Friday, September 30, 2016

Two people. One September. One store. $6.66 a day. And no animals were harmed.

The Last 99 Cent Supper
Well, that went really well. Cheaper than expected. Way cheaper. Painless, absolutely painless. And since we didn't explode into a mushroom cloud of bean gas, I think it was amazingly healthy too.

We both ate for the whole month, minus the ten days I was gone to visit family, from the 99 Cent Store. Vegan, all vegan food. Hardly anything processed. And we had some pretty good meals. Tasty stuff. Simple, yet tasty. We got real familiar with the Legume Family, they were frequent guests at lunch and dinner. 

The 99 Cent Store is certainly not Whole Foods where one walks around saying, "Hmm, lets see, where are they keeping the locally-grown rutabagas these days? Hey look! The cage-free organic endive is looking just divine!" No, shopping at a dollar store for produce is more like "They have THAT?!?!" It's simply amazing the variety of produce, even without the endive and rutabagas. It gives one hope.

The best deal by far was the three loves of Dave's Killer Bread* that Ernst picked up early in the month. We froze two, so he had healthy and great tasting whole-grain bread for all of September. For one dollar a loaf. It's normally four dollars a loaf, so he enjoyed every single slice with a side of smirky satisfaction. 

*The Best Bread in the Universe
(Or so say people who can enjoy bread.)

So, what was the grand total for our month of purchasing food in one dollar increments?


Now comes the fast talker at the end that takes away all the fun. Factoring in that I was gone for ten days, we are rounding it up to 


And that comes out to 

$6.66 a day 

for two people who hardly ever eat out, and eat breakfast, lunch and dinner from food we prepare at home in our kitchen. 

What have I learned from this? That a person can walk out of Whole Foods with an empty wallet and a full grocery cart, but not benefit one bit if that food isn't healthy, or if that food sits and sits and then goes bad and gets thrown out. 

But a person can walk out of a dollar store (which of course lacks the ambience and free olive tasting station of a Whole Foods) with several bags of tried and true food staples. With some effort and a bit of chopping, a rice cooker, a crockpot, and some basic spices, the second shopper can be better off than the WF shopper. It's not about the food we buy, it's about the food we eat. And the 99 Cent Store has some amazing food, and when I say that, I'm not just full of beans. Not completely full anyway.

We have another adventure planned for October. Check back in soon!

We factored in the vast amount of dried beans we were left with.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Eating, well, from the 99 Cent Store

I'm almost a little disappointed how easy it was. I wanted this month to be a test of my endurance, a chance to reach down deep and see what I'm made of. Instead, I just found out it was pretty easy. No fan fair, no hot air. Not even from the beans.

Tomorrow is the last day of our #99Centember experiment, where we ate only from the 99 Cent Store for all of September. It wasn't that radical, it wasn't difficult. I thought I'd have some serious Trader Joe's detoxing to do, but when I wandered in TJ''s to use the bathroom this week, I wasn't compelled to buy a thing. I was just highly amused to see that pumpkin is getting into everything. The walk to the bathroom included at least 30 items spotted with pumpkin in them. Oh my gourd, it's a bit much.

We ate well this month, no starvation issues. My husband picked up so much food at the beginning of the month, I hardly needed to shop much at all. While fresh greens were probably lacking a bit in our diet this month, it wasn't the 99 Cent Store's fault, they have a pretty good selection of fresh vegetables. The grapes were amazing, and the red peppers were delish. We ate carrots, cauliflower, Romaine lettuce, onions, potatoes, beets, fresh corn, tomatoes and more. While not exactly an oasis of farm-to-fork freshness, it was not a food desert one bit.

If beans and more beans are good for the heart, our hearts are very happy right now. Between canned and dried, we ate lotsa legumes! We had Bean Chili, Bean Soup, Soupy Bean Chili, Beany Chili Soup and a few more Bean Bonanzas. Right now I have the last bean dish of the month, Crockpot Curry Chickpeas, bubbling away. You can't beat beans on price, so I'll be curious when Ernst does the grand total tomorrow to see how much this food experiment cost us. Then I'll reveal what's on tap for October! 

Pumpkin Soup, from our garden,
Cheap, orange and yummy.
And not beans.

A simple and easy salad.
Romaine, beets and chickpeas.
Which are beans.

One of the many Bean Soups!
This one was loaded with tomatoes, carrots, onions and red bell peppers.

The Free Garden Ratatouille that seemed to last for.e.ver.

And the pumpkin just got into everything.
Pumpkin Smoothies!

Friday, September 16, 2016

99 Centember - Hits and Misses

It appears we are really doing this. We are really eating plant-based food exclusively from the 99 Cent Store for one month, and I have yet to go to Trader Joe's and whimper at the window. There's only one thing I truly miss about my local TJ's, besides the free coffee and food samples. I miss the bag of shredded carrots. These carrots are not shredded grater-style. No, these carrots are put through a transformation that makes them taste so yummy and delicious. I can't replicate them. No one else does them that way. I must soldier on without the amazing carrots.

The thing about shopping at a dollar store for produce is you can't have a certain meal in mind when you walk in. Forget about lists that start with one daikon radish, half a red cabbage, a sprig of dill and a ripe papaya. Nope, you take what you can get and then decide what to do with it. The produce that didn't get rave reviews? The salad I made from romaine lettuce, celery and pea pods was not a winner. The celery had no flavor and the pea pods were downright nasty. Not like rotten nasty, just some bad tasting pea pods. We ate it anyway, because we were sorely lacking in greens in our diet. If only I had had some Trader Joe's Spicy Peanut Dressing. Put that on the list of TJ products I pine for. 

The fresh produce that scored were the more hearty items like carrots, a gigantic cauliflower, celery, potatoes and onions. Surprisingly, the corn on the cob was super. One watermelon was tasty, the next one blech, but that can happen at any store. Two portobello mushrooms, big ones, for a buck. And banana for banana, the price at Trader Joe's was better, but the ones from the 99 Cent Store were the most gigantic bananas I have every laid eyes on. These were pontoon-sized bananas, and after letting them ripen I peeled them and froze them for future smoothies.

The hits made it into some cheap and tasty meals, and I'm having fun with this process. I love challenges, but this one is not as hard as I imagined. Stay tuned for what we have planned for October!

Not exactly brimming with greens, but this dinner cost only 2 bucks!
Roasted potatoes and Cauliflower Hot Wings.

Actually from Italy. Or so said the box.
I was impressed.

Big jar of future bad breath for one dollar.

I made an amazing 99 Cent Store Sauce.
Tomatoes and garlic and mushrooms and olives.
Worth every cent.

We served it over brown rice, with beets and the fresh corn.
Send in salad, we heard the plate plead. 

A rice bowl rounded out the week.
With a salad that didn't disgust.
I got this.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

99 Centember

If I had my way I would shop at Trader Joe's for just about everything. If they don't carry it, I've come to believe it isn't really necessary for life. 

I also shop for groceries in the regular grocery store, at a little Mom and Pop produce place down the way and (when I feel like walking into the giant chiller that leaves me shivering), I pick up veggies and fruit at Costco. I should get up on Saturday mornings and hit the farmers market in the neighborhood, but I don't. My favorite way to acquire produce is when someone says "Hey Jessica, do you want a boat load of _________ from our tree/yard/garden?" Sure, I say, bring it on.

My husband is a bit more adventurous than I am when it comes to shopping for food. He loves popping in the 99 Cent Store to see what he can grab for a buck. I must say I'm pretty impressed with some of the items he picks up. It's not all Cheese Doodles and Nuclear Pink Punch at these dollar stores, you can find healthy choices if you look. Some of the brands are out of the mainstream, but for a dollar they're worth trying.

There is a 99 Cent Store about a mile to the east of us, in one of Sacramento's food deserts. You know, those parts of town that are abundant in liquor stores and gas station mini marts, but sorely lacking in real grocery stores. This got us thinking - could a person who lives in a food desert that contains a dollar store be able to shop and prepare healthy food for themselves? Not farm-to-fork, but more like store-to-spork?

In our case the question gets even dicier - can two plant-based adults live for a month solely on vegan food purchased from a 99 Cent Store? We don't eat meat or fish or eggs or milk and we don't eat any extracted oils. We eat abundant amounts of fruits and vegetables, rice and beans, whole-grain breads and cereals. legumes and once in a while we eat from the all-important food group of chocolate.

We figured it wouldn't hurt to try, so we picked a month. 99 Cents + September = 99Centember! The month was chosen, and the hashtag #99Centember was mine for the posting. 

A jury summons, some work days, lots of quilting, an assembly and that was it!
An easy and carefree month for our great food experiment. 

August became a game of trying to use up as much food on hand as possible. I made salads and casseroles, soups and stews, some better tasting than others. We used up bits and pieces of this, dabs of that, bottles and jars were getting dumped in left and right, leaving the refrigerator and cupboards looking quite pathetic.

Poor pathetic empty produce bins.

Mother Hubbard would be shocked. 

Because a contest of any kind needs rules, here they were:
  • Everything we ate in September, within reason, was to be from the 99 Cent Store
  • Spices and the random sprinkle of flour or splash of condiments doesn't count
  • Homemade jam or cider is OK
  • If someone gives us a boat load of produce from their yard, we say of course!
  • Produce from our garden is welcome, although we're only left with pumpkins
  • We'll track all expenses to see how much (or hopefully how little) we spend

The end of August came down to some interesting meals around here, but we managed. I set August 31st for my big shopping day at the 99 Cent Store. I was going to fill the veggie bins, load up on lentils and we would have canned goods and frozen foods once again.

That last day of August we got an early morning call from my family back east, I needed to get on a plane fast to go out and see my Mom in the hospital. I threw some clothes in a suitcase and made it to the airport for a last minute flight. After some scary days, my Mom is better and settled into a routine to get her strength back. The last thing on my mind was our silly little food plan for September, but I did feel really bad that I left Ernst with his own little food desert right in the middle of his work week. I assumed 99Centember was a bust.

Never letting a challenge pass him by, Ernst went ahead with the challenge without me. I came home to a surprisingly clean house and a refrigerator that had food in it. So here we are, a third of the way into the experiment, and I'm the one that needs to get on board with it.  I spent the morning getting caught up on what was on hand and making a few things to munch on for the next few days. I have yet to forage for vittles in the 99 Cent Store myself, but there's plenty of month left for that.

The vegetables are not exactly prizewinners, but they will do.

Pea pods!
Some were a bit sketchy, but they were peas in a pod.

Not worthy of Pinterest, but this salad had a bit of interest.

I made a huge pot of spicy soup for $4.75.
Our food budget is liking this September just fine.