Restaurants are special occasion spots. Birthdays, date nights. They're for dressing up, catching up with old friends, celebrating life's big moments,. When I started to work in restaurants, at the age of 17, it was because I had always loved going to restaurants. I wanted in. I wanted to be part of that energy.
Grocery stores, I love them too. Grocery stores are for every day. For weeknight dinners and midnight snacks. For slipping into in flip-flops and stretchy pants. For stocking up on cereal, and paper towels, and cans of tomatoes. And after three long years of writing about my restaurant endeavors in the Served column, that chapter is officially ended. For now, at least.
Now there's something new. Grocery world. And I'm crowning myself Grocery Girl.
Over a fancy dinner at a fancy restaurant, some family friends and I got to talking grocery shopping. People have serious grocery shopping preferences, feelings, and rituals. Groceries are woven tightly into the fabric of our lives.
When I was hunting for a new apartment, I scoped the nearby grocery stores. I moved next to this tiny, quirky store that has amazing prices on fruits and veggies and a great beer selection. And it's open 24 hours. The apartment: a go!
I have a typical single New York girl pantry situation. Breakfast is the only meal I regularly eat at home. I'm usually stocked up with oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, granola, English muffins, almond butter, coffee, and milk. Nonbreakfasty foods? I have plenty of chocolate, a half-eaten bag of cashews, a few beers, and a bottle of bubbly. That's about it.
But I'm obsessed with those breakfasts. A perfect honeycrisp apple, the first persimmons of the season, a sunshiney box of clementines—these things make my day a little better, my home a little homier. So I stalk the weird, wonderful grocery store by my apartment. And I work across the parking lot from my one of my employer's fabulous, famous stores. Sometimes, I head over for some inspiration. No joke.
("A Supermarket in California" by Allen Ginsberg has always been one of my favorite poems. "Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?" What beautiful words.)
My mom's cool friend lives in the West Village. Like only a Manhattanite can proclaim, (and maybe a Parisian?) her life is grocery store free. She scours the Greenmarket for the season's finest produce, for jars of raw honey and local chickens to roast for dinner. The pantry staples and dish soap come from a big pharmacy. And there's a great bakery nearby for bread; a wonderful café for coffee beans.
My parents live in Manhattan on the weekdays. On Friday night, they head out to their second home on the river on a too cute little town in New Jersey. On many weekend, my mom embarks on what she calls her "suburban schlep." The car culture means she can load up on bottles of seltzer, cans of garbanzos, or whatever. Things that are too cumbersome to carry through the streets and up to her little New York apartment.
My former boyfriend and I used to make the drive sometimes from our Philly apartment to the Cherry Hill Wegmans. We both took immense delight in roaming through aisles of Israeli products he missed from home, rambling troves of olives, loads of kale and crazy green veggies, exotic fruits, towering mountains of candy, never ending selections of vitamins. We'd always spend too much money, bring back more shiny eggplants than the two of us and all our friends could eat in a month.
Working at a grocery store, I get to see little snapshots of people's lives. I love to help a dad pick out a cheese to cheer up his daughter; a very old lady knowingly select a luxurious, pricey bottle of olive oil; a teenage boy load up on chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. Couples shopping together make me smile.
What's your grocery ritual? And dearest serious eaters, I assume I'm not alone in my grocery fetish.