Until today, I've been ashamed to admit it. Living in a food-obsessed town where people turn up their nose if you aren't cooking with tomatoes from a nearby farm or lemonade squeezed from your neighbor's organically raised lemon tree, where grocery stores are practically vilified (unless, of course, we're talking about Whole Foods, an exception to the rule naturellement) -- even stores that, in other towns, might be considered upscale and flush with really nice ingredients. No, in San Francisco those are sneered at too as having only marginally decent produce. In this climate, saying you love Safeway is a risky thing indeed.
But you know what? I do, dammit! I LOVE SAFEWAY!
I had to go in the other day to get a few things my local market doesn't have, namely cleaning products that my housekeeper swears by. While I was there, I needed to pick up one thing for dinner (pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage) but grabbed a basket -- just in case. Just in case. Yeah, right. I knew what I was going to do. I was going shopping.
Where to start? The foreign food aisle, for certain. Safeway devotes one whole side of an entire aisle (which must be, I dunno, 40 feet long?) to exotic, hard to find ingredients used in the cuisines of Asia (from Thailand to Japan), Mexico, Jewish culture and even the American South (which is practically a different country). They don't have a ton of Middle Eastern or Indian ingredients, that's true, but they have a damn sight better collection of stuff than all those chi-chi grocery stores people love so much. To whit: canned lychee fruit; ten varieties of Asian noodles from soba to rice noodles to udon to chow mein; canned turnip greens from Sylvia's in Harlem (with smoked turkey, alas, not fatback); matzoh; tripe, and even corn husks for making your own tamales (natch!). It was incredible. I walked slowly, mezmerized by the array. I had the itch to buy so many things for all those recipes that make me curse when I get to my usual market and can't find what I need (and then frantically try to come up with passable substitutes before finally giving up and putting everything back, all the while cursing the stockers and glaring at the checkout people).
Next up? The snack food aisle. It's important to keep abreast of all the new snacks on the market. For instance, did you know that you can buy Pringles that have trivia questions and answer lasered on the chip in blue, er, edible laser ink? Yes. You can. The can promotes them as education for the kiddies. Puh-leez, people. Oreos also come in so many varieties it makes my head spin, from peanut butter double stuffed to mini bite sized cookies to sticks. Mind-boggling what all those marketing kooks come up with.
Then it was on to the frozen foods. The variety of Lean Cuisines would have made for a stampede from my old office (say what you want about preservatives and sodium, but they saved a girl's life many times when it was either pop one in the microwave or starve). Chocolate chip waffles. Cinnamon buns with dippable icing. French toast sticks with the syrup inside. I felt like I was in Epcot circa 1982 looking at the Kitchen of the Future. I have to admit, the Toaster Strudel took me back to my childhood -- we used to eat them before church on Sundays, and my brother and I would fight over the extra icing packets. (Hey, it was the only highlight in an otherwise bleak morning.)
Suddenly, I remembered another childhood favorite, frozen honey buns. I found myself negotiating: "It's okay to buy the frozen honey buns if you can find them. You haven't had one in 15 years. Everything in moderation. One box of honey buns won't kill you."
Oh, rue the moment I remembered them -- for they were not there. I looked behind all the Eggo brand cinnamon rolls and other pale imitations, but my honey buns were missing. How to soothe my pain? The magazine aisle, of course.
Mr. Food Musings is the real magazine addict in the family, often coming home from a routine trip to the coffee store with ten or more magazines. Forget about the airport -- he needs a second carry-on just for his reading material. But this day, I too succumbed. O magazine, the new People, even Vogue, which I normally dismiss as utterly pretentious and badly written (hey, Gwynnie was on the cover. What's a girl to do?)
And then, the checkout. They always call you by your name and offer to walk you to the car. Such nice young folks! I went in for 3 items and came out with 9. Not too bad, all in all. Why do you think I nabbed a basket, not a cart?