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What’s for Dinner

Linda Lachick, 48, born and raised in Brooklyn
Neighborhood: Flatlands

Weekly Food Costs: $50

What’s for Dinner: Red sauce with meatballs, hot sausages, and beef- and pork- spare ribs; cavatellis (twists of pasta with ricotta cheese in the dough); salad; and sfogliatelle (flaky pastry shells with a sweet cream filling of ricotta cheese) from Villabate Pasticceria & Bakery in Bay Ridge.

“We’re Italian, so it was always ‘eat.’ If anything was wrong—oh here, eat this. If I was happy—eat this. And that was it. That’s how Italians show love and affection. By making you eat.”

Growing up, Linda always ate at home. Her family dined once a month at the New China Inn on Flatbush Avenue or at the original Lundy’s in Sheepshead Bay, but her mother cooked most meals and prepared Linda’s school lunch—cold cuts or peanut butter, with a dime for milk. “Brooklyn used to be very safe. You could leave the doors open and you’d never have to worry,” says Linda. “Everybody kept their sidewalk clean.”

There may be more litter at the curb today, but the Flatlands have retained much of their 1950s Levittown feel. Between Ralph and Flatbush Avenues to the east and west, Flatlands Avenue to the north, and Avenue U to the south, the neighborhood is a groomed stretch of two-story detached houses with fenced-in front yards, vinyl siding, and short driveways.

There are few apartment buildings and fewer subway stations. The nearest train, the L, is a 15-minute bus ride away; Lower Manhattan, about an hour further. Once home to mostly Catholics (Irish and Italian), then predominantly Jewish, the local Key Foods now stocks Haitian and other Caribbean island foods, such as genips (a hard-skinned fruit similar to litchi), malanga (or yautia, a starchy, nutty root vegetable), and Cola Lacaye (Haitian soda).

Linda, who earned a degree as a holistic health counselor, would gladly picket for a Whole Foods in the neighborhood. “I don’t know whyâ? my neighborhood is consistently ignored and deprived.â? There was a huge piece of property available on Utica Avenue, not far from me, perfect for a Whole Foods or even a high-end grocery storeâ? which would have added quality choices to our otherwise supermarket-deprived area. And instead of opening any food chain they opened an enormous two-story Petco. I was appalled,” she says.

Linda tried to organize an area greenmarket but couldn’t find a sponsor for the space—the local churches told her they needed their parking lots for weekend mass. So for now Linda purchases basics at the local Waldbaum’s, and shops for organic foods at the Whole Foods in Union Square. “I love to go to Whole Foods. Some days I’ll go after work, but when the weather is cold or rainy and miserable, I don’t like to make the trip.”

On those days Linda shops at Bell Bates Natural Foods near City Hall. “I do a lot of shopping there, and I can spend a fortune and come out with only half a meal. But I love anything that has quality stuff that’s hard to come by. I don’t mind paying for it, but you have to cut it off because it gets extremely expensive.”

What’s for dinner for Linda is a mix of old-world Italian and California organic, and the philosophy behind both cuisines is wholesome, basic ingredients. She packs a lunch for work and cooks simple meals for dinner. “I take salads for lunch every day. Then at night I’ll come home and I’ll have fish, if I have fish, or I’ll make a turkey burger, or escarole and beans—something Italian like that.”

Her clean, half-empty refrigerator shelves reveal her taste for fresh foods. “I keep the food to really a minimum,” she says. “I don’t buy a lot of stuff. I don’t like to freeze so much.”

When Linda talks about food, her language is peppered with Italian—sfogliatelle, cavatelli—and the words stand out like tourists among her tuna wraps and fresh greens. But on Sundays, Linda’s stove bubbles and spits with traditional Italian fare. “I make my red sauce, or I’ll make a ring of skinny sausage with red peppers, or chicken cutlets parmigiana.” These dinners lend themselves to family-style; Linda’s mother lives nearby and her aunt lives downstairs. “I make whatever I feel like eating,” she shrugs, “and if they want to eat it, they come. If they don’t want to eat it, they don’t come.”

As a young girl, Linda stayed out of her mother’s kitchen—but there must have been something in the sauce. “I never watched. I was never in the kitchen. But I love to cook. When I got married, I would call my mother periodically to ask her how to make the sauce and that’s the only way I learned, by talking to my mother about how she did it.”

As a holistic health counselor and an Italian, Linda knows the challenges to healthy eating. “When I’m upset I’ll buy crap and eat that. Or when I’m happy I’ll buy crap and eat that,” she laughs. “So that’s what I do. I still medicate myself with food.”

But by keeping her diet simple and fresh, Linda saves calories and cash, so when she wants to splurge, she can. “I like to go to really, really excellent restaurants, places that cost an arm and a leg,” she says, “because that’s what I want to experience, that good food.”

Linda’s friend David surprises her each year on her birthday with dinner at a top New York City restaurant. This year, David took her to the renowned Upper East Side French restaurant, Daniel. “It was a rainy night and I didn’t know where we were going, but I knew we were going way uptown,” says Linda. They parked beneath scaffolding, and when Linda asked if she should bring an umbrella, David said not to bother: they would walk under the construction. “So as I’m walking, all I see are two letters: E and L, and I started screaming. It was Daniel.”

She ordered the sea bass—amazing—and David had the braised short ribs—like butter—but such extravagant dining is a rare and well-earned treat, says Linda.

“That’s why I bring my lunch to work everyday,” she says. “So when I go out, I don’t feel guilty about spending money on food, because I don’t ever spend it during the week.”


Marjory Garrison


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2006

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