I just got back from three jam-packed days in our nation’s capital. Me, sixty-four eighth graders, and five other chaperones. So this post isn’t about food, I’m afraid. It’s about patriotism and belief.
D.C. holds a powerful chunk of nostalgia and memory for me, each visit powerful and distinct in its own right, layering my connections and attachment, building a kind of claim, piling on my own personal rituals. Like many of my students, I encountered Washington for the first time as an eighth grader, earnest and eager and pretty well awestruck. I cried when I heard Taps played at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; I read the speeches carved into the Lincoln Memorial aloud to myself. I’ve done both on every subsequent visit, too.
As a sophomore in high school, I participated in a program called Close-Up, during which I made a very good friend, Katie, whom I’ve written about before. We were old enough then to debate about politics, to dream of and aspire to things. Every time I’m back, I do two things for Katie: take a self-portrait picture in the Vietnam Memorial, as she taught me, and send her a postcard of the Jefferson Memorial, her favorite.
My mom and I traveled together to D.C. just a few months later—she hadn’t been in decades, but I knew the place so well that I could show her around. My parents elected to come to this country; it meant something to them, America. They arrived in the late sixties, were amazed by the freedoms of speech and protest and dissent; some of my mom’s most vivid memories include listening to the Watergate hearings on their small, transistor radio and debating about politics over Howard-Johnson pistachio ice cream.
I lived in D.C. for a very special summer in college, interning on Capitol Hill, subleasing an apartment in Columbia Heights, learning the ins and outs of the ambition and diversity that drives the District. I ate a lot of amazing food, I went to a new museum every weekend, I learned to be less afraid and more adventurous.
Half-a-dozen trips cannot, has not, diminished for me the power of the place that is the symbolic center of the country I love. Our monuments, our memorials, our beliefs and our highest ideals—honored and held up as a standard by which we are to live. Do we always reach that standard? Of course not. But I believe it is a real standard, a truth with aliveness and power, and I am proud to be a part of it.
In April, I read the New York Times review of Red, a new two-man play about the artist Mark Rothko, with whom I have long been obsessed. “I want to see that,” I said—and, so, I bought myself a plane and theater ticket for June. Last Sunday afternoon, I sat in the very front row of The Golden Theatre, so close I could have spat on Alfred Molina, and watched their incredible performances just hours before Red won a Tony Award for Best Play. Such is the magic of New York.
There’s the magic of half-a-day spent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which I’ve loved since I read this book), followed by the best apple streudel I’ve ever had at the glamorous Café Sabarsky inside the Neue Gallerie.
Followed by some wandering around Chelsea Market (by “wandering,” I of course mean “dropping cash on kitchen goods”) and dinner with friends.
There was a magical tour of the cheese caves below Murray’s on Bleecker Street–an incredible experience. So incredible that it deserves its own post, coming next week.
I also had a chance to visit my friend Betsy at her beautiful bakery, Ninecakes, in Red Hook. She makes the most incredible cakes—when I was there, she was working on a fresh strawberry cake & nine dozen cupcakes for a wedding upstate!—but doesn’t use any fondant, instead coating her cakes in the lightest but still decadent, creatively flavored butter creams. Not to mention, she’s an incredibly kind and generous human being and as I can now attest personally to the deliciousness of her cake, I am thrilled but not surprised by her success.
Museums are magical to me—the handcrafted bicycle exhibit at The Museum of Arts & Design blew me away, as did the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art, as did pretty much everything at MoMa, especially the Rothkos I visited the morning before seeing Red. I also went to the Tenement Museum for the first time at the suggestion of a friend and would highly recommend a tour there—they also, as it turns out, have one of the best (if cramped!) gift shops in the city.
There was magical eating, too, naturally! Seriously good fried chicken at Sidecar in Brooklyn, pork buns at Momufuku Ssam bar, Italian at Paprika, chocolate chip cookies at City Bakery, and an amazing end-of-trip meal at Aldea, during which I put away my camera & phone and simply enjoyed. Since I was sitting at the chef’s table, with a direct view into the kitchen, and since the food was phenomenal, that wasn’t at all hard.
Of course, so much of the magic of any trip comes inside unplanned moments: cheering on Team USA, stopping to write postcards, discovering a fantastic bar, winding up on a rooftop in the East Village late one Saturday night.
Thank you for letting me indulge my fondness for this trip—I know it’s a departure from my usual post type, but I hope ya’ll don’t mind. Back to your regularly scheduled recipe posts in a few days.