As poets, gardeners and schoolchildren know, spring is a time of awakening and release. Snow melts, coats are shed and newly manicured toes start appearing on the street. It is relief, a literal breath of fresh air through the first opened window of the year, a lifting of the mantle of darkness that enveloped us for months. Spring officially sprang on Saturday, and last week’s heaven-sent seventy degree forecast gave rise to the promise of warm breezes and the taste of budding spring produce that is about to blossom. It also got me thinking about how far I’ve come in the seven months that have passed since autumn set in and both the weather and my heart turned cold…
There is a reason for spring cleaning that reaches beyond the practical; for the first time since the fall we feel newly inspired and invigorated, willing ourselves (and our kitchens) to sparkle with the excitement we experience at the sight of the first crocus leaves. Stirred by last week’s sunshine and the seven months of healing my heart has devotedly endured, I’ve already begun to dabble in some spring cleaning of my own. I’ve thrown away broken spatulas, well-worn shoes and the photos of “us” that used to adorn my bedside table. I’ve made space in my life, and in my tiny tenement-chic apartment, for the trappings of new furnishings, both of the fashion and compassion variety. I’ve even had my hair cut. The result is that I am more centered and happier than I have been in a long time. But I’ll be honest when I say that it took a lot of cooking, a lot of cocktails and one particularly cleansing voyage West to bring me to this point.
Travel takes many forms: exploration, education, relaxation, retreat, and of course, escape. Last October I took the kind of trip that, at the moment of booking, seemed absolutely necessary for my continued sanity. Fresh off my breakup with Mac, angry and hurting, I chose to pack for California. Fleeing the scene and leaving all its lingering memories behind, I ventured forth to make memories anew with my family and friends out in lala land. When I boarded the plane to LAX, as the colder winds were just starting to sink their claws into New York City, my mind and body were convinced that this getaway was pure escape. In the end, I discovered it was just as much an exploration.
I’ve said before that it’s only a matter of time before I become a West Coast girl. The sun, the sea and the produce are all so spectacular that it takes a serious amount of Northeast stubbornness to resist their seduction. Shedding the sweater and scarf I’d worn on the plane, I put the top down on my rented Toyota convertible and soaked it all in. I’m a Napa nerd, a slut for San Fran, a Big Sur babe, a Monterey Maven, call me me Crazy for Carmel, but even I admit Southern California has its own special charms, including spectacular Mexican food, towering palms, the cool pastels of mid-century modern architecture, and of course, the lingering glamour of Old Hollywood. Driving down Sunset Boulevard (Chateau Marmont on my left, my dear friend Amanda’s pad on my right), like winter’s last storm I finally felt the tender wounds of the past few weeks begin to melt away.
In West Hollywood I found my favorite red head waiting with her dog on his leash, both begging to adopt me for the next few days. And adopt me they did, not only taking me on a tasting tour of their favorite noshing spots across the city (like The Reel Inn, a seafood shack on the Pacific Coast Highway, Little Next Door, a fabulous French brasserie on 3rd Street, or Earth Bar for frozen smoothies made with smashed fresh fruit, and of course, Intelligentsia for my caffeine fix), but leading me through daily hikes round Runyon Canyon and sunset yoga classes at U Studio on Wilshire. Nourishing spirit and stomach astride, my appetite for life began to bounce back. I may not have been working, but once a foodie, always a foodie and Amanda, eager to indulge my every whim, said not a word when I announced my intention of shopping the heck out of every decent farmers’ market in L.A. County. In the end, though, I settled for just two.
The Grove farmers’ market on Fairfax and 3rd Street is the largest in LA and makes Union Square look like a roadside stand. Started in 1934, it’s now grown to house not just produce but permanent bookstores, antique stores and restaurants as well. It was here that I had the most drop-dead delicious Cal-Mex food in recent memory: nachos slathered in soft white cheese, beans and a sprinkling of cilantro and fresh tomatoes, as well as succulent pulled pork tacos and grilled shrimp arepas. For dessert, Amanda and I split a gooey, sticky hunk of salted-caramel from a local candy maker. I was eating again, and loving every bite!
The following morning after an early hike in the hills, stimulating to both the senses and the appetite, we hit up the Santa Monica farmers’ market, a favorite of area chefs who visit early for the best selection. Santa Monica is more in the New York style, with rickety folding tables, handmade signs and a changing assortment of fruits, vegetables and baked goods. The produce is definitely not in the New York style, however. Before me was stall after stall of citrus we can only dream of in NYC, including: tangelos, sour oranges, pink grapefruit, Meyer lemons, blood oranges and limes covered with swathes of netting to keep the flies away; there were piles of blaze carrots and Jerusalem artichokes, fields of ripe red strawberries, and of course, California’s classic party dip centerpiece, the avocado. After loading my bag with perfectly ripe, black Hass avocados, bunches of cilantro, jalapeños, mango and a few limes, we drove back to Amanda’s, where in her lovely California kitchen we found ourselves crying onion tears (a welcome relief from that other kind of weeping) as we mashed together my Tequila Spiked Mango Guacamole for lunch. Cooking, laughing and shooting tequila shots in concert, I felt so much lighter than I had in weeks. The California sun was doing its job and bleaching out both my hair and my sadness.
There was one more pilgrimage I had to make, and that was to a beach in Orange County that boasted much more than long walks along the shore of the gloriously craggy California coastline. In the OC I found my brother, his darling lady, and my Mamma (visiting from Buffalo), all waiting for me with open arms. We spent afternoons together eating crepes at seaside cafes and taking dips in the infinity pool. Mamma took us food shopping and together we cooked up feasts of family favorites like penne arrabiata con fava beans and corn on the cob, and grilled garlic-soy flank steak, paired with California’s prized wines. On a Sunday morning, my brother roused me out of bed to get to a 10am (!) Buffalo Bills football party wherein I treated the gathered Buffalonian transplants to breakfast burritos a la the fresh chorizo that’s so easily accessible in Cali, yet so ridiculously rare to find back home.
On my last night in California I took myself on a solo walk beside the sea. Oceans have always impressed me, scared me and seduced me all at once. Beachcombing with a clutch in one hand, a camera in the other, I was fully alone with my thoughts for the first time in weeks. Without restraint or the sneaky self-doubt that saddles up to your psyche after being dumped, I found myself pirouetting out of sheer joy. The dance reminded me of an earlier version of myself. One that was lighter, stronger and more alive. I realized that something new was about to happen for me, something that had been as tight as that knot I’d been carrying around in my shoulder was about to loosen its grip. I’d need to work on myself over the next few months…I’d need to work on lifting both my pirouette and my spirits toward the sky. Getting to know myself again as a single woman was going to take work, patience and a lot of waiting, but eventually, spring would come, and like the tulip, my perennial blossoming.