Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What is the price of fresh produce at a grocery store in NYC?

I've posted before about my new BFF grocery store, Garden of Eden. I LOVE it. I always get a new cashier that can't see the differences between a zucchini and a cucumber, but the produce is so beautiful and abundant, even silly people can't stop me from coming back. And now that I know they offer a 10% STUDENT DISCOUNT!!, I feel less guilty about the (occasionally) high-ish prices. My local grocery store, FoodTown, has atrocious produce - it doesn't taste good, it doesn't look pretty, and there isn't much of it from which to choose. For that reason, I have 3 times now made a weekly trek down to 107th and Broadway to get fresh fruits and veggies from Garden of Eden (my recorder students lives at 103rd and Central Park West, so I'm somewhat in the 'hood once a week anyway), and I will continue to do so as long as I live in this neighborhood and it is the best option for me and my husband.

(Get to the prices already!) So, here's what we paid on our most recent trip:

3 yellow onions: 1.92lbs@$0.79/lb = $1.36
(way too many) baby red potatoes: 3.25lbs@$1.99/lb = $5.82
8 plum tomatoes: 1.98lbs@$1.49/lb = $2.65
1 lb bag of peeled baby carrots: $1.61 each
4 plums/pluots: 1.28lbs@$1.69/lb = $1.94
3 peaches: 1.4lbs@$1.49lb = $2.09
3 black plums: 0.93lbs@$1.49/lb = $1.25
4 loose carrots: 1.64lbs@$0.89/lb = $1.31
2 zucchini: 0.94lbs@$1.99/lb = $1.68
2 yellow squash: 1.11lbs@$1.00/lb = $1.98
3 romaine hearts, pre-packed bag: $2.50
box of broccoli cream soup: $4.49
meats from the deli, 0.5lb of each:
- black forest ham: $4.63
- bacon lovers turkey: $5.04
cold drinks (our special treat):
- mango coconut water: $2.69
- vanilla chai tea: $1.61

TOTAL: $44.64
total savings w/ sales and student discount: $6.38

Fall 2013 Goals

With the school year only 2 weeks away, it's time to talk about some goals. I like to post them here because 1. I'll never lose them or forget where they are, and 2. it makes me feel a bit more accountable, since it's out there for the world to see. So, here they are:

By the end of the summer:
- complete 2 interviews for my thesis
- read my entire Introduction to Music textbook and listen to the CDs
- prepare lecture notes for the first 2 weeks of class
- finish converting my 401(K) into my Roth IRA
- apply for a new passport
- attend at least 2 live performances (through JazzMobile and Chamber Music Society)
- start reading at least 1 Ellington book and 1 Parker book, for my classes in the fall
- brainstorm what my extra assignment(s) for the Parker class could/will be
- finish my "spring" cleaning by organizing small collections, like recordings and jewelry, etc.

This semester:
- stay on top of teaching and personal/student assignments (having weekends off will definitely help with this, though I want to get as much work as possible done on Tues/Thurs mornings and afternoons)
- bring lunch at least 20 days out of the month (assuming there are 22 weekdays in a month)
- eat dinner out less than 4 times/month for during the week, and less than 4 times/month for weekends
- attend at least 4 live musical performances per month
- LOSE 10 LBS! (This is a biggie, obviously, but it's not impossible. 10lbs in 4 months is 2.5lbs/month, or a little more than 0.5lbs/week. This is not that much. During my most committed times, I was losing 2lbs/week. My weight loss will be accomplished by eating better/bringing lunches, consuming less carbs overall, and incorporating more exercise/general movement into my daily life. I can do this!!)
- register for (and pass!!) NYS teacher certification exams (3)
- conduct 3-6 more interviews for my thesis
- complete 75-80% of my thesis work, including my discography, bibliography, and musical analysis. That way, I can spend time over the winter break (nearly 2 months) assembling the prose, and I'll have minimal research/interviews remaining for the spring. In fact, my goal should be 85-90% of thesis work...

By graduation (May 2014):
- apply for (and obtain!!) NYS PreK-12 music teacher certification
- LOSE 20 LBS! (Again, not impossible!! And if I am able to lose a total of 20lbs by May 2014, I will be back around the weight that I was at for my wedding, nearly 2 years prior. I have just been putting on weight since we moved up here, and it's time to reverse that trend. As my workload lightens at Rutgers, I will increase my weight loss efforts. My eventual end goal, from the weight that I am at this moment, is 55lbs of weight loss. 20lbs would put me over 1/3 of the way there.)
- start looking for a new apartment (though we won't move until July)
- apply to summer and fall job opportunities

Monday, August 12, 2013

What is Fresh Direct?

After moving to NYC, I started seeing trucks and hearing a lot about FreshDirect. Groceries... delivered? I had never heard of such a thing, besides Meals On Wheels, which is clearly not the same thing. I read some reviews online, which weren't too positive, saying you could find stuff for the same price in real stores and not have to pay shipping, etc. I created an account, for funsies, and I was immediately sent a $25 off coupon.

Well, now.

That's fun. I like getting $25 worth of groceries for nothing. An old habit kicked in - something I started doing while purchasing items online while planning my wedding. I searched for "Fresh Direct coupons", and found one for $50 off.

Well, now.

That's even better. I do like $50 worth of free groceries. The caveat was that I needed to spend $100 total, but that was fine by me... I already had $200 in my cart!

I went through a moral dilemma, though. I wanted to get all this super-awesome food, but the produce is delivered at the peak of freshness. What was I to do, needing to feed only 2 people and having more fresh produce than we could eat in time on hand? I changed my shopping approach.

I filled my online shopping cart with meat.

Meat is a tricky item. It can be very expensive, and it's less abundant in NYC, at my local grocery store, than in Texas, at any grocery store. Our freezer had been painfully empty since arriving in NYC, and our meat consumption left us wanting. So I took our $200 (minus $50, so closer to $150) and after comparing it to local prices and making sure it was comparable (which it was), spent it mostly on meat.

Need pictures? Here's my Fresh Direct Christmas:

The boxes arrived at my 5th floor apartment, at the scheduled time,

packed so neatly
with beautiful fresh vegetables

including some curly kale

and a butternut squash.
The meat was abundant

and packed my once-empty freezer.

The food is/was/has been delicious, and overall, I was quite pleased with the experience. I'm not a FD member (for the discounted shipping prices), but I would consider purchasing in bulk like this again, if I have an extra $150 lying around. Speaking of which, here's the receipt total, if you're curious:

80% lean ground chuck 2 lbs@$4.99/lb                       $9.98
90% lean ground beef sirloin 1 lb@$6.99/lb                 $6.99
Australian lamb loin chop (2") 0.84 lbs@$11.99/lb     $10.07
Beef fajita strips family pack 3.3 lbs@$5.39/lb            $17.79
Beef stew meat family pack 5.14 lbs@$4.99/lb           $25.65
Boneless pork loin chop (1") 2.9 lbs@$5.39/lb           $18.63
($3 extra charge to have the 6 chops individually vacuum-packed)
Frenched lamb rib chop 1 lb@$18.99/lb                     $19.99
($1 extra charge for vacuum-packed)
Pork tenderloin roast 1.08 lbs@$4.99/lb                      $5.89
Rib eye steak (1.5") 2.48 lbs@$15.99/lb                    $40.64
(I sure missed me some thick-cut rib eyes from Texas)
Sirloin steak (1") 2.3 lbs@$6.99/lb                              $18.08
($2 extra for individual vacuum packing)
Butternut squash 2.74 lbs@$1.49/lb                            $4.08
Green kale (bunch)                                                      $2.99
Jersey fresh asparagus (1 lb)                                        $2.99
Russet Potato (5 lb bag)                                               $2.69
Yellow corn by the ear (4 ears)                                     $2.00

Meal Planning, Take One

I've never really REALLY tried to plan meals before. I mean, I'll have a general game plan, and I love cooking at home - I have all the tools I need and a large enough kitchen to get things done - but I usually only plan a day or two in advance, taking advantage of the time I have and my limited culinary skills to 'be spontaneous' and make what I can from what I have, or what I can pick up from the store on the way home.

This week, things are different.

I have three weeks left of summer before I start my final year of grad school, which will include teaching a course for undergrads at Rutgers University, and also serving as a teaching assistant at a K-8 school on the UWS 25 hours/week. So, for the next three weeks, I plan to take FULL advantage of my unheard-of free time, because it's all going to disappear quite soon. Hopefully, in the next 21 days, I can develop some meal-planning habits that will carry me through the semester, so that my husband and I can continue healthy and home cooked eating habits, rather than resorting to the old standby of takeout and thoughtless, boring meals.

The produce at my local grocery store, FoodTown, is horrendous. The rest of the store is decent enough, with a whopping four aisles of options, and while the produce LOOKS nice, I really feel like the produce distributors ship us the worst of the harvest. For that reason, we've started purchasing our produce from a store on the UWS, Garden of Eden (locations throughout the city) or the Union Square Greenmarket, depending on where we are through the week, since neither is particularly close to our home. This week's haul from The Garden includes:

plouts (Some hybrid of plums and.... apricots? I'm not sure. We called them dinosaur eggs growing up.)
hearts of romaine
plum tomatoes
poblano peppers
yellow summer squash
sweet onions
red delicious apples (for lunches)

So, with the focus on these veggies, which were mostly on sale, this week's menu is:

Pork Tenderloin Chimichurri (using this recipe) with roasted vegetables (potato, onion, zucchini, carrot) and a green salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber)

Cobb Salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrot, avocado, leftover chopped tenderloin, hard-boiled eggs, and this dressing. I'm also planning to make a carrot cake.

Pasta Primavera with summer squash and carrots, with zucchini cakes. We're planning to go to an outdoor concert that evening, so I'm hoping this will all pack well, and I know it will be tasty, even cold.

Poblano steak fajitas topped with avocados and onions

Grilled cheese and tomato soup. This is the least homemade, most store-bought meal, as I'm using pre-made tomato/red pepper soup, but I figure, after a week of cooking at home, we'd enjoy something a little easier to make, that feels a little guiltier but still isn't too bad (and still not take-out).

If we still have cucumbers left over at the end of the week, I might try the #10 smoothie recipe.

The emphasis is clearly on the veggies, with only 3 meals even containing meat, and only 2 really focus on the meat. That meat is left over from our Fresh Direct haul (which I briefly mention here and still need to write a full post about), so we didn't have to spend money on that, and the pasta is from the 30 box binge-shopping sale experience. The shopping list to round out the produce trip includes:

jalapeƱos (As a Texas-NYC transplant, I'm embarrassed to not have any at home, but it is what it is.)
tortillas (Again, how am I out of this?? Obviously because quesadillas are a go-to meal.)
red pepper-tomato soup
cream cheese frosting (I don't want to bother making that from scratch, for cost reasons.)
vanilla extract

And that's it! Given that I have a base of other ingredients (flour, sugar, oils, butter, spices, vinegar, etc), and that we already had the meat in the freezer, we're going to have all our dinners for the week at less than $75. Add in our sandwich-based lunches and at-home coffee-based breakfasts, and we're going to eat (GOOD) in NYC for less than $100 this week. I'm very excited about that.