julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Buying in Bulk

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“If you’re afraid of butter, just use cream.” – Julia Child 


Well, friends, we’re nearing the end of our second week of cooking here on ayearwithjulia.com, and so far so good! Nobody’s gotten food poisoning, I haven’t set anything on fire, none of the dishes have been completely destroyed, and (miraculously) I’ve only sustained one injury (which is looking pretty good today – red and swollen, but not hideous and life threatening). We may make it through this thing yet!

Ben and I are on our way to Georgia to visit my dad for his birthday, so I’m sorry to report that I did not do any cooking last night. Fear not! Earlier this week I promised to relay to you the tale of my most recent grocery shopping adventure. It was a day of education and enlightenment, all of which I gladly share with you now.

Bulk Spices

In preparation for another week of French cuisine, Saturday was grocery day. We woke up relatively early and headed out to our new favorite market to stock up on ingredients for the week’s upcoming recipes. It was here that I discovered my all-time new favorite thing. I was standing in the spice aisle, trying to justify spending $8 on a small jar of bay leaves, when a store employee approached me and asked if I was looking for anything in particular. I showed her my list, expecting her to say, “It’s right there,” and point to the shelf where I was already looking. But do you know what she said to me? She said, “Don’t pay $8 for that! Follow me – let’s go to the bulk department.” The whooty-whaty? I followed her over to a separate section of the store where wide wooden shelves housed big jars of spices that were labeled with numbers for easy identification. She pulled down the jar of bay leaves and, with a small pair of tongs, she lifted out the amount I wanted into a small baggie. We weighed it on a scale, typed in a code for that spice and then printed a label right there – and do you know how much I paid? 16 CENTS!!! I almost paid $8 for the same amount in a bottle. This has completely changed the way I buy spices from now on. I bought a little bag of nutmeg for 11 cents and cloves for 12 cents. This system is BRILLIANT!! Never again will I buy spices in a bottle, and you shouldn’t either. Bulk spices, people. That’s the way to go.

Roquefort Cheese - looks pretty gnarly, huh?

The spices weren’t the only major victory of this shopping trip – we had a high-five exchange in the dairy department when Ben located a seemingly impossible-to-find Roquefort we’ve been searching for for months. By far the strangest thing we purchased that day was a bag full of mussels. Never having ordered mussels before, I didn’t know what questions to ask. Julia required 6 quarts of them for her recipe, so I asked for 3 quarts. The fish guy (who sold us the rainbow trout the previous week) went to his calculator to translate quarts to pounds, and came back with a furrowed brow.

Bag o' Mussels

“What are you making?” he asked cautiously. “Because 3 quarts is a LOT of mussels.” We eventually determined that for just two people, we could easily get away with a 2-pound bag that was featured in the display case. He put them on ice for us and that was that – we’d just ordered our first mussels. (Of course, my Now self would tell my Then self, “Psst! Hey! Notice how those babies came in a mesh bag and not a plastic bag? That’s a clue! Those things are ALIVE!!” But of course, my Then self had no way of knowing this, and currently holds a grudge against my Now self for being self-righteous with all that new-found knowledge. They’ll have to work it out in therapy.)

All in all, this was a highly successful shopping excursion. We stopped by our neighborhood market on the way home for a few generic ingredients, and then decided to head to our members club store to buy a couple of items in bulk. Our main mission was to stock up on butter, because let’s face it – we’re going to go through that stuff like crazy. Ben opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a package of butter, looked at the expiration date – and stared at me. “Um…” he said, “This expired in April.” (It’s now August.) Four months?? This package of butter has been sitting there for four months PAST its prime?? We looked back at the rest of the packages and realized an entire pallet of butter was this old.

Butter from the future??

Ben took a package and tracked down a manager, who, upon looking at the packaging said, “Oh, this isn’t the expiration date. It’s the production date.” Ben looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Really? Then why are there packages over there marked November 13, 2010?” I clapped my hands excitedly. “It’s butter from the FUTURE!!” I squealed. The manager sheepishly tracked down another employee, who was ordered to remove this pallet of butter from the fridge. He apologized and thanked us for bringing this oversight to their attention. But it got me thinking:

A.)   What if we hadn’t checked the date? How long can butter hang out in a refrigerator before it spoils?

B.) How often does this store do inventory?

C.) What does this say about the lack of a need for bulk butter in our society…and the contrasting necessity of it in my kitchen?

It was too much to think about, so we took the butter that had the latest expiration date and moved on with our day.

After all, I had ladyfingers to make! (Darn you, Now self…)


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4 Responses to “Buying in Bulk”

  1. Margaret says:

    Now Self meet Then Self – Don’t forget to Duck Ted – Thanks Ted!

  2. Melody says:

    Since we live near the same grocers, you MUST tell me where I can get those bulk spices!! Wonder if they’ll take the tens of dollars worth I have in my cabinet in trade? 😉

    • Jessica says:

      You betcha! It’s the Central Market in Southlake (there’s also one in Ft. Worth). If that’s too far for you, we’re there every weekend, so I’d be happy to pick up something you need. I WISH they’d take payment in jarred spices – it’s crazy how expensive that stuff is that we buy then barely use. Culinary robbery, I say!

      In other news, so glad you’re reading the blog! Thanks for joining the madness. :)

      • Melody says:

        Thanks! Not too far for me at all! We go up to that area a lot. I had NO IDEA they had bulk spices, though! Cool beans! Thanks for the tip!

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