When I was a kid, one of my favorite parts of family vacation was the trip to the grocery store in town to stock up for the week. Whether we were at a cottage on the beach or a cabin in the woods, I loved the ceremony of preparing for the week of vacation by stocking up on the basics, plus fun extras like quirky local grocery store brand sodas or dips and chips from the deli counter.
As an adult I have integrated this tradition into my own travels, and love exploring local markets to see what people buy for dinner. I have fond memories of the little mercado that we stopped at daily in Costa Rica to grab water, beer, and maybe some snacks or ingredients for a meal. The markets in China were unreal, including a very memorable trip to a market in a traditional hutong in Beijing. I remember a very chic and charming market in Vienna that Jason and I stopped at in the middle of a semi-heated exchange about getting lost to pick up contact solution, and regretting that in my haste I didn’t take the time to ooh and aah over the beautiful pastry displays.
Best of all was the cheese and wine shop we stumbled upon in the small town of Malmedy, just as we thought we’d never find a store open and would have to spend our first night in Belgium hungry and (worse) without a local beer. Locals cheerfully strolled in and out, melodies of exchanges in French about cheese and meats eased through the air like Christmas lights between customers and the women behind the counter. I nervously approached the counter with our goods: canard fumé, pain, and biere. I soundlessly practiced the words in the event that there was a quiz portion of the checking out process. But the woman smiled warmly, we exchanged a few words in French, and then Jason and I were on our way.
When at home, the story of my relationship with the grocery store becomes less sweet tradition and more full blown obsession. I love grocery stores. From the second largest Kroger Marketplace that just opened in my part of town all the way to the small but proud co-op in the college town where I work, I love them all equally. And now that many grocery stores have integrated bars into their layouts, I even feel justified in considering going to the grocery store not so much a chore but a fun outing. Most Sundays Jason and I can be found at Jungle Jim’s, grabbing a pint and then picking up a few items or knocking out our weekly grocery shopping.
I think what I find so enchanting about grocery stores, both at home and away, is that they speak to so much possibility. Here before you lay ingredients that are just waiting to take you on a culinary adventure. A variety of local garlic you’ve never seen opens the door to learning more about the allium family of vegetables, plus results in a simple but delicious meal of roasted chicken over rice smothered in sautéed buttery garlic. Even just buying the usual weekly log of groceries is exciting to me. The methodic preparation for a week’s meals is less chore, and more choose your own adventure book. Will it be a stir fry kind of week? Or a roasted vegetable soup kind of week?
Then there is of course the terrible process of paying and lugging all of your groceries to you car, loading and unloading into your house, and then find space in your kitchen to properly store all of your carefully selected items. But once they are all in their new homes in the crisper or freezer or pantry, you can admire your fully stocked kitchen.
There is nothing quite as comforting to me as a fully stocked fridge on a Sunday night, minus the accompanying anxiety that I will not use the chicken in time and that I’ll forget about the asparagus and it will wilt and melt into an ooze of green shame. Last night I got out of bed to put a chuck roast into the freezer, so anxious that it was approaching it’s downfall in the fridge. I hate defrosting meat, especially in the microwave, so I try to avoid need to do so at all costs. But I realized the likelihood of me finally getting around to making a 4 hour pot roast on a weekday night was slim, so into the freezer it went to wait for the weekend.
I think one of the best things to make when you get home from a Sunday shopping trip is a really great salad. Your produce is at its freshest, and a salad allows you to throw in a variety of items together that you just purchased and can’t wait to taste. Plus you’ve just done a lot of heavy lifting so now is not the time to embark on a big kitchen project, unless you are like me a masochist and immediately begin roasting meats and making lunches for the week.
My formula for a perfect salad is an indulgent protein like a freshly grilled steak or smoked salmon, hearty spinach or tender butter lettuce, and something with a little kick like scallions or shredded radish. Ripe avocado always makes a great addition as well. I’m not really big on bottled salad dressings, so I usually shake up olive oil and vinegar with some salt and pepper. Lastly some shaved parmesan or blue cheese makes a perfect final touch.
Have a glass of wine, eat standing up at the kitchen counter, and admire the adulthood you just conquered for the week.