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One afternoon last week, I ventured north to visit an old friend on the Upper West Side. The day was bright and beautiful, and from the 7th floor, it looked inviting. So, at her suggestion, we bundled up and headed for a walk along picturesque Riverside Park.
Now, I know that a few weeks ago I proclaimed the following facts: every New Yorker is either a dinosaur kale or a Meyer lemon; either you’re a big-coat-wearing winter-weather creature who grabs a pair of gloves and acts like the cold doesn’t matter, or you’re a tropical import that spends the whole season huddling around a space heater and dreaming of spring. And I proudly identified as the latter – robust, wintery kale.
To those facts, I would like to add a few more: devoid of skyscrapers or any shielding structures of the sort, I submit that the corner of 116th Street and Broadway is actually the windiest street corner in Manhattan. Except for when you start walking down the hill towards the Hudson, and then it’s even windier. Oh, and on that particular afternoon last week, the temperature was eleven degrees, without wind-chill. With wind-chill, it was negative four degrees. Negative!
Now, kale or lemon, big puffy coat and fur-lined mittens or no big-puffy coat and fur-lined mittens, that is fucking cold. Not brisk, crisp or chilly. No sir. Cold. So cold that those gusts of wind don’t just hurt, they feel like they’ve got a personal vendetta against you, like that bitchy girl in seventh grade who just wanted to make you cry. So cold it feels mean. Which is why we made it about three teeth-chattering blocks before ditching her suggestion for my own: hightail it to the closest indoor market and head back to her place to cook something deliciously hardy and soul-warming.
Five minutes later, we were warmly inside her local Garden of Eden. As the culinista between the two of us, I was given responsibility for picking a menu, while she warmed herself by the rotisserie chicken counter. Now, just because you’re in a grocery store, the rules and benefits of seasonality still apply, but at a store, unlike a farmers’ market, the shelves are likely stocked with lemons from Florida and tomatoes from…outer space (or wherever it is that January tomatoes actually come from). In these recession times, a great rule of thumb for spotting seasonal produce is price. Fruit and vegetables are cheaper when they’re in season than when they’re not. And, of course, they taste better too! However, I have to admit, that in a month this cold, it’s always hard to imagine what could possibly be in season. My friend and I could barely make it three blocks (wrapped in layers and layers of fleece and fur). What poor little vegetable could actually grow in these conditions? The answer of course, is that nothing grows on a winter farm in the northeast unless it’s hiding safely underground.
That’s right, root vegetables: beets and turnips and carrots and potatoes galore. The big bruisers of the vegetable world who hardly notice it’s freezing, since they’re hiding deep down in the soil. And, not only are these bad boys wonderfully in season right about now, they’re also the perfect winter food, a great way to make the hot, hardy dishes you want to be eating when it’s this cold outside. I filled a basket, pulled my friend away from the warm rotisserie stand (nabbing a roast chicken for good measure) and then ran home to cook up a small seasonal feast of carrot and celery root puree, truffle smashed potatoes with bourbon braised mushroom caps, salt and pepper roast beets finished with goat cheese, lemon, and watercress, and tender ready-to-eat roast chicken.
As a Buffalo gal, I’ll always love winter, but sometimes, it’s best to stay rooted and enjoy the fruits of the season behind a big-picture window with a view.