Praise for the Plain Old Supermarket

Long ago, about five years ago, or as my husband and I call it: Before Kid, I had lots and lots of time on my hands. We lived in San Francisco in our small flat and we enjoyed our Leisure Time. Leisure Time meant lounging lazily on our days off, reading the newspaper in its entirety, window shopping for hours and just meandering. Now, After Kid, Time is precious because it seems there is too little of it that we can call ‘Free’. Something as pleasurable as grocery shopping has become an all-consuming CHORE. Before Kid, I made the procurement of our weekly provisions an adventure. I would go to great lengths to seek out and buy the most beautiful and organic local fruits and vegetables. And if we wanted meat, fish or chicken, I would make my way to our local butcher or fishmonger. Yes, we had a fish guy and a meat guy; we HAD time. I would go to certain shops to get what they had best. And I also had time for a weekly trip to the farmers markets. Where we lived in the City, we had many to choose from. “Ohh look, puntarella and muscat grapes!”. We ate like kings.

These days, with my job as a private chef AND cooking for my family, I find that I don’t have the luxury of making numerous trips to the produce market or the butcher shop. I would love to, but I can’t. And I discovered I don’t have to. While living here in the ‘suburbs’ of East Oakland,  I have grown to appreciate the Plain Old Supermarket for providing what I need. Long ago, I held a kind of disdain for Supermarkets. You know the kind: the ones with the fluorescent lighting and rows and rows of processed foods, sad looking meat and strangely shiny produce. I thought to myself: Do we really need a whole row dedicated to soda, frozen dinners and snack chips? But then I read Jacques Pepin’s cookbook “Fast Food My Way” and I began to have a change of heart. Jacques Pepin wrote that he utilized his Plain Old Supermarket as a place to get his ‘mise en place’ or prepared ingredients- like canned beans or the olive bar by the deli counter. He carefully selected quality items from his Plain Old Supermarket that helped him create lovely nourishing meals quickly. I then walked through my generic supermarket with an open mind and ‘new eyes’. Yes, there was a giant central area with the rows of processed food BUT there was also a produce section with real “Local” and “Organic” fruits and vegetables. And these days, Supermarkets are even touting wild seafood, sustainably raised meats and poultry and Organic dairy. And what Supermarket doesn’t have a decent deli these days with a good selection of cheese and an antipasto bar? I have a newfound appreciation for our Supermarkets not just for the food they provide BUT all the essential non-food items too. Really important for busy moms and busy everyone else too!

Now don’t get me wrong. I still love going to my specialty food stores. But when I do go, it’s no longer under the guise of the weekly food shopping BUT under more pleasant and easy circumstances. Just for fun. Here’s a list of my very favorite specialty food stores in the San Francisco Bay Area and neighboring counties in no particular order:

Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, San Francisco

Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco

Heart of the City Farmers Market, San Francisco

Rockridge Market Hall, Oakland

Alameda Marketplace, Alameda

Berkeley Bowl, Berkeley

The Nugget Market, Vacaville

Dan’s Produce, Alameda


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