My Love of ALDI

We have been following what’s called the Paleo diet for almost a year. Basically, we try not to eat many processed or pre-packed foods. We don’t eat any grains, very few potatoes or other starches, and use mostly honey and maple syrup for sweeteners. This means I buy primarily produce and meat for groceries each week. The days of five pound hunks of hamburger meat and five varieties of $1 Hamburger Helper are long gone. If there is one thing that I feel good about spending more money than the bare minimum on, it is food. I’ve couponed. I’ve tried Wal-Mart. I’ve played Winn Dixie’s little games. Sure, my bill was half what it is now but we were eating crap, feeling sick, and looking bad. I usually spend between $75 and $100 per week on groceries. My absolute favorite place to shop is ALDI. If you have an ALDI store near you, go there. Here’s why:

1. It’s cheaper. Much cheaper. $4 grade A maple syrup. $1 frozen broccoli. $0.69 eggs. $2.99 milk. You get the picture.

2. It’s quicker. Generally, ALDI carries their own brands. Or at least brands I don’t see anywhere else. If you’re looking for ketchup, there’s one kind. You put it in your buggy and move on to the next item. No decision-making process needed.

3. The cashiers get to sit down. Having worked in retail for many years, I really appreciate this about ALDI. Not only have they created an entire buggy system to facilitate this, it makes their employees happy. When I’m paying $100 to eat for a week, I want a nice, smiling face to chit-chat with as I hand over the cash.

4. Their produce section is amazing. It’s doesn’t have the mini-outdoor market vibe, but it’s got everything you need for about half the price. ALDI is great at carrying seasonal produce, too.

5. Seasonal items abound. Today, my ALDI was in a transition from pumpkin central to holiday buffet spectacular. Large pumpkins were $0.25 and pumpkin-flavored baking kits were one sale for $1. Butterball turkeys, fresh cranberries, gourmet Christmas candies, and all types of artisanal cheeses lined the shelves (actually, ALDI doesn’t have shelves) just waiting to be served at a holiday party.

6. Everybody’s so stinkin’ nice in there. Not only are the employees happy, it seems that the un-Wal-Mart atmosphere of ALDI makes everybody happier to shop. The SUV driving, kid-yelling, soccer-mom group usually skips ALDI for fear of looking like they don’t have enough money to cram a buggy full of junk at a super center. People hand over carts without taking a quarter in the parking lot, help pack each other’s groceries, chat while waiting in line, etc.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be serving ALDI-bought food while being thankful for my go-to grocery store.  Do any of you hold the wonders of ALDI dear to your hearts (and bellies), too?

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Thrift Seeds = Garden Excitement

I just happened to stop by a different thrift store than usual today. I picked up a $3 lighted Christmas wreath and a $.99 nativity set and was just about to check-out when a Rubbermaid container of colorful envelopes caught my eye. Chock full of Burpee seeds. I resisted the urge to dig in until I asked the price. $.10 per packet! I went a little crazy.

All were marked for 2012, meaning they’ll be perfect for next spring if stored in the freezer. Many are organic. Here’s what I got for about $5.50:

(5) sweet corn, two varieties

(8) bush garden beans, six varieties

(3) organic brocolli

(3) snap peas, two varieties

(2) cabbage, one red, one organic

(2) early peas

(5) lettuce, five varieties

(1) mesclun mix

(3) carrots, three varieties, one organic

(2) bell peppers

(4) summer squash, three varieties, one organic

(3) cucumber, three varieties, one organic

(1) organic Roma tomato

(2) radish, two varieties

(1) onion

(1) eggplant, organic

(2) spinach

(1) watermelon, organic

(3) basil, three varieties, one organic

(2) chives, two organic varieties

(1) parsley, organic

(1) stevia

(2) sunflower

(1) columbine flower

(1) shasta daisey flower

I really wasn’t aware than onions could be grown from seeds, but for a dime, we’ll give them a try.

Most of the packets in the bin were veggies, but I did manage to find a couple sunflowers and a few other flowers. Another lady grabbed a pack of marigolds but I never saw another.

I’m very excited about this one!

I was able to get all the basics for the Alabama garden (corn, beans, squash) plus some interesting varieties to experiment with. Although we don’t really eat corn anymore, I love a raw ear in the summer time. The chickens will enjoy it, too.

This was a huge score! I’ve got plenty to keep us productive and will give some packets to my parents who have had a successful garden for as long as I can remember. Now, maybe I can find a comparable deal on a tiller before spring.

The Holidays are Here

It’s November and officially my favorite time of the year. I always anticipate the holidays and, although I cringe at rows of ornaments that appear in Hobby Lobby each July, I usually begin celebrating the season a little before the calendar says its upon us.

Although I’m unbelievably (and blessedly) busy with work and forehead-deep in Charles Dickens and thesis prospectus writing for graduate school, this will be the first year in five years that not one day of the next two months will be spent behind a retail counter. I can already tell that my attitude of thankfulness is much more intense without the frivolity of Black Friday work schedules, training of seasonal employees, and bickering of customers too caught up in the consumerism of Christmas.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ll be out there in the middle of the night throwing elbows in Wal-Mart, standing in line at Old Navy for their annual free gift (got me a nice  underwater camera last year). But shopping isn’t the reason that I love the holidays. Long, chilly fall-changing-into-winter nights, family gatherings, breaks from work and school make for the perfect time of year to focus on what’s important. Having had more time than ever before to ponder the fact that Cody and I are now our own family and might one day not so very far away have our own pajama-clad sugarplum fairies to tuck into bed on Christmas Eve, these first few days of November have been filled with hopes and plans for our own Winningham Family Thanksgivings and Winningham Family Christmases.

Here’s my list for this holiday season, in no particular order:

  • keep my home clean and inviting so that family and friends can pop in at any time
  • burn seasonal candles or oil each day
  • incorporate fall leaves/ evergreen into my home in vases and jars
  • keep seasonal music playing in the house during the day
  • fill an Operation Christmas Child box (completed Wednesday)
  • keep citrus fruits in the kitchen
  • attend the hanging of the green/ Christmas cantata at church
  • read part of William Bradford’s On Plymouth Plantation the week of Thanksgiving
  • watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • watch a Christmas movie with Cody every weekend in December
  • make candies for neighbors
  • have an outdoor tree on the deck
  • decorate a small tree in our bedroom
  • help my grandmother clean and cook for her holiday parties
  • host another couple for dinner in December
  • coordinate my wrapping
  • memorize the second chapter of Luke

The list could go on and on. I want to purposefully begin focusing our holiday celebrations and traditions on family and the miraculous reasons for these two favorite holidays, not how much money we have to spend on gifts or what’s going to be on sale at Belk’s. I want this and every holiday season to be beautiful and peaceful.  I want to prepare food to celebrate the history of our nation’s formation, not pick-up a bag of rolls at Winn Dixie on the way. I want to spend time on those I love, not just money.

These were my thoughts tonight as I look ahead to the exciting months of November and December.