Tag Archives: food

Harley Dawn – South Jersey’s finest diner

And now for something completely different! A restaurant review!

First, the genre… It’s a diner!

Diners are very important to New Jersey folks like me. I live on Route 30 – diners to the east of me, diners to the west of me! Where did I go the morning after the derecho in 2012, when my power was out and trees were down all over? The local diner, of course. It was mobbed. So few places had electric service. I stood in line with all the people from the east of me, longing for coffee and scrambled eggs. Diners are the cultural glue of South Jersey. By the time I left, I had the information I needed about the storm and our rather dire situation.

I feel a special connection to the Harley Dawn diner. Owners April and David Emmons called me to discuss green design and alternative energy possibilities when they were planning their re-build. (Diners, by and large, are not energy efficient. Some operate in structures that are old and sketchily maintained.) April and David set high standards and labored diligently through design and construction. And what a great eatery they have built! It looks sharp and incorporates excellent energy technology.

But of course, what matters most is the food! It’s great! They advertise “green, local and sustainable”. On that list, “local” is what most appeals to me. For goodness sake, this is the Garden State! I love our farms and farm stands. Like most diners, the menu at Harley Dawn is extensive and covers just about everything. Lots of comfort food.

My husband argues that before I start posting about Harley Dawn, further research is needed. I mean, we only tried two of the many flavors of homemade ice cream! Surely we need to sample the meatloaf? Yes, a few more visits are in order, but I have no reservations about recommending Harley Dawn now. Today! Join me?

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“Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” by Novella Carpenter

Penguin Press, 2009, 269 pages.

This book presents a striking contrast to “The Good Food Revolution – Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities” by Will Allen, which I reviewed on January 29, 2015.

For starters, Allen farms in chilly Milwaukee, whereas Carpenter lives in sunny southern California. Allen is incredibly systematic and diligent, and good at using “the system” to get grants and organize groups. Carpenter is eccentric, rebellious and individualistic. Both manage to raise food in a city setting. Each has a progressive to liberal/radical political agenda. Other than that, they have little in common.

Carpenter did not own the urban land she farmed, describing herself as a squatter. She lived, by choice, in a neighborhood most of us would never consider – violent and poverty stricken, a marginal community full of marginalized, struggling people. To her, sharing was an integral part of being an urban farmer. She gated but did not lock her garden, and rarely interfered with people who helped themselves to her produce. She scavenged extensively, often in the dumpsters behind restaurants.

But these two farmers share a vision of a highly altered urban landscape, and I consider most of the changes they advocate to be highly desirable from an environmental point of view.

One of Carpenter’s especial goals was to raise meat on her urban farm, and the book plots her passage from poultry to rabbits to pigs. She raised two hogs (not pigs, but full sized hogs). Her monetary investment was minor, but the labor of feeding the fast growing hogs on dumpster sourced food sounded overwhelming. I wonder if she did it again.

One reason I can’t imagine living Carpenter’s life style if that it seems overwhelmingly dirty. She kept poultry in her apartment, rabbits on her deck, pigs beside her building.

Both Carpenter and Allen are well worth reading. I would love to see both cities and suburbs producing food (and flowers!) and supporting birds and other wildlife.

“Picnic in Provence – A Memoir with Recipes” by Elizabeth Bard.

This is a warm and fuzzy book about intercultural fun and confusion. The author’s first book, Lunch in Paris, was about meeting and marrying a handsome Frenchman. Picnic in Provence is about moving to a village, having a baby and starting an ice cream parlor.

Along the way, Bard writes about food, culture and child rearing, without slowing down too much or getting too serious. I’m not sure if any of her recipes will work for me, but they will be fun to try!

Inspired by Bard’s description of the French diet, I decided to fix soup for dinner. My main ingredients were a large can of chicken broth (zero fat, low sodium) and a head of cabbage. Also a small can of stewed tomatoes. There were some useful leftovers in the refrigerator – cooked greens, peas. I’ve always got carrots and onions. My husband came home a recommended precooked, smoked turkey sausage. Suddenly it smelled and tasted very good! Even better the next day, with a little grated Parmesan cheese.

“The Good Food Revolution – Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities” by Will Allen with Charles Wilson

Will Allen is 65 years old, just like me. He was born into very different circumstances. When I read this book, I had to keep reminding myself that his childhood and youth did not take place “far away and long ago”. We were separated by maybe 500 miles in distance, and no time at all. But I didn’t “meet” him until I read this book.

Will Allen was born in Maryland, into a poor African American family from South Carolina. His parents were hard working and incredibly self-reliant. Allen credits his highly athletic physique to a childhood of hard work and healthy food. He discovered basketball early in his teens and used it as his path away from poverty. I’m familiar with the “Great Migration” of African Americans from the South to northern cities, and even with some of the reverse migration that followed. (There’s a demographer in the family. Hi, JBC!) But it never occurred to me to analyze it from the viewpoint of food and nutrition! Will Allen writes about this with great clarity.

Allen’s depiction of pre-Migration families eating healthy homegrown food is somewhat at odds with tales told by my father-in-law, a North Carolina university physician whose father practiced rural medicine before him. His descriptions of country life among the poor included appallingly bad health and severe malnutrition. Maybe life in the coastal plain of North Carolina was harder than in South Carolina or Virginia.

But there’s no arguing with Allen’s assertion that, once at their urban destinations, African Americans and other poor people faced (and continue to face) many barriers to healthy eating. For three decades, I’ve watched Atlantic City struggle to retain a single supermarket. If you don’t have a car, buying a week’s worth of food at a time isn’t going to happen, and if you are working two jobs, how much can you cook? Cheap, starchy food isn’t very satisfying, so obesity sometimes catches up with you.

Will Allen is one very creative farmer! I’ve farmed a little, with an oddball list of shaky successes – blackberries to die for, okra, basil, yard-long Chinese beans. But I’ve also been frequently defeated (by deer, weather, etc.), and have decided to leave agriculture to my more talented and hardworking neighbors. Allen preaches patience and plainly has learned, over time, how to make barren, desolate areas productive. Allen branched out beyond vegetables to raising chickens and even fish.

Along the way, he has involved schools and neighborhood centers and cooperatives. He has figured out how to go vertical, crowding multiple crops into small areas. Presently, he works both on crops/projects that are economically viable and ones that require subsidies. He identifies ENERGY as a major barrier to urban agriculture in his city of Milwaukee.

I love Allen’s vision of bringing food closer to people and people closer to food. I know people who are working along the same lines in Atlantic City and even Camden, the saddest city I know. I wish them all the greatest possible success.