I’ve been obsessed with food and fine dining since childhood when I used to pore through my mother’s copy of Gourmet and make horrific messes in the kitchen. Then, like today, I was always way better at cooking than cleaning and then, like today, I found that kitchen experimentation teaches life lessons.
I learned about materials and the joy of Sil-Pat when I stained my mother’s counters with a turmeric pastry dough for Caribbean Meat Pies. I learned why you can’t bake a layer cake in pie pans with a chocolate/banana “vol-cake-o” (so named because I piled the trimmings of the cake on top and let them explode over the sides). Most importantly, I learned that when your mother forbids candy in the house, you can still indulge your sweet tooth if you bake dessert for the whole family.*
When I went on junior year abroad to Paris, I was in food heaven and learned that when you’re in Europe with your dad’s credit card, you should eat up! I had croissant or pain au chocolat every morning from my local pâtisserie. As I was studying at the École du Louvre, I was able to go to Angelina, the famous salon du thé known for its divine, thick, practically perfect chocolat chaud and fancy pastries frequently but absolutely despised their most popular dessert: le Mont Blanc which was a mix of chestnut purée and whipped cream.
Study abroad in general is a time when it’s best to say yes as often as possible. It leads you to amazing wine tastings, South African rugby bars, sketchy men, and strange art galleries. However, for me, it led me to my first opportunity for professionally published work. While flipping through Time Out Paris one day, I saw a small ad that read “do you love to eat?” The ad went on to explain that Time Out needed restaurant critics — something I had done for the Williams College newspaper in spite of the very limited dining options in the Berkshires. While I wasn’t paid, Time Out would reimburse me for my meals and needed someone to write the new reviews for the Salon du Thé chapter.
I suddenly had an excuse to spend more time at Ladurée and Pierre Hermés while also hopping around the city and finding new pastry shops. I said “oui” to every carb, sugar, cake, cookie, sorbet, and chocolat chaud I could find. I ended up trying virtually every macaron flavor on the map as well as pastries flavored with roses and flecked in real gold fit only for a princess. Since Paris is a magical place, I was able to do all of this while still losing 20 pounds.**
In the last few years, macarons have gained popularity in the U.S. especially now that Maison du Chocolat, Pierre Hermés, and Ladurée all have establishments in New York and, moreover, I was able to find delicious ones at ACKC in DC. However, now that I’m in Michigan, what’s a French pastry-lovin’ gal to do?
I thought I found the perfect solution: a macaron making class at Sur La Table . You may recall I’ve shared experiences at cooking classes before, but was hopeful a baking class for a fairly challenging pastry would attract a different crowd.
Today’s lesson in the kitchen is that I have no future as a pastry chef. I found myself thinking way too often: this is way more trouble than it’s worth. You see, I’m an ambitious but lazy cook in that there are some things that are just easier to buy than make. I’m never going to spend a day making fresh pasta and I feel similarly about ice cream. I’m now adding macarons to that list. While not overly complicated, a lot of effort goes into producing a final product that, for what it’s worth is tasty but lacking the sophistication of the originals. The meringue based pastry is actually rather simple to make: egg whites, cream of tarter, and sugar brought to soft peaks, fold in almond flour, pipe into circles, let sit for a bit, then bake.
However, it’s just very finicky material: easy to let sit too long pre-baking, can’t use food coloring drops because that’s too much added liquid so you must buy food coloring gel, etc. Furthermore, the fillings are a reasonable amount of work and if you want any variety at all, you do need to make multiple fillings or multiple shells. The results were tasty, but I know myself well enough to know this is likely not a project I will repeat.
Sadly, more memorable than my below average cookies, were the other women in the group. Out of 14, nine were women who belonged to the same knitting circle led by a tall blonde named Beth. I won’t judge them for their lack of culinary knowledge (although if you don’t know how to fold in flour, you might want to re-think the class), but will judge them for mean girl antics. They insisted on going four and five to a table even though we were supposed to be three and four. Then, when my table produced the only decent trays of lavender cookies, Beth and her comrades seized them and filled them. They commandeered all of the fillings leaving the remaining two tables with one each and walked out of the class with 3x the cookies the rest of us had because one of the women brought her daughter and kept sending her to the back to get the cookies that had just come out of the oven before the teacher brought them to us.
Perhaps that’s the the thing that was ultimately missing from the experience: there’s something about entering a French bakery and seeing macarons displayed like jewelry and needing to respect the food and the venue. Parisian culture is that certain “je ne sais quoi” that takes a macaron from mere cookie to food of the gods.
*Or smuggle in Tootsie Rolls and hide the wrappers under the bed. Guess we now know how I got those 13 cavities…
**I’m typing this and wondering why I came back.
Real World, Thug Kitchens, Modern-Day Eloise, Jon Hamm in the closet of my dreams, Identity Politics, etc: Links I’ve Loved of Late
Well, this is a long one and one with more commentary than usual. But it counts as a post so I am at least still posting regularly!
- In an obviously linkbait-y post, Vulture ranked all the seasons of Real World (hat tip to Sean C for posting on FB and Jackie for wishing she’d shared it before Sean). While not 100% off, here’s my take on the top 5 seasons in order… I’m also sharing this post with a BREAKING REALITY TV ANNOUNCEMENT — I *will* be watching the Portland season marking the first season I’ve committed to watching since Brooklyn (yawn) in 2009:
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco
- New York
- Kaitlyn introduced me to Thug Kitchen. I am obsessed.
- GigaOm wrote about what Airbnb learned from Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop what you’re doing — it’s streaming on Netflix and is a must watch. In addition to just being a fantastic movie, it truly makes you rethink what it means to master a craft and what success in a role is. Jiro’s son has held the same title and position for decades, but for that family/culture, true success and professional excellence is ensuring that every single detail of a skill is mastered and done perfectly every day. While I have no desire to learn from Jiro directly and massage octopus for 8 years before being trusted with eggs, I did finish the movie and think that that’s the kind of attitude I’d like to bring to my job. I just love the idea of a business leader bringing it to his team as well.
- Jon Hamm did “7 Minutes in Heaven” putting me just one creepy SNL writer and a camera away from my dream of being trapped in a small space with Jon Hamm.
- Stephen Sondheim turned 83 last month and BuzzFeed provided this list of “15 Unforgettable Sondheim Songs” and because I love Sondheim, I’m sharing with you as well. Personal favorites are: 2, 3, 8, 10, 13, 14, and 15.
- Whether conservative or liberal, if you attended a small liberal arts college, this WSJ article on identity politics at Bowdoin is really interesting.
Published Wednesday, the report demonstrates how Bowdoin has become an intellectual monoculture dedicated above all to identity politics.
The school’s ideological pillars would likely be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to American higher education lately. There’s the obsession with race, class, gender and sexuality as the essential forces of history and markers of political identity. There’s the dedication to “sustainability,” or saving the planet from its imminent destruction by the forces of capitalism. And there are the paeans to “global citizenship,” or loving all countries except one’s own.
The Klingenstein report nicely captures the illiberal or fallacious aspects of this campus doctrine, but the paper’s true contribution is in recording some of its absurd manifestations at Bowdoin. For example, the college has “no curricular requirements that center on the American founding or the history of the nation.” Even history majors aren’t required to take a single course in American history. In the History Department, no course is devoted to American political, military, diplomatic or intellectual history—the only ones available are organized around some aspect of race, class, gender or sexuality.
One of the few requirements is that Bowdoin students take a yearlong freshman seminar. Some of the 37 seminars offered this year: “Affirmative Action and U.S. Society,” “Fictions of Freedom,” “Racism,” “Queer Gardens” (which “examines the work of gay and lesbian gardeners and traces how marginal identities find expression in specific garden spaces”), “Sexual Life of Colonialism” and “Modern Western Prostitutes.”
- DIY ALCOHOLIC DIPPIN’ DOTS!!! (If you have some liquid nitrogen handy…)
- An all-male version of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” and it’s pretty fabulous!
- I’m obsessed with the Lift app for iPhone for tracking daily habits. Since adopting, I’ve gotten better about flossing, drinking 8 glasses of water daily, exercising and more.
I was reminded recently of Adam Richman’s “20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die,” an article from GQ in 2006. You see, despite all my food snobbery, I believe that the cheeseburger is still the perfect sandwich and absolutely nothing tops a really really good one.
At the time, I vowed to eat all 20 in short order, but apparently stopped after making sure I hit all of the NYC locales and, sadly, had to admit to a friend that JG Melon’s was probably the superior NYC burger. (The Peter Luger burger, while delicious, was almost too much to handle).
This week, however, I’ve been in major cheeseburger-craving mode. I thought this would be satisfied with a slider from Green Dot Stables (which is, actually, a surprisingly good burger, but due to its slider size doesn’t really handle my fix). In my cheeseburger daydreaming, I came back to Adam’s list and discovered with great shock that I was a) only at 40% completion and b) one of my bucket list burgers was located just 30 minutes away at Sidetrack in Ypsilanti!
Friends, this is a great pub cheeseburger. Perfectly hand-formed 1/3 lb patty, soft simple sesame seed bun with a great meat to bread ratio, great melt on the cheese and cooked to a perfect medium rare.
And, because I am disappointed in myself for taking way too long with this challenge, I vow to hit the remaining 11 in the next three years. Prepare for trips to Seattle, Newport, New Haven, Miami, New Mexico (x2), Dallas, Napa, Hackensack, San Fran, and Chicago. I am accepting elastic waist-banded volunteers to join me!
Jeff: you’re an elitist snobit’s one of the things I love about youme: i am not a snobi am elitistJeff: A snob believes that some people are inherently inferior to him or her for any one of a variety of reasons, including real or supposed intellect, wealth, education, ancestry, power, physical strength, class, taste, beauty, nationality, et cetera.me: ohby that definition, i am a snobwhat’s your source?Jeff: wikipediame: not a trusted source… maybe BP wrote thatJeff: ha
Today I learned that Google has decided to kill Google Reader. I knew it was coming, but find it heartbreaking none the less.
I’ve been an avid Reader user since 2006 and am better about going through my entire Reader feed than any inbox I’ve ever had (I will not include voicemail inboxes though because that would be a joke)*. I currently subscribe to 121 blogs through Reader with categories for People I Know, favorite food blogs, top news outlets, and obviously much much more. I can’t imagine too many good friends of mine haven’t received an article I sent straight from Reader to them (afterall, email is the original form of digital social sharing…) What I fail to understand is why Google has put little effort into improving Reader in all this time.
Digital content consumption is increasing; mobile content consumption is increasing exponentially, and Google never once created an app or made it easier to check one’s Reader feed on the fly. You have a platform where people are committed to reading and sharing their favorite content regularly, but it’s not integrated with any social network other than Google+. In a blog post for my previous job, I suggested pulling Reader into Google+ as I’m confident that would have actually turned a committed base of passionate Reader users into Google+ users.
Instead, as part of spring cleaning, Google has killed the service that is my lifeline to my favorite sites and writers. It was, in particular, a friend to sites like mine — where a writer posts erratically as my (few but committed) readers didn’t have to remember to check back.
The cold-blooded murder of Google Reader combined with an email from WordPress that my domain mapping expired did, however, trigger a reminder that much as Google is doing “spring cleaning” of services so they’re not spread too thin, I should do the same. If I’m going to keep this site attached to my name, I need to write on it.
I used to love blogging because it was a space where I could share the things I loved, my random and scattered thoughts, and had an opportunity for more creative expression than I get in my day job. I loved the feedback from friends, family, and strangers; I’m still flattered that just in the last month three or four people have asked me why I’m not blogging more.
The truth is: this (formerly) safe space has felt less safe to me. While putting yourself out there publicly immediately opens you up to criticism, it’s hurtful to know that there are people who are sitting, searching my name, and sharing the things I write or say with mean commentary and chalking my posts up to “Gen Y Ramblings.” It made me question what was worthy of posting if it was going to be read a thousand times by people and over-critiqued for secret meanings.
How silly though — to let someone who devotes energy to unkind thoughts ruin a place where I was able to share my well-intentioned ones! My extended family has an amazing saying: “not my pig, not my farm” and I’ve chosen to apply it here: the hateful words and feelings of others are their problem… as is their wasted energy.
I am, technically, a Millennial and I do ramble and overuse ellipses and cheat and use bullets when I can’t handle real sentences. With that in mind, I hereby pledge to not let fear of others’ stop me from using a space that has maintained friendships, annoyed my mother, and kept me sane.
*Seriously, please don’t leave me voicemails. I will reply to your email. Promise.
UPDATE: This post on Google Reader is amazing. And should be reason enough for Google to keep the service.
Long time no see, WordPress! I’ve had trouble blogging the last few months partly because I knew I’d be moving and changing jobs but didn’t know when or where… and then once I did, it was all-consuming to actually make the move and start the new job. As a cheat sheet to my life changes, in the last month, I’ve:
- Moved from Washington, DC to southeastern Michigan.
- Left Ogilvy and joined Ford Motor Company.
- Acquired the world’s most adorable puppy, Pepper:
Most of the changes may have seemed a little sudden, especially to those who know how much I loved working at Social@Ogilvy and my New York friends who I repeatedly promised I’d be moving to be with shortly (potentially for the last two years). However, I am so proud to get to work for Ford and take on a new challenge for an organization I already love and respect.
Anyway, I’m here, I’m mostly moved in, and I have a guest room and membership in a wine club: so book your tickets to DTW, friends!
Yesterday was my 29th birthday and 0 gray hairs were found… ego and sanity therefore remain in tact! As I am older and wiser, here are a few things I learned in my 28th year:
- You should get a dog even if everyone tells you it’s wildly impractical. That adorable face above also comes with a nervous and scared 11 week old puppy who barks at the shower, is not yet housebroken, and is teething (hey there Cole Haan, I’m sorry Pepper has no respect for your lovely shoes). At the end of the day though, it’ll take me a while to make new friends so it’s good that I have someone forced to love me as I’m the hand that feeds her.
- “It’s not personal, it’s business,” is not a realistic statement if you truly love your job. I cried saying goodbye and thank you to way too many wonderful colleagues. Working at Ogilvy was such an incredible personal experience as well as professional: I met some of my best friends there, I experienced the benefits of amazing mentoring, and I was given opportunities for work and professional growth that I can’t imagine getting anywhere else… how could saying goodbye and deciding to leave not be something personal at that point?
- Embrace the art of stress-free productivity. 8 months ago, I completely reorganized my life and changed how I manage every single personal and professional input. Since that moment, I’ve woken up every day feeling completely in control and having healthy perspective of the work in front of me. If you’re not feeling that way, read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, declare inbox bankruptcy, and spend 2 days offline getting your life together. It will be the best thing you do for your own sanity. Promise.
- As they get older, parents are terrible about asking for help. Twice in the last few months, I’ve decided to go home to help my parents with a move and an injury. I was never asked, but I can’t imagine not having gone or having left them to deal with those moments alone. In the future, I’ll try harder to read between the lines so that I don’t miss future moments where I could be helpful.
- Accept when you want to nest. As much as I love New York and all my friends there, I can’t tell you how happy I am to have a full kitchen and spare bedroom and my own laundry room. Those were items that didn’t make it on my decision-making spreadsheet, but the more I thought about where I wanted to be, they helped make this move just feel right.
Hopefully my next post won’t take quite so long… especially as I have much to say about reality tv, newly discovered wines, and the many brushes with nature my new Pure Michigan life brings me:
Last week, I checked a major Someday/Maybe item off my to do list (also the sole item in the “Fun” section of my task management system… feel free to judge accordingly): an introductory culinary knife skills class.
I’ve always loved cooking, but these days it’s not a practical hobby: I travel a ton, I live alone, and if I were to spend a weekend home cooking, I wouldn’t be able to consume the food before either it went bad or I got sick of it. Also, my kitchen is an ugly, sad, poorly ventilated room with hideous cabinets and thus, I don’t spend much time there.
Anyway, you should run — not walk — to take a knife skills class (and if in DC, I highly recommend the one at CulinAerie with Susan Watterson as the instructor). Here’s why:
- You are probably not holding your knife correctly. I know this because the last four friends I told this story too (who love to cook) were not holding their knife correctly.
- You are probably not be efficient with motions while chopping or slicing.
- Deboning a chicken will be one of the more satisfying experiences of the week.
- You’ll learn a number of ways to be more efficient with your shopping — both of knives and food.
- You will produce a beautifully cut carrot within the first 20 minutes. Please see mine:
That said, I’m a big fan of optimizing experiences. Here’s what I would keep in mind if you are taking an introductory cooking class on a Saturday morning:
- Apparently a lot of people give newlyweds/newly-engaged/cute couples in their lives cooking classes as a present. Here’s the thing: the cute couple in someone else’s life is not a cute couple in my life. I spent three hours behind two hippies making out between cuts. And I had a big knife at my disposal. It was quite an exercise in restraint.
- A lot of people see knife skills as a good intro class and, literally, have never cut anything other than the packaging around a microwave meal. Be prepared for people around you to be confused about pretty much everything. Wait… when you said keep the root on to hold the onion together, did you mean this root that I just cut off? Ooopsies!
- You just might be forced to work next to Mary Jane. Because I did and she was a complete moron who will likely have to repeat the course several more times. Mary Jane was a delightful Southern belle in a relationship with a hairy and verbally abusive man whose name I’ve already forgotten. What’s great about WhatsHisName is he doesn’t let his own lack of knife skills slow down his criticism of everything Mary Jane does. And what’s great about Mary Jane is like a goldfish, by the time she swims around the bowl, she’s forgotten everything he’s said.
Since I’m solutions-oriented, rather than offer a multi-paragraph, detail-studded “Ode to Mary Jane,” I’ll give you this advice: if you take this course, you should call and find out a) if you work in partners and b) if you’re at small tables or in small groups. And then, you should take the class with however many friends you need to use as a buffer from everyone else in the room. Sartre was right: hell is other people, but if you’re going to be stuck there, you don’t want to be while learning how to wield sharp objects.