I didn’t have a list the last time I went grocery shopping without a mask. It was Saturday, March 14, 2020, and I had booked it down the alley between my apartment and the Devon Market to stock up on “the essentials” before a rumoured two-week stay-at-home order began. My cart was half full before I realized something awkward—I didn’t know what the essentials were.
So I started over, snaking up and down each aisle, and I ended my trip in the dairy section. That’s when I saw the butter: Amish and unsalted, with milky waxed paper wrapped and folded just so. It was beautiful—or was I losing my mind? I placed it on top of the rest of my cart’s contents: a cheap bottle of red wine, a roll of cookie dough, two 28-ounce cans of Cento San Marzano Peeled Tomatoes, one white onion, and a box of dried rigatoni.
Two days later, I made my first batch of Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce, to which there are exactly three ingredients, one of which is butter (five tablespoons, in fact).
On the dozens of trips I’ve taken to the Devon Market since, I keep finding new treats that have helped me pass the time at home: rye flour for chewy chocolate chip cookies bigger than my head, little bottles of green juice with red caps for the days I need to detox. Perfect tins of anchovies for Caesar salads and bay leaves for bolognese. After a year of this pandemic, the people, places, and things I’m missing—my real essentials—don’t fit on a grocery list, but I’m thankful to the market, for keeping me stocked on what I need to get by.