The Ambition Decisions excerpted in The Atlantic! & We’ll be in DC tonight!

Our editor on The Ambition Interviews, our 7-essay series that went viral in The Atlantic in December 2016, has excerpted a section from our book on economics, work, and passion:

And we are talking with that editor, Rebecca Rosen, about the book, tonight at Solid State Books in Washington, DC—an event sponsored by New America. Come say hi & join the discussion!


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.

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