My Life in Grocery Stores

"I love grocery shopping when I'm home. That's what makes me feel totally normal. I love both the idea of home as in being with my family and friends, and also the idea of exploration. I think those two are probably my great interests." 
-Yo-Yo Ma


(C-town, Astoria)
We just read the book  A Pigeon and a Boy: A Novel for my book club. The narrator mentions that he thinks he can divide his life into time spent using 4 different grocery stores, and that this division stands out in his head more than times spent in different places or with different people. I think this is an interesting way to look at things. An important theme in the book was loving one's home, since without that feeling homing pigeons cannot complete their missions. I think having a grocery store one loves is an important factor in feeling at home in an area. Here's what it would look like if I divided my life in grocery stores (roughly).
  • When I was in college I frequented a Kroger on Pontiac Trail in West Bloomfield, MI. It was fabulous. It had huge aisles, bright lighting, and was open 24 hours. I loved going there and wandering around thinking of what to eat. My decisions usually ended up vaguely as Diet Coke, Melba Toast, and Lean Cuisine frozen dinners. This all does not sound appetizing at all now. I would then go home and pull all-nighters reading European history as my pile of Diet Coke bottles grew in the corner. I didn't know much about food then at all, but years later when I lived in NYC I would think back to that grocery store as an unattainable ideal in a large city. I would visit MI and spread my arms as far as they would go and in a New York state of mind think "Why would grocery store aisles ever need to be this wide?" Doesn't matter why, it was fabulous! (I will also mention that one thing I hated about MI while I lived there was that everything was so sprawling and that even the CVS would usually have a well-manicured lawn, so I am a bit of a hypocrite to only appreciate this after I left and spent my mornings crammed in the cattle car that was the 6 train).
  • The first year I lived in NYC I lived in a neighborhood that didn't really have a good grocery store. I bought Campbell's chicken noodle soup and pop tarts from convenience stores and Cliff bars from the Duane Reade. I think not having a good grocery store added to the feeling that my first year in the city was a long vacation instead of feeling at home.
  • Then I moved to Astoria, Queens. I spent a couple years living by myself where it was basically one long version of this. The C-town on Broadway and 29th Ave. was pretty good for what it was. Some of the produce was attractive, and the bread was fresh. I will have to admit though that most of my meals consisted of huge frozen containers of cream puffs, an entire box of chocolate eclairs, goat cheese with rosemary bread sticks, and premade waffle batter made in a waffle machine I walked all the way to the Woodside Best Buy to purchase. I think during this time I would also get headaches from forgetting to eat meals altogether. My patronage there was kind of random, and the employees must have thought "We haven't seen this girl in 4 days and she just buys Chex Mix?", but they were very nice. Once my friend from MI visited and I bought yogurt and Diet Coke and she still said "You have nothing in your fridge!", even though I thought I had stocked up for her. It wasn't the biggest grocery store in the world, but it had some nice ethnic foods, and it was clean. I have fond memories of visiting there. Then, after a while when I actually did start to cook meals for myself I realized how much it was lacking. For example, they didn't have chili powder. I would later discover more in depth the problem in NYC that it takes 3 or 4 different stores often to acquire the ingredients for a balanced meal.
  • Then I moved in with Scott in Brooklyn Heights . This was more of the same problem where the Key Food had awful produce and refrigerated their garlic so it went bad quickly, but they had good prices on soda and cereal. For produce I would end up going to higher end smaller shops, for fish another small shop, and other things I'd finish up at the Trader Joe's (which always had huge lines and never had everything you needed so going there didn't free you up from wandering around the neighborhood in search of a quality item at a good price anyway). For a special occasion, like our first Easter together, I would go buy steaks or something from the Whole Foods on Houston Street, but it cost a fortune. This was though the first time period that I was trying to put together a meal that another person was going to enjoy, so it actually made me care more if it was actually good. But, alas, scrounging together a full meal in Brooklyn Heights wasn't that easy, which made me appreciate our situation all the more when we moved to Albany.
  • This leaves me to the Price Chopper in Slingerlands, NY. Ahhh, sweet satisfaction. First of all steaks from the meat department are great. They might not be quite as good as the Whole Foods ones, but with a little Peter Luger sauce and some grilled tomatoes it is a very, very good summer meal. When I first moved here and I was only working part-time I would try to put together something good for when Scott came home from work - spaghetti with meatballs, chicken pot pie with buttermilk topping, or chili. The store is well-laid out and I love going there (I did even more so when we first moved here). The produce is both good and affordable. The salad bar and deli sandwiches are good. I will say we haven't really ever found good fresh mozzarella at this store, but it has so many other good things going for it that I will let that slide. I was more ambitious than I had ever been before in Thanksgiving 2009 when I cooked for my family. I remember filling the cart with oxtails, leeks, holiday floral arrangements, and tons of other ingredients, filling it up to the brim. I remember how good that felt to have people to cook for, and I probably appreciated that as much as the quality of the grocery store's selection, layout, and prices.

I realize here that dividing my life in grocery stores is as much about dividing my life between the college student, the single girl, the girlfriend aiming to please, and the (hopefully) gracious host, as it is about the characteristics of the individual stores.

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