The innate quirkiness of the West Village is alive and well; explore it through food

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Past the pristine townhomes and high profile eateries is a historic neighborhood that defies categorization

The West Village is layered with a rich history. For hundreds of years, poets have mingled with authors, musicians, and artists — and they still do today.   From the Music Inn on West 4th where Dylan spent time writing music to the beloved Stonewall Inn, recently designated a national landmark, its storied streets are where Aaron Burr took refuge after fatally shooting Alexander Hamilton. The annual Halloween and Pride parades bring steams of truly anything-goes revelers to the neighborhood that invented free-wheeling craziness.  Yet it’s also a neighborhood that has experienced extreme gentrification. On weekends, the freshly scrubbed Canada Goose crowd descends en masse for $17 eggs in the restaurants du jour. Manicured townhouses sell for multiple millions. Big draw restaurants like Via Carota and Buvette ensure that most everyone makes their way down to experience the west village. With all this distraction, it’s easy for an outsider to miss its kaleidoscopic narrative.  Its a place where celebrity residents are able to live anonymously alongside long-time residents, most of whom have lived in rent-controlled apartments for decades (or had the foresight to buy before prices skyrocketed). There is no typical West Village resident; this is part of its allure. So grab a cup of coffee from Jack’s on West 10th, put down your phone, take a look around and start wandering.

  • Claude’s Patisserie 187 W. 4th (between Barrow and Jones) -The buttery scent of Paris envelopes as soon as the door opens. Though Claude retired many years ago, owner Pablo was trained by Claude. The mouth-watering croissants are still made daily. They are undisputedly the best in the village. Sit at one of the three tiny tables and enjoy simpler times; read the paper, converse or simply daydream and you’ll fit right in with the locals. Ask Carmen to whip up an Americano to drink with the croissant.  Local tip: It’s one of the few spots where you can comfortably hitch your dog outside.
  • Jones Street Wines 23 Jones Street (between W. 4 and Bleecker)  Weekly wine tastings began during Hurricane Sandy in an effort to bring the neighborhood together. They stuck. Pop in on Wednesday evenings for the free tasting. The subterranean shop is exceptionally curated with little-known wines primarily from Italy, Portugal, and France. They are arranged by price with the least expensive bottles stacked first, as you enter. Most are priced at $20 and under. If you love something you’ve tried there, go back quickly for another bottle. They are always changing their selections and you may miss the chance to pick up more.  Local tip: get a punch card; free bottle after 10 punches.
  • Taco Mahal  73 7th Avenue South (at Barrow):   “It’s fire”, says Andrei, a Taco Mahal regular who lives in the area. This family-owned newcomer has taken the area by storm. For about $8-$12, treat yourself to a full meal. Try the chicken tikka masala or lamb curry which both come with dahl, rice, and greens. Choose naan bread or roti, both equally good. Sit outside on 7th Avenue or take your meal to go. Local tip: go now before the resounding success convinces owner Danikkah to expand all over the city.
  • Faicco’s  260 Bleecker Street – “How is your son liking Nashville? I haven’t seen him in a while” shouts Tom as he slices the prosciutto. Faicco’s is a neighborhood stalwart. It’s a place where construction workers, old Italian mamas and nearly everyone else goes for a hearty sandwich or sliced meats.  This pork butcher and Italian specialty shop has been in the same family for over four generations.  The winning sandwich? The $14.00 broccoli rabe chicken sandwich. Bring a friend, it will easily feed two. Or better yet, save half for dinner. Local tip:  If you’re having guests, pick up a tray of the signature meatballs.
  • The Fruit Man / W4 and Barrow –  “Not today,” he shakes his head, disappointed. He gives the “avocado warning” before I even reach for one. Of course, he’s right, they’re hard as rocks. The only fruit vendor in the west village, Rafael prides himself on freshness. He explains, “My customers won’t come to me anymore if something isn’t fresh.” He discards all unsold stock every night, regardless of its condition. The well-stocked cart has all the basics, plus a variety of seasonal produce like pomegranates and figs. Often times he has organic fruit. Local tip: if rain is in the forecast, Raphael doesn’t set up his cart.
  • Snack Taverna 63 Bedford (at Morton)- “I don’t know which wine we usually get” the woman wonders, menu in hand. The waiter overhears and is immediately at her side. “That’s the one” he points.  This small Greek restaurant serves traditional dishes to pair with unusual and (happily) well-priced Greek wines. Make a meal of the Greek salad with small plates of horta, fava, and of course, the melitzanosalata. There is a 5-8 person round table in the window. Ask for it if you have a group. Local tip: reservations can usually be made fairly last minute; a rarity in the west village.
  • LIfethyme Organic Market 410 Sixth Avenue (between 8th and 9th streets):  A microcosm of the West Village itself where aging hippies mix with well-heeled townhouse owners who politely navigate up and down the skinny aisles. Some fill their baskets to the brim, others are there to buy just an apple. The small market has surprisingly, everything you need (with the exception of a full butcher and seafood section). Local tip: don’t go on Monday mornings expecting to buy your produce for dinner as weekend restocking is always very slow.
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Why we need National Meatless Monday

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America’s food system is devastating our planet. Policy makers and environmental advocates have debated for years about how to stop the decimation.  But let’s just start somewhere. I begin with just a fact: the livestock industry is the greatest threat to our planet. Animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas emissions and is a leading cause of deforestation, water & air pollution and biodiversity loss. The environmental resources involved to raise and transport livestock have taxed our planet nearly to the brink. Producing just a single hamburger uses enough fuel to drive 20 miles. Think about that for a moment. The fuel for twenty miles of driving equals just one measly burger? Further, 70% of the grain grown in the US  is fed to animals on feedlots . Why?  Because it takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat.  Nearly half of all water used in the US goes to raising animals for food The grim statistics speak to our dysfunctional relationship with the meat we eat; a relationship that most Americans never even think about.

There is a solution. We need to enact Meatless Mondays as a federal policy.  Meatless Monday is simply the concept of restricting the eating of meat for one day a week. Already an initiative in hundreds of US hospitals, college campuses and schools (including several New York City public schools), it has also been embraced globally with initiatives in 44 countries including Belgium and Australia. Though it has a become a international movement, it has yet to be enacted globally as policy. American should lead this charge. With roots dating back to WW1 as a way to ration food in support of the war effort, Meatless Mondays has returned to our culture over the past decade as both a sustainability measure and a healthy eating strategy.  The average American eats 222 lbs of red meat per year. If one family skipped meat one day a week, it would have the same benefit as not driving for five weeks. Isn’t a one day meat reduction worth it if it can help save our planet? Look at it like this: if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.  And for those who would rather not have a meatless meal, there are options. Enter the Impossible Burger, the media darling that has recreated the taste and texture of a burger using only plant materials. Sooner or later, meat alternatives such as these will become de rigueur, so why not embrace them now?  Technical advances have enabled plant-based proteins to closely mimic red meat and researchers are currently experimenting with chicken alternatives. We must make sacrifices if we want to slow climate change. If eating a rather tasty meat substitute is the worst of it, is that so bad? Under a federal Meatless Mondays policy, all government operated food outlets would be mandated to serve only plant-based meals on Mondays. This would include public schools, military bases, prisons and all government offices. This policy would not only lessen the environmental burden of meat production, but it would benefit our farmers as plant-based alternatives become mainstream; a win-win first step in the attack a wicked problem. Meatless Mondays can swiftly be enacted. To do so does not necessitate the creation of new government entities, complicated infrastructure or new governing bodies. Furthermore, and of paramount importance, Meatless Mondays would actually save the federal government significant sums of money because plant-based food is far less expensive than meat.

Industry pushback is inevitable. No doubt this is a politically charged issue. However meat producers cannot sustain their current practices indefinitely. Systems must be developed to assist them in making changes. They must begin exploring less environmentally harmful options, as Tyson has already done with their investment in meatless pioneer Beyond Meat. The federal dollars saved from enacting a Meatless Mondays policy could be earmarked for the livestock industry to use for R&D, training and investment in plant-based protein alternatives.

It would be simplistic to think that national Meatless Mondays would completely eliminate the demand for meat once a week. Food establishments with meat at the core of their business would continue to offer meat on Monday, thereby providing traditional options for those that seek it. But if we as Americans are open-minded to this simple solution, we can communaly take the first strike against climate change.  Others will be needed, but this is a clear starting point. As writer Jonathan Safran states, “Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn’t enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?”

 

Bring Borscht Back! A perfect vegan soup

It’s been around for ages. Several Eastern European countries all take credit for its origin, which dates back to the time of the Cossacks. Each country has its own name for it, but for simplicity sake, I’ll stick with borscht, as it is the most well-known. It was created as an easy, flavorful, filling soup with endless varieties that can be served hot or cold.  It’s made from beets, potatoes, cabbage and carrots. It is a fantastic option for the surge in plant-based eaters looking for something different… and something that will keep them interested in their new way of eating.   And, as winter creeps in, it is a soup whose ingredients can usually be found from local farms.

So why haven’t more restaurants or cafes embraced borscht?  Ukrainian institution Veselka,  in New York’s east village, has been serving it since 1954 and has introduced generation after generation to its charms.  But by mainstream restaurant owners and chefs? Not so much.  Well it is time to bring it back. Borscht for the masses! Bring it on…

 

If you want to try it, here is how:

Ingredients

  • 1 pound beets (beetroot), peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 2 medium onions, sliced into half-moons
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 3/4 pound white cabbage, cut thinly into shreds
  • fresh dill – to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • Salt to taste
  • Coarsely ground black pepper

Directions

 

  • Peel and cut the onions, carrots, and beets (alternatively, shred the carrots and beets using the shredding blade of a food processor) and sauté over medium heat in the olive oil with a pinch of salt in a large soup pot. Reserve a small amount of beet to grate and add near the end to enliven the color.

  • 2.

    In the meantime, bring the vegetable stock to a boil. When the vegetables are soft (about 5 minutes), add the shredded cabbage and the hot stock. Bring to a boil and simmer 15-25 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. With a few minutes left, add the reserved grated beet.

  • 3.

    Season to taste with salt and pepper, then squeeze in the lemon juice, aiming for a pleasing but subtle sour taste. Serve with freshly grated black pepper and chopped dill

 

The Magic Nut

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It’s an age old pursuit. For generations we have sought a magic pill to keep us healthy and promote longevity.  We often jump onto nutritional trends in effort to find the ever-illusive magic potion, sometimes rushing into the latest without all the facts. This can be tricky business.

Scientists are delving deeper into the field of antioxidants and their beneficial effects on the body. Many of our essential minerals have antioxidant qualities and selenium has come out a star.  It is a trace micronutrient which means that our bodies need it in small amounts to function optimally. It plays a large roll in making cells function by strengthening and protecting cell structure. Of late, empirical evidence has shown that selenium is not only necessary, but packs an extra punch in terms of protective nutrition: this micronutrient is also an antioxidant which prevents oxidative stress (otherwise known as wear & tear!)  by attacking free radicals that can build and roam throughout our bodies.

Most importantly, there is growing evidence that higher than recommended intakes may offer additional health benefits such as reduction in chronic disease and enhanced immune functioning. The argument is strong for upping selenium intakes.

So where is the selenium?

Amazingly, the food with the highest selenium content is also incredibly easy to eat.  It’s even portable.  It’s the brazil nut.  Just one nut has 60-70 micrograms of selenium which is enough to meet the daily requirement (the RDA is approximately 55 micrograms).  With just two nuts, you will most likely be over the recommended daily allowance, thus beginning to build up your selenium stores and reaping the increased health benefits.

But beware. Eating more brazil nuts than two is not exponentially more beneficial. In fact, the nuts become toxic to your body at even minimally higher levels. As you can never be sure the exact amount of selenium in the nut because the mineral content in the growing soil is so varied, it is essential not to exceed 2 nuts over day.

So it’s simple. Two nuts a day are all you need.  Think of it “nature’s supplement” rather than a healthy snack that you can mindlessly munch. I pop the two into my smoothie each morning and keep them stored next to my smoothie ingredients so I’m not tempted to over-indulge on them.

So turns out, maybe now there is a magic pill.  Or rather… nut.

Cut down on dairy? But… why?

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Dairy is often touted as the culprit for everything from digestive issues to heart problems. There is much talk in the news about frequency or full elimination. But… why?  Does anything negative happen to your body when you eat dairy?

Sorting though the noise isn’t easy.

Dairy products are considered fats. This is a great thing. They provide us with energy, manage hormone production, maintain our cell membranes plus a host of other necessary functions. They are also loaded with vitamins and minerals that are essential to health. And of course, dairy’s bone-boosting calcium content is huge.

To simplify, the question can be boiled down to two issues. One is the quality of the dairy.  Skip your Dannon yogurt with the high sugar content (this makes up for the elimination of yummy “fat flavor” in low fat yogurt).  Enjoy grass-fed , minimally processed cheeses, milks, butters.   Second is whether or not you can digest cow’s milk. As we grow form childhood, it frequently becomes harder to digest. You know who you are if you feel bloated or get a stomach ache. In this case, experiment with products from goats and sheep which are far easier to digest.

In the end, if you feel great after eating a cow’s milk product (one that is not filled with sugar!), you can benefit from the variety of inherent nutrients. If you don’t, you can live happily on a rich diet (filled with micro & macro nutrients!) completely dairy free.

Defining “Greatest Threat” – 4/5 Post

The Greatest Threat?

In the article Silicon Valley’s Next Big Goal: Fixing our Broken Food System, author Jane Black talks about the influx of high tech money into new ventures designed to prevent the meltdown of our food system.  Similarly, author Jason Best talks about Farm2050, another tech-based approach based on a growing coalition of silicon valley entrepreneurs and agricultural giants (some with questionable motives). Many of the most high-profile tech firms are focusing on food replacement, like Impossible Foods “fake” hamburger or  Climate Corp’s efforts to provide farmers with accurate weather predictions.  This techie approach acknowledges that “we still want cheap and abundant food” and these silicon valley entrepreneurs will hopefully continue to create innovative solutions to fix our food system.

But what, precisely, are they fixing?

The Farm2050 website says we’ll need to increase food production by 70 percent to feed the world’s huge increase in population in 2050.  Clearly, the techie focus on increasing food production in the face of climate change seems crucial and not to be dismissed.

Yet, Joshua Muldavin, Professor at Sarah Lawrence maintains, “We have two or three times the amount of food right now that is needed to feed the number of people in the world.”  A 2002 United Nations study showed that global agricultural production would exceed the population’s needs just six years after we hit the 8 billion mark. Adds Emelie Peine, a University of Puget Sound Professor, “We don’t have food shortage problem, what we have is a distribution problem and an income problem. People aren’t getting the food, … and even if [they] did, they don’t have enough money to buy it.”  Conversely, the World Resource Institute’s Janet Ranganathan states that our greatest hurdle is not a distribution problem, “we can’t just redistribute food to close the food gap. Even if we took all the food produced in 2009 and distributed it evenly amongst the global population, the world will still need to produce 974 more calories per person per day by 2050”.

So which is the greatest threat to our food system?  Admittedly, there are multitudes.  But the single biggest threat? It would behoove our entire planet if we were all in agreement.

*%^& Rice – Post 2 of 2, 3/30

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I was shocked to learn that rice is a greater source of methane gas than all the cows in the world combined.   This is a staggering statistic.  Digging further, I discovered that it is a microbe that actually produces the methane.  In flooded rice fields, underwater microbes break down organic matter in the water and release methane. Further, a study published in Nature Climate Change found that as CO2 levels rise and our earth continues to heat up, rice fields emit more & more methane.

Two issues jump out at me. First, much like GMOs which seem to be both Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, it appears that microbes can cause as much harm as good, if not more.  Second, why is it that cows are nearly single-handedly blamed for the mass production of methane? I am all for placing blame on the meat eaters, but in this case, rice paddies need to share in it.  So why the media silence? Certainly a global “rice lobby” isn’t at the root of this. Perhaps it’s because rice is the mainstay for nearly half our earth, and a diet without it could prove catastrophic? Is it because rice paddies are primarily in developing countries? Further research is needed, but consumers need to be made aware of rice’s detrimental effects on the climate change.