Mirepoix -- From the French, a mix of aromatics that provide the savory foundation of a recipe. From The City Cook, a periodic report on things that have been collecting on my desk.
You can tell a lot about a place by how its streets are named. A map of Washington, D.C. is a lesson in both national geography and the alphabet. Boston's street map recalls its Revolutionary War-era history. Newer U.S. cities, meaning those that took shape in the 19th century, often showcase proud local history, including founding fathers and landmarks.
In pragmatic and always-crowded Manhattan, our street grid means that most of the cross-town streets and north-south avenues above 14th Street are plainly numbered, with the streets bifurcated into east or west by Fifth Avenue. Downtown was established before the grid, so there are streets named imaginatively, such as for original land owners (Bleecker, Christopher), or less so, as for ordinary walls (Wall Street) and parks (Park Avenue). In 1945 Mayor LaGuardia tried to turn Sixth Avenue into the highfalutin Avenue of the Americas, but that official fancy name is ignored by anyone who's been here for more than 30 minutes.
And then there's Paris.
There the streets are usually named for important French citizens, heroes, and those who have shaped French society. Being a Francophile, when I'm in Paris I read the distinctive blue, white and green signs not just to guide my location but also to learn a little cultural history and why someone merited a street -- military leaders, academics, writers, composers, lawmakers, and philosophers. And bakers.
On my last visit there, I took a photo of a street sign near the apartment we had rented in the 6th Arrondissement. rue Honoré Chevalier. He was a 16th century master baker who lived where his eponymous street is now located. I took a photo of the sign which we've included here.
It's not unreasonable to think that someday we could give our food artisans a similar kind of recognition. Then again, it may be impossible to do such a thing without the exuberant and fleeting lights of celebrity that are so often our default when we take to something. I'm not suggesting we name New York streets for Mario Batali or Alice Waters or our version of Monsieur Chevalier (Amy Scherber comes to mind). But the optimist in me is always looking for signs that something is changing in our food value system. So many of our best artisans work under the radar -- maybe a Julia Child Boulevard in every major city would be a good start.
Buying Produce By Number
Andrew Swallow is the founder and executive chef of Mixt Greens, a small group of restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. that's been described as an environmentally sustained eco-gourmet fast food option. At the center of the menu are salads and he's now written a cookbook, Mixt Salads (Ten Speed Press, $28,00, hardcover with color photos), that features more than 60 of his recipes and for salad lovers, the book is inspiring.
But it's also about Chef Swallow's food philosophy and how to buy the best ingredients. Toward the front of the book he includes a note about knowing how produce is grown that I thought you'd fine very useful:
"Whether you're at a neighborhood market, Whole Foods, or a small specialty store, there may not always be a sign to tell you where or how an item was grown, but there's always a number assigned. When it starts with a 4, it is conventionally grown. But beware: although this special code exists, most producers realize that the majority of consumers are trying to steer clear of genetically modified foods -- so they've stopped using the separate designation. The number you want is 9, which means organic -- not altered by a scientist or sprayed with pesticides. Organic produce will not always look the prettiest, but it will always taste much better and be much healthier."
Food At The Brooklyn Flea
If you're a Brooklyn resident or just like to cross a bridge to visit this charismatic borough, the Brooklyn Flea has become a phenomenon. As Michelin would say, it's worth a journey to visit. This diverse flea market is held in two locations, in Fort Greene on Saturdays and at One Hanson Place every Sunday. Rain or shine.
Besides an eclectic mix of stuff to buy -- furniture, clothes, tchotchkes -- the Flea has also become a food destination so you can find a new dining table or vintage LPs or Etsy-quality crafts, and also eat or bring home superb food and ingredients. Keep an eye out for Salvatore Brooklyn Whole Milk Ricotta -- it will transform your lasagna and you'll never buy a yellow plastic container of that supermarket stuff again.
- A tip for those of you, like me, who buy a knob of ginger for a single recipe and then ends up throwing the shriveled remains away a few weeks later. Instead place any unused ginger in plastic wrap and freeze it. It will keep for up to 3 months. Next time simply grate what you need while it's still frozen (a microplane zester is perfect for grating ginger) and return any leftovers right back into the freezer.
- New York finally has another Trader Joe's taking some pressure off of the always-insanely-crowded stores on 14th Street in Manhattan and in Brooklyn Heights. The new store is at 675 6th Avenue in Chelsea, between West 21st and West 22nd Streets. It opened on July 12 and its hours are 8:00 am to 10:00 pm. There's no hard opening date yet for Manhattan's third store, which will be on the Upper West Side at West 72nd Street and Broadway. But the signage is up and construction seems to be going at a fast clip. Let's hope for this fall. [Update: Trader Joe's store opened at Broadway and W. 72nd Street and also at 9030 Metropolitan Avenue in Rego Park, Queens.]