The Grocery Rut

I’ve managed to amuse and amaze my coworkers recently. In describing some part of my childhood I casually mentioned that we would drive five hours, one way, to the grocery store. “What!?” 

Well, yes. Interior Alaska small town had a grocery store, a little one, and the prices were wild. I remember milk at $8 a gallon, and that’s thirty years ago before the modern day inflation. We had goats, and if the goats dried up from milking, it was powdered milk or nothing. Powdered milk was bought in 50lb bags at the bulk store. We made that trip every 3-4 months. I’m still prone to stock up a deep pantry. Some habits just never go away, even though it’s been years since I had more than a thirty minute drive to the grocery store. 

One thing hasn’t changed much until recently. Availability of exotic (to me!) ingredients and foods was nonexistent in Alaska that I recall, and pretty much the same in New Hampshire. I did, eventually, find an Asian market in Boston in Chinatown that was amazing and had so many things I had wanted to try, and woks big enough to cook for the whole family and… we got down there about once a year. Moving to Ohio, oddly enough, opened new vistas for me in the foodie realm, and long-time readers of this blog will have seen me take that journey towards learning to cook with all sorts of things, and cuisines around the globe. Still, Jungle Jim’s was a forty-five minute run and we managed it in our busy schedule about every three months or so. 

Now? Well, there’s a big Indian market about five minutes away from the apartment. The Little Man and I finally broke out of the grocery rut to explore the local supermercado and were delighted with the quality (and price!) of their meats and produce. We’ve also explored one of the two big Asian markets that are only ten minutes from home, and come back with ingredients for wonderful meals. All this, and I could stop on my way home and pick up… whatever. There are even more markets I haven’t explored yet. We are spoiled for choices. One of the rare upsides to living in the city. We don’t have to stay within the limitations of the standard supermarket fare! 

Which applies to stocking up, as well. When the pandemic panic of 2020 drained my local supermarket of ‘staples’ like dried beans and such, I hit the restaurant supply house, and found plenty of stuff there. I was already shopping there on a regular basis, because three teenagers, so it was a surprise to realize that it was evidently unknown to the general public who were wiping out the standard grocery stores. I found this was true, later when I ventured further, and in recent times when odd little shortages began to show up, in my alternative markets. They would often have items vanished from standard shelves. They might not be on brand, but I’ve never had brand loyalty anyway. I recently advised the Ginja Ninja as we were talking about how to stock up in an apartment, to hit up the local supermercado and any of the other less known shops to try and find canned goods or dry as she needed them to keep the three of them fed. Can’t do much about third floor walk-up with all electric, but I can give her pointers on how to keep the lot of them from going hungry if this winter plays a repeat for this area. 

Besides which, it’s fun to explore new cuisines and tastes. Even in your usual grocery you might be able to find items you can stretch your skills with. Some day, you might need to know how to cook with, oh, ox tail chunks, or chicken feet. To name a couple of items that caught my eye in our explorations. The Little Man took full advantage of my willingness to take him, to plan and execute a challenging meal… for a 16yo, anyway. He wanted to make Binging with Babish’s Sugar Chicken, so he did. 

A lovely orange chicken, brussels sprouts (they are virtually the only veggie he likes) and a teen cook.


11 responses to “The Grocery Rut”

  1. Perhaps powdered milk has improved, but I had an aunt who bragged that she used it and nobody knew as it she used regular milk jugs to disguise it. I had been at a gathering at her place before she said that and figured it out IMMEDIATELY. There is milk, and there is CHALK. She had CHALK. Even if it was in a milk jug.

    1. There are different grades of powdered milk. Most of it is pretty awful, with an odd flavor – didn’t help we would transition from fresh sweet goat’s milk to this stuff. Adding a tablespoonful of brown sugar to a gallon of it helped a bit. But powdered milk is great for baking.

      1. Really nice if you can use it for make-yourself baking bags, too. I keep meaning to get some for the cinnamon roll bread machine bags so I can make it when I’m in a hurry.

  2. I was raised on powdered milk since it was cheaper than buying milk for 8 kids. GFS 50 LB bags baby! Also flour and oats! I remember going to it with mom when it was just a warehouse without a store front and years later they moved locations and opened up a store front.

  3. Kathleen Sanderson Avatar
    Kathleen Sanderson

    The main reason that powdered milk tastes so bad is that they take all the milk fat out so it won’t go rancid. Valid reason, but it does awful things to the flavor. When I was little and growing up in Alaska, most of the time, powdered milk was all we could get. When my dad and grandpa and another guy started a dairy (cow), and we had fresh milk at home, all of a sudden we liked milk! You can buy full-fat powdered milk, but probably not in bulk, at least not easily.

    And I agree that the variety of markets is one of the few things to like about cities!

    1. Heh, now I’ve got an urge to see if there are “hacks” where you melt butter into the instant milk.

  4. We were 60 miles from the grocery store and shopped once a month. I remember a bag boy exclaiming as he helped load the groceries “I’ve never seen anyone spend $50. You have so many groceries!”

    We had dried milk too, although we didn’t know fresh milk so no problem. I remember a time my grandmother mixed up the dried milk and the medicated lamb milk when making pancakes. Horrible! My mom wasn’t much on labels.

    So many memories from very long ago. Thank you for reminding me.

  5. Killbait Avatar

    Brussel sprouts are the best vegetable. Kudos to your son for his choice!

  6. Roger Ritter Avatar
    Roger Ritter

    I have read (but never tried it) that adding a bit of vanilla to powdered milk will really help it taste better, and more like fresh milk.

    1. It does make it taste better. Not sure anything really makes it taste like fresh!

      1. SheSellsSeashells Avatar

        My wonderful-but-skinflint mother tried to get me to drink powdered milk when I was…five, maybe? I was a meek little kid until I hit the Up With Which I Will Not Put line, and whatever I said was enough to convince her that powdered milk was, well, maybe not the best place to save money. (I was also notorious for my reaction to collard greens. My grandmother tried to coax me to eat some at our traditional New Year’s dinner: “Don’t you want to have money this year?” “NO THANK YOU, I WILL BE POOR.”)