Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Meet Your Vegetables: Asparagus Is Here!

MARKETINGI texted my sister: I'm realizing I need to invest in a food processor with a shredder wheel. This is pioneer cooking kugel, and she replied, hahah well it will bring you closer to your ancestors who made kugel the same way.

This all comes after I've asked her if she wants the kugel to be from both of us, and if so, if she can kick in a few bucks for my train ticket to Long Island tomorrow, because I've just dropped, like, twelve bucks at Whole Foods on these yams. The farmers market yesterday had none, and the produce at the supermarket by me is… well, I went to Whole Foods.

I also bought what is probably a completely absurd amount of sweet potatoes (and yes, I know I'm using yams and sweet potatoes incorrectly interchangeably, but so does Whole Foods, so eat it) (ha, "eat it" in a food column, anyway–) I have too many sweet potatoes because I consulted with my mother on this recipe, which I'm largely making up. My mother, who usually makes literally three times as much food as gets eaten for big extended family dinners. This mother told me that for her potato kugel, she figures two potatoes a person, but sweet potatoes are bigger… so I end up with about nine, for a fourteen-person Passover seder. Plus a white potato, plus a seriously overpriced apple, both of which I could've gotten cheaper yesterday at the farmers market, if I'd thought a little bit more about this recipe in advance, if I'd made a few more concrete decisions.

So it's 9:30 p.m. and it's just me, my box grater, and an orange-stained cutting board and, eventually sweet potato kugel-a bastardized recipe if there ever was one-just like my shtetl ancestors never really did.


All I bought at the greenmarket was a carrot I don't think I'm even using in this recipe. My friend and I had walked the length of the market twice, as per our protocol — once to scope, once to buy — discussing our various Life Concerns and Issues in complete disregard of the countless strangers' earshots we were within. (An actor I knew who moved to LA once clarified for me the peculiar privacy of publicness in this city. In LA or, really, anywhere else, you have time alone, in your car, in this example, to be private. But in New York there is none of that, so we treat subways and sidewalks as protected space, as if we are alone or invisible. By necessity, by sheer force of will. I was twenty-two, so this was revelatory to me. And as we waited in line to buy eggs, speaking in maybe slightly lowered voices about personal Life Matters, I remembered this lesson, and embraced it.)

* * *

The previous weekend, New York had been graced with a gloriously unseasonable weekend for mid-March, and the big Union Square market was overwhelmed with dog-walkers, stroller-pushers, coffee-drinkers… sunglassed Manhattanites, and I guess I was one. It was a shock from the winter market die-hards: sparse local food devotees and fans of hot cider, and occasionally me just trudging through to drop off my compostables. (I keep a bag of scraps and eggshells in my freezer, and at least in the winter it doesn't melt by the time I get to Union Square. Saving the world, half a garbage bag of apple cores at a time.) The sunshine brought out the crowds and the tourists and brisk business for the Starbucks on the corner, but for me it effected a seasonal amnesia: I forgot that this was neither July nor California, and found myself hoping for — half-expecting — something fresh and green.
But, of course, it was March, and produce's spring is several weeks behind even the seasonable weather. So I bought one of last fall's apples to occupy me on my walk up the market, and also because I don't think I'd eaten any fruits or vegetables at all yet that day. I had ten dollars in my pocket, my usual summertime vegetable budget, but it was all just crates of parsnips and onions, all like, Fuck you, it's not even technically spring, and I didn't even need eggs, so I just dropped my apple core in a compost bin at the north end of the market.

After the apple for the walk up, a cider donut for the walk down and, because I refused to be entirely defeated by the barren market, and because it wasn't actually barren, like a buck twenty-five of parsnips and carrots. Right before the subway I stopped at an upstate orchard's stall for a small strawberry/apple juice, for the shocking mouthful of strawberry taste (take that, winter) of the first sip. I was emboldened by the 47% of my Vitamin C RDA promised by the label, but then dismayed that my greenmarket food even had a label, and came from a sophisticated enough operation for such exact measurements of Vitamin C. I guess I'd rather it be hand-inked by a grandma in her kitchen, and approximated in the dash-of-this, handful-of-that way of grandma recipes I've gotten the sense exist from TV. Going down the stairs to the subway, I snapped the plastic lid on the juice bottle and turned it upside down, to be sure that when I put it in the bag with the parsnips, it wouldn't spill.

* * *

In mid-April there still aren't any real greens to be spoken of, though last fall's apples and parsnips are still going strong! I refuse to take into account the organic, biodynamic spinach that's showed up, because it is super expensive. I don't even know how expensive — it's spinach that invokes "if you need to ask, you can't afford it," spinach like a boutique I won't go into because I don't understand how it works, with like one of each dress on the rack? Do rich people not work with sizes? I don't know.

The Greenmarket's twitter account (I'm going to ignore any invitations in that phrase to examine our modern urban attempts at quaint rusticity, because shut up, it's a farmers market in New York and it has a twitter account, and I just want some vegetables, okay?) has been tempting me this week with workday talk of fresh greens, baby collards, and ramps. Even last Saturday there were greens starting to show up: stinging nettles, for which I am neither brave nor desperate enough; little bunches of dandelion greens that I won't pay two dollars for, because that's maybe half a salad's worth of stuff that grows in my grandparents' yard.

This morning their twitter had something about asparagus. Not "such-and-such farm has such-and-such specific thing." Just "Asparagus is here!" "Here" is more than Union Square, and asparagus is obvs representing more than just itself. See also: the mania about ramps. (When I was little I was absolutely confounded by the seemingly subjectless grammar of weather declarations: "It's raining." "What is?!" "Asparagus is here" is sort of something like that.)

"Asparagus is here" gives me that anxious flutter I get about figuring out how early to show up for general admission things, like concerts and readings, the excited anticipation and the anxiety about the unknowably eager rest of the crowd. (I tend to get to things really early, and walk around the block until a line starts to just form.) I guess what's amazing is that asparagus shows up every year, and it's still making me nervous? Asparagus also lives in our supermarkets year-round, okay, but part of hitching (mostly) onto the seasonal foods is signing up for that cycle — the excitement as each new food shows up, from the spring asparagus to Brussels sprouts season in the fall; and then the downside, known as "December through now."

I don't know if "Asparagus is here" has a broad enough reach to include the puny farmers market up by me in Inwood, or if I'd be able to make it down to Union Square on Saturday early enough to beat the crowds. In a few weeks there will be 2-for-$6 bunches of asparagus languishing into the late afternoon, and in a few months I'll be sweating my way over to the dollar-a-pound string beans to fill up my bag. I bought 99-cent string beans this week from my supermarket, plastic-wrapped on a little green foam bed. For some reason, that's an okay contingency plan, but supermarket asparagus isn't. I'll see what I can find this weekend.

Jaime Green keeps not dressing warm enough.

25 Comments / Post A Comment

Murgatroid (#2,904)

Asparagus piss is the worst. That is all.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

True, but that first morning visit to R.Mutt is a wake-up donkey-punch compared to your cup of coffee's gentle cheek-slap.

lbf (#2,343)

LEt's agree to disagree, it's the BEST. Few things even come close, in terms of your body showing you that it's working the way nature intended it to. It's like the the exact opposite of the consequences of binge drinking and/or junk food on your, let's say, "by-products".

riggssm (#760)

1) I love asparagus and eat it as often as possible (despite what it does to my small bladder odor). Sauteed in some olive oil, cracked pepper, lemon juice. Yum.

2) Private space in public is odd, eh? Two nights ago I had a Life Matters conversation at my bar … we didn't quite finish before two acquaintances joined us.

The stranger to my left wrote to me on a bar nap: But how did the story end? Have you two made up? You should call him.

3) I just had half a bagel, two bananas, an apple, and an Andes mint. You make me hungry again. Damn!

NicFit (#616)

In my experience, that Whole Foods in Union Square is generally 25-50% cheaper for any equivalent item in the Green Market.

jaimealyse (#647)

Well, two things:

First of all, that's not actually true. A big part of why I shop at the greenmarket is because when food is in season it is *cheap*. Examples:
Kale: Whole foods – $2.99/tiny bunch; Market – $2/giant bunch
Apples: WF – $2-$3/lb; Market – $1-$1.50
Peppers: $4/lb vs. $2/lb

It goes on. But also, there is more to going to a farmers market than just cheapness. There is the fact that the food is local, that it travels a shorter distance; that way more of your $ goes into the farmer's pocket; that you can *talk* to the farmer, ask questions; supporting your local economy, small farms, & green, open spaces in your region; the food is fresher and tastier, and you are often sort of forced into eating seasonally, which, as an experience, I like. Also the experience of the market itself is enjoyable.

Berries aren't actually cheaper at the market, but they are a billion times tastier than anything else. I pay 50 cents more for a dozen eggs than I would at Whole Foods, but I got to ask the farmer what the chickens eat and how they live, which I felt a little embarrassed asking, but is something good to know.

NicFit (#616)

Mesclun salad greens: Whole foods – $8/pound; Market – $4 per 1/4 pound (you do the math)

Also, WF has tons of local produce when the season is right. I don't mind talking to the farmer and all, but in my experience WF beats the hell out of the Green Market on organic produce (not to mention cheese, bread and meat) more often than not.

I haven't lived in NYC for 20 years, but I visit at least once a year. And I always buy things at the Greenmarket when I'm there. Whole Foods, on the other hand, sends me screaming out the door.

sixlocal (#296)

Do you all live in Inwood or something? (Me too.)

cherrispryte (#444)

Wait. I need more information on that third photo. Specifically, why the conch-like things are labelled "Scungili", which I thought was Italian for octopus. Also, the conch-like things used to live by my grandparent's house when I was little, and finding a complete shell of theirs not covered by barnacles or algae was pretty much The Best Thing Ever. I have not seen one on that beach for years.

Essentially I would like him to put those conch-like things back where they came from, which is to say, the beach. I will go help.

He misspelled Scungilli, which is basically conch. It's kind of a random not-quite corruption used in the States. Octopus is "polpi" (pl.)

Bittersweet (#765)

I love asparagus, despite the weird pee smell. Ditto parsnips, which are much sweeter than most people think.

I want to eat more vegetables, but have some GERD/stomach issues that make eating many of them uncomfortable, if not painful. Anyone willing to be servicey and tell me which veggies won't cause major gastric problems?

jaimealyse (#647)

Vegetables & digestive disorders are like my two big areas of knowledge, so let's see.

I was under the impression that tomatoes and citrus are the major vegetal GERD culprits. (Well, and, like, jalapenos.) Do other things bother you? I could see sweet peppers being a problem, maybe, or also apples?

In general, root vegetables tend to be easiest on the gut – sweet potatoes, carrots, white potatoes. Spinach is usually good for me, too. String beans, asparagus, artichokes. More fibrous greens and broccoli, cauliflower, and sprouts are probably okay, too, if less sure safe bets.

Preparation also matters – pureeing can make foods easier to digest – maybe some sort of broccoli pesto sauce type thing? Mashed cauliflower is also awesome, but this is the wrong time of year. But cooked over raw is generally easier on your belly.

Bittersweet (#765)

Thanks, jaimealyse! More fibrous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower are actually among the worst for me – I think it's the stems.

I think you're right also about cooked vs. raw, so I'd best get off my duff and find some good roasted/steamed/sauteed veggie recipes.

Crantastical (#4,127)

I have SIBO, it is a cause of IBS, and was put on a special diet to manage it. It is the BEST diet ever, basically just high fat and low carb. I can eat veggies that are low in fiber (fibrous ones are too hard to digest unless cooked until soggy, that is why your GERD is acting up). Try looking up the SIBO diet via google.

oudemia (#177)

This is the 2-3 week period where I eat nothing but asparagus. It just isn't the same at any other time of year. Omnomnomnomnom.

I'm right there with you. There's also that one week every late-winter where I'm overwhelmed by the urge to eat radishes all the time (with mustard!), but that's just me.

oudemia (#177)

My crazed radish consumption involves black radishes and buttered bread with salt. So good.

Classical fun fact of the day: The ancient Greek verb ῥαφανιδόω (raphanido-o) means, literally, "to radish," that is, "to shove a daikon up someone's ass" — the traditional punishment for adulterers.

tiny dancer (#1,774)

I love radishes with either mustard and greens or butter and sea salt. I want to know more about these black radishes, though.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Black radishes are TEH AWESOME.
Peppery, intensely horseradishlike… slice them thin on a mandoline if you've got one. Keep Altoids around because the afterbreffs is FOUL.

If you can grow them, seeds would be an extremely rare find in stores but can be found on the internets from a couple of suppliers. I guess they're an heirloom native to Spain? They like the cold.
Or you can just, you know, go buy them at Whole Paycheck!

tiny dancer (#1,774)

Oh a million times yes. I just planted some champions or cherry belles or somesuch (I'm new!). But I will look around for the black ones. Thank you.

MatthewGallaway (#1,239)

Yay asparagus! Sadly I was headed to Union Square last weekend and somehow got lost and ended up in Costco Harlem. (Where btw there were a LOT of gay couples?)

hman (#53)

Are the hard pretzels from that pretzel guy any good? I've always been tempted to buy a bag, but they seem expensive for…pretzels.

jaimealyse (#647)

They are not amazing.

hman (#53)

Heh, that's what I figured. Thanks – my wallet and I thank you!

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