Groceries: What The Hell Do You Even Need?

We’re in the process of re-teaching a co-worker how to shop for groceries after years of bringing fast food to work every day. So I thought this would be a good time to make up a grocery list for myself. I do this semi-regularly. It’s not like I shop entirely from a list, or have one of those pre-printed lists on the fridge that lets me check things off as we run out of them. And I’ll never be one of those people who always seems to have the well-stocked pantry, with all the ingredients for a three course meal ready at the drop of a hat. Truth be told, I’m trying to chose between semi-stale granola and toast made from bread the Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend’s parents bought for us to go with my coffee this morning. I don’t think I could handle the responsibility of having one of those Insta-worthy pantries.

Still, I like to have a nicely stocked cupboard and fridge. There are some things I just need to keep in stock, like milk for coffee, or bread and cheese slices for emergency sandwiches. For some reason the other night, though, while making a grocery list so I don’t forget cat food and bacon, I thought “Gee, I wonder if there’s other things I should be stocking, to really up my cooking game”. So, off to the Googles!

A quick search for “Grocery List Essentials” pulled up article  after  article  of   pre-made  grocery  lists.  There was everything from slide shows of sleek-looking produce, clean eating walkthroughs, and  how to live on an extremely tight budget while still enjoying pancakes and pineapple. While the lists were a great ready (although sometimes overwhelming and huge), and each one was unique, they all had one thing in common: they were full of crap I don’t want or need.

Neither AAB or I are big on fruit. I keep some bananas and berries in the freezer for smoothies on Sunday morning, and he buys the occasional apples for his lunch. So why would we need to stock apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, and pomegranates in our kitchen? All that’s going to do turn into some mighty expensive compost. Things like yogurt and feta cheese would just go bad in the fridge, since we hardly ever use either one. And there is no way in hell I would EVER keep avocados  stocked in my kitchen. As the video says, those things can kill a damn horse!

You’re probably think, “Well shit Sunshine, how the hell will I know how to stock my damn kitchen if all these lists are full of crap I don’t even need?”

Well, sit your ass down and look at what you actually like to eat. Then, imagine eating it. Sounds crazy, right? Hear me out though: I love eggs. I love spinach. I love grains and carbs of all kinds. And I love salads. Before I make a grocery list, I have to figure out which of these things I need, and what I can do with them. One of my favourite things to pack for a quick lunch at work is quinoa, boiled spinach, and a poached egg. So if I know I’ll be getting shifts with lunch breaks this week, I’ll make sure I have those three things on my list. I never eat that at home, though, so I won’t keep all that in stock as much if I’m on evenings and nights. Also when I’m on nights and evenings, I need simple things to make for dinner since AAB doesn’t cook a whole hell of a lot. So, I’ll throw a few frozen pizzas and some crock pot friendly foods on my list.

Another great way to make a kick-ass grocery list is to look at recipes and store flyers. I like to look through Flipp on my phone and see what proteins are on sale at the two grocery stores near my work. Then, I’ll look up a few quick recipes for those: one in the oven, one crockpot, and one more complicated one for nights I’m not working. Then I’ll go through the recipes and make my list based on that, with a few changes. Depending on what is on sale, I’ll substitute a few ingredients here and there (why shell out for organic kale to sautee when you can get a bag of spinach on sale for $1?). This is great because now I have meals planned out in my head, and can shop for other things accordingly. Making spicy chicken on Monday night? Grab some peppers and onions, bust out the tortillas, and the leftovers become fajitas on Tuesday. Want to get that bag of discount spinach but only have it down in one recipe for the week? Boil or sautee some a bunch to add to omelettes, throw in with a bit of pasta, or eat as a side dish with breakfasts and lunches. Bunches of tomatoes are on sale, and you want them for pizza one night, but hate them in your salad? Make some salsa, bruschetta, or pico de gallo to snack on for the week with the leftovers.

So Sunshine, don’t think that you need to follow some sort of pre-made list to stock your kitchen right. I don’t care of Oprah or Gwyneth or Dr. Oz makes the damn list: if it doesn’t work with you, your tastes, and your lifestyle, then don’t bother with it. That’s not to say you can’t take inspiration from them. Check out the spice section of their lists, see if there’s anything there you could use but constantly overlook when shopping. Use things like lists as suggestions, not as can-never-stray-from-guides. You do you Sunshine, whether it’s in the kitchen or the boardroom. Stay golden!

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Roommates from Hell: Being mindful of other’s space

As you know, we recently bought a second fridge…… which promptly died a slow, stinky death. I posted a picture of my roommate/ex-boyfriend cleaning the damn thing out , wearing a gas mask. The stench was so bad, I threw up TWICE, and I was a good 6-8 feet away from it when he opened the doors.

So, this leaves us with one fridge for five people, yet again. We have done this before, by using a few ground rule. It’s not an easy thing to do (five random people sharing one fridge is a lot different than a family of five using one fridge, we found out!), but it can be done……..

……. if everyone would just be mindful of the spaces we have to share in this damn house.

We had a pretty good system going with our fridge before. Of the five of us, DG doesn’t cook much, and barely keeps any food here in the kitchen. He throws some chicken in the freezer sometimes, or brings home leftovers from potlucks. So this SHOULD make sharing the fridge a little easier.

The fridge was divided logically: condiments in the door (write your name on them if you want); tall stuff and drinks on the top shelf; veggies in the crisper; Jeff and I share the bottom shelf; UG and AC can share the middle shelf. Each person has their own cupboard for canned goods and spices and cereal. There’s a big cupboard for bulk stuff. And I set up counter space for stuff like bread and bags of chips.

Pretty damn easy, eh? I mean, it’s not rocket surgery or anything.

Well last night, I was curled up on the couch with my wine, a bowl of popcorn, and my ridiculously amazing boyfriend. We were all settled in, watching a bit of old-school SVU before bed (like, Munch wasn’t even totally grey yet). I got up to go to the fridge and grab a little more wine…….

…… and the fucking pita shells attacked. 6 bags of them!  I just got up and counted them again.

What the hell are 6 bags of pita shells doing in the fridge? Well, they’re chilling with all the crap UG has that is taking up one entire fucking shelf in the fridge! In addition to his bags of pita shells (which I never see him eating, btw), there’s a loaf of bread, a carton of eggs with an expiration date of October 2015, a bunch of random stuff in tupperware, and the mystery can. Mystery can looks almost like an open can of tuna or chicken, but it’s in a zip lock bag and has been in there since before Christmas.

So I tried shoving the pita-lanche back into the fridge without spilling my wine (which I needed so so so much more of after this), I took a good look at the dumb-fuckery abounding in my fridge.

You see, UG has taken over the entire middle shelf, mostly with his bread and random stuff he lets rot for months at a time while he orders pizza. AC, therefore, has no room on her shelf for anything. Her solution appears to be to cram as much random shit into the fridge, in any place she damn well feels like. She already took over Jeff’s half of our shelf, and has been cramming me further and further into the back corner of mine. She has tupperware on the top shelf, milk in the door, and packs of tortilla shells fall all over the place.

The worst part, though, is the way things got moved around.

Instead of putting her milk jug on the top shelf, where we all agreed it belongs, she put it in the door of the fridge where the condiments are. To do this, she crammed random condiments all over the place in the fridge.

That jar of garlic with the leaky lid? Thrown on its side on top of my eggs. The Franks RedHot sauce? Crammed into the veggie crisper, OPEN and on its side! My Sunny D for Sunday morning mimosas? Dumped down the sink to make room for more damn pita shells!

You see, this is not how you share spaces with roommates, especially when said space is full of sharp knives.

We divide up things like storage space for a reason: so we don’t piss off the other people around us. And no, it’s not an easy thing to do. Living like this, I can’t buy things in bulk, or make one giant grocery shopping trip. And neither can any of the other people who FREAKING AGREED TO THIS ARRANGEMENT!!!

You see, this pisses me off to no end right now. On top of the ever growing list of things no one but me does around here (like cleaning, or using a broom), I now have to deal with my food getting used, getting tossed, and getting crammed into the far recesses of the fridge.

Right now, I am down to half a dozen eggs, some butter (if anyone left some for me after they used it without asking yet again), a little bit of bacon, and cheese slices. Add to the the box of wine, the milk I share with Jeff, and assorted condiments I’ve split with roommates over the last few months…….. and I can make an omelette. That’s it.

So tonight, when I should have been relaxing in the kitchen, making a stir fry (no room to thaw my meat, and my veggies got all used up somehow), I’ll be grabbing random stuff out of the freezer that has been shoved into the back that I’ve been able to dig out. So, old shrimp, old dumplings, and brocolli it is then.

So, Sunshine, do you have any roommates who do things like this to you? Maybe instead of takin gover the fridge, they use up every last bit of counter space in the bathroom. Or they take over ALL the storage closets, leaving you to cram all of your belongings into your already crowded room. Leave me a comment, let me know I’m not the only one out there dealing with this stuff!

The Meals EVERYONE Needs to Know…….?

So I’ve been seeing these articles all over the internet: The meals every 20-something should know how to make; 30 recipes you should know how to cook by the time you’re 30; 10+ dishes and drinks everyone should know how to make at home (including you). Apparently, there’s a lot of food out there we just MUST know how to cook in order to be considered an adult. To be honest, I don’t know anyone, aside from a few chef friends, who can cook all or even most of the stuff just in these three articles above, let alone everything every seems to think we need to cook.

To me, knowing what you need to know how to cook comes from learning about what you life to eat. For example, I’m not going to learn how to make polenta and zucchini when I don’t even like polenta or zucchini. And these things appear on a lot of damn lists!

If you know that there are certain foods you love when you go out, or certain recipes your folks make when you’re home that you absolutely love, then learn how to make these. But don’t feel any sort of pressure to learn how to make a bunch of stuff you’ll probably never eat, or never want to cook, or never want to serve to others, just because some list told you that you need to.

These lists are pretty damn common. There is always someone out there who is an absolute authority on exactly what you need to know by a certain age. Or things you absolutely need to do by a certain age. Or places you need to travel to, books you need to read, things you need to experience, people you need to date……. it seems like there are a whole lot of things we all need to do in our 20s and/or 30s. Honestly, though, we don’t do most of them.

And that’s not a bad thing.

You don’t need someone else setting up lists for you, or telling you that your life is unfulfilling, or that you’re wasting your time if you haven’t completed all the things on the list. Do you know how many lists I’ve seen that have things like skydiving or bungee jumping on them? My sister is turning 31 this month, and you couldn’t pay her to go skydiving or bungee jumping. Does she consider her life wasted? Oh hell no! She has an absolutely amazing husband, they have a home together, and the craziest fluffy black and grey Norwegian Forest Cat whose fur feels like cotton candy. Does she have everything going for her in life? No, because nobody does! And it has nothing to do with whether she’s ever jumped out of a plane or off a bridge with an elastic band wrapped around her legs. Because not everyone wants to do the same crap.

Why am I bringing this up? To be honest, I was going to give you yet another list of things you absolutely, positively need to do as a young adult, this time in the kitchen. It was inspired by the above Hello Giggles article and the fact that I had almost a full carton of eggs that was just 3 days away from its Best Before date. As part of my research, I tried to look up recipes and things you need to know before you’re 30 (because apparently cooking very specific dishes is something everyone needs to learn as a young adult, whether you like it or not).  Well somehow in my search, I came across this list, which temporarily mentally destroyed me.

Now, here’s a bunch of things on that list that apparently I absolutely should have by now that I definitely do NOT have:

  • A decent piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in my family.
  • Something ridiculously expensive that I bought for myself, just because I deserve it.
  • A skin-care regimen, an exercise routine, and a plan for dealing with those few other facets of life that don’t get better after 30.
  • A solid start on a satisfying career, a satisfying relationship, and all those other facets of life that do get better.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s a second list on there on things you should definitely KNOW by the time you hit 30. While most of the things on there are perfectly fine with me, there were a few that hit close to home. How I feel about having kids, for example, is a big one with me right now. When I was in my late 20’s, I didn’t think I’d ever want kids. After 30 though, once my friends started popping them out and I got to play with them and babysit them, I realized that I’m pretty sure that I do want them. Oh, and I’m over 30. Here’s the tricky thing though: I met my current boyfriend while I was in my 20’s, and he definitely does NOT want kids. Ever. When we started dating, I was perfectly fine with this. Now though, it’s putting a real strain on our relationship. If I lived according to this list, I would have known that when he and I first met, and it wouldn’t be an issue right now because it would’ve been a deal breaker back then.

So I started thinking, I know I’m not a shining beacon of grown-up success, but have I done absolutely EVERYTHING wrong? Have I done so much wrong that it’s messed up my entire future? I went into a panic, contemplating every decision I’ve ever made with my life. I started thinking, if I’ve already failed this much, can things get better? Or am I stuck in this crappy existence forever? I make no secret of the fact that my life totally and truly sucks at the moment, but have always been told that things will get better. But according to this list, I’ve missed my shot. I’ve missed out on the most basic and fulfilling parts of what I need to have at this age, and it’s too late to start all over again.

Ok, so I lasted like this for a few days (I hate having anxiety at times like that). I didn’t want to write (thankfully I have some drafted and queued posts for emergencies), I didn’t want to go out, and I didn’t want to research any more. It took the homeless fundraiser I wrote about last weekend to snap me out of that. There I realized that I was doing good things with my life, even if I don’t have a daily exercise regiment. I made new friends, and talked to some awesome people who share quite a bit in common with me in that regard. I found kindreds, and acquaintances. Basically, I lived life and in that moment, I loved it.

I wasn’t living off of some list. I wasn’t checking to make sure that someone, somewhere, had already made sure that this was something that I should be doing at my age. I found something that makes me feel good, that makes my soul happy, that makes me feel like I’m doing more than just existing, like I’m giving back to this world. And that feeling, for me, is better than owning new furniture or something ridiculously expensive. I was living.

Yes, eggs and lists helpful recipes both sent me into an existential crisis and to blissful existence. The human mind is funny like that.

Anyway, yes I will be posting more recipes soon. And some cooking basics (which you absolutely do not need to learn if you feel you live a fulfilling life without them). I think maybe this week, I’ll start with a salute to eggs.

Stocking Your Kitchen, Dollar Store Style

It was a joke in my house that I would finally be ready to move out once I had a good cheese grater. I tend to put cheese on  pretty much everything I can. So I figured that once I had that grater, I was good to go. I mean, of course there are other things that are important in a kitchen (like stuff to cook with or eat off of), but I was going to be sharing a house with other people. I’d probably never need to buy any of that stuff!

Oh, how very very wrong I was. While yes, I did have my trusty cheese grater,  I don’t own plates (long story there). I do have wine and Martini glasses, and some Batman cups, but no real drinking glasses. And sometimes, my roommates would be in the same boat as me. Many times in the last 7 years, my roommates and I ended up at the mall, standing in a kitchenware store. Now, this is one of my favourite store today (it has these cocktail shakers with drink recipes right on there, so I can pretend to be fancy and make a Martini), but it was terrifying back then. $25 cutting boards? $150 knife sets? $125 for an ugly dish set?!?! How the hell is a person supposed to afford to actually use their damn kitchen?

Dollar stores, that’s how!
Now, not everything you need for the kitchen can be found there. I mean, you’re not going to find a giant stand-up mixer and food processor there (that’s what kijiji and Facebook buy-sell groups are for). But there are a tonne of things I never thought to go looking for there, that are actually quite awesome, especially for those of us on very tight budgets.

Diningware

Plates, bowls, cutlery, things to drink out of……….. these things are pretty much essential to every kitchen. Most good dollar stores will have plates either for a dollar, or two for a dollar. Same goes for drinkware. Some places I’ve been to have had sets of cutlery for a dollar, meaning you can possibly get four of one thing (forks, knives, spoons) or one of each for that price. Getting a “dining set” (bowls, plates, cutlery, drinking glasses, all X4) can cost more than $100 in some stores. At a dollar store, you can get all of this for as little as $10.

And don’t forget those little extras. Many stores sell cheap steak knives, wine glasses, Martini glasses, fancy looking drinkware, and anything you can take on a picnic or use outdoors (ie, stuff that won’t break if you drop it, which is essential to have if you have random people using your stuff all the time). As a connoiseur of cheap and boxed wines, have a few wine glasses in the cupboard is an essential to me. I also like to have two martini glasses, for the odd martini or Cosmopolitan (there are some great pre-mixed virgin versions out there. Sometimes, while writing, I like to pour one and pretend I’m some fancy, pretentious writer whose penning what they believe is the next On The Road).

And yes, that non-breakable stuff IS essential. Do you ever plan on having friends over? Throw a small dinner party or BBQ? Don’t want to serve everything on paper plates? I keep about 10 blue plastic plates in the cupboard, for when we have guests here. They all match (so it looks like a real set), they’re sturdy, and if someone drops something there is no sharp glass or ceramic to clean up. These are also great when you have the one friend who is a spilly drunk (we all have one), and they insist on pre-gaming with you, or watching the Oscars with you, or helping you through a bad break-up. These are not the times when you need to be worrying about digging glass out of the soles of peoples’ feet. Having a non-breakable option that you can both use (as not to single them out or make them feel weird) is perfect for these times.

Cooking Basics

Why the hell anyone would ever spend $25 on a measuring cup is beyond me. I mean, it’s a cup that measures things. You can get measuring cups in all sizes at dollar stores. Same goes for measuring spoons. There are basic ones, some with pretty designs, and even some that are part of a larger set of kitchenware. For the last few years, I’ve been helping my parents collect the Betty Crocker collection from Dollarama (they have a thing for red appliances and utensils). They have every size and shape of spatula, mixing spoon, ladle, and those weird slotted spoon things with tines on the side that you use to serve spaghetti.

Need a can opener? Dollar store! Vegetable peeler? Dollar store! One of those screens you put over a pan so you can cook bacon without grease flying everywhere? Dollar store! Just in the last year I’ve bought strainers, knives, canisters, large serving bowls, mixing bowls, and tupperware there. Like to bake? They have baking accessories too!

And for those of you who like to make holiday-specific foods, this place is amazing for that. For Valentines Day, they bust out the heart shape baking pans and cupcake pans. Christmas time is great for cookie cutters and cake pans. And every single holiday somehow has cupcake wrappers and little toothpick things to decorate them with. Why spend a small fortune at some craft store getting baking supplies when you can get them for a fraction of the price at the dollar store. This is also a huge help to anyone who ever gets roped in to doing the obligatory bake sale fundraisers in your school’s student centres.

Groceries

I have a thing for rice crackers. No clue why, they’re just amazing to me. But they’re like $3.50 a package at the nearest grocery store. They’re only $1 at the dollar store next to my work though. And it’s not just snack foods they have there. I’ll pick up canned goods, boxed meals (like off-brand tuna helper or hamburger helper), macaroni and cheese, and even Rice-a-Roni. A can of peas, can of corn, some boxed tuna casserole, a can of tuna……. less than $5 gets you the basics for a meal (just add milk to make the boxed meal). It may not always be the healthiest meals you can make, but you can feed yourself on dollar store groceries.

You don’t have to feed yourself entirely on dollar store foods, but their groceries can seriously help stretch you budget. There are three dollar stores within a short walk of my house (well, discount stores, but most things are around $1. Hell, even Dollarama doesn’t sell everything for $1 these days!). At one, I can load up on cheap spices, boxed meals, and rice crackers. Another has a great canned good section, and cheap candy (I like to keep emergency chocolate bars in the freezer). And the little family owned place near campus is great for a very diverse selection of boxed foods and spices. The owners are from Bangladesh, and like to keep affordable Asian foods on their shelves for students. I can get tandoori spice, powdered chow mein mix, canned hummus, and a whole line of Indian-inspired boxed rice and noodle mixes.

Of course, you should always compare prices before settling on dollar store foods. While the stores near me can’t be beat when it comes to mac’n’cheese and canned mushrooms, bread and noodle mixed (like Sidekicks) are sometimes cheaper at the grocery store just down the plaza.

In The End

Are there things you can’t get at the dollar store that you will need for a kitchen. Definitely. Most of them can be found at discount stores, liquidation stores, or online (try sites like Kijiji, or search for buy and sell groups in your area on Facebook).  Toasters, coffee pots, microwaves, toaster ovens, and any other small appliances can always be bought on sale somewhere. But for the bulk of your kitchen, you can get what you need for very little money.

Now, at times you may need to get a little creative in your buying and usages. You may wind up with mismatched place settings, or a set of serving bowls all in neon orange plastic. But, you can also get creative with your cooking. You can take regular recipes and switch out ingredients for cheaper ones sometimes. And expensive looking chicken dish could actually be made with clearance and discount products. I do this quite regularly, and hope to teach you some of my favourite swaps. Also, while I try things out, I may take you along on my culinary experiments to see how things work out for me. (Warning: it doesn’t always work out well. That’s why they’re just experiments and not masterpieces.)