A Day in the Slice of Life

When I was in my 20s and living in New York, I remember feeling like I wasn’t really qualified to be a girlfriend, much less a wife, because I didn’t have enough of a life. I had a boyfriend, Henry, who was 10 years older and a chef at one of New York’s few four-star restaurants, and I distinctly recall thinking that as soon he found out how little I had goin’ on, he would leave me. After one weekend we spent together in the Bridgehampton, where we met, he took the train to Westchester to visit his sister and her children and I went back to the city, where I lived in a loft in Tribeca with two girls I’d met working in an ad agency and a cute gay guy who weighed less than any of us girls and who was like our mascot. My room–a second floor terrace situation–was blocked off only by a heavy curtain, which was fine, even fun most of the time. Henry owned his apartment–right over Claude’s, a wonderful little croissant bakery on Christopher Street and the smell of butter wafted up every morning at dawn; the apartment was only one room, with a king-size bed, a big desk overlooking Christopher Street, a Chagall (as in: a Chagall painting!) and a lot of old furniture, including an array of water bed-era lighting: a lava lamp, a fiber-optic lamp, and one of those hanging lamps in the corner with oil dripping down wires and a naked woman in the center. (What are those called? where would I find one!? A quick web search reveals that it is called a “rain lamp“–and that indeed I could score one on Ebay right this minute for less than I paid for a bottle of olive oil this afternoon.) Which is all just to say that we didn’t stay at my place much. We stayed at Henry’s place, so the curtains didn’t bother me except that Sunday night, when I lay in bed and cried because I was convinced that as soon as Henry discovered that I wasn’t a whole person, he’d trade me in for one. I was 27, just two years in New York, and currently collecting unemployment. (I’d strategically gotten myself laid off, so I didn’t work that summer.) I spent so much time doing nothing that an artist I knew from the local pie shop, Bubby’s, said that every time he saw me I was in a different sundress; he figured I didn’t need to work. So it’s safe to assume that Henry had a pretty clear idea how much of a life I had. When Henry came back to the city, he brought me home a page he’d ripped out of his niece’s coloring book, where the main character was named Kohlrabi. “I love your broad shoulders,” Henry wrote in a thought-bubble above Kohlrabi’s head. I don’t think I’d ever seen an actual kohlrabi, but I knew enough to know that it was a vegetable, and it made me laugh. That he of all people had found this of all coloring books.

This, my friends, is kohlrabi. Green or purple: take your pick!
This, my friends, is kohlrabi. Green or purple: take your pick!

At the end of that summer, my mentor in writing and in food, Francine, told me: “It’s time to take off the party dress and get to work.” I didn’t know at the time that I’d be a food writer. Francine was always trying to not get pigeonholed as a food writer, so it seemed like something to try to not be. This was awhile ago–there was no Chowhound (there was hardly an Internet for that matter), no Top Chef, and if there were celebrity chefs, nobody knew who they were. I was writing my personal narratives and hocking them by U.S. mail to editors all over New York, happy when I got a rejection letter—as opposed to just ignored.

In a sense, Henry was the beginning of the food writing, because he was the beginning of my discovering that there was what’s known as a “food world,” that is–a food community, food culture, people who dedicated their lives and livelihoods to food–not just chefs but food writers and food stylists and food editors–and in so discovering, to my finding a place for myself in the world. Now that world is where I find safety and my livelihood, and my friends, and so many things. And, yes, I have been pigeonholed. Today, I ate a bowl of oatmeal with my niece who’d stayed the night. Then I talked to chefs for some magazine stories I’m working on. For lunch, I made a simple salad of mixed field greens with roasted carrots and beets–all from Chinos, where I’d stopped on Sunday—and sliced tenderloin, which the Chinos gave me to cook for my step dad, who I had gone to San Diego to visit. I then went to Mozza, where I had some work to do with Nancy. I had a short, inspiring conversation with a man who may be ground zero of American burrata. Then I came home and tested a recipe for steamed mussels for a magazine deadline. It’s a beautiful night with a gorgeous full moon and I ate steamed mussels with a neighbor and a glass of Orvietto–a wine I picked because it had a sketch of the town, Orvietto on it, and Orvietto was where I spent a marvelous last day on my long, unforgettable trip to Umbria last summer. This is what I call work. This is my life. I now feel qualified. I’m so lucky, I can hardly believe it. It’s so good, I cannot believe I don’t have a boyfriend! Oh, the irony of it all…

Orvietto: can you believe this exists?
Orvietto: can you believe this exists?
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2 thoughts on “A Day in the Slice of Life

  1. This is a beautiful picture of Orvietto. We were there in October. Do you have it in slightly bigger resolution you could share with us ASAP? My 12 yr old son is creating a presentation of Italy and it would be nice to show this picture at school.

    Thanks a lot,

    Silvana

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