth of my apartment for two reasons this week: to walk Roscoe and make a run to Kroger for more groceries.

Winter has reared its DESPICABLE head in Louisville. It’s cold. It’s snowy. It’s about to get worse as temperatures drop to -5 degrees tonight. Reporter Jacob Ryan did a story for WFPL News about being homeless in Louisville during this bout of winter weather. With the temperature dropping below 35 degrees, Wednesday night will be a White Flag night during which homeless shelters take in everyone who needs shelter. The shelters get overcrowded, and the food can run low. Here’s a blurb from Jacob’s article:

White Flag nights bring nearly 300 more people into shelters than other nights, said Natalie Harris, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. There are about 650 emergency shelter beds in the city… Local shelters have already used up all the funding provided by the city this year for White Flag nights, Harris said. Now, they are “operating solely on donations.”

It’s easy to complain about being cooped up in the house for a little too long, or having to dig yourself out to get to work. Yet a bunch of our neighbors are scrambling for the necessities in packed shelters. Between a third round of Scrabble and another Netflix marathon, why don’t we take a second to give a little back to our Louisville neighbors? You can donate to the Coalition for the Homeless here.

Take life’s lemons and make shortbread cookies, fancy ice cubes and more

Life sure has handed us a big pile of lemons. (Photo by Flickr user jules via Creative Commons)
Life sure has handed us a big pile of lemons. (Photo by jules/Flickr Creative Commons)

The year has turned sour. Unfortunate events have bombarded me, my family and friends as we crawl toward the end of 2014. The challenges have been as small as an overweight pug stealing a cookie from my two-year-old niece (I’m watching you, Sampson) to a good friend’s cancer diagnosis right before the holidays. It’s enough to make even the most steady person shake their fist at whatever god in which they believe.

A few years in adulthood have given me enough wisdom to know that life is a series of obstacles that sprout at the most inopportune moments. But these years have also planted enough optimism in me that I am determined to demolish life’s challenges with the tenacity of an American Gladiator contestant.

With the spirit of perseverance in mind, let’s turn life’s lemons into some awesome stuff. Here are some suggestions for what to do with the literal lemons in your life. And regarding those figurative lemons, we’re all going to be OK.

Bake these delicious lemon-pecan shortbread cookies
Lemon-pecan shortbread cookies. Survey says: YAAAAS.
Lemon-pecan shortbread cookies. Survey says: YAAAAS.

My baking game is strong around the holidays. These went over well at a tree-trimming party I attended. Find the pretty simple recipe here.

Make a get-well-soon hot toddy
Nice for a cold, chilly night. (Becky Stern/Flickr Creative Commons)
Nice for a cold, chilly night. (Photo by Becky Stern/Flickr Creative Commons)

This recipe had me at bourbon. I guess some lemon and honey wouldn’t hurt a sore throat, either.

Whip up a batch of frozen lemon slices
Perfect for a bourbon on the rocks. (Photo by bestlexever/Flickr Creative Commons)
Perfect for a bourbon on the rocks. (Photo by bestlexever/Flickr Creative Commons)

Slice a lemon into pieces small enough to fit into an ice cube tray. Pour water over the slices and let it freeze. Use these cubes with iced tea, a bourbon on the rocks or a glass of water so you get a little treat when the ice melts.

Freshen your garbage disposal
Use an extra lemon to freshen up around the kitchen. (Photo by Nick/Flickr Creative Commons)
Use an extra lemon to freshen up around the kitchen. (Photo by Nick/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Kitchn has a great tutorial about how to use lemon and vinegar to freshen up garbage disposals and blenders. I use this trick every couple of months.


What are your tips for using the lemons in your life?

Event: Dare to Care’s Bobby Ellis Thanksgiving Eve Vigil, Nov. 26

Take a moment tonight to think about the folks who do without on Thanksgiving and every other day of the year. (Courtesy Satya Murthy, Flickr Creative Commons)
Take a moment tonight to think about the folks who do without on Thanksgiving and every other day of the year. (Courtesy Satya Murthy, Flickr Creative Commons)

I’m thankful that I’ve never gone hungry.

Sure, I’ve chomped at the bit waiting for my next meal. I’ve even been hangry a time or three. Fortunately, there has always been food in my fridge and cabinets.

That’s not the case for many families in our community. In Jefferson County, 17.2% of people are food insecure, according to the non-profit Feeding America. That means that 127,320 people have at some point had inadequate or uncertain access to nutritious food.

Dare to Care, a food bank that serves the Kentuckiana region, has done a lot to address hunger in our community. Tonight, the organization will host a candlelight vigil to honor Bobby Ellis, the nine-year-old boy whose death from malnutrition on Thanksgiving Eve 1969 sparked the Dare to Care movement.

Before you dive headfirst into the Thanksgiving spread tomorrow, take some time to remember a little boy who went hungry in our own city and consider what you can do to stop hunger.


Bobby Ellis Thanksgiving Eve Vigil sponsored by Dare to Care Food Bank

Add a cooking competition to your summer parties

Nine entries in the banana pudding bake-off.
Nine entries in the banana pudding bake-off.

It seemed like a joke — a birthday party/backyard barbecue/banana pudding bake-off? So many slashes, so much to wrap my head around for one afternoon at my friend Christine’s house.

Nine bakers made their version of banana pudding. All the dishes were numbered so guests didn’t know who made each entry. Then, everyone scooped and ate to their heart’s content. Right as our bellies were about to burst, we wrote the number of our favorite entry on a slip of paper. The number with the most votes was the winner.

Somehow, this amalgamation of an event I attended last week not only worked, but stands out as one of the best parties I’ve attended as an adult (because honestly, nothing competes with some Chuck E. Cheese action as a kid).

Kudos to Christine (with 502 Social — contact her for all your event needs!) for introducing a food competition to my sphere of gatherings. A good ol’ fashioned cooking contest makes a party more fun. Guest participation? Check. Prizes? Check. Free, homemade goodies? Double check, underline, bold, italicize.

Here are some tips for introducing a culinary competition to your party this summer:

  • Choose a food that can have a bunch of variations. Though they share the same DNA, banana puddings are not created equal (but they are all created DELICIOUS). There was a chocolate entry, one with rainbow sprinkles, one with meringue, and some with those Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies instead of the Nilla Wafers. My world expanded, and I shall never be the same.
  • Pick a dish with wide appeal. Now, everyone didn’t like banana pudding. But enough people at the party were keen on this dish to make it a real competition. You don’t have to please everybody, but you probably won’t make friends with a sardine-sandwich contest.
  • Don’t get too fancy. Whatever you decide to focus your contest one, make sure it’s something an amateur cook or baker can tackle in his or her kitchen. If I have to buy a pizza stone, you’ve gone too far.
  • Keep your surroundings in mind. For the banana pudding bake-off (or make-off, since most entries weren’t baked), we needed plenty of refrigerator space to keep the goodies cold and only brought them to a table in the backyard for judging. As the summer wears on, keep cold dishes for inside parties.
To the victor goes the spoils.
To the victor goes the spoils.
  • Have some prizes. You don’t need a garland of roses. Pick something inexpensive and related to the competition. For example, Christine had some nifty fake bananas spray-painted gold and a certificate for the winner.
  • Consider beverages. The internet has given me many gifts, some of which include a boatload of sangria recipes. Find a drink that can be made by the pitcher or punch bowl, with our without alcohol. How about lemonade, or margaritas?
  • Keep it friendly. Yes, this is a competition. But the most important part of adding food as a focal point at a party is the fellowship that comes when a bunch of people are standing around eating, talking and having a good time. At the banana pudding contest, I learned the merits of using real pudding versus instant, what happens when a child decides to “help” cook and creates her own tasty variation, and just how often you can include liquor in banana pudding (answer: a lot).

What food (or beverage) competition would you like to participate in this summer?

Need a last-minute Mother’s Day gift? Go for edible gifts (with a side of flowers)

The ol' dyed pasta necklace isn't going to cut it when you become an adult. (Photo courtesy Selena N. B. H. via Flickr Creative Commons)
The ol’ dyed pasta necklace isn’t going to cut it when you become an adult. (Photo courtesy Selena N. B. H. via Flickr Creative Commons)

The horses have barely finished kicking up dirt at Churchill Downs, yet it’s time to turn around and celebrate another big occasion.

I’ve always thought that the Kentucky Derby and Mother’s Day are just a little too close together to give moms in the state proper justice. You want me to pick a horse, down a couple of mint juleps, AND plan a bomb brunch and buy a fabulous gift for my beyond-fabulous mother all in one breath?

Month of May, have mercy on me.

Since I’m a little too old to hand out pasta necklaces to the woman who co-signed on my creation, I’m searching for the perfect gift. Yes, it’s last minute. But I pray to the gods of Better Late Than Never.

Here are some great items I’ve come across in my search for the perfect Mother’s Day gift, from the traditional to practical and back again.

  • Grocery delivery.
My first bunch of produce from Green BEAN Delivery.
My first bunch of produce from Green BEAN Delivery.

Taking care of a week’s worth of groceries isn’t the most sentimental thing you can do for your mother/mother figure. But for the practical person in your life, a gift like a Green BEAN Delivery gift certificate would give a busy lady one less thing to think about. I’ve touted this organic grocery delivery service before, and the fine Green BEAN folks have a special offer if you want to treat your mom. Visit Green BEAN’s website and use the code 15AEml for $15 off your first order (for new members/reactivations only; expires a week from today).

  • Chocolate.
(Photo courtesy of EuroMagic via Flickr Creative Commons)
(Photo courtesy of EuroMagic via Flickr Creative Commons)

I’m not talking about the stuff you get at the gas station on your way to visit your mother. Stop by Cellar Door Chocolates in Butchertown Market (1201 Story Ave.) or Oxmoor Mall (near Starbucks) for some decadent, small-batch chocolate.

  • Meat.
A box of meat from Mattingly.
A box of meat from Mattingly.

Sure, you can take your mom to brunch. Just be prepared for loud crowds, long waits, and at least one unsatisfied grandma. How about getting some quality meat from Mattingly Foods – A. Thomas Meats and cook your mom a nice dinner?

  • Flowers.
(Photo courtesy julie via Flickr Creative Commons)
(Photo courtesy julie via Flickr Creative Commons)

I once got my mother flowers for the big day. Her mouth said, “Thank you.” Her eyes said, “Is this it? They’re going to die in a week.” I’ve learned that flowers are a present that serves better as a supplement to something else rather than the big sha-bang. Stop by Nanz and Kraft Florists (they make arrangements beyond the KFC corsage) to see if they can help you find something pretty to go with the “real present.”

What are you doing for your mom this Mother’s Day?

A Passover Seder, a fish fry, and how food brings us together

A Seder plate. (Photo courtesy Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr)
A Seder plate. (Photo courtesy Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr)

Sometimes, I can be pretty naive for my own good. Take this blog post, for example.

I’ve had a case of the warm fuzzies all day after attending my first Passover Seder on Monday. I spent a wonderful evening learning about the Jewish holiday, drinking a lot of kosher wine, eating my weight in matzo, and having some great conversations with folks I would’ve never met otherwise.

A few weeks ago, I had the tinglies after a trip with two of my best friends to Holy Family Catholic Church’s Friday fish fry, a Catholic tradition during the Christian holiday of Lent. There I was, in a gym full of strangers, eating a fish sandwich, listening to someone holler out Keno numbers over the crowd. It was the best Friday night I’d had in ages.

I’m not Catholic. I’m not Jewish. But both communities welcomed me with the one event that has the formative power to bridge divides — a good meal.

A plate from Holy Family Catholic Church.
A plate from Holy Family Catholic Church.

It gets hard to see the good in life sometimes. Heck, somebody might even read this post and leave with a frown because I even touched the topic of religion (this, along with sex and politics, are usually areas I try to keep my two pennies out of). But when you sit down and share a meal with old and new friends of all different religions, cultures and beliefs, and EVERYONE gets along, it’s worth blogging about.

Food might not be able to solve all the world’s problems, but I’ve taken a few things away from the Seder and fish fry that I can use every day:

  • Welcome newcomers with open arms (and plates). I only knew a couple of people at both the fish fry and the seder. But there was an open seat for me at both. I felt equally welcome even though I don’t identify as part of either group. Isn’t that all you can ask for?
  • Encourage dialogue about your ceremony/traditions/beliefs/etc. Shout out to Ben and Rachel, the hosts of the Seder, who printed a guide to the observance, used a smartphone to play traditional songs, and answered questions throughout the evening.
  • Be nice. The Catholic school gym in which the fish fry took place was PACKED. Yet there were volunteers handy to squirt cups of tartar sauce and pick up your dirty plates. People were polite as they squirmed around folding chair, angling toward an empty seat. Large crowds can, indeed, keep it together and still have a good time.
  • Alcohol never hurts. There was beer at the fish fry. There was wine at the seder. Draw your own conclusions.

 

Have you ever attended an event or observance of a culture not your own? What did you take away?

Forget recaps. Here are 10 ways I will rock my foodie life in 2014.

Is 2013 already over? 

There’s so much food I didn’t get to. So many recipes I didn’t try. So many things I didn’t write about.

As this blog post title indicates, I’m not going to spend my time recapping. I like to take the occasion of a New Year to look forward, not back. I like having things to look forward to — new goals, new adventures, new restaurants.

Here’s a collection of some of the things I’d like to accomplish in life and on this blog in 2014. Let’s not call this a list of “resolutions” — I’m allergic to that word because it sets me up for failure by March. How about this handy dandy headline:

10 Ways I Will Rock the Glasses off 2014

1. I will not be such a beast before I’ve had my first cup of coffee. 

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...
My life blood. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To those mighty giants who can operate without a hot splash of caffeine, I salute you. I have an addiction, and I can be pretty mean if coffee doesn’t hit my lips before 9 a.m.

2. I will finally complete my $10 Challenge on Simply Thai

Short rib nachos.
Short rib nachos at Mussel & Burger Bar. Now if only I can get to Simply Thai…

Remember when I had the reader’s choice Challenge? I sampled one restaurant, Mussel & Burger Bar, that you guys selected. The other, Simply Thai, has been outside my grasp lately, because of a busy schedule and long waits. That ends in 2014, friends. I’m going to make this happen.

3. I will make an edible batch of biscuits. 

One of my unsuccessful batches of biscuits that was transformed into stuffing.
One of my unsuccessful batches of biscuits that was transformed into stuffing.

I consider myself a pretty good cook and a decent baker. I can’t, however, make biscuits if my life depended on it.

4. I will accept the fact that pizza, no matter how many vegetables I pile on top, does not count as a well-rounded meal.

The Chicken Peppadew pizza at Boombozz in Westport Village.
The Chicken Peppadew pizza at Boombozz in Westport Village.

This is going to be a tough one. I will, however, eat pizza at Loui Loui’s Authentic Detroit Style Pizza, Bonnie & Clyde’s Pizza Parlor and Angilo’s Pizza. These places need some more love and attention, and I’m the lady to give it.

5. I will become more efficient at using chopsticks.

I'm this close to eating these with my hands.
I’m this close to eating these with my hands.

Also, I will eat more sushi because IT IS DELICIOUS.

6. I will stop giving my dog, Roscoe, so many table scraps.

He's very food motivated, especially when it comes to Moby Dick.
He’s very food motivated, especially when it comes to Moby Dick.

I know, I know, this is bad news bears, and I don’t recommend it. But if you see these puppy eyes looking up at you, it’s hard to resist sliding Roscoe a bit of pork chop.

7. I will wait to eat long enough to post more pictures on Instagram and Facebook.

Ahh, the wonders of Instagram. Doesn't the app make this corn dog look delicious?
Ahh, the wonders of Instagram. Doesn’t the app make this corn dog look delicious?

This feels counterintuitive. I know that most people make fun of folks like me who take pictures of my meal and plaster them all over social media. But I’m a food blogger, darn it. I gotta show you what I’m eating. I just have to pause long enough to snap a pic. When a full plate is put before me, I lose my mind and dig in.

8. I will take pictures using my good camera, not the crappy one on my phone.

Taquitos and sweet potato fries at Mussel & Burger Bar.
Taquitos and sweet potato fries at Mussel & Burger Bar.

Let this picture speak 1,000 words.

9. I will eat correct portion sizes.

The meatloaf special at The Irish Rover.
The meatloaf special at The Irish Rover.

For example, not eating all of the plate above in one sitting.

10. I will keep my commitment to exploring good, inexpensive food in Louisville.

Cheers to a New Year.
Cheers to a New Year.

Happy New Year, y’all.