The trouble with Whole Foods

One of the things that makes New York — or at least Manhattan — workable, given its density, is that people know what they're doing. If you walk along any crowded Manhattan street, people are moving at a brisk clip, swerving left and right as necessary. No one has any tolerance for lollygaggers or fools. And that makes NY work — it can be crowded and you can still get through a busy subway station and make your train. Everyone wants the same thing, everyone moves towards the same goal — except at the Union Square Whole Foods supermarket.

It dawned on me today as I tried to maneuver through the stalled crowds in the produce section, when I attempted to pass the woman just gazing at the row of Dungeness crabs at the fish counter. At Whole Foods, people turn into, well, something else, something like non New Yorkers! They move slowly! They stop short and then just turn 180° back the other direction. They just stand around, not moving, only looking at the mountainous displays of organic produce, like a tourist in Times Square. And it's excruciating if you go into the store as a New Yorker, knowing where you're going and what you want to do. It's nearly impossible (if you go at any point in the afternoon/early evening) to zip in and get what you need because you're stymied by gawkers overwhelmed by the cheese selection.

It's a good store people, but come on! Remember yourselves! You're New Yorkers! You're brusque. You hurry. You Get. Things. Done. And that includes shopping at the Union Square Whole Foods! I know I'm fast and focused and aggressive. That's one of the reasons I *like* living in NYC, I feel like I'm surrounded my people — except when I go to the Union Square Whole Foods!

Thinking about sweet yummy scallops

Yesterday in the New York Times Mark Bittman has a little article about scallops, In Winter, It's Scallops. Scallops are one of my favorite foods of all time. Before I liked any seafood or fish whatsoever, I loved scallops. I missed them so much when I lived in San Francisco that, one time when I came home to Boston for Thanksgiving, I ate scallops every night for dinner for a week!! Of course, those were mostly sea scallops, not bay scallops.

FANS of seasonal, regional foods have little to celebrate in the depths of winter, especially those of us in the Northeast. Among the notable exceptions is the bay scallop, often called the Nantucket bay scallop because one of the last significant fisheries for this gem, once found from the Maritimes to the Carolinas, centers on that island.

There is no doubt that the Nantucket bay scallop is the best scallop ever, and inspired by reading this yesterday, I headed straight to the greenmarket to see if the Long Island fishmongers had any. Talk about nothing to celebrate! The greenmarket was nearly deserted (I guess because of the horrible rain) and those who were there seemed to be only selling apples and squash. Lots and lots of apples and squash. I had to settle for sea scallops from Whole Foods instead.

My year in travel

Following Jason's example and call to action with his The year in cities, I present my Year in Cities. Not surprisingly, it's a lot like his!

Etna, NH*
New York, NY*
Boston, MA*
Munich, Germany
San Diego, CA
Paris, France
San Francisco, CA
Orange, MA*
Blarney, Ireland
Ballylickey, Ireland
Waterville, Ireland
Dingle, Ireland
Ennis, Ireland
Nantucket, MA*
Woodstock, VT
Middlebury, VT
Rochester, VT
Las Vegas, NV
Waitsfield, VT*
Hong Kong*
Bangkok, Thailand
Saigon, Vietnam

Wow! Six countries, not including the US, and six states. Of the countries, four I'd never visited before (Ireland and the Asian countries). Of the states, I'd been to all before. Here's to even more countries and states in 2007!

New York’s diabetes problem

There's an astounding article about diabetes over at the New York Times Diabetes and Its Awful Toll Quietly Emerge as a Crisis. I was unaware not just of the amount of people being diagnosed with diabetes, but also its damaging effects. More than one in eight (!) adult New Yorkers now has diabetes.

New York, with its ambitious and highly praised public health system, has just three people and a $950,000 budget to outwit diabetes, a disease soon expected to afflict more than a million people in the city.

Tuberculosis, which infected about 1,000 New Yorkers last year, gets $27 million and a staff of almost 400.

Well worth a read, as the article says, "There is an underappreciated truth about disease: it will harm you even if you never get it. Disease reverberates outward, and if the illness gets big enough, it brushes everyone. Diabetes is big enough."

What to do with your old tree

Hey New Yorkers, wondering what to do with your Christmas tree now that the holidays are passed and it's dropping needles all over your apartment? According to this press release, Sanitation Announces Christmas Tree Recycling Schedule, you can just put your tree out on the curb!

Residents should remove all tree stands, tinsel, lights, and ornaments from holiday trees before they are put out for removal. Trees must not be put into plastic bags. Clean, non-bagged Christmas trees that are left at the curb between Wednesday, January 4th and Saturday, January 14th will be collected, chipped, and then mixed with leaves to make compost. The compost will be processed and subsequently spread upon parks, ball fields, and community gardens throughout the city.

It always makes me sad to take down the Christmas tree, but I guess it's about time for it to go. Godspeed little tree, and happy mulching!

Looking to eat out in New York City

Then you need this list from New York magazine: 101 Best Restaurants. A list by stars (of course) but that goes from one star ("Good") to five stars ("Ethereal; almost perfect"). So what's the #1 according to New York? Le Bernardin. I can't comment because I've never eaten there, nor at #2, Masa. That's it for five stars. Thomas Keller's Per Se is #3 and comes in with four stars. And there's lots more great stuff on the list. Aside from the top ten (which has many yummy places), there are some of my favorite places to eat in the city in the second ten (Blue Hill!) and lots of stand-bys both old and new listed throughout. A handy reference, more so than Zagat (which I find "annoying" and "unreliable") or Michelin (which I'm not so sure about for its first NY edition). Read to the very end, as there are standouts at the very bottom like #98, Grand Sichuan Eastern (Second Avenue) and #100 Café Sabarsky. Good eating!

How to plan a meal

A little late with this one, it would have been a better link before all the holiday entertaining, but still useful for those that like to invite guests over for dinner. Le plan de repas, or "[H]ow to plan a meal from start to finish and then stick to the plan."

My guests often accuse me of having worked too hard to prepare their meal, and I have a hard time convincing them that the whole process was very relaxing and not particularly difficult. Although they may want to think it, I really didn‰Ûªt stress over their meal. I learned many years ago how to plan a meal from start to finish and then stick to the plan.

Great advice there, and it's pretty much what I do whenever I have people over for dinner, even if it's just another couple. A few years ago when I did Thanksgiving at my apartment in San Francisco, I had 3/4th of everything done before guests even arrived. It was great, I was totally able to hang out and enjoy the day.

On to 2006

As 2005 winds down its final ten hours for me here in Northern Vermont, I am both happy and sad to bid it adieu. The 2000s in general have been very difficult years, and 2005 didn't prove to be any different, except perhaps in its extremes. Some of the lowest lows ever and some of the highest highs to be had in a lifetime. It was definitely a year of transition, which perhaps is appropriate as we slide well into the second half of the decade. Good, bad, and ugly, life is rolling on. Matt Haughey, from his recent musings on Advice, had a wonderful quote:

[M]aybe life isn't a journey to uncover new truths in far off places, but instead to simply gain enough experience to understand what is all around you, all the time.

Indeed. I am looking forward: to 2006 and to life's journey, to all its ups and downs, adventures and changes; to being a year older (tomorrow!) and a year wiser (hopefully!); to gaining more experience and understanding and to observing the close-by truths all around me, all the time. Happy New Year!

Star inflation from Michelin

Missed this while I was in Asia. In case you did as well, from Salon, Did Michelin lower the bar for New York? Examines whether Michelin food reviewers lowered the famous guide's standards for the first-ever New York Edition. There's lots of opinion in this piece, much of which makes sense to me.

But putting aside subjective judgments, there are some reasonably objective indicators that suggest Michelin lowered the bar for New York. For one thing, Michelin broke its own rules in awarding three stars to any New York restaurants. It has long been Michelin policy that restaurants being reviewed for the first time are not eligible for three stars, no matter how good the food and service; the guide wants to see evidence of staying power before it catapults a chef and restaurant to, well, stardom. At the very least, a big exception was made for Per Se, which has been in business for only a year and a half (and which was presumably visited by Michelin's inspectors months ago).

I have only eaten at one French three-star (Pierre Gagnaire) and I've eaten at the French Laundry and Per Se and Daniel (and Daniel didn't even get three stars) stateside, and I don't think Pierre Gagnaire was any better than any of the other meals. Granted, that's not a lot of evidence…an interesting read none the less.

It’s that time of year

View of Sugarbush from the windowYes, it's 18° outside, but that only means one thing to me: the snow isn't melting! After a slow and a later-than-normal (skiing) start, we're heading over to Mad River for our first ski day of the season. Hopefully the old legs still have it! Ok, no more blogging, on to skiing!