I have successfully survived for five months without the one eligible man who has been in my life since 1990: Trader Joe. Some women still have the house or the child of a bygone relationship. I am left merely holding the bag. It’s that red-on-red one appropriately strewn with Hawaiian flowers and bearing a round white circle featuring bread, cheese and wine. Perhaps you have one too. Love those canvas handles!

I take my “Joebag” along to my current grocery store, the famed “Mana” of Maui. People come from all over the island to shop here. “Serving Maui for over twenty-five years and supporting 400 vendors.” It’s the largest, most intelligent, funky and loveable HEALTH FOOD store imaginable. On the outside it looks like a bad bar—no windows and a tiny, single door where you might be expected to give a password like, “Joe sent me.” But inside there are rooms! Aisles! Corridors! And the scent of locally-baked spelt scones, sometimes still warm. My favorite flavor is banana coconut.

So here’s the tour: There’s a whole big room for the whole body: lotions, potions, sprays, tinctures, tonics, and things in a frig.  And if you turn left out of there and walk down the mostly-organic corridor of hot and cold deli foods, incredible cakes, ready-made sandwiches (and so much more), you’ll end up in another room. This one is full of bins holding grains, nuts, cereals, flours, dried fruits and dried soups et al. It also houses the nut presses where you can squeeze yourself a container of warm peanut or almond butter.

The main room is huge and full of too-narrow aisles with everything your taste buds could possibly want to court. But the best is yet to come! The final room houses all the fresh stuff: cheeses, meats, milks, and PRODUCE. All local all the time. It can be frustrating to get your cart through the congested aisles, but you can’t be grouchy long, surrounded as you are by a banquet of organic fruits and vegetables that you probably couldn’t find anywhere else. Especially since many of those fruits and some of the veggies are things you’ve never seen in your whole Mainland life--things you want to eat whether you can pronounce their names or not.

It’s true. I’m having a culinary affair.

It’s not that I don’t miss Joe or will bypass his charms when I head for the Mainland next month. It’s just that for the life of me, I can’t imagine a Trader Joe’s where Mana sits. TJ employees may wear Hawaiian shirts and coconut palms may be painted on their windows, but Mana is Hawaiian and belongs right where it is in sweet downtown Pa’ia.

I think I get the bigger message here: when you leave home, you think you’ll never be able to replace certain amenities on which you depend. Maybe you can’t replace them, but maybe you can do something even better: Open your heart to the treasures, graces, and traditions of your new neighborhood, state or island. Expand your heart, your palate, or your worldview and in the process, you’ll discover more of yourself.

A Hui Hou, (til we meet again)
Maridel