15 Minutes With CSA Members: Allison Reeves + Michael Prettyman

I met Allison Reeves and Michael Prettyman (yes, for reals) three years ago, when I first moved to Red Hook. Allison was a regular in Coffey Park, walking her delightful beagle Astro, who is now 15. They were, essentially, my welcoming committee. And when I met them, I knew that Red Hook was the place for me to call home.

Now, being a real-estate-porn-type girl (aka, a New Yorker), I am addicted to their new blog – Art Compound – about three couples searching for a building to buy together in Red Hook.

But in all these years, I had no idea how interesting this couple is outside of the context of Red Hook. Michael is an artist who has made dioramas for the Museum of Natural History, painted murals at The Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Gardens and in China, Singapore and Barcelona. He’s also shown paintings in the National Museum of Art in Kazakhstan and will be going to Nepal for three months to study thangka painting.

“As much as I enjoy and appreciate all the traveling, the best part is coming home to my home in Red Hook,” he says. “I think of Red Hook as being the biggest small town in America, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Plus, the food is really good.”

Allison is an architect who was recently selected to a non-Board member of the Community Board 6 Landmarks/Land Use Committee. She hails from Phili but has lived in Red Hook for 10 years. “Back then there were only two bars and one restaurant (two if you count Defonte’s), so meeting people in the neighborhood was pretty easy,” she says. “As a result a lot of my friends live here. Red Hook rules!”

In fact, she met Michael here on the night of the big blackout in 2003. “Lillie had set up the bar in her back garden, and I was sitting at the bar talking to my friend who was bartending, and Michael sat down next to me,” Allison says. “The rest is history, as they say. We were featured in a small article in the Post about people who met during the Blackout, and we were married at the Bronx Zoo on the third anniversary of the blackout.”

What was the food culture in your house growing up?

Allison: My Mom was a total ’50s housewife, so we had a lot of casseroles and things made with canned soup. The words “Turkey Tetrazzini” still make me cringe, and I didn’t realize asparagus was green and crisp until college. But she made a kick-ass Shepherd’s Pie that I still make.

Michael: Pretty much the same as Allison; we are both children of suburbia. I always thought roast beef was grey, and turkey was the driest substance on earth. A favorite from my childhood was cold, canned asparagus (also grey) served on iceberg leaves and drowned in French Dressing.

One food you won’t you eat?

A: Organ meats

M: Shrimp.

Favorite vegetable?

A: Does garlic count as a vegetable? I’d also have to say tomatoes, or is that technically a fruit?

M: Mushrooms.

Favorite food experience?

A: I’m addicted to popsicles right now. I can’t get enough of them.

M: The Oyster Bar at Grand Central, or an heirloom tomato in August with kosher salt.

What do you value about food or eating?

A: Spending time with friends and family over a delicious meal. I’m also in awe of food’s ability to bring together a community.

M: Making it for other people, and being aware of how connected things are.

Favorite appliance?

A: I use tools more than appliances, so my favorite kitchen tools are my knives and my micro-planer.

M: Food processor and a half-moon-shaped knife I use to chop herbs.

Favorite food book or memoir:

A: Fast Food Nation really opened my eyes. I also enjoyed My Life in France by Julia Child. She was The Bomb. On my nightstand now: Omnivore’s Dilemma.

M: The History of Food for reading, and The Joy of Cooking for basic recipes. I use it almost every day. Also, Julia Child’s recipe for pie dough is a must. It works every time.

Most disastrous kitchen or garden experiment:

A: All my garden experiments are disasters.

M: In the kitchen it was a terrible deer jerky project. I overcooked them too quickly and made a tray of leather. In the garden it was learning that you must choose plants based on available sunlight and soil conditions, not simply plant the ones you are fond of or think would be pretty.

Why are you involved in Red Hook CSA?

A: I love the fresh vegetables from the farm, and I strongly believe that access to locally grown organic food is critical to your health and a healthy environment, especially in urban areas.

M: Ditto.

What’s the best lunch option near you?

A: When I’m at work and I want to combine lunch with some shopping, I go the Chelsea Market.

M: Defonte’s!

What inspires you?

A: Walking around Red Hook, and my husband

M: Nature in all its manifestations, compassion in people (which is always a pleasant surprise) and my wife, who is the kindest person I’ve met.

Your opinion: Does talking to plants help them grow?

A: I have a black thumb so I’m not the right person to ask

M: I am here to tell you that it does. I have a couple of gardens upstate, and have been pretty successful. I think rather than speech and words, plants react to attention.

Do you sing to them?

A: Um, no.

M: Um, yes. The Rolling Stones “Sweet Virginia” seems to be especially effective, but that maybe because I like singing the song. Probably it is less the song and more the intent.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

A: Wear clean underwear

M: Follow your bliss.

Tell us one thing about yourself that would surprise us.

A: I used to have a 1981 Camaro — with air induction cowl hood and racing wheels –named Daisy Mae, may she Rest In Peace.

M: I am going to Mt. Everest this October, and I can form and blow delicate spit bubbles on the tip of my tongue. Fact.


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