Friday, September 4, 2009

At Least It's A Beautiful Day For A Drive

Alongside our traditional bathroom reading of National Geographic is a book devoted partner got, half in jest, called something like: Great Things About Living in Greenwich; essentially a compendium of things the resident should know about. I have eagerly perused its pages searching for the hidden nuggets that will make me excited about living in a white glove community, and have jotted down a couple of items here and there for more investigation.

Having been given today off, then, I decided to head to a neighboring town, back in New York in fact, whose butcher got high marks from the guide. It is true that Greenwich has a perfectly adequate in-town butcher, but his offerings, while they have been tasty, have also been predictable, and my guide to great Greenwich told me this other butcher was worth a 20 minute drive because he had more exotic fare. I like exotic. I had already conjured up visions of squab and ostrich and wild boar and was composing recipes in my head on the drive over.

The butcher in the neighboring town (and since I have nothing against the butcher, I'm not going to mention it by name or town) had, literally, the exact same meat my Greenwich butcher has: filet mignon, sirloin, ribeye, pork chops, lamp chops, chicken. I asked about duck (not exotic in my mind at all); they can special order me frozen. What about duck fat? Also a special order. I didn't bother asking about boar or squab. I didn't whine like a priss and mention that the great Greenwich guide to good grub told me they'd have a better selection and that I drove here expressly to be wowed, because it's not the butcher's fault. He, like the Greenwich butcher, stocks what people buy. Just because I'm super snot-tacular about food does not obligate these butchers to stock things I, and I alone, will purchase when the mood strikes me.

I had a similar experience on the drive back home. I had passed a farmstand and told myself I would investigate on the return trip. The farmstand certainly looked like a farmstand and some of the produce looked like it may have come from a nearby farm, but most of the product was the same stuff you get in the grocery store: apples from New Zealand, grapes from Chile, figs from California; at prices higher than the supermarket. I know these nice folks are trying to make a living and I also noted that people lined up to buy their wares - I just wondered if I was the only one who noticed that the peaches and nectarines had stickers on them betraying far-off provenance.

And then something struck me which will take a little getting used to: the customers don't care. Not that they're bad or gauche or ignorant, just that this isn't a priority. Making the duck with blackberries recipe from Food & Wine isn't what any of them was planning on doing this weekend. When I remarked to my best friend that I had been surprised that the Whole Foods in Greenwich was actually smaller than those in New York, he didn't bat an eye when he said people out here didn't cook like that and thought that the good local strawberries would be good if only they were big and pretty and uniform like the Driscoll's. Sure, the Whole Foods is always packed, but I've been noticing that what the other shoppers are putting into their baskets are the prepared foods, organic snacks, and occasionally coffees, and not the raw materials with which they would cook their own food. So why would the butchers stock anything that couldn't be immediately thrown on a grill Saturday? Why would the independent grocers spend the time and money to amass local ingredients that wouldn't sell?

The Union Square greenmarket has spoiled me a little, as has seeing my fellow New Yorkers, a group of people who traditionally order Chinese as a way of life, shop for food they will ultimately cook. I'm not saying that none of my new neighbors cooks for her family, I am merely getting the feeling that what that cooking entails might be a little simpler than what I have in mind, and that the market supports that simpler, more traditional cookery.

This has not deterred me, however. I will now convince myself that, with a little leg work, I can buy directly from farms in the greater Fairfield area. I'll find the small farmer with his horde of ostriches, and the 4th generation family of heritage nectarine growers. This bucolic paradise exists if only I'm willing to drive, oh, 150 miles to amass the perfect ingredients for a single meal. Which would be really environmentally conscientious.

Or I could continue to make a once a week trip to Union Square to stock up.

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