Tag Archives: Shopping

The Refrigerator Down the Hall

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View outside my front door. I’m a city boy, but I enjoy it here.

I’m in Wisconsin while rehearsing a musical I’ve co-written. I have a lovely one-bedroom suite in a charming lodge. Outdoors it’s rustic—we’re across the street from a state park! but indoors it’s very pleasant indeed. If you write musicals, and you don’t get a place at least this nice, you should complain to your producers. I’ve got plenty of counter space, a microwave, a coffee maker, a four-burner stove with oven…and a teeny-tiny refrigerator.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t care about the size of a hotel room’s refrigerator; I’d usually only use it to store some leftover take-out food and maybe a soda or two. But I’m here for six weeks. It’s a vacation town, in the off-season; businesses close early—if they’re open at all on weekdays. Rehearsals run late into the evening. And even if none of that were true, six weeks is a long time to survive on restaurant food. And I like to cook.

My pint-sized refrigerator has a decent enough freezer compartment, but its vegetable drawer is laughably small. A quart of milk fits in a holder in the door, and there’s a rack for a six-pack of soda, but it’s just not meant for someone who needs to cook most of his own meals and who can’t get to the market every day. (The irony that She is learning to improvise while I have to meal-plan is not lost on me.)

I mentioned my predicament to the night manager, hoping he might offer me the mini-fridge from a vacant room. “Sure, we can take care of that,” he said. He led the way past my suite to a break room used by the housekeeping staff, which contained a full-sized fridge. “We’re not all staffed up for the summer yet. You can use this.”

Of course, he couldn’t move the fridge into my suite, but it’s got plenty of space, and nobody else is using it. It’s a little like having an extra freezer in the garage.

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So, today, zipping my little mini-cart around the Piggly Wiggly, I shopped for the week—or maybe more than the week. There’s a steak in my freezer (packaged in meal-sized pieces), along with some ground turkey that will become chili sometime soon, and some chicken thighs for which there isn’t yet a definite plan. A dozen eggs. Some bacon, because why not. Plenty of salad greens. Spinach. Other fruit and veg. Hummus. I’ve got this. I will not need to eat pasta or peanut butter sandwiches every night.

I’d made a pot of overnight oats for weekday breakfasts, and, before leaving on the shopping excursion and figuring this would be a busy day, today had a mushroom and asparagus omelet. (The mushrooms and asparagus were taking up most of my tiny vegetable drawer anyway.)

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I diced an onion, some carrots, and celery and simmered them with a quart of chicken stock, a little crumbled bacon, and some herbs. (I brought from home a bin of dry goods, so I wouldn’t have to buy everything here, along with some decent spare knives, and a cast-iron skillet.) When the stock was deeply flavored, I added a half-cup of brown rice and left it to simmer for another hour. The rice didn’t completely lose its structural integrity, but it thickened and fortified the soup—and, truth told, absorbed enough of the broth that the soup is much more like a stew, which is what I was hoping for in the first place. I sautéed some radish greens in the pan I’d used to cook the bacon and had those for a light lunch.

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The store didn’t have any “regular” pork shoulder, but I found a small pre-seasoned package that is in my slow-cooker now (along with more carrot and onion, a little mustard and a little red wine. It’ll do its slow-cooker thing all night, and I’ll cool it and package it up at breakfast time.

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After all the shopping and chopping and stowing and stewing, I went for a run, changed, and took myself out for dinner. I expect that the Coyote Roadhouse gets rowdier on a Saturday night during the high season, but on a late Sunday afternoon this out-of-the-way place was populated by gentle folks enjoying their barbecue and beers and the eclectic mix of music from Johnny Cash to Elton John that played in the background. The burger was good, the service was terrific, but the fried green beans were worth driving a thousand miles for. I brought home the leftovers and stored them in the fridge down the hall. They’re worth walking that far, too.

 

 

How We Shop for (and Save Money on) Groceries

Back in January, he referenced the various rebate and shopping list apps I use to save us money on groceries in a post about cheesecake, with a request that I write up the list. Five months later, here we are.

First of all, a note on how we cook and shop. We don’t “meal plan” in the way that most budget- and time-conscious publications suggest. Instead, we keep our kitchen/larder/pantry well-stocked with dry goods that have naturally lengthy shelf lives and use them along with fresh produce, meats, and dairy to compile meals. When consuming the food we’ve brought into the house, we use the ripest (and likeliest to spoil) ingredients first, much like farmers harvesting their most delicate crops.

Since most of our dry goods have a long shelf-life, and since we aren’t so picky that failing to have a beloved treat on hand is a catastrophe, we rarely “run out” of an item we like to have on hand without warning. As a result, we have the luxury of buying groceries when we want to – meaning when we can get the best value for our money. My process is designed around that premise.

First, make note of what we need.

Running low on olive oil? Looking to try a recipe requiring a new ingredient? Add it to the list.

We share a login for the Buy Me A Pie shopping list app, so that we can both see the list of what we need at home when we’re on the go. It syncs in real time, which is a huge plus.

Second, review what’s available on sale.

We receive grocery stores circulars for our favorite shops in the mail on Thursday, so page through them to look for sale prices for anything on our “need” list, and also to look for what’s fresh and available this week. Is the best fish counter offering wild-caught salmon filets? Add them to the list for Saturday’s supper. Is his favorite pastrami on special at the deli? We could use a pound for sandwiches during the work week. We add items we like from the circulars into the grocery list app.

Third, review what’s available for rebate.

We use four different apps that offer rebates for purchasing specific items from specific stores. Just like with the circulars, I flip through the offers in each app to find…

  1. Is something on our need/wish list available for rebate? If so, claim the rebate in-app.
  2. Is something we would ordinarily buy and have room to stock available for a rebate? If so, claim the rebate in-app and add the item to the grocery list.
  3. If we are in need of rounding out fresh food supplies for the week (produce, meat, dairy) are there items in those departments that are appealing? If so, claim the rebates in-app and add the items to the grocery list.

Fourth, shop.

We head to the market(s), collecting the items on the list as we go, using apps to verify product selections as necessary. We check out as per usual, but take extra care to ensure receipts are legible and tucking them safely away.

Fifth, claim rebates and rewards.

After unloading groceries the from the car, it’s time to claim the rebates.

Each app works a little differently, but in general I open each app and use it to take a photo of the receipt, and then scan barcodes on the items I’m claiming to verify the products purchased.

In each case, unless otherwise explicitly stated, a rebate available in multiple apps can be claimed in each app and rebates apply even when paired with an in-store sale or manufacturer’s coupon – provided that the receipt shows some amount paid for the item in question.

List of Rebate Apps

These are the apps that I use.

  • iBotta (that’s my referral link; if you use it to sign up and collect your first rebate within 7 days of doing so, we both earn bonus rewards). Ibotta has the broadest selection of items at the broadest selection of stores, and not just for groceries. The company pays all rebates in a cash transfer via PayPal or Venmo. 
  • Checkout 51. The rebates available are for items and brands found in most large supermarkets. There is a small selection of rebates available, but it changes every week on Thursday. The company pays all rebates by check mailed to the address on file with your account. 
  • SavingStar – Like Checkout51, SavingStar offers a small selection of rebates on items found in most supermarkets, but from a wide selection of stores. If a store offers a loyalty program, you link the app to your loyalty account, activate rebates within the app, and then swipe your loyalty card as normal at the check-out – rebates are then automatically applied to your Saving Star account. The company pays all rebates in a cash transfer via PayPal. 
  • Fetch (My referral code is D5BPU , and using it gives us both a 2,000 point bonus after you submit your first receipt.) Unlike the other apps, Fetch only accepts receipts from supermarkets and grocery stores, but there is a “scanning bonus” – you earn 25 points for every receipt you scan from a major chain retailer even if there are no rebates earned. While the other apps are product specific in their rebates, Fetch is brand specific – you earn a percentage of the purchase price for every item tied to a participating brand. Fetch rewards are accrued in points rather than cash, and are paid out in electronic gift cards. 

So, how do you save money on groceries? I’d love to know your methods – and please let me know if you try any of mine!

P.S. Apart from apps that offer specific rebates for specific items, there are also apps that pay you for snapping photos of your receipts. ReceiptHog pays out in cash via PayPal, and ReceiptPal pays out via electronic gift card.

Not Mincing Words

Gather, my children, and you shall hear the story of a boy, a girl, and the Christmas without a Mince Pie.

Watching the 2017 Christmas Masterclass Mince Pie segment (and missing Mary Berry very much), she says, “We should try that.”

I can’t remember the last time I had a mincemeat pie. I can’t remember ever having a mincemeat pie. It’s the sort of thing I vaguely recall my grandmother baking, but nothing I would have been willing to try as a child.

But perhaps because of the recent visit from a picky-eating 10-year-old, I was feeling willing to give it a go. Of course we didn’t have a jar of mincemeat on hand, but the weather wasn’t bad, and I was going to be sitting on an organ bench at church for a long time later, so I volunteered for a Christmas Eve-afternoon walk.

Reaching the market, I began my search for the international foods aisle. I know there’s an international foods aisle, for it is where I buy PG Tips tea, her preferred brand. I can’t find it. I checked at the customer service desk, where I was told, “We don’t really have a section like that,” but maybe in aisle 7.  In aisle 7, I find the German foods, the Thai foods, Chinese foods, Japanese foods, lots of Kosher products, and stuff from many South American cultures. This feels pretty international to me, but whatever. In any event, there was nothing British.

Thinking the Brit-food has been distributed in other departments, I looked for pie fillings in the baking-supplies aisle. Couldn’t find ’em. Cake mix of every variety, muffins as far as the eye can see, plenty of flour and sugar, but no pie fillings. Oh, wait, there they are. Or were: a mostly empty shelf. But the mostly empty shelf has no tag indicating mincemeat was once there. I checked in produce, where the dried fruits are kept. Nothing doing there either. By this point I was on a mission. It must be there somewhere.
I found two clerks talking while one restocked the cheese section. I heard only the end of their conversation. “…and then it just wasn’t there anymore.” The other one threw her hands in the air in a helpless shrug, and the first one left. I said to the one remaining, “Speaking of things that aren’t there any more, do you know where I can find mincemeat?” She wasn’t sure, but led me to another guy. “Mincemeat?” this guy said. “That’s with the lamb.”
“I think that’s something else,” I said. “This has beef suet, but it’s mostly fruit.”
“Oh—fruit,” he replied. “Look with the prunes.” (That’s the dried fruit section, where I’ve been, but maybe I missed it.)  My guide-clerk led helpfully to the produce section, where she saw a third clerk and called to him, “Mincemeat?” He nods, and starts down the aisle. I followed him, encouraged.
He reached the end of his section and pointed to a shelf where proudly stood bags…of snow peas.
“Uh, thanks,” I said. “Let me think about it.” He nodded, and walked away, happy that his mission was accomplished.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a mince pie. All except us, anyway. I had a great walk, and baked brownies.

OK, Eat

The prudent course of action would have been go straight home and to bed after her train arrived: Monday had had a very early start (for a doctor’s appointment) and a very late finish (after a theatre performance). But we were not prudent.  There were some groceries and staples we needed that hadn’t been on sale yet–because we’d made a shopping list from next week’s supermarket ads–so we headed to the supermarket. As we saw the parking lot on the night before a winter storm, we realized it was also the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The prudent course of action would have been to turn around and go home.  But we still weren’t prudent.  The place was crowded with shoppers just like us, along with those not-quite-frantically snapping up bread, milk, and eggs–because, apparently, the best thing to eat during a snowstorm is French toast.

We found most of what we needed and ignored the rest. Several items we’d come for still weren’t priced as we expected. We’d looked at the right ads, but misread the copy, and some things still weren’t on sale. It turns out that pork loin can be a Black Friday special, as easily as a big-screen TV.

It wasn’t so much later than usual when we arrived home and got everything unpacked, but it seemed that way. Despite just returning from the supermarket we hadn’t planned dinner. Emergency measures were needed: boxed mac-and-cheese to satisfy her, with extras alongside to keep me happy and use some things that might have spoiled otherwise. Even with that simple plan, I was scattered, the cats (who also wanted their dinner) were underfoot, she was working in the kitchen too, and the whole evening felt one dropped spoon from being a disaster.

Although it seemed to take hours, it was really just a few minutes before the gooey yellow goodness was on one side of our bowls with a few bits of sausage and a big pile of vegetables on the other. Our bodies would be sustained, but our spirits needed help: laughter was now in order. A band we like had released a new video, so we called it up on the big screen; one video led to another, and that one to a third, and then I realized she’d never seen my favorite TV commercial and a behind-the-scenes story about the commercial.  We giggled through dinner and the videos, and the evening ended just fine. The next morning’s snow was much less problematic than predicted–hardly worth the French toast run–and our Thanksgiving travel was smooth and uneventful.

They say to eat before going to shop, but I always thought that was to prevent buying things you didn’t intend to.  I’ll try to remember that it can also be a precaution against kitchen crankiness.