I tried to stay Covid-safe and shop by Instacart today, but my shopper did the old switcheroo.
My husband, Dan, still insists on going to ShopRite at least once a week. I think it’s risky, because we are older and it is crowded. He wears a mask and uses hand sanitizer. The prices are best there, for sure, though the produce and meat can be below par — and you can’t find many local boutique brands (bread, coffee, chocolate).
I prefer Kings, and when Covid spiked in the spring and again, now, as a last-minute cook, I especially like the contact-free delivery within 2 hours. I try not to spend more than $50 to $100 each time, filling in here and there. I used to walk or bike the 15 minutes to Kings, peruse the aisles on a treasure hunt, and carry home my groceries; now, a shopper rings the doorbell and leaves brown paper bags on our stoop.
But another mix-up happened today. I was planning to make two big pots of Grace’s Mushroom Soup from the little Kitchen with a View cookbooklet by Judith Burke. I bought it, and Judy signed it, when Dan and I stayed at the (lighthouse) Keeper’s House Bed & Breakfast in Isle au Haut, Maine in the late 1990s with our young daughter, Annie.
The lodging had no electricity, save in the kitchen (for the mixers and fridge); candles lit the rooms. All meals were included — even sack lunches for day hikes, complete with havarti sandwiches on Judy’s bread and layered Yummy Bars. Everything that came out of that kitchen was perfect, from the Mexican Dip to Phoebe’s Chocolate Cake, in wedges with summer berries and whipped cream. Everything.
Judy and her husband, Jeffrey, have since passed on the keys to the place — but I can still travel back with my beloved booklet. I’ve made the soup many times.
So at 12:57 p.m. — just before our seventh grader’s schoolday ended early, at 1:10 — I ordered my ingredients, including 3 pounds of mushrooms (white, Baby Bella and shiitake). I soon unpacked the bags in my kitchen: sunny lemons, smoky paprika, a net bag of yellow onions, the fresh bouquet of organic dill, but only a measly 5 ounces of sliced shiitakes. I couldn’t make a vegan potful for Annie and a second big potful for us with 5 ounces of shrooms.
I was also gifted with a mysterious Milkmaid’s two items — a half-gallon of Organic Valley skim milk and a quart of the brand’s 2 percent.
With my Sis (and her copilot, can-do dachshund Buttercup) arriving from Connecticut at 7 for a backyard supper with coats, blankets, masks and a fire pit, I had no choice but to slip on my Tory Burch wedges, toss on my velvet scarf, grab my paper mask and drive to Kings myself at 5.
That had its perks, because in a quick swish with a $15 budget, I saw Brooklyn Buttery (see what I mean about local?) All the Zest small-batch lemon butter on sale, down from $5.99 to $2.99. I used it in the nonvegan soup, to sweat the onions, and slathered it on wheat and peasant bread toast go-withs. Boutique brand sales like that are not listed on Instacart.
But it was bad, because Covid numbers are climbing high in nearby Newark and in our town of Montclair, and I wanted to stay home.
No one is perfect, and I appreciate my shopper doing this front-line job.
“Thank you so much,” I had called to her, from a distance, after she rang the bell.
“You’re welcome so much,” she said cheerily, after leaving the fourth and final bag.
When I inform Instacart, I will get a credit for the missing items I paid for — I keep the milks for free. I only hope Miss (or Mr.) Milkmaid has a good mushroom soup recipe. And that she wasn’t counting on the milk to make pudding for the children or pour over their cereal for breakfast. (This missing milk could be a serious problem were it Christmas Eve.)
I sent the extra quart home with my Sis and Butter, who drove back in the dark over the Tappan Zee.
Such are the minor everyday inconveniences, the small wins and losses of life during Covid. I count myself lucky.
Alice Garbarini Hurley is a writer for magazines and websites. She owns dozens and dozens and dozens of cookbooks, but Kitchen with a View is one she cannot live without. She wonders — where is Judy Burke now? She would like to thank her.