Carrot and Apple Salad

One of my favorite autumn salads is one made with carrot, apple, raisins and cumin. The recipe has plenty of room for experimentation — add nuts for crunch, try cilantro for a more savory taste, switch out lemon for lime, add grated ginger for zip, use sour cream instead of mayonnaise, add a drizzle of honey if the apples are too tart, mix in some shredded cabbage to turn it into a slaw...

Carrot and Apple Salad

1 large carrot or 2 medium-sized ones, shredded or julienned
1 large apple, julienned or cubed
Juice from half a lemon or 1 whole lime
1/4 seedless raisins
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons mayonnaise or sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak the raisins in the lemon juice for about a half hour until they plump. Drain the raisins, but reserve the juice. The excess sugars that dissolves off the outside of the raisins and into the citrus will add some sweetness to the dressing. Alternatively, for a less sweet salad, soak the raisins in 1 cup warm water, then drain and discard the liquid.

Stir together the citrus, cumin, and mayonnaise or sour cream until well blended.

In a large bowl, toss together the carrots, apple, and raisins until well incorporated (hands will work best). Add the liquid and toss gently to dress the salad, adding a pinch of salt — and pepper if you like — to taste.

Options: Add a hnadful of toasted, slivered almonds, Marcona almonds, walnuts, or candied walnuts for crunch. Or, add cilantro and another squeeze if lime juice on top to make the salad more savory. Or, add a 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated, to the dressing.

Bread Lines

The abundance and availability of food in the U.S. (and the U.K. for that matter) are two things I take for granted.

Storytelling is one of the only things that will ever help me come close to understanding what it's like to not have these things. I can read all day long about the recent exorbitant cost of napa cabbage in North Korea, or the years-long problem that country has had with a lack of food in general and massive deaths due to malnutrition and starvation, but it's only when the horrors are told through a story that it resonates and has true meaning and value.

(One of the magazines I work on in my professional career is about learning, and a columnist has been writing about why storytelling should be used for not only education but corporate training, too.)

A friend who is from Tbilisi was visiting the U.S. just a few weeks ago. I was asking him what he found most different between a major city in the U.S. and his hometown, the capital of Georgia. The variety and availability of thins to purchase, he said, was most astounding here.

He said he remembered a time when he was a teenager, just before the Soviet Union collapsed, when he had to wait on a bread line for two days straight. "They wrote a number on your hand, and you couldn't leave the line for very long," he said. "I remember my feet," he stomped in place and wrapped his arms around himself, bracing from the memory of cold, "I couldn't feel them! There was a big bakery where we waited. My friend and I used to sneak around to the back of the bakery, and the workers — there was a little hole in the wall, and they would sometimes squeeze through the opening a bit of uncooked dough." He feigned with his hands how they delivered the dough, like feeding a rope through a hole.

When food was particularly scarce, he said, people used to take plain bread and soak it in salt water, then fry it in a pan and pretend it was khachapuri, Georgia's famous cheese bread (imagine something like a cross between a quesedilla and the most lovely white pizza you've ever eaten).

But it's not just that he told me these stories. It was the disgust on his face at the thought of eating bread soaked in salt water then fried. It was the shivering and stomping of feet that he could remember and act out. And for someone like me who has never experienced anything close to a life like this, it is still very hard to imagine, and even harder to be conscientiously thankful that I never did have to go through these hardships.

Maybe in the coming weeks I'll ask my friend, who is back in Georgia now, via email to elaborate more on what his country was like before the Soviet collapse. For instance, we started a really interesting conversation about the wine market out there, wherein I speculated it could be a huge force for the economy if vinters figured out how to export and sell it to Americans, and he explained a number of problems that would prevent that.

Trends in New York's Food and Restaurant Scene

One the biggest trends I've noticed in New York City's food scene is the shift toward small shops that specialize in only one thing, but attempt to do it very well.

This trend isn't surprising, given New York's food history. Signature eateries always include pizzerias, bagel shops, and delis, which are in themselves specialty shops of a kind.

I think the trend is also driven by the "cupcake craze" that started in 2000 or 2001. Dessert cafes have been around for a while, but New Yorkers (and eventually the rest of the world) really took to the idea that a dessert cafe could focus on one special item and make it better than anyone else. Maybe it's more a marketing ploy than anything else, the promise of selectivity and elite status. It also helps that specialty shops can get away with having a smaller space and thus lower rent, which in New York is a business-life saver.

Here are some other New York City speciality eateries that I recognize as being part of this trend:

You could argue that Shake Shack should be on this list, but I think it straddles a fine line. Hamburger stands aren't quite as quintessentially "New York" as pizzerias and bagel shops, but they're up there.

Are there others I've missed on this list? Comments welcomed! What about in other cities? Has anyone else noticed this same trend?