by Caroline

I love peeking in other people’s shopping bags and baskets. The other day a fellow Trader Joe’s shopper snagged my cart by accident and as I wheeled hers up and down the aisles, I marveled at what different groceries she found — it was as if we were shopping in different stores — but after I retrieved my cart, I paused at the cookie aisle to pick up a box of the maple leaf cream sandwiches I’d seen in hers.

At the grocery store, I like to imagine what’s on a fellow shopper’s menu based on what I see go down the conveyor belt ahead of my purchases. Recently, it was 4 white onions, a can of frozen limeade, and a bag of ice. Um, onion tart and margaritas? One can only hope. For me, the grocery store is more for last minute pick-ups than the big weekly shop, so I wind up with random assortments like this:

That’s a basket that says I’m really hungry (sushi & mojo bar), Eli is hungry and I’m too hungry myself to maintain high standards (Annie’s canned spaghetti-Os); but I have Ben on my mind, too: there’s a birthday cake to decorate (milk chocolate for the frosting; candles; colored sugar sprinkles); and I’m wondering if he might like adzuki beans better than cannellini (I’m trying to up his iron intake) so I grab a can rather than invest the time in dried.

But nobody asked me about my basket, because at the grocery store, it seems, that’s unseemly. Is it because at the grocery store we’re more likely to buy packaged foods — dump and heat things — rather than items we actually cook? Or is that just me? Maybe it’s just the atmosphere of the store which makes it a place folks don’t typically chat about their choices.

Regardless, it’s one more reason why I love shopping at the farmer’s market. Here, we’re all buying fresh ingredients, and both the other shoppers and the farmers are happy to share ideas about what to do with them. Don’t know how to prepare agretti? Ask the guy who’s buying a pound! We ate broccolini recently, and the boys studied the buds closely, unable to remember what a broccoli flower looks like. At the Sunday market, one of the farmers had both flowering broccolini and flowering arugula, which I’d never seen. What to do with them? Saute the first, salad the second, said the nice farmer from Marin Roots. So I bought bunches of each and the boys nibbled on the flowers like little goats. The verdict? thumbs up on the flowering broc, but the arugula flowers, while tasty in my salad, were too spicy for the boys’ taste. This time of year, the farmers are starting to pile up all sorts of new greens on their tables, and if you ask me, it’s fun to share what we’re doing with them.