Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In The Buff

buffI’m in The Buff. No, I’m not naked. That photo is meant only as a ploy to get you reading about processed food. The truth is, I’m spending the week with my Mamma and celebrating my cousin Frankie’s high school graduation in my hometown of Buffalo, New York. Affectionately donned, “B-lo” or “Buff” when I’m feeling racy!

So far my visit has been exceptional. I’ve gone hiking ’round Hoyt Lake, biking through the ‘burbs, stopped for Beef on Weck sandwiches and pistachio ice cream cones with rainbow sprinkles at Anderson’s, ate an entire plate of Spaghetti Parm at Chef’s, hit up a Mighty Taco for late night munchies after baking pot brownies and peanut butter balls with my cousins, got down on some serious pizza and wings at the Screening Party for Anthony Bourdain’s latest Buffalo edition of No Reservations, and gobbled up more than a few pieces of my Aunt Susie’s graduation cake with frosting made from a Rich Products substitute for butter-cream called better-cream…it takes exactly like that marshmallowy icing used on every ice cream cake I’ve ever had! My Mamma and I are about to cross into Canada’s Niagara-on-the-Lake community to do a wine trail and take in some theater at the Bernard Shaw Festival, but what’s been truly exceptional has been that all this time, throughout the entirety of this eating and exercising frenzy, I’ve felt like I’m running a low grade fever.

I don’t get it. I’m not sick. I’m happy. I’m relaxed. I have a killer appetite, but I feel like shit. I feel like every bone and muscle in my body is rejecting Buff. I feel achy all over and terrifically tired. There’s a sort of fog in my head, making it tricky to sit down and write, stand up and cook, or even drive confidently. (Watch out Buffalo road warriors, I don’t have the best track record behind the wheel!) In short, I feel like I’ve been poisoned.

I was sitting out back by my Mamma’s pool, watching my bloated belly rise and fall when it hit me: I’ve poisoned myself! I’ve been eating nothing but processed food since I’ve come home. My body is rejecting all the junk I’ve poured into its engine. In a matter of five days I’ve become a fast food junkie.

A little history might help here…

I’m not a fighter. I shy away from confrontation like a true passive-aggressive half-Jew. But like any young woman searching for a life beyond Buffalo’s boundaries, I once was an impossible teenager. When I lived in Buffalo, my parents bore the brunt of my pimpled dysfunction. My extended family was revered and saved from my snot-nosed punkishness, except that one time. There was a singular occasion when I got into it with my cherished Aunt Susie, and if my memory serves me correctly, the source of my gripe was processed food.

I was the sort of kid who grew up in the classic blue collar American suburbs, but was intent on dreaming my way into bright lights, big cities, and if not white collars, then at least white halter tops. I moved to New York City when I was 18 to study acting at NYU. The summer before I skipped town Aunt Susie treated me to a cousins’ sleepover in Toronto, for what was meant to be an initiation into city life and one last childhood hoorah. We spent the weekend touring museums, shopping along Queen St., and eating at chain restaurants. For our last meal I was given the choice between two equally unappealing industrialized food chains where the biggest draw was the flashing red beeper handed out to guests waiting to be seated and the white paper tablecloths waiting to be scribbled on with a rainbow assortment of defunct crayons once we got there. I refused both options. We fought. I caved. I think I ordered chicken fingers and shared a pitcher of pop with my cousins.

At the time, I wanted something almost unattainable in Buffalo, or perhaps even in Toronto on our shoestring budget, I wanted fresh food. I wanted a dining experience. I wanted sophisticated fare. I knew nothing about seasonally driven menus, organic vegetables or free range chickens, but I instinctively knew the difference between fast food and real the deal, and I was looking for quality. Growing up in Buffalo, I developed a hunger for hard-to-find artisanally crafted, high-end, slow food. I had traveled around enough with my Dad to know what good food tastes like, and my palette responded in kind. Though I had been reared on the average American diet of fast, frozen, and canned food products, I knew that something better was out there. In 1996 I moved to Union Square and found it straightaway, with a farmers market at my doorstep and the hub of Danny Meyer’s budding restaurant empire ‘round my block. Today, my Tribe knows me as the difficult diner with a heart of gold, who asks as many questions about the food I’m being served as I have answers for politely refusing (and trying to encourage them to refuse) any dish that even approaches tasting processed.

So what perplexes me about my current state is how an honest to goodness FOOD Maven could manage to poison myself like this? Whereas I once threw hissy fits in protest of deep-fried frozen fish filets and bottomless soda fountain beverages, I now crave these nostalgic relics from my past food life and glorify them anew in NYC. The cultural and economic moment is New York has comfort chic written all over it. Daniel Boulud’s hotdogs are now more sought after than his arugula soup; it’s harder to nab a bar stool for David Chang’s East Village chicken wings than it is to share a table for Jonathan Waxman’s West Village brick oven roast chicken. Both are delicious, and I’m all for touting rustic neighborhood bistros over white tablecloth affairs, but still, what gives?

A native New Yorker for most of the past 13 years, and a natural foods chef and writer to boot (!), I still return home and gorge myself on nothing but fast foods for days at a time. It’s easy to do here, as I’ve said before, the junk food in Buffalo is sublime, the bars are open late and always within walking distance of a Jim’s SteakOut, and most Buffalonians I know can’t resist this city’s deadly diet from which industrialized food giants and their better-cream food substitutes hail. Even Anthony Bourdain loudly toasted “I love Buffalo!” in last night’s No Reservations episode filmed in what he calls three of the most fucked up cities in America: Baltimore, Detroit, and you guessed it, B-lo. I’m proud to come from rustbelt Buffalo, the city of good neighbors with a steel backbone and a guaranteed White Christmas, I just wish it were easier to eat here.

I’m not a perfect eater, and with these roots I likely never will be, ‘cause as I say in my bio, “though I believe that food is culture and culture is food, and that we can change the way we live through attention to what’s on our plates, I’m not above cheese fries.” So maybe perfection is too lofty a goal, but I’m trying to improve and make a more committed effort to rid my diet of industrialized foods. Maybe not 100%, but at the very least, I don’t want to purchase processed foods. I don’t want to hand over my hard earned cash to support companies who are profiting off the ignorance, poverty and illness of their customers. This is tricky enough to pull off in the supermarket, but how the hell are you supposed to avoid the processed food trap when dining out…in Buffalo no less? The Amateur Gourmet blogged about this a few weeks back when discussing Film, Inc. He wrote about foods we all know are too good to be true, like a $1.50 slice of sausage pizza, asking us to rid our diets of these anonymous meat substitutes and use the power of each of our purse strings to vote for healthy, delicious, real foods with every bite we take. Anonymous sausage aside, it isn’t always quite so obvious to spot the industrialized foods in our diets, but I’m prepared to make the following promises to clean up my dirty dining habits:

1) Ignorance is Not Bliss – I will ask questions about the food I buy before eating it. I will not be pressured by a waiter, or a butcher, or a friend to unwillingly join a processed food feast. I will make ethical food decisions, though on occasion, if processed food is put in front of me by someone or some city dear to my heart, I will permit myself to indulge.

2) Cheaper is Not Better – I will make a conscious effort not to buy processed, industrialized or anonymous foods. I will never throw down dollars at fast food chains or the suburban temples of industrialization, such as Applebee’s, Chili’s or The Olive Garden, that clog our arteries and our economies.

3) Buffalo is Not New York – When in The Buff, I will seek out naked foods. I will plan ahead to visit Wegmann’s or the Lexington Co-op and stockpile my Mamma’s house with real foods. I will not take New York’s access to fresh foods for granted, but will take the lessons I’ve learned there back home to share with my Buffalo friends and family, among them, the woman who taught me to love life in a kitchen…my very own, very dear Aunt Susie.

How about you? Ready to clean up your dirty diet? It’ll be eaiser if we do it together!

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13 Responses to “In The Buff”

  1. Bells & family

    1. You are making me VERY homesick right now! I enjoyed reading this particular entry as I feel it captures you! Where you came from and where you have been heading.

    2. We watched the show, Anthony Bourdain’s latest Buffalo edition of No Reservations, it was good…I enjoyed it. That too made me homesick.

    3. what do I eat each time we come home, Andersons, Pizza and wings, and of course Jims. I havent had Mighty in ages as it really does tear my insides up!

    4. I LOVE wegmans — we have nothing like it in the south.

    5. I am working very hard at eliminiting processed foods from our diets, especially for our little one!

    Love and miss you. xo

  2. Erica

    You said it again Belle! I am in a constant struggle when I’m “home” — between my passion for great, healthy, real, from-the-earth food, and my desire to gorge on Anderson’s, Teds, Jim’s Steakout and anything else I can get my hands on. I find balancing it all to be tough, but I do my best, and plan a little detox upon my return to Boston.

    Thanks for the great entry, and hope you are having a fantastic time!


  3. Matt

    This could not have come at a better time. After walking my dog I had developed a serious craving for Burger King. I saw a ketchup packet discarded on the street and my my brain was triggered. Before I clicked on your link I actually had the BK website open in order to locate a store. After reading this post I was able to talk myself out of it (not that easy by the way). I made myself some fresh food and while it didn’t taste as good as a trip to Burger King would have (all that sugared out “beef” and salty salty fries) in the long run it was worth it.

    Thanks for the perfect timing!

  4. Hannah

    What a great post. It’s such a thinking foodie girl dilemma. Eating too much fake buttercream might not be the best thing for your bod, but denying the culinary (and nostalgic) value of all things not perfectly pure would be a bit harsh and puritanical. And that’s not your style.

    Your promises to yourself seem like wise guidelines. And into every life, a few wings and pot brownies should fall :)

    And Wegmans is a-mazing!

  5. Roy

    Sometimes I feel that the “former Buffalonian” nostalgia and desire to eat the foods that made us so happy as kids dominates choices when traveling “home.” When I lived in North Carolina, every time I returned to Buffalo, I “had to have” beef on weck, Jim’s Steak Out, Mighty Taco, Ted’s hot Dogs, and Wings form a myriad of places. As soon as I moved back though, I realised that Buffalo does indeed have many whole and fresh food options. You have already mentioned Wegmans and the co-op…there are also tons of roadside farmers markets as well as the Bidwell Farmer’s market and the Clinton Bailey Market that operate regularly in season (with Clinton Baily operating year round!) so we can get the freshest and most locally grown produce that is out there. Another passionate local food person, Christa Glennie-Seychew, has started up an organization called Field and Fork Network (you can find them on Facebook) that puts local chefs and restaurant owners in touch with local farm sources for meat and eggs and produce and enables us to eat great fresh non-processed foods at many of our great locally owned restaurants at a fraction of the price that people pay for those things in Toronto, New York, or San Francisco.
    As soon as you get back into town, I am going to kidnap you for a multi-restaurant food tour where we will eat all fresh and as local as possible (with the exception of raw oysters which we have to have). Enjoy Canada and see you soon!

  6. Svetlana

    OK, Wegmann’s is tha bomb… while I’m traveling for work this week and am in Michigan, around chain food restaurants with non-foodie men who want burgers for dinner every night, tonight, I went to Whole Foods to get some to-go dinner. I found a screwtop bottle of Cali red wine, so I don’t have to pay a cork fee at the hotel (doubt work would let me expense a cork fee), a bowl of veggie chili, 100g of olives from WF olive bar, and it all cost $15. BTW, you think you might have a killer appetite and feel like shit at the same time because of the cousin’s IV:XX brownies and peanut butter balls? Yummm. This might be the wine talking, I’m half way into the bottle. So, yeah, I miss going out to my garden in Indiana and getting fresh lettuce for my salads. However, yesterday and today, I had WF whole milk yogurt and Michigan blueberries for lunch (of course, work people thought I was a bit strange for not going out to lunch every day).
    Glad I can vent to you about my disappointments with non-foodie colleagues! Oh well, at least I can go to Whole Foods and make a “Euro poor-student” dinner out of olives, wine, and chili :)

  7. mama

    I can tell you that foods from Buff are needed to survive the hard winter nights; how’s that for an excuse. Having you home and cooking opens my eyes to possible food style changes. But a burger and beer still sounds good.
    You must inform you’re fans of the great dinner at Hilldebrand Winery – what a treat . luv u

  8. Aunt Susie

    O.K. Kimberly Belle!!! Anytime you want to clean up my dirty diet….I’m in!! The problem is, I don’t really see you enough for us to cook together frequently :( However, I do love to try new things and, God knows, I could use some updating!!! In my defense, it’s hard enough to cook for 200 people (in which 50 of them are teenage boys) but to cook without using processed, fatty foods in this situation is IMPOSSIBLE!!! And, it is better to cook yourself then to order out. I will try harder!! As Mamma says: a burger and a beer does sound GOOD! There are some yummy places to eat in Buffalo that serve good food…you just have to find them!! Love You!! P.S. Wegmans is AMAZING!

  9. Kimberly Belle

    Wowsers! I must have hit a nerve, maybe it’s just the promise of a naked Belle, but I’ve never had so many hits in one day. Thanks and love to you all for sharing your thoughts! I promise Roy that I’ll go on a Fresh Foods Buffalo tasting with him when I get back from Chicago, I must tell you all about the winery my Mamma and I visited in Canada yesterday, Hillebrand, which might be the best meal I’ve had round these parts in years! Totally seasonal, local, and indeed fresh. Alas, it’s in Canada! XO

  10. Joanne Valkwitch

    Adding poison to food to delay is demise sounds like brilliant idea. Who came up with that idea? Anyhow heal us. We are sick and we need a doctor or just a really good Food Maven. Buffalo loves you Kimberly.

  11. Liam's mama

    In the Buff…..and sadly not in Bridgehampton. I have been here all week, reading Julie & Julia, going to the North Fork to visit wineries and pick blueberries with my baby (s), and thinking about nothing but you! (hence the visit to your blog) I am glad you are with your family, but I wish you were here with us! Miss you and again sorry for the missed opportunity to meet Mac. MH

  12. Laura Lombardo

    Oh, Kim my dear do not fret. As a current and long lasting Buffalonian I can reassure you that there
    are many great places to eat in Buffalo that will serve you fresh foods! You just need a little
    refresher about all the wonderful dining Buffalo has to offer. For starters there is this great
    restaurant called Ristorante Lombardo on Hertel Ave. It has a beautiful patio and I can
    guarantee the food will be fresh and the service excellent (I know the owner, hee, hee). Also,
    don’t forget about a long lasting Buffalo classic, Oliver’s Restaurant on Delaware Ave. I ate
    there a few weeks ago, it was fabulous. One more good old Buffalo spot is Hutch’s Restaurant,
    I’ve never had a bad meal there. Some newer favorites since you have lived in town are Torches
    on Kenmore Ave. and Tempo on Delaware Ave. Those are some of the finer dining experiences Buffalo
    has to offer.
    If you are looking for something more casual or say a lunch venue try Romeo and Juliet’s or Joe’s
    Deli. Both are located on Hertel Ave. and have delicious fresh sandwiches.
    Hope my suggestions helped you. I laugh everytime old friends come home to visit because like
    you all they want to do is eat at the fast food places and I, never having left Buffalo for more
    than 6 months at a time, can’t understand why they want to eat junk. Don’t get me wrong I still
    like to enjoy a good slice of pizza or a crispy hotdog every once in awhile but if I lived off that
    stuff I would weigh 400 lbs.
    Enjoy the rest of your stay and give me a holler if you have time before you leave!

  13. Kimberly Belle

    To Aunt Susie and everyone else who wrote, I just want to clarify that (a) I’m all for fatty, but it has to be fresh non-processed fat, and (b) indeed I must get out and experience more of what Buffalo has to offer. Your comments have urged me to get out there and try something new in B-lo. Yesterday I took the fam (Aunt Susie and her brood included!) to Korea House in Amherst for their first Korean BBQ. We grilled at the table, tried the beef tartar (which was awesome!) and I even got them eating kimchi (fermented spicy cabbage) and octopus. The meal was as good as any I’ve had in NYC…Korean Town is a favorite late night hotspot of mine: http://www.kimberlybelle.com/2009/01/its-after-midnight-dinner-anyone-part-ii.html Eat it Up! XO

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