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eG Foodblog: Nina C. - Around the World in Just One Borough


Nina C.
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Good morning! I'm so excited to be your next food blogger, as I have long been an avid – though often lurking – reader.

I'm Nina Callaway, a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY. Now, I know what you're thinking: We've had a lot of New York City food blogs. But, most of them have been very Manhattan focused, and while I like Manhattan, I'm in love with Brooklyn. This amazing borough is at once big city cool and small town heart. While most of the world's eyes are pointed at Manhattan, Brooklyn isn't some groveling parasite – it's the largest of all of the five boroughs. At approx. 2.5 million residents, if Brooklyn were an independent city it would be the 4th largest city in the US. It boasts the 3rd largest business district in the city (first 2 are midtown and lower Manhattan), a vibrant independent arts scene, awesome restaurants and, most importantly, some of the friendliest and most interesting people in the city.

(A quick vocabulary/geography lesson: New York City is divided into 5 boroughs – similar to counties. Brooklyn was its own city until 1898, when its residents voted to become part of the new New York City, along with Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx.)

I'm just finishing up an assignment for Fodor's, writing the chapters of "Brooklyn" and "The Bronx/Queens/Staten Island" for the general New York City guidebook. With limited space, it necessarily covers the neighborhoods closest to Manhattan, for easy jaunts, as well as Prospect Park and Coney Island – essentially places that readers have already heard of, and want to know more about. As it's organized into neighborhoods, its hard to include some of the really interesting sites farther afield. But the process of writing this chapter made me think about what I'd write if I were only writing for myself.

And so the title of this food blog: Around the World in Just One Borough. My plan for the week is to visit just a few of Brooklyn's neighborhoods. I'm hoping to show you my nabe of Clinton Hill, as well as Polish Greenpoint, Middle Eastern Atlantic Avenue, Latin American and Chinese Sunset Park, and Russian/Asian Brighton Beach. (Hey I'm a freelance writer. It's all research!)

But that's not all that's going on. I'm working on my Pieathon! – a fundraising project that had its start here on eG. And on Sunday, many of my friends are coming over for brunch. Today is going to be a baking day, rather than a show-you-around Brooklyn day. But, I've just returned from a short vacation through Massachusetts and Vermont, where we spent a day visiting small cheese farmers. So I thought I'd recap some of that for you to hold you over. (A little city mouse, country mouse action.)

I'm off to the gym now. When I get back, breakfast.

Edited by Nina C. (log)

The Kitchn

Nina Callaway

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Welcome to the wonderful world of foodblogging, Nina!

As Brooklyn has suffered more than its share of indignities over the decades since 1957, it's nice to hear that you're going to give the city's biggest borough its due.

This reader in "the sixth borough" is looking forward to your trek. It will be my first "visit" to Brooklyn since the Pizza Club down here traveled there to eat the only 90-mile pies we've ever had back in early '05.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Welcome Nina C! I am looking forward to learning more about Brooklyn. I have only been there once, I don't know much beyond Spike Lee, Welcome Back Kotter, Coney Island, and my copy of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle from May 8th 1945 (VE Day) that I have in an archival folder upstairs. Such a big and diverse place must have some fascinating food traditions.

You're not really 100 years old are you?

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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You know what they say about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. The gym didn't happen. My sweetheart wasn't feeling well, so I took care of him, then went for a walk around the neighborhood to pick up one thing at the store. Perhaps I'll do the sweating-thing later tonight. Perhaps I'll just eat bon bons instead. It's almost the same thing, right? Doing something that makes your body happy?

Thanks all for the responses. Peter that's a good starting point for knowing about Brooklyn. In fact Spike lived and worked for many years in the neighborhood next to mine, Fort Greene, and many of his films were set in Bed-Stuy, the neighborhood on the other side of mine.

gallery_37101_5335_55671.jpg

This is my street, which looks like many other leafy brownstone streets in Brooklyn. Although gentrification has hit the neighborhood, the majority of people on my block have lived here for over 25 years. My 95-year-old next-door neighbor has lived here for over 60 years, and has 5 neighbors who check on her daily in spite of her old-age orneriness.

At the corner is the restaurant Locanda Vini e Olii. gallery_37101_5335_35118.jpg

(The drug store sign used to be the original one from the previous occupant, but it cracked and fell down earlier this year. The restaurant made a new Lewis Drug Store sign!) Run by a husband and wife team, this Umbrian restaurant does nice simple food in a friendly and warm atmosphere. It's a little overpriced for the nabe, so it's usually a mix of a few local people and Manhattanites/other Brooklynites who have made the trip. They do an amazing pappa al pomodoro - a rich tomato and bread "soup" so thick you don't need a bowl. It's served warm, sprinkled with basil and drizzled with olive oil, and is intensely comforting.

Most restaurants in my neighborhood are West African. 2 blocks away is Kush Café, which serves fantastic French-African food, yet it always feels a bit like a ghost town. The fish from my teaser pics came from Kush: gallery_37101_5335_95405.jpg

It was rubbed with harissa and grilled, then served with peppers and cilantro and a rich broth.

The grocery store here is pathetic. This is the entirety of the produce: gallery_37101_5335_19719.jpg

Yup, one half of one short aisle. Most of the veggies have been shrink-wrapped half-to-death: gallery_37101_5335_54687.jpg

God help you if you only want a few jalapenos. You're going to have to buy 30. Corn is only available pre-shucked and in sets of 3. And forget wanting to pick out your own vegetables individually. Even the ones that aren't shrink-wrapped are of dubious quality:gallery_37101_5335_56172.jpg

They used to sell pocky, but I couldn't find it this trip. They do have a good selection of international foods and even some fancy chocolates and cheeses. Fortunately, all I needed was some brown sugar.

Then it was time for breakfast: gallery_37101_5335_22378.jpg

Fage yogurt, June Taylor peach butter, a few pecans, and some straight-from-the-farm raw milk. This came from Neighborly farms in Vermont, and survived the journey home in a cooler with an ice pack. It's so good and earthy, although it's not quite as tasty as it was when drunk by the side of the road, still frothy and warm.

Edited by Nina C. (log)

The Kitchn

Nina Callaway

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My dearest cousins live in the same part of Brooklyn as you! Really looking forward to this blog - maybe I can give them a few recommendations.

Eating pizza with a fork and knife is like making love through an interpreter.
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BK represent! This Boerum Hill gal is already enjoying your blog. Do you ever venture across (the) Atlantic? Brooklyn is so overwhelmingly huge; I'm looking forward to getting to know another area I know so little about, despite living so close.

To hell with poverty! We'll get drunk on cheap wine - Gang of Four

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I love the Mets bowl! I am also excited to see the borough of my birth through your eyes and mouth.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Sorry for the long delay - I had a very exciting nibble on something I pitched, so had to drop everything to get them more information. I won't say what it is, as I don't want to jinx it. Such is the life of the freelance writer.

When we last left off, it was breakfast, now it's well past lunch: gallery_37101_5335_13998.jpg

Leftovers! A little garlicy steak sliced thin, with horseradish sauce on sourdough. The israeli couscous has a little bit of harissa stirred in to give it an underlying heat. This was all part of last nights dinner. I find that now that I work from home I actually use my leftovers instead of letting them go to waste.

I also made my pie crusts, but didn't get much further than that. The idea is to do a photoshoot for pieathon, to accompany press releases. I'll also give the pies to editors I know, in hopes they'll mention it in the papers. Doing a fundraiser all by yourself is a lot of work!

(edited to add lunch picture! Sorry for my shadow in it - no pretty morning light anymore!)

Edited by Nina C. (log)

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Nina Callaway

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I love the Mets bowl! I am also excited to see the borough of my birth through your eyes and mouth.

I reached for it without thinking, but then realized how appropriate it is! Not only am I doing this foodblog, but I'm also currently writing about the new Mets and Yankees stadiums which will open in 2009. It will be a special call-out box inside my Bronx/Queens/Staten Island chapter.

If you were/are a Dodgers fan, the new Mets stadium honors their history. Oh, and there are rumors that there will be a Shake Shack stand inside the stadium. These are unconfirmed, but at least it brings my foodblog back to food!

The Kitchn

Nina Callaway

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Having grown up in Brooklyn (Ocean Parkway near Kings Highway) I am so looking forward to this! It'll be fun to read what changes have taken place (or not. . .) since the last time I visited.

When I met my sweetheart, he was living down there and I was in Williamsburg. It seemed hours away! At least it's not too far from DiFara's pizza.

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Nina Callaway

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BK represent!  This Boerum Hill gal is already enjoying your blog.  Do you ever venture across (the) Atlantic?  Brooklyn is so overwhelmingly huge; I'm looking forward to getting to know another area I know so little about, despite living so close.

I actually used to work in Boerum Hill. Until this past summer, I also worked for a theater company writing grants and marketing materials. Our offices were in the old Sarah J. Hale High School which is now The Brooklyn High School for the Arts. Around there, you either had falafel for lunch or brought your own. But Boerum Hill is so pretty.

I find it hard to know this entire borough - there are too many parts! This blog gives me the opportunity to venture to some places that I don't get to that frequently.

The Kitchn

Nina Callaway

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Following the Cheese Trail

We had a limited amount of time to take a short vacation. My sweetheart had an appointment on Thursday afternoon in Springfield, Mass, and we needed to be back in Brooklyn by Saturday evening for the NYC reception of friends who got married 2 weeks ago. So Wednesday morning we picked up a rental car, and spent Wednesday and Thursday morning driving around MA, going to Bash Bish Falls and Mass MoCA, and spending the night in Northampton. Meals were catch-as-catch can – simple sandwiches, dinner at a bar/restaurant where we could watch the baseball game. Northampton has some decent restaurants, but as folks of not-unlimited means, we feel that many of them are too expensive. For the same money we could get a phenomenal meal in NYC.

Friday morning, we drove up to Vermont. When we first conceived of this trip, we were both so busy we really didn't have any time to plan – just a vague idea of seeing the last of fall leaves and getting some time together. I kept asking him, "What are we doing in Vermont, again?" to which he would reply, "Um, the Blue Benn Diner, and leaves, and umm, there's a Grandma Moses exhibition." Finally a few days before we left, I thought of Vermont cheese, wondering if it were possible for us to visit a farm. Little did I know that a simple google search would bring me to the Nirvana that is The Vermont Cheese Trail: http://vtcheese.com/cheesetrail.htm

Unfortunately, we had already booked our hotel for Friday night in Bennington. (I think my sweetie really wanted to make sure that we had breakfast at the Blue Benn Diner!) So we did more driving than one would need to do, and weren't able to go too far north. That will have to wait for another trip.

Another thing to note is to bring both the map and a cell phone. You'll want to call ahead to make sure that farms actually want to have visitors that afternoon. With so little time to plan, we didn't get to see any cheese making in process, but it would be easy to do so. Skeptics will note that you can probably get all of the cheese we bought in NYC. But SHHHHHH. It ruins the romance of the thing.

Our first stop was Vermont Butter and Cheese, a cheese maker with no farm, and the largest of the places we'd visit. They were supposed to be making cheese, but there had been a mechanical failure of some kind and so were instead washing down the plant. gallery_37101_5333_17586.jpg Fortunately, there was someone to help us, tell us about their cheese-making process, give us the all-important samples and sell us some cheese.

We bought Bijou gallery_37101_5333_43997.jpg

and Coupole gallery_37101_5333_524.jpg cheeses, interesting because though they are made from the same recipe, the coupole has an extra day of maturation/coagulation, and a layer of ash on the top. Each has its own distinct flavor.

Edited by Nina C. (log)

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Nina Callaway

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Next was Bragg Farm – a maple sugarhouse. We were invited to join a tour, which turned out to be primarily a video. If you've ever seen Best in Show, and remember Harlan Pepper saying "Peanut. Hazelnut. Cashew nut. Pistachio nut. Red pistachio nut. Natural, all natural white pistachio nut," then you have an idea of the cadence and energy of the narrator of this video. Still it was interesting to learn about the maple sugaring process even if it was 25 minutes of my life that I'll never get back.

For about six weeks a year, when the temperature is exactly right, farmers drive taps into maple trees, collect the sap in buckets, and then boil the sap for about 15 hours to get maple syrup. That’s a simple way of stating a long and arduous process.

The maple sugar buckets, lined up against the wall:gallery_37101_5333_45593.jpg

Some of the taps they use:gallery_37101_5333_9263.jpg

The sap boiler:gallery_37101_5333_23801.jpg

You can sample the four grades of syrup:

gallery_37101_5333_48526.jpg

More important than any of that, the Maple Creamee – maple-syrup flavored soft serve:

gallery_37101_5333_36567.jpg

And a few maple-flavored treats that I couldn't resist. I probably should have, as they were fine, but not outstanding. I haven't tried the maple pepper yet, but it sounded intriguing, especially on fish.

gallery_37101_5333_13528.jpg

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Nina Callaway

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Nina, your blog is not only about where I used to live, but also my current backyard! :cool:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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The woman at Vermont Butter and Cheese encouraged us to go to Three Shepherds. This little family farm used to be a sheep farm whose flock was imported from Belgium especially for their prodigious milk production. Unfortunately, the USDA decided the sheep were a risk for Mad Cow disease and seized and slaughtered them. So today, the Fallaices make cheese from other local farms' milk and run a small store. A young couple farms the land, growing vegetables that are for sale in the store, along with other local products.

The Three Shepherds cheese was my favorite from the trip: A soft and creamy raw sheep's milk cheese that I can't wait to spread on crackers, and enjoy with a good glass of red wine. It's a cheese you can relax into, in spite of the subtleties. (I thought I had a picture of the cheese in the store, but I can't find it now.)

When they first started making cheese, 16-year-old daughter Jackie was trained by a master Belgian cheesemaker. They built this "cave" made from bales of straw covered in plaster. The man in the picture is the farmer, adding on a vegetable root cellar.

gallery_37101_5333_582318.jpg

Next door, you can peer into their cheesemaking facility, where two feta cheeses are aging in the window, next to the rustic peasant's cheese in the baskets. The press is used when they make a gouda-style cheese.

gallery_37101_5333_35957.jpggallery_37101_5333_155305.jpg

Three Shepherds offers cheesemaking weekend classes that sound very tempting. We'll have to wait for the 2008 schedule.

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Nina Callaway

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Nina, your blog is not only about where I used to live, but also my current backyard! :cool:

Funny how it works that way! New England can be a small place. Where in upstate are you located exactly? I used to live in Cherry Valley, NY (nearish Cooperstown).

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Nina Callaway

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Nina, your blog is not only about where I used to live, but also my current backyard! :cool:

Funny how it works that way! New England can be a small place. Where in upstate are you located exactly? I used to live in Cherry Valley, NY (nearish Cooperstown).

I live between Saratoga Springs and Lake George. Cherry Valley is a beautiful area as well. Next time you think of a cheese tour, try eastern NY. I don't think you will be disappointed.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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