English is my mother-in-law’s fifth language. She is of Armenian and Russian heritage but grew up in Tehran. She loves animals; she’s a gourmet cook; she is kind, intelligent and generous. And she is a food hoarder.
Lilian’s refrigerator is filled to the gills with mystery and odor. Attempts to clear it out of expired food are always met with “I can use that for something else.” She throws away nothing. My sister-in-law refers to meals at her mother’s house as “playing mayonnaise roulette.” Our kids play a game of finding the oldest expiration date in her pantry. Lillian once proudly held out a carton of milk to me and said, “Smell this. It’s turned to yogurt.” She recently made a lamb dish only to discover that the meat had turned a bit. (Where I come from, we call this rancid.) So she decided if she added strong Indian spices, it would taste OK. It’s a wonder she has not come down with some exotic gastrointestinal malady by now.
Like her own upbringing, Liilian’s food shopping territory covers all nationalities. She buys spices at the Indian grocery, bread at the Middle Eastern market, and vegetables at the Asian supermarket. She knows what’s in season when and she knows a good bargain when she sees it. She bought me a membership to Costco because it’s out of her driving radius and she needs someone who won’t judge to take her shopping there.
I love/hate our visits to Costco. We determined early on that it’s best if she gets her own cart. If you saw her cart in the aisle there, you might think it contained supplies for a large, alcoholic prepper family – large blocks of cheese, cases of wine, huge boxes of fruits, salmon in bulk, nicotine gum, Prilosec, breads and any other assorted items they have decided to sample at the store that day. Her focus is amazing. I once passed her in the aisles three times and she didn't notice me until I crashed my cart into hers- - - the second time.
At some point a few days after the trip to Costco, Lilian realizes the folly of buying perishable items in such huge quantities, and the drive-by fruitings begin. We’ll come home to find a bag of figs hanging on the doorknob, or some mangoes tucked outside the storm door. Not one to waste a thing, she also begins making jellies and pies out of the fruits that have started to turn.
Just for fun, I joined her for a visit to the Asian grocery yesterday. Her doctor told her to eat more vegetables and the Asian supermarket has the best deals on vegetables. It was so fun to watch her fill her cart to capacity with tomatoes, red peppers, eggplants, radishes, leeks, and a few interesting squashes I had never seen. She is somehow deliberate and reckless at the same time so I followed behind and picked up the produce left rolling on the floor in her wake. She chattered on about the healthy dishes she was planning to make, showed me how to find a ripe pineapple, and described the taste of some of the more exotic vegetables.
Once home, we unloaded bag after bag of fruits and vegetables on her counter so she could begin her ritual cleansing. For someone so loosey goosey on expiration dates, she is a stickler for clean produce. I asked her why and she told me she imagines the farm workers picking strawberries and then not wanting to leave their row to relieve themselves. (Boy. I’m glad we did not come home with strawberries. ) She sent me home with a too-large bag of oranges, which I’ll add to the too-large bag of oranges she gave us last week.
I’m fairly certain we’ll be getting a dinner invitation soon, and in a few days, a bag of very ripe fruit will turn up at our door.