For years, G.’s father would get up in the morning and go to a local grocery store, where he’d browse the aisles in search of deals. He’d buy cans of peanuts and Little Debbie snacks that he’d drop off at G.’s house later in the day. Then he would go to McDonald’s for his senior-size coffee.
I always thought this was a slightly eccentric but amusing routine. Then, a few months after G.’s dad died, G. took me to the grocery store. It was love at first sight. The other day, I went in with a list of six items and came out two hours later, having spent $168.
Woodman’s isn’t just any grocery store. It’s huge, and it has just about anything you’d ever want to cook with. They carry Demerara sugar, brown rice vinegar and the dried corn husks used to make tamales. We buy canning supplies there, and the low-salt chips G. likes. It’s the only place where I can reliably find my favorite brand of tortillas, and it sets the standard for selling locally produced foods. There’s a huge array of Wisconsin cheeses and other dairy products. It carries cherry products from Door County, the Midwest’s answer to Cape Cod; coffee from Wisconsin roasters; and bacon made near Milwaukee.
When G. wants to make me happy, he takes me there and lets me browse until I find some odd, new ingredient. When he suggests, “I could take you on a date,” he’s really asking me if I want to go to Woodman’s.
It has ruined me for other grocery stores. I used to get the same thrill from going to Whole Foods, but as I started cooking more, Whole Foods lost its appeal. I don’t want Whole Foods’ lemon, poppy-seed scones. I want to make my own lemon, poppy-seed scones. And while Whole Foods has an impressive array of prepared foods, it doesn’t offer a lot of choices when it comes to basic ingredients to make your own.
Woodman’s does. In my kitchen in Wisconsin, I have all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cake flour, self-rising flour and, usually, whole wheat bread flour. I’ve also bought buckwheat flour and oat flour there. The store carries corn meal and masa harina, the type of corn flour used in Mexican cooking.
My mother used to think I was crazy because I would talk about Woodman’s rapturously. But I took her there last summer when she was visiting, and she went crazy too. They had hazel nuts and pine nuts, all the spices she couldn’t get at her store in North Carolina and a such a selection of cheeses. She started tossing blocks of cheese in the cart, even as she said, “I can’t take all this on the plane.” Eventually, she settled down and put a few perishables back.
Now, when I mention Woodman’s, she just says, “I love Woodman’s.”
Don’t we all?
When I emerged the other day, there were a couple of messages on my cell phone from G. I’d left the phone in the car because I didn’t expect to be in the store long. As I said, my list was short.
When I called G. to tell him that I was late for lunch because I lost track of time in Woodman’s, he laughed. “That’s kind of what I thought,” he said, “My baby, she’s crazy.”