Commuter: Volume 1

I got a job in New York City. Previously, I avoided visiting friends in the city because I had an inordinate fear of public transportation. Faring just fine in the underground of Washington DC, I was convinced that the New York City subway was different. Growing up, we saw plays as a family in the city and shared fancy meals sporadically.  Blue collar, we indulged in the majesty of the big city for birthdays and holidays predominately, or some fridays to get scungili at a hole in the wall in Little Italy. We always drove, piling in to the car with snacks and the latest traveling companion, be it a doll which evolved into a puzzle, which evolved into a smart phone. I had never ridden the subway alone and can count on one hand the number of times I rode with a friend. I was afraid of it perhaps because I hadn't experienced it enough. 


The first three weeks of my position as a Community Manager at Bullfrog+Baum, a place I had longed to work since graduation, I took three different routes. My second day of work there was a blizzard, and in two weeks, two derailments at Penn Station. Strong start, I know.  Needless to say I have adopted the Hoboken route and file into the Path each morning with the other worker bees. My dear friend Doug helped me navigate the first day, coaching me where to get on and where to get off. My brother Mike is a commuter too so I screenshot his patient instructions and cling to them. A month in, it finally feels smooth and rhythmic. I've taken the subway alone a few times now to different client meetings around the city, my colleagues all exceedingly helpful and tolerant of my travel neurosis. I know people desire to stand out, but when it comes to travel, I want to fit in. I don't want to look lost, or nervous. I want to earn the badge of a proper commuter.


There is something inexplicably romantic about a train. We are sharing a confined space for a brief moment in time, heading in the same direction to very different destinations.  Whose brow is furrowed with concern over financial hardship, who came from a fight with a loved one, who had to peel themselves away from the arms of their partner? I wonder if anyone is running away. Or fleeing for the comfort of home. 


Most people keep their heads down or in a device. This dance is the routine and there is no need for human connection. This is the means to earn a living. I'm still bright eyed and amazed by the crunch of the metal in the vestibules, the patience of the conductors, and the passing scenery in the clouded window. I have this peculiar fixation with eye contact. I like to smile at strangers but oddly enough only if they seem open to that type of exchange. Some are not and stonewall the attempt. Others like the mother struggling to keep her child's Johnny Rocket balloon contained in a crowded train, is more than happy to engage. 

More soon, this is my stop.  

The Stratasphere

I've realized of late, or maybe I have always known but it feels more profound because the winter adds an extra layer of comfort seeking to the daily repertoire, that I love the robust goodness that is strata. Beyond the comfort factor, it brings textures together from different worlds to coexist: crusty breads, tender vegetables, sharp cheeses. It also enables us to waste not. Stale bread or sad slightly wilted escarole is no longer beyond salvaging. 


My very first Staub piece came from Molly Yeh, as part of her book launch giveaway so it's especially dear because I love her work and her willingness to build up other home cooks and invite them into her narrative. 

Thus far I have used this beauty for mains where bread/cake is the protagonist- Panettone French Toast and this Vegetable, Egg, and Cheddar Strata. But next up I am definitely making Molly's Tater Tot Hot Dish, from "Molly on the Range."  

I hope you'll join me on a trip to the stratasphere.  


You'll need:  

  • Cooking spray  
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil  
  • 1 cup sliced bell peppers
  • 1 cup sliced zucchini
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 pepper, divided
  • 8 cups cubed day old, crusty bakery bread
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar or jack cheese
  • 3 cups milk
  • 6 large eggs 

To prepare: 

  1. Coat 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat; add peppers zucchini or your desired combination of crunchy vegetables and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 8 minutes.  
  3. Stir in thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper; remove from heat and set aside.
  4. Place half of bread cubes in even layer in baking dish, then top with half of vegetable mixture and half of cheese. Add remaining bread cubes, then remaining vegetables and cheese.
  5. In large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs and remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture evenly over bread, vegetables and cheese in baking dish. 
  6. Here you can refrigerate  for several hours or overnight. I was hungry. I put it right in the oven and it turned out beautifully. 
  7. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake uncovered for 45 to 60 minutes or until golden brown on top and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Adapted from Cabot Cheddar