Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Manhattan in the Spring: Artichokes

Growing up in South Central PA, I'd never heard of an artichoke, let alone eaten one. My diet consisted mostly of good Pennsyltuckey food; meat, starch, and some form of gravy, the remnants of such still apparent today about my waistline.

Before I delve into the artichoke, a little back story, and you are going to love it.

During the end of my senior year in college, I stumbled on a rent-controlled sublet in New York City's East Village (1st Ave. between 3rd & 4th Streets). A true two-bedroom apartment, with an eat-in kitchen AND balcony, for 500 bucks a month, and that included utilities. If you stood on the balcony and looked to the north, it was a clear view to the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. To the south, the Woolworth building and Twin Towers (also seen from my bedroom window while laying in bed, partially because I couldn't figure out how to hang curtains. Hey - I was 21 and had never hung curtains before and because of the whole illegal sublet thing, I didn't want to damage the wall. Don't judge.)

Anyway, being me, and a bit naive, and in need of a roommate to share the cost of the exorbitant $500 rent (HA!), I made fliers on the copier at my internship and colored them in with highlighters, then posted them around the art building on campus because hey, art students surely would be looking to move to Manhattan. Am I right or am I right??

I was right.

Enter my roommate Nancy, a more savvy than I grad with an art degree and a job in the big city, looking for a place to live. We were opposites in every way except for both being girls. She was a good person, but a bit uptight for me. I'm sure that I made her crazy with my country-girl mentality and complete lack of style or grace, while being completely devoid of any city chicness, no matter how hard I tried. I was flea market and she longed for 5th Avenue.

After getting booted from our fabulous illegal sublet just 5 months in, we found a much smaller, more expensive abode on East 93rd St, between 1st & 2nd Avenues. With one bedroom measuring just 8' x 10', I had to beg for my mom to give us my brother's old bunk beds so that we would both have a place to sleep. It was a little bit "Good night John-boy", and felt the complete opposite of whatever you think it should feel like to be young and living in the most exciting city in the world, tucking in at night with your chic, savvy, slightly-haughty roommate in the bed under yours, while the city zooms just outside your window.

Just a few months after moving into the new apartment, a 4th floor walk-up compared to our 7th floor elevator building (*sigh*), Nancy decided to have a soiree at our place for some school and artsy friends. Not being quite the person I am today, I was sure to make myself scarce. The next morning though, I was regaled with the tale of Nancy and the gentleman she had met the night before, while she was walking to the liquor store with friends and he was driving down our street. Throwing caution to the wind (and yes, we really were very cautious, being two young ladies living on our own in the city), they exchanged numbers and made plans for a date later that week.

A bit hungover, but secretly thrilled with her own chutzpah, Nancy let on that her date was a bit older, and left it at that.

Two weeks of dating, and Nancy moved in with Bob. The 67 year-old man who had been driving down the street and had quite a posh one bedroom in a doorman building, a few blocks away. We were 22.

Now Bob was certainly nice to me, but please understand, Bob wasn't Robert Redford/Paul Newman-older. No. Bob was grandpa-older. He looked, and sounded, like my grandfather. But Nancy knew what she wanted, and what she wanted wasn't a tiny one bedroom walk-up where you had to flick on the kitchen lights a few seconds before walking in so that the roaches would scatter. She was focused.

I was dating John, now my husband, at the time. Nancy tried to arrange a few dinners at Bob's apartment for the four of us, but it just felt so odd. Like I was trying to impress my grandpa.

But Bob knew about food, and I was just starting to show an inkling of interest in new and interesting things, like asparagus (a pot just to cook asparagus? That's crazy talk!), and yes, artichokes.

Bob and Nancy introduced me to my first artichoke and carefully taught me how to remove each leaf, dip it in mayonnaise, and scrape it on my teeth to pull the tiny bit of deliciousness onto my tongue. They showed me to carefully cut away the fuzzy interior (the choke) and be left with that treat of all treats, the heart.

It may have been just dinner with artichokes, but it felt a bit like a minor seduction scene of a slightly nefarious nature, and were it not for my new favorite treat, I wouldn't have even stayed for dessert. I did make a quick retreat and quite possibly, it was all in my head, but, I suppose we'll never know.

I covered for Nancy with her parents for close to two years while she lived with Bob, and didn't really accept many dinner invitations from there on. I was making my own life, making my own friends, and dating for love.

After Nancy and I no longer lived together (I had just gotten engaged and she wanted someone she could connect with I'm sure, someone more chic and together and city-like), I moved into a tiny studio apartment just around the corner, with slanty floors and a minuscule kitchen. My big splurge, once I was done with my regular evening workout, was to stop at the fancy gourmet market on 3rd Avenue in the upper 80's and buy an artichoke, or if I was feeling rich, two, with a bottle of Blanchard & Blanchard Mustard Vinaigrette, walk to my apartment many blocks away and prepare the artichoke(s), noshing while sitting on my futon and watching bad 90's television. But I was still loving on those artichokes.

I've been searching for Blanchard & Blanchard Mustard Vinaigrette for several years now, but haven't been able to locate it. Maybe they've gone out of business? But when spring is in the air, and I'm wistful for my time in Manhattan, I look and search and Google, hoping to find that dressing and the perfect artichoke so that I can have a taste of New York in the spring, and think back on Nancy, and Bob, and why my life now is so, so much better than I could have imagined back then.

If you have any leads on that dressing, please let me know. I'll make us a few artichokes and we can pour a bottle of wine and maybe, just maybe, I'll have more stories to tell. ;)


foolintheholler said...

Hilarious! You should write a book.

Chef Christine said...

Someday... :)

Bruce said...

Just make sure it's available on a Kindle! :)

AlexandraBlond said...

What a treat to have found you -- looking forward to reading more...very entertaining, and I, too have a wealth of memories from life in Manhattan in those halcyon days...tho I remember eating lots of yogurt and ramen, not so much elegant artichokes...