By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood – soft sunshine, with fluffy clouds scudding overhead – after a windy, wet, and unseasonably cold – 50 degrees F! three days.
Today, I find myself reflecting on Memorial Days past.
It’s been a long time since I was last in the U.S. on Memorial Day. My most vivid memories are of how I celebrated the day during my high school years. I played clarinet in the Newton High School Marching Band, the headliner for the town Memorial Day Parade. The sun is always shining in my memories of those parades, when we marched clad in heavy woolen uniforms and wearing our spiffy freshly-polished white shoes, playing show tunes, Sousa marches – and most appropriate for a holiday originally established to honor Civil War dead, the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
The parade always ended on a somber note, when town dignitaries – the mayor, various freeholders, the high school principal – assembled to deliver speeches (or listen to them). Someone always read out In Flanders Fields, followed by the band’s first trumpet playing Taps (aka, the Last Post):
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
With our solemn duty discharged, we’d march back to the high school, then head home for the first of many of the new season’s barbecues, with family and friends sharing hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad heavy on the Hellmann’s mayonnaise, cucumbers dressed in sour cream, and a strawberry jello mold, studded with pineapple, grapes, strawberries, and other fruits. Perhaps cake mix cake and Breyer’s ice cream for dessert.
My marching days are long over, as is my playing of the clarinet – although mine still rests at the bottom of our linen closet. This evening, I’ll fire up my Big Green Egg and grill a steak, to serve with a potato salad – dressed with a lemon vinaigrette – a cucumber salad perhaps with peanuts and chili, and grilled asparagus. Jello salads I’ve long given up, a casualty of losing tolerance for the chemical taste of processed foods. But we’ll finish with a strawberry tart, which I’ll throw together after I’ve uploaded this post.
Which brings me to one of my main points. The food scene in my Brooklyn neighbourhood has changed, from when what my husband and I call the greengrocer formerly known as Ho’s catered to the local community by selling all ingredients for the Jamaican delicacy, cow cod soup: scotch bonnet chilis, malanga coco, yams, other vegetables, and thepièce de résistance, bull’s penis, stored with dozens of others in a five-gallon plastic bucket.
Ho’s is still in business, trading under another name, and has branched out to sell organic milk, herbs, and other types of yuppie vegetables. But they’ve not abandoned their Caribbean specialties: ginger beer, various pulses, a broad selection of root vegetables and greens I’ve not encountered elsewhere . And of course, cow cods are still on the menu.
Now back in our Brooklyn home after much of the winter sequestered at the beach, I’ve been happy to see that other local businesses have weathered the pandemic by upping their on-line shopping and delivery games. Right across from Ho’s we now have a decent liquor store – a bright airy shop, rather than the cramped space where workers in its predecessors sheltered behind bulletproof glass. I’ve popped into the shop before, a couple of years ago, when the selection was well-chosen but meager. That’s all changed and after finding its website, I tried to place an on-line order the other night. But the ordering system was balky – aren’t they always? – and after a lively ‘phone chat with Amanda, the knowledgeable manager, placed my first order. Forty-five minutes later, a smiling cordial delivery guy – Chad – showed up on his bicycle and handed over my purchases.
Meat I also ordered from my local butcher for the first time online on Friday. That process was hassle-free. A couple of ‘phone calls were needed to sort some details, but one reason for patronizing a butcher is so I can get exactly what I want, in the quantity I require, cut to order rather than being limited to prewrapped options.
I’m currently awaiting my first delivery from a newish neighborhood grocery store. I usually buy most of my vegetables and fish from NYC Greenmarkets. Alas, the closest one is only open on Saturday, while another nearby is open on Sunday and Wednesday. It rained heavily over the weekend, so I didn’t make it to either market. We’ll see how this delivery option works out. The variety of foods offered on-line is much broader than what my husband has found on the shelves when he shops in person.
I just broke off briefly to accept my grocery delivery – which went much better than I expected. Too much so. Based the difficulty my husband found with the store’s selection when he shopped in person, I ordered more than I needed, expecting the store not to be able to supply all items I selected. But they did. Perhaps their on-line options are more extensive than what they put out on the shelves. So I now have red, savoy, and Napa cabbage. Time to make some sauerkraut and kimchi. Tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. Kale, swiss chard, and spinach.
One challenge shopping in Brooklyn is how to carry home my purchases on days such as today, when in addition to fresh fruit and vegetables, I needed to restock some pantry items – olive oil – and to replenish my supplies of butter, milk, and eggs. Dee, my grocery delivery person, dropped off three bags of groceries, which I never would have managed on my own.
As we head into the summer, I cannot wait to visit greenmarkets again and select my own vegetables from seasonal local options. I suppose for food and beverage stores to have survived during the pandemic, it was necessary for them to make it easy for products to get to customers. It’s not just the evil Amazon that’s developed new distribution options. I expect now that customers have got used to fast and efficient ordering and delivery services, there’s no going back.
So, let me close by wishing our readers who are enjoying a three-day weekend a pleasant day off. I’d also like to learn what you’ve planned for what for many will be the season’s first barbecues.