At the end of another long work day made more frantic by the holiday on Monday and our upcoming 2-week vacation, I log off and put my laptop to sleep wishing I could go to sleep as well. We have no food in the house and are at a loss as to what to do for dinner. We decide to head over to the local Greenlife Grocery store, the Whole Foods of Chattanooga. I get out two large, reusable shopping bags and we head out the door.
The walk to the grocery store is only a block and a half through the pleasant, recently developed neighborhood. We pass a riverfront mid-rise condominium building that advertises its “sustainable” construction. I’m not sure what about it is sustainable–maybe they have solar panels on the roof? But it’s a nice building with a large, beautifully landscaped courtyard in the middle, visible from the sidewalk as we walk by. When we first came down to Chattanooga looking for a place to live, we had considered this building, but we didn’t want to buy property and they didn’t have anything for rent.
We arrive at the grocery store in less than 5 minutes and walk in the door expecting to see our favorite cashier standing at the checkout just inside–she’s been there every time we’ve come to the store. She likes to tease Pat, who comes to the grocery store more often than I do and often at times that most people are at work. When Pat recently had his hair cut from shoulder length to something under an inch, she said, “Someone must have gotten a job!” He laughed and explained that he’s always had a job. When I asked her, “Don’t you think he looks good with his hair short? He looks so much younger!” She replied with, “I don’t know, long, short . . . ” her voice trailing away as she ducked her head and blushed. I realized then that she has a crush on my husband. This happens frequently. I’ve grown accustomed to other women envying me for my husband. Women who have never met him fall in love with him when I talk about how he does laundry, cooking, and grocery shopping as well as more traditionally male tasks like building things and maintaining cars. But women who meet him usually find themselves blushing and flirting. He brushes this off when I tease him about it, commenting on the fact that most of the women who gush over him are over fifty and that he doesn’t have similar power on “hotties” under thirty. I think this is a great compliment–after all, we women gain wisdom about men as we age and gaining the affections of these wise women speaks to the underlying compassion that comes through in every interaction with Pat.
But today, a different cashier stands at the checkout line and greets us only automatically. We smile and say hello and move on to do our shopping. We have an addiction to Naan. This store carries a particularly good brand that is displayed in the freezer case. It toasts up fresh and hot like bread straight out of the oven. However, I think someone at the store has realized our addiction and is playing a game with us; every time we look for it, it’s moved. Today I check the first three places we found it to no avail. Then, I spot it in a new place in the center of the freezer aisle. With the relief only an addict can feel, I seize a package and throw it into our cart. It’s a funny thing how attached I can get to simple pleasures.
We pick out eggs from a free-range, local farm where the chickens are free to roam outdoors. They cost twice as much as the “cage free” eggs, but having learned that “cage free” just means they hens are kept in an over-crowded barn, I spend the extra money gladly. I don’t want to eat eggs from overcrowded hens. Regardless of my sympathy for the hens, there is just too much disease associated with overcrowded animals and I would rather eat animal products that come from more natural conditions that keep all of us healthier. Moving on, we pick out organic Greek yogurt from grass-fed cows, another recent addiction. After finding wild caught smoked salmon, organic almonds, and selecting a couple of day’s worth of fruit and vegetables from mostly local farmers, we realize we haven’t solved our dilemma over dinner. We go to the prepared foods section and find some stuffed shells that will bake up nicely in the toaster oven.
We make our way to the cash register, hoping our favorite cashier has returned, but it’s still the same woman who greeted us when we arrived. Instead of exchanging banter, we go through the paying process exchanging only minimal small talk. It’s funny how developing rapport with a cashier makes us feel like we belong–today we feel like anonymous strangers passing through, just as we did the first time we came to this store. Perhaps the fact that we still have made no friends in this town makes us cherish these small connections more, but I feel more disappointment over not seeing our regular cashier than I think is normal.
We distribute the groceries equally between the two grocery bags even though they would all fit into one. This allows Pat to carry the bags balanced on both sides. He slings each bag over his shoulders and we head on down the road. Arriving home, I volunteer to make dinner. This is a private joke between Pat and me–he took over preparing our meals early in our relationship, having decided I don’t know how to cook. I’m actually quite competent in the kitchen as long as I have a recipe, but Pat is one of those artistic chefs who can whip up a meal from nothing. He is insulted by the prospect of using a recipe and was convinced of my lack of ability the first time I made chili and didn’t sauté the onions before putting them in the pot. The recipe didn’t call for it, so I didn’t do it. Pat is religious about starting virtually every meal by sauteing onions in butter with salt. He claims he can taste the difference when the salt isn’t properly incorporated into a recipe and just added later. I like sauteed onions better, I admit, but I think he’s fooling himself on being able to taste the difference when salt is added later. Personally, I’d rather add salt if a dish needs more flavor than eat it bland because of some rule about when to add salt, but not Pat. Fortunately, he usually gets just the right amount the first time.
Tonight, I am allowed to make dinner because it requires only reheating the stuffed shells. In the 15 years we’ve been together, when Pat needs a break from cooking, I’ve prepared only 3 things from scratch: scrambled eggs with toast (which I take great pride in making so that the eggs are extra fluffy and still moist), grilled cheese with tomato soup (I only make the grilled cheese part, but I make it well), and Nabeyaki Udon (a Japanese soup that Pat loves but has so many steps that I only venture to make this on rare occasions). Otherwise, Pat is not interested in my cooking. Since cooking is not a great pleasure to me, I’m relieved that I don’t have to be the one to come up with interesting things to eat night after night, so this works well for both of us.
We sit down with our plates of hot food and discover that it’s not really all that hot. I’m disappointed that I can’t even re-heat well, but we decide we are too hungry now to put it back in the oven. I use the excuse that I don’t cook often enough to know how long things take. Pat smiles and rolls his eyes, but he thanks me anyway, enjoying the break from kitchen duty.