When Hubby and I moved to New York City in 1985, we were truly on our own.We did not know a single soul. We had each other and we had our work, so between that and the excitement of a new city, we didn’t really need much else.
But time went by and it started to feel a bit strange not having any friends. Unlike other places we had lived, in New York no one came by our apartment to introduce themselves, no one talked to us in the elevator, no one stopped on the street and had a chat. We had never lived in a big urban city and didn’t really know how to make friends in that environment. Our jobs were in corporate headquarters and as young professionals we were a minority with neither senior executives nor administrative staff calling us their peers.
Over time, I eventually made a few friends in the wine and food world, a couple of whom I still cherish today although we long ago lost touch. I was named to the board of the American Institute of Wine and Food, New York Chapter, and started to see familiar faces at wine tastings and food events. Christina was the first one to reach out and ask me to socialize with her. We met for lunch and attended a wine tasting here and there. She was so very nice. But friendship, like a romance, has to have a little spark and it just didn't seem like it was there for us. Even though we had a passion for food, that is really all that held us together. And soon, I realized that Christina and I just didn’t have a future together. But how do you break up with a friend? Especially when you have so few!
I started getting busy at work and didn't make the effort to see Christina much. I was too young and naive to understand what it would be like to be lonely in a big city. I moved there with Hubby and although he worked late most nights and almost all weekend, he was there. I didn’t live alone in a city of 9 million people. Christina moved from job to job, kept calling throughout, and I wasn't going out of my way to be a good friend. I didn't think about the fact that it was hard for everyone to make friends in the city. I knew she was being nice to me but it never occurred to me that I might have been one of the few that was nice to her.
Hubby and I eventually came to the conclusion that we were going to be working in New York for a while so we thought we should invest in a house in the suburbs. New York City in the summer, with no friends and no place to go, was hot and harsh. So we bought a house in New Jersey where we thought we would have a more satisfying life with neighbors and friends and a yard with beautiful trees.
Oh...how very young and very wrong we were. The only neighbor we ever met was the lovely 85-year-old woman next door, and friends our age were just as scarce. We had moved to a beautiful middle class suburb with few restaurants, no nightlife and the only people our age were the grandchildren of the residents. We had much more space, a nice yard and still no friends. Well, we did make a few, very few, friends over our years there. And we did have some fun weekends at the beach and in our backyard, but that was very seldom since Hubby's work and travel schedule was horrendous. So our overall experience in New Jersey would not be described as “good times.” It was our PC time: Pre-Children, Proficient-Cooking, Practically-Crazy.
I don’t remember how we met the bowlers. Somehow, Hubby and I met a young couple, living somewhat nearby, and they seemed like they could be fun. They asked us to go bowling. Neither of us had bowled in probably five or more years and we had never, ever, bowled together. But we thought why not? Bowling alleys had food and a bar and we were both athletic. When we arrived at the bowling alley, we were met by a lively group of four, the couple we had met and two of their friends. They all had their own bowling shoes and bowling balls and bowling bags. I don’t remember clearly, but I think they even had their own bowling shirts. We started to feel bit skeptical about this group but Hubby and I were not going to give up hope that we had found some friends. And they all seemed pleased to have us there, probably feeling like they had found some guinea pigs to slaughter on the bowling alley, so we searched for a ball and ordered some beers.
Call it competitive nature, call it beginner’s luck, or just call it stupidity; but somehow we beat them raw. One game in and they starting treating us like they had been set up in a sting as we bowled strike after strike and kicked their bowling-nerd butts. It wasn’t what we set out to do; I don’t even know how we did it. And it definitely didn't make us any new friends. But we had so much fun in a kind of twisted, don't-mess-with-us way. We laughed and laughed and laughed as we enjoyed the comedy of it all. The bowlers did not laugh. We were never invited bowling again and in fact, we never again heard from any of them.
But Christina was still calling. She had a new brunch recipe she really wanted to try and suggested she and her boyfriend come out to New Jersey one Sunday and make it for us. After the bowlers, Hubby wasn’t excited to meet anyone new but I convinced him that Christina was really nice and maybe he would like her boyfriend. So Christina and her beau made the trek out from Manhattan to New Jersey and we made brunch. The food that day was beautiful, refreshing and comforting, and while my relationship with Christina did not thrive, nor survive, her cinnamon bread custard remains in my life. I think fondly of Christina whenever I make it and hope that she eventually found friends in the city to feed her soul and even occasionally feed her brunch.
A true friend reaches for your hand and touches your heart. ~Attributed to Heather Pryor
Christina’s Brunch Delight
16 slices cinnamon bread 4 oz (one stick) unsalted butter, melted 4 whole eggs 4 egg yolks 1/2 cup sugar 3 cups milk 1 cup heavy cream 1 T vanilla maple syrup, confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar), fruit and/or berries to serve
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush both sides of bread with butter and place in baking dish, two slices deep. Beat eggs. Whisk in sugar, milk, cream and vanilla. Pour over bread. If the bread is dense, you may need to allow the liquid to absorb into the bread before pouring it all in the pan. You can assist with this by pressing down gently on the slices to soak up the liquid. Put baking dish in larger roasting pan and pour in water to reach halfway up side of baking dish. (This is best done with the pans already in the oven so you don’t slosh the water into the baking dish when moving.) Bake in upper 1/3 of oven for 25 minutes or until custard is set and top is browned. Remove CAREFULLY from oven without sloshing the water. I like to just remove the baking dish and leave the roasting pan in the oven to cool. Let rest for 15 minutes. Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve with syrup and fruit. If you are serving when berries are out of season, thaw frozen berries and stir in maple syrup for a delicious topping.
Note: Christina used cinnamon raisin bread. It is delicious with or without raisins!