A Free Lunch, After All
by Donald Baillargeon
In the hallowed days of the old West, settlers would travel for a couple
of days to make their thrice yearly trip to the general store, stocking
up on supplies to get them through the next three or four months.
Nothing much has changed since then except the trip now takes about 20 minutes, happens just about every week and the modern general store is not an outpost on the remote frontier, it is Costco.
Costco is an amazing phenomenon of 21st century consumerism; you can almost feel the glaring eyes of Lenin and Mao as they realize from the afterworld, that this kind of abundance of choices is what doomed the ideology of communism. Had Costco been around during the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, they would no doubt have seen selling souvenir stones within a week.
The amazing selection of food at Costco is also a sight to behold and I
am not only referring to 40 ounce cans of tuna or a four-pack of quart
jars of chunky peanut butter. Visit Costco on a weekend afternoon and
you discover that Robert A. Heinlein was correct in his 1965 novel, The
Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, a free lunch can and does exist.
On my most recent visit to the Costco Buffet, as I like to call it, I
was presented with myriad opportunities to sample the finest in frozen
and vacuum-packed bulk cuisine.
The Chicken Chow Mein had been thawed at warehouse temperature and sauteed with great care in a portable electric skillet, directly across
from the display of tube socks for men, six pair for $10. The noodles,
chicken bits and finely chopped vegetables were served in a paper cup,
accompanied by a plastic spork. The blending of flavors was sublime, yet
satisfying. I did not see the package, but I am sure five pounds of the
stuff would set you back no more than $16.99.
We passed on the Egg Rolls, which has been heated in a toaster oven
contraption that appeared to be a veteran of many Costco Buffet
weekends. They must have been indescribably delicious, because as they
came out and were cut into thirds, they disappeared faster than Bobby the attendant could restock his trusty Black & Decker.
I was delighted by the Spinach-Basil Ravioli in a Parmesan Cream Sauce.
I actually went back for seconds. No spork needed here, the paper
cupcake holder allows you to simply scoop these up in a single mouthful,
not even a napkin is necessary. These were so good, you would have no
trouble fooling a few people with them at a dinner party or pot luck.
Uncork a nice Sangiovese and you are good to go.
With so many more choices ahead of us, it was time to cleanse our
palates a bit and the strawberry yogurt seemed like the perfect choice.
The 1 ounce cup samples were the perfect size and I was also able to
load an 18 pack of paper towels into the underside of our shopping cart
at the same time.
It was about that time we met Jake. Jake is a delightfully seasoned
citizen and while I would not venture to guess his actual age, it was
obvious he had kissed some lucky gal in the streets on V-E day. Jake was
putting out the sample cups of Vita Drink, which provided the energy and stamina to continue our trek. Jake admitted to loving his job, but told me he hoped they wouldn’t ask him to work Sundays during the second half of the NFL season or he may have to quit.
We maneuvered around the short line waiting for the Pad Thai to come off the skillet and made our way to the deli section, where you can purchase five pound blocks of virtually any cheese known to the world.
We resumed our feast with a little salad sprinkled with Pecorino and
were then stopped cold in our tracks by something called Salsa-Coated
Salami. Now I am unaware of any history of war between the countries of Italy and Mexico, but this potentially combustible combination of
flavors could certainly be suspected of being a WMD. It was also being
presented too far enough away from the Tums display for most anyone’s
comfort. No line to circumvent here, I strode forward and offered myself
as a guinea pig. The bite of the salami is followed by a swift right
cross to the jaw from the salsa. If you enjoy spicy food, you will love
this. Just keep some bottled water nearby.
Madalena was busy frying up some Tequila Lime Turkey and several people were pretending to have a conversation close by, in order be first in line when she served it up. As for me, it was time for dessert and the
Macadamia Roca was perfect. Some ice cream to sooth the latent burn from the Salsa Salami would have been nice, but there is a Tastee Freeze out in the parking lot.
We did manage to drop about $300 at Costco that day, but came home with a new fax machine, 64-ounce bottles of shampoo and conditioner and a 4 pound block of Parmagiano Reggiano.
But the lunch was free and no one in the family was even hungry for
dinner that evening.