Small town living is good for my cooking

29 Nov
Posted in: Food, New York
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I’ve been pretty down on small town living so far. I thought I was ready for a small town after Chicago, but going from a city of 3 million to a town of 1,700…it’s been a bit of an adjustment (even when you forget all those spots we visited in between). Feeling at home in a close-knit town of 1,700, for ten months and/or the foreseeable future is a stretch, and I’m not sure I’m going to warm to it.

But there is one saving grace here, and it’s the food. The local food movement is fully entrenched in upstate NY, so much so that it’s not really a movement anymore — it’s just a way of life. It’s wonderful to live so close to so much delicious food. And it’s not just fruits and veggies — at our chain grocery store, we can buy eggs and meat from our town or from the town just down the street.  The cheese is local. The bread (and the wheat from which the bread was made) is local. Our independent market holds a winter veggie farmer’s market once a week. It’s just not a big deal — food has always been grown here, but instead of it being more economical for these individual producers to sell their goods to a larger co-op, they now can finally earn a living selling directly to the public. This is good for small farmers and good for innovation.

And it’s super good for me, because I love to eat. Living in Chicago spoiled me terribly — we could get any kind of food we wanted at any time with almost no effort. Now I’m living in a town where I can only easily get food that is decidedly “American.” Sure, I could drive to Ithaca and find most international cuisines, but the idea of driving 20 minutes for dinner is still too foreign for me to remember most nights. And we’re poor (by choice, I keep telling myself).

Delicious pozole.

Delicious pozole.

So we’re cooking more. And I’m discovering that not being able to easily buy the things I crave is making me a better cook. Besides all the local ingredients, we can get any kind of international ingredient at Ithaca’s Wegmans. We can go through our mental filing cabinet of delicious dishes for inspiration on what we should try to recreate. Give us a bag of red lentils and we can make a pretty great dal dakhani a la Hema’s Kitchen and a spot-on lentil soup a la Mezza. Missing Chipotle’s version, we whipped up a more authentic chicken pozole. Thanks to Rick Bayless’ packaged sauces, we can make enchiladas worthy of Frontera Grill. Our chicken wings are as good as any wing night. I can make McMuffins with pretty-looking eggs (and, when made with that local egg, much, much better).

OK…OK…distance is probably helping make these things taste better than they would in a side-by-side comparison. And I still burn the kale chips. Damn electric oven is SO hot!

It is liberating, though, to realize that we can make mostly palatable food. Being on the road was a rough adjustment, because our ability to cook was limited and because we couldn’t keep leftovers or other perishables. We learned how to buy and cook for two without waste and discovered a few great shortcuts, like using a can of condensed milk in place of a tricky roux when making mac and cheese or cheese dip.

Cooking in a kitchen, surrounded by abundant local and delicious ingredients, is helping me rediscover the joy of cooking. So, here’s one point for Trumansburg: living here is helping me learn to cook better. But I may just need to start jogging around this small town — the more I exercise, the more I can eat.

Now, for dinner tonight…

My 6 star kitchen.

My 6 star kitchen.