Shop Small 2013

A 365 day challenge

Day 26: Not healthy, but oh so yummy!

9 times out of 10 we eat really healthy. My kids are good about vegetables, sushi, and will pretty much eat anything I make.

But, every so often I really want something messy, super-cheesy, and just plain unhealthy. And not pizza.

This kind of craving seemed like the perfect excuse to try Fat Ricky’s. They do have a couple other locations, but recently opened one down the street from my house.

Believe me, even though we’re a pretty healthy & organic home, and I occasionally enjoy an unhealthy meal, I still don’t want chemical-laden, fake garbage ingredients. Let’s be clear- you aren’t going to a place called Fat Ricky’s for salmon & rice or low-cal dinner. But, if you want a killer chicken parm sandwich oozing with cheese & sauce running down your hands, this is the place.

They’ve been using their family recipes since 1963; apparently they’re known for their pizza and steak sandwiches.

And, though most people dining in (and picking up orders) had pizza, we opted to try two sandwiches: meatball sub and the chicken parm.
Splitting the two was easily enough for the 4 of us, they’re big and filling. While I wasn’t a fan of the meatball sub, the chicken parm was great. Lightly breaded, tons of cheese, and plenty of sauce.

The young girl working the counter was very nice & I have to give her the credit for suggesting her favorite sandwich- the chicken parmesan.

I obviously don’t recommend Fat Ricky’s for every day, but when you’re in the mood for “good, unhealthy” food with great ingredients- Fat Ricky’s is it!

Any other favorites for a “junk food” fix?

Day 25: Women’s consignment done right!

We’ve already found that Back on the Rack is a great consignment spot for kids’ clothes. But, that doesn’t help with my clothes.

Just like the kids’ clothes, I donate a great deal of it, but there are a few that I’d prefer to consign. I tried Clothes Mentor and Plato’s Closet last year & wasn’t impressed with either place. So, following Jennifer’s (owner of Back on the Rack) advice, I tried Posh Style: Fashion & Decor Boutique.

I don’t know how I have lived here 10 years without ever knowing Posh existed. Owner Karen does consignment right!

Going to shop? It feels like you’re in an actual boutique: organized, clean, and a great chandelier too!

Want to sell? Just make an appointment, don’t worry, it doesn’t take long, they just want to be able to give you their full attention.

Hate the idea of resale? You still need to go- one half of the store is all new!

So, really, Posh is the both of best worlds. Love resale but your best friend hates it? Now you can both happily shop- though I’m betting she’ll find something amazing from the “new to you” side.

What brands can you expect? Obviously it changes frequently, but today there was no shortage of Seven for All Mankind, Joe’s Jeans, and Lucky (none of them over $35!). Dresses, coats, shirts, sweaters, even Prom dresses & Pink if your daughter is interested. Plenty of Ann Taylor, J Crew, and Anthropologie clothes; great purses & shoes too.

Though I didn’t find jeans, I did find a cute, casual short-sleeve sweater for $2.00!
(These Michael Kors just popped up on her site tonight!)

Although she does have a website, I like her Facebook page better, so that’s the link.

Any other favorite consignment shops for women’s clothes?

Day 24: Open wide…

I wasn’t planning on writing about services, but I couldn’t resist this one…

It all started October 3rd, 2012.

My kids and I were flying out to NYC for my uncle’s memorial. While on the plane I made a note to myself to call the dentist when I got back home…my tooth was bothering me a bit.

Needless to say, by midnight the pain was excruciating and I didn’t sleep the entire night. Fortunately, the next morning my uncle’s dentist was willing to see me.

That’s how I ended up in Dr. Towbin’s office. An older gentleman who was incredibly kind, but informed me that I needed a root canal…Now. Only he doesn’t do them, so he called his friend a block away to see me in 15 minutes. **Thank you Uncle Barton for making such a difference in people’s lives that they were willing to adjust their entire schedules for me.

So, I ended up in Dr. Kamin’s office. Sobbing.

Let me backup a step…I’m terrified of the dentist.

Not to make a long story longer, Dr. Kamin was amazing. He did a partial root canal- enough to get me out of pain, not be a drooling mess at the memorial, and back home again. He said we wanted to speak to my dentist at home because the structure of my tooth was unusual (I figured that was just code for I’m crazy & he needed to warn the next dentist) & recommended I see a specialist.

Ok…I’m finally getting to the point. All of this led me to Dr. Mark Curcio DDS.. He is incredibly patient, pain-free, and genuinely compassionate. My old dentist’s office was barely 5 minutes from my house, I now willingly drive 45 minutes to see Dr. Curcio.

For those of you don’t understand the big deal about going to the dentist, go see him because he’s a good guy and a great dentist. For those of you who basically need laughing gas & valium just to get you through a cleaning- Dr. Curcio is for you. He is calming and patient with our kind of crazy.

By the way- the anatomy of my tooth is a little off- he wasn’t just talking about me!

Who is your favorite dentist?

Day 23: I caved…

After my visit to Zeppe’s Italian Market and Fruitful Yield, I still had staples on my list.

It’s one thing to pay $1-2 more on an item if it prevents me from having to run across town to multiple stores. I’d pay triple that in gas.

But, my cereal was $2 more (and I needed 3 boxes), flour was also $2 more (needed 3 bags), and I didn’t want a $15 ginormous bag of raw sugar. So, really I was going to save over $20 at my other store.

Truth be told, I was really missing it. I was craving its friendly atmosphere, its neat-organized rows, I missed my $2.99 organic cereal…

My name is Stefanie and I am a Trader Joe’s addict.

I know. I know.

Geographically, Trader Joe’s has come along way since 1967; the store itself has pretty much remained the same (I’ve actually read the book about its creation!).

I love that they only carry a specific number of products at a time, although that also means some of my favorites aren’t there year round.

Trader Joe’s isn’t in every state, so that still makes them sort of small, right?

Here’s the deal- I’ve known plenty of people who’ve gone there & hated it- moreso- they’ve said they just don’t get it.

If you are brand loyal, it’s probably not for you. If you get an absurd thrill coming across items like Double Creme Brie, Sundried Tomato & Pesto torta, Pear Cinnamon Cider, Corn & Chili Tomato-less salsa- then Trader Joe’s is for you. If not, Casey’s Market is right next door (in Naperville, anyway).

I tried Casey’s Foods, I really did. It’s one of the last family owned grocery stores around. It’s been here since 1991 and has a very loyal following. Maybe it was just the night I visited (freezing-ass cold), but I thought it was dirty and the employees were not helpful. I had never been there and asked where to find the flour- I basically received an “over there” with a head nod. Ask a Trader Joe’s employee, and they’ll walk you to the item.

As far as Casey’s goes, it seems like just a mini-grocery store. It’s your same aisles of Kellogg’s, Heinz, and big-name products. I don’t want Oreos, I want Peppermint Jo-Jo’s with their crushed candy-cane filling. Why buy Rice Krispies, when I can get TJ Rice Cereal that’s essentially the same thing, minus high fructose corn syrup and it’s only $1.99.

Maybe that’s why I love Trader Joe’s- and my lure toward small businesses in general- I like seeing different products, I’m not particularly brand-loyal, and I’d really love to work there in one of their Hawaiian shirts!

Trader Joe’s just feels like a neighborhood grocer should. It’s not pretentious like Whole Paycheck, but you can still get most items organic and/or without high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated garbage, or artificial colors.

That said, this year is about shopping small- so I truly only bought a few staples: cereal, flour, sugar- I begrudgingly walked past the Mini ice cream cones and blueberry chèvre. Produce, dairy, deli, meats & seafood will be found elsewhere.

I think the bottom line is, small or not, if I don’t feel good about shopping there and the items I purchase, I don’t want to spend our hard-earned money with that business.
So, come on, there has to be other Trader Joe’s junkies. What are some of your “must-haves?” Who’s heading out for their virgin TJ experience? We’ll help with product suggestions!

Day 22: Things are getting a little personal!

Three weeks into the year and I started running out of household staples: flour, toothpaste, cereal, and tampons. Great.

My 2012 answer for three of these items would have been Trader Joes. But, knowing they really aren’t a “small company” I wanted to try a different store first.

Fruitful Yield has been my go-to for vitamins for a few years. They’re kind of a cross between a co-op and an itty-bitty Whole Foods. They do have 11 locations (so they probably aren’t technically small either), but only in Illinois.

They have, by far the best prices on vitamins and supplements. The mango fish oil we buy (seriously, my son loves it!) is almost $7 cheaper than it is at Whole Paycheck. image
The other item I buy here is- sorry guys, told you it was going to get a little personal – organic cotton tampons.

Let me jump on my soapbox for one second ladies. Yes, organic tampons are more difficult to find, and yes they are more expensive. BUT, here’s why you should go to great lengths to find them and make the switch. Almost every other brand is made with a mix of cotton & synthetic fibers, petroleum-based materials, and bleaching agents. Cotton has the highest use of pesticides/insecticides of any crop. You certainly wouldn’t want to ingest pesticide-laden cotton, or have it absorbed into your bloodstream. Additionally, dioxin (produced during the bleaching process) is carcinogenic and some researchers suspect a link between dioxin and endometriosis. I don’t know why, but I swear my periods are at least two days shorter using them too.

Back to Fruitful Yield. If you have questions regarding vitamins, supplements, or dietary changes, the employees here are very knowledgeable. While they do have some grocery items (I swear Barbara’s Jalapeño & blue cheese Cheese Puffs are crack- and I don’t like blue cheese or Jalapeños),
they are generally more expensive than you’ll find at most other locations.

That said, if you have dietary restrictions or need staples for food allergies, they will have it.

Helpful hint- ask at the counter for the current Mambo Sprouts booklet. They’re just like the Whole Foods store coupons, only you can use them anywhere. But, you have to ask for them.

Day 21: Food for thought

Boston has Faneuil Hall.
Seattle has Pike Place Market
even Wisconsin has the Milwaukee Public Market.

Why in the world, then, does Chicago, with its vast array of local delicacies, not have a year-round public market?

Of course, I would prefer it were here in the ‘burbs so I could go weekly, but wouldn’t it be great to find fresh made bread, scrumptious desserts, homemade pastas, local farm fruits and veggies, even a cheese master all under one roof.

Unfortunately, to find all of these individual provisions, we have to go to upteen different locations. And, that’s what I feel like I did today.

Actually, it is what I did today, 4 different stores. Don’t worry, I won’t take up your whole Monday evening with all four. But, the day finally came that I was out of staples: flour, cereal, syrup, toothpaste, and tampons. Trying to stay with small businesses meant several different stops.

I needed lunchmeat for the kids again, so today we hit Zeppe’s Italian Market. It’s nice when Groupon has deals for small businesses; it’s a great way to try new places & save some money!

Zeppe’s is small- basically a deli, pastas, sauces, and some Italian staples. The only refrigerated case is full of ready to eat lasagna, ravioli, and sauces. My daughter was craving lasagna, it was great that would could buy a single piece (that was big enough for 3!), and it was delicious.

The two gentlemen working were very helpful & since some of the lunchmeats were new to us, they let her sample. Though we did get a couple of lunchmeats, I was a little disappointed in the selection. I would have liked more authentic Italian options, or at least Boars Head meats, not Butterball & Ekrich.

Although I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I’m sure if you’re looking for ingredients for your favorite Italian recipe, Zeppe’s will have it.

Looking for something you don’t see in the case or the shelves? Make sure you ask. I happened to ask for fresh mozzarella, and he went in the back & brought out some of the most delicious mozzarella I’ve had.

Tomorrow’s post is going to get a little personal…I know, the suspense!

Until then, do you have a year-round public market near you? Would you shop there over a grocery store if you did?

Day 20: Second thoughts

Maybe it’s my OCD kicking in, but I’m still thinking about dinner from Burrito Parriila Mexicana.

Believe me, I am well aware that a $47 for dinner for four is not an affordable dinner for many families. And, as I said yesterday, I had a bit of sticker shock at the total as well.

Really, though, shouldn’t we have more sticker shock at 99 cent hamburgers?

There is something wrong when it’s acceptable that a candy bar costs less than an apple.

When I was a kid, eating out was a treat. Now, families eat in a restaurant 4-5 times per week.

There’s no denying that obesity is an issue for our nation. So, is it really better when a family of four can get a “counter-service” dinner for under $15, but they do so 3-4 times a week? That is no longer a treat, but a nutritional nightmare.

It’s the never-ending quality vs. quantity debate.

Maybe if we stopped accepting chain restaurant fat-laden, sky-high sodium, mass-produced “deals,” we’d realize that fresh, real food is the better-deal.

I think it’s time our “convenience” restaurants are encouraged to provide quality food. Even if it’s initially a bit more out of the wallet, we’ll still save in our waistline and in future health care.

I’d much rather have a grilled skirt steak taco (on a homemade tortilla) for $2.39 than an 99 cent hamburger made from… who really knows what it’s made from.

Thoughts? Should “fast food” equal cheap? Would you choose an apple over candy bar if the prices were reversed?

Day 19: A new spot for dinner…

Aside from our sushi lunch, last night was the first dinner out this year!

A New Mexican restaurant opened down the street a few months ago (this actually their second location) & I had yet to try it.

I have mixed thoughts about Burrito Parrilla Mexicana.

It’s nice to have another independent restaurant, and this one is counter service: order at the counter and they bring you your food.

Although everything was very fresh and very good, I wasn’t expecting to pay $47 for dinner at a counter. My fajitas contained a full breast of grilled chicken and homemade tortillas, so I didn’t think $10 was a bad deal, but dinner for four still seemed like a lot…for counter service.

Like many others there, I was taking my order to go. Although I didn’t sit in a booth to wait, those who did were served chips and two kinds of fresh salsa. I was curious about the size of $7.99 guacamole, saw it served, believe me it could serve 4 people. Although all of our entrees came with guac so I’m glad I didn’t order an extra side.

Eating in? Food is served on nice dishes- I’d actually love a set of the long plates they have!
Their horchata is delicious, and Mexican coke (real sugar, no high fructose corn syrup) in bottles is another option. No cerveza though.

All in all, food was good, and service was good, and it’s close to home. I’m just a little caught up on $47 for counter service.

Side note: there is way too much cheese for this to be truly authentic Mexican food, but their horchata is definitely some of the best I’ve had.

Day 18: Ready to declutter?

Got kids?

Yes? Then I’m guessing you have stacks of clothes and toys they’ve outgrown.

What to do with all of the Stuff?!

Sure, a garage sale always sounds like a great idea, but they are a ton of work & “helpers” seem to disappear quickly.

We pass down what we can to friends and family, and we give to Salvation Army too. But sometimes you just want to sell some items.

I’ve been to kids’ resale stores like Once Upon A Child, but the one closest to my house is dirty and they basically give you 30 cents for the $30 jacket. No thanks.

Thankfully, we have a fabulous new consignment store in our “downtown.”  Off the Rack  is less than a year old, and owner Jennifer, has a hit on her hands. Her store is filled with great clothes sizes infant-16. She’s selective about quality (don’t even try to bring in clothes with rips or tears) and you’ll find great brands too. One benefit of being short- I scored a pair of Mini-Boden sweatpants for $8- for myself!


Occasionally you’ll find books, toys, and room decor, but they go quick. Follow her Facebook page for new items that have recently hit the store.

Jennifer is friendly and helpful, and usually one of her adorable kids is in the shop too. Slight word of warning, though. Grandma (?) also helps out at the store. She is knowledgeable about inventory, but- let’s just say customer service is not her forte.

Want to drop off a pile or two of clothes? Give Off the Rack a call…soon! I had to wait several weeks for my appointment this week!

Know of other great resale/consignment shops for kids? I’m revisiting my favorite women’s consignment shop next week.

Day 17: Meet Lola & Gigi!

UPDATE (8-3-13):I’m am terribly sad to say, Lola’s has closed. I am sad to see them go, they were one of my favorite finds. On the bright side, Gigi’s is fabulous & just celebrated another anniversary! Tons of adorable clothes & shoes!


Continuing with my adventure from yesterday…

Following Tammy’s (owner of Blackbird’s Barkery) advice, I went around the corner to check out a new store, Lola and it’s neighbor Gigi.

My wallet is seriously grateful that I was in a bit of a time crunch by the time I met these two!

Lola is an eclectic mix of fun. Wine, cookbooks, kid’s gifts, kitchy novelties, and even a few vintage finds. It doesn’t feel scattered in the least, and the displays are fantastic. It’s one of the few stores where you can actually buy the cool display pieces too (I’m betting many of them originally came from Vintage. I found a really cute book holder image– the book is from the library but it’s definitely something you’d find at Lola’s. Her website is more like a blog, so the link is to her Facebook page- also because her profile picture cracks me up!

Feel like taking a gander at some cool clothes? You don’t even have to go outside- Lola’s connects right to Gigi’s! When I walked in, Gigi’s looked like most trendy boutiques. They had a fantastic display of jeans and sweater jackets/cardigan(?) (I’m so not hip & cool, don’t even know what these are called!) that I was fully expecting a sticker-shock $120 price tag; I got a shock, it was $34! I really wish I would have had more time to try things on, but I did manage to get one very cool top that alone may be worth the drive. I’m calling it the Sisterhood of the traveling tank. When I asked if these really soft, made in the USA (bonus!) tank tops run true to size, she told me they’re one size fits all. Seriously?! They come in a ton of colors, as well as long sleeve & three-quarter sleeve. It is crazy comfortable and if I can ever manage to stop wearing it, I’m going to have my 11-year-old daughter try it too. I’m also trying to get my friend who has- ahem- a little more going on upstairs than I do to try it on. I’m testing this one size fits all theory! They change their inventory frequently (except for the tank I bought). No website, but her Facebook page shows pictures of new items.

This definitely won’t be my last drive out to Morris this year. Next visit, though, I’ll go when I have a bit more time to wander into more stores…and linger in others!

What’s your favorite Main Street, USA “downtown”?

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