Pit stops and purple potatoes

I have been thinking about all of the small stops that I make, in the course of a week, to buy special foods. My schedule takes me to so many different neighborhoods in New York that, like yarn shops, I have New York mapped out by its good food stores: Fairway Market at West 74th St. and Broadway; Italian groceries at the Bronx's Arthur Avenue; and the Sunday Greenmarket near Columbia University, to name a few of my favorites.

Yesterday, as I came back from the hospital where I work, I stopped at Katagiri Japanese market, on East 59th St. and Third Avenue. I was walking with a half-Japanese colleague, and she was delighted to see the collections of fresh mochi and the refrigerated sushi section. My next stop was a non-dinner party (you know the kind: lots of good food, but appetizers and alcohol do not a dinner make), so I picked up a tofu and seaweed salad, a container of pumpkin pudding, and a triangle of flavored rice (onigiri) to eat beforehand. I ate my simple dinner on a bench in Central Park before heading uptown to celebrate a friend's one-year anniversary in the United States.

This morning, as I came back from a run in Central Park, I noticed a small farmer's stand that I had never seen before, on the corner of Morningside Park. I must have arrived just as they opened, because the signs weren't yet up on the vegetables, and I had to guess which kinds of greens they had, which was rather difficult because they had an extraordinarily diverse selection, the best I have yet seen outside of the Union Square Greenmarket. Sadly, this little market will only be open another couple of weeks, so we are now facing the prospect of a long season without any fresh, local vegetables or fruits -- except apples. As Chuan points out, the city's farmers markets will be selling apples until March, when we are sick of apple and pork roasts and apple sauce and, even, apple pie.

We had such a beautiful lunch today, Chuan and I. I used some purple potatoes that have been lying await in our pantry to make an easy, half-baked potato gratin. Once sliced thin, I boiled the purple papas until they were just soft, then transferred them to a baking dish, sprinkled 1/2 cup of grated parmesan and gouda cheeses, a few tablespoons of buttermilk, pepper, and baked until the cheese was melted and the potatoes had absorbed the buttermilk. We ate them along with a pinto bean stew and sauteed red kale with raisins.

My cooking these days is inspired more by Deborah Madison (a vegetarian chef) than by Asian food, but I am hoping to get back to those cuisines again after Monday, when I'll be in the neighborhood of Kalustyan's, and can finally get my hands on some mustard seed, coriander, and other Indian spices that I have been dreaming about. My nighttime reading this week, after my studies, has been Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking; my next goal is to make a good, spicy dal and finally get around to making paneer, Indian cheese.

Tonight we'll be eating dinner at an old friend's house near Lincoln Center, and Chuan and I are in charge of the salad. We'll be delivering the fruits of this morning's market: a mixed lettuce salad with a smattering of baby rocket, clover sprouts, dried figs and sliced almonds, dressed with a simple oil-vinegar-honey dressing of my own devising. I feel so content after today's lunch, though, that dinner seems far away, and in the meanwhile I'll spend this rainy afternoon tucked into my books and charts, leaving food for its own time and place.

Enjoy the weekend.
~Ai Lu

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