A Summer Meal: Bushwick

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Pork, bowtie pasta, buttered green beans, sautéed mushrooms and onions, and sautéed kale, cooked by Luke in Bushwick. Donzie Barroso/The Brooklyn Ink

Luke eats a lot of kale. On a Monday night, he cooks pork, bowtie pasta, buttered green beans, sautéed mushrooms and onions, and his staple, sautéed kale, for his dinner.

Luke says he has always cooked because his mother taught him and his siblings to be self-sufficient. He moved to Bushwick two months ago from Greenpoint, after breaking up with a girlfriend he lived with for five years. When they broke up, he lived briefly in an apartment he called “horrible” because he was unable to cook in it. He ordered out every night. Since moving to Bushwick, into a building that has a friendly community of neighbors and a shared roof deck, he’s been cooking regularly for himself, his roommate, and other friends.

Luke spent the first three years of his life on a cattle farm in Michigan. After his father sold the farm to an uncle, the family moved to a small town in Kansas, north of Wichita. He spent the better part of his youth there, later moving to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Chicago, and, finally, New York. Now 32 and a New York resident for 10 years, he works in the food and beverage business after a few different career paths, including pilot, model, real estate appraiser, bartender, and financial loan packager.

Luke talked about food as a part of his liberal Mennonite upbringing. “Every Sunday after church,” he says, “my mother would cook a huge roast on a bed of carrots, potatoes, and other vegetables for lunch.” She was cooking for five—him, an older brother, a younger sister, and two parents, so dinner was simpler. They would have popcorn made in a pan with vegetable oil on the stove, orange slices, banana slices, and a homemade Orange Julius recipe.

The Orange Julius consisted of half a can of frozen orange juice concentrate, one cup of milk, half a cup of sugar, a tray of ice, water, and a few other secret ingredients his mother would be upset to see revealed. He has since adapted the recipe, replacing the water with rum. “You can’t taste the alcohol at all,” he says.

The only time Luke ever heard his parents curse was when they referred to a dish he said was common in Kansas: ”Shit on a Shingle.” This dish consists of a homemade biscuit topped with sausage and a tomato reduction, and covered with a chunky egg gravy. He says it is the perfect hangover food, created by people who never get hangovers.

Luke on his roof
Luke sits on the roof deck of his Bushwick apartment building. Donzie Barroso/The Brooklyn Ink

Luke looks exactly as you would imagine someone who was born on a farm in the Midwest to look: tall, blue-eyed, and blonde. He moved to New York to model, but things did not go as planned. For part of that time, to keep his weight down, he lived on a diet of unlimited quantities of apples and one tablespoon of olive oil a day. He worked in catering in between modeling jobs.

In the past few months, Luke says he has had experiences that have made him question life choices. The murder of his closest New York friend, which took place in Colorado, and the death of a 31-year-old cousin, from Hodgkin’s disease, just a few days later, were painful. When he returned from his cousin’s funeral in Kansas, he said he felt “passionate unhappiness.” He had thought about staying on the farm to help his uncle, at least for a while. But he returned to New York and stuck it out, finding a part-time job that he likes as a food and beverage manager. He said he could see himself working full-time for the company and “being happy doing it.” For now, evenings on the roof enjoying food and beer suffice.

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