Saturday, December 27, 2008

Consumerist bliss

Of all New York's many stores, my favorite might be Bowery Kitchen Supply, in Chelsea Market. Following a delicious, $8-a-head splurge at Chelsea Thai, Jo and I headed over to the cooking goods, and went wild (spatula, brownie pan, grater, and Swiss vegetable peeler). This is, as you may have guessed, part of my plan to make latkes, taking an altogether unintended inspiration from Tara Parker-Pope's anti-grease manifesto. I see the word "latke" and, even if the text surrounding it is about how bad for you they are, or perhaps especially, I get all excited about frying up a batch.

Ever since leaving roommate arrangements, I've found cooking to be a great deal of fun. Like Belle, I attempt to cook within the confines of a grad-student budget, with extravagances when I absolutely must have a certain piece of cheese. After trying out endless grocery options, I've come to the conclusion that the best option of all is... Whole Foods.

How is this possible, some will ask? There's a short answer and a long one. The short? 99-cent bags of non-organic, store-brand, better-than-Barilla pasta. If those serve as the basis for most of your dinners, you are not spending a lot on groceries. Combining high-quality vegetables, meat, cheese, or some mix from elsewhere in the store with the above-mentioned super-food, and you can eat quite well. Assuming, that is, you don't tire of pasta. If I did, I'd probably not enjoy grad school as much as I do.

The long involves explaining the process of elimination that brought my household to this embarrassing but decisive conclusion:

1) Key Food, the Brooklyn supermarket chain: Some branches are worse than others, but from the ones I've seen, you have to stick with soda and paper towels. You can, if desperate, spend above-WF prices (this not including the higher-than-WF probability of being rung up incorrectly and thus overcharged) on rotten vegetables, and $4 a box on De Cecco pasta. And, special today, some tasty-looking hot dogs that expired on Dec 11, 2008. The only advantages are a) convenience, and b) being able to say that one is unpretentious and shops at a normal supermarket, rather than some fancy gourmet store. The latter should not be discounted. A Key Food bag, whatever the cost of its contents, confers street cred. Switch the Key to Whole and pluralize the Food, and you might as well have a paper bag from Versace, for the looks you get on the subway home.

2) The Greenmarkets: A wonderful choice, until November or so, when options are limited to potatoes, onions, delicious ice cream, sad-looking apples, moldy garlic, and more leeks than I'd ever know what to do with. As even Mark Bittman admits, eating local has its limits in freezing locales. There's supposed to be a certain charm in eating seasonally, but how much can be done under such constraints? It's not even about what could be grown in this climate, but what is not only grown nearby but schlepped to the outer-borough markets. They're still useful to supplement other shopping, but when not on vacation, one-stop has its advantages.

3) The Food Co-op: Yes, I live in Park Slope, but, for so many reasons, no thanks.


kei said...

I think I was in your academic neck of the woods today for a bit! At Uniqlo nearby, I got a pencil skirt, inspired by both you and Gwyneth Paltrow. I also recalled some comments you made in passing about there being so many European tourists in NYC. They have truly invaded SoHo!

On the subway, I noticed an old man with a bag of Whole Foods in his lap. I don't know if you'll see people carrying Whole Foods on the CTA in Chicago often; usually, Whole Fooders transport their goods in their cars. I just guessed that Whole Foods has different reputations in different places.

Have fun making the latkes!

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

I was there today too! Too bad we didn't run into each other. I did, however, see a ton of those pencil skirts, making me feel a bit silly for having panicked that they'd run out and bought two in quick succession. But they are pretty great, Gwyneth was onto something.

Did you find anything else? I got one of the flannel shirts, in light pink/blue. Jo accused me of making a hipster fashion choice, but I argued that if I'm not wearing it ironically, it doesn't count.

kei said...

I also got "warm up" tights and black skinny jeans. It turns out my skirt still has the magnetic thing attached to it that sets off the detectors at the doors, so I will be making a trip back tomorrow. I was on a mission to find bottoms, but since that's been cleared, I might have to pick up a "Heat Tech" shirt and maybe a flannel shirt too. They were super cute, and while there is plenty of hipster potential, it's all in how one wears it! I trust that it will look classy on you :D

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"It turns out my skirt still has the magnetic thing attached to it that sets off the detectors at the doors, so I will be making a trip back tomorrow."

I'm now convinced errors like this (or like when they 'forgot' to hem the corduroys I bought) are part of Uniqlo's marketing scheme. They know that, once back in the store, more shopping is inevitable. Very clever of them! A shame the clothes are all so fabulous.

Dana said...

I'm avoiding buying hot sexy dresses (one shoulder dresses on sale at BR! tons at!) by convincing myself that at this stage in our relationship, my boyfriend and I rarely go on datey dates anyway, so I can just pick from my stash of little black dresses and sophisticated separates.

Goals for haute style without the haute price: I am going to weed out clothes that scream "I lived in Los Angeles for three years in the early 2000s" and only replace good basics on an as-needed wear-out basis (say, black merino v-necks and crew-neck cardigans)pants, update silhouettes (I like true full a-lines and true narrow pencil skirts), and re-purpose everything else at a tailor.

The highest price point I shop at is Banana Republic. I have a lot of fun Forever 21 stuff that I wear dozens and dozens of times and totally justify on a cost/wear basis. You are so lucky to have Uniqlo in your city.

Food-wise, I am blessed with an abundance of local agriculture, but most of the time I use what's in season because it's cheapest. I am currently really into cheap cuts of meat (often toughest though) slow-cooked in a braise or roasted or in a stew, with roasted winter vegetables like brussel sprouts, parsnips. Use kale. It's good for you. I eat apples year round. Great winter fruit, bakes up well, you can make it haute by roasting it with an apple brandy sauce or turning it into a tarte tatin, it's portable. I don't often eat berries, because they're so expensive.

I am totally behind you on the cheap pasta thing though. I bake my own bread (mostly challah) because it's cheaper to do so, but Trader Joe's pastas are great for their price, as is their arborio rice (risotto is a great economy dish).

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

I'm not sure what one does with kale, but having heard for years that it's good for you, I've always been wary. Does it also taste good? But I'm in full agreement re: apples, stews, and turning fruit into dessert.

As for clothes... NYC must be for that what California is for produce. Between Uniqlo, sample sales, Century 21, and the chains (H&M, GAP, etc.) all within walking distance, the possibilities can feel endless. But while this does increase temptation (especially at NYU, which happens to be in the center of the best shopping areas), it also means I never shop online, wouldn't even know where to begin.

Dana said...

Ironically, I have lost my ability to shop in stores--the time it takes, the fact that I have to take a 15 minute walk to the train and then another 25-35 minute train ride (depending on whether I seek malls or hip stores in the Lower Haight), and the fact that none of it is cheap enough, I do all of my shopping online now. All. of. it. I do still get armfuls of books at our excellent bookstores, but pretty much anything else I buy online with extra discount codes, free shipping codes, etc. The problem is not knowing for sure whether something will look awesome on me, which is why I tend to shop the same stores/brands and rarely stray.