Hard to imagine the last time I tended to this was in a snowstorm in Nebraska. Fast forward to a beautiful morning in July. My wife is sound asleep at dawn. I stroll out on the skinny verandah of our hotel, five floors above the city of Vichy. A smeared line of sunrise paints itself across the morning clouds. I stare for the longest moment, throw on my jeans and climb into the tiny lift that cranks itself down to floor zed. It seems like so many years ago I used to take to the street with two cameras strung around my neck (one for black and white film, one for color). It's easier to capture images today. So why does it sometimes feel so hard.
A week ago Saturday I marched with 400,000 people down Fifth Avenue in New York. Sunday morning, while enjoying a stroll through weather.gov, I saw a nice storm system brewing out over the Rockies and picking up speed heading east. Thanks to a large number of frequent flyer miles and a twelve-dollar-a-day rental car, I was able to get to Denver to go experience a two-lane highway I had traveled once before, and promised myself I'd re-visit someday in a blizzard.
The images below are as surreal and otherworldly as they seem. I returned to New York to learn that we were closing our door to strangers. Over the course of my journey, I experienced nothing but kindness. We pushed one another's cars out of snow banks, made buckets of chicken noodle soup in the Quality Inn when all the restaurants closed, and shared whisky, stories and laughter as the storm blew through. No one closed any doors. There didn't seem to be much need to "make America great, again." We were doing just fine.
"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more."
–Howard Beale, from Network
"Can't we all just get along."
So much came out of Saturday, I'm surprised we didn't break the Internet. (Can you do that?) I decided to post just a few pictures because we were there – my wife and younger son and I – and I loved that Matty felt like he was a part of history. I think everyone did. But even more hopeful, so many issues got voiced that it felt like we were witnessing a beginning, not just a moment in time. Now I find myself wondering where we go next. I am glad I am not alone.
Everything changed. New home. New subway stop. New slice. New Chinese. These are the facts of life in New York. You move a dozen blocks and your palate has to readjust. But we are NYers and we are tough and we survive.
As I scrolled through the "Past 12 Months" on my iPhoto selecting my favorite shots for this column, I realized the food tells a story. It's about travel. And my kids. Family and friends. Work and play. The joys and the struggles. Plenty of both. I logged 86,000 air miles last year, made at least four 2,000 mile+ drives, and probably spent more time away, than at home.
And yet I cooked. More than ever. Especially when it became apparent that I was going to have to move. People always seem surprised that I prepare full-blown meals for myself nearly every night of the week. Steak tartare and Rachel Maddow got me through more tough days than I can recount. In the end, those midnight meals fueled my passion and soothed my soul. And looking back, told a story. Here it is.
It is by pure happenstance that so much has happened since the boys and I moved out of our apartment (which in answer to the question many have asked – yes! – we are staying in Brooklyn. Just looking for a smaller place since Ben is off to college.)
I have driven 2,000 miles around America and then, on the eve of the election, jumped on a plane and flew about as far as you can fly. Sitting here on my last day in Capetown, I decided the juxtaposition of a few images might be in order.
Read into these images what you may. I am chockful of opinions. It seems plenty of folks these days are. So in the spirit of peace, love & understanding, I figured I'd close with one lasting shot that I suspect will leave everyone with at least a smile from a very tempestuous fall. (Mea culpa Cleveland fans.) I'm heading home.
Great food. Delicious wines. Local artisans, nice jazz, sweet vibe. Early summer's day in Capetown. Not much more to add.
All good things must come to an end.
It was nearly a dozen years ago I walked up this pretty street in the heart of Park Slope, holding the hands of two little boys, a scrawny 4 and 6 years old, my own heart filled with terror. Their mom and I had finally thrown in the towel and agreed I'd be the one to move out and find a new home. I'd moved plenty of times in my life. No fear there. The sick feeling in the pit of my stomach was that I had no idea how to raise two children on my own. "Week on, week off." I get my boys back every other Sunday.
This was our home for their entire childhood. The KMB Club we called it. I figured it out and they grew up. Ben is now a freshman at college and Matty is a junior at high school in NYC. They're both taller than me and blessed with an ingrained sense of New York independence. When our apartment's usual coughs and hiccoughs became loud and unmanageable I decided it was time. We gave notice on the heels of a city water main break. Into our basement! There was not even time to find a new place. The decision was made. Pack up. Store. Move on.
The emotion of bidding farewell to home, hearth and childhood is palpable. Call it downsizing. Call it an adventure. We made our way once as three guys on a journey and we will again. 12 years ago we moved into 4 large rooms of a bone empty duplex. We leave a lot of memories behind. But we will move on.
Starting a novel is a bit like edging out to the end of a high quarry on a hot summer's day, contemplating the 20-foot drop. You're not quite sure how deep the water is. Or what happens if you don't get that slight push off the edge to miss the rocks that are staring up at you, just beneath your toes.
Still, we take the plunge.
New York has been a steam bath of late. The asphalt is sludge under your feet. The humidity could soak a bale of hay and submerging into the subway is like crawling into a pizza oven. I got home to my block in Brooklyn last night drenched, the sweat literally pouring from my forehead. My mind went straight to...a refreshing cocktail!
I have never made a drink from a grapefruit. I have never made a drink with a raw egg. I am not sure what made me think of it, but I decided to try something completely different. A ruby red grapefruit fizz. The ingredients are simple. Exactly what is pictured above. Add ice. Shake vigorously. See what turns out. Sort of like starting a novel.
For anyone who is an ardent believer in farm to table, locally grown fresh ingredients, Mirimoko Market is your one-stop shopping spot in Kigali. Lake Kivu fish? Ugandan grains and beans? Like your chicken and beef fresh? This is the place!
Having just spent four days at the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, I could write about the most elite group of global scientists you have ever met under one very large roof. Or I could highlight the inspiring remarks delivered at plenary sessions by the likes of Elton John, Prince Harry and Bill Gates. I could try to explain what I learned about viral suppression, vertical transmission and ART adherence. But maybe it's best that I just share a few faces of the 15,000 incredibly passionate people dedicated to the eradication of HIV/AIDS.
Ten years ago I walked two little boys up a tree-lined block in Brooklyn, one on either side of me, holding each of their hands. We turned into the small courtyard that led to a garden apartment. I pulled out the keys and said, "Guys, this is your new home." They were 8 and 6 at the time. Whatever they were feeling, they did a great job of hiding it. Me? I could barely tamp down the fear! Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to end up divorced and I didn't have a clue how I was going to raise two children on my own.
Of course they have a mother, but what went on behind those closed doors after I dropped off every other Sunday was as murky to me as the reasons I ended up there in the first place. I used to call drop-off "The Walk of Divorce." In my neighborhood, at the end of each weekend you'd see a veritable parade of kids clinging to one parent or the other with an over-freighted backpack drooping off their skinny shoulders. I used to get back to my apartment, sit down on the stoop and cry.
A hapless (rhymes with helpless) single dad seems a pretty rare sight these days. I know plenty of divorced fathers, but their marriages imploded when the kids were older and more self-sufficient. When the boys and I started our new life my learning curve was steep. Helping with homework and doing laundry seemed an insurmountable challenge. Sitting down to dinner at 10 p.m. was not unusual. The guys still have bunk beds and animal sheets and they're both over six feet tall. I tried. Not everything got done.
This week my firstborn not only graduated high school, but he has a full-time job as a counselor at his beloved summer camp on Cape Cod and that keeps him occupied until three days before college. Translation? He's gone!
I've choked back tears more than a few times anticipating the moment of departure, but typical of me, packing him up and out was so chaotic I barely had time to reflect on much more than whether he had toothpaste and enough contact solution. Father's Day fell on the day after Ben left. His brother came up the stairs and greeted me with a hug. I read my Times. Matty ate a bagel and cued up a rerun of Law & Order. The house was a mess. We went on with our lives. Same as we did 10 years ago. Only not so daunting this time.
It's been a good run!
I've swum with the fishes and shared the stage with the guys from Hamilton. I've met athletes and sportscasters, presidents and prime ministers, and managed to feed the boys this winter. Eight nonstop months of corporate work has kept me busy beyond belief. So what have I learned from this cavalcade of rich experience? What's keeping me up at night, as I draw my first unencumbered breaths of freedom?
Still a writer.
In between the work and my never-dull commuter marriage and 100,000 real miles flown, above, I found time to do a book group in Evanston for FOOD FOR MARRIAGE. (And let me tell you, these guys were tough!) Every once in a while I take a peek at my Amazon account and I was shocked the other day to find a sparkling review from a woman in Indiana who had somehow found my novel and made it HER book club choice. A complete stranger! Guess that's where the 12 sales in March came from.
Make no mistake. We writer-types like attention. We crave it. Need it! Sure we'd like to be the author who lands that crazy elusive six-figure deal, but those are about as rare as affordable rent in Brooklyn. I am part of a sizable writing community and to a letter we all do it for the same reason. Because we have to! That 3 a.m. treadmill of pillow clutching ideas needs a home. And for the diehards, no matter how many pundits predict the death of print, we still see the novel in all its dog-eared glory, as salvation realized from the pulp of trees.
So, with a little room to breathe, I took a week off (oh, except to co-produce and write a documentary film, because masochist/artists need more than one way to not make a living). I stared at the stacks on my desk. Three novels complete, vetted, beloved, and ready for sale. Two nonfiction proposals done, awaiting agency gold. And two new works in progress – one fiction, one nonfiction.
Monday to-do list? Return to literature. I ran into a friend and fellow creative I'd not seen in ages, at a party last night. He commented that I seemed happy. "New gig?" he asked. "You bet!" I replied. We clinked glasses. Time to return to self.
Over the past year I have written a half dozen events for companies immersed in the universe of technology and big data. I currently have five different email addresses and communicate digitally through a dozen collaboration websites. Looking for me? Try Blue Jeans, Base Camp, Skype, Google Plus or Adobe. I never sleep. I am always on.
I wordsmith until there are no words left and yet the few pages I actually print out float harmlessly into the waste basket. I have three completed novels, yet these days it would be easier to garner an audience with Kim Jong-un than fortune a response from an agent. Ignore is the new hello. We don't read email, we clear it. Everyone is walking around with their heads down talking to themselves. The silence is deafening. Is there anybody out there?
Recently, my ex-wife moved in with her boyfriend, taking my kids and leaving our old jelly cabinet in her empty apartment. The weathered boards have the year 1931 burnt into them. Mrs. C. Emmons of Cambridge, MA resides on one of the planks. Lot 5516. The rest of the wood's lineage is faded and freighted. It weighs a ton.
When my ex told me the jelly cabinet was mine if I wanted it, I vacillated. We get along fine. I bought her that beat-up antique for three hundred bucks when we were newlyweds in Rockport, MA. We loved it back then. I wondered if that was baggage I wanted to bring into my house a dozen years since we parted.
In the end I could not bear the thought of leaving it on the street. I snagged a $19 U-haul and with the help of my 6'1" son, dragged it across Park Slope and parked it in my living room. We stared at one another for a while, that jelly cabinet and I. Why were you here? What were your intentions?
Then I filled a glass bowl with some warm water and Dawn and started scrubbing away the dust and memories. The wood took on a rich textured hue. Imperfections rose to the surface. I stared at its empty carcass and realized anything old could become new again. I'll leave its doors open tonight. I have a lot of memorabilia that's been cluttering the apartment, looking for a home. The jelly cabinet has survived nearly 90 years of storing other people's stuff. Time to create a few new shelves for myself.
So much talk! For five days forecasters forecast, snow lovers prayed, and supermarkets sold out on the essentials for a big storm: milk, bread, eggs. Were French toast only the answer to all our ills! In the end, after all the noise, the best sound of all was the silence of a blanketing snow over the city...
70 degrees in Chicago in December? Yep, rare indeed. My wife and I in the same town with no deadlines, no airport to run to, and absolutely nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon? Well? In fact, unheard of. And precious. We have none of our four children, today. We have read the Times. Finished a novel, each. And I cannot promise that a rainy Sunday afternoon movie is not in store. But first, may I wax poetic about...
This recipe was inspired by a walk past a new Asian market on East 32nd Street between Fifth and Broadway, where in the frozen section I stumbled upon a small plastic bag with a dozen of aforementioned balls. I have flown 12,000 miles and walked a dusty road in Mae Hong Son just to find this delicacy, sold from a street cart where all you could do was point at the ingredients and pray.
Part two – the piece de resistance for this weekend chef – a bag of bones. Yes, fish bones. Behold.
Disgusting? Oui. Being handed out for free by the Montauk fishmonger at the Grand Army Plaza farmer's market on a late autumn weekend. How could I say no?!
Hence the pieces came together. It's Saturday night. Your wife's in Rwanda. The kids are out. The sauvignon blanc has a nice crisp chill. Got your balls in the freezer and your bones in a bag? What else to do but try something new.
The recipe is so simple it is scary. Add water and a little white wine to cover the bones. Toss in chopped celery, onions, clams, mussels, aromatics, a bay leaf, peppercorns: basically the kitchen sink will do. Simmer for 45 minutes. Not more, not less. Every web recipe (for where else would you look when saddled with a bag of bones?) warned that fish stock will turn bitter if cooked too long. I measured nothing but tasted often. Out went the bones at precisely the right moment.
The rest was easy. Strain the broth. Add a couple of packets of chewy fresh udon noodles, also from the Asian market. Toss in the balls and simmer for 10 minutes. Dump on the chopped green onion and cilantro. Add sriracha or fish sauce to taste. The end result? Pure bliss!
A lot has happened in a few short weeks. Our world has changed. Or it has not. That just depends on how one chooses to view the events. New and calamitous, or more of the same and we are just beefing up our coping strategies. Again.
Here is one tiny blip in my universe. My father, who died a year and a half ago, wrote a blog called VIEWPOINT for the latter dozen years or so of his life. I still can't figure out 95% of the features on my cell phone and when I hear the word "app," I think of oysters or a plate of cheese. My dad managed his own website and was still posting in his 95th year.
I mention this in passing because my sister shared an email he received the other day from his web server. "Your domain expired on November 07, 2015." I have no doubt my dad would have been pleased that his domain lived on long after the desk lamp went out.
When I started The Ramen Blog, I made myself a promise not to compete with my father's Viewpoint. It was strong, believe me. And I have always wanted The Ramen Blog to leave politics aside and stay focused on food, art, music, design, and the relationship of all things creative to the things that move us in life. However, I am going to stray this once and opine.
My wife and I got hooked into a re-watch of Aaron Sorkin's brilliant "The American President" on some cable channel well north of the 100s, last night. Michael Douglas played POTUS and his ax to grind was legislation that would eliminate guns and reduce crime. He falls in love with a lobbyist played by Annette Benning who was hellbent on jamming home a bill that would reduce global warming. And Richard Dreyfuss played the extremist Republican opponent Bob Rumson, who besmirched the character of anyone who crossed his path and vowed to make America "a winner" again. Great movie. Amazing acting, tremendous direction.
In today's New York Times, Frank Bruni writes: "We lose the war against ISIS if we don't get serious about our presidential candidates."
Here is Michael Douglas's response to the Richard Dreyfuss attacks on his presidency. "We've got serious problems, and we need serious people."
The release date of "The American President"? 1995! Twenty years ago!! Hmmmm.
If my father was still around, I knew the irony would have sent him running to his computer. So I dedicate this column to him. Go Daddy! Your domain may have expired but your views live on.
It was different back then. Our parents did not take us on college tours. We received thick books in the mail and occasionally sat in well-heeled living rooms where preppies touted the virtues of their alma mater. Kodak slide carousels were involved.
If we visited anywhere, it was probably by Greyhound Bus. Amtrak. Hitchhiking. Or sharing a ride in an old beater with a handful of friends on a whimsied run up to New England. We'd just as soon be accompanied by our 12th grade A/V teacher, as our parents, tooling around a campus full of pretty girls, cool guys and kegs full of cheap, sudsy beer.
But here's the thing. Not only weren't we worried about where we got in, we didn't even think about it! College was just something you did after high school. And any correlation between that, and jobs, grown-up debt, and a future? You might as well have talked to us about retirement planning. We were non-plussed.
So what did we learn this fall as we hauled you from the Happy Valley to Ann Arbor, Madison to Chapel Hill?
• The key to being a successful tour guide is walking backwards.
• Food swipes matter.
• Antarctica is apparently overrun, since every college has a semester abroad there, now.
• Quidditch and squirrel watching clubs are in.
• Laundry machines can be reserved online.
• Superstition is rampant, but there are numerous statues to adulate and rectify the situation.
• If anything ever goes wrong, anything at all, run to the blue light.
Now the miles have been logged and you're busy working on the common app. We watched you listen through half-mast lids to chirpy upperclassmen at 9 in the morning while we sipped our Starbucks and glanced at our texts. We desperately tried not to ask the questions we wished you'd thought of. We maintained respectful silence as you drank in the size of a freshman "suite." We gulped back our fears when the costs flashed up during the info session powerpoint, and we opened our wallets at the student store.
Maybe, just maybe, you taught us a thing or two, as well. Like your dreams matter more than that third SAT score. That the first draft of your essay was probably the right one. And mainly, that this invisible plume of pressure we unwittingly created, is the worst kind of legacy we could ever pass down.
You'll go and we'll weep. But you can take small comfort knowing what your parents are just starting to figure out. We followed in our folk's footsteps, and you're going to follow in ours. And not a doubt in the world, you're going to be smarter than us.
It has been said that I think about food mostly all the time. In Italy this week to celebrate a dear friend's birthday and a de facto honeymoon on the occasion of my wife's and my 5th anniversary, we had two things in abundance: time. And food.
Wherever you go in Italy – be it the sidewalk cafe by Roma Termini, a vineyard in Tuscany, or any piazza or cobblestone sidestreet in the old town of Trastavere that can accomodate a table for two and a waiter – here is what you will find. A smorgasbord of mouthwatering delicacies. People engaged in conversation. And a complete and utter lack of hurry. A tasty respite indeed.