Sunday, July 17, 2011

Costco and Goat Milk and Stuff

We have a complicated past, Costco Wholesale and I. 

When I was growing up in a family of six somewhere out in the pine trees and gravel roads of Idaho, the Costcos were few and far between. Actually, come to think of it, the one we went to was across the line in Washington State. I’m not sure they had a single Costco in all of Idaho when I was little.

In those days we did a lot of living off the land and organic this and that back before it was trendy. We had a robust, beautiful garden every year at our house, as well as a garden plot at a friends’ house. There we grew corn and potatoes and melons and squash—things that need longer growing seasons than we got down in our little valley.

A goat

My dad hunted. My grandfather raised cattle and so we got our beef from him. We had goats and sheep and chickens. For awhile there we had milk goats as well as both kinds of chickens—one kind for the eggs and the other kind for meat.

My mom bought a little wheat grinder and we would buy wheat to grind into flour for our own bread. Once she even went through a phase of making her own yogurt but if I remember correctly it looked more like cups of white mucus than anything else, and the phase didn’t last long. 

When we didn’t drink the milk from our own goats, we usually bought fresh milk from our neighbors who had a milk cow. They kept the milk in an old green fridge outside their garage in those big gallon jars (think Costco size) and we’d pick up a couple gallons on the way home and shove the dollar or two that it cost into a plastic tub next to the fridge. Not always, but sometimes we would literally hand-shake the thick cream we skimmed off the top until it turned into butter, then we would salt and refrigerate the butter, and save the rest of it as buttermilk.

And then there were the fruit and berries. We would go to orchards for peaches, pears, and apples and make our own apple cider and applesauce every fall.  My grandparents had cherry trees and so we spent plenty of time picking and canning cherries. Between the patches of strawberries and raspberries in our garden and my grandparents’ gigantic patches of the same, we had more red berries than we ever needed. We also picked wild huckleberries and wild blackberries. My mom had a drying rack for fruit and so we’d make fruit roll-ups and dried fruit snacks. We made jam. Oh man. Did we make jam. And we cut up and canned so many peaches and cherries that now, probably 12 years since the last time I heard the squeal of a stovetop pressure cooker, I think I could do it in my sleep.
Dramatic reenactment of apple-picking

We kept it all in had a separate building next to our house that we called the Fruit House. In it was our chest freezer with all the frozen beef and elk and deer meat. The shelves that went from floor to ceiling were stacked with Kerr jars of brightly colored preserved fruits, vegetables, and jams. In the fall I loved walking in there and just looking at all the neatly-arranged jars and thinking about all the hours of labor that went into each jar.

We canned the same green beans that in the spring we had planted by hand and watered and transplanted and in the summer weeded and fertilized and watered some more and in the fall picked and cleaned and snipped. I probably took a picture of the inside of the Fruit House with my 35mm camera or maybe even my 110mm camera after harvest time one year, but if I did I don’t have the picture anymore.

Anyway, back then each trip to Costco took up an entire day with all the driving and filling two gigantic carts with a million staples and eating and driving home. We got things like pasta and sugar and oatmeal and old fashioned peanut butter and chocolate chips and toilet paper and laundry detergent. When I was little it was exciting to spend a day like that, but it lost its appeal. 

My mom ordered a lot of natural and organic food on top of what we could make and grow ourselves or buy at Costco also. We always teased her about buying whole wheat toothpaste and organic mascara and things like that. She totally would have if she could have.

Costco chocolate chips with foot for scale
You have to understand that during most of the time this was going on, it was very much NOT cool to be the one kid with the crumbly, thickly sliced whole wheat bread with organic peanut butter and homemade jam next to everyone else’s thinly sliced Wonderbread with Jiffy peanut butter and Smucker’s grape jelly.

And it was certainly not awesome to wake up when a friend was sleeping over to find that Mom had put out goat’s milk and some weird whole grain-y hot cereal for breakfast. I had to go along with the lie that the friend was genuinely not hungry, not that she didn’t want anything to do with Mom’s Whole Earth breakfast. Why not just Cornflakes like normal families?

I have some coming-out to do: there were many times that I lied about having already consumed my goat milk and I didn’t. I tried to like it, but I never could. My brothers say they did. My parents say they did. My sister might have, but I sure never did. And if I ever take a bite of goat cheese now on accident (because I will never do so on purpose anymore) all I can taste are the stalls of the barn where we kept the goats. So putrid.

But I am forever grateful for all we learned from our parents about taking care of ourselves and eating well. If my life depended on it, I’m sure I could still milk a goat or plant a garden. And I do hope to have a real garden again one day. Fresh homegrown tomatoes. Sugarsnap pea pods bursting at the seams. Dainty carrots. Yum. Way better than anything at Costco.

Anyway, I got carried away with nostalgia there and I almost lost sight of where I was going with this post.

Fastforward life. Wikkiwikkiwhizzableebleep.
My omelet from this morning

The sole plant I have in my balcony garden is a basil plant (just made basil, red pepper, mozzarella, spinach omelets for breakfast this morning!) unless you count the lavender plant, but it is fading quickly and I mean, I don’t eat lavender. I would love to have my own garden and my own fruit house and eat my grandpa’s free-range, grass-fed beef but I can’t.

I am not sad that I don’t have a chicken coop. I’m sorry, but living chickens are filthy and disgusting. I do not wish I had a milk goat. Goats are also gross and smelly and I think you’ll remember how I feel about goat products.

Cal helps my mom transplant seedlings for her garden
So, I have no garden or berry patches or wild game or livestock in my life at the moment, but I do live close to about five or six different Costcos.

Not too long ago I absolutely hated going to Costco. It would make me gag to think of it. I liked that Costco was a thing—that it existed out there in the universe and that because of its existence I could get toilet paper and laundry soap that would last for a year. But I abhorred walking into the place. The parking lot that takes a mile to walk through. The bright lights that are at least two stories above you. The windowlessness. The extra-wide carts. The dull cement floor. The wooden pallets stacked to the ceiling with apple boxes. The moms on missions that crowd everyone out with their heaped-up carts. The ALL-CAPS signage. People pushing in line at the sample table for the microwave eggrolls. The waiting in line for them to look at your receipt as you leave. I wanted nothing to do with it.

Fortunately my husband has been and is still in love with Costco. He does the Costco shopping. Actually, he does almost all of our shopping of every kind since I don’t drive. So he picks up the milk and cheese and…wait, there’s no need to make a list here, because we basically get everything at Costco now. Our list of things to not get at Costco has gotten smaller since having kids. We’ve learned the hard way that buying things like gigantic bags of potatoes or gallon cans of tomato sauce is not for us. Not yet, anyway.
The boys visit my grandpa's cows in Idaho

But Costco has also now become somewhat of a destination for us as a family. Most Sundays we go Costco after church or even (gasp!) instead of church and run the free sample circuit with the boys as we pick up ridiculous amounts of diapers, among many other things. If the circuit is a meager one then we will also buy a slice of pizza for afterward and sit there at the tables close to the only natural light peeking in through the front doors. The boys like going, so I kind of like it. Going more than once a week, however, would certainly be excruciating over the top.

Costco does sell some organic products, but is nice that we have several farmers’ markets close to us as well as a Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s that I can walk to. We supplement our Costco goods with them and when I want to spring for organic or use more exotic whole grains and such, I can do it easily.

I did not mean to wax so wordy. Hopefully the images made the post more palatable. Go forth and have an open mind about Costco and harvesting your own produce.


  1. First, I want to say how much I love the look of that ginormous chocolate chip bag. So much. YOU know what I mean. Second, there was a Costco in Boise when you were growing up. I'm sorry you missed it and the post-church sample route. Third, I miss being friends. Is this commenting-on-each-others-blogs what we've come to?

  2. Haha! I DO know what you mean about the chocolate chips. Though that particular bag was empty so you wouldn't have liked it all that much. :)
    Our commenting-on-each-others-blogs relationship is no stoop-talk friendship, but at least it's something. We might go on a metro adventure there a time you might be free for a lunchtime-ish visit?

  3. Oh, and I figured there probably was a Costco somewhere down south but didn't want to do research...didn't expect to be called out on it by a southern Idaho expert! :)

  4. I have to say that I adored this post. Not even sure why...I mean, I love all your writing...this one, however, I adored.

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