Saturday, March 05, 2016

a Saturday in the city

As many of you know, I was a high school and university student in Poland. I moved to the States somewhere between what Americans call sophomore and junior years. The difference between being a student in Warsaw in the early 1970s and in New York were tremendous, but what I recall vividly now are the large and small ways in which the life of the American student seemed to me then to be so very decadent. There was the obvious: the dizzying array of irrelevant (to your future career) courses (suddenly, my transcript was peppered with such course titles as "the photography dark room" and "J.S.Bach" and "The African Queen's impact on the development of film" and "Italian for beginners.") There were, too, the small things: a cafeteria, with trays of donuts and big vats of coffee for those morning classes. Or the smell of pot in the residence halls. Then there was weekend brunch at the casual restaurants of upper Broadway.

Not only did Poles rarely eat out in those years (oh, how things have changed!), but brunch was not even in our vocabulary.  When a guy invited me out for morning brunch (of dim sum, because, you know, it was New York), I wondered -- how do I dress for this? As I followed him into a narrow restaurant with Formica tables and somewhat torn vinyl booths, I was impressed by the slow flow of conversation (Poles never talk that slowly). The casual way in which people ate, with a spread of the Sunday NYTimes on many tables.  Decadent, I tell you.

I still think of brunch as an unusual and, for me, special event. Ed and I never go out for it. Weekend brunch has become that wonderful extra meal to be enjoyed when, for example, I am visiting a daughter living in another city. This is when I look forward to this exotic and wonderful late morning indulgence -- as foreign and deliciously decadent to me now as it was when I first encountered it on the upper west side of New York.

This morning the three of us head out to Hola Arepa.


What are the origins of these dishes? I ask, digging into the yuca hash, with beans, pickled cabbage, and a poached egg.


Oh, how the food culture has changed in the Midwest! Both my daughters and their husbands pay attention to food in good ways and I wonder out loud if they call themselves foodies. Predictably, they don't much care for the label.
Am I a foodie? I ask, somewhat amused. I thought the answer was a resounding yes. I've moonlighted in restaurant kitchens for God's sake. Why else would I burn my hands in hot ovens after teaching classes during the day if not for the love of good food?
My son-in-law teases me -- you're too much into healthy foods to be a proper foodie.

Damn it, he's right. Over the years, I've backed off, admiring great meals mostly from afar. On menus, I get excited by vegetables (mushrooms will do!). And yet, I study dishes and combinations of ingredients as if my life depended on it. I care deeply about the foods we eat.

Time for a walk. The temperatures are about to make the leap to above freezing and there they shall stay for weeks on end! But in the meantime, it's on the cool side and so we go to the Conservatory to admire plant life that belongs to another climate, or at least another season.


We walk through it twice. The humidity alone is worth the trip: it's like stepping into a spa for your eyes and for your winter weary skin too.



And then I have business to discuss with my sister in Warsaw and so we make our way to a coffee shop where I can Skype with her over a wonderful aromatic cup of coffee. (The young people lose themselves in books.)


As if this whole trip wasn't indulgent enough, we do another thing that I almost never do these days -- we go for ice cream at the Milkjam Creamery. People have very individual relationships to ice cream. For me, it's not just a food -- it's an evocative treat that brings forth memories of other places, other cones and cups eaten over a lifetime. But Milkjam is memorable in its own right. How can you not love a flavor called Indian Elvis (curry, banana and peanut butter)? Or one that mixes the milk of a cow with that of a goat?


The sun comes out now: it's as if our ice cream defiantly pushed thoughts of the cold season away for good. We linger in the neighborhood of the ice cream store, window shopping, pausing to look. Why rush now? Sun's out. Life is warm.


In the evening, we go to a new kid on the Twin Cities -- St. Genevieve. It's styled to be a buvette -- a kind of neighborhood bar with great food where all are welcome -- locals, with or without kids, the occasional visitor. And it is excellent!

(As you can tell, I love photographing people and I especially love photographing people I love. You can decide if these two are posing, or oblivious to my camera work.)


A full day, a beautiful meal, a late night. A good night. Good night!