Category Archives: Food

Skin Lover’s Roasted Chicken

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I hope you’ll believe me when I say I am a master of the roast chicken.  I don’t make that claim lightly; on the first day of my first year at university, our freshman composition teacher had us each interview a classmate with the question “What are you an expert in?” and introduce our partners to the class.  Most people claimed mastery of a certain sport or artistic endeavor: football, skateboarding, sketching, guitar.

Frozen with existential angst and the idea that I’d never be a master of anything because there is so much to perfect and learn, I said I had an expertise in smiling.  Yes, smiling.  Why not?  I do it all the time.  I’ve been doing it for years.  People tell me I have a great smile, and I usually get a smile back in response.

It was an awkward few minutes.  My classmate wouldn’t look at me and recited my answers with disdain wishing, I’m sure, that I’d claimed an expertise at skiing like her because she taught the subject to 10-year-olds the winter previous.  This is when I knew I was different from my fellow students.

Nine years later, I have another subject to add to my repertoire: smiling and roasted chicken.  I’m set for life.

I am unapologetic in my love for chicken skin.  I have a friend who dislikes the stuff — it’s rubbery and chewy and gross according to him, and he happily passes it on to the next person who wants it.  But then again my friend has never been over for one of my chicken dinners.  I’m bragging.  As a Master Chicken Roaster it’s allowed, because this chicken skin is never anything but crispy, salty, fall-off-the-chicken good.

The rest of the chicken is first rate too, juicy and hot and tasting like chicken.  In my experience, roasted, unbrined chicken tastes mostly the same.  A free range, hormone free chicken will taste more gamy while a conventional factory farmed chicken will be bland.  For this recipe, I buy antibiotic and hormone free chicken from Stop and Shop’s Nature’s Promise brand.  It poses a nice taste compromise without beating up my budget.

I know a lot of people who stay away from roasted chicken because they are intimidated by it.  Don’t worry; It’s a simple recipe that’s difficult to mess up, even if you put the chicken upside down.  The bird comes out of the oven tasting great and with what amounts to junk food on the outside. The only danger is in overcooking the chicken, so make sure to watch its progress toward the end of the cooking time.

With a little care you can get chicken skin, roasted chicken, chicken stock, and (depending on how many people you’re feeding) leftovers for chicken salad out of one measly bird.  The cleanup process can be annoying, I’ll admit.  But even then, with a dextrous fork and knife you can get most of the meat off the bones and leave the rest on for “flavoring the stock.”  That’s your excuse.  Run with it.

Skin Lover’s Roasted Chicken

  • one 4-5 lb. (~2kg) whole chicken for roasting
  • metal roasting pan
  • salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder

Turn on the oven to 400°F (204°C).  Put the chicken in the roasting pan, breast side up.  If you can’t tell which side is breast side up, the pointy ends of the wings will be pointing upwards like in the photo above and if you press on the skin on either side of the center, you won’t be able to feel any bones.  Those meaty parts are the breasts.  Point those babies to the sky.

Remove any innards that are tucked into the body cavity.  Some companies will put the innards in a wax paper bag, some will toss them in there without any covering.  I take out all the organ meats but the liver and roast them in the pan.  The liver (the purpley, blobby, squishy one) goes into the freezer raw for use in chicken liver pate.  Feel free to throw the insides away, roast them, or save them for your own nefarious purposes.

Sprinkle the chicken skin evenly with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.  I use kosher salt but I’ve had good results with regular table salt too.  You don’t need to rub it in and you don’t any oil or anything, just sprinkle the spices on.

Put the chicken in the oven.  Leave it there for about 75-90 minutes.  This equals out to a little more than 15 minutes per pound at a higher temperature, which goes against conventional chicken roasting guidelines.  I do it this way because I don’t preheat the oven, and also because it makes the chicken skin super crispy while allowing for juicy white meat.

The chicken is done when the skin is a nice caramel brown with blackened tips.  If that doesn’t help you, try rotating a chicken leg.  It should move easily.  If the bone falls out in your hand, it’s definitely done and take the chicken out of the oven right now or risk dry chicken.  If you still can’t tell, cut open the breast lengthwise down next to the bone and see if the juices run clear or slightly golden, which are both good signs.  Pink juices mean uncooked meat.

Sometimes you’ll see a small red stripe in the chicken breast meat.  This is okay!  It’s discolored red where it’s touching the bone.  If the juices are clear, you’re good to go, and if it really skeeves you out, cut around it.  It’s your chicken dinner!  Do what makes you full and cozy feeling.

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to double your crispy skin, cut the chicken into parts before roasting: breasts, back, whole legs, wings.  Roast for slightly less time and enjoy.  Happy eating!

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©2012 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where Mr. Savvy and I divide the chicken skin evenly… or so Mr. Savvy thinks.  As always, blah blah blah brand mention blah blah blah no affiliate links.

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Wayland Winter Market

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With a hearty hat tip to Peg of the Wayland Winter Market twitter feed, I rounded up a few friends and went adventuring last weekend.  Peg gave me the scoop that last Saturday’s farmer’s market was going to be a fiber day.  Yarn aplenty!

In an effort to knit down my existing stash, I didn’t purchase a skein (though I fondled quite a bit of fiber and had a serious conversation with myself for ten minutes about buying a ball of roving).  But these earth tone yarns from Windy Hamlet Farm were oh so tempting.

The market wasn’t all about the fiber, which comprised only a half the stalls.  There were vegetables and meats, eggs, fish, wines, spices, marinades, drinks, and lunch booths enough to make our mouths water.  “Its like wonderland,” I said to my fellow adventurers.  My friend who had never been to a farmer’s market laughed at the sight of my unfocused eyes and feverish smile.

We arrived ten minutes after the market started and already people clogged the aisles between stalls.  One of the worst traffic jams surrounded a bakery booth — and I didn’t blame anyone for stopping.

The sun cast a suffused golden light over everything through Russell’s Garden Center’s greenhouse windows.  Once again I was agog at the thought of all these people buying local, at the interactions that occur over a table lined with one farmer’s crops.

Visiting the farmer’s market makes me long for a farm of our own.  But until we get there, I’ll keep my spirits up and support local farmers at these markets — as well as soak in the goodwill that comes from hundreds of people doing the same.

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©2012 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where my purchases worked out to be eggs, greens, and sweet potatoes.  The line for cabbage was too long or I would have ended up with one of those as well.

Stuffed Butternut Squash for a Cold Day

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The season is upon us.  The farmers are piling the squashes up in their baskets at the farmer’s market, and the harvest looks glorious and full of all those Autumn colors that give me the warm fuzzies.  Perhaps it’s why I have food on the brain.   Oh no, I remember why: I just love food.

I love this food, and after the first bite, so did Mr. Savvy.  This is one of those dishes that is easily made with leftovers and odds and ends that you have lying around.  It can be gluten free or vegetarian or very easily, but probably isn’t a good candidate for a vegan or dairy-free meal — the cheese plays an integral role.  Go ahead and skim through the ingredients, and then hop to the notes at the bottom of the recipe if you want to make some changes.

Stuffed Butternut Squash

  • 1 whole butternut squash, at least 1.5 lbs.
  • 1 onion
  • a few tablespoons of oil
  • ground turkey
  • fresh radish greens or spinach
  • salt and pepper
  • cayenne pepper
  • nutritional yeast (optional)
  • mozzarella cheese (or other cheese of choice)

Wash your butternut squash and slice in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds and pulpy innards.  Place the squash cut side up on a baking pan, drizzle with a little oil, and pop into the oven for 30-40 minutes at 350°F until the squash is cooked mostly through but not browned.  This can be prepared ahead, even to the night before, so that your squash is ready to go the next day.

Once the squash is done cooking, heat the oil in a skillet on the stove.  Chop your onion into small dice (1/4″ pieces if you can manage it) and cook it in the oil until the onion is soft and translucent.  Add your meat and break it up while cooking until there is no pink left and your meat is in small crumbles.  Give your greens a rough chop and add them in to the mixture.  Add salt and pepper, cayenne, and nutritional yeast to taste and remove the mixture from the heat.

At this point, scoop some flesh out of your butternut squash and add it to the meat mixture, stirring until the squash is well incorporated.  The point here is to make some room in your squash for the stuffing mixture, because once you’re done mixing your meat mixture, scoop it into the squash and place slices of mozzarella cheese over the top.  Put the whole thing in the oven for another 10-20 minutes at 350°F until the cheese is browned and bubbling, and the squash is cooked through.  Serve hot.

Notes: I have some pretty serious food limitations, so I had to use ground meat as my stuffing mixture, but you’re welcome to switch it out for rice, quinoa, couscous, TVP, seitan, or some other choice stuffing base.  If you want to increase the recipe, go ahead and add cooked rice in directly to your ground meat, toss in a few more vegetables like asparagus and carrots and mushrooms — whatever you have lying around.  The recipe is very forgiving.

What makes this recipe work is the contrast of the sweet butternut squash with the peppery stuffing, and then the salt of the mozzarella cheese.  As long as you have those three factors, this recipe should work out for you.  It’s fairly time-consuming because you have to pre-cook the butternut squash, but I mentioned that that could be prepared ahead and refrigerated, which should make things a little easier.

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I can tell I’m turning into my Memere because whenever I write these recipes, I want to say things like, “cook it until it’s done.”  Memere used to say that all the time.

The Scoop on Recycling Propane

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[Editor’s Note: I have managed to strategically mislocate my camera.  No, that’s not the same thing as losing it.  Sheesh!  When I unmislocate the camera, I will be sure to post a picture of our itty bitty grill.  Apologies for the inconvenience.]

We splurged this weekend and picked up a small propane travel grill.  Very small — the type meant for camping so that we can take it with us wherever we go.  It uses the little one pound propane tanks, little disposable, nonrefillable one pound tanks.

Ugh.

I hate things that are disposable.  You should have seen the deliberation process for this one after we found that out.  We talked to the salesperson, looked at a larger propane grill that uses a refillable tank, looked at this one again, went home, researched propane recycling options, called three different recycling places, hemmed and hawed, and finally purchased it two hours later.  Yeah, it was a process.

It’s all because of propane, that more-than-slightly harmless flammable liquid that is heavier than air  — the one that causes things to combust and explode.  Go propane!  It’s for this reason that propane tanks are categorized as household hazardous waste, and cannot be disposed of in the trash, although many places won’t take them in for recycling.

Thankfully, if you have a big enough grill, you can refill the tank and feel good about minimizing your environmental footprint.  There’s a catch, though: only propane tanks with a safety valve can be refilled.  This excludes small propane tanks like the ones we use for our new grill.  Depending on where you live, you can use the small tank until it’s empty and then chuck it in the trash.  And away it goes!

Only not really.  You and I both know these things don’t go “away” and disappear.  Someone has to deal with them after you’ve tossed them out.  In our case, I called our transfer station to see where they went.  The woman who answered the phone was surprised; apparently she doesn’t get this type of phone call very often.

“You can bring those small ones here and we’ll recycle them,” she said.

“Oh, really?” I asked, surprised.  This was good news.  “How?”

“A company comes and takes them away,” she said.  “I’m not sure what they do with them.”  A pause, then, “Do you want me to find out?”

I smiled.  “Yes, I do want you to find out, please. That would be great,” I said to her.

After a few minutes on hold, the woman came back.  “The company is the Northeast Resource Recovery Association, and they come by and pick up all the tanks we have here, bring them to their facility and drain them of propane.”  She was very helpful.

“Oh, that’s excellent,” I said, frantically jotting down the information.  “And what does this company do with the tanks after they’re empty?”

The woman paused again.  What can I say?  I’m persistent about these things.

“I mean, do they recycle the small tanks or is there some way to refill them and they do that?” I pressed.

The woman didn’t know.  However, she gave me their name again so I could find out for myself.  I called the Northeast Resource Recovery Association and repeated my query.  The woman who answered the phone was confused.

“Yes, we drain the cylinders,” she said.

“And what do you do with the empty tanks afterwards?” I asked.

“Um… why do you want to know?” the woman asked.

I laughed.  I hope she didn’t think I was laughing at her.  It just makes me a little punchy once I realize that not many people care about these things, so the questions come off as strange.  “I’m looking to buy a propane grill that uses the small one pound tanks, and I want to make sure they don’t end up in a landfill somewhere.  I’d like to know if you all refill the small tanks or if you break them down for recycling.”

“Oh, right!” the woman sounded relieved.

One transfer, a conversation about a coffee shop, and five minutes later, I found out that this particular company drains the propane from the tanks (presumably for refilling the larger tanks — I forgot to ask) and cuts down the small propane tanks to melt down the steel.  It’s high-quality stuff, this steel.  I’m glad to see they’re not letting it go to waste.

So these are your options when buying a propane gas grill: get a tank that can be refilled, because most hardware stores have a refilling station right there, OR get a small propane grill that uses small tanks and call around to your transfer station and every other place you know trying to see how this whole process works.  It’s not a perfect process (recycling the small steel tanks uses more resources than just refilling them), but it’s a better option than tossing them in the trash, or even better than buying a charcoal grill.

What’s your preferred method for summer grilling?

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where our little barbecue was accompanied by a poetry reading in our very own backyard.  I love June.

Genetically Modified and Monsanto

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I have some good news, and I have some bad news.  And while I’m not sure how much more bad news we can take in a week like this (with the Haiti earthquake, I mean), I felt this was too important to wait the weekend and post about on Monday.

I’ll give it to you straight: The good news is that Monsanto finally released their studies that showed whether or not genetically modified (GM) crops are harmful to human health.  Greenpeace has been suing Monsanto for some time now for this data, and finally got the results they wanted.  This is fantastic — Monsanto refused to release this data ten years ago when GM foods were new to the U.S., but they claimed that there was absolutely no harm in eating genetically modifed crops.

For those of you who don’t know, among the GM crops is GM corn, also called “Roundup Ready” corn.  It was featured in the movie Food, Inc., and is the corn that scientists modified so that it has a built-in resistance to the weed killing spray Roundup (also produced by Monsanto).  This way, farmers can grow corn and spray Roundup directly on the corn, kill all the weeds growing around the corn, but the corn isn’t affected.

Monsanto patented the gene for this corn and has been employing some very nasty practices to farmers who grow non-GM corn next to farmers who grow GM corn (and other GM crops) — mainly because you can’t prevent cross pollination from the wind in corn, so the next generation of non-GM corn ends up with a few of GM corn’s genes.  And since the GM corn is patented, Monsanto wants to make sure they get every penny that’s coming to them.

If all that isn’t bad enough, there’s still some bad news.  Are you ready?  An outside company called CRIIGEN reanalyzed the studies that Monsanto released, then performed their own studies, and came up with some grim results — the first of which is that Monsanto has no idea how to perform a scientific study.  Seriously.  They didn’t follow the scientific method, they didn’t do enough long-term studies to test to see if GM food is dangerous, and they didn’t report on all of the results they received.

CRIIGEN mimicked the Monsanto studies, but actually followed due process in their animal tests.  When CRIIGEN performed their own studies, they found that there’s no proof of toxicity — meaning that over the 90 day observation period, they didn’t find any proof that GM corn causes the adverse health effects they found in rats.  However, CRIIGEN did find signs of toxicity — that the rats they tested developed certain unnatural kidney and liver functions, most likely due to eating GM crops, but more study is needed. Their report says, essentially, that you can’t figure anything out in a 90 day trial period, let alone whether or not GM food causes long term damage — but all signs point to yes, yes it does.

Phew.

Aren’t you glad we have a governing body that protects the people from foods that may be dangerous to our health? And that they’re doing an excellent job policing companies like Monsanto?  And that they follow up on all the information (or lack thereof) they’re given?

Sarcasm aside, it’s about time we learned about this stuff.  The blog post at Shakesville about this data (to whom I give a MASSIVE hat tip) puts together some conclusions about this information that I’d like to share with you:

Seriously, though, this is an unbelievable mess. You don’t have to stop eating because these are all chronic effects, and it’s not likely to make a big difference if one consumes GMOs for a few more years until we know for sure whether there’s a problem or not. But that’s all the “good” news there is. Regulators in the US bamboozled us and then the rest of the world into not so much as labelling for genetic modification. Now it’s everywhere, and crops are dependent on it. If further research shows chronic toxicity and the RoundUp resistant and Bt products have to be pulled, crop failures will make prices shoot skyward. In the rich countries, that’s an annoyance. In the poor countries, that can mean famine. We are, in short, screwed. For Monsanto’s chance to make a few billion, we’re going to be paying hundreds of billions. (I just saw that line somewhere else before ….)

If you’re interested, I encourage you to read the whole post at Shakesville because the author, Quixote, is pursuing a doctorate in biology and knows how to draw conclusions from the data available.

My final comment for this post is that some time in the future, when another food company is doing all they can to prevent putting labels on food products, I hope we look back at Monsanto in particular and say, “Have we learned nothing from history?  Remember when we didn’t label the genetically modified foods?  Let’s not repeat that mistake again.”

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I still say you should all watch Food, Inc., if you haven’t already, or read The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  First image courtesy of MarS.  Second image courtesy of deymosD.  Third image courtesy  of jimmedia.

Local Meat and How to Find it

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When we first moved, one of my lovely readers asked me to talk about how I find food that fits into my ethics, and I responded with An Introduction to Finding Your Food, talking about the ways to source good, local vegetables.  With the holidays almost upon us, I thought I’d branch out from there and tell you a little how I’ve found the animal products that we eat on a regular basis. Because all regions are different, I’ll give you the low-down of what I did, and see if you can’t pick up a few pointers.

For starters, I looked in our local big box supermarket to see what kind of meats and cheeses they carried.  If anything claimed to be natural or organic in any way, I wrote the name down and looked it up on my computer.  I also kept an eye out for local foods, and stocked up on those in the mean time.

You can only get so far in supermarkets. Truth be told, fliers have been my greatest boon in the search for better foods.  I’m talking about those annoying fliers you get in the mail, the ones you hardly ever glance at before tossing in the recycling bin and saying to yourself, “How in the HECK did they get my address?”  Yeah, those.  I peruse them like nobody’s business, sending the Rite Aid and Shaw’s fliers off to be recycled, while searching through the remaining materials for coupons to local stores, announcements about special winter farmer’s markets, and news from local businesses about how their raw milk industry is booming.

Well, not so much that last one.

But you get the picture.  Where other people toss these things aside, I read through them for more information about the area I live in.  That’s how I found a Whole Foods-like store near us that caters to local farmers.  That’s how I found out about the winter farmer’s market that’s occurring this Saturday, and five other Saturdays throughout the season at a greenhouse not far away.

When I went to Not Whole Foods, I came across a free magazine called Taste of the Seacoast, which had tons and tons of ads from even more family farms in the area.  Online research about these farms led me to take another look at Local Harvest — which I’d given up on at some point.  If you haven’t heard, Local Harvest is a website that’s kind of like a phone book for local farmers.  Oh, you’re looking for CSAs in your area?  Here you go.  Trying to figure out when the next farmer’s market is?  No problem.  It’s handy, but sometimes a little overwhelming if you don’t know where to start.

I was searching for local meats, and that’s how I came across a raw milk dairy farm not two miles away, that also sells meats, breads and pies occasionally.  And when I went to visit them, there were fliers and business cards tacked up on their bulletin board, some of the advertising more local businesses.  Jackpot!

They key here, as in my previous post, is to pay attention.  Actively search for your local businesses, because they don’t have the advertising budget of bigger stores that knock you over the head with ads that say “Shop here!”  It takes a little more effort, but the payoff is huge.

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©2009 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where, in one of life’s beautiful coincidences, my friend Katie at Making This Home posted about something very similar today.  First image courtesy of Chiot’s Run.  Second image courtesy of parl.

An Introduction to Finding Your Food

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Right after we moved, I got a request to talk about the process I use to source new supplies.  That is, what I do to find local, organic, cheap food, gifts and toiletries in my area.  It was an interesting request, and one that I’m happy to oblige.  After all, how often does someone get the chance to look into this type of thing?  I won’t have an opportunity like this for another few years when we move again.

Luck has a lot to do with it.  I’m lucky enough to live in New England — New Hampshire, to be precise — and close enough to a liberal city that finding organic items is not too difficult.  And not only are we twenty minutes from a liberal town, we’re another twenty minutes from a liberal college, which means more of an influx of new ideas and consumer demands, which means more organic and fair trade products.

One of the other perks of living in this area of New Hampshire is that there are farms everywhere.  I can’t drive ten minutes in any direction without seeing a farm or a farm stand.  I’m not telling you this to brag, but rather to explain why in some ways it’s been easy for me to find good, local food.

Finding vegetables has been my top priority, so far.  Vegetables are the staple of our diet; we average 3-4 vegetarian dinners a week.  I prefer to buy vegetables from local sources and vegetables with minimal packaging.  Vegetables that taste good are always nice too.  To that end, the way I’ve found our vegetables is by getting to know our area.  There’s a farmer’s market once a week in our town, and a larger farmer’s market once a week in the next town over.  America’s Oldest Family Farm isn’t far away — their tomatoes taste amazing.  I came across these two sources by walking and driving around, doing my errands and paying attention to signs.

When I see something interesting but don’t have time to investigate further, I make a note of it in my pocket notebook.  Sometimes it’s information off a sign, sometimes off packaging in traditional grocery stores — because let’s face it: I shop there too.  Then I get home, do my internet research and figure out where to go from there.  I’ve also used Local Harvest with some success, but that’s a story for another time.

How about you?  How did you find your food sources?  Any tips you’d like to share?

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©2009 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I’m out of tomatoes.  Can you believe it?  Completely out, and missing them.  Image courtesy of Jill Clardy.

How to Shop at Whole Foods

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Whole Foods is crazy

If you’ve ever been to a Whole Foods store, you know that it can be crowded full of people mesmerized by the displays of expensive organic foods in front of them.  At least, that’s the way the Whole Foods is near me: There are masses of humanity, all paused in their shopping routines, mulling over conventionally grown broccoli and organic Belgian endive, and deciding between the least smelly cheeses available.

Our food budget is small, so we don’t shop at Whole Foods for staples, but I like to pop in once a week to pick up organic meat and certain other items, like gluten free pasta or vegetarian taco mix, depending on who I plan on feeding in the coming week.  I find that shopping at Whole Foods takes a certain strategy.  Here’s how I go about it:

1.  Grab a basket and head inside.

2.  Use evasive maneuvers to weave through the produce section.  Avoid shoppers entranced by the exotic foods, like white asparagus and baby bok choy.

3.  Drool a moment over the chocolate and cheese sections (strategically placed next to each other, you’ll notice).

4.  Stop by meat counter to buy sale meat, and only sale meat.

5.  Try to find specialty item not available in your local supermarket.

6.  Try to find staff member who can help you find specialty item not available in your local supermarket.

7.  Crash into someone’s cart parked in your way as you sight staff member.

8.  Apologize profusely to other customer.  Lose sight of staff member.

9.  Head back to aisle where specialty food item would be, if it was available in your local supermarket.

10.  Stare at shelves one last time without sighting specialty item.

11.  Attempt to make your way to cash registers.

12. Every aisle is blocked by carts.  Keep walking until you hit bakery at opposite end of store.

13.  Circle around to front of store.

14.  Narrowly miss toppling a sampling station of salsa and crackers.

15.  Reach cash registers.

16.  Decline to donate a dollar to Whole Foods charity.

17.  Thrust reusable bags at bagger, who has already bagged half of your items.

18.  Exit store.  Breathe.

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©2009 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where there are no local butchers near us that I know of.  Maybe when we don’t live in suburbia.  Image courtesy of Midtown Lunch.