Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mushy Pea Quest

Quick, quick, I must write about the Quest for Mushy Peas before the Quest for Mushy Peas fades off into the Land of Unwritten Posts!

Well, it's not THAT exciting. No visions, no dragons, no nobody in no samite white or otherwise, none of that good stuff that make a quest properly questy.

No, this was flat-out curiousity, coupled with a late night at work and the fact that I live in one of America's 10 most walkable cities. Seriously. Saw it in some Yahoo news article a while back - the only thing that shocked me was that we were all the way down at #8. What? A city where car ownership is thoroughly optional, and not a very attractive option at that? Oh well, whatevers.

Anyways. First things first. Why mushy peas, of all things? What drives a thoroughgoing vowel-flattening Yank get curious enough to walk a mile, in January, for a curious English delicacy?

Just that I just recently realized this was an actual, intentionally prepared, dish. I can't remember the first time that I heard the term "mushy peas", but I had heard it here & there & I thought that it referred to something like peas that been boiled to death & then left to quietly expire in a steam table or something.

However, earlier this year, somewhere in my blog ramblings, I ran across some expat UK blogger who was actually thrilled because someone had sent her a tin of mushy peas.

OK, that makes the boiled to death theory look weak. I could go out in my kitchen & boil some peas to death in twenty minutes or so. No import forms required.

That was my first clue, but not quite enough to turn it into a Quest. More of a "Hm, that's interesting".

But then Tillerman did a Fish and Chips on Friday and in the comments, there were a couple of references to the goodness of this mushy pea dish. I left a comment about how I'd just recently realized that the term "mushy peas" was not "a self-deprecating reference to the British approach to cooking vegetables". Tillerman's response began: Oh, Bonnie. How could you.

Wow. He actually sounded wounded by my cheerful ignorance. These mushy peas must be something special.

Officially curious, I googled them. I found a Wikipedia article, and tons of recipes. They sounded pretty good& I was thinking maybe I should try making them - but then it hit me that I LIVE in NEW YORK CITY.


You can buy anything here if you just figure out where, and it didn't take much figuring to figure out that of all the shops in NYC, the one most likely to carry mushy peas would be A Salt and Battery. Naturally.

Checked their website and bingo! Plus the shop looked to be within a pleasant walk from work. Perfect!

That was all between Christmas and New Year. I was a titch on the busy side so I filed that thought away under "Things I Should Do Sometime".

Last week ended up being sometime. I'd gotten backed up working on a big project at work, so I was putting in some yucky hours at the office. One nice thing about living in NY is that no matter how busy you are at work, you can always still get in a good walk after work - I'll either walk a subway station or two down the line, or get off the train a station or two or three early. Great way to unwind after being stuck in a cubicle.

So Tuesday night last week, I was wrapping up around 7:30, I was hungry, it was cold but not too too cold and I thought "Hey, this will be the perfect night to go find those mushy peas!" I checked the shop's website, noted the location & set out for Greenwich Village.

Now the Village is a wonderful place to walk - it's full of nice old buildings in a nice human scale, funny little cobblestone side streets, there's good people watching & window shopping (hasn't suffered the full scale mallification of some older neighborhoods).

Part of the fun is intersections like this:

Above a certain point, Manhattan is laid out in a nice sensible grid. Everything's rectangular except Broadway, which cuts across diagonally. Streets run east to west. Avenues north to south.

This was all laid out in the Commissioners Plan of 1811.

The grid holds rational sway above 14th street, and once you've figured out which direction you are facing when you come out of the subway, it's pretty hard to get lost.

Below, all bets are off.

To me, part of the fun of walking in the West Village is this sense of maybe not knowing exactly where I am, or what I'm going to see around the corner.

If I have an actual destination, sometimes it takes a little extra wandering before I find it. I like that. If I'm meeting someone, I'll make sure I've got my walk mapped out before I go. If not, though, I'll allow myself the luxury of just getting a general idea of where I'm trying to go, and then just wandering in the right general direction until I get there. Makes for a nice meander.

Tuesday night, I decided to do that. Looking at the site, I knew I was looking for a street called Greenwich & that the row of Anglophilic shops in which the chip shop is located was going to be north of where I got onto Greenwich. I'd been to Greenwich Street before, so I had an idea of where I was going. I nevertheless managed to get a little turned around, the meander seemed longer than I'd expected it to be, and with every moment meandering I was getting hungrier & chillier - but JUST when I was thinking of throwing in the towel & trying again - yes, there it was!

Funny, though...seemed to go off in a different direction than I was expecting from what I'd seen on their map.

Well, I was probably just a little disoriented. That happens to people sometimes where west 4th street and west 10th street cross.

And funny...looked awfully non-retail. There's streets in Manhattan that are clearly shopfront retail thoroughfares trying to entice pedestrians. And then there are those that aren't and you just don't expect to be able to buy anything on those (at least not anything legal).

But I was absolutely positive I was looking for Greenwich. And here it was. So I followed it. Maybe it got more retail at the end? I followed it north.

It ran, shopless, up to 9th Avenue, where it ended, shopless.


Could the chip shop be south?

I'd walked too far and was too cold and hungry to try, especially since looking south when I first hit Greenwich, that way looked even less promising than shopless north.

I gave up & went home.

I looked at the website.

Suddenly it all made sense.

Friday, I was ready to try again. I looked at the map a little more carefully to make sure I'd find the place this time, and before long -

There I was at Greenwich.

Greenwich AVENUE.

It had simply slipped my mind that Greenwich Village holds both a Greenwich Street and a Greenwich Avenue. I'd been to Greenwich Street for something at some point in the past & that was all I thought of, leaving work in a hurry with no more than a quick glance at the map.

And there it was -

And that's their menu board up at the top, after a short wait, I was hustling out the door with my mushy prize (and some cod and chips too!).

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