Hello friends! Please meet Christine Berardi, our contributing Food Editor at MNU.
I first met Christine at (where else??) a dinner party at the home of our mutual friends, the Doe’s. I was a friend of Andy, she a friend of Nelle, and we were both living in San Francisco at the time. We became friends on Facebook, as you do, and we have been following each other’s adventures ever since. I’ve since moved across the country and back to Southern California, and she has decamped to the East Coast.
What I love most about Christine’s blog, Cognitive Leeks (www.cognitiveleeks.com), is that she not only creates amazing recipes, but she always tells a story. Through her photographs and her food, she weaves tales so delightful that my mouth actually waters. Christine and her husband Scott travel the world, experiencing local culture in exotic locales, and then she comes home and recreates the dishes that she loved best.
While I was initially drawn to her pictures of exotic locations, I began to notice her every day cooking – meals that were vivid and flavorful while still being healthy. They were things I wanted to eat, not only because they taste good, but because I also knew they would make me feel good. So when I began MNU, I asked her to contribute not only for the fun adventures, but also for her approach to daily meals.
We hope you enjoy her work as much as we do, and that you join her as she follows her foodie muse across country and continents, from her own neighborhood to far flung cities in foreign lands. Be sure to visit her blog at www.cognitiveleeks.com. Maybe you will discover something new about yourself through the adventures of our “food gypsy.”
Christine’s first post is her take on her “New Usual.” Going forward, she will create and share recipes for those of you who are learning new habits of health and wellness. – AK
My name is Christine and I live in Small Town, USA. We have street festivals and parades down our main street, a children’s Halloween costume parade, tree lined streets where people walk their dogs and baby strollers, old butcher shops and brick oven bakeries.
The first recorded baseball game was played about a block from where I live and on my way to work I pass the local high school football field where kids are practicing football.
There are little league games and soccer games in the baseball diamond downtown, family movie nights under the stars in the park. We have an old limestone city library and a small university on a hill in the middle of town and three small weekly farmers markets during the summer season.
It’s a town where I walk to my dentist’s office and my doctor appointments and I never walk anywhere without running into someone I know. My mailman knows my name and asks how my trips went when he delivers my vacation mail hold. We have a train station with a pretty copper roof and clock tower on the south end of town a couple of blocks from City Hall where you’ll usually find some of our elderly neighbors sitting on the benches out front, keeping an eye on things.
It’s just a mile square, 14 blocks by about 10, bordered to the west by a tall rock-faced palisade and a river to the east. We have a very nice fireworks show for July 4th and New Year’s Eve. It’s a very charming little town with great views. If I walk down the sidewalk to the end of my block and look east, I can see the Empire State building. Our fireworks shows happen to be the NYC Macy’s fireworks and our views are across the Hudson River to the Manhattan skyline. I live in Hoboken, New Jersey, a small town just a stone’s throw from The Big City.
My husband and I moved here about three years ago from northern California and I admit, I came kicking and screaming. As intriguing as living on the doorstep of vibrant New York City is, I was happily at home in California. I loved the weather, the wild coastline, the endless variety of interesting foods and cultures to explore, the beloved friends and neighbors, my small community garden. But a company restructure forced us out of our comfort zone and into a new and challenging environment, faster paced, dense and urban, car-less, aggressive, a region with real winters.
And I’ll admit, it took me a while to accept this new reality. I spent months grieving what I was sad to leave behind. But then I woke up one day and resolved to embrace, enjoy and accept this new adventure and start exploring. I made it a point to take a different street on my walks to the grocery store, walk into a new little store and say hello, get lost occasionally, take a bus or train somewhere I’d never been, taste food that was new to me. I made friends, started a book club, got to know butchers and bakers and farmers and musicians and artists and actors. I resolved to say “yes” to new things even when it scared me. I made up my mind to bloom where I was planted, bought winter boots and a down coat for cold weather and started living this new life I’d been presented with.
As I started embracing this town, this new way of life, I started to find that there were little treasures all around me. Sure, the winter gets cold, and parking is a beast, but there is also Giorgio Pasticceria Italiana where my neighbor Mary Grace Castellano makes crisp cream-filled lobster tails and hazelnut chocolate meringue cookies. I like to grab one of her fresh cannoli (best around in my opinion) and a cup of coffee from Bwe’ Kafe and sit on a bench in Elysian Park and watch the boats on the Hudson.
If I’m downtown for the Tuesday farmers market, I stop in at Choc o Pain, Hoboken’s newest neighborhood institution. Charming Clemence Danko opened her doors about a year and a half ago, selling freshly baked French breads and pastries. Her almond croissants are decadent, probably the best I’ve ever had.
Hoboken is also home to some great old school Italian American delis like Vito’s, Biancamano’s, Luca Brasi, and Fiore’s, with zaftig meaty sandwiches and fresh stretched mutz (made daily). I prefer their vegetarian options, some combination of roasted eggplant, artichokes, sweet peppers, mozzarella, roasted garlicky tomatoes piled generously on bread baked daily in the old brick oven bakeries like Antique Bakery’s and Dom’s, still baking hundreds of loaves of Italian breads every day.
Another favorite lunch is the falafel sandwich at Mamoun’s where $3.50 gets me a pita stuffed with falafel, baba ganouj, tahini, lettuce and tomato. I always add some five-alarm Harrisa sauce to the top, but a little goes along way! I’ve over done it and ended up sweating from the hot sauce, but it is delicious. If I’m sharing lunch, we sometimes get their vegan spinach phyllo pie and some grape leaves, olives and pickles.
In the summer when the weather is nice we love to walk along the river where there is always a bit of a breeze, even on the hottest days. Hoboken has been transformed since its days as a rough waterfront town and point of embarkation for millions of troops during WW1 and WW2 (hence the saying “Heaven, hell, or Hoboken”) and its days as a port and shipyard (the setting for Marlon Brando’s “On the Waterfront”) with thepiers being turned into grassy parks and the waterfront walkway lined with locust trees.
In the evening, the skyline as a backdrop, there are concerts and movies on the piers, children playing in the parks and dogs chasing balls. In the summer there is a temporary beer garden on One Pier on the north end of town near where the Maxwell’s coffee factory once stood. A block from the river is where you can find me on summerThursday evenings for the uptown farmers market.
Once the weather cools there are plenty of indoor options. We like the Pilsenerhaus Beer Garden where not only can you get great beer and German pub food, but where we see amazing (and sometimes legendary) musicians perform on “Jam Nights”. I am constantly amazed by the incredible level of musicianship and artistry that I stumble across on any given night in Hoboken!
Proximity to NYC means that the girl singing karaoke on Monday night may also sing on Broadway, and the artist you visit on a studio tour may have work in a museum. There are studios and galleries scatteredaround town concentrated in two former factories that have become home to studios, community theatres, and other creative businesses, the Monroe Center and the Neuman Leather building.
While I usually prefer to cook at home in the evening and then go out later for a beer at Cork City Pub or a glass of wine at Bin 14, there are a plethora of restaurants, from James Beard Award winning Cucharamama to charming brasserie style Elysian Café to old school Italian American spots like Leo’s Grandevous or Café Michelina, There are plenty of New York style brick oven pizzerias too, but we like Dozzino, a more Italian take on the pizzeria. Having gotten to the know the owners, cousins Marc and Rob, I know I can go get a delicious mushroom pizza and read the chalkboard wall to see exactly where they get their produce, cheese, and salumi. Their pop-up ramen nights are always fun, too. I like to go after a long day of work sometimes with a bottle of rosé and sit out on the back patio for a casual supper.
This winter, we will probably walk a couple of blocks (past the commemorative baseball diamond in the middle of Washington street) to the stand where we got our Christmas tree last year and carry it home. The street will be lined with lights, it will be cold and maybe snowing a little. I’ll probably talk to the butcher about getting something for Christmas dinner, order a special dessert from one of my favorite bakeries.
It’s a pretty far cry from my life of just a few years ago, where you could drive to the Sierra’s and get a tree permit if you wanted but you wouldn’t see snow unless you drove up to Tahoe in the winter. The farmers markets here will be closed, and I’ll get the bus or subway into the city if I want any exotic ingredients, but I’ve come to accept and embrace these changes.
Life can be full of unexpected turns, some painful and some exciting but for me, deciding to grab onto this new life with both hands has brought some really beautiful surprises. And I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.