How do you go grocery shopping?

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Image by Ave Bonar.

Once upon a time, in a land not far away, a very normal cook named Raleigh-Elizabeth went grocery shopping. It wasn’t for anything special, or any day special, or any feast special. No no, she just needed regular groceries for a regular week. A regular week in a regular family.

Nothing too hard here, she thought intrepidly. No big bad wolves or evil witches, just a girl and a grocery list. Four grocery stores later (and two trips to the same store), our food-loving heroine looked at her list and sighed. How could there still be outstanding items? Do you think Harris Teeter has that semolina flour I need? she texted her husband, desperate for him to offer to pick it up on his way home from work. Why are short ribs so hard to find today? And why doesn’t anyone carry heavy cream anymore?

At some point, sitting in traffic on the way to the grocery store, I realized that real life stories of grocery shopping sound better in fairytale form. In real life, I manage to delete my grocery list on my phone with my thumb, lose the scribbled preliminary list in the bottom of my pocket book, buy eight things I don’t need, and come home without eight things I do.

In fairytales, a magical foodie godmother can wave a grocery store wand and ta-da!, a one-stop shopping world would appear before me.

In real life, that place is called Wegmans. With locations in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, Wegmans sells everything: Le Crueset, baked goods to rival your town’s most-beloved bakery, affordable drinkware, oysters shucked to order, all natural diapers, smelly cheeses from all over the globe, and normal things like Goya beans and Diet Cokes by the dozen. Whatever your culinary vice, they’re there to nurture, fuel, and sustain the habit. And they also have a really fabulous ready-made food market. (It’s the only grocery store where it pays to arrive hungry.)

A visit to Wegman’s is a mandatory part of any visit to my see my mother, who lives in Baltimore, but grocery stores are on my tourist to-do list whenever I travel. In Italy, I’m always amazed by the boxed cream you can get in the non-perishables aisles. In Belize, I fell in love with a brand of frozen arepas I still crave on a daily basis. In Connecticut, my heart was stolen by a singing cow at Stew Leonard’s (which is every bit Disney-meets-grocery, with really good dairy). Each visit teaches me a little bit more about food and a lot more about the area.

At home in North Carolina, the lesson I learn repeatedly is the more the merrier — at least when it comes to the number of grocery stores it will take to knock-out my grocery list for the week. We live an hour from the nearest town, and grocery shopping is a five-store effort (plus two more if you count the farmers’ market and the local dairy where I buy my eggs).

Even when I’m following all of Bon Appetit’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Grocery Shoppers, grocery shopping can be a Herculean experience. I make the list. I plot out the store. I organize my shopping with the best of them. But as I make my way to the last store on my list — or worse, back to the first store for the second time — I imagine I’m not the exhausted grocery shopper I am in real life, but rather a food fairytale heroine, mastering the maze of grocery stores, arriving at checkout with everything she needs, and only once in awhile clicking her heels and hoping that foodie godmother is coming. But really, she’s coming, right?

Tell me: Where do you do your grocery shopping? Do you have a great store you can’t live without? Do you have any tips for shopping more effectively?