I love Mr. Berry. And so 10 months into this pandemic, I still go. 10 months after I began my first seven weeks of lockdown when I would venture out with a flannel shoe bag looped over my ears and a swatch of plaid Scottish wool tied around my head before the sun came up or after it had set, while the rest of the world was most likely sleeping. Across the Polaski bridge from Queens to Brooklyn, down the first staircase on the other side of the river, up Box Street and a left on Manhattan, towards the church.
My friend Mary was worried that the virus might have more of a chance at me with such a long walk. It was the beginning of March; I had been exposed, and we weren’t sure yet how the virus worked. Mary thought it was important that I stay in top form, but we did not agree about what that meant. Mary’s mode is to avoid the cold and weather to build yourself up. I am a believer in throwing yourself into it. She would have preferred I shop at E&I on the corner, or forgo shopping all together and get it delivered. I preferred walking in the full on wind until I might have to borrow another pair of legs.
At Mr. Berry you never know what you are going to find. Yesterday, I bought big, fat chestnuts and chubby little persimmons the color of a 1970’s satin pant suit. I got nearly perfect raspberries in the middle of November. I got super seeded gluten free crackers, yogurt from Bulgaria, bananas ready to eat this minute, a tiny champagne mango for 50 cents, a tiny bunch of spinach for 50 cents, a pack of organic hamburger and top shelf coffee. Two blocks away: Peter Pan Donuts. There is no time like pandemic time, for donuts. Across the street: Nassau Meat Market which is the best kielbasa you have ever had in your life, smoked in the back and its cousin, slab bacon.
All of these stores are the size of a master bedroom. Not always possible to keep 6 feet, but everyone wears their mask over nose and mouth, and the in and out is never longer than 15 minutes.
Plus, it is a goal that you have to prepare for. It is a long walk. You have to eat before you go. You have to add a few layers to whatever your loungewear is underneath. You have to think about what you might cook that night since you are shopping. And then there is the walk. There is something about the act of moving forward, even it is just to Brooklyn, that makes you feel like life is not sinking. I choose the stairs involved to get over the Newtown Creek, which encourage deep breathing.
There are people. You might only see eyes, but they are the eyes of the living.
To roast chestnuts: choose chestnuts that are robust and have weight to them. Forget the price tag. Buy less, but buy heavy. With focus, make a slice with a small sharp paring knife across the flat side of each chestnut. Roast on an unprepared sheet pan in a 350 degree oven or in a cast iron frying pan, with a lid. You are looking for the chestnuts to split their skins and for the nutmeat to soften. Eat them as is, as part of a charcuterie or cheese board, or puree into a Monte Bianco. Think about the tiny hilltop of Preggio that typically has a chestnut festival and invites everyone into the cantinas for their own family’s chestnut speciality with a glass of Novello. and break them into a ribollita as a substitute for the bread .