On a crisp, December afternoon, proceeding a nauseating trip to Chip Shop in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood, fellow foodie Brian Hoffman and I took a walk across Brooklyn’s Municipal District onto and up Flatbush Avenue to visit famed grocer Bklyn Larder. My dear friend had heard about certain vegetable side-dishes that were much sought-after, and felt it was the perfect time for the hunt. Brian found himself empty-handed in his search for the much-publicized Pickled Cauliflower (but did go home with containers of brussel sprouts, marinated mushrooms and spinach), and meanwhile, I made a playdate with another friend and fellow-foodie, Larder-employee Jessica Halliburton.
Throughout the past four and a half years, the main focus of Jessica's work has been around food - talking about it, making it, writing about it, selling it, serving it and growing it. Working as the food columnist for her college paper soon lead to an apprenticeship at a modern French restaurant in Northampton, MA where Jessica quickly garnered techniques in knife skills and kitchen banter. After moving to New York in 2007, she began working as a restaurant publicist, with clients ranging from corporate powerhouse BLT Steak to the New York classic Gotham Bar and Grill to Williamsburg's revered independent pizzeria, Motorino. As much fun as the free food and chef gossip was, the p.r. life was not inherently in Jessica's blood, so after a year and a half she packed her bags and spent the past summer season living and working on an organic vegetable farm in northern California. Harvesting beets and weeding fields in the sun provided a much better way to spend her days. With her life back in Brooklyn, Jessica is continuing her work in the local food movement at various urban farms while selling cheese and cured meats to Park Slope residents.
She is the owner of a number of t-shirts, pants and toothbrushes, and has, at any given hour, at least ten fingers and toes (an average of five of each). A regular breather, she can stand for up to 10 hours as long as she doesn’t sit down. Folklore has it that she is the first woman in history to say, “Hello my name is Jessica Halliburton and I work at Bklyn Larder 3-5 days a week, usually.”
That night, Jessica and I spent the evening talking about food, farming, music and the general art of living; from the politeness of alarm-clocks to the emotional sensitivities of squash, we had ourselves a real nice anthropomorphic conversation.
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ADAM LERMAN: (Keeping his hands to himself) So, [you’ve said to me before] that you have certain particularities in regards to what you do and do not put into your body, in regards to health and nutrition?
JESSICA HALLIBURTON: That’s why I would never want to put anything artificial into my body, like hormones. The other day I was in Trader Joe’s and I saw these chocolate chip cookies and the majority of people, I’m sure, turn over the back and they see, “How much sugar is in it? How many carbs are in it?” and I wanted to see no more than six ingredients on the label. I was like, I want to see flour, sugar, eggs, maybe some butter, chocolate chips, no more than that. This was important to me before I went [to work on a] farm, but after I spent a summer working on [it] and literally feeling how amazing my digestive system was feeling, how it was acting—and I know that sounds like a strange thing, but you couldn’t help but notice how happy your body was. Really, really happy.
LERMAN: Wow. What was the diet? And where was the farm, and what was the farm?
HALLIBURTON: The farm was Green Fire Farm. And it was up in Humbolt County. (Laughs)
LERMAN: So it’s a lovely, very positive place.
HALLIBURTON: It’s a positive, marijuana-free farm. The land is in the middle of a valley so it gets really, really hot. Which is awesome, because in July and August, they can grow amazing, really hot weather crops, like squash and cucumbers and peppers and eggplant and tomatoes and basil and all of these crops that love a lot of heat. And what they could do, the farmers, they would be able to harvest it and go to their two farmers markets, which are on the coast, and the majority of the farmers at the farmers markets in Eureka and Arcada—you know the weather’s colder as you get closer to the beach—and so their little tiny zucchini would literally be half the size of ours!
LERMAN: Now you said squash—hot weather friendly. Yet also cold weather friendly? Because squash is a winter vegetable, is it not? What’s the deal?
HALLIBURTON: Yes, well—that’s a very good question.
LERMAN: (Pleased with himself for the compliment) For whom is squash playing? What are its political orientations? And if squash was a person, what kind of person would squash be?
HALLIBURTON: Squash is like The Royal Tenenbaums.
LERMAN: So who’s Gene Hackman?
HALLIBURTON: Oh man, Gene Hackman is a winter squash.
LERMAN: Is he, like, Butternut?
HALLIBURTON: Yeah, he’s like a Butternut, for sure. Or maybe even a kabocha squash.
LERMAN: Kabocha squash?
HALLIBURTON: Kabocha. I think it’s one of the best winter squashes ever. It’s really sweet, the only problem is it is really hard to hack into.
LERMAN: Do you need a power tool? I’ve seen people do that.
HALLIBURTON: (Laughs, because she really finds Adam pretty funny) You don’t need a power tool. I have seen people do that. But the thing is, is that there are so many different kinds of squash, and squash is just a fruit. I learned this over the summer: “vegetable” is not a botanical term.
LERMAN: Is it an emotional term?
HALLIBURTON: (Laughs again. Two points: Adam) “Vegetable” is basically an edible plant; an edible plant that maybe isn’t necessarily that sweet. It’s a way to distinguish from much sweeter fruits like plums and peaches and apples.
LERMAN: Because those are edible plants.
HALLIBURTON: Right, exactly. But, the thing that’s really interesting about fruits and vegetables is you get to find what part of the plant they’re from. Like, the broccoli is a floret. It’s right before the plant is about to flower. If you don’t harvest a broccoli flower, the term is, it will “go to seed.”
LERMAN: (Appalled) It will impregnate some person?!
HALLIBURTON: It wants to impregnate the soil. Every plant wants to spread its seed.
LERMAN: Would you call broccoli a pervert?
HALLIBURTON: I would call all plants big perverts. They’re very sexual.
LERMAN: (Clearly a bit turned on) Very sexual.
HALLIBURTON: (Smartly returning to the original topic at hand) But just so you’re clear with this on the squashes: if you have the much more thin-skinned squashes—your zucchini—
LERMAN: Yeah, don’t insult the zucchini.
HALLIBURTON: (Laughing) They’re very sensitive.
LERMAN: Actually, if you cook a zucchini in complete silence, you can hear it scream, like a lobster, right before it hits the hot oil.
HALLIBURTON: (Laughs just a bit more)
LERMAN: In the fall, when the summer and winter squashes meet, do they meet? Is there a meeting? And if so, are the thin-skinned squashes bullied?
HALLIBURTON: (Laughing, unsurprisingly) You know, at Green Fire [Farm], we actually kept them very separated. They were so separated; they were on a completely different property.
LERMAN: Do they know the other exist?
HALLIBURTON: They have to.
LERMAN: Why that farm? And then, what are your thoughts on current green market cultures in California and in New York, and specifically, the Greenmarket in Union Square?
HALLIBURTON: Well, there’s a great organization out there. The full name is World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farming, which I know you’ve heard of. So, my friend Roach and I decided—it was actually our New Years promise to each other. We had this really long beautiful dinner and she just kind of looked at me and she said, “You know I really want to work on an organic farm this summer,” because she’s a dancer and she wanted to learn what it was like to use her body in a different way, but still in a form of work. And the minute that she said that it was as if she had opened a door that was inside of me this whole time that I didn’t even know was there.
LERMAN: And then you experienced life in terms of the farmers’ economy. What did you then glean from that about how farmers’ markets work? And specifically in California?
HALLIBURTON: It’s funny. The way that farmers’ markets work in California is that, Number 1: There are more of them. Because the weather in California is so amazingly conducive to—I mean, it’s the country’s bread basket, is what my dad always called it.
LERMAN: Does your dad eat a lot of bread?
HALLIBURTON: My dad? My dad eats a lot, period.
LERMAN: But bread is included?
HALLIBURTON: Oh yeah, absolutely.
LERMAN: Are other states other baskets for him? Like is Idaho?
HALLIBURTON: His potato basket? Right. Exactly.
LERMAN: And is…
HALLIBURTON: Texas is the country’s….
LERMAN: Rib basket.
HALLIBURTON: And Florida is the country’s orange basket.
LERMAN: Connecticut is the country’s…
HALLIBURTON: Wasp basket.
LERMAN: Exactly. “I’m looking for a good sting!” “Head over to Connecticut.”
HALLIBURTON: Go to that basket, right.
LERMAN: “Welcome to Connecticut! We’ll let you know if you’re allergic to bees. Trial and error here!” And there are a lot of lawyers there, so there’ll be a lot of trials.
LERMAN: What do you think is American cuisine? What does that mean to you?
HALLIBURTON: I think a lot of people have been trying to answer that question, and I think that that’s why we have a really hard time connecting with our food.
LERMAN: What are American spices? Like, we know Indian spices. We can definitely say that. Chinese spices, yes. What are American spices? Salt? No, salt’s everywhere.
HALLIBURTON: You could get… um… fat drippings? Bacon grease?
LERMAN: Is there anything that grows in this country that doesn’t grow naturally, indigenously, anywhere else? Aside from a fascinating breed of greed?
HALLIBURTON: (Laughing, because as an American, she’s witnessed this… but she also knows it exists other places… which is scary, and could lead to nuclear war, or the disappearance of everyone with ample buttock) I think cranberries, actually.
HALLIBURTON: Yes, I’m almost positive.
LERMAN: You don’t see cranberries other places…
HALLIBURTON: Peanut butter?
LERMAN: You see peanuts everywhere.
HALLIBURTON: I’m just kidding.
LERMAN: (Feeling like an idiot, because he didn’t realize she was kidding, which brought him back to a feeling of being picked on back in middle school.)
HALLIBURTON: I mean, we’re a peanut butter nation…
LERMAN: (Changing the subject) Where does your genealogy lead? What is your ethnic background?
HALLIBURTON: I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t answer that question very well. I do know that my grandfather’s parents have Russian lineage, but I don’t know anything about my dad’s side of the family… I don’t have a lot of contact with my dad’s side of the family, so I just don’t really know where that lineage leads me. So there’s a little Russian me, that’s all I know!
LERMAN: What are you listening to these days?
HALLIBURTON: I listen to a lot of folk.
LERMAN: A lot of folk?
HALLIBURTON: Yeah. I started making a wake-up playlist—
LERMAN: Folk music is so perfect to listen to in the morning.
HALLIBURTON: Yeah, it’s really nice. And I know that this may sound silly since I’m just realizing this now, but waking up to the sound of an alarm-clock is just a horrible way to begin your day.
LERMAN: (Remembering all the times his alarm scared him so abruptly he urinated a little bit in his clean sheets.) It is terrible. It’s really terrible.
HALLIBURTON: I was talking to my therapist on the phone, and I was just kind of mentioning this to her, and she kind of joked around with me, she goes, “Yeah, why would you want to literally alarm yourself the first thing when you wake up?” …So, waking up… not only does it motivate you to continue with whatever mood that music sets, but, chances are, if you’re going to make a playlist for yourself, you’re going to pick a song that already makes you feel good. Or a song that reminds you of someone that you love.
LERMAN: (Eyes perking up, because he would love to be loved, even by an alarm clock)
HALLIBURTON: I wake up to a Jeffrey Foucault song and it reminds me of the farm. And what a lovely image to start my day! As opposed to, well, I don’t know, it’s hard to gauge exactly what your first thoughts are every morning, because its kind of like an etch-a-sketch in your brain, and when you try to think about it just sort of shakes.
LERMAN: (Laughs, because etch-a-sketches are so silly) Ha, that’s a great way to think about it. (And it actually is. He shakes his head, and then gets a head-ache.)
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Adam Lerman is an actor, writer, thinker and professional dog-confirmer (he confirms dogs exist, professionally). He lives in Brooklyn, NY, on the fifth floor of a building.