My dad drove me out to New Orleans East one day, over a big ol’ bridge. We ordered bahn mi from a Vietnamese bakery and took a (signature) infuriatingly roundabout, aimless drive in search of areas of historical significance; once we found the field where they fought the Battle of New Orleans, all was settled. The two of us sat at a bench under a regal old oak to eat: spicy-sweet plum sauce melded with thick mayonnaise, bright pickled vegetables —snappy carrots and jalapenos, sprigs of cilantro— contrasted with rich slices of roasted pork, all on a soft hoagie. Wonderful.
When my mom and Aimee came into town one following evening, all the ladies went to a wine bar to eat Italian-leaning fair: mushrooms and taleggio on grilled ciabatta, ceci soup with rosemary in an earthy broth, fried polenta with tomato sauce, to name a few dishes on the table. We picked up local ice cream from the neighborhood market and had some for dessert. It was happy.
Now, the next day —the last day— was epic: our local hippie/hipster coffeeshop provided apple, orange, and carrot juice and the morning paper; then, it was on to Metarie, to tour my mother’s old suburban stomping grounds and to visit a classic Italian-American po-boy shop that provided a fried shrimp sandwich that was perfection. Later still was a visit to Marigny to chat with my uncle and listen to some band practice, to stroll the French Quarter, and to eat one of the best meals I’ve yet had: picture it— a Japanese place just around the corner. Hip but unassuming. Classic cult movie posters; a dark, wooden interior. Barbecued eel on sticky rice with a sweet, dark sauce and scallions; french fries with wasabi mayonnaise, bright cucumber salad, Japanese beer, sisterly love. We met our dad for midnight beignets at Cafe du Monde, and walked sleepily along the river, and digested with surprising contentedness.
The next day, we hit the road.
Alright. So, it has been:
Brightly colored houses and warm sun, flowers and flowers, bushes of flowers and flower boxes all cluttered in lovely jumbles in front of houses— sometimes matching the bright purple paint, or stark in gentle & wild contrast. And Bike rides! Brief and surprising torrential rain! Iced tea! ‘Hellos’ to neighbors passing by!
Cream of tomato soup with spicy, smoky tasso ham; restorative plates of red beans & rice with sausage, humble and simple; shrimp and grits with tomato and fried eggs and a superb biscuit; dark and rich chicken and sausage gumbo, with crusty chunks of French bread bought at the corner store from Southern ladies who told their stories to one another with emphasis and lilting accents, filling coffee cups from a pot on the burner right behind the counter (every corner store doubles as a sandwich shop, here); Sarah’s signature salsa, clean and just-spicy-enough; sweet boiled shrimp with bright, melting fried green tomatoes and remoulade.
Bright pink record shops with a family dog who had plaintive eyes, daydreams about having a garden, with lemon trees; wine bars with big back patios all strung up with lights, horns playing music into the evening.
Muffaletta sandwiches at Central Grocery layered with deli meats and sharp provolone, giardinera, olive salad— the rich oils from the latter soaking into that formidable round hunk of sesame-studded, soft Italian bread. Salt and vinegar chips, a white counter, grocery items on all sides: pasta and antipasti, jams and dried fruits, hot sauces and oils; the old walls peeling, the people brusque, the air damp with briny vinegar smells and warm bread smells and love. Later that same night was Mona’s: hummus, still-warm dolmas, herbaceous tabbouleh and spiced fried meatballs studded with pine nuts that smelt like Christmas, minty labneh drizzled with oil and smoky baba ganoush, pickles and olives, crusty-edged falafel, pita. We hung out in my uncle’s lovely French Quarter apartment, watched him play his guitar at the corner bar, and parted into a cool night, slipping quietly down dark streets all slicked with a sudden downpour.
Things I’ve been liking lately:
A big glass of cold, whole milk when I come home really hungry.
Sandwiches on rolls— stuffed to the brim yet modest; a little fistful of perfection.
Jane Austen! She is a delight to read.
Thinking up what it’ll be like to be in New Orleans after so, so long. (I am flying into NoLa, visiting family and that damp and luminous city itself, then driving from there to Austin). I can’t stop daydreaming about coffee with chicory and trying a fried oyster po’boy. Or about seeing my dad with his big, watery blue eyes, and hugging him and smelling that rich musty smell of tobacco. And seeing my grandma and my uncle. When I think of the former I think of the color pink— just, pink. Pretty and delicate and timeless and gentle. And when I remember the latter, what do I recall but that amazing electric pink apartment above the French Quarter, where he lived with a beautiful girl, once? (He married her within a Mardi Gras parade, once). I am thinking of family, cricket-sound evenings, balmy air, and powder-sugar heaps on fried dough.
And today was the beginning of last days.
Today was my last day at Book Culture. There was generosity of spirit, warmth all around. A fruit tart with a lovely shortbread crust was presented to me, all spotted with berries, looking exactly like something I’d make. And I cut it into tiny slivers with a gigantic knife from the staff kitchen; it made exactly enough for everyone working today to get a piece. And there were hugs aplenty and wondrous smiles.
My last lunch at the bookstore was eaten inside, on a big old leather chair, in a frenzy of early afternoon hunger, stress and sleepy rainy-day low-energy: a tangle of arugula with chopped fresh oregano and savory slips of shaved parmesan, dressed with oil and lemon; a small hunk of pepperoni, two prune plums and two almonds, some crusty baguette, some sharp clothbound cheddar.
Ah! And how could I forget? My friend Joe, of the independent radio station and my endless love and admiration, had me DJ the other night. It was a last days in New York sort of program, with tracks I’ve been listening to lately, at my desk at Book Culture (he’ll upload it soon, and you should all listen to it!). I was so excited and nervous! Joe was as good humored as ever, and I learned by his utterly relaxed direction how to select a single track on a record, how to work a switchboard, the difference between a 33 1/2” and 45”. There I was, flipping through Joe’s record collection and picking out what I’ve been humming along to as secretary-to-the-coursebooks-buyer these last months, daydreaming about what is finally here: a change of scenery, pace, weather.
And here comes the weekend, and Soho, and brunch with Rachel. Then, it’s onward! Tally-ho.
On missing me:
"I keep saying, when is Anna going to come visit and cook something for me?" (My dad is a chef. My heart exploded, like a firework. Sudden pops and streams of light and joy).
On the Grainery:
"You know, if you have a sandwich shop in New Orleans, you have to have po’ boys."
"Well, I don’t know."
"You have to."
"Well, I’ll have Anna-po’-boys."
"No, you have to have just po’ boys. You have to do them a certain way; you can’t do them any other way."
I would be a bit hurt if I didn’t feel equally as passionate about doing simple, wonderful foods justice by trusting and following tradition. If I couldn’t hear the crinkly-smiled passion in his voice. And then:
"And they have to be on New Orleans French bread. It’s just…I don’t know. It’s different. Everyday, when I come into work, I warm up some New Orleans French bread, and I eat it with some oyster soup. I have my bread and my oyster soup, and I’m ready for my day."
On saying I had a doctor’s appointment coming up:
"Oh, it’s the lady doctor…"
"Nothing to do with a pregnancy, I hope?"
Bless him, he thinks I’m having sex! Thanks, dad.
Well, Aimee was just in town, (she left this morning; I was half-asleep and crazy-haired) and while it was brief and boiling hot and we were exhausted, we made the most of it. I made, for us:
sloppy sandwiches on baguette filled to the brim with boiled egg, fresh slivered mint and basil, dijon + mayonnaise, Louisiana hot sauce, crushed fennel seed, and vibrantly ripe tomato, with potato chips and sour cherries; an earthy, sweet-sour, jewel toned chilled beet soup, with large dollops of creme fraiche, slivered basil, and hot potatoes cutting the gorgeous color and vivid flavor; more big salads of tender young lettuce and brilliant tomatoes with croutons; a humble lentil salad with a damp, citrusy dressing, of both lemon and lime + olive oil with cucumber, boiled potato, julienned carrot, chopped parsley, and sriracha.
We also got coffee and Mast Brother’s chocolate at the Ace Hotel, and ate some ice cream from a big yellow truck and people-watched in the meat-packing district. As for that: I had spicy-cool ginger and Aimee had a mixture of espresso and vanilla, the former deep and smoky, the latter quintessential— rich, unassuming and elegant. Beautiful people were in a frenzy over soccer everywhere, and the air was damp, the evening wistful.
And every morning and evening we walked the dog— my roommates’, that is, while they are out in the mountains for the weekend. His name is Charles, he is a Pomeranian, and he is the sweetest creature of all time, with his fluff of fur, unabashedly loving grin, and excited trot. I officially want a dog— specifically, the little muppet that I like to call ‘Chaz’.
Perhaps I will overcome my genetic disposition towards crazy-cat-lady, after all.
Happy birthday, everybody.
(Yesterday was our birthday).
The New York front was swell; though lonely without Aimee, where in Austin, I ask you, could I get pizza like I had last night?
A meal at Co. was my birthday dinner, Co. of the charred crust and clean flavors. A seasonal salad of shaved raw vegetables was at turns sweet, bitter, crunchy; it was elegantly simple yet utterly complex, and consistently, endlessly refreshing. The pure quality of those little early Summer vegetables, basking bright in their sprightly vinaigrette—floral, herbal— the dish’s overall crispness in both texture & execution, made me grin.
And then there was pizza. A tender crust with tar-black scars from the oven. Melting, mild sheep’s milk cheese with the gentlest of a tang that quivered upon the tongue, a base of sweet crushed tomato that had the bite of black pepper and red chile. Over it all was a blanket of top notch arugula.
It was pretty swell to have a birthday comprised of such nifty foodstuffs; earlier I had had a brilliant salad of my own doing for lunch, with baby lettuces, sweet spring beets, cucumber, chopped tomato, medium boiled egg, homemade croutons toasted just that morning, and a smattering of herbs— mint, basil, thyme.
Grand and glorious meals!
Now, I would like to direct your attentions elsewhere:
First, this inspiring, beautiful post from Brian. Perfection! Viva, June!
Second, last but so far from least, is something newfangled and very dear to my heart. From the Chicago front, the big sister made something, for me; I in turn will present it to you, to everybody. Happy birthday. So, go ahead— please visit my website!
And I have been attending to them. Joyous occasions and grand achievements and the visits that come along with such things.
Aimee has graduated; just last week, following a picnic lunch of salad, fruit, baguette, and sunny boiled eggs —the season’s first radishes and strawberries present and radiant in their respective pinks—my mom and I helped her pack up her dorm room for the final time.
And the simultaneously chaotic and lazy visit stretched on from there. We exhausted one another, this family of neurotic little women, but we also all fit upon my bed to watch Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, being as derisive and amused as possible; we visited Taim not once, but twice for bulging sandwiches with hot sauce and those rich, herbal, crusty and tender pieces of falafel (really, very good) and french fries with saffron aioli; we rode the 1 train to South Ferry and that big orange boat into New York Harbor. On the water, on that overcast day, an unreal mist shrouded the city— suddenly an island. The Statue glowed flourescently in the gloom. I felt outside of myself, and the universe.
Things aren’t really making sense right now.
For one thing, Aimee and I should be able to eat breakfast together every day. Now that she is gone, New York seems frazzled, old, and dirty.
Small regrets have become tragedies in my mind’s eye, marked by the drama of such a short visit from ones so dear: my heart crumbles upon recalling my suggestion of eating sandwiches out (totally mediocre) for lunch on Sarah’s last day in town— she was not around for the utterly familial feasting, at home, upon roasted asparagus with shaved pecorino. (My mum & Aimee had to leave for the airport that very minute, so the asparagus were pulled out not quite as tender as one might hope; yet, still, they were fine enough for the three of us to grasp at the hot spears, slick with olive oil and lemon, with our fingers before hugs went all around.)
So, I’m lonesome. Yesterday, the sunshine did no good. The leftover roasted chicken from the Balthazar graduation dinner, with aioli, salami, and a big green salad, did not good. Dick Van Dyke on Netflix— no good. The baked rhubarb, tender and rosy, was no help. Scrubbing the kitchen floor on my hands and knees? Nope. Taking a spoon to the peanut butter? Unfortunately not.
But today, when my friends welcomed me back to work, and I found a bizarre printed-off email about talismans folded into an old book, and I made a sandwich on baguette with meaty roasted green garlic, fresh mozzarella with olive oil, lemon, chile, and marjoram— today, things started looking up. The market’s tomorrow, and there will be radishes and strawberries, and things will get better.
Maybe not less lonely, because the gap one’s family leaves in their absence is too yawning and wide; but, better. Brighter.
True, the past weekend led to rather lofty expectations for this week, but the cold rain the past few days has put me in a funk— even as I was reluctantly expecting this ugly weather to rear its head; it is Spring, after all.
So, rain, I’ll make you a deal— you take care of fertility, etc, and I will tromp through the puddles, etc, but can we please see some asparagus & radishes & soft fresh herbs? The Columbia market is tomorrow (besides Sunday, of course) and I’m going to wake up early and investigate in the cold sunshine. I will probably literally gasp if I spy those slim green stalks, or rosy pink radishes; I will probably faint upon seeing the delicate red of the season’s first berries. I am really sick of gazing upon pale carrots and humble potatoes. Oh, yes, but I will take some waxy baby potatoes, please! All the better for tossing with capers and lemon, or with green beans and olive oil and garlic— alternately, with snap peas and mint and maybe some young onions. With the haphazard mixture of blue skies & heavy rain we’ve been getting, I’m banking on a harvest, from some farm, soon.
Other than that, there is only the coming weekend to look forward to, despite the relative shortage of sunshine it’s predicted to grant us. But there are promises of pizza in Brooklyn with Aimee—the warm sun last weekend kind of rerouted our pizza desire; we went, of course, for the wonderful tacos.
In fact, last Sunday, while the sun still shone, I ventured back to Brooklyn to immediately revisit La Superior, with its lovely red interior that achieves perfect measures of both youthful stylishness & Mexican hole-in-the-wall simplicity. My intentions were pure: chicken with chipotle sauce, pork slow-cooked in banana leaf, peppers & onions cooked until tender with a gentle blanket of cream. Yet, it was Sunday morning (12:45 pm, to be precise) and eggs + beans beckoned from all corners of the menu. When I asked her opinion, the tall-glass-of-water waitress sat down across from me and smiled knowingly- “Huevos Motulenos” she said, and I trusted.
It’s a good thing. Made up of the modest combination of fried eggs in a pool of soupy black beans, the plate defied expectations and was, in a word, sexy. The mess beamed up at me; it was spiked with a deep, warming pepper sauce, speckled with spiced ham, and balanced by split green peas, which lent their earthy sweetness to a wonderfully savory dish. Sticky-tender slices of caramelized plantain offered a rich punctuation, a warming roundness. Brilliant!
Thankfully, the weather has been fair in my kitchen at home as well:
Creamy borlotti beans in a salad with savory, floral marjoram, intensely delicious roasted sweet potato, chile, olive oil, and oregano.
Farro with roasted Italian hot pepper, salty, cool fresh mozzarella, arugula, and olive oil.
A batch of Italian salsa verde, which was lovingly spooned over smoked salmon with a wedge of lemon; the rest was dolloped atop soft scrambled eggs with a bit of ketchup— it was perfect.
To be honest, the mornings have been the hardest. I stand aimlessly in the kitchen— Oatmeal! No…yogurt. Wait, no, oatmeal! But, by evening, the comforts of humble late-winter food has it all making sense. What’s one more batch of spicy cabbage than another bowl of happiness, after all? Tomorrow, there is the market, and I will contentedly wait.
(It’s chilly today, but fresh as a daisy. How I love you, sunshine. You make life easier. Everyone: remember to look up at the sky sometimes, ok?
"The Sun woke me this morning loud
and clear, saying “Hey! I’ve been
trying to wake you up for fifteen minutes.
…I know you love Manhattan, but you ought to look up more often.
always embrace things, people earth
sky stars, as I do, freely…”
—from ‘A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island’ by Frank O’Hara)
The doors & windows are open, the spirits are high, the livin’ is easy. My optimism is filtering back in, like all that sunlight. There are prospects!
Aimee and I went our separate ways this morning after eating H & H bagels with butter and sipping mediocre coffee from paper cups on a church stoop, people watching and sighing over the yeasted bread. I headed on alone towards the park, and, walking down 79th with the sun clattering against its golden awning, I saw this old-school hotel named “The Austin”.
I felt content. I am very excited to move back, because it is so lovely here, and I will be so happy with my memories! What more can you ask for, than to have an interlude be just brief enough to smack of reality, only one that consists above all of bagels on stoops and big skies and old buildings, the Upper West and rich old ladies with giant sunglasses and tiny dogs. And the full glory of a New York Summer is so close I can almost taste it.
This may be a somewhat boring notation of mine; regardless: I find it kind of funny, but whenever it begins to feel warm & beautiful & blue-skyed, I, black-coffee drinker that I am, crave an iced latte. It’s a drink that inevitably reminds me of home— iced lattes are, pretty much without exception, ingrained in the Austinite. I’ve always gotten one or two when the weather just starts to turn, here up North.
Honestly: soy lattes & tacos— that’s it, right there. That’s Austin.
And the sun is shining here with abandon. Aimee and I went to Brooklyn yesterday for delicious tacos and soupy-sweet-humble ezquites; La Superior's rendition of the Mexican street dish (roasted corn kernels, epazote, chili, lime, queso fresco, and, in this case, mayonnaise) cooed in our stomachs, right along with the Mexican coke, the sauteed mushrooms with salsa verde, the cream-coated sauteed peppers and onions, the spicy, smoky shrimp.
We strolled through Williamsburg’s bright brownstones— there were pinkstones, baby bluestones!— wandering into a sort of mall of interconnected vintage stores and coffeeshops, milling about the longest in a really excellent bookshop with white shelves and a slinky black cat. On the way back to the subway, the streets teeming with New Yorkers in Summer high spirits, a Van Leeuwen ice cream truck roared past.
"Follow it," I screamed, and we did, for about a block. It clearly wasn’t stopping anytime soon, but rather than waste that perfect night, we went down to Soho and got some gelato, happily sitting on a stoop with the comfortable breeze and the cobblestones.
So, here’s hoping your Springtime is off to an equally fortuitous start. I’m going to leave you with that, wholeheartedly, and some last-minute endorsements:
Reading the Wind Up Bird Chronicle, which is mysterious and surreal and beautiful, the latter being in a wholly unassuming way. The novel has an almost apathetic casualness to the oddities haunting; it has this hard edged modernity to its ghosts and psychics and the varied otherworldly entities that have cropped up in the protagonist’s life— a life which is otherwise remarkably real. In fact, I feel like Murakami manages to capture an ordinary life’s wonderful mundanities better than most any author I’ve read, and all while throwing in ‘prostitutes of the mind’ and curses. I read it on a park bench today and my head was spinning.
And then I’ve really enjoyed listening to Esperanza Spalding, whom I discovered after reading an article in The New Yorker. She is gorgeous, bodacious and very talented. I love the open, smooth style of jazz she makes, especially on warm nights with the windows open.
She also lives in Austin. Prospects! Yes.
I’ve been stopping in the middle of what I’m doing to just, simply, think. There is much thinking to be done— currently on the agenda: moving back to Austin, around September.
We won’t go into unglamorous details. We won’t go over the anxious nature of my travels, the failed nature of these ventures. Chicago was a slow in-between, a couple years of waiting for New York, starry-eyed, and I fled. But it was also dirty-mouthed girlfriends, the city skyline sitting atop the beach of Lake Michigan, the best sandwiches served in a bright space rattling under the Damen Blue Line, spicy cabbage and Seinfeld with Sarah.
And now here I am. I have given New York its due, or at least feel confident that I will have done so come next Fall. It’ll be a full year, and it’ll be a good one. I’m ready.
Home, home, home, of the endless summers, the salsa and the salty-oat cookies. Thinking about it is like a big hug. It’s warm, and it’s comfortable.
People act like you can’t be comfortable and be accomplishing something. But if I can just slow down, just stop and think, sit down and doodle, I will be there. I will be accomplishing what I need in order to be happy. Art school’s not in the stars, as of yet, and a little house in Austin with Aimee sounds like the peace of mind I need in order to actually work on something in my own time. If there’s sunlight streaming through the kitchen window, all the better.
So, no more chicken for me for a little while, I’ll tell you what. Chicken has pervaded my week: in a leafy salad with some of the roasted fingerlings from the pan, capers, & grated parmesan; on whole wheat bread with chopped green olive, mayonnaise, and shaved red onion; laid out cold on a plate with tabasco-spiked aioli.
It was lovely, it was all well and good, but frankly I am fed up with chicken. As my friend Sandra said, “You’re chickened out”. Get it?!
Anyway, some highlights this week were those dishes not dedicated to the bird, such as bowls of a brilliant, bright lentil soup with a hint of curry— these were generous meals of meaty, firm lentils and butternut squash in a tomatoey broth, sprinkled with parsley, basil, feta, and generous slip of olive oil. Balsamic roasted butternut squash & red onion with farro is a humble pairing; they are lovely, unassuming ingredients, but were made into something grander with herbs, citrus, and feta; also, a bit of hot sauce. This was eaten with bread + butter, a clementine, some slices of salami. My, my. It was perfect.
And then there’s a batch of whole wheat apple muffins with cardamom, nutmeg, and vanilla bean. There’s a story there, but I’ll save it for next time.
Now, I will clean for the arrival of a new roommate, make some granola, do laundry and grocery shopping, and continue making New York home, for as long as I can, with occasional daydreams of the abrasive sun and relaxed days that await, as ever, in Texas. I say, when you have an inkling of what’ll make you happy, just go for it. It is almost always worth it, in the end.