Tuesday, June 28, 2005

How to not spend all your money shopping in Napa

Let others shop for jewels or perfume on their birthdays, I like grocery shopping. Especially when I'm not looking for anything in particular. For me, going to an unfamiliar grocery store is like visiting another country, you just don't know what exotic things you'll discover. So on my recent trip up to Napa I stopped in to several stores including the Oakville Grocery, Sunshine Foods and Dean & Deluca.

At Oakville Grocery they were very kind to even let me in the door because it was just five minutes until closing time. A quick peek around, some oohing and ahhing over mustards, jams and little snacky crackers and a chat with the cashier about the opening of their new store at the Cannery (September so I was told) and I was out the door without even spending a dime.

Further up the valley we bumped into some friends from Benicia who told us not to miss Sunshine Foods so we headed right there. We found a very upscale grocery store with a luscious cheese selection and the wafting scent of garlic from the deli counter. In general the prices were outrageous. Lovely produce but really, $1.89 per pound for green peppers? Dried Morels, $140 per pound? Still I found several items to pick up there including very reasonably priced buckwheat pancake mix, cupcake liners, cocoa nibs and powdered buttermilk.

Last but not least, Dean & Deluca, the grand New York retailer that also found a foothold in the Napa Valley, just outside St. Helena. This is a gourmet mecca of sorts but tough on the pocketbook. Still I managed to find three savory items that set me back less than $15. How is this possible I can hear you asking. Well, I'll tell you.

First off, capers. I got used to using the salt packed variety when I lived in Italy. As long as you soak them they are not too salty and have a much better texture than the water-logged brined type. They are expensive, but not if you buy them bulk; around four ounces only cost me $4 and will last ages.

Second Virgina Peanuts. I tried these in a tasting at the Fancy Food Show last year and they really were the best. Only $5 for a nine ounce can. These are super crispy, fresh and just plain yummy. Even if you think you don't like peanuts, I promise you'll like these.

Finally Maldon Sea Salt. Sure it's pricey, $5 for 8.5 ounces, but not as bad as some and it has a milder saltiness so you supposedly use less. It's the soft flaky texture that I love about it, perfect sprinkled on foods right before serving them, like a sliced tomato salad. Or when you want to feel the crunch of salt on your tongue. Perhaps on top of a chocolate or caramel dessert? I leave that up to your imagination.

So there you have it, my shopping report. Undoubtedly you shall meet many of these ingredients again in future posts and recipes.