I Heart New York, Greenmarket Farmers Markets, Union Square, New York A strange dream woke me up in the middle of the night, and unable to get back to sleep again, I uncharacteristically got up, got ready and was out of bed earlier than I had in months. I had a good reason – two hours to kill before leaving New York.
The last few days had been equally as sleepless; I was on the back-end of an extremely tumultuous work contract at my old employer; a humanitarian agency which had asked me to return and lead some careful re-positioning, restructuring, fund finding. I had hesitated, as I had begun a new life, with new dreams, with new adventures on the horizon – yet feeling an overwhelming sense of responsibility, I went back. Now when it was almost over, I began to realise, that sometimes as humanitarians, our work becomes so immersed in day-to-day administration, in meeting board and donor expectations that our overall mandate of saving lives, seems like a separate universe away. So it’s inevitable that we lose our drive, become disconnected, even begin to think that the fight is futile, that really we are not doing much at all, and dare I say it, saving not lives, but our own jobs. By the end of my mandate, I also began to be very tired, anxious even. My Doctor told me that I was exhausted, yet a friend, a new mum, who called in-between feedings, said “This is not just tiredness my friend, you are heartsick.” Others may think she was speaking baloney, but I had to agree with her, I was mourning the loss of the life I had created and loved, the life that I believed in.
The author Tom Wolfe one said that “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” and as I set out amongst the people, crowned by the skyline that reached the clouds, the moving cars, past the food stalls selling everything your belly could possible rumble for, I felt different, alive, despite the lack of sleep, I had renewed energy (perhaps in part to the spicy Korean breakfast I’d just had), but I really think it was just New York, pulling me in, lifting me up, giving me what I needed, reaching my heart’s desire.
Down at Union Square, where on other occasions, I have sat and watched rappers perform, where my seven year old had once played a game of chess during a balmy summer evening, now the tree-lined square was transformed into an open air market. During winter, the market is open during Monday, Wednesdays and Friday and Saturdays from 8 am to 6pm. The initial Greenmarket Program (now Grow NYC) had set the market up with the aim of allowing regional small-holder farmers with a place to sell their products. Back in the late seventies when the markets first started, legend goes that the original seven farmers had sold what they had by mid-day, yet these days the Grow NYC initiative has grown to the largest market network in the country, with some 54 markets, and over 230 family farms and fishermen participating.
Not just a place to set up shop, the Grow NYC has far-reaching benefits for both agriculture, community and even citizen health. By providing a space for farmers to sell their produce, the scheme is contributing to the revitalisation of rural communities, and by providing access to freshly grown, healthy, mostly organic food to inner-city residents is of course keeping people out from what I feel has now become our biggest threat to public health – the supermarket! The market allows the use of EBT/Food Stamp, has a compost collection scheme where New Yorker’s can drop off their vegetable scraps for communal composting. There are projects that support new farmer development, schemes for community rain water harvesting, and even projects that encourage crop diversity – important in ensuring the long-term longevity of our soil. As I walked around, I realised that the people at GrowNYC were doing on an urban scale, what we who work in humanitarian aid try to do on a global scale, providing access to affordable, nutritious and safe food to ensure an active and healthy lifestyle. I was very impressed, actually more than impressed, it confirmed what I had been feeling for quite some time – that we working in aid often use our titles and position to separate ourselves from everybody else, yet people can be humanitarians outside the NGO or UN system; humanitarianism can start and end with the individual, and does not have to rely on difficult-to-maintain charters and principles and the assurance of ongoing donor funding to be able to do our work – humanitarianism is about caring, about doing what we love, and in this case, loving our city, and the people who live there.
It was a blustery winter’s day, and I spoke to the administrator on site, who told me that rain or shine, sleet or snow, they were out there and we both agreed there was something special about keeping a market open to the elements.
As the wind picked up, and my time ran out, the scent and steam from the numerous stands selling hot apple cider drew me forward, and armed with cider, and some freshly baked apple cider doughnuts, I left New York smiling, feeling good, knowing exactly what to do, my heart refilling.
Apple Cider Doughnuts.
For those of us non-Americans, Apple Cider should not be confused with the fizzy, or even alcoholic apple drink. In the States, cider refers to the drink which is made from early-harvest apples which are slightly more acidic, yet with lower sugar content, so the juice is slightly tangier from normal apple juice. Using cider means a denser, yet moister donut. For those of you who do not have access to apple cider, a good quality apple juice can be used.
I looked far and wide for a recipe, but kept coming back to Deb Perelman’s from Smitten Kitchen, (whose blog and book I use regularly), and I think it’s fitting, given she is a New Yorker. The recipe (taken directly from her blog) makes 18 – which gives a lot of doughnuts, so I planned them in time for a party my seven year old was going to, (otherwise I dread how many I would have eaten myself). I forgot to buy buttermilk, so used normal milk and they turned out just as good. I also didn’t use a glaze, only the sugar and cinnamon mix which was light and perfect.
1 cup apple cider
3 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
Vegetable oil or shortening (see my explanation in the post) for frying
Glaze (1 cup confectioners’ sugar + 2 tablespoons apple cider)
Cinnamon sugar (1 cup granulated sugar + 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon)
Make the doughnuts: In a saucepan over medium or medium-low heat, gently reduce the apple cider to about 1/4 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer on medium speed (with the paddle attachment, if using a standing mixer) beat the butter and granulated sugar until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue to beat until the eggs are completely incorporated. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the reduced apple cider and the buttermilk, mixing just until combined. Add the flour mixture and continue to mix just until the dough comes together.
Line two baking sheets with parchment or wax paper and sprinkle them generously with flour. Turn the dough onto one of the sheets and sprinkle the top with flour. Flatten the dough with your hands until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Use more flour if the dough is still wet. Transfer the dough to the freezer until it is slightly hardened, about 20 minutes. Pull the dough out of the freezer. Using a 3-inch or 3 1/2-inch doughnut cutter — or a 3 1/2-inch round cutter for the outer shape and a 1-inch round cutter for the hole — cut out doughnut shapes. Place the cut doughnuts and doughnut holes onto the second sheet pan. Refrigerate the doughnuts for 20 to 30 minutes. (You may re-roll the scraps of dough, refrigerate them briefly and cut additional doughnuts from the dough.)
Add enough oil or shortening to a deep-sided pan to measure a depth of about 3 inches. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 350°F*. Have ready a plate lined with several thicknesses of paper towels.
Make your toppings (if using): While the cut doughnut shapes are in the refrigerator, make the glaze by whisking together the confectioners’ sugar and the cider until the mixture is smooth; make the cinnamon sugar by mixing the two together. Set aside.
Fry and top the doughnuts: Carefully add a few doughnuts to the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan, and fry until golden brown, about 60 seconds. Turn the doughnuts over and fry until the other side is golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain on paper towels for a minute after the doughnuts are fried. Dip the top of the warm doughnuts into the glaze or cinnamon sugar mixture (if using) and serve immediately.
For more information about Green Street market, http://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket/Union Square Address: 1 Union Sq W
(between 16th St & 17th St)
New York, NY 10003
Neighbourhoods: Union Square, Flatiron