Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Grocery Lust

Holidays always give me grocery lust. I have to stay out of places like A Southern Season, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods. Even Weaver Street Market, our local co-op market,  isn't safe.  They are all full of wonderful things to eat that I have never tried and wonderful exotic ingredients for things I have never made. 

If I walk in to one of these stores, I could bankrupt us.  Once grocery lust takes me over, I could end up buying kitchen tools I don't know how to use and ingredients I don't know how to prepare.  Like it goes most of the time when you give in to sheer lust, it doesn't end well.  You gorge yourself. You don't feel well. You get fatter. You hate yourself afterwards.

It's not limited to the stores either. There are ads, cooking magazines, podcasts, emails from foodie websites. It's kind of funny, because I'm pretty immune to advertising. If I wasn't already thinking about buying something, it takes more than a clever commercial to make me want it.  You can send me ads for electronics, cars, toys, books, garden items, etc. all day and never get any of my money.  But food.  That's different.

I think it goes back to spending my 20's in Alaska.  It was my big adventure post-bachelor's degree.  My then-husband and I packed our bags and moved to Alaska. We ended up staying just shy of ten years.  It was a place that demanded much and gave much. There was so much to love about life there--the people, the landscape, the feeling of accomplishment that just living there gave me. 

But not the groceries.

Alaska, especially small-town rural Alaska, is not a foodie paradise.  Going to the grocery store is a study in lowered expectations.  Depending on the weather, even simple staple items like milk and bread may not be in stock.  You cannot rely on fresh ingredients, and every meal involves a backup plan full of cans and boxed items. People hunt and berry-pick, and it's not just a hobby.  It's a way to have something fresh in your palate.

When I would visit my family or travel in the 48, I would go food crazy. I would eat out for as many meals as I could afford, the more exotic the meal, the better.  I would go to the grocery and spend $50 in the produce section alone, then go spread it out on my mom's table and just smell it, hold it, feel it in my hands, giggle over it with my then-little daughter. When I moved to Kansas, my first home in the 48 after Alaska, I hit every farmer's market within an hour's drive.  There were whole days when I didn't actually eat meals, just a string of produce items.

It's the kind of appreciation that can only derive from deprivation.

Even now that I've lived in the 48 for another ten years after leaving Alaska, I still get that kind of grocery lust, that sensual pleasure in good food. 

My now-and-always-husband likes to take me out to eat at least in part because of how much I obviously enjoy my food. I'm that person who is bouncing in her chair and making yummy noises and gets really excited over something new on the plate. I'm asking the wait staff about the ingredients, what kind of tea is in my iced tea and what that new green is in my salad. I can't help myself. At least it makes him smile.

So, I made it through, and only bought a few things this year.  Weaver Street stollen bread for breakfast today.  Tomorrow, it might be safe to go into the grocery store again.  I know I'll never fully control my grocery lust, but I can manage it, by letting it out here and there, for the really good stuff.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Not Yet Professional Ballet

If you're thinking of seeing a production of the Nutcracker this holiday season, let me wholeheartedly recommend that you seek out a not-yet-professional production.

I just had the best ballet experience of my life, watching a local youth ballet perform it at a showing for a special needs audience.

I'm a strange sort of ballet fan.  Mostly, I find the storytelling weak, but I'm drawn into the visuals: the costumes, the sets, and, most of all, the athleticism.  As a woman who trips over hallways (just hallways, empty ones, with nothing in them), I admire the things these dancers can get their bodies to do, with grace.

Watching these young people with this particular audience was utterly amazing. 

When you watch a professional ballet, everything looks effortless.  I know that's supposed to be part of the artistry, but it's part of why it doesn't thrill me.  It seems cold.

But this show, featuring young performers who may someday be those professionals, had such heart, such spark!  When an especially difficult leap or lift or landing was accomplished, you could feel the joy.  Maybe it's the teacher in me, or the mom, but I found it very moving to watch these young people reaching new levels of accomplishment.  And they were definitely very accomplished.

And watching with this audience!  I was worried about taking my very active four-year-old to a ballet, even a family friendly one, but I figured the special needs audience would be a little more accepting of any of her outbursts. 

What I didn't realize was that who you watch with can be part of the joy of the show. It was like watching a jazz performance. Instead of waiting politely for the prescribed bowing moments, they called out and cheered when something impressive happened, clapped whenever they felt moved.  And their energy fed the performers' energy and it was magic.

I wish the ballet was always like this.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas in FlipFlops

Today, my family and I went to a tree farm and bought our Christmas tree.  The man who sold it to us was full of the right kind of charm, in his flannel shirt and with his well-used tools.  It was a lovely, old-fashioned Christmas experience, very Currier and Ives . . . except that it was nearly 70 degrees.

We get winter in North Carolina. Sometimes.

Last winter, for example, we got to go sledding twice.  We missed several days of school, because even a mild dusting of snow causes mass panic here.  It cracks my older daughter and me up though.  We spent her early childhood in Alaska, where there was a lot of snow, but never a Snow Day.

This winter hasn't arrived yet.  I've worn a jacket twice so far, and only in the morning. Santa, in the Christmas parade, looked a little sweaty.

Mostly, I've enjoyed the milder weather in my new home.  It's rather nice not to feel like I'm taking my life into my hands to walk my dog on a December day.  And I really like having fresh produce any time I want.

But it still feels kind of wrong to buy my Christmas tree in short sleeves and flip-flops. 

My sister spent three years in Hawaii and she always said that Christmas didn't feel very Christmasy there.  I get what she means.  My images of the season have fires in the fireplace and cute hat and mitten sets on my girls.  Hot chocolate really tastes better if you're cold.

Still, when you're in your own living room, and it's dark outside, and the tree is lit, and the carols are playing on Pandora, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, at least on the inside.