I have a confession to make. I’m not sure it’s the right one to do, this being an upscale [insert giggle] food blog with upscale food followers (right?) but nonetheless, if anything, I strive to be true to myself and my readers and so here it goes: I go to Costco to shop.
Sometimes. Rarely. But sometimes. On occasions maybe more than I should. But I go. Now, to my defense let me remind you all that I live in South Florida: Plantation to be exact, which is not necessarily your haven of food markets and such. Lightly put, this ain’t Santa Monica or Paris, both hosting amazing food markets. When I went to the Symposium for Professional Food Writers at the Greenbrier last April, I met Amelia Saltsman, author of The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market Cookbook and I was ready to hop in her suitcase and head home with her. Unfortunately, the closest thing to a food market for me would be Florida City (a 1 1/2 hour trek), and, most definitely on my way down to the Keys I’d make a wonderfully delicious stop there, but, on a day-to-day basis, driving such a distance for my produce wouldn’t make much ecological sense anyway, considering I am hauling around in a minivan (at least it’s not a huge truck or something). But with words such as organic, sustainable, and slow foods bubbling up to the awareness of the American eater, my Costco confession is not a good thing.
Some culinary folks would be okay with it, even helpful. Rachael Ray has tips on how to make shopping in warehouse stores less daunting. Other’s, like Oprah, try and encourage us to shop at our local greenmarket. But seriously, there is something about the size of the place that mesmerizes me (there I going being politically incorrect again). Now, I didn’t grow up in this country. As most of you know, I grew up in Venezuela, where, if you wanted bread, you went to the panaderia (bread shop), meat: carniceria (yep, butcher) and fruit, you’d head on to the fruteria (you got this one). Now all of these where situated in the cozy neighborhood of Chacao, a bustling maze of streets in Caracas filled with pedestrians, businesses and cars. It was a five minute walk from my house, and I would usually make the trip with my nanny, Yoli, and our steady rolling iron basket with dune buggy wheels imported from Spain. It was an afternoon of schmoozing with the neighbors, tasting samples of papaya, and picking up some unplanned sweet rolls merely because the had just left the oven and their aroma demanded purchasing.
So flash forward to Plantation, Florida and take pity on me please. It’s a lovely place. Serene and green. But nobody walks here. Nobody. In fact, I do believe South Florida, specifically Ft. Lauderdale (which is ten minutes from me) ranked as one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians. It’s car zone here, whether you like it or not. First of all, it’s just so damn hot most of the time (I mean, we are in mid October and its 96 degrees outside). People like to be sealed in their cars, a/c blasting, music blaring, shut out from the world, entering and exiting their hermetically sealed universe via garage. So, step out of your suburban home and it would be no surprise to find no one but maybe an occasional aggravated dog walker obligated to be outdoors.
That being said, you can imagine the food situation isn’t optimal. Supermarkets abound, and I visit them regularly, so much so that everyone knows me there quite well. And then there is gleamingly large Costco. Now I am not a fan a warehouses in general, but when they are filled with food, I can’t help myself. And even as I walk in and am greeted by mountains of empty boxes (which shoppers use to pile on their bought goods (hey, at least no plastic bags, that’s good, right?)) I feel a pang of guilt reading what these empty boxes once stored: grapes from Brazil, avocados from Mexico, asparagus from Peru. Once viewed proudly as the United Nations of food, this stuff is deemed bad, bad, bad in the age of locavore, and I should know and do better as a food muse. I should. Except that some of the stuff is lovely. Big and plump and beautifully lovely and it’s not just the lighting of the place, I promise, it’s the actual stuff.
I am a good person, I am. And if I lived somewhere where I could get a plethora of local grown foods, I’d be the first in line (on my bicycle). But I am geographically challenged you see, and so I slip in here on occasion and go mad buying. Of course, why one person needs a box of 25 croissants is beyond me, but I grab it anyhow. This isn’t easy for me you know, and I’m not just talking about pushing the jumbo sized shopping cart and maneuvering through the waves of regulars. The whole experience is filled with conflict as I recall my shopping days in Venezuela and compare them to what I’ve ended up doing now. It’s a sense of failure of sorts, a resigned “this is what happens when you end up in the suburbs” pity bit, until I see the nice granny in the corner giving out samples of lobster spread and I jump with a big “ooh” and rush over to grab five crackers. She gives me a dirty look (proper etiquette assumes you are only supposed to take one) but I figure it’s all about excessiveness here, so why the hell not.
I find myself honing in on the tomatoes. I’ve spotted them from a distance and they look lovely- round and plump and just perfect. It’s still October, so, maybe I can convince myself it is a late, late summer crop and thus I can get away with eating them with a clear consience. I know this not to be true but I love tomatoes so. I check the label to see where they’ve come from: Canada. Close enough, right? We’re like brothers, no? I make a mental note to move to California with Amelia and grab the package. As I maneuver around the cheeses I can’t resist the gigantic tub of mozzarella, imported straight from Italy. Ah, Italian mozarrrella. Me piace! How can one say no? I’ve already got the perfect meal in mind: insalata caprese. I’ll use my Portuguese olive oil, some of Mark Bitterman’s fabulous Kauai Guava Smoked Salt from his lovely store, The Meadow and then I’ll top it off with my own home grown basil, born in the USA. Yes, it would be a United Nation’s meal at my house (with our own representative present), and somehow the guilt began to ease as I viewed it more of a celebration of flavors meeting from all corners of the world, ending up in my home for one big, happy and tasty ending.
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced in 1/4 inch thickness
2 balls fresh mozarrella, sliced 1/4 inches
1/4 cup fresh basil
drizzle extra virgin olive oil
sprinkle of Kauai Guava Smoked salt*
*available online at The Meadow
Assemble tomatoes, mozarella and basil in concave fashion. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Enjoy with a crusty bread.