Category Archives: family

Well I’m A Middle Child, So…

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When you are born a middle child, like I was (second in a line of three girls), people are never shy in sharing with you, their thoughts on why you are the way you are. You’re sensitive; you need a lot of attention; and my favorite, which I heard just last week: you’re dealing with a Jan Brady complex. A lot of it, I laugh off, but on occasion, I do find it interesting to analyze what effect my birth order actually did have on me. Maybe it is because I wasn’t the eldest, who was trusted, and handed all of the responsibility by mom and dad, or because I wasn’t the youngest, who was always given that extra nudge, coddled just a little more, that I played alone as a child and that it was me who decided to go to school 1100 miles away from home and be ok on my own for the next two decades. Perhaps there is a correlation; I really don’t know. But one thing I am pretty sure is a result of being stuck in the middle all those years, is that I always need that pat on the back that says I’ve done well—that little bit of reassurance to bolster my confidence, even when it’s for something I have no doubt I’ve executed without a hitch.

Case in point:

It was last week, when my boss put me on the task of organizing the menu for a working dinner with a new project team which included, in addition to him and a few of my co-workers, two outside consultants and a [very important] client from China. Sure, I could do this, no problem. If there is anything that I know for certain I’m good at, it’s preparing a beautiful meal. From choosing the dinner plates and table linens to arranging the flowers, and writing the place cards and crafting the menu itself, I’m your girl. I love to do it and I know I do it well.

So the meeting was on Friday and I got word end of day Wednesday. Fine. A day to plan was plenty. Before leaving for the evening I sent a kind inquiry to my point person for the Chinese client, asking if they had any preferences for our dinner, or, more importantly, if they had any dietary restrictions.

Mid-morning the following day, I received a note back that read something along the lines of: “Healthy, not too greasy…Greasy food is not good choice… Small pieces of beef are ok…as long as not greasy.”

I kid you not.

I read it three times, during which my mind toggled back and forth between pictures of a raw, Gwyneth Paltrow-style spread of “healthy” food, and the carnivore’s delight: a juicy, rare steak. I was sure that this dinner meeting with our Chinese client was not the occasion to experiment with either extreme however, so I started thinking of more universally appealing options– a menu that fell somewhere sort of in between crazy-healthy and indulgent. Ideas began swirling. I started looking at websites for all of the local ‘purveyors of fine foods’, browsing catering menus. Nothing seemed quite right. It was that “small pieces of beef” line that kept throwing me. Would he mention beef if he didn’t want beef? No! He wanted beef. Beef, beef! Citarella had a Filet Mignon platter and at Dean & DeLuca there was a Provence Grill platter or a Pan-Asian platter. (Though, a Pan-Asian platter is weird for a Chinese client, right?) Anyway, a group of eight was really too small to go the catered platters route, so I figured I’d put something together myself, prepared of course, as I don’t have a working kitchen at my disposal.

I took a venture to the nearby Whole Foods thinking skewers, and made a beeline to the dinner-ready window. Et voila! There they were, piled high, calling my name. I would do a few chicken, a few beef, a mixed greens salad and a nice side of grilled veg for the non-meat eaters, and a summer pearl couscous (or some equally delicious starch). Well, my hopes were dashed as fast as the brilliant plan had come to me—when the man behind the counter explained that the skewers need to be reheated and that the recommended method of doing so is low heat on a stovetop. Ok, so skewers were out and it was on to Plan B. At least I got the starch and the salad.

On the walk back to the office I shuffled through the list of restos in the vicinity that with some sweet-talking might make me exactly what I wanted and deliver it hot. Then back at my desk it was a call to a new place just around that corner at which I’d recently discovered (and I say this because it’s a sports bar) a surprisingly good menu that includes, what else but skewers.  So after trying to explain to two lovely Irish gals what exactly I wanted to do [and getting nowhere] I was finally connected to the chef himself.

“So I’ll take four orders of the chicken skewers… and…do you have any beef?”

“We don’t have beef skewers but we’ve got steak.”

“Hmmm. Steak could work. What kind of steak?”

“Steak Frites with an herb butter. It’s a prime-aged, grass-fed hangar steak.”

“Is that what I see in the picture on your website?”

“Yes it is.”

“Well that does look delicious. Can you make me three of those medium-rare hold the frites?”

“Three of those, medium-rare, hold the frites. Sure thing.”

“And do you have any sort of vegetable?”

“I got a roasted vegetable– chickpea, tomato, artichoke hearts, asparagus…”

“I’ll take three!”

And at that, everything had fallen into place.

At 6:30 my culinary work of art was finished—the paper takeout cartons were traded for ceramic serving dishes and made pretty with sprigs of watercress and bright purple leaves of radicchio, and under the lights, gently dimmed for effect, our minimal black dinnerware looked elegant. The glasses had a delicate sparkle to them, and somehow the silverware looked shinier than usual. Any trace of Whole Foods or sports bar menu had disappeared, and now it was nothing less than a gorgeous feast. I opened a bottle of white and a bottle of red, fluffed the lettuce greens one last time and smiled to myself, content with my little masterpiece, pleased with my mission accomplished. But of course, there was still one thing I would wait for….

The next morning at work, there were the expected rumblings around the office about how the meeting had gone, and from the boss-man, there were a handful of thank yous—to everyone on the team, for all the hours they’d put in, for all the hard work. Of course, my contribution was minor in comparison—a day of my life instead of weeks—but when it came to me, there was no acknowledgement at all, like the dinner had never happened…or better, as if I’d tossed my hands up and served McDonald’s to our guests, paper wrappers and Happy Meal boxes included. So I fixed dinner. Still, it was my effort. And I wanted that reassurance that my effort was appreciated; maybe even impressive. When noontime came, there was still not a word. Was it that he had forgotten? Or had he said nothing on purpose? Was my version of beautiful so far from his? My ‘masterpiece’ really nothing so special at all? My mind began in a downward spiral. But wait… There was still hope. The day was not over. There was still his goodbye.

And then there before me, it happened. Or… it didn’t. “Good night,” he said, buttoning his raincoat. “I’ll see you Monday.” My heart sank. And from behind my blank-faced “goodnight” in reply, my inner Jan Brady set off in hysterics—one part frustrated, one part confused and the rest just sad. And I felt like chasing after him in search of an explanation.

Wait a minute here? What about me? Did I not do well? Didn’t you mean to thank me?

It was an hour later when the note came. Via email. A thanks for a beautiful dinner and a job well done.

So, in the end, however late it arrived, I got what I wanted… or, being the middle child I am, what I needed. I guess that the lesson this time—because there’s always a lesson, no matter how grown up we are— is that beyond always trying to do my best, I should learn to live with the possibility that I might not get the pat on the back and feel content enough with the knowledge that I have done the job well.

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As I was sitting yesterday scribbling the last of my holiday to-dos, baffled by how fast the last few months have come and gone, despite the sights and sounds of Christmas all around me, I couldn’t get Thanksgiving out of my head. It’s weeks in the past already, I know, but for more reasons than one, it was special this year, so it’s stuck with me.

I was supposed to head down to Florida, as I usually do, for a mini vacay over turkey and leftovers with my parents and sisters, but four days before I was to leave, my dear Uncle Ray in Long Island passed away. So with funeral arrangements being made alongside the stuffing and the pumpkin pie, instead of going anywhere, I would stay put, have Thanksgiving with my Aunt Dorothy and cousins, and my family would come up here.

Initially, I couldn’t help but think: perfect timing. Here it is the start of the holiday season, the happiest time of year, and this saddest of all life events befalls us not even a week before. Looking back though, I think the timing—because unfortunately, this was something that would happen sooner or later—may have actually been just right. We were clinking our glasses at a holiday whose sole purpose is to give thanks; what better a time to sit for hours and talk about and give thanks for the life of our beloved uncle, husband, father? Over the three days that all of us family were together—my immediate six and Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Ray’s 24-plus—there were tears, of course, but a lot of laughter too. And even better than the laughter, there was a lot of love. In a house of so many, how could there not be?

It wasn’t the Thanksgiving any of us had planned for, but it was one of those weekends you didn’t want to end. I certainly did not want it to. In the words of Kit De Luca, goodbyes make me crazy. For me, a looming farewell sets off a trembling in my bones; everything begins to appear almost a shade of grey; and my eyes start to sting as their sockets fill up with hot tears that sit on the surface waiting for me to lose it. It happens every time. This time, it was of course, no different. There I am, standing in my aunt’s kitchen, getting ready to leave for the train station, my parents and sisters around me, making small talk, in hopes to intercept the imminent deluge they’re all too prepared for—my mother hugs me and the floodgates bust open. I’m a bawling mess, as always, as I set off on my way. For as many years as this has been happening, I’ve wondered if it will ever stop. And like it’s always easier to get over an old flame if there’s someone to replace him, I’ve come to figure out that these tears at leaving my parents and sisters won’t until I have my own husband and kids, who when it’s time to leave, will come with me.

I pray for that. I pray for it for myself, and I pray for it for my sister. What I want really, is what I saw at my aunt and uncle’s house that weekend—a family, bursting at the seams with children and grandchildren…for my parents to have that some day. What a work of art. Surely Uncle Ray was looking down with pride. Surely while he was here, he was grateful. And for him, all of us were grateful—for being the good man he was.

So Thanksgiving I will tuck away now. But I will always keep the memory of my very special Uncle Ray close to me. And maybe up in heaven he can put in a good word for me… so that prayer I have… soon comes true.

“Oh, You Want Me To Drive?!”

Living in New York, I can get by very easily without having to own a car, thanks to the MTA (despite its faults and fare hikes) and my trusty feet (despite their cuts and calluses). This doesn’t however mean that I don’t drive. I do whenever the need arises, and think I manage pretty well—once even maneuvering a 14-foot, windowless U-Haul truck down a Soho street to move myself from one apartment to the next. It’s been a while though, since that escapade—so long I can’t really remember the last time I took a seat behind the wheel on these mean streets. Well, that was until this past weekend, when my parents were in town.

My mother, a native New Yorker had an itinerary planned chock full of little adventures during their stay—a visit to this long lost relative or that old favorite place. Only instead of her or my dad doing the driving, like they did all on our of my childhood vacations in New York, it was my foot on the gas pedal. Their lives in my hands!

When I saw the car, (and once I regained my vision following a near-blindness set on by its neon blue exterior) I felt quite at ease, it being a Ford Explorer as opposed to anything in the 14-foot/windowless category. I climbed in, adjusted myself in the seat, acquainted myself with the dash and set us on our way. And then pulling out onto Second Avenue, suddenly (as my friend says), part of a massive school of fish rushing upstream (or uptown in our case), the nerves hit me. In this school there is no room for error; no guidance through your hesitation; and no allowance for quitting. It was me against the world– or at least me against the driving contingent of the upper east side on that particular Saturday. And in all truth, I was a minor basket case.

In the backseat, my mother toggled between her Tom Tom (which was clearly having issues, still stuck in Florida) and my blackberry, as I scolded her for rattling off too much at once: “One line at a time mom. I can’t memorize all of this. New York City driving is stressful, remember?!” In the front, my dad did his best at navigating us through the immediate—reading road signs, directing me in lane changes and so on. Poor man, if he even so much as replaced a windblown hair from out of his eyes I would yell at him: “No moving Daddy! You’re making me nervous.”

Over bridges, through tunnels, on parkways from one borough to the next…they we were, the brightest blue fish, keeping up with the rest of ’em.

I don’t really know how—perhaps it was the memories of family trips as a kid, or the stories my mother was telling that day—but somehow, soon enough, the knot in my stomach was gone and I was actually loving it, this crazy New York City driving thing. I thought of the million and one times we drove over bridges from my aunt’s house in Long Island to my uncle’s place in the Bronx and I remembered how funny I thought all the names sounded—the Triboro (before I realized what it meant) and the Throggs Neck (which of course I thought was Frog’s Neck). I remembered looking out the window as we would be approaching a bridge, hoping that there was really another side to it and that we wouldn’t end up in the water. I remembered the time I fell asleep in the back of the van next to my cousin Michael and how by some very bad stroke of luck my green Chewels gum ended up in his brown-black hair, and then my mother had to comb it out with peanut butter once we got to Uncle Dave’s.

Our minds collectively drifted in and out of memories and before long we arrived at City Island where my grandparents owned a neighborhood grocery store fifty something years ago. My mom reminisced about her days growing up in the Bronx– days at Orchard Beach and news stories of “mafia activity” in Pelham Bay Park. I imagined what it must have been like and thought how different from my New York life, but in some ways, how very much the same.

If I hadn’t actually had to pay attention through it, I could say it was a joyride. Definitely the best drive I’ve taken in a while. And despite how nerve-racking it can be, I actually think its something we non-driving New Yorkers (licensed of course) should force ourselves to do every now and then—to really feel the energy and craziness of this city that just isn’t the same on foot.

Loving This Part of Me

My mother always says that she knew immediately upon meeting my dad that he would be her husband. Her cousin was fixing her up with someone else, but when she saw my father and liked him better, said he was the best looking man at the dance. He has always been handsome, and back in the day, he was quite the good-looking dude, with thick, chestnut-brown hair, navy blue eyes and a warm smile. The most prominent feature on his face—what this post is really all about—is his nose. It always has been and it always will be. It’s a big one. But my mother looked past it and fell in love with him. She did however tell him once they were happily wed (and jokingly of course, though we all know jokes are usually truths we’re afraid to admit) that should any of their children be blessed/cursed with his nose, he would have to pay for rhinoplasty!

Well, lucky me, I got daddy’s nose. My mother begs to differ. In fact most people do. I understand why. My dad’s nose is big, as I mentioned before. Mine is not. From the front it is quite cute, I would say. It’s small, sort of bony and fits my face nicely. From the side, however, it is an exact replica of my father’s. Take my word—throughout my teen years I spent many a night in between two mirrors studying my profile and praying for it to grow prettier. Why couldn’t I have the straight nose like my younger sister, I wondered. Or like my older sister, one that is subtly sloped and points ever so slightly upwards at the tip…cuter even than Samantha’s from Bewitched. Instead mine has a big bump at the bridge, elongated nostrils and points just a titch downwards. Basically, it is my dad’s nose miniaturized. (Last time I discussed this with my mother, and showed pictures as proof, she started to agree).

So rhinoplasty. It was on my mind a lot when I was younger. I wanted a perfect nose. If my parents couldn’t afford it I would save all my pennies and pay for it myself. I thought about it, and asked for it, and saved my money…And then I started to grow up. I started to see my nose as a special part of who I am. So it has a bump like my dad’s but there’s no mistake that I am his daughter. I look at it (only on occasion these days) and scoff at the idea I once had to get it fixed, to change my God-given face for vanity when it’s really not so bad anyway. In a way it breaks my heart to think I ever wanted to trade it in.

This past weekend I had some friends in town from Florida. It was K’s birthday and everyone wanted to celebrate New York City style. Through another well-connected Manhattan friend we managed to get ourselves into a swanky private club I ordinarily would never set foot into, first because I’d never get in the door being the ordinary gal I am and next because I don’t typically cavort with the model/celeb crowd. It was fun for a night but in all honesty I felt just a little out of place amongst the sculpted figures and smoothed out faces—breasts perfectly round, lips plump, eyebrows lifted and yes, noses straightened. To each his or her own I always say, so if that means a little nip-tuck-slice-dice, fine. Heck maybe one day I’ll be bothered by my laugh lines and want some work done. As for my nose however, I’m glad my parents couldn’t afford rhinoplasty and that my jar of loose change was a few pennies too short. I’m thankful for the time I had to grow into my nose and finally love it, bump and all.