One of my best friends from college (the Consulting Artist) lives in NYC. In many ways, she is one of my rocks, one of my constants that helps keep my world in balance. Her fiancee (the Musician Artist) is also warm and lovable. They both make me smile and help keep me grounded in real life every time I see them.
This last weekend might end up being the last time for two years (though, they are considering coming to see us either in Togo or when we take our R&Rs). We did everything we could to maximize our time and to really enjoy it. CA took us out to a fantastic diner in her Brooklyn neighborhood for Saturday brunch, and then we went to the East Village and got take-out for dinner. All the ladies (both Artists and the Teacher) wanted S’MAC, and I will admit it was the best Mac and Cheese I’d had (except for the feta mac and cheese the Teacher made once). However, I had one very specific thing I’d wanted since our last trip to NYC: Xi’an Famous Foods.
Some background: Almost 10 years ago, I spent a semester in Beijing, studying at ACC. While there, we spent a few days in the city of Xi’an, and I fell in love with it. It wasn’t just the Terra Cotta Soldiers, or the tombs, or even the fantastic techno club we went to. I fell in love with the food. In particular, Xi’an had two things I loved and needed. The first was simply corn bread muffins, which cured my homesickness. (I’m from the south, and I had started craving real, not-sweet cornbread. A small Muslim bakery had them!)
The second was “yang rou pao mo”.
This is a dish I’ve never seen in any Chinese restaurant here in the US. I rarely saw it in Beijing, and then it was a pale shadow of the real Xi’an thing. However, in that small little take-out place, it was the real deal. Oh my god. I was taken back 10 years, to a young(-ish) kid first learning about the world. I didn’t even know what cumin was back then, but I knew I loved it.
And it was even good the next morning. (There was WAY too much to finish for dinner. Esp. when my friends kept giving me bits of their mac and cheese to try.)
The night was then spent playing “Munchkin” and goofing off. The next morning, the CA and the Teacher went to a “junk” store, and she picked up a jewelry box and some other cool stuff. The CA found some old photos to use in her art.
The drive up and back was long, and I would have loved way more time with the Artists. When we got home, we were completely exhausted. However, it was also totally worth it.
I think, in this line of work, these friendships outside the Service, who live in the US, are beyond necessary. They help us remember the American perspective (or an American perspective), and remind us of why we do this. I’ll do everything I can to maintain this, even from a thousand miles away.
With that in mind, I’m going to plug for my friends’ work. Anyone who reads this, take a look at their stuff. The Musical Artist (aka Kayla Oberlin) has a page up with her music here and the Consulting Artist (aka Beth Hommel) has a few sites, including her consulting page and her own art page. I’ve bought several of Beth’s pieces for our apartment, and she did our wedding photos. I’ve also bought Kayla’s album.