Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Meditation in the Grocery Aisles

I used to hate going grocery shopping.  It was an evil necessity, one that I'd put off until I absolutely could put it off no longer.  But that's when I was still working.  And that's before they built this awesome, upscale H-E-B Superstore just a couple of miles from my house.  

You see, H-E-B also owns Central Market, and shopping in C.M. is like dying and going to food heaven!  And this H-E-B near my house is just a bottle or two of rare and exotic imported fine extra-virgin olive oils away from being a Central Market.  It carries many, if not all, of the premium Central Market private-branded products, and is H-E-B's answer to Whole Foods Market.

Okay...enough gushing!  I'm making myself hungry just thinking about the delectables that I must skip over in order to stock my pantry and fridge with just the necessities.  Well, okay...maybe a few treats manage to slip into the cart here and there.

Now that I'm retired, I love going to H-E-B to get my grocery shopping done.  I go early in the week, usually on Tuesday.  I go early in the morning, just after the weekday morning commuter rush hour has calmed down, usually around 9:30-10:00 AM.  The store is nearly empty, the stockers are replenishing the shelves with fresh-dated items.   I find it soothing, almost calming, to slowly browse through the store, the muted background din of commerce serving as a sort of "white noise" for my mind.

They say that we should shop the perimeter of a store, not the center aisles.  I never really paid much attention to this, just went about my business of getting the necessities.  So today I paid particular attention to my route through the store.   Let's see how I do.

The produce and vegetable section is the first thing I see when I enter.   If I turn left, I'm walking past fresh plums, cherries, strawberries, nectarines and then past all the fresh makings for salads.  If I turn right, however, or continue straight, the route will take me deep into the bakery department. 
Must. Turn. Left.

The produce department merges into the fresh and frozen fish department.  I like this department.  I spend a lot of time and money here.  One time I found a bag of frozen scallops in the freezer case and gleefully scooped them up.  But then a long time - many months, maybe more than a year - passed by and I never saw them offered again.  Last week, there they were again!

The sweet Japanese woman working the sushi counter recognizes me immediately and if my favorite selection hasn't yet been made, she'll put one together for me while I continue my shopping.  When I come back to pick it up, she smiles and bows and wishes me a good day. 

I'm still working the perimeter of the store as I pass through the meat department, sometimes browsing the selections, sometimes passing it by if I know my freezer is well-stocked.  Then comes the sandwich meats and cheeses case.  Two of the aisles that end at this section contain items I need as well, such as Cheerios, coffee, whole wheat crackers.  So a short detour off the perimeter and a couple of quick item grabs and I return to the perimeter once more. 

I gave up all sodas years ago, but couldn't give up the carbonation.  So cases of sparkling water live in my pantry.  Sometimes I just need a cold carbonated drink fix.  It's the only way I can stay off the colas and stay off the caffeine.  These items also live in tall racks along the perimeter of the store.  So I'm doing good on that shop-the-perimeter advice, so far!

I can't avoid a few canned goods though, since things that I like to eat or use in my cooking come no other way.  Ro-tel Tomatoes, the jack-of-all-trades ingredient for a wide variety of dishes!  This is a staple in my pantry.  I panic if I discover I'm out of this item.  Pickled Beets, my all-time favorite childhood memory food (how many 8 year-olds do you know who love pickled beets?!).  Bush's Field Peas and Snaps.  Comfort food.  So a quick dive down this aisle is occasionally in order.

Turning back up toward the front of the store and still keeping along the "perimeter" of the food section, the refrigerated cases contain eggs and yogurt.  Then, unless I need items from the frozen food cases, items like fresh frozen vegetables or fruit, I'm done.  It's best not to dwell too long in this section...this is where the ice cream, the frozen desserts, the frozen pizzas all reside. 

Short lines at the checkout, friendly checker and sacker, and I was on my way out the door.  But wait!!  What's this contraption and what's this delightful aroma?  It was a large cage, almost like that tumbling cage used for door prizes or lotteries, and it was sitting over what looked like a gas grill.  A closer look and I realized it was filled with big green chili peppers.  They were being roasted as they tumbled over an open grill!  And oh, my!  The aroma!  I chatted with the young man working the roaster.  He had a cart next to him filled with boxes of fresh peppers waiting to be roasted.  He told me that the store had an excess of these peppers and decided to roast them.  He said they use the roasted peppers in a variety of their fresh prepared products such as salads, pizzas, prepared meals. 

So with that delectable aroma wafting after me, I departed for my car but not before considering stowing my already-purchased groceries and heading back into the store in search of those roasted peppers!


  1. Shopping isn't my favorite thing todo but somedays it isn't too bad if the stores aren't busy.

    We too gave up sodas years ago but love the carbonation so we live on sparkling water, usually Talking Rain that has no calories and no sweeteners.

    I don't ever remember trying pickled beets as a kid but they are a main staple for us now. We both love them and will often split a can with dinner.

    Mmmm those roasted peppers must have smelled sooooo good.

    1. Yeah, I don't know if my childhood was unusual or if I was just a weird little kid, but I remember I was eating sardines, artichokes, beets, spinach....really any and every vegetable except maybe brussel sprouts. Today kids won't eat anything that doesn't resemble McD's fast food. And if it's green?? Forget it!

  2. What a great post. It was almost like one of your trips.