Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
A good grocery store is a Zen experience for someone like me. I love cooking, excel at baking, and find my happy place in the kitchen. Our recent move left me with a new kitchen and an empty pantry or as I see it, a blank canvas.
Cooking centers me. Shopping for food has never felt tedious; it’s as an artistic experience rather than a chore. Food magazines and cookbooks inspire me. Exploring a new grocery store is a calming (but also exciting) experience that opens up endless possibilities. I am naturally curious about food and a grocery store is one of my favorite places to relax. I can spend hours looking for the familiar as well as the new and unusual. It is an oasis of inspiration.
Some people find inner peace in yoga, others in quiet contemplation; but I am at one with myself among aisles of pasta, spices and cheese. It’s my own brand of meditation, and it’s in a grocery store.
A Cultural Shift
My new city reflects the cuisines of Cuba, Germany and South America. Specialty restaurants and food stores cater to the culture of these regions and provide wonderful dining and shopping experiences. Most of them are run by people who emigrated from the country itself. There is no substitute for the authenticity they bring to the preparation table.
A city that understands its ethnic diversity also caters to it. Regular and specialty food stores stock local ingredients and staff is well versed in how to prepare a regional dish. We’ve discovered Cuban and Asian markets as big as regular supermarkets. I am never shy when it comes to asking about ingredients or translations on packaging.
Boston spoiled me when it came to Italian grocery stores. The North End has no equal- with its crowded shops, loud voices and delicious smells. But Florida has not disappointed me. Our local Italian market is the real deal and you need to get there early if you want the tiramisu or braciole already prepared for you.
I walk through aisles filled with unfamiliar pasta and tomato products imagining how a dish will taste. I pick up packages, read labels, admire the pastries and momentarily forget the demands of work and unfinished chores.
I don’t worry about returning calls, laundry, or the dent in my car; courtesy of a parking lot a hit and run. Karma will find them. I am in the moment, and the moment is all about food.
The Flavor of Food
My office in Tel Aviv had a spice market just down the street. I loved standing in the entrance trying to identify the scents that swirled around me. Cinnamon and cloves mingled with curry and za’atar, creating a culinary aromatherapy that would find its way into my soul as well as my suitcase on the return flight. I went to the shop as often as I could, just to inhale its soothing fragrances.
When I travel to a foreign country one of the first things I do is find a local grocery store. Fellow travelers will attest to my obsession and the fact that clothing and toiletries have been left behind to accommodate Spanish baking chocolate, French butter and regional spices.
The baking aisle of any store is a magnet that draws me in. European stores are especially bountiful when it comes to chocolate, salts and seasonings. What American stores call a specialty item (reflected by its much higher price) is an everyday ingredient in another country. It is a natural high for me to find an hour of spare time during a business trip. It’s not enough to visit a museum or take a tour, but it’s perfect for a walk to the local grocery store. Zen, on the road.
Shop Outside the Box
A grocery store is not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of a peaceful setting. It can be chaotic, especially during the holidays, but it’s also a place that demands focus. It’s an opportunity to let the other things go and concentrate on why you are there. The simple act of writing a shopping list helps me focus. Even though I am on a field trip, I need to know I am walking out with the items I came in for.
Stores today have warehouse proportions; they are not the stores of my mother and grandmothers’ generation. Artisan bakeries have replaced the bread aisle, and meat counters have become in-house butcher shops. Sushi and fresh pasta sit side by side, and produce now has an organic section.
It is a visual feast that suggests bigger things are possible with a little imagination and some shopping courage. Endless possibilities present themselves when I shop outside the box. Inspiration and laundry detergent are not mutually exclusive. I’ve discovered dragon fruit, queso blanco tomatillos and persimmons just by looking around me.
Grocery Store Gratitude
I realize the grocery store experience is not a universal joy and the discovery of chocolate hummus is not everyone’s moment of Zen. But it can be an opportunity to practice mindfulness and gratitude.
There are half a dozen grocery stores within five miles of my new home that allow me to feed my family with ease. Sometimes grocery shopping is nothing more than a chore until the realization dawns that not everyone has the privilege.
As we enter this season of giving think about supporting your local food pantry. Pick up an extra item or three on your next grocery store run for those less fortunate and pay it forward.