Yesterday, the girls and I traveled over to Carmel to a 4-H meeting -- it's that time of year again with the project sheets and the project tags and the project books and it seems like I'm forgetting something, oh yeah! The projects! Anyway, with gas at $4.09 a gallon, we always combine one trip into two, so we planned to stay in the area until it was time to go pick up my husband at work. But that left us with two hours' worth of time to spend, so I took us on a field trip.
We went to that place which should be a pilgrimage of sorts to anyone who loves Top Chef as much as we do. I'm talking, of course, about Whole Foods Market , a place to which we'd never been. We have seen inside a Whole Foods Market, when all the Top Chef Chicago contenders were running around madly buying their "proteins" and peeling leaves off their bok choy to bring down the weight at the cash register. But it's just different being there yourself, even though it would have been fun to talk to Stephanie and Antonia and ask them what their favorite slow-cooker recipes are.
The nearest Whole Foods to our city is the one right there in Carmel, and it was full of the predictable Carmely goodness: the distressed walls and floor tiles and displays that looked like they were wheeled off the set of Under the Tuscan Sun, all ochre and burnt sienna and touches of bitter green like Cerignola olives. Very attractive decor. It set off all the food like a velvet jeweler's box sets off a diamond ring.
But, oh, my goodness, the ring itself! Piles of gorgeous fruits and vegetables! Organic dried herbs, every kind you can think of! Boxes of vegetarian dog biscuits! I know! That's kind of stupid, isn't it?! Pastas and oils and teas and cheeses and whoaa! I backed up a few paces and then joyously grabbed a bottle of Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Dish Soap, which is the only brand I've been able to find on the market that doesn't produce the maddening itch and subsequent flaking skin of an allergic reaction. The key is in the word "soap," which is a whole different thing from most dish-cleansing products: they are detergents and my hands can't take it. I unwisely washed a sink full of glasses the other day and ended up having to take a Benadryl.
The Mrs. Meyer's brand of dish soap was discontinued at the grocery store I shop at a few months back, so I was plenty glad to be putting that attractive bottle into my mini-cart. And it actually cost the same amount in Whole Foods as it did in Kroger back home! Score one for the field trippers.
We worked our way slowly across the store, browsing here and there among the aisles, cooing over the wee jars of organic baby food and rolling our eyes at the aformentioned vegetarian dog biscuits.
"There's a reason why dogs have those long, sharp teeth," I remarked.
"And also a reason why, if Hershey is offered a piece of hamburger or a carrot, he always goes for the hamburger," said Meelyn.
"Or why he chases squirrels but not potatoes," Aisling chimed in brightly, but then her brow furrowed. "Or maybe that's because the potatoes don't run..."
The best part of all, however, was the wine and cheese section. I don't think I've ever seen so much cheese and I know the girls haven't. We were rocky pleased to see that there were many free samples available and the girls each daintily smeared a tiny cracker with a little bit of goat cheese, nibbling carefully. This is so much different than the days when they were small and I had to prevail upon them in the name of good manners, Judith Martin and Emily Post not to descend on store samples like a plague of locusts or army ants, eating all the little bits of food carefully arranged on cocktail napkins and then moving on to the display cart the samples were sitting on. And if there was a senior citizen standing there in a green apron offering the samples, I had to look lively to keep her from being eaten. Mmmm...person.
"This cheese is so delish," said Meelyn. "Here, try one!" She handed me a tiny crostini with the goat cheese spread thick. I popped it into my mouth and I swear, I have never tasted anything as delicious as that cheese in my life. In a life partially dedicated to the eating of cheese, this was something altogether new.
This cheese, as I read later on the package, was the plain variety of goat cheese from Montchevré-Betin of Belmont, Wisconsin in an 8-ounce log. It was creamy and buttery-rich, with just the slightest bit of tanginess and I thought I'd died and gone to some kind of cheese-stocked heaven. I believe it was about $5.99 or something like that.
Before we left the store, we decided it would be a good thing to use the facilities, so I went into the restroom with Aisling while Meelyn waited outside with our three items for purchase and all our handbags. The restroom was right next to the beer and wine section, so Meelyn occupied herself by looking at the labels of wine bottles, some of which are very beautiful, pure and genius works of art sticky-backed onto glass, and some of which are quirky and funny.
As she browsed, she was startled, she said, by a voice over her right shoulder.
"Excuse me, miss?" the voice said.
She turned her head and saw a young man in a Whole Foods golf shirt and apron looking at her expectantly.
"Can I help you make a selection?" he asked her, obviously unaware that she has just turned fifteen.
Meelyn said it was very hard to keep from giggling and she hated to dash his hopes because she is a nice person, but that she managed to say "No, but thank you." He retreated to his place behind the deli counter and she surreptitiously pointed him out when Aisling and I returned.
"Honestly," she said, "we've been over here in the cheese section for twenty minutes. Hasn't he seen that I'm here with my mom?"
"Maybe he thinks I'm your cook," I offered.
"You are our cook," Aisling pointed out.
"You must look like you're twenty-one years old from a distance." I looked at Meelyn and felt a sudden sinking in my stomach, but it turned out it was a mere passing whim compared to the pain my husband got when she related this story to him about half an hour later.
"Dogs," he said hollowly, looking at me with wide eyes. "Not like the useless ones we've got, but great big Rottweilers that are trained to eat any male under the age of twenty-five who isn't in med school or law school or for his father's very lucrative business. And some guns...one for you, one for me. I'll teach you how to shoot to wound. Right where it counts."
I patted him on the hand, but he continued muttering feverishly to himself.
Back at Whole Foods, this tasting of the cheese reminded us that we'd had no lunch. Katie and Rebecca had served us grapes and homemade sour cream coffee cake when we hung around after the 4-H meeting, begging for a handout, but my stomach was still rumbling: It was, after all, 4:30 pm and I hadn't had anything since 8:00 that morning. So we bought the little cheese log and a packet of the tiny crostini and secured a plastic knife from the salad bar. Combined with cold, cold bottles of water, it made the most delicious little lunch we'd had all week, pretty cheap for an "out" meal. And better BY FAR than some warmed-over hamburger from a fast food place, where one might possibly be called upon to squish a pigeon.
The girls ate their crostini and handed some up to me as I drove to go pick up my husband. We took a little moment to stop off at the baby house we found for rent last week, just to see if anyone had moved in, which they hadn't. It sat there in its pretty yard, waiting to be loved, although it already is, by me.
We just love a field trip.
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