The Chef and I woke up this morning — in our own bed for the first time in five days — looked at each other, and started giggling. “Happy Wednesday,” he said. (We say this every week, without fail. We met on a Wednesday. We’re always going to celebrate.) I returned the salutation. And then I said, “Good god, what just happened?”
We just spent five days in New York, five delicious days that we will remember all the rest of our lives. I don’t know what it is about this year, but I just can’t keep up. One big jolt of an experience keeps happening, one after the other. Normally, a honeymoon in Italy would be enough to keep me waltzing around in memories for months. But around here, life moves fast. This is the year I have finally learned to let go of experiences, after they have happened. I just keep breathing out and making room for the next set.
But New York. Ah, New York. I lived in that gloriously dirty city for four years, and it is still in me. Five minutes there, and I’m walking fast and weaving through crowds. The rhythms of the footsteps on subway platforms, the smell of other people’s bodies mixed with dirty water in the curbs and sweet honey-roasted almonds on the street and cigarette smoke and the pale acrid smoke of hot dog vendor carts, the piercing squeal of trains screeching to a halt echoing off the walls late at night, kids in strollers being tugged down steep steps and men with cardboard signs sitting on park benches asking for a beer, sauteed calamari mashed potatoes frizzled leeks tapioca pudding eggs with smoked salmon stinging bitter coffee in a blue deli cup — this is all New York to me.
And now, this is New York for the Chef, as well. Even though we both lived there — a fifteen-minute walk away from each other, it turns out — we never met. We had never walked down those streets, arm in arm. The first day we were there this weekend, a little haggard from the no-sleep of flying all night, I sat beside him on the subway and lay my head upon his shoulder. As I closed my eyes, I wanted to cry a little. The entire time I had lived in New York, I had never felt this loved. I know he felt the same.
Everything tasted delicious this weekend.
Like the afternoon I first saw my book in a bookstore. After the Chef and I had lunch at Gramercy Tavern (with my editor; oh good god), we found our way to Zabar’s. We were meeting Meri, my dear friend (now ours) who used to live in Seattle, but moved away the day after we were married. When I saw her across the street — the Chef and I in front of Zabar’s; she standing in front of H and H bagels — I screamed and nearly ran out in front of a cab. (The Chef pulled me back.) I couldn’t reach her fast enough. I just wanted to hug her for an hour.
After we all ducked into Zabar’s — the constant extravaganza — and studied knishes and different kinds of anchovies for sale — we walked up to the Barnes and Noble on 81st and Broadway. Having lived only 20 blocks north of there, I had visited this particular bookstore many a time. (It’s hard to find a good independent bookstore in Manhattan, you see.) Since Friday was the first official day of publication, I wanted to see my book in a store.
(Here I have to explain what has been explained to me. Publishing has changed in the last few years. The market is tight. Most first books simply do not end up in every bookstore. Online sources, the big stores, and the independent bookstores that specially request a title — these are the places to find the book. If everyone asks for a copy at a local store, word will spread. But if your individual bookstore is not carrying the book yet, that’s fairly typical. So don’t worry, those of you who have written to me. This is publishing now.)
Given what I had been told, I didn’t expect to see the book. When I asked someone at customer service, I was shocked when he took me to the front table, expecting to find it there. There were none. Those copies must have sold. He directed us upstairs, to the health section (that’s where it is being shelved, in case you didn’t know that), where, “…it should be prominently displayed.”
And so we saw a stack of my books, on a table, at the bookstore where I used to sit for hours. The Chef was tempted to cry. So was I. Meri just beamed for us.
On Saturday, we finally visited Strawberry Fields for the first time. Talk about crying.
(And I love the guys behind us in this photograph. You can never be alone in New York.)
One of my favorite moments of the entire weekend (or perhaps my entire life) was when we entered Strawberry Fields in Central Park. The Chef, Sharon, and I had battled subways and a morning without coffee or food to arrive somewhere close to on time. As we neared the Imagine sign, one of my favorite former students came running toward me. Now a student at Columbia, she had trekked down the Upper West Side to hug me. After a few moments of talking, she had to leave, to explore the city with her mother. And so we rounded the corner, headed toward Imagine. On a long, curving bench sat a number of people, each of them holding my book in her or his hands. I’ll admit — words fled me in that moment. The cover of my book — the one that was only a pdf file on my computer for all those months — staring up at me from other people’s laps. It’s here. My book is in the world.
Over the next three hours, people arrived in waves: fellow bloggers whom I had not met before; dear friends in the city who had not been able to attend our wedding; my former roommate, William, with whom Sharon and I had made up 7B; and many of you incredible people reading right now. The sun shone through green leaves, the air felt kind upon my head, and I was grinning all day.
(This picture is of Mary Catherine holding the book. Hi, Mary Catherine!)
We never did sing. Funny — that is what we had announced we would do. But the Imagine sign is always filled with strangers, people who throng around it for a few moments and move on to the next sight. I suppose we were stopped from too much activity by the wild-haired man with red-rimmed eyes who kept moving through the crowd, arms flailing, and shouting “I’m going to f—ing kill you!” to no one in particular. (hello, new york.) Mostly, we were so enjoying the moment — the Chef was a little happily freaked out by people coming up to him and saying, “Oh, you are real!” — that stopping everyone to sing felt a little artificial.
The entire day felt like a song.
And the weekend was filled with friends I have loved for over half my life. People who met us for the first time looked at Meri (who has shown up all over this website, and the book — try her Ecuadorian ceviche), or Sharon (my maid of honor, the one with whom I explored Los Angeles), or Gabe (the one who always wanted to eat cake in a bag) and said, “Hey, I know them!”
Someone said, at one point, “Hey, you brought your entire cast of characters with you.”
And here, in this photo, taken on the sidewalk on 72nd between Columbus and Central Park West, we look like some scruffy indie band, posing for the photo of our new album. Maybe we’ll call ourselves Dirty Laundry. (That’s what Gabe said when he was trying to remember the name of that famous restaurant in Yountville, French Laundry.)
I could not have been happier than to have them around me.
To be sure, the food was delicious this weekend. Sharp and tangy on the tongue, or rolling at the back of my palate with warm notes of garlic, sending little trills of porky goodness to my brain, and melting in the mouth sashimi that we will remember the rest of our lives.
This salad is from Le Pain Quotidien: grilled chicken; chickpeas; avocadoes; and a piece of frisee so large that it hit my nose when I took my first bite. Certainly, going to a restaurant that translates as The Daily Bread seems foolhardy. But even here, the waiters and chefs took care of me. While my friends and husband ate curried chicken sandwiches and exquisite-looking bread, I nibbled and giggled my way through this salad. Each of us had been to this place many times before, in twos and big groups. Nostalgically, we needed to eat here. (plus, we were starving.) When Gabe realized I couldn’t eat from the open jar of praline spread with my spoon — all those errant crumbs — he leapt up and bought a new jar for the table to share.
All the meals tasted that sweet.
Here is the Chef, an hour before we began teaching our first cooking class together. We were blessed that the Whole Foods on Houston (between Chrystie and Bowery) opened the space for us to teach, with only ten days notice. Even better, Samara and Martha had pulled all the ingredients necessary for our dishes, and arranged crudite plates for all the guests before we even arrived. (And the amazing Samara — hey you! — greeted us at the top of the stairs with, “You’re Shauna and the Chef!” That just made our day.) Meri and Sharon came with us — our lovely assistants — and helped me make cookie dough and chop up dill for the Chef. Sharon arrived a bit later than we did. She said that when she was coming upon the store, she looked up to see enormous windows, a sign with an arrow that pointed toward “Take a cooking class here,” and my red bag at the point of the arrow.
The day felt like that.
We were so utterly thrilled to meet everyone there, to cook chicken thighs braised in pomegranate molasses, penne pasta with smoked salmon, dill, capers, and fresh horseradish, and fig cookies. (We didn’t let the dough sit in the refrigerator quite long enough, so those spread a bit more than we wanted. Oh well.) The feeling in the room was convivial — this was a real community. It is so good to be with people who understand, who approach life with eyes wide open, and who want to learn and share with each other.
And I love teaching cooking with the Chef. He knows how to chop the onions, how to sautee correctly, how to demonstrate techniques with a casual flip that still take me minutes to master. Watching him cook still entrances me. He had never seen me teach before, and he said he was astounded.
We want to do this again and again.
When we first walked into the room, long before the class began, I saw copies of my book on every table.
Can you imagine the delicious thrill?
And when I asked if anyone wanted a book autograph, everyone lined up! Good thing I have a big red Sharpie. I was so humbled, and honored.
And eating together is what joins people. The Chef was thrilled when there was such silence after we passed out this chicken. When people stop talking, they are really tasting the food.
It is food that heals us. This isn’t about just being gluten-free. This is about really being alive. This is about living, in food, in community, in laughter.
(And if you’d like to read about the class from someone else’s perspective, read this wonderful accounting from dear Erin at Gluten-Free Fun. Thank you, Erin!)
The last day we were in New York, the Chef and I took the subway from Brooklyn up to 96th. Together, we walked the streets of my old neighborhood, and stopped for lunch at Metro Diner. How many times had I eaten there, late at night? Turkey burgers with Gabe, piles of French fries with Sharon, chocolate shakes with Meri? Those tired years were before I realized I should not be eating gluten-free, so I went back with new eyes. And of course, I had never been there with the Chef before. Everything feels new with him.
And then we walked the distance between our old apartments, mine on 101st and Broadway, his on 112th and Manhattan Avenue. For six months, we had been fifteen minutes from each other. We must have passed each other on the street before. We must have sat on the same subway, across from each other. We must have seen each other’s eyes, at some point. But it took until that morning to walk the distance between the two places, holding hands.
We met when we did for a reason. And oh, how delicious that we did.
Not everything on this trip was perfect, of course.
On Sunday, we wanted to be up in Rye, for the celiac awareness walk. We announced it here. We deliberately stayed with our friends Cindy and Ben in Long Island, thinking we would be closer. In fact, we hoped that they would be able to give us a ride, Sunday morning. We had a plan.
But never under-estimate the power of jet lag. From the moment we landed at JFK, we were running. There was never a moment that was not planned. (This is, in a way, my least favorite way to live, but we knew that it would be this way, and we adapted.) When we woke up Sunday morning, we were exhausted to the point of feeling ill. We slept a little more, trying to listen to our bodies.
We all gathered in Cindy and Ben’s kitchen, for coffee and a little breakfast. Sunday mornings tend to move slowly. And then I found out that we were headed for a day of traveling.
In order to reach Rye, we had to take a train from their town to Penn Station (50 minutes). Jump to the subway, take a shuttle to Grand Central (20 minutes). Take a train to Rye (45 minutes). Walk from the train station to the high school. (20 minutes.) It was worth it. We so wanted to meet everyone there. But when you miss the train at Grand Central by two minutes, you have to wait another hour for the next one. And so you wait, and accept, and realize that life is like this. You think, “We’ll be there for the last three hours of the event. The schedule said it goes until 5.”
Imagine our surprise, therefore, when we walked up to the high school at 2:15 to find that almost everyone had left already. The event had finished.
Later, on the train platform heading back to the city, I actually stood with my head up against the Chef’s chest and cried. I felt so bad, for missing the event, for missing any of you who went there to meet us.
I still feel bad.
Sorry to all of you were looking for us. We promise — it wasn’t for lack of trying that we were absent!
But as the Chef reminded me, as I stood there sniffling into his sweater, “What in this world is perfect?”
Not us, to be sure.
However, we weren’t going to let one bittersweet bite ruin the entire meal. In fact, those experiences that make you wince a bit make the others taste more sweet.
We ate well, and all of it gluten-free.
Should you be headed for New York anytime soon, here are some places where I ate safely, and memorably…
42 East 20th
NY, NY 10003
Mere hours after we arrived at JFK, we found ourselves at the delectable Gramercy Tavern. Since the Chef once cooked there, he especially wanted to eat there on this trip together. My fantastic editor met us there (and luckily, this meant the publishers paid for lunch as well). To my shock, the entire autumn tasting menu was entirely gluten-free. Oh yes. I remember the sea scallops on a bed of caramelized sweet corn, in particular. And I’m going to try to make the tapioca pudding with basil oil and mango sorbet as a recipe here, later.
357 Sixth Ave., nr. Washington Pl.; 212–414-3088
Our dear friends Nina and Booth directed us to this new sushi place on Sixth Avenue. For years, they were friends with master chef Soto, in Atlanta. After winning acclaim and awards, he moved everyone north to the big city. On the night of our first day in New York — the actual date of publication — five of our dearest friends gathered with us in this tiny white space. For the next three hours, we moaned over the freshest sushi we have ever eaten, one delicate dish after another. In fact, when the waiter put down a lobster sashimi in front of us, Meri blurted out inadvertently, “Oh, I love you!” We will never forget this meal, which was entirely gluten-free for us. (And we’ll probably be paying it off for awhile, as well.)
Le Pain Quotidien
50 West 72nd Street
212 712 9700
Yes, there are mostly sandwiches, and bread seems to be everywhere. But they fed me well, and safely. And I love curving my hand around a bowl of their cafe au lait.
Danny Brown Wine Bar
104–02 Metropolitan Ave.
Forest Hills, New York
718 261 2144
On Sunday night, after we had missed the celiac walk, we trudged back into the city and met Sharon and our friend Megan down on Greenwich for ten minutes. (The Chef and Megan had not met, and those were the only minutes in which it was possible.) And then we braved the E — and changed to the F — for the long ride out to Forest Hills. Why? For Luisa and Deb — and their darling male counterparts — of course. All that trekking? Totally worth it. The company charmed and warmed us — our spirits were entirely re-vivified by their presence. And the food? Oh, the food claimed our hearts. My salmon tartare with black olives, frisee, and creme fraiche? I can still taste it. We talked of writing books, Mexican spa vacations, failed flans, the joys of running toward what scares you, and subways. We could have stayed all night. In fact, we closed out the place, laughing. I suggest you do the same.
403 12 Street (at !st Ave)
Slender rounds of tender pork tenderloin. Artichoke salad. A tiny card-sized piece of crispy pork belly. Good wine. Great friends. Buttermilk panna cotta with huckleberry sauce. The last one in the door, the last ones out.
Union Square Cafe
21 East 16th Street
On our last day in New York, mere hours before we were meant to head to the airport, we ate lunch at Union Square Cafe. Because we were eating with the marketing manager and head of publicity for the book, we were treated again. Danny Meyer — all the waiters at your restaurants have magic hands. When I was finished eating, I saw a pair of hands whisking my plate away, but no one connected to them. Impeccable yet warm service — this is hard to find. My steak was perfectly done, rare. The frizzeled leeks on top of the potatoes crunched in my mouth, then ended in tenderness. Best of all, the waiter — who was originally from Omaha, Nebraska — understood my dilemma immediately. “Do you have celiac sprue? So does my mother.” And with that he treated me with the same dignity as we received in Italy.
It is possible here. Someday, it won’t cost that much money to eat well and find waiters who understand how to feed us, gluten-free.
This weekend, we were thrilled to meet so many of you, to cook for you, to listen to you. This was, for the book and for us, an important time.
But mostly, we just walked those streets together, laughing and happy, finally there.
New York (and by that, I mean Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Rye, and Long Island) — thank you for such a delicious weekend.