The Cost of Costco

Originally published February 8, 2009

Someone asked me tonight what we buy at Costco.

Well, everything. And way too much. In fact, I’ve decided to stop going so much because I spend too much money, but I haven’t figured out where to go shopping instead!

Costco has LOTS of organic veggies, all frozen. They have a huge bag of mixed organic frozen veggies that's our staple -- corn, peas, carrots and green beans. I think it's five pounds for $12 or something close to that.

They usually have frozen organic green beans and soy beans. Their organic eggs are cheaper than I've ever seen anywhere else, and they sell them in packs of 18, for about $3.50. Whole Foods sells a dozen for $4.50!

They have lots of organic fresh fruits and veggies, but only in season, which is how it should be, I suppose. In June, they have organic strawberries. In November, they have organic apples, and in February, well, I guess you buy canned or frozen stuff.

I did buy a big (another five-pound bag) of frozen organic peaches that I'll turn into cobbler or smoothies or ice cream. But there's not always a lot of fresh organic stuff.

They have lots of staples that are cheap and organic: tomato sauce, rice milk, soy milk, juice, juice boxes, bottled water (if you buy it -- we don't,) coffee, peanut butter and crackers. Oh, lots of stuff like oatmeal. If you're not gluten-free, Costco is the bomb! Even you are gluten-free, they still have a lot of good stuff. But my kids always want to buy the organic pop tarts, and I keep having to turn them down. And I’d like to buy the mega-bag of steamed dumplings. And I always buy two books I don’t need.

Three big drawbacks:

1: You spend WAY too much money, because there's all sorts of stuff that you think you need and don't. There are books, movies, iPods, clothes, tools, lightbulbs that will save the planet and cut your electric bill in half, a gadget you didn’t know existed but you must have NOW, and oooh, look, there’s a vacuum sealer, just like on TV, and there’s a labelmaker that will organize your whole life. Yeah. It’s always $300 to go to Costco.

2: There's no organic meat or cheese to speak of. They have $14 organic chickens. Pass!

Or they have hormone-laden, antibiotic-pumped, poison-fed pork and beef, really cheap!

No thanks. They do have organic ground beef sometimes.

3: It's CROWDED. Really. Since we homeschool, we can go during the day, but if you go on a weekend or after 3 p.m., it's just pure mayhem. There are old people fighting for the last handicapped spot, and the cafe in front (drinks are like 50 cents and pizza's super cheap) is always packed full of baskets and sulking husbands with whiny kids.

Other than that, we love Costco!

They never do more than 11 percent markup on any item, ever. They give almost all of their employees health insurance, the average pay is like $15 an hour, and they always have the same people working there, so you get to know them and they're friendly and they seem to like kids. Completely different feel from Sam's, and you’re not supporting WalMart!


Mark's birthday present


So, I wanted to get Mark a TV for his birthday.
Because I want a TV.
In keeping with our "gotta be different" mindset, we have one TV in the house. We got it six years ago from someone who was upgrading to a flatscreen, and they'd had it four or five years, at least. TVs are aging at about the same rate as computers, so our TV is the equivalent of a computer with a floppy drive.
It's enormous. It weighs more than 400 pounds. It's big enough to kill all of our children at once if it falls over. And it sticks out three feet into our play room.
I know, I know. These are not only first-world problems, but whiny, spoiled, elitist problems. But I still have a vision of a flat-screen, fancy, hung-on-the-wall, big-in-a-good-way TV.
However, I also have a vision of a house with no TV in it at all. One where the kids get up in the morning and don't watch Elmo. Where they build forts and play games.
I also have a vision of Mark's face when he realizes that I spent $500 on a "birthday present" for him that he doesn't want, we don't need and we can't afford.
So. Better judgement prevailed. A once-in-a-lifetime thing; too bad, as I could have used my better judgement to get me out of way worse scenarios than this one, you know?
So, what to get Mark?
He doesn't want anything, and if he ever does, he goes and buys it. He has no hobbies except his wife and kids and fixing the house and Boy Scouts. Yeah, I know. He's perfect. I'll get to the blog post at some point about how much fun it is to live with a perfect husband when you, in fact, are decidedly not, and the kinds of therapy you need to deal with it.
In the meantime, Mr. Perfect needs a gift.
So I stole one, shamelessly, from the Internet.
It's free, clever, creative, easy to make, endlessly adaptive and I might get some time alone in bed with my husband out of it. I mean really, what more can you ask for in a present?
Stealing with no compunction at all from Pinterest, but taking away all the cute and finesse and nice touches, and stealing from dating websites where the couples were still in their first year of marital bliss and didn't have to deal with toddlers and babysitters, I came up with a date night jar.
Yep. For my beloved husband's birthday, I gave him a bunch of craft sticks stuck in a Solo cup.
But not just any craft sticks, mind you. These were colored. And cheerful. And they have sharpie written on them.
Red sticks have ideas for stay-at-home dates. Because we even though we have "Get the hell out and I'll see you 2 a.m." tween, we also have Anxiety Boy and Clinging Toddler Girl. And nothing kills romance faster than a hot date where your phone goes off every four minutes with a  seven-year-old crying on the other end because he's convinced you're never coming back.
So, for stay-at-home dates, we have ideas like ""1,000 piece puzzle and pizza," or "Foreign movie and back rubs," or "Fondue night" or "Sit outside on blanket and drink wine."
And lest you people laugh at the mundanity of it all, a typical Saturday night without said craft stick would be, "Put kids to bed. One of you watches Saturday Night Live and drinks wine. The other plays on the computer. At some point, watch the SNL news together. One of you thinks this is plenty of foreplay and chat to make up for a week of not finishing up a sentence. The other gets annoyed and needs ten full minutes of conversation before you fall into bed. Probably to sleep."
So you know what? "Sports and nachos" or "Fondue and a chick flick" sounds pretty good. So does "Candle light dinner" and "Backrubs, massage oil and candles."
Then I threw in a bunch of green sticks, for nights when we do get a babysitter, so we don't drive around, looking at each other, and end up at Bookpeople reading magazines and drinking coffee again. Not that it's a bad date. It's just not enough to, you know, help make it through another week.
So these include "Go see the bats," Drive-in movie," "Fancy Hotel Bar," "Whatever Groupon says," "Moonlight swim at Barton Springs" and "Mark picks the movie," among others.
And you know the funny thing? The kids had a fit when I was making these. They demanded their own jar.

No one was going to have fondue night, movie night or God forbid, video game night without them!!
We've got slumber parties, cooking dessert, reading books together, a Harry Potter marathon, taking the dog to the lake, a blanket under the stars, going for ice cream, a moonlight swim, playing board games outside and going to the dog park in their cup. They had a blast coming up with things to do, and they can't wait to start choosing. We did yellow for stuff we can do at home, like rent a classic movie they've never seen, and blue for going out -- a pajama ride or  a trip to the arcade.
Are these contrived, silly and not necessary if I were a better planner/organizer/more together mom? You bet. In a perfect world, we'd be doing all of these things anyway.
But this is the real world. And in the real world, we're so excited that we made it to Tuesday night or Wednesday night that we just want to get through dinner and bed time, and we sometimes forget that this will be gone before we know it.
And we should be going to Barton Springs to howl at the full moon with out kids. And we should be playing board games on the deck, and we should be having campouts in out playroom, and taking the dog for a swim in the lake. And if it takes a few craft sticks to remind me that I really like my husband, and hey, making dessert with him might be fun, or if it makes Mark and me wake up and remember that our kids are only little once?

Yep. I'm all about the craft sticks in the Solo cup.



Jalepeno bacon

I'm completely obsessed with this "clean meat" version of jalepeno bacon.
Bacon's too expensive to eat on its own, and it's too rich, too bad for you, too fatty, too indulgent, just TOO. We've got five people, and we only eat WOC meat (which is what we call meat Without Crap,) and you only get ten ounces when you buy good meat. Ten ounces of bacon, cooked up, is two slices each, for about $6. Not worth it as a regular purchase.
But a little bacon... crumbled here and there, added to a salad, or in soup... totally and completely worth it.
I discovered it last week, and we've had it on burgers, on salad, on corn chowder and tonight's offering is potato-leek soup with a little corn, salsa and crumbled bacon on top.
Gluten-free, cruelty-free, dairy-free and completely delicious.


Austin Food and Wine Festival

Guess who's going to the Austin Food and Wine Festival?
Yep. And I'm going without children! Well, technically, children aren't allowed in, so it's not really an option. Which is actually really nice!
I'm going on a media pass, which should make it even more interesting, because I'm going to be able to really talk to some of the people behind the food scene in Austin.
And you all know what I'm going to mention to anyone I can find, right? Gluten-free food. We in the GF community are stunned by how many wonderful GF things there are to eat now. At how many restaurants have GF menus, and at how easy it is to eat amazing gluten-free food in some restaurants.
And you know what? We're still greedy for more. This is not a fad, and it's not a dietary choice for us -- it's a medical necessity. And if I have to live GF forever, and my kids have to live GF forever, then I might as well be a champion of the cause and spread that word that yes, you can be a foodie and be gluten free.
And on a completely non-food related note: Lucinda Williams is performing Friday night! Haven't been this excited about an event in a long time!


Gluten-free dinners


Originally published February 9, 2009
Our weird dietary restrictions, this week:
Sawyer’s celiac. Can’t have gluten, ever. Not even a crumb. No dairy, either, and yeah, no soy. 
I cheat and let him have fries and such that are fried with soybean oil once in a while or we’d never be able to eat out. But “real” soy, like tofu or fake sour cream, is off the menu. It does disturbing, odd things to him, best saved for a later story.
Sander’s gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, too. He’s not celiac. Don’t know what he is. He was autistic, now he isn’t. But if you take him off of this diet, he starts getting all weird again. Not going to do a trial and error thing with him -- my kids are not something where I want the word “error” to be applied...
So, for now, no gluten, dairy, or soy.
Mark wants to stay away from nightshades and sugar, too.
I love Mark, but screw any new dietary restrictions right now. I’m sorry, but I’m going to eat tomatoes and sugar. He can deal.
This, in no particular order, is the kind of stuff we have for dinner on a regular basis.
Keep in mind that we don't eat a lot of meat.  So I've had to get very creative. 
Here goes: I'm trying to have a soup, a pizza and a pasta each week. This covers a lot and prevents me from having to constantly worry about what's for dinner. It's also NOT boring.
Soups can be lentil, bean, gumbo, tomato, chicken tortilla (one of our favorites) or 
French onion (without cheese... Sigh.) 
Vegetable soup (no noodles or barley -- we substitute rice, rice noodles or just put in lots of corn and potatoes.) And corn chowder. Yum. Add coconut milk to make it creamy.
Oh, and potato soup, if you make it without cream. You can use coconut milk here, too.
Pasta -- try Tinkyada or Mrs. Leeper's. It's really not bad -- we like Mrs. Leeper's corn pasta. We don't use a lot of meat, so we just do chopped up tomatoes, summer squash, onions and peppers, but you can do meatballs, sausage, whatever you like. Pasta can be elbows or spaghetti or spirals, with all sorts of sauces and meats.
Pizza is, well, pizza, and it's pretty good. Not as good as "real" pizza, but my kids like it and it's easy. If you’re in Austin, you can buy a good one from Gluten-Free Kneads at Whole Foods. Gluten-free, dairy-free and it tastes good! You can make it with Chebe bread or a store-bought GF crust, topped with tomato sauce and veggies. My son likes the fake cheese sauce that I make on top of it -- you can put on soy cheese if you like it. I think it's pretty disgusting, and the pizza tastes pretty good without it.
So, that's three nights down.
Then there's meat one night, fish one night, sausage one night: For meat, there's hamburgers or veggie burgers (hard to find GF veggie burgers, but they're out there, or make your own), steak, pork loin, BBQ pork chops, and every kind of chicken you can imagine. The only thing you can't do is open a can of soup and dump it over the top.
And, of course, there's sausage. My son loves it, so we have it about once a week. We get soy-free "clean" sausage from Whole Foods, with no nitrites or garbage in it. Cut it up and sauteed with veggies over rice, make jambalaya, have kebabs on the grill, cut it up and mix with peppers and onions on chebe bread rolls. That's four dinners from sausage right there!
Chili. Straight from the package, it's gluten-free. Just make it yourself and read the ingredients. At least two or three brands are gluten-free, and it's an EASY dinner.
Leftovers can include Frito Pie, chili in a baked potato, chili omelettes and chili dogs. OK, I actually try to eat a lot healthier than that, and my kids have no idea what a Frito Pie is, but it's an option if you like stuff like that.
Other than that, meat night is easy. Make the same things you've always made, just modify them a little to be GF, and forget the bread. Have rice instead of pasta, and add lots of veggies.
Fish night's the same. Salmon, any kind of white fish -- make a quick sauce from wheat-free soy sauce, if you can have soy, and from soy-free mayo if you can't, and you're set. But PLEASE buy "clean" fish. There's all sorts of garbage our kids shouldn't be eating in most fish. Buy from Whole Foods, know what you're buying, or skip the fish altogether.
Some nights we do breakfast for dinner: Scrambled eggs, waffles, pancakes.
Some nights we do leftovers.
And some nights we just have almond butter and jelly sandwiches.
This doesn't have to be as complicated as it sounds! If you need more specifics on any of the above, just email me - that's what I’m here for!
Oh, other things I just remembered that we like: Fish tacos, chicken or veggie enchiladas (most canned sauce is GF, but check), and King Ranch chicken (but it's hard to make without dairy... maybe just a chicken and tortilla casserole, if you're new to this.) Barbecue pork chops, Rudy's barbecue... The list goes on!