Stalk the Broccoli

There are many people who love spring, and if they like to cook or eat, they might suggest famous springtime delicacies as evidence that spring isn’t just a forty-five-degree puddle of dirty rainwater. “What about asparagus?” they might ask. “Peas? Rhubarb? Fresh spring greens? Ramps? Fiddleheads?” Those are indeed all good things—even the last two which are wildly overrated and basically just differently shaped and absurdly overpriced scallions and asparagus stems, respectively.

Where the spring defenders are wrong is in asserting that these items are actually available for a reasonable chunk of spring—which I am identifying, for the record, as the months of March, April, and May. March and most of April are still, in terms of local produce, wintertime. Do not eat asparagus this week. Or peas or rhubarb. You won’t even be able to find non-supermarket-bagged spring greens. None of that is in season until, if we’re being generous, the last three days of April. With rare exceptions like the mango, the beginning of April is, in terms of availability of seasonal produce, exactly the same as the beginning of March. And the beginning of February.

One good thing you can still eat are some of the brassicas, sturdy champs which remain, if not fresh, then at least hardy and adequate through the winter and first two-thirds of spring. Cauliflower, kale, and, my favorite, broccoli, are our only friends during some of these months. People love broccoli now! It is respected and adored as a healthful and delicious vegetable. But many people are not eating the broccoli correctly, because they are eating only the florets.

Eat the Tomato Soup

Tomato soup is the chicken noodle soup of non-meat-based soups: an overlooked and underappreciated as a cornerstone of American comfort food. Though its frequent partner, the grilled cheese sandwich, has received its due in the cyclonic world of food trends, tomato soup has yet to be really embraced by food bloggers and Good Morning America hosts. This is fine with me! Get away from my soup, you awful swooping buzzards.

Spring is the worst season. Its only positive attribute is that it isn’t winter, and even winter, in its early months, is festive and pretty and you can go skiing and there’s a long vacation for Christmas and New Year’s. When we “look forward to spring,” we are actually looking forward to summer. Anyway, there’s basically nothing to eat in March, but I’ve been making tomato soup like a couple times a week lately and it’s done a pretty decent job of blunting my seasonal depression. It’s a perfect dish for this season: It’s warm and soothing and soulful to get us through the cold dampness, but it isn’t actually all that heavy of a dish; it’s a transitional food, reminding us that times will get better.

There are many famous tomato-based soups—minestrone, gazpacho, cioppino—but these differ fundamentally from what I think of as the classic American tomato soup. For one thing, in minestrone and cioppino, the tomato is a broth to support the real focus of the soup—either vegetables and beans and pasta or seafood. And gazpacho is, of course, cold and also very rustic: big chunks of tomato and cucumber and who knows what else. American tomato soup instead draws its inspiration from—I think—the Polish zupa pomidorowa, a strained or pureed tomato soup often served with rice. But it really came into its own with Campbell’s ridiculously successful canned tomato soup, which is basically just tomato paste to which you add water. I love Campbell’s tomato soup; most canned soups suffer from the process of either removing water to create a concentrate or overcooking ingredients to become shelf-stable, but tomatoes take to concentration just fine. That said, we can very easily make a tomato soup that hits the Campbell’s notes but packs more, or different, flavors.

The $12,000-a-Month Landmarked Brownstone in Chelsea

343 West 29th Street $11,900/monthThree bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms2,200 square feet Nearest subway: A/C/E at Penn Station

“So this is English House,” Citihabitats’ Donna Kreeger said as we walked up the steps to the townhouse at 343 West 29th Street. “The owner named it that. She’s English.” Light streamed through the massive townhouse windows as Kreeger heaved the shades open. “The blinds weigh about fifty pounds each,” she joked. Then, more seriously, she added, “even when it’s gloomy out, there’s something very comforting about this old home.”

Walking into the house, you enter on the second floor, where there is a half bathroom, a set of stairs down to the ground floor, and three wide, open rooms from the front of the building to the back. The ceilings soar, and the molding, trim, and door casings are all either original or restored to the original style. Built in the late eighteen forties, the house, a landmarked brownstone, is now part of what is called the Lamartine Historic District. “They built things really well,” Kreeger said. “There were no shortcuts back then.”

Indeed, there is a lot of history here: a famous Abolitionist family, the Gibbons, lived at 339 West 29th Street. Their home was apparently a stop on the Underground Railroad, and several houses on the block were targeted during the Draft Riots of 1863. According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report, the owner at the time—it wasn’t English House, then—was beaten when he came outside and tried to persuade the rioters from rioting.

“I come in here and I imagine dinner parties, ball gowns, and dancing,” Kreeger said. “It’s fine if you prefer contemporary architecture, but people respond to history and craftsmanship and elegance.” Downstairs, in the master bedroom, a monitor displayed video feeds from four security cameras. “So much detail, so lovingly restored,” Kreeger said as we walked into the kitchen. Living here, she said, you get a sense of what it was like to live in New York almost two centuries ago. “Plus, modern amenities.”

If I Had a Dog

A Flip-Flop Manifesto from a Terribly Wrong and Dangerous Person

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, writer and editor Elon Green tells us more about the depths of his love for flip-flops.

I feel like I'm finally home. pic.twitter.com/rIwVSiiQgN

— Elon Green (@elongreen) March 16, 2015

Elon! So what happened here?

So: I love flip-flops. I’m not ashamed. To the detriment of my feet, probably, I wear them as often as I can, well into the winter months. I know they can kill me, but in life you pick your battles. They’re like walking on a cloud, and any chill I might suffer is more than offset by the phalangeal freedom.

I’m not promiscuous. I won’t wear just any brand—only Rainbows. (I credit my college roommate Matt, who turned me on to them years ago. He said, correctly, they were the greatest footwear on earth.) They’re not for everyone. Even if you’re used to them, your feet will probably bleed a bit during the first week as you break ’em in. But after that, you’re home free and it’s glorious.

Eat the Sunchoke

We had nearly given up hope. This winter, like the winter before, and the winter before that, has moved us all one tiny step closer to packing up and moving to Los Angeles. (Unfortunately, the distance between us and that move merely splits in half every year; we get closer, but we will never actually leave our garbage ice city.) But the sun is beginning to shine. We have swapped our winter coats for spring coats. We look confusedly at our windows and remember they open, and that it is a nice thing to open them. We start to believe that we will survive, yet again. And yet: There is nothing to eat. March blows.

The entire period between late February and mid-April is the worst time of the year, culinarily speaking. The hardiest members of the squash and brassica families, among them winter squash and Brussels sprouts, have given up; they were harvested months ago and are now stale and dry. Citrus season, those cheerful few months in the middle of winter in which we all eat between two and six clementines per day, is waning—grapefruit and some tangerine varieties are still pretty good, but even they are starting to yield to the melting of the frost. Anyone who tells you that classic spring vegetables like asparagus and peas are available in March either lives in a place that doesn’t have winter or is a god damn liar.

But there is one vegetable that thrives in this terribly confusing frost/melt/frost/melt weather: the sunchoke. And it’s actually pretty good! The sunchoke is also known as the Jerusalem artichoke, which is a bad name for two reasons: It is not an artichoke, and it is not native to, nor can it even be grown in, Jerusalem. It is in fact the tuber—so, technically, not a vegetable, but I think I can stop issuing caveats like this to prove that I know the difference, because you know I know—of a variety of sunflower, and it is native to North America, where it is more specifically endemic to the northeast. It was a fairly important crop for the American Indians of the region, and when Europeans came over, they found it, alternately, either very tasty (the French) or fit for livestock (the English, predictably).

The name “Jerusalem artichoke” comes from the Italian word for sunflower, girasole, and for the fact that the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who was the first to export the sunchoke to Europe, thought they tasted a bit like artichokes. (Probably.) Thanks to the French, who very much love the vegetable, the sunchoke became very popular in Europe in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. But, because it’s one of, like, two things that grows in the early springtime in northeastern North America, it developed a reputation as a poor man’s food by the middle of the nineteenth century. It languished there, uncool for the wealthy, for another hundred years, until the name “sunchoke” was given to it in the nineteen sixties by Los Angeles food wholesaler Frieda Caplan, who was trying to come up with a more appealing name. It’s an okay name, I think!

Toward a Theory of Normcore Food

Small-batch pickles, Greek yogurt, and quinoa are all high-stakes trendy foods with loads of moral and aesthetic baggage. We ingest them to prove to ourselves that we are ethical by way of being health-conscious, multicultural, hard workers. Of course, the labor required to produce and consume a pickle won’t have any measurable effect on the health of your body, the quality of your soul, or the degree of your authenticity. This constellation of foods, which might be crudely labeled “hipster food,” are the means by which our sense of goodness is outsourced through our gut.

The antithetical culinary trend of hipster food, snackwave, seizes on its puritanism and refutes it through slovenliness, shopping mall imagery, and pro-capitalist branding. It is the first prong in the anti-hipster food backlash. As Hazel Cills and Gabrielle Noone write in The Hairpin, snackwave “trickled up from Tumblr dashboards” to counter “Pinterest-worthy twee cupcake recipes.” It is chiefly defined by excessive consumption of junk food and is often couched in the doctrine that women, especially, can do whatever they want to their bodies. An important element of snackwave is its individualism: the meal is communal, the snack is individual.

Normcore food will be the second prong in the anti-hipster food backlash. Normcore and snackwave, though opposites, are both cultural formations that will teach us how to finally stop eating kale. There have been a couple anemic attempts to define normcore food, and they are usually wrong. For example, people who believe normcore food is just junk food done up in a chef hat—your David Chang-type cuisine—are confusing it with typical hipster fare. Bon Appetitmade a better go of it with their April Fool’s Day slideshow, which included items like yogurt and chicken fajitas, and at least one food blogger got it right when she identified the BRAT diet plus plain chicken and bok choy as normcore. In the realm of fine cuisine, The New York Times has unknowingly alluded to at least one normcoreish food movement in a trend piece on “refined slob” nineties food writer Laurie Colwin. Besides normcore being a running joke, it is also very attractive, as increasingly elaborate (or else humblebrag-y) food exhausts itself and gives way to a minimalism that is not regressive or folksy.

If normcore fashion is not just hipsterism made over in worse nineties clothes—which is a common critique—normcore food should also have its own menu. Specifically, it must exclude any variety of trend-forward food: kitsch Americana, artisanal products like pickles and jams, and snackwave-like excess. As with its fashion equivalent, the goods must be ugly and plainly dressed.

The Air Behind Me

In Los Angeles, downtown is empty as a matter of course. The city has no center to speak of, its sprawl seemingly endless. Helicopters circle above like buzzards. At one point, we counted six in formation. We didn’t know where they were going.

“That’s weird,” said a friend who lives here.

Weirder is when it started to rain.

I am thirty-four years old and I saw snow for the first time in my life, on the peaks of the San Gabriels, far in the distance from where I was driving on the freeway under a hot sun. At night, I went to parties in the hills at houses perched atop the canyons where everyone is from somewhere else and the city stretches out below us for miles.

On another day, I walked from where I’m staying on Hope and 5th to the Million Dollar Hotel. The Hotel Rosslyn’s famous sign is updated now: The New Million Dollar Hotel. Fire proof rooms, it read. They’re for rent. Perhaps I could stay, I thought, looking at fairy lights hanging from the windows.

Ellis Island After the Flood

For more than thirty years, long after its time as the “gateway to the American dream,” Ellis Island sat empty and abandoned in New York Harbor. The island didn’t have much of a purpose after the Immigration and Naturalization Service relocated to an office in Manhattan in the nineteen fifties, and it was declared surplus federal property until a decision could be made about what to do with it. Eventually, after becoming part of the National Park Service’s Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island was restored and given over to tourists in 1990. Ferries from New York and New Jersey now usher millions of visitors over to the twenty-seven-and-a-half-acre island every year, where families trace their lineage and pose for photos with the Manhattan skyline. The distinct French Renaissance style and pristine red-tiled roof of the Main Immigration Building give the illusion that the place hasn’t changed much since the early twentieth century; Inside, the Immigration Museum’s three stories stand as testament to Ellis Island’s years of inspection lines and medical exams. But as much as it seems frozen in time, and for all the work put into making it a historical landmark and tourist destination, Ellis Island is disappearing. The destruction of Hurricane Sandy, which left the island briefly underwater and caused millions in damage, has made it clear that Ellis Island history is not static, nor is its presence a given. Climate change is working its way into Ellis Island—its structures, museum exhibits, and, subtly, its narrative. The landmark’s damage and repairs are now a tug of war with nature, as well as a battle to determine what constitutes history and why.