Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rain, Rockefeller, and Other Things

The greyness in New York feels like cold silk. It slides on the body unexpectedly, like a shirt left in front of the air conditioning all night. Imagine getting up in the morning, warm from a bed layered in blankets and pillows, only to experience only the slightest chill. The past three days have been this way, punctuated with tantrums of rain.

Sunday evening was the most beautiful, walking in Chinatown as the rain fell out of the sky in endless solid streams. The streetlights made the rain red, green, and gold like fireworks as I stepped off the sidewalk to avoid a puddle—nay, a river—that would cover my feet and maybe my ankles. The rain was friendly, though, a canopy to dance under at a beach wedding. Shielded by my little black umbrella, I was happy to step lively down E. Houston Street, cold water sweeping over my red boots. I could almost see Gene Kelly swinging on the streetlamps. Even in the midst of what some would call a torrential downpour, New York is still beautiful.

After the rain, the air is damp but cold, lovely to stand outside in and see the city. Even from a rooftop in Chinatown only six stories up, I can see the whole city. The top of the Empire State Building hides coyly in the clouds, playing hide and seek with us, but we let it win. Because 5’2” is much different than 5’11”, I can only see so much, but I can feel the city around me. There are times when I actually cannot believe I am here, and even if the sky opened up right now and soaked me to the bone, I would still be endlessly in love. As far as I’m concerned, any view of the city is a good one. But I am not yet a jaded New Yorker.

Sometimes I wonder if New Yorkers even see New York. Everyone rushes past, thinking about what they have to do next, where they have to be and they barely see what’s in front of them.

Today I waited in Rockefeller Plaza for my roommate to leave work. On my way there, young but tired-looking businessmen loosened their ties from their collars and thudded toward the subway station. They didn’t notice the giant dandelion-like fountains spraying water in a perfect sphere; they didn’t notice the candy-colored lights of Radio City Music Hall; they couldn’t see the shining doors on the UBS building.

I saw it, though. I saw how Rockefeller Plaza was filled with people marveling at the brilliantly gold art-deco frieze above one of the building’s main entrances; I saw people sitting and eating lunch in the space where there’s an ice skating rink in the winter. I saw people just staring up at this building which to so many New Yorkers is just another skyscraper, but to the people visiting it is shiny and wonderful and new. I leaned on a railing while a flock of flags waved above me and I stared up at the buildings in amazement too. It really is just incredible--so tall, so many windows. I wonder how many New Yorkers have really ever looked at it. I hope I can always look at New York this way, whether I am on a rooftop in Chinatown or a would-be ice skating rink in the center of the city. Sometimes, yes, it is important to get where you’re going, but other times it’s more important to see what’s on the way.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Post-Grad Culinary School of the Arts

In my mother’s house, there is: paprika, cinnamon sugar, frozen yogurt, flour, baking soda, sugar, nutmeg, ground beef, cherry jelly, Muenster cheese, 90,000 things to mix with other things and, of course, water.

In my house, there is water.

Such a situation makes every day in what my roommate and I have dubbed the Post-Grad Culinary School of the Arts (or PGCSA) a cooking (mis)adventure. A lack of ingredients makes the brain work wonders in the kitchen because, as we all know, necessity is the mother of invention.

It is for this reason that one night for dinner we had the culinary extravaganza of Stouffer’s Mac & Cheese, spiced hot dogs, and toast with Smart Balance, the anorexic cousin of butter. That, I have to admit, was our lowest point and we have progressively gotten better and certainly more interesting.

For example, the other night we concocted a stir-fry of epic proportions—because, really, what is a Post-Grad Culinary School without a wok?—including but not limited to: pea pods, chicken which we perhaps questionably defrosted in the microwave (“Can we do that?” “I don’t know, just put it in the micro til it’s not frozen anymore. That should work, right?”), scallions, scrambled eggs, leftover frozen green beans, which we always seem to have leftover because I make too much. To the leftover vegetable, my awestruck roommate usually cries, “BEANS!” and we laugh like the idiot savant, degree-holding university graduates that we are. Then, while reaching for some oil in the kitchen to stir-fry it all up with, I came across a Raspberry Vinaigrette I had yet to use. What if we mixed it with the Soy Sauce we were already using and created a fruity, salty stir-fry? OKAY! LET’S DO IT! And it was awesome.

The primary focus of the PGCSA is to teach cooking improvisation, the art of throwing a bunch of random crap together and making something remotely edible. For this reason, students at the PGCSA are encouraged to visit Costco before classes begin. This way, students can stock up on seemingly random and otherwise worthless ingredients they will somehow later throw together into a culinary masterpiece. Creamed spinach? Perfect. Goat cheese? A must. Special K? Don’t leave without it!

There are no rules in the Post-Grad Culinary School of the Arts. Students are asked to test the boundaries of their refrigerators and their stomachs, leaving no spice un-shaken, no bacon un-fried, and no cheese un-melted. Pita pizzas feature goat cheese, bacon, olive oil, tomatoes, and olives. A traditional pasta dish involves tortellini, canned crab meat and, yet again, goat cheese. And chocolate chip cookies sans chocolate chips are the order of the day. “Don’t knock it til you try it” seems to be the unwritten motto of the Post-Grad Culinary School of the Arts, and we are proud to be two of its most loyal students.

Part of our loyalty comes from the fact that we are po’. Yes, friends, po’. So po’ we cannot afford to purchase the last two letters of the word. New York is a foodie dreamland, a mecca of culinary delights, and we are happy to be able to eat in one of these divine restaurants once every, oh, month or so. But in the meantime, we are devoted students of the PGCSA. Our mealtimes usually go like this:

“What’s in the fridge?”
“Eggs. Goat Cheese. Tomatoes. Dijon Mustard. Bread.”

*eating ensues*

“Ohmahgah roommate, we’ve done it again. How is it fair that this is so awesome?”

“I don’t know, roommate. I just don’t know.”

And then we’ll smile at each other and thank the PGCSA for giving us such a worthwhile education, the kind of education that no university can offer. Thank you, PGCSA, and New York, for helping us not die of starvation.