Continuing a theme

Last week I noted how my sister and I have varying values and habits when it comes to groceries. The next day I went off and did my grocery shopping. I decided to record it because I thought it may be interesting to visit the topic of grocery shopping since everyone needs to do it. So here’s what $63 worth of groceries looks like after a visit to the most rocking, awesome, ethnic-oriented market in my area.


The grocery haul from Fresh Farms

None of these items are organic, and it’s obvious from the stack of items at the back right that there were some non-essentials purchased, too. If we ignore the extra baked goods purchased, the total bill drops to $50. (The Medjool dates were at least on special; I have no excuses for the cookies and the baklava.) It was my craving for sweet fruit that brought us into the store anyway.

Lately I’ve been craving tropical fruit badly. I tried to console myself with some bananas, oranges and (unripe) mango at from Whole Foods, but that’s not what I really wanted. Fresh Farms is the one store where I know I can get my beloved apple bananas. (See those little bananas on the left? Those are apple bananas and they were not yet ripe enough to eat in that photo. Don’t be fooled by those “baby bananas” you may see in the grocery store. They are not the same! Only little bananas with the label “apple bananas” are the real thing. Let them get really ripe and then indulge. Ahhh!) I also had this intense craving for papaya and knew that I could find it there.

As much as I love this store I avoid it on the weekends because it is packed with people. The first time we visited was on a Saturday after lunch. Wow. I’ll be sure to never do that again. As an example of how crazy full of people it was that day, when I realized I needed to go back through the produce section to pick up something I had forgotten, I found it nearly impossible to do so. There were so many people and carts in the aisles that even when I ditched my cart I found it extremely difficult to move against the crush.

What makes Fresh Farms so awesome is that it is like a mosaic of all the various ethnic groups who call Chicago home. I know that if I need an ingredient for a Filipino/Korean/Polish/Croatian/Persian/Indian/Mexican/etc. dish I can find it here. They even sell Spotted Dick in a can. All this bounty does make for a very crowded store, though, so last Sunday when I turned to Bob and said “I want to go to the crazy store,” he was quite surprised, but he knew what I meant.

While the papaya is all gone by now, I’m still working my way through the rest of the fruit. The kiwi, mango, and apple bananas had to get a bit more ripe but they’re mostly ready now. The haul in the photo is more than the two of us can eat in a single week anyway.

I roasted the chicken that night and we had two meals from it last week (one with a serving of roasted broccoli on the side), plus extra bits that were frozen as a great addition to some fried rice, and a carcass that will make some tasty stock. One of the three lamb shoulder chops was put in the freezer and the other two were broiled for another dinner, served with some Indian-spiced, sautéed okra on the side. One of the zucchini went into a frittata (along with some leftover mushrooms, onion, and linguine), and one of the red peppers was cut up and taken to work as a snack. I intend to make the cabbage into a small batch of sauerkraut some time this week (or I may just sauté it fresh), and use the scallions and yellow pepper in that batch of fried rice that I’ll likely cook for dinner tonight. (Note to self: take the chicken meat out of the freezer.)

I’ll still need to stop at a grocery store today to pick up coffee and a few other odds and ends, but I’m well set for at least a few more meals with the bits I haven’t used from this haul and things I have in the freezer (such as some fish and half of a Lesna or Forest Sausage from the Polish deli). Two things I have in abundance here at home: chard from the low tunnel, and eggs from the hens. But that last item merits its own post.

What are you cooking up this week? How does your grocery bill compare?


While I’ve been on hiatus from writing, I’ve been keeping a few notes here and there on topics that may be interesting to write about. So this morning when I realized that I actually had the time and inclination to do a bit of writing I pulled up some of those ideas and this one was right at the top: Differences between me and my sister — she doesn’t want to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.

This little nugget emerged from a discussion over Christmas Eve dinner at my mom’s house. We were talking about food and the subject of lactose intolerance came up. I noted that for years I thought I had it, then my doc tested me for food sensitivities and it turned out my problem  was with cow milk (and all things cow dairy). I can drink goat milk without any problems and can eat all the cheese I want as long as it’s made from goat or sheep milk. (And as long as I don’t mind packing on the pounds from eating all the cheese I want since cheese is so delicious, yet fatty! Nom, nom, nom!)

When my stepbrother asked me where I got goat milk, I said at certain ethnic markets, as well as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. This is where my sister jumped in to comment. “I refuse to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. I can get the same stuff they sell for a lot less at the fruit market near my house. People that shop there are more into their image and I don’t want to be like them.” That may not be an *exact* quote but it is pretty darn close.

When later recounting this to my boyfriend he had a similar reaction to mine: how could she possibly criticize people based on their desire for “image?” Here are a few things to know about my sister.

  • She buys and reads Cosmopolitan and Self magazine. (She’s in her mid-40s by the way; I can’t understand how someone in her age group can relate to anything in Cosmo magazine.)
  • She drives a bright red Volvo convertible.
  • She regularly refreshes her wardrobe with new clothes.
  • For work she most often wears hose, skirts, dresses, and suits, despite the business casual dress code.
  • Outside of work she wears what I call “MILF fashion.” Lots of low cut tops, short shorts, tight pants, and “cute shoes.”
  • Make up and cosmetics are very important to her and she wears them every day.

Looking at her life from my perspective, she is very image conscious and places a high importance on image cultivation. In many ways I am a total opposite of her. I don’t wear make up, I rarely purchase clothes, I don’t “dress up,” and I would never buy a gas-guzzling, sporty convertible. We are like a study in contrasts in so many ways.

How did we get to be this way? We were raised in the same household by the same parents and are just under two years apart in age. Our family life while growing up was lower-middle class. We lived in a small house in an uncool suburb, wore KMart clothes, and ate a lot of ground beef dishes.

Looked at another way we are very similar, though. We both value hard work and a DIY approach to life. We do our own gardening and yard care. We clean our own houses. (And perhaps it’s worth reminding that when I was briefly living with my sister during my divorce she charged me rent.)

We learned how to shop for groceries by being dragged along with mom on her weekly shopping trips. We watched her scan sales flyers, clip coupons, and create complex shopping lists that included stops at several grocery stores. (Which all were located conveniently at one intersection. There were three grocery stores on three corners, so stopping at so many stores didn’t involve a lot of driving, either.)

Breaking it down, my sister’s main objectives to shopping at grocers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are cost and image. Image is definitely subjective, and cost…well, cost is also a reflection of values.

In that Christmas Eve conversation, I noted that the closest grocer to me is Whole Foods and that I valued saving gas and time by going to the closer grocer. (This was questioned, but not challenged. I looked up the distance between my house and the closest grocers later that night and found that, technically, a local grocer called Jewel is a bit closer to my house since it is 1.2 miles away and Whole Foods is 1.4 miles away.) I like to ride my bike to the grocer during the warmer months, and I like to buy a lot of organic food products, so the closeness of Whole Foods means that I go there quite a bit.

One sister likes to save money on food by driving to Costco and purchasing big slabs of farm-raised Atlantic salmon; the other sister pays a higher cost for wild caught salmon, but saves money by not making a car payment every month. Which one is right? Neither. It’s just not productive to argue values.

But I think the fact that we can have a discussion that involves discussing the cost of items is important. Whether “cost” means the pay out at the cash register or a more complex accounting that includes fuel, time, and other less tangible things.

For those with siblings, how do you compare with each other? Are you very alike or very different? Do you talk about values, including money?