The most boring decision I’ve made all year.

Since I arrived in Arlington, I’ve been trying to find the One True Grocery, and my search has been unfulfilled so far. I mentioned back on the first of November that I’ve been to a crazy number of different grocery stores since my arrival, and I still haven’t settled into a grocery routine here.

When I moved to Germany, I did some of my grocery shopping at the Globus near the office, but the vast majority was at the Kaufland a few minutes away from my apartment. Since I was walking to and from the grocery store there, I fell into the habit of only getting what I could carry. When I repatriated, I started grocery shopping with a car again and the amount of food that I bought was significantly larger. I have a tendency to overbuy, and it’s something I’ve mentioned before in this blog.

Here in Arlington, I’m somewhere between the two extremes. I’m not buying a lot of food, and that is in part because the grocery stores haven’t thrilled me yet. It’s really tough to top Publix. I’ve been to many different stores here so far, and these are my impressions so far:

  • Harris Teeter – I Teetered my Harris on my first day in Arlington, and I haven’t been back. The one I went to was a two-story affair with a very confusing layout. It looked to me like what might happen if MC Escher was really into neon and wanted very much to make a knockoff of Whole Foods. I have not yet been to a second Harris Teeter to see if a different location might suit me better.
  • Giant Food – I’ve been to two different Giants now. The first one was like a dirty, poorly stocked Winn Dixie where nineteen out of every twenty people completely ignored the directional arrows on the floor. The second one was a bit better, but I still had trouble finding everything I was looking for.
  • Safeway – I’ve been to three different local Safeways so far, and the closest location off Lee Highway is the one I’ve actually gone back to more than once. They have a decent selection, and their Zebra Cakes are always really fresh. (Snack standards are important.) I was thinking that they reminded me a lot of Albertsons, but then I found out while fact checking this post that they’re actually a subsidiary of Albertsons now, so that tracks.

I haven’t bothered to shop in Target, Trader Joes, or Whole Foods, even though they’re reasonably close. I haven’t even seen a Wal-Mart, even though there’s gotta be one nearby. And last but not least, everyone keeps telling me Wegman’s is great, but I haven’t felt like driving half an hour each way for groceries.

If even a single one of these stores carried absolutely everything I wanted, I would keep going back to that one over and over again, but some things are just incredibly difficult to find.

For example, my favorite pickles are Claussen, but they’re not carried anywhere locally except for Wal-Mart. I did try Vlasic again, and I immediately regretted that decision. They taste like turmeric and existential dread.

As an aside, when I couldn’t find Claussen in six different stores, I turned to the Internet for reassurance that they were still being sold, and I was treated to the most delightfully unlikely sentence I’ve ever seen online:

“The Federal Trade Commission blocked the proposed merger on the grounds that it would have severe anticompetitive effects, leading to a monopoly in the refrigerated-pickle market.”

So that’s where things stand with the Great Grocery Selection of 2020. They opened a Wegman’s in Tyson’s Corner this week, so maybe I’ll finally give that a try this weekend. Or maybe I’ll finally give in and just go the Instacart route. If you’ve read this post all the way to the end, then bless your heart! It’s definitely not my most interesting work. If you’ve read this far, you deserve a treat, like a cookie or a White Claw or something. Treat. Yo. Self!

Do you have a favorite grocery store?

27/52 (and 6 of 30!)

A Place For My Stuff

I finally got around to viewing some of the commercials from this year’s Superbowl, and this one just left me feeling unsettled.

About five months after I got back to the US, I talked about the level of insanely overwhelming choice in grocery stores here.   At the time, I was still shopping the way that I did in Germany- one or two canvas bags of food at a time.

Since then, I’ve expanded my shopping a little bit, but not very much.  I still carry canvas bags into the grocery store, but sometimes I take plastic bags away with me also.  My grocery habits are more expansive than they were while I lived in Germany, but they’re still nowhere near what they were before I lived overseas.   I’ve actually taken photographs of every load of groceries I’ve purchased in the past sixteen months, so maybe I’ll come back to that in a future post.

Since I got back, I’ve gotten a car and an apartment and all the trappings of American life-  I’ve purchased a television and a vacuum, a microwave and a toaster.   I’ve populated my apartment with furniture, although a large percentage of that furniture came from Ikea.

Here’s the thing, though-  I’ve never felt truly comfortable with simple accumulation.  Those who have known me for years know that I had a slightly anti-stuff mindset even before I lived overseas.  I’ve always gone through cycles of decluttering, and of getting rid of stuff.  My aversion to just accumulating belongings is borderline pathological.

Perhaps that aversion is part of why the Rocket Mortgage commercial leaves such a terrible taste in my mouth.  It’s more than that, though.  This commercial represents everything that I think is wrong with America’s consumer-driven, greed-centric culture.

“Buy a house so you can fill it with more stuff so you can support the economy so more people can buy houses that they need to fill with stuff.”    Lather, rinse, repeat.

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but that cycle of buying and buying and buying doesn’t make me feel good.  Even without getting into the environmental effects of this cycle, or the politics of finance, it just feels skeevy somehow.   Buying to support buying to support buying feels so pointless, and basing a business model on the idea that other people should spend their money that way… well that just seems evil to me.

What do you think, readers?  Is there a Mr. Burns type behind this whole endeavor?  Or am I just overthinking it?

I totally stole this photo from Yelp because I didn't know I was going to write about this while we were in the store.

First Time In A Trader Joe’s

I went to Trader Joe’s today for the first time ever.  I’ve heard people raving about this store for years, but the big expansions into South Florida didn’t’ take place until I was already in Germany.

It’s kind of funny that I never had a chance to try any Trader Joe’s food until now, because some Trader Joe’s food is sold in Aldi stores in Germany.  (A quick history:  Trader Joe’s started out as a California-only store under a different name in the 1950s.  It was renamed Trader Joe’s around 1967, and was American-owned until Theo Albrecht purchased the chain in 1979.  Theo Albrecht is the owner of Aldi Nord.)

I digress.  Amelie and I were trying to go to Target today, not realizing that all of the Target stores would be closed for Easter Sunday.  It’s astonishing how quickly I have forgotten about everything being closed on Sundays now that I’m back in the United States.  The Target we were trying to visit was only a mile or so from the Trader Joe’s, and it seemed like as good a time as any to have my inaugural visit.

I totally stole the next two photos from Yelp because I didn’t know I was going to write about this while we were in the store.

I totally stole this photo from Yelp because I didn't know I was going to write about this while we were in the store. I totally stole this photo from Yelp because I didn't know I was going to write about this while we were in the store.

I’ve heard many people say that the Trader Joe’s aesthetic is very similar to the Aldi experience, but I think that Trader Joe’s is much closer to a Whole Foods type of store than Aldi.  Still, the pricing of all the Trader Joe branded items is much closer to Aldi levels than Whole Foods.  I was expecting Trader Joe’s to be more upscale than it was.

I liked the bag they put our stuff in.  It’s been ages since I’ve been given a paper bag at any kind of a grocer.

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We originally went to the store in search of some body wash for Amelie, and we found one that she likes in the store.  The cookie butter cookies and the power-berry juice blend were total impulse buys.

It is not for nothing that they call cookie-butter “cookie crack.”  That stuff is super-delicious.  Some of you will know it as Speculoos or Spekulatius.  It’s the same stuff.  It is delicious, delicious stuff.  The juice is also really tasty.

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We also decided that we’re going to try some not-at-a-restaurant Indian food for dinner.  We’ll probably trade rice- Amelie wants the Paneer Tikka Masala but doesn’t want the spinach basmati rice.   We both want the naan though.   I have been known to make a meal out of just naan and a mango lassi.

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I don’t really have a well rounded closing for this post, so I’ll just show you a picture of this amazing dog we saw in Boca Raton today.  He was so tiny, and he looked kind of badass with his tiny sunglasses on.

florida

Have you been to Trader Joe’s?  What do you think of it?

Vaping, Flavored Water, and Too Much Damn Choice

strange-return-itchy-feet

It’s been just over five months since I moved back to the US, and the wonderful Itchy Feet comic above is spot on.  I feel like I’m mostly re-acculturated, but there are still things that take me aback.

For example, the Vaping trend is out of control here.  Before I moved back,  I had no idea what Vaping was, but it’s everywhere now.   There are stand-alone stores, and an entire industry has popped up around electronic cigarettes.  The technology has evolved to the point where people are charging their cigarettes with USB ports and changing out modules to reduce the amount of nicotine or flavor their smoke with applewood or whatever.  Some people claim they want to use this to quit smoking altogether, but this seems to me like the opposite of that.  To me, this looks like they’ve simply designed a more efficient nicotine delivery system.

That’s not the only trend that surprised me.  There has also been an exponential growth in the flavored water market.  I’m not talking about the pre-bottled flavored waters that I was used to before I left.  No, this is an entirely new market segment filled with people who simply can’t bear the taste of regular old water.  When I was a child, we had Hawaiian Punch and Crystal Light, and those brands still exist.  But there’s also all of this now:

somanywaters

At least we’ve decided as a people to hydrate properly.

For the first four months I was here, I still shopped for groceries as if I were still living in Germany.  This was partly because I was living with my brother and I didn’t have a full kitchen or pantry to fill, but some of it was simply habit.  I had spent three years shopping with my own canvas bags and only buying as much as I could carry in one go because I would have to walk it back home.   Now that I have a car with a hatchback, my quantity has increased, but I’m still not shopping quite like a person who lives here.  I blame Cheerios for that.

You heard me.  I said I blame Cheerios.

When I left, there were three Cheerios flavors.    There was Honey-Nut Cheerios, Multi-Grain Cheerios, and plain old infants-love-’em plain flavored Cheerios.  Not so, now.  If you look closely in the picture below, you’ll see Multi-Grain with peanut butter.  You’ll see chocolate cheerios.  There’s apple-cinnamon Cheerios and Cheerios with protein added.  In one store, I counted twelve separate varieties of Cheerios.

The breakfast cereal aisle has become the Cheerio-verse.  When did this all become so complicated?

cheeriomultiverse

Grocery shopping in the US has always been an exercise in overwhelming choice-  remember when I posted the picture of the peanut butter and jelly aisle?  It’s gone over the top, now.  Even something as simple and ordinary as Matzos suddenly has at least a dozen possible varieties.

::sigh::

somanymatzos

I also still feel like I’m boiling inside my skin any time the temperatures crests above 75 degrees Fahrenheit (or 24C,) but that’s a gripe for another post.

What’s your favorite breakfast food?  Is it double-chocolate protein Cheerios?

Short Post: Spinat!

I’ve done several posts on how the food and grocery shopping experiences here are different than what I’m used to, but I’m still constantly finding more.  For example, frozen spinach!

In the US, frozen spinach is typically in a pouch that can either be boiled or microwaved.  Here, the frozen spinach is actually in frozen cube form.  Pictured here is a sleeve with two cubes of frozen spinach.  There were four in the box.

This spinach is also microwaveable, but in this case, you just spoon five or six spoonfuls of water over the spinach cube before you microwave, and then cook it for the specified amount of time.  The end result is spinach that only requires a little bit of fork-on-greens action to change out of a cube form into something that is more recognizable as a leafy green vegetable.  Here they are in their cooked but still cubed state:

Best of all, however- this spinach was absolutely delicious, and it couldn’t possibly be easier to prepare.  I feel healthier already.