NYC anniversary: Four years

July42013_3IMG_5954photoDSC_0123AugustBlogDSC_0034IMG_1309Today is the fourth anniversary of my arrival in New York City. As Jeff pointed out, it’s like we’ve done a whole undergrad degree in NYC. Or a presidential term. So in that spirit, I’ve been asking myself, what have I learned? What have I accomplished? Is the world (or at least my world) a better place? An incomplete list, in no particular order:

  • I made some friends, and I found them in places as unexpected as my own building and a gingerbread building session in a bar.
  • I told three stories live at The Moth, one of them a StorySlam winner and one at a GrandSlam championship.
  • I’ve made decent progress studying to become a certified NYC tour guide. I could talk your ear off about the significance of DeWitt Clinton’s street grid and the Battle of Brooklyn (which, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with long brunch lines).
  • I’ve fallen in love with New York City’s randomness and it’s commissioned and “uncommissioned” public art. I’ve chronicled dozens of Street Finds, although many of them are still on my camera, waiting to be shared.
  • I got a new job advocating for young farmers on a national level.
  • I’ve written more than half a dozen stories for Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn, but my first story is probably still my favorite.
  • We’ve explored our new corner of the country: Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Bar Harbor, Maine; the Hudson Valley; Fire Island; Boston; the Berkshires; and New Jersey.
  • We’ve seen and even met a few celebrities, most thrillingly Sir. Patrick Stewart, but also Tina Fey, Steve Buscemi, and others.
  • I’ve been to Governor’s Island, Staten Island and Roosevelt Island. But thankfully not Rikers Island.
  • I rode a bike for the first time as an adult and rowed a boat in the Harlem River.
  • I carried a Christmas tree home on a bus.
  • I’ve been to every stop on the F.
  • We’ve been to the MoMA, the Met, the Museum of Natural History, and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
  • We made room for overnight guests on at least a dozen occasions.
  • I’ve bought local fish and learned how to cook it. I know what a ramp is, how a sour cherry differs from a regular cherry (it’s sour) and who sells the best apples.
  • I’ve been to one Broadways show (and got to go behind stage after), but I’ve also seen Shakespeare performed on the street and enjoyed a fire breather, a burlesque performance and a brass band from the comfort of my own block.

I’m not sure what I expected from New York City. It was and remains both an unknowable place and the most infamous, legendary, iconic city of all time. I’ve never stopped feeling grateful. Okay, maybe there was that one time, when it was cold. But I still think it’s worth it.

Happy fortune teller

IMG_5866IMG_5868Last Saturday I took a long walk through the Village that included a stroll through Washington Square Park. I sat for a while on the side of the fountain, watching children run through the spray while hipsters—books (and e-books) in hand —cooled their feet and a Rottweiler bathed languidly against a backdrop of the arch and the Empire State Building. This, I thought, is Manhattan in the summer.

On my way out of the park, I passed a nondescript, brown dog standing inside a semi-circle of chalk labeled, “Happy Fortune Teller.” At the other end of the leash was a young woman in a long, flowing skirt with a sack slumped at her feet. I slowed down. I stopped and stared. Then I started walking again, passing under the shadow of the arch and out of the park.

Then I doubled back. If there was even a chance that that dog might read my fortune, I couldn’t live with myself if I passed it up. A dog telling fortunes—that’s everything I stand for. Lest you think I jumped to a ridiculous conclusion, I would like you to know that I had already passed several bands, a professional bubble-blower and a sand artist. A dog fortune teller seemed totally in context.

“Does this dog tell fortunes?” I asked the young woman, feeling stupid but so hopeful.

“No, we just had the bad luck of standing in this spot,” she said. I thought it was good luck, but I didn’t argue.

It turned out, the dog, Scarlett, was having a big day of her own. She was in Manhattan for the very first time, and feeling nervous about it, which is why I didn’t ask to take her picture. She was on her way to her parent’s wedding , in the company of her friendly human escort.

So a dog didn’t read my fortune, but:

  1. It is amazing how easy it is to make s small connection with other people in this city.
  2. Somewhere, there’s a person offering happy fortunes, and that should give us all hope.

Southern Road Trip

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More than a year ago, Jeff and I started talking about a Southern road trip. The idea had several inspirations. First of all, for years we’ve chatted about the fact that neither of us has spent any time in the real South. Oklahoma and Texas are very culturally southern, but they aren’t the South. Then there was the three-part Southern Living travel series last summer that outlined a state-hopping ramble laced with grits, cocktails and Spanish moss. Finally, there was A Chef’s Life, a PBS show that has been making us hungry and homesick ever since Jeff discovered it on our Apple TV last year. It’s a powerhouse of Southern cultural preservation, and it made us want to go South.

So that’s what we did. We flew into Savannah, rented a car, and embarked on a fast-paced, six-day tour of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The trip’s itinerary went through many different incarnations (at one point, we were going to drive all the way back to Brooklyn), and our final route was shaped in part by people we wanted to visit along the way. To pack it all in, we signed ourselves up for more than 18 hours of driving. Here’s my quick rundown of where we went and what we loved:


Our arrival in Savannah was one of the single best travel experiences I’ve ever had. Every now and then, there are things in life that are way, way better than you imagined. That was our first day in Savannah. When a place has a reputation for being beautiful, I always assume it has a few amazing streets or that you have to stand in just the right place to get the full effect. Not Savannah. Every tree is dripping with Spanish moss and almost every street in the historic district has a park-like public square. The  squares were pleasantly quiet, almost sleepy. We mostly stayed away from the river, which was touristy; everything else was divine. We were even treated to a massive thunderstorm while walking thorough Forsyth Park, only a couple hours after arriving in town. If that sounds like a bad thing, you aren’t a storm-starved Oklahoman: New York gets rain, but not storms.


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Eliza Thompson House—Savannah, Georgia
Our whole impression of Savannah was probably swayed by how much we loved this B&B. I think Southern hospitality can be a bit of a cliche, but it was on full display here and very genuine. I got my money’s worth out of the wine reception, too, not by getting drunk by by consuming about four deviled eggs and fistfuls of those tortilla pinwheel things.

Upper Bull Street—Savannah, Georgia
I suspect this neighborhood has a name, but I don’t know what it is, so I’ll just call this block “Upper Bull Street.” We discovered it because Jeff wanted to explore Graveface Records, thanks to a tip from a friend. I have sub-zero interest in record stores, so I took a stroll and discovered several gems including the adorable Back in the Day Bakery (winner of my personal “best biscuit of the trip” award) and Starlandia, purveyor of reclaimed creative supplies (Isn’t that about the best idea you’ve ever heard?).


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Deeper into Georgia

Cornbread Cafe—Wrightsville, Georgia
I’m almost convinced that our Garmin can read minds. She always knows the right thing to do in every situation without any additional input from me (I don’t know how to use her interface well enough to give her any guidance aside from an address.) When we set out to drive from Savannah to Athens, I was really hoping to get off the main highway and drive through the countryside, and that’s exactly what Garmin told us to do. We ended up on two-lane country highways for hours (mostly Highway 15, I think). At  lunchtime, we stopped for gas in Wrightsville, and I asked the clerk if there was anywhere we should eat. She sent us across the street to the Cornbread Cafe, a very unassuming establishment in what looked a bit like a re-purposed Hardy’s with a sign out front that said “farm picked veggies.” It was one of the gems of the trip—easily the best fried chicken I’ve had in years. What really impressed me was the long list of side items (I live for sides) including field peas, rutabaga and a very legit mac and cheese.

Athens, Georgia
Jeff was conducting an interview in Athens for a  project he’s working on, so I had a couple hours to explore by myself. I wandered into just about every store on Clayton Street before stopping for a happy hour prosecco, oysters and a watermelon salad at the Branded Butcher. I was looking at their menu and debating going in when a sweet, older farmer in overalls shuffled past me carrying a delivery of grain for the kitchen. Talk about targeted advertising—they couldn’t have scheduled him any better.



The Carolinas

Brothers Farm and Chef and the Farmer—eastern North Carolina
After swinging through Asheville, North Carolina for breakfast with old friends and Durham for lunch with even older friends, we arrived in eastern North Carolina. Despite the fact that Chef and the Farmer (and more specifically, A Chef’s Life, the TV show) helped inspire our trip, we almost cut it from the itinerary because it was just so far out of the way, a real outlier. But in the eleventh hour of planning, Jeff found a link to Brothers Farm on Air B&B, and with the prospect of staying in a farmhouse instead of a Quality Inn, it suddenly felt very much worth the drive. Brothers Farm and its star occupant, Warren Brothers, are featured regularly on A Chef’s Life, so there was definitely an appeal to sleeping in a house we had seen on PBS. But more than that, I was excited to spend a night in the country. I had been  concerned that our Southern road trip wouldn’t feel truly Southern to me unless I saw a yard heavy with fireflies and woke up to the sound of cicadas. While we loved getting to visit the restaurant, we really loved getting to stay at the farm. Warren and his wife Jane were warm and casual, and their home is a version of my dream house it has, like, four porches. Warren and his right-hand, fellow farmer, Lillie, showed us around the farm and broke out some pickled beets to share. We could have stayed all day, even if (especially if) that meant helping harvest collards.


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Charleston, South Carolina
We were both a bit “eh” about Charleston. It felt like a cheaper, more touristy Savannah, but I’m sure our experience would have improved significantly if we had made the time to explore outside of downtown. We met up with local friends at a beautiful oyster bar called The Ordinary. Afterwards they showed us the lovely streets around the College of Charleston and recommended the City Market (on aptly-named Market Street). They also recommended Hominy Grill,  the biggest food home-run of the trip, complete with boiled peanuts. I tried she-crab soup and got a veggie plate, which was basically my dream meal: all Southern side dishes.


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Middleton Place—Charleston, South Carolina
I came across Middleton Place randomly on Expedia, and it was one of the luckiest finds of the trip. This old plantation has been preserved as a resort with a modern inn (all wood paneling and windows—go look at the pictures), a restaurant, and 65 acres of landscaped gardens (the oldest in America). Despite the fact that it was July 3, it felt like we had the place to ourselves. Even the pool was empty, and we swam for an hour or more, watching the light move across the water and birds land on the nearby Ashley River. After cleaning up, we walked through the gardens to the restaurant. Some of their food is grown on-site, and when I asked about the name of a scallop-edged tomato on my place, the enthusiastic young waiter admitted that he didn’t know, but said he might be able to call their resident farmer and ask. He came back later declaring it a “Genovese.” A massive thunderstorm rolled in while we ate, and we had to beg a ride back to our room from a local who was drinking at the bar. The next day, while touring the gardens, we saw an alligator on the path we would have crossed had we attempted to reach our rooms by foot in the dark. I say this by way of recommendation—the whole experience was dreamy. But take a flashlight.


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This was one of those “come-home-and-google-real-estate” trips. We sucked up the sound of cicadas like divers coming up for air, and my only regret is that I should have eaten more tomatoes. But that’s okay, because I’ll go back.






There is no “later”

IMG_5380More than six months have passed since my last post, when I was feeling stuck in a rut and short on viable options. It wasn’t just me—Jeff and I were both asking ourselves and each other hard questions about where we wanted to live and what we wanted to do with our lives. We felt like we were running out of time to accomplish all of the things we want.  At that point, we had been in New York City for more than three years, and while that in itself seemed like a monumental accomplishment (moving more than 1,500 miles from the only place we had ever really lived, making new friends, finding new work), it was starting to feel like the only thing we had accomplished in a long time.

Our creative pursuits had floundered, and I, at least, was doubting if my pursuits were even worth perusing. Everything seemed a little exhausting. My job was exhausting, every new job I considered sounded exhausting. Writing—supposedly what I really wanted to do—sounded exhausting. Even the world of food and agriculture, an arena of advocacy that had consumed my professional and volunteer time for a decade, was starting to bore me.

Since then, a few things have happened. First of all, it stopped being winter. That helped. But long before the snow  melted for the last time in late March, I had made a few improvements to my mood. First of all, I managed to take two whole weeks off for Christmas. Then, I found an entirely new job. And before starting my new job, I dropped everything and went to England for a couple weeks, just to clear my head among Peter’s daffodils. More on all of those things later.

What I really want to talk about now is my inbox. The first time I heard someone refer to the psychic weight of his digital files, I felt sorry for him. What a sad thing to say, what a first-world problem. But slowly I  realized there were all sorts of things in my life that felt heavy. The sweater in my closet that I kept because it was a gift, even though it didn’t fit well, felt heavy. The tent Jeff bought me for my 22nd birthday that we have never used, felt heavy. And my inbox felt heavy.

I know many people who use their inbox as their sole email storage system: Things get tagged and shifted, but nothing ever really leaves, and it balloons to 1,100 messages, maybe 11,000. That’s not my issue. I’m a firm believer that an inbox should be for incoming things and action items, and I try very hard to keep mine to one page, aka 50 conversations. Note that I said I try. But even when I’m successful, at every job I’ve ever had and even in my personal life there are always messages that sit in the bottom of my inbox like stones, sometimes for years. At first, they are reminders of things I need to do—not now, but soon—but after a few weeks (or months or even years) they become reminders of my failure. They are usually small things—articles I once intended to read, files I need to file, graphics that need one word edited.

Every now and then I do a big clean and shave my inbox down to just 20, maybe even 15, messages. I toss the old stones at the bottom. But when I was getting ready to leave my last job, I realized that there was no reason to leave anything in my inbox at all. If my coworkers needed to reference something later, they would be better served if I filed everything in folders or dealt with it myself before leaving. And as for dealing with things myself, well, this was my last chance. I only had a matter of days left to do everything I would ever do with that inbox and all of the requests, reminders and ideas inside of it. And that’s when I had one of the most empowering realizations of my life: There is no later.

Without “later” there was only “now,” only what I could do and what I couldn’t. I realized that “later,’ while giving the appearance of lightening my load, was actually like carrying around a giant backpack that I tossed way too many things into.

Despite how obvious this idea was, I had a hard time getting my body to obey. It was almost as if muscle memory was kicking in, telling me to procrastinate just a little bit more, to come back to an email when I was less tired/less bored/less distracted/had more time. But there was no more time. And for a person who is obsessed with options, having none was actually liberating. Many of the messages turned out to be small things, even things I could delete without any action. A few triggered regret or required acceptance. Over and over I told myself, “there is no later, there is no later.”

By my last day, I had done it—I made it to inbox zero. “There is no later” was a tiny mantra for my digital liberation, and it began to seep over into the rest of my life. In a way, time was my  problem all along. For so many years there was so much time: time to build a career, to write a novel, to have a family, to make friends, to settle in, to up-root, to buy, to sell, to move abroad, to move home. I’ve done a lot of things I’m very proud of, but somehow the things that are closest to my heart are always shifted into the “later” category, and over the past year or two they have sat on my heart like stones. So heavy.

I’m afraid, even as I write this, that I won’t succeed in lifting them, that change and rest and summer have buoyed me, but that over time I will grow complacent. “Later” will creep in, and I will lose faith in myself again. At least I’ve gotten to the bottom of the problem, I’ve turned the stones over in my hands. I know their shape, and I know their weight. At least for now, there is no later.

Into the fire


Last night over Indian food, I was telling my friend Anna about everything going on in my life and Jeff’s life, and I used the phrase, “out of the frying pan and into the fire” to describe why I feel cautious about analyzing all of life’s options and vetting them on a sort of Scoville scale lest I get burned.

Anna didn’t know what I meant. Jeff theorized later that maybe this is a Southern phrase, a theory that seems reasonable given the frying pan. But regardless of where it came from, I’ve heard myself say it over and over again lately, almost like a manta against rash thinking. Out of the frying pan and into the fire−it creeps into every “catching up” chat I have over coffee or cocktails in the same way the recently bereaved must find themselves saying “one foot in front of the other” or “we’re getting by.” So I explained myself to Anna: this fear of moving from peril to peril, blind to danger because of the impulse for escape.

“But you would just caramelize so beautifully and so fast,” Anna said.

And there it was. She hadn’t missed a beat, and the immediacy of her reply gave it weight in my heart: It was all so simple. So there’s fire−so what? I jump again, I caramelize, I transform into the best possible version of myself. That’s not an easy thing, but it is another possible outcome, an alternative that gives me power over my own narrative again.

Earlier this week, I saved the following quote:
Our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers. − M. Scott Peck, American psychiatrist

I’ve always believed in the truth of this idea−I’ve even written about it before−but clearly I needed to hear it again, in food terms I could understand.

Happy caramelizing, friends!

Street Finds: What tree?


20th and 7th Ave., Brooklyn. 


There is just so much:

1) What tree? Was there once a tree or seed taped here? Does its absence mean that someone is, right now, trying to grow a giant sequoia in their Brooklyn apartment?

2) A giant sequoia?!

3) “Grow This Tree Alive!”

4) No instruction manuals, only a reminder that the internet exists.

5) I want that pigeon sticker.


In other news, last week I watched a tiny girl and her father tape a folded piece of paper to the side of my building that said “Noah” in crayon. There appeared to be writing on the inside on the folded page, but I resisted the urge to look. It was there for several days before it blew away. This world is full of mysteries.