I had to stop by the store today after class. Well, that isn’t technically true. I could have skipped dinner. Those who know me, or have seen me, know that isn’t likely. I had little food in the apartment after a weekend away and I was hungry after a hard day’s labor. So I went straight to the Ekono, which is the nearest general grocery store to my apartment, before going home. I intended to buy bread as I knew I had the rest of the ingredients for the very difficult ham sandwich. I planned to pick up an avocado on the way back home. Of course, as these things go, by the time I got to the bread, I had half a cart of things I hadn’t known I needed. It’s okay, I do/did, in fact, need them.
But there was no bread.
I was annoyed. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in the United States. Or at least not at the upscale Harris Teeter right next to the Publix which is across the street from Wholefoods, the whole lot of whom are engaged in a fierce competition for the food dollar of harried employees of the Winston-Salem Medical Industrial Complex. I grunted and headed for the checkout. If worse came to worst I could eat Corn Flakes, two boxes of which were in the cart, for dinner. I probably wouldn’t write in my blog that I had done that, but I could do it. Have done before.
I noticed as I got in line that there were three people just standing by the empty bread bins. What idiots, I thought, for some reason thinking I have an inkling of how life is lived here. Do they expect someone is back in the back baking bread for them at 1900 on a Monday?
Well, yes, it turns out there was someone back there baking bread. And they started shoving sweet smelling, fresh baked bread into the bins just before I was up in line. I quickly wheeled my cart out of line and picked up some excellent rolls. I ate one on the way home and I could barely hold it in my hands it was so hot and it was delicious.
I also stopped at a cafe I hadn’t yet visited and discovered some excellent empanadas. I can’t remember if I’ve written this explicitly but I’m a bigger fan of Argentine empanadas than Chilean. Mostly I’m a fan of the Argentine carne empanadas. In Chile there is a host of other stuff besides meat in the meat empanadas: egg, onion, some sort of sauce and an olive I really don’t care for. If you’re Chilean and reading this, I apologize. I know that that empanada is a national treasure. But the olive really kills it for me. In Argentina, they’re quite up front with their carne empanada: “Here,” they say, “We have the best beef in the world. We know you’re in a hurry and can’t stop for a filet as you ought, so we’ve wrapped a whole lot of beef in this thin bread. Enjoy.” No need for sauce or olives or other such nonsense. I’m a fan.
But, on this night, I found that the new place does a queso, tomate, albahaca (basil) that is definitely on par, if not a little ahead of, the Argentine equivalent. And a jamon y queso that is equally excellent. It’s all of a block past the place I have been getting empanadas and I think it will be worth walking the extra hundred meters occasionally.
So, two nice lessons after a long day of teaching:
1) Do what the locals do and stop thinking about how things are done where you live. In the USA, we have, for the most part, exchanged speed and efficiency for such glories as freshly baked bread. Sure, you can buy freshly baked bread at fine bakeries in the states. But when was the last time you did so? In my case, my trips to the store are aimed at getting my car full of food as rapidly as possible. So I usually pick up bread that is, if not a day old, impossible to see with an IR thermometer. There is a simple beauty in slowing down and waiting for something good.
2) I’ve been here less than six weeks. Maybe don’t assume I’ve tried everything there is to try even in my little neighborhood. Life has started to hit a routine and I’m getting comfortable. That isn’t always conducive to learning.
Tomorrow I will cook a nice meal that even involves a vegetable.