It happens suddenly. One minute, I’m walking through the crunchy yellow leaves and the crisp fall air, and the next, big globs of half-frozen snow are plopping down on the sidewalk – signifying, loud and clear, the end of always-too-short autumn and the start of honest-to-God winter. It’s like that day a few months ago, when I was walking to the market and stumbled upon the last of the heirloom tomatoes, realizing, summer had officially ended.
At times of change, everyone reveals his or her true colors. As it turns out, when winter rolls around, there are exactly two kinds of New Yorkers: Meyer lemons and dinosaur kale (if you’ll permit me the metaphor – this is a column about farmers’ markets, after all).
Have you ever noticed that the minute it gets really, truly terrible outside, tons of beautiful citrus begins popping up in grocery stores? Pixie mandarins and pink grapefruits and Meyer lemons, oh my! As if the supermarket spirits were saying, “Ignore the winter, ignore the snow! It’s always tropical somewhere!” Because of course, it ain’t tropical here, and so, citrus doesn’t grow on our trees. Much to my chagrin, there is no citrus in any NYC farmers’ market, because there is no citrus grown in and around New York City. Florida. California. These are the states home to American citrus and its lucky landowners.
Celest embraces the Southern roots of citrus…she hides out in her greenhouse of an East Village apartment, in classic, seasonal denial, from the onset of the post-holiday bust through to the first signs of asparagus and spring. Who can blame her? She’s a Texan ya’ll, but after a decade of living up North, she still hasn’t acclimated to the cold. That said, she has taken to my winter citrus cocktails quite nicely. Last year I posted recipes for Pink Grapefruit Caipirinhas, Blood Orange Margaritas, and even, Meyer Lemon Vespa martinins, and Celest has finally found something about winter she actually welcomes.
That’s why she’s a classic Meyer lemon – from December to April she cocoons in her apartment, making excuses not to go outside, and blasting the heat like a pineapple hiding in a snowy Gristedes window. Any chance she gets, she heads as far south as work and budget will allow her, and I think if she could she would like nothing more than to spend the whole season hibernating (in Buenos Aires).
I, on the other hand, look winter straight in its snowy face and smile. As a Northeasterner in practice for over 30 years, and a native Buffalonian to boot, I believe that all you need is a great pair of gloves, as much fur as you can muster, and winter can become the best season of all. I spend my Januarys as I spend my Augusts – walking the streets of New York, ducking in and out of coffee shops, restaurants and farmers’ markets, only I do it in a much puffier wardrobe. That’s why I consider myself a dinosaur kale kinda gal.
Dinosaur kale is the hardiest, most wintery of the greens. With its rich, hunter-green, raptor-black color and strong, rippled leaves, dinosaur kale is to iceberg lettuce what a T-rex is to a lizard. And, luckily for us, it’s available at farmers’ markets around the city all through the snow season. Because not only is dino kale the sort of badass veggie that thrives in frosted climates, it also makes the perfect December dish.
Just last week, I trekked to the Union Square Greenmarket (that’s right folks, it’s still open!) and picked up some kale and a bit of slab bacon, then swung by Celest’s apartment to make us dinner. She shivered when I opened the door, and looked at me like I was crazy for having ventured across the city to the market and then to her apartment to cook, kale. I just tossed aside my mink and started cooking. Into my medium-hot sauté pan I threw my diced bacon, allowed it to brown and release its fat for about 5 minutes, then added a few crushed heads of garlic, salt, pepper, red chili flakes and raisins. I followed that up with the coarsely chopped and rinsed kale, still dripping with rinse water. Next, I mixed it all up and covered the pan to allow the greens to steam for about 5 minutes, at which time I removed the lid, burned off the excess water, gave the greens a skirt of a Meyer lemon Celest had on hand (of course), and was left with nutrient rich kale dressed in a sweet & spicy bacon-citrus sauce.
She may not have let the thermostat budge below 78 degrees, but an hour or so later, as we were licking our plates clean, it seemed that my dinosaur kale was one part of winter that this Meyer lemon could handle.
How about you? Would you peg yourself a Meyer lemon or dinosaur kale?