If Jean-Paul Sartre were alive and writing today, the room in No Exit would be Costco. Everyone who works there is dead-eyed and listless. "Delicious pizza here," one food-sample-lady groans. "Try some yogurt today?" another pleads despondently. Employees with forklifts lumber after customers like angry elephants in pursuit of ivory poachers. Cashiers radiate resentful disdain. Receipt checkers eye departing shoppers like human traffickers. I'm pretty sure cheerfulness is a firing offense at Costco.
Yet once a month or so I visit Costco to buy coffee. You can get three pounds of excellent, organic, fair trade beans for about 12 bucks. (This as compared to say, Whole Foods, where you might get half a pound of the same for 12 bucks, not including the cost of therapy required to recover your self-esteem after parking your sensibly-priced car in a lot teeming with German engineering.)
Beyond coffee, I have a short list of staples that I pick up at Costco: olive oil, frozen fish, biscotti, Progresso soups, lunch meat for the Man (I mean really - where else can you get 2 1/2 pounds of turkey breast for $8?), and unsalted peanuts (for squirrels. We all know humans should never eat unsalted nuts). And that's it. I'm kind of a kook about comparison shopping (!) and I find that most of the stuff you can get at Costco you can get cheaper at Target or Walgreens or Trader Joe's or even Safeway or Lucky if you see it on sale. And given that my household consists of me, the Man, and the Boy, we've never really needed 100 pounds of rice. Or twelve, 1.5 liter jugs of one-off vodka. The Boy is not of drinking age, after all.
Those few staples pay off nicely. Here's a simple lunch or light dinner that tastes great, takes about 5 minutes to pull together, and comes in under 400 calories. Lots of iron and vitamin C, a decent helping of protein, and even some calcium. All ingredients available at Costco, god help me.
1 can Progresso Chicken Noodle Soup
2 or 3 handfuls of baby spinach (from a bag)
5 or 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 ounce grated sharp cheddar
Throw the tomatoes and spinach in a 2-quart saucepan. Pour the soup over the top. Crank the heat up to high and let it cook, stirring and pushing the spinach into the broth until the spinach has wilted and turned bright green (about 3 - 4 minutes). Pour the soup into a bowl and top it with the grated cheddar and a grind or two of black pepper. Put a handful of pita chips or crackers on the side for crunch. This will serve two people with light appetites (about 200 calories each) or one person who just got home from the gym and is freaking starving (400 calories).