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Perfunctory potato purchases

I was digging in the back of one of my kitchen cupboards yesterday and moving some things around when my mind said, “I wonder what’s in this paper bag?” I opened and saw the spidery-est looking potatoes I’d ever seen, thus answering the question about what was in the bag.


I sighed, pulled them out and put them in the compost bucket I take to my mom’s place and wondered, yet again, why I even bother to buy potatoes. Now, I love to eat potatoes. Fries are one of my faves. I like mashed potatoes. I like all kinds of potatoes. I just rarely get around to cooking them, favoring rice as my go-to starch and–of late (and now that I have a convection oven with air-frying capabilities) sweet potato tater tots. They are divine.

But potatoes? Eh.

Maybe it’s a minor traumatic experience I had with potatoes years back that made me not want to buy them. See, I’d moved to San Francisco at the innocent age of 20. I lived in a super-hip part of a super-hip city and was delighted to discover a nearby grocery store. I don’t recall exactly how “nearby;” it was maybe five or six blocks from where I lived.

Wanting to be out, to see–and be seen; wanting to be urban and walking and living and doing, I decided to walk to the grocery store for my first trip there.

I didn’t have any shopping list in hand that I can recall, and I wasn’t much of a cook (at all), but I’d seen my mother shop and bring home groceries, so I grabbed a shopping cart and proceeded to shop, mimicking my mother and her purchases to some extent. Included among my purchasing decisions was a 10-lb. bag of potatoes, a whole chicken and who knows what else.

The cashier rang up my order, bagged my groceries and off I went. Home. Walking. Five or six blocks back to the apartment and the furnished room I was renting from Dean.

In very short order, I knew I had made a mistake. A big, heavy mistake. I had bought food way beyond my needs (10 pounds of potatoes versus one or two), for example. Plus whatever else I had bought for my first  stock-the-kitchen foray to a grocery store.

My hands and wrists were stressed, trying to carry the heavy bags home. My back was aching, trying to hold the bags and walk upright. My feet hurt. (I was wearing dress shoes, not walking shoes). I was mortified. I was anxious. I was embarrassed. I clearly had in my hands too many bags and too much weight to carry. I didn’t know what to do other than to keep walking, painful, excruciating and difficult as it was. For as easy and enjoyable as the walk to the grocery store had been, it was a grueling, difficult and long, long way back home.

Once home, I attempted to cut the whole chicken the way my mother had done. Alas, I had a cheap, dull pairing knife and no knowledge of chicken anatomy or butchering skills, whereas my mother had sharp boning knife and was both the daughter of a butcher (who had a small grocery store in the front of their house) and of a mother who got her chickens fresh from neighbors who killed them for her.

Oh, I butchered that chicken, all right. Butchered it to barely recognizable pieces.

I don’t recall if I ate those 10 pounds of potatoes, or if they went the way of my recent spider-y potatoes and started pining to grow new potatoes from their seed.

I do remember I learned quite a few basic adulting skills that day, A#1 of which was this: If walking to a store, use the hand basket (not the cart), so I know how much weight I am committing to carrying home; #2 – the extra per-pound cost for cut meat is a better deal since I clearly didn’t have any butchering skills and had no idea of how to transform a whole chicken into tasty cuts, and #3 – only buy what I can reasonably eat in a reasonable period of time. (Eh, that last one I waver on still.)

But, yeah, overall: many a basic life lesson learned that day.

buried bread

Yesterday’s sight of the spidery potatoes also reminded me I have a half loaf of bread buried deep in my refrigerator bins. Purchased months ago when I embarked, for a few short weeks, on a seemingly noble path to learn how to make some basic foods, such as meatloaf, for which I needed breadcrumbs. That loaf has not seen the light of day since, and it may never yet.

Same with my tortillas. Sitting, laying, existing, waiting in my fridge for the day I say, “It’s time to have a burrito.” I’m not keto-ing my way through life, nor am I gluten-intolerant, but I know me and bread just aren’t the best of buds.

When I was back in Columbia and had one of my early-days apartments, I remember going to the health food store (the only source for it back in the early ’90s) and buying seven-grain bread, as that’s what we ate at home once my dad upended our childhood days of Wonderbread, PB&J, baloney sandwiches and whatnot when he decided we should eat healthy bread. Almost overnight: gone was the Wonderbread, soft, almost gooey and pliable; in its place: hard, chewy, nut-filled, make-you-work-at-it seven-grain bread. (It was not an easy transition, but it came to be what was in the Newburn household, so I adapted.)

It took me a year or two to figure things out, but I started to notice I would buy bread, not eat bread and then months later figure I should throw out said bread; only to then turn around and buy a new loaf of seven-grain bread; lather, rinse and repeat. It finally dawned on me, that on my own, away from my family’s eating patterns, I never reached for bread. I never desired a sandwich. There was never a moment or a time or a meal in which I needed or wanted bread.

In the following years, as I became more conscious of my food intake, my food-related mood and my overall state of well-being, I also began to notice that bread-y/carb-y foods often made me feel groggy in the moment, puffy-faced the day, and wanting more of the offending bread the following day. I could tell this wasn’t the healthiest of food relationships, and it was one I was able to let fall by the wayside. (Doesn’t mean I won’t eat it. I just don’t favor it. And I do like cookies and some desserts with flour in them.)

know thyself

Everyone has to figure themselves out. Well, you don’t “have” to, but it’s a good idea to put some attention on the subject. (You’re the one who benefits the most when you do!) In my early 30s, I once sat next to an elderly woman on airplane flight to wherever. I guess we were talking about food, because I remember her going on about eggs; how she couldn’t eat eggs; how they made her gassy.

“OMGoodness!” I thought to myself. “Please don’t let me be that person who talks about her ailments and problems in her elderly years.” And, yet, I also remember thinking, “Well, that’s good that she knows what doesn’t work for her body.”

I think we all will do well to take inventory and to note what foods make us feel better; and which foods make us feel worse, or cause gastric distress, or whatever. Everyone’s body is different. I bought some salami the other day that’s nitrate-free. Yeah, it was a bit more than salami with nitrates, but I know nitrates have my face looking puffy the next day and have my body feeling a bit achey. That’s a good thing to know. Doesn’t mean — just like with breads that often make me feel inflamed the next day — that I’ll never eat them; more so that I’ll be attentive and or at least less likely to eat with some consideration and awareness foods that don’t do as well in me.

What about you? What food zones do you favor or avoid? What particular foods get to you and cause you to say, “Hmm, maybe not for me”?




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