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Food, age and pregnancy


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It is known that with age pregnancy becomes more delicate. Traditionally women had children in their 20s, but more are waiting until their 30s and 40s to  become pregnant. Because of this, medical care has improved and pregnancies for older women are less risky.

However, after giving birth, a woman still needs to be healthy. Losing the baby weight is one of the first steps to getting back into a healthier lifestyle and older moms may find it harder to shed pounds. Research has been done in the U.S. about the relation between pregnancy weight gain and birth weight, as well as the median age where weight gain is most common.

A 2008 study by doctors Alison M. Stuebe, Emily Oken, and Matthew W. Gillman, from Boston, Mass., showed that women between 25-30 years of age had the highest risk or retaining weight and becoming overweight after their first pregnancy. A newer study supported by the National Science Council in Taiwan and published in the British Journal of Nutrition this August, also found that women aged  21-39 had higher body weight one year after birth.

But there are different factors that may affect weight gain and weight retention. Doctor Sally Ann Lederman, whose research focuses on pregnancy and lactation, said that although age and metabolism play a role in pregnancies a woman’s lifestyle is equally important.

“You have to consider previous weight management problems, health choices and whether it is a woman’s first pregnancy or not,” said Lederman. “Ultimately it isn’t dictated by your biology, it’s dictated by your lifestyle, the effects postpartum and the choices you’ve made through your life.”

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Food inspires personal expression


The Holiday Turkey Project from caroline shin on Vimeo.

A love for food can certainly inspire culinary creations. But it’s the creators who sprinkle in a dash of their personal style to their food.

By tailoring their love to who they are, food-lovers find interesting and sometimes untraditional ways of using food. Their concoctions can hinge on anything from technology — a la chef technologist Dave Arnold — to art — from painter Will Cotton — to, well, food for the sake of food — via home chef Jeffrey Babb.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Arnold rushed the six blocks — in his characteristic mile-a-minute manner — from the French Culinary Institute in SoHo to DiPalo’s in Little Italy to get his hands on eight pounds of “the best lamb sausages.” He would be making his Scotch eggs, sausage-wrapped eggs, his special way: Some minutes in the immersion circulator and a couple of drops of nitrogen oxide.

After catching a whiff of Arnold’s scientific methodology, Salvador DiPalo, 51, a fourth-generation worker at the famed mom-and-pop shop, went off on a mini-tirade. “Why do you take the love out of the food?” “Food science,” he spat out. “It sounds nonromantic.”

“You’re breaking my balls over here,” said Arnold, 38, director of culinary technology at FCI and frequent shopper, with slicked-black hair and a gap-toothed smile.

DiPalo then leaned over and said: “I’ll tell you the truth, Dave’s one of those people who has the most love for food. He wants to take it a step further, create a new dish, a new love. Dave wants to try it all.”

The perfectionist scientist, Arnold has had an innate technological bent — borne from the days his father would leave electrical engineering equipment lying around their house in the Upper West Side and his doctor mother would throw special dinner parties. He has matched his scientific curiosity to his passion for food.

“I’ve been into food my whole life,” he said. “I love all food.”

During his Yale undergraduate years, he made his own whiskey sours and a hot tub that ran on shower water. Arnold’s wife and college sweetheart, Jennifer Carpenter, 37, recalled his crazy “whiskey sour hot tub parties,” and said “they were really fun.”

He built the first circulators for low-temperature cooking at Wylie Dufresne’s WD-50, infused gin and vermouth into a cucumber for an edible martini, and purchased a 500,000-BTU torch for some idea that will pop up. As it usually does.

At Columbia University School of the Arts, he gained some notoriety and appeared in the New York Times in 1997 for an art project in which he killed a frog to mechanize a robot with its muscles — a “Frankenstein” that predated his most recent project, a Thanksgiving “Franken-turkey.”

For Thanksgiving, Arnold prepared a deboned turkey stuffed with an aluminum skeleton and cooked from the inside out at low temperatures. He wanted to produce “the perfect turkey” that would be evenly cooked and juicy. He had discovered, after a series of experiments, that different parts of poultry have different cooking temperatures and times. This was the basis for his “Franken-turkey,” which lay wired and strapped up outside his office-laboratory to eye-popping stares and second glances.

Carpenter said: “It was the best turkey I have ever had. It was perfectly moist and tender throughout.”

The attention to scientific cooking — better known as “molecular gastronomy” by the public, to the cringing of insiders, since all cooking involves molecular changes — has been on the rise for the past couple of decades. In 1984, Harold McGee published “On Food and Cooking,” in which he gave scientific answers to practical questions. And in the 1990s, a number of young prominent chefs — triple Michelin award winners Ferran Adrià of El Bulli in Spain and Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck in England — began to apply McGee’s scientific approach in the kitchen, according to The Economist.

Recently, the National Restaurant Association released the hottest trends for 2010, from a survey of 1,800 professional chefs. It seems that science is here to stay. In the category of food preparation methods, liquid nitrogen for freezing and chilling and sous vide, or “boil-in-a-bag” cooking, ranked at the top. The scientific knowledge may extend even beyond the restaurant and into the home kitchen, with the launch of the Sous Vide Supreme, which costs $449.

IMG_0211Food has also been crossing paths with art as well. On the last three Sundays of November, food artist Will Cotton held his pop-up shop of baked goods at Partners & Spade, a quirky bookstore and gallery space in SoHo. From the doorway, a massive painting — easily mistaken for a photograph — of a voluptuous nude woman immersed in luxurious pink cotton candy clouds, was clearly visible. Those who entered passed a pogo stick and a motorcycle and were greeted with the smell of a certain sweetness of baking. Finally, there was Cotton, fair-haired and reserved, overseeing the frosting on the burner. It was sweetness all around.

Cotton said that Andy Spade, in August, had requested a contribution “not appropriate for a gallery setting.” He thought, “Baking installation!”

“I got really interested in how smell and taste can complement a visual experience,” he said. For his opening day, he made 600 pastries, including 350 macarons, 20 pear tartlets, 24 chocolate raspberry cakes and three big cakes. He brought macaron flavors including vanilla pink peppercorn and salted caramel.

The Massachusetts native and Cooper Union graduate, Cotton is known for his juxtaposition of nude women and colorful confections. He says he uses sweets as “a metaphor for desire,” and arranges them as landscapes in his paintings, drawings and sculpture. Think Candyland for adults.

“I love candy,” he said quietly, and admitted that his sweet tooth is connected to his art work. “Certainly, that’s a part of it.”

IMG_0263He has painted a woman wearing a pouf of ribbon candy ringlets; drawn a lady with a swirl of an ice cream cone atop her head; and sculpted a five-foot stack of large cakes that tip over onto one other. He has a professional oven in his studio and he bakes nearly all of his confectionery landscapes. He admitted that he goes to the gym twice a week and yoga once a week “to be able to keep eating” his desserts.

For “Cotton Candy Sky,” the oil painting on the gallery’s back wall, Cotton had made batches of pink cotton candy. He posed his model on a pink bed sheet, and looked to the actual cotton candy for the details in his painting.

Misha Votruba, 44, came in with his wife and children, who were so curious about all the different treats and earnestly looked at each one—at least those that were up to their eye-level. For others that were placed a bit higher, Votruba picked them up, and the whole family ordered their sweets of choice. Votruba bit into the carrot cupcake. “It is out of this world,” he said.

IMG_0220Depictions of food in art have been around for centuries: from the paintings of lavish banquets by Willem Kalf during the Renaissance to portrayals of fruits by Paul Cezanne in the late 1800s to the famous Campbell’s soup cans by pop artist Andy Warhol in the 60s. The blog EatMeDaily.com, presents a fascinating array of current contributions to food art. It features Mike Geno’s bacon Christmas tree postcards, Jennifer Rubell’s edible donut installation and Timothy Thompson’s aluminum cupcakes.

In a much more private setting, Jeffrey Babb, 29, media relations associate at Macy’s, cooks for himself five nights a week. Cooking, for him, is  relaxation. “It’s the equivalent of some people’s five-mile run,” he said. “I just make it part of my day.”

His forte is barbecue, which he learned from his father, a seven-time winner at his county barbecue championship in Texas. His father had also won some awards at the Houston Livestock Show and the Rodeo Cook-off, one of the largest in the state. And he takes tips from wherever he can get them: Food Network, Web sites, friends.

From Dave Chang of Momofuku fame, Babb learned smoke water—the end product of smoking water along with meat to pick up the flavor without actually touching meat. “Smoke water is the new fried chicken,” He said. He also smokes Coca-Cola for a whiskey drink called the Waylon.

A few months ago, he was hit with a homemade bacon craving. He went to Chinatown, bought pork belly, seasoned and cured it for seven days, and cooked it. “Turned out to be the next-level bacon,” he said.

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In downturn, Harlem sees hope in opening restaurants


(Photos by Vadim Lavrusik)


After running a small cupcake shop in the West Village for three years, Tonnie Rozier decided to come back to his roots by opening up a second shop in Harlem.

Rozier, 40, said he hadn’t considered opening up a shop in Harlem because the rent always seemed so high. But when a friend approached him with a location off Lenox Avenue in Central Harlem last spring with a great rent price, he couldn’t resist.

He considered the fact that he was taking a risk with the recession taking a toll on small and big businesses alike. But Rozier was looking further ahead, and already noticing new businesses moving into the neighborhood. And it was a homecoming for the Harlemite who grew up and has lots of family there.

Tonnie’s Minis Opens in Harlem (Audio by Vadim Lavrusik)

“Harlem has been on its way back for many years now. And I saw the vision, but never thought it would become what is has become today,” Rozier said.

Though there’s more than 40 cupcake shops in Manhattan, Tonnie’s Minis is the first in Harlem. But it’s not the only first for a neighborhood that is seeing new food businesses (map) opening up and the community buzzing that these are signs of economic recovery.

Part of the buzz stems from new jobs that these new restaurants will create. Applebee’s alone is hiring 250 new workers for next week’s opening off 125th Street. The neighborhood is also awaiting the openings of several restaurants off Lenox Avenue, including a Jamaican and soul food restaurant called Jams, rotisserie chicken shack Spinners, and OneBar, a high-scale bar.

Though the exact number of restaurants opened in Harlem in the last year was unavailable, Community Board 10 has approved 49 liquor licenses so far this year.

Franc Perry, chairman of Community Board 10, which represents Central Harlem, said though he didn’t want to jump to conclusions on what that means, he certainly is optimistic about the opportunities it brings into Central Harlem – a neighborhood with an unemployment rate topping 20 percent. The city’s overall rate is 10.3 percent.

Though there has been a spurt of restaurants openings in Harlem, Andrew Rigie, director of operations at New York State Restaurant Association, said there is no doubt that the economy has still created a dip in restaurants’ sales. People are cutting back on going out, and one would think that Harlem would be worse off than other neighborhoods with such a high jobless rate. Though more new restuarants are opening, those that have been open longer have better chances of weathering the stark economy because they already have a customer base, experience and operating capital, Rigie said.

Harlem welcomes ‘Eatin’ good in the neighborhood’

So why would anyone want to open a restaurant during such economic turmoil, and why in Harlem? For Zane Tankel, CEO of Apple-Metro, which operates 34 Applebee’s locations in the New York metro area, the answer is simple. Demand in Harlem, plus cheap rent, a dash of risk, and years of experience is why Tankel is opening an Applebee’s on 125th Street.

“I think it is an underserved community,” Tankel said. “There are few places there right now where a large group of people can go in and sit down and get some good food for a reasonable price.”

Damaa Bell, who writes the UPTOWNFlavor blog on food news, said she thinks the new Applebee’s will be successful in Harlem because there is a shortage of restaurants that can accommodate large groups.

“When you think of dining in Harlem they are often small venues that can accommodate up to 10 diners max. An Applebee’s would be popular with families,” Bell said.

Bell points out that an Applebee’s just opened in the Marble Hill area has been successful because it is the only eatery of its type in the neighborhood, which she says is similar to Harlem.

Tankel said he also hopes he can attract some late-night customers. Though many restaurants in the area close around 9 p.m., Applebee’s will be open until midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. He acknowledges that maybe there is a lack of late-night demand or owners worry about crime, but said that is something he will have to re-evaluate after seeing how business goes.

“We’ll see how it pans out because we’re not immune to the economy, but we’ve definitely made the adjustments,” Tankel said. Though sales are down a bit at some of his locations, Tankel said they attract people by offering them value deals like bundling menu items with a $20 deal for an appetizer and two entrees. This keeps the total bill higher for the restaurant, but is still a good deal for the customers, he said.

On Tuesday, the restaurant’s hiring center was full of people filling out applications for the 250 full- and part-time positions available. The Labor Department reported Friday that the national jobless rate had dropped from 10.2 to 10 percent, the strongest report since the recession began – a glimmer of hope for those that have recently lost jobs.

Jeffrey McCaskill, 20, stopped in between classes at The College of Technology to fill out an application for a cook. McCaskill, who is currently unemployed, said he needs to get a job to help pay the family bills.

He’s predicting the restaurant, which sits at the corner of 125 Street and 5th Avenue, will be really busy despite the downturn.

“Sure people are struggling, but I think you’re starting to see more places opening up and they’re starting to build again,” he said. “It’s great. It gives a chance for people to get a job.”

McCaskill is one of 5,000 people that had filled out applications as of Thursday, according to Tankel.

“I hope I get it,” McCaskill said.

Real estate and a developing neighborhood

Though Tankel had been looking to open a franchise in Harlem for about six years, each time a potential location came up he was faced with obstacles in construction or price.

However, with the drop in real estate prices, rents in the neighborhood have gone down dramatically too, which is why Tankel took advantage of the location, he said.

Charles Belanger, a real estate broker turned restaurant owner, knows that better than anyone.

“The market obviously collapsed,” he said. “So I went into the chicken business.”

Belanger, who was a broker for more than 20 years in Manhattan, took his store front real estate office off Lenox Avenue and turned it into a rotisserie chicken and sandwich shop. On Thursday, he was working on cleaning the entryway of the shop on its first day open. Customers slowed to see what the new restaurant had to offer, some eyeing the side real estate office signs still visible from its previous incarnation..

Belanger already had the location and didn’t want to just give up on the space. A food business made sense for the neighborhood, he said.
“People gotta eat.”

Because it is a low-income neighborhood, he said it wouldn’t make sense to open an electronics store, which would be difficult to compete with a big box store that gets its products less expensibely from overseas.

“You can’t ship a roast beef sandwich from China though,” he said.

Belanger said he decided to stay in Central Harlem because of the growth in real estate development and businesses the neighborhood has seen in recent years.

“Harlem does have a bright future,” he said. “It’s an area in Manhattan that has seen a lot of growth in recent years.”

He said a combination of factors like city tax breaks contributed to the growth. Also, The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Corp. has given $2.5 million in loans over the last 12 years to restaurants in Harlem, giving them the necessary cash to get started.

But most residents will point to the Clinton Foundation’s move into the neighborhood and its sweeping efforts to improve the neighborhood. Last year, the foundation launched the Harlem Restaurant Program, which used public funds and tax incentives to teach restauranteurs in the neighborhood better business skills.

Richard Howard, who stops at Rozier’s new cupcake shop almost eveyday after he picks his kids up from school, said ever since Clinton’s foundation came to Harlem a lot of new businesses moved into the neighborhood.

“I think that Harlem has kinda become the new mecca of new businesses,” Howard said. “It’s becoming like a SoHo or Delancey street. Well, now it’s Harlem.”

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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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‘Tis the (wettest) season: An apple orchard weathers the storm


George Vurno lives by the weather. The owner and manager of Masker Orchards, a pick-your-own apple orchard in Warwick, N.Y., checks hour-by-hour forecasts on his computer and turns to the Weather Channel, Channel 12, CBS, and NBC twice a day to answer a question that is constantly on his mind: Is it going to rain?

Whether it is growing season or picking season, he needs to know. Right now, it is picking season at Masker Orchards, located about 55 miles northwest of Manhattan, and people are coming by the thousands to pluck Vurno’s ripened apples.

To keep them happy and fed and spending while they pick, 69-year-old Vurno orders soda, hot dog rolls, hot dogs, cider, ice cream, pizza, and apple pie which he sells at the entertainment square at the bottom of the hillside orchard.  In the entertainment square, a collection of converted barns, visitors can roam a pumpkin patch, ride a pony, walk through a haunted house and gorge on apple pie, cider and strudel.

“The only way to order them,” Vurno says, “is to know what the weather is going to be.”

If it is going to rain, people won’t come, and food orders go to waste.

Vurno is a tall, broad shouldered man with a tanned and stubbly face. When he smiles, he could pass for former New York City mayor Rudy Guliani’s twin brother. He was fooled last week because he expected rain on Sunday and decided to place half orders. It didn’t rain and he was short on supplies. This week, Vurno wasn’t expecting rain on Sunday, so he put in a full order. Now, the weather is telling Vurno that it is going to rain and he doesn’t want to be fooled again.

“Maybe I’m better off only half ordering,” Vurno says, laughing wheezily.

Vurno will be doing a lot of weather watching between now and November, when he will begin pruning the trees in preparation for winter.

Warwick’s official apple season began Labor Day and, on a good weekend, 20,000 cars carry residents of New York and neighboring states through the tree-lined hillsides of Orange County to Vurno’s 200-acre orchard. Masker made the switch from commercial orchard to pick-your-own in 1971 and was the first to do so in New York. For no admission fee, pickers park their cars among the rows of 15,000 apple trees–McIntosh, Cortland, Empire, Red Delicious, Jonagold, and Ida Reds—and eat as many apples as they’d like. Upon entry, they recieve plastic bags that they can pack with apples they pick, but don’t eat, and they must pay $24.95 for every bag they fill as they exit the farm.

Vurno is nervous because the low temperatures in June and July broke records along the northeast, and rainfall is running 50 to 100 percent higher than normal around the region, according to AccuWeather.com.

“It was a lot more expensive,” Vurno says of this year’s growing season. “We had to do a lot more maintenance in the orchard because of all that rain.”

Two of Vurno’s biggest costs were mowing the excess grass and grading the rain-damaged roads that lead customers through the orchard—Cider Lane, Strudel Lane, Pie Lane, and Sauce Lane.

One benefit of a wetter season is bigger apples. They draw customer attention and give Vurno a chance to make back some of the money he lost re-paving roads and repairing damaged trees because fewer of these large apples fit into each of the half-bushel plastic bags customers receive upon entering the orchard. But customers won’t have a chance to be in awe of Vurno’s apples if the rain keeps them away.

It is a lack of control that frustrates Vurno, a former Brooklyn trial lawyer who bought into the farm in 1969.

“When I was a lawyer, I had the illusion that I was in control,” Vurno says. “Now that I’m a farmer, I know absolutely positively I am not in control. The weather and mother nature are in control.”

And so is the economy. Recession-struck suppliers have raised their prices for everything from fertilizer to machine parts to hot dogs. Three years ago, potash fertilizer cost Vurno $425 a ton; this year, he paid $950 a ton for 15 tons.

“That’s $7000 to $8000 just out of one little stinking item,” he says in disbelief.

And  medical insurance has increased for his six full-time employees, three of them named George, which Vurno pointed out means “farmer” in Greek.

The increased costs for Masker Orchards have been passed on to its customers. The price of a half-bushel bag that carries roughly 20 pounds of apples has increased since last year from $19.95 to $24.95. Now, because of higher prices and larger apples, customers are paying more than ever for less fruit.

“We saw $24.95 a bag and thought ‘Wow!’” says Keith Santos, whose family traveled from Brooklyn to visit Masker for the first time last year, and came back this year to picnic among the apple trees.

Keith’s mother, Stella, chimes in, “May as well buy the apple pie; it’s already baked!”

Tom Bakalis, who also traveled from the city to pick apples, says he definitely noticed the prices.

“I think the bags got smaller, too,” he jokes. “I’m going to see how many I can squeeze in.”

Even the price of a hot dog has gone up a few cents. Sean Dolan, who recently lost his job as a roofer and has been coming to the orchard from Pearl River, N.Y., for four years with his wife and two daughters, noticed the change.

“It’s like being at a Yankee’s game;  ”$2.50 for a 30 cent item” he said.

But Vurno insists that he has tried to keep prices low, and prides himself on carrying high quality products.

“We’re trying to hold the line,” he says. “We’re trying to keep it an economical day in the country.”

Vurno’s pies, strudels, and cider are made off-site using Masker apples. He meets cider delivery trucks and takes several gulps before accepting any bottles. Vurno spent years searching for a family that had the best recipe for his apples before offering apple pies at his farm.

“I wouldn’t serve crap,” he says. “I needed something special.”

The customers come back year after year.

“We’ve been coming here a long time,” says Cheryl Cacioppo, of Kinnelon, N.J., who has been returning to Masker with her husband, Paul, for 16 years.

Paul started coming to Masker 30 years ago and now brings his young son and daughter each year to share with them a tradition that was passed onto him. He remembers knocking apples down from the tops of the highest trees with bamboo poles the orchard once supplied.

Nicole Cosimano also started coming to Masker Orchards when she was a child and started working there at age 12. She is now 31 and the office manager of the farm, overseeing 100 mostly teenage workers who direct traffic, sell food, and operate the entertainment square during the picking season.

“We used to just have apples and we had three lanes,” she remembers.

Newcomers to Masker enjoy it, too. Leila Franklin of Patterson, N.J., brought her two teenage children apple picking for the first time this season because she picked apples as a young girl.

“I am teaching them what we used to do,” says Franklin. “There’s clean air, it’s safe, everybody is enjoying themselves.”

At the top of the hill, near where Franklin is standing, you can see parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. The orchard is surrounded by green, rolling hills and tall trees blushing red and orange. But at the bottom of the hill, at the corner of the entertainment square, Vurno sits in a little blue house that serves as his office, and he continues to worry. After the expensive, rainy growing season, he needs the sun to shine so that people will come to Masker. But Vurno doesn’t know what to expect this season.

“In ‘05 we had a beautiful crop and it rained every weekend in October,” says Vurno. “We had this one system that kept coming back and forth. It would go out to sea, then it would come back, and it seemed to come back every weekend. We had half the number of cars and a crop that went to waste.”

Vurno’s outlook changes as often as the weather, and there is only one thing that he knows for sure.

“It’s supposed to rain tomorrow and that is going to kill us.”

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A tour with Meals on Wheels in Washington Heights

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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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At Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home, food is therapy


On a recent Friday afternoon at the Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home, a petite Arlaine Bruce cut up slices of homemade apple, sweet potato and pumpkin pies for the Harvest Moon Ball. There were also sugar-free oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies for the diabetic patients and cups of ginger ale for all. Guests kept rolling in. Many needed help with their wheelchairs; a few wheeled themselves in. Even fewer walked.

At Mary Manning Walsh, food plays multiple roles in the lives of its residents—the more than 350 patients are 80 years old on average (and a lot are waiting to get in). The Upper East Side nursing home organizes special events such as the harvest ball, where food is used for socialization and normalization among its patients. Generally though—whether special events or regular meals—it is about “trying to get them to be happy with what they’re eating,” said Joanne Gaffney, 61, clinical nutrition manager. “Trying to feed them what their mother made them.”

Food and nutrition make up just one part of the nursing home’s comprehensive services, which also include 24-hour nursing, physician, laboratory and even, religious services. Arlaine Bruce said most of the residents are covered by Medicaid and Medicare and a few pay out of pocket.

Bruce, 46, director of recreational therapy, organized the harvest ball: a show with two lithe dancers, a keyboardist and a singer. She often uses food to get her patients to socialize. At the start of the show, one elderly lady, smartly dressed in an autumn leaves pattern, waved to a friend and wheeled herself over to the table where they chatted amid bites of pie and sips of ginger ale. Most of the 120 patients, however, stayed quiet, eating and responding to the show with occasional applause. They could not be identified nor interviewed, according to the nursing home’s policy.

Music therapist Sue Dennis, 40, says the food also normalizes things for the residents. “It might orient them a little,” she said. “It’s fall. We’ve got pie.” For Christmas, there are cookies, eggnog and hot chocolate, and the Passover seder presents its usual menu. The food reminds the patients of “what they would normally be doing.”

Bruce has also organized Saturday morning Doughnut Hours in which she and her patients talk about the news and play trivia around doughnuts and coffee. At monthly birthday celebrations, Bruce hands out cake and ice cream. The nursing home also hosts Travel Club meetings, in which a country and a typical regional food would be presented. Those who had visited that country would start reliving how good the food was there. Both Bruce and Dennis mentioned the apple strudel and sweet plantain, which have been featured in past meetings.

“They get together, eat and talk,” said Dennis. “It’s stimulating. They start reminiscing.”

For regular meals, Gaffney said the nursing home’s food service is not that much different from a restaurant’s. “We do cater to the needs and preferences of the residents.” The nursing home provides balanced meals that contain all food groups, adjusting the dishes or giving alternate sustenance for the patients with liquid restrictions, tube feedings or controlled carbohydrate diets. But she emphasized that, unlike a hospital, the nursing home does not adhere to a specific therapeutic diet. “You want to strike a balance,” she said.

Patients have individualized menus that adhere to their taste preferences and dietary needs. The menu, which varies daily, is planned weekly at the dietitians’ office. Breakfast usually comprises orange juice, oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg. Lunch and dinner include an entrée, starch and vegetable sides and dessert. All three meals come with bread and butter and coffee or tea with milk or creamer. The dinner menu that included beefaroni or tuna salad, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach and apple cobbler. There are additional off-the-menu dishes such as honey soup. Crab cakes, goulash and Philly cheese steak appear on the menu for upcoming weeks.

Gaffney added that food provides oral stimulation for some patients who are not tube feeding, and “for people that are seriously, terminally ill, we are more liberal with their diet because it’s one of the few things they can enjoy.”

Every day, it’s up to Andrea Reid, 58, assistant director of food and nutrition, to supervise the kitchen’s tray line: One person calls out the resident’s dinner selection — “two scoops, no mash” — and places a dish on a heat conductor plate, alerting the next two people on the hot or cold foods sides to place food and beverages on the dish. One person then adds coffee or tea, and the final person checks for accuracy. Beefaroni, mashed potatoes and creamed spinach lay steaming in baking pans. Tuna salad lay cold and yellow digital thermometers stuck out from roasted chicken.

After stacking up the trays of food, the staff members cart the meals to the nurses, who then deliver the food to the residents’ rooms. Some patients elect to eat at the dining room, where they have assigned seating. “They’re territorial,” said Bruce.

At the monthly Food Committee meetings, the nursing home allows its patients to issue complaints — most concerned cold food and a desire for new food.

Gaffney said the staff tries to remedy the issues the best they can. “You want to keep people happy here. This is their home.”

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Day of the Dead starts at the bakery


Mexican bakeries all over New York City are preparing pan de muerto, Spanish for bread of the dead, for the Day of the Dead celebration on Nov. 1. But Panaderia Caotzingo on 76-11 Roosevelt Avenue in Queens is anything but dead during the week before the holiday as customers bustle in and load trays with pan de muerto fresh from the oven. Baker Sergio Rodriguez, 22, makes 270 pieces of dome-shaped ‘’dead bread’’ each day, sized as small as the palm of a hand for $1.50, or bigger than a grown man’s face for $12. The sweet, cinnamon-infused bread is decorated with bits of cooked dough shaped like bones.

Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos) has been celebrated by Mexican Indians for centuries. To them, it is the day the dead come back to visit the living–friends, relatives, and loved ones. Often, Catholic families make offerings at the graves of their loved ones, leaving them their favorite food, or even their favorite vice, be it cigarettes or alcohol. But they always leave pan de muerto, says bakery worker Yessica Rodriguez, 23, who is originally from the 300-person Southern Mexican town of San Jose Chilipa.. Rodriquez’s grandmother on her mother’s side died six years ago; each year, her family back home takes the 25-minute walk to the local cemetery.

When they arrive at the cemetery, located between mango trees and a cornfield, they make a velvet shrine and lay offerings of bean and chicken tamales, chocolates and purple flowers—any kind, as long as they’re purple. Her late grandfather gets a single Marlboro Red cigarette. When Rodriguez dies, she says she would like to have an offering of bean and chicken tamales, just like her grandmother. But she’s too busy to think about death right now—she must finish a sale to Cristian Moran, 26, from Guerrero, another state in Southern Mexico.

Moran has lived in the United States for six years. His grandfather died one month ago, but instead of going to Mexico, he sent $200 to relatives back home. He said people don’t celebrate Day of the Dead in New York City as much as they did in his hometown.

Bakery manager Sergio Najera, 54, agrees. Most Mexicans who die in New York City have their remains sent home, he says, so there is little reason to celebrate in local cemeteries. Adults tend to honor the dead privately, and children have another tradition to enjoy: Halloween.

Zeltzin Rosendo, 10, is excited for the 31st of October.

“They give you candy on Halloween and you get to get dressed up,” she says, standing next to the window displays that shows off piles of pan de muerto to people who walk past. She is not a fan of putting food on graves.

“That kind of creeps me out a bit,” she says.

Her brother died in the womb this past year, and this will be the first time they lay an offering to him. They will leave him pan de muerto.

Some people prefer neither Halloween nor a Day of the Dead in America. Queens resident Enrique Jimenez remembers his childhood experience with pan de muerto as he makes a quick visit to the bakery.

“I would buy the bread when I was little, or my mom baked it, but not too much anymore,” he says.

This year he will gather with his cousins and his brother, who is bringing pan de muerto from Mexico.

“This bread has a different flavor,” he says. “The original flavor is from Mexico.”

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Fulton Fish Market feels the pinch


Inside a white room the size of a toll booth, Diana Chicolo slides her window open at the tapping of a seafood distributor’s fingers. The warehouse air, regulated at 40 degrees, wafts in through her heated office, as she glances at the yellow receipt the distributor hands her.

“$186, even. Do you pay by check?”

For 13 years, Chicolo, 38, has been the bookkeeper for Caleb Haley & Co., one of the oldest and largest seafood wholesalers at the Fulton Fish Market. Between sips of coffee she said, “The fish market is not as busy as it used to be. It’s definitely dwindling.”

While it remains the largest wholesale seafood market in the U.S., the Fulton Fish Market has been shrinking in recent years. Four shops have closed since 2005 — a significant number in a market dominated by third-generation businesses — and many wholesalers cite sales decreases of 10 to 30 percent.

Caleb Haley, operating since 1859, is a big name at the market. Like those of the other 30 or so wholesalers, Caleb Haley’s core customers are seafood purveyors who distribute to restaurants and other eating establishments.

Sporting a navy blue baseball hat and jacket, a heavy-set Joseph Serrantonio, 52, oversees tuna and swordfish sales for the family-run business. He says the economic downturn has decreased his sales by 10 to 15 percent since last year. While the Zagat survey recently reported that 157 notable restaurants opened and 102 closed this year, Chicolo and Serrantonio both said the closings have impacted the wholesale business.

One of Caleb Haley’s longtime customers, David Coopersmith, 52, has been distributing seafood for Scandia Seafood for about 20 years. On any given day, he can buy 300 to 1,000 pounds, spending between $3,000 and $10,000, but he said demand from customers, including restaurants, is down 14 percent from last year. The economic downturn is “affecting us a little bit,” he said. “Absolutely.”

Chicolo also said the market’s relocation from downtown Manhattan in 2005 created a barrier for smaller buyers and passers-by. “People from Chinatown used to buy two to three pieces of fish,” she said “Now coming here means a lot of gas, time and parking fees.” The fish market charges $5 for drivers who wish to purchase seafood; those who brave the two-hour subway and bus ride have to pay a $2 pedestrian’s entry fee.

Opposite Caleb Haley, Anthony DeVito, 35, stands behind purple and red nets and white cardboard boxes of clams, oysters and mussels. It is a lot drier here. The third generation owner of the family-run New Seafood, DeVito has been working at the market for 32 years. “With the economy the way it is, business is down a little bit,” he said. He sells 10,000 to 20,000 pieces of shellfish, or about $30,000 a week. “It’s off by probably 30 percent” since last year, he said. He mulled over the number, chuckled and said, “I try not to look at it. You look at it, you just want to cry. The bills are getting paid. I’m happy with that.” He said the decreased demand has particularly hit high-end shellfish such as Maine oysters that require diving to obtain them.

On the other side of the 400,000-square-foot warehouse, Joel Rivera, 28, with a shaven head and solid build, maneuvers his forklift to unload fish onto the floor of Montauk Seafood. Having worked at the market for six years, he said, “I noticed a change in the money that the market was pushing. All the fish that was on the floor, all the fish that was being delivered. And there’s just such a big difference now.” He continued, “It just keeps getting smaller. Guys are getting laid off.”

Pan Sing Long, 35, a fish cutter at Caleb Haley, can certainly attest to that. After the company laid off two workers last year, he has had to double his responsibilities.

Meanwhile, outside the Fulton Fish Market, Restaurant Depot, a private wholesaler of food and supplies to restaurants, delis and grocery stores, has been aggressively growing, with 13 locations in New York and New Jersey. Staffed by former restaurant owners, chefs and food service specialists and offering thousands of food products at each location, the store calls itself the “the low-cost alternative to other foodservice suppliers,” according to its Web site. “A lot of restaurants are going to Restaurant Depot,” Chicolo said. “They buy in bulk,” and can get the seafood “frozen and cheaper.”

A line of purveyors grew outside Chicolo’s window, and, her wavy auburn hair highlighted against her white sweatshirt, she continued ringing up the purchases: $858.25, $4,742.68, $476.19. “It’s Thursday. It’s a busy day,” she said.

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