It’s morning. I wake up, feed Rocco, put him back in his crib to play, read Deuteronomy, take a shower, make a smoothie and kiss Tim goodbye. Armed with a detailed list that’s grouped by stores and then store sections (i.e., produce, pantry, meat, dairy, bread), I get in the car, plug in a podcast and head to the first of four grocery stores* I aim to knock out before Rocco again needs to eat. This is 2016, the year of meal-planning and sticking to the food budget, and that means early weekday mornings are my time to shop.
Grocery shopping didn’t used to be my favorite thing. I mean, it was my favorite thing when I was a teenager with a new driver’s license, rich with free time and feeling that euphoric buzz of independence going to the store with Mom and Dad’s money to get whatever kind of ice cream sounded good to me. My parents’ house was just a mile from competing grocery stores that sit across the street from one another in suburban Chicagoland, and I watched each one go through renovations and upgrades until eventually, after I moved to Nashville, one shut down, got demolished and now has, at least as of my last visit, another, newer grocery chain being erected in its place. But once I had my own kitchen and my own finances (particularly once I had my own finances), going to the grocery store has often felt more utilitarian than fun: get in, get out and go back again a few days later to remember that thing you’d missed. I’ve spent so many Saturday afternoons getting shoved around the Trader Joe’s on Hillsboro, always swearing I’ll never again go on a Saturday to the Trader Joe’s on Hillsboro.
But since I’ve had Rocco, grocery shopping, dinner making, budget planning and the whole world of activities and decisions that involve what we eat each night has changed. “A lot of new parents think they can go on with their normal life as usual, just add a kid to it,” someone was saying on a podcast this past week. “But your kids are not an interruption to your life; they are how your life has changed.” Sometime over Christmas, I accepted this and told myself, no more excuses, Shanna, it’s time to bite the bullet and meal-plan.
I’ve meal-planned before. I’ve even blogged about it. But eventually I talked myself out of it and got out of the habit, and by the time I was expecting Rocco, the daily routine of planning dinner was so up in the air, many nights brought on actual anxiety, to the point that I’d break-down trying to come up with dinner, blaming the hormones, and we’d have smoothies instead. Now that it’s 2016 and we have a baby, this won’t work. I can’t waste time running back to the store every day, and I get sick of smoothies. So every weekend, we sit down and pick five dinners, and every weekend we make a detailed grocery list. Then on a weekday morning, I do something most moms say they dream of doing each week: I go store to store solo, unencumbered, just me and my podcasts and my grocery list.
For weeks, I went to Aldi first. Aldi’s the most economic of my grocery options; it’s got avocados for $0.50 and the least expensive grass-fed ground beef in town. But Aldi doesn’t open until 9 a.m. on weekdays. I learned this one rainy morning at 8:55 a.m., when there was an actual line forming outside the doors. So now I skip Aldi if its list is short, and I go straight to Kroger, bumping my total trips from four down to three. The Kroger down the street is always open, easy to get to and, during the early part of the day, so empty I feel like it’s my own personal grocery store. I wheel myself through the produce section taking my pick of $0.99 organic kale and $2-cheaper-than-the-other-store organic eggplant, and I ring everything up at self-checkout, earning points off our future gasoline purchases as I do. From there I go to Trader Joe’s, and from there to Whole Foods, and when I come back to Tim and Rocco, if I’ve timed it all right, I can unload the groceries just in time for Rocco to wake back up. We tally all my purchases in YNAB**. We know what’s for dinner every night. The system’s almost flawless except, well, there’s still me.
Last week, I got all the way home, groceries unloaded, Rocco out and bouncing in the living room the way he does to start the middle of the day, and I realized I’d never bought the red curry paste. How did I skip the red curry paste? I must have thought I’d bought it at Kroger and then forgotten to look for it at Trader Joe’s. And wait. Why’d I buy broccoli twice? First at Trader Joe’s—baby broccoli—and then once more. If I write a self-help book someday, I’ll call it: But You’ll Still Be You. Bestseller bound, for sure.
This weekly luxury called independent grocery shopping is possible because of the season of life in which Tim and I find ourselves, new parents to an active baby, self-employed freelancers who both work from home. If you had talked to me at any point last year while I was pregnant, you would have known how much I didn’t want to return to work after Rocco came. I didn’t think I could do it. How would I be a mom and also hook myself to my laptop for hours each day? My logic ruled it out; providence forced it in. And today, would you believe it, the fact that both of us work from home and take care of Rocco together is exactly what makes it possible for me to go grocery shopping alone each week. It’s one of a hundred providences reminding me that life is often sweeter when I don’t get to be the one deciding how it goes. I’ll still be me when I am and when I am not working. I’ll still be me when I am and am not on top of our meal-planning, budget-keeping game. But, also, here’s the game changer: the One who loves us will still be Him.
Roasted Baby Broccoli with Chili, Lemon and Dill
When you come home with an accidental extra pack of broccoli, or in this case broccolini, you may as well make yourself a decent, spring-celebrating lunch. Using a similar asparagus recipe from What Katie Ate as my inspiration, I roasted the baby broccoli with a blend of lemon juice, zest, red chili flakes and dill, and the blistered, tart spears, dusted with Pecorino at the finish, truly did feel like a celebratory thing.
8 ounces baby broccoli, also known as broccolini or sometimes miscalled young broccoli
A generous glug of high-quality olive oil
The zest and juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon dried dill
a pinch of red chili flakes
Generous dashes of fine sea salt and ground black pepper
Grated Pecorino cheese, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Set a medium saucepan on the stove, and fill it halfway with water and a generous pinch of salt. Bring water to a boil and add broccoli, boiling for four or five minutes, until spears are deep green, transforming from the color of Nashville’s winter grass to the color of St. Patrick’s Day parades, and softened, but not limp.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine lemon zest (use a big grater to get large pieces or ribbons of lemon peel), lemon juice, dried dill, red chili flakes and salt and pepper.
When broccoli is done, strain completely. Place broccoli on baking sheet and toss with a glug of olive oil. Pour half the lemon mixture on top and place sheet in oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until the florets of broccoli are just starting to crisp. Use tongs to flip each piece and then pour remaining lemon mixture on top. Roast for another 8 to 10 minutes, until broccoli florets are crisp and spears are soft.
To serve, place on platter and garnish with Pecorino cheese and a lemon wedge.
*This is our current routine in our current stage of life. It doesn’t include a CSA although we have loved ours in the past, and it does not, at least right now, include a farmer’s market, although we hope it again someday will! It also does not factor in our weekly milk/eggs pickup, which our friends pick up for us and we pick up from them.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.