“Good food always comes to those who love to cook.”
If we are to take those words from Auguste Gusteau to heart (and yes, that is the chef from Ratatouille) it seems only natural we assume being broke isn’t a problem for foodies. This is a (usually) wrong assumption since, as we all know, food costs money. And money does not exactly grow on trees. (Cotton does, however, and that’s what our money is printed on, but I will not digress.)
It was with this idea in mind I tackled my dinner problem last night. My dinner problem is a reoccurring issue–empty fridge, empty wallet. I always have eggs, milk, butter and flour on hand, usually a fruit or vegetable on the brink of turning to the dark side and some bottles in the back of the cupboard that look like soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and vanilla. There is also usually rice. If I’m lucky, there are some tortillas or half a loaf of bread floating around. It doesn’t matter if the bread is stale–crutons! Panzanella! Bread pudding! Yes, those I can manage. Microwave French toast in a cup (thanks, Pinterest!) has saved my hide many a time.
But last night was just plain sad. My fridge was bare and sad and hollow. Not a cup of Ramen or stray turnip in sight.
Where should I turn? Publix? No, I spend too much money at Publix. Walmart? Ehhh. Any time after dark, my local Walmart is sketchy at best.
With ten dollars in my pocket, I jumped in my car and headed for an adventure. Aldi.
Aldi, the German global discount supermarket, is an unfamiliar company to me. We don’t have Aldi in Wyoming. But my friend Biker Bill swears by it, and I knew there was one nearby, so I decided to give it a shot. If all else failed, I would fall back on buying a bag of apples and a jar of peanut butter to live off of for the next few days.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but I walked into Aldi and found myself in the center of a large, wide aisle stacked top to bottom with boxes of fruit snacks, vitamin water and applesauce. It felt kind of cold and not particularly friendly, no music playing to ease shoppers under the florescent lights. There was no one in the store under fifty except the cashier, who just stared at me as if I didn’t quite belong. I didn’t blame her.
There was a very limited selection of fruits and veggies, but I took it as a challenge to create a dish based off of the cheapest items I could find.
I picked up the following items: a five pack of frozen tilapia, a can of cannellini beans, two lemons, a head of garlic, a container of crimini mushrooms and a package of eight Roma tomatoes.
The cashier was the most unfriendly woman I’ve ever encountered. She thrust my items at me, saying, “You don’t need a cart for these.” A kind man in line behind me found an empty cardboard box to keep me from juggling my dinner to the car.
I took my box home, pan fried the tilapia, cooked down the garlic and mushrooms, added the cannellini beans, chopped up the tomatoes and added them all to the pan with some olive oil and a squirt of fresh lemon. Salt and pepper, of course, made an appearance.
I served the fish with the bean/mushroom/tomato mix and had enough left over for two more meals.
And you know how much I spent at Aldi? $8 even.
Was the store surgically cold? Yes. Did I feel a little like a rat in a maze of discount surplus? Yes. It was like the love child of Ikea and a cardboard box.
But I got a great deal on dinner.
Am I the only one new to Aldi? Has the rest of the world spun on with this knowledge that I have been so deprived of? I don’t see how it is possible for me to have lived in Orlando for almost a year without this glorious discount knowledge.
I, Erin, The Clueless Northerner, will definitely be going back to Aldi for my groceries from now on. And I will bring my cardboard box and most disarming smile with me.