Thursday, July 8, 2010

Eastern Veggie Kin

More on this greeeeen soup to come, but first: I'm out in New York for a July soujourn and trying to stay cool in this record sweltering heat (it broke 100 degrees yesterday and no Italian ice could console me). Of course the thing I always miss most from the West is the produce, though I've been able to find some nice greens and peaches at the Union Square farmers' market and will investigate the Grand Army Plaza market just north of Prospect Park in Brooklyn on the weekend.

Touching down in New York always seems to generate a certain amount of bumpkin confusion on my part, mainly in the areas of housing, transportation, and feeding myself. On this last area, I realize I've become a special-needs eater almost by accident, just from becoming so used to having ready access to perfectly ripened, organic, mostly locally grown produce year-round and also being able to glean lots of information about where most things I eat come from or how they were raised and produced. At this point my eating restrictions (tending toward fresh and unprocessed, mostly vegetables, grains, and fruit) are less a matter of weight or ideas of healthful eating as the even more urgent fact that my body begins to rebel (getting into bouts of cranky sluggishness) after ingesting too much airport food and last-minute greasy goodies because I got too tired and hungry to wait for the local co-op or natural foods store to present itself.

After some initial question marks about subletting, I felt very lucky to have landed in a Harlem house-sit (sweet friends of friends) for my first thrilling week in the sticky gray capital of pigeons and highrises, where there was not only homemade purple cabbage sauerkraut and home-brewed kombucha (two mothers, bless their souls!) but also food composting. The intrepid couple who so graciously opened their home to me had taken it upon themselves to start a compost bin in their backyard, cleverly stowing the kitchen scraps in the freezer until ready for transfer. My hosts-in-absentia also tipped me off to Strictly Roots, a West Indian vegan soul food eatery a couple blocks away, where the motto painted on the wall mural declares, "We serve nothing that crawls, walks, swims or flies." They had run out of food by the time I got there, just before 9pm, but were jolly enough to flirt like mad and dish me up a to-go box of random, delicious scraps (sauteed veggies with curry sauce and yuba strips), plus a slice of strawberry cake, on the house.

Adding to the wholesome glow of kindred vegetable spirits was another encounter I had at the Westside Market over by Columbia University to the west of where I was staying. Lingering in the prepared soups section, I fell into conversation with a white-haired, bespectacled man about the merits of the cucumber-spinach versus the cucumber-avocado chilled soups. In a leisurely manner, we discussed the potential heaviness of the spinach, wishing that it was dill instead, and wondered about the yellow-tinged color of the pricier avocado blend. I settled on the darker green, shown above with dollops of the tangy homemade sauerkraut and some thick plain yogurt. Surprisingly, the spinach taste seemed to have vanished under the more dominant cucumber tone, adding mainly its thick texture. The coolness of the soup was a balmy noontime break in the throbbing heat.

Of course, by the time I finished shopping, another older man had shouted at me to "Move!" out of his way, which shook me up a bit, though perhaps it wasn't so different from a similar soul at Berkeley Bowl who might grumble even worse things at me into his or her groceries in lieu of shouting into my face.

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