Last night: New York City. At a bar in Tribeca, I drink two prickly pear margaritas in quick succession; the alcohol heightens my senses. I need food, and I step outside into the night to hail a cab.
Heading uptown: The streets rush past in a blur of neon lights. In mere minutes I speed past dozens of neighborhoods, hundreds of apartments, thousands of people.
I won’t ever get used to the sensation. At home, in the country, you can drive for miles at night with no change in mood: Maryland, Maryland, Maryland. The constant dark and dusky sweep of forest lining the road, the ribbon of asphalt uncurling endlessly in front of you.
In Manhattan, neighborhoods appear and disappear at dizzying speed, like the animated sidelines in a high speed chase video game.
We drive up the West Side highway along the Hudson river. Shadowy piers jut out into the inky black water. The parks fall away. Hazily I watch the storefronts, changing in character as we go north. Chelsea to Hell’s Kitchen. An outdoor hotel patio lit by strings of tiny bulb lanterns. The shaded High Line hanging overhead. Thailand REAL THAI Restaurant. Neon-lit nail salons: one after another. A crowd outside the Hardware Bar. Pony Bar. Dive Bar. The Drunken Horse.
The rush of space feels heady. Such a variety of lives are comingled so closely, and it disorients me. Downtown, a couple is on a date at a fancy bar, paying $22 for a martini. Three blocks away, men work late on a construction site. Families eat dinner quietly, bankers toil at their desks. In the East Village, a pair of post-college friends eat $5 halal food on a stoop.
Earlier this week, I talked to my mom about how being in close proximity to people with very different lives than ours can draw out an unsettled feeling in us: a mini identity crisis.
New York can be exactly that: So many different lives pressed up against ours, and it makes you shake inside and wonder: Is this me? What is my life? Where do I fit? Seeing the lines at shady clubs in Chelsea, I want to jump out and join. A few blocks later, I peek into a lit-up apartment at a family eating dinner, and I want to be there too.
That’s the magic that draws people into a city: So many options at any time. For me, it overwhelms. I needed to go home and sit quietly in my kitchen and cook, so I did.
Scurried up my stairs. Threw my purse halfway across the room, kicked off my shoes. Poured a glug of olive oil and a scrap of butter in a pan and let it heat while I reduced a pile of kale to shreds with my knife. Enough kale? Never. Found a half-empty box of baby kale leaves in the crisper, added them to the pile. Chopped up a few handfuls of mushrooms: maitake (I love the way their frilly edges crisp up, lacy and golden, in butter) and shiitake.
Into the hot butter and oil go the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Let them soften, then wilt, then brown slightly. Whisk up 6 eggs with a two-second pour of whole milk, more salt and pepper, a little grainy Dijon mustard. Pour the eggs over the vegetables. Cook until it isn't runny. If you had the foresight to preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, bake the frittata until just barely set. If you didn't, just let it sit under the broiler for a few minutes.
Pull it from the oven -- ouch! wait. run that hand under cold water, try again wearing oven mitts -- and look at it for a moment, puffed and golden and full of nourishing things, and then dive in with a fork.
Here in this cozy apartment, there's no wondering who you are/why you're here/what you're doing. There's comfort food that you've made with your own two hands. There's a soft, inviting bed upstairs with a crisp, rumpled white duvet. There's sleep, and the dark cool quiet of your room, and a moon beyond the French doors that rises over everyone, everywhere.