Tag Archives: food

Drive-Thru

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I was in Flagstaff, Arizona, and money was tight. I decided to visit the food bank to help me get by until I received my first paycheck.

I’ve been to food banks across the country, and some are better than others. It’s disheartening to fill out a bunch of paperwork, answer a lot of personal questions, and wait in line for a long time to receive not much more than a can of green beans and another of store-brand beef stew. Don’t get me wrong—I’m always grateful, but sometimes I’m more grateful than others.

I’d heard the food bank in Flagstaff was generous, so I had high hopes when I decided to pay it a visit.

I called ahead. My license didn’t list Flagstaff as my address, and some food banks only want to give food to residents. I didn’t want to stand in line only to be turned away. The nice woman on the phone said I didn’t need to be a resident of Flagstaff to get food, but I would need to show my ID. No problem.

I arrived early. The food bank was set to open at 9am, but I was ahead of the game and had the van parked before 8am. People tend to show up early for free food, and I wanted to be one of the first in line.

I was writing and not really paying attention to the time when I looked at my watch again. It was 8:30. The parking lot was no fuller than it had been when I pulled in. I was parked on the side of the building, so I thought people must be lined up in front. I grabbed my reusable shopping bags and went looking for the line.

When I walked around the corner of the building, I didn’t see a single person standing in line. I did see orange cones arranged in front of the building to make a lane and cars lined up in the lane. Could this really be a drive-thru food bank?

I hurried back to the van, got in the driver’s seat, turned the key in the ignition, and backed out of my parking space. I exited the parking lot and took my place in the queue which now stretched out of the parking lot and onto the side of the wide, lightly trafficked street. It was probably ten minutes to nine.

Just minutes after nine, the vehicles in front of me started moving. I was soon close enough to the front to see the proceedings. A woman with a clipboard approached a car, and there seemed to be some conversation. The clipboard was handed to the driver; soon the driver handed the clipboard back to the woman running the show. The car pulled up to a predetermined spot and people I presumed to be volunteers unloaded food from a full shopping cart into the car’s open trunk. In a few minutes, the car was on its way.

agriculture, basket, beetsWhen my turn came, things went down just as I’d observed. The woman handed me the clipboard and asked me to write my name and address on adjacent lines; she never did ask for my ID. She did ask me where I wanted the food to go, and I pointed to the passenger side of my van. I pulled up to the designated spot and kind young people loaded in two small boxes of nonperishable food, one large box filled with pounds of fresh produce (tomatoes;  Brussels sprouts; yellow squash, and red, orange, yellow, and green bell peppers), a case of 12 bottles of  Pure Leaf organic black tea, and three dozen eggs. Wow! This food would certainly help get me through until my first payday.

I drove off, marveling not only at the quantity and quality of the food I’d just been given but at the fact that I hadn’t even had to get out of my van. I was very grateful indeed.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/agriculture-basket-beets-bokeh-533360/.

Ideas for Quick and Easy Meals to Cook on the Road

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If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been writing a lot about food lately. From tips for stretching your food dollar to ideas for healthy eating to telling you my methods for cooking on the road, I’ve been sharing with you how I cook and eat as a rubber tramp. As promised, today I’m giving you examples of actual meals without animal products that I’ve prepared and eaten regularly over my almost six years on the road.

Breakfast

Blue Berries Close Up Photography#1 We’ll keep it totally simple to start off. Have some whole grain cereal with soy, nut, hemp or coconut milk. Grape Nuts (or a store brand equivalent) is my favorite because it tends to be cheaper per ounce than most other whole grain cereals. I try to add fruit, berries, and/or nuts to my cereal to jazz it up and boost the nutrition I’m starting my day with. If the healthy cereal is a little dry and bland for you, try adding a little sweetness with a drizzle of agave nectar, coconut nectar, maple syrup, molasses, barley malt syrup, or brown rice syrup. (List of vegan honey alternatives courtesy of Your Daily Vegan website.)

#2 If you have a little more time to prepare breakfast, try quick or rolled oats. This breakfast option is quite inexpensive if bought in bulk. I use a really quick method to prepare my oats. I put the oats in a bowl, and boil enough water to cover the oats. (Use more or less water depending on how thick or thin you like your porridge.) When the water is boiling vigorously, I dump it onto the oats in my bowl. I stir it all up and give the oats a few minutes to soak up the water. I like to add nut butters, vegan alternatives to Nutella, dried fruit, nuts, mashed banana, and/or chopped apples to my oatmeal.

#3 If you don’t have to be anywhere early in the morning and can take your time with breakfast, may I suggest a tofu scramble? You can buy tofu scramble seasoning packets, but I don’t think you really need them. I start out sautéeing an onion and green/red/orange/yellow peppers (one color or a combination, depending on what I have on hand), along with minced fresh garlic or garlic flakes. Once the veggies are getting soft, I add in tofu (soft or firm,

Bragg Liquid Aminos All Purpose Seasoning Soy Sauce Alternative, 32 Fl Oz, 2 Pack
fresh or previously frozen, again, depending on what I have on hand), and mash it up, mixing the tofu and veggies. After the tofu cooks a bit, I add nutritional yeast and vegetarian broth powder and stir the powders into the other ingredients. Finally, I add Bragg liquid aminos to taste. I like to eat this tofu dish on whole wheat tortillas, whole grain bread, or healthy corn chips.

Lunch & Dinner

#1 My go-to meal is whole beans and rice. I use brown rice for extra nutrition and canned beans so I can get the meal together quickly. If organic is important, it’s typically easy to find organic beans at larger supermarket. I usually use black beans or chili beans in this dish, but plain pintos work too. I sauté an onion and green, red, yellow, or orange peppers if I have them, and toss in fresh garlic or garlic flakes. If I have zucchini or yellow squash, I chop some up and toss it in when the onion and peppers are beginning to get soft. Around this time, I season everything with cumin and chili powder. Canned tomatoes can be tossed into the pan around the same time the beans go in, or fresh tomato can be used as a garnish. Other good garnishes for this dish are salsa and avocado. Sprinkle nutritional yeast on top for extra yum.

Kirkland Signature Organic Gluten-Free Quinoa from Andean Farmers to your Table - 2.04kg., 4.5lb
#2 Quinoa cooks up as quickly as white rice but is more nutritious, so I like quinoa and garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas). I’ve learned recently that the key to tasty quinoa is rinsing well, so don’t skip that step. While the quinoa is cooking (one cup grain to two cups liquid), I sauté my onion and cook up whatever other veggies I’ll be serving. Green cabbage is inexpensive and works well with this dish. After the veggies are cooked, I add my garbanzo beans. Once the beans and veggies are thoroughly heated, I serve them over the quinoa and garnish with sesame oil, nutritional yeast, and Bragg liquid aminos.

#3 Nothing is quicker than refried bean dip over healthy corn chips. I sauté my onion and peppers (if I’m using them). I also like well-cooked zucchini and/or yellow squash in this dish. Once the veggies are cooked, I add canned refried beans and diced or stewed tomatoes from a can. (Fresh tomatoes would work fine too.) The juice from the tomatoes thins down the beans, but use water if necessary to get them to a consistancy you like. Once the beans are heated and as thick or as thin as you like, spoon them over your corn chips and top with un-cheese sauce, salsa, and/or avocados.  (I also like a thick version of this bean dip on whole wheat tortillas.)

#4 Pasta doesn’t have to be topped with a meat sauce to be delicious; I really like my pasta topped with veggies. I might use a healthy sauce from a jar if I find some on sale, but usually I just cook down some canned tomotoes (diced, stewed, or whatever). Of course, first I sauté an onion (see a pattern here?) and bell peppers of whatever color I have, then add in garlic, canned mushrooms, olives, zucchini, yellow squash, or any other veggies I have on hand. (I also think tofu is delicious in this dish. If I were adding tofu to this meal, I would throw it in the pan after the onions.) Once the vegetables are cooked, I add in the tomatos or sauce, then sprinkle everything with plenty of Italian seasoning. I serve the sauce over whole wheat pasta, then sprinkle nutritional yeast liberally on top.

#5 Although not as quick to prepare as opening a can of beans, I do enjoy red lentils over brown rice. Red lentils cook faster and taste better (to me) than green lentils. Lentils.org says to use

3 cups of liquid (water, stock, etc) to 1 cup of dry lentils. Be sure to use a large enough saucepan as the lentils will double or triple in size. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, reduce heat and simmer until they are tender.

I add salt, curry, and/or tumeric to taste during cooking. If you want to be really decadant, use coconut milk as part of the cooking liquid.

#6 If you have time to let sweet potatoes cook, I recommend sweet potato and garbanzo bean stew. First I chop my onion and get it sautéeing. While the onion is cooking, I cut a couple of sweet potatoes into chunks and put them in a large pot. When the onions are soft, I add them to the pot with the sweet potatoes. Next I add in a can of coconut milk, then use enough water so the sweet potatoes are covered. I add curry and/or tumeric to taste and let everything in the pot boil until the sweet potatoes are soft. Once the sweet potatoes are soft, I add one or two cans of garbanzo beans, depending on how much stew I want to make. Add water until the stew is the desired consistancy. The stew can be served alone or over brown rice or quinoa.

#7 Need one more sweet potato recipe? How about black bean and sweet potato burritos? Cook sweet potatoes by whatever method works best for you. Add canned black beans and a sautéd onion to the potatoes. Season with chili powder and/or cumin. Eat with salsa on whole wheat tortillas.

I hope these ideas will get you thinking about healthy and delicious meals you can cook quickly while on the road or in a sticks-n-bricks.

Blaize Sun has been cooking and eating on the road for almost six year. These methods work for her. They may not work for you. Do what works best for your body, your health, and your life. You know yourself better than Blaize Sun ever will, so cook and eat accordingly.

First image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/food-forest-blueberries-raspberries-87818/. Other images are Amazon affiliates links. If you click on any of those links, then do your regular Amazon shopping, I will receive a small advertising fee at no cost to you.

 

How I Cook on the Road

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Auntie M suggested I tell you how I cook on the road before I tell you what I cook on the road. She thinks it’s impressive, but it’s simply second nature to me. I’ll share my cooking techniques today, in the event they might help someone else.

I’ve used a variety of stoves while living on the road–one burner, two burner, propane, butane. My current setup is a basic Coleman two-burner stove connected to a 15 pound propane tank. For many years I used the one pound propane canisters, but The Man finally convinced me to upgrade to the larger, refillable tank. As I said in a past post about saving money on the road, it costs a lot less to refill the tank than it does to buy a comparable number of small canisters. I also produce a lot less waste by refilling the large tank.

This is the cast iron pan I usually use when cooking just for myself.

When The Man and I are cooking for the two of us, we use his big (12 inch?) cast iron skillet. When I’m cooking just for myself, I use a smaller cast iron skillet. (I have a second, even smaller cast iron skillet I also use sometimes if I need to cook two things seperately, but at the same time. The second burner on my stove is sometimes quite handy.) We use a cast iron pan to cook the main part of our meal, which usually consists of vegetables and whole beans or tofu. It’s super convenient to cook everything but our grains in one pan. It’s quicker cooking that way, and we save cleanup time and water by not having to wash several pots and pans.

To cook grains, I use either a large or a small stainless steel pot. The large one is actually a pressure cooker I was given years ago when a friend of a friend moved. The small one was left behind by camp hosts at the end of the season last year.

To prepare the main part of our meal, I first pour a generous amount of olive oil in the cast iron pan, then light the burner under the pan. While the oil is heating, I chop an onion. (If the onion is huge, I might only use half of it.) When the onion is chopped, I makde sure the oil is distributed across the bottom of the pan, then I throw in the onion, spread it out evenly, and put the lid on the pan. Then I chop the other veggies that need a longish time to cook (bell peppers, carrots, and/or potatoes) and add them to the pan. If I’m using tofu or tempeh or seitan, I’ll add it in early in the cooking process. Vegetables that need the shortest time to cook (like broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and yellow squash) are thrown into the pan last. I stir the veggies enough to keep them from burning, and I adjust the flame as necessary.

Once all the veggies are tender, I add any canned ingredients like diced or stewed tomatoes, whole beans, or refried beans. Then I throw in spices appropriate to the dish I’m cooking. Once all ingredients are in the pan, I make sure everything is heated thoroughly. I should probably let the food simmer longer in order to “marry” the flavors, but we’re usually pretty hungry so we just eat.

Cooking grains ws a hassle when I used small propane canisters and butane because grains take so long to cook. I always felt like cooking grains took up too much fuel, so I either bought precooked brown rice (expensive!) or cooked the grains in a way that used less fuel. Now that I spend less money to fill a large propane tank, I don’t worry so much about how much fuel it takes to cook grains, but I do use parboiled brown rice and quinoa a lot because they cook faster.

Dwelling Portably 1980-1989 (DIY)
You may be wondering how I cooked grains in a way that used less fuel. I first learned of cooking with insulation in one of the Dwelling Portably books by Bert and Holly Davis. The concept is simple: food is partially cooked, then the pot of food is insulated to hold heat in so the cooking process can continue without flame. The insulation can be as simple as wrapping the pot in blankets and letting it sit for several hours or as complicated as building and insulating a box for the pot to sit in. The technique is old, with evidence of hay boxes dating to the 1800s.

I made my own insulated box from a square foam cooler left behind by folks who stayed in the campground where I was the camp host. I lined the cooker with flexible, reflective material from a foldable solar cooker kit The Lady of the House had lying around in her laundry room. Because I used materials that were unwanted by others, I didn’t have to spend any money on my insulated box.

When I was ready to cook a pot of grains, I measured the appropriate amount of water and grain into my large stainless steel pot. I brought the mixture of water and grain to a rolling boil, then let it boil vigorously for ten minutes. After ten minutes of boiling, I’d close the pot tightly, which was easy because it is actually a pressure cooker with a latch and seal. (I would not go out and buy a brand new pressure cooker to use in an insulated box, but the one I already had is quite suited to this method.) I then put the pot in the insulated box, covered it with a couple of dish towels, and put the lid of the box on tightly. (I often put something heavy–like a jug of water–on top of the lid to hold it down and seal the box as tightly as possible.) If I boiled regular, not parboiled, brown rice and got it into the insulated box by 10 am, it was fully cooked and ready to eat by 4pm.

Alas, when The Man and his dog and all of their wordly possessions moved into my van, the insulated cooker box was a casualty. We had a lot of stuff, and lots of things had to go. The cooker box was nice, but nonessential. The Man made a sort of bag for the pot by taping together pieces of the flexible, reflective solar oven material, but it never worked as well as the box.

Now that The Man has his own rig and I have room in my van again, I’m on the lookout for materials to make a new insulated box. A foam cooler should be fairly easy to find since people discard them frequently. I probably won’t find a foldable solar oven again, but I could line the cooler with newspaper, cardboard, or even old towels. The goal is to fill in as much space in the cooler as possible so the heat can’t escape. Lots of easily found, cheap or free materials can do the job.

I hope you can use some of these ideas to save time and money while you’re living and traveling in your van. You have to eat, so you might as well eat healthy and delicious food. I’m proof that a rubber tramp can eat yummy meals that are nutrituous and don’t cost a fortune.

Blaize Sun has been cooking and eating on the road for almost six year. These methods work for her. They may not work for you. Do what works best for your body, your health, and your life. You know yourself better than Blaize Sun ever will, so cook and eat accordingly.

I took the photo of the cast iron skillet. The image of the book is an Amazon affiliates link. If you click on the links, then do your regular Amazon shopping, I will get a small advertising fee at no cost to you.

Pantry Challenge

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Pantry Challenge sounds like a program from Food Network or Cooking Channel, but it’s not. (If it were a program, I’d probably watch it; I really enjoy cooking shows, especially the ones involving competition.)

According to the Medium Sized Family blog,

a pantry challenge is when you choose not to buy groceries for a set time…Instead, you use up the food in your house until there is nothing left to eat.

For a variety of reasons, I decided to do a modified pantry challenge during my second house sitting job this past November.  (I’m calling it a modified challenge because I wasn’t dead set on not buying groceries until I had nothing left to eat. I just wanted to make big dent in what I had before I shopped again.)

First of all, I was going to spend three weeks in a small town sixty miles from the nearest city. I suspected food prices were going to be high in the little town, and I was right. Since I arrived in town two hours before my appointment with the people I was house sitting for, I browsed at the town’s regular grocery store and the town’s health food/natural food/ hippie food store. The prices at both places were substantially higher than what I’d grown accustomed to paying at the outlet supermarket chain I’d shopped at all summer. I was glad I’d gone with my instinct and stocked up on everything from eggs to zucchini in the city where I was able to get things at a lower price.

Saving money is a big reason people do the pantry challenge. Jessica from the Good Cheap Eats blog says,

By focusing on what you have you will save money in not buying more. You also avoid the grocery store which means you reduce your impulse purchases, again saving you money.

Impulse buying can definitely be a problem for me, so I know Jessica is right that I save money simply by staying out of the grocery store. I can easily imagine myself popping in to the store for just a package of tortillas, then deciding to buy milk, which would mean I needed cereal, and on and on. Deciding to use what I had before I bought anything else certainly kept me away from the temptation to buy items I didn’t really need.

I believe in stocking up, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can get a bit out of hand. When I was living on the mountain, I didn’t want to run out of staples, like black beans for instance. So every time I went to the discount grocery store, I’d throw five or six cans of black beans into my shopping cart. I knew I wasn’t wasting money because I’d eat those beans eventually, but I had no idea how many cans I was really hauling around. My pantry challenge allowed me to do a much needed inventory of my food supply.

This is my pantry, the plastic tubs that hold my food

This is my pantry, the plastic tubs that hold my food.

The easiest way to manage the challenge was to haul my pantry into the house. My pantry consists of several transparent plastic storage tubs made by Sterilite. I have two large tubs (one for proteins and main dishes, the other for side dishes and fruits and vegetables), two medium tubs (one for my dishes and bowl and utensils and cast iron skillet, the other for breakfast food and tea) and two small tubs (one for condiments and spices, the other for snacks like granola and energy bars).

One reason I chose these particular tubs were the latches that secured the covers. Several of the handles have broken off, so they are less desirable than they once were. On a whim, I contacted Sterilite and asked them if I could buy new latches. A customer representative contacted me a couple of days later and asked where exactly the latches had broken. I explained the situation, and she said while Sterilite does not sell replacement parts, she would send me new latches free of charge. SCORE! I guess it never hurts to ask.

In addition to these transparent tubs, I have three smaller tubs that hold up my bed and serve as backup food storage.

Bringing the tubs inside encouraged me to clean them. The tubs (especially the lids) were really dirty after being in the van all dusty summer. Having the tubs in the kitchen, near the sink, made cleaning them much less of a hassle. I took all of the food (mostly canned goods) out of the tubs, took inventory, organized the items into categories that work for the way I cook, then scrubbed the tubs and lids with soap and hot water. I let them dry completely before I put any food back in them.

Since I was on the cleaning train, I took the opportunity to wash my two small plates, bowl, spoon, knife, three forks, cutting board, collapsible funnel, folding-handle camp cup, and tiny cheese grater. When I’m in the forest, I mostly use the spray-with-soap, spray-with-water, wipe-with-paper-towel, method of cleaning, so it was good to be able to soak everything in hot soapy water, then do a thorough scrubbing.

As I did my inventory, I was able to isolate the food I don’t want to keep. I’m pretty good about eating what I have, but there were a few items I’m going to donate to a food bank or a free pile. I have a couple of cans of cream of mushroom soup I bought on sale 2-for-$1, but didn’t care for when I cooked with one can of it. I have several bags of banana chips that I don’t much like and a can of tomato sauce I can’t think of a way to use. I bet someone will be happy to have the stuff, and I’ll be glad to pass it on.

I’ll head to the land of scratch-and-dent groceries soon. It’s good that I’ve used up most of my canned goods and know what I can use more of, because it’s almost time to stock up again.

You can learn how to prepare for a pantry challenge and learn why one frugal blogger doesn’t do the pantry challenge anymore.

I took the photo in this post.

 

Trash Picking

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Trash picking is in my genes, passed down to me by my father.

One of my earliest memories is going behind the local dime store after closing time so my dad could poke around in the unlocked trash room. It thin it was mostly cardboard in there, but sometimes he’d find good things like the metal bank the size of a softball and printed brightly with the countries of the world. He gave the bank to me, and even though the rubber stopper to hold in the money was missing (hence the exile to the trash room), I liked it anyway and kept it for years.

My dad was never too proud or too wealthy to pass up a discarded pile of building materials without investigating it for useful items and hauling home anything he might be able to work into a home improvement project.

My dumpster diving has gone farther than my father’s ever did. I doubt he ever climbed into a supermarket dumpster to pull out enough discarded produce and snack food to supplement the grocery budgets of several households. I doubt he’s eaten discarded pizzas as a diet staple while traveling across the country or pulled fancy food dumped into garbage cans by rich people in tourist districts. I’ve done all those things. We’ve all got to eat, and when I’ve had no money, I did what I had to do to feed myself.

As a camp host, I sometimes find things in trash cans I can’t believe people have left behind.

My first camp host trash score came with items campers left next to the trash can. They’d brought several green propane bottles with labels missing, and they didn’t manage to use all the fuel during their camping trip. I guess they didn’t want to haul the bottles home, so they were left lined up outside the trash can. I took the bottles over to my campsite and used them during the cold days of late mountain spring. Those partially full bottles must have saved me at least six bucks.

Later in the summer, I opened a trash can and found nothing but an empty one gallon glass wine jug. It even had a cap. I pulled it out of the can, washed it, and still use it as a water container.

Young people driving shiny cars throw out the best stuff. After one group left, I opened a garbage can to find several tiny, almost new tubes of toothpaste, a nearly full bottle of propane, a box of individually wrapped herbal tea bags with only a few bags missing, and assorted other things I no longer remember. Another time, I found half a bag of marshmallows, half a Hershey bar, and several unopened packages  of fancy chocolates that had melted, then re-formed while in an ice chest. Let me be the first to say, fancy chocolate is still delicious, even when one has to eat it by biting chunks out of a blob.

Once a group of young professional types cut out the garbage can middle man and offered me approximately seven gallons of bottle water they didn’t want to carry home. Hell yes, I’ll take that, thank you. Even at the cheapest bottle refilling rate in Babylon ( 25 cents a gallon), I saved almost $2 and didn’t have to spend my time filling bottles.

One Sunday morning when I was emptying trash cans, I found beverages of an adult nature. When I tried to pull the bag out of the can, I realized it was too heavy for me to lift. I began pulling beer bottles out of the heavy bag and throwing them into an empty trash bag. When I pulled a bottle out and it seemed unnaturally heavy, I examined it more closely. Yep, there was liquid in there. Yep, the cap was still sealed. Who throws out unopened bottles of fancy beer? Well, underage kids do. Camp hosts don’t card, so I’m not sure how old anyone at the campground was, but the members of one group seemed young enough to be underage. That would explain why they didn’t take the beer home to mom and dad’s house, but I don’t understand why they didn’t drink the beer before they left. Didn’t they know there are sober children in China?

In any case, I ended up with six full bottles of beer, and I’m not talking PBR. This was good stuff, some California microbrew. However, since I’m not much of a drinker, I gave the beer to my coworker, who was quite pleased with my trash score.

On another Sunday afternoon, I found a two-pound plastic container nearly full of plump, ripe strawberries. I scooped them up and took them right back to my campsite. Upon further inspection, I found some of the berries were a big squashed, but I washed them and ate them anyway. They were super ripe and juicy. I ate them with some whipped vanilla yogurt I’d gotten on super sale at the bargain supermarket. The yogurt was quite like whipped cream and went well with the berries.

By far, my best food score came near the end of the fire when a crew of young people from the California Conservation Corps stopped by to see the sequoias. Each of the crew members was carrying a paper sack about 2/3 the size of paper bags groceries are packed in. After a couple of the folks dumped their paper bags in the garbage cans,I wondered what was in them. After the crew left, I started poking around in the trash cans. In addition to at least three meaty sandwiches (which I left behind), almost every bag contained an apple; an orange; a couple of small packages of raw carrots; a foil packet of tuna; a bag of banana chips; a bag of trail mix; a bag of M&M’s; a package of fig cookies; and a bag of either Oreos, Chips Ahoy cookies, Ritz bits crackers with cheese, or Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. There was so much waste of prepackaged food! I have no idea why those people hadn’t saved the snack food for later. It wasn’t going to spoil any time soon.

Their waste was my gain. I filled up two of the paper bags with food, and I lived large for weeks. I saved easily $25 worth of food from going to the dump.

I try to be discreet with my trash picking because the normals sometimes do weird things like call the caps when they feel uncomfortable. However, I never feel ashamed for living off other people’s castoffs. If anyone should feel ashamed, I think it’s the people throwing away all the good stuff.

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AZ International Marketplace

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I recently shopped at the AZ International Marketplace on the second day of its grand opening weekend.

First, the particulars.

According to the AZ International Marketplace Facebook page, the store is comprised of

100,000 Square Feet of Groceries and General Merchandise from all over the world…Hundreds of thousand of products can be found in this marketplace.

It’s located at 1920 W Broadway Road in Mesa, Arizona, and is open 9am to 9pm every day.

I went with a friend and we walked down every aisle in the store.

Most of the packaged food seems to be Asian. A lot of the Asian food is highly processed, snacky food.IMG_6021 We saw a lot of crackers, chips, cookies, and candy. In addition to the junk food, we also saw a lot of dry noodles and rice, as well as spices and sauces and oils.

In the middle of the marketplace is a large meat department. If there is a part of a cow or pig you’ve always wanted to cook and eat, you can probably find it in that meat department. My friend is a vegetarian, and I don’t buy and cook raw meat, so we didn’t stay in the meat department long or even look at all the items available. However, I did see cow lips for sale for the first time in my life. There were only a few cow lips left, so maybe they are popular in some dish I don’t know. Next time I have access to pay TV, I hope to see an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern in which cooking with cow lips is explored.

Just past the large meat department is a large produce department. In addition to many fruits and vegetables I am accustomed to seeing in supermarkets (red peppers, yellow peppers, green peppers, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes), I also saw huge jackfruits, tiny bananas, IMG_6039and bundles of cinnamon sticks which looked like doll-sized bundles of firewood and smelled delicious.

A small part of the store (a back corner really) was dedicated to prepackaged food from Africa. (Reminded me of the time I rode the It’s a Small World ride at Disney World and the entire continent of Africa was represented by three brown children and a pink elephant.) In addition to several brands and varieties of red palm oil, we also saw Mama’s Choice plantain fufu mix, bagsIMG_6016 of cassava starch, and Tropiway brand fufu flour in both cocoyam and plantain flavors.

 

 

 

 

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The marketplace also boasts a rather large section of food from East India. Unfortunately, by the time we made it to those aisles, I was in overload and didn’t get any photos of interesting East Indian packaging. We saw huge bags of spices, prepared vegetarian entrées at the good price of $1.69 per serving (I resisted loading my cart with them), cans of gulab jamun (delicious dough balls soaked in sweet syrup), and jars of ghee. I was most interested in the ghee, which looked a lot like the ghee I recently made: solid and pale yellow as opposed to the translucent liquid I was expecting. Maybe my ghee wasn’t a disaster after all.

We were looking at different bouillon powders when my friend picked up a package and declared it penis in a can.IMG_6027

Ok, obviously, that’s a mushroom. The can is even labeled granulated mushroom bouillon. But I’ll be damned if that doesn’t look like a walking penis. Do people in other countries not see that and think PENIS? Maybe Americans (or maybe it’s just me and my friend) have very immature senses of humor.

IMG_6026One of my favorite packages showed these kids carrying a giant peach. I don’t know what kids in rompers or a giant peach have to do with the dried noodles in the package, but I like the illustration a lot.

One of the most impressive parts of the store (at least to me) was the cooler containing tofu. I didn’t count the varieties, and I (stupidly) didn’t take a photo, but there must have been 15 to 20 kinds of tofu in the cold case. Some of the tofu had been pre-fried, and there were an assortment of brands. It’s the most tofu I’ve seen in the same place at the same time.

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I apologize for this washed out photo. I have problems dealing with my flash. I hate taking photos in artificial light.

Maybe because I’m an anthropologist at heart, I’m fascinated by products that seem completely normal in one culture, while closely resembling torture devices in another. Case in point: the ear pick. American culture says it’s dangerous to stick cotton swabs in the ears. Another culture says it’s ok to shove wooden sticks with scoops on the end into the ears.

In addition to aisle upon aisle of “international” food, at least one-third of the store was dedicated to American (as in U.S.A.) or at least North American food. We saw Eggo waffles and Aunt Jemima. We saw Oreo cookies and canned vegetables. I was surprised the store carries food available at any supermarket in the valley, but I guess they want the place to be a one stop shop.

I was most surprised to see that food from Louisiana is apparently exotic enough to have its own sections. Louisiana food perhaps seems less exotic to me because I grew up in Louisiana. But I was not expecting to see an IMG_6024endcap dedicated to Cafe du Monde coffee and chicory. I was also not expecting to see three sizes (including gallon jugs) of Louisiana brand crawfish, shrimp, and crab boil. Where’s the Zatarain’s? my friend asked. IMG_6035Unfortunately, it looked like Louisiana brand had a monopoly on the Louisiana products. There were all sorts of Louisiana brand products available for purchase.

To round out the food selection, the marketplace sells a variety of housewares (throw blankets, bowls, cooking utensils), cleaning supplies, and electrical appliances (rice cookers, teapots). Shoppers can also buy incense, joss paper (also known as ghost or spirit money), and other paper items to burn as offerings to ancestors.

While I did find some bargains at the AZ International Marketplace (on Huy Fong sriracha Sauce, children’s toothbrushes to fit in my little mouth, and sport sunscreen that’s not supposed to run into my eyes), I certainly did not find everything in the store to be inexpensive. Since I hadn’t been shopping at other international markets, I don’t know how the prices at the AZ International Marketplace compare to similar markets in the valley, or if any of the other international markets in the valley can be considered similar to this one. If I lived in the area, I would probably go back and compare prices on items I’ve been buying at other stores, and I would probably take advantage of the good deals in the produce section. I would also probably do some experimenting with all those varieties of tofu. I would not use this store as a one-stop shop or my go-to market. But walking around it did make for a fun afternoon.

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I took all of the photos in this post.