HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Are you waking up exhausted?  Famished?  We know all that holiday shopping whets the appetite but bleeds your bankbook dry. When your tastebuds demand a delicious 12-course meal and your wallet says “Golden Arches, honey”—we’ve got a plan.

Your assignment: drive to the swishiest, most sample-laden market in the zippiest neighborhood near you.  Ours is a Whole Foods.

Go hungry. Bring no money. It’s a good thing it’s a weekend (does anyone else feel like it’s Sunday even though it’s Friday–or is it just us?) Anyway, aim for a Saturday afternoon or early evening, when free samples are abundant.

You’ll enter the produce section. Like the Romans, start off by popping a few organic grapes from their sampling container. If you’re lucky, you’ll soon come upon an aproned gourmand who’ll treat you to tapenade on rye crisps.

This isn’t light fare. You’re in for the long haul—you’re HUNGRY, remember?—so you might as well go for an aperitif. Head to the vitamin section, where you’ll find Whole Foods’ version of the champagne fountain: that bubbler with the immune-boosting elixir. Down a shot from an environmentally-responsible cup. (This part is critical, especially when you consider how many folks are sharing this exclusive feast.)

Wine tastings. Some stores offer them. Call ahead and ask. In today’s fantasy tour, you’ll stop at a station featuring a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc.

Next, return to the produce section, where a dignified-looking chef is serving up portobello mushrooms and walnuts. She shows you a face that says: my very survival depends on you eating—no, on you loving—this sample. You eat a sample. You tell her you love it. To ensure her survival (the holidays really do bring out your humanitarian side), you eat another.

Now you submit to a leisurely stroll, letting the various flavors you’ve tasted sink in. Inhale the fragrant fruits. Run your fingers along the cool glass bottles in the refrigerator case. Admire the loose, ocean-wavey texture of the bulk baby spinach. The gem-like potatoes. The shimmering sides of a trout.

One thing should be made clear here: Whole Foods’ etiquette makes it perfectly reasonable to ask an associate for a sample of any piece of produce. Even a melon. That’s right: their generous tasting policy means it’s no big thing for them to slice a ripe melon right then and there, just so you can determine if it meets your standards. (Remember to say thank you.)  Not that we’re so bold, but this means you could, in theory, take your slice of free melon, walk to the meat section, and ask for sample of prosciutto—transparent slice, please.

Just hypothetically.

Now make your way to frozen foods. Savor a handful of spicy edamame from the vendor. Stroll some more. Do not ignore that cute Greek peddling his warm spanakopita triangles. Or the table with the homemade in-house tortilla chips and peach mango salsa.  Yes, you may have to elbow your way in… you won’t be the only one out for a free meal. The trick is to relax, to savor the tastes, to savor the sensory experience of the room, its frazzled energy, its hungry, eco-sexy vibe.

Onto your main course.

Make your way to the local farmer with his table of grass-fed beef… he’s offering astonishingly delicious herbed meatballs on toothpicks.

Tempeh, feta, olive skewers are on display near the dairy case.

In the bread section, find cubed rosemary chabata, piled high on a platter, awaiting your approval.

You approve.

You approve a second time.

Now for a break… back to the wine section again? Or just a sip of cool water from the fountain? Perhaps head to the magazine stand and page through Shambhala Sun, that all-things-Buddhist magazine for oh-so-evolved people. Find a picture of the Dalai Lama. Feel pity that he eats only rice.

Next is the cheese course. Whole Foods employees know cheese. Happily, you stumble upon Ms. Giddy Cheese herself, a woman whose breathless pontification on the subtle differences between Humboldt Fog’s Goat Cheese and a traditional French Boucheron seem to bring her close to orgasm. Taste a flight of cheeses. Be sure to avail yourself, too, of those tumescent sections of clementine. Let them burst in your mouth. Heaven.

For dessert, a few of chocolate-covered caramels are yours for the taking. Follow with a tiny spoonful of pomegranate-peach-lemon zest gelato.

Wander some more. Make your way to the coffee section, where an over-caffeinated coffee-snob shakily passes you a cup of dark, dark coffee. Listen as she lauds the complex flavor of the brew, how its hint of chardonnay grapes contrasts so beautifully with its chocolaty undertone. Nod knowingly. Add a splash of bgh-free cream from the local farm.

You’re calm. You’re sated. You haven’t spent a penny.

Before you go, return once more to the health care section. A sample of elderberry syrup is your digestif. If the local kombucha distributor happens to be around and encourages you to taste her buzzing ginger-blueberry concoction, do not refuse.

Finally, apply a small amount of lavender-scented oil or lotion to your hands. This last step is in the spirit of those elBulli, where “food” may be simply a scent meant to trigger an emotional experience. Breathe deep. The scent of lavender will trigger calm, it will speak to you. It will say: time to relax. It will say: that’s how it’s done.

Trust us they love you to come and sample. You’re doing them a favor. Maybe today it’s just been a tour, but they know you’ll be back to return the favor!!