When the Grocery Store Beats the Mall

I took a couple of my kids to the restaurant supply store downtown today; kid #2 has wanted to go since the first day I joyfully received word that I had been approved for membership to this private and oh-so-amazing place.  It’s like two Costco-sized warehouses, smashed together — one full of amazing things like 5 gallon buckets of soy sauce and 100lb bags of couscous, the other a walk-in refrigerator and freezer where you don industrial parkas and gloves and walk the aisles full of frozen sides of beef, bags of 100 oysters on ice, and cheesecloth-wrapped goats, lambs and pigs.  Truly a playground for people who think things like fifteen different varieties of vinegar in one place is a cool thing.  Kid #2 was particularly impressed with the different varieties of mangoes available, so we came home with more than just the pork loins, manufacturing cream and rice I was there to buy in the first place.

I took kid #3 with me yesterday to the local Indian grocer, which I frequent at least weekly.  I am proud to say the owner knows me by sight, though I have to admit it’s because I’m probably the only white girl he ever sees in there.  Really, I’ve been in there probably a hundred times and never once have I ever seen another caucasian.  I am probably his token white chick customer, and I wear that badge with pride.  Kid #3 was particularly impressed with the different varieties of Indian breads; paratha, roti, naan…so we came home with more than just the turmeric and paneer I was there to buy in the first place.

It’s been a couple weeks, but I usually take kid #4 with me to an awesome Asian market very nearby.  A couple of my skaters (one of whom was born on a Marine base in Japan) took me there two years ago, and it was honestly one of my most memorable discoveries since moving to the Sacramento area (is this a sad commentary on our life here?  Maybe…).  It’s huge, as Asian markets go.  There is stuff there that I still have no clue how to use, though I’ve made a point to try to figure out how to use everything that has at least some English printed on the label.  Kid #4 is particularly impressed with their fresh fish aisle — two full rows of waist-high aluminum buckets full of ice, with giant tongs that just invite you to go digging.  They’ll even clean the dozens of varieties of fish they have there, while you shop…so we came home with more than just the noodles, mussels and various curries I was there to buy in the first place.

I took kid #1 to our newest find, a really great Mediterranean deli/grocer about 1/2 hour from here.  Kid #1 tends to be the least adventurous eater of the bunch, so I was surprised when the row (literally, eleven different kinds!) of pomegranate molasses didn’t make him run back to the car.  We have a good Greek/Lebanese market very close to our house, but this place cures gallons and gallons of their own olives, stocks freshly made injeera at an absolutely ridiculously low price (really, it’s disgusting), and carries six different varieties of phyllo dough.  Kid #1 was particularly impressed with the $2.99/lb homemade Egyptian hummus (yes, that’s $2.99/POUND), so we brought home the hummus and cans of broad beans, three different kinds of pomegranate molasses (for a taste test, of course), and a pound of Lebanese spicy cracked olives, which was much more than the kataifi (shredded phyllo dough) I was there to buy in the first place.

Notice the trend here?  We use grocery stores as a destination rather than a necessary evil.  Kid #2 would rather go grocery shopping than watch basketball on TV, which says a lot for a 16-year old so hooked on sports that he bleeds Tiger balm and KT tape.  While other parents use rewards to keep their kids happy in the grocery store, I use the grocery store as a reward to keep the kids happy everywhere else.  We use special food as a prize that easily trumps some shiny new bauble from the mall.  In fact, when kid #4 was little, she voiced her disappointment that there isn’t a grocery store attached to our local mall.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but one of our most favorite Thanksgiving celebrations involved each kid choosing two dishes, finding an appropriate recipe, creating a shopping list, and then actually doing the grocery shopping.  The shopping itself was, by far, the best part of the entire holiday — despite accompanying me to various grocers as they’ve grown, I was amazed at how little they’d actually picked up along the way.  By the end of the day (and seriously, it took us like three hours there) they were all pretty adept at comparing price per ounce, checking expiration dates, looking at the top and bottom shelves rather than just the Heinz-Kellogg’s-Del Monte center shelves, etc.  It also gave them a newfound appreciation of the cost of food and the need to prepare wisely and not wastefully.  This was 4 1/2 years ago, but the lessons they learned as relatively tiny people will set them apart from their future (as in just a few months away at this point) college roommates whose grocery shopping experience begins and ends with the am/pm down the street.

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This brings us (finally) to today’s recipe — which is a great starting point for a kid’s first solo trip to the grocery store.  It’s beyond simple to make, involves some kid-favorite ingredients, introduces newbies to a mild curry, and ends up looking impressively fancy.

Scallops with Fingerling Potatoes, Cauliflower, Kale, and Peanut Panade

This recipe is an adapted Grant Achatz creation from an old issue of Food & Wine.  His version uses snow peas and no starch — however, for my version I chose to substitute the kale (because it was already growing in the backyard and I wanted to de-Asian-ize the dish a bit, having just had hot and sour soup the night before) and add the starch, making it a simple, one plate meal.

Find the recipe for Scallops with Fingerling Potatoes, Cauliflower, Kale, and Peanut Panade here.

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