We don’t have any nearby family to entertain and my wife had to work past midnight the evening before, so our Thanksgiving dinner plans yesterday were fairly simple. We ordered a pre-made meal from the local grocery store and simply stuck it in the oven. Maybe we had to remove everything from the cardboard box first — I’d leave that detail for my wife to figure out — but it was certainly going to be much easier than making everything from scratch.
While Beth caught up on her sleep, my assignment was to pick up this meal, as well as several ingredients for a specialty cranberry dish she wanted to make. She’d left a list on the kitchen counter carefully detailing what she needed: one orange (juicy), one lemon (juicy), one Granny Smith apple (juiciness not specified), waxed paper, and three-fourths cups of chopped walnuts. Instructions so simple even a husband could follow them.
I used to enjoy making trips to the grocery store, as long as there was no pressure to buy anything. I’d stroll up and down the aisles, admiring the colorful packaging, enjoying the piped-in music, pretending my shopping cart was a racecar, enjoying a mini-vacation. The sites weren’t quite as awe-inspiring as the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon, though one shouldn’t discount the awesomeness of a Great Pyramid of canned soups.
Everything is so bright and contemporary, it’s almost like a visit to a museum of modern art. Except that not only can you touch the displays, you can actually eat them. Try that at the Louvre.
Lately, I’ve tended to experience a little anxiety around grocery shopping when there are specific things I need to locate and purchase. The variety of offerings at the modern supermarket makes the visit feel like you’re involved in the Human Genome Project, trying to find the one bit of DNA (or low-fat blueberry breakfast bar) amongst the tens of thousands of options that will cure leukemia (or provide me with a quick morning snack). I clutched Beth’s list tightly in my fist, grateful for the focus it would provide.
My first stop was at the deli where I would pick up the dinner. Once I’d felt the confidence from accomplishing this initial task, I’d be much better equipped to succeed with the rest of the chores. I told the lady behind the counter the name the turkey was reserved under. She disappeared briefly into a back room and emerged with a large white box, putting it directly into my cart. That’s all there was to it. I thought there was a lot of work involved in preparing a Thanksgiving meal. This was easy!
Next, I headed for the produce section to pick up the fruits. The apples were no problem. Though they were large and green and shiny enough to use as a mirror, they were clearly apples, as the “Granny Smith” sign hanging above them confirmed.
The citrus selection was a little harder. There were only a few loose lemons available, and all the oranges were bagged. I examined the three or four lemons left, trying to ascertain their juiciness without crushing them under my shoe. I shook one, hoping to hear a sloshing sound similar to that made by the milk inside a coconut. That didn’t work. I tried squeezing, thinking that excessive squishiness might indicate something. But they all felt about the same. Since they weren’t that expensive, I just bought ’em all. I finally found some loose oranges in the organic section, and selected one of these with a little more abandon, figuring their organicity would more than offset any lack of succulence.
Next it was on to the waxed paper. I found the aisle displaying paper towels and food containers and figured I was at least in the right neighborhood. There were plenty of sandwich bags and plastic wraps. There were foils of the finest aluminum. There were many papery items though few seemed to be coated in wax. I felt the anxiety starting to rise up the back of my neck as I stood perplexed before a sea of choices. Finally, I just grabbed the nearest roll of paper towels and figured we could drip a candle onto it later.
Now it was time to seek out the nuts, and I had a feeling this was going to be the hard part. I checked the store directory attached to the cart for a clue as to where one might find them, but got little help there. They weren’t under “N” for nuts nor “W” for walnuts nor “T” for things measuring three-fourths of a cup. I’d be reduced to walking up and down every single aisle. Great exercise, perhaps, but fruitless if I couldn’t find my nuts.
Finally, in a section called “baking needs,” I located the walnuts. They had been conveniently shelled, placed in packaging and hung from dozens of different tiny racks. Beth had clearly requested “chopped” walnuts, so I scanned the offerings looking specifically for that descript0r. I found “slivers,” “slices,” “pieces,” “chunks” and “bits,” but nothing called “chopped.” One bag described itself as “recipe-ready” which I imagined could be the same thing as “chopped.” I definitely didn’t want the large container of “walnut meat,” primarily because it cost $9.99.
At last, in an obscure corner of the display, I found two different bag sizes of chopped walnuts. One was 2 ounces, or 56 grams, and the other was 6 ounces, or 168 grams. Neither offered a clue on how many fourths of a cup that translated into. DAMN THAT METRIC SYSTEM TO HELL! I’d rather have been told to get 497 pieces and have to count them out individually than deal with conversions. Finally, I grabbed two of the two-ouncers and decided that if they weren’t enough, I’d pick up a few acorns from around our yard and hope that nobody’d be the wiser.
Having fully completed the list, I now felt free enough for a little impromptu shopping, and celebratory enough to head to the alcohol aisle. I’d round off what was looking to be a lovely, nut-and-waxed-paper-chocked Thanksgiving feast with a bit of the bubbly. In a canyon of wine bottles, I searched for the champagne. There were hundreds of Merlots, all with cute names like “Rancid Dog” and “Runover Coon,” and equal numbers of Zins, Burgundies, Syrahs and Chardonnays. It wasn’t until I stumbled onto a small refrigerated section of the aisle that I found three “California Champagnes” to choose from. One had a Wine Spectator rating of $8.99, one was rated $10.49 and one was $14. I sprung for the deluxe offering and headed to the checkout.
“Did you find everything you were looking for?” asked the cashier.
“Yeah, I guess,” I responded. “But I seem to have dropped my self-esteem in here somewhere. If anybody locates it, will they return it to lost and found?”