Sunday, April 12, 2015

On Writing and Where I Buy Groceries

Last week I attended the last session of a food-writing class.  We were working on food writing in general, and on magazine pitches in particular.  As usual, the class pushed me outside of my comfort zone and the pitch turned into an exercise for me in clarifying my tone as a writer, and my intentions for this space.
I started to talk about my story.  About not really being interested in cooking at home growing up, discovering cooking (and blogging) as a newlywed, and developing a passion for home-cooked food and local food, both as a hobby and even as a source of income.  In the midst of all these things converging, I became a mother. The first few weeks and months of motherhood stripped me of many of the things that used to be a part of my identity, including the time and brain space to maintain the lifestyle of eating that I'd gotten used to. I no longer had the time to cook elaborate recipes. If I'm honest, the harder part is that it hasn't been as interesting to me anymore as it once was.  There was a solid year or two in which food became almost utilitarian for me.  Before these rushed months, I spent a good amount of time and energy appreciating food and cooking, only to have all these free moments taken from me, however joyful my preoccupation.

I'm slowly finding my new food identity. I'm learning how to weave my appreciation for healthy, high quality food into my routine and my sense of self. I'm learning to accept compromise, which is difficult for me.  But I'm doing my best to make it work, including making time to sit here and share this journey with you.  Because maybe you're going through the same kind of thing I am.  Or maybe you just wonder what it's like.  Either way, I think it's important for me to share my experience, in the hopes that people might identify, or at least sympathize.  The struggles of motherhood can be difficult to share, especially publicly. I hope that by being honest about my life, my goals and failures in all their glory, I can make it easier for other people to be more accepting of themselves or others. Because everyone is going through something, and it's much harder to feel like you're alone.

One thing that has become particularly fraught for me as a parent is grocery shopping.  I remember being childless and going to the grocery store with no idea what I wanted. I'd walk up and down the aisles, pick up jars and glance over labels, always take a stroll by the plant section just to look, and generally take my time. It was never a problem to visit more than one store in an outing, so it was easy to buy things consistently at two or three stores.
Now, grocery shopping is all business. It has to be over quickly and done as infrequently as possible.  In her early years, there were many times that I found myself at the grocery store looking through the freezer section. I remember feeling totally averse to cooking because I was so tired and drained of creativity.  (This is actually a terribly sad realization to have, the inability to muster creativity. I remember looking at turning raw food into dinner as an exciting project that I could never grow bored with.)

In the last couple years, I've slowly managed to carve out a grocery shopping routine that doesn't feel like torture, doesn't cost an exorbitant amount, that lends itself well to quick and healthy cooking, and works for us year round.
When the season is favorable (for me, May-early Nov.) I buy and cook as much local produce as I can get my hands on.  When it's not, I still have to put dinner on the table.  Here are just a few of the things that I buy consistently that I know I can always fall back on.
Your mileage may vary, given that this routine depends on some sources that are local to the midwest.  If you're close to me (Iowa City) please feel free to email and I'll get you in touch.

We have a huge supermarket chain (HyVee) and I go there as little as I possibly can because I hate it.  But there are a few things that are significantly cheaper there than other stores, and of course it has a huge variety.  Here is Kalona SuperNatural cottage cheese, which is one of our favorite things to eat because it's free from thickeners/stabilizers and full of protein and good grass-fed fat. There's also a dozen eggs from a local farm. The dozen runs $3.99 and the yolks are darker than other year-round local brands that I've found.
The other brick and mortar store that I visit regularly is our cooperative grocery store, New Pioneer.  They have tons of great in-store options.  I'm a huge fan of their potato bread for toast or hot sandwiches, and we love these locally made tortillas. E's favorite thing in the world is one of these tortillas warmed up and slathered in butter (I'll get to that in a minute) and local raw honey.  
(p.s. once I wrote a guest blog post for New Pi's food blog and you can find it here. Omg that salad was so good.)

We also have a Costco and there are a few things that I buy there regularly, including organic chicken, Ezekiel bread, and lots of frozen vegetables. The frozen mixed vegetables have been indispensable for feeding a small human, and I love always knowing that I have a strong side of vegetables on hand even if I don't have anything fresh.  
We also found this huge bag of dried apples at Costco, which are great for easy mess-free snacks, and canned wild salmon which we keep on hand for my favorite pantry dinner, salmon cakes.  (That recipe is one of the most popular in the history of this blog! Also consider clicking if you like baby fat rolls.)  
Another place I buy from frequently is Aldi's.  Do you have one where you live? Aldi is a German store chain, so things are a little different. The biggest things practically that are different are that you must use debit or cash (no credit cards) and you have to use a quarter as deposit for carts.  The business model is very interesting and we have been mostly very happy with our local store. Much of their stock is packaged foods, but we've found a few things we love and can count on. They have the best price of frozen fruit that I've found outside of Costco, which seems to have an inconsistent supply, and these cheese crisps are bonkers, guys.  We also buy organic salsa and pasta there. It's a great place to buy baking essentials, too.  
Lastly, I'd like to talk about Azure Standard.  Azure is a bulk buying group that delivers monthly via semi truck that starts on the west coast. As far as I know, Iowa City is its easternmost drop point.  You have the option of placing an order monthly and a week or so later, the truck stops at a parking lot in your city and all the goods are distributed.  I love Azure for its excellent prices and variety of product availability. Their prices change frequently but I've found them to be consistently good.  We buy all our grassfed butter from Rumiano through Azure and this has been a game changer for us. Ellie often asks for a piece of butter to eat raw, and it's because this butter is so flavorful.  (Seriously, you should see her face when she tries conventional butter.)  We use coconut milk a lot and the organic is cheaper through Azure than the conventional is at our grocery store.  Vegenaise, which I find to be the best tasting mayonnaise, is the same. Lastly, I have never met a Greek yogurt that I love as much as this one from Strauss family creamery.  
So, as I said above, these are the basic ingredients that I use to throw together a lot of our routine family meals.  I try to plan ahead and have easy things on hand and these sources help me do that, but this routine is always changing.
I'd love to hear how you make regular meals work for your family. It's a priority for us to sit down and eat a meal every night as a family, so I'm always looking for new ways to make that happen.  What do you always have in your pantry and fridge? Where do you buy it? 

Lastly, I want to say with as much emphasis as possible, thank you for being here. Thank you for reading. Thank you for giving even the slightest crap about what I think and write here. It means so much to me.

p.s. It is still totally weird to think of myself as a writer, of this as writing. I can't explain it, but that doesn't feel like a title I own. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Alicia, I take such joy in reading your blogs.
"Thank you for giving even the slightest crap about what I think and write here." I laughed out loud at work when I ready this. :)

Regarding the grocery stores, I can completely empathize with the BC (before children) days when you could stroll through leisurely, whereas now its like you have to be on a mission all the time... I find it helps to try and do my big shopping trips while I am Maggie-less, whether its before I have to pick her up, or peeling myself away while she's spending time with the grandparents.

I've also been having Maggie write out our grocery lists before we go and mark things off as we find them, which she really enjoys. A couple of times she's kept ME on track, "Mom, that's not on our list!" or "Mom, we need to focus!"....I'm sure these are phrases she's heard me say that she's now repeating. ;) If its going to be a big shopping trip, sometimes Maggie brings a book to read and wedges herself in one of the corners of the cart. But for the most part, Maggie is my helpful sidekick.

Just one comment to add, I've found that buying meat in bulk and freezing some has been very helpful when my brain doesn't want to plan out the meals for the entire week. I can take out some free-range chicken or grass-fed beef from our freezer and give it a day to thaw. I've found this to be very helpful. We are also extremely lucky in Portland that nearly all of our large-chain grocery stores carry organic options so it doesn't require multiple store trips.

You are a wonderful mom, always remember that when your day is tough.

Love ya,

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