The Frugal Buffet

Adventures in Grocery Shopping

Part 28: Trust Your Friends (At Least When It Comes to Carrots)
Yesterday I was hanging out with my friend Dave Ruder, when he casually mentioned that he had purchased the bag of carrots from which we were eating at the price of 3 bags for a dollar. I naturally became excited about this, since I am accustomed to buying the same size bag (1 lb.) at the price of 2 for a dollar. I asked him where he had gotten them, and he told me the were from the C-Town Supermarket across the street. So after I finished hanging out with him, I headed over there to pick up 3 or 4 bags of carrots.

However, when I got to the carrots, the only price mentioned was 59 cents per bag. I grumbled something to myself about the inaccuracy of Dave's claims, and decided to just grab one bag (since I had already gotten myself in the mood for some carrots), and headed to the cashier. When she rang me up, she told me I owed her 33 cents. At that moment, I felt very guilty for having doubted my friend. Especially a friend who is as knowledgeable about vegetables as Dave Ruder. I decided that from then on, I would never doubt Dave Ruder again, and I haven't yet. I am going to his house this evening for a rehearsal, and I will be sure to pick up 6 more bags of carrots. In the meantime, I will continue not to doubt him.

Part 27: The Sandwiches Have Changed
Late last night when I was coming home from a night of music at The Jalopy Theatre in Red Hook (which is my favorite music venue in New York City), the sandwiches at Rachel's Corner were fresh on my mind because of my recent blog post and, partially due to the fact that I had consumed a few beers, I gave into the temptation to buy one. Buying a sandwich is usually not the frugal thing to do, but there are occasionally times when the desire for frugality loses out to other inner urges.

So I walked in, and went back to the sandwiches (which are now located farther back in the store than they used to be). I found that there were 4 subs left. But rather than the interesting choices and tantalizing names they used to have, they were labeled "veggie," "veggie," "veggie," and "ham and american cheese." Hoping that only the name had changed and that the sandwiches were still of high quality, I decided to go through with my purchase anyway. It took me a while to make up my mind whether to get a veggie sandwich or a ham and american cheese sandwich. Neither one looked particularly good (but appearances can be deceiving, my friends! At least, I sometimes operate under that assumption), and, after making a few false starts, grabbing one and starting to head to the counter only to change my mind mid-step, I eventually settled on the ham and cheese.

As I fumbled for my 5 dollars in cash to pay the cashier, I spilled all of my cards (Hamilton Library, New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, ASCAP Membership Card, Debit Card, MoMA Membership Card, Washington DC Metro Card, Driver's License, Key Food Savings Card, Expired Student ID. In fact, every card in the right-hand side of my wallet fell out except one: my NYC Metro Card. God Bless you, MTA) onto the floor, which was a little embarrassing. Perhaps it was an alcohol-related accident, as I had consumed 4 beers (over the course of about 4 hours. Have I become that much of a lightweight since I stopped being a drunk?), but I'm thinking that it was more that I am a klutz, and that my wallet is getting very loose in its old age. The man behind the counter said "oh no!" sympathetically, and came around the counter as though to help me pick them up, but then he walked around me and went on his way to the back of the store. And I was left alone to pick up my cards.

I arrived home about 10 minutes later, and ate my sandwich. It was a huge disappointment. Bad proportions of everything, subpar ingredients, very little meat. Rachel's Sandwiches have apparently dropped in quality since the last time I ate one (which was probably about 6 months ago). So I guess that when I need a late night sandwich, it will be that new 24 hour deli/grill place on Nassau and Leonard from here on out.

Part 26: Bananas, Spinach, Cabbage
I may have mentioned this before, but a new Deli/Fruit Store opened on Nassau, a block in the direction of my house from the Nassau Ave. G Train stop. The best thing about this new place is that the deli/grill is open 24 hours a day. It is comforting to know that now I can pick up a warm sandwich on my way home from the train no matter when I get off it.

There already was a place that sold pre-balled sandwiches late at night (which are actually, I must say, very, very good for pre-balled sandwiches, and also quite big for the $5 they charge for them). The place I am referring to is Rachel's Corner, on Nassau a block from McGuinness. This was actually where I did most of my vegetable buying during the first year or so that I lived in the neighborhood. They tricked me into shopping there by being open 24 hours a day, having lots of food on hand, and having big shiny lights. I went there the first few times I wanted things late at night, and from that time forward, I thought of them as the place to go to get vegetables, because I had already been there before, and I have a tendency to return to places that I have already been. However, I was young and stupid, and didn't realize how much cheaper I could get apples for, closer to my house at Young Fruit (as long as I bought them before 9:30). My roommate rob has also purchased food that had gone bad at Rachel's Corner on many occasions (although I have never had such bad luck), which is another reason to look down on it. They fooled him with foods like coconuts, which he would just pick up assuming they were good, only to take them home, open them, and find that they were rotten. Nothing like this has ever happened to me at Young Fruit (unless you include the big discount bags full of old fruits and vegetables I sometimes purchase for $1, which I expect to be bad even as I am purchasing them, but buy them anyway for no good reason). But yes, Rachel's pre-balled subs are really good, and they usually have some refrigerated ones sitting around all night long. In fact, I am generally more satisfied by these pre-ballers than I am by the fresh sandwiches I get at other delis. Although sandwiches are generally quite good at any New York Deli.

Anyway, i stopped by this new place today, and picked up a big bunch of baby bananas for 39 cents a pound, two very small cabbages at 59 cents a pound, and container of spinach for $1.50. The total came to a little over $4. The small bananas that I picked up are perfect. They are tiny! Perfectly sized for someone like me, who often is in the mood for a banana and a half. At this size, I can just eat 3 bananas and it will come to approximately the same total amount of banana. And there are quite a lot of bananas here. I haven't looked at them since this morning, but there might have been as many as 20 bananas in the bunch. They are also already ripe, which is nice, because I don't have wait for them. So they are basically perfect in every way, and it makes me happy that the perfect bananas were so much less expensive than the imperfect bananas they were also selling, which were going for 79 cents a pound. I do wonder how much the wait of the peels adds up to in these small bananas. They are more peel than normal sized bananas, just like how individually wrapped snickers bars use more wrappers. How much more natural packaging is there in the baby bananas? I would guess that it is not nearly enough to make much of a difference, but I haven't done any of the necessary calculations to be sure.

I like the small cabbages too. Usually when I make cabbage, I end up using about half of it, and saving the other half in the fridge. This way I can use one cabbage at a time. Everything feels cleaner this way.

Part 25: Hitting My Stride (Food Bazaar)
Okay, ladies and gentlemen, I'm really starting to get into my thing.

I would like to thank Nate Patterson for recommending the excellent grocery store, "Food Bazaar" on the corner of Manhattan and Broadway in Brooklyn, in response to my last post. Although I didn't come away with any 20-pound bags of beans, I did come away with about 20 pounds of beans.

Food Bazaar is one of the most beautiful grocery stores I have ever visited. First of all, they have an entire aisle dedicated to Goya products. But, on top of that, it seems that every other aisle also contains beans. After exploring the different options I decided that the cheapest beans were the ones in the produce section, underneath various fruits and vegetables. I picked up a bunch of approximately 2.5-pound bags, all of which were either 99 cents per pound or $1.09 per pound. I got three bags of lentils, three bags of black beans, a bag of red beans, and a bag of pink beans. These beans all came in brandless bags. I just started soaking the majority of the contents of one of the bags of black beans, and these beans do appear to have a slightly higher concentration of stones than a bag of goya has, but it is only a a slight difference. They are very cheap, and now I have a big shelf full of beans. 

Have I talked to you much about beans? In general, you should buy them dry (although it is a good idea to have a few cans on hand in case of emergencies). Even though the canned beans may appear to be a little cheaper than the dried ones by weight, don't be fooled! Once you add water to the dried beans, they will triple in mass, and you end up saving a bundle.

So beans are great for you. A one-pound bag of your average dried beans generally has enough protein for a day and a half, and enough iron for about the same amount of time. They are very low in calories, considering that, and, of course, very cheap. They have tons of fiber. They are delicious. I like to eat about a pound of dried beans a day (of course, I soak and cook them first). It is a very cheap and healthy way to live. Although it is true that beans give you gas, they actually give you gas that is nearly odorless (unless you eat other foods to put the odor in). And so, you see, even though vegetarians may fart more than meat-eaters, their farts smell better. I am not a vegetarian, but I do eat my beans. Beans are great. They are the perfect food. They are an everyday food. They are something to write home to Mother about.

I also picked up a 10-pound bag of potatoes for $2.99, and a 10-pound bag of onions for the same price. And I got a bottle of the delicious Tướng Ớt Sriracha hot sauce, also for $2.99, and a couple pounds of carrots for 80 cents. Basically, I got enough food for a month for under $30*. This, my friends, is the way to live.

*whenever I say something like this, someone makes some comment along the lines of, "Yeah, if you don't mind getting scurvy," but hear me out! Two medium-sized potatoes contain enough vitamin C for a day. Take that, naysayers!**

**I realize that there aren't 60 medium-sized potatoes in a 10-pound bag, but there should be in about 2 10-pound bags, and if I substituted only one of the bags of beans for one of the bags of potatoes, I'd still be at right about 30 dollars, and I'd still have plenty of iron and protein in my diet.

Part 24: A Question
Does anybody know where the best (i.e., cheapest and easiest to get to) place would be to buy a 20 pound bag of black beans in this town? This is an investment I have been meaning to make for quite some time, but I've never been sure where I ought to go to do it. I know that by writing a blog entry that is asking you, the reader, for advice on frugal shopping is a bit of a role reversal. Please forgive any discomfort this change might cause in your bowels, brain, or heart. I promise to get back on track next time. And by that time, I may or may not have a 20 pound bag of black beans.

Part 23: Sometimes the Only Winning Move is Not to Play
You may have noticed that it has been about a month and a half since my last post. Have I died? Have I been starving myself? Perhaps I am on a hunger strike? In fact, none of these are the case. However, for quite a while there, I got extra frugal. How, you may ask? Well, let me explain.

When you go grocery shopping as often as I do, and are always on the lookout for remarkably cheap non perishable foods to stock up on, eventually you acquire stockpiles of these foods, and this is where you get to the point where you can really reap the benefits. About a month and a half ago, I realized that I was a little low on money, and that a trip to the grocery store might be a bad financial decision. However, this was no problem, as my pantry was full, and all of the necessary nutrients for me to live a healthy and meaningful life were right there at my fingertips. And so the hibernation period began. And it was just as delicious as any other period of my life. The only major difference was that it got me out in the open air a little less. But that's okay. Anyway, I was eating my mountains of pre-purchased food, and, on top of that, the past month has seen me going home (to Hamilton, NY) on multiple occasions (one of those occasions lasting a full 10 days). Not only does this mean that I was fed by my parents during those times, but it also means that they insisted on sending me back to Brooklyn with all the leftovers in the house (this has always been a policy with my parents, and now that I live with one of my brothers, it is even more so). So, I have had a nice, long vacation from the hustle and bustle of daily grocery shopping. But now it's about time I got back to work.

I should point out that I did do a little bit of grocery shopping. I continued to buy fruits and vegetables almost every day, but I was too lazy to mention every trip in my shopper's log. Please accept my apologies for keeping you in the dark.

Anyway, now I am both back and better than ever. I would like to make an observation here, if I may: during my 10 days out of town, Greenpoint seems to have made a lot of changes. There is all sorts of road work going on, new shops have opened up all over the place, and, most noticeably for me, the nearest Chinese Restaurant has changed it's awning! It's all fancy and new now. I hope they know who to thank for this (me). I am surely their biggest supporter. My local Chinese Food place is the only restaurant I ever use. It is a constant struggle not to use it, though. I count down the hours of every day, doing my best to avoid the temptation to order some Chinese Food, until the clock reaches 11 pm (the official closing time, although they usually seem to be open until 11:30), and I wipe the sweat from my brow, and thank God for giving me the willpower to make it another day without spending my money on food that I don't need. But sometimes God doesn't give me that willpower. And those occasions have surely footed the bill for this new awning. It makes me feel good to know that my contributions to a local business have caused it to not only continue, but to blossom and grow. There are no fewer than 9 Chinese Restaurants in Greenpoint, but I refuse to go to any but the one right around the corner. They are my friends at the Peking Express, and I love them dearly, in spite of them fact that they are a constant temptation.

I did go grocery shopping this afternoon. I bought 4 dozen eggs for 99 cents each, two bags of beans (lentils and white beans), 2 28-oz cans of crushed tomatoes on sale for 99 cents each, and a really big loaf of Met brand white bread for $1.39. I don't usually buy that sort of bread, but this was so cheap and big that I figured I would. I always like to have some pre-sliced sandwich bread in the freezer to take out and toast in emergency situations, and at this price, the cheap white bread is quite sufficient for that role.

Have I ever pointed out the importance of looking to see if there are any broken eggs before you buy them? I probably have, but it is worth repeating. Whenever you are picking up a carton of eggs, take a look inside, because there's always a good chance some of them are broken, and you definitely don't want to be buying broken eggs (unless you're really, really sick). But be careful! One time when I was doing this, I was a little too fast with my hands, and I knocked the eggs over. Boy was that a mess.

Part 22: Fairway: A Market Like No Other
After a gig in Red Hook this past Sunday, I had dinner with the two people who performed before me at one of their apartments (Frank Hoier's), and we stopped by the Fairway Market in Red Hook to pick up the ingredients Feral Foster needed to make pasta with clam sauce.

Steamers were decently priced, at 3 pounds for $10, and it got me thinking about how I should eat clams more since they are one of my favorite foods. I could pick up 6 dozen some time for $20, and then just pig out on them until they were done. I think that would be a great way to spend a holiday. So maybe I'll do that at some point.

In general, the prices at Fairway were high, ... HOWEVER... they have LOTS of free samples. I ate so many olives and salsas and cheeses and bread with olive oil, and artichokes, and other things like that that I would definitely consider it a great place to go, as long as you're careful not to get ripped off buying things. When I entered the Fairway, it was about 6 in the evening, and the only thing I had had to eat that day was an apple. When I left, I was full. So that's saying a lot.

Part 21: Since 8 dozen eggs wasn't enough...
This week, I bought 10 dozen eggs. They were on sale at Met Foods for 99 cents a dozen. If history is anything worth paying attention to, I should have no problem going through all these eggs.

Only the extra large eggs were on sale. It was interesting to look at the eggs, and see the 99 cent price for the extra large eggs, right next to the $1.89 price for the medium eggs. Why would anybody buy medium eggs in that situation? I wonder. Maybe it's a trick question. Maybe nobody would.

Part 20: A Moral Dilemma
A Key Foods grocery bag that I purchased for 99 cents a few months back has developed a hole at the bottom, and I'm wondering whether I should return it. It still carries groceries, but the hole gets a little bigger every time, and I feel the need to constantly keep an eye on it so that if it suddenly bursts open I can catch some of my groceries before they hit the ground.

Returning it is probably not even worth my while. 99 cents is a small amount of money to get back for all the trouble it would cost me. If I were to return it, it would simply be as a matter of principle. Obviously, when I buy a 99 cent grocery bag, I am doing so under the assumption that it will last a fairly long time. The bag has proven inadequate, and therefore, I ought to return it to Key Foods in protest.

My reason for buying it in the first place was to use less energy and hurt the environment less. If the bag only lasts a few trips to the grocery store, I wonder if I am doing even that. How much energy does it cost to produce and transport my fancy Key Foods bag? It is bigger, heavier, and more complicated than a plastic bag, so I can only assume that is requires more energy. But how much more? How many plastic bags are equal to one sturdier, reusable bag? I am not sure what the answer is to this question, but I wonder how that amount of bags compares to the amount of plastic bags I would have used since buying this bag. Both plastic bags and reusable bags can be recycled in some way, I suppose. But how ought I to recycle my reusable bag? There is not, so far as I know, a convenient bin for whatever material this bag is made of, and it would make a very poor garbage bag. If I return the bag, I assume it will be thrown out. If I do not return it, it will probably take up space in a closet in my house until I die, and then whoever goes through my possessions will probably end up throwing it out. Has my attempt to help the world been in vain? Could my bag somehow be made into clothing? How much energy would that take? 

Another thing i have to consider is the economy. In these shaky economic times, suppose Key Foods goes bankrupt as a result of my returned bag. I will have the unemployed souls of all its former workers on my conscience. I'm not sure I'd be able to deal with that.

I'm really not sure what to do. No matter what I do, the world is screwed. So I guess there's no point in worrying.

I am thinking, however, that by returning the bag to Key Foods, and protesting their inadequate reusable bags, perhaps that small act of protest will lead to them making better bags in the future, which may in the long run both help the environment and prevent people like me from having to make difficult decisions like this. So that may be the best thing to do.

Part 19: A Dream
Last night I had a dream that there was some sort of hoodlum hanging from the back of a police car as it drove by me. I think the hoodlum was bopping the policemen on the head every minute or so, or doing something mildly inconvenient. Anyway as they slowly drove by in the car (which was a tiny car, only a little bigger than a Power Wheels), my brother tried to tell the police what was going on. "There's a guy on the back of your car, bopping you on the head!" or something like that. And this was news to them. They knew that their heads kept getting bopped, but they didn't know that somebody was doing it. Anyway, I said, "Don't worry, I'll get him." Anyway, I jumped onto the back of his leg, forcing him to lose his grip on the car, and then I bent his leg in some sort of way that was apparently an effective hold. Then the police car was a mobile fruit stand, and the old lady running it said I could have all the fruit for free. I thanked her. However, after wheeling the cart back to her fruit shop, I realized that it was far too much fruit for one man, so I asked for just an apple, which she of course gave me. This was no ordinary apple. It was long slices of apple wrapped in plastic, and it looked sort of like fillets of fish, and each apple had a bunch of layers stacked on top of each other. When I got outside with my apple and started eating it, I realized that it was an apple wrapped in pumpernickel. It was quite delicious. The only reason I'm telling you all of this now is that in dream, when I looked at all the prices on the fruit stand, and all the tiny delicious berries and strange exotic fruits, I said to myself, "I will have to write about this in my blog when I get home." When I awoke I felt obligated to do what I said I would do in the dream.


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