Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When Left Alone in a Grocery Store

My Fridays have turned into a crazy science marathon. It seems no matter how early I get into the lab, I can never quite get everything done. I spend hours as a fly matchmaker, hoping my randy little male flies will charm their female companions into an intimate encounter. It’s true: I’m a fly madam. And I’m so crass about it. All I care about is that these little creatures make lots of baby flies for me so I can do it all over again.

Fly matchmaking is just one part of Crazy Fridays. I spend another couple of hours putting fruit flies, one at a time, into tiny glass test tubes. The tubes are then inserted into computer boards that will monitor the flies’ locomotor behavior by shining an infrared beam through the center of the tube. Every time the fly walks through the middle of the tube, he breaks the beam and the computer board reads that beam break as an activity count. You’d be surprised at how willing flies are to pass the time by just pacing up and down their tubes. Using this locomotor behavior assay, we’re able to generate data that can be analyzed for circadian, or daily, activity rhythms as well as sleep behavior. Yes, flies sleep! Isn’t that cool?

Then there are all the random tasks, the ones that have to be squeezed around everything else: giving my flies fresh food, returning e-mails, collecting data, coordinating with other people about details large and small. This science gig is a pretty good job—it’s paying the bills for now—but it is EXHAUSTING. And it makes me hungry.

On a recent Friday, I tried so hard to leave the lab by 6 PM. The plan was to take the train home, toting my laptop on my back. Once home, I would drop off the computer, do a quick 20-minute work-out of some type, have a little snack to soothe my belly (already getting fussy), and then walk or take the train to downtown Evanston, where I’d be having dinner with some friends at 8 PM.

6 PM approached, and I still wasn’t ready to leave. The clock kept ticking. I kept finding more things that HAD to be done. My belly started grumbling a little louder. The clock approached 7. My nerves were shot. I declared my work day done, grabbed my things, and with no time to go home before dinner, I walked over to Whole Foods to find a snack.

I thought deep and hard about what kind of pre-dinner snack would be appropriate. I wanted something light and healthy, maybe a little bit sweet but not too much sugar because I wanted to have a glass of wine with dinner. Cottage cheese and a banana sounded tasty, but I wasn’t sure Whole Foods sold single-serving containers of cottage cheese. On my way to the dairy case, I picked up a bunch of perfectly ripe bananas (sweet!) and a big bag of dried black beans for Saturday night dinner—a variation of this black bean soup, with oat groats instead of rice. With snack-ready bananas waiting patiently in my basket, I strolled over to the dairy case, thinking about how lovely and rare it is to have a few unhurried minutes in a grocery store, especially after a week of dashing here-there-and-everywhere. It was the perfect opportunity for perusing the dairy shelves for new arrivals, a little something treaty.

I have a deep and meaningful relationship with dairy. I’m madly in love with it and think there are few eating circumstances that aren’t improved by a dairy accessory. It’s a serious wallet commitment for me, especially as I am inching my way over to the organic dairy way of life. It’s expensive, but I make it a weekly habit to buy organic milk and with increasing frequency, I buy organic yogurts and cheeses. But I’ll confess that I hardly ever buy organic cottage or ricotta cheeses, and, during my desperate moments, a block or two of [non-organic] cheddar has been tossed haphazardly into my basket at Jewel. These are the moments that come to mind when I tell myself and everyone around me that we do the best we can with what we have. Sometimes we are starving for time and dinner.

But on that particular Friday night, I wasn’t starving for time or dinner and I was in Whole Foods, where you really have no excuses for not buying organic food unless you are flat broke (in which case, might I suggest you hit the bulk section? You can buy a LOT of black beans with just a handful of quarters!). In front of me sat a plethora of new items and brands, eager to come home with me. Ever the bargain-hunter, even in Whole Foods, a new cottage cheese grabbed my attention with its 2-for-$4 sale price tag and simple ingredient list. The tubs were 16 ounces—much too large for an evening snack—so I added them to my basket and continued looking for a daintier snack.

With my mind on something small and satisfying, I turned to the yogurts, all standing at attention, labels boldly announcing their deliciousness. I wanted to try something new and preferably not too sweet. A new offering from Kalona Organics caught my eye: Cultural Revolution. I think it was the sweetly simple picture of vanilla beans on the container that really got my attention: I love vanilla and am on a sort of vanilla-snob kick these days. Cultural Revolution’s Vanilla Organic Yogurt is more than just a pretty face, though. It’s minimally sweetened (9 grams of carbohydrates and 7 grams of sugar in 6 ounces, which is very, very little sugar for a flavored yogurt) and the vanilla flavor just wafts right into your brain when you peel back the foil lid. On that frigid Friday night, I used my lunch spoon to slice banana chunks into the yogurt. I sat in Whole Foods, eating my snack and enjoying the scene on Chicago Avenue as passers-by scurried along.

I was so intrigued by this yogurt, and so eager to tell you about it, that I decided it was necessary to do a second tasting. This yogurt is pricey--$1.25 for a 6-ounce container—but you, dear reader, are worth it! During the first tasting, I found myself wishing the yogurt was just a smidge sweeter with say, a teaspoon of extra sugar in it. But after a second tasting a week later, I feel it’s just perfect as it is. Either way, what really sells me on it is its texture and rich flavors. It’s wonderfully creamy but a little runny too; Kalona describes it as having a “marbled body.” I agree. Perfumed with vanilla, it rides the line between sweet and tart—it will tickle your tastebuds with its refusal to pick a side! It’s tasty enough to eat by itself, but I really like it with a ripe banana. The banana’s sweetness helps to balance everything on the palate. I’m feeling apprehensive about how much I like this yogurt since its price gives me pause, but apparently, the vanilla flavor also comes in 24-ounce containers, which, one presumes, will be a little easier on the wallet compared to the 6-ounce containers.

I didn’t realize until several days later that the cottage cheese I bought is also from Kalona Organics! The cottage cheese is every bit as good as the yogurt. I’ve eaten it plain and tossed into scrambled eggs (a staple weeknight dinner for me) and find it as tasty as the cottage cheese from Dean’s. Lest you think that’s an insult, since Dean’s is a ubiquitous grocery store brand, let me assure you that I love the products from Dean’s. I just wish they were organic, too. Kalona’s cottage cheese is sold under the label Farmers’ All-Natural Creamery. Its flavor is lovely and pure; it tastes of cream and a little bit of salt, with that familiar squeaky, curdy cottage cheese texture. What’s especially nice about this cottage cheese, though, is that it contains no funky stabilizers or texturizers. It’s just cottage cheese, nothing more, nothing less.

The best part about Kalona Organics, though, is that in addition to making fabulous dairy products, they are a local company for me. Headquartered in Iowa, they are an answer to my wish to purchase more than just my farmer’s market produce from local suppliers. With Wisconsin to the north and Iowa to the west, a Chicago-area denizen like me shouldn’t have to look too far for dairy, and voila! Here is local dairy, on sale at Whole Foods and just perfect for Friday night snacks and scrambled egg embellishment. It’s wonderful enough to make me think I should spend every Friday night in the grocery store. Between the food, the free samples, and the window seats, it’s got everything I need.


ttfn300 said...

ah, love spending time in grocery stores, i never like to rush :) you never know what you might find?!

i haven't seen that yogurt, but now i'll take a look. my recent (but seldom purchased do to the price tag over $2 for 1 yogurt) is an icelandic yogurt siggi's i think is the brand, made in ny...

JD said...

It is funny that you talk about wandering the grocery store, as I often feel the same way. I think of myself intrepidly wandering the grocery store, on a quest to satisfy some unknown inner hunger for interesting things. The Wife and I used to split the grocery duties, but now I mostly handle them, and it is a labor of love. so much possibility when I wank in. sometime when you are in D-town in the summer we have to take you to Eastern Market. I get the same feeling there.

Rosiecat said...

Three cheers for the grocery store! Hurray!

ttfn, I feel the same way about lingering in the grocery store. It's so much easier to have a nice shopping trip if you aren't frantically tearing through the aisles, chucking things in your cart. I feel like the only way I find the sales at Whole Foods is to shop slowly and thoughtfully.

Ooh, another yogurt to try! Eek, $2 is a steep price tag, but it's nice to try new products. Your yogurt's price tag makes my yogurt look like a bargain! ;-)

JD, I definitely want to visit Eastern Market with you one day! The description you give about the grocery store, "so much possibility," is exactly how I feel about cooking and by extension, the shopping that precedes cooking. Grocery shopping with Matt is especially fun because when we hit the store, we're gathering supplies for a special meal. Plus he likes to carry the groceries, and I can hardly say no to such a kind favor.

pulley-whipped said...

pick up line that i hope someone has used on you: are you a scientist? baby, that is so fly.

saw your blog from ammie's and am glad i did. kudos. and it was good seeing you a few weeks ago.


Rosiecat said...

Anna (pulley-whipped), it's so nice to see you here! And it was great seeing you a few weeks ago in person.

About that pick-up line: a girl can dream, right? I must confess that I love men who are neither intimidated by my work nor resort to making dumb jokes about it. It takes a confident person to approach a scary scientist like me ;-)

pulley-whipped said...

is that why scientists create people to love, a la frankenstein? i just broke your "no dumb joke" rule. damn.

Rosiecat said...

Uh-oh, a dumb joke! Anna, are you hitting on me? ;-)

Have you dated a scientist before? Because you seem to know an AWFUL lot about how we operate. Me and my fake man are very happy together. The only real problems occur when a real man comes to visit. The fake man gets all territorial and threatens to eat the real man.

Ugh. Fake men. You just can't leave them alone for five minutes!