Lesson #4: The great grocery heist

So you’ve used up all your baking supplies practicing your Baking Challenge skills (see Lesson 2) and have no choice but to go out into the wild to scavenge for groceries.


These days, even a previously mundane task such as grocery shopping can feel like a death-defying adventure.  Not to mention, you really have to want something (or truly have absolutely nothing better to do).

The line to Gus’s Market ends somewhere down there…

It’s a long wait to get into the Whole Foods waaaayy down the block.

So if you are going to take the risk and venture out you best be sure to make the most of the trip – and have a little fun while you’re at it.

Since grocery shopping fashion – mask, gloves, glasses, sometimes even a hoodie – now vaguely resembles robber attire, I like to imagine I am going out on a heist.

Shielded by my disguise and armed with the list of loot I intend to commandeer, I am ready for a covert mission!

Treat grocery shopping like a covert mission. Do your homework. Scout out multiple stores, monitor their routines, assess their clientele.

The Farm Girl Survival Guide

Unfortunately, I have not been terribly successful with my last few missions. After several attempts, these items continue to allude me:

  • Yeast – maybe the Great British Baking Show is having more influence than I imagined, or maybe stores never stocked much to begin with, but, no joke, the stuff is nowhere to be found. In a city where experimenting with sourdough starter has become a whole counter-culture thing, it seems like everyone should be able to keep themselves busy enough with fermenting their own bacteria and going on scavenger hunts for communal tins of starter hidden in trees, but no….
  • Bisquick – I get it, it’s such a great shortcut product. This probably went long before the yeast, and the yeast buy-out was the desperate result. In fact, I bet there are millions of packets of yeast just languishing in cupboards of people longing for Bisquik. They pick up those little packets every once in a while and poke at them with a sense of wonder (are you really alive in there?), and quickly throw it back in the cupboard, unable to muster the courage to open it and find out, much less actually put it to good use. Yes, I’m still bitter about the yeast. Bisquick – I’m over it. if it comes to it, I’ll make my own biscuits or pancakes. Let’s be real, I usually buy the stuff and it ends up expiring before I use it anyway.
  • Butter – I did finally find salted butter today, but it was in limited supply. No unsalted in sight. This is going to be a problem for baking. I’m afraid I am going to have to get all scientific about it and try to subtract the salt from a recipe to offset it. It’s about to get real here. Then again, this might mean I finally have a legit use for the On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen and The Food Lab encyclopedias on my bookshelf.
  • Stew meat – or any meat for that matter. Beef, chicken, fish, pork….it all has been pretty sparse. Although interestingly, I found several filet mignon options if I were really desperate and wanted to throw the fancy stuff into a crock pot for that stew I planned on making, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was also slightly concerned about purchasing this particular item from Target. (Survival tip: if you wouldn’t buy it there in normal circumstances, think twice before doing it now. How desperate are you?)
  • Cream of potato soup – perhaps the most perplexing one of all. I’m really not sure what anyone uses this for. My best guess is that the store ran a sale on soup and it all went out the door in a flash to a bunch of unsuspecting people who are now stuck with a lifetime supply of random condensed soup flavors and no clue what to do with them. So why do I need it, then? It’s a great pantry staple that goes in this awesome recipe from my mom for meatballs in potato dill sauce that’s super easy and the perfect comfort food in a crisis. Alas, now it is only causing me stress.
  • Chocolate chips – I found one lonely bag of dark chocolate chips, abandoned and scorned for not being milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate. (Survival tip: be prepared to improvise.) I rescued that bag and began thinking deep, dark chocolate thoughts. What wonderful treats can I conjure with those little morsels?
  • Ice cream – OK, to be fair, I was able to find some, but – survival tip – you have to be prepared to settle. This is no time to be picky about brands. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get. But a freezer without ice cream…well that’s not what I would call surviving.

The key is persistence and a plan. Like a good bandit (or detective, or whatever you have decided your disguised alter-ego is), you need to scout out multiple stores and monitor their routines. Find out when they restock, what days and times they have the shortest lines, or which locations have the line of shoppers that are more likely to stock up on frozen pizzas and bags of chips than baking supplies or fresh vegetables.

Most of all, keep an open mind. Even if you can’t find everything on your list, you never know what else you might score. Remember, you’re thinking long-term. For example, I am certain the enormous, lifetime supply of frozen peas and carrots I scored will come in handy someday. Right?

UPDATE: After much stealth sleuthing (or maybe because the stores have had time to restock…though I would like to think it was due to my cunning), I have since been able to locate almost all the items above. Yeast, however, continues to allude me. I finally resorted to joining a wait list for a shipment of a bag of more yeast than I can ever imagine using from Amazon. Stay tuned for future survival tips on how to use an overabundance of supplies you have stocked up on that are now threatening to take over your shelter / home.

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