Last night, after the sun set and our work was all finished for the day, we opened a bottle of wine and watched the charming, oddly heartwarming old movie “Ball of Fire” with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, ate most of a pot of leek and potato soup with Tabasco, and turned in early. My sleep was restless and bad, maybe because the air is so dry this time of year, and the nights are so deep and quiet, sometimes it’s hard to sleep because my thoughts are so loud in my head.
We woke up to shaggy snow heaped over fields and tree branches and a snowy fog with the low sun breaking through to turn it all hazy gold. After coffee and two soft-boiled eggs with a piece of hot buttered toast broken into them (a favorite childhood breakfast that’s cozy and great on winter mornings), I threw together a car picnic, provisions for the drive to New York, which had the added advantage of emptying out the fridge and not having to stop at Panera’s in Connecticut. We drove away at 10:00, our car topped with a thick overhang of wet snow that slid off along the miles of dirt roads through the woods to the main road.
New Hampshire gave way, as it does, to Massachusetts. I fell asleep and awoke in Connecticut, where Brendan and I fell into a bleak knot of depression that didn’t lift until we crossed the New York border. We ate our lunch in near silence, aware that we were losers, that our lives were doomed, and that everything was futile. This may be true, but it seems far less so elsewhere. Does Connecticut have a magnetic anomaly in its atmosphere, or is it just us?
We drove down the West Side Highway, as luck would have it, at sunset. The sky was pink and gold, the river glowed, the city looked lit from within. We put the car in a garage for the weekend — it’s Christmas, dammit. And here we are, in a top floor room, with the view of the church across the street, in our favorite Hell’s Kitchen hotel, about to walk down through early evening holiday-season rush hour to jostle for two seats at the bar of our favorite bistro and splurge ourselves into a happy grinning heap. God, it’s good to be back.
Car picnics are best when they mimic actual, festive, intentional outdoor picnics — food that’s portable and easy to eat. Variety is essential for morale and sensory distraction. It’s good to have something warm, something creamy, something crunchy, something raw, something salty, and something sweet. To that end, heat up the leftover leek and potato soup from last night and pour it into a wide-mouthed Thermos, adding Tabasco and extra salt. Put the 3/4 log of goat cheese in a Baggie, wash and cut up some carrots and celery, unearth a box of sesame rice crackers, gather up all the dark chocolate in the house, and don’t forget the bag of salted roasted cashews and the rest of the orange juice. Put it all into a big paper sack and store it within reach of the shotgun passenger, who will obligingly feed the driver. In Connecticut, eat most of the chocolate and try to keep perspective: New York is just ahead.