A curious thing happened this morning. At URBN, there is an adorable man on a bike – Greg – who delivers coffees, juices and small food items to my building at 9, 12 and 3 o’clock every day. He parks directly under the chandelier and rings his bell, letting everyone know he’s open for business. Since my first day in the office, I was intrigued by him. He plays the part well. He dresses like you would imagine a newspaper delivery boy would dress in the 1950s. A smile is permanently plastered across his face, even when too-busy-to-eat-lunch, fast-paced fashionistas are swarming him, impatiently tapping their feet because God knows they’ll just die if they don’t get their coffee right now. (To be fair, I’ve been that person before.) Yesterday morning, I noticed a drawing on the opened (and dry-erase) lid of his cart. He had a quote written on the left, and abstract sketches of faces to its right. A single bird feeder was drawn, dangling from the top, and a small bird was flying towards it. On the very far right side, he had drawn a camera on a tripod, as if it were filming the entire scene: the faces, the bird feeder and the bird.
To write a good love letter, you ought to begin without knowing what you mean to say, and to finish without knowing what you have written.
– Jean-Jaques Rousseau
This morning, I was standing in line behind a woman and a man, who were talking about making their beds every morning. ”You don’t make your bed every morning? How can you even start your day?,” she asked. “Who has time to make their bed every morning?,” he retorted. They were next in line. Black coffees for both of them. All of a sudden, she stopped and pointed to the opened lid of the bike cart. “I want to make that into a lampshade.” She was pointing at another abstract face in a sea of abstract faces that Greg had drawn on his cart this morning. She asked if he was an artist, too. He blushed and kept his eyes towards the floor – he’s shy, I’m guessing – and said, “I’m actually a filmmaker.” She skimmed over his response, and insisted to the man in line with her that she needed that face to be on a lampshade. As she walked away, I caught a small half-smile on his face. “I guess this is the future of lampshades,” he said. “Anyways. Black coffee for you too, right?” I nodded at this curious man, and watched the woman and the man scurry back to their desks to sketch this abstract face onto a lampshade design. It struck me that inspiration really does come from the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times.
So, as I walked back to my desk, sipping on my coffee, I realized that I’m the kind of person who is inspired most by people. My friends, my family, people like Greg. And I’m inspired by food, and the culture and history and creativity and hard work that goes into the really, really good stuff.
Argentine diets are historically known for the overwhelming presence of meat. Vegetarians, beware. But what has always drawn me to their cuisine is their simple and unwavering adoration of it. Plain and simple. Social gatherings are almost entirely centered around sharing a meal, and Sunday lunches are a common weekly tradition among many families. Their passion for food rivals my own. So, when Molly (Susan) and I decided to check out Gaucho Parrilla Argentina for the finale of the Pittsburgh Food Diaries, I was ecstatic. I had heard amazing things about the menu from friends of mine who had gone before, and I stalked their menu, trying to determine what I would order ahead of time.
Fast forward a teeny tiny bit, and Suze and I are sitting on the floor of my living room with an opened bottle of wine, and a massive spread of Argentine food in front of us. There’s a Rosemary Braised Beef sandwich (with carmelized onions and horseradish sauce on thick, seasoned ciabatta bread), a Carne sandwich (made with flank steak, and served with chimmi, caramelized onions and peppers), two vegetable empanadas, a bowl of humitas (corn pudding with chiles, onion and fresh herbs), a bowl of papas cuna (a potato salad made with feta cheese, pickled onions, oregano, mayonnaise and red wine vinegar), and two small servings of each of their infamous dipping sauces (cebolla, chimmi, ajo and pimenton). We take a deep breath, clink our glasses and dive in.
Within moments, there is a dark red and deeply delicious trail of pimento dripping down my chin, and a small blister forming on the roof of my mouth from the heat of the Rosemary Braised Beef sandwich. I switch gears and fill a spoon with humitas, and immediately my eyes start watering from the spice of the chiles. I take a bite of the pickled and tangy potato salad to cool my palate, and then dip my empanada in the cebolla and pop it in my mouth. In less than a minute, I’ve tasted everything on the table, and I’m messy. My hands (and face) are sticky with sauce, and my mouth is still reeling from the heat (both temperature and spice), but my taste buds are celebrating. Everyone was right – Gaucho stood up to the hype. Susan and I took turns eating everything, and cleaning up after ourselves with an endless amount of paper towels. We couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves, elbows deep in an obnoxious amount of delicious food. I had to think that the people of Argentina really got it right. There is something to be said for spending time with the people you love over a good meal. And a bottle of red wine.