This post was written by Brian Hoffman, an Urban Oyster tour guide who regularly leads our Food Cart and Brewed in Brooklyn tours. Brian also has a food blog, Eat This NY, about his search for the best foods in the city, and he produces a web video series about this quest.
I'm still relatively new to this whole blogging thing. I started my food blog just over a year ago and up until now, it's just been me and my Wordpress (with a quick meaningless fling with Blogspot). But now that my blog is getting more attention (and I'm a tour guide with Urban Oyster), it might be time for me to see what else is out there. And I love my blog so much (I'd never leave it), but there's no harm in looking and testing the waters, right?
So that's why I decided to write a guest blog post for Urban Oyster's blog. Andrew had asked me a while ago to contribute something, but I was so busy with my own posts and my own blog that I deflected his advances. But it got me thinking about the whole blogging culture.
When I was younger I tried keeping a diary, but I was never any good at it. At first, I would write to the diary as if it were a person and even referred to how much fun it (the diary) would have had if it had been present at one of my plays or T-ball games. And then as I got older, I kept a journal but always put off writing entries. Ultimately, I'd be filling in what I did weeks later. I had the same problem with a planner when I discovered I was sort of just documenting past appointments rather than entering in things to be done in the future.
So I never was attracted to the idea of starting a blog. I didn't know who would want to read my entries and as I had learned from previous documentation experiences, it ended up being more of a hassle than a pleasure. But a few years ago I had this scheme (I always have some hare-brained scheme) to start an ice cream business. I loved making the creamy stuff and I dreamed big about having my own ice cream shop somewhere in Brooklyn. And I thought the more ice cream I sampled, the better and more savvy I'd be at starting a business. The easiest way to keep track of all the ice cream I tasted was by writing entries and I soon turned this into a no-frills ice cream blog.
I didn't tell anybody about this blog and when I read it back now, the writing isn't very good. I'm contemplating whether I should even tell you the name of it. I think I'll decline (although you could find a link somewhere on my current blog if you really want to know).
Brian searches for New York's best ice cream:
Then in late 2009, I approached a producer friend of mine with another of my schemes: an idea for my own TV food show. He agreed it was a great idea, but who would produce a show starring me? I was nobody. Just a guy who liked to eat. And how many of those are out there?
So he suggested I start small with a web series and a blog to build up credibility and a fan base. There it was again. The blog! I guess I would have to take the plunge and make this thing happen. So eatthisny.com
was born. Some people blog for fun, others blog to document their meals or concerts, and some people blog for their business goals. And I'm amazed to discover that Eat This has become all three of those for me.
And much like a relationship (or a job), this blog seems to eat up all of my free time. We have moments together where we gaze into each other's eyes, the words and pictures flowing to create a beautiful post. Other times, we have yelling matches where everything I type is wrong. But mostly, I stare at the screen and it stares back at me - comfortable in what we're doing together and how this journey to world food domination is coming along.
I was never "a blog person", but when I took the leap of faith and made a commitment, I've found the rewards to be rather rich and fulfilling. Just don't tell my blog I've been writing for this one. Just when things are starting to get good, I don't want it to get too jealous and run away with all my content.
Brian tries a variety of salted, cured meats:
Brian is currently counting down his top 100 dishes of 2010 (mentioned earlier here), and he recently included five of his favorite food items from some of the vendors featured on our Food Cart Tour (click here for tickets and information). For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Brian Hoffman or post a comment. If you would like to follow the Urban Oyster blog, subscribe to our RSS feed or sign up for updates via email in the box above on the right (this is separate from the Urban Oyster email newsletter). Photos courtesy Jennifer Strader Photography.
At East Williamsburg's Moore Street Market, you'll find tubers of all shapes and sizes, tropical fruits like breadfruit, mango, bananas, and plantains, freshly made mole, ceviche-ready sea bass, and all the pasteles - frozen and prepared - that your heart desires. On most days, merengue melodies from Manuel Rivera's music stall fill the market with a warm and welcoming soundtrack, while shoppers and vendors chat with one another in Spanish and English.
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation
As one of New York City's oldest indoor public markets, the Moore Street Market
has always been more than just a place to shop. Since its opening in July of 1941, the market has been a gathering place for the newest immigrants to the Bushwick and Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn. In those early years, most of the vendors were Jewish and Italian, but as the demographics of the surrounding neighborhoods shifted in the 1950s and 60s, more Puerto Ricans and then Dominicans settled in the area, and the market went from selling herring and knishes to pork and pasteles. Today, as in the 1960s, the market is known by local residents as simply "La Marqueta." An important anchor for the Spanish-speaking communities of East Williamsburg, the market's current vendors hail from Mexico, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
Fresh catch from Junior's Fish Market
This spring, Urban Oyster will be launching a tour about the Latino community in the neighborhood with the stories from the vendors in the Moore Street Market as a centerpiece. Tour researcher and native Brooklynite Francisco Najera spent this past summer meeting with and interviewing 12 vendors at the market before leaving the city for graduate school. Building on his research, Pedro Garcia and I are in the process of doing interviews with other area residents and business owners, some of which are recorded and will be put in the archives of the Brooklyn Historical Society
. I hope you'll join us for a tour when we launch in the coming months, but in the meantime, drop by La Marqueta and explore on your own if you've never been. Pick up an unfamiliar piece of fruit or some veggies from Abby's Fresh Food and Meat Market; shrimp from the market's new vendor, Junior's Fish Market; or stop by the juice bar for a cup of avena, an oatmeal-based drink common in countries ranging from Colombia to the Dominican Republic.
Tubers of all varieties at Abby's
Holiday Vendors This Weekend
This weekend will be a great time to visit the Moore Street Market, as it will be one of the liveliest of the year. Tienda Las Gemelas, translated as "The Twins' Store" (run by a woman from Puebla, Mexico and her two twin daughters), will be selling baby dolls and baskets which they stock specifically for this time of year. At Christmastime, it's traditional in Mexico and other Latin American countries for children to bring baby Jesus dolls in decorated baskets to mass to receive blessings. The Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation
, which manages and operates the market, recently announced that several vendors will be making special appearances this holiday weekend. Owner of Long Island City's Lucina's
Gourmet Food, Desmond Morais, will be selling rum cakes, pound cakes, red beans and ripe plaintain turnovers, and more on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Saturday, Lucina's will be joined by Laura Siner, owner of Sweet Muse
, who will be selling rich, fudge brownies in twelve different flavors wrapped up in decorative packaging for gift giving, and Pi Gluten Free
, a socially conscious company that makes sweet and savory gluten-free pies. On Sunday, Noemie Grenier, owner of Don Quichete, will be at the market with her self-described, "crusty yet creamy, satisfying yet light quiches." Mmm... Holly Trolley Ride along Graham Avenue
After visiting the market, walk one block east to Graham Avenue and a couple of blocks south to Cook Street and ride the historic trolley that will be making its way through the neighborhood between 11:00AM and 3:00PM on Saturday and Sunday, with the last trolley departing from Cook Street at 2:30PM. Santa will be making an appearance on Saturday's trolley route and carolers will be out on both Saturday and Sunday. Hosted by the Graham Avenue Business Improvement District, this third annual Holly Trolley Event
is free of charge and will be a fun way to complement a holiday afternoon in East Williamsburg. Visit the Graham Avenue BID's website
for more details.
Decorating the Rathskeller of the Rectory.
Holiday Church Tour
Last but not least, if you'd like to join us for our second annual Holiday Tour of Most Holy Trinity - St. Mary's Church
, please be sure to reserve your tickets as soon as possible. The tour will take place this coming Sunday, December 19th from 3:00PM to 5:00PM and again on Three Kings Day, Thursday, January 6th from 6:30PM to 8:30PM. Tickets cost $20/person and must be purchased in advance because space is limited. Click here to purchase tickets
. All profits from this tour will be donated to the Trinity Human Service Center which provides support to economically disadvantaged people of the city, especially to the neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Bushwick. Happy Holidays from Urban Oyster!If you would like to follow this blog, subscribe to our RSS feed or sign up for updates via email in the box above on the right (this is separate from the Urban Oyster email newsletter). For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Cindy VandenBosch or post a comment.
The holidays are all about food. The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is by far the most gluttonous in America, and while most of us bookend the season with a pair of large, greasy fowl, others partake of different foods and traditions, all of them imbued with historical and cultural significance. As we at Urban Oyster are gearing up for our own holiday celebration – this Sunday will be the first of our two special Christmas tours of Most Holy Trinity-St. Mary’s Church
(get your tickets here
) – I thought that we would write a few blog entries about different holiday foods and celebrations. From Scandinavia to the Caribbean to the American Midwest, we will share recipes and traditions that may be unfamiliar, but hopefully they will be tasty and will enliven your own holiday celebrations.
On Monday, December 13, I received an email from my sister. Contained within was a photo of my nieces, Catherine and Annika (pictured above), decked out in white robes and crowns made of plastic evergreens; Catherine, the eldest, had five electric candles atop her head. I had forgotten that it was St. Lucia Day.
I'll pass on dessert.
For those of you who don’t regularly venerate saints on their feast days, or are unfamiliar with the folk traditions of Sweden, Monday was probably not a very significant day. But being vaguely Swedish (one-quarter to be exact), the holiday has been intermittently celebrated in my family since I was a kid. Like the feast of St. Nicholas and the winter solstice, St. Lucia Day is a December holiday that has many traditions and rituals wrapped up with Christmas (and vice versa). It has been widely celebrated in Sweden since the 1700‘s – the centerpiece of the holiday is when revelers process through the streets carrying candles, led by a girl in a white robe and a crown of candles, usually the eldest daughter of the family. My sister has embraced it mostly heartily in my family, I think in part because she has kids who fit the part. Though Catherine and Annika have their Swedish blood even more diluted by their Anglo-Irish father, their impossibly blonde locks would shoot them to the front of any St. Lucia Day procession in Stockholm.
The saint and the feast day are closely associated with Sweden, but Lucia is neither Swedish nor the country’s patron. Though the holiday is enjoyed by children, like most saints, the biography of St. Lucia is much too ghastly for young ears. A Christian living in the city of Syracuse in Sicily in the early fourth century AD, Lucia (or Lucy) was betrothed to a rich pagan man, but she rejected him and had her dowry disbursed to the poor. Upon hearing this, he denounced her as a Christian (which was then a crime), and she was tortured and executed, but not before a series of miracles prolonged her martyrdom, like when she continued to speak after he throat was slashed, and when the flame that was meant to burn her alive kept going out. Eventually her executioners became so exasperated that they just stabbed her to death. Lucy is often depicted holding a plate or cup containing her eyes, which were gouged out before her death.
Thankfully, none of these gory details are part of the holiday’s celebration. I wanted to mark the day myself, but since there are no St. Lucia Day processions to be found in Brooklyn, and Cindy had no interest in donning a crown of plastic candles (or real ones for that matter – hair catching on fire was a common problem in Sweden before the advent of electric light bulbs), I decided to celebrate by baking the traditional food of the holiday, Lussekatter
, a sweet bun made with saffron.
I went online and found a recipe, and I was lucky to discover that I had all of the ingredients in my kitchen already. I borrowed the recipe from this article on About.com
, so I’ll just direct you there. The buns turned out pretty well, as you can see – they’re not very sweet, but I would warn you about the saffron. I didn’t think it was possible to put too much saffron in something. I mean, it’s the world’s most expensive spice, it makes all foods delicious, and even the tiniest amount turns everything a deep, rich yellow color. But if you’re not used to that flavor in your desserts, go easy, using just enough to turn your batter mixture yellow, not deep orange, as I did.
Once the dough is kneaded and ready, you can form the buns into shapes. We stuck with the traditional “S”, which, though not unique to Sweden, does have special significance there. Scandinavia was the home of Vikings and Norse gods and all manner of nasty pagan things that Christianity has tried to stamp out, but they have now become integral to modern Christmas celebrations. Lussekatter are no exception – the traditional “S” shape was likely handed down from earlier pastries baked to celebrate Yule, the pagan solstice holiday. The cakes were also common treats on St. Nicholas Day, but Lutheran reformers stamped out the holiday in the 16th century
(they considered the veneration of saints polytheistic heresy). The buns came back two centuries later when the reformist zeal died down and the veneration of different saint – St. Lucia – became popular.
Past 'official' St. Lucias of Stockholm/burn victims.
Saints and desserts seem to go hand in hand. The Lussekatter has had a rather circuitous path to its place today as the official dish of the feast day, but another Sicilian martyr has a much more evocative namesake dessert. Earlier in life, Lucia had prayed to St. Agatha to heal her mother’s illness (it worked); Agatha had been killed 50 years earlier, also for her faith and her rejection of a powerful suitor. One of the many tortures she endured was having her breasts cut off, and like Lucia, Agatha is also portrayed carrying her dismembered organs on a plate. While we don’t remember Lucia’s sacrifice with eyeball soup (though the raisins in the Lussekatter could resemble eyes) or some other ocular-themed dish, in honor of Agatha, Sicilians eat a dessert called Cassatella di Sant’Agata, also known as Minni di Vergini (literally “virgin breasts"). It is a small cake with a cherry in the middle that looks remarkably like a breast.
So, you don’t have to be Swedish to celebrate St. Lucia Day, and you certainly don’t have to be Christian to enjoy some Lussekatter. If you do decide to share this tradition with your family, you might want to leave out the story of the eye-gouging and the burning at the stake and just stick to the pastries.
An unsurprisingly Italian dessert.
If you have any comments, questions or suggestions for other traditional holiday cuisine, please leave a comment or contact Andrew Gustafson (email@example.com). And don't forget to buy your tickets for our Holiday Church Tour of Most Holy Trinity-St. Mary's, December 19 and January 6. All proceeds with benefit the Trinity Human Service Center.