Tuesday, October 4, 2016

October Grocery Shopping Week 1: A Trip to the Sri Lankan Store and Fresh Rambutan

I generally budget $75 for groceries for myself (food only, no paper goods, cleaning supplies, pet food, etc.; I also budget $25 for eating out, but that's a separate line item on my monthly budget).  My grocery budget for October will be $75.

In addition, I had $36.59 left in the September grocery budget.  I have added that to my budget for the October prayer gathering.  I usually budget $150 for the prayer gathering.  So, this year, I have $186.59 in my budget for the prayer gathering expenses.

I generally add the monthly grocery budget and the prayer gathering budget together and do not separate the purchases into household groceries and prayer gathering supplies.  I use items I have already bought with the regular grocery budget (such as rice, some canned items, cooking oil, spices and condiments, etc.) for the prayer gathering dinner and will be using leftovers from the prayer gathering dinner in my meals, later.  So, the regular grocery budget and the prayer gathering budget will be combined.

October grocery/prayer gathering budget = $75 + $186.59 = $261.59  

Week 1 grocery shopping:

I did a little grocery shopping at the dollar store on October 2:

October 2 Groceries

I bought some bananas, a can of table cream, and a box of brown sugar from the dollar store.  The box of sugar was $.99, the can of table cream was $.99, and the bananas were $.49/lb. and came to $.72  My total came to $2.72.

October 2 Receipt

I went grocery shopping, again, on October 3.  First, I went to the regular grocery store and bought:

October 3 Groceries

1 loaf bread = $1.29
1/2 gallon milk = $1.99
1 7-oz. roast beef cold cuts = $2.99
2 boxes snack crackers on clearance for $1.29 each = $2.58 (will share with daughter)
Total = $8.85

In addition to the grocery items above, I also bought 1 bag of dry cat food ($10.99 + $.99 tax) and 3 cans of tuna in water ($.89@; Dancer gets a spoonful of it as a treat, although he seems to have tired of it of late; I have checked with the vet and have been told it's OK to do so; one can usually lasts for at least a week).  I have deducted these items from the regular grocery budget, since they are budgeted for separately.

October 3 Grocery Receipt

Later in the evening, I went to the Sri Lankan store.  One of my cousins went with me, so I am counting our trip to the store and back as "family time" for the family segment of my balanced life goals. 

The Sri Lankan store is filled with shelf after shelf of all the types of food I grew up eating, which might be exotic to some of the readers of this blog.  This picture of a jar of sauted banana blossom is for Nathalie: 

Jar of Sauted Banana Blossom

I mostly went to buy Maldive fish pieces since I was all out of it.  It's been more than a year since I last bought Maldive fish pieces and the price had doubled!  But it is used as a condiment in our cooking and will last me a long time.

I also wanted to see if they had my favorite tea (extra strength), but they didn't; I bought a different type of tea (premium quality) by the same company to try.  As my daughter said, I could always use two tea bags if the tea wasn't strong enough for me.  But strength is not the only factor; there is a certain flavor that I like, as well.  I am afraid I am a little picky when it comes to tea. 

I also wanted a packet of joss sticks (incense sticks), rice flour (to make appa or hoppers, which is best described as a type of pancake made with fermented rice flour dough), and savory, spicy snack mixes.  Instead of rice flour, I bought an "instant" hopper mix to try; it is supposed to eliminate the step of adding yeast to the rice flour (along with sugar and coconut milk) and leaving for 8-12 hours to ferment.  According to the directions on the package of mix, the mixture only needs a 15 minute period of waiting after the coconut milk and sugar is added. 

I couldn't decide on just one snack mix, so I bought three!  One is known as "murukku", which is made from urad (black lentils) flour.  The other two packets contain a thinner variety of murukku mixed with nuts (one has only peanuts, the other has cashew nuts as well and cost a little more), lentils, curry leaves, and chili.  These snacks are our equivalent of potato chips, I suppose.

Purchases from the Sri Lankan Store

I bought:

1 packet joss sticks = $1.29
1 packet (100 bags) tea = $4.99
1 jar (400 g; 14 oz.) Maldive fish pieces = $9.99
1 packet hopper mix = $2.49 
1 packet murukku = $2.49
1 packet snack mix = $2.99
1 packet snack mix = $3.29
Total = $27.50 (the total actually came to $27.53, but, instead of giving me $.47 cents change back, I was given $.50).

The joss sticks aren't groceries, obviously, so, I will deduct them from the total; my total for groceries at the Sri Lankan store came to $27.50 - $1.29 = $26.21

Total spent on groceries in Week 1:
Dollar store:  $2.72
Regular Grocery store: $8.85
Sri Lankan store: $26.21
Total = $2.72 + $8.85 + $26.21 = $37.78

October grocery/prayer gathering budget = $261.59
Amount left in the budget = $261.59 - $37.78 = $223.81

One of the items in the refrigerator at the Sri Lankan store was fresh rambutan, which is a type of fruit:


I was very tempted to buy some, even though they were pricey at $4.99/lb.  I think, if my daughter was home, I would have bought some to share with her.  Buying them at that price for just myself seemed like too much of an indulgence.  However, the store manager gave me, my cousin, and the one other customer who was there, one fruit each to try and dropped 2 additional fruits into our grocery bags, as well! 

When I came home, I could barely restrain myself until I took the pictures, to eat the other two fruits!

Rambutan - Cut Open

When you cut or peel the outer (inedible) skin, there is a single fruit, inside.

Peeled Rambutan

Peeled, it resembles a more familiar lychee fruit.  There is a single seed in the middle.  We do not generally eat the seed, which is bitter, but I've read that some people roast it and eat it.  I don't know how accurate that it.  There was a rambutan tree in the garden of my childhood home and we ate a lot of rambutan when it was in season, but we never ate the seeds.

Rambutan Seed

How is your first week of October grocery shopping coming along?  Have you eaten rambutan?   Is it something you might eat if you find some, either fresh or canned?  Have you seen a banana blossom?  Did you know that it can be cooked and eaten?


  1. Such interesting food items! Do you think the fruit seed would grow if you planted it?

    1. Carolyn, you and I think alike! I don't know if the seeds will grow because the fruit had been refrigerated and I read that seeds don't germinate that well, but, I have already put them in a small pot of soil and will keep an eye on them to see if anything happens. :)

  2. Banana blossoms are cooked and canned? I had no idea. Bananas are extremely popular around here (Germany) and reliably the cheapest fruit available all year. They survive the long transport very well.

    I'm not entirely sure if I have eaten Rambutan. Not recently. They are available in winter when we must put up with high fruit prices because we've run out of fresh domestic fruit. Tropical fruit have become popular holiday treats. Or summer fruit from the southern hemisphere.


    1. Yes, banana blossoms are finely sliced, as one would a cabbage for slaw, soaked for about 10 minutes in salted water to which turmeric is added (to reduce bitterness), then sauted in oil with spices, etc., and eaten as a vegetable with rice. Fresh banana blossoms are a novelty item here, but one can find them, occasionally, in the ethnic grocery stores. Or one can buy the canned item, which only requires re-heating.

  3. This is utterly fascinating! I know it is just ordinary stuff for you, but I've never eaten rambutan and I can't imagine what it would be like to eat cooked banana blossom! It is wonderful seeing into another world of food. I think food says more about a country's history than people think. I also agree about tea. I like my tea weak, but I get medium strength teabags and put one in a big teapot as the flavour is different. I can always taste it, even if some can't! It isn't being picky, it's being discerning lol x

    1. Ooh, I like "discerning"! I think I'm more spoilt than discerning, though. When I was a child, my family owned some property on which tea was grown. Plus my parents were friends with several people who managed big tea plantations, and every time they visited us or we visited them, we were given gifts of very good quality tea. I am fine with weak tea if I am drinking it plain (with only sugar; no milk). But I usually add both sugar and milk to my tea and then, prefer a tea that is strong.

    2. Very envious about tea. I like a nice tasting tea, but good tea is expensive here. I love Orange Pekoe, I don't know if that was a Sri Lankan tea? You must really know the good stuff when you have it - absolutely not spoilt and definitely discerning x

    3. Apparently, Orange Pekoe is a term used to grade black tea, including Sri Lankan (or Ceylon) tea. It denotes tea made from the leaf closest to the tip (the highest grade being the tip). Very often, you'll see Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) on the package; it means the tea is made from broken pieces of the leaf, as opposed to whole leaves. So, Orange Pekoe is one of the better grades of tea; looks like you are a pretty discerning tea drinker, yourself! :)

  4. Your food is always so exotic looking Bless. You're lucky to have a store that sells all your favourite foods, is it near to you or do you have to travel a way to it?

    I'm very interested in your prayer meetings. Is it part of your religion to host them, are they informal or is there a 'leader' that takes the service, how many will be coming and how long do they last. Also will your daughter come home and take part? So many questions. Sorry :) xx

    1. Yes, I am very lucky to have a store selling Sri Lankan products, just a few miles from me (approx. 15 miles, one way). When I first came to the US, I lived in a city without many ethnic groups and there weren't any ethnic grocery stores. The nearest ones were in a bigger city, some 200 miles away! This was in the mid to late 1970s. Also, there weren't such a variety of commercially available canned food items, prepared spices, mixes, curries, etc. Back then, I made my own curry powder, etc.

      The prayer gathering I will be hosting later this month is a Rosary prayer meeting. :) I am not Catholic (I am Buddhist) and am the only non-Catholic in the group. I will write a bit about how I came to be included in the group in a blog post, maybe. But my mother's family are all Catholic and this Rosary prayer group is composed of several members of her family and family friends who have been getting together to recite the Rosary, each month, for over 30 years. Each family takes a turn to host the gathering in their homes. The prayers are led by a certain lady in the group.

      I'll write more about it, but, in the meantime, here's the link to my post about the prayer gathering I hosted last year:


      In December, I usually have a Buddhist prayer gathering known as an Almsgiving. I will be writing more about it closer to the time. But, in general, I will prepare a vegetarian meal and invite the Buddhist monks from the temple and family and friends to participate. The monks will chant blessings and we symbolically transfer the merits accrued from the almsgiving to our departed relatives and loved ones so that their afterlife will be better.

      Here are 2 posts about the almsgiving:



      Have fun reading! If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. I am always happy to answer them and explain things. :)

    2. Thank you for posting the links Bless, they were really interesting to read.

      What a lovely tradition to host the monthly Rosary prayer meeting that your mother started. I also read in one of your comments that you have left a mezuzah from the previous occupants pinned to your door. What immediately struck me is your acceptance of other religions, if we could all be like you, the world would be a better place.

      You also mention a home altar. Is that something you prepare with special items and is it possible for you to post a photo of it.

      I'm also wondering do the monks turn up dressed as I imagine them to be in their orange robes or is there such a think as a 'modern' monk these days? So many questions again :) I do find other religions fascinating though. xx

    3. You are welcome, Suzanne. Glad you enjoyed reading them. :)

      Just to keep the record straight, it is the annual almsgiving that my mother started. The monthly rosary was started by some friends and family.

      Yes, I left the mezuzah in place on the front door post. At first, I didn't even know what it was, but then, read about it somewhere. I don't touch it when leaving and entering the house (for one thing, I leave and enter from the back door for the most part), but I look upon it as another blessing on the house and don't want to remove it.

      As for the altar, it's a wall-mounted shelf in the living room on which I keep a statue of the Buddha. I have also appropriated the top of the adjoining bookcase, to house a second Buddha statue that the monks gave. Together, they make an L-shaped altar. In addition to the statues, I also keep a candle-shaped electric light, a fabric flower enclosed in a water-filled globe that was a gift from an aunt, a lotus shaped silver joss sticks holder, a votive candle holder, and, often, a vase of fresh flowers.

      There is also another altar in what used to be my mother's bedroom - she used the top shelf in her closet to set up an altar with Buddha statues and pictures, pictures depicting some Hindu deities, statues of Our Lady, the Infant Jesus of Prague and pictures of some of the saints. It is a veritable United Nations of religious icons! :D This room is now my daughter's bedroom, but the altar remains in place. It is where I usually say my morning and nightly prayers.

      When I host the rosary prayer gathering, however, I clear the living room mantel and set up a temporary altar there by placing the statue of Our Lady, a votive candle holder, and a vase of flowers.

      Yes, the monks do wear their orange robes at all times. When it is colder, they might wear an orange t-shirt or sweatshirt under the robes and cover their shaved heads with a knitted hat.

  5. I have eaten neither a rambutan nor a banana flower. They sound very exotic. And yes, I would try something to eat, even though it is totally foreign to me, as long as I know what it is.

    I read the blog posts that you provided links to. The almsgiving sounds very interesting. So donations can be money or food? Is it up to the Order of Monks to then distribute the donations? How do they decide who is in need? Is it set up along the lines of the Salvation Army? I too have lots of questions.

    1. Susan, yes, in general, the donations can be money or food (or basically, anything one wishes to donate).

      The monks take a vow of poverty and are not paid a salary, so they are dependent on donations. The donations are made with the understanding that they will be used for the personal use of the monks (to purchase items they need such as medicines, warmer clothes to wear under their robes in the winter, etc.) and/or the maintenance of the temple (electric and water bills, heating bills, phone/internet service, etc.) Donations are not given with the expectation that they will be distributed to other needy people. However, the temple does raise funds for special causes, as needed.

      Things become a bit complicated because the code of conduct that govern the monks forbid them to touch "silver or gold" which is understood to include money. This is so that individual monks don't accumulate their own personal funds of money. Monetary donations are supposed to be made to the temple, where a lay devotee (or committee of devotees) disburse the funds as needed. It isn't always possible to keep to these restrictions, I think, especially when one lives outside of the society which has developed to enable such practices.

      In Sri Lanka, for example, when monks are asked to attend an almsgiving at someone's house, someone picks them up and drives them to the house where the almsgiving is held and driven back. It is easier to do so in Sri Lanka than it is here, simply because there are more people to help out with such an event. I did this when I first held the almsgivings, mainly because the abbot of the temple expected it. But it was hard for people to drive the monks whenever they needed to attend functions So, the younger monks learned to drive and devotees donated cars to the temples (individual monks may not own a personal vehicle, but the temple might and the monks may use them). As a result, the monks now drive themselves to almsgivings and use donations of money to pay for the gas (petrol).

      Hope I was able to answer some of your questions, Susan.

    2. Yes, you have answered my questions very well.I understand the concept of donations now.

  6. Bless, I was so happy to read you'd decided to use paper plates for your upcoming prayer gathering. I've failed to figure out diplomatic language so I blurt...please look at numbers of your last event so that you have the generous repast you desire but not an almost overwhelming collection of leftovers.

    One of my 1st foreign assignments was Bangkok and as a colleague and I rushed to the ferry we were nearly 'hijacked' by one of the fruit, street sellers who insisted we as foreigners, could not bypass the market without buying some fruit. We asked for a 'handful' but the seller chose to make it a kilos [2.2 lbs] and selected hairy, scentless Rambutan. As we scrambled to pay [about CND $1.] he demonstrated how to break open the casing to get to the sweet fruit. There was so much fruit my colleague and I ran up and down the aisle of the ferry offering fruit to all the passengers. :)

    I hope when DD comes to help you set up for your guests, you'll make time to return to the store for a bag of Rambutan. I don't see it as an indulgence but as a super treat for you, DD and guests.

    1. Glad to read that my decision to use paper plates pleased you, Hon. :) As for numbers, well, if everyone I invited attend, there'll be 25 people. Not all will attend, of course, and although I've asked people to RSVP, I really don't know if I'll be catering for 10 or for 20. And I'd rather have extra than run short. Daughter will take some food back with her, I'll send some home with my friend and the rest will be frozen for later.

  7. Thanks for thinking of me, Bless! I agree with everyone else that it's fascinating to read your descriptions of foods from Sri Lanka. The two cookbooks that I borrowed from our library system have also been a great source of information about the various foods and cuisines from your country. The "Sri Lankan Cuisines", especially, has great information about the various kinds of tea and says that the teas of the highest quality are those grown in the mountains while the teas grown in the valleys are of lesser quality. Alas, I had to stop reading the book because it made me so hungry! I haven't even gotten to the recipes yet. I did read the previous book "Rice & Curry" from one end to the other and plan on purchasing it as I want to try several recipes. But first, I have to find things such as Maldive fish and other ingredients that I might have to buy online if I can't find them at the Indian store that I plan on visiting... at some point!

    The Rambutan looks exactly like a lychee. What is the difference? I hope the seed sprouts for you! How nice of that store manager to gift you some!

    Also, I'm glad that your sense of taste and appetite have returned enough that you got excited enough to buy 3 different snacks! I hope you enjoy them :) Have a great rest of your week, Bless. Well done on your food expenses!

    1. Nathalie, Maldive fish is quite optional, if you can't find it. I think rambutan and lychee taste different. It's a bit like apples and pears - if you peel and cut them, the pieces look similar, but they don't taste the same.

  8. I've never tried rambutan, although I have seen it at some of the Indian groceries I've visited. I don't love the texture of lychee so have not been tempted by it. It does seem like it would be very refreshing.

    I am going to check out your links for the prayer gathering and almsgiving. Lately I've been feeling like I need to reinvigorate my meditation practice and while I am not Buddhist (or religious at all, necessarily), I do find the major tenets of that faith very compelling.

    1. Yes, rambutan and lychee do have similar textures, so if you don't like one, you might not like the other.

      As for meditation, what one of the Buddhist monks said is that any activity that focuses your mind on the task at hand can be a form of meditation.


Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. Your comments are much appreciated.