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Sometimes I am just appalled by the cost of food in the U.S. Or rather, at major grocery stores in the U.S. I really haven’t been going to Jewel very often–I’ve got the marvelous Morse Market down the street, which has a lot of European products, good and varied produce, and inexpensive meat–so I haven’t been paying attention. But here I am, four and a bit months out from my return to the States, in the throes of major culture shock.

Because here’s the thing. This morning I decided, for some inexplicable reason, that today was the day I was going to make borscht for the first time. I can offer no explanation, but I experienced a little frisson of pride when all of the ingredients (plus a bottle of orange extract for a later project) came to $12.50. And this recipe will keep me in borscht for the next month.

It took all day, what with the roasting of the beets and the peeling of the beets and the chopping of everything else, and then realizing that none of my pots were big enough for the profusion of chopped vegetables and beef neck bone and water that this involved, and also that one of my prettiest cooking vessels has a major crack in it (my stovetop has some amusing magenta puddles on it…shades of that time I painted my kitchen table hot pink). I ended up cooking it–a process which takes two hours–in the same saucepan that I made my pasta sauce in the other day. And by the time it came off the stove, I was sick unto death of it and now the thought of eating borscht for dinner is making me a little queasy.

Pretty to look at, though.

My apartment was so warm and smelled so strongly of beets that I decided to get some air and head out to Jewel, to buy ingredients for some goodies I wanted to bring to my friend Hannah’s Twelfth Night party tomorrow. For some reason Morse Market, for all of its merits, did not carry chocolate chips or shredded coconut.

It occurs to me now that I could have gone the other direction to Aldi and bought these ingredients cheaper, but my brain was addled by pink fumes, and I wasn’t thinking too clearly. So I bought chocolate chips, almonds, a Snapple, English muffins, freezer bags, and parchment paper, which came to almost $20–AND I had to go across the street to Whole Foods for the unsweetened coconut, bringing the total to nearly $24. Maybe it was all of the paper goods, but I found that price a little mind-boggling, especially after I spent $12.50 on a batch of borscht that will be lunch for days (with leftover ingredients!). I wonder if my memories of French supermarkets being cheap are correct, or if I was just eating on a student budget, or if it was my particular branch of Franprix.

Who knows? I’m not really intending to turn this into a food blog, but I’ve been cooking a lot, so it seems only natural.

Speaking of borscht, a historically Jewish food (though the recipe I used called for a ham bone, so maybe not so much–I used beef), I had a hilarious experience at my French meet-up group on Wednesday.

I was sitting next to a guy I hadn’t met before, a chemistry professor at ITT Tech, and I was telling him that I had actually been to ITT Tech before, to help out at an SAI (that’s Sigma Alpha Iota, remember?) initiation at Vandercook College of Music. I explained to this gentleman, Ben, that because it was a brand-new chapter, without our help they wouldn’t have had enough people to fill all the roles in the initiation ceremony (and I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to get more specific than that, sorority ritual and all that).

And he said, “Est-ce qu’on avait besoin d’un minyan?”

My reaction to that question can only be described as delighted surprise. I think I gawped at Ben for a full 30 seconds, then burst out laughing. It was such a perfect moment of mutual recognition–and how strange that it should have happened in French!

I didn’t even really need to ask him if he was Jewish (juif) after that. But I did anyway, because I was so tickled by the whole thing.


P.S. I realize that it is a little tacky to reveal how much everything costs.

Despite appearances, I actually do not begrudge anyone who will be consuming them the price of these orange chocolate coconut clusters. Especially not Hannah, who has driven me all over the Chicagoland area, fed me cookies and tea, and sent me home with divine homemade jam, spare breadcrumbs and spices and corn starch. Besides, all told, the ingredients for said clusters weren’t that expensive–it was mostly just compared to the borscht. *shudders* Which I’m sure is delicious.