Last year, Cook’s Illustrated offered a free subscription to volunteers willing to check their local grocery stores for the availability of specific foods. This was a fantastic idea. I’m a fan of CI and have subscribed to their web site for several years, but my biggest complaint has always been the strong East coast slant. All too often, they’ve rated products that I couldn’t find or ignored ubiquitous Midwestern brands. I immediately volunteered and was selected.
[Pictured: This photo has nothing to do with this post. I’m so used to posting with a photo that I can’t not post one now. The bird is either very young, very old, or very stressed. Back when my hair was short, I woke up looking like that more mornings than not. Okay, I still do.]
It started out easy. CI would occasionally e-mail a survey about specific foods and I’d happily hunt down the items and write down the information they wanted. For the first time, I looked at shelves—really looked at shelves. You miss so much when you shop on auto pilot. Did you know that there are 100 jillion different crackers, from toasts to water to wheat free? I never noticed them because they’re stored above the cheese, and when you’re looking at delicious cheese, you don’t give a moo about crackers. Did you know that there are 100 jillion different cheeses?
Lately the surveys have become difficult. CI has to prepare months in advance, so they request information on out-of-season items, information that I can’t find just by browsing. I have to talk to people; that’s embarrassing when you aren’t intending to buy. So far I’ve managed to give the impression that I’m asking for future reference…until yesterday.
Me: Excuse me, but when do you usually carry bunch spinach?
Young, eager produce guy: You want the crinkly kind?
Me: I mean, do you usually carry it just in the summ—
Young, eager produce guy: I’m sorry, we have just the flat kind out now, but there’s a big box of curly spinach in the back! It’s fresh! I’ll get it!
Me: Oh! Uh—
Young, eager produce guy: [Runs off, comes back with box] This spinach is better for you than the flat kind anyway. It has a lot more iron and minerals!
In conclusion, I’m making curly spinach paneer tonight. Thanks for the extra iron and minerals, Cook’s Illustrated. I wouldn’t have done it without you.