Friday, January 25, 2013

Lack of gourmet groceries eats at you after a while

I had no idea there were folks who lived at Smith Mountain Lake and thought life was the same, from grabbing a bite to eat to going to the movies, church and doctors, as it is in other places. As the song says, "It ain't necessarily so..."

There may be a select few for whom being able to access those things doesn't mean much. The upper uppers may not do their own grocery shopping; may watch movies at their home theater; have their own cook, driver, and, maybe, their own doctor (that last one is a stretch, I suspect). But for the rest of us...

Down here on the Penhook side, we don't have a supermarket, let alone a gourmet market. I've worked hard enough to finally afford to shop in one, and now I can't find one close enough to home to get there before the organic tofu goes bad.

We have a Food Lion in Gretna and a Kroger and Walmart in Rocky Mount. I remember my mother telling me never to complain about how I have it because it might get worse. Right now, I am thinking that if I continue to complain, the managers of every supermarket in Rocky Mount will approach me at the door and tell me I am no longer welcome. But here goes anyway.

I know that if I wanted to shop at Wegman's, Harris Teeter, Whole Foods or Costco, I could have stayed in Northern Virginia. And I know that most of those who will read this are pretty satisfied with the super-human efforts of the Westlake Kroger to come darned close to all of the above. But the Kroger at Westlake is a half-hour drive from Penhook. And considering that the market we were promised (the recession delayed it) was only a Food Lion, well, we are in the culinary doldrums.

I am not digging the Minute Markets that dot the landscape along Virginia40. We have one right here in Penhook. And because The Water's Edge opens onto 40 at Penhook, we get The New York Times, The Washington Post and Tom and Ted's thick-slice bacon. If you have not had T&T's bacon slathered with bourbon and brown sugar and put in a smoker for five hours, you are missing something indescribable. You probably have lower cholesterol levels, but I am not talking healthy living in this column.

Nearly 10 years ago, while stationed in Bosnia, I was told by a local physician that during the siege of Sarajevo, people who survived were in better health than before the war. Shortages of cooking oil, sugar, pork, alcohol and cigarettes made the populace generally healthier. But I did not move down here to be forced to live healthier.

I don't blame the new Sunken City Brewery for locating where nearly all the amenities for lake owners (and renters) are located. But if they had opted for the area between Rocky Mount and Penhook, they would have had a much stronger connection with the true heart of the "Wettest County in the World." If they were in Penhook, I could walk home. That would mean I would most assuredly be a stronger customer than I can be and still be competent for a half-hour drive on Brooks Mill.

There are some ways to accommodate this remoteness we enjoy here along the banks of the Little Bull Run. I have a smoker, a Weber, a large freezer and something called La Caja China (see www.lacajachina.com), all of which contribute to our learning to do without.

But if you want to run out for a quick pizza with crust made from risen dough and not what appears to be overgrown communion hosts, you probably need to learn to do that part yourself. Walmart has mozzarella, and you can grow basil and tomatoes yourself, at least part of the year. But even Walmart is 14 miles down the moonshine highway.

I won't talk about making your own Limoncello because you can't buy Everclear in Virginia. Darn. Maybe there is a case or two of that other stuff hidden in the woods along Virginia 40. I will let you know.