I must admit, I’ve been very spoiled for the last decade or so. Today was one of those days of realization.
I went shopping for Easter.
When we were living in the city, it was such a simple thing to run out to the grocery store. We’d found stores that carried things, or varieties of things, no one else did. All of them were relatively close. By far my favorite grocery store was one I went to to get those things I’ve never seen carried anywhere else. Like Knorr bouillon cubes. A common enough item, normally – so long as all I want is beef, chicken or vegetable. This store? They had the cubes in mushroom, basil and garlic, fish stock, and more. When I made meals in a jar, I could include cubes in a mix and match of flavours. I can’t even find those at the Knorr website!
Then there were the salts. Such a variety! Smoked salt, Persian Blue, Hawaiian sea salt, red wine, black sea salt, French Grey, Fleur de Sel…
Today, we actually found both Fleur de Sel and smoked salt – and the price tags on them were rather shocking!
This particular favorite grocery store specialized in European imports – mostly Italian and Polish (the only place I could find a Polish cream fudge). They had the biggest selection of olive oils and pastas in the entire city – vinegars, too, I’m sure – and were voted best deli, year after year.
Then there where the cheeses. Oh, so many varieties of cheese out there! And I’m talking about just in a regular grocery store, never mind places that specialized in them.
In our Easter baskets, I would try to include some new or different cheese, at least 2 types of salt, tiny bottles of different kinds of fancy olive oil, infused vinegar, and even try different kinds of stuffed green olives – though our favorite turned out to be dried and salted black olives. When I wasn’t able to bake bread for our basket, my favourite grocery store had a number of wonderful varieties, baked in their own traditional Italian wood fired oven. I just had to make sure to be there shortly after they opened, because by noon, their daily bread inventory was decimated.
There was just so many places we could go to, with so many regional and ethnic varieties or foods available, it was awesome to try new things, any time we could afford a little extra.
My older daughter and I were chatting recently about this change in availability, and the surprising things we found ourselves missing. She mentioned that for some reason, she’s suddenly started to crave century eggs, of all things.
Trying to shop for our Easter basket was a good illustration of how much things have changed.
We could have gone to our usual grocery store, a 15 minute drive away. We’d have a choice of 2 stores in this town. One of them is a Sobeys, so it’s got most of the same inventory a city store would have, which isn’t too bad. Selection is limited due to the relatively small size of the store. The other grocery store is part of a local group of grocers, so while it’s even smaller and has less variety of some things, it also carries things the big store never will, but are more desirable for living in this area.
Neither are places we’ll be able to find fig infused white balsamic vinegar.
For our Easter basket, I liked to include extra special things. So we didn’t just include salt. We would have a unique salt; usually two different kinds. There would be a type of cheese we hadn’t tried before, or one we would get only for special events. One or two types of olives would be included. Even the horseradish paste was available in a variety of types.
For our first Easter after our move, I knew we weren’t going to be able to match our usual baskets, but I still wanted to find some special things.
Which we weren’t going to find at our usual grocery store.
I knew I wasn’t going to find it in the next nearest town, where my mother lives. They have even less variety in the one grocery store.
We could probably have found all these things in one of the many regional or ethnic grocery stores in the city, but did I really want to drive the hour and a half to one of the stores I found online, hoping it would have what I wanted? No, I did not.
In the end, we decided to try the town I’d been taking my mother to the hospital to, all last week. I’d helped my mom do some shopping there on the last day we went in, but I was focused on her, not the stores, so I didn’t notice too much about how they were. Still, one of them looked big enough that I thought we’d find some interesting things.
Which meant a 40 minute drive to go grocery shopping.
So we made a day of it, taking some time to explore the main drive and check out some shops. Which was good, because we found one really awesome place we’ll be coming back to, for sure. When we have money. 😀
We also got to see a film crew turning a street corner into a Christmas scene. Looks like a movie production was taking advantage of some unique architecture. No clue what movie was being worked on.
When we did start on the actual grocery shopping, there was nothing there I couldn’t have found in the town nearer to us. In fact, they had even less – except for a surprisingly large section dedicated to products imported from the UK. Which was cool, because we found some flying saucer candy. I haven’t seen those in at least 15 years!
So we went to the second grocery store. While we got a couple more things, the selection there was even more sparse.
It wasn’t until after we got home and I started getting ready to make the pickled pink eggs that I realized I was out of an ingredient I needed, which meant we ended up going out to the closest town, after all.
What used to be such a simple thing now requires significant amounts of driving, with not much chance of finding what I actually want.
Now, none of this is actually essential in general, and certainly not for our Easter basket. It doesn’t need to be fancy. The basket isn’t as important as what it is for, and what the contents symbolize. Plain table salt is just as acceptable as any other kinds. So is any easy to find cheese. Olives, olive oil and vinegar are our own additions, not traditional. They aren’t necessary at all. We’ve just become used to being able to do more, simply because we could.
Not so much anymore.
Now, if we want to have the same things, we have to plan on a day trip to the city and be prepared to drive to several different stores – once we find them, in the first place! There is no equivalent to our favourite grocery store out there at all – at least not all in one place. From what I’ve been able to find online, we’d have to visit at least 2 different places, and they are at almost opposite ends of the city.
As much as I enjoy things like (affordable!) fancy salt or le pleine lune cheese, they’re not worth all that extra time, gas or money.
And so, we will do without.
Even when it was easy to get these lovely little treats, I appreciated the fact that we could get them at all. After all, I did grow up here in the sticks, when even less was available locally than now.
Still, I will readily admit, I was spoiled by the availability in the city.
I don’t know that I can say that I miss it, exactly. I certainly do, but as the luxuries they were, purchased only when we had a bit of room in the budget. They were never every day things.
I can definitely say that now, when we do find some of this stuff, I appreciate it even more.