May 5, 2006
Random Acts of Kindness in the Supermarket, Day two of Shopping Locally and a Leek Recipe

Yesterday as I stood in line at the supermarket doing my usual game of "now if I had chosen THAT line, would I be closer to actually paying and getting myself out of here?" I noticed the girl in front of me getting a bit restless. After a moment, it became obvious that she was struggling with the desire to get some chewing gum about three feet away from the line and her reluctance to lose her place in line. Eventually, she took the plunge and darted over to get the gum. It took her a moment to get the container out of the rack, probably because she was in such a panicky hurry to get back to her place in line before I noticed she was out. Standard Parisian etiquette (or lack thereof), you see, dictates that I should have immediately scooted forward to her place in line and shot her dirty looks if she tried to get back in line there. In fact, the woman behind ME was bumping into me with impatience. I stood my ground, though, and let the young woman back to her place and she shot me a surprised smile in return. It felt nice being nice.

Usually, I'm fuming when I'm in line at the Monoprix. The biggest culprits in the Driving Me Mad Game are the cashier who sees a patron looking through her change purse for exact change and then - when she is presented with a bill - asks if the client doesn't have exact change? (HELLO, did you not see me look for exact change and realise reluctantly that I'll have to break a bill? Do you think I'm just toying with you and actually could have given you 36 cents?) Her accomplice is the sad little old lady who delights in being asked if she has exact change as it gives her an excuse to prolong the conversation and discuss small coins, the disappearance of the franc and other weighty matters. I should really be more patient.

Anyway, the second random act of kindness came my way as I was checking out today. I was struggling with half a dozen bags because the second supermarket I frequent has started using really flimsy ones that can't take two bottles of wine and a half a kilo of vegetables. And the fellow behind me reached over and (more competently than I) sorted out the handles of the last few bags and handed them to me with a smile. It made me smile all the way home.

As for the local shopping, I found to my surprise that I was gravitating automatically towards every product that was shouting "I COME FROM VERY FAR AWAY AND USED A LOT OF FUEL TO GET HERE". It reminds me of the days when I was pregnant and my cravings mostly consisted of all the foods that were forbidden: soft unpasteurised cheeses, raw oysters, sushi, rare meat. I would pick up a package of chorizo and scan it anxiously to see if, by chance, it was actually made in France. The funny thing is that without the challenge I would normally be doing the opposite: making sure it was actually Spanish and therefore authentic.

In the end, I purchased some wine from Chablis, a couple of steaks, some pretty nice tomatoes and 8 leeks, all from France, exact origin unknown. (It will be easier to pinpoint the exact origin of produce when I go to the market tomorrow and can ask the sellers.) I made a lovely Stilton sauce for the leeks and grilled them for extra flavour. (The Stilton, for those who are wondering, fell into the "already in my fridge" exemption to shopping locally...and in fact it was in desperate need of being used up. Waste not, want not!)

I've made variations on this cheese sauce quite a few times but last night was the first time I used milk instead of cream or creme fraiche. To my surprise it came out just as creamy and delicious as usual and was easier on the calories.

Grilled Leeks with Stilton Sauce (serves 3-4 as a side dish or starter)

8-10 leeks, cleaned with the tough dark green ends and roots chopped off
3/4 cup Stilton or other blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup grated cheddar
1/2 small onion
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs flour
1 tsp tarragon
freshly ground pepper
200 ml milk

Fill a deep frying pan with water and bring it to a boil. Drop the leeks in and cook them for a few minutes, just until they are starting to scent the kitchen. This will ensure that they don't dry out when you put them on the grill. Drain them and set them aside until the grill is hot.

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Chop the small onion finely (or a shallot would do nicely too) and add to the butter, cooking for a few minutes until it softens and smells nice. Add the tarragon and cook for a few minutes longer. Stir in the flour and turn up the heat, stirring quickly to coat all the onions and keep the flour from just sitting in the bottom of the pan. Slowly stir in the milk, whisking rapidly. Once the milk is hot and the flour lumps have been beaten into submission, gradually add the cheeses. Don't add them all at once or they will cool down the milk and you'll have to increase the heat and risk curdling the milk trying to melt all the cheese. Taste for seasoning: it probably won't need salt but pepper will bring out the flavours.

Toss the leeks on a hot grill and let them brown on all sides before serving them with the cheese sauce. It goes very well with a few grilled steaks (we used the sauce on the steaks too!) and the first tomato salad of the season.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at May 5, 2006 10:01 AM Print-friendly version

The exact change thing is annoying. I'd be sorely tempted to jingle a pocket full of change as I answered "Why no, I don't. Don't you and this multimillion dollar company plan to have enough change to satisfy the needs of the customers who made your stockholders rich last year?"

Posted by barrett on May 5, 2006 at 1:14 PM

Meg, in all my years with my boyfriend he comes home with pockets full of change each day which just piles up --much to my aggravation. Since living in France, I cant keep a single coin to save my life because the sales staff want every single coin you have on your person--its a very strange phenomenon. I have to fight them off just to ensure I have change for the laundromat. Although I did hear that in France the shops have to pay the banks a fee to get change and that perhaps is why they are so eager to wait for our coins? Either way, it does get annoying ;)

Posted by michele on May 6, 2006 at 10:47 AM

Michele, somehow my dear spouse manages to avoid these change-stealers...probably due to the fact that he never sets foot in a grocery store unless I have a particulary potent guilt trip going.

On the other hand, I consider this change the "laundry tax" for being the one who does the most work in this area. We have one of those coin sorters and I throw it all in there (and sometimes the stuff he leaves scattered around the flat for good measure). I'm not sure (yet) what "we" are saving up for, but we have about 50 euros so far tucked away in paper rolls!

Just something to bear in mind in case you ever leave this strange coin-loving country!

But I still really hate it when they exact change after you have visibly demonstrated that you don't have it!!

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 6, 2006 at 4:52 PM
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