Down, Down, Below: Personal Narrative

DSCF1335

Down, Down, Below

By: Katherine Hernandez

Every morning on my way to class I would go into a small café that stood on the corner of Via Guelfa, a narrow street in Florence, Italy. I always ordered a “cappuccino to go” for cappuccinos were all I craved every Florence morning. The barista would always smile and I would always be in such a rush, in an effort to avoid uncomfortable miscommunication, for the language was still unknown to me. Until one day, as she handed over my cappuccino she blurted out, “Where are you from?” “ I’m from New York”, I reluctantly replied. Her speaking in English had startled and relieved me. The wrinkles cornered near her mouth then began to widen as she said, “Oh! New York, the city of dreams.”

New York—the city in which I spent all my childhood years. The city that influenced me immensely in becoming the woman I am today. A city full of myths and realties, controversies and undoubted truths. New York, praised for its amusing charm, the fashion, and stories of being the city to thrive into stardom. We however neglect to embrace the true grittiness of the places, people, and things that make this city one of a kind. For not all that shines is golden.

Down, down, below the city there is magic and a rumble that occurs: the New York City subways. A place where the sweet smell of a stranger’s cup of coffee schemes its way around the poles of a subway cart into your nose. Where the sound of a guitarist vocal penetrates your soul as you wait for the next late train. The roaring sounds of the railings clacking away to your destination, a sound we know of no other. The innocent kiss of a foreign couple discovering the big city. The wistful breeze that seeps through every strand of your hair as the train is arriving at full force. I close my eyes in complete bliss as the breeze awakens my spirit.

A place where the polka dots of gum on the subway platforms stylishly match the vintage skirt of a passenger. The reassuring sound of the automated voice informing you the train is to arrive shortly. The peeking into others lives as the conversations are sometimes too loud, you can’t help but listen at the bickering of a New Yorker’s everyday life.

“ Man, Frank I’m tired of working a nine to five, my girlfriend says I don’t make enough time for her, but I have to pay the bills right?” says the man to my left.

There is always a midnight rush of exhausted workers and partygoers getting off work and heading home drunk. The women stumble in their 5-inch heels wearing suffocating mini dresses. It’s one of the few subway systems to be available 24 hours of the day. If there’s a time or place to be! There is always a train to catch.

You see it all down, down, below. The homeless man taking off his shoes at 1 am on the 4 train, the middle-aged man on the J train listening loudly to hip-hop on his headphones wearing pictures of dildos on his leather jacket, braless women on the M train pretending not to notice everyone is staring intently at their breast.

The odd smells that fill the subway carts of the F train since it has always been a homeless hangout. You hold your breath until the following stop because you know nothing will be done about it. Is it the fashion, the shoes, the envy? Every ride is never just the same ride.

The claustrophobia of it all. The invasion of personal space on the L trains during the 9am rush. Someone’s backpack banging on your behind as the man in front of you has his armpit too close to your face and all you dare to inhale is Old Spice. The youngsters and their latest day routine, slip and sliding down the subway poles as they yell “Show time!” Lets give a stand ovation to the man that sits next to you in an empty subway cart.

Cheers to the view when crossing the elevated J train as it races past the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan. You watch the skyscrapers and bodies of water in between the poles of the bridge as the images pass by like a flipbook. You are reminded of how grand and intimating the city can feel, so many buildings, so many people, and just one me.

“ Yes, you can say New York City is the city of dreams, but there’s so much more to it. You have to come visit and see what I mean. It’s another world, it’s another place, and will take a lot of getting used to”, I replied to her. I paid my two euros, wrapped my scarf over my shoulder and stepped out into the hazy Florence sun.

They Took Me In, With Open Arms: Personal Narrative

DSCF6072

They Took Me In, With Open Arms

By: Katherine Hernandez

There she stood, the morning horizon looking over me as she stretched her way past the tall dry mountains of Creston, California. The air is cool. A song carries its way through the farm as the hoots of a near owl and the cockling of the roosters waking up, finds its way as a melody to my ears. I knew I was somewhere else. A place where the air is clean, mountains only whisper lullabies, and your thoughts are the easiest thing to listen to.

It was a fair trade. In exchange for my labor I was to be fed and sheltered. Both parties had agreed and understood the exchange. Trading, I’ve always preferred. Rather more fun and interesting than the exchange of currency. My sweater in exchange for your shoes? A pound of flour for some sugar perhaps?

I was to work 7 hours a day on the farm. Three hours as the sun began to rise…I then took a break after 10 am for the sun became too hot for any sort of labor. After 10 the sun began feeding off of me, consuming any energy I possibly have had for the rest of the day. From 10 am- 5pm I rested, a nap perhaps on the hammock covered by the shade of two trees, or some reading until lunch was served. By 5pm the sun was slowly setting so the air was cool again and back to work I went.

Weeding was one of my main duties. Oh weeds! And how they cultivate the soil, so selfish they leave the basil no room to grow. The damage—the damage it can do to the edible herbs and vegetation. Oh, the labor, the tedious labor that goes into pulling and removing these fellows from rows and rows of edible plants. Damn you! Crabgrass, Nutsedge, Pig Weed, and Lamb’s-Quarter, but most of all damn you, Purslane!

Pesto angel hair pasta, tomato-cilantro salad, hot green peppers, and crisp iced water for lunch—Three servings in my stomach.

“We do two things here, we eat and we work,” says Dolores.

The hens and chickens are on a timely schedule. As the sun seeps into their eyes hormones begin to rage. Ovulation then takes place. Eggs everywhere you go! In the coops, in the nest, on the floor, and in the hens’ food. I push and shove my hands into the hens’ bottoms collecting multi-colored eggs. Some were white, brown, green, and blue. Motherly qualities begin to reveal themselves as they nip, pick, and scream, “ Get away from my eggs, please!” Ring around the rosy I play with the golden ones as they mischievously sneak out of their cage. Ring around the rosy I go chasing chickens around the rows of planted carrots. I know they like to play.

Before the night sets the sky fills itself with a burst of lavender, so calm, and serene as the cool breeze seeps into the night. Chickens huddle into one at night knowing they themselves are their only heat source. Pasta bean stew for dinner; a splash of hearty potato, peppers, and summer squash. Raindrops of hot sauce for a little heat fills my belly making me ready for sleep.

I peek open my eyes as the cool morning air begins to sneak in through the cracks in the window. The coffee brewing in the kitchen awakens your spirit; it drags you out of your bed and into the kitchen. Whisk three freshly laid eggs into a bowl. Add a bit of olive oil into a cast iron skillet. Pour the eggs and stir. Stir until the edges begin to form a crust. Eggs like no other, so fluffy and flavorful. Eggs like no other, will I be sneaking a dozen into my suitcase when I depart back home?

It will be a hard day of work again. So much weeding! So much weeding! Rows and rows of basil await my rescue. What is it with mankind’s obsession with the satisfaction of starting and finishing a task? I weed a row of plants. I finish a row of plants. Nothing will satisfy me until then!

Rows and rows of lemon basil, Thai basil, Italian basil, spicy bush basil and sweet purple basil. Pull and tug, pull and tug I go as weeds in the soil declare a war. I run my fingers through the sandy soil as I moisturize my hands for another round of weeding. I feed the hens. I feed the chickens crumble, scratch, and sometimes oyster shells. The day is young, the day is bright, so much to do, barely any sleep at night. I am humbled. I dream of home, I dream of food and soil. Italian basil, oh so young as it comes to life with nature’s touch. As I cultivate the soil the scent of basil runs into my soul. I want pesto, I want a caprese sandwich, I want pasta, and I want basil lemonade. Can I have it all? Lemon basil tall and strong. I long for licks of homemade lemon basil buttercream, I long for lemon basil blueberry scones fresh out of the oven with a side spoonful of crème fraiche.

Chilean Caldito for lunch made with grandma’s love. Fish fillet, green peppers, red peppers, and potatoes all in a light broth, so generous with nutrients. Apricot, plum, and blueberry galette egg washed then sprinkled with cinnamon and granulated sugar. Flavors speak for themselves on the tongue. Flaky buttery crust crackles as the knife hits the pan. Whipped cream on the side… no better treat for lunch than this.

The morning arrives again and I don’t want to get out of my bed, huddled under 2 blankets missing home I am. Small butternut squash plants are placed into the moist soil. Place two fingers into the watered soil making the plant a nice little home. As time takes its toll we watch them slowly grow. Butternut squash blossoms bright mustard-yellow, coated in egg wash and lightly dusted with flour then fried until crisp, a perfect little snack. The sun is now so hot wearing me down; so much to do, so little time.

Six black spotted lady bugs crawling over the basil plants so gentle and harmless. Nothing goes to waste for the pigweed is fed to the chickens as they will nibble and play. Keep them occupied, for they also get bored and impatient as we humans do. Lunch has now arrived. Day old rice means perfect crisp rice for tomorrow’s Chinese stir fried lunch. Fried rice, scrambled eggs, scallions, carrots, corn, and soyaki all go into a wok pan.

I thrust my tool hard into the soil as if buried treasure awaited me deep down below. I begin wandering into a world of fantasy. I dream of being an Irrigation Goddess. My hands possessing the power to help plants breathe, a power that allows roots to find moisture within the soil. I, Almighty Healer of basil roots.

Endurance, perseverance, and patience: three words that now leaving, I truly understand. Long days in the sun while your back, hands, and legs ached, and no one to talk to but oneself.

So much I have learned, ate, and so many people I have met. Every morning is always a breath of fresh air. Land is so vividly full of life, caressing a spirit of its own. It channels you in as the breeze sets in and the sun goes down. At night the weeds begin to grow; it is like a magic trick, now you see me, now you don’t. Laughter and hard work fills my soul for I have made a new friend and she is nothing but a treasure. We come from two different lands bordered by enormous bodies of water; nonetheless we laugh, we chat, we work with the same kindred spirit.

The sun was falling and so were my tears. I was saying goodbye to it all and it was more than bittersweet. Goodbye lemon basil, goodbye purple basil, goodbye summer squash, goodbye eggplants, goodbye chickens, hens, and farewell honey.

Hemorrhoids caught one of the hens the day before I left. Poor fellow will soon see his death, so helpless and unknowing. I wanted to say my last goodbyes but he ran and ducked every time I tried. I grew attached to them all. Nameless they were, but somehow they grew to carry a place in my heart.

I didn’t turn back once. I said goodbye to the dry weeded mountains, I said goodbye to the crisp clean mountain air, I said goodbye to the new friends I had made, for everything comes to an end whether for the better or not.

They took me in with open arms. It was a fair trade. Trading, I’ve always preferred. Rather more fun and interesting than the exchange of currency. My carrots in exchange for your pears? A pound of coffee for some honey perhaps?

Two Solid Weeks of Wwoofing

On June 1st I embarked on an adventurous quest seeking to learn more about how food is grown, so I decided to Wwoof. For those unfamiliar with Wwoofingusa.org the abbreviation stands for “worldwide opportunities on organic farms.” The site is your middleman in giving you access to hundreds of organic farms all over the world. You then contact the farm of your preference, whether it be that you want to work with livestock or vegetation, then set up an arrangement in which you volunteer a certain amount of hours at the farm in exchange for food and shelter. I thought it was a fair exchange so I was on board. I initially found out about the site through engaging conversation with another volunteer on a rooftop farm in Brooklyn and so I got to researching. Coming back now from wwoofing in California for two weeks I thought I’d share some tips and suggestions from my short-lived experience for other potential wwoofers.

First and foremost, when searching for farms make sure that it is really the right fit for you. Ensure that the hours required of you and tasks are really something you are willing to do. When contacting the farmers ask them to be detailed about what your possible day-to-day routine would look like. Ask them what past wwoofers have done on the farm. Really do your research guys!

Solitude. Most farms will be in a rather secluded area, and as that may sound like the perfect place to get away and possibly meditate and reflect on life, things can get a bit too secluded if you’re of a younger age. When finalizing accommodations with the farm of your choice make sure to research things to do in the neighborhood. It is recommended that on your days off you just escape into a nearby town and just explore. It would balance off your long days of volunteering in the hot sun with some excitement from exploring unfamiliar places. If possible wwoof with a friend, pay for a rental and always have the car at your convenience. You guys may want to hit the road for a quick road trip or just for quick runs to the near by supermarket for snacks. The farmers may not always be at your disposable to take you into town for they are often pretty busy so make sure you figure out nearby ways of transportation.

Journal. The best thing I did was journaling every single day throughout my wwoofing experience. It was my outlet for positive or negative thoughts. Being on a farm you start realizing you mind begins to wander into places you might not have pondered upon before. The open space and long days of nothing but sounds of the surrounding nature can generate amazing thoughts for journaling. Write in a journal everyday and once you return home you would realize how great of an idea it was. Your thoughts can even become poetic in a way because open space on a farm allows you to channel into that.

Lastly, wwoofing would allow you to grow concerned and attached to agriculture, but what places the cherry on top is the fact that wwoofing would also allow you to learn about yourself. Depending on the length of your stay you would realize that as the weeks breeze by you begin to discover things about yourself you possibly didn’t know before. You might face some inner emotions you have been neglecting or you might be enlightened in a way that has allowed you to find balance, but I have to admit you will be definitely learning something new about yourself. I don’t know what it is about the experience but it just does that to you.

So that is all. Just a few tips and ideas for a first time wwoofer on Wwoofing. I hope someone out there may find this helpful and please guy’s wwoof away!

Wwoofing-1 Wwoofing-2 Wwoofing-3 Wwoofing-4 Wwoofing-5 Wwoofing-6 Wwoofing-7 Wwoofing-8 Wwoofing-10 Wwoofing-11Wwoofing-9

Sweet Chick, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Sweet Chick, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

“So I…pull over to the side of the road. And I heard “Son do you know why I’m stopping you for? Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hats’ real low”, raps Jay-Z through the wall speakers on the corner of Bedford Ave and 8th Street. Sweet Chick, a restaurant that represents Brooklyn at its best. An urban hip cultured place where rappers such as Raekwon perform and rapper Joey Badass satisfies his cravings for curry chicken and waffles.Williamsburg, a part of Brooklyn most commonly known for its yuppie infested streets, rare vintage finds, eclectic fashion, and artisanal goods.  It is now home to one of the “top ten best fried chicken and waffle restaurants in NYC”, according to Zagat, BKmag, and Thrillist—Sweet Chick.

A long picnic table sits in the center of the dining room. A chalkboard at the far end of the room highlights a list of daily specials. Multiple vintage mirrors adorn the walls. Violet and Sun Porch Mum flowers in a water-filled Mason jar, maple syrup sitting above a mason jar lid, eco-friendly napkins and a fire-lit candle lay in front of each diner. She approached. I called her Lotus Flower, a quirky server yelling over the booming speakers and high pitch chatter finding its way around the place. A lotus flower tattoo inked onto her upper shoulder that would stand out to anyone.

So, how exactly is the fried chicken made at this joint ? Well, Executive Chef Randy Reppel brines his chicken in sweet tea and then rubs it in a secret spice blend. He then pairs his fried chicken with a wide variation of waffles such as the bacon cheddar waffle, dried cherry waffle, rosemary-mushroom waffle, walnut-parmesan waffle, and spiced pecan waffle, flavor pairings that might be familiar but not possibly in a waffle.

An order of fried chicken and dried cherry waffle arrives. A thigh and a wing lay next to 4 pyramid shaped waffle pieces. The crispy outer skin of the thigh and wing crackle in your mouth as you relieve the succulent meat from the bone beginning to steam with the first bite, similar to taking off the lid of a steaming broth. A dried Washington-Bing cherry waffle rested beside. The juices in the cherries burst into your mouth, brought back to life, rehydrated, bursting with flavor, so pulpy and acidic. A light dash of confectionary sugar is dusted over the waffle, which cuts into the acidity of the cherries, a sweet and savory combo at its best. A tablespoon scoop each of rosemary-thyme, assorted berry, and honey lemon butters, so light and airy as if they were whipped until light and fluffy in a stand mixer come complimentary with any chicken and waffle order. Spread these house-made butters on each waffle, your mouth will thank you. Sweet Chick, cool vibes and American comfort food at its best.

Sweet Chick
164 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY, 11211
sweetchicknyc.com/

 

Sweet_ChickB-2

Sweet_ChickB-1

Sweet_ChickB-6

Sweet_ChickB-8Sweet_ChickB-9

Sweet_ChickB-4

A Day Trip To The Shinn Estate Vineyards

Vineyard-3 copy
The Peconic Bay just a mile away carried its air onto the vineyard, wrapping its way through dirt, soil, and grape vines. I looked at my Ann Taylor loafers to only realize they were covered in dirt. It was a rather perfect day at the Shinn Estate. The air was mild, the sun was bright, and a group of Japanese Bantam chickens were clucking away in their cages. It was an almost perfect day at the vineyard because the grapes weren’t ripe or visible this time of year. I pulled up into the pebbled road and immediately the twenty acres of grape vines were in sight. A welcome sign directed me into a gray wood barn, which was the Shinn Estate tasting room.

In 1988, Barbara Shinn and David Page planted twenty acres of grape vines on Oregon Road, Mattituck. With biodynamic care they watched the grape vines prosper into New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Food & Wine Magazine recognized wines. However, things didn’t come to such a peachy start. When beginning this project Barbara and David realized the estate lacked life and a balanced ecosystem. Barbara and David then wanted to understand and accommodate the land to be in harmony with nature, which for hundreds of years has always been the traditional and most effective way of making wine. The couple then became interested in the philosophies and practices of bio-dynamics in agriculture mentioned by the anthropologist Rudolf Steiner. These influences have allowed Shinn Estate Vineyards to cultivate a unique organic soil made up of a compost blend integrated with fish, seaweed, whey compost, compost tea, sea minerals, and peanut meal. The chicken bedding from the Japanese Bantam chickens also contributes to their compost blend. It has become essential for Barbara and David to recycle nutrients. The same nutrients have become a source to the strength and fertility of the grape vines, as well as the vibrant taste the grapes produce because of this unique soil.

The vineyard was constructed with a vertical trellis system, which is a very effective and common way of systemizing a vineyard. This system allows the proper distribution of sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water coverage for the vines. Rows and rows of buds from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Pinot Blanc were beginning to open. I received a moment of bliss walking through the vines. There was a stillness to it all, a deceiving stillness from the forces of nature that were slowly cultivating the growth of these grapes. There are over 45 species of grasses, broad leaf species of plants, and wildflowers growing miscellaneously within the vineyard such as clover, dandelions, asters, vetch, and goldenrod. All of these aspects in their ecosystem contribute greatly to the natural yeast cultivation on the grapes. Shinn Estate Vineyards only uses the natural yeast that attaches itself on the grapes skin. When reading their wine list ingredients are stated as “grapes and love” because nothing is added or altered in their wines which is why it’s so important to have a balance with the vineyard’s surrounding attributes since the magic all happens on its own.

Patrick Caserta, Winemaker at the Shinn Estate Vineyard started his journey into wine through an eye-opening trip he took when he was in culinary school to a Hudson Valley vineyard. After that trip Patrick immersed himself into the wine world ever since. Walking with him through the estate you notice the gratitude he has for curious visitors and their questions on the wine making process. You notice proudness in him that births from the philosophies and practices of the vineyard. He walked me through the fermenting process at Shinn Estate Vineyards. Whites and reds are fermented in stainless steel vessels with the exception of certain vintages that are fermented in French oak barrels. The year 2007 was when the vineyard produced the best grapes. “Clarity” and “Grace” were produced on that year. Clarity, a $100 wine consisting of a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot aged in the French oak barrels for 18 months. Grace, a $75 wine with a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot aged in French oak barrels for 18 months. Patrick and a small team of workers handpicked and harvested the grapes in September and pruned them right around Christmas. Everything holds a touch of craftsmanship at the estate. It starts with the hand picked grapes up to the finished product and packaging.

If interested in this biodynamic vineyard, visit on a weekend for a vineyard walk and tasting with Barbara at 1:30 pm, or a winery and barrel cellar tour with David for $20 at 2:30 pm. The estate is a two-hour drive from the city but well worth it. You get the chance to step away from the New York City rumble into this small town in Long Island distinctive with its own charming qualities of roads lining with wineries. If unable to visit the vineyard the wines are scattered all over the city. They’re distributed to ABC Kitchen, Bareburger, Bar Boulud, Blue Ribbon, and more. Shinn Estate Vineyards has demonstrated to me yet again why a movement of biodynamic wine cultivation is occurring. Wine is best when the grapes used to make the wine grow as their natural selves. Nothing is forced upon them or the wine creating what a harmony with nature has the power of doing—beautiful, bold, elegant wines.Vineyard-1Vineyard-2 copyVineyard-7 copyVineyard-8 copyVineyard-5Vineyard-10Vineyard-9

Passage da la Fleur

Genuine, cultured, and humorous are the best words to describe wine shop owner Philip Essome. His passion and concern for the wine industry are vividly shown within a few minutes of conversation. He has stubbornly decided to only sell wines he would have in his personal collection. “I sell what I would drink,” he stated. Not many wine shop owners in New York City can say the same. At his shop, Passage de la Fleur in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, you can only find organic wines also known as biodynamic wines made from natural yeast, fermentation, and grapes grown without pesticides. As a lot of us may be unfamiliar with, the wine industry is now becoming as industrialized as any other agricultural field. Wine makers are now cultivating wines using gimmicks, additives, pesticides, and herbicides to produce and enhance their levels of production at a cheaper cost.

Entering the petite shop you notice the soft French music permeating the room. Sitting on wooden shelves, sparkling wines and ciders are inches away from your first step. Shelves to the left are equipped with red wines ranging from DOC, DOCG, IGP, and Table Wine appellations from all over the world. With a quick turn to your right white wines are intently gazing at you ranging from sweet to dry to semi-dry for any particular taste. Most wines, if not all, are dressed in a hand written note hinting the location and farmer the wine is coming from as well as the aromas and food pairings the wine will beautifully compliment. Overall, most wines in the shop come from the lands of South West France. The South West of France is actually one of the least recognized regions of France. It’s tucked away between the Pyrenees Mountains and Spain. However, although this area lacks recognition it is the fifth largest wine region of France. This region creates clean fresh Sauvignon Blanc’s, fruity Cabernet Sauvignon’s and reds that are artisanally made from the sweet ripe grapes of the Loire Valley. Fifty percent of the organic natural wines at Passage de la Fleur are from France, possibly because Mr. Essome is himself a Frenchman whose childhood memories are rooted in the territories of Burgundy, France.

We may assume that quality comes with quantity, which is not particularly the case at Passage de la Fleur. Organic white wines start at $11.99 for a Prosecco from Veneto, Italy and red wines start at $12.99 for a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valleys. Passage de la Fleur is definitely a wine shop worth asking questions in. The regions aren’t easily identifiable or familiar because Essome’s organic wines come from very small farmers that are hardly recognized in the wine industry. However Mr. Essome is more than pleased to explain every individual wine with charisma and explicit detailing.

Every Saturday from 4-7pm, Passage de la Fleur has its doors open to free wine tastings for the public. Mr. Essome randomly picks a couple of organic wines and chats with curious locals and encourages all to drop by. If you are yourself a wine lover, natural wines are definitely something worth trying, or at least worth a curious tasting. I ended up buying a grape apple cider from the Aaron Burr Cidery in Wurtsboro, N.Y. because I myself have never tried a sparkling cider before. Mr. Essome highly recommended it and said it was a cider that has many qualities of champagne with its smoothness and lightness. Passage de la Fleur’s charm and concept has made me a bit biased, however wine is joy, wine is companionship, wine is love and we should all enjoy it as we please.

Passage De la Fleur

573 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

http://www.passagedelafleur.com

passage_fleur-2

passage_fleur-100

passage_fleur-47

passage_fleur-98

passage_fleur-89

passage_fleur-1

passage_fleur-21

passage_fleur-58