Maybe I’m suffering from delusions of grandeur, but I do believe if I miss a few days of shopping at my neighborhood grocery store that a little alert goes off at Kroger headquarters and a team springs into action. Depending on how far they think I’ve strayed, they send me a packet of coupons or just a flyer with some sweet talk about me being one of their favorite customers. I like to joke that I’m constantly amazed how much of our income I spend there, so they probably are too. At any rate,I think we can all assume that I am there a lot.
This last year it turns out was a big year for my little store. I actually remember the day and time when I first heard about the changes. It was about 2 p.m. Christmas Eve 2010. (I remember because a few days before the helpful check out clerk had warned me whatever I did I should avoid their store that day, and as I was standing in the crowded line — with every lane open mind you, something I’d never seen anywhere before –I was thinking this is what Alanis Morissette meant by the “good advice you just didn’t take”.) That particular store closes on Christmas, and I do believe people panic and feel the urge to hoard (me included obviously) lest they be without something we perceive we might need for 24 hours. Anyway, the store was so crowded one of the managers ended up being my checker. As she bagged my organic soy milk, she told me in glowing terms about the yearlong renovations the store was about to undergo and how she could tell (maybe by the soy but also probably by that whole alert system at the home office) how much I was going to love it. They were going to have aisles of organic produce, cases of cheese, containers of premium olive oil, three rows of kitchen gadgets not to mention the olive, sushi and soup bars.
In some ways 2011 ushered in a rough transition year for my little store. They kept the store open during the renovations. Stockers were constantly moving items around as the construction company worked on different sections. Employees would make cheat sheets for the day about which aisle the bread was on today. The ceilings were stripped and all the wiring and light fixtures hung down exposed. The fire alarm was constantly going off. I wondered what would happen in a real fire as customer and employees didn’t even pause when it went off. A lot of my neighbors stopped shopping there. They said they couldn’t find anything. In my better moments. I kind of enjoyed the scavenger hunt aspect of it all. Claire in particular liked the tunnel they had set up part of the year to connect the new and old parts of the store while they worked on the middle section. Plus whenever I thought of trying one of the other Krogers or (gasp) Walmart, the other big player in my neighborhood supermarket field, Kroger enticed me back with even sweeter deals.
Now a year later the work is over and the store is just magnificent. They have two aisles of international food which has been just the inspiration I have needed to try some new recipes. At one point, I even found pickled herring and Swedish crisp bread. I have always had to special ordered peparkakor cookies for Swedish St. Lucia Day, but they are a regular staple on the shelf of my now-not-so-humble little grocery store. I was equally amazed to find two brands of ligonberries and cloudberries, which I remember were quite the rarity when we brought them back to our parents from Ann Sather’s famous Swedish restaurant in Chicago on our honeymoon. The new Kroger also has in much more regular supply allergen specialty ingredients like dairy-free sour cream and plain soy yogurt, both of which I have previously had to drive across town to find reliably.
I have been busy adapting recipes. One that Max and Claire both loved came with supplies from the Swedish aisle section:
1 cup panko bread crumbs (OK that is not Swedish but the Japanese section is just across the way)
1 cup soy milk
4 to 6 tablespoons Fleishchmann’s Unsalted Spread
3 to 4 garlic cloves
1 1/2 caraway seeds
salt and pepper to taste
2 pounds ground sirloin
1 pound ground pork
2 large eggs
handfuls of fresh parsley and dill
2 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups homemade chicken broth (or check to make sure dairy free if you buy boxed/canned)
1 1/2 cups dairy free sour cream like Tofutti brand
1 cup lingonberries plus more to garnish.
Combine bread crumbs and soy milk. Brown shallots garlic and caraway seeds in 1 tablespoon Fleishchmann’s Unsalted Spread for a couple of minutes. Put the meat in a bowl. Add the shallot mixture, eggs, parsley and dill to the bread crumb mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use your hand to form ping-pong ball size meatballs. Fry in batches with about 2 tablespoons Fleischmann’s Unsalted Spread adding more spread as needed. Turn frequently. It should take about 6 to 8 minutes a batch. Remove meatballs. Keep warm. Skim off some fat. Add 1 tablespoons Fleishchmann’s Unsalted and flour. Stir until dissolved. Add in chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce sauce for several minutes. Turn to low and add in dairy-free sour cream and lingonberries. Return meatballs to pan or place in crock pot to keep warm. Serve with additional lingonberry.