I just ate scrambled eggs on gluten free bread, mixed in with green capsicum. The smell, now and perhaps forever, reminds me of the little AirBnB I stayed at in New York. I ate that same meal every night, sometimes travelling back on the L train and rushing up to the apartment just to shovel some barely cooked yolk into my mouth before travelling back into Manhattan to catch a show at UCB. Every time I made it, I was almost paralysed by embarrassment, completely sure that my dour eastern European hosts were judging me. They always seemed to be lying in their loft bed that overlooked the kitchen, always stirring and whispering as soon as I fired up the hot plate, as soon as I deftly stole more of their olive oil and pepper.
I didn’t just eat eggs because I’m an unadventurous cook who could almost literally eat the same thing for every meal. Only a week after I got back from the US, I went into hospital for my colonoscopy and endoscopy, or as I like to call it, getting double-teamed by the doctors. The reason was that for a full year I’d been getting horrific stomach cramps, that would put me out of action for days, either in crippling pain or acid nausea. I was tested over and over again for tumours and cancer and ulcers and babies. I got incredibly good at popping up my good vein for blood tests. I got thin and tired and depressed. I finally got a recommendation for a gastroenterologist, who after going through all the tests again, came up with the incredibly unsexy conclusion that I had irritable bowel syndrome. He booked me into hospital to make sure it wasn’t cancer as well, but in the meantime he put me on an exclusion diet, where I basically had to cut everything except basic proteins out of my diet, and then gradually reintroduce things to discover what it was my system was incapable of digesting. By the time I went to New York, I was two weeks into the reintegration diet, and had discovered I couldn’t handle gluten, onions and garlic – ie everything good in the world.
When I booked my trip to New York, I had several people give me comprehensive and amazing lists of things to do. It was amazing, and super useful, considering I was travelling on my own. They also all included the food I should try, the amazing slices, the bagel houses, the burgers. But I wasn’t yet used to asking for things to be made to my specifications, and I was in a strange land, with a currency I was even more incapable of understanding. Instead, I basically didn’t eat anything that I didn’t make with my two stupid hands. I basically just ate eggs. One day during my improv class at UCB, I bought a tuna sandwich with some of my classmates, feeling so incredibly happy to talk to other humans. But while I was eating it, I realised that the bread wasn’t gluten free, and the tuna had onion in it. My stomach immediately twisted into the well-known, well travelled cramps I was used to, and I contemplated with dread having to spend another few days curled up in my makeshift bedroom, enduring the judgement of the Europeans hovering perpetually over me (I’d already spent three days in my first week with the flu). But then I realised it was impossible – there was no way that the poison had reached my bowels yet, no way they were sitting there like undigested bricks. It was all in my head. I still didn’t eat the sandwich though, after those first bites. I’d been in pain for so long that there was no way I could conceive of risking it. One of the guys asked me why I wasn’t eating it, and I told him I was allergic to onion. It just sounds cooler than IBS. More dangerous. ‘I could die’ automatically trumps ‘tong term intestine pain.’ On my last day I went to that famous pizza place in Brooklyn, and then looked at it and decided that it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want to vomit all over the plane the next day.
The way I got over this fear, and actually started working through my limits was when I got to the South on the roadtrip. There was so much stuff made of corn that I started to get a little giddy, a little free with my choices. I learnt that I can handle a fair amount of gluten before getting ill (less if I’m drinking), a small amount of garlic, and a lesser amount of onion.
I’ve had a few conversations since I’ve gotten back about the food of New York, and I can never actually engage beyond vast amounts of candy and eggs, morning noon and night, eggs eggs eggs. And that’s why eggs reminds me of New York.