New York: A Feast

I wouldn’t say that I had excellent or restorative sleep on my flight from Casablanca, but I was wide awake and ready to face the morning when we landed. With newfound energy, I quickly escaped the lice ridden woman beside me and into AMERICA.

And now, an important musical interlude:

I missed my home country more than I realized. I didn’t miss it at all when I was in France and England. I’m perfectly at home there. I’m basically French. But Egypt was so foreign and so new and so completely unfamiliar that the normalcy of the United States was a relief. To hear that flat and boring accent over the intercom was a thrill.

Even more thrilling than this was the new passport control/customs place. Instead of going to an officer, you use a machine. It scans your passport and then takes your picture. Let me tell you, reader, I was looking phenomenal in that TSA snapshot. I wish I could have saved it and used it as my avatar on all my social media accounts. It was impressive even without filters — that kind of thing is a miracle. I found my light and really worked my angles. Gave it a bit of a smize, too. Oh, Tyra, you were such a fool not to cast me! (I’M NOT BITTER. I’M TOTALLY OVER BEING REJECTED FROM CYCLE 20 OF AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL. I DIDN’T WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW ANYWAY. IT WASN’T A CHILDHOOD DREAM. I DIDN’T CRY WHEN THE CASTING DIRECTOR CALLED ME. NOPE. I’M FINE.)

IMG_2559My flight back home to Iowa wasn’t until the next day, so I made reservations at The Jane hotel, a charming place to stay that I discovered in March. The decor is dark and it looks like it’s stuck in 1930, a time period with an aesthetic that delights me. When the survivors of the Titanic made their way to New York, they were housed in this hotel. It has quite the history and a great location.

After checking in and dumping my bags, I hurried out onto the streets.

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After the horrific things I was served to eat on the plane, I was desperate for actual sustenance, so off I went to Eataly. This is an Italian emporium with great restaurants. I wanted to devour this chiller full of parmesan:

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I went to La Verdure, which is all vegetarian, and ordered these rather tasty ricotta and spinach balls. They were served atop puréed beets and pine nuts. I wouldn’t say it was life changing, but it was very nice. The bread was excellent, too. It cost more than it was probably worth, but it’s New York.

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It was a beautiful day in the city, it had rained that morning, so everything gleamed and looked shiny and new. I walked past the Flatiron Building to Muji, a shop that I’m crazy about.

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I’ve always loved Japanese shops — they’re tasteful and simple and the customer service is notoriously top-notch. Muji lives up to all those expectations. Sadly, they only have shops in New York and California, so this was going to be my only opportunity to stock up on their notebooks and pens for a while.

Every year, I get a new binder for work and I’ve had a vision of one in my head for a long time, but haven’t been able to find. It’s a very neutral tan, nothing fancy. I’m into elegant, basic things right now. I found exactly what I was looking for without a moment’s trouble. They even had the grid paper that I’m so fond of. I don’t care for normal lined paper. The only thing that worries me is the binder has 30-rings instead of the usual 3. I don’t really understand the purpose of that — probably makes it more secure, I suppose — but my iPad case won’t fit in there. I’ll have to find a new one, somewhere. I also picked up loads of new pens. I had a delightful time.

I hadn’t ordered dessert at Eataly, so clearly, I had to get something to satisfy my voracious sweet tooth. Blissfuly, there is a new Jacques Torres shop in the same area as Muji, so I ordered one of his famous chocolate chip cookies and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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I took a meandering route back to the hotel so that I could see the streets that I’ve never wandered down and stopped at a bookseller’s. I don’t read many physical books anymore. I’ve become a digital convert and love ebooks. Something beyond my control called me there, though, and my eyes went straight to a book about Edward Cayce. I couldn’t help but laugh aloud. Maybe there was something going on after all? I don’t really think much of coincidences, I think they’re little notices from the great beyond to pay attention.Melony was always going on about Edgar Cayce’s predictions and we had a nice time trying to interpret them back in Giza with the other folks on the roof. I bought the book and headed back to the hotel.

It was so good to have a solid connection to the Internet again! In this modern world, it is so frustrating to be disconnected. Others whine and bemoan the digital age, but I embrace it wholeheartedly. There’s nothing wrong with loving technology and the gifts it provides. I had some time to kill before my dinner reservations, so, with great enthusiasm, I watched the two episodes of Ancient Aliens that I had missed whilst I was away. It was wonderful to get into the show again. It’s oftentimes ridiculous, but it’s so damn entertaining! Plus, I’ll watch anything that involves Nikola Tesla; he has fascinated me for years.

With about two hours to go until dinner, I decided that I might as well walk. It was a beautiful day and I didn’t want to sit inside the train or a car. I checked my map to plan my route across town and about choked when the first thing that popped up was a business called Lady M’s — for some reason, that’s the name I think of when I think of Melony. What are the chances? Something must have been happening in Giza that day.

I got all dressed up — used my hairdryer trick again to great effect — and headed for the High Line. You may recall me talking about it months ago or even just recently when I compared it to the far superior Promenade Plantée in Paris. I thought it would be quicker to head uptown on the High Line since I wouldn’t have to stop for traffic and because I would get a good view of the Martha Stewart offices.

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That was an important thing to do, reader. I was in town on her birthday! Martha and I are both Leos and we’re both Snakes, too, in Chinese astrology. We’re soul mates. I love her so much.

The High Line wasn’t my greatest idea. It was packed, and I should have expected it. It’s summertime, after all, and the living is easy. Fish are jumping and the cotton is high…MANDATORY MUSICAL INTERLUDE:

After seeing her offices, I scurried down the stairs and onto the much less crowded streets. As I left the serenity of this part of town, going down Fifth Avenue was a jolt into another world. It was packed and manic and very alive. I enjoyed window shopping as I made my way to Alfredo 100.

I learned of its existence only recently. Alfredo’s is an institution in my life. My family would go there regularly when they had a location in Disney World. I went to the original one in Rome with my mother on my first tour of Europe in my teenage years. We celebrated my birthday in New York City when I was 16 at the older location that shut down a few years ago. I was devastated when that happened. It’s not as if I was going every week, but knowing that it was there was a great comfort to my psyche. A lucky Google search in Luxor led me to the name change and location change of the restaurant and I quickly made myself a dinner reservation!

I arrived a little early, so I spent some time in the pews of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I’m not religious at all, even though I am a licensed reverend, but I have a great fondness for religious art and architecture. It was a bit difficult to appreciate this time as the place is going under a massive restoration, but you could still glimpse how beautiful it would be without all that scaffolding.

Finally it was time to go to the restaurant and I was promptly taken to my seat overlooking the other patrons and handed a complimentary glass of prosecco. The place I had made my reservation through has different perks you can earn — this was mine. I was fine with that. I’m not one to turn down free alcohol especially of the bubbly variety.

The restaurant looks quite nice, but it doesn’t have the same spirit as the older location. It’s darker and more modern. The artwork is still there, but it’s on a grander scale and there’s not quite as rich a sense of history. This saddened me, but the delicious bread basket and the prosecco did wonders to cheer me up.

For my meal, I ordered arancini and a vegetarian version of their famous fettuchine alfredo. It’s the dish that built their reputation and is the reason I came. I order arancini whenever I see it on menus; it’s absolutely one of my favorite things.

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Traditionally, it is composed of leftover risotto that is formed into balls, breaded, fried, and served atop a tomato sauce. Lovely stuff. The one here is made with pasta instead of rice, which was a bit unusual, but they were still rather nice.

The pasta was as delicious as ever when it came out, but the sauce was much richer than I remember it being! In the old location and at the other locations around the world, they prepare the pasta in front of you, but this table side service was not done for anybody here. I’m not sure why they stopped, but it’s the wrong decision. It was such an exciting moment when the waiter tossed the pasta with the cheese and butter and plated it up for you.

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Still, it was lovely and I really enjoyed the mushrooms that were added to the dish. They gave it a nice textural contrast. I was less enthused about the fried artichoke hearts that were on top. I love artichoke hearts and think they’re fabulous, but these ones had been fried for a bit too long and had the consistency of fried corn husks! If they were fried properly, this would be a triumph!

I couldn’t stomach the idea of dessert after the richness of the pasta — which is saying something — so I contented myself with espresso and then made my way back to the hotel where I promptly crashed into bed.

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ONWARD TO IOWA:

When I woke up, I immediately changed plans for the day. I had planned to sleep in, catch up on my emails and other boring things I had to do, but then I remembered all of the lovely bakeries that are in this city just begging for me to visit. As a professionally trained pastry chef, it is my duty and my sacred obligation to sample these things for you. I want to weed out the garbage so that if you ever venture to the places my travels have taken me, you’ll know where to go for the very best.

So, I went off to La Bergamote on 9th Avenue. I had stopped here quickly in March for a nibble on the way to the train station and thought it was excellent. Places change for the worse or better, and I thought I’d better go see how consistent they were. I ordered a chocolate croissant, a lemon mousse cake, and an espresso. Everything was wonderful and the waitstaff was very good, too. I thought the croissant was actually better than many you get in Paris. Over in France, they can be a bit spartan with the chocolate, but here there was a nice portion. I was thoroughly pleased.

Even in New York, I need my French pastries.

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The café has an excellent view of the street, so I wiled some time away watching the people go by with their dogs and the taxis dash off from one corner of the city to the next. I could easily live here and be happy, I realized. I need city life. I was born and raised in the country, I still live there today on my rambling old familial estate, but I’ve never been content with hundreds of acres of corn and dirt roads. They have a charm all their own, and I will always want to retain a country property, but the city is for me. I love how vibrant they are. Every day has the possibility of a new adventure. You could see something different all the time. Not much changes in the country. You do your chores, you weed your garden, you eat dinner at the same time, the people are always the same, their haircuts rarely evolve, everybody knows everybody…it’s boring.

I can’t afford to live in New York with the kind of money I make at the moment, so I put that dream to the back of my mind. Besides, when I finally move, it’ll almost assuredly be Los Angeles. I don’t love that city with wild abandon, but I need their weather in my life. I get so miserable in the winter here. In LA, the weather is always beautiful. It might rain once in a while, but when it does it is such a change from the norm that it becomes a joyous event.

I walked along the river and sat in a tiny park whilst reading all the latest about Martha Stewart on Google News — yes, I get alerts for her. The stories were either little biographies inspired by her birthday or commentary on her recent admission of love for drones. Not for killing people, mind you, but for aerial photography.

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She wrote rather extensively about all the new ideas she’s coming up with for hers and now I want a drone, too. It’d be such fun to fly it around and see the world above you without need of a helicopter or balloon.

It was time to get going, though, so I checked out of the hotel and went to the Café Gitane for a leisurely lunch before my trip out to the airport. The Café is connected to The Jane and is excellent. I always get the same dish — the vegetable couscous — and it’s consistently fantastic. They have the best hummus and the decor is flawless. After an hour of listening to the very irksome art dealer who was dining to my left complain about yet another client to her bored date, I left, very full.

It was a breeze to get to the airport and even simpler to get my boarding passes. In Europe, they haven’t really gotten into self-service, yet. When they do, it’s a mess. Back in America, though, you don’t have to deal with another living person if you don’t want to. #blessed. So, I printed my own boarding passes with the very efficient machines and made my way to security. It was a breeze and soon I was sitting with a gin and tonic waiting for the plane to begin boarding. It did very soon, but then was delayed for a half hour on the runway. I shrugged my shoulders in annoyance and read about Edgar Cayce.

I was glad to see that the terminal I was in at Chicago was finally interesting. There was a food court and sit-down restaurants and so many shops. I had things to look at for a change! I was so tired of the same duty free shops and fast food. My ecstatic reaction to this all changed very quickly when my flight was delayed. And then delayed again. And then delayed again. And then delayed again. We were scheduled to leave at about 10:40. but we didn’t leave until around 1:00. Others had a worse time of it, many flights were cancelled, so I shouldn’t complain too much, I suppose, but it was still such an irritation.

I had plans to go out for a late dinner with my mother when I arrived in Des Moines, but I was bored and very hungry, so I went to a Mexican place that was owned by Rick Bayless. I remember when he was on PBS one morning cooking a chicken under a brick. That memory has always stayed with me with startling clarity. So, I had a spicy mushroom sandwich and some chips. They were decent.

At the gate I waited and I waited and I waited and finally we made our way to Des Moines. My mother was thrilled to see me, and I was thrilled to be done traveling and going to Denny’s. They aren’t my first choice in breakfast dining — that’d be Village Inn — but I was happy to go anywhere.

After six weeks away in various countries and continents, it’s awfully strange to be home with no place to go. But, it’s awfully nice to be in my king bed with my cats. I missed my cats.

Came home to a bunch of mail and my Tiger!

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