City Stories,  Pretending to Cook

It’s all in the bag

I did a lot of cooking this weekend. Like, a lot. I made winter squash soup (an unparalleled success, btw); egg and ham breakfast cups; three dozen pumpkin muffins; roasted brussels sprouts; even sliders I dolled up with fresh sage left over from the soup recipe. I think it’s safe to say I was making up for the appetite I’d lost with my cold last week.

This means I spent a lot of time in the corner of my apartment that passes for a kitchen. I’m already working from a disadvantage compared to most – a size disadvantage. The one-wall it occupies has a small stove, oven and sink – the basics. But in order to maintain even a square-foot of counter space, the kitchenette is equipped with what I believe is best known as a “dorm fridge.” That’s right, the kind of refrigerator you had in college to store your beer and…beer. That’s all I’m working with here.

I have no freezer – the shelf in the fridge designed to freeze doesn’t – which has actually been a blessing. I can’t remember the last time I had frozen pizza or ice cream at home. And the actual space for produce, condiments, drinks and leftovers is limited at best. As such, I’ve adopted a bit of a European sensibility to my grocery habits, shopping every day or two and only getting the few things I need at a time for the foreseeable future.

Once I need to shop, I have quite a few store options to choose from. One is quite literally around the corner, but it’s small with limited selection, and the prices are usually higher than other spots. But when convenience is key, it can’t be beat. There’s another spot just another block farther in the other direction that offers a bit more variety, but it’s still quite pricey. So in the end, I tend to take the train up a couple stops to Fairway (or walk, if it’s a nice day), one of the larger chains in the city, or stock up on the basics at Target in Brooklyn (prices really are cheaper off the island).

Shopping in smaller, more frequent trips also has an advantage as a pedestrian. Gone are the days of stocking up a trunkful of 10-pack paper towels and gallons of milk and 12-packs of soda. I couldn’t carry it all even if I wanted any of it (which I don’t). Much as I try to manage each trip, I still have a knack for filling up a shopping basket. For this recent cooking foray, on a single trip I had 2 large squash (plus a spaghetti squash I haven’t even prepared yet!), a pound of sugar, a 24oz can of pumpkin, the spices I’d need for the different recipes, a dozen eggs, broccoli and brussels sprouts, and more.

Before she asked me what I planned to make (it was that obvious I had baking on the brain), the cashier was sure to ask, “How many bags?” It’s a common question in the checkout line, I’ve learned. If you’re hoofing it home, having one or two bags can make all the difference. Sometimes one is best, to keep things simple. But then, two can balance out the weight while you walk. Grocery store cashiers in this city are truly artists in that way.

When it became clear that all my goods wouldn’t fit in the two bags I’d requested, and as I was explaining my excitement over the pumpkin muffins in my future, she calmly started another bag (paper inside plastic, because obviously) and rearranged everything no less than three times, testing to be sure the weight was distributed evenly as she went. What’s more, no one in line behind me seemed agitated, probably because they knew when it was their turn, she’d be just as considerate.

And she’s not an exception. It seems every cashier in town gets it. Every cashier uses as few bags as possible, reinforces as needed, arranges each item with care. Because we’re all living this way, right? We’re all walking home. To small refrigerators. With just enough to cook the next couple of meals.