One of the things I love best about living here in the Flathead Valley is the wonderful access we have to great food. It’s a foodie’s paradise. Or at least, coming out of the culinary isolation of rural America, it seems like it. I will say our local grocery in North Dakota happily was run by a family that was up on some of the latest cooking trends that did not include cream of mushroom soup and Jell-O with carrots. So I was able to find “exotic” things like Asian sauces, fresh gingerroot, a few fresh herbs on occasion, organic milk (which was awesome to have for Burrito), anchovy paste, sundried tomatoes, pesto and the like. I was very grateful to them for their hard work stocking some of these items because it made a big difference to me in that tiny town.
But even so, it was quite a small store….and the next nearest store was 15 minutes away…followed by one that was 30 minutes from home…followed by the larger town’s stores that were a full 75 minutes from home. I never knew for sure if I would find what I needed for a given recipe close to home, so when I was in the larger town, I was forced to stock up on things. This, of course, meant that the chances of my stock-piled food items going bad before I needed them was high. It was a very frustrating place for a budding cook to live, especially since for most of the time we lived there, there was no restaurant in town (unless you count gas station pizza—I don’t). So, with no take-out options, I had no choice but to learn to cook the good food that I wanted to eat. I had always been interested in cooking and even pretty decent at it but my desire to get better at more interesting dishes really began to take off in North Dakota. With no good pizza or Asian food available for take-out, there was really no other option than to make it myself.
So, now that I live in an area with many beautiful, new grocery stores and wonderful restaurants and bakeries, I begin to get a little giddy when I walk in the door of one of these establishments. When I lived in North Dakota, I used to go to Whole Foods when I was on vacation, mainly to look at all the beautiful food. It was rather like visiting an art gallery for me. We all need a place for beauty in our lives and for me, a big part of where I find beauty is in food. I seriously get this quivery feeling of joy all over my body when I’m in the presence of that much beautiful food. The feeling is, I think, a bit like the over-stimulation a toddler must feel in a toy store. What to look at first? What to touch first?
I still get that feeling when I go in places that have lots of beautiful food. I still can’t get over the fact that I can go to my local grocery store and find fine cheeses in the cheese case (and this is the grocery store that locals don’t care for too much!). I can scarcely believe I can go down to Great Northern Foods in Bigfork and pick up a French baguette that is not only beautifully golden but that is also a divine thing to eat, crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside, tempered with the complexity of flavor that putting time into bread will bring. I pinch myself when I sit down to share a huge warm, homemade cinnamon roll with Burrito at Pocketstone Café. Cinnamon rolls usually taste like cardboard, in my opinion, but this one is made with real food, not “foodlike substances.” It’s chewy and fresh and topped with an amazing homemade cream cheese frosting that doesn’t use sugar to disguise the flavor but to bring out the flavor. The care and time that have been put into this treat have converted this cinnamon roll skeptic to its lover after all.
Every grocery store here carries artisan bread and more obscure produce like fennel, celeriac, fine mushrooms, mangos, big tubs of fresh basil. Every grocery store has a large and affordable selection of wine. Every grocery store has a fine cheeses case with a goodly variety. And then there was the machine I found at Mountain Valley Foods in Kalispell where you could grind your own peanut butter into nutty, creamy goodness. I nearly swooned.
And so I have taken surveying missions into the wonderful grocery stores our area has to offer. It is a wonder to now read a recipe and know where I can find most any ingredient in it and within a few minutes’ drive too. The richness of the food available in this area makes my heart sing.
I know I’m a bit overly interested in my food, but besides writing, it’s my art form. I just love to prepare and enjoy something wonderful. And I love that there is always more to learn about food. You never fully master the arts of cooking and eating. You just keep discovering more wonderful things. What a joy to be free to express that love and learn all the good things there are to prepare and eat in this world…especially this foodie paradise corner of the world.