Grocery Store Staples


I don’t really mind waiting in line at the grocery store. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t choose the slowest cashier on purpose: that usually happens without any special effort on my part. But I do enjoy this idle time, during which I can study the latest chewing-gum innovations (they seem to come up with new ones every other week), mentally review my shopping list (and make the occasional frantic dash for that one capital item I forgot), and more importantly, peek into other people’s baskets and try to picture their life from the mundane little things they’re buying.

It was a particularly long wait the other day (someone hadn’t weighed his apples, or perhaps was applying for a membership card and wanting to hear all the details, I forget), so much so that I ran out of strangers’ baskets to study, and had no choice but to turn to mine. It dawned on me then that I hardly ever mention grocery store products here on C&Z. Suddenly all the little guys in my basket were staring at me with a sour look. “Yeah, why is that?”, they cried accusingly, “Why the injustice? Don’t we deserve a kind word once in a while? A bit of recognition for all the hard work? For heaven’s sake, is that too much to ask?”

A bit flustered, faintly worried that they might start a riot then and there, I had to promise I would write a post and turn the spotlight on those loyal supermarket favorites. That seemed to appease them, and we were able to proceed through the register without further grievance.

So. If you find yourself in line behind me one day and crane your neck, chances are my basket will contain:

[You’ll have to excuse me for the quality of the pictures: I took them with my cell phone for maximum discretion, and considering the quizzical looks I got from the other customers — “Chérie, is that girl really taking pictures of a cereal box?” — I can’t imagine what it would have been with my regular, bulky camera.]

~ Butter with salt flakes inside: excellent for baking, and fabulous on fresh bread for breakfast.

~ Apple and chesnut compotes, a particularly successful combination — the apple-raspberry flavor is quite good too.

~ Little tubs of fromage blanc (a type of thick yogurt), which I use in place of milk in my cereals, or eat for dessert with a spoonful of jam.

~ Kefir (fermented milk): to drink, or to substitute for buttermilk in American recipes.

~ Flour and sugar: with all that recipe testing, I seem to be continually running out of those.

~ I don’t often buy cookies at the grocery store, but when I do it might be Speculoos (see my attempt to reproduce them here) or some of these fine butter cookies made with butter from Isigny in Normandy.

~ In the breakfast cereal department, I am partial to Dark Chocolate Special K, which I mix with a tub of fromage blanc and a diced pear in the winter, or a diced peach in the summer. (To tell you the truth I’d rather be eating Cinnamon Puffins, but they don’t seem to live in these latitudes.)

~ For quick meals, I like these fresh soups made by the British Covent Garden Soup Company. They’re a bit pricey but really good, and the ingredients’ list is just normal stuff you would use in your own kitchen. In addition to their regular flavors (I like Broccoli and Stilton, or Wild Mushrooms), they also have a rotating “Soup of the Month” — a simple but clever marketing scheme, one I seem to fall for unfailingly.

~ These extra-crunchy Swedish crispbreads are perfect for breakfast and snacks, and we eat them with cheese when we run out of bread. My favorite is the multigrain kind in the purple package, with sunflower and flax seeds. As luck would have it my supermarket doesn’t carry that variety, so I have to make special trips to other stores to find it.

~ We seem to make a supernatural consumption of this lightly salted fresh cow’s cheese: it is perfect for spreading on the above-mentioned Swedish crispbreads, and I use a lot of it in my cooking. It works really well to whip up quick dips with herbs or vegetables.

~ Finally, these blackcurrant candies are my favorite to carry around in my purse. I transfer the little oval bites into a pretty pixel art tin box, in which they clink happily when I walk.

And thus ends my roundup of grocery store staples. Of course, there are other things I buy — pasta, grains, canned stuff, condiments — but none with which I have such a faithful relationship. Oh, and if I make it sound like I don’t buy any real food (you know, fish, meat, produce, bread, that kind of thing), that’s because I get those from the smaller specialized shops around me, or at the market on Saturday mornings if I manage to get up.

[If you would like a further tour of my grocery store, here are a few more pictures for you.]

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