Pizza Rustica. It's a tradition. That or calzones on the night before Easter. Traditions are tricky. There are times they need to be upheld. Memory surrounds them. And there is a time to create new ones because life changes and evolves. This Easter required tradition. After ten days of visiting my past, I wanted to bring it into my present. And there's no better way of melding your past with the present than with food.
I had a whirlwind tour of New York City with my daughter. We stayed at Lily's home. Lily greeted us every morning and eve and shared her couch with us.
And my human cousins both on Long Island and in "The City," opened their homes to us and gave us hours of stories and laughter. It had been over four years since I visited them. Too long.
We went to see Avenue Q which shared a space with Rent - a play I had taken my children to years ago. Past and present were already merging. Jonathan Larson's words were still scribbled everywhere - having touched so many people.
The next day amid hurricane winds, Kirsten and I headed to the World Trade Center Memorial.
I was surprised by the instant tears brought by the Waterfalls and Reflecting Pools. Over ten years later, the emotion is still raw. The site is both one of mourning and healing. Of reflection and remembrance. It's so personal, I won't dwell but if you wish, read more about the memorial here.
The Survivor Tree brought sweetness. Rescued out of rubble, it echoes hope.
In 2007 I wrote a play about an early childhood friendship called By Candlelight. So much of what happens to you of import can happen before the age of ten. I've written about the impact she had on my life here. I left a note on my friend's legacy site thanking her for befriending me years ago. I told her about the play and the influence she had on a new generation. Two years later, her brother saw my note and contacted me. And three years later on my trip to New York we would meet again.
I received a text from him:
"Meet me at 8th Avenue and 19th Street. Prepare to be awed."
Now "awe" is a word I take very seriously. "Awesome" is a catch-phrase I never use because you know - it never is... awesome. It's grand, fantastic, lovely - but seldom awesome.
"Mom, did you send him a picture of you?" Kirsten asked.
"When was the last time you saw him?"
That would be forty years ago. When we were teens. We are now in our 50's.
"How will you recognize each other?"
"I don't know."
But when he crossed the street, our eyes met and we knew. There was my friend's brother - they were each other's best friend. And for me, a new friend. But from the past.
He took us into a building that he was in the midst of both restoring and developing. It is the Walker Building in Chelsea at 212 W. 18th Street. Designed by Ralph Walker (called the "Architect of the Century" in the 20th century), Kirsten and I were brought to the "penthouse floors" still under construction - which offered 360 degree panoramic views of New York City (looking "uptown" - above).
Yes, I was awed. From a day of remembrances of the past through a peek at the future, bridges were being built.
With the Freedom Tower already majestic in the distance, the views took me back and moved me forward. And it was appropriate and perfect that the architect of that afternoon was my friend's brother.
The next day, I gave Kirsten a day off from her mother. I wandered my old haunts in the West Village. There was The White Horse - it is a notable place with a beautiful bar. People visit because Dylan Thomas got drunk there and you have a fair chance of seeing Mick Jagger or some other celebrity.
"Once upon a time there was a tavern...." (Those were the days my friend...)
And visited my old 5-floor walk-up tenement building where I lived. It was the sort of place that my grandmother worked 3 jobs to get out of and move to a proper home in Queens. It was the place her granddaughter would embrace. Past and present.
And at Grano Trattoria at Greenwich and 11th Street, I met a new friend. A friend that I have known on the computer for a few years but have never met.
The restaurant was fairly empty. We talked easily, sometimes personally and I found myself whispering because I didn't want my voice to reverberate! 2-1/2 years after reading her food blog posts and incessantly cooking from her blog, I finally broke bread with Chow Ciao Linda.
And if I can figure out how she managed the walk through Greenwich Village and then to Eataly without her hair getting wind-blown as mine was, I'll share it! It was welcoming to meet with someone who is firmly in my present. It came so easily - to meet over lunch and discuss the here and now.
This is the second blogger I have met (I went to L.A. courtesy of Bertolli foods with Pat from Mille Fiori Favoriti. Our time together was also personable and easy. And yes, do click on her blog title - it is a blog you would love. Would I lie to you?) It is heartening to discover that what bloggers share with each other spills over easily into face-to-face meetings. It's probably similar to meeting a pen-pal - a distant friend.
And then a day later, I was at Lincoln Center with my mentor - who remains one of the most charming, smartest men ever to grace this planet.
I walked into Aaron Frankel's Shakespeare workshop at HB Studios in my early 20's. And stayed for five years. A writer, producer, director, professor at Columbia University, he infused my work with excitement, a bit of danger and lightening flashes. He changed my professional world and much of which works in my playwriting career is because of the insights about theatre I gained in his classes. I still send him plays when things are teetering - when they have bones but no feet. When they talk but don't walk. I wish all of you an Aaron Frankel in your life and have tried to pay it forward by mentoring my students if they wish it.
And then there were the meals with friends which I will cover later. What is it about the friends from your early salad days that remain your closest friends? I have the most delightful Minnesota friends but there is something about a friendship forged when you are vulnerable and still growing up that remains vital - even without years of seeing each other. My friends and I are are not leading the life we planned in our acting days but have taken some mighty interesting detours and we have each found fulfillment in unique ways.
So, what does this have to do with Pizza Rustica? Everything and nothing. I came home sick - with my first cold in 3 years. I was the person nobody wanted to see on their plane! As I sneezed my way through 3 hours on the flight (I looked at poor Kirsten between sneezes and said, "Sorry. You're doomed. You're going to get this."), I spent the week looking for comfort. Five days of chicken soup was enough. Easter was coming and I wanted something traditional. But my past Pizza Rustica included 3 pounds of mozzarella cheese, 6 eggs and 2 pounds of ricotta cheese. Maybe that was overdoing tradition.
And so I settled on adapting Giada's recipe because it included red peppers and spinach. I fooled myself into thinking it was healthy. It's a fairly easy recipe - just a lot of layering. It's cheeses (usually ricotta and mozzarella) and meats (sausages or salami and prosciutto) and eggs. This version had the vegetables. It's like Neopolitan Wheat Pie - every family seems to have their own recipe. And every recipe is delicious.
On the day after Easter, Italians can typically be found on a family picnic. This is the perfect picnic food - better at room temperature than hot. And often better the day after.
And the post is long enough. Find the recipe here. Spring is just beginning. If you're lucky, there will be a lot of picnics in your future.
Forsynthia's are in bloom all over New York City. My cousin's garden on Long Island is filled with the welcoming blooms. And so when I saw them for sale back home, I bought some as a last gesture to my past and present self. Bringing together New York and Minnesota and my past and present self.