Riding the subway in New York was an absolute necessity while we lived there. Like many people we didn’t have any other method of transportation. The bus system and the subway were how we got around (if we wanted to go anywhere outside of our Brooklyn neighborhood). We both worked in Manhattan so at least every weekday required a subway ride. David picked up the subway system pretty easily and never really had any troubles. He was good at navigating the tunnels and making sure we were on the correct side of the platform to go the direction we wanted to go. He was good at quickly sliding his money through the little opening in the token booth (back then it was tokens only) and grabbing the tokens that the attendant would push back. He even knew which way to exit the station so we were headed in the correct direction. For me, the subway took a little bit longer to get used to.
I did learn very quickly not to leave the house without having at least two tokens in my pocket and I learned very quickly never to exit a subway station until I was absolutely sure that I was at the correct stop, because once you leave - it costs another token to get back in no matter what… there’s no “oops can I get back in please this isn’t my stop?”. I also learned pretty quickly to stand where I could see the subway map (one is posted in every train car), especially if I was going somewhere other than work, so I could see exactly where I was, at any time, and how many more stops there were before I had to exit. In the beginning, when I went down those narrow stairs in the sidewalk, stepping over that odd puddle of liquid about halfway down, I was often nervous. I worried about getting on a train going south instead of north; I worried about getting pick-pocketed or mugged (hey, that was thing in the 80’s); I worried the train was going to be crowded and that I would have to stand in very close proximity to other people (I have a very wide “comfort zone”); I worried the train would get stuck somewhere under the East River (that happened a lot), and that the tunnel walls holding back the river would break (that never happened); I worried that if I had to stand (which was most of the time) that I wouldn’t be able to reach the hanger straps or the pole in the center of the train to hold myself up and I would fall down when the train lurched, which of course makes you look like a fool; I worried about a lot of stuff in the early days of riding, especially if I was riding alone. Somehow the subway always seemed easier to take when David was with me. I guess I just figured if anything went wrong he would take care of everything… ah, my hero!
After a while, riding the subway wasn’t a big deal at all. I suppose I simply got used to the crowds, and I fell into the rhythm of the system. Despite being crowded I still got on the train with everybody else even if I had to squeeze in (though if I thought I had enough time I would often let a train or two go by so the crowds would disperse a bit before getting on). I got really good at my “subway stance” which is how you stand and position your feet so if you have nothing to hold on to, you don’t fall down no matter how the train jostles you. I could quickly change positions on the platform when a train was pulling into the station and I noticed a completely empty car, which meant the air conditioning was broken in that car or that there was some other issue that made the car uninhabitable (often a overwhelmingly pungent, homeless person, who was sleeping in the car), so I could be, at least, one car north or one car south of that car when the train came to a complete stop. I stopped worrying about the rats in the tunnels and stopped worrying about the puddles of liquids in the stairs (though I still always stepped over them) and I stopped worrying about all the other things I worried about. In fact I got so comfortable riding the subway that after a while the only thing I worried about was dozing off and missing my stop on the way to work.
Like most New Yorkers you become so accustomed to things in the subway that nothing fazes you after a while… I was riding to work one day and as I exited the train I, along with everybody else exiting that car, casually and without second thought, adeptly stepped over the legs of the person who was lying on the platform, directly in front of the train doors, while paramedics were providing assistance to him. Another time I was actually seated on the way to work, reading a book (ok pretending to read a book) and when I got up at 65th Street and exited as usual, just as I stepped out of the car I heard a woman scream to her companion (who had been seated directly next to me) “breathe… come on, breathe…”. I glanced back but ultimately kept walking as if this was an every day occurrence. In fact, odd things happening on the subway were not all that uncommon. While working at the New York Philharmonic I came to know a woman, through a series of letters she would send us, who was once a prominent lawyer in Manhattan. She had a good career, was well respected, known in a great many circles and then one day on her way to work, sitting on a subway, holding her briefcase, something in her brain snapped and she had a serious, life altering, mental breakdown, right there on the train. After that she could no longer function in society and ended up spending a good deal of her remaining life writing non-coherent letters expressing her love for Leonard Bernstein.
Just like my early days of riding the subway, I often worried about everything involved with cooking. And making chicken piccata was especially nerve-wracking. I worried that the chicken would stick to the pan; I worried the chicken would be completely dry and/or rubbery; I worried that the sauce would just be a pool of odd liquid making everything soggy. But after making this dish many times it has become second nature to me and is regularly featured for dinner. I think this dish above many others taught me how to be comfortable with cooking. It taught me heat management; It taught me about portions sizes and It taught me how to be comfortable with the process of cooking… without me even knowing it was doing that. This dish makes a great weeknight dinner and can be prepped and cooked fairly quickly. All this dish is, basically, is a breaded piece of chicken, sautéed, then served with a lemon, wine, and butter sauce. Toss in some capers and some parsley and you’re pretty much there. There are people who will say you really shouldn’t bread your chicken breasts but, hey I’m Italian and we bread practically everything. This recipe serves 2 people (it’s only David and I, so for us that works out pretty well). The thing you’ll want to do when selecting your chicken breasts is to not buy those gigantic chicken breasts that look like they’re from a small turkey. The breasts should be about ½ pound each, which is a good-sized serving. Other than that it’s pretty straight forward, grab a skillet, some bowls and utensils and get to it.
Here is my version of chicken piccata:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (1 whole breast, halved) – Approx. 1 pound total
Salt and Pepper
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
½ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup seasoned dry breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
⅓ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 375°F with the rack in the center position.
Put the flour into a shallow dish or plate. In a separate shallow dish, whisk together the eggs and the water and in a third shallow dish put the seasoned breadcrumbs.
Put each chicken breast half between parchment paper (or plastic wrap) and use a meat mallet (or a rolling pin) to pound the chicken out to ¼-inch thick. This will allow it to cook evenly and quickly.
Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper on both sides, then dredge them in the flour and shake off the excess. Next, dip the chicken into the egg mixture to coat well, allowing excess egg to drip back into the bowl. Finally, dip the chicken into the breadcrumbs pressing gently so they coat the chicken well.
Heat the olive oil in a large stainless steel, or non-stick skillet over slightly lower than medium heat and when hot, add the chicken breasts cooking for 2 minutes per side, or until they are nicely browned.
Place the chicken on a sheet pan, or oven safe plate, and place it in to the oven to finish cooking, about 5 to 10 minutes, while you make the sauce.
If there is excess oil on the pan from the chicken wipe that out with a paper towel and set the pan back over medium heat.
Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and allow it to melt.
Add the wine, lemon juice, and capers to the pan and increase the heat to high.
Season the sauce with salt and pepper (about ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper).
Allow the sauce to boil until it is reduced by about half.
Remove the pan from the heat and add in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the parsley, whisking gently to combine.
Serve the chicken with a spoonful or more of sauce over the top.
That’s really all there is to it. Serve this along side your choice of vegetables or maybe some creamy mashed potatoes and/or a green salad and (in my opinion) you have got a fantastic meal.