Sometimes if the world is too much with me – like it was last week – the best thing to do is hunker down. And where I am in Brooklyn, in just-about-summer, is a good place to hunker. I’ve been singing the Avett Brothers’ song “I And Love And You” to myself a lot the past few days – “Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in, are you aware the shape I’m in….”
And best of all, this was the first weekend for my CSA season. Brooklyn gets a bad rap for being hipsterish about food – but I think it’s more of a return to form. Brooklyn used to be all farmland; it was the second-largest provider of produce in the country up until the 20th Century. So it’s kind of no wonder that so many Brooklynites are reverting to rooftop farms and chicken coops in the back alley and such. And for those of us who can’t get much joy out of our windowboxes, there’s the farmer’s markets and CSAs and a gabillion cottage-industry jams and preserves makers. I’ve heard of one woman who got her start with an online shop, and would deliver local orders to her customers by bike.
For my part, I just want enough food to take care of myself. And the CSA has quickly become one of my favorite ways to do so; not just foodwise, but I also have come to be fond of the walk to go get it. Sometimes I take my bike if I’m in a hurry; but if I get an early enough start, or there’s too much of a threat of rain, I walk.
I try to get out early – they start handing out the food at 9 am, and I like getting there before the crowds get too thick and the lines too long; and, if it’s summer, before the day gets too warm. It’s just once a week on Saturday – at that time of the weekend, the only other people awake are usually joggers, the occasional biker, and people walking dogs. Sometimes the dogs come up to me, their owners apologetically reassuring me that they’re friendly even though the dog is giving me an obvious “Hi, new friend!” canine grin.
I like to take a side street where sometimes I can see mulberries growing on branches reaching into the street; every year I think that I should take an extra container with me and pick some, take them home and make jam. Then I pick just one and pop it into my mouth, and realize that mulberries are actually kind of insipid, and I leave them. Every so often I smell coffee as I walk, something brewing in someone’s house where they’ve opened a window.
I go through the farmer’s market in Fort Greene Park on the way there; taking a look first, making note what I can pick up on my way back. Usually either milk – if I’ve remembered the empty bottles I can trade in for a couple bucks off my latest quart – or onions from the big nondescript tent at the north. Sometimes at the southern end of the market there’s an “artisan’s market” of people selling crafts like simple clothes or handbags from card tables; one woman has a lot of crocheted kids’ clothes, and I sometimes think I should do up a bunch of market bags and give it a try myself. Then I realize just how many bags I’d have to make to make it worth my while and change my mind.
Sometimes there’s a couple musicians busking there too – folkyish stuff, usually a guy on a banjo or a fiddler. People who’ve brought their kids to the farmers’ market are usually the ones listening.
The CSA operates out on the outdoor deck for Habana Outpost, a local spot that does its own brisk business. This morning the staff was greeting everyone with hearty wishes of “welcome back!” It was early enough that everyone was in the mood to linger – one pair of volunteers even asked me about some mesh bags I’d brought to pack my food. “Where’d you get those?…That place up on Myrtle? Can I feel that?” one asked, reaching for the bags, and chuckling, I let her.
I usually get the “single share” of things – a modest amount of four or five different kinds of vegetables, and then a ration of one or two kinds of fruit and a half dozen eggs. This first share was still spring things – a lot of leafy things, like spinach, bok choy, arugula. They also had radishes, and I considered picking up a fresh baguette to eat with them at the farmers’ market on the way back – but realized that no, I can make my own. Maybe later this afternoon get really ambitious and try making my own butter; I was going to need to get some cream to go with the rhubarb anyway. So I just went straight home, walking back through the park where more and more families were turning up.
I’ve resolved to get into the habit of pre-cooking a lot of things from the CSA now – I’m more likely to eat vegetables with dinner if they’re already cooked and just need heating up. But pretty much everything I got this week needs to stay raw, so I’ve stashed it all in those famous mesh bags in the fridge. Maybe stew some of the rhubarb so it can be ready in the fridge for desserts or mixing into yogurt. Maybe make a pesto of the radish greens; and make up a rough tapenade with a jar of olives that’s been in the cupboard forever.
But there is food and there is sun and friendly dogs and jug bands in the park and the smell of coffee and that’s all that matters right now.