Who Is Afraid of the Shopping List?

Sentences I do not want to hear from my builder, 'I just moved your mandarin tree while you were out. I needed to put a post there.' This was at 9am on one of the hottest days of the year. We were having a new fence built, just behind a row of two-year old citrus trees, oranges and mandarins, which are a little marginal in our climate, but are on the edge of flourishing, due to their protected position and my continual mollycoddling. They are my BABIES, and one day they will be a gorgeous green hedge of golden citrus goodness. I think the poor builder was rather startled at my shriek, and sudden disappearance, and just as sudden reappearance armed with secateurs, seasol and the garden hose. No, I did not tie up the builder with the hose, prune him and waterboard him with seaweed concentrate, however tempting that course of action seemed at the time. He is, after all, a very good builder, and they are as precious and rare as mandarin trees around here. I tried not to weep as I pruned a good third of the foliage off the poor baby tree to reduce stress and water loss by evaporation, watered it thoroughly with seasol concentrate to help with transplant stress, and left the hose trickling on it all day. I think it may survive. The builder was completely bewildered by all the fuss. I think he regards plants as some kind of green, fluffy landscaping accessories that you can move around like fence posts.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen I have been keeping a tight hand on the grocery budget. The thing I absolutely loved about my week of not buying groceries, was not going grocery shopping. I just hate shopping, and grocery shopping is right up there on the list of jobs I like to procrastinate about. So my bright idea on the Monday morning following my week of no shopping was to take twice my weekly grocery budget in cash to the shops, and shop until it it was gone, then stop, and that is it for groceries for two weeks (I kept some back for milk).  I shopped with menu plan in place and list in hand, and actually went under budget. I couldn't believe it - I never go under budget for the groceries. It did get used up when we went blueberry picking at a local farm on the weekend, but I am not complaining there of course, and we have a few kilograms of blueberries which will keep us in fruit for weeks. I am still using up odd and hitherto unused exotic ingredients from the back of the cupboard, but I am also buying a few things in bulk which will last for weeks - oats, potatoes, lentils. We are eating very normal dinners, and aren't wanting for anything, so I can't understand exactly how it is that it is suddenly so easy to stay in the grocery budget, other than that without popping out every couple of days 'just' to get sour cream, or extra chicken, or icy poles because it is so hot, we are not picking up those tens of extra items over a week as well that normally sneak into the shopping basket on those occasions.

But I do think there is an extra reason as well - I have discovered this convenient truth about the store cupboard. There are certain staples that I keep topped up all the time - flour, dried beans, sugar, dried fruit, nuts. What occurred to me this week is that all of this is not necessary if I make a menu plan. If I am not going to be baking with dried fruit, why buy any that week? Also, if I have one kind of a basic food, I don't need five other varieties. This week I will be out of brown sugar and caster sugar, but I have plenty of raw. Sugar really is very interchangeable in most recipes, even meringues. Raw sugar makes meringues look rustic, and their texture gets chewy and delicious. I suspect most recipe breakthroughs come from the 'necessity is the mother of invention' school of cooking. I am thinking that the secret of saving money on the grocery bill is not to be afraid of slashing the shopping list, and being willing to experiment (and have a family who is willing for you to experiment!). Also, if I am running out of an ingredient and 'not allowed' to pop out to the shops to pick up 'just one thing', then I am forced to rummage around in the back of the cupboard and use up what I find back there. And who knew that when I ran out of vanilla extract that we would discover that meringues and cup cakes taste very exotic and delicious flavoured with years-old bottles of orange blossom water and rose water, bought for who knows what forgotten recipe now? It actually makes cooking more fun to have to make do, certainly more fun than rushing around in traffic at dinner time hunting for one vital ingredient, which ends up as half a bag of other indispensable items, which mostly consist of, though are not limited to, chocolate and chippies. Just think how thin we will all be too:)

Has anyone else out there been doing a cook-from-the-pantry challenge? Please tell me about successful 'make do' ingredient substitutions, and go on, we all want to read about the unsuccessful ones too..


Anonymous said…
"NOOOOOO!!!!!" Oh your poor little mandarin! I think that it should be compulsory for all builders to attend at least a year of horticulture BEFORE they are allowed to head out into the big wide world armed with buckets of concrete, shovels and large mattocks...I have been trying to use leftovers creatively this week all thanks to your sterling post. I managed to take leftover spag bol and turn it into a kind of lasagne using brown rice pasta. My problem is...what do you do with the leftovers that have been cooked using leftovers?! This could end up as some kind of crazy convoluted Mobius strip of cookery where the final dish might just be the most toxic botulism filled dish ever created! I may get into the Guinness World Book of Records yet! ;). I love rosewater and where on earth did you source orange blossom water here?! I have been after it forever. Do tell ma'am :)
Unknown said…
Funny Post Jo. Poor Builder, he would have been shaking his head.
Im kind of the opposite at the moment and it seems to be working. I used to spend several hours shopping a week and would spend a fortune at one time and come home with bags and bags. I have an IGA near my house and so i have been popping in and buying only what i need when i need it. Ive confounded the boys. They keep looking at me wondering when im going to go shopping. I ask "what do we need?" The answer is nothing but why aren't i going shopping. Its been a few weeks now since ive done a big shop and ive saved money and whittled down the pantry.
Jo said…
Yes, I think a 'Horticulture for Builders' course could be a winner!
I have thought about your left overs conundrum in the past.. so far I have not killed anyone with my cooking.. yet:) Lat week I accidentally put the frozen pea packet in the fridge instead of the freezer (yes, yes, senility setting in fast), so added them to the bolognese sauce, along with chopped carrot and Worcestershire sauce and mashed potato for shepherd's pie. I am trying to restrain myself from mixing up the leftover shepherd's pie with some egg to make oven-baked patties.. just eat the damn pie, I cry..
well done on the lasagne, that sounds brilliant. I think the orange blossom water came from David's a good five years ago or so. I will keep an eye out and let you know if I see any around..
Jo said…
Lynda, your idea is brilliant too - a very European style of shopping, but requires discipline! It's the 'only buying what you need' that is such a trick. When I go shopping with a list and stick to it, I find myself at the end of the list with only a few boring things in the trolley, and I think, 'that can't be enough!' and it takes such self-control not to throw a few more things in, you know, just in case we starve to death or something!
Anonymous said…
I'm sure a court would have excused you if you had tied and trimmed the builder. Oh, the dilemma! What to value? A builder or your tree.

I haven't gone shopping for three weeks this Saturday. Just so over shopping and cooking! Now, normally I menu plan for the fortnight. And abhor takeaway. But I've been cheating. We had a couple of nights out. Hope I get my domestic goddess mojo back. Too expensive otherwise.
Anonymous said…
We will need an update on your tree to know if it survived!

I use menu plans, but always stocked up on dry goods like lentils and rice. It took me ages to realize I didn't need to keep buying them and keep massive amounts on hand, when I might not be using them for a meal for a week or two!
Heather said…
Since I am not always a great meal planner, I often am racking my brain to figure out what to make for dinner one hour before mealtime. Very often I find that I have ALMOST everything I need to make a certain dish. That's when the creative juices get flowing. I am a total "make-do" person in the kitchen.

I try to limit myself to only things needed when I shop at the grocery store, but I just feel better knowing I have certain staples on hand. I don't often use dried cranberries, for instance, but when I want them for a spur of the moment chicken salad or some cookies, by gosh, I want them waiting for me in the cupboard! Living in earthquake country makes me feel a bit better about some of my unnecessary hoarding of food items.
Linda said…
As always, I loved your post, Jo.
Very impressed with your new Grocery Shopping idea. I always go shopping armed with a list and normally stick to that. I find I spend too much money if I am catering for guests( we seem to have a lot of them!) and that's when food items can get pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten until they have to be thrown out. Doesn't happen very often but I am always cross with myself when it does. My mother's voice in the back of my head is saying " Children in Africa would love to eat that." I menu plan for a few days at a time now there is just the two of us at home and that seems to work but it does mean I shop more often - and probably spend too much money!
jo darling, you've got it wrong how builders views trees. they view them as wooden obstacles to be cut down or trodden on or abandoned to one side. you are very fortunate he at least re-planted it instead of just tossing it aside and forgetting all about it! but i feel your pain. when i had guttering down recently i said 'this one is precious... this one is precious... this one is precious'. and all those pointed-out roses and ahribs survived intact (otherthings got ever-so-slightly trampled!).
but anyway... you have almost stolen my thunder. i was only thinking about lists and menu plans this week and contemplating how to turn it into a post myself. you have beaten me to it!
Jo said…
Lucinda, three weeks, that's pretty impressive, the cupboard must be looking pretty bare by now!
Dar, the tree is looking OK so far! I always stock up too, and then I can't find anything in the cupboard for all the lentils or flour or whatever it is I've bought kilograms of..
Heather, I like to find another 'make do' girl in the kitchen. I just cannot stick to a recipe even if I do have the ingredients. I always think I can make it better..
And yes, potential earthquakes are a good reason to hoard food. Although I think if I were going to have a food cache I would have to store it somewhere else. Just not enough room in my pantry. And if there was an earthquake I probably would 'make do' in a big way!
Linda, yes, food at the back of the fridge, I am so guilty of that, and no need to plumb the depths if you have nice new food arriving all the time. These last couple of weeks have made me hunt out every last bit of food in the fridge and use it up, which not only only means no waste, but also makes the fridge so much easier to clean!
e, I am so glad your precious roses were saved, but next time I imagine you will be claiming that everything is precious!
Please go ahead with your menu plan and list post. The more the merrier, and I, for one, love stickybeaking into how other people arrange their housekeeping.
Jen's Busy Days said…
I am definitely a menu planner. I hate having the same 5-6 meals again and again so try to rotate a new one or an oldie back in again as often as I feel like it.

I do my shopping lists on my tablet using "out of Milk". My tablet may have cost me $500 about 1.5 years ago but I have saved at least $50/wk, probably closer to $100/wk, by not putting things in the trolley unless it was on the list and if it does go in it also goes on the list with its price. I have a running total of what is in the trolley and what my remainder will cost. Very handy! I know immediately if I can stock up on tinned tomatoes or some other pantry necessity when it is on special because I can see how much of my budget is left.

Sorry about the tree, definitely keep us updated.

Best wishes
Jen in NSW
Hi Jo, well done with the no shop routine. Poor tree, I hope it picks up with your cooler weather now. At least the builder didn't do too much damage by the sounds of it.
I have been reasonably good with the no shop routine, though having said that, the freezer and the pantry were full to start with. I tried with the fridge fairly strictly too,but that was an epic fail. Usually we can salvage something from the garden, but at this time of year there is only a few passionfruit and a couple of limes. Good, but not good enough. So it has been suggested strongly by The Others that the fridge needs replenishing more. I'm no good with Meal Planning, have tried and failed. However, I'm OK with the shopping list. I don't always stick to it, but I do carry one - does that count? Keep going with your plan and good luck with mandarins next season. cheers Wendy
Finally this week I got under $100 for the groceries with this new regime! Helps that the BF is away a few days, so I can get away with leaner meals (ie less meat, more veggies and healthy stuff).

Weirdly, I don't 'impulse' buy much at all. I think I set a rule with myself early not to have 'junk' in the house, and I try to minimise my wasted food, so I tend to find a recipe and buy what I need. I used to shop daily, as I lived walking distance to the IGA, now I have to plan a whole week's recipes, and buy it all then. A list is essential. I just don't have my mother's 'fly by the seat of your pants' skills :p I thought as a 'grown up' I had to wander the store and know what to buy for meals. Eventually I realised I'm a little too much of a planner for that to work well.
Jo said…
Jen, I am so amazed at the technology you bring to bear on the shopping. It puts my scrap paper scribbled with blue crayon to shame..
Wendy, carrying a shopping list always makes it look like you are totally in charge:)
Sarah, I agree with you about the list - that is the only way that I can manage without returning to the shops for some vital, missed ingredient.. or alternatively, come home to discover that I have just bought a kilogram of lentils when already have another couple of kilos in the cupboard..
GretchenJoanna said…
I don't know if I could have been so restrained with my builder. May God bless your dear tree and multiply the benefits of your stress-reduction therapy.

I have been trying to use up the contents of the pantry and the freezer because I need the space. Like Lynda, I am trying to shop more often, and not "shop around" while I am at the store. I have two reasons for disliking shopping: One is that I just like to stay home and be producing, not taking that time to be out consuming. But the other reason is, I always buy things I don't need this week because I have a habit built from long practice of Stocking Up. I am tired of being so stocked up that some food spoils from age, or because I lost it in the clutter.
My latest strategy is to send my husband to the store for the two or three items we need, so that I'm not distracted from what I was doing at home, and not tempted to buy things that are on sale.
Anonymous said…
I always thought I was pretty darn organised with the shopping - once a month, I'd do a massive online grocery shop; I get milk and juice delivered and I buy meat and f&v and bread from the butcher and green grocer and bakery once a week - we end up spending about $200-$250 a week between the four of us.

Fast forward to three weeks ago when I started to undertake a kitchen renovation. Everything is in boxes or shoved in one shelf in the laundry. I chucked SO MUCH STUFF that had been lost in the pantry, still not sure why I have seven different bottles of vinegar and five kinds of sugar.

Meal planning is also out the window because, well. Tradies doing tradie things so I can only shop for 2-3 days at a time - this week, all I bought was meat for three meals, garbage bags, lunch box snacks and sandwich meat, toothpaste and that was about it. F&V was like $50 (including eggies). Maybe $120 for the whole week all up!

Thinking that as nobody is dying of starvation, maybe I should erm continue with this method. Particularly if I'm spending a lot less! (It better be finished soon, I've opened my last packet of coffee!)
I haven't worked up the courage to do a "shop from the pantry" week yet. Maybe if I stock up on chicken and hamburger, I could pull it off.

I continue to find the more I stay out of the store, the less I spend. Sometimes I get weirdly panicky if we start to run out of something--say, flour or sugar--midweek, even though I know I'm not planning on baking before my next shopping trip. I'm getting better about trusting my plans and not running to the store "just in case."

I hope your poor mandarin survived!

Jo said…
Gretchen Joanna, I know just how you feel about the Stocking Up thing. It requires someone far more organised than I am to do it properly!
And Miss Maudy, yes, the shame of finding multiple bags of years old inedible gourmet flours at the back of the cupboard, I am hearing you. I also feel your tradie pain :( Hope your new kitchen is all worth it!
Frances, sounds like your new plan is working anyway. Do we all have some latent survivalist tendencies which mean we get all twitchy if the cupboard is halfway bare? There is definitely something of the squirrel facing a long winter in my psyche somewhere!

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