June 4th, 2024

“What are you doing?!” My mother is horrified.

At first I think she’s shocked that I’m putting butter on coffee cake, but then I realize it’s not the butter itself she’s dismayed by but the way in which I am carving the butter. Without even thinking about it, I have mindlessly shaved a thin slice of butter off the very top of the stick in its dish with the butter knife. 

This is not the right way to carve butter. Everyone knows this.

The right way is to neatly snip a unit of butter off either end. That way, the stick of butter itself retains its integrity, getting shorter and shorter but staying nice and tidy. I know this is a thing, because several years ago, when I first caught my husband molesting the butter by shaving from the top, I myself was horrified and accused him of being a selfish heathen.

“Who cuts butter like that?” I demanded of him, in disgust. My mother witnessed this exchange, and she was definitely on my side. Neither of us had ever experienced such a flagrant destruction of a respectable butter stick. So uncivilized and short-sighted.

But now, over ten years in, I have apparently taken on my husband’s terrible butter-stick habit, and I am embarrassed and ashamed. I have to admit, though, that it does make for nice, thinly shaved butter, which spreads so much more readily on a crumbly item. 

Maybe I shouldn’t be so dogmatic.

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The reverence to butter struck me in a small restaurant in the East Village called Foul Witch, where I dined alone last Thursday. I ordered a rose-pink mocktail and settled into my book as the server dropped a plate of homemade sourdough and whipped butter. That first bite was sublime. Had I been with a friend, deep in conversation, I may not have noticed how very delicious bread and butter can be. Had I been with my family, forget it. 

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My trip to New York was a solo cultural immersion. I went to the Met for the first time in my life. (How had I never been to the Met?) I was very excited to see two particular exhibits: Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion? and Harlem Renaissance. The latter was a stunning collection, mostly portraits and other paintings, of “the new Black cities that took shape in the 1920s–40s in New York City’s Harlem and nationwide in the early decades of the Great Migration.” Sumptuous

I did not bother to stand in line for the highly hyped fashion exhibit. Far too many people. So many people! Instead, I wandered off in search of a bathroom and ended up in this quiet, forgotten corner of ancient Buddhist and Hindu art.


The volunteer who kindly and expertly oriented me had not mentioned this part of the museum on her long, long list of “things you must see while you are here.” So I was pleasantly surprised to find this peaceful place full of ancient Buddhas and gods of the more righteous variety. I wanted to live there, among these stoic, serene gods and their sheer, utter quiet.

But far too much to do. When I left the Met, I walked across Central Park to catch the subway, but discovered the line un-running and ended up walking back to my hotel on a lovely Friday afternoon in early summer, with all of humanity on full glorious display.


In my 48-hour cultural and societal immersion, I managed to sit front row at the incredible Broadway production Hadestown (fucking A good) and stop in at the New York Public Library. I saw the edgy live performance that is Times Square on a warm afternoon in June, had an intimate dinner with a good friend at Foxface Natural in the East Village, and enjoyed subway art.

Screenshot 2024-06-04 at 9.42.53 AM

On top of that, I watched two very good movies alone in my hotel room: Zone of Interest (shudder) and The Lost Daughter (ouch) — both stories of motherhood that were very hard to watch. 

Specifically odd to watch them alone in a hotel room in NYC, three states away from my family. 

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Living in a family is not an easy thing. I came home from two days in NYC and was appalled at the state of our fridge. There was a half an onion bare naked in the crisper, fouling the entire atmosphere, and a half a watermelon on a plate left over from a farmstand bacchanalia I had missed. Expensive condiments had been shoved to the back, forgotten and souring, and a chalky white smudge adhered to the middle shelf. 

I dropped everything to clean and front-face the fridge, and while it took a while—time I could definitely have spent doing, for instance, the five loads of laundry on deck or weeding my prodigal garden—I felt so much better afterwards. I closed the fridge door, then reopened it to admire my work.

Later, Jon made himself lunch for the next day and ruthlessly shoved the tin into the fridge, violently unsettling all the lovely front-faced, chronologically arranged jams and kim chis and homemade salad dressings back into the netherworld of the fridge top shelf. I did cry, but not for long. There was too much laundry to do, and our dishwasher is broken.

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In the city, I ate gelato on the street. I had a forbidden rice breakfast bowl in the lobby of Made Hotel two days in a row. I tasted cured mackerel and slurped down ‘nduja cappelletti in goat butter and chose not to try the kangaroo that was on the menu. 


I had an iced black tea with sparkling water “on the house” from a lovely barista at the hotel coffee shop. As I leafed through the playbill for Hadestown, I had a sweet exchange with the bartender who served my mocktail, who had also seen it recently. At the musical itself, during the standing ovation, there was a moment where I made teary eye contact with one of the leads and she kindly smiled at me. Everywhere, all around, New York reminds you: We are all in this together. 

Someday I will bring my daughters to the city.

But not just yet. 

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