To Mama Alice shopping for groceries was no pedestrian task; it was an art. Not only would we spend hours looking, sifting, and critiquing ingredients, production locales and prices, we also used these excursions as an opportunity to gorge our faces with culinary treats. Treats made with whole-wheat flour and hormone-free eggs of course. By time we checked out, we had remnants of the food that was. “This container had two veggie egg rolls, my daughter is drinking her apple-juice-sweetened sprizter… Oh and I had a bran muffin.”
Occasionally if our bargain hunting left us feeling famished and extra-gluttonous, we would sit down at one of the various health food store cafes. Our favorite cafe was in Living Earth. This place inspired food sophistication without the glitz and glamour of Whole Foods. And its modest sun room illuminated with a single string of Christmas lights set the mood for the tasteful parking lot view.
The dining experience was always the same. My mother’s standard order included Perrier, two veggie egg rolls (one for me), a Mount Fuji salad and a tempeh stir-fry over brown rice. For such a small woman she LOVED to eat. She even admitted that she did not enjoy cooking and baking all that much, despite teaching cooking classes, and that her true love lay in tasting her amazing creations. “Lauren, did you try my apple pie? Mmm. That is delicious! No one makes a pie like me,” she would say with a clever mix of boasting and endearing sincerity.
The best part of our tradition came once all the food was brought out. Every time, without fail, my mother would look down at all the plates on her side and say to me without a hint of sarcasm, “Do you think the waitress thinks I’m a glutton?” Being my mother’s daughter, I would sneak in a Sally Albright-esk impression. “I would like the Mount Fuji with the dressing on the side! Bring it out quickly, miss, I’m about to pass out,” I would say accompanied by a hand sweep just over the brow. True to form she would laugh hysterically while barely managing to keep the tasty treasures contained.
So tonight I stumbled into Living Earth for a reminiscent meal and to spend a little bit of time remembering my Mama. It’s no longer in the sun room, it is now a fancy, bohemian-style restaurant. There is no more Mount Fuji salad and the tempeh has been exiled back into obscurity.
Even though the inside has changed the art of grocery shopping I learned there is very much alive. Now I will impart to you the Mama Alice guide to a $300 grocery bill and a top notch grocery event: 1. Go slowly. You can never take too much time reading ingredients and investigating a product’s production location, business practices and goodwill. 2. Fuel up! Grab a snack and a beverage within the first 20 minutes because you need to spend at least 3 hours in the store. 3. Socialize. Make friends with all of the employees. 4. Be a food snob. Quality is most important. No preservatives. No corn syrup. No white flour. 5. Be Honest. Don’t forget to let the cashier about the items you’ve already eaten.