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Archive for December, 2007

Black Cat Chrysler

The place has magic in it. “…Recalling certain men of other days who made of drink one of the pleasures of life, rather than one of its evils.”This article is about neither food nor soil, though merry collaboration it does involve. The collaboration of gin and ginger, of honey and rum and cream, relationships built among unidentifiable flavors. Bees’ Kisses, Ginger Gin Mules. The drinks were more than dishes, and the night a masterpiece of art and ambience. Where we were must not be named. It was behind a curtain and a tailor-masked window, dusty and distinguished. And as we stepped finally from the unmarked threshold into last night’s late night chill, the Chrysler building shone in the distance, and a black shadow darted ‘cross our path, too big to be a rat.chrysler.jpg Back behind the curtain, the man of bottles and pitchers, spices and spirits, resembled a cobbler, we’d thought, or a tailor. His salt and pepper hair swung low above old-school suspenders, well-pressed trousers standing in a space the size of a cupboard, where he mixed each sweet, savory, bitter, or spicy concoction of the hour. The brick and embossed tin walls and ceiling turned our minds to memories of Colonial Williamsburg and Renaissance Fairs. Long dark hair and luring hats led us into the candlelit corridor of booths, as soft piano keys played in the background and we sipped our first of two rounds, gins and whiskeys with lime and ginger, a negroni straight up with a twist of orange. The tables were wooden thrones for each delectable drink dispersed, each cushioned with a ribbed napkin, and flanked by water one might easily neglect. Our attention repeatedly forwent conversation as each sip’s flavors hit our senses. We were tired to begin with – a midnight reservation got us a table by 1am – but something was mesmerizing about the place, quieting and soothing, relaxing us into forgetfulness of the hour. We sat simply noticing: a soft white hat glowing in the dim candlelight of the bar, the flicker of dangling earrings, our server’s thick hair, pinned with a large black bow that reminded me of the poofy holiday dresses of my childhood. At Carla’s suggestion for the second round, we switched to creams. The Bee’s Kiss, the Dominicana, and something incredible with strawberries. The layers of cream, coffee, and whiskey flowed flavor-by-flavor onto my tastebuds, a jigsaw puzzle joining together at the tongue. The sweet, cool warmth of Jesse’s rum, cream, and honey brought to our table the silence of complete thankfulness, and of growing admiration for the cobbler-like man in suspenders. We shamelessly cleaned our cocktail glasses, licking our fingers, wishing for more, beaming smiles of exhausted, beloved bliss.We may not have consumed anything locally grown last night, nor did we ask the origins of the ingredients of our drinks, but we did devote several hours to the appreciation of skillful preparation and taste. Our appreciation led to reflection, of the year that’s ending, and consideration of the future that’s beginning, excitement in the present we’re enjoying, and immense comfort, in the sharing of a lovely, memorable evening with others.May all who need it have such an evening this season.

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As we sat down finally in the evening, each with a glass of wine or a beer, Benoit laughed at the silly, silent grins the three of us had let spread over our faces, our bodies propped up at the table in exhaustion. “We look like deflating balloons!” he said. “It is like our brains are bizzzzing about, releasing the bliss of this day!”

Anne, Benoit, and I had come straight from the Wintermarket, from the Saxelby Cheesmongers table where we’d sold regional cheeses, yogurt, butter, and grilled cheese-and-pickle sandwiches to an ongoing, enthusiastic crowd of customers from 11am to 4pm. Thanks to Professor Robert LaValva, the New Amsterdam Public, and to all who support this man and the vision of the organization he founded, the market was an outstanding success. It seemed a moment in history, an historical day, for all who were present.

The New Amsterdam Public is an organization with the mission of establishing the New Amsterdam Market, a year-round, indoor, public market where grocers, butchers, fish and cheese mongers and other purveyors would create and foster a regional, sustainable food system in the City of New York. Wintermarket was the first important step towards achieving this goal. The New Amsterdam Market would embrace not only the historical significance of the Seaport, but the historical meaning of a public market. The Seaport has been the site of public markets since 1624, spaces that celebrate the mutual depedence of city and region, and that exert strength, relevance, and vibrancy when they are established to serve the common good.If the success of Wintermarket is any sign of how beloved such a location would be to New York City, the one-day event assured we who were present that the New Amsterdam Market shall become a permanent reality.

Even in the cold rain, despite the markets’ location outside the gates of the New Market Building, the crowds came in droves. Our first customers had left New Jersey three cold hours earlier, to be at the market by 11am sharp. The chef of Jimmy’s No. 43 had cleaned out his bread supply by noon, and the Salvatore Ricotta from Brooklyn was sold out hardly an hour later. Salvatore’s wooden bowl of fresh-made cheese, drizzled with local honey, sat next to our table, and I snagged the last spoonful at 1pm, just in time. Mario Batali’s rolled porchetta, an entire pig, whole to the head, stretched beautifully across a board to the left of our cheeses, and was sliced for sandwiches till it too was gone, far before the market’s final hour. Other farmers, growers, breeders and foragers served tastings for free, and sold food for the cupboard and gifts for the holidays – meats from upstate New York, oysters of Long Island, apples from New Hampshire, eggs laid in New Jersey, hard cider from Ithaca, pickles made in Brooklyn, berries fresh from Vermont, cheeses from sheep, cow, and goat farmers as close as Poughkeepsie, honey from Amagansett, and ice cream made with regional ingredients, a crowdpleaser even in the cold. There were breads made by immigrant women in Queens, nuts foraged in Westchester, beans and oats from Brooktondale, New York. A few farmers even came down from Maine with freshly milled grains and cereals. Chefs from throughout the city served seafood chowders, pork stews, chilis, and toast with pate.

My job: was to grill the cheese-and-pickle sandwiches of Saxelby Cheesmongers. And I therefore tasted few of the goods at the market. We were kept so busy all day that my memory is primarily of expectant faces and outstretched hands, eyes looking hungrily at my makeshift panini grills. Two sets of two pans, each pressing down upon the sizzling sandwiches: Sullivan Street ciabatta, slices of Grafton Classic Cheddar from Vermont (until we sold out, and switched to the less-classic, Grayson), butter from Evan’s Farmhouse Creamery, and Rick’s Picks Bee ‘n’ Beez pickles. One elderly lady told me in excited expectation, “That’s exactly how I make mine at home! But I like to put a full teapot on top of the top pan, to really squash the sandwich down!” Another woman took one bite of her sandwich and melted in smiles, allowing that the grilled cheeses at Neal’s Yard in London were only nearly as good. There were only a few grumbles, claims of having been skipped in line, of having waited too long for a sandwich ordered. Overall, this was an incredibly enthusiastic, supportive crowd, together with overjoyed, proud purveyors, in a setting of almost boisterous, excited interaction. Our Saxelby stand gave endless tastings of yogurts, cheeses, and even butter, and sold our cheese-and-pickle sandwiches for $4.50 a piece – what more could one want in the winter? We sliced and chopped and spooned and grilled: Anne, Benoit, and I thawing our cold feet in a dance of height, haste, and heated excitement. It was a day that we were meant to end as deflated balloons, grinning in bliss.

We drank our wine in the evening with visions of the New Amsterdam Market and its genius potential: the ease of transportation to the seaport from all directions, the beautiful view of the bridge and the water, the abundant purveyors and products available. I imagined bikes piling in over the bridge from Brooklyn, Wall Street execs hurrying over from work, and the chefs calling out ‘cross the indoor space of the New Market Building, for more bread from the baker, more cheese from the monger, truffles from the forager, and honey from the rooftop beekeeper. New York has the food, and we have the people. Our region and city have a history of food production, commerce, and stewardship that we have so much to benefit from maintaining. The Wintermarket was only a seed, as they say, planted in dormant soil. Before long, to be sure, it will grow. And if this city has any idea what it needs, the New Amsterdam Market will open for all.

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The Food & Purchasing Subcommittee of NYU’s Sustainability Task Force will be having our last meeting of the year next Tuesday! As a group of ten students, faculty, and staff of the University, we’ve been meeting every other week since early October, and have made progress on several of our goals for the semester.

On the Food side of things, two official and two unofficial members of the subcommittee were able to attend the Real Food Summit in early November: Annie Myers, Adam Brock, Shane Crary-Ross, and Veena Bontu. Following the Summit, Annie, Adam, and Shane met with NYU’s new district chef Jeramie Garlick at an event organized by Footprint Forward, and learned about the sustainability programs initiated by Aramark at NYU, particularly the Hayden Dining Hall Pilot Project.

On November 14th, NYU Director of Energy and Sustainability Cecil Scheib and Sustainability Task Force Project Administrator Jeremy Friedman joined the nyugreen.jpgDirector of NYU Dining Services for “Understanding Sustainable Dining Options,” a web conference held by John Turenne of Sustainable Food Systems and Scott Berlin of UC Santa Cruz. Following the conference, NYU’s participants discussed the success of the Hayden Dining Hall Pilot Project and the potential for more sustainable food initiatives in the future. As a result of this discussion, the Sustainability Task Force is currently preparing a formal request for information about the food purchased at Hayden as well as all NYU Dining Halls, particularly whether it is local, organic, and/or fair trade, or conventional.

As a committee, we have also compiled a list of barriers to making the food system at NYU more sustainable, as the Task Force is gathering information on the difficulties faced in each of the eight subcommittees.

Finally, we are working on compiling “Sustainable Catering Guidelines” that will be distributed to the different departments at NYU next semester. Although a few buildings on campus are required to use Aramark catering, and others (the Law School, for example) have their own catering services, many schools and departments could potentially change their suppliers to caterers that use primarily local and organic products.

Our student members are also active members of Real Food New York.

The Food & Purchasing Committee will be having our last meeting of the year next Tuesday, December 18th at 12:30pm. If you are affiliated with NYU, and are interested in being involved with sustainability efforts related to food or purchasing at the University, please contact ahm259@nyu.edu!

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As a scholar of the Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship, I have recently felt saturated with stories about successful non-profits and NGOs, and with bullet-pointed presentations on what made them functional, how they raised money, and how they scaled up their impact from a local to a national or global level.These “exemplary” organizations are usually working towards social, environmental, or political justice, particularly in the form of “systemic change,” the (somewhat disputed) goal of “social entrepreneurship.” Such organizations include City Year, Teach for America, Environmental Defense, and Habitat for Humanity. They combine direct action and activism, in order to make a positive and significant impact on our world. As Leslie Crutchfield, co-author of Forces for Good, mentioned in a Reynolds Expert session this morning, these organizations are “network oriented,” meaning they have a collaborative mindset, a strategy focused on “growing the network” (rather than the organization itself), and they work to share resources with other NGOs, to function with open source intellectual property, to develop their competitors, and to cultivate leadership rather than hoard talent.” As far as I’m concerned, that sounds great. But it’s a schpiel with a lot of buzzwords.Real Food New York, before this past weekend, was a group that had come together because of a single, inspiring, well-planned event: the Real Food Summit. We had stayed in touch since the Summit, as an email-by-email network of kids sharing notes on our efforts to bring Real Food onto our campuses. We had significant potential to slowly evaporate in buzzwords, “networking,” “collaborating,” and “building solidarity,” and eventually perhaps just wasting our time.This Sunday, many members of Real Food New York came together formally, to decide who we are as a group, how we can use each other, and what our plan is for the future.First of all, Real Food is food that nourishes land, community, and people. Real Food New York is a bunch of students who are at various stages of increasing the amount of Real Food on our campuses and in our communities. We are helping our schools to hire a Sustainability Director, or negotiating stringent contracts with our food service providers, collaborating with these food service providers to develop sustainable menus, or formally requesting comprehensive purchasing information from our Directors of Dining Services. All of us are trying to raise student awareness of the benefits of Real Food. We have our own organizations, at our own schools. And as Adam pointed out last week, the last thing we need is another organization, demanding more of our time, working to advance the same projects within which we’re already engaged, and only further dividing and devaluing the meager time of our meager numbers. We knew the existence of “Real Food New York” could easily be more of a burden than a blessing.But the students of Real Food New York recognize: We are useful to each other for our personal experience with institutional sustainability projects, our resources (natural and personal), and the moral support of like-minded friends, who understand each other, and share meals together. On a larger scale, our institutions together have a formidable purchasing power, whether we’re working with the same food service provider, the same corporation, or the same farmer. As individuals, each of us can barely represent our school. Together, and as we gain members, we have the ability to represent the student voice of the local food movement in the New York area.071202rfny.jpgThis Sunday morning, we hashed out the details. By 11am, we had voted unanimously to label our region inclusively. We are New York State, and her neighbors. We represent urban and rural, large and small, private and public institutions. By noon, we decided we’d meet formally once a semester, and informally by topic or project as we deem appropriate, by consensus. We recognized that the listserve wasn’t working. We decided to start an online open source resource pool, a wiki/blog combination, in which all members would have contributor status. At 1pm we ate lunch, potluck style: pasta with pesto, squash bread, brownies, and roasted carrots with parmesan. At 2pm, in a whirlwind of inspiring pict5594.jpgexpertise, Thomas Forster explained to us the concept and logistics of the United Nations’ Commission on Sustainable Development, which this year will focus on land and agriculture. A group of students from Real Food New York decided to prepare to attend the CSD, and to lend their material knowledge to the youth presence at the UN. Finally, at 4pm, Kerry Trueman and Matt Rosenberg instructed us on the digital world, and explained how to actually design the “wiki/blog combination” (very helpful of them, as the technological savvy of our group ranges from Google-expert to decidedly anti-computer). So we left The New School this Sunday evening, with a plan.Our blog is http://www.realfoodnewyork.org, and links to our Wiki.Our self-defining blurb is here.Any type of collaboration requires constant communication and commitment, and generally a good dose of never-enough outreach, secretarial scheduling, and detail-heavy event planning. We are not exempt from these requirements. But as collaborators, we will simply help each other as much as we can, and we hope to do so enjoyably and productively. Check out our group, and if you’re a student or campus stakeholder in the New York area, join us! Post on the site, come to our meetings, host us for dinner, we’ll host you. We are no passing flurry of meaningless buzzwords. We are the students of New York.

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This update was submitted by Alison Powell, a junior at Barnard College and active participant in Real Food New York.Barnard & Columbia students will be working together this year in collaboration with various student groups on campus to foster awareness around issues of Real Food in an attempt to shift the food culture.The group aims to influence food purchasing and ensure greater transparency in Columbia and Barnard Dining Services to meet the Real Food challenge goals, collaborate with the Office of Environmental Stewardship on green roofs & gardens, and integrate food into environmental campaigns in and outside the Columbia and Barnard communities.

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dec2ndmeeting1.jpg More thoughtful reflection is on the way, but for the moment I want to announce that Real Food New York’s First Statewide Meeting was an outstanding success! A total of 21 students attended, representing 8 schools: Sarah Lawrence College, The New School (Eugene Lang and Parsons), New York University (Gallatin and the School of Social Work), Barnard College, Columbia University, Manhattan College, Rutgers, and Vassar. We were joined by guests Thomas Forster (Community Food Security Coalition), Kerry Trueman and Matt Rosenberg (Eating Liberally), and Bob Lewis (NY Department of Agriculture). Our upstate contingent sent their regrets, at not being able to attend, but we are planning more convenient meetings for them, to collaborate in the near future!

The program for the event can be downloaded here:

dec2program.ppt

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