Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chocolate chip pistachio cookies: While it is true that everyone must eat, must you also all shop as well?

The great French existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre once said: "hell is other people."  It is also said that the French go grocery shopping much more frequently than Americans, so I think it is fairly obvious that the darker side of existentialism springs both from postwar angst and also from observing humanity while shopping for food.

That being said, since I don't have small children and I am chronically indecisive, I do go grocery shopping quite often, if only to pick up fresh produce.  However, I have also observed that grocery shopping, is one area of life, much like airports, where people enjoy wearing their neuroses proudly, almost as if they will never see anyone they meet in the store again, even though all shoppers live in the same general area.

It may simply be that because everyone really does have to eat, there is no de facto screening device to keep out people who have no compunction about eating an entire container of grapes in the produce section "just to see if the bag was sour."  There are no bouncers, dress requirements, admissions fees, or even sense of social shame about not being dressed correctly at the grocery stores. Even people who rarely leave the house, and certainly do not drive anywhere else anymore, somehow think that they can just about manage food shopping.

Because I know that youth is not eternal, I try to be compassionate towards the little, old grape-eating ladies and men with hats and very thick sunglasses who hold up lines of traffic as they painfully pull into a parking spot.

I am less compassionate towards people in my own age range who seem to act as though they are going grocery shopping for the very first time.  I realize there is a first time for everything, but if you are in your thirties and can't manage a grocery store list without consulting with people loudly on a cell phone, it's time to move back home with mom and dad and start a lucrative Internet company so you can hire someone to do the shopping for you.

The people who have two carts, park them in front of the yogurt section, and read every single label on every yogurt and barricade me from my Fage DO annoy me.  They always end up getting the crappy yogurt, the kind with the fake probotics and fiber and artificial sweetener that is supposed to taste like Boston Creme Pie, anyway, so I don't know why they bother to read all the labels every time.

Fortunately, I don't really eat cereal anymore, so I am now spared that aisle, which is even worse. People with blank expressions on their faces reading every box of high-fiber cereal clog the aisles, even though all of the cereal boxes have the same ingredients.  Pair that with Pop Tart and sweet sugar cereal-longing meltdowns by grade school students. Soon, like me, you will be driven to eat eggs for breakfast instead even though it's totally lame that eggs don't come with cheap, plastic prizes as a reward for finishing the box. For some reason, there is never a holdup in the egg or milk section.  I would have thought that some egg and dairy labels could be confusing as well (cage free, free range, organic and so forth) but most of the really chronic label-readers prefer vanilla-flavored soy milk or almond milk at present, so that I am spared.

I suppose I should vent about poorly behaved children, but to be honest, unless they bump into my legs, I'm really not that freaked out by kids.  I think it's cool that parents take their kids shopping and I have lots of nice memories going grocery shopping with my mom.  I was never a big crier in the grocery store, but then again my mom would usually buy me candy and a Snoopy book and quarters to buy stickers and fake tattoos in those curious little plastic bubbles dispersed from the vending machines that exist exclusively in supermarkets.

I have to say, though, I do find it rather amusing to see the mothers who have grocery carts stuffed with pricey all-natural kids' juice, cereal bars, cereal, kid-sized bottled water with fluoride, gluten-free waffles, and organic lollypops...and no fresh produce whatsoever. Sometimes no meat, either, just lots of frozen organic dinners. And if they do, it's always pre-sliced apples.  I mean, I guess they could be getting their vitamins and protein somewhere else...but I have a feeling that somewhere, an experiment is going on to see if a toddler can live solely on cereal bars with cute little cartoons of wildlife on the box...the all-natural kids always have a haunted look about them, and stare longingly at the containers of sugary peanut butter and the Oreo section. There is also a subset of this kind of mom--the mom that has lots of healthy food for herself and her husband, but then has boxes and boxes of Kraft Mac n' Cheese and doughnuts for the kids, and Flintstones vitamins so they don't get scurvy. They have given up (often they are a Natural Mom in a later stage of development).

The people who always amuse me the most though, because I'm such a food crank myself, are those with the really obvious food neuroses. Like 'stuck in time' woman, buying skinless chicken breasts, fat-free milk, fat-free Dannon yogurt, and celery like it's still the early 80s.  Or the guy buying nothing but protein shakes and grass-fed steaks and a fitness magazine. Although I always feel it's sort of sweet when I see people with carts full of yellow mustard, hot dogs, Hi-C, regular milk, Combos, and all of the other junk that as a kid I thought I would stack my refrigerator with when I was a grown-up.

Of course, there is always one elderly person who pays by check and has multiple expired coupons, won't start writing the check until the cashier packs all of her items in a certain special way, and then won't hand the check over until she's entered the amount and subtracted it in her checkbook.  But  you have to plan for 'her' because she is everywhere.

Grocery shopping is a weird, exposing activity.  You can tell so much about a person's aspirations, hang-ups, and lifestyle from a grocery cart in a manner you just can't when they're shopping at T.J. Maxx or even a drugstore. You can tell if they're healthy or sick, if they have kids or pets, if they're having sex, if they like their body or not, if they're poor or rich, or they're satisfied with life in general. No one who is happy with her life buys an entire box of fudge-frosted doughnuts for dinner.

I've gotten in some interesting conversations with real foodies, though (including a little Italian grandmother who was the spitting image of Lydia, with a cart filled with unpeeled shrimp and Parmesan rinds) so I suppose on a hierarchy of chores, I consider grocery shopping 'fun' in a manner I don't find scrubbing the tub fun at all.  Around Thanksgiving, I even find myself explaining the difference between light and dark brown sugar to some people clutching lists and printed recipes, so I can delude myself into thinking I actually know what I am doing in the kitchen.

On an impulse, while waiting in the checkout line, I got a bag of shelled, salted pistachios. Inspired by Cookie Madness' oil-based chocolate chip recipe, I decided to create my own version, because oil seems to pair just 'right' with pistachio (perhaps some vague Mediterranean inspiration).  Anna was concerned about the cookies being too dry, so I decided to use dark brown sugar for moisture and added flavor.  I also added rosemary, which worked well with the saltiness of the pistachios.

Chocolate Chip Pistachio Cookies (made with oil)

--yields 24 cookies--


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 large,beaten egg
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 cup dark chocolate chips (the darker the better)
1 cup salted, shelled pistachios


1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

2. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt.

3. Combine sugar, oil, and the egg. Incorporate wet into dry. Add the rosemary to the batter, then fold in the chips and pistachios.

4. Scoop onto sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes.  Mine were done at exactly 10 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheets, then remove.


  1. I enjoy grocery shopping, except right before a holiday when it's completely uncivilized. I seem to spend a lot of time in the store too, mainly because I'm constitutionally incapable of putting anything in my cart until I've examined it thoroughly, and if it's fruit, I generally have to smell it as well. One day, I asked the butcher if he had any unseasoned ground turkey, and he went into the back to get it. Apparently, my shopping weirdness had previously been noted by him because he brought out two identical packages so that I could look them over and decide which one I wanted. I shop at several different stores, but that incident made him my favorite butcher, not that he has much competition.

    Another time, I was at a store that had a butcher counter and no prepackaged anything, and I ended up in the checkout line behind a twenty-something man buying 1/4 pound of hamburger, one potato, and a TV Guide. I was sad for a week.

  2. @flurrious--I totally understand about the fruit and meat! And the smell test is often the critical determinant between what looks like a good peach or plum and one which is overripe (or worse, underripe yet moldy). That butcher sounds wonderful! I usually shop at only one grocery store (Wegmans) but before Wegmans arrived I had to shop at several to get decent--and decently-priced food.

    That shopping order of that guy hilarious! It makes me want to go and buy him a bunch of broccoli, somehow, as if that would make things better.

  3. You should have seen my grocery cart during the period I was testing recipes for my cookie book. I always had butter, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, packs of candy, shortening, nuts and of course, sugar. And then along with that there would be the healthy stuff that the family eats on a regular basis -- chicken, broccoli and (ha) Fiber One. I'm sure people saw those last few things and though "Why even bother, lady?"

  4. I hate shopping for food, but I suppose you're right that on the list of chores it's probably the most enjoyable one.
    I'm all sorts of strange when I shop, I don't typically buy a lot at a time unless something is on sale. You'd probably think I was schizophrenic from what's in my cart.
    My grandfather is one of those "if it's still in the store it's not stealing people." And I have some fun memories as a child of eating baby-bel cheese while walking through the aisles :).
    And I love hanging around the baking aisles during the holidays just to see if I can lend a hand :). I figure no one else is going to do it :).
    But really?! They still let people pay by cheque?

  5. @Anna--I can only imagine! That is hilarious! Come to think of it, once I had a similar order (on a much smaller scale)--chicken, broccoli and a five-pound bag of sugar. The man behind me looked like I had poison on the conveyor belt the entire time and then shook his head sadly as I was rung up. Then he said: "sugar is bad." I explained that I was baking for a crowd (it was before a holiday), but he just kept repeating that. I think he had some diet TV dinners and bagged salad in his order...

    @Adam--I think the 'eating in the store without paying' thing is very much an old person's thing. I suppose once you reach a certain age you feel entitled to grapes and bulk bin candy. And yes, isn't the baking aisle fun before Christmas! It's like a living food blog debate! But yes--I really wish they wouldn't allow checks in the Express line. It would make so much sense, but I guess they are afraid to lose the business...