Goodbye Astoria

Dear Astoria,

Do you remember when we said our first hellos? I was straight off a plane from Milan, re-teaching myself how to live out of dresser drawers instead of zippered suitcases. I still remember the bright November morning when I saw you, Astoria, for the very first time. My full bed and wooden couch rocked left and right past cafes, falafel trucks, banks, small groceries and streams of moving people. Steinway Street appeared to be another country: baklava in bakery windows, groups of men sitting stoically drinking tea and smoking hookah. Little Egypt, I would learn. The skyline of Manhattan loomed in the distance. I felt dwarfed by the noise and the power of this place, your buzzing soil.

That was one year and 4 months ago.

Each morning in the winter of 2014, I walked south past sleeping businesses-fashion stores Hug and Easy Pickins’, McDonalds, Modell’s, Starbucks, the prom dress store- all silent in the early light.

I took the R train all the way across Manhattan and down to City Hall. Do you remember? Everyone said I was crazy to take the local train such a long way. But I didn’t mind. It gave me time to read my books, borrowed from the local Queens Library. We shared many books, you and I.

Then the new job and a new commute. This time, I walked to the N,Q train aboveground or took the bus when my timing was right. I watched a coffee shop open and finally felt like I wasn’t the newest one on the block. In the summer, my roommates introduced me to the beer garden and the Greek restaurants along Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard. We ate at Sugarfreak, a New Orleans-style restaurant with beignets bananas foster, a memory of which still makes my mouth water. I joined a yoga studio and a gym while treating myself to fresh, hand rolled bagels on Saturday mornings. During one of my first 3 mile runs, I stumbled upon Astoria Park and slowed down to watch children playing in the grass and skipping along the river.

In Astoria, I found the mixture of culture that I had dreamed New York City would foster and nourish. There were young millennials running in new sneakers and old college sweatshirts alongside Muslim men and women on their way to prayer. Greek grandmothers would shop on early mornings in the grocery store as I stumbled in for seltzer or eggs. Old and new. New Yorker natives and foreign immigrants. Spanish speakers. Italian sausage makers. Young married couples and single roommates.

Daina and I stayed longer than we had planned; six months quickly evaporated into sixteen. In the final days before I moved, my nights were spent sitting on the floor meticulously wrapping each plate and mug in bubble wrap and placing them in cardboard boxes. They clinked against one another as if to say, Where are you taking us? Why can’t we go back to our cupboards and shelves? I didn’t have an answer except to say,

because it’s time.

Thank you for all you’ve done. I found a great young woman to take my bedroom. Be kind to her, Astoria, as you were kind to me. Let her listen to your heartbeat, the percussion of daily life. Show her the fresh feta cheese and the best falafel truck. Let her walk the friendliest streets and find the best way home. Nudge her through the doors of your museums and coax her over the bridge into Sunnyside when she is ready to explore. Her heart is open and ready. I was a stranger once too.

From your shore, Manhattan feels both overwhelmingly close and light years away. We are both older and I’d like to think a little wiser too. Take care of yourself, Astoria. I’ll be back soon.

Katelyn

P.S. I moved to Jersey. Don’t cry. 

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Queens Comfort, made famous by Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, has a line out the door every Saturday and Sunday 

 

 

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A magical breakfast from Brooklyn Bagel 

 

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Morning sunrise in Astoria Park 

 

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Beignets Banana Foster 

 

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The Particular Sadness of Dropping Lemon Pie

About two weeks ago, I created a beautiful no-bake lemon pie. I whipped cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk together with freshly squeezed lemon juice before delicately scooping all the ingredients into a graham-cracker crust. I gave my pie all evening to rest in the fridge before Pie & I boarded the N and the 4 train, making transfers at 59th Street/Lexington Avenue en route to work. 

At work, dear reader, my little lemon pie came to its demise when it fell off the kitchen counter and landed upside down on the floor. A new co-worker I hadn’t yet met rushed to my aid. She made that ‘gasp’ noise that people tend to do when desserts topple to the ground.

“It wasn’t homemade, was it?” she asked as I scooped cream cheese from between my fingers. “It was,” I said “but things like this happen. “

My pie incident is not the saddest nor the most interesting thing that has happened in my life. Since then, I’ve set phone appointments with VPs, became certified in my field, and drank margaritas late into a Monday evening. But the memory of my pie still lingers. I had put love and energy into something that faced an untimely death and for that moment in time, life didn’t seem fair. 

I still haven’t touched my baking utensils–the measuring spoons, cups, nonstick trays–as I mourn for the pie that was never enjoyed by those for who it was intended. I felt as if New York City swooped in and tried to teach me a lesson. People don’t bake here. The kitchens are too small. There just isn’t enough time. New York buys glossy cupcakes on the way to a friend’s birthday party on the Upper East Side and swings by its favorite French bakery to pick up a legendary chocolate mousse pie. In store windows, I pass desserts as perfect as the people: tailored suits and polished heels ready for another day of success and perfection. In these moments I miss my messy Massachusetts kitchen where perfection was replaced by a constant flow of  lumpy pound cakes, underdone brownies and a thin layer of flour covering the counters and floor. 

The pie was originally intended for my boyfriend’s sister to order to properly celebrate her upcoming European backpacking adventure. Instead, I showed up empty-handed with only vague tips and advice to offer. I now remember recommending a book to her; a book she later read and agreed it was a perfect summer read. That book was called: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.

Parting with people and with desserts can be such sweet sorrow. 

—-

Here is the simple (and embarrassingly) Betty Crocker recipe:

 

pie

 

July in New York City

Summer, if anyone is wondering, has arrived in New York City. The humidity crouches outside every store, office building and Duane Reade waiting to accost each human being who leaves the comfort of air-conditioned heaven. Every afternoon, there is a Mister Softee truck selling ice cream cones on Wall St. for the hot and sweaty traders. Back at home, I spend countless evenings on top of my covers while the window fan blows thick, wet air around my room in vain. Yes, summer has definitely arrived.  

IMG_3157This past weekend was July 4th and despite my excitement for fireworks and beaches, I learned the hard way that no self-respecting New Yorker stays in the city. No one. These forward-thinking individuals make plans for the Hamptons, New Jersey shores and literally anywhere else in traveling distance in order to avoid the swarming locusts affectionately known as TOURISTS. But despite the mass exodus, our little apartment on 41st St. gathered the last remaining souls of a Friday BBQ and a perfect start to the long weekend. We played games, drank beer and generally lounged. More than one neighbor slowed down while walking past and I’d like to think they approved of our kick-off weekend activities.  

JULY 4TH

The summer I interned in Washington, D.C., I spent the entire afternoon lying on a blanket and staking my claim for a prime grassy spot near the Washington monument. As my friends arrived and the sun set, we listened to a big brass band and clapped for the best firework show I’d ever seen. And while there were crowds and noise, I felt like I was at the heart of America celebrating with the forefathers’ newest generations. This perfect memory of our nation’s capital was in no way related to another very American showing five years later (July 4, 2015) on Coney Island: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating ContestIMG_3185

The ride to Coney Island itself is an epic journey, almost 1.5 hours from Queens through Manhattan and out to the southern rim of Brooklyn. Thousands of families, couples, young kids and enthusiasts sporting live snakes and colorful outfits showed up for the event. The smell of hot dogs, cotton candy, small children and sweat mixed and floated through the crowd. Above the din, I could just make out the screaming voices coming from the various theme park attractions and roller coasters near the beach. 

IMG_3177There is something simultaneously inspiring, revolting and ultimately patriotic about watching grown adults try to stuff as many Nathan’s hot dogs into their mouths as possible. In only 10 minutes with the aid of water and jumping (to assist gravity), Matt Stonie ate 62 hot dogs to beat out the reigning champion, Joey Chestnut. The crowd went wild in the remaining seconds and I couldn’t help but feel like all of America was cheering for something grander than the simple consumption of wieners. 

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Daina (2 hotdogs) came nowhere near the female record of 38 hot dogs set by Miki Sudo
Boyfriend Billy with his flag-inspired socks
Boyfriend Billy with his flag-inspired socks

As the event ended and our little party neared the beach, it began to rain. The drizzle was enough for us to roll up our damp towels and hop back on the N,Q bound for Brooklyn. While the original plan was to watch a movie in A/C (decidedly American), we stumbled upon Patsy’s Pizzera and immediately fell in love. The pizza was glorious and we had the back patio all to ourselves. The service was only second to the personalized visits from the owner, naturally named Tony, who gave us sangria and shots of Grappa on the house. Full of delicious food and a slight buzz, we made our way to the grocery store to purchase necessary snacks for the evening firework stake out.
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I want to tell you about the visit to my friend’s apartment in Park Slope and the angry taxi driver who navigated the streets of Brooklyn to bring us toward the East River but there just isn’t time. Sufficient to say, we found a beautiful location between the Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge where we laid our towels and waited for the rest of our party to arrive. By 9:30pm, our group of 11 looked south with eager anticipation as the first firework lit up the sky. 

The confusion and disbelief last approximately 15 seconds before the majority of the crowd realized the fireworks were being shot off directly behind their line of sight. The very sturdy and thick foundation of the Manhattan Bridge completely blocked our view from all but the edges of the largest explosions. Immediately, the masses made their decision. The crowd split into those who began running south for a better view and those who simply laid back down and cracked open a beer. Our little group did a combination of the two and I was able to capture the finale from my prime location behind a small tree. 

A small wish to you, dear readers:

“May your humidity be low, your spirits high, and your stomachs full in all the days following our country’s birthday until July 4th returns one year later bringing new Old Navy flag shirts and iffy promises of sunny skies.”

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