Monday, April 9, 2012

Food and Friends Old and New

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.

As warm, as insightful, and as knowledgeable as she seems in her blog posts, she is more so in person. Readers of her blog know her passion for cooking, culture, history, art and so much more - just go to her blog - it speaks for itself. Find it here.

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.


Sue/the view from great island said...

This wonderful post leaves me speechless, Claudia!

Mister Meatball said...

Lovely, of course.

I take it that you did not, on this trip, make it to a certain outer borough?

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

I know you must have had a wonderful trip but sorry that you got sick. Your pizza rustic looks great. I made a pizza rustica for Easter as well and it is so good the day after. I think the flavors get better. Hope you feel better soon.

Claudia said...

No, MM - sadly no outer boroughs. Once the scheduling began, I found myself with one free afternoon and it was cold and rainy - not good for wandering. (Although I wandered in Manhattan and got sick - that'll teach me!)

TinaRBK said...

This was one amazing 10 days! The meet up with the old friend and the visit to some of the places you used to frequent must have made things extra special. One think about NY, they always keep a lot of history around, unlike other large cities. This was a great read and I loved the pictures. Also thanks for the link to the recipe for this delicious
pizza rustica!

Lynda said...

Sounds like you had such a lovely trip, and then had to get a nasty cold. So glad you were better by Easter, Claudia.
I so enjoyed this post of your going home. It's been years since since I have "gone home", and your post brought a yearning in me to "go".
As for the pizza Rustica, I want it now! I like this tradition of yours.

tinyskillet said...

What a delightful post! I iked looking back abd remembering, and meeting up again a new old friend. I also love to see how other bloggers get a chance to meet in fun! I love all your photos, and fell the same way about "Awesome" maybe it our age and how we look at someting really awesome.

All in all it looks like you had a great time! Thanks for bringing us along!

Cucina49 said...

Claudia, what a great post! So many gorgeous photos and reminiscences--Avenue Q is fun, isn't it? I saw it in its original Broadway run about seven years ago. And that pizza rustica--to die for!

Whats Cookin Italian Style Cuisine said...

I made my EASTER pie without the top crust... yours looks wonderful... What amazing photos!You look marvelous what a great trip.. refreshed and more to write about love this post!

Amy said...

Sounds like you had an amazing trip! Your photos are wonderful :)! Also, what a great tradition the easter pie is, and it sounds delicious as well ;)!

Balvinder (Neetu) said...

When ever I come to your blog, I love reading your write up and looking at the pictures and then I read your recipe.
I admire you for making traditional pizza in spite of your being sick.
Take care.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

It looks like you had a great time. A great trip!

That pizza rustica looks so scrumptious!



easyfoodsmith said...

This was a great post to read. I almost felt that I was there with you in the city! Looks like you had a nice trip. The pizza looks lovely and sounds delicious. I have never had such a pizza before. Would love to try this.

Beth said...

What a wonderful post, Claudia. I went back and read the beautiful tribute to your friend. It must have been so moving to reconnect with her brother.

And the time spent with your family, with your blogging buddy, with your mentor. Sounds like you had an intense journey, and it's probably no wonder that you came back exhausted and sick. Take care of yourself. I'm sure the memories of this trip will stay with you a long time.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Sounds like you had a fabulous trip Claudia. I've had a chance to meet some other bloggers and it was a great experience. They were all I thought they would be and more. Thanks for taking us along.

Loved the part about staying at Lily's home. So cute. We stayed with friends who had a big dog who went everywhere with them. When we took his spot in the back seat of their car, he pouted and hid in his hidy-hole in their closet when he had to stay at home alone.

chow and chatter said...

wonderful post and a special trip for you sweet Claudia hope I can meet you one day hugs Rebecca

QembarDelites said...

Looks like you were enjoying yourself despite being sick:) great photos and narration as usual, enjoyed reading this post:)

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Beautiful post Claudia - especially about meeting the brother of the old friend. It must have been very emotional for you - and the former teacher too. Boy you covered a lot of territory in that week. I really enjoyed breaking bread with you and going to Eataly too. You are a talented, inspiring human being. I can't believe you brought back forsythia! And that pizza rustica really tied together the past and present.

Bo said...

Sound like you had an amazing trip.

Anonymous said...

Dear Claudia, I hung on every word!
I live on LI...!! What a wonderful visit you had. I am so happy for you.
The pie looks wonderful. I try so hard to keep tradition. It isn't the same without all of the noise that came with those days.
Blessings my dear. Catherine xo

Reeni said...

How you managed to get those forsynthias home is beyond me! What a whirlwind trip - one for the memory books. I hope you're feeling better!

Claudia said...

Reeni and Linda: I led you on. I brought some forsynthias home all right - from MN. I flew Delta - they like fees. They would have charged me $10 a branch!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Hi Claudia

I enjoyed seeing your photos from NYC and still regret I could not meet up with you this time. I'm so glad thatyou and Linda were able to dine together and visit Eataly.

I still can't bring myself to blog about the 9-11 Memorial after I visited it this past fall. I saw so many names there of people we knew that it broght back their loss all over again. It was so nice for your friend's brother to meet you and bring you up to see the penthouse views of Manhattan.

I love Pizza Rustica but I haven't made it the past few years due to its high salt content from all the cold cuts. I will have to look into Giada's version ... it sounds so good and yours looks beautiful!

Fresh Local and Best said...

What a fantastic trip! You certainly packed in a lot during your time there. It's unfortunate that I wasn't in town as well, it would have been great for us to meet. I'm glad you had a chance to visit Eataly, isn't it a wicked fun place?

Chats the Comfy Cook said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post and love the photos. Thanks for sharing your trip.

Liz That Skinny Chick Can Bake said...

What an amazing visit...loved that you touched on friends from the past and present...such memories to recall and form. Thanks for sharing with us all...and I love the sound of your pizza rustica...YUM!

Juliana said...

Oh Claudia! What an amazing trip...and thank you so much for sharing the them all.
Again, thanks for this post and hope you are having a fabulous week :)

Pam said...

what a great trip, Claudia! Especially good because of seeing family and meeting a blogger friend. Nice pizza and photos too!

Anonymous said...

You just left me speechless with your wonderful post and your delicious pie! NYC is a beautiful city that I still have yet to visit. Glad you got to meet up with a new friend and at the same time had a blast in the global city!

We Are Not Martha said...

What a fantastic trip!! Thank you for sharing everything here with us :)


Vianney Rodriguez said...

I read your post three times. Your words carried through the post and I felt like I was with you, the "Awe," was lovely. thank you for sharing!

Barbara said...

Loved this post, Claudia. My daughter lives 4 blocks from ground zero...and was there when it happened. So this was especially a moving post for me. Your NYC photos are wonderful and the forsythia reminds me of spring in Michigan. I do miss seeing those spring flowers coming to life!

Joanne said...

Sounds like a majorly awesome trip! And your pizza rustica looks so one has ever attempted to make it in my family but one of these years, I'll have to.

Angie's Recipes said...

What a fantastic trip!
I love the waterfalls and reflecting beautiful.
Pizza rustica...I will have to bake it myself!

mr. pineapple man said...

Looks like a great trip! thanks for sharing it with us :)

Cristina, from Buenos Aires to Paris said...

How come I didn't know "pizza rustica"??!!
I have to analyse this....

Kathy said...

Claudia, Love your photos from your time in NYC! Looks like you had a great time! Your Pizza Rustica looks amazing!
Are you from Long Island? We lived there for 20 years before we moved back to NJ.

Magic of Spice said...

I just read the beautiful tribute to your friend. It is so wonderful that you got to meet up with her brother during your trip. Sounds like a memorable one.
Beautiful post :)

Frank said...

What a great post. This truly was a wonderful journey of an Italian cook!

My Little Space said...

How nice to meet blogger face to face. Some one actually drop by to visit me by surprise 2 months back.
haha.... And how cool to meet your mentor again. He must be so proud of you and all your works.

Barbara said...

What a lovely post, Claudia. I journeyed through your past right alongside you with your vivid words. And it's wonderful you got to meet Linda in person!(She is one of my favorite bloggers, too.) Love your pizza rustica, three pounds of mozzarella and all! You are an inspiration,for sure. Happy Spring!