Last weekend I said goodbye to a city that had just started to feel like home. Sadness and excitement tumbled at the edge of my emotions, keeping real tears at bay. As the burritos and watering holes of Westcott St. receded behind me, I wondered, will I ever see you again? As we passed one of the corners along my 4-mile running route, my eyes started to sting. How many times have I run around that corner, I thought.
It seems sometimes like leaving the familiar and commonplace things hurts the most. That corner, that alley, that tiny stretch of street. It’s the small scenes, not the landmarks, that make our lives inimitable.
Take donuts. Small and inconsequential, they have often turned road trip minutes into small indulgences. On the advice of a friend, we stopped at the original Maple Donuts shop on our way through Pennsylvania. Started in 1946 from the back of a bicycle, this place was no Dunkin’ or Tim’s. Stepping into the shop was stepping back to a simpler time.
Rows and rows of donut flavors I’d never heard of were stacked behind a brightly lit, cafeteria-style counter. Two uniformed women yapped away as we stood drooling before apple fritters the size of footballs, barely noticing us in their throes of small-town gossip.
We finally decided on a box of six, sticking to safe flavours like sour cream glazed, chocolate, honey glazed, and seasonal pumpkin. Out of pure cruelty (and hopeless addiction), I made Mark wait until we hit a Starbucks five miles down the highway so that I could enjoy the experience properly.
And proper it was: As I bit into the crust of the heavy ring held gingerly between my fingers, Tim Horton’s, the Canadian road trip cornerstone, faded into obscurity. Maple Donuts knew how to do a cake donut — something I normally didn’t prefer. (Their honey-glazed was less exciting, but the sour cream was also worth its weight in holes.) The interior was soft and dense, and not a pinch too sweet. It was all the best of pumpkin pie, muffins, and cheesecake rolled into a gently crumbling shell of thin icing.
The next day, after a night in Baltimore with friends of Mark’s, we drove into the District of Columbia in a flurry of temporary snow. My new home would be temporary, too, but I was ready to embrace it with the same conviction as so many other places I’ve lived.
After an afternoon of looking at Craigslist rooms (worth a post of its own) and being introduced by our host to Trader Joe’s, we hit Dukem on U street with hungry bellies, inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” segment on D.C.’s famous Ethiopian restaurants.
One thing I’ve missed while living in Syracuse is Ethiopian food. So much so that whenever we go to Ottawa, we eat at Horn of Africa with my friend Lenora to satiate us for the injera-less months ahead. According to Bourdain though, my new city is home to some of the best Ethiopian food outside of Addis Ababa.
Meeting up with another of Mark’s old friends, an international journalist who just returned from Mali, we set out to demolish our huge platter of homemade cottage cheese, spicy lamb and chicken stews, lentil and cabbage purees, and the dish we’d both been waiting for since watching the Bourdain show:
Kitfo. Ahhhhh, kitfo. How you embody everything I eschew in my life of health and triathlon, yet embrace all that is dear to my taste buds: raw beef and butter. It sounds awful, I know, but it is an Ethiopian delicacy of slightly warmed minced raw beef that has been mixed with a herb-and-spice-infused clarified butter.
I was a little wary, but couldn’t pass it up. Trusting the good folks at Dukem, and its obvious popularity, I took my first bit of raw beef since Alex’s prairie maki I tried eight years ago. Well, this wasn’t your average hunk of ground beef (my least favorite meat and my least favorite “cut”). The soft, almost sauce-like mixture, heaped onto a piece of sour injera, delivered a tender, clove-infused warmth to my whole mouth. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff — despite the fleeting thoughts of how much butter I was really ingesting.
And then there were the times the camera did not see: The cheery Mexican stop in Alexandria, and wood-fired pizza with a good friend. There’s been “Virginia ham and biscuits” at George Washington’s church after a carols service, and “Baltimore cookies” waiting at my cozy crash pad. (Can you see I’m a sucker for anything billed as regional?)
And so has been my first week in food in this robust and lively new place, where I hear many new languages on the metro each day, and where treasures wait around new corners. One day I’ll probably have to say goodbye to those corners, too, but for now, it’s all about the hellos.