Missing the Road

There are days when being grounded into a single place is no longer comforting, but consuming. I sit and try to pinpoint exactly what it is about “the road” that I long for so fiercely on those days. Is it the freedom, the newness, the unknown? It may be all three, or more. It may be that the open road gives you the kinds of things you didn’t realize you were missing. But the reality is that we can’t be driving out into the horizon all the time, as we don’t have the luxury of giving up steady jobs and other commitments to live this way. For this reason, we have to try to find this fulfillment in smaller doses, scattered out over the course of our year. I try to get to a place where I am not constantly chasing the next big adventure, but relishing in the mini versions that sit within arm’s reach. That could be as simple as going to my dad and step-mother’s house in NJ for the day, cooking as a family and sitting in the backyard, breathing the fresh air and absorbing the unusual calm—simply being somewhere different. That’s what I did last weekend, and being that I was dining with the Russian side of my family, there was no shortage of culinary fulfillment—roasted sweet potatoes with the skins on, baked fish with slivers of lemon and dill, crispy zucchini latkes, sauteed mushroom and asparagus salad, chopped tomatoes with pine nuts, smoked salmon and caviar—enticing us with diverse aromas—presented in stages, because some meals can’t be contained into a single serving.

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Last Friday, my mini-trip only took me as far as a different borough—Flushing, Queens for dim sum. For some reason, cruising along in a rocky subway car above-ground and gazing off into the more residential, less hectic side of the city was enough to fill a bit of my “newness” void. A few of us soup-dumpling-seekers spent the next few hours exploring an area well known for authentic Chinese food in a less tourist-laden section of the city than Manhattan’s China town. After cringing from the shock of the low-flying commercial planes (minutes from LaGuardia), we made our first stop at the bustling Asian Jewels Seafood Restaurant, for a brief but delicious dim-sum tasting. Lunch included fantastic fried pork dumplings wrapped in chewy, seasoned dough, spare ribs with roasted pumpkin, delicate shrimp shumai and the crowning glory—sweet egg custard steamed buns which were the closest representation I’ve ever found of the ones at Jenny’s Café in the east village (long closed down, but never forgotten!). They burst with lightly sweetened yellow custard as I bit into the fluffy buns. I was way too excited for my fellow dim-sum’ers to make sense of, and they gently volunteered their portions of the tiny bun order. I finally found some!!

Stop number two on our Queens food binge was Nan Xiang Dumpling House for neighborhood-famous soup dumplings, which we ordered several rounds of. Lifting the bamboo lid and watching the steam pour out over those perfect, mini dumplings was quite satisfying. I can still taste the salty juice inside the dumpling “bowl” that formed by biting off the top of each piece, complimented by the acid from the vinegar sauce. It was messy, but I wear my splattered shirt with pride.

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Stop three was the food court at New World Mall, where we dug into an extra-large wooden bowl filled with spicy tofu and vegetables in an aromatic red sauce, and coconut dusted mochi filled with chunks of fresh mango that offset the chewy wrapping.

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Getting back on the subway to re-enter the jungle of Manhattan was slightly disheartening, as I didn’t realize how relaxing such a short “trip” could be. We forget that New York is like a collection of little villages, and each is going to be an entirely separate experience. It’s worth seeing as much of it as you possibly can. Flushing was a breath of fresh air, and it filled my travel void because of its newness, however tiny that new experience was. I think that little adventures will be the means for keeping that travel drive alive inside me until I can nurture it on a larger scale. There will always be places that I haven’t been or that I need to visit, even if they only lie one state over or at the very end of the 7 train line.

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