Tuesday, February 3, 2009

City Kitchen Chronicles: Call the Waaaaahmbulance

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime.

Waah, my urban greenmarket isn't in season. Waah.

On Sunday, the temperature in New York City hit 50 degrees. Bright sun, gentle breeze – it felt like spring. But – and maybe this is something I need to work on – no sooner was I unzipping my giant, knee-length, down-filled winter coat than I was angry. Angry that it’s not really spring. Frustrated that it’s barely February. This weekend I found a note written last year, on “the first warm day of the year.” It was dated April tenth. I am getting impatient.

Spring dresses are taunting me from my closet. I want to be able to go for a walk without freezing my toes (and tuchus) off. And boy, am I in a vegetable rut.

I’ve written before about my love of the farmers market. Aside from the fact that the awesome Union Square market is almost an hour of subwaying from my apartment, it’s wonderful – the produce is fresh and delicious, it’s reasonably-priced (sometimes cheaper than the supermarket, sometimes a little more), and it’s environmentally and socially responsible. And then there’s the actual shopping, my summertime Saturday morning routine. Even when it’s hot or rainy, or getting cold in the fall, I love the walk through the market, the piles of vegetables, the connection I feel to my food and where it came from and the city.

But although the market is year-round, the produce isn’t. If I were to head down there in January I’d find maple syrup and jam and meat and milk. It’s still a great thing – I swing by for eggs when I can – but I just don’t live in a climate with a year-round growing season. Waah.

This is only my second winter since falling in love with the farmers market, and I’m surely more entrenched in my habits and enamored of my little hobby than I was last year. So not only am I missing fresh, seasonal vegetables, but I’m missing lovely Saturday mornings in Union Square, a weekly few hours of healthy me time, communing with the city and some kale.

There’s also a part of me that just doesn’t know what to buy! In July I know I’m getting string beans and young greens; August is red peppers; October I buy Brussels sprouts and squash. Faced with the choices at the supermarket, it’s almost too much. And it just feels wrong to eat these veggies out of season – not morally wrong, but like writing with my left hand though I’m a righty.

Being out of my vegetable comfort zone, out of my vegetable habit, leaves me, well, lately eating not nearly as many veggies as I ought to. Building my meals around vegetables is an important step for me to eat well. Each week at the market yields slightly different veggies, and I get excited about my finds. Besides, if I’ve got a crisper full of kale, I’ll eat it, but if I don’t… well, things lately have maybe not been so great.

I realize that this is not an unsolvable problem. The answer is: go to the freaking supermarket, buy some freaking vegetables. Rather than what’s in season I can go by what’s cheap, or what looks good, or, gasp, I can actually shop for specific recipes! I wonder if next summer I’ll be able to overbuy produce to freeze and store for winter – an investment of money that won’t pay back for several months, but if I can scrounge the extra dough, maybe worth it.

But just like every time I hear on the radio, “Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in three weeks,” I’m at once excited for spring to come and lamenting how damn far away it is, every supermarket vegetable I buy reminds me that for all that I’m a snow-loving December baby, now that I’m a local veggie junkie, this isn’t my favorite time of year.

Does winter affect how you eat? Beyond soup and comfort foods, are you relying on frozen or stored food more? Do you live in southern California and laugh at this northern whining?

(Photos courtesy of WhatISee, Grist.org, and Good Housekeeping.)

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mamacita said...

Nobody gets to live in a place with year-round locally-grown produce. Unless you live on the equator, which, you know, has its drawbacks. Be glad you get to live in NYC, with all its other attractions.

For produce, look up what's in season in the sunnier areas of the country (we're getting kale up the yin-yang in Houston) and let that be your guide.

Sarah said...

I discovered our local farmer's market late last summer and am also yearning for it to re-open. I only made it once last year at the end of the season so I am super excited to see what it has to offer during peak times.

I am definitely eating less fruit, not so much veggies, these days. But I'm generally eating the boring, predictable salads, carrots, etc instead of the more in-season summer stuff I love. I can buy those at the grocery store, but I tend to balk at the out of season prices.

Sarah said...

I live in a small city (about 40K people), and we have a great farmer's market and a strong local food movement - but I'm in the same boat now, there's not much I can do in January/February. I decided to cut myself a little slack, and to make my food choices based on the following criteria, in order:
1. Local produce (which is therefore seasonal and almost always organic)
2. Seasonal produce
3. Organic produce
4. No HCFS

So I always buy local when I can, and when I can't, I go for seasonal, etc, etc. I know that these kind of criteria won't work for everyone, and that some would mock me, but I used to eat a lot of packaged foods, so this is a big step toward a healthier relationship with food for me.

Healthy & Green on the Cheap said...

I can sympathize with you since I live right next door in Jersey, where the farms are just as bleak about now. Just a couple of weeks ago I sent in my CSA application, and I'm already nuts from the long wait!

In the meantime, I do a few things, that are better than throwing all caution to the wind. I use more frozen and canned veggies (lots of frozen spinach and canned tomatoes) than usual, and I use fresh vegetables that keep well: winter squash, carrots, beets, and other root veggies. I do supplement with other non-seasonal veggies, because let's face it, the pickins are slim, and I don't have an extra freezer or a root cellar to keep me going all winter long.

I also expand my definition of local for the winter, to include all domestic produce. Florida isn't too far away, and citrus is aplenty there! I just bought some kumquats last week ... can't wait to eat those! So, yes, the rules are broken, but I'm still not buying from Venezuela or New Zealand.

Here's hoping the spring harvest hurries up and gets here!

Jaime said...

That's a good point, local vs. seasonal. I'm so used to focusing on what's in season *here*. Other than obvious things like winter citrus, how do I know if the non-local produce I see is in season or not? Anyone have a resource?

Calidaho said...

I grew up in the tundra of Idaho so there were two types of produce--a few weeks of yummy stuff from the garden and months of blandness for the rest of the year.

I don't have a garden in SoCal but I love that we get fresh, local stuff year round at the Thursday Evening Farmer's Market--problem is that it closes an hour earlier during winter and I can never get home from work in time.

Ashley said...

I am feeling exactly the same way right now... I really miss my CSA subscription, and I love the farmers market, but all they have are yams. I finally broke down and bought some blueberries from Chile this week, and while they weren't nearly as good as the local ones in August, they reminded me how much I miss the local growing season.