The most important advantage in doing it online is I can do it over a period of days, specifically when I'm not terribly hungry. I sensibly go through my old grocery lists to check for things I may be running low on, add my staples to the online cart (x amount of beef, x amount of chicken, no more than one (1) pork product because my stomach doesn't like too much of it and one (1) bacon, x number of frozen broccoli, spinach, peas, mixed veggies, bread, cooking butter, eating butter, milk, cooking cheese, sandwich cheese, one (1) obscure cheese, eggs....), go to pepperplate and sensibly choose easy recipes I can make ahead of time after work with no more than two (2) that require a lot of effort. It's all very adult, and in this way, I always go above Real Budget but always below Actual Budget (actual budget is one quarter higher; that is my indulgence in fifty grain provolone bread and local full cream organic milk, out of season Ranier cherries or those super random sales on usually overpriced steak or something).
This strategy is one of the reasons I used Prime Now, specifically their Sprouts and now their Whole Foods section. I am not joyful about Whole Foods, but while they are above and beyond on Totally Pretentious Food, they had a comparatively limited selection compared to HEB (the ubiquitous grocery store of Texas and some of the south) and honestly, I picked up a taste for local and organic produce and chicke; in other words, prices made sure I was budget limited, but it did get me eating almost entirely organic and (often) local with like, step rated so I knew my chickens and cows were well-cared for and possibly more educated than I am. And healthy.
(This is why I never go live into grocery stores without a monitor (aka family or friend); my brain just stops working and wants ALL THE FOOD even though there's no way I can cook and eat that much produce and garbanzo beans. I also never go before I've done my monthly grocery shopping, ever. Just no.)
My secondary strategy for dealing with I Want All the Food (Or Things Food Adjacent) also rests on the multi-day online grocery list; fine, I tell myself grimly, you want it, lets put it on the list. Then--while again, not hungry, I'll strip it down again of all the eight pounds of cotton candy grapes, moon grapes, cherries, six of the ten cheese, you get the idea. This makes grocery shopping fun as well, with the addition the joy of self-denial when actually, twenty four hours later you really didn't want so many damn grapes. So I really am not denying myself anything but I do get a glow that maybe I'm denying past-me who really should have known the unfortunate result of shotgunning five pounds of cherries in two days (she does, she just doesn't care).
I only use Instacart rarely; it's dangerous. HEB is on there and HEB is my Paradise/Waterloo; it's just too much. I only use Instacart before holidays when I'm expecting to make dishes for family stuff or to pick up bulk canned mushrooms and butter sales or something, once, twice a year at most.
For reasons beyond my understanding, on Thursday, while hungry, I opened up Instacart. And it went downhill from there. My usual strategies? Failed. Didn't even try. The part that is now driving me nuts is that going over the list, there's no junk at all--I managed to control that--and all of this is meal or good snack related. This is a solid fucking list; really, it's unjudgeable.
It's the amounts that are the problem.
So my groceries arrived at 7:40 PM. There were many bags. This was my first hint that something had gone wrong.
I made it through frozen vegetables literally because a third of my freezer is frozen vegetables, so I only got two (broccoli and French cut green beans). Milk (only one kind this time!), eggs, tomatoes, garlic, celery, carrots, dried beans, onions, mushrooms, gnocchi, two types of spinach but okay, not bad so far, all reasonable and correct. A few more things, but nothing fancy, all normal.
Then I was stacking these on the counter and paused:
Butter - 4.5 lbs
Chicken Broth - 128 oz
Sugar - 10 lbs
Potatoes - 10 lbs
Cheese - 3.5 lbs
So ten pounds of potatoes. Okay, excessive, but one, I love potatoes, and two, I have three meals that need potatoes. You can't go wrong with potatoes, I told myself. You're fine. Butter--okay, I am entirely out of butter and it was a good price, fine. Sugar--it was cheaper to buy the ten pound because math. Chicken broth, I usually don't but two of the soups this month need a good primary chicken broth base and I don't mess around with bouillon in soups when broth is a primary.
(Literally the only reason the cheese is in reasonable is that I'd recently done a cheese check and managed to stop myself.)
Then I paused when I got to the meat bag. No, wait, meat bags. And that's when I realized a.) why there were so many bags and b.) where it had all gone wrong.
Fully Cooked Italian Style Meatballs - 14 oz
Hickory Smoked Boneless Ham Steak - 1 lb
Italian Sausage - 1 lb
Beef Round Tip Steak - 1.2 lbs
Lean Stew Meat - 1.5 lbs
Thin Pork Chops - 2.4 lbs
Chili Meat - 3 lbs
Ground Beef - 5 lbs
Chicken - 13 lbs
...thirteen pounds of chicken.
In the freezer, before today, I have roughly six pounds from a sale on pre-seasoned chicken.
I mean, every one of the above types of meat? Yes, its associated with a planned, well-balanced meal. But in general, I don't do all these meals each month; truthfully, there aren't this many meals in the month, some of those meals are soups, stews, and casseroles that are three meals each. And actually, I'm honestly not sure why there are five pounds of ground beef and three of chili and one of stew when those generally replace each other in the beefs.
Also, that's three pork or pork-related meals and I can only have one.
I literally have no idea how the hell I thought that was reasonable on Thursday night. I mean, I remember going over the list and nodding--I have a spreadsheet!--and these numbers are indeed on there like Thursday-me thought this was perfectly normal. Thursday me sat there, read Total: 28 lbs and said "yes, that is right. That's not a fuckload at all."
So I have a total of thirty-four pounds of meat between my freezer and fridge, where most of the new meat is until I finish separating/weighing and bagging for the freezer or cooking it tomorrow and then bagging it for the freezer. But no matter how creatively I do this, I just don't know I can fit twenty-eight fucking pounds of meat into a freezer that is already one third frozen vegetables, six pounds of chicken, fuck knows how much frozen cheese, and myriad other Freezer things.
And this is where I explain Weird Food Feelings that influence me unduly and may have had a part in this (though never before like this).
1.) I like vegetarian dishes and eat them and my son goes through vegetarian/vegan phases at random (when your friends encompass no less than four to six separate religious or ethical or allergy (sensitivity?) food restrictions, there's a lot of opting toward the minimum and so you know where to get/how to make the good stuff). However, more than once I gave up meat for Lent (all meat, but not dairy or eggs) in my misspent youth and while we did well enough to get nutritious meal, it screwed with my energy and my iron badly. Yes, there are better options now and better ways to balance, but the memory stuck; I must have beef once a week and chicken at least twice. And me and fish only get along with tuna, salmon, and some amazing fish in Finland I had once but it was also December and freezing and I was hungry enough to eat raw butter so that may just be association.
Fish and crustaceans: nope. This is a texture issue. Tuna and salmon and tilapia grandfathered themselves in somewhere before age eight; by age ten, I was very weird on texture and that's when I started having problems with jello and anything gelatinous (it's...complicated). Every once in a while I run into a fish (or fish-based) food that's okay, but it's very hit or miss. And anything where the actual texture doesn't match the one my brain assumes it should be on sight is a fuck no. This applies to all foods, by the way: very easy way to empty my stomach fast and thoroughly and the memory will do it for me later.
Example: I love snow crab insanely but I have to strategize eating it because my tongue and teeth loathe how it feels in my mouth; it's too loose but also too solid at first and then is too smooth when chewing. The only reason I can eat it at all is I love the taste that much, but there's literally a time limit and I have to be very hungry before I start (when at the beach, I won't eat after breakfast to prep for dinner) and concentrate on the ritual breaking the shell and getting out the meat etc to keep my brain occupied with the cool manual parts while I stuff my face. The second I am no longer hungry, my brain realizes I'm manipulating it, notes what's going on in my mouth, and my gag reflex kicks in and we are done with snow crab. It's so fucking annoying.
(Note: this is why I take a dim view of people who get shirty and call other people picky when they don't want to eat certain things or only eat certain foods in a certain way. If something goes in my mouth that it doesn't want to deal with, it's spit it out or throw up. See snow crab: that is something I love but overshot my time limit once and we won't talk about it but it was gross. Trust me, if there was a legit way to control this, I'd have done it and be eating snow crab twice a week and probably selling bits of my organs to afford it. As it is, once a year is the best I can do.)
...that was a digression, yeah.
2.) Growing up, on the rare occasions we got fast food, we couldn't eat it until we got home so mom could cook a vegetable. Yes, my happy meal had a green bean accompaniment; for years, I had no idea most people were allowed more than one fry before they'd eaten half their vegetables, and as I liked my fries still hot, I went with it.
Even though now I sometimes skip a vegetable for a meal, my freezer at all times must have at least about ten meals worth. Required; spinach, broccoli, peas and/or peas and carrots, and at least one stir fry mix, those must exist at all times. Others are on rotation (Brussels sprouts, French cut green beans, cauliflower, squash mixes, etc). But they must be there. I made the mistake once of doing a fresh produce substitution; I have never in my life been so anxious every time I opened my freezer seeing nothing but meat and frozen non-vegetable products. It did not matter the fridge had them; the freezer did not.
Now, here's the kicker: I grew up in the country where we had a garden. I grew up on literally just picked green beans, tomatoes, squash, peas, cucumbers, beets, you name it, we'd grow it. My mom bought lots of fresh produce, too; you could get fresh corn and watermelons at stands off the side of the road and peaches from everywhere. Even when we didn't have a garden, again, I lived in farm country; everyone was selling off their extra produce. Frozen vegetables were stuff we couldn't get locally like Brussels sprouts, or off-season. I know how to cook them; I was used to cooking them for years. And yet: I have to have bags of frozen vegetables
(Also, and I tried, but a third of my produce didn't make it, or at least the parts rabbits couldn't eat.)
3.) Bread AKA The Cheese Sandwich
When I first move to this apartment, I grimly sat down to make some changes to my base foods. Some were easy, some were hard, some just happened on their own, but one I concentrated on was The Sandwich.
I like sandwiches; I am lazy and also it's a fast way to keep from starving. Kraft cheese slices are for cheese sandwiches; this was not going to ever change no matter how many organic brie or seven year Irish cheese I got and trust me, I tried. Even good America cheese was a no-go. I love them but my base cheese sandwich requires Kraft: fine. We'd fix the bread.
I went straight to whole wheat, which was wrong for the base cheese sandwich; it threw off the balance and also was wrong, so I used white bread and almost gave up. Then the next month, I got honey wheat instead, ran out of white, got desperate (I needed my cheese sandwich) and--it almost worked. Not perfectly mind you, but as I had two weeks before I used my grocery budget for more milk and eggs mid-month, I made Grilled Cheese Variation and With Turkey variation, and sure, the texture was odd but wow it held up well in grilled cheese with extra butter. One month later, I'd made the transition.
And that's how I Stockholmed myself into honey wheat bread and sometimes whole wheat bread, but worse, lost my texture-tolerance for white bread. Any white bread. I mean, not ridic artisan ones but actually some of those, too. It's freaky, but we must have at least one loaf of honey wheat bread in the house at all times and no white bread because we won't eat it.
(Note: whole wheat bread can be used for anything but Cheese (or Cheese and Turkey) Sandwiches and Grilled Cheese. I can use it for a fancy brie and pear grilled cheese, sure, but that's not a Grilled Cheese.)
(Exempted: hot dog buns. Even my goddamn hamburger buns have been hijacked, though.)
4.) Butter, Milk, Cheese, (and sometimes, eggs) - this was an accident of Sprouts and Whole foods, but started earlier. When I was in my twenties, my family stopped using margarine for anything and went All Butter. This hardened for me like whoa. As a result of organic food shopping, however, I was introduced to not just Butter, but BUTTER, like shit with whole cream from cows in Devonshire who all have PhDs in nutrition from Oxford and are only fed on grass engineered from fairies or something, or local butter, made from Texas cows who are obviously superior to lesser, other-state cows. However, in case you're curious, I do not support a lifestyle that allows for me to cook with butter that starts at seven dollars a pound.
(Also, some butters make very weird gravy that's wrong. I'm from Texas; gravy is a food group. Gravy should not be wrong.)
This same journey occurred with milk (whole, full cream, organic, sometimes local, sometimes ultafiltered, etc) and eggs (farmer's market, were inside the chicken only hours before, sometimes cool colors). But again, while teh taste is much, much better and the quality is better, the practicalities were--there. So I ended up doing a split; Dairy/Eggs For Cooking and Dairy/Eggs for eating. Those cool hipster eggs that retail a dollar each were for omelets and quiche; regular eggs were for cooking. Devonshire double cream butter was for bagels and English muffins and waffles; regular butter was for gravy and cooking. Repeat with milk and cheese.
This worked, but it does make my shopping lists look bizarre and when we have overnight visitors, I have to explain, no, that's the cooking milk, you don't use that in your coffee or cereal! Use the drinking milk! Or (to Child): don't you dare use the hipster eggs in your brownies, get the cooking eggs! (While his friend looks on, baffled.) And then belatedly I realize I created a class system in my fridge and that's creepy. With milk, it's even weirder: Child has a (mild) sensitivity toward milk, so when he's in the mood to drink milk, he needs either lactose free or ultrafiltered, which means on occasion, we have three types of milk (cooking, drinking, Child); once in a while, four when I'm testing new brands of milk.
Even cooking butter isn't cheap, so when there's a sale, I buy like crazy; when it was two dollars a pound, I cut other things to concentrate on More Butter. So there have been times I've had ten to twelve pounds of cooking butter stacked smugly in the back of the fridge. More than once, I've seen friends staring into the fridge in bafflement or horror as they take in what looks suspiciously like some sort of dairy hoarding problem. It gets worse when they open the cheese drawer.
5.) Cheese (again) - we are a cheese family. Kraft is for Cheese Sandwiches (or Ham and Cheese or Turkey and Cheese) only; the staples are Mild Cheddar, Medium Cheddar, Sharp Cheddar, and Monterrey Jack. Usually I'll get one Super Sharp Cheddar Something, and one weird cheese. Or two. If we do not have these cheeses, everything is wrong with the world.
One month, I misjudged and did not get enough cheese. After that--and a couple of cheese gone green in the back of the fridge because someone (Child) didn't put it in the drawer--I started freezing cheese and now have a small army of Mild and Sharp Cheddars in the freezer in case of emergency.
There is now also Odds and Ends Cheese Bag (or bags), because sometimes, you make cheese mistakes but when you got half a pound of Weird Cheese that retails at like, $20 a pound, you cannot throw it away.
So mid-month, I go through the fridge, hunt up the cheese in the wrong place before it goes bad, and check it, and if it's under four ounces/eighth of a pound or one of my weird cheeses that was indeed a mistake, I put it in the Odds and Ends bag in the freezer. Then when I make Panera Broccoli Cheese Soup or something that needs a cheese sauce, I use a mix from the bag.
When cheese goes on sale...well, you can imagine.
(Note: Panera Broccoli Cheese Soup supports Random and Mistake Cheese fantastically. The most hideous and ungodly cheeses mixed with a small amount of basic cheddar or colby will yield results like you have no idea. I tested this with a cheese that tasted like a vicious and malicious cow's revenge against humanity crossed with a goat's vomit and three (3) people finished that pot of soup in one sitting.)
So my freezer at all times must support a certain amount of frozen cheese, either in the Basic Cheddars or Odds and Ends.
6.) Sugar - in a pretty good attempt to limit intake of soda, Child and I went tea-only at home (and water). We slowly weaned down the amount of sugar per pitcher, but we go through a lot, lot, lot of tea, like a lot. So I must have a minimum of four pounds of sugar on hand at all times, because there's a convenience store literally a three minute walk from me--I can see it from my porch, just walk out of my complex and it's next door--so yeah.
7.) Coffee and Tea - well, yeah.
8.) Potatoes - at least five pounds at all times, red and yellow if possible.
Part 2--there's a part two--I get a monthly Amazon Pantry box (it arrives Monday). I also did the order for that on Thursday night. I just went to look and am going to pretend (until Monday) that this isn't happening.
Like, what the fuck happened to me on Thursday? I did my full budget, all the math is right there, and--here we are, preparing to Tetris the fuck out of my fridge and pantry and break myself some physics.
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