Living in the city -- as in The City -- one makes some of the same choices concerning the basic necessities as living in the country -- as in Behind the Redwood Curtain. My dear friends Kathy and Lorenzo have lived in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City for 19 years. By sequestering the end of the living room with a partial wall, it became a two-bedroom after the birth of Lola. Why live in such a small space with a growing girl in tow? It's rent-controlled, of course.
The high cost of living is the reason my family lives in a doublewide in Trinidad. My friends back east made jokes about living in a trailer, until they sobered up with descriptions of redwood trees I sleep beneath and the 15 minutes it takes to walk to the grand Pacific (dogs and all). Our home space is funky, for sure, yet with rents often comparable to Manhattan, this is how we get to live in paradise.
After three years without a visit, my son Lonnie and I are in the Big Apple, ready to go buy apples at the Union Square Green Market, where I shopped for years before moving to Humboldt. It was here I was first introduced to the locavore movement that I cherish still, and remain part of by shopping at the Farmers' Market on the Arcata Plaza.
In the midst of this bustling metropolis lies an oasis of freshness and fertility. An out-of-town visitor once delighted in my exuberance over the first harvest of late spring when I damn near threw a tam in the air a la Mary Tyler Moore amidst the intoxicating colors and scents in the otherwise concrete environment.
The bagels I purchased this morning, Lonnie sound asleep in Lola's bed, were baked in the city -- I wholeheartedly subscribe to the belief that NY bagels are the best because of the water -- but where did the flour and cream cheese come from? I don't know, but the walk down five flights of stairs and across Madison to Miss K's Italian Deli felt darn local to me. I didn't use a drop of fossil fuel to bring home our morning repast. So many features make local local -- not purists, we do our best wherever we are.
At the Green Market, hot as the dickens out, Lonnie and I sampled luscious tomatoes, white and yellow peaches and nectarines, plums and berries of all persuasions. The Co-op would be ashamed: $3 a pint, 2 for $5. Not all the wares were certified organic, but all were local and pesticide-free. As Barbara Kingsolver in her Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, along with other champions of the locavore movement write, sometimes local food that has traveled less fossil-fueled miles, grown by small farmers who haven't the means to become officially organic, is a healthier choice than certified organic produce that has been shipped from, let's say, a corporate organic farm in California to a Brooklyn dinner table. (Does anyone really have faith in Safeway Organics?)
I was surprised and delighted to see many of the same vendors I shopped from years ago -- Martin's Pretzels from Lancaster, Penn.; Blue Moon Fish, selling local seafood; Bread Alone from Woodstock, with its abundant offerings of organic whole grain breads, boules, rustic pastries and cider donuts; Arlington Road Winery, the first New York state wine I ever tasted; and hand-pressed juices from Red Jacket Orchards out of Ontario County, N.Y. -- Lonnie and I shared a splendid $3 quart of raspberry-grape to quench our thirst this muggy afternoon. The orchards, originally planted in 1917, are managed by the third generation of the Nicholson Family, who employ integrated pest management and are certified by the Food Alliance as a sustainable producer of plums, apricots and prunes.
Freshness, price and supporting a farmer you know were the reasons customers and vendors gave over and over when asked why the market is so successful. A young woman shopping at Race Farms Organics of Blairstown, N.J. proclaimed she couldn't get this quality at this price at the Food Emporium in her neighborhood. Elly from Patches of Star Dairy in Nazareth, Penn., maker of goat cheese ice cream, insists, "People want to support local; they like to know who grew their food."
Barbara Olsen, the baker of the vegetable-laden focaccia offered at her long-standing Buon Pane, enjoys being able to pick produce at the market she will use in the next day's baking. She enthusiastically brought out globes of white eggplant and rare purple-colored opal basil she had purchased that morning. We opted for a black olive/artichoke/sweet onion mozzarella pie as she generously stashed a freebie adorned with goat cheese, portabellas and basil into a bag "fa' later."
People certainly loved interacting. I overheard plenty of advice: "De-seed the peppers if you don't want the hot to overpower." The owner of JJ Organics Long Island hawked his kim chee as "best in the world" while deftly plucking French sorrel leaves for Lonnie and me. (Who could believe that salad could taste just like lemon?)
Grass-fed beef is readily available from ranchers like Sean of the New York Beef Co., who is proud "to be feeding our neighbors." A worker at Central Valley Farm in Asbury N.J. "had to come to New York City to learn about green." This was the first place he had customers bring their own bags. Farm fresh eggs could be found at many stands, including Queens County Museum Farm, which has been around since 1697, still run by members of the founding family!
Negotiating life in these crazy times, it is encouraging to know that brethren in the City have many of the same concerns as we in a rural community. What are we going to eat? Who grew it? How did it get here?
The Green Market on 14th Street offered handcrafted goat cheeses for our East Coast baking, although Humboldt's own Cypress Grove is available in small markets in New York, too. With the abundance of locally grown plums on both coasts I made a delicious tart at home and afar this summer to the delight of our many hosts.
Delicious Plum Tart
I package puff pastry (2 sheets)
Chevre log: Cypress Grove regular or Purple Haze, room temp
Preheat oven to 375.
Lay each sheet out on a lightly oiled cookie sheet.
With a pointed knife cut a dotted line 1/2 inch from edges.
(This will make outside puff up into a frame/crust.)
Slice plums into half circles.
Spread a thin layer of cheese inside the lines.
Lightly press a sprinkle of almonds into the cheese layer.
Lay plum slices onto the cheese in columns, slightly overlapping.
Repeat process on second pastry sheet.
Place on two different shelves in the oven changing racks after 10 minutes.
Bake for another 10 minutes, 20 minutes total.
The pastry should be lightly browned when done.
Check that the bottom is cooked through and not mushy
Use a spatula to remove the tarts and cool on wire racks for 10 minutes.
Sprinkle with confectionery sugar.
Cut into pieces with a pizza cutter.
Enjoy the lusciousness.