While we are on the subject of cans, there’s one other tin-ified item that I keep. Not in a cupboard, but chillin’ in the freezer, and that’s Trader Joe’s orange juice concentrate. No, it’s not as orangey as Tang or Beech-Nut fruit stripe gum. It is an unheralded savior of orange desserts. Unlike orange flower water or orange oil which must be used with the utmost precision, orange juice concentrate can be used with greater abandon. The flower water and orange oil vaguely remind me of a fragrance that I dodge when accosted by a perfume spritzing sales clerk at Bloomingdales. Frozen orange juice can be reduced rather quickly on top of the stove or in a microwave. The end result is highly concentrated simply making orange taste more like, well, orange.
Admittedly, I do not adhere to the teachings of the Ladies of the Home Journal who admonished readers to turn to their cupboards for inspiration. Opting not to share their philosophy that “all outdoors is at my fingertips” I prefer fresh to tinned, still seeking choices within the produce aisles.
Tis’ the season of citrus and as fond as I am of lemons and limes, I am particularly drawn to fresh Mandarins. Simultaneously sweet and tart, Mandarins also look great resting in a bowl on the kitchen counter. Mandarins seem perfectly comfortable in their own easy-to-peel skin, and don’t pine to be flashy like The Real Housewives of Blood-Orange County, all caught up in their pink and red selves.
Now about my chance encounter with the oranges. Years of therapy as opposed to years of running might have helped me cope with my Post Traumatic Restaurant Syndrome. Too late. A visual can trigger an episode, a flashback, a remembrance. The manager at our local Garden State market is always in the thick of things. Unpacking and arranging, decanting and displaying. The other day he was up to his madras shirt sleeves in Sunkist juice oranges. Suddenly, it was Sunday in Philadelphia at the Super Fresh supermarket. I was in a bit of a situation because a certain restaurant was shy one case of oranges. Orange juice was an integral part of the Sunday brunch “mise en place.” Which is a lovely way to say in French that somebody in the kitchen neglected to order the oranges. I went to the Super Fresh (we called it Stupid Fresh) in the hopes of snagging a case of the citrus, and have it back and squeezed before bottles of bubbly were being uncorked.
Sporting my Sunday morning kitchen best, smelling more than a little bit like French toast and bacon, I was frantically scanning the produce section hoping to find a manager. No one in sight, so I made a beeline to the Customer Service counter. In a quiet Sunday pre-noon voice, I asked the clerk if they could locate someone in produce to help me. No response. In dulcet tones I explained that I was hoping to buy a case of oranges. In a heartbeat, the store’s mega-amplified paging system was engaged. “MANAGER TO PRODUCE. MANAGER TO PRODUCE.” Through the swinging doors arrived the none-too-pleased produce meister. The paging system felt an obligation to capture our conversation. “YOU WANT TO BUY A CASE OF ORANGES?! LADY, WE SELL SINGLE ORANGES AND BAGS OF ORANGES. NOT CASES OF ORANGES.” Pleading with him to bend the rules just this once, he glared and disappeared back through the swinging doors. I waited and watched. Shoppers were filling their baskets with sensible groceries; a quart of orange juice, a gallon of milk, a plastic bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s clutching a box of frozen Eggo waffles. My cart was empty until the manager reappeared, huffing and puffing and lugging a case of oranges which he handed off to me. I wrestled them into the cart where they half-straddled the child seat and the wagon, not quite fitting in either space. Maybe all four wheels of my shopping cart were in good stead, but it didn’t sound like it. I pushed/pulled the groaning wagon to the 10 Items or Less aisle. Grown-ups stared. Children pointed. There was some horrible Muzak version of a Bee Gees song playing over the sound system. Unable to lift the case onto the conveyer belt, I tipped the case in the direction of the check-out clerk. He didn’t know what to charge me and I didn’t know what to tell him. The Bee Gees were abruptly interrupted by the summoning of “PRODUCE TO CHECKOUT ONE.” I was now holding up the line, and boy, can shoppers turn hostile in an instant. Longing to vanish through the automatic Exit doors, I surmised that stealing a case of citrus in Philadelphia was most likely punishable by time served in an orange jumpsuit. Not my best color. The manager arrived, feverishly scanning his clipboard trying to come up with a price. He scribbled something on an adhesive sticker which he affixed to the box which was scanned by the checker. I paid, I exited, eyes straight ahead, shopping cart limping towards the parking lot. A day without orange juice is like a day without, oh never mind…