Making every bite count

24 May 2008

Urban living

About a month ago, my boyfriend of one year, Fred, and I moved from our respective apartments in the urban 'burbs to a loft-style flat in the city's most diverse and historic neighborhood, Over-the-Rhine.
We're three blocks from an independent coffee house, two blocks from the city's second-oldest bar, two blocks from our favorite wine bar, and about six blocks from Findlay Market, the city's public market.
I'm in an urban foodie paradise.
People who live in downtown Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine and the urban burbs -- and those who are mulling the big move to the heart o' Queen City -- love to complain about the lack of a grocery store.
"I'd loooovvve to move downtown," the yuppies say, "but there's no grocery store downtown."
Au contraire, mes amis.
But there is.
There is a Kroger located just a few blocks from my apartment, at 14th and Vine streets. (In fact, it's just four blocks north of the Kroger headquarters. It's a bit intimidating because, frankly, it's not in the gentrified part of OTR. There's an endless stream of solicitors, panhandlers and loiterers outside, most of them African-American males. It's small: no olive bar, sushi counter or endless spread of organic produce.
But there is organic soymilk (in three flavors), whole-wheat spaghetti, and tofu.
That's good enough for me.
It also has the staples like whole-wheat flour, canned beans (not sure if they're organic because I've been living off my stash of dried of late), and plenty of the junk food staples.
Hmm, sounds like a grocery store to me.
Yes, it's not in the safest part of town, and no, I wouldn't really go out of my way to go there after dark. But it's a grocery store, and it's functional enough for me.
And... we've got something better than a grocery store. We've got Findlay Market.
Each Saturday morning, I rise early (I aim for 8:30), shower and gather my canvas bags. I put on my iPod and walk to the market.
The farmers market is in full swing. Asparagus is sadly gone, but in its place are strawberries, spinach, baby lettuce, and herbs whose intoxicating scents follow you to the next booth. (Last week, when we were out of town was the last good week for asparagus. The few bunchs that remained were sad and limp or of gargantuan girth. Dommage.) Whatever I can't get from the farmers market, I pick up at Madison's, a fabulous family run produce store. They've recently expanded, so I can get their son's homemade gelato, prepared salads, spreads, and soups, plus seasonal delicacies like morels (I must admit that I've never coughed up the cash for them!), fiddlehead ferns (think of them like curled up asparagus) and ramps (ramps and 'taters, anyone?)!
Next door, I carefully move sideways through the narrow aisles of Dean's Mediterranean Imports, from whose packed shelves I get roasted red peppers, sheep's milk feta, raw almonds, tahini and bulk grains and pulses. Two weeks ago, he had miniature, mouth-puckering green plums, soft and fuzzy green almonds, and fresh fava beans in baskets near the entrance.
For harissa, chipotle powder, or cinnamon, I head to see De Stewart in the market house.
My bags ready to burst, I carry them home.
I lovingly put away my produce. Herbs cut a fresh cut, then go into glass jars filled with water. portobello caps go into a paper bag, bananas, tomatoes and avocados rest in a large sky-blue blue ceramic bowl on the counter. Onions and sweet potatoes go in the pantry.
I feel very rich when I've got a kitchen full of veg.


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