A few years ago, I left the town I’d lived in for over 20 years because there wasn’t any reason left to stay any more. And because the time was right, the leaving was easy. But of course there’s stuff you miss: friends, walks along the river, friendly faces down the street, and my wholefoods shop.
Yes, my wholefoods shop. There was a time when it was my shopping hotspot: 3/4 of my household food budget was spent on fruit, veg, and stuff bought at the wholefoods’, and 1/4 at the supermarket. It wasn’t just that what I bought there was wholesome and cheap, but I loved the experience of shopping there. I’m sure that there must have been times when I was rushed and cranky and would have wished for the convenience of rushing in and picking up a pre-packaged kilo of whatever wholegrain goodie I needed, but I can’t remember any. I just remember shopping there as an unrushed, almost meditative activity, like grocery shopping seldom is any more. Go in, grab a baggie, open up a bin full of wheat, soybeans, or oats, scoop some out with the metal cup and fill the baggie up. Weigh out a jar you’ve brought and fill it up with honey or tahini. Help yourself to the precise amount of herb or spice you need from the dozens of jars on the counter. Grind your own peanut butter. Order a soft-serve banana “ice cream”, made by running whole frozen bananas through the Champion juicer.
I don’t have a wholefoods place nearby any more. I’m sure my diet suffers because of it (where do I buy large quantities - but not bulk - of non-GM soybeans for my unused soymilk maker?), but even if I did have one, I wonder whether I’d get the same pleasure. After all, I was a stay-at-home mum in that small town, and although time was still at a premium, I was able to set some aside for shopping there. These days I hold down jobs, plural, and what would I do? I don’t know.
But a couple of days ago I found myself in my old town. It is still so familiar, but I feel so foreign in it now, except in once place. For the first time in 3 1/2 years, and urged by my younger son who has been craving that peanut butter all this time, I went to my wholefoods shop.
I scooped up burghul, quinoa, chia seed, and three-grain porridge into baggies, let my son grind up not one, but two containers of peanut butter and pour out some gorgeous red stringybark honey, and bought a massive container of the best fruit mince in the world – citrusy and rich, but without the customary suet. And we had an awesome time. Heaps fun. Sure: I didn’t buy anything so exotic that couldn’t have been picked up (albeit in smaller quantities) at the supermarket, but would the experience have been as good? My grin as I walked out of the wholefoods shop munching on an almond-coated fresh date treat could have told you all you need to know.
A two-and-a-half-hour drive home later, I put the barley and chickpeas I bought to good use and kept the good vibes going as the temperature dropped outside and I cozied up in the warmth of the place – and person – I am not foreign to these days.
BARLEY AND CHICKPEA HOTPOT WITH CHORIZO AND CHARD
OK, yes: this does contain rather a lot of oil. But it makes for such a luscious dish and delicious juices that you’ll be begging to mop up with good bread. Go on – thanks to all those good ingredients, it won’t hurt you.
1/2 cup olive oil, or EVOO and vegetable oil, half and half
1 red onion, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
4 chorizos, sliced
1 cup barley, washed
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 bunch Swiss chard (silverbeet), stalks and leaves separated
4 cups water
2 tbsp. tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
What you do:
1. Heat olive oil in flameproof casserole over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent.
2. Add chorizos, barley, chickpeas, sliced chard stalks, water, and tomato paste. Bring to the boil, then cook at a high simmer for 30 min.
3. Add chopped chard leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. This isn’t a soup, but there should be just enough liquid left over in the bottom of the pot to steam the chard; if there isn’t, add a little water. (Not much - 2 tbsp. maximum.) Increase heat to high, jam lid on, and cook for 10-15 min, stirring once or twice, until chard is cooked through. Serve hot.