Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Slice of Life

I haven’t written much about “Life in New Jersey.” I’m always meaning to, I just haven’t gotten around to it. Today as I went about my normal every-day routine, I was reminded once again about some of the things that I love about living here. Take the grocery for instance. It’s a grocery not much different than King Soopers back “home.” At least at first glance, that is. Grab a cart for yourself and let me show you the highlights!

First of all, the entrance routes you right straight past the bakery where all kinds of baked goodies reach out to grab you. Sometimes these items just jump up into the air and literally throw themselves into my cart as I try to hurry past them. I just can’t bring myself to put them back after all the effort they’ve made to escape from the boring confines of their display [grin]. For me it’s particularly hard because there are all kinds of Italian-style cookies and confections that I had growing up as a child in New York, that I haven’t seen in years and years and had totally forgotten about. It’s a bit like pushing a cart down Memory Lane. I have to steel myself against it all sometimes, especially as I go by the Kaiser roll section, the crumb buns [like smallish crumb coffee cakes with a layer of crumb topping on them that takes up about 2 inches of their 3 inch height], or if they have just put out fresh Black & Whites. What? Don’t know what Black & Whites are? They call them cookies but they are really more like small iced cakes that have one half iced with white icing and the other half with chocolate icing. Yummmeeee! Unlike cookies because the consistency is like cake batter, but they are only about 3/4 of an inch thick and quite large, about 5 inches in diameter. Here is one before I gobbled it up:
Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey
Enough about bakery items!

This grocery store plays oldies over the sound system, mostly hits from the 60s and some 70s. It’s not uncommon to find folks singing along as they push their carts up and down the aisles. I’ve even caught myself singing right along with them! Today there was an oldie from Tommy James and the Shondells that reminded me of my first “real” boyfriend. The other day I heard a song I don’t think I’ve heard in decades: Itchycoo Park. Anybody remember that one?? Maybe I’m showing my age here!

In the produce section,there are smooth, elongated globes of little baby eggplants [both white and purple], large bundles of asparagus [again two colors: white and the usual green], and baby artichokes. Today they had a huge display of portabello mushrooms and I couldn’t resist buying one. The best thing is buying basil. Instead of already cut basil in a plastic case at an exhorbitant cost, here you can buy a gorgeous basil plant, roots and all, in a clear plastic open-ended sack for around $2.99. Just put it in your window and add water to the roots when they get dry and it will last a couple of weeks!

Veal is plentiful here and there is always a good selection of breasts, shanks, chops, and scallopine. Another thing that you won’t find back in King Soopers, is meatloaf mix [or it can be used for meatballs]. This is a package that consists of three kinds of ground meat: beef, pork & veal, all about 1 pound each, and trust me, it makes great meatballs and meatloaf! The fish counter has fish I have never seen before, such as blue fish. Most everything in there is fresh and not frozen, and just about any kind of fish you might imagine.  One of my favorite things to buy is a fresh filet of sole stuffed with shrimp. There are clams galore, but I don’t know what to do with them yet. That needs some exploring.

Then there is what I call the “Italian aisle” because it’s jammed full of all shapes and varieties of pasta, all kinds of sauces to go with it [like clam sauce, pink vodka sauce just to name a couple that are unusual to me] and all kinds of imported Italian jarred delicacies such as 15 different kinds of bruschetta toppings, fire-roasted peppers, cherry peppers stuffed with mozzarella and proscuitto [these are HOT!], and so many other things I can’t list them all here.

Finally we come to the check-out. Here if someone forgot their little grocery discount card, the checker will just ask the person in back of them if they can use their card! Imagine how that would go over in Ft. Collins. But people here just hand over their card to help out someone else. You want to use my card? no problem, here ya go! Amazing. You are also expected to help sack your own groceries, so no lounging around as your groceries whizz past on the little conveyor belt. Get to work! We’re used to the question paper or plastic?, but here it’s a combo of both. They put a paper sack inside the plastic sack for heavy items. That way you have the strength of the paper sack, but the practicality of the handles on the plastic one. Makes sense to me!

After the grocery store I head to the gas station to fill up the tank. We still have Colorado plates on both vehicles, so we look a bit out of place. I pull up to the pumps and the attendant comes over to see how he can help. What?? you’re saying to yourself, isn’t she going to get out and pump the gas herself? NOPE, sorry, against the law to do that here in Jersey. No self service allowed! HAH, I can get used to this real fast, especially when it’s raining. Anyway, I am digressing as usual. As I put my window down he says to me, long way from home, aren’t you? I reply that in fact, I am really only a few miles from home since I live here now. He continues to chat me up about Colorado, did I miss all that snow on top of the mountains? was I ever afraid of starting an avalanche with just my car radio? Then he goes on to tell me that his boss went to Colorado last year. Oh, I say, what did he think? did he like it there? He looked at me a bit queerly and said that no, as a matter of fact his boss didn’t like it much at all. Too “square” he said. Square? I countered. Yeah, you know, you look out the window of the plane and all you see are square pieces of land. No twists, no turns, everything was square, not like around here. Yes, I said nodding, I see exactly what you mean. After a five minute discussion he finally asked which grade of gas I wanted and how much. You gotta love how totally unfriendly the people are around here. At least that’s what people told me to expect. How nice to be surprised for a change.

And those are only two examples from today alone. There are many more that I could recount here such as our mailman who introduced himself and welcomed us to the neighborhood [his name is Dennis], or the man [Rick] that owns the dry cleaners when he found out I was from Colorado asked my opinion on whether they should choose Aspen or Vail for their ski holiday at Christmas [and in exchange he told me about a restaurant that they held their son’s Communion celebration in], or the elderly customer in the wine store that offered to carry out my case of wine since he couldn’t bear to see my ‘nice choices’ end up on the pavement, but I think you’ve got the idea.


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