Tag Archive | "brooklyn"

The green Brooklyn

photo by Homer Ulanday


The biggest borough in New York City also happens to be the greenest. With parks, community organizations and a variety of businesses, it leads in citywide efforts to better the quality of life and protect the environment.

Brooklyn is conveniently located on the westernmost part of Long Island, right between Manhattan and the suburbs, with access to three main city bridges and an array of highways. It offers cheaper rents than Manhattan, with market reports showing commercial space fees starting at $29 per square foot in downtown Brooklyn compared to $40 in downtown Manhattan. It has a younger population with 22-55 year-olds, and high percentages of children under 14, that are more involved with green living than older generations and support green businesses.

But the notion of being green is still developing. So what exactly is a green business and how do you start one so that green lifestyle followers support it?

At the simplest level, green businesses use recycled products to build or decorate their locales. They also avoid wasting energy and water; they recycle and many times donate food or funds to charities. They also use products and resources from local vendors or fair-trade suppliers.

And according to Green America, a non-profit organization advocating for social justice, a green enterprise helps solve social and environmental issues by adopting principles, policies, and practices that improve the quality of life for people and the environment. The Web site Business.gov offers guides to start green businesses based on these ideas, too. It advises entrepreneurs to “find a niche market, get certified as environmentally sound,” and “practice what you preach.”

In 2007 Jennie Dundas and her best friend Alexis Miesen decided to try this approach. Miesen wanted to sell ice cream in Park Slope, after noticing there were few ice cream shops there. Dundas liked the prospect, but was equally interested in being environmentally conscious. With little knowledge, they began their research and their business plan.

“You basically ask yourself with every decision, ‘is this the greenest decision I could make?’” Dundas said. “I think this is the wave of the future, once there’s enough of us doing this there’s not going to be a chance to go back.”

Dundas and Miesen invested time and money to start their shop in the borough they both lived, worked in, and loved. Unfortunately, despite good karma and a plethora of non-profit organizations that rally for greener options, there’s still no set model that businesses can follow. The women relied on Brooklyn non-profits to get information about recycled building products, estimates for energy efficiency and contacts to local farmers. Gathering the tools was a community process since opening green businesses is still a “trend” rather than a “norm” as Dundas said.

By August 2007 the two women had a designer, construction crew and suppliers. They learned that going green not only takes research, but also lots of money. Their recycled glass counter, for example, cost between $90-$200 per square foot. High prices expanded to the food supplies too. Their organic heavy cream, from locally raised, grass-only fed cows, costs $18 per gallon, triple the cost that mass food suppliers retail heavy cream for. After a $200,000 investment, their ice cream shop, Blue Marble Ice Cream, was opened in October of 2007.

Picture 3Two years later the business is going, with cones starting at $2.50, rivaling Ben and Jerry’s $3.25 price. Additionally, the businesswomen opened a second location in Brooklyn, in Boerum Hill.  However, Dundas said that the moral benefits of being eco-friendly take a toll on the monetary gains. In order to maintain the two businesses, the partners must dig into their profits. Although the second shop was easier and cheaper to start because it already had some green elements, they said that operating a green business became a mission rather than a way to get rich.

“We’re educating people, especially children, with our trash and recycling barrels. They learn about protecting the environment at school but they need to see the principles implemented in their community. Green lifestyles are possible and we’re proud we can run our business like we do,” Dundas said.

Although Brooklyn has more people like Dindas and Meisen around to start businesses, other boroughs are also capitalizing on this movement.

“Brooklyn tends to be less expensive across all property types relative to Manhattan,” said Jonathan J. Miller, president and CEO at Miller Samuel Inc. a real estate appraisal firm. “While the green phenomenon is a trend in Brooklyn it’s not unique to Brooklyn. What began as a marketing gimmick has evolved into a baseline amenity fueled by rising demand of green-aware consumers.”

In Brooklyn, its community seems to have made it a priority.

“Its nickname is the ‘People’s Republic of Brooklyn’ because it’s a progressive borough; it’s the most progressive borough of all boroughs. That general consciousness is focused on the environment right now because people realize we need to help in small or large ways and they want to be responsible,” said Nancy Romer. She has lived in Brooklyn for 36 years and helps lead the Brooklyn Food Coalition, a group advocating for more sustainable organic food options and green businesses in the borough.

And Brooklyn may just continue being a different and innovative place.
“I grew up in a city of neighborhoods that were created by immigrants so we would buy the specialty foods they made… people were welcoming and grew food in their gardens or would raise animals and have rotisserie spits in their back yard,” said Annie Hauck-Lawson, associate professor of foods and nutrition at Brooklyn College and co-author of New York based food book, Gastropolis. “We are such a diverse and creative community that will stay true to its roots and keep living from the earth and welcoming people.”

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Brooklyn, chocolate and two bearded brothers


They’re tall, they’re bearded and they make chocolate. Artisan chocolate.

Meet the Brothers Mast: Rick and Michael. Their company, Mast Brothers Chocolate, is slowly gaining momentum in Brooklyn.

Covered by The New York Times  as part of Brooklyn’s new culinary movement, the brothers launched their company three years ago with the help of “our mother and credit cards.”

But it was only in February that they moved into their rather spiffy factory, with steel chairs and a wooden table, the air within breezy yet steady, with the aroma of warm chocolate churning away, being tempered in another room.

Photo: Lucy Hamblin

Michael and Rick Mast. (Photo by Lucy Hamblin)

The 120-year-old building used to be a spice factory. No wonder then, its rustic and rather earthy feel. But rather than having the appearance of a factory, both its interior and exterior makes it look like a sturdy warehouse.

Three years ago, while Michael was taking film courses at NYU and dabbling in different productions, Rick had an epiphany.

Working as a chef at different restaurants in New York City and at private parties, Rick, who had studied with the chocolatier Jacques Torres, began serving confectionery, such as truffles, that he made from scratch. The feedback he received was encouraging, goading him to finally decide to launch his own company with his brother.

From very little equipment, a small room and burlap sacks, Mast Brothers Chocolate has come a long way.

But it’s been slow and steady, just the way Rick likes it.

He is resolute about continuing the production of personalized, bean to bar, artisan chocolate-making. From choosing which regions to import their cacao beans to personally visiting the farms and then making the chocolate – the nine to 15 varieties of chocolate are custom-made, from start to finish. Flavors include the traditional — with almonds — to the more unusual — fleur de sel, or sea salt.

“We mainly produce dark chocolate,” says Rick, “We have a dedication to people who don’t eat dairy.”

But what makes their chocolate “artisan chocolate”?

“The whole process,” Rick (obviously the more talkative of the two) says. “One has to be at par with the whole process. Finding the best farmers, the best cooperatives, and going down to the regions and buying the beans ourselves.” This attention adds to the price, of course — a 2.5-ounce bar sells for about $12.

“We wanna be like the local butcher,” Rick states hopefully, adding that he’d like his customers to develop a certain level of trust with their product.

Walking over to the table where Stephanie Ault (one of six employees at the factory) is sorting out the cacao beans, Rick runs through the entire process, from the sifting to the husking, to the crushing and to the mixing, to the cooling and to the cutting. The aroma in the mixing room is stronger, as the mixers gently roll the mounds of thick chocolate over and over.

In the mixers, the chocolate being twisted and twirled is almost hypnotic. That, coupled with the aroma … and one is in a trance.

With cacao beans flying in from the Dominican Republic to Madagascar, and from Brazil to Venezuela, what do the Brothers Mast look for in a bean?

“That it’s delicious,” Rick answers intently, “If it’s delicious, everything else tends to follow.”

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It’s not the chocolate chip cookie your grandma made


Cookies at Rubyzaar (Photo: Winnie Andrews)Chocolate chip cookies are about as traditional as you can get, but throw in some unexpected ingredients and the result is an unexpected twist on the classic.

Two Brooklyn based sisters are doing just that: Molly and Sarah Rubin decided to update the chocolate chip cookie with ingredients like Earl Grey tea and pretzels, and are intriguing customers with their concoctions.

The sisters’ idea was to incorporate their favorite flavors from around the world in the traditional cookie.  Their Golden Triangle cookie has coconut, mango, toasted rice and dark chocolate and was inspired by the sister’s love for sticky rice with mangoes from Thailand.  Another cookie option, called “Ambrosia,” has Mediterranean ingredients such as fig, pear, sage, roast walnut and creamed honey.

Last December the Rubin sisters started selling cookies at the Union Square Holiday market. The treats are back again this year at their retail stand, called Rubyzaar, which can be found online and at various retail festivals throughout the year.

Shannon Stanczak, a personal trainer, is a regular at the Holiday stand and a fan of the updated cookie. Stanczak said the cookies are chewy and buttery. The first bite tastes like the original, but then the other flavors kick in and it’s a whole new cookie, she said. One of her favorites is inspired by tastes of Colonial India and is flavored by tea and has earl grey, smoked almonds and dark chocolate. “It invigorates and wakes up your mouth,” she said.

The new combinations of taste-bud teasers tempt those who come looking for the basic cookie. Julie Rosenberg, one of the many holiday shoppers, was swayed by the allure of the NY Pretzel cookie with large chunks of chewy pretzel. “I had wanted the regular chocolate chip,” she said handing her eight-year-old daughter the updated pretzel version, “but I thought, OK, let’s push ourselves and try something different.”

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Two Brooklyn neighborhoods, two recycling habits

In Bay Ridge, 59% of all waste is recycled.

In Bay Ridge, 59 percent of all waste is recycled.


In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, six different garbage cans, among them three recycling cans, neatly line up in front of every two-story tall private house. A woman comes out of one of them , holding two small black bags and a big blue one. She meticulously puts the bags in their respective cans.

Fifteen subway stops away, it is a different scene. Black, 6-foot-long garbage bags pile up on the curb, in front of the Marcus Garvey public housing complex that is towering over Brownsville, Brooklyn.

A metal door opens and a 5-foot-tall woman comes out, slowly pushing a cart with two big half-opened bags. When she arrives at the pile of garbage bags, she heaves one bag after the other on top of the quavering black tower.

This woman, smaller than the cart she pushes, is in charge of putting all the trash of the building out on the curb. “Everyone just throws everything together and I take it out,” she said simply. She doesn’t want to be named.

A new survey by the Sanitation Department of New York City showed huge differences in the recycling rates of neighborhoods in Brooklyn. In Brownsville, only 24 percent of the overall waste gets recycled, compared to 59 percent in Bay Ridge. In a report from 2005, the New York City Sanitation Department wrote that the realistically achievable diversion rate for the whole city would be about 24 percent.

“I think the reason why Bay Ridge is doing so well is because our community is predominately comprised of one- and two-family homes,” Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10, which includes Bay Ridge , said in an e-mail. “Recycling becomes a family affair.”  According to the census of 2000, about 60 percent of the neighborhood’s households are families.

And some neighbors in Bay Ridge do seem to help one another out. “I’m never exactly sure how much I have to separate, you know, the paper from the tin cans or paper cups from plastic items,” said David Gaddas, a resident of Bay Ridge, a little embarrassed. “A family in my building actually makes sure everything is in order and takes care of putting the garbage on the curb and everything,” he said. The tall young man with fashionable square glasses is quite happy about the extra help in his three-floor building. He knows that there is a fine for improper : According to the New York City Sanitation department Web site, fines start at $25 and can go to $500, depending on the nature of the violation.

Rules about what is recyclable and what not are indeed very precise.  Cardboard egg cartons are fine and recyclable; so is glossy paper. Paper cups, napkins and tissues though, are not acceptable in a recycling can. Metal cans should be recycled, but not the plastic container of food from a deli.  Getting the recycling sorting right does seem easier if more people watch out for one other.

But neighborly help can also be tightly controlled. “Here people are very strict when it comes to recycling,” said Ewa Navarro, who also lives in Bay Ridge. “If I do put something in the wrong place, my neighbors will call me up and make me aware of it. If you do it too often, they will tell the landlord.” The blond woman lives in a three-apartment building, and she said she understood that her neighbors cared a lot about the issue. She was trying her best, she said.

The landlord is the one held responsible by the city in case of a recycling violation. The tenants are not. But in Bay Ridge, landlords check on their tenants. “The owner of my building is obsessed by recycling,” said Diana Segura, who lives near the junction of 68th Street and Fourth Avenue. “He checks a lot and often reminds me of it.” The young mother of a 3-year-old is not bothered by the control and doesn’t think that it is strict. “I am always careful because it is important,” she said.

Information about recycling is often stressed in community board meetings and people get involved. “School District 20 has done a superb job in educating children on the importance of recycling, “ said Beckmann. “Many students actually enter a contest run by the Department of Sanitation called the Big Apple Award.” Recycling material, stickers and flyers are always available in the community board office. “Residents regularly come into the office to ask for information,” Beckmann said.

Such information also is available at the community board of Brownsville, where only 24 percent of all waste is recycled. “We make it known that we have literature here, so that people can come if they want,” said Viola D. Greene-Parker, district manager of Brownsville.

“Although recycling is in effect, we find there are a number of property owners that are not recycling as they should,” Greene-Parker said, “We are still at the bottom, comparing to other communities citywide.”

According to a study by the New York City Sanitation Department, recycling rates are directly connected to income and population density. If more people live in one building and their income is lower, they will recycle less; if fewer people live in a building and their income is medium or higher, they will recycle more.

Brownsville has the highest concentration of low income public housing facilities in New York City. The neighborhood has 18 housing projects, representing a total of 98 buildings, ranging from four stories to 25 stories.  In the three Marcus Garvey buildings on Amboy Street, there are 321 apartments and an estimated 847 residents.

In such buildings, as in many apartment houses, trash is deposited in a chute through a door on each floor.  Once on the ground floor, staff takes care of it and puts it on the curb. Because of this construction, there is no space for recycling cans that might remind tenants to use them.

Raegene Valogean’s grandfather lives in such a public housing complex. “There are no recycling cans or bags. You just stuff everything in one bag and throw it down the chute,” she said.

There are also problems, however, with houses where fewer people live, she said; it is not only a public housing problem. “They are not conscientious, that is all,” said Greene-Parker.

Denise Shannon lives in a private house. She said she has just started recycling, but is having problems with it. “It is just too difficult. It is just too much. It takes much longer to fill the garbage now,” she said.

Other smaller public housing facilities look more like private houses. Shirley Abraham, a resident in a three-floor public housing building, said she recycles although she doesn’t have any cans in front of her door. “I put the trash in different bags and then I just put them on the street on Sundays,” she said.

Recycling practitioners have also found out that households with lower incomes produce less recyclable waste in the first place. They buy cheaper, bigger packages, but they go shopping less often than households with higher incomes that tend to buy smaller units, but in bigger quantity. Lots of small bottles are an example of what the wealthy tend to buy.

So if the recycling rates in Bay Ridge are so much higher than in Brownsville, it could also be partly explained by the fact that they have more recyclable waste on the whole.

In any case, the issue is taken seriously in Brownsville. The community board offers regular meetings to learn about recycling. “Every so often we have meetings with a speaker from the New York City Sanitation department coming in,” said Greene-Parker, “ He talks about the consequences of not recycling.”

The district manager said she does not know why inhabitants of her area are not recycling. “They should have all the appropriate cans,” she said. But she is not sure.

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Weird Food: Elk chops

Elk Chops at Henry's End in Brooklyn Heights

Elk Chops at Henry's End in Brooklyn Heights.


Henry’s End in Brooklyn features a “Wild Game Menu” and, among other offerings, serves elk chops with rice and broccoli.  The meat is delicious, although difficult to distinguish from lamb chops, pork chops, or, probably, zebra chops.

The restaurant itself is the epitome of unpretentious affluence.  The tables are a plain black.  The napkins are cloth.  The wallpaper in the bathroom is a heavy, tasteful fabric. The pepper grinders are wooden and weathered – just like at grandma’s house.   There are about 40 patrons, several of them wearing cardigans and heavily-rimmed glasses, and the level of murmur is just loud enough to feel lively without intruding.  There are no televisions.  At the table next to you a middle-aged white fellow mentions to his companions that he can recommend several fine restaurants in Aspen.

Prior to arriving on your plate, the elk chops belonged to an elk who was raised on a farm in New Zealand, where he was fed a diet of grain.  It is against the law to serve wild game in a New York City restaurant, although evidently it is not against the law to advertise that you do.

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Christine Collins: The Food Obstructions II champion

The Food Obstructions Cook Off Poster!

The Food Obstructions Cook Off Poster!


Christine Collins won the second Food Obstructions challenge on Sunday, Dec. 6th at The Gutter in Brooklyn.  Her winning entry was Spicy Filipino Beef Brisket served with Rosemary Potato Pancakes.  It was her second consecutive win.

The Food Obstructions Challenge is a food cookoff inspired by the 2003 Lars von Trier movie “The Five Obstructions.”  In the movie, von Trier challenges director Jorgen Leth to recreate one of his movies five times, each time adhering to a different creative obstacle.

Von Trier is an avante-garde art-house filmmaker, which perhaps explains his appeal among the young, white, trendy crowd gathered at The Gutter.  He is known for such luminous innovations as the use of unsimulated sex in his ostensibly non-pornographic fare  (eventually, however, he went for the full monty and began producing hardcore pornography).

Christine Collins smiles while Atticus stands next to her.

Champion Christine Collins smiles while Atticus stands next to her.

What the existence of von Trier meant for Christine Collins, however, was that she was forced to make her spicy Filipino beef brisket while adhering to the following obstructions:

1.  It had to include an ingredient that begins with the letter “K.”
2.  It had to contain rosemary.
3.  It had to include an ingredient with seeds.
4.  It could not contain butter.
5.  It had to contain an ingredient produced or grown in Brooklyn.

Collins went with Ketchup for her “K” ingredient.  (Thankfully the alternative spelling “Catsup” is going out of style.)  The rosemary was used to flavor the potato pancakes. Presumably, an ingredient with seeds was included at one point, along with an ingredient from Brooklyn, and, finally, the dish did not contain butter.  In short, Collins qualified.  For her winning effort she took home $100, which she accepted with the following speech:

“Thanks, Everybooddddyyyyy!  I don’t know – I guess I’d like to thank my mom, for being from the Philippines – she told me to use ketchup when cooking meat, so, there you go!”

Boxer Manny Pacquiao is Filipino

Boxer Manny Pacquiao is Filipino

Collins is half Filipino, which accounts for her dark hair and allure.  Afterward she stood outside The Gutter with her boyfriend Atticus, who is an acrobat, and smoked a cigarette.  Atticus remarked that he would like to be in the movies one day, in a role that required him to hang off a cliff.  He has also thought about joining the circus, but “I met Christine and she hates carnival folk,” he explained.  “I try to tell her, it’s not like what you see in the movies in the 1920s…”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Collins remarked

“She doesn’t want to talk about it,” Atticus said.

Collins is now the two-time reigning champion of The Food Obstructions.  She speculates that along with the recent emergence of Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao (who is the current WBO World welterweight champion, and perhaps the best pound-for-pound boxer alive today), her emergence as a champion food cooker may signal the coming ascendancy of the Filipino people. Or not.

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Brooklyn supper club shakes up traditional dinner party


New York City may not seem like the ideal place to open your home to total strangers, yet Kara Masi does it about twice a month. She even feeds them.

For the past two years, Masi has been hosting the Ted Allen and Amy Sedaris Supper Club (the name is merely inspired by the celebrities, as they don’t actually have any affiliation) where she cooks for the eight or so guests who fill the dining room in her Fort Greene apartment.

Supper clubs are a trend that has been taking place for a while, though people might not be openly talking about them.  A sort of modern take on the speakeasy, supper clubs (also known as guerrilla or underground restaurants) are characteristically covert.  While there are a few different types, the majority of the clubs require an e-mail query from an interested diner, who then waits for an invitation, which includes the location of the event, often held in someone’s home.

For Masi, guests are usually a mix of friends and strangers, people who’ve heard of the club from her Web site.  She alerts people to a date, provides a menu and a recommended price and people can make reservations online. On October 29 she held a dinner in time for Halloween, informing guests about a week prior.

Cathy Erway, author of the blog Not Eating Out in New York, wrote in a post in April that city regulations, such as business licenses and health codes, are why “most supper clubs call their dinner prices ‘contributions,’ and operate on a somewhat hush-hush level.” While not all clubs operate the same way, many have a “recommended fee,”—about $30 or $40—that covers the cost of food and beverages yet isn’t meant to turn a profit.

Masi has always loved to cook and after admitting to her friends that she couldn’t afford to always prepare them the meals she wanted, they quickly offered to pay. As a result, the supper club was born.  “It’s fun to be able to try out new recipes and cook really great food for other people,” she said.

Thursday evening’s event had a Halloween theme, with guests dressing in costume and the “creepy” inspired menu.  The guest chef, Scott Gold, was dressed as a pirate and Masi was decked out in a retro-print dress and an Afro wig that added at least two inches to her petite stature. Gold, a food writer and author of “The Shameless Carnivore”, is a close friend of Masi’s and he had created the menu on the theme of brains and bones.

The six-course meal, which cost $40, included Zombie Brains (pan-friend calf brains served with a bloody mary sauce and lemon aioli), Skeleton Bones  (roasted bone marrow with parsley salad) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (grilled calamari over squid ink linguine).  Dessert was, of course, Devil’s Food Cake.

Redrum punch was the cocktail of choice, a potent and sweet concoction, meant to take the edge off.  “The best idea anyone running a supper club ever had was to start off with a really strong drink cocktail and get your guests nice and hammered,” said Gold. “’Cause then they love the food no matter what,” Masi chimed in.

Liquid courage seemed to be needed by some of the guests, nervous about the meal.  Eliana Menzin confessed that she didn’t eat red meat or poultry and wasn’t keen on the notion of calf’s brains. A private primary schoolteacher, Menzin heard of the club through word of mouth and looked it up online.  Although hesitant about the meal, she didn’t regret coming.  Dressed as an International Woman of Mystery, in an all-black costume with an electric blue wig and a Mardi gras mask, Menzin was into the spirit of the event. “Everyone’s really friendly,” she said. “It’s great.”

Dressed in a flapper girl costume, Marisa Malone commended the meal.  An actress from Brooklyn, she also heard of the club through friends and especially loved the bone marrow.  Moreover, the meal as a whole, she said, “hit all the high notes.”

Despite some trepidation, almost all of the guests tried all of the courses and the chefs were granted rave reviews.

At the end of the night, after the last bone had been scraped clean and the last drop of Redrum had been downed, Masi reflected on the stacks of dirty dishes on the counter. “I loved that everyone loved the food, that’s always my favorite part,” she said.

Masi admitted that her menus usually consist of more traditional fare, such as steak and fish.  However, she likes to experiment. “I don’t feel though that after this experience, I feel converted to having unusual food on my menus.  But I think it was a nice special occasion.”

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Traditional cooking, updated

Mavel Vanetes, left and Massiel Soto, right, eat at a hands-on cooking class in BrooklynBy WINNIE ANDREWS

Alicia Baez is making a stuffed avocado dish she learned back in Mexico. But this time she is leaving out the salt and replacing the fresh shrimp with canned tuna. It isn’t the traditional version, but that is intentional.  She is making them with less sodium and more economical ingredients.

The goal is to make what you like, but reduce sodium, sugar, fat and refined grains, and increase the amount of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Baez and several other mothers signed up for a free eight-week nutrition class at the New Life Head Start preschool in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The hands-on class is one of many nutrition courses that encourage making familiar foods in healthier ways.

The thinking here is that people are more likely to eat healthfully if they can stick to a version of foods they are used to.  Nutrition cooking classes like this across the country respond to the needs of populations with high rates of obesity and diabetes.

To make her dish, Baez cuts shining green avocados in half and fills each one with a mound of chopped tomato and tuna. She is making them at the last day of her class when participants can bring in dishes they enjoy, modifying them according to what they have learned.

Sonia Delvalle is teaching the nutrition and cooking class in Bushwick as part of a Cornell University program designed to help low-income families improve their eating habits. The five Hispanic mothers in her afternoon class gather for two hours a week not only to cook and learn nutritional facts but also to share information and try new exercise techniques. Two women have brought their small children, and the babies sleep peacefully in the mothers’ arms while one small boy joins the women as they exercise to Latin music and tries to eat the tacos, stuffed avocados and salad with a fork.

Spanish is the primary language of the class, and Delvalle only switches to English if there is someone who doesn’t speak Spanish in the room. During class, the women share information about foods from their respective countries. They talk about how to make a traditional Dominican drink called “Morir soñando”  (”to die dreaming”) more healthy by replacing evaporated milk with low-fat milk.  One woman brought in rolled tacos she made in Mexico, but this time with low-sodium cheese.

Delvalle stressed that healthy eating doesn’t mean overspending on organic food or drastically changing diet. Nutrition is all around, she said, it’s just a matter of using it in ways you like. She encouraged the mothers to buy fruits and vegetables, either fresh or in a can, and to put them in their favorite dishes. During the course, she handed out a recipe for quesadillas with low sodium cheese and broccoli, and a corn salad. Delvalle also reminded the women to wash the sodium off canned foods, and that juice was a good alternative to soda. “A 12 oz soda can has 10 teaspoons of sugar” she said.

Stuffed avocado from the healthy eating cooking class at Head Start preschool, in Bushwick Brooklyn

Compared to white Americans, African-American populations have a 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity and Hispanics a 21 percent higher prevalence, according to a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These two demographic groups are at a higher genetic risk for adult onset diabetes as well; 11.8 percent of African-Americans and 10.4 percent of Hispanics over the age of 20 are diagnosed with diabetes compared with 6.6 percent of white Americans, according to 2004-2006 national survey data compiled by the CDC.

Obesity puts an individual at a higher risk for diabetes, and diabetes is further exacerbated by unhealthy eating. People with excess body fat around their waist — especially those who have an apple shaped body outline rather than a pear shape – can become insulin resistant. Diabetes prevents insulin from efficiently converting sugar in the blood into energy. This is particularly a problem for foods that raise the sugar level in the blood quickly, such as white bread and sugary sweets. Over time, diabetes results in damaged blood vessels and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure also increases the risk for these same cardiovascular complications, so high sodium intake is also discouraged for those with diabetes.

Bringing people from similar cultural groups together over food can help them feel supported and share information. Dr.Carol Horowitz, a physician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in East Harlem, developed Help Educate to Eliminate Diabetes (HEED), community workshops that help people with pre-diabetes reduce their weight.

“Rather than us stereotyping a culture, we let people speak for themselves, creating a safe environment to tackle their biggest challenges,” said Dr. Horowitz through an e-mail. People lost weight and kept it off in HEED’s pilot workshops said Kasey Coyne, a research assistant at Mount Sinai Medical Center. The program teaches moderation rather than focusing on avoiding certain foods.

Dr. Catherine Vigran, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente, in Sacramento, Calif. said healthy eating “doesn’t have to be a message of self-denial. It’s about showing people that there is some possibility for change.” Dr. Vigran helped develop a Family Cooking Club in 2008 when she realized there was a need for nutrition classes for the Spanish-speaking parents of her patients.

Sonia Delvalle, center, teaches exercises at a healthy eating class at Head Start

The Noelli Center, a patient education program in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, held its first healthy soul food cooking class in October. The workshop, called Heart and Soul, targeted people looking to lose weight, with early diabetes and high blood pressure. Participants talked about nutrition and ate traditional soul foods such as collard greens, cabbage, and fried fish, prepared with less sodium, fat and cholesterol. They were also given recipes on how to make the dishes at home.

Dr. Asha Isable, who opened the Noelli Center this fall, takes the proactive approach when it comes to obesity and diabetes in her patients. “Most disease is preventable, so that is what needs to be addressed,” she said. The center focuses on providing health education for young professionals and college students of color, a demographic that Isable said is often overlooked by other nutrition programs that target low-income groups.

Dr. Isable said teaching people in their 20s and 30s nutrition is important because that is when they develop the eating and lifestyle habits they will carry with them through life and pass on to their children. She created the soul food nutrition events as a way for young professionals to socialize while learning to improve their diets.

Others are finding new ways to cook soul food as well. Evalina Irish Spencer is the training specialist for the nutrition branch of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension in Manhattan. She suggested substituting some of the white flour in cornbread for whole flour. And for dishes like collard greens, “try not to cook the greens until they look like a lump,” she said, “try to cook them so they remain crisp and green.” In many health recipes, collard greens are cooked with turkey neck or olive oil rather than fat back from a pig to reduce the sodium and fat content.

Especially inventive recipes are able to turn infamous dishes like fried chicken into a nutritious meal. Lindsey Williams, author of “Neo-Soul, Taking Soul Food to a Whole ‘Notha Level,” suggests coating chicken in yoghurt and then rolling it in Rice Crispies and oregano to give it a crunch before popping it in the oven. It’s like fried chicken without the grease, he said.

Another alternative suggested by many nutritionists is replacing salt with fresh herbs. This reduces sodium and increases flavor. Gina Puzzanghera suggests this to the students in her cooking classes in East Harlem, where 62 percent of the population is overweight or obese. The area also has the densest concentration of diabetes of any area in New York City.

Puzzanghera opened Nourishing Kitchen, a small nutritionally based soup kitchen, in 2007 and currently teaches people of all ages healthy cooking.  As she oversaw the preparation of jerk chicken for the week’s free hot meal, Puzzanghera explained that she never uses white flour or white sugar in her recipes. “It’s great to give people food that won’t give people a diabetic seizure,” she said.

Irish-Spencer, the nutritionist from Cornell, said that food plays an important factor in feeling connected to a culture. Cuisine can also play a role in understanding other cultures, she said. Irish-Spencer is particularly excited about cooking classes with people from mixed cultural backgrounds. She points to the love of mangos in Caribbean cultures, and how it’s fun for people to realize that mangos actually come from China. “We think we are so different,” Irish Spencer said, “but we can share and enjoy other people’s foods.” The Hispanic women at the Head Start class in Brooklyn all had the same favorite dish: healthy Chinese fried rice.

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Mozzarella Secrets


Ninety-one-year-old Georgiana de Palma knows how to make good mozzarella. She learned to make the cheese at Tedone Latticini Diary Products, the store her parents opened in Brooklyn in 1922. But she’s not ready to give up her cheese making secret to just anyone.

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Sundays at the Brooklyn Flea are for eating

At the Brooklyn Flea Market under the Brooklyn Bridge every Sunday, food entrepreneurs sell their wares alongside some of the nicest junk you're likely to get your hands on.

At the Brooklyn Flea Market under the Brooklyn Bridge every Sunday, food entrepreneurs sell their wares alongside some of the nicest junk you're likely to get your hands on. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)


Set up under the Brooklyn Bridge every Sunday, the Brooklyn Flea is home to probably some of the nicest junk you’d ever be able to get your hands on. But among the stalls selling old records, shiny baubles, vintage bird cages, Victorian brooches and ethnic rugs, food vendors sell their goods to hungry shoppers.

Relatively new to the food business, these entrepreneurs, many with small shops elsewhere,  set up their stalls in a bid to introduce the public to their goodies.

On Oct 25, the Brooklyn Flea was abuzz. Amid families with their children in tow and the antiques, oddball junk jewelry, cupcakes, candy, chocolate and creamy Ricotta cheese were fast being sold.

Martha Stewart was spotted with her TV crew lolling about the flea. She stopped at the Brooklyn Blue Marble ice cream stall and tried a taste of chocolate chip.

Her response was a definite “mmmmmm.”

Martha Stewart with her TV crew at the Brooklyn Flea. Stopping by at the 'Brooklyn Blue Marble' ice cream cart, Stewart let out an audible ‘mmmm’ as she ate a scoop of ice cream.

Martha Stewart with her TV crew at the Brooklyn Flea. Stopping by at Brooklyn Blue Marble ice cream cart, Stewart let out an audible “mmmm” as she ate a scoop of chocolate chip. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)

Daniel Sklaar of ‘Fine & Raw chocolate’ used to make and sell chocolate from his kitchen till the FTA’s regulations were tightened. Selling his goods online and at the flea market for two years running, Sklaar considers himself to be an ‘artisan’ of chocolate and makes fresh batches on a weekly basis.

Daniel Sklaar of Fine & Raw Chocolate used to make and sell chocolate from his kitchen until FDA regulations were tightened. Selling his goods online and at the flea market for two years running, Sklaar considers himself to be an artisan of chocolate and makes fresh batches weekly. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)

Having worked at Roni-Sue’s Chocolates previously, Liz Gutman met Jen King at the French Culinary Institute and decided to launch ‘Liddabit Sweets’ in April this year. “Jen and I had talked about going into business together for a while”, Liz says. Producing for wholesale and catering for weddings, Liz and Jen set up their sweet stall at Fort Green in Brooklyn every Saturday.

Having worked at Roni-Sue’s Chocolates previously, Liz Gutman met Jen King at the French Culinary Institute and decided to launch Liddabit Sweets in April this year. “Jen and I had talked about going into business together for a while,” Liz says while adjusting her glasses. Producing for wholesale and catering for weddings, Gutman and King set up their sweet stall at Fort Greene in Brooklyn every Saturday. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)

“This is my bread and butter”, says Betsy Mark Devine of ‘Salvatore Bklyn’ with a smile. Mainly wholesale producers of cheese, Devine and her partner Rachel have been selling homemade cheese, particularly Ricotta cheese for two years and have a stall set up at the Brooklyn Flea every Sunday.

“This is my bread and butter,” says Betsy Mark Devine of Salvatore Bklyn with a smile. Mainly wholesale producers of cheese, Devine and her partner Rachel have been selling homemade cheese, particularly Ricotta, for two years and have a stall set up at the Brooklyn Flea every Sunday. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)

Keavy Landrith specializes in little morsels of delight – teeny cupcakes that look almost too pretty to eat. With degrees from the Culinary Institute of America and The French Culinary Institute, Landrith initiated ‘Kumquat Cupcakery’ two years ago. With no retail location, Landrith says her business went into full bloom after her cupcake hobby began verging on pure obsession. Catering for parties and events, Landrith works from a rent-out kitchen. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)

Keavy Landrith specializes in little morsels of delight -- teeny cupcakes that look almost too pretty to eat. With degrees from the Culinary Institute of America and The French Culinary Institute, Landrith initiated Kumquat Cupcakery two years ago. With no retail location, Landrith says her business went into full bloom after her cupcake hobby began verging on pure obsession. Catering for parties and events, Landrith works from a rent-out kitchen. (Photo: Sonya Rehman)

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