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February 12, 2009

You write our grocery list

After some very pretty compliments for you ("I...admire how attentive and creative your commenters are"), a Sun staffer sent me the following request. Sounds like she could use some help: ...


I'm not sure if you've seen it, but on the weekend business pages, there's a little chart called grocery list -- each week, a Sun staffer/intern/warm body goes to three different grocery stores and compares prices on 10 identical items. It's a popular feature but also quite limited (because the writer visits just three stores that tend to be in one region, we don't get to Columbia, Towson, Lutherville, etc., each week).
We'd like to do some sort of feature for the grocery list online. Would you mind asking your readers if they would contribute to something like that? What kind of information should it provide? We're not sure how to structure it, but perhaps a creative commenter has an idea. I know your readers eat out a lot, but those who live in the area must cook sometime, right? We're looking to make a reader-driven interactive feature that people actually use.

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 10:04 AM | | Comments (38)


Would you mind asking your readers if they would contribute to something like that?


Nice idea, but since I have no confidence that that staffer/intern/warm body wouldn't get fired, I wouldn't participate.

I also don't buy what most people eat, I suspect.

I'd be willing

Great idea! I wish I had thought of it.

I'm not sure that asking readers to do your work is the path to job security, especially if that writer isn't paying attention to past posts.

As mentioned above, if it is to expand the area of coverage, fine. If it is to eliminate another job, no. Also, the items will have to be very specific, so we are comparing navel oranges to navel oranges and gallons of 2% milk to gallons of 2% milk.

What? You want us to compare food prices FOR you? That's ridiculous. Talk about living in a dead paradigm. Want ten different stores' prices right freakin' now? Or at 10;32 AM Saturday? There's this thing called the internet. Go to Safeway's, Peapod's and Wegman's sites and open up ten different windows, put in different zip codes to get different stores in each and voila you know what Oreos cost all over the area. Am I missing something?

OK, over on Consuming Interests (oh, be quiet, you're not my boss and anyway, it's lunchtime in the Mountain Time Zone) the guy who isn't spending any money in February posed this question regarding Valentine's Day:

So what cheap/free ways are there to mark the occasion?

After five hours there are no responses. Slackers.

I bet the Sandbox can suggest a few. (Read carefully before posting them, EL.)

Ideally, this would expand the area of coverage. It would not eliminate a job -- we do not have one person dedicated to the grocery list. The job rotates among a group of people, and this is just one of the (many, many) tasks they do.

Oh, Owl Meat, I'd read that post, but it isn't exactly what we're looking for. Pictures of your grocery list might do for fun, but I would hope most Marylanders don't eat ketchup with watermelon.

At least we do have one thing in common, though: My "smthg 2 fll emptnss" is also ice cream. Usually I abbreviate it MCC (for mint chocolate chip) or perhaps HD (Haagen-Dazs' caramel cone).

Free or cheap ways to mark Valentine's Day?

This is as bad as the "girls taste better than boys" thing. You all are doing this on purpose, right?

The job rotates among a group of people..

Would the key word here be "job", as in, not ours.

I think I have no idea what Sun Staffer is looking for, but it sounds dull and pointless. Sorry.

Cheap/Free ways to mark Valentine's Day are for High School kids who've spent their allowance or college kids who've drunk theirs.

What exactly are you looking for, Sun staffer? Don't tease us. And will you be offering the MCC and HD as inducements?

Sun staffer, I'm about to make a run for the grocery store. I have on my list: Iams (for the kittens), shiro miso paste (anyone know where I can find that item?), 25 W regular-base frosted light bulbs (ditto), turkey, provolone, bread, milk, apples, pears, maybe some fresh fish. My list--and welcome to it.

Maybe I don't get it because I never see a physical copy of the Sun. Someone prints their grocery lists? Yeesh.

Okay, I just found the "grocery list" feature online. Wow, it is as pointless as it is revealing. It is almost entriely brand name and oprocessed food. Here's a hint: Minute rice is pathetic AND expensive no matter where you buy it. The lists indidcate that the writers have no idea how to shop and that their diets are pretty gross.

Have a look.

WOW! What a montage of crap,

My advice: do your own homework and don't draw attention to such an atrocious waste of print that is better situated in the Puxatawny Penny Saver.

Owl has a good point in his first post. With this internet thing, you (or anyone) can go to grocery store websites and find out what prices for stuff are. Or at least compare sale prices on stuff.

I don't know if a Lowe's or Home Depot is convenient to you, but light bulbs are WAY cheaper there than at your local grocer. I realize it might be more convenient to pick up your lights at the grocery store, and they do too. So they make you pay for it.

Looking at the comparison, you'd be better off buying a programmer hour or two, and having them write a screen scraper to automagically check the web pages of the local grocery stores and snag the prices every week. Said script could also format it ready for print.

It would have to be fixed every time one of the grocery stores changed their web page format.

So much for Owl Meat Zen. Have a fight with your wife? Hey there's plenty of real food on their lists:
Bob Evans sausages
Kraft mac & cheese
Oscar Meyer bologna
instant potatoes
canned chicken

This is the food of real Americans.

Cool name Deli Lama. You must be new.

Speaking of light bulbs you can get a box of compact fluorescent bulbs of 6 or 12 or more for about $1-1.25 each on eBay. I got a dozen about two years ago and not one has burnt out since. I know it seems too good to be true because they sell for, oh could someone drive around and check this out for me, oops I forgot I'm on the internet:
GE Spiral Fluorescent Compact 26 Watt - Each $5.99
G.E. Soft White CFL Fluorescent 3-Way Light Bulbs Compact 12/23/32 Watt 1 CT PKG $7.49/ EA
Sylvania 23-Watt Compact Fluorescents Bulbs (CFL) Pack of 2=9.98

Now that took me less than a minute. The markup on these things is SICK. I made back what I spent on the eBay CFLs in one month.

Secondary point: This whole topic shows how inept the Sun is at dealing with new media. You're trying to shoehorn new media product into the old media donkey. You just don't get it. How about taking advantage of the easy access to price information on the internet and do some real reporting, like comparing a standard market basket (like they do with the CPI) for certain stores over time and report the results. No one cares what you spent for blueberries last week.

PCB Rob--doh! I was at a Home Depot just a few days ago, but I came home with picture hangers and an orchid (impulse purchase). I didn't even think to look for the light bulbs there.

I wish I could remember the title of the wonderful reference book at one of the libraries I worked in. It had a typical family's weekly food shopping, with prices, by year, IIRC. So, you could not only see what people ate in, say, 1923, but also see the prices.

Big paperback. Lots of white on the cover (see, I'm as bad as most library patrons about these things). Drat it, I can remember exactly where on the shelf it lived...

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese?! Minute Rice?! Oh my sainted Aunt Emma, who uses that stuff? Well...besides some of the pseudo-cooks on FoodTV? Those lists are dreck! Do a real shopping list for good ingredients, and I'll consider comparison shopping for y'all.

My old roommate in Baltimore lives off that kind of stuff.

Oh, Dottie. I use Kraft Mac & Cheese. Because I have a 2 year old. Who doesn't like real, homemade mac and cheese. He wants "orange cheese" and only "orange cheese."

That said, I buy it at Target. It's way cheaper there.

Also, can I weigh in on the lightbulbs? Just a word of warning - don't buy the generic ones that sit out around Home Depot. They're very cheap, but the light is horrible and blue and glaring. I'm looking at some now. It's not pretty.

shiro miso paste

Wow, sounds like Whole Paycheck or the H Store out in Catonsville. What is that? What does it do?

Thanks for the link, Bird.

Iceberg lettuce??

brand name eggs? (Are you Sun staffers so far removed from reality that you truly do not knwo that money is tight? It's NOT just a story line!)

...trying to shoehorn new media product into the old media donkey.

Eeeew! Eeeeew! Icky picture!

Here's a more fun bit of work that we could do to entertain ourselves: describe the person who supplies the grocery list for the Sun. Oh if I had only known of this hardcopy anachronism when I did my 'tastic post. Now this would be really fun, but I doubt that EL would want to incite the younger staffers. Let me start with the latest list:
iceberg lettuce
pancake mix
cake mix
Bob Evan's sausage links
Rice Krispies

Wow. First thought - stoner. The iceberg lettuce seems out of place, but otherwise it's a bongtastic list... dude.

Dahlink - For shiro miso paste, try the Asia Foods on York Road south of Northern Parkway. It;s also in teh neighborhood of the Giant that allows you to carry a hand-held scanner and scan and bag your own grocieries (speaking of doing someone else's job for them!) But my kids do love it, so...

If you are nearer to the Korean grocery stores in the I-70 and Rt. 40 area, they often law low-sodium shiro miso paste as well as the regular kind. Sometimes located in produce section, sometimes in other random refrigerated areas of the store.

Shiro miso paste is misoshiro the most common kind of miso. Shiro means white in Japanese. It's the kind that they use for miso soup at Japanese restaurants. It's easy to find at Ho Foods and maybe some better supermarkets. Hey, let me pretend I'm a competent reporter and check the interweb right now ... waiting ... waiting ... waiting ... nope not at Safeway or Giant. If you buy a pack of miso (paste) you can make miso soup for pennies, instead of dollars for the soup mix crap. The fridge life of miso is infinity judging by my refrigerator. Go miso!

As this conversation evolves (unravels?), the way I picture this Grocery List thing coming about is that Staffer said to Self, Those people over on D@L clearly have no lives so I'll con them into doing my job for me by pretending to do them a favor!

I envision Staffer as a regular over on Sessa's blog. Smokin' a houkah.

Yes Eve I'm sure that was the thought process in the bong water and Count Chocula-addled brain of Staffer. The insincere flattery was the first clue. The sad thing is that I'm sure that we already collectively do a better job than he does at his. So you think we're stupid? Eat our scorn. I'm guessing he regrets his lame request. Rule #43 on how to get ahead - don't get stupid people to publicly do your job for you. It makes you look lazy and, well, stupid. That's what happens when they start hiring from DeVrie.

Seriously, the whole random grocery list is lame. Fill that space with something worthwhile ... dude.

kitpollard, carries Vermont Cheese Powder. You can use that to make your mac and cheese. The last picture I saw looks like it it white cheese powder, so you might have to use some food coloring to get that orange flavor (they used to have orange too). But you get real cheese and can use whatever macaroni you like. If you're using food color, maybe the 2 year old would like blue or green mac and cheese?

We're looking to make a reader-driven interactive feature that people actually use.

Reader-driven interactive feature? That's called a blog. Stop using terminology you don't understand. Great Caesar's ghost, you guys really have put the very antiquated cart before the horse.

Thanks, Baltofoodie and others who weighed in on the shiro miso paste. I got a recipe for miso scallops from my foodie son, and I wanted to try it. He lives in Seattle, where it may be a little easier to find some of the ingredients. I'll report back if and when I locate the paste and try the recipe.

D'link, miso is easy to find. It comes in a sticky block of pasta that weights about 12-16 ounces. You can get it at any Asian grocery or Whole Foods. It's easy to use. It's very salty and fermented so it keeps forever. Because it's high in salt and slightly acidic it makes a great marinade for fish or maybe poultry. Be careful because of the high salt content. It's also high on minerals and protein. Because it's fermented, the proteins are broken down to more easily digestible shorter unraveled chains with some free amino acids. It's one of the very few ways that soy beans and soy protein should be consumed by humans.The reason that miso soup is served at the beginning of a meal in Japan is because it warms up the digestive system for more serious work later and opens up the stomach. A teaspoon in a mug of hot water makes the easiest, most nutritious and natural broth around.

Never eat soy that isn't fermented.

And I always forget that I have it in the fridge.

Thanks, RIE! I'll definitely check that out.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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