Last Friday, I came home from work early (thank you, summer hours), started a load of laundry, gathered up a scribbled list and a handful of pseudo-cloth reusable bags, and headed to the grocery store for the first time in almost a month.
With all the traveling I did in June – first to Texas, then to the Glen, then to Maine for a wedding weekend – and all the social commitments that filled the half-weeks I was home, I cooked (by my estimation) less than half a dozen meals. My husband did a bit of shopping here and there, for himself (he only went on one trip with me), but by the end of another week, the cupboards had grown bare again.
I was astonished at how satisfying it felt to roll the squeaky cart down the familiar aisles, starting with the produce section (peaches, avocados, tomatoes, bell peppers) and moving on to the fresh cheeses (mozzarella) next to the bakery (a chewy baguette). I picked up a few staples (chicken broth, corn tortillas, pasta, pizza crust, the tomatillo salsa we can never get enough of) before moving on to the meat case (chicken thighs) and the refrigerated section (milk, lemonade, yogurt, frozen blueberries for muffins). And the whole time, I could feel my body relaxing, my spirit exhaling.
I wasn’t even buying a week’s worth of groceries to turn into meals. My forethought extended only to the staples mentioned above, and to cereal and milk for the next week’s breakfasts. Mostly I was grabbing what I knew we needed, and what looked good to eat on a night too hot and sticky to warrant turning on the oven.
We ended up making non-toasted bruschetta with the baguette, tomatoes and mozzarella that night, topped with curving leaves from my basil plant and splashed with olive oil and apple balsamic vinegar. We dipped bright raw slices of orange bell pepper into hummus, and drank sweating glasses of raspberry lemonade. Afterward, the plates and cutting boards and knives jostled pleasantly in the sink, a welcome contrast to the sad, solitary glasses and spoons and cereal bowls of late.
Shopping for food – lots of it, not just running to the store for a quart of milk or a bag of tortilla chips – plants me squarely in the middle of my own life. Buying fresh produce, glossy and firm but not likely to stay so for long, requires corresponding faith that I will be around to eat it. Stocking up on staples betokens a hope that I’ll be planning and executing meals for the long haul, not just tonight, but this weekend and next week and even later this month, when the pasta and rice and baking ingredients will still be usable.
I’m looking at recipes again, jotting down ingredients, planning meals in my head. I’m washing whole sinkfuls of dishes, not just the occasional fork or mug or bowl. I am back to inhabiting my own life, living in this kitchen, this pantry, this dining-room table. I am acting on my deep instinctual need to provide nourishment, but I’m also delighting in spicy sauces and milky mozzarella and the tart, sweet taste of raspberries eaten by the handful.
In short: I am tasting my own life again. And it is delicious.