24 April 2008

Grocery schizophrenia

Nearly every day I end up carting a bag or a half a bag of groceries up to our apartment. This in itself is not a problem at all, and I rather like making the ongoing small food purchases characteristic of city living.

The problem is, however, that I can never find everything on my list in one grocery store, and this always makes me feel absolutely scattered. Certain staples of my diet--hummus, black beans, cheddar cheese, quinoa, garlic-stuffed olives (yes, don't laugh), for example--can be found in one place only, and never all of them in the same place. The only store with good hummus is a 25-minute walk away. I stop there on my way back from French class, and pick up some nice vegetables, too. No problem.

But then I decide that I want to make Mexican food for dinner, and to get refried beans I have to walk down the hill to the only store that has them, which is NOT the store that has tortillas. The OTHER store, the one that has tortillas and the salsa, does not carry the breakfast cereal that I like. But that's the one that does have the beans. This one has the rosemary crackers, that one has the pretzels. Neither of them have both. This is an endless process, and one that is hard to keep track of. I often enter a store sure that I'll find a certain item and then only remember that it doesn't after walking fruitlessly through the aisles for a while. "Which was the place that carries real vanilla extract?" I will mutter to myself. "Was it X or Y with the cereal?"

The same thing happens with the markets. Only the market in Chatelain has those amazing olives. Only the market at the St. Gilles town hall has those Italian guys with the great pasta. Only the organic market sells quinoa in bulk. As a result, I end up shopping regularly at no less than SIX grocery stores and THREE markets, can you believe it?

It's not that I want everything to be found in one American-style behemoth of a grocery. It's just that it would be nice if I could have reasonable expectations of finding my top frequent purchases mostly in one place. Maybe I just have a really weird diet, by Belgian standards. That's probably it. At any of those places I am guaranteed to find goopy pastel salads, stacks and stacks of cookies that all look like waffles and all have different names, and--the beauty of this one cannot be denied--a truly impressive selection of Belgian beer.

Speaking of markets, I am going nuts--in a good way--over the flowers currently available at the markets. They are so beautiful! And springlike! And reasonably priced! Seriously, twenty gorgeous longstem roses for 7 euros? I even saw one sign offering 80 roses for 15 euros. Last week I saw the most exquisite roses in an antiquey faded pink beige color that I was itching to buy, but didn't since we were going to be gone over the weekend. So this week I made up for it (although, disappointingly, I couldn't find the same ones) and have, over the course of the week, purchased a bouquet of bright yellow tulips, another of white roses, and a bunch of peonies, which didn't come as cheaply but I was so excited to see them. I can't wait to watch their tight round knobs burst into hot pink ruffles. I have a house full of flowers and this makes me inordinately happy.

Oh, and an update on the coffee travel mug. Today I again brought it to French class, and my neighbor, whispering, asked me if that was coffee, and then gave me the strangest look, the kind of skeptical eyebrow uptilted half-smile that you give to someone whose behavior you find odd but whom you don't want to offend. She then whispered something I didn't catch, and when I asked her what she had said, I'm pretty sure when she told me "C'est une bonne idée," it wasn't what she had said the first time around.

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