Thursday, December 22, 2016

Tule Fog Pea Soup

Growing up in the Sacramento Valley, I remember three seasons. Spring, Summer and Fog.
The fog was omnipresent from December through February, it was a part of what we called winter here in Northern California. It would settle in and stay for days, often weeks at a time. Sometimes it would burn off around noon, other days it would stick around all day and all night. We would drive up to Placerville or Auburn just to get out of it, just to see the sun. They call it "tule fog" here, which rhymes with "unruly dog."

The worst fog I ever experienced was on a nighttime drive back from my Mom's house in Sacramento. It was almost impossible to see, but we hoped that by following the car's lights in front, hoping they were also following another car and so forth, that we could make it back to Davis. We decided for the last bit of our trip to exit the freeway and take the frontage road. Big mistake. There were no cars to follow. It was just us on a pitch black road, surrounded with a trillion droplets of water. While I watched ahead for objects in the road, such as other drivers stupid enough to take the frontage road, my husband rolled down his window and stared at the center lane as he drove. He trusted that I would scream if I saw something up ahead. No worries on that count, I was in scream mode. We got home safely, but our shoulder muscles didn't untense for days.

We just don't get fog like that anymore. I'm not complaining, because it's dangerous and depressing, but I'm sure it has to do with urban sprawl and not enough rain, which is depressing in its own right. But it makes nighttime driving much safer.

We recently took a road trip to San Diego, leaving after work. We got there at 3:00 am, and didn't run into a bit of fog. On the way down, we passed Pea Soup Andersen's in Santa Nella. I was sure my husband was saying it wrong, and I kept calling it Andersen's Pea Soup. We stopped in after a fog-free trip back up to Sacramento, to enjoy some fog-free pea soup. He was right about the name, which I hate, but I'm not going to argue with an official restaurant sign and menu.

We entered through the extremely kitchy gift shop, that must be seen to be believed. There is so much over-the-top ugly stuff to buy, that when one comes across just a regularly ugly item, it's hard not to purchase it, just to prove you didn't buy the super ugly item. I slapped myself and came to my senses and walked out kitch-free. We asked if the pea soup was vegan, and then we happily sat down to order. It came. It was thick and creamy and smooth as a baby's bottom. The color looked like something that came out of a baby's bottom, but such is the reality of pea soup. You don't eat it because of the color.

It made me realize that maybe I was missing out on the whole purpose of split pea soup, that creamy-straight-out-of-a-diaper consistency. I vowed to come home and test out my suspicions, and turn my usual chunky version of split pea soup in a dreamy, creamy if not sort of disgusting-colored bowl of yumminess.

My first bump in the road was that my husband had not purchased split peas by the barrel-full, he had bought whole dried peas. I didn't even know peas grew like that, I thought split came with the territory. But in fact, in pea processing plants around the world, there are machines that split whole peas so we can make soup the color of newborn baby poop. I needed to adjust the time on my Instant Pot. I will be writing a post very soon about my new favorite kitchen appliance of all time, the Instant Pot, but for now back to the pea soup.

I used the recipe from Andersen's Pea Soup, or rather from Pea Soup Andersen's. It's very simple, and it has no meat, nor even a piece of ham bone or any other part of a pig in it. I will forgive the Andersen's for their really tacky gift shop for offering travelers a vegan soup.

Did I fiddle with the recipe a bit? Of course I did! Besides starting with the unsplit peas, which took about 40 minutes in the pressure cooker, I added more celery and carrots and I added some mushrooms for a reason that is no longer apparent. It doesn't need the mushrooms. I also omitted the salt but added a tiny amount of hickory liquid smoke to give it that oinky good richness. Here is the original recipe from the restaurant. Make it creamy, or make it chunky, however you prefer.

Pea Soup Andersen's Pea Soup Recipe

  • 2 cups green split peas
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1 bay leaf, crumbled into very small pieces
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a big soup pot, boil hard for 20 minutes, then turn heat down until peas are tender, about 50 minutes or so total cook time. After the mixture has cooled, and if you like your soup creamy, process in a blender. Whirl until it looks like it came from a diaper, and you're good to go.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Jessica and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad craft faire

Last week I decided to have a craft faire in my driveway. On a Friday. In Winter. On a windy day. I based this decision on the time I put some signs up on the corner and a woman came and bought three quilts off my porch. This was not that time. 

Didn't sell much. I'm going to take the high road and say I sold one thing. It wasn't even a quilt. But at least it paid for my little experiments testing out the new Square Register chip reader. Yes, I was that confident that people would stop by my driveway in the winter on a Friday in the wind and purchase quilts that they weren't really planning on buying. Sure I put an ad on Craigslist and Next Door and put up signs. If only it wasn't windy, not a Friday not winter, and at a real craft fair location. 

The good thing, back to that high road business, was that I got my inventory all figured out and accounted for. I found a little piggy hat I didn't know I had made, missing some eyeballs, but still oinking to go. I discovered some items that need to be removed from my Etsy shop, because they weren't in my craft closet. If they're not in the closet, they don't exist. And I found a quilt that's completely ready to be sewn together, it just needs some cream colored thread from Joann's Fabric.

So with my ego in the gutter, but with the garage all swept out during the un-fair event, I'm ready to move on. It's time I put some time into my Etsy shop, it's been a while since I took a look at it from a first time visitor's point of view. Maybe I'll do that on Friday, but only if it's windy.

My closet full of adorables.

I also got my gift tags all made.

Finding the piggy hat was my biggest accomplishment.
No worries, he's got eyes now. 

I went to a baby shower last night, and gave as gifts these crocheted items. The first was for the baby's big sister, it's a little blankie for her dolls. The second photo is the car or stroller blanket I made for the baby-on the-way. Crocheting takes my mind off quilts, so I'll be doing more projects in the near future.

Friday, November 25, 2016

My most expensive quilt yet

Still fretting over the fact that I couldn't do a craft fair this year, I'm trying to get my quilting mo-jo back. I have a few very wintery items that look so cute in person, but not that great in photos. Of course I could retake the photos, repost on Etsy and stop my complaining, but where's the fun in that? 

I was so hoping for the up close and personal that only a craft fair can give. The big ones scare me, and are very expensive. The sellers, or rather vendors, are pros at what they do, they have equipment that goes up in a flash and they have lots of stuff to sell. I just want a semi-folksy one, where people walking around with a burning desire to purchase an upcycled rag quilt stop and stare, their mouth wide open in surprise and say, "I. Want. That." Let it go, Jessica, let it go, no craft fair for you this year. They moved the date, you can't do it, move forward.

Two quilts I had cut out but had not yet sewn together awaited my attention. It's definitely easier sewing them up on a completely different day than I cut them out on. Less disruption, less mess, more table space for that thing...what's it called...starts with a D...Yes, dining, there's more room for dining without finding quilt fuzz in the lentils when I stay organized, do things in a measured way and take my time. 

Voila, I introduce Bah-bah-rah the Sheep Quilt and Annie the Raggedy Little ABC Quilt! They are both snug as a bug in my supply closet in the guest room. The Etsy descriptions says about Bah-bah-rah:

Bah-bah-ra (and please don't call her Barbie, she hates that) is ready for some all-season, sleep-inducing, counting-sheep-until-you-snore snuggle time! This blue and white sheep-themed rag quilt is just the thing to add a bit of extra warmth to your bed, a touch of whimsy to your sitting chair and some wooly wonder to your couch.

Measuring 4 feet square, Bah-bah-ra likes to call herself a quilt, because "throw" doesn't always end well with lambs. She's petite yet sturdy, warm but not too warm, and is ready for years of spills and thrills, washings and dryings, and will continue to get softer and softer, as all good sheep do.

This one-of-a-kind rag quilt is made entirely from upcycled materials. Flannel, denim, cotton, prints, checks, florals - this has it all yet still is easy on the eyes and the touch. She's sandwiched with cotton flannel to increase the sheepy feel, and will continue to get more wooly with use. She's been snipped but not sheared, washed in perfume-free detergent, dried and groomed in my wolf free home. I'm not sheepish to say, she's so ready to join your flock!

The listing description leaves out the whole part about this little lamb of a quilt depositing a large wad of quilt fuzz in our washer's drain pipe, causing a small flood in the garage, taking up untold hours of my husband's weeklong vacation from teaching, the various contraptions he's purchased to help unclog this mother of all clogs, and the endless quarters I fed into the washing machines at the laundromat down the way to get us some clean clothes. We still have a clog and, admitting defeat and moving foreward, we have an appointment with a plumber. If I add up materials + labor + shipping & handling + plumber, I may have a new price range for lovely Bah-bah-rah. Probably the same cost as the entry fee in a really great craft fair. I coulda been a vendor!

Shhhh, the sheep are sleeping.

They like to sleep all curled up.

Counting squares has been discovered to be much more advantageous than counting sheep.

Annie is a little, um, well, she's a bit puffy.

She tries to work out, but she just can't lose that extra bit of fluff.

But she didn't clog the plumbing, she's pinning all that on Bah-bah-rah.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What to do when someone dies

This was supposed to be one of the last photos I took with my Mom. She was in a nursing home, I was flying back the next day to California, and I didn't think I would see her again. So what did we do? We took silly pictures of our genetic similarity, the ability to bend our fingers upward into ski jump shapes. My Mom's fingers at 93 years old were not gnarled with arthritis or pain, she even still had remnants of her last manicure. I got her ski jump fingers, but I didn't get her pretty nails.

We also talked while I caught audio of it. We sang the Wallpaper song together. I told her she was the Best Mom Ever. I cried a bit, but I don't think she could tell. I haven't been able to listen to that yet, but someday I will. Then I kissed her goodbye and told her I would see her next time we were together.

More weird hand photos.

This in fact is the last photo I took with my Mom. It's after I flew out again after my Mom went into hospice. It's pretty obvious I didn't think it would be the last photo, because I look really goofy. This was a Thursday, I hadn't slept since Tuesday night. Little did I know I wouldn't fall asleep again until Saturday morning, after my sweet Mom died. There was still a long, long haul ahead of us here, I didn't have a clue what was in store.

I used to think I knew what to do for people when there's a looming death in the family, or when a death has occurred. But I've learned a lot from being on the receiving end. None of the following suggestions were because of anything people did not do for us, rather, because of the outpouring of love towards my Mom and my family, I've been inspired to brainstorm ideas. Ideas to tuck away for the future when someone needs more from me than the words, "I'm so sorry, what can I do?"

First and foremost, show up.
You cannot mess that up.
Just visit, or call, or text, or email.
Communicate in any way. Silent hugs work too.

Flowers are nice.
But so are gift baskets, food baskets, plants, and cards.
Each and every card means so much. 

On the subject of food. In the depths of either a long hospital stay or a hospice experience, food becomes a wonderfully practical way to show love and care. "Shovel ready" foods are especially great, something that goes down fast and easy and is a few button pushes on the microwave from being ready to eat. Two of the favorites of my family were some homemade pot stickers and lasagna. I appreciated the big salads, because who can even think of making a salad during a time like that? Not me, but I needed some good healthy food that didn't take one bit of brain power.

Others brought over some breakfast things. Arriving with a favorite coffee drink would be terrific too. Think easy to eat, throw away containers, clearly marked cookware, freezable, comfort food, nothing involving knives or cooking or calculations of any kind. My family also received some wonderful fruit baskets, and from California our friend Marilyn sent a huge tray of dried fruits and nuts, we attacked that like starving squirrels. 

Many of my family's friends visited up until almost the end. It could not have been easy for them to see my Mom deteriorating so quickly. We often use the reasoning that we would rather just remember people in their better days, and sometimes that's what the person or the family wants. But those visits, those dear friends standing in my Mom's room turned into a hospice room, looking serious and devastated, made me feel comforted. It was so sad, but they were not afraid to show up and be there with us. 

A friend offered to put together a beautiful program for my Mom's service. My sister-in-law Chris went through a lifetime of photos to find some for the program, and then created three lovely photo boards for the dinner after the service. Another friend dug through their photo albums and found a picture of my Mom at her baptism, we had never even seen it. We put it in her program. A funeral is such work, when you're at your lowest, so getting a perfect photo from a friend is a wonderful gift.

A pretty orchid from our friend Joan.
In the back, a plant sent from Doug and Colette.

One of the photo boards my sister-in-law Chris made.

When my husband and I got home, we arrived to food left by our dog sitter, fresh flowers from friends, cards, lunch dates, invites to a cabin trip, hugs and tears and lots of love. 

It was a month today since my Mom died. My brain fog is finally going away. My husband has a theory that when someone we love dies, someone we have loved all our life, our brain undergoes a physical transformation. All our synapses related to that person start getting rewired, and it's not pleasant. I can't say my brain actually hurt, but it came close. I felt fuzzy headed for weeks. This is above and beyond the grief, this was a mental journey I had no choice but to make. I'm not a daughter anymore, I don't have a Mom. Rough stuff, even when you know it's coming. But every time I needed a bit of encouragement, there it was in the form of a card, or a call or a hug. Thank you.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Go Cubs Go!

This goes deep.
My Grandma, Mom, Aunt, Dad and Nephew.

My Mom and her fellow Cubs' fans, in the 1920's.
This goes very deep.

I remember exactly where I was when the Cubs lost the chance for the 1984 pennant. I was pumping gas at the NW corner of Eastern Avenue and Arden Way in Sacramento. Yes, this goes incredibly deep.

With both parents from Chicago and bigger brothers in Little League, I was pretty much born to be a Cubs fan. Born to be disappointed, year after year after year. But it didn't matter, I would never switch loyalties. When the Padres are happy, my husband is happy and that's fine. And sure, I'm glad when the Giants are doing well, but if we catch a game in SF and the Giants are playing the Cubs. Fogetaboutit. It's blue and red all the way.

How did I survive this run-up to the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series? The first part was a blur. My Mom was very sick, then she was dying, then I was on a plane flying back East, then she died and when I came to the Cubs were serious contenders. They beat the Giants and they beat the Dodgers. Wow, this was happening!

I found out that I'm not cut out for winning. Because winning in baseball takes losing some games, being behind some innings, making some errors, and the horror of all horrors, the other team scoring.

My typical routine through this was: miss the first few innings until my husband came home from work and have him tell me gently what that score was. Then and only then could I even look at the TV, but more likely I was too stressed out to actually watch. I could barely listen on the radio. I got lots of housework done, even ironing some shirts.

Wednesday night, if you had a video of me in our house, you might have been tempted to call the men in the white suits. I was ironing, I was dusting, I was doing the dishes, I was taking not one bath but two baths, thinking the lavender scent would soothe me. I was pacing. I was inside, I was outside. I could not sit still. Watch the game? Ha!

When the Indians tied it 6-6, I was a goner. I was on the porch in my pajamas, I was rocking madly on the futon, I was in bed in a fetal position, I was on the floor in the TV room, curled up in a ball plugging my ears yelling at my husband to tell me what was happening. I couldn't take it, so I finally went to bed for good.

Then I heard clapping, lots of clapping coming from the TV room. Hope? Would life go on? More clapping, but I still stayed in bed. I came out to peek, but couldn't take the pressure. So there I was, in bed when the Cubs got the Indians out in extra innings to win. I ran out in a blur, jumped up and down screaming, opened up the front door and screamed some more, drank champagne, screaming the whole time.

The Cubs won the World Series in 2016, three and a half weeks after my Mom died. It was not bittersweet in the least. It was very, very sweet.

"As long as these are bear cubs and not big cat cubs,
I'm willing to be humiliated."

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Oliver's Story - a Tail of Love

It seemed as if the timing could not have been worse. My Mom was coming home from her stay in a care home into hospice that Monday. My sister-in-law's mother died unexpectently Monday morning, she and my brother headed up to Massachusetts. My other brother was to arrive on Wednesday from Santa Cruz. Into this situation my sister had a canine client, Oliver, staying at the house. What a time for a dog sitter to have a pooch under foot. 

Yet, the timing could not have been better. Oliver didn't get under foot. Rather, the body part he wriggled his way into was our hearts, and did we ever need the comfort that only dogs can give. 

As late as Wednesday afternoon two weeks ago, I had not planned to be there for my Mom's death. I saw her for ten days at the beginning of September when she was at the hospital and then the care home. We had a very sweet goodbye together before I headed back to California. But while sitting on the very spot on our couch where I now write this blog post, I changed my mind. 

I was informing friends via Instagram of my family's situation back in Connecticut, and I chose a picture of my Mom's house in the Direct Message. I stared at the picture, trying to imagine what grief was inside. A death in the family and another one coming imminently? I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to be there, to not be looking at the picture of that house, but to be in that house. I checked airline schedules, found a night flight, called my husband and my brother who both agreed I should go, and I packed for another trip back east.

I arrived into a house in the middle of hospice care. Visitors bringing food, flowers and hugs. Kind, strong men delivering beds that go up and down and tilt every which way. Pamphlets on the kitchen table about death, dying and morphine dosages. Lots of adult children sharing bathrooms and timing showers and hot water. My family bungling in our attempts to comfort my sister-in-law as we faced the reality of our own mother's situation.

And my sweet Mom. And Oliver the visiting dog, who never left her side. That dog had a job to do and he did it well. He was on her bed. He was at her feet. He was under her wheelchair. He was under her blankets. He crawled up and laid his head on her pillow. He was doing what dogs do best, being loyal.

Friday night brought a power outage. Seeing that I had never administered morphine to anyone in my life, let alone my own mother, let alone by flashlight, let alone on no sleep since Tuesday night, it was quite the surreal experience. After the lights came back on, it was time for the others to catch some sleep. A plane ride back home to California was set for my brother, the funeral in Massachusetts to attend on Saturday for my brother and his wife. 

Into Saturday morning, it was just me and my Mom and Oliver. And then at quarter past five, it was just me and Oliver. I can't imagine a more perfect gift than to have had that sweet, calm and furry bundle of loyalty with me when she died. 

When hospice was called and all the sad realities of a death in the home were being taken care of, Oliver was content to stay in his crate, safely out of the way. His job was done, and soon his people would come and pick him up. The house was so empty without my Mom, and seemed doubly empty when Oliver went home. 

There are dogs and then there are dogs. Oliver is right up there with the best of them.

Waiting for his humans. His job was done.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Love, in Seven Layers

Growing up in suburbia in the 1960's and 70's meant I spent a lot of time in other people's houses. I can still go up the street in my old neighborhood and remember each family's name. I knew the moms, the dads, the siblings, the toys, and of course the dogs. We played in each other's yards, rooms, backyards and after a long day of playing, often my friends would invite me to stay for dinner. This is where I finally learned some table manners, the hard way, and I found out not everyone ate the same three meals over and over and over.

My mom, who did not relish cooking, tried out recipes in her early motherhood years. Easy recipes I'm sure. Recipes not involving organ meats, or fish bones, or any bones that could be choked on, or spices, or things to sink our teeth into lest we choke, or any sort of meat still resembling in any way the animal it came from. Casseroles were big then, and my Mom latched onto the concept of the casserole with both apron strings.

casserole (Frenchdiminutive of casse, from Provençal cassa "pan"[1]) is a large, deep dish used both in the oven and as a serving vessel. The word is also used for the food cooked and served in such a vessel, with the cookware itself called a casserole dish or casserole pan.
Casseroles in the United States or continental Europe usually consist of pieces of meat (such as chicken) or fish (such as tuna), various chopped vegetables, a starchy binder such as flourricepotato or pasta, and, often, a crunchy or cheesy topping.[2] Liquids are released from the meat and vegetables during cooking, and further liquid in the form of stockwinebeer (for example lapin à la Gueuze), gincider, or vegetable juice may be added when the dish is assembled. Casseroles are usually cooked slowly in the oven, often uncovered.  Wikipedia

We were casserole people. Casseroles were made for cooks like my mom. Once all the ingredients get plopped in, they practically serve themselves. They don't make too much of a mess in the oven, no pots bubbling over, no pans to scrub out - except for that one 13 x 9" Pyrex casserole dish we had. Why only one? For seven people? Because it was ready the next day for another casserole. 

There were three casseroles in our family. We ate them over and over. A lot. Weekly. Semi-weekly. 

  • Tuna Casserole
  • Meatloaf
  • 7 Layer Casserole

I'm not sure if meatloaf is even considered a casserole, but let's lump it in, shall we? I know there were other things we ate, like hamburgers and hot dogs in summer, fish sticks, pot pies, and my Dad's charred-on-the-outside, pink-on-the-inside chicken. Later on down the line, my Mom started making something called Taco Pie, without all the spices of course. And we always had a great turkey dinner on the holidays. We lived all year for those turkey dinners. It was, first of all, not a casserole, and all those potential bones to choke on were positively fascinating to our little imaginations. 

But it was the 7 Layer Casserole that became famous in our household. Through the years my Mom started leaving out a layer here and there, but we still called it 7 Layer. The recipe got lost. It didn't matter, it was more of a process than a recipe. Seven Layer was like an archaeological dig through 1950's cooking. Fresh ingredients, chopped and prepared in a way that rendered them utterly unpalatable by modern standards. And yet we lived to torment my Mom with tales about what the other kids on the block were eating. Pasta with bubbling sauces smelling of herbs and garlic, spicy foods, meat with bones, fish with bones, not in sticks. 

With my Mom's recent illness bringing up lots of emotions, us kids have been having some fun with our mutual memories. Apparently I missed the whole Wheat Germ Cookie Era, which had my sister hiding cookies in a garage vent - they were that bad. And my brother is sure our Dad got so sick of 7 Layer, that's when we starting getting take-out Chinese food every now and then. Whenever we talk of our childhood, 7 Layer always comes up. It's legendary. 

So I Googled it. It's a real thing. Apparently other families ate it too. Not three times a week, but still, it was so reassuring to see that Hunt's Tomato Sauce advertisement for our 7 Layer Casserole. With a woman's very lady-like hand, ever so gently putting the infamous casserole together in such a way as to not make a mess. It is so my Mom.

This month, in a shout out to my Mom, I'll be making as many 7 Layer Casserole variations as I can think of. We will eat them until we cry "No more!" All vegan of course, no ground beef or bacon in our versions.

I did one with chopped mushrooms instead of the meat, and with brown rice. I did another with curry spices and garbanzos. Soon to come will be Italian, Tex-Mex, some kind of Asian flavored one, and maybe a Hawaiian with pineapple. They don't have to taste good, that's never been the point. They just have to be in seven layers, or six, or so, and be made with love. That's how my Mom made them.

It was an actual thing!

Really, like in a magazine.

There were matchbooks!
Seven Layer Casserole Matchbooks.

There were other Hunt's recipes.
Messy recipes cooked by ample women in aprons with pudgy fingers and flappy arms.
My Mom had pretty hands and non-flappy arms, for which I am grateful.

But still, there were so many other recipes.

Eighteen minutes. That's quick!

Goulash! How exotic!

Look at those happy people.

Um, those fish do not look happy.

It has no bones, I'll give it that.

Ugh. Run food, run!

This fish is barfing parsley.
That is never good.

Seven Layer is looking really good in comparison.

Tuna Casserole has it all over this.

Say no to organ meats with lemon.

Those frankfurters look mortified. 

What did this little fella ever do to deserve this?

Yum, finally some dessert!
Wait, no, it's not a cake.
It's a sandwich loaf.
A Seven Layer Sandwich Loaf.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

A Win WinCo October

Our neighborhood mall is going through an identity crisis right now. For years it was anchored by a Macy's on one end, and a Gottschalks on the other. Various mall-like stores filled out the rest, with Ross anchoring the middle. When Gottschalks closed down, the mall looked like a teeter-totter with only one kid on it. Then Ross left, and Macy's was the lone hold out. Macy's closed this year. A Planet Fitness went in where Ross was, who knows what will happen to Macy's but it was the Gottschalks space that made the biggest transformation.  

They propped up the walls, took out the entire second floor and turned it into a WinCo. I was so disappointed! A WinCo? Right across from the world's grossest Walmart? The Walmart where people barely put clothes on to shop? The Walmart where tube tops are considered formal wear? How many low-end-boxy-stores can we take? I let out a huge groan and lamented, "There goes the neighborhood. We now live on the edge of a shoe desert!" There is not a decent store for miles to the east of us where one can find a cute pair of pumps, sandals or ankle boots. Flip flops from Walmart do not count. 

I had been in a WinCo before, and was not impressed. Immediately upon entering, one is hit with the Great Wall of Snacks. It's impossible to avoid. You have to pass by processed, fried, sugar-coated, salt-encrusted, non-food-food items just to walk in the place. It is not Whole Foods, It's not even Half Foods. It could be called Food Particles.

But I certainly don't want the place to fail and give Walmart smirking rights, so after our 99 Centember Vegan Challenge, where we shopped exclusively at the 99 Cent Store for one month, we were up for another challenge. WinCo it is. In October. It's WincOctober!

I ventured into the incredibly weird entrance. Imagine taking a department store that had had a front, back and a mall entrance and turning it into a grocery store. They had to do some maneuvering, and it seems more like you're walking into a really ugly airport terminal. But once you see it, it all makes sense and eventually you walk into the store.

Grab your cart and pick up some serious speed to whiz by the Great Wall of Snacks. You may see some semi-real food nestled in with the plastic barrels of Cheese Doodles, but keep going, the real food is inside. I promise, if you're very careful you won't end up with a shopping basket full of deplorables.

The first section I hit was the produce. Not bad, not bad at all. It's not all gorgeous and fancy like a Nugget Market, but it will certainly do. The prices are great, the produce is fresh and any place with fennel, bok choy and fresh herbs is plenty fancy for me. I grabbed lots of very hardy winterish veggies - carrots, celery, cauliflower, potatoes, peppers, mushrooms and sweet potatoes, I had no idea of a menu, I just wanted a base of vegetables that don't wilt when I turn my back. For fruit I stuck to bananas and apples. We have a secret source for pomegranates. Shhh.

After produce, I went to the bulk area. Wow. Very impressive. Again, you have to look past the first row of bulk stuff - giant vats of gummy worms, gummy bears, gummy everything. It's an assault on the senses, it made my teeth hurt just looking at all that neon candy. But I kept pushing my cart and I found some real food. Beans, beans, beans. Rice. Bulk raisins. Bulk cereal! Oatmeal for an army. And enough cinnamon to get us thru pumpkin smoothie season. I think the bulk section is the best thing going at WinCo.

They also have a pretty impressive vegan plant-milk area. I chose from rice, soy, almond, oat, coconut and they even had hemp milk. A place that has hemp milk is tops in my book. I hate the stuff, can't stomach it, but still I find it's impressive when someone carries it for the 0.0000015% of the population that likes hemp milk. You go, WinCo!

A few cans of this, some cartons of that, some coffee, tortillas and I was ready to hit the door. I bought a lot of food, or rather I bought a lot of potential food. With much washing, soaking, chopping, mixing and cooking, we have many many meals on hand. October is going to be a Win WinCo situation.

My basket full of adorables.