On Potato Omelets and Winter Cycling


A Spanish tortilla, unlike the Mexican version, is essentially a potato omelet. You fry some diced-up onions and potatoes in oil, and then pour in some beaten egg. Flip it over, and voila, you have a tasty, round golden thing to cut into slices and eat.

Back when I was living in Spain some 25 years ago, I made them all the time and my American friends and I marveled at what a tasty, nutritious and cheap food it was. We vowed, when we returned to the states, to make them often. When I returned to the states, I made a Spanish tortilla probably once, maybe twice, and then never again.

Why? I still love Spanish tortillas. The ingredients are readily abundant. And I love to cook. But something about the context I’m in, the culture to use the C word, does not induce or encourage me to do so.

I think about Spanish tortillas, and my lack of making them, when I have repeatedly chosen not to do something else these last few months, which is ride my bicycle around in the dead of winter. Somehow mounting my wheeled steed is just too big a hurdle when the air is freezing and the skies often gray. Very quickly over the winter, I stopped even thinking about riding my bicycle to work or to drop my son at daycare or to shop. I began walking and taking the subway more.

But would I make these same choices if my fellow citizens here in New York were making different choices?

In December 2004 I spent the holidays in Amsterdam during an unusually cold spell. I marveled at how Amsterdamers of all ages and genders cycled through the streets in the bitter cold. Hands on the handlebars, heads held high, they seemed not only willing to cycle in such weather but enjoying it. Eventually I joined them, and I have a photo of my wife and I on bikes, our faces bright red.

What these actions of mine and others lead me to conclude is that culture matters. I’m not shirking the fact of my own laziness; it’s a real observation about how the world works. If my friends and family members were riding off to work in the cold, I likely would to, without complaint. But alone, when few other people are, it’s easy to decline the invitation my bicycle offers me, or not even see it.

As we head into spring and the warmer months, this point will become moot. I’m sure I will once again start riding regularly. But maybe next winter, or the one after, I may make different choices. Cycling as transportation is increasingly popular in New York, and as this popularity grows, I suspect we will reach a tipping point, to use Malcom Gladwell’s famous phrase. I look forward to a future, perhaps not so long away, when even the fairest-weather riders like me venture out in even the worst of weather, doing so as easily as taking a bite of an easily-made potato omelet.

Photo: Nadya Peek / Flickr