Thursday, June 5, 2014

Life on the Cheap: Five Ways To Save Money At Whole Foods

For the last year or so, clean eating has been very important to me. This post over on my running site 'Just a Road' explains what I mean by clean eating, but in a nutshell it basically means that I don't want anything unnatural in my body. No chemicals, GMOs, artificial sweeteners, factory farmed animal protein, etc. I'm not following any particular diet plan, I just don't like crap. 

I do shop a lot at Whole Foods, and let me tell you, you don't have to spend your 'Whole Paycheck' (I'll pause for the guffawing) to get what you need and eat a clean diet. Not only does this go for 'Whole Foods' but any other health food store chain out there. The bottom line is, it is very hard to find clean food at your standard run of the mill chain grocery stores. Even the bakery items, like the bread, are made with high fructose corn syrup, so if you're looking for clean foods free of artificial ingredients and GMOs, you will have to utilize specialty grocers like Whole Foods. And if done right, you can keep your regular food budget and not feel like you're doing this. 

It actually amazes me that not a lot of people take advantage of the ways Whole Foods wants you to save money. Last week, I went, coupons in hand, sale flyer tucked under my arm, and when the cashier hit total, he looked at me like I had three heads, because here I had a receipt that was about 2ft long, a cart full of groceries...all for under $100. 

So here's how it's done, yo. It will take some time and effort, but it's pretty easy.

Tip #1: It's a specialty store, so treat it like one

I think the biggest mistake people make is that they think they can just walk into a Whole Foods or similar store and shop like they always do, only buy it in organic form. Sure you can do that, but you'll either die of sticker shock, or have to panhandle for gas money to get home because you've spent all of your dollah dollah billz on crazy expensive stuff. My first suggestion is to go in for one thing, say...Coconut Oil, because you really can't buy that at the Shop N Save, and take an hour to get the lay of the land, and see what types of things you can buy there on the cheap. You can probably buy your regular ol' produce at the grocery store, even organic for a lot cheaper. I stick to the specialty produce like endive, morel mushrooms, organic bagged salad, and the fresh organic dressings. Same goes for dry cereals like Kashi, organic pasta, etc. Start by supplementing your normal grocery shopping and do some research. Soon you'll be a pro and know exactly where they keep the $5 wine. (It's there.)

Tip #2: Coupons, Monthly and Weekly Deals

The Whole Deal is something you can find in store or online with coupons and other fun stuff to help you navigate the best deals at the best times. There are also coupons you can print and cut anytime and use them for some amazing deals. For example, there was a coupon for $1.50 off the house 365 brand coffee that was $9.99 for the big daddy can. So basically, you just got a whole lotta coffee that's way better quality than Folgers for less than $10. Score. The best thing to watch for is what's going on in your local store. I'm around three different stores, and they're all different. You can see what's happening weekly in your neck of the woods and find some really great deals. Like, a couple of weeks ago they had grass fed free range Top Sirloin for $7.99 a pound. That's $2 less than Aldi had regular ol' run of the mill Top Sirloin for. Aldi. Whole Foods was cheaper than ALDI, people. This week my local store has marinated lobster skewers for $4 each and all natural coconut shampoo and conditioner for $6 each. That's pretty rad. Pantene shampoo and conditioner is more than $6 a pair. Sign up for the newsletter too, because you'll get some fun stuff delivered to your email, and if you use the same debit/credit card for every purchase, fun things arrive in your mailbox like $10 off a $50 purchase.

Tip #3: The house brand is everything

WF's house brand '365' is awesome for basic staples. GMO free, no nasties, and natural, I totally supplement things like soda, dairy, chips, etc. with the house brand. The soda is made with cane sugar and natural flavors, not High Fructose Corn Syrup, and the chips, pretzels, crackers, and dairy are the same price if not cheaper than the stuff you're already buying at the grocery store loaded with GMOs, and other icky nast stuff.

Tip #4: Visit the freezer section

Whole Foods is awesome because everything is ZOMGSSOFRESH and you just want to stand at the meat counter and order everything in cute brown paper. All of a sudden, you're wondering why you thought a Bison Ribeye at $24.99 a pound was an intelligent purchase, and now you're eating Ramen for the rest of the week. Yes, by all means go with the fresh when you can, but if you head on over to their freezer cases in each department, you can score some awesome deals. Frozen wild caught salmon is always a steal, as well as their frozen sirloin steaks in the meat department. They're perfectly portioned and last night, I had the BEST cut of meat on my steak caesar salad and it was one of those $4.75 8oz frozen sirloins. Meatballs, pizza, ice cream, those freezers are full of good deals.

Tip #5: Don't get overwhelmed 

It took me a solid year to not be intimidated or overwhelmed by the layout, hustle and bustle, and super eager staff at Whole Foods. I think I had, "Am I doing it wrong?" on repeat in my head as I wandered around the place. Now I've got the layout memorized, I know what goes on sale when, and my kids are so comfortable, they make a beeline for the juice bar and the free bushels of fruit they have out for the kids. This is why I suggest maybe starting with a few things on your list, say replacing your soda and chips, and build from there. Don't be afraid of the hippies. They're there to help. Once you're comfortable, finding deals and scoring some awesome food is going to be like a sport. The first time you walk up to the cashier with a stack of coupons and they have to ask a manager what the hell you're handing them, you're going to feel like you won the lottery. Have fun!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Gwyneth Paltrow equates dealing with internet trolls to actual war

Organic, gluten free vesper, that is probably better than you peasants, Gwyneth Paltrow, has gone an done it again by equating her experience in the world as far superior and more meaningful than the rest of you plebs out there...especially you, armed forces.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Thank you for sharing your gift with the world, Maya Angelou

Sad news today of the passing of author, poet, not enough adjectives to give her justice, Maya Angelou at the age of 86. This passing hit me surprisingly hard as the news broke, because there are few people in this world that will touch you at the core of your soul you will never meet beyond their work.

I'd like to say that my consciousness of Maya Angelou came from a cerebral and spiritual place, but let's be honest, I found out about her from Oprah. I was 18 years old, wayward as hell, and there was something about her that made me stop and at least raise an eyebrow for a second. I mean, come on. How in the world could I possibly relate to her?

But I did, and that single episode of Oprah led me to her books her poetry, her perspective, and downright damn good advice. She was a wise old auntie. Everyone's wise old auntie. "When someone shows you who they are, believe them," is something that has stuck with me since I heard it 17 years ago.

Recently, she came back into my awareness as I went through a life transition, and I remembered that clip on Oprah where she told Oprah to say 'thank you' in the middle of a crisis. I actually wrote about that a few weeks ago. How simple gratitude can change everything in your life.

She's gone, but her words, wisdom, and tremendous gifts live on forever. Thank you Maya Angelou, for being that wise auntie when we all needed one. Godspeed on your journey.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#KidsLiveWell Recap and Recipes You Can Try Yourself!

Last weekend, the National Restaurant Association held their annual convention here in Chicago and part of that was the #KidsLiveWell recipe challenge where participating restaurants and food vendors whipped up their own kid friendly, nutritionally sound meals. If you missed my first post on the 2014 winners, here's a recap of the recipes that won:

Bean Sprouts Cafe and Cooking School -  DoReForMe Sandwich -  a take on the traditional PB&J madewith organic multi grain oat bread, sunflower butter and organic strawberry jam. This was paired with a skewer of grapes and water.

O’Charley’s - Cloudy with a Chance of Spaghetti and Meatball Pizza - Grilled sirloin meatballs, spaghetti squash, and tomato sauce over whole wheat pizza dough is an interesting take on both traditional dishes. 

Sysco Hampton Roads - Quesa WOW Dilla - A traditional chicken quesadilla with broccoli, peppers, and corn.

UW Health - Swimming Fish Taco - a take on fish tacos for a kid's palate made with tilapia, mango, and served on whole wheat tortillas. This is also served with an avocado banana smoothie.

While the winners kept it simple by using a fresh take on traditional 'kid' food with new tastes that could be worked in to the stuff kids already eat, I was intrigued as to how tilapia can be made 'kid-friendly. Especially in taco form.

UW Health shared the Swimming Fish Taco recipe with me so I could take it to you lovely readers, and what I imagined to be something rather complicated and time consuming, turned out to be rather easy. Like one skillet easy. Can't beat that.  So here's the recipe you can try for yourself at home.

Swimming Fish Taco

This recipe by UW Health chef John Williams won the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell Recipe Challenge in 2014 in the independent noncommercial foodservice category.

1 piece of Tilapia (6 to 8 oz)
3 ounces of shredded cabbage
1 mango (Peeled and diced)
3 lime wedges
3 tsp chopped cilantro
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides.

Cook the fish for 4 minutes undisturbed, then turn over and cook for another 2 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and place fish on cutting board and cut into three equal pieces. Set aside.

Place three corn and whole-wheat tortillas on a plate and sandwich them between two slightly dampened sheets of paper towel. Microwave on high for 45 seconds.

Place the warm tortillas on a plate and place a piece of each fish on the tortilla.

Top with 1oz of shredded cabbage on each piece of fish, top with mango, cilantro and squeeze of fresh lime.

Suggested side dishes: Grapes or cut up watermelon.

Pretty straightforward stuff. I wonder if you could just use a fresh mango salsa instead of one plain cut up mango to add even more flavor to the dish, and substitute cabbage for some shredded romaine or something. All things I'll experiment with in my kitchen over the summer.

If you're looking for healthier dining out options check out the website and download their app for your phone for when you're on the go.

This post is sponsored by the National Restaurant Association. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Punishing the Kids or the Parents? Students Not Allowed To Graduate After Forging Community Service Documents

Quickie post this morning after hearing this story on the news.

Oak Lawn High School, located in the Chicago Suburbs, is not allowing 47 students to graduate tomorrow because they discovered that seniors had handed in forged community service documents. Community service has been a requirement for Illinois high school students since 1997. It's generally anywhere from 20-30 hours that can be completed throughout the entire four years of high school.

Seriously. That's 6 hours a year of volunteering. A Saturday. Over 4 years.

I was actually the first graduating class in Illinois that had to meet this requirement for graduation, and we had to do it all in our senior year. If for some reason we weren't able to meet the community service requirement, you had to write a 20 page paper about an issue in your community. It also isn't like you had to pick trash up on the side of the road, either. You could volunteer in the library during study hall shelving books for your hours. So forging this requirement is ridiculous. Pure laziness.

But the question isn't whether 47 students committing low level felonies is wrong, because duh, but the question the reporter of this story, Nancy Loo, of WGN-TV posed was will this punish the kids or the parents?

To me, an idiot, the parents are the ones being punished, and they should be. You know your kid has a community service requirement that needs to be completed as a  requirement for graduation. Did they do their community service? Did you make sure it was done? I know teenagers can be assholes and lie their faces off, especially when it's about something they don't want to do, but it's your job to make sure that shit gets done. You make sure they get their college applications in, take the ACT, etc. you better make sure they have their LCAP requirements done, too.

It sucks because I get that graduation is more about the family than the student in High School. Most graduating seniors are just happy to be getting the hell out of High School and moving into their adult lives. This moment has been taken from the parents because of their child's actions.

But sorry, not sorry, you are accountable for your kids, and when your kids mess up, the consequences trickle down. So you don't get this moment. However, the best lesson these kids are getting before hitting the real world full tilt is that there are consequences for bad behavior, there's no such thing as cutting corners, don't do the crime if you can't do the time, and Mommy can't get you out of trouble.

The funny thing is, I'm sure some of those parents are going to bring the holy hand of God down on their lazy little delinquent and those kids are going to WISH they clocked some hours shelving books at the library over the last four years rather than the hell their parents are about to put them through over the summer. If it were my kid, they would be pulling weeds in every garden in a 5 mile radius for 8 hours a day, then coming home and writing book reports on all of the classics. If they still had use of their extremities after I kicked their ass.

Friday, May 16, 2014

#KidsLiveWell - Making Healthy Restaurant Choices For Your Kids

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by the National Restaurant Association, but the views and opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author. 

If you're a parent or spend time with kids, you always have good intentions when it comes to feeding them children healthy, wholesome food. It's relatively easy to do when you're at home cooking and you control all of your ingredients, but what can you do when you take the kids out to eat and they're screaming for, "CHICKEN NUGGETS MOMMMAAAAAAY!" and you're not okay with a plate full of grease and trans fats being served to your child?

Well, the National Restaurant Association is hosting the #KidsLiveWell Recipe Challenge this year, and challenging restaurants to come up with healthy options for kids while they are dining out.

This year participating restaurants and food service providers submitted their recipes for the competition, and here are the winners of the 2014 challenge...

Bean Sprouts Café and Cooking School
Winning Dish: Do Re For Me Sandwich
The Do-Re-For-Me Sandwich is organic multigrain oat bread spread with sunflower butter and organic strawberry jam and cut into piano-key sized/shaped pieces, served with a skewer of grapes and water. The pumpernickel bread is cut into smaller pieces and placed on top of the wheat bread to represent black piano keys. Bean Sprouts Café & Cooking School offers playful, hip and healthy options for dining with kids with locations in Seattle, Washington and Bay Area, California.

Winning Dish: Cloudy With A Chance Of Spaghetti and Meatballs Pizza
 The Cloudy with a Chance of Spaghetti and Meatball Pizza has grilled sirloin meatballs and spaghetti squash with tomato sauce and whole-wheat pizza dough served with apple juice. O'Charley's is a casual dining restaurants chain in the United States, with more than 230+ company-owned locations and headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Sysco Hampton Roads
Winning Dish: Kids Quesa Wow Dilla 
 Incorporating whole wheat, lean protein and vegetables, the Kids Quesa WOW Dilla is a chicken quesadilla with broccoli, chicken, peppers and corn, served with a side of grapes and water. Serving approximately 425,000 customers across the U.S., Canada, the Bahamas and Ireland, Sysco is the global leader in selling, marketing and distributing food products, equipment and supplies to restaurants, healthcare and educational facilities, lodging establishments and other customers who prepare meals away from home. 

UW Health
Winning Dish: Swimming Taco
 One way to get kids to eat fish is to serve it in a whole-wheat corn tortilla, and pair it with diced mango, fresh cabbage and a hint of lime and cilantro. The Swimming Taco is served with fresh grapes on the side and a frozen banana avocado smoothie. UW Health is comprised of the academic health care entities of the University of Wisconsin-Madison: UW Medical Foundation, UW Hospital and Clinics and UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

All recipes in the challenge included certain dietary guidelines that included specific nutritional requirements to qualify the recipes as healthy dining alternatives for children. These included requirements for including low fat dairy, whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables.

If you're interested in finding restaurants that serve more than the chicken finger/macaroni and cheese standards, be sure to follow KidsLiveWell on Facebook and Twitter, and you can also find participating restaurants in your area by searching Healthy Dining Finder and downloading their smartphone app for quick reference.

This Saturday May 17th, the National Restaurant Association will be hosting a #KidsLiveWell event here in Chicago during their annual convention. Bloggers like myself in the area will meet the winners of the recipe challenge and find out what magical powers a kid friendly fish taco possesses. You can join in the conversation and interact with us by using the hashtag #KidsLiveWell on Twitter.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

This blog has gone straight to the dogs!

Ha! Made you click.

Yes, I'm going to do a post about dogs today. I had intended to write about something else, but the rage of these here internets today is the viral video of a cat saving her 'kid' as a dog drags him off his trike and mauls him. If the cat wasn't there, this would have no doubt ended tragically. Good kitty!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Clutch those pearls! Teenager kicked out of homeschool prom because she aroused 'impure thoughts'

Yes. Aroused and Impure Thoughts are intentional in this title. Because, freaking genius. Please hold your applause for my word play until the end of the article.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Goat Rodeo: Solange Knowles Finally Has A Hit, Twitter Trolls Win, and More!

'Sup you fine people of the world? Yes, it's Monday, hopefully of a much more normal week after an amazing Mother's Day weekend, and it's time for me to round up some goats, right? So let's get this party started before my iced latte wears off and I slip into a coma because I'm freaking tired...

Friday, May 9, 2014

Requiem For A Truck

I've never been one of those people who considers themselves overly attached to inanimate objects. But for some reason, when I heard the news that my car, the lovely, 'Dora the Essplorah' was officially and irrevocably dead, I got a case of the sads, and started spontaneously singing, "It's so hard to say good-bye to yesterdayyyyeeeeee!" while I tipped my 40 to the ol' girl that got me and the kidlets to and fro for what has seemed like forever.

I was awarded that car, my car, and I was SO HAPPEEEE that it wasn't that god-forsaken new minivan purchased back in February. Nope, ol' Dora and I were going to start this new adventure together, street cred firmly intact.

As I eyeballed a long commute to work, gas sitting pretty at $4, and the cold hard facts that while not having a car payment was a blessing, ol' Dora wasn't long for the world. She was 12 years old at this point, and the tough winter had done a number on her. But still, I loved the seat warmers, the sun roof...the kids loved the DVD player they had watched since we turned their infant seats around. There were comfort and memories in this car that I had simply taken for granted, and didn't even think of, until I got the call from the mechanic that she was, in fact, all dead. Not mostly dead...dead. (I'm awarding myself 9,950 points for the Princess Bride reference)

I knew...the oil pressure light and gauge started jumping around on Monday, then it started idling was the death rattle. But you put faith in all of those Ford commercials where the old man is all, "I got my Ford truck to 3,770,219 miles! And it's still going strong!" So I took the car for an oil change, just thinking it was doing strange 'old car' type things. I asked the Joes at Oil Depot what they thought and they all shrugged and grunted, "Probably a sensor or something." A sensor! Of course! I'm freaking out over nothing. Just a sensor.

The rattles got louder and louder, and I knew. She went kaput on the hill in front of my house. I got out and pushed her the 100ft to my driveway, supes proud of myself for doing it in wedges, no less, but while I had hope that it would still be something relatively minor, I knew. I started to peel my marathon decals off the back tailgate, clean out all of the stuff, including the dragonfly that had been hanging from the rearview mirror since Small Fry was in Pre-K. I got so sad! Why am I sad over a hunk of metal that just DIED ON ME. I should be kicking the tires and screaming right now, but I'm freaking sad over a car.

Even when I got it started again and managed to get it the 2 blocks to the mechanic, I had hope! Maybe it's just an oil pump! No big whoop! $60 part, and we'll be on our merry way. I'll even get you detailed if you live, sweetie!

Yep. Bargaining stage of grief, population me.

When I pulled into the parking lot, the first words out of the mechanic's mouth were, "That sounds really, really bad."

Again, my gut already knew this. But maybe it goes away when you put in an oil pump AND a sensor! C'mon man! Have a little faith, will ya? SHE CAN HEAR YOU.

I lit candles last night, I prayed. Even though a new car is a better choice that actually saves me money at the end of the day, I didn't want to give up Dora. She was finally mine, dammit! Mine. I freaking fought for you, car...don't DIE ON ME.

But the call came early this afternoon. Time for Dora to terrorize those hippies at the Whole Foods parking lot in the sky. There's nothing they can do. The engine is toast.

I actually cried. For a damn car. A. Car.

Maybe not the car, but perhaps what it symbolized.

Yes, Dora represents the good, the bad, the ugly, and the hopeful that has been my life over the last decade. It can also represent that the car dying is symbolic of the fresh start I have. Now I can go out and get what I want. I don't have to have a giant truck that can pull a boat anymore. I can get something sporty! Gas efficient! Maybe I can't afford the deluxe package with the leather seats, warmers, DVD package and sunroof, but it will still be MINE.

And it won't be a damn minivan. I do have a street cred to protect here. Can't have an epic mugshot collection end with a minivan in suburbia. That would just confuse people. We'll stick the youngest in the back window if we have to. I AM NOT GETTING A DAMN MINIVAN. Unless it happens to be what I can afford, then I'll just get really good at driving with a paper bag on my head or something. But I promise Dora, it will only be as a last resort. I promise.

So here's to Dora the Essplorah's long, interesting life and to the future ahead with a new car smell and weird things kids manage to get stuck to the floor under the seats you have to remove with a paint scraper. Happy Mother's Day to ME.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Inspiration in Strange Places

I had these grand plans for a Goat Rodeo and other fun stuff tonight, but I'm wiped out, so just a fun little posty-poo about a couple of strange places I saw some inspirational things written.

Friday, May 2, 2014

"The Call" - A Short Story

Barnes & Noble

It was a day like any other, which is usually how these stories begin. I was out running errands in town, and as I was leaving the dry cleaners with an armload of my husband's shirts, this young woman, obviously in distress, approached me.

She looked to be about 22, my height, with long straight brown hair, and hazel eyes that seemed to glow in her red rimmed eyes. It was apparent she had been crying, tear stains shadowing her cheeks, as she walked up to me.
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