Sunday, August 17, 2014

Closing Up (our online) Shop

All good things must come to an end.

As of Friday, if you have gone to  our link, you will see that we closed up our online shop.

Things are changing fast.

We have had many ask why we have decided not to continue mail orders after our relocation.  There are any reasons.

1.  Logistics.  We would have to reapply and spend money for new county and state permits, find and pay out a lot of money for a commercial kitchen, and transport and keep our current inventory safe and fresh during the process through a major move.  Even if we got a Cottage Food Business permit available in our state, it's really not a feasible, cost-effective option to remain in business in this way.  

2.  Competition.  There are too many players now, and especially where we are heading, there's so much competition.  Competitive pricing online is also becoming an issue.  We just do not have the purchasing power or volume levels to make money on low margin strategy as Vitacost, for an has, even though we have long-time relationships with farmers and purveyors for same or similar product.

3.  Price Increases.  All you have to do is to visit a grocery store and take a look at the current food prices.  We are starting to pay out the real cost of food. The price (and cost) of fresh, real, organic whole foods are increasing rapidly, while the prices of refined, processed, government-subsidized GMO foods remain stable.  Supply is not meeting demand, and with the historical havoc that our weather and climate patterns are having on agriculture worldwide, or the current supply depleted through continuous changes in food trends, it's causing prices to skyrocket with no end in sight.  Of course, when prices increase for the customer, the prices increase at a similarly incremental rate for us, or actually even at a faster rate, if one takes into account competitive pricing.  Shipping rates are also increasing and if one takes into account the impact of food miles to ship a product, it's just not very sustainable on all ends to remain in business, much less turn over a profit.

4.  Change of Pace.  We've been doing this for a LONG time and change is good.  Instead of continuing the same ol', same ol', we may evolve to use our skills and talents in a new and different way.  We are really embracing this opportunity.

We will have to wait and see what comes next.  We are not rushing into anything.  In fact, we really want to get lost for awhile and build our new homestead, then revisit everything.

We have had people ask if we are selling the business.  The answer is absolutely not. We built the business from a mere thought when we were pregnant with our first child and sculpted it over 12 years to meet our own family needs.  We really won't have anything to sell off at the end, and it is meant to be that way.  It was a cottage business from the get-go and it will be so at the end.  It was a hobby, bred from passion, knowledge and connections made and gained from over the years, with the benefit of a supplemental income in terms of food and a little extra money to make ends meet so we could stay at home to raise our kids.  There have been imitators, and that is more than okay, as we take that as a complement and we have coexisted with one another.  It has served us well and now we are ready to set it free so we can move on.

We will continue to remain at the Hillcrest Farmers Market in San Diego on Sundays, 9-2, for your pantry needs through August and September, and we shall see about how far we will go into October.  We will give you ample warning when we will put up our market vendor tent one last time. 

Thank you for your continued support of our business through the transition will always appreciate our customers - new ones, and our longtime fans.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Moving On

I remember a long while back when my father was self-employed as a wallpaper hanger during the 1990s.  He retired from over 35 years of service from a former career, and after that, he filled his time and did what he loved.  He was self-employed - just himself - sharing his gifts and knowledge with others. He did this for a pretty long time, for many years after he started to collect a pension.
He was the one who inspired me to consider self-employment when I moved out to California.  He told me that your business should stay small, but big enough to meet your needs.  If you had to hire, you have gotten too big.  I have always stayed small, put family first, and have done what I needed to do to make ends meet for my family.
I have always had a genuine passion for food. I grew up in the Upper Midwest where my mother grew a large family garden, had a root cellar, a large freezer, a lauder, and a whole heck of a lot home cooking going on.  This is where I gained a love of chemistry which eventually evolved to a formal study of home economics education, consumer science and food chemistry.   I had built a resume of immense work experience, made the professional connections, had the young energy, and the authentic passion for what I did. I came to California with hopes and dreams and I carved out a niche and an opportunity for the longest while that no one else had at the time.  
I also became a mother - twice - and wanted to stay at home with my daughters like my mother did with my sister and I.  She often worked from the home too, and like me, we could set our own schedule, putting family first. I have ridden out the wave for over 12 years.  It has served my family and I well - providing extra money to make ends meet; a network to help feed my family; and a well-needed social outlet.  Many have seen my children grow with the farmers market as we are all farm-i-ly. 
Once I asked my father after he fully retired, "When did you decide to quit?  And why?"  He said in a nutshell, "I really didn't know, but what I did know was this.  You will know when it is time to close up shop."
The fact that the 90s money bubble burst for him, and then work went away.  It was the sign that it was time for him to move on.
The fact is that the after-the-millennium food movement has become so incredibly diluted and repetitive and ego driven is the sign that I need to move on.  The social media driven food movement idea was a good thing - and can still be a good thing - if it can get back to basics and can include and value the experience and knowledge that those who have been in the trenches for much longer.  I can say this from the heart:  my own work experience and knowledge that was highly valued as little as ten years ago where I had many asking to work for them has eroded to the attitude of "you are not the boss of me."  I can also say, I am not alone in feeling this way.
There's a quote from Abbott L. Lowell that I must share: "You will be courteous to your elders who have explored to the point from which you may advance; and helpful to your juniors who will progress farther by reason of your labors."  There's so much truth to this.
So today is a special day for my family.  My husband and I have made the decision to retire. Later on today I will accompany my husband as he files his paperwork with the state of California, parting ways after 19 years of state service.
I came out of a brief stint of retirement once by customer demand at the farmers' market, which I did, to run my shop for another four years.  This time, though, retirement is for good.  There will be one more round of product ordering and then slowly, the farmers' market tables will become less and less full as we pack up the moving truck.
I feel what I have accomplished over the years in the natural food industry has been great, has touched a great many people, and can say that the skills and knowledge I have acquired from almost three decades in the field I can use in my daily life. I am grateful for all of the doors that have been opened, then shut, and with the players in the current food movement, it's been feeling more like slammed doors than shut doors.  However, I think that in totality, it has all been very good to me.

So what is next?  
I have always believed that you should make the life for yourself that you really want, and not the one others think you should live.  My husband will spend his retirement days off on a new adventure maintaining a data hub that will help farmers' be more efficient with their crop planning and planting.  For me, I am planning to get lost to build a new homestead, to continue to homeschool my children, and to live a life out with kindred spirits.   I'm dreaming about building a chicken coop, growing rows of fresh vegetables, days of handwork, getting involved with the local grange and teaching folk school classes and building a home.
We will be relocating to the Bay Area within the next weeks, and for those who have known me for many years, we have always had the dream and the goal to move up there.  It's now becoming reality, and honestly, it still hasn't sunk in yet. 
The shop will close in its entirety at the Hillcrest Farmers' Market and online by the end of October.  We'll be blogging here and there afterward to keep you abreast of our transition into retirement.  I will always be grateful for all of the friendship, comradery, and business loyalty which I have received over the years, since 2002.  Thank you...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What's Cooking - More June Goodness

Oh boy!  It's that time of year. Ugly looking ripe stone fruit from the farmers' market in bulk gets transformed into tasty jams, sauces and butters to enjoy when days turn cooler.   Last week we made a big batch of applesauce, and this week we made an even bigger batch of spiced peach sauce and a little bit of spiced peach butter from it and put them up to trade for other foods and goods, or to savor later.

Guessing I had about 25 to 30 pounds of REALLY ripe peaches from the farmers market last Sunday in these two boxes.  Had to get them washed and prepped in a hurry that evening.  They were browning FAST.  

Blended them smooth as they were cooking down on low heat in the crockpot.  Actually I had both of the crockpots going, about 9 quarts total.  I let the moisture evaporate overnight and it thickened nicely with the lids off.  Added some fresh squeezed lemon juice, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg to the peach sauce.  No added sugar to the sauce! Ladled some into the jars, then cooked down the last three pints' worth with a bit of maple syrup and balsamic vinegar to make a few half pints of peach butter for toast.    

I also made a batch of peach cobbler for Monday morning breakfast out of those really ripe peaches. I have a basic cobbler recipe that I usually make on Fridays with rye flakes but I had to make it for the next morning as the peaches were so ripe (but will very usable and edible if processed right away...)  Delicious!  It didn't even make it to the dessert phase...

Also I had a whole lot of fresh onions and fresh garlic this last week too, so it was time to make some broth. Carrots in fridge, parsley and celery from garden, some root vegetables from crisper to use up, and dried herbs and spices from the pantry.  Base for this week's savory grains and maybe some soup. I let it simmer on low for several hours, strained it, and stored it in the fridge.  It should keep well for a couple weeks.

This week's family food craving was parmesan cheese.    Eggplant, zucchini, Gold Bar yellow squash, tomatoes, mushrooms, Padron peppers, herbes de Provence, and a splash of balsamic vinegar = a serious batch of late Spring ratatouille!  Mmmm.  Topped with some freshly grated Parmesan and served with a couple pieces of delicious sourdough. It was perfect for a couple lunches and suppers...

I also made a delicious mushroom risotto with some of my heirloom variety Carnaroli rice that I sell at my weekly farmers' market stand.  I made a batch of Spring greens from my garden and from what I got at the farmers' market to accompany it for lunch...a mix of kale, chard, beet greens, fennel, a little green onion, ginger, garlic, olive oil and pink salt. 

What were you creating in the kitchen this week from your garden, CSA shares and the farmers' market this week?  Share below.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Home Cooking - June

June at last.  We've been really busy, so smaller, simpler bites have been on the menu.

Let me share with you what I have been cooking lately in my humble kitchen this week, using as much bounty from farmers' market and from my garden.

Breakfast has again been the whole grain of the day, soaked overnight in fresh water with a little bit of apple cider vinegar.  This photo features whole grain millet that I offer on Sundays at my vendor stand, another customer and family fave.  Gluten-free, high fiber, filling, comforting.  Cooked it up again and added some fresh butter, a jar of last season's applesauce with apples from Sweet Tree Farms, a little cinnamon, some raisins and soaked and pecans instead of walnuts.  This really tasted more like a treat than a breakfast...guess that is a good thing.

Sunday I cooked up some farro that I also sell at my market stand, then sauteed a whole bunch of different greens I got from the farmers market and from my garden  - kale, chard, beet greens and dandelion - in some olive oil in my cast iron dutch oven.  Drizzled a little balsamic vinegar over the greens, then added a couple cans of diced organic tomatoes and Italian seasoning.   Layered these in a casserole dish topped with goat raw milk feta and some more basil, salt and pepper.  Baked at 350F covered for 25 minutes.  The feta melted and it tasted no less than delicious.


The family has had a weird craving for tahini lately so I made a quart of homemade hummus and a crockpot of tomato tahini vegetable soup. Soaked and cooked up a pound of garbanzos and added a couple Gold Bar summer squash to the hummus instead of water in the food processor with the other ingredients to add moisture - great way to use up the bounty of zucchini and other summer squash that is now gracing the kitchen.  Veggies in the soup:  Spring onions, fresh garlic, chard, kale, carrot, a well as a can of tomatoes.  Pureed it all with some tahini and vegetable broth I had in the fridge with my immersion blender - the kitchen appliance I just cannot live without.  Enjoyed them with some serious sourdough all week long...comforting...  

This week we were wrapping up our third grade local Native American studies unit on the Kumeyaay and decided to whip up a batch of frybread and some White Sage and Wild Mint tea for a snack.  The Kumeyaay usually gathered acorns and pinons, ground them into a paste with in a grinding hole with a stone, soaked the high-tannin porridge in water to remove the tannins so they could be easily digested, and then cooked it up over an open fire and served it with wild berries, wild greens or apples.  We were not that adventurous to make it that way but the bread recipe seemed interesting to the 9 year old, made with heirloom wheat flour and coconut oil.  It was strangely satisfying.  (May have to revisit this recipe in the Fall.

And lastly,  I made a couple more quarts of lacto-fermented dill pickles with gherkins and Spring onions from JR Organics CSA Farm and fresh garlic from Tom King Farms.  Can't have enough dill pickles on hand during the Summer.    The recipe is so easy.  If you don't have grape leaves, a teaspoon of black tea in each quart Mason jar to keep those pickles crunchy.

What were you creating in the kitchen these days from your garden, CSA shares and the farmers' market this week?  Share below.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Home Cooking - May

It's almost June.  Time again to make out a grocery list, make out a camping food list for next month, revisiting my long term food storage list, putting away extra seasonal produce...fermenting, pickling, canning, dehydrating. Oh yes, making and feeding my family three meals a day from scratch.

It's been quite an evolution.  I am at about making about 90% of my family's meals from scratch and cutting my family's food budget by 75%.  On average I spend about 3 waking hours a day average surrounding myself with food - either making meals and snacks; building up a pantry and food storage; making out a list and grocery shopping; to teaching my daughters culinary skills as part of our practical life focus of our homeschool.  Next to sleeping, this is where I spend a large part of my waking - and unwaking - hours doing. 

I love it though, and this is what keeps me home and grounded, keeps me going with my cottage business - selling and talking up the foods that you eat yourself, that you trust, that you want others to eat too.  And it is just getting so expensive to dine out...$30-$40 for a meal out is pretty much the norm now for a decent meal for a family of four in my neck of the woods.  That's a week's worth of groceries for our family on a light week.  If you are going out a lot, getting takeout - it adds up and it's a heck of a lot of money.

Let me share with you what I have been cooking lately in my humble kitchen this week, using as much bounty from farmers' market and from my garden.

Breakfast some days has been the whole grain of the day, soaked overnight in fresh water with a little bit of apple cider vinegar.  Here today's grain was brown hulless barley that I offer on Sundays at my vendor stand, which is a customer and family fave.  An heirloom variety, low gluten, high fiber, filling, delicious.  Cooked it up, added some fresh butter, some of last season's applesauce, a little cinnamon (we've cinnamon fanatics around here) and some raisins and soaked and roasted walnuts.  We are out of raw whole milk so if we had any, that would be drizzled on it too.  The daughters like theirs more often savory than sweet with a little butter and a little Bragg's aminos drizzled on it.   

Midweek I chopped up a head of Red Bor kale and some beet greens from the market along a big handful of a mix of dinosaur kale and dandelion greens from the garden.  Sauteed them in a little olive oil.  Layered a baking dish with the sauteed greens, then dotted the greens with some soft goat milk cheese (chevre).  I beat up a dozen pastured eggs from my friend at the market in a separate bowl - his son has chickens laying extra eggs so I bought a couple dozen from him last Sunday.  Lovely eggs! Added a little salt and pepper and some herbes de Provence for flavor and then poured it over the greens and cheese.  Baked for 40 minutes at 375F in the oven.  Served hot.   Enjoyed a piece with some fresh peaches and a slice of sprouted sourdough bread from the market.    Have quite a bit of my eggs and greens and goat cheese bake left over so I cut them into wedges that can be savored for a simple lunch or part of breakfast, or a snack a few times over for the rest of the week.

Had received some lovely Anna apples at the market - a Summer season variety here in Southern California - and had a few frozen cherries lingering in the freezer. Thought that a fruit crisp would be a fun breakfast, snack and dessert as we start the weekend.

I feel grateful that I finally got my hands on some Gigandes beans to sell at my market stand as so many have asked for them over the last few months.  I feel bad when I have to say that I am looking around and searching them out, but times are definitely tough right now for farmers in the West.  But I found them!  Had to soak them about a day and a half because they are so large, but it's so worth it.  Cooked them overnight on low in the crock pot, drained the water and added three jars of fresh tomato puree that I just put away a couple weeks ago from organic heirloom tomatoes from my friend's farm in Ramona. It's like the best tasting puree ever...ever...and it's only the beginning of the season.   Sauteed one of his Torpedo red sweet onions and some of his hot garlic with some more chiffonaded kale in a pot with some olive oil added it to the beans.  The dish is called Gigantes Plaki and the recipe is here.  Think the family had thirds on this one.

Made a delicious little chopped seasonal vegetable salad to pair with the beans.   I dug out a zucchini, a couple local heirloom tomatoes, carrots, radishes, some delicious Padron peppers and a handful of raw kalamata olives and made a delicious balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing and done.

I have recently rediscovered the love of making and enjoying cultured cream.  Probiotic rich, less tangy than sour cream, without the fillers and thickeners...and so easy to make.  Took a pint of organic whipping cream (raw cream would work well too) and a quarter cup of organic full fat yogurt...put in a quart Mason jar and set it on the counter for two days.  Kept the jar moderately sealed during the process and did not need to "burp" it because it has not been so warm.  You will know when it is done when it is thick like yogurt and has a tangy taste, but not too tangy like plain yogurt.  Refrigerate when complete.  Good on everything you would use sour cream on...over pinto beans, baked potatoes, a little with some fresh fruit, part of a cooling dip...

And lastly,  I made a BIG batch of fermented escabeche from this exceptional recipe.  I combined sliced jalapenos and cubed jicama (3 potunds for a buck, each),r fresh carrots, red onions and hot garlic.  The dh from New Mexico said it was the best he ever tasted.  I guess that I take it as a humble complement.  I do say, it's really good and have a feeling I'm going to make a heck of a lot more of this as Summer wanes on.

What are you creating in the kitchen these days from your garden, CSA shares and the farmers' market?  Share below.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Out of the Box: Summer Meals

It's been awhile with a new blog post as the family is getting to the end of our homeschool year.  The energy is getting higher by the day in many different ways, for all of us.

I am spending so much more time in the kitchen now than ever.  Even when I am not in the kitchen, I am contemplating my family's meals and snacks...building up a food storage...canning and preserving...and of course, continually revising the grocery list and making the best use of our bounty.

I will be honest...I do enjoy it, and it's been my passion for over 25 years. However, if you have seen the steep rise in food prices, it is becoming more clear that all of these have become a necessity and it's a reason for concern.

As a gentle reminder, you may want to think about building a stash of some of the beans and grains that you use often.  Pinto beans, lentils, rice, and millet are good ones to start with.  Every time you make it to the grocery store, pick up an extra couple pounds of one and add it to what you have to build it up.  Prices are expected to go even higher - much higher - as Summer and Fall roll along.

Saying this, food as we now know it has become kind of a quagmire in many ways.  It's giving me a headache - and a heartache.  Nourishing our bodies shouldn't have to be this way.  I don't know about you, I have grown tired by all of the food fads; the nutritionism behind everything; the system playing GMO roulette on human beings; the free-dom behind different ways of eating to the point that cooking has become a full-blown contact sport...and all of the hype about food has become...way...too...much.  This is from someone who has been in the food industry a large amount of her life.

So, I am turning it off, or maybe, turning down the volume a little and thinking about practicality and just plain common sense.  Food does not have to be complicated to prepare, to be tasty, or to be nourishing.  I am ready to enjoy some simple food especially with Summer upon us and build up a stash that I can fall back on as times become a little bit more interesting (and challenging) to feed ourselves in the near future.

Fresh fruit plates with fresh cultured cream to dip them in, heck yeah.  Meal salads sound good.  Some quiche, a simple frittata, deviled pastured eggs once a week - super!  Homemade pizza - can't go wrong with that.  Easy porridge breakfasts, great idea.  Putting up the Summer bounty, definitely an even wiser idea...

I feel inspired now as I give you a snapshot of our family's Summer eating pattern.  A lot of people ask me how I feed my family for very little money, and how I use up what I get from the farmers' market every week.  People get a CSA box and use up some, and think they can't use it all up in a week...or even two...then the food goes into the compost pile...with food and money wasted and then feel totally uninspired.

It's not complicated if you keep things fluid and flexible and stay within a pattern and not necessarily with fixed recipes.  Cooking with a CSA box or even from the farmers' market is an art and a craft.  Heck, there's even science behind it too.

Every weekday morning we'll start our day with a whole grain porridge made out of brown rice, polenta, millet, oatmeal or rye flakes.  All of the grains I use are certified organic and heirloom variety, no GMOs.  Remember, not all grains are created equal.

Made with whole grains soaked overnight in the traditional manner, it should be a cinch to prepare and digest in the morning.  Enjoyed best with a little cinnamon, cardamom, butter or ghee, cream and honey; maybe a little peanut butter or a sprinkle of soaked and roasted walnuts or almonds, maybe raisins for the DH and I.

I always cut up a plate of fresh Summer fruit that everyone can enjoy with it, which is different from making baked fruit during the Fall, Winter or Spring.  On Saturday I will make some pancakes, muffins or scones.  On Sunday when we are at the farmers' market, so we usually pick up something to eat there.  See, that was easy.

For dinner we usually enjoy a soup or stew, or a pot of beans with or without rice or barley, or a bean or vegetable based casserole. Thinking about steaming some seasonal produce to go with these...greens (can't get enough of them); zucchini or summer squash; carrots...topping them off with a little butter or ghee, of course.

When the tomatoes come in, I'll be craving stewed tomatoes.  I love fresh tomatoes.  Yummy!  I usually stay away from eggs or dairy during dinners as these can be too difficult to digest before going to bed.

For lunch...well, that's a different subject.  I have a DH who needs to take a lunch everyday to work and depending on the weather and activity, it fluctuates with the girls and I.  We also eat our main meal at noon. Here's what I am thinking:

Monday:  soup.  Thinking a simple vegetable soup, light cream-based or coconut milk based soup with a lot of vegetables, lentils, flavors...and serve with some bread or rice.  

Tuesday:  salad.  Not just a vegetable salad,  but thinking a whole grain salad made with brown rice, quinoa, barley...even lentils...lots of vegetables and a creamy-based or olive oil based dressing.  We always eat green salads for lunch as surprisingly, they are a lot easier to digest during the heart of the day instead of the evening.  Pair with even more fresh fruit.

Wednesday:  an egg based dish.  Eggs and greens skillet, a quiche, maybe make some deviled eggs to bring to the beach, or a frittata.  Getting in some of those pastured eggs to get in all of the good stuff in them.  Eggs once a week to get needed nutrients you can't get anywhere else is more than plenty.  Include some fresh berries and as a side of lacto-fermented veggies, and what can't be more nourishing?
Thursday: sauteed veggies on cheese toast or creamed veggies on toast. This is an oldie but goodie, something my mother used to make that I loved as a kid.  I make the sauteed veggies with summery vegetables...summer squashes, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers...and the creamed veggie recipe with the heartier ones like root or tuber veggies or green vegetables.  It's a great recipe to use up bread, milk, cheese, and extra veggies in the fridge or from the garden.  It's so simple to make and so satisfying.  If I don't have bread on hand, I'll make a small batch of cornbread or some mashed potatoes, turnips, or parsnips in a pinch.  Pair this with some fruit sauce and lacto-fermented vegetables from the fridge...sounds like a great Summer meal to me.

Friday: pizza.  Made on a simple crust and topped with our favorites.  I have a Chicago style thicker crust recipe and an Italian style thinner crust recipe which I use, each turns out well.  If I am too lazy and have some extra bread, I'll use them to make personal pizzas or cheese breads.   Maybe enjoy it with a green salad with a lemon olive oil or with a bowl of chopped raw veggies and some olives.

Saturday:  skillet meal or "bowl" made with whatever we have left in the fridge.  Skillet meals often have a hash consistency to it, but that is the beauty of a skillet meal.  Both make for great use of what you have on hand, especially if you are using up a CSA box or an abundance from the garden.  Bowls made great work out of leftover grains and beans, lacto-ferments and heartier greens such as shredded kale or collards and top with a sauce of the week and we'll be set.

Sunday:  leftovers.  Anything in the fridge from the week is a good candidate for Sunday lunch...

...And then we'll start over again.  Next up - Summer snacks!

What's cooking with you?  

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Shopping Costco

I'm working fast and furious on the Conscious Cookery new-and-improved blog and have been pondering how I can transition to it.  Today's Costco grocery shopping trip with the daughters gave me some inspiration.

It's no secret that food prices are beginning their climb.  If you haven't thought of ways to stretch that food dollar for the best nutritional bang, this may be a good time to start.  Grocery shopping is becoming a sport of strategy - kind of like chess - as many consumers are trying to strategize their next move how to get the best nutritional bang for the buck, while keeping the food budget in check.

Recently, I have had several of my customers ask me if grocery shopping at Costco is really a money saver.   

Whoa...a burning question.  Inquiring minds would like to know.  Do I shop Costco? 

The answer is:  Yes, I do.   It kind of took me forever to purchase a membership, though.  I'll be honest - I had never shopped at a Costco, a Sam's Club or equivalent before - just because I really didn't have a reason to be there.  Everyone kept talking about "You need to go to Costco.  Have you been to Costco yet?  You should GO."  So I did, and I was impressed enough that I bought into a basic annual membership that I still hold to this day.

Others have picked my brain in a roundabout way, asking a few variations of the question:  Is Costco the center of my family's food dollars?  

The answer to this is:  Absolutely not.  I have learned to shop Costco enough to make it cost effective, yet fit this into my circuit of stores that I frequent once a month as I cross off the items on my grocery list.  I shop local first, then radiate from this to purchase the food I need to feed my family that fit into the food budget.

Yep, you read it right. I shop Costco only ONCE a month.  I come with a list, get the cart, grab what is on the list, pay for it, wait for the door greeter to put a marker strike and a smiley face through the receipt and then I run - until the next month.  I often come with a cup of coffee with cream from home to stave off any hunger pangs.  This is a sure-fire way not to blow up the food budget on impulse buys from food samples galore throughout the store.

In fact, whatever I cannot harvest in my garden; get at the farmers' market through barter and trade; or at my local food cooperative; or at one of my favorite ethnic food stores here in town, then I consider Costco along with stores like Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's, or Smart and Final to fill in the gaps in the grocery purchasing list.  My goal is to shop the bigger stores once a month, and getting what I need from the farmers' market once a week when I work it.

Now there is a time and a place for Costco depending on everyone's individual grocery shopping needs, tastes and personality.   For some, they thrive at Costco and LOVE it.  I am one of those who kind of holds her breath, jumps in, gets what I need, prays for the shortest line, and makes a mad dash out of the store as I am gasping for air.  It's just a different kind of shopping experience that I am used to.  I am just not into massive crowds with carts running up onto your ankles.   I am only making suggestions about how the Costco trip fits into my family's food budget.  You may choose to agree, or disagree.  It's all good.

Now there are tricks to shop this store where you can make it worth your while and can help you save on your grocery bill.

The membership.  If you do the math, one would have to spend over $2700 a year total over 12 months to make that $110/year Executive Membership a cost effective choice.  Remember gas, tobacco, and stamp purchases do not count in the 2% kickback check mailed to you at the end of the year.  

We don't ever come close to spending that amount on groceries or other goods.  We have never spent a significant amount on electronics, appliances, or whatever because honestly, I have never found it's never been the best deal for these there.  If you buy less, go with the Basic Gold Star annual membership and put the extra $55 in your savings account.  

Better yet, if you get an Executive membership, put a bug in someone's ear to give you it as a GIFT like for a birthday or Winter holidays.   There would be nothing like a paid-for membership and cash back to boot.  Awesome.

The pricing.  Ever wonder why some Costco prices end in certain numbers, and some in others?  Let's crack the code:

Prices ending in .99:  regular priced items.  They will be around for awhile.
Prices ending in .97:  markdowns from the original price.  These can be really good deals.
Prices ending in .49, .79, .89:  manufacturer deals.  Good but not always great.  The .97 markdown deals are better.  Check the price per unit with other stores to buying in bulk from a cooperative or direct from the farmer.
Prices with an asterisk* on right side of the sign:  item will not be reordered.  If you love something and see this, stock up and get it while you can.

Price with an .88 or a .00:  markdown by the store manager to move it out quickly.  We see these towards a end of the season.  

The math.  Okay, I am definitely a number crunching person, and I do my homework before I shop for this and for that - especially for large purchases.  Some of it is just plain eyeballing and some I do need a pencil, paper or a calculator.  Doing a little math beforehand may save you time, the crowds, and of course, money.  Not everything at Costco is a steal - and sometimes, it's not even a deal.

Cost effectiveness.   Think about your purchases before spending the bucks at Costco.  We know it is quite easy to tear up a food budget by shopping Costco without a list or a plan.  Think about space on the shelf in your home or in the fridge or freezer to house a large volume of whatever you purchase.  Think about how fast you will need to use up a certain item, especially if it is perishable.  How long will it take before it goes rancid?  Does it really fit your pantry or food storage plan?  Shop according to the pricing code above and you will come out ahead.  Also, think about quality for your purchasing dollar. 

Go to Costco with a list.  Stay on the list.  (I know, it's easier said than done!)  However, please try.  I find it more helpful to go to Costco when the store opens or about an hour before closing, and go on Monday through Thursday, if you can.  Usually there are no samples to encourage impulse buying during these times, and the crowds are much lower to help reduce your stress level.

Find a friend or family member who would want to split a large amount of (fill in the blank) with you.  This may be a reason to get that Executive Membership.    Again, don't give into impulse buys after the nth sample and hate to say it, keep the kids and the nag factor at home.  Remember that food or goods bought on a "deal" are not really the real deal if they sit on the shelf or take up massive space in the refrigerator or freezer waiting for you to use them. And food waste is just money down the darned drain.

So can Costco save you money on your grocery bill?  My answer to that question is:  You decide.  For me, Costco has time and a place.  I do applaud how the company treats their employees and compensates them with a living wage and solid benefits.  The quality on the high, high quality of their products they offer is excellent.  There has been many a time where their gas prices are by far the least expensive in town.  I purchase what I usually or need to get, then I go along my merry way.

I do find my Costco membership dollars goes further on things like gasoline, shoes, clothes and seasonal items than on groceries. You will not always save money shopping Costco. There are things you shouldn't buy at Costco - especially a lot of groceries - and for a few very good reasons.   If you learn to shop it for ORGANIC - or for items that are clean products - you can save money and feed your family well.  

I sometimes find that buying less at Costco is so much more.  So what should you buy there?  That will come in a later post - and hopefully, on a fresh new blog.