Sunday, April 17, 2005

Ode to Supermarkets

Okay, I take back what I said about not being a foodie. Perhaps I am in a certain sense, how else do you explain the giddiness I felt this morning when I entered the brand spanking new Gristedes on 103rd Street? I felt like a school kid on the first day of school, before the dread sets in. Or an explorer discovering a brand new land. It's official, I'm a dork!

There I was roaming the aisles, mentally ooing and aweing over the items that I found. Charlie Trotter smoked salmon (two kinds), Gardenburger meatballs (very hard to find in Manhattan, trust me), Thomas' multi-grain bagels, all my Veggie cheeses, plus bags of Romaine lettuce in bite size pieces. I didn't know where to start. I had to restrain myself from buying bags of food, settling for the bagels, recycled paper towels, and Lean Cuisine deep-dish pizza.

This was after spending an hour in Whole Foods last night, trying to decided what to buy. We now have 3 Whole Foods Markets here in Manhattan, the best being the one at Columbus Circle, if only for the Wine Store. Where else can you try free wine while shopping, get a slight buzz without having to buy a whole bottle?

I still have a hard time buying a bottle of wine to drink by myself. For me, wine is best drunk in a restaurant or with friends. I can't shake the feeling that only lonely women with 10 cats drink by themselves. I have to get over that!

I have no problems buying a split of champagne to drink while watching The Bachelor or Desperate Housewives, but then again, champagne is more than wine, it's nectar of the gods.

The other thing about Whole Foods is the sheer variety of food, not only the prepared foods, but also the variety of produce and cheeses. Plus the freebies help! Also, they have like a drugstore section, with vitamins, beauty products, etc. that's fun to browse. Yes, Whole Foods is expensive, but the sheer vastness of the salad bar and the hot food stations makes it a bargain.

The only problems with the Columbus Circle location is that it also has a cafe, which means that half the people shopping there, are also eating there as well, which means the lines at the check-out can be surreal. Yesterday, it stretched all the way back to the Pizza station, and that was the ten items or less line. Then you have to get past the gridlock by the Jamba Juice station to get out.

By contrast, English supermarkets are totally different. For one thing you have to bag your own groceries. For another, they have better prepared food than we do. If you go into the Food Halls at Marks and Spencer, you'll find not just prepared food to reheat, but food kits to cook when you get home.

The last time I went to stay with my friend in London, I bought a stir-fry kit to make at home. The kit contained shrimp, bok choy, spinach, sprouts, cabbage, and sauce, plus the noodles. All I had to do was cook it when I got home. It was excellent with a nice bottle of Australian Shiraz to wash it down. I could never find anything like that in the States. I think that it's a market that's been untapped.

Plus, the other cool thing about the English, is that both Harrods and Selfridges have amazing Food Halls , the likes that you haven't seen here in the States. Macy's tries but it's just not the same. Selfridges alone has something like 4 restuarants, including a Yo Sushi, and a champagne bar. Now that's the way to shop!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

About avocados. Firm but soft; there is nothing worse than a hard avocado. Be gentle when you press; I once put my thumb through a weak spot in the skin, stood in the produce aisle completely mortified at my green tipped thumb. I did the only thing I could do: I licked it and popped it in my cart. That's what Jewish mothers teach. I prefer the avocados with the rough skin; they're darker green, sometimes smaller, but absolutely delish.

Ah, supermarkets. I am the queen of giant supermarkets. For me, they are playgrounds of delight. In Jersey City, there was a spectacular place called the International Foods Market. It was as big as a Wal-Mart, and had everything one could possibly desire. It's where I found a special kind of syrup--only in Asian markets, as Bon Appetit always tells me--for a dish for a farewell brunch. It took me 20 minutes to find it because there wee SIX aisles--and giant, wide aisles--of Asian treats. It was heaven. Fabulous fish, produce, you name it.

It was the gourmet version of the market I used in Michigan in college, Meier's Thrifty Acres or, as wel called it, Meier's Shifty Acres. You could buy anything and everything, from gin to glue guns, clothing to cottage cheese. A liquor store and garden center. We went once a month to stock up on stuff--my friend had a car. We'd meet at the check-out.

I've always preferred to bag my own groceries, and I do, except at the Jefferson Market where I let them do it. But I watch. Yes, I have seen artichokes dumped on my sea scallops. I quietly rearranged them. They always double bag the fish for me so I can reuse the bag without fear that kitties will suffocate in them, drawn ny the scent of swordfish.

Now, it's Pathmark on Cherry St.and mostly Shoprite in JC. I refuse to pay NYC prices for things in bottles, boxes and shrink wrap. Not to mention the tax incentive for taxable items. Produce and fish are remarkably wonderful, and there's a liquir store for Champagne.

I really hate the term "foodie." Same with "home cooks." We cook, we eat, have been doing it since some dude bopped a bison with a club and dragged it home to the cave. Spending time recently with a friend to whom a plate of spaghetti is grand simply makes me wish he went in for more exotica, but at least I get to pick the restaurant. So it all works out. Cooking to me is a joy. An art form, if you will, a relaxing, creative endeavor. Ah, I say this as I prepare to separate all those eggs for the annual Passover sponge cake and maccaroons! But going 18 for 18, I must confess, gives me a thrill. And yes, I keep track.Just like a power hitter.