Living in Calgary, one of my most favourite weekend activities was getting groceries. Usually, it was quite an episode and took up the better part of a day- we would start by creating a menu for the week, sifting through magazines and cookbooks and remembering meals prepared on TV that we wanted to re-create, and then building a shopping list from our menu. Because we generally had to ferret out a couple of “exotic” items like creme fraiche or medjool dates, it was not uncommon for us to drive around to make a stop at the butcher, the Cookbook company and Sunterra Market to get all the things that the Co-op didn’t carry. Having a car made quick work of this, of course; I suppose we technically could’ve walked to all these locations on separate trips but practically speaking, there was no way that would ever happen. 12 blocks is 11 blocks too many to carry a heavy week’s worth of food and I just couldn’t age myself 20 years and buy a trolley for the groceries. The closest we came to walking for groceries was hitting the cheese store a block away for a last minute added decadence to a meal. If it was a special grocery day and we were all out of wine, we would also make the trek south to the Real Canadian Superstore Liquor Store in order to get a discounted case of wine. This extension necessitated a stop at a Starbucks for pre-journey caffeination, an extra added bonus to the fun of grocery shopping.

Now that we’ve become settled once more, it didn’t take long for that routine to begin again, albeit with several modifications. For starters, we don’t hesitate to put a recipe on our menu if it calls for somewhat out-of-the-ordinary ingredients. Chances are that whatever it is that we haven’t heard of before exists in both organic and non-organic form at Rainbow Grocery. Secondly, it’s October and we dress in T-shirts to head out on our errands.

prius.jpg Thirdly – and this is a major modification- we do not have a car. Instead, we car-share now. We are card-carrying Zipcar members and yesterday, we shared our first car, a Prius. It’s so very California to drive a Prius and I have to admit that it was quite fun, startling pedestrians upon whom we sneaked up because we make no sound with our hybrid-electric. Ha ha!

Being as how this excursion was anticipated to last more than a couple of hours, we brought along our coffee mugs to make a stop along the way for organic (fourth modification) coffee, which is always available no matter how minute the coffee shop. Our plans were mildly foiled by the street fair in The Castro yesterday but we managed to snake through the steep backroads, skirting the affair and arriving back on Market street, thanks to Google Maps on the iPhone (fifth modification).

hp_logo.jpgShopping at Rainbow is such a pleasure. The bulk foods section is larger than any I’ve seen anywhere and offers the choice of every spice under the sun (indeed, I could’ve bought 0.5-1.3% oil content cinnamon instead of the less expensive 3.4-4.2% oil content cinnamon that I selected), flours, nuts, pastas, dried fruits, granola, grains, pretty much anything that qualifies as dried goods. The produce is excellent- I once bought two organic peaches for five dollars that had been shipped to the store by trucks using bio-diesel fuel, whatever that is. Organic raisin bran, fair-trade coffee-flower honey, gourmet sparkling lemonade, cage-free, hormone-free organic eggs, these are all things we bought. I would go so far as to call this a unique San Francisco experience- it should be on the tourist route (though I’m glad it’s not). This part of our Sunday is indeed a modification from our former existence- not only is almost all of the stuff we buy organic, and vegetarian (no meat products at Rainbow) but it is also “exotic” and available at one place; we used to shop at a major grocery chain for everything save a few out-of the ordinary items, but now it is the reverse: we shop at the specialty grocery for everything save a few mundane things like tonic water and beef broth.

However, there is one thing that Rainbow can’t do, besides offer meat for sale: they can’t offer inexpensive organic stuff. I refuse to spend eleven dollars on organic tea-tree-oil shampoo if I don’t have to. But not to worry, there is a store just a few blocks further (all flat, so the Prius used only the battery for nearly the whole jaunt) that fills in that gap. Trader Joe’s is kind of an Everyman’s organic store. The idea is to offer cheap organic goods so that the average citizen can afford to take advantage of healthy, enviro-conscious stuff without spending half the rent money. Ergo, this is where we buy our butter, most of our meat (they even have organic, grass-fed beef), our shampoo and our cheap, discount-if-you-buy-12, wine. Occasionally, this results in hideous wine (see previous entry) but it’s worth the risk. So, what was that, the eighth modification to our previous routine? The ninth is the fact that we use our own shopping bags all of the time for groceries. In fact, I would feel out of place not using our own bags. If we use all our own bags at Trader Joe’s, we get to enter a contest to win $25-worth of groceries and if we use all our own bags at Rainbow, we don’t get the stink eye from the check-out person. Well worth the effort to bring the bags.

cimg7130.jpgThough I really don’t have an element of our old routine to which to compare it, when we got home from our journey and unpacked all the groceries, we had just enough time to mix up some margaritas to go with our organic chips and salsa so that we have a snack on our roof top in sun while watching the Fleet Week Air Show over the bay. Gorgeous day, gorgeous margaritas, lovely salmon with balsamic vinaigrette and fennel salad for dinner.


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