Saturday, November 14, 2009

Scarce Supplies

It never fails. If I like something – say a TV show, a band, a particular food product at the grocery store – it will be cancelled, break up or no longer be carried in stock. It’s aggravating. Especially the grocery store part, because once I discover something I like to eat, I want to keep eating it.

When I first moved to Tennessee (2001), the Kroger store in North Clarksville had a terrific International section – full of Italian, Indian, Asian and Latino fresh and dried foods, oils, sauces, beverages and spices. It was like going to the Farmer’s Market in Nashville, but without the 45-minute drive. The packaging with pretty labels in languages I couldn’t read was fascinating, and once I tried the Tandoori spice mix, I was a regular consumer of that corner of the store. Then, the product offerings began to diminish until one day the square footage, the size of a small shop, was transformed into a beer and tailgate party folding chair department, which later became a gift card and holiday wrap nook, and ultimately, the pharmacy. The International section, which had boasted its own pink tube lighting announcing its presence, was reduced to half an aisle of ramen and canned chilies. No more Tandoori spices. No more dried chiles. No more anything interesting. Welcome to homogenous America.

There are certain staples I try to keep in the house, because with them, I can throw down a meal in about ten minutes. One of these items is creamy chicken flavor ramen noodles. It’s the best flavor for making my beloved cheesy ramen with Korean hot pepper paste. Trust me on this. I've tried every other flavor – oriental, shrimp, roast chicken, chili, pork, beef – but the creamy chicken flavor rules. So, guess which flavor ramen I can’t find anymore? Anywhere. There will be a mile of shelf space housing case after case of crap-flavored ramen – and not a single brick of creamy chicken to be found. We are now stuck with funky flavored noodles. At least I still have the pepper paste covered, thanks to the proliferation of Korean markets across town. For now, anyway.

I am (or more correctly, I was) a fan of the fresh refrigerated pasta products, especially the linguine, fettucine and angel hair, which of course means those are no longer available, either. There is enough ravioli and tortellini in town to sink an entire naval fleet, but not a box of fresh flat pasta to be found for my fried noodle cake recipe – flat fresh pasta noodles pressed into a giant pancake and fried in olive oil with pine nuts. No fresh fettucine to accompany my creamy pesto sauce made with basil I grew myself. No more ready in five minutes flat fresh angel hair with white clam sauce. Bastards.

When I first moved to Tennessee, I naively assumed there would be sweet potatoes on every menu I saw. It’s the South – they grow them here, don’t they? There are Sweet Potato Princesses in every town, right? I even researched (and confirmed) my initial impression concerning my beloved sweet potato to make sure I wasn’t completely delusional. According to, “During the Civil War, the supply of some foods in the South started to run low. When coffee became hard to get, the sweet potato was used to make a tasty hot drink. It was cut into thin pieces, dried, ground and brewed just like coffee!” Wait, there’s more… “Nearly every large farm in the South had a sweet potato patch during the Civil War. This was a large area with a fence around it where hills of yams were covered with straw and soil. This covering protected the sweet potatoes from the cold and frost of winter, helping them become sweet and tasty.”

Heck, I used to eat sweet potato fries in Worcester, Mass all the time – served with the amazing Cajun catfish with mango salsa at Tortilla Sam’s on Highland Street. Imagine my shock upon realizing the only place I could find sweet potatoes on a menu in Clarksville, Tennessee was Outback Steak House (and those are baked and smothered in 1,000 calories of butter and brown sugar). And imagine my unbridled joy upon discovering sweet potato fries in the freezer section at WalMart, where I was able to buy them in large bags. Well, for a couple months, anyway. Then they stopped carrying them. Soooo….. whassup, fine people of the South? Why are there no danged sweet potato fries?

I once heard a comment that was alleged to have been uttered by a manager at a military Post Exchange (“the PX”). A customer asked if there was any more Product X – and the manager is now infamously quoted as having said, “Oh, no. We kept running out of that, so we stopped carrying it.” Is that the retail mentality consumers are stuck dealing with?

I have a glimmer of hope that there may be a solution to my scarce supplies. “Dear Santa, I have been a kinda sorta good girl this year. This year for Christmas, I would like a case of sweet potato fries, a case of fresh fettucine (and a freezer to store them in) and a pallet of creamy chicken ramen noodles (they are only 17 cents a brick). And please don’t let 30 Rock be cancelled.”

1 comment:

  1. Maybe I could bring you the sweet potato fries at Thanksgiving - or Carmen would be glad to teach you how to make them - really easy actually, slice/dice, olive oil, salt, bake one side, flip and bake the other side - one of the few ways I will eat sweet potatoes.