Grocery Shopping: Missing the Weekly Chore

It has been a long-standing tradition among our camping group to go deep snow camping in the middle of winter - no tents, huge fires, sufficient libations, and long hikes through deep snow in the silence of winter. Don’t ask for explanations; if I have to explain, you can’t possibly understand. But, this year, age and reason got the better of us. Our annual winter camping excursion would be different. Oh, most certainly, there would be long hikes and sufficient libations, but no fires or deep silences…our weekend would be in Manhattan.

This trip to the Big Apple brought into sharp focus the difference between how those living in Manhattan eat and shop and how we do it in Lakewood. Staying in the “Hell’s Kitchen” fourth floor walk-up of Jeff Burney, the son of my friend, Ken, I realized that, even at a rental rate beyond the normal Lakewood mortgage, the living space lacked what is admittedly my favorite room: there was no kitchen! I mean, there was a small refrigerator and a miniaturized stove, but there was insufficient storage space for what I would consider cooking essentials, much less space for food storage. Unless I was blessed with a VERY significant income, it became apparent that my digs in Manhattan would have no pantry for my oriental cooking supplies, much less the counter space for a bread maker, or the cabinet space for a rudimentary set of pots and pans.

Now, please don’t misunderstand my message. I had a magnificent time spending countless hours walking through Greenwich, SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown. We enjoyed some absolutely unbelievable pot stickers and pork dumplings in Chinatown (at five for a buck!). We closed the bars on the Lower East Side after seeing the Indie band Silver Spiders at famed Arlene’s Grocery. There were a couple of very good dinners which, to my surprise, were no more expensive than a similar meal in greater Cleveland. We saw the New York City Library, the Natural History Museum, the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, and Strawberry Fields. We rode the subway, flagged down cabs, and generally had a superb weekend. But, on Saturday morning, there was an absence of the normal trip to the grocery store. And, worse, from what I could see, there was an absence of grocery stores.

Well, there was, at least, an absence of grocery stores as we know them. Everywhere we went there were any number of delis (most of which could supply pretty much whatever you needed, from eggs and milk to fruits and vegetables). There were even some “grocery stores” which, like the similarly miniaturized kitchen, were a severely downsized version of Giant Eagle (“Honey I Shrunk the Heinen’s”). But, the trick is schlepping your purchases home without the advantage of the family vehicle. The cost of maintaining a vehicle in Manhattan is prohibitive. So, instead of a weekly trip to the grocery to stock the ‘fridge and pantry, you’re more likely to stop by the local market on the way home for dinner necessities.

Because of this inconvenience, there is an incredible amount of eating out - going out for breakfast, going out for lunch, and, of course, going out for dinner. But, really, if you disregard the additional costs involved in dining out, you can dispense with the need of ever buying unprepared food items. There were over 20 restaurants alone in the two-block area surrounding Jeff’s flat…and, given the competition, no bad restaurant could possibly survive. However, as much as I enjoyed the respite, the sights, and the food, I missed going to the grocery store. Saturday is my day to forage, gather, and hunt; it is my day to provide for my family. I pride myself in my ability to do so and there was this subtle, nagging feeling that somehow, as I was quaffing yet another beer at O’Flanagan’s, my weekly chore was undone: the pantry was bare and we would find ourselves going out for breakfast, going out for lunch, and, of course, going out for dinner.

I was fortunate. My co-provider, partner, and wife had made sure that the normal staples were in the house (as well as some interesting procurements from Trader Joe’s). Her efforts ensured that there was no need for a lifestyle change this week. And, there was also my pantry stock. There was the deep-freezer with its stock of prepared meals, soup, and frozen meat, ready for the oven. There were sources of food in my home which eliminated the need for going out for breakfast, going out for lunch, and, of course, going out for dinner.

I had a fine time in Manhattan. I offer many thanks to Jeff Burney for his hospitality. He made good restaurant choices and superb choices of the proverbial dispensers of libations. But, I was glad to return to my kitchen, pantry, and deep-freezer. I was happy to see my pots and pans, assorted appliances, and gadgets. Tomorrow, I’ll be glad to go to my supermarket, load up a week’s worth of groceries in the family vehicle, and head home with supplies to last the week…without going out for breakfast, without going out for lunch and, of course, without going out for dinner.
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Volume 3, Issue 4, Posted 12:12 AM, 02.10.07