Tuesday, October 2, 2012


My sister and I have been talking about how we feed our families. She lives in Silicon Valley and is not rich.  I live near Boston, and though I would not consider myself to be particularly wealthy compared with a Wall Street banker, I never have trouble putting just about anything I want on the table, for any occasion.

We each have different issues. She calls Whole Foods "Whole Paycheck." I call it my local convenience store. Both of us have discovered the problems with big supermarkets that induce you to buy, sometimes unwisely, with coupons. The processed food with too much salt and flavor enhancers dominate those places, along with generic fruits and vegetables heavily dominated by things which attract the eye with their shiny surfaces, but disappoint with boring tastes.

I rarely set foot in a classic supermarket, unless I am looking for a Pyrex lasagna pan or a large amount of apple cider for a party. I'm not sure my sister avoids them as much as I do - she may have a good coupon once in awhile. Anyway, she'll be checking in here soon with her stories.

My go-to store for large packages of processed food, but mostly produce, meat and fish, is Costco, which I visit almost once a week. I also buy soaps, toothpaste, razors, even bluejeans.

Do I overbuy after I drive about 6 miles, park in the huge lot, and show my card to the attendant at the door? Do I waste any of what I wheel out an hour later, after mingling with the up-and-coming high tech crowd with lots of Asian families whose tastes for things like mangoes are catered to here? Yes, I suppose the excitement and the crush of people makes for a festive atmosphere in which it is hard to hold back a kind of life-affirming feeling. There are samples everywhere to taste, encouraging a purchase not on the list.  If you can get a bag of cheap lemons, who cares if a few of them spoil, huh? For the whole bag, it's the price of about three of them at Whole Foods (and probably Stop and Shop too, although I wouldn't know about that). Plus, you might also see Meyer lemons or some good-looking limes. It's catch as catch can at Costco, where you might turn up some interesting seasonal fruits. The various mangoes for instance, or interesting onions.

It would be nice to stick to a shopping list - I try, really I do. I always make one before I set out, but it isn't carved in stone. It would also be good to have a menu which you can predictably follow. But this isn't possible in my world.

My husband is a professor, and we often are invited for dinner on the spur of the moment - someone is retiring, someone is moving to Europe, there is a faculty conclave (which, though I may not be invited to it, throws off my own schedule of using up the food), or a sudden business trip changes everything. The only time I maintain any stability in my cooking schedule is during a long stay at my bachelor brother's house in California, where I take over the kitchen. There it is truly my domain, as I pay him back for our glamorous digs by cooking up a storm. I make extra and freeze it too, so that after we have gone, he can still enjoy it.

In this blog I will keep track of waste, but also explain what I have discovered both from his lemon tree and my quince tree: there is use, sharing and waste, and they are all mixed together. Real need arises among us, even in our own family. But from it comes invention as well as discovery of other communities where they are trying to solve these things in different ways.

My sister and I have both discovered ethnic food stores. I know about an Indian one. And nearby is an independent market that was bought by a Russian Jewish family, which, although in a prosperous neighborhood, has much of the charm of cooperative life, in which extended communities make traditional foods and not everything is processed by a factory.

Leaving New York recently, while stuck in traffic by a Whole Foods in SoHo, I noticed a window entirely full of pickle jars. I had a lot of time to decipher that window, and came to realize it was a display of several different specialty pickle makers, whose photos graced the window like local heroes. It looked like a blend of that ethnic foods store where the family makes its own special items to sell along with the standard stuff. I told my husband that if the traffic didn't move soon, I'd jump out and go buy us a jar of pickles to eat on our way home to Boston.

In that spirit of reading from a moving car,  I present this blog. You're doing something else, but you found my little pickle jar here. Enjoy reading the label. I hope that it has enough snap and spice to bring you back now and then.

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