"New York was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself."

-- Joan Didion, from 'Goodbye to All That'

[ Self-portrait in a lower Manhattan window, July 2012, a few weeks before moving to New York ]

So, there's a topic I've been dancing around recently, one that's been simmering over low heat for some weeks and months now and can't be ignored any longer.

We're leaving New York.

It's not a statement I thought I'd be making just shy of the two-year anniversary of my move here, but it's no real surprise to me, either. Let me explain. My infinitely romantic notion, to borrow Joan Didion's phrase, was not exactly of the city itself but of the change I desperately needed to find back in the summer of two years ago. That was a summer of groundshaking changes for me, and I wanted to feel new ground under my feet and see new sights flicker past my window every day for a while until the shaking passed. Add to all these reasons the rather large, important fact that I was crazy in love with a man who lives in New York City, and the choice was easy to make. I leapt, and I did it for love, and I'd do it again. Plus, you know, I kept thinking about the food.

I mean, how do you not think crushingly, adoringly, breathlessly about the food? Have you met this city?

[ Just two amazing examples: part of the breathtakingly beautiful display of produce on offer at Eataly, and a bowl of ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar ]

I saw myself walking down the pavement eating a true NYC street dog, I saw myself shopping at the greenmarkets, I saw myself sitting down to a picnic in Central Park, I saw myself eating at tiny ramen shops and dim sum palaces and all the restaurants I'd only ever read and fantasized about. I saw a lot of things happening very quickly, like a movie playing in my head (maybe it was even in black & white, maybe it was Gershwin-scored, maybe it was Manhattan?). Fast forward two years, and the crazy love I held my breath and leapt for that summer has deepened into a real relationship that feels like it's got the kind of staying power you wait for your entire life. And all those eating-centered things I'd imagined doing, all those new opportunities? I've done them....not all of them, you'd need a lifetime in New York even to attempt it and I don't intend to stay that long at the feast, but I've stayed long enough that I feel comfortable in pushing back from the table.

It's been a feast from day one, what more can I say? It's been the most wonderful city in the world. It's been the most terrible city in the world. It's seen me emerging into the sparkling sunlight with the broadest of grins, it's seen me descending the darkest stairways to cry, grimly and alone, unnoticed on the subway like a proper New Yorker. But it's never been my city, not even really for a moment.

And I will say this, I have to say this, it's expensive. Not even in the way things were expensive back in Joan Didion's New York, when things may have been tight but it was still possible to make rent on a charming little apartment somewhere in Manhattan without five roommates, still possible to eke out your living in a creative field. But now, now things are steeply, vertiginously, breathtakingly expensive. I'm not the first, or the hundredth or even plausibly the millionth to add her exhaled breath to the chorus of voices all saying the same thing; I'm not the first to point out the impossibilities for the artistic class to afford even the smallest slice of the dream (and it's our fault, maybe, because no matter what the time period we all seem to arrive with the stars in our eyes from living-in-the-city fantasies that are at least twenty years outdated).

Things get messy. It's crowded. It's inconvenient. The MTA does not love you. I walked around with an unaccustomed, protective scowl on my face most of the time, I admit this to you. I love New York in June, as the old song goes, how about you? Yes, definitely. But do the sidewalks really smell like hot garbage come July? Yes, I am sorry to report that is also true. Whatever once seemed rational, while you were living anywhere else, starts to slip away. The day you find yourself weighing, should I really buy groceries, or should I recharge my Metrocard so I can get to work, you may find yourself where I was. And there comes a point when all your savings have inevitably been ground away and you realize you've been grinding away for some time now and you turn to the person you're sharing your life with and wonder, wouldn't you rather see all this blazing, burning energy actually go toward building something? Toward owning a place of your own one day, toward building a career and a life somewhere less cramped, where there's still room to grow at all?

Oh yes, it's thoughts like these, my friend, that will get you thinking about leaping yet again.

And so, here we are, just shy of two years later (for me, although Tim has been here for eight), staring down the barrel of yet another cross-country move. It's a pilgrimage in reverse for both of us: we're moving back to Phoenix, the city we both hail from, the city we met in long ago, and the city we're hoping to call home for the duration of whatever is the next phase.

People are going to ask why. I'm going to tell them everything I've just told you.

People are going to sneer as if to say, eh, fine, love it or leave it mmmkay? I do love it, in a certain kind of way, but I am most certainly going to leave it.

People are--I hope, I sincerely hope this is true of at least a few people--are going to whisper privately to me, I get it.

[ Look at this sweet young thing in 2012, about to move to Brooklyn ]

For those who remain unconvinced, I'm going to point them towards the rest of the Joan Didion quote I began with, excerpted from her seminal 1967 essay 'Goodbye to All That' on (what else?), leaving New York City:

"You see I was in a curious position in New York: it never occurred to me that I was living a real life there. In my imagination I was always there for just another few months, just until Christmas or Easter or the first warm day in May...I am not sure that it is possible for anyone brought up in the East to appreciate entirely what New York, the idea of New York, means to those of us who came out of the West and the South. To an Eastern child...New York is just a city, albeit the city, a plausible place for people to live. But to those of us who came from [elsewhere], New York was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself. To think of 'living' there was to reduce the miraculous to the mundane; one does not 'live' at Xanadu."

[ My almost-daily view looking out over Queens and the rest of the city beyond, from the high-up perch of the Queensboro Plaza stop. At times, it was downright spectacular. I will miss this view on days like these. ]

Because I am a planner by nature, and because you deserve a recipe after slogging through that heartfelt outpouring of mixed-up feelings above, here's a recipe for something I recently concocted called Rhubarb Custard Crumble. It appeals to the planner-by-nature in me because rhubarb season is fleeting (and now, basically over). I bought up a few extra stalks of rhubarb at the peak of their season a few weeks ago, chopped them into 1/2" rounds and froze them until I decided what their delicious fate would be. A few days ago, I decided on this crumble. It doesn't require as much planning as a 2,500 mile move across the country, to be sure, but a little forethought goes a long way.

Rhubarb Custard Crumble

Serves 4

My dad is British, which means he has a genetic predisposition to want to pour warm, runny custard all over everything remotely fruit-dessert-pie-like (which could not horrify the pie-and-a-neat-scoop-of-vanilla-ice-cream loving Americans more). While I applaud the Brit side of this debate, it must be admitted that the effect of puddles of liquid custard combining with sticky bits of pink fruit and crumbly topping is......unpleasantly nonphotogenic, to say the least. 

As a solution to my desire to eat custard with my pie but also to keep everything neatly contained and spoonable, I've come up with a solution that inverts the 'pie' to sit atop the custard. It's delicious. It's ingenious. You're welcome, Great Britain. :)


3 egg yolks
1/2 pint cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar

Rhubarb Compote:

2 cups rhubarb
1/4 cup sugar
2 T. orange juice

Crumble Topping:

1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup rice flour
2 T. cold butter, cut into cubes
1/8 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350. Beat 3 egg yolks in a mixing bowl lightly until combined. In a small saucepan, warm the cream just barely to a boil over medium high heat, whisk in vanilla and sugar until fully dissolved. Pour slowly in a thin stream into the bowl containing the egg yolks until fully combined, whisk gently. Pour into four small (mine are 6 oz. Pyrex custard cups) ramekins until each is half filled. Place in a baking pan large enough to hold all four cups, fill pan with hot water until the level of the water outside the cups is level with the custard inside them. Carefully place pan in preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes.

While custard is baking, prepare the rhubarb compote and crumble topping. For the compote, place rhubarb, sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan, stir until well combined. Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fruit has softened and begun to fall apart and resemble preserves. Remove from heat.

In a mixing bowl, combine oats, rice flour, butter and salt, pinch together with your fingertips until mixture is coarse and crumbly.

Carefully (beware of sloshing water) remove pan containing custards from oven. Custard will have barely begun to set at this point. Gently spoon 1/4 of rhubarb compote into each ramekin, top with crumble topping, place back in oven. Bake for another 25 minutes, until topping is golden and crunchy. Remove and let cool slightly, serve warm (can also be chilled completely and served cold).