Rachel Kort, 24, born in Seattle
Daniel Steingart, 26, born in Baltimore
Neighborhood: Crown Heights
Weekly Food Cost: $100
What’s for Dinner: Chicken baked in a sauce of red wine, tomatoes, olives and oregano; roasted root vegetables with oregano and olive oil; green salad; and wine.
“We started with an appetizer of some vegetable pâté on spelt crackers,” says Rachel. She and her fiancé, Dan, share most meals, so on Friday evenings after picking up the Hebrew newspapers and having his beard trimmed by a barber in Crown Heights, Dan buys a kosher chicken for the couple’s dinner. It’s one of the few items they purchase in the neighborhood.
“Even though we live in Crown Heights, we belong to the co-op [in Park Slope],” says Rachel. “Mostly we’re food snobs and there aren’t any good stores in our neighborhood. Let me put it this way, the nicest cheese you can get in Crown Heights is mild cheddar.”
The lower-middle class neighborhood, which lies on both sides of Eastern Parkway, is a blend of West Indians and Hasidic Jews. The congested commercial strips neighbor stately historic town houses. The couple, who will marry next summer, moved into their apartment in early August. It has a big kitchen: a perk of living in Crown Heights, they say.
For Rachel and Dan, what’s for dinner is well planned. They pack their lunches for school and eat in most nights. They decide their weekly meals in advance and do “one big shop” a week. They save money by getting their groceries at the co-op.
“We’re poor students,” says Rachel, who is studying to be a reform rabbi. “Maybe once every two weeks we go out [to eat]. Sundays we usually make a pot of soup that we have for lunch and dinner that day. Our schedules are crazy, so we eat quick, simple meals during the week.”
On Kingston Avenue, two blocks from their apartment and in the heart of the Crown Heights Jewish district—international headquarters to the Chabad sect of Hasidic Jews—Rachel and Dan sometimes shop for a few specialty food items. “There’s a bakery where we get challah”—a yeast-bread made with eggs and butter, usually baked in a braided loaf—“and we buy some items from Israel there. There’s a good fish stand where we buy fresh fish,” says Rachel.
They used to purchase vegetables from a stand in their neighborhood, “but about two months ago we got a couple of things—a mango, maybe—and we’ve had a fruit fly problem every since. Our apartment is just so hot. So we’ve sworn off the cheap stands,” she says.
The couple keeps Shabbat, so between Friday night and Sunday morning they don’t cook: they prepare food beforehand. “We hold by the prohibition that you don’t cook things on Shabbat,” Rachel explains. “So like yesterday [a Friday] we made pea soup for today, and then we had it with some tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwiches,” which they put together that morning. “You can cut vegetables and whatnot. It’s really more about fire and the idea of cooking things with heat, as opposed to opening a can or something,” she says.
When cooking, Rachel follows recipes, but Dan says he uses them for inspiration only. Their weekly treat is popcorn, from an air-popper made for the microwave. “I think my family is the only people who use those,” Rachel laughs. “We have popcorn four nights a week.”
The free-range, organic kosher chicken is a regular Friday evening meal for the couple. “We can’t really afford to buy kosher meat all the time, so we end up eating a lot of vegetarian. We both really, really, really like meat. But we also understand that there are definitely environmental implications if you eat a lot of meat. Ultimately it’s less an animal rights issue and more an environmental one, so we limit ourselves,” says Rachel. “Dan likes to call himself a ‘meat reductionist.’ He likes to think he coined the term.”
“Otherwise, we really eat anything and everything,” she says. “We eat very well. We totally shop at the co-op. It’s ridiculous.”