Ah, Neiman Marcus. The Mothership. Just thinking of their cosmetic world creates a visceral longing . . . like an opiate addiction. Say it with me: Tom Ford. . . Chanel. Your muscle memory just unconsciously reached for your credit card, right? For one as poor as I, how did I ever frequent Neiman’s, either on-line or in person at the original Dallas Mothership? Once upon a time I experienced such a desire to return to the Mothership that I ordered a pair of sandals, on-line, from a satellite phone in West Africa. Great sandals.
Today a grocery store satisfies my shopping addiction. The mere idea saddens me and should serve as a cautionary tale to any Costa Rica resident without a JetBox account who was or is a shoe or perfume lover – how are the mighty fallen?
I don’t know whether Auto-Mercado reigns as the best grocer in Costa Rica, but in my mind there exists nothing better. Is the store truly so full of wonders such as berries and pickling cucumbers, or have I simply lowered the bar? I think of Auto-Mercado as being on par with Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Central Market, and the Food Halls at Harrods. So clearly the bar hasn’t merely lowered, it’s crumbled. Nevertheless.
Our closest Auto-Mercado is a two-hour drive. Add a minimum hour for shopping and 30 minutes for lunch at the Subway® next door and we’re talking about a six-hour outing. And what has, you ask, the Auto-Mercado that our local grocers have not? Let’s list just some of it:
- Iceberg lettuce. Heck, a variety of lettuces in a real produce section.
- A deli counter with sliced cheeses and cold-cuts from around the world. Think Boar’s Head. Think Reuben sandwich.
- An in-store bakery with everything from flat-bread pizza to bagels and warm-from-the-oven French breads.
I need to stop the list because merely typing it makes me hungry and makes me long for my new Mothership. Anyway, my point is: What the heck do people cook and eat in this country?! It will be a sad and most desperate day when I’ll eat green peas from a can. The inclusion of green in one’s diet, while essential, remains virtually impossible here in Samara. And don't get me started on fruit. In a country with so many limes, why can't the farmers grow a lemon . . . or an orange orange? Sure, frozen peas (good ones) can be found at the Maxi Palí in Nicoya, 40 minutes away, but not at our local Palí. Must be because our local grocer lacks the Maxi in the Palí. So the only way to obtain a plentiful supply of fresh, green veggies involves a six-plus-hour trek to the Auto-Mercado.
Under the category of been there, done that, we can name and have prepared countless meals of chicken and potatoes, steak and potatoes, pork and potatoes, fajitas, Stroganoff, chili, stew . . . and yes, all of these meals have been prepared both simply and most elaborately. For the past week all dinners were French with plenty of heart-stopping butter and cream (I've been on a French sauce kick). So it’s not that we lack delicious meals; but a good steak au poivre calls for something green. . . . doesn't it? Anything green. For Christ’s sake, how freekin’ difficult is it to find a fresh, worthy green bean or a firm head of broccoli?!
And so I bake . . . because if one can't have asparagus, one can have tarts, pastries, cakes, and brownies. If I can't eat celery, I'll nosh on cream puffs. We hear rumors that Nicoya will soon have its own Auto-Mercado. Sure . . . I'm buying that tale . . . and Neiman Marcus probably has plans for a new Tico flagship store in San Fernando. I’ll hold my breath. Lo que hay.