Stop & Shop & Hyperventilate

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I went to Stop & Shop to get milk and carrots. I’m not particularly fond of carrots, but they’re handy for keeping my mouth and belly occupied. After grabbing a bag I walked around the produce section to see if there was anything else that caught my eye. There was.

I saw the sweet potatoes and realized that I hadn’t baked one in a while. That made me think of acorn squash, which I then found in the bin beyond. Please don’t make the mistake of treating either one as a get-out-of-jail-free card; there’s a reason why they’re so tasty, even unbuttered. Always look up the nutritional values of your food. If you do that for either of these, you’ll probably decide, as I did, to make your standard serving much smaller than you first envisioned.

I swung by the far corner of the store to pick up a gallon of 1% milk. Then I did the thing that, to most of you reading this, is no doubt indistinguishable from masochism: I hung out in the bakery.

The bakery at Stop & Shop defies all my expectations. Usually baked goods from grocery stores are tasteless, textureless, or so overloaded with sugar that the cloying sweetness blots out whatever other flavors may be present. But somehow, this store is different. Their bagels are very good, and that’s coming from a bagel snob. Their muffins are good. I honestly haven’t tried much else, because I’m utterly addicted to their magnificent oatmeal raisin cookies. For god’s sake, I don’t even particularly care for oatmeal raisin cookies!

So, on to the masochism. Or rather, allow me an attempt to show you the fine distinction between my method and masochism. Let me take you on a tour of the Stop & Shop bakery with my brain as a guide. Maybe once I’m done, you’ll see why, for me, the only way to leave behind my maniacal cravings is to wade right through them and come out the other side.

First, take a look at the plastic bins covering the shelves facing the bakery, at the end of the dairy aisle. Some of those bins are filled with sugar cookies, some with chocolate chip, some with peanut butter, and some with my favorite: oatmeal raisin.

I can look through the transparent plastic and judge the texture of those cookies. On some days they’re slightly more browned than at other times. The variation is part of the appeal. If they’re darker, I can imagine their crispness as my teeth crunch through them. I prefer them to be a bit lighter; in that case, I know how each one would sag slightly as I raised it to my mouth. I can feel my teeth shear through the relatively crisp outer layer and into the softer, not-quite-gooey insides. I can feel the pleasant, rasping texture as I chew. I can taste the brown sugar and raisins and oatmeal, and the contrast between each bite of cookie and each sip of the sweet black tea I’d drink along with the cookies.

Now, look at the piles of boxed items on the table. Start with the muffins. There’s a box with one butter rum and one lemon poppy seed, among others. Another has two carrot cake and one cranberry. The butter rum is my favorite: I can see the way it tears apart in my hand, feel the crisp crust and slightly spongy interior, taste the melding of the sweet and buttery aspects. I gauge the texture and taste of the others by their appearance. Is the lemon poppy seed lemony enough, moist enough? The carrot cake looks perfect in texture, perfect in doneness; I salivate as I imagine the flavor. I imagine the light flakiness of the cake in the cranberry muffin, the tartness of the cranberries contrasting with the sweetness. My saliva ducts work even harder.

Walk around the side of the table. Look at all those ring cakes. There’s the coffee cake with the raisins and the white icing, that brings me straight back to the weekend mornings during my childhood when my parents would bring back one very much like it from Freihofer’s. There’s a… what is that, raspberry? Mmmmmmm… tempting. But right next to it… ahhhh, that’s the one I really want: the cheese. It looks utterly perfect: the cheese-to-cake and icing-to-cheese ratios seem spot-on, and the cheese looks moist. I must try one of these during an upcoming eat-whatever-I-want day.

Turn from the table and take a look at the racks and racks of pastries and muffins. There’s a pain au chocolat alongside its cheese equivalent; they look a little dry, but I’d love to try each of them. And there are the ranks of fresh muffins, tray after tray after tray. There are the butter rum muffins at the bottom right corner. And there go my saliva ducts again.

Turn around once more. Go back to the same set of shelves with the oatmeal raisin cookies. Above them and to the left there’s a rank of “gourmet cookies” in shallow plastic clamshell trays. God. They have white chocolate macadamia nuts cookies. I love white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. And the way they’re browned… they took them out of the oven at just the right moment. I want to see if they’re as crisp as they look on the outside, as soft on the inside as they should be. I want to know whether they’re as good as they look. Too few bakers bring their A game to the dough, so their white chocolate macadamia nut cookies amount to little more than chunks of white chocolate whose cloying sweetness drowns out any other flavors that might be present.

Oh look, they have companions worthy of their glory: triple chocolate chunk. Again with the saliva. I may need a hanky.

I took it all in. I swallowed buckets of saliva. And I walked away. Today, I walked away.

This is why I wallow in my desire for food. The compulsion ebbs and flows, but it’s too powerful to deny or avoid. All I can do is steer into the wave, let it wash over me, and hope to come out the other side intact. One day at a time.

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2 Responses to “Stop & Shop & Hyperventilate”

  1. Joe Check Says:

    Good morning, Hugh. I’m off to work with high schoolers today and then a client this afternoon at home. I skipped through this post because this description doesn’t grab me. However it is similar to addicts sharing in 12 Step meetings. I suggest you include in your research OA. You can access their site at www. oa.org. I looked and found they offer online meetings. Face-to-face near you is at 10:30 AM Thursday at the Mamaronek Firehouse.
    Check it out.

    • theoneifeed Says:

      I’ve been thinking of it. The problem is that, when I looked on the website a few years ago, I don’t think there was a sentence on the page I agreed with. I don’t think that I am powerless; I think that I’m capable of beating my demons through will, perseverance and intelligence. Of course, having support increases my odds of success, and that’s why I’ve been thinking of it again. I’ll probably sit in on a meeting soon to see if it might work for me despite the differences between my philosophy and that of OA.

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