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Steeped Book

New York: Steeped in Spring

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The park was flush with people. Across the street, a fountain bubbled and gargled water while a throng of men in kilts lolled on the sidewalk outside of a bus burping exhaust. It was a Saturday in New York and the sunshine sparkled as a reminder that spring had arrived. My hand had shot into the air several times as taxis began nearing. Though I don’t live in Manhattan, we seem to have an understanding between us like old friends that pick up conversations on pause. At last, one yellow cab veered toward me and in I crawled, directing the car toward the Upper East Side. At first, we began the kind of banter between strangers- talk of the weather, then talk of good food, and finally, questions about what a Californian was doing in New York. As the driver heard about the book tour adventure I had begun, our conversation turned to tea and cooking.

We agreed that he could easily make tea-infused yogurt. We agreed that if he took Lex all the way to Park, he could make it to the bookstore where I still thrill at the idea of asking for my book by name, and the delight of surprise when they hear I’m the author. I feel like a flower delivery girl in the guise of a tinkering tea cook because they smile. They congratulate me. I feel like we are complicit in some delicious enterprise of book-making and book-selling. I ask them if I can take their photograph and most of the time they comply with wide grins and Instagram handles at the ready.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the efficient way to descend on the stores I had scrawled on a piece of hotel paper, all polka-dotted up and down the east and west sides of Manhattan would be best done in a car. I had mapped out my route and described the opportunity to the driver, Mike. We struck a deal and set off to the next bookstore. Between bookstores, we began painting between the lines. He had arrived from Poland at the age of 19 to attend college and graduate. All of his family, except for an aunt in Jersey, were still in Poland. He never saw the temporary job of cab driving lasting as long as it had. He had decided to give up bread and pizza for a month to try and adopt better eating habits. We talked about piroshki and namely my friend Casey’s book that is coming out with unbridled pierogi love for him to check out once he emerges from his no carb-cocoon. We rattled on about the Scottish parade and the sea of kilts that had foisted us from Bryant Square Park. He asked about cooking with tea. He detailed the kind of tea he likes to drink (Brisk. Black. No sugar. No milk.) and he laughed with me when I described a madcap excursion on our route for me to finally nab one of the Matcha Cortados that have been making me swoon on Instagram. He handed me a $20 outside of Chalait and told me to pick a tea for him. Out I came with two bright green drinks. I may have sidled up to the bar and sipped the cortado while waiting for the iced matcha lattes. When in the West Village…

Back in the cab, we sucked down our green tea lattes and he declared that it was good. As the end of our voyage approached, we discussed a pick-up time to dispatch me with my five bags of groceries and suitcase of books to SoHo for a private cooking with tea class.

Here’s what still sits with me in the quiet room of my heart where I wrap cherished things in cream-colored tissue. Mike sent a friend to Eataly to buy my book the evening that we met. The next day, I signed it to his cousin and her fiancé. On the way to JFK while the sky was still dark and the pigeons slept, he told me he had decided to try and get a different job, one that employed his degree in public health. He said he had been driving the cab for too long and hearing my story inspired him to make some changes he had been putting off. And, as the cab pulled up to the airport’s curb, he told me he might have to get a matcha latte later that day.

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Journeys When in

New York: A Tale of Two Dinners

2007 heralded in the brightest in vegan and vegetarian cuisine. And then 2008 rolled around. All of a sudden welcome back poultry, meat, succulent porcine by-products.

It was the worst of times. The David Burke at Bloomingdales menu offered too many enticing choices. What is a girl to do on a cold New York evening? Perhaps the chilli taster might chase the chill outside. Imagine a black baby dutch oven with two chilis vying for first place. Chicken and mushroom chilli on the left hand side with traditional beef and kidney bean chilli on the right, separated by a trench of sour cream and cheddar cheese. Let’s talk about the texture of the ground beef. I seriously almost stopped chewing because I thought it might be veal. The chuck was ground so fine that it passed over my tongue easily. Instead of the spicy chilli Texas tastebuds have become acquainted with, his tasted more like a fine Italian ragu- just with kidney beans. The chicken mushroom was incredible too, but I was hooked on the beef chilli. The secret I learned is the grassfed beef of local New York ranch Cherry Creek Farms. Admittedly, this is on my list of favorite repeat visits when in town. Glad to have shared it with Kim.

It was the best of times. A week after a restaurant opening can be dicey. Will it be hard to get a reservation? Will all the quirks of the kitchen be resolved into seamless service front-of-house? Local friend and foodie W. suggested dining at Broadway East. Amazingly earlier on Monday, a vegan food writer soulmate of mine stopped by the restaurant show and said Broadway East is on her short list. I knew I was in good hands at this point. W. and I decided to order multiple dishes to split. The meal started with amazing olives with rosemary. The market salad featured winter lettuces from Satur Farms with slices of kabocha squash and pepitas. Additionally, we tried the pate de champignon with crostini. The richness of the mushrooms combined with the other ingredients gave the pate a very authentic albeit vegan sensibility. Entrees included sliced portobello mushrooms with tomato preserves and polenta for W and a spiced chickpea squash b-steeya. Instead of the flaky phyllo dough typical of b-steeya, this one featured a thin crispy wafer resembling a black and white- half powdered sugar, half cinnamon. The heartiness of the savory stuffing paired well with the sweet and spiced notes of the wafer. W. and I thoroughly savored her mushroom dish, relishing the crunchy crust coating the portobello slices and resembled panko. Though full, we couldn’t pass up trying the chai-spice bread pudding with housemade sour cream ice cream or a mini scoop of the Riesling sorbet. Delish. Oh this uber-chic and scrumptious restaurant will stay at the top of my list for quite some time… even their businesscard included golden beet seeds.

Both yin-yang of these restaurants were a perfect way to cap off a great and furious tour of New York. Other notables included talking to Thomas Keller at the restaurant show and a ravishing experience at Bobby Flay’s “Mesa Grill”- the pulled duck crepes were incredibly seasoned and spiced with an unexpected and delectable texture!

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Journeys Notes from the Road

New York Revelries- a March Installment

Yesterday seemed doomed to go down in history for our heroine as the longest day (conceded by the morning gobbling up one precious hour in favor of Sunday coming sooner that it ought).

It could have been waking up at five a.m. but really that’s almost a monthly ritual. Perhaps it had something to do with a two and a half hour layover in Denver because of inclement weather at Laguardia. But no, we found her sitting patiently reading notes from her mentor, revising poems and finishing up the poems from the Europe section of the anthology of world poetry. Having boarded the plane and set out a spell on the tarmac, it could have been the announcement that they would have to wait another hour and a half in the middle of the tarmac. Her seat began to feel fettered. The Middle East poems of war and exile did little to soothe and abate the growing restlessness. She stood up and paced, calling New York; she would be very late. And then came a guy called Bill*. Now Bill had had a few drinks before boarding Flt. 589. And he felt compelled to share with the flight attendants the nicotine craving running up and down his spine like a manic overtone of voice and thrum of fingers drumming. He refused to give up his independently claimed emergency exit seat, thus terrifying Patricia* a seat over. Our heroine stood next to the emergency exit door, on the phone with New York, hip extended out, blocking any possible attempt at escape from Mr. Erratic. He really terrified the purser, when he almost threw a punch at his face before playing nice and walking back to his seat at the end of the plane. Purser and flight attendants mulled. The captain came on the air, announcing they would need to go back to the gate to refuel. And thus the police officer was given access to escort Bill* and friend off the plane, drunk and denied access from a previous flight.

Once in the air, all stabilized- or did it? Our heroine saw the edge of the wing nearly nip the corner of a Home Depot roof, as the winds tugged at what could have been a child’s toy. Landing at last in New York, news broke out that a power outage had darkened the terminal into which they flew. And so she walked in darkness, as TSA agents held flashlights, stood like silent sentinels. In the taxi line, the agent motioned her to a taxi that refused her access thinking she had jumped the line. Her inner New Yorker had been summoned and the yelling commenced until a cabbie relented. Once safely ensconced inside his cab she could laugh with him about the day’s events and discuss how language reveals links in culture, his Pakistani accent corresponding with her rolled R in “gracias.”

And the night had settled in for a quiet Saturday, even in Times Square where lights, horns and the sound of breathing screamed into the crisp night winds. Almost there, as our heroine checked in, she was told she only had a reservation for two nights. And out again came the politer but aggressively edged inner New Yorker demanding a solution (with a smile of course). The front desk manager problem solved as our heroine expected she might. It is the hospitality industry afterall. And the evening ended in a corner suite surrounded by pillows and bed that at last accepted her whole, heard her story and took away all the rough edges with their rounded forms.

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Journeys Tales from the MFA

A poet’s celebration

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Culminating a marathon week of back to back tradeshows, I found myself in New York righteously upsetting several union workers. Amidst their yells and screams of “lady, you can’t move that” my 5’2 stature heaved and shoved the largest of our crates waiting at the back of the Javits Center, the last vestige of our seven hours of waiting in plain sight. I yelled back as I pushed, “What, are you going to fine me?!” And then promptly came to my senses seeing our aisle blocked, running back to the booth, to my colleague Charlie and telling him the union workers were on yet another break. He and I scurried back to the crate, and as he waved at the foreman, he pushed and I guided the crate back to our booth space, giggling as I ran backwards.

The cause of this kerfuffle: Galway Kinnell’s 80th Birthday Celebration at Cooper Union. It started at 7 p.m. and I was now pushing 7:20, so as much as I respected the union workers’ rights to a 15 minute break, not on this leg of my watch… so we decidedly installed the bookcases, table and components into the crate and I sped off, haling a taxi in this great race against the clock.

My friend Sherry had called and recommended sneaking in straight through the basement since they had begun turning people away, which went off without a hitch. I walked quietly into the packed auditorium, seeing at least fifty standing in the back, reminiscent of the San Francisco opera. I walked in as Komunyakaa was reading. Kinnell, both a National Book Award recipient and Pulitzer Prize winner sat in the front row, as scores of poet friends read selected poems. The impressive list of readers included: E.L. Doctorow, Mark Doty, Cornelius Eady, Marie Howe, Yusef Komunyakaa, Anne Marie Macari (NEC prof), Sharon Olds, Grace Paley, Gerald Stern (NEC prof) and C.K. Williams.

C.K. Williams described Kinnell as not only one of the great poets of our time, but one of the great readers, as well. His poetry had people laughing and then just as quickly, cut off all noise, dousing it in silence. When Kinnell read some of his own work, I quickly warmed to Williams’ description of the great reader in Kinnell. Macari said she had been sick and stashed away with some of Kinnell’s poems finding in them great company and expressing honor to have them.

After the reading, we saw Anne Waldman walking in the throngs of people toward the front. Even after only a few weeks, it was like seeing a friend. She leaves for India soon to read some of her energetic poems at a festival. Sherry asked if we were working together this semester, and she said no, but that there was a connection between us (we both incorporate spirituality into our work and have an appreciation for South Asia). Afterwards, Sherry, her husband Sam and I wormed our way down to where Gerry and Anne-Marie were standing. She is on sabbatical from NEC right now, so we didn’t really know each other, but I hope I get to work with her during my time in school. Jan Heller-Levi was standing with them and broke out into a big grin when she saw us. They all wished us their best on our first semester’s homework. Sherry and I talked about our struggle of getting it all in, doing all the homework, so their best wishes we took with us. I also commented that in the U.S. where it seems most elderly people are not respected or appreciated as in Asian contexts, in poetry there is such a sense of homage and honor paid to these poets. They still have much to teach us before moving on toward Styx’s shore.

Later, in the lobby, Sherry and I stood in line waiting to have Galway Kinnell sign our books. Just in front of us, Michelle Williams, that’s right of “Brokeback Mountain / Dawson’s Creek” fame stood also waiting for his signature. I loved that she who gives autographs often (was approached while in line by a girl asking for her signature, gushing about what a great performance she gave in BM), was now in the position of getting one. When Kinnell was signing her book, he mentioned to her that he had accidentally left a card inside the theater and asked her to retrieve it, which she did without any air of inconvenience.

Gerry and Anne-Marie were leaving and as they passed by, he looked at us. In his sonorous voice, he told Sherry, “Remember you’re a poet.” Then almost as an afterthought, he looked at me and said, “And you too.” The thumped my nose with his index finger in an endearing way. He makes me laugh… Sam and Sherry drove me back to my hotel and I was so glad for this evening reading and time spent with friends in a city that one day could be lovely to call my own.