Living in New York City comes with many indigenous rituals and idiosyncrasies. Not surprisingly many have to do with food. Whether it’s the late-evening dinner custom, 24 hour delivery or the almost religious fervor with which brunch is observed, New Yorkers have serious opinions around food.
One of the things I still find astounding is that despite super high rent and expensive dining options, a large majority of New Yorkers do not cook. Do they have second shift jobs they never speak of, I wonder? How else do they afford to eat out for every meal? Although I’m mostly used to it by now, I’m still a little surprised when someone I have just met unabashedly brags to me that they in fact never use their kitchen, except possibly to store clothes or some other non-kitchen items. My eyes widen at the thought as I’m reminded of the Carrie Bradshaw quote from Sex and the City, “I keep sweaters in my stove.” It was then that I knew I was most definitely NOT a Carrie. I mean, I keep pots and pans in my bedroom…when I’m using my stove that normally holds my pots and pans! Because the 9 cabinets (yes I’m bragging) in our tiny New York kitchen aren’t enough for all of our culinary items.
More baffling to me than the non-cooking credo of New York, however, is that of the single New Yorker. “I would cook, if I had someone to cook for…” is a phrase I hear more often than you would guess. Puzzled, I find myself wanting to shout, “What about you?” Aren’t you someone? You deserve delicious home cooked meals with or without a date! I found this discovery fascinating when I first moved to the city. I couldn’t fathom the idea of resigning myself to a life of takeout until the day someone came along to fill the seat next to me, thus saving me from a life devoid of home-cooked meals.
I love eating out and this city definitely offers a limitless array of options for even the most finicky diner. Gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, you name it; there’s a restaurant or takeout place that caters to it. But just the same, it has never occurred to me, even once that dining out could or should be my default setting. Long before the stars aligned and Mike walked into my life and my tiny kitchen, I was cooking daily meals, on a consistent basis for one, someone…ME! And sure, economics was a factor, but mostly I just derived such pleasure and satisfaction from creating an entire tasty meal out of a few ingredients, some sub-par cutlery and hand me down pots and pans, that I couldn’t imagine not doing it.
Perhaps if I was good at sports or played a musical instrument, I wouldn’t need the validation. Or maybe I’m not good at sports or music because my true talent and appreciation is with food and feeding people. That was troublesome as a child since I couldn’t bake Italian cookies for the school talent show, but it’s incredibly fulfilling as an adult.
I guess growing up in a house where we almost never ate out, didn’t hurt and likely nurtured this affinity for cooking. My mom was always an amazing cook and to this day, makes it look so effortless, as if the delectable meals she provides us just materialize out of nowhere. She never seemed to need a break from it either. Even when we went down the shore on vacation, we brought food from home or visited the Wildwood Acme and cooked most of our meals ourselves. Somehow this never felt restricting or like a sacrifice. In fact, it was fun! None of us grew up vowing not to cook when we became adults because of it. In fact we can all cook. Even my dad who was generally banned from our kitchen due to messiness, could cook a killer meal. His domain was the grill and he was the master, a skill my brothers inherited. My dad could grill the perfect medium rare steak, deliciously charred chicken, mouth watering ribs and the best burger you’ve ever tasted.
In my mind, if you wanted exceptional food you cooked at home and if you wanted a decent meal without the mess, you ate out. Even with all of the amazing restaurants in New York, part of me still believes this is true. In some ways I envy the non-cooks with their always clean kitchens and soft hands, free from endless dish washing, but for me the rewards far outweigh that sacrifice. My life of single cooking fostered great resourcefulness and left me with many go-to ideas for quick meals when pressed for time or “what’s in the fridge” meals when pressed for cash.
What I’ve come to realize is that much like living in New York, cooking in New York comes down to one main thing. You have to really want it. People don’t live in this city by accident. It’s too expensive. Likewise, people living in New York do not give up their precious free time to cook when they have so many available options, unless they are getting some intrinsic value out of the actual process of cooking. Because let’s face it, not all of our meals are masterpieces, but every attempt whether a grand plan or quick fix, is a luxury, time spent doing what makes us happy. So perhaps we’ll never be true New Yorkers and we’ll always lack that certain edge, but I’m OK with that. Instead, I take comfort in one of the greatest compliments I have ever received. Years ago, my dad recounted a conversation he had with one of his customers at the barber shop. They were talking about food and cooking and my dad bragged to this guy that even when the fridge looks empty, his daughter could make a delicious meal out of what seemed like nothing. I never forget that when I’m complaining that there’s nothing in our fridge. Secretly I feel happy and right where I should be, living up to my dad’s opinion of me.
Here’s a great recipe to cook for one or many. You can use chicken as the name would inaccurately suggest, but I prefer veal. Check out the recipe to to see what I’m talking about