Monday, October 19, 2009

Cheeky Greens & Green Radish

We always seem to find a reason to stay right as we’re about to say goodbye. This little blogging kale was beginning to feel a bit droopy after several weeks of poking around produce in New York and finding herself unable to find a single bunch of farmers’ market dark leafy greens worth taking home to her kitchen, mainly because they were either outrageously overpriced or pathetically wilted. I imagined I’d developed a vegetable vitamin deficiency and wondered if I really had the resolve to be a true locavore outside the Bay Area (though I can’t ever fully subscribe to a strict Barbara Kingsolver regimen of eating only locally grown foods, a policy that strikes me as xenophobic and dogmatic at its most extreme even if I do agree with the general point).

And now on the eve of returning to the West Coast, I have found what I was looking for: Evolutionary Organics. Back in August, at the Union Square Greenmarket I had encountered some awesome sensual carrots and other bizarre beauties at Windfall Farms, but their prices were unsustainable for my weekly veggie needs. This month, I had mostly been languishing in bed on Saturdays and rolling out at the last minute to the McCarren Park farmers’ market between Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn to pick out the least sad turnips and potatoes, so to be fair, I haven’t really been working extra hard to seek out the best produce around town.

Then last Wednesday, I found myself wandering aimlessly through New York’s Union Square and was suddenly attracted by signs of dark green life shining happily in the cold sunshine at the Evolutionary Organics stand. All the rows of assorted greens for $4/lb recalled my treasured Heirloom Organics leafies back home at the Ferry Plaza market (Windfall’s comparable greens are $3 per 1/4 -lb, or an outrageous $12/lb).

I took a sampling home and laid out the greens to admire each piece in my collection like I used to do with Halloween candy after a hard night’s work of running up front steps and breathlessly shouting “Trick or treat!!” The assortment pictured above includes, clockwise from top left: toraziroh (a Japanese mustard green), bok choy (though they call it “pak choi”), mizuna (the spiky ones, another Japanese mustard green), tat soi (the little chardy looking leaves), purple pak choi, a token vitamin green leaf, purple mizuna, and sunflower sprouts. I'm hoping I identified everything correctly, though I may have mixed up the toraziroh and vitamin green...(confirmations or objections welcome in the comments section). All are tasty, good sauteed or raw, and nothing too bitter.

The farm stand’s signage consisted of hand-written cheeky notes, and some were painted in rainbow colors. When my joy broke out into an involuntary smile that landed on the girl working there, she smiled back (turns out she was from Santa Cruz, original home of happy produce).

The sign for the purple pak choi began: “that’s right, I said it. It is pak choi/bok choy and it is PURPLE.” The note identifying the vitamin greens explained, “a literal translation from its Japanese name--I don’t think it has more vitamins than other greens. It is very tasty any way you choose to use it.” I told Evolutionary’s farmer and sign author Kira Kinny (Blondy Kinny, according to her email handle) that she had pretty much just written my blog for me and she said, “Yeah, we’ve got a lot of weird vegetables here” in a reassuringly no-nonsense sort of way and kept unloading boxes without pausing to gush over the literariness or entertainment value of vegetable descriptions.

Not only did she have watermelon radishes, there were also green meat radishes, which I had never encountered before (pre-sliced radish pictured up top). Kira’s sign introduces them: “Neato! They are green inside!” I found the green radish friendly-spicy, as opposed to the heated aggression of both black and watermelon radishes, and less perky in flavor than little pink French breakfast radishes, like its sharp edges have been washed out a bit, if that makes any sense.

My bounty came together in an elaborate sandwich consisting of rye bread from The Garden market down the street, hummus, green radish, whatever greens I could fold up and layer on, yellow wax beans, sun sprouts, and a raw cow’s milk cheese.

I also ooh’ed at the greens from Keith’s Farm a few stands down and picked up some of their famous humongous garlic--written up in the NY Times. But that sudden rising in my heart when I found Evolutionary Organics made me realize that half of my vegetable love is for the actual produce but just as important is the general mojo of the farm and its workers, an energy that manifests itself in everything from their smiles to getting kind of loony and arts ‘n’ crafty over what they grow, which I can’t help but feel does have a way of ultimately improving the quality of the produce.

Evolutionary doesn't have a website, but is at Union Square on Wednesdays and Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza Saturday market. This article gives good sense of what farmer Kira Kinny is about. Her husband runs Conuco Farm, which I haven't had a chance to encounter, but whose blog I linked to for their toraziroh description. I'm sure there are more great farms scattered around New York's farmers' markets (and yes a post on Ms. Greenhorn Severine's smithereen farm is a-comin' soon!) but I just haven't quite gotten my bearings out here as well as I have on my home turf in San Francisco.

That day I also picked up a bunch of kale to make a caldo verde soup, and on the subway home whisper-chanted to myself, “Happy kale, happy kale, happy kale,” until it began to sound like “Abigail, Abigail, Abigail.” So now whenever I meet someone named Abigail, I’ll think of the Happy Kale I found in New York.

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