In the past two weeks, I have covered a lot of miles. New York to Maine and back with stops in between.
First time experiences: Super Walmart, dinner at the Culinary Institute of America, IKEA, first child to college, Columbia County fair.
Memorable moments: the New Amsterdam Market, trying to find something to eat on the interstate, all of the above.
What there is to eat is my filter -- the lens through which I see our society. It was a roller coaster of food experiences -- enlightening highlights, frightening plunges, and overall wonderment.
Yesterday was spectacular -- the first fall market of the New Amsterdam Market organized by Robert LaValva, a man with a dream fueled by deep passion. (www.newamsterdammarket.org) For five hours under the FDR Drive, the city had a vibrant food market that in time could rival London's Borough Market -- or the diverse markets of other European cities. Growers, producers and buyers engaged in conversations, tasting, and learning. The crowd spanned several generations while the flavors reflected the diversity of a 500-mile food radius.
I took a quick break with Sally and Water Taxi-ed over to IKEA in Brooklyn. I have heard so much about their legendary meatballs, so we detoured to the café. It is a great display of their tables/chairs/tabletop and house wares, but as far as alluring food -- not. Food miles on the Swedish Meatballs -- too many to count as were the calories -- they were posted and that put an end to any desire to sample the cuisine. We decided to get back to the mainland and eat at the market.
Turn back the clock to Saturday night, at the Hudson Valley Harvest Festival dinner at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA, www.ciachef.edu). Dinner was Farm to Fork, a true reflection of the bounty of the Hudson Valley region. Pride and passion were the chief ingredients and they tasted great. Chefs and helping hands were proudly paraded (almost outnumbering the 140 guests) and we all wiped our plates clean in preparation for the next course. When I told my dinner companion that the Applesauce Spice Cake with Maple Syrup and Bavarian and Mutsu Apple Sorbet was so light, he nearly choked on his exquisite chocolate milk (local artisanal at that -- hudsonvalleyfresh.org.)
Stats from the CIA: on an annual basis they utilize for culinary classes (and meals) -- 800,000 eggs, 40,000 lbs of tomatoes, 6,800 lbs of salad, 17,000 gallons of milk, 37,000 lbs of mushrooms, get the picture? This is all coming from local farms to the school. That is what I call support of local agriculture. Paul Wigsten, a local fourth generation farmer, is the produce buyer for the school and works with growers throughout the Hudson Valley.
Turn back the clock a week to our visit to the Columbia County Fair. Irresistible, delicious fare and better not to ask questions or look for local/light offerings. The healthiest drink (after water) was hand-squeezed lemonade, if you could ignore the half-cup of sugar dumped into the bottom of the container. A ray of hope -- in the County Bounty building, the winners in the vegetable contest were on display. Heirloom veggies and an apple bounty were so enticing, all lovingly cultivated for this competition. It made me want to head straight for the salad bar, a fruitless search. I guess one doesn't go to the county fair for a spinach salad or freshly grilled fish -- but maybe that day is not too far off.
Back up one last time to Labor Day weekend and a road trip to Lewiston, Maine. The interstate highway food offerings made the County Fair cuisine look downright mouthwatering. Never mind, one day someone will figure out those motorists deserve healthy fresh food, too.
In Maine, I visited my first Wal-Mart, a Super Wal-Mart no less. I have never seen a full size supermarket inside a mega store. Now I know why every other vehicle on the highway was a Wal-Mart tractor-trailer -- they need a lot of stuff to fill a place like this. The range of produce in the store was intriguing and the check out lady had a card with all the SKU numbers. As I photographed it, I think I freaked her out -- but I reassured her I was not going to write a nasty expose or get her into trouble. I have enough political issues without taking on Wal-Mart.
We had a lovely picnic at Bates following a new parent orientation. I don't know how many parents photograph the college food service during set up or tease their offspring by threatening to take a job in the cafeteria planning meals.
Diversity is what makes us a great country. And I don't ever want to be a food snob -- I enjoy a hot dog as much (probably more than) the next guy. But clearly our eating habits are killing us. So if you are interested in financing a chain of salad bars along the interstate highway system, I'm your girl.
Follow Liz Neumark on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GPfood