Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Autumn: Of Brussels Sprouts and Head Colds.

Wow, can you believe it's almost October? September went by so fast! Actually, for me, September went by fairly slow. Mostly due to the fact that four our of seven days a week I have nothing to do. With no classes Thursdays or Fridays, I pretty much spend the majority of my week being bored. Which, consequently leads to time moving a lot slower. I applied for a bunch of jobs at NYU, but I either didn't get them and they didn't bother to ever let me know, or they're waiting until sometime in November to actually interview. This is endlessly frustrating for me, mostly because I actually do need the money, but also because I'm SO BORED. But maybe now that the semester is actually gathering steam and I actually have work to do having so much time off will be a blessing. We'll see.

Anyways, I'm actually thrilled that tomorrow is the first day of October. I think that October is my favorite month of the year, give or take a week or two in November. The time when the leaves start to change and the wind begins to have a chilly edge and best of all, fall produce begins to show up at the farmers markets. After a summer of fresh tasting, light vegetables I really start to crave heartier, stronger tasting produce. Cue the brussels sprouts, the butternut squash, the apples! The figs, oozing their honey-like filling! (Yesterday's lunch: saute one onion, sliced, with one apple, cubed, and a bag of brussels sprouts, halved, until they begin to brown. Add thyme, salt, pepper, and a half cup of water, and cover. Cook until the brussels sprouts are soft and water evaporates. Deglaze pan with apple juice or cider, and stir in some dijon mustard. If you can still say you don't like brussels sprouts after all that, we are no longer friends). And come the cooler weather, turning the oven on isn't so intimidating. Which means I can indulge in my favorite way of cooking anything at all - Roasting. Roasting EVERYTHING, from vegetables to chickpeas to fruit and even to meat (though I think I've eaten meat twice since I've gotten here...I become a vegetarian by default whenever I leave my parents' house. I think it's because nary a day goes by during the summer when my father doesn't demand some variation on steak/potatoes and by the end of summer I'm so sick of meat tofu and black beans sound like the Nectar of the Gods). There's something infinitely comforting about the act of preheating the oven, preparing whatever is to be roasted, then sitting around doing other things while the apartment fills with wonderful, appetite stimulating scents that make me have to consciously restrain myself from opening up the oven and sticking my head inside. Not in a Sylvia Plath way, however. More a Giada de Laurentis kind of way.

Though October does have its downside. More specifically, October is when I am most likely to get sick. And it has happened again this year. I felt something coming for about a week now, but for the majority of the time I fooled myself into believing that it was just fall allergies. Unfortunately, that was but a dream, and my "allergies" have turned into a full-fledged head cold. I'm really terrible at being sick. In general I have the immune system of an ox (I'm not entirely sure that analogy actually work. The phrase is "strong like an ox" so I assume oxen don't get sick - they're strong! - but that may be just faulty logic on my part). In fact, I think I can count the amount of times I had to miss more than one day of school on one hand. The consequence of this is, unfortunately, that whenever I actually do get sick I can't help but feel like my body is betraying me. As in, who are YOU, body, to dictate whether or not I should go to the gym? Yes, I know that trying to use the elliptical machine when I can't breathe through my nose and I'm coughing every thirty seconds or so (the cough isn't painful, so at least I don't have H1N1 yet. I've heard a painful cough is the first symptom) is a bit of an exercise in futility. But why should my body tell me what to do? F You, body, my mind thinks. But then it remembers that pushing until collapse probably will just make me feel worse, and the best thing to do is the smart, logical thing. Don't work out, rest, avoid dairy, and drink gallons upon gallons of tea. Then I can get better quickly, and return, once again, to bossing my strong, sickness-free body around.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

On Living, and Eating, Alone.

Well, it's been about two weeks since I moved into the new apartment. It's now fully furnished, aside from some paintings that I still can't decide where to hang, and is really beginning to feel like home. And I must say, getting back to New York always feels like a large weight is lifted off my shoulders. Which I realize is rather strange, as many people feel the exact opposite. Leaving New York is what makes that weight go away, the calm of the suburbs a relaxing respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. But the hustle and bustle is what I love about this place, as long as I can choose when to retreat to my own personal space. This apartment, in a quiet part of town facing all of the back yards of the brownstones on 31st and 32nd street far, far more than adequately serves that purpose.

It was a bit of a challenge, however, to get into the swing of things this year. Last semester in Italy I lived with seven of the best people I have ever met, and I took advantage of it, spending every moment in someone else's company. Then this summer I spent the majority of my time working, and when I wasn't working I was with my parents, particularly my mother. I really don't think I spent more than a few hours by myself the entire eight or so months. So when I moved in and was forced to spend several days alone before my roommate moved in, it was a very difficult change with which to cope.

But slowly, I've been coming to realize, or perhaps re-realize that I actually do enjoy being alone. My roommate is a sweetheart, but she's been going home on weekends (sickness, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur), and during the week she's often busy with sorority events until late at night. So for the majority of the time, I have the apartment to myself.

And I like it. There's something nice about coming home from a long day of class and having the complete freedom to do whatever I want. Usually, since I get back from class after six most nights of the week, that means tying on my apron (it's adorable, with fun print and bows on the pockets) and cooking dinner. My roommate doesn't cook, either, so the kitchen definitely feels like my domain, I can choose to cook what I call Real Food, ie, something sophisticated that usually involves a recipe clipped from the New York Times or from one of my various cookbooks. For instance, two nights ago I made sauteed leeks with chickpeas (saute pancetta [or turkey bacon. Don't judge, it's what was in my refrigerator] in oil until it turns brown, add cleaned leeks and three tablespoons of water, cover and cook for a half hour. Add drained can of chickpeas, cook for another ten minutes. Serve, and enjoy the most surprisingly delicious [and healthy!] meal ever.) Or I can completely disregard the idea of meals for a day, like I did yesterday, and eat sardines on bread with loads of spicy brown mustard somewhere in the evening and call it dinner. There's no one to judge me, to ask me the nutritional value of something, or remind me that meringues and low carb/low sugar chocolate do not a filling meal make.

I think that I love cooking and eating alone as much as I like cooking for other people. Don't get me wrong, I love feeding people. I love sweating in the kitchen for hours preparing complicated dishes well beyond my experience level for huge groups. But cooking and eating alone is a very special experience. It gives me something to think about. In the morning, I pick a recipe (if I decide to try something new), or survey the contents of my pantry and cobble something together in my mind. I then run to the grocery store if I have to, but usually I only make meals I already have the ingredients for. There's no need to create extra work for myself. Then I come home, prep, chop, and ta-da! And hour later I have a beautiful meal, on a beautiful anthropologie plate. I sit down at my table with a book, listen to the jazz filtering in from my landlord's restaurant's garden seating, and enjoy. It makes me happy, content with my own company. And that's important.