Scavenger Hunting

Written by: Christine G

 

Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I am far from the Domestic Goddess type. I am more the Let’s-Get-Down-and-Dirty-Tiling-the-Floors-Painting-the-House-and-Thorosealing-the-Cistern type of gal. My cooking contribution is something I like to call ground beef “mix up”, which I have recently become fond of making when my husband allows me in his (yes, HIS ) kitchen. Several years ago, I managed to set our kitchen on fire while trying to boil water… let’s just say that now, whenever I proudly announce that I have a recipe I’d like to try, my husband is always ready with a fire extinguisher and various burn remedies. He understandably prefers that I limit my presence in the kitchen to pouring various cold liquids that, if spilled, do not result in burns and do not involve an open flame.

For years, I have been known among my group of girlfriends as the one who will show up to a function with copious amounts of alcohol to make up for her short comings in the kitchen and I was always okay with this. That is, until I recently discovered a certain site that has an incomprehensible number of ideas for any creative project or recipe you can think of. It has gotten my wheels turning and now I suddenly have these ideas of grandeur for fun recipes to take to Girl’s Night Out gatherings. I picture myself in the kitchen whipping up a fantastical concoction that will have the girls oohing and ahhing as I unveil it oh so nonchalantly at our get-together. Mustering up what little culinary gusto I possess, I select the perfect ahh-inducing recipe and head off to purchase the necessary ingredients for my imagined masterpiece…

*click for image credit

*click for image credit

But before I can get to the actual cooking part, I know all too well after living on St. Croix for over 30 years that it is never as easy as simply going to “purchase all the necessary ingredients”. Island grocery shopping is more of a scavenger hunt undertaking. You must commit to the task, knowing full well that you will have to drive to no less than three stores, hoping that the stars have aligned and all of the vital items can, in fact, be found while still leaving enough time to get back home, assemble the ingredients, and make yourself look presentable. Because of this, the seasoned island culinary expert (which I am not) will often set out on this adventure with a Plan B in mind.

The first stop on my buying trip is a great little store that is close to the house and is always our “go to” place to shop. We are on a first name basis with all of the owners, their families, and the majority of the staff. So much so that there have been countless times I have stopped in for ground beef and fruit (usually not paired together in the same final dish) and knowing that my husband needs milk, I will grab a gallon only to be told by the cashier that he just left with milk. But, I digress. This little store usually has anything you could ever ask for, from random gourmet olives from one of my favorite places in Philadelphia to every ice cream flavor imaginable (that has actually made it to the island). But alas, today they are missing 4 of the 10 ingredients needed for my conception.

So off to Store #2 I go. This stop is one of my least favorite places to shop due to the long lines, lack of A/C, distinctly unpleasant odor, chupsing (teeth sucking, a common gesture of displeasure here) cashiers, and the store’s frustrating inability to process more than one credit card/ATM card at a time – this also includes any money transfers that may be taking place, as it is the location of our rock’s only Western Union. However, due to its close proximity to Store #1, it makes sense to stop. I brave the conditions with the hopes that the sacrifice will be far outweighed by the reward of seeing my girlfriend’s surprised faces when I share the final product. Though as I walk the aisles, it becomes increasingly clear that this will not be my final stop.

*click for image credit

*click for image credit

Here is where the conundrum begins… Do I wait in the never-ending line and purchase the couple of ingredients that they do have? Because now, between stops one and two, I know that 6 out of the 10 ingredients are available. If I don’t get them, I run the risk of having to step foot back into this dreaded place for the second time in one day, however, if I do get them, what if I am unable to get the remainder of the ingredients imperative to make the dish? Then I’ll be stuck with random components to a defunct recipe and no clue what to do with them elsewhere. It’s a gamble, but I decide to take the risk that Store #3 will have everything that the first two stops did not, so – fingers crossed – off I go!

As I walk into Store #3, I am hopeful. The shelves are looking well-stocked, the staff is looking cheerful, and I am seeing familiar faces of fellow foragers from my first two stops with their carts full of bounty. With the first aisle comes promise, as the first two ingredients I’m missing are found. The second aisle is not as cooperative, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that the three items I was searching for here were available at Store #2. While I definitely don’t want to venture back there, I will if it means making the tastiest creation known to man! With the next aisle comes another success and another ingredient crossed off the list…the anticipation builds. As I walk down the last aisle with bated breath and excitement in my belly, I prepare to do a happy dance in celebration of securing the last of the ingredients… only to arrive to a gaping abyss where my final, much needed, highly imperative ingredient once perched in my memory’s eye.

Oh, the disappointment! I stand crestfallen in front of where the missing item was meant to be and scold myself. It is, after all, the most obscure item on the list. I knew before I set out that graham crackers are not a common island staple.  Why, oh WHY, did I not check for them first?!  *CHUPS*  I really, truly, should know better!

*click for image credit

*click for image credit

Ah, well. It’s off to my Plan B… to the liquor section I go! Wine anyone?

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11 thoughts on “Scavenger Hunting

  1. I wait for these posts, patiently (not). This one is terrific, and I can feel your pain! Stick to the liquor for your girls night out….

    I’ve spent the summer eating my way through New England, gaining unnecessary weight, and reveling in grocery store purchases that don’t cost a week’s wages, and are FRESH! This in preparation for my return to St John in late September, where I know exactly what the produce will look like, IF there is any produce to choose from, and that a single tomato may well cost $5 or more! I went to my favorite store here and bought a bunch of spices to ship down – my plan is to spice the hell out of those rice and peas, and try to grow a garden. Which means taking round-the-clock guard duty against the marauding iguanas & tree rats just as the veggies are ripening. I don’t think it’s going to work out too well. Sigh. But on the plus side, between the excessive sweating during re-acclimation and the exhorbitant expense of food stuffs, those extra pounds might come off!

  2. Great post Christine!! When I lived on island and would take trips stateside I would wander through a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods with awe. Now that I am living in the states I don’t think that I will ever lose my appreciation when shopping for groceries and having pounds and pounds of colorful, fresh produce to choose from. Being able to purchase what I need to make one meal or an entire week’s menu items in one store is such a huge convenience. However, I don’t get to walk outside and see the beautiful aqua water of the Caribbean sea or the vibrant colors of foliage. It’s a toss-up.

    • So true, Pamela – I was just in the states and wandered around Trader Joes like it was a priceless art museum, gawking at the abundance of produce…and at the amazing prices! But in all, for the moment at least, I enjoyed walking on the beach here when I got back more. Everything’s a trade-off, huh? 😉

  3. As somebody who loves to cook, the grocery situation had been the hardest adjustment for me. This posts really hits home! I returned from my summer in Canada in mid-August and don’t think I’ve seen a ripe (or non-sickly and bruised) tomato since. I now have a few heirloom tomato seeds (purchased at home) sprouting in pots on my patio! Your Plan B seems pretty fail safe- even in the Caribbean!

  4. LOL! This was a great read. I find it hilarious that what you call ‘chups’ we call ‘kiss teet’. In Jamaica chups is another word for kiss. eg. Beg yuh a chups nuh baby. (Girl, can I have a kiss?)

  5. Brilliant Post!! Can So Relate! We are a twenty minute boat ride and hour long drive in the hopes that the two decent stores in town will have at least some of the food staples required for survival. The fresh produce is shipped in so if the seas have been rough, the fruit and vegetable selection will be rougher.. my staple recipe list is pathetically short.. tomato sauce, ground beef, pasta and bacon.. everything else is a bonus.. thankfully our egg shopping is a short hike to the chicken pen! I am well stocked with wine though.. Loved the post, looking forward to the next!! 🙂 (Plenty teeth sucking here too in Bahamas! Funny!)

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