Giving Back During the Holidays

My work group is spending a morning at the San Francisco Food Bank this year instead of having a holiday party. With everything going on in the economy right now, it feels like a better way to spend our time and limited resources. Our group is going to help sort donations in the warehouse, but there are multiple ways you can also help.

1.) Drop off your food in one of the SF Food Bank barrels throughout the City. There are numerous barrels in office buildings downtown, plus bins in Bay Area Whole Foods, Safeway and Lucky’s market.

2.) All day today, December 9th, Whole Foods Market will hold donate five-percent of the day’s gross sales from Whole Foods Market stores in the greater Bay Area to the Bay Area Food Banks.

3.) Grab some friends and do a volunteer shift at the food bank:

San Francisco Food Bank
900 Pennsylvania Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94107

Continue reading “Giving Back During the Holidays”

Cheap Eats in Lean Times

Yesterday afternoon, I trekked to the Trader Joe‘s in Daily City for a little grocery shopping. The Westlake Trader Joe’s has long been my favorite local Trader Joe’s since it has plentiful parking, and the store itself is usually relatively uncrowded.

After parking at the far end of the lot, and trudging up the sidewalk, we saw there were no grocery carts to be found. This was the first bad sign. I waited about 5 minutes until someone came out of the store and emptied her cart, thus allowing me to grab it and head in. Inside, the aisles were packed with shoppers. It was similar to rush hour freeway traffic — it was so crowded you couldn’t get past the double parked carts in the middle of the aisles. Frozen food bins were picked clean (but luckily for me they still had some of the "French" pizzas.) Pretty much, it was my grocery shopping nightmare.

We completed our shopping and ran smack into the end of one of the checkout lines…halfway down the spirits aisle. With 12 shoppers in front of us, we spent almost a half hour waiting to pay for our groceries.

I don’t think folks swarmed Trader Joe’s just due to a renewed local focus on fresh fruits and veggies and organic foods. I think they are also now getting a bump up due to folks being concerned about the economy, and trying to cut back on expenses wherever they can. The shopping carts I peered into were not full of the usual alcohol and party food that I typically see people stocking up on. Rather, the carts had many of Trader Joe’s good inexpensive basics (eggs, milk and cheese are all very good buys and made up the bulk of what others were buying.)

Personally, I’ve started going to Costco with more frequency. I’ve found that I can get good deals on meats, produce, bread, and pantry basics. Since our new refrigerator has a slightly bigger freezer than our last one, I am able to repackage the big packages of meat into dinner-for-two sizes, and thus take advantage of the low per unit prices without wasting anything.

When I make soup, chili, or any casserole, I’ve started putting the leftovers in Ziploc bowls and tossing them in the freezer. I slip the frozen container into my insulated lunch sack, and it’s partially defrosted by lunchtime. I used to try just keeping the leftovers in the refrigerator, but inevitably found they would go to waste. Because when you are hurrying to get ready in the morning, you don’t really want to wrestle the leftovers out of the refrigerator, find a container to take them to work in, etc.

Other than a few lunch dates with colleagues, I’ve managed to bring my lunch to work just about every day for the past 6 months. The key for me was making it easy to assemble a lunch in the morning rush:

  • I bought a really nice insulated lunch bag. I used to have to scrounge around for a leftover shopping bag of some sort, and would get to work with room temperature, squished lunches. This is a much better experience. And it’s washable.
  • As noted above, I freeze leftovers in single-serving reusable bowls.
  • I make lunch for my boyfriend and myself every morning. No, this isn’t a June Cleaver throwback moment on my part. Being responsible for his lunch ensures I make my own. It’s easy to skip out on doing something like this for myself. And by us eating the same lunch as each other, we use up lunch items before they go bad, and dinner plans are not derailed by one or the other of us eating the main course for lunch.
  • I try to buy ready-to-package fruit and veggies to slip into our lunches. That’s right — apple slices, cups of diced peaches, baby carrots. We’re eating a lot more healthily thanks to partially prepared fruits and veggies.

Lastly, I’ve started reading food magazines again to give me more ideas for making dinner. We’d gotten a little too used to ordering in from Waiters on Wheels, or going to the many great neighborhood restaurants within walking distance of our place. The November Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine, for instance, has a piece on $10 dinners that gave me soe good ideas. And with many publishers offering great deals on subscriptions, it’s worth the $1 an issue or so just for the inspiration.

Eating well on a smaller budget can be done — you just have to get creative.

Goodbye Mother’s Cookies?

Animals My local paper reported that 92-year-old Oakland institution Mother’s Cookies is shutting down operations. I’ve been a fan of their sugary goodness since I was small. During our weekly grocery store trips, my mom would let me pick 1 package of their cookies as my treat for the week. I’d usually alternate between the Taffys and the Iced Oatmeals. The circus animals with their garish pink and white icing and sprinkles were not on the approved eating list — but my baby sitter would usually buy some for me. Shhhh.

Goodbye Mother’s Cookies. You made many little (and not so little) children happy.

UPDATE: But you can remember the Circus Animal cookies forever via a t-shirt. Thx Joshua.

SF Cowork Spaces for Freelancers

When I was a freelancer, the only shared workspace in town was the Grotto. It seemed like a magical place and far too serious and unreachable for little old me. So I kugged my iBook to the Canvas Cafe, where I enjoyed wireless access and tolerable coffee whenever I needed to be around people.

Today’s Chronicle has a great story on a whole slew of new, more accessible coworkspaces. I would have loved to have a 1- or 2-day-per-week pass to a place like that. It might have even encouraged me to stay freelance for longer rather than jumping back in to corporate work. As an aside, I think I would be a great den mother for a coworkspace. Especially if it had a kitchen…

No More “Paper or plastic?” in SF

I am sure folks across the country will start shaking their heads and talking about "those wacky San Franciscans" again tomorrow. That’s when our city’s ban on plastic grocery bags takes effect. Merchants can still use the biodegradable plastic bags (like the ones they use at Mixt Greens), but those actually opse a problem for many urban dwellers — they are biodegradable, not recyclable. That means you have to put them in the green compost bins. Bins that most of us apartment dwellers don’t have. Sigh. But is is a step in the right direction. Especially atfer you read the linked article which notes there is a huge disgusting mass of plastic bags floating in the ocean.

Oakland’s Taco Trucks go National

NPR had a piece yesterday on Oakland’s taco trucks, the new foodie sensation (at least according to Chowhound boards.)

I wish the city had more traveling food sellers. Yeah, we have the farmers markets and all that, but there are lots of concert/club venues that could use some love too. Like near the Fillmore and the Independent.

Personally, I’d love to create a gourmet market truck with local produce and treats. That would be right up my alley.