Monday, November 18, 2013

How I learned to stop worrying and tolerate the supermarket

Don't let this be you.
In the last few weeks I've figured out how to enjoy grocery shopping, which I have dreaded and hated for many years. I just go more often. Counterintuitive, but it works. Is this what people are now calling a "life hack?" Can a change that makes you happier but less efficient be a life hack?

I used to try to cram all the grocery shopping into one grim, efficient marathon on a Sunday or Monday. I'd trudge to Safeway for staples and detergent, then to Whole Foods for quality. Recently I added Trader Joe's to the rotation. Wheeling a giant grocery cart around, I slump over the handlebar and feel 10 years older, 30 pounds heavier, and like I have 9 children instead of two. Ridiculous, but we are ridiculous animals.

A few weeks ago I was in Safeway picking up a few things I'd forgotten the day before and it dawned on me that I actually love going to the supermarket when I'm just picking up a few things. Shopping becomes a delightful break in the day, rather than a dreaded slog. Yesterday, I started writing the usual epic grocery list and the cloud of gloom descended. I reminded myself of the epiphany and the cloud lifted. Off I went and bought just what we needed for the next couple of days and was back in 27 minutes. I timed it. It took me less than a minute to put stuff away and I felt no resentment whatsoever that Mark was sitting on the sofa watching NFL Red Zone the whole time. Zero. That in itself is a miracle. If I'd been gone for several hours and come home with 47 bags, my smile of greeting might have been a little forced.

On another subject, I’m currently getting to know Classic Desserts per the new plan I described a few posts ago. The idea is to have short, shallow relationships with more cookbooks, rather than long, tortured affairs with just a few.

Classic Desserts is a volume in the Time-Life Good Cook series, published between 1968 and 1970 and edited by Richard Olney. 
If you’re wondering what constitutes a classic dessert, as far as I can tell it is any sweet that isn’t cake, cookie, pie, pastry, or candy, as there are other volumes in the series devoted to those categories. There are some pretty funky antique recipes in this book. 

appealing recipes in Classic Desserts:

magnolia petal fritters
black forest bombe
French flummery
frangipane souffle
candied chestnut pudding


celeriac custard
macaroni pudding with pears
avocado whip
black coffee jelly
red wine froth

I have so far made: 

-crepes suzette. Crepes spread with orange-flavored butter and briefly warmed in the oven. A real classic and well liked by all. I always thought crepes suzette were supposed to be flamed, but Olney disapproves. Olney: "Although some cooks douse the crepes with spirits and set them afire, purists believe that this ruins the presentation. In the words of one famous chef, flaming crepes suzette are 'operetta, not cuisine.'" 

-tea cream, chosen because it appeared to be the easiest dish in the book and we all love low-hanging fruit. This delicate, milky pudding was a dream. My dream. Probably not your dream. I don't understand it, but a lot of people don't appreciate aromatic puddings. Owen took a bite, pushed it away, poured himself a bowl of Wheat Chex. But Mark and I liked it a lot and I'd make this again if it was just him and me. The recipe is adapted from Mary Jewry’s 1868 Warne’s Model Cookery and Housekeeping Book and the directions are interesting. You should read the recipe, even if you don't make the cream.

If you do try this recipe, you'll need a rennet tablet, as in Junket. (Sorry about the font in the directions. I can't seem to fix it.) 

Tea cream

2 1/2 tablespoons loose green tea 
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 rennet tablet dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water

  1. Combine the tea and milk in a small saucepan and heat to scalding. Let sit for a few minutes. Strain into another bowl. Add the cream and sugar. 
  2. The mixture should feel lukewarm. Add the rennet. Stir.
  3. Pour the mixture into a serving dish (or dishes) and cover.  Leave at warm room temperature for a few hours, until the pudding is set. Serves 6.


  1. You learned a method to increase your tolerance of grocery shopping? Booyah! I rarely enjoy this chore, and I often despise it. I may have to try your method. Part of the reason I hate that all in one trip is that it forces to me to think about what I am going to cook in five days, then stick with the plan. That chafes. I love aromatic pudding, but this just doesn't sound good. Green tea? And Mark liked it? Perhaps my mind should remain open about this.

    1. Shopping ahead locks you in. And then one day you find yourself turning down an opportunity to do something fun because a piece of meat in the fridge will go bad if you don't cook it. All this because you planned ahead!

  2. I mostly shop at Trader Joe's. It is noticeably cheaper. I go to Vons or Whole Foods when I want kale, at least until my own plants get big enough ;) I intend to try an app I've heard of called Our Groceries, but haven't yet. Currently I'm using a system of my own invention that works when I remember to use it.

    Have you tried any grocery apps?

    1. I've never tried a grocery app. I didn't even know there were any. What is the system of your own invention? Did you read what Mark Bittman said about Trader Joe's? Ugh.

  3. Shopping every few days is very European. Next, you will tell us you swapped your fridge for a smaller model! ;0

    1. Never! I long for a second refrigerator.

  4. I approve of this shopping strategy. I used to try to go only once every two weeks, to save gas, but it's just easier to go once a week. I don't recognize most of those "classic" desserts. Crepes suzette, yes. Most of the others, no. Some sound quite interesting however. Looking forward to more reports!

    1. There are so many weird desserts in this book. I've made some more and have to write about them.

  5. I would hate grocery shopping too if I had to haul 47 bags out of the car and into the pantry. I do what I call "toilet paper shopping" once a month for all the stuff I can't get at our local version of Whole Foods (more of high end grocery and place the local chefs shop at) and sometimes I go to Trader Joe's (although, I don't really like their produce). I rarely spend more than $125 a week for two people (no kiddies) and usually only have to haul 4-5 bags of groceries per week. I do have a couple of nice farmers' markets nearby that I love going to and I can often get by for a full week with just a trip to one of them.

    I also don't recognize those desserts as "classic" but a few of them I'm curious about.

    1. You manage to be very frugal. I'm curious what I would pay for groceries if it was just two of us. I feel like it's the little flavored yogurts that do us in, but I'm sure that can't be right. I think there's a problem with the "classic desserts" category bc I'd never heard of most these desserts.

  6. Black coffee jelly sounds punitive.

    1. Yes. Even if you covered it with whipped cream. Bad.

  7. I've tried both ways. Picking things up here and there as needed can be fun and very freeing, but eventually I get caught without the staples and then it starts to get frustrating in it's own way (back to the store AGAIN? I was just there yesterday!) So I tend to stick with the once-a-week big shop. Unless I really don't feel like doing it, in which case I don't. How's that for systematic?

    1. I know. After I wrote that happy post I started to struggle again. It's tempting to put quotes around "struggle" because it's such a First World problem, hating to grocery shop.

  8. Coffee jelly sounds pretty good to me, especially if you add condensed milk and whipped cream:

    1. I will check that out. Perhaps I am mistaken!

    2. That is really beautiful. Those cubes. Lovely. Interesting how just seeing a dish beautifully presented and garnished changes my feelings.

  9. Leslie Underwood11/26/13, 10:00 AM

    I became sick of grocery shopping this fall, too. Our grocery offers an online "to go" service. I have used it 6 times in the last 7 weeks or so. I select what I want online, my personal shopper goes around the grocery getting it all, and then I pick it up later. For the most part, I like it. But of course, there are drawbacks. The online database of food does not contain all the items I know the grocery actually carries (i.e. reduced sodium Bush's Best garbanzo beans). Sometimes, the order gets mixed up with someone else's order. The produce selection seems to vary from great to all the grape tomatoes are fuzzy.

    I did the actual grocery shopping this past weekend for the Thanksgiving meal. Maybe because of the break, it felt quick and not so hideous.

    I don't think I want to go to the grocery every week, but I don't think I want to have the personal shopper do it every week either.

    1. Do they charge a premium for the personal shopper? I have never tried a service.

    2. .... or, a have you tried a CSA that delivers? Our Bay Area CSA charges the same as Safeway non-organic, but the fruit and veg is all local and organic. Just a thought. There are obviously advantages (good value/high quality, no trip to market) and disadvantages (less control over content, but honestly, this helps me come out of my comfort zone cooking-wise... kale anyone?).

    3. What CSA do you use? I had Farm Fresh To You for a while and it was a mixed bag. I loved the variety and the fact it was delivered, but then I got some useless deliveries, like two small stalks of rhubarb. I'd love to know if you use FFTY or something else. I might try again.

    4. Leslie Underwood12/2/13, 9:47 AM

      Yes, the grocery charges $4.95 each time. They have an annual fee of $99, which my family has offered to me as a Christmas present.

      We tried a CSA several years ago. Then they changed the drop off point and it wasn't convenient anymore. I enjoyed the variety and quality, but was perplexed by so much swiss chard.

    5. We have been using Greenhearts Family Farm (home delivery) for about a month.Great produce, great customer service. Prior to that, we had 4.5 happy years with Farm Fresh and then the deliveries suddenly became really unreliable.

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