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Yin and The Yang

Hello, Dear Readers:

Faithful reader Aunt Kathy sent me this comic a couple of weeks ago, and I forgot to add it to last weekend’s blog post. She knows that I’m always looking for gluten-free stuff (Twinkies notwithstanding) and passes these things along. In this case, of course, she was right:

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The comic strip is called Rubes, and it offers a slice of the absurdities of everyday life. And now we have gluten free cartoons. Cool!

Remember about a month ago I became infatuated with McDonald’s Pomegranate Blueberry Smoothie?  Since it’s been so hot–well, it is Houston–I got really tired of eggs and decided to make a smoothie at home. Granted, it hasn’t been the same as the McCafe, but they’re passable. I bought a book on smoothies, and I’ll tell you more as I get through it.

Now onto a more important subject that affects us all: grocery shopping.

Last week’s Wall Street Journal featured an article on the Elf Electric Pedal Car. Now, alternative forms of transport are great. Many, like this one, are just so darn cute. But it begs the question: is there room to bring home your groceries in it? Well, if you want one, that’s for you to consider. At $5K, it’s an investment, and about as much as a good used car with a petrol engine on Craigslist.

Speaking of grocery shopping. . . .

One of the best parts of being a foodie is that you can find an adventure in places most people wouldn’t think about. Sure–white water rafting, rock climbing, hiking, motorcycle road trips and other endeavors are adventurous, but I’m less likely to get badly hurt in a grocery store. Not to say I wouldn’t consider doing them, but I don’t have health insurance right now, so I’m not inclined to climb anything more than a stepladder.

Some years ago, when I lived in town (known locally as “Houston proper”), I had an Avon lady who lived on the west side, and she introduced me to this funky little store in the inner corner of a strip center called Phoenicia Foods. It was an import grocery store that you might just miss if you weren’t either looking for it or paying attention. She said they had great prices on olive oil, and that’s true, but that was just one reason to go in there. They carried coffees, teas, spices, and my favorite—cookies—from all over the world, and things like Turkish coffee sets that were just gorgeous. I loved going in there, even though I had no idea what a third of it was or what it was for.  I bought olive oil there as well as occasional other things, too, like nuts from Jordan, chocolate from Italy, or big jars of capers from Italy. You never know what you’ll find in there. Those cookies from Poland are simple but incredibly delicious.  They were $1.29 a packet (likely a little more now) and they had orange, raspberry, apple and other filings with a thin layer of chocolate on the inside. No American cookie comes close to this one. I brought them to the office sometimes after a trip, and everyone loved them.

A few years ago Phoenicia expanded to a 55,000 square foot store across the street, with a newly designed logo, an on-site bakery, and a deli with cheeses literally from all over the world. (They have several different kinds of feta, both foreign and domestic.) They also have the best price in town that I’ve seen for delicious Manchego cheese, my favorite. In addition to meat, produce and frozen foods, they also bottle their own spices and package their own nuts (raw and roasted.)  It’s a fantastic place if you’re looking for an unusual ingredient, and for any foodie who wants more.

In addition to their flagship store on the west side, Phoenicia has also opened up a downtown market store for the folks who live and work downtown. Near the George R. Brown Convention Center on Austin Street, there is parking on the street and in a garage across the street. It’s also accessible by downtown’s new Greenlink bus, the LNG powered shuttles that take you around for free.  One of my former coworkers gave me a gift card from Phoenicia, and I just never got around to going back to the flagship store. But a few weeks ago, I embarked on what I called a “Friday adventure,” and went over to the downtown Phoenicia.

Smaller than the original, they carry much of the same thing as the large store, just less of it. There is a deli with takeout, such as sandwiches and spaghetti and meatballs, and even stuffed grape leaves.  There is a wine selection upstairs, as well as a selection of olive oils and vinegars from all over the world. This gorgeous creation a real temptation in the bakery:

Oh, that is a temptation beyond belief. . . .

Oh, that is a temptation beyond belief. . . .

No, I didn’t touch it. I even sent that picture that to my neighbor. But I thought about it a lot. I mean, how could you not? That’s not a huge cake, BTW.

This is how far I go for my friends—I texted said neighbor that I would be going, and be home an hour later than usual—do you need anything? She texted back, “Lacy would like you to pick up a can of Greek olive oil; I’ve got cash, and I’ll pay you when you get home.” This is the neighbor who jumped my battery recently when I left my lights on one morning at the park & ride, so I’m definitely saying yes. And she graciously fed the step-kitty when she got home, so I didn’t need to worry about that part. I just needed to know what brand of olive oil she wanted. Lacy sent directions to find it, but I wasn’t 100% sure I was looking at the correct one, so I sent a picture of what I was looking at to my neighbor, and about 15 minutes later, Lacy sent back the picture of what she wanted. It was to the right, not the left—either they moved it Lacy’s been there last, or she’s dyslexic, but I’d bet on they moved it. With the picture, I was able to quickly identify the correct brand; I grabbed that can and walked out the door. (Yes, I paid for it all first.)

I’m usually carrying a purse and my commuter bag, and on this day, I’ve added a grocery bag with the can of olive oil and some stuff I bought for myself. First on the Greenlink, then on the regular bus home, then in my vehicle and finally to home. On the way, I texted my neighbor, “Tell Lacy her olive oil is on its way!” Kitty was fine, since she’d been fed, a good time was had by all, and Lacy didn’t need to make a trip into town. I was already there, so I didn’t mind—and the bags weren’t grossly heavy, either.

ADVENTURE! Foodie Style. I’m sure the Barefoot Contessa would agree.

Now if you want a REAL food adventure, there’s another kind of grocery store–the Yang–you can check out, but you definitely need a strong sense of adventure for it. And maybe a friend with the same sense.

What you see in your regular grocery store, whether it’s a local mom-and-pop place, a regional one like HEB, Winn-Dixie or Publix, or a nationwide one like Wal-Mart or SuperTarget, is what makes it there through the shipping process. Sometimes. . .they don’t. Cans are dented from an impact. Delays happen, and sometimes things don’t arrive when they should.

Enter the salvage grocery store.

Salvage grocery stores are places that buy up these imperfect items and sell them at a deep discount. However, there isn’t a consistent flow of goods, it’s just whatever they get that’s available. Some may have day old bread; most will have canned and frozen goods; you may find out-of-date coffee, tea, or other packaged goods whose sell-by date doesn’t mean it’s bad; some stores may have meat from auction. It’s similar to a bakery outlet store, but with more.

That’s why it’s a real foodie adventure, folks. You never know what you’ll find. You may get lucky, and it may be a bust. But that’s the fun in finding out!

Admittedly, I haven’t been in one in some time; there aren’t any salvage grocery stores in my neighborhood, but when I lived in town, there was one across the street where my ex-husband and I shopped occasionally. However, there’s a famous one in New Orleans that, unfortunately, closed 3 years ago from what I found online—and everyone knew about Suda Salvage.

Suda was just this funky old warehouse tucked away in and industrial area back in the 1970’s. They carried railroad salvage of all kinds, including building materials, which is what attracted my father to it. Although we didn’t go in it too often, I do remember it being quite interesting. Then again, I was about nine, so it didn’t take much for me to be fascinated. (It was a simpler time before things like voice mail, texting and YouTube.) Many years later, they moved to another funky, run down building on Jefferson Highway, so you could stop right in, no need to go out of your way. You could even take the bus if you were so inclined, since the Jeff Highway bus passed right in front of it.

Suda indeed carried day old bread and pastries, canned/packaged goods of all different kinds, some dairy, and they even had a section of drugstore kinds of things, like bandages and medicine. They were not always the brands you know and love, but they were the same thing, and they were CHEAP.

I went in a few years ago on one of my last ventures to the Crescent City (about 2008) and found bottles of Central Market Organics brand Herbes de Provence for about 69 or 79 cents a bottle. Now, to someone in NOLA, that likely means nothing; it’s some kind of cheap herb blend. Bt since I shop at Central Market, I know it’s a good price. You see, that same bottle of dried herbs sells for about $7 or $8 in Central Market—and yes, they’re unopened bottles. Now do you see why it can be a good thing?

Of course, as in any grocery shopping, you must pay attention to what you’re picking up to make sure it’s not bad. But everything I’ve ever bought from Suda was in sealed packages. I even have a container of holiday print paper muffin cups I bought in Suda, with the tag still on it. Oh, maybe in 1995? (It’s not like they go bad or anything.)

PIctures of Suda are on Flickr where some devoted soul has immortalized this magical foodie heaven for all to see. I don’t know why those ships are there, they’re not parked nearby. Hilarious reviews have been posted at Yelp, and one serious review at CitySearch for all to enjoy.

This evening I called a friend of mine, a faithful Suda customer, to get the full scoop. Turns out that the owners retired a few years ago and sold the business to a distribution company called Marque’s Foods. Marque’s in the same location, but a completely different business, although it is open to the public. Here is also a story with more information, if you’re so inclined to know more.  (Haven’t been in Smilie’s since the late 80’s.) If ever I go back for a visit, maybe I’ll stop in.

If you’re interested in checking out new, cheap places, you can find out about these salvage stores at Frugal Village, and a number of other sites. Do a search to see if there’s one in your area. There are some in Houston, but none close to me that I’ve found. Yet. And even if I do find one, again, it’s an adventure to find out what’s available (and the limit of your tolerance, if it’s the right place.)

Grocery shopping can, indeed, be an adventure.

Enjoy!

 

  1. Love the cartoon and the fact that she gave up “gluten” for “oil.” Seems a lot of processed gf foods use oil to create a better texture.

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