The lure of the dollar store

In an article in the New York Times this week, a chef chronicles his attempts to prepare a week's worth of gourmet meals from groceries bought exclusively at a 99-cent store. The recipes, including baked salmon in coconut sauce and an impressive tuna casserole, looked appetizing. I just can't imagine being able to turn a can of tuna into a gourmet meal, but I have trouble whipping up an edible meal from fresh food too. But that's another story.

Anyway, I was at a huge dollar store last weekend in Florida and I have to say I did notice aisle after aisle of food, household cleaners, toiletries, books, toys and other practical stuff-all for a dollar. Since I don't have a dollar store near my home, I was amazed at the array of useful products, although there were also plenty of tchatchkes. I ended up spending about 45 minutes, mostly browsing. I couldn't get back on the plane home with groceries for the week, but I bought a few of my kids' favorite snacks, a carton of lemonade, Easter candy and batteries for my dad's camera.

The only real necessity I purchased was Colgate's sugary sweet watermelon-flavored toothpaste, the only brand my son will use. But this week, I coincidentally read an article cautioning against buying toothpaste from dollar stores. (Okay, I admit I was reading Self magazine while getting a haircut). Apparently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning because some Chinese manufacturers reproduce American toothpastes using chemicals that can be dangerous if ingested for any length of time. Needless to say, I got rid of it. At least it was only a dollar.