Eating. Trader Joe's.
I went to work with the firm idea of what I would have for lunch (crazy, I know, given the dinner I had last night): a burger and fries from my favorite pub down the street, accompanied by iced tea or a root beer. Or perhaps I would have fish and chips, squeezing some lemon juice over the fish, dipping each bite into the creamy tartar sauce. Maybe I'd have the shredded pork tacos, which came with some peanut sauce and sour cream, which cooled the spicy pork. But none of that happened. I walked in the door to find K., who, when I told her of my lunch plans, firmly squashed any idea I had about going down to the pub. You don't want to eat that kind of junk, I am told. (It is a familiar refrain). Let's go to Trader Joe's!
Trader Joe's is not a grocery store. It is a lifestyle. Their produce section is meagre, as is their selection of meats and seafoods. Whenever I go there I only find half the things I need and come home instead with bags of things I don't need. In the days when our house was a sort of compound for occasional visits from my parents and my uncle, I would find bottles of vinagers and oils, packets of crackers and nuts and chocolates, bags of frozen dumplings or boxes of veggie biryanis, all with the Trader Joe's logo. They have $8 potted orchids, chocolate-covered pretzels, frozen quiches and quesedillas (the latter is today's special, with free samples at the booth that stands at one end of the store).
Whenever I am here I run around like a three-year-old, touching everything, wanting to buy everything I see. It is like being in a candy store for grown-ups. (Not that I'm a grown-up, or anything). It is hard not to be tempted by cartons of granola, bags of tortilla chips, ice-cream bars and chocolate-covered nuts. But we are on a mission: lunch. There are bowls of tomatoes back at work; K. has her mind firmly fixed on an insalata caprese, and heads straight for the cheese as I linger behind, grab a loaf of bread, the rosemary diamanté loaf from the Essential Baking Company. (A round, rosemary-speckled loaf, with a criss-cross design marked on the top, sprinkled with coarse salt that crunches with every bite).
Fresh mozzarella, floating in their little plastic tubs, go into the cart. I run back to grab some basil, but - and this is the bad thing about Trader Joe's, the lack of variety - they seem to have a profusion of every other herb except for basil. We try a couple of different brands of mozzarella, then add a few cartons of Greek yogurt. I am distracted by the scent of strawberries, and turn to see shelves and shelves of strawberries next to the cheeses (along with Bing cherries, the first of the season). The scent wraps itself around me, and I practically climb on top of the guy stocking the shelves to grab a few boxes. We wander around the store for a little longer, looking for cocoa powder - which they don't have - before heading out, and I notice that a few bars of chocolate have made their way into the cart as well.
Once we are outside again I feel the anticipation rising as we walk back down hill, laden with our bags of food. (Stopping at another nearby market for basil, because you can't have insalata caprese without basil). Back in the kitchen I slice bread while K. slices the cheese and tomatoes, layering them with the bright green basil leaves. I find some olive oil in the back of a cupboard, drizzle some of the green-gold oil on my plate, sit down to eat my lunch. It is the first insalata caprese of the season, reminding me that summer and other such salads are ahead. But there is nothing better than the first one, the first taste of fresh tomatoes and sweet basil and creamy, soft cheese that drips on your napkin.