How do you shop/cook in a small town?
I just moved from Los Angeles, where I had year round local farmers markets and access to every type of food products and goods to a small town in Washington where the local produce is already starting to taper out, there are only a few retailers of ethnic and gourmet foods, and most people settle (or just don't care) for shopping at the large grocery store and eating at ho-hum restaurants.
The nearest large town where these edibles are available is in Canada, and the import rules to the US are a mess - such that I don't want to shop there and risk an argument with a border agent who could care less.
Once every 2 months or so, we can probably head south to Seattle and stock up, but that type of access is limited both in frequency and the space in our cooler.
So how have the smaller town cooks among you managed, if you want to cook or eat these "bigger city" foods? Do you mail order? I'm sure that works much better for non-perishables. Are there any reliable vendors of seafood that will ship frozen overnight? Do they cost a fortune. What about high quality cheeses and charcuterie? Is it hopeless?
I guess I'm suffering from a bit of culture shock and not thinking very originally. I just miss having it all at my fingertips. On the bright side, there is a spice hut in town, that sells fresh spices in bulk, and we've found a very nice bread bakery. There are also wild blackberries growing all over the place - free for those who care to brave the thorns. It's been a great family activity going picking....
You have to get a large refrigerator and freezer to store stuff you get in Canada or Seattle; and prepare more of what you want at home, substituting ingredients from the large local supermarket. I grew up in food-rich California, have a place in the Wallowas in NE Oregon, and live in Colombia (where I continually have to bring back ingredients).
This is so funny, because I was getting frustrated with this very same problem this weekend! I live in Kansas City where I don't normally run into that problem, but I grew up in Topeka, KS where it is extremely difficult to find certain ingredients. I had totally forgotten about this frustration until I tried to make desserts for my wedding reception this weekend. Not only could I not find good chocolate or whole milk yogurt or marscapone cheese, I was also frustrated by cooking in someone else's kitchen! (I almost brought my Kitchenaid with me, but decided against it at the last minute, and I so regretted that decision by the end of the weekend!) I had to have my husband bring marscapone cheese back from Kansas City on his way out of town... I don't know what I would have done if he wasn't still in Kansas City and coming to Topeka anyway! Anyway, when I was living in Topeka, I had given up on charcuterie and high quality cheeses, unless I brought a cooler on trips to KC. There used to be a meat and cheese shop in Topeka, but it's been closed a long time. It is awesome that you have a spice shop at least; we didn't in Topeka. We also didn't have very many good bakeries, and the ones that were good, usually didn't last long. I think I just ended up editing what I could and couldn't make as sad as that sounds. Either that, or I substituted A LOT! (I substituted sour cream for the whole milk yogurt and bought little Dove chocolates for the chocolate, because I figured it was better than grating Baker's chocolate!) Mail order is nice, but you definitely have to plan ahead, which I'm not always good at. I guess I haven't really helped you, just lamented with you!
Often health food stores can be a source of "unusual" ingredients; long before my grocery store in suburban NY had stuff like wasabi powder, I could find it in a health food store. You should definately look into growing a few of your own herbs so that you have them around. You may also see if a nearby town has a higher immigrant population; in that case the "normal" grocery store there may be a treasure trove. That has helped me find things like dried peppers, plantains, and tomatillos in the ShopRite just down the road from my regular A&P.
We live in a small city, Bloomington, IN and luckily since it is a university town there is a lot of diversity in what you can and cannot get. Sometimes I am amazed at what is available and at other times let down by what is not. When we go to Indianapolis, Chicago or Cincinnati (Jungle Jim's the amazing store that it is , is a real treat)we take coolers and plan on stocking up. i once had a friend sitting in my kitchen discussing food and cooking. She asked me "where can i get truffle butter in this town?" I opened my freezer door and handed her a container from D'Artnagan and was she surprised. It takes a little planning ahead and also some impulse buying (truffle butter etc.) but I do pretty well. I have not resorted to doing much on line but have ordered whole foie gras from D'Artagnan on occasion, and what great stuff it is and we have ordered some game but that is rare.
I lived in Detroit for several years and bought a good portion of my groceries in Windsor, ON as I would purchase Commonwealth goods (Aus/NZ lamb, etc.) for a small fraction of what I was paying on the US side.
The key thing is to talk to the Customs agents BEFORE the shopping trip to get a copy of the MOST recent regulations. These change occasionally.