First, there was New York.
Specifically, I mean that we flew to New York for a week’s worth of book events and small moments of light on the city streets and subways before heading to Italy. But generally, it was always New York first. The moment I stepped onto a New York City sidewalk my foot descending from the M125 bus to a bit of pavement on 116th and Broadway I knew it was a home. For years, I thought it was my only home. Now, I have many homes, none of them permanent. But I will always feel at home in that loud, brash city, where the shadows thrown from trees onto grey sidewalks make delicate art, if you’re looking.
New York is where my girl feels comfortable walking, arms swaying, a bit ahead of us, dancing. She found this hat at a store right before we left on our travels and insisted it must be hers. She wore it all around the city. (Danny and I both kept expecting a little Mary Tyler Moore moment on a street corner.) She felt at home in this city I love so well.
Oh, New York.
New York, where the skies seemed to be always blue for us that week. We walked and walked the streets, the three of us skipping in a line sometimes, until we could walk no longer. (Lu spent some of the time sitting on our shoulders, looking up at the buildings.)
This time, for the first time, we didn’t surf on friends’ couches or stay on the futon in a dear friend’s home in Harlem. We rented a small studio in the east 30s and called it home. It turned out that our book launch party at Whisk, the class I taught at ICE, and almost all the interviews I did that week were within 20 blocks of that apartment. I walked everywhere, watching the world and smiling, most of the time.
We stayed close to Madison Square Park, where artists installed massive red, yellow, and blue artworks around the grass. I watched it going up one morning. The next day, each little hillock of colored ropes contained a New Yorker, reading, lounging legs out. Art became city became reading space became a flash of color against all that grey.
That’s one of the best things about New York the way art is part of mundane life. There’s always something magic happening.
It’s easy to remain astonished in New York City.
We ate our first real meal that week at Blue Smoke, one of many excellent restaurants run by the Union Square Hospitality Group and Danny Meyer. These folks know service. They know how to make you feel at home.
And at the bottom of the menu: “Please let us know about any allergies you have.” The menu was labeled GF for gluten-free and NF for nut-free.
It’s so lovely to be in a restaurant that doesn’t question your medical needs or assume you must be doing this to fit in with a trend.
It helps as well that those Kansas City ribs were ridiculous and needed three napkins for the cleanup.
New York is the kind of place where you almost stumble over signs that remind you to look up and open to the world. Stop looking for it all to happen the way you have planned in your tiny mind. Wait for the unlikely.
And turn off the English teacher mind that silently screams, “You misspelled summoned!” and just let go.
Tiny mind expects. Tiny mind needs to be right. Tiny mind misses all the fun.
“Instructions… pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.” Mary Oliver
And then, you walk into a coffee shop after almost stumbling over the sign that reminds you to stop expecting all the good things you think you deserve. And you meet someone who understands you, immediately. Someone who makes you laugh and points to possibilities later.
There’s always a new chance to connect.
Danny and I were scheduled to teach a cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education while we were in New York. Eight dishes from our new cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, in four hours of teaching. We were both jazzed to teach this. But even a few days before the class, I didn’t know who was going to take care of Lu. Our friend Kim, amazing woman that she is (and you must read her new book about cooking with her kids), volunteered to take Lu for the afternoon and evening. Lu was so damned excited to go to gymnastics class with Edie and Lucy that she didn’t talk about anything else that week in New York.
That morning, she sat up in her bed and threw up. She hadn’t done that since she was a baby, so she was perplexed and sort of fascinated before she started crying. “I’m going to need a new bed now. We might need a new apartment.” We soothed her, sat with her, stayed inside all day, coaxing her back to sleep and holding her hair when it happened again. Having the stomach flu is no fun, especially on the day when you were supposed to spend the evening with friends baking cookies and playing dress-up.
We decided Danny would stay with her and I would teach the class by myself. There had been bad news in a phone call just before I left, Lucy was sick (but quickly recovering), Danny was stuck inside, and I was scared about teaching this class well by myself. For ten minutes, I was walking down 5th Avenue but trapped in tiny mind instead.
And then I looked up from my own feet and saw that vast, glorious city that I still think of as home. The world is much bigger and richer and more indifferent than my tiny mind believes. One of the reasons I love New York is that the city doesn’t give a shit if you’re having a hard time. It just keeps on keeping on.
I thought of something I had heard Pema Chodron say a few days before: “Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us.” I could feel the twisting tightening pain in my belly start to soften and spread.
You only live each moment once and I miss so many of them. That one I decided to live fully.
I texted Danny when I arrived. “I’m going to teach the hell out of this class. I can’t wait to meet these people.”
It was a darned fine time.
And I met Claire, who had the best t-shirt I’ve seen in a long time.
Life offers you moments that surprise you. There’s so much life in New York that those moments happen rapid-fire.
The next day, with Lucy fully recovered, we walked into Central Park and saw a scene from Sesame Street being filmed by the Bethesda fountain. (I was probably more excited than Lu, even though she was astonished. I distracted her so she didn’t see the puppeteer lift the muppet off his head. Let her believe in that magic a little while longer.)
Once again the two of us me with YES tattooed on my wrist, Danny with the word IMAGINE tattooed on his arm walked to Strawberry Fields and paid our tributes. It’s even better now that Lucy is with us.
Lucy asked what this place was, why we were there. She knows the Beatles now and can tell you the names of each of those lads by sight. When we explained that John Lennon had lived nearby, and that Yoko had dedicated this space in Central Park to him after his death, she said, “John Lennon died?!” I gulped. I had forgotten she didn’t know this. Why would she know this? And for a moment, it was 1980, and I was in the 9th grade, horrified with sadness after hearing about the shooting in the middle of Monday Night Football. I held her close. That’s why she looks so upset here.
A few days later, she tugged on my shirt as we talked with a friend, then whispered to me: “Can you tell her that John Lennon died? She needs to know.”
That’s the thing about life, especially life in New York City that porous week. There are magic moments of seeing Sesame Street being filmed and a few moments later you realize John Lennon died. There are stomach flus and phone calls with news that punch you in the gut and being trapped inside on a beautiful day. And there are moments of opening and communion with strangers cooking together who become friends by the end of the evening.
And when you meet your good friend Maggy, and go to a restaurant that serves delicious vegan, gluten-free food, you go into the bathroom and see this.
Compassion in the bathroom.
Our last full day in New York City, we were lucky enough to visit the Food52 office, to cook one of the dishes from our cookbook with Amanda and crew and hang out. Look at this gorgeous kitchen. Wouldn’t you want to spend all day there? We did. We could have stayed there, cooking, for hours more.
Someday I want a kitchen that makes me feel the way this one did.
These are the salty seeds from our cookbook, a recipe we created in homage to our friend Christina Choi. We used to eat a version of these seven toasted seeds with a good pinch of salt at Nettletown every time we visited. Now we were sharing them with these lovely women in New York, each of us grabbing a spoonful from the skillet. (Later, someone posted a photo of avocado toast with these on top. We’re making that soon too.)
So many unexpecteds happen in New York when we visit.
On the subway out to Brooklyn, after the last of the public events, we relaxed. Lucy danced. Of course. She is always dancing.
One of my favorite memories of being in New York this time was walking down the streets of Manhattan with Lucy will belting out “You really ought to give Iowa a try!” (She’s in love with The Music Man right now.)
But in spite of all the book readings, cooking classes, radio interviews and videos and book launch parties and public accolades for our cookbook , my favorite moment of this trip happened on the subway to Brooklyn. Lu stood on an empty seat, spinning and jumping to the music in her head. An older man sat on the bench across from her, watching. I wondered if I should feel uncomfortable, but his looking felt kind. As we stood up to get off on our stop, he tapped my arm.
“Please tell me you have her in dance classes,” he said.
Laughing, I assured him we do. We have no other choice. She loves it so.
“Look, I’ve been a ballet dancer for 35 years. And she has beautiful legs for ballet. That girl is a dancer. Promise me you’ll keep her in classes so she can have that in her life.”
I said I will. I promise.
Danny and I were both in tears as we walked up the steps to the sidewalk. When we told Lucy what he had said, she grinned wide. And then she did a spin on the pavement and started dancing again.
All the public events done, we sat and felt the muscles in our shoulders relax. We ate at Lincoln Station, a fantastic place near the Brooklyn Museum where our friend Anna is the chef de cuisine. We sat in the sunlight near the window, the air warm and moving slowly. Lucy danced outside the door while we waited for our food.
Anna brought us this platter of all the salads she knew were gluten-free. I have never been so happy to see vegetables. This and a cold root beer is all I needed in that moment. (Danny loved his duck confit sandwich. All I needed was that kale salad and those carrots.)
The need for publicity felt very far away, in that sunny spot in Brooklyn.
For an hour or so that last afternoon in New York, we sat in the oasis of a backyard restaurant in Brooklyn (the ground lined with astroturf), sipping Turkish coffees in filtered sunlight with one of my oldest friends. I first met Gabe when he was 14 and I was a first-year teacher. Here we are, 21 years later, dear friends with decades of friendship with us. He attended my wedding and visited us in the hospital after Lucy was born. Danny and I were both so happy to sit with him while Lucy slept in Danny’s lap.
It’s hard to promote a book. It’s daunting work. It’s hard to throw ourselves out there, openly, and try not to hope for enormous sales or more interviews or more of anything. To not summon the moments we think we want but wait instead for them to arrive, unlikely and miraculous.
It’s also so deeply beautiful to meet all of you, to hear at public events that you have been reading this site for 3 or 5 or 8 years and you have waited all that time to meet us and share what our work has meant to you. There are no words to describe that joy.
And there are no words for the exhaustion of several events in New York City every day for nearly a week.
Sitting there in that quiet time with Gabe, opening to the moment, unfolding for him the story of our time there and everything that happened, was just what I needed.
And the next day, packed full of experiences and open for more, we left for Italy.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Lucy danced there too.
Kale Salad with Cheddar, Walnuts, and Dried Cherries
This kale salad, inspired by the one I ate at Lincoln Station, is one of the best I have eaten. (It’s pretty common knowledge that I’m crazy about kale salads.) I love the tenderness of the kale after a bit of massage. The warmth of the walnut, the creamy bite of the cheese, and the slight sweetness from the dried cherries counteract the bitterness of the kale and the hit of acid from the lemon juice and zest.
After a week in New York, and a glorious week in Italy, the only food I wanted to eat on my return home was this salad.
- Massaging the kale. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the kale leaves in a large bowl. Drizzle over the olive oil. Slowly, massage the salt and olive oil into the kale. Rub it with your hands until every part of the kale is coated in the oil and the kale starts to relax and wilt. Let the kale sit for 15 minutes.
- Finishing the salad. Drizzle on the sherry vinegar. Toss the kale leaves to coat. Taste a leaf. Need more vinegar? More oil? A bit more salt or pepper? You be the judge. Add the lemon zest, cheese, walnuts, and sour cherries. Toss. Serve
- Feel like playing? This is only the template of a salad, of course. Use any dried fruit you want. We like pecorino here too. Instead of the walnuts, try hazelnuts or sunflower seeds. You just want something warm and mild like the cheese, walnuts, and cherries to counteract the acids in the salad. And it’s good to have a bit of crunch in the tender kale leaves too.