Recently in Food Category

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untitled (golden beets) 2017


The image of these gorgeous golden beets, caught while I was documenting a Greenmarket purchase from Norwich Meadows Farm, was a fluke, but I like it. A proper focused portrait will eventually appear on the Food Blog.


UPDATE: The 'proper focused portrait' I promised now appears on the Food Blog, inside this entry

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untitled (kale wave) 2013


I saw this wave of ornamental kale assembled inside the pedestrianized area of Broadway just to the east of the Flatiron Building today, and snapped this picture with my phone camera. The little guys were waiting to be distributed around the neighborhood, where they will be transplanted into large pots or sidewalk cuts, usually at the base of a small tree. One of New York's ways of recognizing the arrival of fall is to replace the flowering plants which had graced the streets during the summer (yeah, things certainly have changed around here since the 70s and early 80s).

I love kale, and I think I appreciate the ornamental kind almost as well, but I can never quite empty my head of the knowledge that even these plants are actually quite edible. In a pinch they could ward off starvation, but lets hope it won't be a long hard winter.

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Jessica Sunflower planted in CIty Hall Park


UPDATE: A public hearing concerning the City's proposed new rules will be held next Tuesday, August 10 at Chelsea Recreation Center, 430 West 25th Street, at 11:00am. It should be very colorful. The New York City Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC) is urging its supporters to testify about the importance of making community gardens permanent. Information can be found on the Coalition’s web site, including the proposed rules themselves, the expiring 2002 agreement, and a history of the evolution of New York City community gardens.


New York City appears to have officially abandoned its efforts to preserve the 500 community gardens which have been protected from development since 2002 by the Spitzer Agreement ("Preservation Agreement"). That compact, which ended a hard-fought battle begun more than 20 years earlier, saved hundreds of community gardens, but it expires on September 17 this year.

Proposed Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD) rules will permit these precious urban green spaces to be legally transferred for commercial development. These popular and flourishing bootstrap gardeners' oases had replaced neighborhood vacant lots where buildings had been abandoned by landlords following the flight of residents to the outer boroughs and the suburbs during the sixties and seventies.

These older structures, neglected and often torched, but ultimately leveled in any case, all eventually became city property. The City hoped to profit from their sale and the tax revenues which would follow their development, but there was no commercial interest in the properties until residents, both old and new, had worked hard to successfully rebuild and improve their neighborhoods.

The communities which have fought for these spaces and nurtured them for years are understandably very angry. Yesterday Jessica Sunflower and some friends decided to bring the Time's Up! campaign to preserve these gardens down to City Hall itself. The precise venue chosen was City Hall Park, on the doorstep of both the Mayor's office and the City Council Chamber. Sunflower managed to climb into a tree planted in the Mayor and Council's own official "garden", and she was joined on the ground by some serious community advocates.


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modern activism: back on the ground, even as Sunflower was being ushered into a police vehicle, supporters were busy broadcasting the action from a laptop resting on the plinth of a bronze sculpture at the edge of the park


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the voice of one crying in the City Hall wilderness - will it be heard?


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for thirty years, the communities have chosen gardens over brick


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kale bouquet: the Times once described New York's more successful community gardens as "spectacular stretches of kale-toned respite"


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the sunflower petals abandoned by the prisoner while she was being removed from the tree were quickly salvaged and recycled back on the ground


[image at the top by Rebekah McCabe, from a Flickr set uploaded by Barbara Ross]

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This image includes only one segment of a vast checkered display set up in the Union Square Greenmarket last Friday by Samascott Orchards, of Martin van Buren's Kinderhook, New York. The cherries were going fast.

Speaking of van Buren, I just learned that the bewhiskered knickerbocker, incidentally the first president from New York (and the first born in the U.S.), was the first one for whom English was not a first language. We're still waiting for the second, and, if we all survive, there should be many more.

The boy went far. If he were alive today, what do we think he'd say about our modern Know Nothings? But maybe there's no real parallel, since his family, and many other Dutch settlers, had been busy, and dominant, in the upper Hudson valley since the early 1600's, before English, or the English had subsumed all. Also, the Dutch were pretty white, and definitely not Catholic. Today's Know Nothings have to find a way to get around the fact that if there are any "illegals", it's the people who stole the West, indeed the entire Western Hemisphere, from those who were there first.

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wrought iron trivet, likely late eighteenth century, probably Rhode Island 7" x 5.75" x 1.75"


I'm normally almost dysfunctional if asked to speak in front of a group, but I hardly hesitated when Austin Thomas asked if I would be a part of “One Image, One Minute: Significant People Present Significant Images”. The event, hosted at Hyperallergic on June 22, was a benefit for Camp Pocket Utopia, a creative summer project, social school and free arts camp for kids, being put together by Thomas and the nonprofit space Norte Maar. Their ambitious program, to be located at Rouses Point in upstate New York, will be based on a learning model created at Black Mountain College, as interpreted by Thomas, who describes it further:

The Camp hopes to inspire a conversation amongst artists, creative thinkers, and the community, empowering participants and observers to think for themselves while offering a free arts camp for the kids of Rouses Point, NY, and the surrounding North Country.

I was honored, and eventually psyched (almost) to be a part of the terrific "show and tell" organized as a fundraiser for the project. Thomas had asked twenty-five people to each submit an image of something very important to them, and to talk about it for one minute. Almost immediately I thought of the trivet shown at the top of this post, and told her I would contribute, since I knew I wouldn't have any trouble talking about something I know well and which has meant a lot to me.

I only had to stand up there for 60 seconds. How hard could that be? It turned out that the hardest part was the time restriction. I didn't want to read from notes, and I didn't want to stress out by doing too much preparation, but, less than an hour before leaving for Williamsburg, when I first did a run-through, I realized I had enough material for five or ten times my time slot.

We were told we would be called up in alphabetical order, so I had plenty of time while I waited. Grade school flashback: Once again Wagner was going to be the last to give his report (I'd like to think Austin had thought of that conceit, for its connection to her larger, school-ish project). I managed to pare it down a lot from my piece while I sat waiting my turn, but much of the story survived.

It was a successful experiment. It made for a thought-provoking evening, and it drew a great group of people - on both sides of the tiny apron stage.

One of the reasons the trivet had come to my mind must have been that it was a simple and beautiful thing. It was a rough material, yet it had left the forge with an awesome grace. It was totally functional, but perfectly sculpted: Each of its branches was chamfered along its entire length and the 90-degree twist of the longest arm was an artist's aesthetic gesture and, perhaps, a strengthening fillip.

It was also a thing whose description, and even its personal importance, I originally thought could be described in one minute.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, my enthusiasm for contemporary visual art, It had not occurred to me to look there for a subject. The reservoir was too vast, and I probably sensed that I'd never be able to focus on the one work which, using the adjective in Austin's invitation, was particularly "important to me". I had looked elsewhere for my subject.

For many years I had created, and still cherish, an environment pretty much removed from modernism of any kind. I chose to share something from that world; I chose this trivet, a humble piece of worked ("wrought") iron.

It was created in southeastern New England, probably somewhere in Rhode Island, and probably in the late eighteenth century. Its working purpose: to elevate a plate, pan or heavy pot above hot coals spread onto a hearth, or, alternatively, above a table surface which would be damaged by a hot vessel.

The material is bog iron, which was once found locally near the surface of the ground (no longer of any practical interest except to antiquarians). It's a very low-carbon metal (unlike steel), and easily malleable. It was the work of a skilled blacksmith. It has a characteristic "grain" (again, unlike steel). Because of its purity, it's extremely resistant to rusting.

I brought it with me from Rhode Island 25 years ago, when I decided to give up the simple mid-eighteenth-century clapboard house in Providence which I and my partner at the time had bought (in 1970). We restored it [I have to say, "lovingly" restored it] over a number of years, until it looked like it had never needed restoring. It was both a home and a house museum: I thought we would live there until we died, and it was furnished entirely with things appropriate to its date, its geography and the particular economic circumstances of its original occupants. There was essentially no upholstered furniture.

This trivet was a working part of that house, and so was I.

The curatorial assignment my partner and I had undertaken (after we learned the real antiquity of what we had initially thought was just an old rundown house, a very rundown house) precluded living with contemporary art, in spite of the interest we both had for the art of our own time. Instead, for 15 years I lived with art that was contemporary to the earliest period of the house, and there was very little of that.

In the years of assembling things for the house I consciously avoided interesting examples of regional New England folk art, even though it wouldn't have been difficult to secure such things, because it seemed so unlikely that the interior of our very modest, and genuinely urban, house would have seen much of the folksy kind of decoration so prized today. Also, Shaker design did not yet exist at the time the house was built, and when it did, the communities which produced it were nowhere near Rhode Island. Much of what I did have may have looked "Shaker", but I can't say any of it was.

But I kept my passion for both historic and contemporary art, even if I was sheltered under a very old roof and beside a large, fully-equipped cooking hearth. Beyond my newly-founded antiquarian interests, I still wanted to be surrounded by art. The house itself was an incredibly understated design, and I found myself going for the simplest, most elegant forms of practical furniture and artifacts, in wood, glass, metal and pottery: There was that fabulous Mochaware mug with a geometric shape and pattern which would not have looked out of place in the Bauhaus, and that beautiful provincial Sheraton side chair with squared, vertical splats, that could have posed as a Josef Hoffman prototype.

I did some serious cooking in that house, in both the almost-modern kitchen and on the open hearth (I cook more than ever today, but without those wood fires), so I'm not surprised that I almost immediately fell in love with the small tool which I had picked up, probably in an old barn, soon after we were first able to use the fireplaces.

My partner and I broke up, and when I finally decided to decamp to New York, in 1985, I sold much of its contents and put the house up for sale.

I brought the trivet with me. Today it rests only on the counter or the table. Its cooking days may be over, but I prize it as much as I ever did, for its function, its beauty and its associations. Although there are hundreds of drawings and paintings hanging on our walls, when guests are here, especially for dinner, I'm just as likely to pull this little black tripod off the kitchen counter and play "show and tell" with it as anything else in the apartment.

So is it sculpture? I seems to defy categories. Although it may end up on the table at many meals, while the pot it supports will return to the kitchen, the trivet remains. I never tire of looking at it.


The other presenters at the benefit were Laura Braslow, Deborah Brown, Paul D'Agostino, Anna D'Agrosa, Jen Dalton, Kianga Ellis, Louise Fishman, Veken Gueyikian, Rachel Gugelberger, Chris Harding, Valerie Hegarty, Roger Hodge, Lars Kremer, Ellen Letcher, Matthew Miller, Brooke Moyse, Ellie Murphy, James Panero, Gravelle Pierre, Cathy Nan Quinlan, Paul Rome, Adam Simon, Jonathan Stevenson, and Douglas Utter.


[someday soon I hope to set up a gallery devoted specifically to images of the house]

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Today is the eighth anniversary of this blog.

I said it last year, and I'm delighted and incredibly privileged to say it again: This is also the anniversary of what turned out to be the most important event in my life, the night Barry and I met (now nineteen years ago).

Last year I also wrote, looking at the world outside our circle of close friends, that I was "more upbeat about the world" than I had been the year before, the eighth year of our second Bush, adding, "but only a bit". That hasn't changed, a bit.

And happy birthday, Paddy Johnson!


[the image is of a portion of the street number on the glass above one of the Art Deco entrances of the former Port Authority Commerce Building (1932), 111 Eighth Avenue the wall seen several feet behind the glass is covered with gold leaf]

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Barry and I don't observe anything religious, but we can't help it if our historical memories kick in once in a while. Usually it involves a good meal, and there's definitely one of those in the works for tomorrow, which happens to be the day celebrated as Easter by some.

Easter has come to be associated with colored eggs, but I think it was only a coincidence that I came across these giants earlier this week.

The picture is of some of the ostrich and emu eggs being sold by Roaming Acres (Sussex County, New Jersey) at the Union Square greenmarket on every Friday. The off-white and the dark blue/green colors are achieved without benefit of coloring. The big birds responsible, while hardly native to these climes, are actually local stock (as they must be, by greenmarket regulations, and in their case also "all natural"). The farmer himself sells the big eggs (one ostrich egg equals 18-24 chicken eggs) both fresh and hollowed out. He also offers ostrich meat and handsome ostrich leather goods, but the emu are cherished for their eggs alone (both with and without original content).

This picture, or one similar, will probably soon find its way onto our food blog, since I picked up a frozen ostrich fillet while I was there. We already have an ostrich egg sitting on a table in the parlor, one I brought with me when I moved back from South Africa 35 years ago, but I have my eye on one of those dark emu beauties.

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I'd love to find some excuse to continue shopping at Whole Foods, but I just couldn't live with myself if I went with anything I can come up with.

I am a serious cook, I make a real dinner for Barry and myself virtually every night, sometimes including friends as well, and I take my food sources very seriously. I was delighted to learn around nine years ago that a branch of Whole Foods was going to be opening at the end of our block. We already had Garden of Eden on 23rd Street, about the same distance away, and I could easily visit the Union Square Greenmarket, Citarella in the VIllage, Balducci's on 14th Street and Buon Italia and the other shops in Chelsea Market. I could reach just as many more good food outlets if I ventured a little further, and I often did.

I immediately found Whole Foods very convenient, and I had a certain amount of confidence in the quality of what they sold, perhaps buying too much into its own hype and the excitement of its fans. The store became a very big part of my hunting and gathering activities. I soon began to think of the store as almost indispensable. It didn't hurt that since it was only a few hundred feet from our apartment I could walk out my door at 9 in the evening or even later, having no idea of what I was going to buy, and still get back in time to make a proper dinner for the two of us.

But Whole Foods has been out of my life since last Thursday (except in the telling of this story). I'm going to have to make some adjustments and I'm definitely going to be planning ahead from now on. I regret having to make the adjustment, but I may be more disturbed about the fact that it took me too long to get to this point.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that for a long time I found it convenient to ignore what I began to hear early on about the Whole Foods management preventing its employees from unionizing (I did not then know the extent of its larger political involvement fighting the union movement, including opposing the Employee Free Choice Act). And then late last week the news broke about co-founder, Chairman and CEO John Mackey's Thursday Wall Street Journal op-ed on health care, "The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare". I could no longer ignore the fact that my money was supporting reactionary politics (the agent of the transaction was boldly broadcasting it to the world). Mackey opened his odd, obsessional piece with an ignorant, plainly specious quote* from scary Margaret Thatcher, and went on to argue against President Obama's health reform proposals. In fact he railed against any government involvement in the regulation of health care, positing instead eight of his own ideas for reform.

My favorite:

Revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

From its beginnings this food chain, anointed (with some justification) as more wholesome than any of its competitors, has assiduously cultivated an image of social responsibility. But it's an image which is, at the very least, at odds with much of its social and political conduct, especially because of the activities of the increasingly-eccentric John Mackey. The long arm (money, power, influence) of this very successful, wealthy corporation now manages to touch the lives of everyone, even those who have never entered one of its stores.

Even if the expected (and already dramatic) negative reaction of Whole Foods customers to the revelation of Mr. Mackey's Right-wing adventures isn't enough to frighten the corporation's investors, I would be surprised if they haven't already started to question his judgment, his ability to perform his job. Any competent CEO is well-advised to avoid political activities which offend and damage the best interests of his firm's clients and customers - or at least avoid being discovered or outed as an extremist nut.

I'm not going to pretend that my decision to no longer darken the threshold of the Chelsea Whole Foods outlet is of much consequence in the grand scheme of things, but I know I'm not alone in wanting to see John Mackey relieved of his duties. Stranger things have happened, and corporations are not known for courage, or preferring stupidity over the bottom line.

Should he be removed, John Mackey, the free market libertarian, should be able to appreciate the irony of the marketplace deciding that it had to be.


*
"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out
of other people's money."


[image from gezellig-girl's Flickr photostream]

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[detail]


Since the middle of March Barry and I have been assembling posts for a very modest new site, "Hoggard/Wagner Food Blog", which we want to use to document, mostly for our own use, some of our more successful meals and make it easier to dig up information we could use in preparing others. Actually, the ArtCat calendar started out much in the same way: It was originally built for our own use as a device to simplify the listing of gallery shows we wanted to visit.

To date the Food Blog has been used only to write about dinners we've enjoyed at home, but some day it may be stretched beyond that limited assignment. Even the colorless name is probably just tentative. And, speaking of color, I hope to add some by including rotating pictures at the top at least, probably in the form of my Greenmarket images rather than pictures of the food being described, since Barry and I have both found that food photography is not easy - especially if you're hungry.

Last night I tried something I'd never done before: I made pizza at home. I had never thought it made any sense for me to try to make fresh pasta in a tiny Manhattan kitchen, especially with so many store-bought or Greenmarket choices available close by, and I felt the pretty much the same about pizza. There were a number of times however when I'd dreamed of putting some very fresh or unusual greens or vegetables on white pizza, or even tomato pizza, the kind of thing I'd never be able to arrange for delivery.

When I changed my mind it was on account of the dual blessings of finding I had fresh ramps and fresh guanciale in the larder at the same time. What I went for wasn't a pizza that most people would recognize: White pizza with ramps and guanciale doesn't show up on the menu of the corner pizzeria.

I had already decided I was never going to make my own dough from scratch, and even dealing with the frozen ball I picked up at Whole Foods almost exceeded both patience and counter space. I'm going to be looking into alternatives, although we both thought their product was delicious - and very inexpensive.

After letting the dough rise (twice) and arranging it on top of a sprinkling of semolina flour in a large stoneware pan, I brushed it with oil and covered it with shredded mozarella, a dozen or more tiny ramps from the Union Square Greenmarket which I had quickly blanched, adding a scant ounce of guanciale [wanna make your own?], chopped and slightly pan-warmed, which I had picked up at the Murray's Cheese location inside Grand Central Market, and I finished working it by adding some grated Parmignano-Reggiano before I slid the pan into a hot (450 degrees) oven for nine or ten minutes [barely enough time to clean up a messy counter area now covered with flour glue].

While I was fretting over the dough, Barry was deciding we'd accompany the pizza with a Venaccia di San Gimignano 'Rondolino' 2006 from Philippe Wine. I suppose, if we had found any in our wine rack, a bottle of a more northern Italian white (or red) would have seemed even more appropriate, but the Vernaccia, one of our favorite everyday choices, worked very well.

As I said earlier, it was the first time I'd ever attempted a pizza of any kind, so until I had actually put it into the oven on the (previously-heated) heavy pan I thought the whole thing was going to be a total disaster. Instead, I think it may have been the best pizza I've ever had, both a perfect crust and a rich, savory topping.

We're being more and more conscious of costs these days (we're now eating at home more not just because I really enjoy cooking), so I've been very happy and proud to see that some of our best meals can be reproduced for very little money. On the food blog I should really make it a habit to point out those that shine in that category. I estimate the total cost of this particular meal for two, without the wine, to be just under $10.00.


[images by Barry]

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Merlucciidae Common Name: Silver Hake, Whiting, New England Hake


Oh wow, I do love this fish. It's very popular in Spain, but the species in European waters may be different from that found in our own. I say that because I remember how after less than a week in Madrid Barry and I would both groan when we saw merluza on the menu. It was tasty, but hidden bones were always a serious obstacle to our enjoyment. I haven't had the same experience on this side of the Atlantic.

But maybe it's just the estimable fishmongers at Citarella.

Last night I put together a dinner of "Ligurian fish and Potatoes" (using an 11-ounce Hake fillet and two scrubbed-but-unpeeled red potatoes). Thanks for the recipe, Mark. The hake rested on a cushion of red-rimmed potatoes which were remarkable not just for their taste but for being deliciously juicy, yet still al dente, while staying crispy on some of the edges.

Along with the fish, bought at Citarella in the Village, a few blocks southwest of the Union Square greenmarket from which I had just left, I prepared some very small baby Bok Choy which I was surprised to still find in this increasingly-deserted open-air market at the very end of December (praised be the inventor of the cold frame). But then I also bought some delicious Niagara grapes from another vendor yesterday; how'd they manage that?

The recipe for the contorno, which I modified somewhat from this recipe I found on line seems a bit fussy, but it turned out to be way toothsome, and a sensational complement to the sweet, white fish. It amazes me that this excellent vegetable still makes only rare appearances in Western cook books; I mean, the Italians managed to find New World peppers and tomatoes without making a big fuss, so where's their bok choy?

GRILLED BABY BOK CHOY

After cutting them in half, brushing them with garlic-infused oil, and sprinkling them with lemon and thyme, I grilled the little cabbages face down in an enameled-iron ribbed pan for about four minutes, covering them loosely with a sheet of foil. I then turned them over and added drops of balsamic vinegar, grilling them for about three or four more minutes. Once they were on the plates, I topped them with a mixture of pine nuts which had been sauteed in the garlic-infused oil and then heated with the chopped dark green outer leaves I had removed earlier.

We had nibbled on taralli al peperoncino while we waited for the main course, and when we had finished the fish I brought out two very small cuts of slightly-aged Caprini Tartufo, accompanying it with thin slices from a loaf of Tuscan bread I'd also picked up at the greenmarket that afternoon, and some phenomenal dried Turkish figs.

Oh yeah, sure, there was wine. We shared a bottle of Spanish Naia Verdejo which we sometimes think of as our current "house white"; it cost us only $12 or so.

Even though I've written before about the meals we enjoy at home, when I had already begun this post I suddenly thought that it might be a mistake: Maybe because it was so good and because I seem to be boasting about it publicly, but mostly because while I know that not everyone might want a meal like this many who would are unable to assemble it for one reason or another.

I will admit that it helps, and is probably essential, to have someone you love to enjoy it with you, but that sounds like another assignment.

"Geography is destiny", may be only a cliché, but if you're not in a city like New York you may not be able to reproduce this or most of the meals which we enjoy and which I sometimes describe, but you may come up with something just as pleasurable to suit different resources and circumstances. It doesn't have to mean taking a huge chunk of time out of a day: While this main course took me a little over one hour to put together, a call to the local Chinese or Mexican will always beat the time spent in the kitchen preparing any meal, but on the other hand, it's not a chore. Finally, considering what real cooks have been able to do without great kitchens and without fat purses, I don't think that inadequate space should stop anyone who really wants to prepare good meals. In fact I started cooking for myself when I had only a sink, a refrigerator, a stove and two feet of counter space on one side of a one-room apartment ( I now have an additional 4 1/2 feet of counter, but that extra length is only 16 inches deep and my refrigerator is now tiny).

I know that limited funds should be even less of an obstacle. Were I were disposed to feel any embarrassment about what looks like indulgence in this meal, and it certainly was not an exceptional event for us, I would just remind myself that the cost of the entire dinner for two (including the portion cost of herbs, oils, lemon, vinegar, etc.) was something like $16.

But I also get great pleasure (and some physical and mental exercise hauling and bending) out of the planning, gathering and preparation of these dinners, not to mention my huge delight in the enjoyment and sharing of good food, and the good conversation it encourages, while also listening to music of which we might take almost no notice during any other part of the day.

Most days I wouldn't trade it for any restaurant, even if I do have to do the dishes.


[image from University of Southern Maine]

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