We’re sold on our neighborhood deli

You know the adage in real estate that location is everything, and you’ve no doubt seen spots where one failed restaurant is followed by the opening of another which also fails and then another. It might be a different kind of retailer but a similar pattern. Wrong location is the usual explanation, followed by the question of why anyone is foolish enough to repeat the disaster. Lightning may not strike the same place twice (though certain prominent heights would seem an obvious exception), but business traffic follows a different set of rules. Even one side of a busy thoroughfare might flourish while the same offering on the opposite side withers.

Now for the operation in practice.

A side street near us in our end of town has a charming carpenter-gothic style store we’ve watched undergo a similar sequence.

This unassuming delis sits on Ham Street (I’m not making that up) … two blocks from New York Street, at that. Well, there’s already a Katz’s New York Deli in Manhattan, and it’s famous. The refurbished Woodbury Mill rises behind the parking lot.

 

Back in the day before big supermarkets took over, such mom-and-pop groceries could do a lively small-scale business for a neighborhood trade. Send the kids off to pick up some milk, eggs, and maybe a head of cabbage or bag of flour. By the time we came along, this site was either struggling or posting a For Sale Or Lease sign, one owner after another. Just having bread, beer, and candy plus lottery tickets hardly made for a going enterprise, no matter how charming the setting. We wished them well, all the same, and actually lamented a bit when they went under. Something was obviously missing in the business mix.

And then, maybe five years ago, a new owner took over. We admired his low-cost, aggressive hustle – things like parking a pickup on a busy Central Avenue two blocks away and putting a big sign in its bed to alert passing traffic to his deli if they made a quick turn. It got our attention but not our business, we just weren’t ordering much food out and when we did, it was usually from a great Thai restaurant three more blocks away, a Lebanese takeout next to it, or a nearby pizza house. As for the milk-bread-beer-lottery tix, a chain convenience store sat next to the Dunkin’ Donuts on the big artery, though it too kept changing hands to a 7-Eleven at the moment.

Fast forward, it’s a Saturday afternoon my wife and I are both feeling too whatever to cook, we don’t want to spend much – and pizza is getting pricey – she suggests subs, I say fine but want something more satisfying than Subway.

That’s when she suggests Katz’s, where she had popped in a week earlier to grab a six-pack and was amazed by how great the place smelled. Good sign, trusting your nose. So we look up the menu online, see lots of tempting choices, and phone in an order. I trot off all of three blocks and am nibbling on amazing fries even before I get home. In short, we’re sold.

We can see why the place has taken hold and developed a loyal following. Sometimes we’re slow, OK?

It’s not a franchise chain, definite plus. The food is tasty, very, another plus. Some of the menu pays tribute to earlier occupants of the store, once the Busy Hill Market, local awareness. Breakfast is available all day, smart option, especially considering a lot of college students live in the neighborhood – well, they also likely go for the aforesaid beer cave. The prices are also affordable and the portions, generous.

Two sub orders later, we go for the pizza, and it more than lives up to our expectations. So we now have a new go-to pizza joint, unless we really want to splurge and go for Festa, another story.

Turns out the owner’s from Jersey, so he brings some deli savvy, and he has a great manager from all I see, and a skilled crew. None of these guarantee beating the odds, but we are impressed and definitely like the way it’s changed the neighborhood.

Continue reading “We’re sold on our neighborhood deli”

Made my own sashimi!

We’ve once more subscribed to the community fishery’s summer season weekly catch selection, which we pick up every Friday at our natural foods grocery. Often, what’s offered is a sustainable variety not often even sold at the supermarket, but this time, it was tuna. A beautiful, fresh, one-pound sirloin, which indeed looked like a steak.

Yes, sirloin is the term I found used in the recipes.

So far, I’ve never attempted homemade sushi, but looking at our tuna and then the recipes, I took the leap into sashimi, which I first encountered in a four-table Japanese restaurant in San Francisco back in the ’70s and maybe two times since. And yes, that first time remains memorable, even the plum wine accompaniment.

In a restaurant, it appears so daunting. As one recipe said, though, nothing could be further from the truth. Sashimi is a staple dish in Japanese homes.

I had no idea this would be so simple. Using a very sharp chef’s knife, you firmly cut long strips across the grain – no sawing. One swipe! And, by definition, no cooking. Sashimi is raw fish from the ocean, not fresh water.

It just happened that we’re growing daikon radishes for the first time, as an experiment, so I went out to the garden and pulled one, which turned out to be larger than we were expecting. No problem. Came in, sliced it, put those rounds into a ramiken, and covered them in rice vinegar as my side dish.

The dipping sauce was a ramiken of soy sauce mixed with the juice from half a lemon.

That was it. Easier than making a salad, actually.

Accompanied by a cup of sake (which we also chanced to have in the cabinet), this made for one of the most heavenly meals ever, at least from my hand. And this wasn’t even sushi-grade fish, which gets flown immediately to Japan for a much higher price. I can only imagine.

Still, this was fresh, and that’s much of the secret.

Great cuisine is about respecting the ingredients.

Sorry I didn’t take pictures.

No, gardening is NOT ‘relaxing’

You’ve no doubt heard cliché quips about the stress-relieving blessings of having your own garden. I want to know, compared to what? A day at the beach or in the mountains? Kicking back with a brew on a deck overlooking the river? Listening to music or dancing? Sunbathing on your own deck? Reading a book?

Maybe you’re one of the newbies who decided the year of Covid, with its upsets to the food chain, would be a good time to lay in your first home produce. Welcome, and good luck. Now, for the learning curve.

Veteran gardeners to some degree enjoy what they do, the way any obsessive does, and the activity does provide a common topic for conversation with an in-crowd, or one that’s “in” at the moment. Otherwise, it’s usually old folks looking for some diversion.

Either way, don’t consider relaxation to be among the benefits.

Here are ten reasons gardening is going to raise your blood pressure instead.

  1. Weeds. You can never stay ahead of them, especially if you’re growing organically, which is your ethical alternative. I could do a long list of these nasty invaders alone. Weeding usually comes down to triage, depending on your available time and anger.
  2. Weather. It’s either too cold or too hot, too wet or too dry, and not just for the plants. For you, too, when you’re out there. And watering, in our city, costs a fortune.
  3. Woodchucks. They can mow down your beds overnight. Squirrels, as a subcategory, can also take quite a toll. Even our beloved birds can wipe out most of our berries.
  4. Garden slugs. We have clay soil, and the slimy (expletives) proliferate, taking bites out of everything in their path. You should see what they do to strawberries, for starters, as well as the tomatoes.
  5. Heartbreak. Something you’re really anticipating instead croaks prematurely. There’s always at least one sacrificially crop each year. Sometimes it’s a perennial that died off over the winter. Sometimes, something entirely new.
  6. Heavy harvests. Crops that survive usually roll in like a flood. How much zucchini can you eat at once? Do you really have time to home can or freeze the rest? How much can you actually give away? You bring it inside and watch it start rotting on a kitchen counter, which points back to Heartbreak.
  7. Skeeters, sunburn, and bleeding scratches. Remember, those raspberry and currant bushes have stickers, as do the roses … especially the wild roses that pop up as stubborn weeds. They’re not alone, either.
  8. Your knees and back. You’re not doing sets of hatha yoga asanas while you’re out there, often in cramped spaces where you’re trying hard not to crush the plants around you. Plus, you’re getting older. Let’s not overlook all those muscles you didn’t know you have, or the ones you wish you still did.
  9. Long lines and crowds at the nursery. Even if you order your seeds from your favorite catalogs at the beginning of January, something’s going to be out of stock. Besides, you’ll need something, maybe six-packs of a plant that died under your grow lamps or a bag of vermiculite, which means heading to the greenhouse same time everyone else is. Circling around the parking lot just trying to find a spot is a huge aggravation.
  10. Expenses. Even without factoring in the cost of your own time (I argue it’s not free), you’ll find that your produce and flowers can be pretty costly. Yeah, you’re already paying property tax, but don’t overlook that when you’re being realistic … that’s part of the reason you bought or rent a place with some ground, right? Good tools aren’t cheap, either (now where did you last see that trowel you need now or the nozzle to the hose?), and cheap tools break pretty fast. Cheap? Neither are those bags of everything from potting soil and starter mix to fertilizer and peat moss. Oh, yes, you may need to replace that hose and, while you’re at it, pick up another soaker hose to try to save on that water bill. And you’ll want rolls of plastic or bales of mulch hay or bags of bark to keep those weeds down, and skeeter spray and band-aids and more gasoline for the weed-whacker and …

All that said, before adding guilt or shame to our list, let’s return to the amazing taste of asparagus or strawberries or real tomatoes sped straight from the garden to the plate. There’s no other way to get this. We’ve really earned it.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy apples?

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya find themselves surrounded by orchards. They quickly appreciate apples as much more than an orb to eat alone daily.

Here are ten popular uses.

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  1. Pies or turnovers.
  2. Sauce.
  3. Butter.
  4. Stuffing.
  5. Fritters.
  6. Waldorf salad.
  7. Candied or caramel.
  8. Juice, cider, or cider vinnegar. Let’s not overlook hard cider, either.
  9. Dried.
  10. Baked.

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That’s all pretty basic, before we get to create ways to use ’em with other ingredients.

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How do you like to enjoy apples?

Ten crops of the Yakima Valley 

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state and an agricultural mecca.

Besides the well-known crops of apples, hops, and grapes, let’s consider:

  1. Barley
  2. Peaches
  3. Nectarines
  4. Pears
  5. Apricots
  6. Cherries
  7. Mint
  8. Asparagus
  9. Eggplant
  10. Hay

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Not necessarily in that order.