Sunday, November 8, 2009

An Ode to Grocery Shopping and Julia Child

About every two weeks, invariably on a Sunday morning, I make the trek to the grocery store, with cart in tow. If you have ever lived with me, or know me pretty well, then you know that I love grocery shopping more than almost anything. In fact, I completely revel in it. Every two weeks, I get to go through the number of carefully clipped coupons that I store in a worn envelope, plan what I'll be eating for two weeks so I can make a list of what I need, and take a relaxing Sunday morning walk with my cart to 15 minutes to the grocery store. I think that my love for grocery shopping was begun when I was little and my mom took all of us to the store, where we invariably fought over who would get to stand at the end of the car (when Mom would let us). The grocery store always unleashed wonderful possibilities! There were always free cookies at the bakery, a free slice of hard salami at the deli, and we would always leave with animal crackers that came in the red box that looked like a circus truck. Not only that, but we would leave with the raw ingredients for what would turn into wonderful meals around the table. How could I not love it?

When I went to college and lived without a meal plan my senior year, that love persisted and grew. I loved the thrill of looking up sales, planning meals for the week, and the challenge to maintain some semblance of a budget. Not only that, but I think that is when I began to see grocery stores as the great human equalizer and the proof that there is humanity out there somewhere. Think about it--everyone has to go grocery shopping, no matter where you live or what you look like or who you are. There are no rules--no dress code, no membership requirements, no time limit. The second you enter any grocery store, all you bring with you is yourself and your list, and no one can stop you. And, you can be assured that wherever you live, a grocery store will be there, and even though it isn't quite the same as your childhood store, you smell that meaty, vegetably, cakey, yeasty, beautiful air that fills grocery stores, and comfort arrives. Usually, too, you can get around pretty easily too, as most stores are set up to be arranged about the same. What better feeling than being in a place surrounded by possibility--the possibility of meals, gatherings, experiments. And I always leave with this sense of calm and accomplishment that usually stays with me all day--even when I'm crossing the street with my cart and all of my produce falls out (of course it wouldn't be something in a box). But see, a nice couple helped me pick it all off the street, and my grocery-shopping high stayed with me for the next few hours.

In fact, one of my favorite days of the year is the day before Thanksgiving. My mom goes to the grocery store early around 6:00AM to beat the crowd to get everything she needs for a long weekend of feeding us. Usually, there are some people with the same idea, but not many, and the people who are there are of the same mindset, it always seems. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I always have this sense of peace around that time. Grocery stores further that. People don't have to say anything to you, but the congenial nod or slight smile of someone who reaches for the same thing I am always makes me feel connected in some way. I very rarely meet an angry person in the grocery store--maybe it's because I am always so relaxed and happy that I don't realize it, but I find people more apt to say hello. I think I wrote a poem once about the day before Thanksgiving--it's awful and I wrote it for a class, but still--proof of my love for grocery shopping and the day before Thanksgiving.

The thing is, though, that I'm not a really a varied shopper--especially here. I seem to buy the same things every two weeks because I know I can afford them and I know that they'll taste good. I think that other people do this as well, and part of me loves it because I love routine. But I so want to learn to cook. Unfortunately, when you cook for one, you are usually stuck with a ton of leftovers. I think that this longing for coking has bolstered by interest in Julia Child, thus leading me to read My Life in France, which I have almost finished. Over this past week, I have devoured Child's book and loved every moment--I found myself smiling like a fool on the Metro until I noticed a woman staring at me, probably thinking that I was one of those crazies you find so often on the Metro. But really, you can't help but smile and find grocery-store-type solace in My Life in France. It is everything we look for when we pick up a book: adventures in far off places (obviously France, but also Germany and Norway), a purpose (discovering her love of cooking and everything French and wanting to educate others about it), words that you can really sink into and trust (her writing, with the help of Alex Prud'homme, is home and honest--she doesn't bullshit, but tells it like it is adding humor and tenderness), and a love story (Julia and Paul are so perfect for each other, it almost seems unreal). The book is easy to read and hilarious, as you can imagine if you've ever seen an episode of The French Chef. But beyond all that, Julia Child's story is heartening--here is a woman who didn't figure out what she really wanted to do with her life until her late 30's, but immersed herself in French cooking and loved her life. She soldiered on and even though her life was not perfect, she took it by the horns and gave it a what for. And for that, she is admirable.

Over the summer, I read Julie Powell's book Julie and Julia which I also adored for its wit and hilarity, and if you read My Life in France I recommend reading Powell's memoir afterwards, and possibly seeing the movie Julie and Julia which I enjoyed (and Meryl Streep is genius. But what's new?). If you're looking for an easy, engaging read, My Life in France is the one for you.

Do you agree with me on grocery shopping? Am I crazy? Maybe so, but it gives me peace of mind. Next time you head to the grocery store, think about it. Leave a comment telling me about your own grocery feelings. :)

Next on the pile: Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

As Julia would say: Bon Appetit!


  1. I must agree with you Stephanie that grocery shopping is a thrill. Even though I do not usually plan an entire weeks worth of meals out, I do enjoy going to the grocery just about everyday. I have even started to collect coupons as well. Living on a small budget can be tough, but can be done!
    Love you and miss you much!

  2. I do believe we will get on very well, Stephanie! I heart grocery stores period and always want to try out new and interesting foods that I find. Whole Foods is a new revelation to me, I have to keep away because I always spend too much. I read Julie & Julia this summer and loved it and the movie. I want to read My Life in France soon..just as soon as I can run out and buy the book. If you like foodie books, try "Garlic and Sapphires" by Ruth Reichl, great read with great recipes!

    See you Saturday at Mel's!