Saturday, August 18, 2007

The 21st century hunter-gatherer

Not all great experiences with food involve cooking. There is the joy that comes from planting tiny seeds lovingly in the ground, tending them carefully and watching as sun, rain and time yield tantalizing tomatoes, or fresh basil, or whatever crop you have been adventurous enough to plant.Whether you plant the back forty, or a windowsill pot of herbs, or a patio tomato, nothing tastes better than food you have grown yourself.
For those who hunt, they enjoy the pursuit and preparation of the perfect prey.
Carefully tracking and hunting a wild turkey, or a white-tailed deer, whether using a hunting rifle or bow and arrow, there is a special pride these people take in being able to pit themselves against nature and winning (I speak here about real hunters, who hunt for food, not just sport).
However, modern life for most of us does not require the same physical work that it did for our ancestors to find and and accumulate food, but there is still something very primal and satisfying in the modern equivalent of shopping. Today, after two months of focusing on the renovation of our rental house, when we just ran out to get the bare necessities and ate out of our freezer, and our pantry began to look like Old Mother Hubbard's, we made a shopping list, grabbed the checkbook and became 21st century hunter-gatherers. An essential pre-shopping ritual is the cleaning of the refrigerator and pantry. Throwing out the questionable or unidentifiable, organizing the scores of condiments and making room in my produce drawers, is necessary (and, in a sick way, rewarding!) to make room for the bounty to come. While this can be a time-consuming (and disgusting) job, there is something so nice about seeing all the clean jars and containers organized- cheeses and dairy together, eggs neatly installed in neat rows in the egg-keeper, meats in the freezer separated by pork, beef, seafood, poultry and game (buffalo and venison, primarily). Besides making the fridge look better and making room, it helps to see what we need and what we still have plenty of for planning purposes.

Our first stop- Costco. We were out of not only food but essentials like paper towels and toilet paper, so armed with our Costco card, we braved the savage hoards on a Saturday, making our way through aisle after aisle, picking our way through the lines at the sample tables. At Costco we buy staples like EVOO,peanut butter, bottled water, salad greens, pine nuts, and lots of cheese. We also buy meats like flank steaks, and ground beef, and fish like today's fresh catfish or their fresh wild salmon and smoked salmon. I have to say that I love Costco- they have great prices and carry a lot of the staples you need to have a well-stocked pantry, including really good balsamic vinegar (Kirkland brand) at a great price.

After bringing all out booty back to the house, I had to cut and vacuum seal my big blocks of cheese (makes them last longer, limits mold) and vacuum pack my fish and meat into portions for meals. For this I use one of my favorite gifts from my mom - my Foodsaver. This great for preserving foods, particularly if you shop in bulk, and you can seal steaks or chicken in marinade and freeze to add more flavor.

Enough of a break. Now time to head to the supermarket for canned goods, etc. We really like Kroger for these type of pantry-fillers. They have a great selection, and fabulous prices, and when they run their 10 items for $10 sale, I love to stock up on pantry needs like chickpeas, beans, canned tomatoes and all manner of frozen veggies. They also have a buyer's reward card, that almost always saves us about 20% on our groceries. Luckily the Kroger near us is a much more relaxing shopping experience than Costco (but no samples!) After filling our cart with beans, frozen veggies, Neufchatel, and other assorted items, we headed home again.

What is left? A trip to Tractor Joe to get some fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and beets (if he has any left), and to the Entenmann Bread thrift store to pick up Oatnut, pita and rye bread (they carry Arnold bread products) and some Boboli crusts.
This evening, I can open my pantry, my fridge (both of them) and my freezer and see the fruits of my hunting-gathering adventure. Shelves and shelves of choices that will fuel my food play for the weeks to come. While we are lucky enough to never be hard up for food, there is something very special to me about the promise of a full pantry, and the many combinations and new dishes that are waiting on my shelves just waiting for me and my family.
How about you - is food shopping a challenge or a chore? Would you rather shop every day or many time weekly or do you do "the big shop" a time or two a month? Is it a comfort or confounding to have a full pantry and fridge?


Ellen said...

You shop like I do. I love a stocked freezer, frig, and pantry. I typically work, at home, until 6pm and then come downstairs to start dinner so a well stocked kitchen is key! I could probably live a few weeks off what I normally stock plus the garden this time of year. I like being able to choose--which means stocking choices.

Deborah Dowd said...

Ellen- There is something comforting about having choices at mealtime,it somehow lessens the stress of meal planning and production!

nick said...

just came across your site, fantastic! i think you would like mine its right up your street!

Deborah Dowd said...

Nick- Thanks so much for stopping by, I hope you will be a regular, and I will be checking out your blog!