On Anxiety Baking

I have a child with anxiety. I know this is not uncommon today. One of the small rote comforts for this child is baking, and watching baking shows and videos (favorites are Kids Baking Championship, Master Chef Junior (baking editions), and Tasty.

I prefer cooking and cocktailing to baking, but I feel similarly comforted when I am in my kitchen muddling, stirring, or chopping, as when she is measuring, sifting, creaming fats and sugars, rolling dough into balls. She has made a six-layer rainbow birthday cake for herself, many types of cookies, banana bread, cinnamon rolls, cupcakes, more cupcakes, truffles, and cake balls. I spend a lot of time buying eggs, flour, sugar, and vanilla, and Martha Stewart’s perfect banana bread is maybe the only  recipe I know by heart because I’ve made it so many times, with daughter and my son.

Whenever anxiety or tensions get high, I find that watching cooking shows or baking with my daughter calms us both. We are both strong personalities (think LadyBird and her mother, minus eight years), are very connected, and endure much friction between us. Sometimes baking together has resulted in mid-mixing anxiety attacks over time-sensitive directions, but more often, we end up not fighting or stressed, but  laughing and eating creamed sugar and butter, and for the moment, that feels like just the right thing to be doing.

We attended the Women’s March in New York City together yesterday and that was a bit of both a parenting and an activism fail. We rode the subway home in hostile silence. When we got home, my daughter said, “Can I make chocolate chip cookies from scratch, by myself?” She’s never baked alone alone (I usually helicopter nearby with the compost bin handy to collect eggshells gone astray). This time, I left the house and let her make the cookie batter from her favorite Tasty recipe. When I returned, the batter was chilling. I surveyed it and it looked dry and crumbly, with way too many chips. I helped her roll out the cookies and baked them, and tasted one. Then two, three, and four. We gave some away to neighbors and friends, had one remaining this morning. So today we obviously had to make a second batch, this one even better than the first.

I expect that by the time middle-school admissions process is over, she’ll have added meringues and scones to her repertoire.

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Martinis, A (Lesbian) Love Story

Most who know me know I’m pretty predictable when it comes to a cocktail order: gin martini between Easter and Halloween, rye Manhattan otherafter. As I had my last martini of 2017 last night, it reminded me of my love for martinis—and my love for New York City, and love in New York City.

I can trace my first martini back to 1997, to my one of my nights, in February, living in New York City. At the end of my first day of work  as an editorial assistant at a fashion magazine for a major publisher, my friend who also worked as an assistant at the company insisted we go out and celebrate with a martini at the Royalton Hotel bar, then known colloquially as the off-campus cafeteria of our publishing company. A martini at the Royalton in the late ’90s was emblematic of a moment in time. Glossy magazine publishing was still an aspirational career field, I had wanted to move to New York since I was a teenager, and finally, I had made it here. That first martini signified the beginning of my New York story.

My second icy V-shaped glass of wonder was equally memorable. Same year, same quarter. I was having a long-distance relationship with a woman in DC, who visited me in New York a couple of times. We wound up one night at Bar D’o, which anyone who knew me in the ’90s and ’00s, and lots who didn’t, will remember was a terrific bar with a terrific drag show on the weekends, the kind of place where it was really dark, the drinks were fine not artisanal, possibly indiscreet things happened in bathrooms, and if you stayed there long enough—and a couple times, I did—you might find yourself dancing on the bar, Coyote Ugly-style. My paramour suggested martinis. What’s that, I wondered, and went along for the ride. First one was vodka, with olives, dirty. Delicious, briny, strong, impassioned—like the relationship that introduced it. Knocks you over the head like a sack of bricks, kind of like first lesbian love.

Third martini memory: Same year, still same quarter probably. Met with a lover I had known in New York but before I moved to New York, an equally strong and passionate personality. We as a we were over but she wanted to remain friends and introduce me to her new boyfriend (yes, boyfriend, that’s a different post). We went to some bar in Soho maybe, and she taught me how to perfect a vodka martini order: Ketel One, dry, dirty martini, up. So many modifiers, I thought. What does Ketel One even mean, I wondered? That one was served in a gigantic martini glass, like they used to do at Merc Bar on Mercer Street, probably closer to 10 or 12 ounces. Too big for me and yet never enough. I loved the ex-girlfriend, loved the new boyfriend, and really loved the gigantic dirty martini. I went home to my first NYC apartment in Chelsea that night, took off my clothes, and sat on the floor in my bra and underwear and began to cry. My roommate walked in and said, “What’s wrong?” I just met her boyfriend, I explained. And, my roommate wondered? It didn’t go well? “He’s awesome,” I cried, bemoaning love past, love anew, the passage of time, and, really, too much vodka for one young, green, new-to-New-York lesbian.

And then I met gin. And my next girlfriend, who would become my domestic partner, my common-law wife, my co-parent, my fellow New York City lover and adventurer. We had both moved to Manhattan that same year, dazzled by the skyscrapers, the publishing industry, book parties that served free appetizers so we didn’t have to eat cereal for dinner, the gay bars on Avenue A, the payphones where we would phone each other, tipsy, encouraging late-night meet ups at said East Village drinkeries.

And then I met her parents. We would later refer to them as low WASPs, from central Pennsylvania. So different from my family, and yet so welcoming to me. I first met my new girlfriend’s mother at the Soho Grand, and she ordered a gin martini. I ordered one too because when in Rome, aka meeting your future life partner’s mother for the first time, you have to nail the drink. I had surely had gin & tonic before, but never a gin martini. It was a different universe from a vodka martini, and yet in a similar galaxy, and it would be the first of many fancy hotel-bar martinis I would share with my future mother-in-law (one at Joel Robuchon restaurant at some hotel lingers as a high one, with an equally high price point). After some time, a gin martini became my standard drink, and, like my mother-in-law, I got more hard-core and stopped drinking it dirty, but did insist on it being very very dry—just a “whisper” of vermouth, we used to say. Like the Princess and the Pea on the mattress below her, and perhaps equally embarrassing, I can taste more than a whisper of vermouth in any martini now.

My own mother tried her first martini at my now in-laws house over one holiday weekend at the Jersey Shore. My mother enjoys wine but is teeny tiny and her tolerance is low. Nevertheless, she bound down the stairs at the Shore house, sporting a dress and sandals and a red lip, asking my father-in-law, “What does a girl have to do to get a drink around here?” She, too, charmed the in-laws, and then had what we have come to refer to as a Baby Martini.

There have been rough nights after martinis, too, of course, as any martini drinker has no doubt racked up—any love story of course holds its highs and lows.

Twenty years later, a lot has changed. Bar D’o isn’t around anymore, nor is Merc Bar, nor most of those East Village haunts (WonderBar, anyone?) that were the playgrounds of our 20s. But some things haven’t. My commonlaw wife and I still call it a good night when we can find a sitter, slip into a decent bar, and order two very dry Beefeater martinis, straight up with an olive (dear wife has evolved into ordering hers with twist, because we like to shake things once in awhile).

Boeuf Bourgignon 2.0

Happy almost new year! After a week in the Berkshires doing a lot of sitting and not being in my own kitchen (and loving it), I rode back to Brooklyn last night thinking about wanting to be in my own house, my own bed, and yes, my own kitchen, making comfort food. I texted a close friend and invited her family over, and started to visualize the one real comfort food dish I’ve ever made: boeuf Bourgignon.

My mother, influenced by my Danish stepfather, was a little into French cooking, and I remember her making coq au vin (which I thought of as coco von in my little 8-year-old brain), and me loving it. I don’t recall her ever making Julia Child’s boeuf, but maybe she did because there’s a lot of elementary school years I don’t remember. The first time I remember eating this dish is the first time I made it, a couple years back, using the Smitten Kitchen recipe which somehow was slightly easier than the Julia Child one (and friends giving me hell for taking the easier route even then). The stew was delicious, and reducing the bottle of wine slowly, scraping up the brown bits of beef and fat with it, were the ultimate in a comforting kitchen activity for me.

I found an even less labor-intensive one, Melissa Clark’s from The New York Times—no reducing the wine, just pouring the whole damn bottle in before you stick the pot in the oven. Will report back on whether this shortcut is a mistake or not. The stew cooked for 1.5 hours last night, and, like last time I made it, that wasn’t nearly enough—the meat was still tough. I took it out of the oven anyway because it was 12:30 because who starts boeuf bourguignon at 9:45 pm? Will put it back in today for maybe another two hours, with some beef stock and more red wine, maybe? Clark’s recipe also calls for sautéing the mushrooms and pearl onions separately, and topping the stew with that mixture, plus parsley and leftover bacon. Again, will report back.

Boeuf Bourgignon from Melissa Clark, The New York Times

The Scofflaw

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The Scofflaw, a gorgeous new cocktail at Beauty & Essex.

Last night I celebrated a friend’s last day at her job of 11 years, a job we worked at together during a time we laugh about now as “the salad days of publishing,” when magazine writers of note could be paid $4 a word, or much more. My friend mentioned she had written a freelance piece, and our other friend, also formerly in publishing, said, “What’d you earn? $50? $75?”

We went to Beauty & Essex on the Lower East Side, a neighborhood I’ve not been out in for many months. I studied the cocktail list for many minutes, maybe 20. Anyone who has ever ordered a drink with me knows it takes me 20 minutes to order a drink, 2 minutes to send it back because it’s not perfect, then about 12 minutes to drink the replacement drink. I ordered the Scofflaw—it’s a word I had to look up, which means “a person who flouts the law, especially by failing to comply with a law that is difficult to enforce effectively.” Some people might call me a Scofflaw, including some people who saw me drink an espresso shot from a Nespresso machine in a big corporate office building recently, and realizing only after I already had drunk shot that it cost $3.50, and you were supposed to pay using the honor system. Well, I scoffed that law. Also, every time I get a parking ticket, I try to contest it, even if it’s completely valid, because, I was only parked 4 inches into the crosswalk and I already pay a lot in city taxes anyway, so…

I had never even heard of a Scofflaw. This one was a customized version, using 12-year aged McCallan’s Scotch, Luxardo cherry liqueur (which I tasted at Freek’s Mill, to my great pleasure), some amaro (I am currently obsessed with amaro and just bought one made by a cute guy who makes amaro out of a spot in Bed Stuy), and green chartreuse, a naturally green French liqueur which, our server who looked like Parker Posey in 1989 and with braces and amazing hair, told me tastes a little like Campari. And I like Campari. I never order something off the specialty cocktail list because I am too rigid to take chances, and I like it the way I like it, which is to say, strong, boozy, sipping, not too sweet, few ingredients. But I went for it. It kind of tasted like what I imagine Fabuloso the cleaning solution might taste like if green chartreuse were stirred in, and  it was spectacular.

And, after I sipped this Scofflaw and some delicious Sauv B and maybe one or three more sips of my friend’s sister’s sparkling rosé, well, suddenly, somehow, thanks to our millennial Parker-Posey-doppelganger server’s local answer to “what dive bar should we go to,” we ended up at a burlesque bar a block away. When is the last time you went to a burlesque show? Do yourself a favor and don’t wait so long next time. Because you, like me, might get treated to a campy emcee singing “Hey Big Spender” from Sweet Charity and name-checking your newly unemployed friend as “the blonde with the blowout in the back.” To the Scofflaw, to friendships that endure, and to the NYC bars that still serve Miller High Life.

Making Spirits Bright

IMG_6337So, a couple of friends have suggested I should collect my thoughts about my food and drink creations all in one place. So I’m starting here. My foodie/spirits enthusiast days go something like this: Wake up. Make French press coffee for partner. Make Yorkshire Gold tea for myself, milk, two sugars. Complain that dark, robust tea stains my teeth (how do the Brits deal with this?! Cosmetic dentistry is ‘spensie). Feel bad that I need two sugars. Make homemade lunches for two kids, consisting of grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, or turkey roll-ups (or recently, inspired by another mom, a cheese plate of Brie and Carr’s water crackers for my daughter, with a side of cornichons), some dry savory snack, and some piece of fruit that will oxidize and then go uneaten by children, then eaten later that night by me after I have a drink because #foodwasteguilt.

Go to the Dodge Y. Stop at Trader Joe’s because it’s there, because it’s familiar, and because the coffee samples are always fresh and I like the soundtrack. And because I like grocery shopping every day or every other day, buying only what we need, supplementing regularly with fresh fruit. A dear friend urges me to join her as a member of the Park Slope Food Co-Op, but it’s too far away, I would need to drive to shop, and my dirty little secret is that I actually like the culture of Trader Joe’s, even if the bagged produce drives me banaynays. Always bring own canvas bags. Fill out raffle ticket, even though I never win. Will. Never. Win! Carry bags home, complain about the weight. En route, if it’s after 12, maybe stop by Brooklyn Wine Exchange to see what new thing they’re promoting in the window.

Evenings I try to cook most nights, planning a meal that’s simple enough that my kids will eat it, healthy enough that I’ll eat it, and has enough flavor/texture variety that Ingrid will like it too. The concept is simple, plain, clean cooking with mostly olive oil, garlic, lemon juice/zest, salt, pepper, butter, fish sauce, hot sauce. Greens. Raw vegetables. Lean proteins. A few frozen foods mixed in, and yes, I feel bad about it, but MOZZARELLA STICKS!

And then, DRINKS. Unfortunately for my acid reflux, I like all of them. Gin, bourbon, rum, beer, wine, Champagne. Equal opportunity imbiber. I like simple sipping drinks garnished with a large cube and some fresh herb like thyme or a little twist of lemon, not too sweet. Manhattans, martinis, old-fashioneds, gimlets, what have you.

This holiday season, when appearing on the Domino contribs page, I was asked what my favorite winter treat is: I harked back to a time about 10 years ago when Ingrid and I visited Blue Hill Stone Barns in the fall, sidled (saddled?) up to the bar, and the bartender asked if we wanted to try a spirit she had been infusing. Who could resist a house-infused spirit at Blue Hill Stone Barns? The air was crisp, the fire was crackling, the space is beautiful, we didn’t have kids yet so #peace. The spirit was vodka infused with honey and oats. Shaken over ice and poured into a martini glass, I had found a toothsome, milky, nutty, slightly sweet but less sweet than you would image, gorgeous elixir. We asked for the recipe, she gave it. I went home and started making the vodka as Christmas presents for my extended family. I’m not sure any of them liked it, but I did, and I liked making it even more. So fast forward ten years, and I cited this recipe again to Domino—and then revisited making it again, with different types of vodka, different ratios of oats and honey. I batched it in huge mixing bowls. Always be steeping became my motto this past December, to the annoyance of my partner and my children. Why are there always gigantic bowls of booze with oats and honey in them, everyone would ask as they fumbled around the fridge just to find a condiment. Because infused spirits are fun, I would grumble, taking more empty bottles out to the recycling. I bottled 14 containers of vodka, hand delivering all of them. I don’t know if anyone liked them, but I keep infusing because I myself love it so.

I moved on next to gin. My friend Ian who is a professional cook and food person told me making gin is super easy and fun. He was right. I’ve again tried a bunch of different formulas. Here’s my latest recipe:

LESBIAN BATHTUB GIN
To a few cups of vodka, add:
Tbsp juniper berries
Tsp coriander seeds
2 cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
Tsp fennel seeds
1 cinnamon stick
Handful of black peppercorns
Slice of lemon peel.
Let steep for 18-24 hours, taste, strain.
Bottle, give to friends, mix with a teensy bit of vermouth, enjoy up or on rocks. With a side of mozzarella sticks. CHEERS.

Feeling the FB feels…

Thank you to all of my Facebook friends and friends of friends who have been reading The Ambition Interviews on The Atlantic since Monday, and sharing it on your own pages, and for your and your friends’/communities’ supportive comments. The essays have been trending on The Atlantic’s home page! It is thrilling to finally see this project reach the public, after two+ years of work. xoxoxo