I first learned what a blog was when I was in college. A friend had started one on Myspace (remember Myspace?!) and she explained to me that it was sort of like having a public diary. This is my absolute nightmare, I thought. I WILL NEVER HAVE A BLOG. Now that many of us have have developed a “public-private” persona on social media, it no longer seems strange to send my (somewhat filtered) thoughts out into the internet. Reading my still relatively new blog and then reading other people’s blogs, I have noticed though, that my teen fear of having a public diary still seems to be with me. A few past posts have read more like marketing copy than personal musings. While I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point of confessing my innermost secrets and fears online (for better or worse—probably better!), I am making an effort to make my writing on this blog more reflective of my life and experience. How apropos, then, that I’m traveling back to my hometown for a family visit. It can’t get more personal and reflective than that.
York, Pennsylvania. The first capital of the United States. Located in South Central PA, fewer than 20 miles north of the Mason Dixon line. My boyfriend Andrew and I are here for the weekend, and my mom points out each Confederate flag marring the otherwise beautiful countryside as we drive past. She spots five in about twenty minutes. We’re returning from an unsuccessful waterfall hunt—my dad has read about a particularly beautiful one in the paper today, but the directions we find online don’t make sense, and no one in the area can point us in the right direction. We hike by the Susquehanna river instead.
We’re on our way to the antique shops in Shrewsbury, where I’ll be looking for some dishes to use in my food photos, the prospect of which shopping trip makes my heart flutter with anticipation. (Andrew’s heart is not full of anticipation, but of dread.) My dad slows the car as a peacock runs across the road. What? I manage to snap a blurry photo before it scurries off into a nearby barn.
I have some success at the antique shops, finding a few plates at my favorite, Shrewsbury Antique Center, and a handmade earthenware mug at the Shops at 16 North Main. Tomorrow my mom and I will visit my other favorite, Grey Beards Antiques, in York while Andrew and my dad go golfing.
Saturday morning we’re at the York Central Market where I’m searching for signs of spring. One of the vendors tells me they did have some asparagus, but it froze (will spring never arrive?), so we pick up some stinging nettles, which I’ll make into a pesto later, a smoked chicken, and dried beef.
I love this market and the Pennsylvania Dutch specialties that mingle with foods from the rest of the world: chicken pot pie (not the kind with a crust over the top, but with hand-rolled noodle squares), shoo-fly pie, hard pretzels, Lebanon bologna, chicken corn soup, and Martin’s chips are next to stands with jerk chicken, falafel, Malaysian curries, and Italian olive oil.
I’m photographing all of it when a teenaged girl with braces introduces herself. In New York, this only happens if some is: a) asking for money b) trying to convert me to their religion c) lost. I figure it’s b, and it’s only as I’m already extricating myself from the situation that I realize she’s telling me that I “look really cool” and that she really likes my style. ?!?!?!? I manage to tell her that I like her outfit too (she really is doing a great job and has a kind of old-fashioned boarding school look going on—I’m pretty sure that at her age I was regularly wearing a teal sweatsuit) before moving on to take more photos, but I wish I had been ready with some words of wisdom or encouragement. Like what, I don’t know, but I’m walking for maybe five more minutes before another teenage girl wants to tell me how cute I look. Um. I don’t have any words of wisdom for her either, but I’m starting to feel weird and have a giggling fit, and then Andrew can’t stop laughing at me, so we leave. We decide to come back here if I ever need an ego boost.
Sunday morning we make chipped beef on toast. It’s a hearty mid-Atlantic breakfast dish that was my grandpa’s favorite. Later, planting seeds in the garden, we find a few stalks of asparagus. Spring after all. We hike along the rail trail and then pack smoked chicken sandwiches for the train ride home. We make it back to Brooklyn, where no one compliments me on my style.
Chipped Beef on Toast
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 cup whole milk
- 6 oz sliced dried beef, chopped*
- ground pepper to taste
- white bread toast
serves 3 to 4
- In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until flour begins to turn slightly golden but not brown, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Very gradually add the milk, whisking and breaking up lumps. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until thickened, whisking frequently.
- Add the dried beef, and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Season with pepper (the dried beef will be salty enough that you won’t need to add salt). Spoon over toast to serve.
*If you can’t find dried beef in one of your local stores, you can find it online by doing a quick search. Get the kind that comes from a whole piece of beef, not the kind from a jar or plastic bag.