Pumpkin Friday and Critical Nonsense

1. Louis, 2. Allen, 3. Hester, 4. Grand, 5. Rivington, 6. Suffolk IIX, 7. Elizabeth (I named them, too.)

Dedicated readers may remember a weird little phase I went through this time last fall:  I carved pumpkins, constantly.

Every Friday morning I would wake up extra early, carve a Jack-o-Lantern, and display it on a busy intersection a block from my apartment.  Pumpkin Fridays were social experiments.  They were meant to answer 2 questions:

  1. How long could a shiny new Jack-o-Lantern survive in one of the most trafficked and drunken intersections in Manhattan?
  2. Could I move the needle of the Lower East Side’s festivity meter by introducing a steady stream of gourd art?

The answers, respectively, were about 2.5 days and maybe a little.  But it turns out they weren’t the important questions anyway.  The real insights of Pumpkin Fridays were in how they affected me.  I have to admit, that month and a half was especially grueling.  The jack-o-lantern process – even when streamlined – is long and messy.  You’d be surprised how badly a pumpkin a week can carve into your own free time (and sleep cycle, as it were).

Still, there was something intensely energizing about the whole thing.  So much so that as I remember it now, I feel that same electricity charging me up again.  Not because the pumpkins were making a splash in the community, not because they were particularly well done, not really because they were important in any way.  In fact, I found the process so exciting for just the opposite reason – carving the pumpkins had no immediate value.  It was an act of pure, impulsive, creativity… and zero reason.  Acting on that impulse – and freeing myself from the constraints of utilitarian time management – was one of the most refreshing experiences I’ve ever had.

It’s pretty wild how often being in this program has made me forget that lesson.  Time is very precious here, and when any resource starts to thin, it’s the superfluous nonsense that gets chopped first.  But what if the superfluous nonsense is what keeps you going?  Exhibit 1: It’s October 6th and my pumpkin count is still at zero.  Exhibit 2: How many new eating goodly posts have you read since September?  This blog may be a huge time drain, but it’s also one of my greatest sources of inspiration.  It sucks how easily the really important stuff can get reasoned away.

This is the last day before fall break.  I’ve got a midterm in an hour, a couple projects to hand in after that, and I’m out the door.  In the days to come, I really hope to rediscover my balance between what’s sensibly critical and what’s critical nonsense.  Of course – seeing as how I woke up early to study, but ended up writing about pumpkins instead – I might be well on my way.

Kale, Peach, and Cheddar Salad

While I’m at it, I might as well mention the other dish I stole from Northern Spy Co that fateful day last summer.  It was actually served alongside the Spicy Watermelon Gazpacho, and it was equally fantastic.  Can you blame me for plagiarizing both? *

What’s in it:

  • Kale
  • Sliced peaches
  • Slivered almonds
  • Cheddar
  • Onions
  • Dressing: OO, lemon juice, honey, S+P
  • Topped with Pecorino

I recently made this salad for a COME ETE! event… it was simple, summery, and pleasantly different.  Bonus points if you pretend you came up with it yourself!

*I’m especially off the hook because Nathan Foot, the chef behind Northern Spy, already published the recipe in NYMag.  This one looks like it was adapted for fall (with red kale and squash)… interesting idea.

Spicy Watermelon Gazpacho


I just realized I referenced Spicy Watermelon Gazpacho in my last post, but never actually wrote about it.   It’s not that I’m such a stickler for journalistic integrity (ahem… Corn Futures Part III?), this soup is just too good to keep to myself.  I first had it about a year ago with Laura at one of our favorite restaurants, Northern Spy Co., in the East Village. It’s a great farm-to-table spot (the inside actually looks like a chicken coop), and their gazpacho is pretty mind-blowing. Luckily, it’s also pretty easy to copy.

You’ll need:

  • Half a watermelon
  • 1 can of tomatoes (28 oz)
  • 1 fresh tomato
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 small jalepeno
  • 2 limes
  • red wine vinegar (about 1/2 cup)
  • fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper

To make the soup, chop the cucumber and 1/2 onion in half.  Then, put them in a food processor with most of the watermelon, the canned tomatoes, jalapeno, limes, vinegar, and thyme.  Blend it all like crazy and then strain it to get out the chunks.  To finish, dice the remaining cucumber, onion, watermelon, and fresh tomato and throw it all in the strained soup.  Salt, pepper, enjoy.

Whether or not you make the gazpacho this year (the window of summer is quickly closing), I definitely recommending holding on to this recipe.  It may be stolen, but it’s still one of my best.

Too Much of a Good Thing: My Fallout with Watermelon

Everyone’s got the “food fallout story”.  You know, the kind that starts with “I used to love oysters” and ends with a fought-off gag reflex and a hollow-eyed “…never again.”  Whatever nightmare sandwiched in between is traumatic enough to turn our most cherished comfort foods completely nauseating.  Total fallout.

Before it all began... we were all so innocent then.

That said, I used to love watermelon.  I’ve actually written about it a few times – from the Watermelon Rule I lived by these past couple summers (“Thou shalt always have it in the fridge”) to my very tasty Watermelon Gazpacho.  It’s delicious, it’s iconic, it’s fun.  I mean, common – it’s watermelon.   

Recently, for better or worse, my love for the stuff went very public.  On behalf of my grad program’s volunteer committee, I threw a “No-holds barred” contest to see who could eat the most watermelon for charity.  It was the Ithaca is Gorging on Watermelon Eating Contest, and it was held smack in the center of downtown Ithaca.  Obviously, my reputation as an eater, as a volunteer, and as a man was on the line, and I entered to win. 

The structure of the contest was simple.  12 competitors, 2 rounds.  The first round was all about speed.  The competitors – broken up into 3 heats – would each eat half a watermelon as fast as they could.  Whoever ate the most at the end of 2 minutes advanced to the final round.  Essentially a slug-match, round 2 gave the three remaining eaters 5 minutes to eat as much as they could force down.  The winner was whoever could do the most damage.  Continue reading

Buying the Farm

The first box of the season

I’ve written a bunch about how eerily miraculous modern produce is.  About how any day of the year, you can make a smoothie with California strawberries, Ecuadorian bananas, and Florida orange juice and not give it a second thought.  The supermarket may be convenient, but it’s also cheapened a lot of nature’s specialness.

What I’ve written about less are the alternatives to this system… I guess because they’re not as obvious.  Today, though, I’m happy to write that I just took a step towards valuing the farmer… I  joined a CSA.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  It’s basically a contract made between the farmer and the surrounding community: before the growing season starts, community members “join” the CSA (i.e. pay for a season’s worth of produce – in my case, half a year).  Paying for everything up front does a couple of good things: it prevents people like me from chickening out later on, it gives the farmer some financial reassurance in performing a not-so-profitable undertaking, and it promotes more diversified, more interesting, and healthier crops (farmers aren’t constricted to growing “what sells”).

A very untamed salad.

Still, it’s the paying up front that was the hardest part to personally overcome.  The whole thing basically comes out to $10 a week (I’m splitting a $20 box with a friend) – a figure I’d drop at Wegmans on groceries, no questions asked.  The thing is, that ten bucks looks a lot different when it’s multiplied by 23.  A lot different.  I found myself hemming and hawing about it, even when I knew it was the right thing to do.  Luckily, peer pressure won, and so did the farmer.

And so did I – my first box came last Thursday, and it was a total score: a ton of mixed greens, fresh dill, bib lettuce, chives, and the piece de resistance: tiny little wild strawberries.  I’ve never had strawberries like this before… super good.

Ridiculous

The CSA is no doubt a good thing.  I can tell you off the bat eating this produce has been much more enjoyable than the stuff I got at the supermarket.  There’s just an extra something – slightly better quality, much better perceptions – that makes everything more special.  Plus, knowing that I’m doing good is an important part of it all.  Words like sustainability and community are thrown around like crazy these days, but it really does feel gratifying to take tangible steps towards those mega-concepts.

The next step is figuring out how to make this concept more mainstream.  The ideas behind farmshares are solid – it’s their hippy-extremist perception that prevents a lot of people (like me) from reaping the benefits.  All in time.  For now, expect more updates on my CSA.  Not because I’m bragging, not because I’m trying to guilt you into joining one – because I’m legitimately excited to open my box next Thursday.

The Beer List: Nice Weather, Better Beer

Last week’s Flight Night at the Cloverleaf was a pretty cosmic experience.  The days leading up to it had been sort of gross – rainy and cold – but things were clearing up and, by Thursday, the forecast looked fantastic.  Likewise, in my own little brewniverse, the week had started out dull with a couple rye beers that were probably past their prime.  Luckily once I hit the Leaf, the beer finally started to mimic the weather.

This week I was copilot with my friend, Emily.  The genius of our “flight plan” was to start with the Spring beers (pungent, flowery, flavorful) and move on to summer (a lot brighter and lighter).  Check out the progression below, with what little notes I managed to scribble onto my bar napkin:  Continue reading