I was thrilled to reconnect with my friend Paula last week when I returned to New York. We’d last seen each other in Paris on December 22, 2010 and since my parents refer to Paula as their other daughter, I invited her to Pennsylvania and she accepted.
We first got caught up on what each other did after we left Paris and then went through all of the photos from London, Florence, Rome, Marrakech, Madrid, Seville, Granada, Barcelona, and Paris. She reminded me of our dinner at Cinc Sentis in Barcelona where our server put on white gloves to handle a large piece of white truffle, carefully weighing it before shaving it over creamy polenta and poached eggs. We had to say “when” to have him stop shaving the truffle and he weighed it again afterwards to calculate how much he’d be charging us. How could I have almost forgotten!? Then came memories of all the free tapas we received in Granada, the olive oil and jerez tasting we did at La Oliva, anchovy stuffed olives and the fat boquerones we enjoyed in Madrid, following in Anthony Bourdain’s footsteps in Rome… We shared so many food memories to count and savor, not to mention walking around Alhambra, all the fabulous museums in London, Paula being awestruck at Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, so on and so on.
In contrast, the little town where my parents live in Pennsylvania is literally and figuratively miles away from our lives in New York or from the all the foreign places we’ve been. It’s not to say that things have remained the same here, however. Acres and acres of cornfields I was surrounded by as a child is now communities of McMasions with meticulously manicured lawns and the converted barn that used to be the local movie theater has been replaced with a strip mall. But even with all those changes I can still go to sleep with nothing but the sounds of crickets outside my window, and Paula and I have been having a great time in Pennsylvania just as we did in New York and abroad.
Our daily schedule almost resembles a vacation retreat/spa, with three home-cooked meals and a 5 mile hike each day. Paula figures that we mostly spend time eating (~60%), hiking (~30%), and the last ~10% goes to our other miscellaneous activities. We’ve been “working” in my Grandma’s vegetable garden (we do what we’re told- pick tomatoes and peppers, pull up this and that), pretending to be sous chefs to my Mom and aunt (we do take the lead when it comes to making cocktails, cheese plates, and putting together a nice Sunday brunch), and getting pampered (my aunt even prepared a kiwi-lemon-honey facial for us the other day).
Eating is a serious business at my parents’; menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking take up a significant portion of each day. Then comes our daily exercise. My whole family loves to walk and as seasoned professional New York City walkers Paula and I always say yes to a chance to be outside hiking somewhere. Our favorite hiking spot so far has been the Ralph Stover State Park in Bucks County, which has scenic valleys and varied terrains throughout. I really liked the “High Rocks” section of the park with a beautiful view of the creek below and the 2-hour loop trail kept us interested the entire time.
Pennypack Park’s trail was fully paved and I found it a bit monotonous, but our hike through the Wissahickon Valley Park yesterday was another good one. We purposely took a trail that ran up alongside the mountain and that made the hike more fun for us. If we don’t drive out to a park to hike, we take a stroll around the neighborhood for about an hour after dinner.
Tonight Paula and I took a walk, not to help digest our dinner but rather with dessert in mind. Our destination: Dairy Queen. I really think it has been almost 20 years since I last had DQ and for some reason, a blizzard from DQ is what Paula and I both craved today. The place was hopping when we arrived and because there were so many options to choose from, it took us a while to figure out what we wanted. After careful consideration, I ordered the “Triple Chocoholic” blizzard- chocolate chunks, dark chocolate fudge and truffles blended with vanilla soft serve ice cream. Paula had the “Nutter Butter” blizzard- Nutter Butter cookie pieces and NB peanut butter filling blended with vanilla ice cream, to which she asked for brownie chunks to be added. They were exactly what we wanted. Cold, sweet, smooth, and perfect. We both devoured our blizzards and soon enough, all I heard was the shy “scrape, scrape” of our plastic spoons hitting the bottom of the paper cups. We didn’t speak of the number of calories or grams of fat as we walked back in a sugar-high haze. Will there be a detox cleanse in the near future? Maybe.
I just searched online for the tourism slogan for Pennsylvania and the best I could find was “Pennsylvania: the State of Independence.”- it’s definitely not as catchy or memorable as “Virginia is for Lovers” or “I Love New York.” What can I say, Pennsylvania isn’t quite for lovers… My stay in PA so far has had nothing to do with American history of independence, nor is it filled with exotic attractions or molecular gastronomy. But I think Paula would agree that we’ll look back at our time in PA together fondly and I know I will smile when I remember all the fun we had here.
Tomorrow, we’ll get our city strut on and build more memories in Philadelphia.