Adjusting to an Empire State of Mind

I’m in New York as a newly anointed ‘Green Girl’ from Cali.  For the past week, its been like living ‘Opposite Day’.  Ethan has special days every so often at school when kids get to be silly and wear their clothes backwards…a day when something you’ve done so many times that it becomes routine and automatic; is turned upside down and on its head…

Empire State Building 
photo via
Bastian Labelle

By nature, I am learning that I am very adept at adapting.  Perhaps its been my training as a producer–I can make anything work.  Professionally and personally.  Except for a cheating husband (sorry, I couldn’t resist).  

Its the ‘it is what it is’ mentality.  Why strive for this idea of perfection and drive yourself batty when you can make the most of what’s right in front of you.  Now and again, though, it takes a little digging to find what’s right under your nose.  Like food for example.  I had my farmer’s market routine down in LA; along with the ease of foraging through my garden for simple greens and citrus; but now I am amongst skyscrapers and left to fend for myself in a concrete jungle.  Tragic, I know.

On my first night back in New York, I quickly found my neighborhood joint–a place I could make my own; that would always have something delicious waiting for me.  I didn’t have to go far, because right around the corner from where I am staying is a restaurant called, Artisanal Fromagerie Bistro.  It is a wine and cheese bar.  The food gods were smiling upon me–two of my favorite things.  

A few years ago on my last long-ish term stay in New York, I had the pleasure of frequenting another wine and cheese bar in New York called inoteca on the Lower East Side.  ‘inoteca is definitely more my speed; dark, bustling, rustic and very Italian.  The Formaggi selection included Latte (cow’s cheese), Latte di capra (goat’s cheese) or Latte di Pecora (sheep’s cheese)–all made in the Italian tradition.  There were small appetizer size dishes–Italian tapas; and the wine selection consisted of over 600 Italian wines.  Amazing artsy, creative looking New Yorkers–you just felt the next great Independent film or indie rock tune being conceived over some obscure (but delicious) Rosso wine and cured meats.  Which by the way is all sourced from local, pasture-fed, sustainable farmers and meat purveyors such as Heritage Foods and Vermont Quality Meats.  I believe there is a correlation here; that creativity is a by product of sustainable and delicious food.

The vibe at the uptown, and upscale Artisanal was decidedly more French Grande Cafe than country side Southern Italian.  They are known for fondue at Artisanal, which is kind of funny, since fondue is not so French, and usually made with Swiss cheeses.  But nonetheless, I do love a good fondue–a symbiotic pairing of wine + cheese molten together in a pot of gooey goodness.  At Artisanal, the cheeses know no cultural boundaries (with almost all cheese from America and Europe), but divided by animal of origin (cow, goat, or sheep) on one menu; and on another menu paired alongside flights of wine.  Instead of trying to find all my favorite cheeses, I opted for the ‘Champagne Flight’ selection of three cheeses.  The recommended wine pairing was a Prosecco, but as much as I love a Prosecco (and especially a bellini); my past association with champagnes never ended before 4am.  So I chose an Albarino, which turned out to be a fantastic complement to my cheeses.

Humboldt Fog (a goat’s cheese from Northern California); Manchego (a Spanish sheep’s cheese) and Beaufort (a French cow’s milk cheese) were my choices.  I was familiar with the Humboldt Fog and Manchego never disappoints.  The Humboldt Fog was like a piece of savory cake–buttery and creamy, with the trademark line of ash running through it.  A basket of bread accompanied the plate of cheeses, but I am not a fan of bread.  I ordered sides to accompany my cheese and they were perfect.  I’ve always been a fan of quince paste with Manchego, and found that it went well with the Beaufort as well.  The Beaufort was a solid cheese–its the kind of cheese you can eat pieces of and call it a meal.  Ethan’s favorite snack is pieces of solid cheeses–Gruyere, Emmenthal and now, the very similar Beaufort.  I guess the French do know a little something about Swiss cheeses.  The other side that replaced the bread and brought out the delicious flavor of the cheeses were walnuts in a honeycomb.  Perfection with the crisp and fruity Albarino.

While the cheeses and their accoutrement were a great meal; I still went home to a corporate apartment with nothing in the refrigerator.  For the next few days, I kept trying to block out a few hours to walk over to the closest thing I could find to my farmer’s market–the Whole Foods near my office. But something always came up.  It rained and I was miserable.  And here’s a NYC observation–no one walks around with groceries.  How do NY’ers eat?  Then I discovered the secret–delivery!  A new world had opened up to me and it was called Fresh Direct.  Local and organic produce delivered the next day!  Fresh Direct even delivers wine and cheese pairings, recipes, lists local in season produce, links to the seafood watch list AND my favorite–the 4 minute ready meal, prepared fresh by New York restaurants! Now I could have my own wine and cheese bar and restaurant meals from Tabla and Rosa Mexicano, waiting for me at home after a long day of production.  So I ordered the essentials–several 4-minute Ready Meals, coffee, arugula, grapes, avocados, lemons, almonds, cranberries, pears, olive oil and an assortment of cheeses; including a brie, manchego and parmesan.  

I had stumbled upon Fresh Direct as a result of walking from my apartment to my office and seeing these trucks all over the city.  This was one of the more obvious and convenient New York adjustments I made in order to still eat consciously. When I get back to California, I am afraid I will go through the withdrawal of not having food, neatly packaged in a cardboard box waiting for me in my kitchen.

The other adjustment I had to make was not so obvious and I had to do a little more digging to find the answer.  It seems strange, but once you get in the habit of separating all of your garbage, it becomes automatic.  You can’t ever mix paper and plastic in a trash bin; much less even toss them into a container without a recycle symbol on it.  Same with the coffee grinds and vegetable peels I covet so much in my own compost.  I couldn’t just throw them in the trash; with all the coffee I drink when I work, I was sitting on a gardening gold mine!  It occurred to me that most people living in high rise buildings in Manhattan would have no use for compost, so all this amazing organic material was just being dumped along with other crap in a landfill somewhere, unable to reach its full organic and sustainable potential.  It’s a crime against nature.  What is also ironic about this is that we are programmed to recycle paper, plastic, aluminum.  But not food; although when you think about it, composting is the original recycling.  But of course, resourceful New Yorkers have figured this out too and made it as convenient as it can be to compost in the city.  Through the New York Compost Project you can drop off your coffee grinds, egg shells, and vegetable scraps at a participating Farmer’s Market or at the Lower East Side Ecology Center on 7th St.  And if you’re really adventurous, upgrade your apartment with a worm condo and compost on your own balcony, if you have one.  You’ll have fabulous potting soil to grow herbs and lettuce by summer time.

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