THE question we contemplated in the warmth of our home during the big snowstorm was: What do people think they can't live without? On the eve of the storm, Feb. 10, with warnings of snow being issued, Washingtonians flooded the supermarkets to stock up in case they were to be house bound. And in the most informal of surveys--consisting primarily of whoever happened to call us that day--we discovered that people sought perishable staples (milk, eggs, bread, meat, produce) but made sure they had some comfort foods and treats to keep their spirits up (as well as enough spirits to keep their spirits up).

One friend reported her supermarket had run out of grocery carts; another said his had sold out of bread. The first stocked up on snack foods--plenty of popcorn, and treats she rarely buys, such as smoked oysters and Better Cheddars. Another smugly announced she had plenty of food in the house already, but did admit she'd stopped at the drugstore for Tostitos, which she couldn't do without. Another took the occasion to break out the venison he'd been saving in his freezer. Our neighborhood supermarket reported 40 percent more traffic on that Thursday, and though its food supplies had held, it ran out of snow shovels, and its supplies of birdseed and kitty litter were precariously low. A check with the Capitol Hill Wine & Cheese shop revealed snow day, Friday the 11th, to be far busier than an average weekday; more than 400 customers had wandered in from the snow, readying for impromptu parties with wine, cheese, pa te' and the shop's homemade soups. As for us, we knew we would be just fine because we had already ordered a birthday cake made by Ann Amernick, which would cheer us through whatever the weather brought.

WE happened to call Capitol Hill Wine & Cheese because we had been browsing through Washingtonian magazine and discovered ourselves quoted as choosing Chateau Jean-Gervais as our favorite everyday white wine. We'd actually never tasted the wine, but discovered that John Rusnak, owner of CHW&C, also favored it. So we called him to ask why we liked it so much. His argument was convincing, and were the shop within walking distance we would have joined those other 400 shoppers to give it a try.

EVER since Catherine de' Medici brought Italian cuisine as her dowry to France, Italy has looked for a chance to recapture the culinary crown. And at last it is taking the offensive. Last month a group of Italian chefs joined their expatriate counterparts in New York for a three-day seminar on nothing less imposing than "The Presence of Italian Cuisine in the World Today Particularly in the United States." There was said to have been much talk of Italian food being more than spaghetti and meatballs, and it was generally agreed that further work was needed--undoubtedly further work including feasts to illustrate the state of the art. In the meantime, there are reports of a $1 million pasta research laboratory opening near San Francisco, complete with a giant tooth--the dente to measure al dente. Any real research will show that rather than Italian food having obstacles to overcome in this country, it has millions of willing tasters for nearly anything an Italian chef can dream up.

LOOK for more young romance in supermarket ads in an attempt to woo teen-age shoppers. It is beginning to dawn on the grocers of America that a substantial proportion of food shopping--40 percent or $13 billion worth, say some reports--is being done by teen-agers. With both parents working in many families, the children are responsible for major food shopping. Many of them help prepare the shopping list and choose the brands, according to Fawn Vrazo, reporting in Knight-Ridder Newspapers. As these facts become apparent to supermarket chains, look for Family Circle to be replaced by Seventeen at the checkout counter and an increase in the beat of the Muzak.

A FRANTIC call came recently from a hostess about to entertain two out-of-town guests who have their own very fine chefs. What could she serve to match what they regularly eat? We suggested Chesapeake Bay seafood, and she came up with a dazzler, a seafood buffet catered by William Taylor that consisted of oyster stew, pickled oysters, crab imperial, fried oysters, crab norfolk, oysters-on-a-stick and our favorite, an oyster loaf of fried oysters stuffed into french bread and slathered with a tangy and highly seasoned mayonnaise. All this was on three days' notice, a feast for 40, and was rounded out with corn fritters, grits souffle', salmagundi, corn relish, cornmeal pancakes, Sally Lunn, biscuits and sweet-and-sour cold vegetables from a colonial recipe. And that didn't include the vast array of desserts. The bounty of the Bay took even us by surprise.

OLD is new these days, and thus Colonial Williamsburg's Learning Weekend, Feb. 24 to 27, will include open hearth cooking. Lessons will include use of mortar and pestle, wooden butter churn and twig whisk, preservation of meats and nonfood techniques such as candle dipping, spinning and weaving. Such lessons, as one might guess, don't come cheap; the weekend, depending on lodgings, costs $256 to $337. More information can be obtained from Trudy Moyles, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Box C, Williamsburg, Va. 23187.

IN CASE being snowbound gave you ideas and you have canceled all your errands and social schedule for the remainder of the season, you might find it useful to have a ready supply of such necessities as chocolate. Just in time a new business has started: a Chocolate of the Month Club. The cost is $54.95 for four mailings, which include 8 ounces of Cookie Chip Chocolate from Paron of Westport, Conn.; 17 ounces of filled chocolates by Perugina of Italy; two pounds of Hershey Golden Almond Bars and one pound of assorted hand-dipped chocolates from Li-Lac of New York. Chocolate of the Month Club can be reached at P.O. Box 4056, Chevy Chase, Md. 20815.