New York

Armchair Eating During Polar Vortices

Chicago! [Pic from]

While most of the rest of the country got sucked into the awesomely-named Polar Vortex , we in Washington State suffered no worse than a stormy Saturday, some power losses, and continued fretting about how bad this ski season might turn out to be--all of which was forgotten and offset by the Seahawks playoff win.

But the rest of the country has been on my mind, in true armchair fashion, because I've been continuing my foodie reading. Another trip to New York City might be in order (my last run-in involving Hurricane Sandy notwithstanding), because I just enjoyed

If you enjoyed Mark Kurlansky's THE BIG OYSTER, chances are you will like this book, a history of New York City through its food traditions. Author Smith casts a much wider net (obviously), and the extensive ground he has to cover results in some passages reading more like a bibliography or reference book than a narrative nonfiction history, but there were still many interesting ah-ha moments and curious anecdotes to make this a worthwhile read. Who knew that early public markets in the city carried all sorts of game, including raccoons, possums, and groundhogs? That, as early as the mid-19th century, foreign visitors already remarked on how quickly Americans gulped down their food and took off again?

I especially enjoyed the discussion of various immigrant groups and their culinary contributions, as well as the passages on food carts and the rise of tenements. Reminded me of 97 ORCHARD (which gets mentioned) and that childhood favorite ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY, about a turn-of-the-century Jewish family living on the Lower East Side. Henny's pickle gave from just such a street vendor as Smith describes.

(Note: I received this book as a galley from the publisher and assume final edits will still be made. Caught a couple funny mistakes: "ninetieth" for "nineteenth," "yolk" for "yoke," "governor's" for "governors," "muscles" for "mussels," "Sumptown" for "Stumptown.")

New York figured again, as well as frigid Chicago and the greater Midwest, in

I really enjoyed this book, with its historic, well-balanced discussion of Americans and their precious meat. We want lots of it, we want it cheap, we don't want to smell it or think about it, and we don't want to feel guilty about it. That about sums it up.

Who knew that farmers were finishing livestock on corn back in the 18th century? That larger and larger feedlots and slaughterhouses located far away was deeply appreciated by Old New Yorkers, so they didn't have to deal with smells and manure and actual animals herded through the streets? That Big Meat got bigger and bigger after WWII because we were trying to feed the world, and to do that we had to be super efficient and keep those costs down? That vitamin B12, derived from an antibiotic, was considered a wondrous discovery for pigs, because it helped them put on weight fast, thus keeping those costs down and increasing production?

Ogle does a great job explaining how things got the way they got--there were good reasons, and it wasn't all about Greed Greed Greed. I was sorry to be reading a paper copy from the library because I couldn't highlight all my ah-ha moments.

Lucky middle-class folks like me can afford the luxury grass-fed beef and pastured meats, but, as Ogle points out, how long can the gravy train keep rolling, if everyone starts to want guilt-free meat and cheap food, but fewer and fewer people want to produce it? Moreover, legislation guiding our food production is now largely swayed by folks who have never set foot on a farm.

WA State is fortunate to have so many farmers and smaller farms still around. Because of our local farmers market, I have spoken with people who raise my food, and I have set foot on several farms, but I recognize this is part of my lucky middle-classness.

Anyhow, a good, insightful read which I recommend for those interested in food and food history.

In the meantime, Go Hawks! Hopefully this time next week I'll be posting some Superbowl party recipes... 

Belated Rock-Me-Like-a-Hurricane Post

As I mentioned in my last post (which seems a century ago), the family and I were going on vacation and I would be missing a week of UrbanFarmJunkifying. That vacation began in:

I'm just a bill, yes I'm only a bill

 and then moved to:

Lovely Lady Liberty, with her book of recipes

where I made a new friend named Sandy. Sandy turned out to be rather the controlling type, limiting my access to electricity, water, transportation, and heat. She finally ousted me and my family from our blacked-out hotel and forced us into the arms of a Brooklyn friend before we made our escape from New York, three days later than planned.

All of which is to say, I apologize for the lateness of this post! Food was on my mind the entire trip, although by the end it was more a matter of, will any place be open for business to feed us besides that one pizza place by the Empire State Building? Mayor Bloomberg's recent ban on supersize sodas became a non-issue. People were lined up at any open store or deli to buy anything they could, to eat or drink. My husband even bought $4/bottle Fiji water, which the label bragged had never been touched by human hands until you unscrewed the cap, to pour down the hotel toilet when the water went out.

Before we met Sandy, however, we encountered two farmers markets. The first was right by our Washington, D.C., hotel in Foggy Bottom. To my kids' disgust (they were exhausted from walking from the White House down the Mall and back to Federal Triangle), I stopped to take a couple pictures, and I had to buy some baked goods to appease them. I'm happy to report that the Foggy Bottom FreshFarm Marketgoers enjoy excellent lemon poundcake and "some kind of chocolate thing" my hub bought that drew groans of pleasure.

Instead of the honey purveyors we feature at our Market, they had a maple syrup farmer! From Maryland, of all places. I'd read recently that, because of global warming, most maple syrup production was moving to Canada, so I'm happy to find pockets of Maryland still cold enough to produce this treat.

Of course, if they're "Maryland's Largest Maple Syrup Producer," it looks like Foggy Bottom is lucky to have them and may not even a few years from now.

The second market was right outside New York's Museum of Natural History, and this time my son forbade me to stop and take any pictures. All I can say is, I think the mix of offerings was not solely "local"  because I saw bananas. And it was before Sandy could have blown them up from the Caribbean on her way through. New York has a long history of markets and farmers from surrounding areas making the trip into the City with fresh, local food. (How else, after all, could New Jersey ever have earned the now-mystifying moniker "the Garden State"?) I'm afraid, in Sandy's aftermath, with all the power and transportation issues, locals' access to fresh food will be seriously jeopardized for the near future. Another reason to keep sending thoughts and prayers their way.

Beyond shelter, power, water, easy transportation, heat, and gasoline, I'm so very grateful to be home. I could use a scratch-cooked meal made from ingredients I selected and prepared myself. Very much looking forward to Saturday's market. The fridge still has Millingwood eggs and Bloom Creek Farms cranberries, but that's about it! Can't wait to get my hands on some greens, brussels sprouts, potatoes, and onions. Maybe throw in some hot soup and a JuiceBox drink. Thanksgiving starts early in our house...