Josh went home a few weeks ago to the US for both work and a few days of vacation, armed with a HUGE list of things to purchase for us (that will fit in just 2 suitcases). While he was there I was reminded once again about learning to appreciate what we have both here and at home. It's also taught me that perhaps I have a little too much choice at home. And not all of it healthy. But it doesn't mean that I don't miss all that good American food, clothing, toys and more. Because I do. But I've had to learn to be patient, flexible and even to be strategic at times.
Today I went to the grocery store, like I do almost every day. They didn't have steak fries, a recent addition to our store. However, they did have sour creme, something they almost never have - I usually have to go to a different grocery store if I want sour creme. It's days like this where I have a moment of let down and disappointment; I really wanted those steak fries followed by a total high with my moment of victory; Yes! They have sour creme today and I only had to go to one grocery store! Weeks later with no luck on those steak fries, I finally found them at El Corte Ingles.
Life is different when you live abroad. Over time, you get used to having to go to a plethora of grocery stores in order to find what precious item you are looking for but it takes time to get things down pat. Perhaps it's hummus and chips (only at Carrefour and no longer at the one on Las Ramblas, but at the one in the Glories mall), tomato sauce that's savory and not so sweet (at the Italian store on Travessera de Gracia), specialty cheeses, fresh sliced turkey or jamon (certainly not purchased at the grocery store, but instead at the xarcuteria/butcher), fresh baked baguettes at the corner bakery, fruits and vegetables at their own shops and of course, let's not forget, our American goodies at our few shops that sell my precious American crack items.
And know that despite all these stores at my fingertips, they often don't have something I need, that perhaps they did the week before, or it doesn't exist here in Spain. Like those french fries or creme fraiche. And what I wouldn't give for more than 5 flavors of yogurt. Yoplait, I can't imagine the market share you could have here just with your innovative flavors!! I look thru recipes online and just laugh - where in the world am I going to find buttermilk??? Soft caramels? More than one variety of cake or muffin mix (unless I go to the American store, where I pay about 5 euros for a box of cake mix)? Crescent rolls (do you know how many recipes call for crescent rolls)? Yeast specifically for pizza? The list goes on and on...
However, I will admit, not having quick easy access to many things has prompted me to have to try baking and cooking more often if I want to actually have the things I desire. I suppose this isn't necessarily a bad thing and it's good to know exactly what is going into the food we are making rather than doing a quick pick up of that item at the grocery store without having any idea what's in it. So far I've made homemade pizza dough regularly, so much so that I don't need the recipe any more, pretzels like Auntie Annie's in the mall, brownies and more.
When we moved last year to a new apartment, it was imperative that we stay within a certain radius of our old place. Why? Because it had taken me the 2 1/2 years we'd been in that apartment to get the hang of the shopping routine. In the beginning I found I had to go out every day to hit one shop or another. But over the course of time, I've managed to do most of my "specialty" shopping in just one day, usually Saturday while the kids are at tennis and during the rest of the week, I can go to my regular grocery store for staple items with the occasional trip to the fruit and veggie stand.
The other challenge is remembering where I've found things. I found cereal/granola type bars that Aidan really liked. Couldn't remember for the life of me where I bought them. Three stores later, I found them again (they were at our old Caprabo but not our new one). Because often times you won't see them in different store chains. It's not like going to Hannaford's and Stop n Shop where 99% of the products are the same. Sure, there are some things you can get at one and not the other, but the good majority you can find at both. Not the case here.
The point is, appreciate what you have in your American supermarkets - your one stop shops with more variety than I can even imagine. I certainly do now. I never thought I would see the day when I am happy or sad based on what is available in my local grocery store, but yes, that day has come (many times in the last 3 1/2 years). And be thankful they are open pretty much 24/7. Everything closes here on Sunday. EVERYTHING. So if you run out of chicken or really want to make hamburgers on Sunday, you better hope you already have things at home. Preplanning is a must.
What we do have here that is plentiful is fruits, vegetables, fresh meats and foods that don't have GMO's. Even the products that are US based but made here in Europe have better, healthier ingredients than those at home. Coke for instance... yes, it's soda and not anywhere near healthy. But look at your ingredient panel - I guarantee the one in the US says corn syrup first. The one here... sugar. It's more natural than that we get at home, less processing. Sure there isn't a lot of variety in what we can choose from but you can bet it's healthier than what we have in the US (despite my desire for said goodies). But it doesn't mean you don't miss things that you've grown up with, superficial as that may be.
And so when we go home or when we have visitors, we are armed with a long list of must haves, needs and would likes. These are of the food, clothing and trinket variety. Toys are significantly less expensive at home. Same for clothes. There is no GAP here. I know, I know... there are worse things in life than no GAP. But when you are used to shopping at certain places and know the quality and fit, you just want what makes you happy. So when we know someone is coming, we often order goodies for them to bring in their suitcases. It's like Christmas time :)
Even though Josh just got back from the US, as we get ready for our own trip back in just a few weeks, we still have a long list of goodies, our American crack, that we will pick up. And I'm already planning for what I can leave behind for our fall visitors to bring with them. If we can't be home, we will be here with all the comforts of it :) As my friend Michelle told me a few years ago... it's hard to remember you are in Spain sometimes when you spend a bit of time in our "American" apartment.