Today

August 1, 2012

This day scares me. I don’t have a plan. I’m not even really sure where to begin or what to do beyond calling the plumber to fix our broken dishwasher (it’s not draining properly). I know it’ll be okay, I’ll figure something out, but mostly, I feel anxious, panicky about how to proceed.

I finished school in mid-May, we packed up our apartment in New York, and we went away for a couple of weeks. Then we moved to San Francisco in early June, and since then we’ve been setting up, settling in, exploring. I’ve been writing (see previous post in which I let you in on the secret that I’m still learning Napa Valley, while claiming to be an expert), Scott was studying for the bar, our days had a rhythm. We had visitors, and a couple of unexpected trips back east, and now, with the coming of August, it’s time to switch gears. I have to get serious. I have to find myself a job.

I’m ready to get myself a job in a kitchen, to really learn how to cook, to see if I like it as much as I think I will (have I talked about that here? Explained why I’m looking for cooking jobs? I know it’s not a natural segue from international relations school, but I promise, it makes sense, kind of). I’ve explored every culinary school in the area, and I think I know where I would fit in, but first I want to get into a kitchen. But the question is, how? That’s where I am today, a little scared, a little unsure of where to really start, hoping that I won’t let the day go by without making some kind of progress. It’s so easy to spend the morning reading the newspaper, go for a run, and make up an errand or two. This is what I do not want to happen. I feel like by telling you what I’m scared of, I can maybe let go of the fear and move forward. It’s possible that it’ll work. I can’t expect everything to happen at once, right?

And if anyone knows anyone in the restaurant world in San Francisco, let me know!

Napa Valley Expert

July 22, 2012

I’m sorry it’s been so long. It’s been busy, and we had an unexpected trip back east that perhaps I’ll write about when I feel ready. In the meantime, I wanted to push something on you. When we decided to move to California, I applied to write for a travel website called 10Best that was recently bought by NileGuide. They were looking for local experts and on a whim I thought I might be able to convince them that I could write and I would learn about Napa at cheetah speed. I was hired as their Napa Valley expert and I’ve been learning about the area as fast as I can. I haven’t filled in everything yet (there were some sections written when I got on board), but I have taken a stab at the best hotels, restaurants, nightlife, attractions, cafes, breakfast/brunch spots and a few other sections. I know, it’s ridiculous, we just moved here and I don’t really know anything, but I’m hoping I’ll actually become an expert in no time.

Take a peek HERE

 

One of the best things about the East Village in New York are the small, focused, delicious holes in the wall, all clustered close together. Luke’s Lobster, Porchetta, Caracas (yes, East 7th Street between First and A is just about the best). They make for pretty quick, not that expensive dinners–something that was harder to find in the West Village where more formal, precious places fill the storefronts. Across the country and in Hayes Valley where we live now, we have some good restaurants close by, but we also have something that reminds me so much of those small East Village places–clusters of food trucks. Three nights a week, different food trucks park in a lot near our apartment, next to the shipping container that is Smitten Ice Cream (where they use liquid nitrogen to freeze their ice cream bases, resulting in exceedingly creamy cups), and near the Ritual Coffee shipping container and the biergarten shipping container (my brother recently described Hayes as Disney San Francisco, which I thought was very funny). It’s a quick, pretty cheap way to get perfectly crafted dumplings, or curry, or sushi, or tacos, kind of like running over to Caracas.

Fearlessness

July 9, 2012

I’m not sure I’m fully qualified to talk about fearlessness–I spend a lot of time thinking about different steps to be taken, alternate scenarios, and possible negative and positive outcomes and consequences. I analyze and think too hard and spend a lot of time doing something that looks like nothing because despite my excuses and rationalizations (the restaurant is closed on Monday, we have visitors coming, I’m not qualified), I know, deep down, that I am afraid.

However, now I would like to flirt with fearlessness. Maybe even go on a date with it. Maybe even ask it to go steady. I have one of the all-time best support networks (thank you, husband), and really, there’s no reason to keep putting off things I’m afraid to do. As my wise sister-in-law advised, you never really know what’s going to happen, but each day feels a little better if you’re fearless about what you’re doing. We went to a meaningful funeral last week, where we celebrated the passing of an unbelievably courageous woman. Scott’s grandmother was born in what was then Poland (it’s now part of the Ukraine), moved to Portugal with her family when she was a child, and then after a few years there moved to Cuba. She met Scott’s grandfather as a student in Santiago, then her family moved with her to Havana so that she could attend college. Over the course of her life she got a chemistry PhD, convinced her eventual husband to move across Cuba for her (sharing her tutoring students so he could pay for his room and board), moved to the United States to central Pennsylvania and ultimately became a high ranking powerhouse at NIH. She raised an incredibly successful, warm, and wonderful family. Those who knew her well (her health was already failing when I met her five years ago) spoke repeatedly of her intelligence, persistence, and optimism. It all sounds so much like courage to me. Fearlessness.

We also saw Beasts of the Southern Wild on Saturday night. For those who haven’t seen it–go see it, then we’ll talk some Hush Puppy and fearlessness.

So this week, I will try to be more fearless, to really go do this thing. Who’s with me? I’ll let you know how it goes.

Settling In

June 28, 2012

I’m sorry it’s been a few days. We got busier, and I’ve spent a lot of time sitting at this computer at our table writing about Napa Valley, but not for this blog, and so it’s been neglected, and for that, I apologize. You’ll get to read it all soon, though. Promise.

In the meantime, I’ll just say hello, and mention that it’s feeling really good to be here. It was a tricky transition at first, but it’s hard for it not to feel good when there are baseball games to go to where you can also gaze out at the bay, and weekends spent with friends wine tasting. The work part? That’s coming along, too.

And I’m glad that healthcare wasn’t overturned–and I’m trying to understand and appreciate the nuances of the decision as my lawyer husband explains them to me.

Time Spent Outdoors

June 23, 2012

San Francisco feels like it has endless ways to spend time outside. We’ve explored a few.

Last week we went to the US Open at Olympic Golf Club–a friend of ours works for NBC Golf and so generously got us four-day passes to the tournament. I wan’t sure I was going to have a good time, that I was going to like it as much as I did. Mostly I think golf is soothing when it’s on television, but not something I would spend my day watching. When people talk about their games, I learned as a kid to ask for the best shot and worst shots of the day, since it seems most golfers can recount ever smack and putter of the ball, for all seventy or eighty or ninety strokes. Tromping through Olympic was a fun experience, with kind of a “we’re all in it together” vibe. Also, it was a fantastic way to spend a day outside in the sunshine (on the Thursday) and the fog (on the Sunday when we went back). When we arrived, the entrance was close to the hole where Woods, Michelson, and Watson were teeing off, and so after following them for a little bit with the hordes of other spectators, we camped out at the sixth tee for a while, checked out the rest of the course, and were excited that Tiger was doing well.

That’s another interesting phenomenon. Everyone wants Tiger to do well. Everyone wants to see him return to his former glory, myself included. I haven’t ever seen that kind of reaction to any other athlete in the same way (although maybe Bill Clinton experienced something similar?). All the fans routed for all of the golfers to do well, and consistently cheered when they hit a good shot and collectively gasped and groaned when it was in the rough or not in the hole.

When we went back on Sunday, Tiger was not doing well, yet the crowds still mostly followed him, hopeful. I can’t imagine what it felt like in his head, how much he wanted to shout, “Leave me alone! Why are you still watching? I’m not playing well anymore!” Tough break.

Yesterday, I went hiking with one of my closest friends. It was south of the city, just a few miles north of Half Moon Bay. I’m still delighted that I can live in a place where I can finish my coffee, standing on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the Pacific, watching surfers paddle out, go for a legit hike up a mountain, that at the top theoretically has views back to the Golden Gate Bridge (it was foggy), then come down, have lunch* and then get on with the rest of the day. And it’s real nature, not like the nature you get in New York in Harriman State Park, or Connecticut.

*A note on lunch: We went into Half Moon Bay and went to a deli that looked just like any corner deli anywhere. We ordered sandwiches and it turned out that the bread was homemade on site, as was the hummus, and the veggies were really fresh. It seems so indicative of my eating experience here so far. While we’ve been disappointed a few times by more upscale restaurants (they make me miss Frankies, and Northern Spy, and Little Owl, and Momofuku, and, and) the basic level foods–coffee, sandwiches, produce, (obviously) are so, so good.

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s cover article for this month’s Atlantic, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” resonated with me so strongly. As someone who is struggling with my own career path–I’m looking to pivot now–while simultaneously staring down thirty and trying to figure out how to move forward (I often feel paralyzed), this was an unbelievable article. I feel like it let me off the hook, in many ways, from thinking that I’m just not thinking hard enough about how to manage the next year, or two, or five, or twenty of my life.

Adventure

June 20, 2012

And so, I live in San Francisco now.

After a perfect, StyleMePretty worthy wedding in a friend’s backyard in a Philadelphia suburb that just exuded happiness (Congrats Zac and Sara!), some fried chicken from Federal Donuts (oh my), some very hard and teary goodbyes, one day of frantic unpacking at our new apartment followed by a quick trip to Los Angeles in which we bought a car (!), partied it up in Malibu for a friend’s birthday, and spent time with my family, we are here.

I know I owe you a house tour, and once we get all of the boxes really put away and all the pictures up on the walls I will post photos. In the meantime, I have to admit that it’s been a trickier transition than I imagined. San Francisco is staggeringly beautiful. The sun has been bright nearly every day we’ve been here (people tell me that’s unusual, I’m not sure I buy it). Scott had asked me how I would feel leaving a place that I know so intimately as New York (and I realize only now that I’m gone how true that really is–every restaurant, street corner, turn to make when emerging from the subway) and I excitedly responded that I was so excited to learn a new place, that I was eager for the adventure, and tired of knowing where the cracks in the sidewalk are in the only city I’ve ever really, truly lived in.

It is completely true that I’m excited to learn a new place, but yet, I was not prepared. The Comcast guy came last week to set up our cable and internet and we discovered that we had lost our airport express in the move. “No big deal, I’ll just run to the Apple store and get a new one,” I nonchalantly told Scott. I went downstairs to our garage, got into the car (for the first time by myself), pulled into the street, and realized I had no idea where I was going or how to get there. Thank goodness for iPhones, right? And so I made my way there, only foiled by a few one-way streets and no-left-turns, and I realized that I had to park somewhere. As someone who is used to walking or subway-ing to anywhere in my city that I need to go, having a car is at once liberating and terrifying. I eventually found a garage, got what I needed and returned home. Oh, and along the way I got pulled over by a cop on a vespa who wanted me to know that I had 2011 tags on the car and it was now 2012.

But that story is so last week. I’m getting more used to being here, less shaken and more delighted by what I don’t know. My life is an adventure, I keep telling myself. While my first few runs were unbelievably steep, I now have some vague idea where the hills are. We found a bodega a couple of blocks away that’s open until midnight. It’s still a revelation that our kitchen has drawers and all of our things can be put away. I have been cooking a lot (I’ll post more of these pictures, too). We have had some great days, and top notch exploring (look for those stories in the next couple of posts). So, I’ll tell myself again, my life is an adventure, as I feel anxious trying to figure out what my next professional step is, it’s all an adventure.

I’m not sure what to say about Rome. I feel unqualified to really say anything about it. I think it’s spectacular, but only as an amateur. I wish I knew it so well, like one of those girls who goes zooming through the narrow streets on a vespa, wearing the perfect little dress and heels and big sunglasses. I’ve been there four or five times, but only for a day or two or three, never long enough, only the right amount of time to dip a toe in, realize that it’s a magical place and then leave. And so I’ll hold off and let someone else do the talking (Gabrielle Hamilton from Prune does a nice job and I’m sure others do, too).

From Rome we made our way up to Tuscany. With a brief lunchtime stop in Montepulciano, we found ourselves farther west than usual, away from Siena and Lucca. We made the Conti di san Bonifacio our home for a few days, and was everything that vacation dreams are made of.

With only seven rooms, we were very well taken care of, and we all fantasized about renting out the whole house with family and friends. The next few days were just the right amount of full and blissful. We visited the Maremma region’s food and wine purveyors festival, where we got to sample the most delicious cured meats, cheeses, olive oils, wines, vinegars.

We did some running through the Tuscan hills.

And visited the old walled city of Grosseto, as well as a charming seaside town called Castiglione della Pescaia. We had dinner on a mountain-top town that required some tricky hill navigating to get to, at a place so unused to seeing tourists that there was somewhat of a record scratch when we walked in.

Some of the highlights came, however, while staying at the hotel. One evening the wonderful Elisabetta, warm and impeccably dressed, came to guide us through a wine tasting. We’ve done wine tastings before, but this one was much more detailed and answered questions that I had never even thought to ask. As the sun was hovering low, we went down to the vineyard, and Elisabetta explained how a very high percentage of the grapes grown throughout Tuscany are sangiovese. We learned that the variations in Tuscan wines are not really different grape varietals, but different the result of different terrior, and different choices made along the process of growing, pressing, and aging the grapes. I guess for people who know a lot about wine this must sound so basic, but it was incredibly illuminating to learn both the effects of nature, and where human hands and decisions can produce variation. We learned that they cut off certain clusters of grapes to allow the remaining fruit to soak in more nutrients, and they prune the leaves strategically to allow for more sun or more shade. Perhaps this is only really possible in such a small vineyard. On the production side, once the grapes are crushed, there is the choice of barrel. Different barrel makers swear by the kind of oak in their region, and also there’s variation in age, and toastedness inside the barrel, which I also never knew about. Using the long pipette, whose name in Italian translates to “the robber,” we were able to taste wine from the same grapes, from the same year, from different barrels, and discover how different the result is. Then we were able to compare the same wine across different years. At the end, we found ourselves with our noses deep in our wine classes, snacking on charcuterie, staring out across the perfect rows of vines.

We also took a cooking lesson from Katia, the hotel’s chef. A mother of two boys who learned to cook from her mother and grandmother, her pastas were unbelievable, and I would have hung out in her kitchen all day long if she had let me.

And yes, I am wearing a bathing suit while I cook. I’m not sure life really gets better than that.

As we were flying in to Venice, Scott mentioned that I should read a section in the economist Daron Acemoglu‘s new book Why Nations FailI’m looking forward to reading the whole book at some point, but the particular pages that he pointed out described how Venice hit its peak in the 10th and 11th centuries, it was an economic superpower then, and has been on a steady trajectory toward becoming a museum ever since then. While Scott dove into the economic history, I read a charming three-essay collection called Venice for Lovers by Louis Begley and his wife Anke Muhlstein. These two works together provided a great framework for approaching a city that I hadn’t been to since I was five, when I was mainly interested in gelato and Venetian masks.

While Venice is beautiful everywhere, it took reaching the quiet corners to feel the full effect of the city. Pausing often to look at specific vignettes–archways surrounded by flowers framed by bridges, someone leaving their house and stepping onto a boat–we kept marveling, how was this place built? Navigating the small alleyways back and forth across the canals, it seems a feat of engineering, and persistence.

One of my favorite places was the market, where we bought tiny, candy sweet frais du bois and a perfect peach. I also marveled at how many different kinds of artichokes were available–big, small, already trimmed, green, purple. I just wished I had a kitchen, as I usually do while on vacation. Although it’s hard to complain about eating in restaurants that look like this Corte Sconta.

Or taste like Osteria Alle Testiere. We also loved the Modern Art Museum at the very eastern tip of Dorsoduro. And then there were the drinks that we had at Harry’s Dolce, just as the sky was turning pink.

From there, we went to Rome…

Before I get started on San Francisco, where I am now, it seems appropriate to back track. I should have been writing the whole time we were in Istanbul and then Italy, each day, capturing the streets we walked, the carts tilting with cascades of small fruits I didn’t recognize, the sounds of the call to prayer, Rome’s zooming, and Tuscany’s layers of shades of green. I didn’t though. I don’t have a good reason why. It’s mostly because I dislike typing on the iPad, which is all I had with me, but also I think my head was too full with leaving New York, anxiety about moving, and overwhelmed with seeing the new to tease out the things worth talking about.

So now, what feels like a long time ago, we spent five days in Istanbul. We arrived in the evening, and after following along the water and sweeping around the curve of the old city, we crossed the bridge and wound our way up through Beyoglu to our hotel. It was a beautiful old converted mansion, with great stye and views of the city. 

I had been to Istanbul as a kid with my family, I think I was eleven or twelve, and I only had a few mental images of what  the city was like. The area where we were staying, close to Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi, wasn’t even on its way to gentrification yet. Walking up and down the small cobbled streets it feels like how I imagine Soho used to feel, with hip boutiques and restaurants stuck in surprising nooks.

The combination of the very old, the layers of history and empires, with the vibrant energy of a growing modern city was so captivating. Our first full day there we crossed the Galata Bridge and visited the new Mosque and the crowded and fragrant spice market (I’m sorry we didn’t really take any pictures). From there we wandered through the Grand Bazaar, a place I definitely remembered from being a kid. While a lot of it is junk–knockoff Rolex watches, sneakers, jerseys, unstylish leather, there were some beautiful rugs and sparkly light fixtures that caught our eye. If we hadn’t had so much of our trip to go, I think we would have bought something.

The following day we did the rest of the tourist circuit–Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. The last of the three was the most impressive–huge, fraught with a storied past. Topkapi was packed with other tourists. For anyone going, I would say beeline to the harem and then get out. The next day, we tried to walk to Asia. It didn’t work. You can’t. Ortakoy was nice though. And then we went to the Prince’s Island.

On a friend’s recommendation, we eagerly boarded the ferry, expecting the ride to take twenty minutes (we should have done more research). Nearly two hours later, with tourists leaning over our seats to take pictures of seagulls and shipping containers we arrived at the island. At the outset, it sounded charming–no cars allowed, only bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. The area right around the ferry station was touristy, but we had a plan to rent bikes and wind our way up to a monastery at the top of a hill that was supposed to have a kebabs. A few minutes later we were cruising on bikes with nonfunctioning gears, getting passed by horses galloping by (a gait much faster and more terrifying than the more usual trot through Central Park). Along with sunshine and pretty Turkish country homes, there was a pervasive smell of horse poop. A few turns later, we found ourselves on what we thought was the road to the monastery, and after about half an hour of going uphill on that road, we realized that it was indeed not the right road. The lesson from this excursion was that it’s usually best to eat before there’s a chance of getting lost on bicycles on an island in a foreign country.

The way back down the mountain was better, as was the express boat back to Istanbul. From there, we left Turkey and made our way to canal-crossed Venice…

This past few weeks have been busy. After I last posted about the inspiring (and delicious) Hot Bread Kitchen, I fell into the finals vortex. I retreated to quiet parts of small downtown branches of the New York Public Library and traveled uptown for countless group meetings. With overlapping groups of team members we analyzed and reported on the role of the bodega in New York City’s economy and how they can improve their operations and be better leveraged as community resources. For my social enterprise class we created a business plan for a social enterprise restaurant I very much want to launch as soon as I can fill in the gaps in my expertise, transition from someone who loves food and cooking to someone who should be taken seriously in that world. I created a mock investment analysis and proposal and spent an embarrassing number of hours putting together fictional financial projections. Things clicked this final semester of graduate school, and while I went to Columbia to learn international affairs and take a collection of classes that I initially assumed would lead me back to something like UNICEF, I wound up graduating with something like a social MBA, learning entrepreneurship and management, food systems and economic models for inequality, corporate legal structures, and investment. It was challenging, I had to earn this masters degree.

A few Sundays ago I clicked a ‘submit’ button, turned in my last paper, maybe ever, and got on a plane to San Francisco to look for apartments. It was a busy three days, with puzzled together craigslist appointments, a few too many zipcars, seeing friends, and running up and down the hills to try to find a place to live in a city that’s pretty new to both of us. We left without one, a sort of scary prospect, but thankfully have gotten a great place since then (knock on wood it all goes smoothly once we get there).

Once back, we sort of started packing up, but mostly tried to experience our last few days in New York as much as possible. And then the movers came and all of our things went on a truck and we no longer live in New York, which seems nearly impossible, and scary, and exciting. We said goodbye to our friends (something that made leaving infinitely more difficult). I went to my graduation, walked across that brick-pathed campus in my pale blue cap and gown, had my name called, smiled for the camera, and left before it was even time to throw those caps in the air. Again we got on a plane, and spent two weeks in Europe–Istanbul, Venice, Rome, Tuscany. I’ll add details and pictures in later posts. It’s too much to blithely embed here in this long, texty post (sorry for that).

After a twinkly, warm backyard wedding this weekend with huge smiles and so much dancing and some last goodbyes to friends who feel like family, we’re about to go to California, to start the next thing, the new beginning after the end of school and this middle, limbo time. After feeling like it was a long way off, here we are. It’s time to go and I can feel the anxiety sitting with me, all of the doubts about what comes next and how I’m going to make it work, the exposure one feels emerging from the safe, familiar womb of school into something new, where I’m not owed anything and I’m only guessing at the landscape. As someone who always knows exactly which way to walk when popping up out of the subway in New York, and know all about new restaurants and shops all the time, I’m excited to get going and learn a new place, to figure out what’s where and what’s good and where I fit in.

Hot Bread Kitchen

April 12, 2012

I finally visited Hot Bread Kitchen today. I should have written about about them earlier, I’m not sure why it took me so  long. The founder and CEO, Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez, is a SIPA alum and she came to speak in my budgeting class last semester about her incredible social enterprise. She was the first person I had ever met whose life felt like something that I wanted–she has managed to put together her desire to improve other people’s lives with her love of food in a way that was innovative, exciting, and successful. As she said today, she was the kind of person who would be sitting at her desk at UNDP researching immigration issues and thinking about what she was going to have for dinner that night. That pretty much sums it up, right? That’s 100% where I was while working at UNICEF (or sitting in class now, if we’re being honest) and her story was illuminating for me.

Her social enterprise, Hot Bread Kitchen, is a bakery that teaches immigrant woman how to bake delicious breads, English, management skills, and pretty much anything else that they will need to then be placed in a commercial bakery or start their own business after graduating from the training program. Hot Bread Kitchen also runs a kitchen incubator, where entrepreneurs can rent spaces in a commercial kitchen to produce food in a more useful, modular way than most kitchen incubators. The whole facility where they operate, La Marqueta, in Harlem was recently converted by the city for them, and is kind of incredible. It’s been a marketplace for decades, and you can feel the revitalization, the energy that’s starting to emanate from the Hot Bread Kitchen space. In the baking area, women kneaded, stretched, weighed and cut dough. The four of them chatted, laughing, like friends amidst a fine covering of flour. In the HBK Incubates space, turmeric and onions simmered fragrantly in the space being used by Hiyaw Gebreyohannes, the creator of Taste of Ethiopia. It was easy to see why he was featured in the Times yesterday, I think all of our stomachs collectively grumbled as we spied the pots. In another space, the chefs behind La Newyorkina, leaders in New York’s popsicle movement (they sell their paletas on the High Line and other places) were mixing up a vibrant yellow batch of mango frozen treats as a tenant (their business is pretty successful, they just needed a licensed commercial kitchen.) The whole building had the kind of wholesome buzzy energy that only comes with creating something delicious.

Jessamyn’s story was transformative to me, it led me to figure out how I’m going to put together my skills, education and passion all together (hopefully.) It was great to see their facility and put a proverbial face with the story I’ve thought so much about over the last eight months. It’s just so cool. Oh, and if you live in New York or in the Northeast and have a Whole Foods near you, you should buy their bread.

A Moment of Thanks

April 4, 2012

I got back from school late last night, around midnight. The homestretch of graduate school has translated for me into group meetings, tangled thoughts that flow from paper topics, to my jigsaw puzzle schedule, to what happens after May 17th. My brain feels like a filling bathtub with the faucet turned on full blast, urgently adding more water–but it’s not all so tumultuous, it smooths out at the edges, it’s quieter deeper beneath the surface (I’m not sure if that imagery works, just  trying it out.)

I woke up early to run, like I usually do, and despite it being a perfect, clear Spring day, I didn’t feel like running. I wasn’t in the mood to dodge veering children and chatting parents, I resented the dog owners who let their leashes stretch across the sidewalk (my biggest pet peeve, literally.) I didn’t feel springy, I felt obligated, and then, looking out over the Hudson, my brain flipped. I tried to mind over matter my sluggishness. I’m lucky that I have a body that can run. I told myself. I’m grateful that it’s warm right now, and sunny. I have to say (this is such a Polly Anna-ish entry, sorry guys, it’s where my brain’s at right now), it worked. I’m free. On an even larger scale, reading about the new anti-abortion legislation passed in Georgia, I realized recently how much I take my rights for granted. It’s embarrassing how much I take my rights for granted, especially given the kind of school that I go for and how aware I am of struggles that take place close by and across the world. I wrote a whole blog entry about this, but I didn’t have the guts to post it, so you get this sort of new-agey, camped in my morning run thoughtfulness instead.

I also feel lucky that we’re about to travel again soon. Istanbul, maybe some other places in Turkey, Rome and Tuscany. Suggestions for what to eat, do and see very welcome.

I don’t usually make bathroom jokes. I’m too shy for it, and I’m generally not a funny person. Occasionally I can pull off a joke, but not really, and they’re almost never about bodily functions.

However, I do know funny people. Very, very funny people and they can smoothly talk about bathrooms and emergencies and intestinal failings and it’s hilarious. Now I know you’re probably saying, “Those kinds of jokes aren’t for me,” or “That’s not my style.” I’m asking you to give this a shot. It’ll make you laugh out loud.

Doug Mand is one of Scott’s oldest friends (they played in a band together since they were kids, their parents have the same two names, they and the rest of their friends exchange hilarious emails almost constantly). Doug is also a writer for the show How I Met Your Mother, a comedian, and the new host of a podcast called Doodie Calls With Doug Mand. The man knows some funny people (who all have trouble holding it in some time or another). And I have to say as someone who isn’t naturally inclined to bathroom discussion, as noted earlier, he brings a touching humanity to this common struggle. Download, subscribe, follow on iTunes. One caution: be careful before you have a listen on the subway, while running, or on a long car trip where there’s no bathroom in sight.

You can also follow Doug on Twitter here

Red Hook Crit

March 25, 2012

In the last three days I’ve been all over this city. Three days, four boroughs, three modes of transport, shockingly pain-, delay-, and bad luck- free (although now I know I’m going to jinx myself, damn).  Most of it was for my capstone project– we’re studying bodegas and how they fit into the New York City economy, how they can be further leveraged as a community resource, and how our clients can help them operate more efficiently. Friday morning I learned that Astoria is pretty wonderful, Costco and BJs are threatening the existence of the bodega, and that store owners don’t profit from selling cigarettes. Today I visited Staten Island’s Stapleton neighborhood. We had been to Port Richmond a couple of weeks ago, which was a vibrant, mostly Hispanic community brimming with fruit and vegetable stores, some of which had colorful pinatas hanging from the ceiling. Stapleton, where 30% of the population is below the poverty line was much more depressing.

I’m holding out though. Last night we went to the Red Hook Criterion. We had made plans with friends (thanks Kat! If you read this blog…)  and they suggested that we grab dinner and drinks out in Red Hook and check out this race. It kind of blew me away. Tucked in a corner of Brooklyn, it was an intense event that also felt semi-secret, crisp with well-designed products. The course looked like this:

We stood on the side near the 8, on the bottom part of the bow, shivering a little. The runners went first–elite athletes taking the five laps quickly, most of them covering the five kilometers in 15 to 20 minutes. They were fun to watch, but not nearly as adrenaline-fueling as the bikers.

In the darkness, 75 or so bikers lined up. We had strolled around the outsides of the course and had talked about how the turns were tight, but we had sort of thought that the bikers were going to be regular people and that the whole race would be in good fun. It was all crouched and tense, legs and spandex cycling around at absurd speeds.

People wiped out, which was terrifying to watch, and somehow miraculously just popped right up, more angry about losing their place in the race than bruised or broken. I think I may have actually bitten my nails while watching. We felt like parents, wanting to tell those cyclists to slow down, to be careful. They were serious. The race was dramatic. And then we left to go eat. Fort Defiance was delicious, particularly the cocktails.

Oh, and my day today was just capped off by this pizza–homemade dough from the freezer, fresh sauce, mushrooms and onions, and I can’t believe that I’m six minutes from watching a brand new, full two hours of Mad Men right now.

Blossoming

March 21, 2012

Today while I was running I noticed through this foggy morning that trees had started to flower in my neighborhood. I think it must have just happened, coating branches in lacy blossoms–it looks hopeful, and seems appropriate for how many things are changing, growing, and emerging right now.

When the weather turns warm in New York, the flip from gray and cold and into spring, the city explodes, people swarm out from wherever they were bunkered for the winter and stretch pale limbs to the sun. It’s great. You start unintentionally running into people you know just because you’re all outside. This is especially true in this time, before the sweat and stick of full-on summer take over. I’m almost done with school, on the far side of my last spring break (maybe ever), and the end is in sight. This contained phase of my life is moving very quickly to a point of closure and it’s onto the next thing, the next phase. Our lease runs out on our apartment at the end of May, that’s another move to make.

Our family is going through a cycle right now, too. My grandfather passed away on Friday. He was 93-years-old and lived a long, extraordinarily lucky life, a life saved by mere inches, many times, as my cousin put it at the funeral. He was born in 1919, and saw the world change in ways that I can’t even imagine. I remember back as far as cassette and VHS tapes, he could remember his first radio. I’ll write more about his story soon, he wrote his own memoir and it feels important to me to keep telling his story, especially his escape from Germany in 1939 that allowed my family to exist. My brother and sister-in-law brought my three-month-old niece to the funeral, and it completely changed the tone of the day and maybe even the death. It reminded people that there’s hope and happiness. There’s a direct line from everything that we want to keep alive from my grandfather (and my grandfather and grandmother who passed away in 2008) that will stretch through to our children. I don’t know, I feel like I’m treading in cliche, but it’s powerful to have a sweet, perfect baby to lighten a funeral. It’ll all carry on if we want it to.

Health and Behavior

March 1, 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot about health, healthcare and behavior recently. This is mostly because I’m reading this book Prescription for a Healthy Nation that early on makes the distinction between health and healthcare. The book itself is a little all over the place, but its overall premise is compelling–healthcare and medicine is good at what it does well–cure bacterial infections, detect cancers early, vaccinations. However, if our overall health were improved, there would be less need for the kind of healthcare that doesn’t work that well–chronic diseases are more easily reduced through changes in lifestyle, the foods you choose to put in your body, how much you move around, those kinds of things. Our society doesn’t do much for preventative healthcare, but it’s really important.

The flip side of this issue, that health is important and good health means we don’t have to rely on healthcare so often or thoroughly, is the real truth that behavior is so, so hard to change. We do a million things all the time that are bad for us. In some way or another we get enough reward or satisfaction from those behaviors that it’s worth it, even though we know that it’s harmful. There are all kinds of behavioral studies that reinforce this. The recent New York Times article on How Companies Learn Your Secrets indicates just how predictable we are. It’s kind of scary, but I also think hard to argue with. We all have routines and patterns and preferences.

All of this thinking about health and healthcare has led me to think about food more (I do all the time, anyway) and I spent Friday at the Just Food Conference. It was exciting to be part of a community that looks at the interplay between people’s health, what it takes to create healthy bodies, coupled with the health of our environment, our local economy, all of the interwoven parts that often get obscured by perverse incentives and economic rationality. Behaviors are so hard to change, but it also seems possible, especially if there are so many people trying to make healthy food delicious.

Note: One of my most favorite blogs, Dinner: A Love Story, just got the author of the New York Times article mentioned above and a whole book about habits to write about changing behavior and routines (specifically changing up cravings for dessert, which I read about as I eat dulce de leche gelato.)

Something from June

February 22, 2012

It was indulgent, to sit there pulling apart lobsters in front of everyone, right in the middle of Chelsea Market. I nearly drew blood, strong arming open the claws where they weren’t sufficiently cracked. It was something only a mother and daughter could do, sitting with a giant stack of paper napkins, licking our fingers, letting the shells build up on our plates.

These are good, but it’s not like in Maine, my mother said to me, grinning. My face looks more and more like hers every day, I think. Especially with lipstick. I think my mother is beautiful and I hope to look like her when I’m her age. I find myself slipping into her patterns. I ask the questions that she used to ask me as a kid, the ones I found so infuriating. I had no idea in the morning what I wanted to eat for dinner that night and I certainly didn’t want to choose for my brothers, and yet here I am, asking those same questions.

Licking the last of the butter off of our fingers they smell briny. It’s the most delicious ocean smell and despite the squeeze of lemon juice across our palms (our hands are the same size and I forget to do this, but she remembers and shares her other slice of the bright yellow citrus with me so I can do the same. The acid stings the small cuts from where the lobster’s spikes had put up their last bit of defense). Between the lemon juice and the wet towelettes we manage to get ourselves cleanish and we wipe off the table and then both gravitate toward rhubarb popsicles and in fact she has two. It’s not ice cream, she rationalizes.

We leave the market, a little giggly at what we have done without the men around. Lobsters in the middle of the day! Not in Montauk or Maine, or even on vacation when we’re supposed to be indulgent, but in the middle of an ordinary Sunday in the summer in the middle of an upscale food market. Outside it’s turned cool from the morning’s sunshine, cloudy with a kicked up wind off the Hudson.

As we chat I realize that she makes the same conversational mistakes that I do, interrupting a flow of thought to point out a spiky purple plant, or the underside of a leaf that she has never seen before. She necessitates a pause, mid confession to ask about a building or a store. When we do it together it’s better, because we are the same.

The remnants of industry hulk to our right as new glassy towers perch to the left (we were on the Highline) and we talk about weddings and Vermont. My dad had mentioned that six o’clock time of day where the sun drops just a bit and the light slides sideways like a wry glance and the only thing to do is curl up on the bench and read a book, or grab a glass of rose and look out, or better, yet, go let the grass tickle the bottoms of your feet. Joan Didion calls in Blue Nights. It’s there. It’s that time just before dinner, after the shower. It’s after the day ends, all the business running and biking and moving around and making things and chasing things and then the day quiets like breath slowing. The air sighs, inhales and exhales and stretches a bit before it settles into the nighttime.

Nutrition Labels

February 15, 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot about labels recently. It’s mostly come out of conversations at dinners with friends, or even people I don’t know that well, talking about their dietary preferences, what we’ve all learned, what we’re doing now. Dietary trends change, but it seems now more than ever there are labels for how we’re eating, official sounding names for different kinds of limitations–vegan, locavore, flexitarian. It’s funny that while there are now more options than ever (that probably is also a consequence of blogging, didn’t you know that I’m an expert in, um, writing what I think about?) it seems more confining. I’ve resisted defining how I eat. I’m mostly driven to choose foods based on taste, how they make me feel, what I think is healthy, ease (or sometimes complexity) of preparation, and experience. Maybe I’m just undisciplined, but I think the experience of eating is so much fun, and who am I to rob myself of eating the most delicious, saucy barbecue because I’ve deemed myself a vegetarian (which is, sort of organically–in the naturally coming about sense–how I eat most of the time). Same goes for exquisite cheeses or any number of other delicious foods that in themselves are an experience.

I also read a piece in the New Yorker not that long ago (I can’t find the story now, but it was fiction about Hasidm coming to visit secular friends and the idea of kashrut came up), but it made mention of the fact that people love to call others out on breaking their own rules. I think nothing is more true in the world of dietary rules, everyone loves to police other people’s choices or indiscretions. Maybe the labels are comforting, provide some structure in a world of exploding choices, maybe I have just as many rules as the next person and I should create a label for how I eat. I’m not sure.

One more addendum: for some reason I haven’t been drinking coffee this week. I went to visit my parents over the weekend who no longer (mom) or never did drink coffee (dad) and drank tea instead. I liked it, so I’ve kept doing it (I recognize that it’s Wednesday). I’m nowhere near ready to emphatically not be a coffee drinker anymore. (Did you see my post on coffee in San Francisco? I waited for half an hour for an artfully brewed cup, and it was delicious.) But I did fall victim to labeling as part of this personal tea foray. Standing in the aisle at Westside Market near school, I looked at the selection of Yogi teas (I had had one at my parents house that I liked). My eyes fell on one called “Healthy Fasting.” What does that even mean? I should drink this tea the next time I fast? (Which happens once a year on Yom Kipppur, er, most years, not when wedding planning). I have no plans to fast (I like food, remember?) but there was part of me that thought it would do something beneficial for my body. I opened my first sachet this morning and put it in a cup. It smelled vaguely the the Constant Comment tea my parents used to drink when I was a kid, with sort of a bergamot hue and a licorice-ish shadow. Most of the way through my first cup, I think it tastes delicious, I would be lying if I didn’t have a fleeting hope of pounds dripping off into the industrial carpeting of Buell Hall, but mostly I feel foolish that I bought a tea called “Healthy Fasting.” They got me!