I have been looking for the words for days. I haven’t found them yet.
You see, we spent nine days in New York, both the city and its environs, to celebrate the publication of our book, only returning home a few days ago. In those glorious, grubby days, we connected with people who are dear to us, new friends, food writing heroes, and groups of people who came out to meet us. We ate our way through the city, in one memorable meal after another. We taught a cooking class, gathered people together for a picnic in Central Park, went on the radio, met fellow bloggers at the Union Square Greenmarket, talked with folks in a Shaker village, appeared on a podcast, and talked with dozens and dozens of people who have bought our book and love what they have cooked out of it.
We three — Danny and I, plus an exuberant Lu — spent time in nearly every neighborhood of Manhattan south of 96th street, plus visits to Brooklyn, Queens, upstate New York, and New Jersey. All with a kid in a stroller and two suitcases. (Some things never change, it seems.)
When we left for New York, we were anticipating the arrival of the book in the world. We gestated that baby for nearly three years. A week before we were in New York, it arrived early, unexpectedly. Really, we went to New York to cut the umbilical cord. To celebrate. And to let go.
We came back changed.
I still haven’t found the words for it all.
I can show you some photographs, though.
And start off by saying that it felt as though the table was set for us wherever we went in New York.
Sunrise over Newark sounds like a joke, right? How could that be beautiful?
This caught my eye as we rode the bus on the New Jersey Turnpike from Newark airport into the city. (I always think of the Simon and Garfunkel song.) Sunrise anywhere lifts my heart. More than that, however, it’s those skinny spires behind the hundred telephone poles that made me sit up straight, awake, without any decent coffee. New York City.
I lived there for four years and I never once grew tired of it. (Well, maybe a bit. Enough to leave it.) Every time I see that city, my heart beats faster. Everything happens there. It’s the heart of all that is theater and writing, young men drumming on subways and the Egyptian room at the Met, food carts and fine dining, Central Park and the East Village, cigarette butts in the street and unexpected smiles on people’s faces, grizzled beards on homeless men and insanely wealthy people hiding in their hired cars, coffee with milk and bagels, humid air and sitting on the sidewalk late at night eating with friends, business men in crisp shirts and young women in fashionable rain boots, raucous laughter bouncing off the cavernous buildings, the smell of stale air on the trains, pizza late at night, and three thousand other small details that make that place the greatest city in the world.
(Don’t argue with me. I’m a New Yorker at heart, still.)
One look at the city in the distance and all my exhaustion from an overnight flight faded right away.
This is Lu, looking at the streets of New York City for the first time. After we exited the Lincoln Tunnel and emerged onto the area around Port Authority, she stood up in her seat on the bus (Danny holding onto her legs) and just stared.
That’s what she looked like for much of the trip. She took it all in. She watched, absorbed, danced, laughed, stared, asked us questions, and watched some more.
I can only imagine the changes in her brain these past two weeks. She’s talking more and more since we returned home, jabbering and telling us stories in short bursts. The city left its indelible mark on her. She loved New York City as much as Danny and I do.
There were so many good moments. Like the first morning, when we had breakfast with a friend from Seattle in the East Village. And then we wandered around the corner to find Tulu’s Gluten-Free Bakery and this cupcake in the window.
(This place is good.)
Or the moment when we sat on a porch in the house of a new good friend, (driven there by another new good friend) in the evening as the gloaming settled on all the hills and fields around us, the air warm, the table before us spread out with fresh guacamole, three kinds of salsa, and two kinds of tortilla chip. Danny and I looked at each other at the same time, sighed, and reached for each other’s hands.
We felt so lucky. We still do.
The next morning, when we went back, we saw this from the porch.
That day, we made an appearance at Hancock Shaker Village, during their annual country fair. Lu lost her mind for the sheep. We walked around the farmers’ market, admiring and sampling local blue cheeses. We walked into a room with two tables full of people, people there to see us and have a conversation about food and family, creating and making mistakes in the kitchen. I will never forget that conversation.
We jumped on another train, after Margaret drove us expertly through winding roads, landed in the city, and took off immediately for Park Slope in Brooklyn. We were late to the party in our honor (damned subway work on the weekends!), but no one seemed to blame us. In the apartment of Silvana Nardone waited fellow food bloggers, dear old friends, our book editor, small children running around our legs, and a table laden with incredible food, all of it gluten-free.
(And a motorcycle parked in the hallway, which Lu immediately climbed and sat astride the seat like a pro. We’re in trouble.)
We drove home with my friend Mark and his wife Nicole, in their tiny sports car, close to midnight, Lu asleep in my arms, the air warm through the open windows, up FDR drive, talking fast and laughing.
And the next day, a picnic in Central Park, with some of the best people we had never met before.
This was so special that it deserves its own post. We are still trying to take it in. Soon.
At one point, toward the end of the picnic, Danny said to me, “Can you take our picture? I always dreamed of doing this, here, with my kid.”
He grabbed Lu by the hands, and he picked her up. They spun and spun, in ever widening circles, the both of them laughing and filling the air with the sound.
My heart wanted to burst.
Afterward, we walked on the Upper West Side, with two wonderful women. Tracy and Kim tested nearly every recipe in our cookbook for us. They were meticulous and joyful, both, and sent us photographs of everything they made. Without their work, you wouldn’t have edible pasta or crusty bread.
To surprise Kim for a weekend important to her, Tracy planned a trip to New York so we could all finally meet. We loved them, of course. We knew we would. We talked and laughed as we walked up Columbus toward Shake Shack.
This place takes cares of folks who can’t eat gluten. They knew exactly what it is, what we could eat, and how to feed us.
Crinkly fries and root beer floats on a bench outside the Natural History Museum, the wind blowing, the weather shifting, and all of us feeling good just being there.
The next morning, we had brunch at the home of our good friend, Jennifer Perillo. Do you know her blog, In Jennie’s Kitchen? You should. This woman took the trouble to make the entire brunch gluten-free for me. And it was all delicious.
Also, because they are also food writers and bloggers, no one made fun of me when I took this plate out onto the front porch to take this photograph.
Later that day, for lunch, we met the amazing team at Wiley who produced our book. On the left is Justin, our inimitable book editor. Seriously, we love him. Justin, the fact that you are slightly out of focus in this photo has nothing to do with how we feel about you. In the middle is Jana, our PR person, the one-woman force gathering media attention for our book. And on the right is Todd, the head of marketing of cookbooks at Wiley. He’s doing all the behind-the-scenes work to make sure the cookbook gets into your hands. He is also one of the dearest friends of my dear friend, Sherry, and the childhood friend of my awesome friend Carol Blymire. (What does it matter that I have yet to meet Carol in person? This is the internet age. I already dig her.)
That’s what this entire trip felt like: incredible connections.
Also, the lunch we shared together at Locanda Verde ended in this stunning cheesecake. Gluten-free.
Just before we arrived in New York, Lu developed a fervent interest in trains. Mostly, due to this book, which we have now read to her 8,372 times. We could not have taken her to a better city.
Every time we approached a subway stop, she shouted out with intense glee: “TRAIN!” She sat through every subway ride with eyes wide open. She was somehow joyful when we stayed at the apartment of a friend in Astoria, for days, where the train tracks were above our heads and rattled the windows every fifteen minutes when another one roared by. “TRAIN!” she shouted.
And whenever we left the subway, again, she looked back and said, in her lilting voice, “Bye bye train!”
(I do not, however, miss walking up and down the steps of the subway, the two of us carrying her in her stroller. My biceps are amazing right now.)
One day, we walked from 57th Street to 14th Street, slowly. (Well, as slowly as you can walk in New York.) How many human faces we saw that afternoon.
And this guy, who walked about 10 blocks with us and no one ever gave him a second look.
I love that.
Lu took it all in from her stroller. She thrived in that city. She ran and smiled and danced and watched and talked until she collapsed with exhaustion, slept in her stroller for a couple of hours, and then woke up to do it again.
Clearly, we are not stimulating her enough at home. She slept solid and long hours every night we were there. Our little island may be too quiet for her.
We watched the city through her eyes, watched the panoply of people, the mix of races and fashions, the directness of conversation, the democratic way that everyone stands on the subway platform together, and we talked about the world in which she lives. In New York, we were so happy for her, to know such a place.
And we taught a class. Walking into a Whole Foods in Manhattan, we saw our own names.
That was a trip.
Thank you to all of you who came out that night. We will not forget the connection with you.
Afterward, we walked uptown in the warm air and found Mozzarelli’s, a pizza joint with gluten-free slices. They were just about to close, so we found extra slices in our hands. We walked to Madison Square Park, found a green metal table, and sat with Lu, eating pizza.
We laughed, the stress of making all our appointments for the day slipped away from our shoulders, the next day before us, our daughter dangling her feet from the chair, and all of us eating good pizza together in the warm evening air.
The next morning, we met fellow food bloggers at the Union Square Greenmarket. This woman was perfectly dressed for the occasion. It was as though she stood there for my camera alone.
It’s fast-talking joy to walk through a farmers’ market with other people who love food enough to write websites about it. And then to stop talking to admire the box full of fresh ingredients that would make up salsa later that day.
Those of you were there? Thank you.
Lu loved the peppers best.
EAT. That we did.
There was an adventuresome meal at Prune with Francis Lam, who is my new favorite dining companion for the way he pays attention carefully to every bite, silent, then releases into exhalation and enthusiasm. (Poached chicken in aspic! Pho beef short ribs! Creamed corn succotash!) Have you been to Prune? Go now.
There was the three-hour Greek meal we ate in Astoria with my old friend Gabe and his wonderful girlfriend, Pilar. We sat at a table on the sidewalk in the warm air and let the waiter decide for us what we should eat. (He was wonderful but sounded like a parody of Borat, so we laughed whenever he stretched out our daughter’s name. “Oh Luuuuuucy! Won’t you smile for me?”) The grilled haloumi alone was worth the entire night.
There was an extraordinary lunch at Gramercy Tavern with Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, the authors of The Flavor Bible and many other books. Danny cooked at Gramercy Tavern when he lived in NY (the same time as me, 12 block away, but we never met then), and he cooked with the help of Culinary Artistry, Page and Dornenburg’s earlier book, for over a decade. It’s how he has created dishes for every restaurant in which he has cooked.
We were both amazed to be sitting with these people in that place. We were even more amazed to feel such an easy sense of kinship with them. The edits of the manuscript for their next book were due the next day, and then they were getting on a plane to Argentina. But they made time for lunch with us.
The eating was amazing on this trip.
Including this Reuben sandwich at Friedman’s Lunch in the Chelsea Market. Look at that. How could you not want that?
(It’s clear they use Udi’s bread for their sandwiches. Good move.)
I could eat at Friedman’s Lunch every day, given the chance. Too bad it’s across-the-country away.
Here’s the thing. We ate nearly every meal in someone else’s hands. We only cooked once in 9 days. And in fine dining and dives both, I ate well. And I ate safely.
It’s entirely possible to eat gluten-free in New York City.
We met some amazing new people on this trip, people who might be friends for years.
But in the end, it’s such a comfort to see old friends. These two women, Sherry and Megan, sustained me through some lonely times in New York, when I lived there, almost a decade ago now. They made me laugh, made me think, and made me feel loved.
Now, they both have children (Sherry has three daughters, Megan has two boys) and I have Lu. We all have husbands whom we adore and respect. And there I was, in New York, on a book tour, hugging them both.
We all agreed — we had no ideas where our lives were going when we knew each other back then. No one could have ever predicted this.
For the picnic in Central Park, we asked people to show up with the words YES or IMAGINE on them somewhere. When we arrived, we were so moved to see it on bags and purses, on wrists and hands. YES and IMAGINE.
I have YES tattooed on me. Danny has IMAGINE tattooed on him.
This trip? It was all about yes and imagine. Years ago, Danny and I imagined a cookbook. We said yes to it, every day, through hard work and recipes that failed and more testing and writing and editing. We imagined it in your hands, in your kitchens, in your homes.
This trip? We saw you with our cookbook in our hands. And we gathered, those of us who were there, to talk about food and family and laughter and unexpected delights. It was, quite literally, a dream come true for us.
Say yes to your life. You cannot imagine what could happen.
Thank you, New York. Over and over. Thank you.
p.s. It seems I did find my words after all. Thank you for reading.