Random Acts of Sharing: Chicken Pecan Salad des Étrangers Gentils

A food stylist, I am not
A food stylist, I am not

I like grocery shopping, but not for the reason you might think. It is no leisurely stroll through the produce section, no thoughtful pause to weigh the merits of one brand of yoghurt over another. No, for me, the fetching of groceries is a logistical challenge, a sort of domestic triathlon best met with a highly strategized grocery list, a stack of pack ‘em yourself shopping bins and high tech running shoes.

I prefer to arrive early, between 8:30 and 9:00 am, well before most shoppers, but after the fresh berries have made it out to their display. One of the other reasons that I like to shop early in the morning is that it is unlikely that I will see anyone I know. Grocery shopping is not a time to stop and chat. It is a mission and a calling in the service of feeding the troops back home.

And heaven forbid an untrained family member should think to join me. My husband? Forget it. I will have conquered all fourteen aisles and he won’t have gotten past the battery display at the front of the store. We will meet near the bank of cashiers twenty minutes later, me with a fully loaded and paid-for cart, heading for the exit, him with a single pack of some obscure battery in his hands.

“This is my contribution,” he’ll say, with a big smile and holding up his find in his hand. “Oh, you’ve uh–. Are you done already?”

“I’ll go unload while you run that through.”

And so, it was something out of the ordinary for me to talk to a stranger over a bag of bulk nuts in the baking supply section. Don’t get me wrong. I am an exceedingly friendly person, but when grocery shopping, I aim to be friendly and keep moving at the same time. I will smile at a fellow shopper as we both reach for the blueberries, and offer “aren’t these looking  lovely today?” and then I’ll keep walking. It is pretty rare for me to actually stop and converse. Woman on Mission is probably blinking neon from my forehead.

She smiled at me, this woman, as she stood up with a 500g bag of whole pecans she’d taken from the bottom shelf.  I was leaning on my cart, back a few feet, waiting patiently for her to finish choosing her item and move on. (Yes, I did stop. There is certain, you know, courtesy, of allowing fellow shoppers to have their space, even in the face of one’s own compelling objectives).

“These are so expensive,” she said, sighing as she put them in her cart. ”Ten bucks for this puny little package.”

She looked to be in her mid-thirties, with shoulder-length brown hair pulled back in a pony tail. The contents of her cart suggested school-age kids at home: Honey Nut Cheerios. Milk. Cheese slices.

“Yeah, they sure are,” I replied. “But they are so good.”

She smiled. “They are good. We use them in chicken salad and it just isn’t the same without them,”

“Chicken salad? With pecans? That sounds yummy.”

“It is fantastic and so easy to make. Everybody loves it. My kids, my husband, the whole family can`t get enough of it.”

At this point her husband peered around a towering 24-pack of double-roll toilet paper and joined the conversation. “It is amazing, ” he said. He was fairhaired, wore thick glasses and sported a light beard. “And easy. Heck, even I can make it.” I waited for the wife to react, maybe offer a quiet eye roll between knowing women, but she didn’t.

“Yes, just four ingredients,” she said and counted them off on her fingers. “Chicken, grapes, pecans and Kraft Cole Slaw salad dressing.”

“And you use the boneless chicken,” her husband added. “Man, you don’t want to get into boning those things. Man, what a mess that is.” Wow, a husband who has even had chicken blood on his hands.

“That’s it? Just those four ingredients?”

“That’s it. The dressing is just one aisle over. Kraft. Cole Slaw Dressing.”

And so it went on, the three of us standing there, talking and nodding, occasionally shifting to one side to let other shoppers by. I offered my counter mix of Shredded wheat, almonds, pecans, raisins and chocolate chips. Sometimes a handful of cranberries. Eventually, we offered up Easter greetings and moved on to the next item on our lists. Though I took my time, for a few aisles at least, pondering the unexpected offerings of strangers.

And then I went home and made Chicken Pecan Salad des Étrangers Gentils

I added shredded carrot, chopped celery and green onion. I toyed with the idea of adding raisins, but figured I might be pushing the whole fruit-and-meat thing too far. My younger daughter, Sarah, prefers not to have fruit with her meat.

“It is kind of like having dessert and dinner at the same time,” she said.”Too weird.” She liked the story, though, and helped me chop the grapes for the salad.  And in the end, my family liked that salad as well as those kind strangers did. “It is fantastic,” the husband said. We agreed.

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