Monthly Archives: September 2010

Foraging in Central Park with "Wildman" Steve Brill

What did you do over your Labor Day weekend?  Well, aside from checking out the food trucks on Governors Island for the Parked food festival, I ended up looking for some real locavore eats.  On Monday, I joined about 30 other people for a tour of the edible plants that can be found in Central Park.  “Wildman” Steve Brill has been leading tours of this and other areas in and around the city and upstate to show people the bounty that can be found right in their back yards.

This activity has long been on my to-do list; I’ve read stories about it for years.  Brill is a font of amazing information and stories about the plants and herbs that are right under our noses.  I still wouldn’t really feel confident about going around and picking things out of the ground to eat or to cook with, but he makes it seem like it could really be possible to find some great culinary and/or medicinal items in and around us in our local parks.  There were several folks who were repeat customers on his expedition.

He hunted down the local apples that we gathered and American hackberries that we sampled.  Some impressive poison ivy was pointed out to us, from which we were told to stay away.  At the same time, we were shown the plant that would take away the ivy’s itch, should we get too close to it.  I never knew that a sprinkling of epizote on cooked beans could cure farting, but I do after yesterday’s tour.  I also discovered that sorrel in several forms grows in Central Park and, when tender, is great in salads and soups.

Sheep Sorrel

The tour was about four hours long, including a brief lunch break (pack your own) and a bathroom break along the way.  He gears his talks to the audience, allowing children to be the first to sample some of the pickings.  The amount of information that he shared and the number of photos that I took were too much and too many to post them all here, so I put them on Facebook under the blog’s account.*  Please check them out there.  Unfortunately, I think it was too early to be able to pick my own mushrooms.  I was so hoping that we could find chanterelles so that I could have some for dinner that night!

Buon appetito!

*Caveat – This was my first time on the tour so I tried to take as many notes as possible and have tried to be accurate regarding the plants we saw; however, no one should just pick what he or she finds on the ground and eat it without being absolutely certain of what it is.  My notes should not be taken as a guide to your own foraging efforts.

Eataly Opens in New York

It was kind of like having the holidays in August, well, for Italian food lovers anyway.  Eataly, the 50,000 square foot mega-store opened to the public this afternoon.  A collaboration between Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Lidia Bastianich, I’ve been waiting for this day, anticipating what tempting goodies were hiding behind the papered-up windows I saw from the bus windows for so many months since I heard that this Turin-based store was coming to Manhattan.  Fortunately, I picked the right moment to get there to check it out, about an hour after the doors were flung open wide to receive the eager public.  I threw myself into the experience hoping to be whisked back to my days in bell’Italia.

Lidia Bastianich was seated near the sweets section and was very gracious and receiving to everyone who stopped by to talk to her, to ask her for her autograph, or to take a photo.  In addition, I caught a glimpse of Mario Batali at one point taking questions and talking to people.  It reminded me a bit of Italy where the family who owns the shop also takes pride in running it and greeting the customers and was a very nice touch for opening day.

Easily identifiable by their orange Crocs, there were also many staff members in each of the different areas ready and able to assist shoppers with their questions about the products.  Unfortunately, my one question, the one product I was hoping to at last find elsewhere than Arthur Avenue, a trek from my house, they did not have.  Panna da cucina (or “kitchen cream,” which is used to make cream-based sauces and blends better than regular heavy cream, was the stumper request of the day).  I do have to give the staff a gold star, though, for being willing to try to assist me, even asking a couple of other folks on the team if they knew if they carried it.  So, I went around to the various stations to see what else was available.

I found for my sister-in-law (and also probably my brother not married to her), a whole column full of Italian licorice.  I am not a fan by any means and the licorice to some other flavor jelly bean exchange rate never seemed to work in my favor growing up. Somehow, however, I have found myself surrounded by those who love this taste a lot, so this aisle is for them.  (No, no licorice pasta like you ate in Bologna, though, sorry.  I do keep looking for it.)  There was a wide assortment of dried pastas of various brands and shapes and sizes.  The bread counter was loaded with gorgeous loaves, and I saw the oven that came from Italy.  The fish were gleaming and the vegetable butcher was prepping artichokes as I walked by on my way to check out some of the other wares.

A thorough listing of what will be available and the different stations and eateries where one can take a pausa (pause) to have a birra (beer), bicchiere di vino (glass of wine) pizza, fritto misto di fruitti di mare (fried seafood plate) or even a plate of salumi e formaggi (meats and cheese) can be found in this pre-opening press launch post by Eater.  They have pictures of some of the other food items for sale and have even more gorgeous photos of all the lovely offerings from today’s opening.  It was really too crowded, both with curious New Yorkers and Italians alike, to get any good pictures.  At one point, they had to hold people outside of the store to try to allow the masses to dissipate, not an easy thing to do when you are offering free samples of in-house made mozzarella, 24-month-old parmegiano reggiano, and proscuitto San Daniele.

While I did find the prices on some of the same ingredients I have found elsewhere at Italian food specialty shops in the city to be a bit on the higher side, there were other items there that I definitely haven’t come across very often and could see splurging on if I have a very special dinner party.  Their jams and honeys would be great additions to a cheese board, and I might (shhhh, don’t tell) just use their fresh pasta sheets to make a vero lasagna bolognese instead of rolling out my own.  I’ll need to do some price comparisons on a few of the cheeses and meats; however, I am encouraged by their mission to carry local produce and to source local supplies of many of the fresh products that they carry.  The provenance of the fresher ingredients that they stock, such as the scallops from Long Island, is listed in their respective sections of the market.

I could definitely see coming back here to try to meet a friend for a coffee, satisfy a gelato craving, or even to get lunch or dinner at one of the eateries.  When the beer garden is open (it would have been so perfect for a hot day like today), I predict it will also be one of the go-to spots in the city for meeting one’s friends.  This is a welcome addition to the foodscape in New York and will hopefully be a good focal point for high-quality local as well as Italian-imported ingredients.

Buon appetito!