On Beauty and Saying Thank You: A night at Birchbox’s NYFW Sample Stop

Making business a personal experience has long been at the top of my mind, and more so than ever since I started to work for Gary Vaynerchuk, author of The Thank You Economy.  And while that may be an easier task for small brands than large, very few companies give back to their customers quite like Birchbox.

I was lucky enough to attend their New York Fashion Week Sample Stop with my dear friend Alana.  We were beside ourselves with excitement after days of watching the event via instagram and Twitter, but even that didn’t prepare us for the delectable Beauty Wonderland we found inside the Meatpacking District pop up shop.  I spent some time in my former life as a meticulous event planner, and I can say with absolute sincerity that there was nothing I would have done differently.  It was, in a word, perfect.

You can’t fake these smiles. (photo via @Birchbox on Instagram)

Upon arrival, guests were given empty Birchboxes, a glass of champagne, and the order to go to the sample wall, which featured rows of beauty treats and candy.  Each girl could fill a bag of candy to snack on, and pick out 4-5 of her favorite samples.  This task was the Sophie’s Choice of the beauty world, but I’m giddy with my final selection of products I’ve been dying to try but was too gun-shy to buy.

The Sample Wall: good enough to eat!

Can’t wait to use everything in my box. TOMORROW!

Next, you could take an hors d’ourvres from trays that never seemed to empty and get your name on the list for beauty treatments: brow shaping from the Benefit Brow Bar, manicures and nail art from Color Club, makeover from Fresh, and hair by Aveda.  I got my first ever brow shaping (less painful than expected!) and some “crazy,” nail art (though, keep in mind, my idea of “crazy” nails is coral or hot pink.)  Alana got what they called the trifecta: brows, nails, and a fabulous Betty Draper inspired updo.

Alana gets styled by the gentlemen of Aveda.

Finally, we were treated to a concert from my new musical obsession, Tristan Prettyman.  Her performance was nothing short of a delight, and I can’t wait to pick up her new record this fall.

Tristan Prettyman went straight onto my Spotify playlist.

If I sound like I’m glowing, well, I am.  I simply can’t say enough good about this wonderful company.  I’ve been a devoted fan of Birchbox for a year now, but after seeing such a huge gesture of thanks to their customers, I plan to shop in their store as exclusively as I can.  Thank you to Katia and all of the wonderful Birchbox girls!

Are you a Birchbox subscriber?  If yes, what’s the best product you’ve received?

Nail art and Champagne in front of the Color Club manicure station

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On Travel: The Surprising World Class Cuisine in Reykjavik

The past few weeks have been so crazy that I haven’t even had time to feel guilty for not blogging.  I wrapped up my time as Associate Creative Director at Big Fuel, had a wonderful first three weeks as Copy Lead at VaynerMedia, then boarded a plane bound for Iceland at the end of a work day.  The idea was to write every night about that day’s adventures, but I’ve been so spent at the end of every day that that hasn’t happened.  It’s day four, and I finally snuck away to a small wifi cafe for an hour before horse riding through Icelandic meadows and mountains.

Let me derail my original subject for a moment: there is something incredibly fun about writing in a foreign cafe.  The bright  colors of the cafe walls to offset the dark parts of the year, the smell of the deliciously strong Kaffi, and the enchanting rhythm of the Icelandic language: I could sit here and listen all day.  I’ll be sad to leave Reykjavik tomorrow, but only a bit.  It’s hard to be sad about anything when you have Bergen and the fjords of Norway to look forward to.

One more thing of note: my body has no idea what time it is.  I didn’t fully believe it, but it literally never gets dark here.  Twilight approaches around 1am, right around the time that the big parties really start to rolick in the plaza outside my hotel window, but dark never takes over.  I can’t imagine what it must be like on the other side of the year, when night is at its most triumphant.

Oh right, that thing I was planning to write about.

I expected to find many things in Iceland: glaciers, hot springs, waterfalls, mountains.  What I didn’t expect was world class cuisine.  I’d been told about the national junk food (hot dogs, and for the record, they are delicious,) but I hadn’t been told about the incredible national delicacies: minke whale, lamb, mussels the size of unshelled peanuts, and fish fish fish.  Here, I’ve eaten more creative concoctions than I’ve seen even in New York, and all served by beautiful, humble people who take great pride in their unique dishes.

Here’s a run down of the restaurants so far:

The Icelandic Cafe

At first glance, this looks like a rundown bar, but the menu reveals that it’s anything but.  Choices include tiny tasting pots and full meals of foal, seared minke whale, and lamb.  While I couldn’t bring myself to eat a baby horse, my family ordered a sprinkling of dishes, and I did try almost everything else.  The highlights:

  • Creamy fish soup
  • Traditional meat soup with huge hunks of lamb and root vegetables
  • A pot of seared minke whale with wasabi potato puree (yes, I do feel slightly guilty about the whale, but they are hunted humanely and within a protected number each year, so please don’t leave angry comments.)
  • Seared salted cod

The Puffin Pot never arrived, but I was so full that I didn’t complain.  My brother is determined to try Puffin before we leave, so it may be on the menu tonight.

[Rub 23]

Sushi is becoming very popular in Iceland, thanks to the abundance of fish.  But the sushi at [Rub 23] has a distinctly Icelandic spin.  Take, for example, the Surf n’ Turf roll, filled with local lobster tempura and wrapped in beef carpaccio, or the Ten Ten Three Tempura Maki, made with tempura lobster, arctic char, salad, and chilly tamago.  If Sushi isn’t your thing, you can pick a fish or a meat and a rub.  And you shouldn’t leave without trying the blue mussels.  I’m not sure if the picture does it justice, but they’re huge, creamy, and dream worthy.

The Fish Market

This is the famous one that the travel writers gush about, and for good reason: it was the single best meal I’ve ever had in my life.  We took the suggestion of the happy table next to us and ordered the nine course tasting menu: four appetizers, sushi course, three entrees, and a dessert platter. It was a great decision. I can cook, but I can’t dream of cooking like this.  As the meat and fish is all local and sustainable, the menu changes almost daily, but here’s what we had:

  • Minke whale sashimi with wasabi cream cheese.  The whale was lightly seared, but not enough to be considered cooked.  It was infinitely better than the pot we’d had two nights before.  It was decadently rich and melted in your mouth.
  • Rock shrimp tempura
  • Icelandic blue mussels with lobster broth and bonito flakes
  • Crispy spinach salad with grilled pears and oranges, fried quail eggs, crunchy sesam seeds and soya roasted hazel nuts
  • Sushi course: salmon sashimi, raw scallops with eel sauce, raw tuna, and a salmon roll.  All delectable.
  • Salted cod with lime zest, potato puree, dried cranberries, and celery salad
  • Grilled salmon with parsnip, apple, and fennel salad, radish and crispy fried lotus root
  • Grilled fillet of lamb with sweet potatoes, shank of lamb confit, and balsamic marinated portobello mushrooms.  An interesting thing to note here: I’m used to lamb being prepared as a savory dish, but here it was sweet, understated, and insanely good.
  • Dessert: flourless chocolate cake, creme brulee topped with fruit, white chocolate cream cheese mousse, and four types of ice cream: coconut, chocolate, passion fruit, and Icelandic black raspberry.  The perfect end to the perfect feast.

My hour is up, and I have to run.  I’ll edit this post later, as it’s insanely long, but will put it up now, because I can’t wait to talk about the food!

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On College: What Theatre, Shakespeare, and Improv Taught Me About Business

A couple days ago, The Daily Beast posted about The 13 Most Useless Majors, and then Newsweek reblogged the article on their tumblr.  My blood started to boil.  Among the “Most Useless Majors” were Fine Arts, English Literature and Language, Philosophy, and of course, Theatre, and the evidence was based on salary and unemployment rate.  I get what they’re saying, I know plenty of actors, writers, and musicians working in bars and scraping to get by.  Fine.  But a degree in the humanities expands your mind, gives you a more diverse world view, and teaches you how to think.  And isn’t that the point of education?

Many of the most effective professionals I know in agencyland come from one of these majors.  They studied photography, literature, architecture, or film making, and now they’re Account Directors, Project Managers, UX designers, and Creative Directors.  And not surprisingly, they’re the most open to *cringe* “out of the box” thinking.

Here’s a handful of invaluable business skills I learned from my “useless” Theatre degree, acting classes, and improv training:

Meeting a deadline

“The show must go on” is a theatrical cliche for a reason.  Opening night can’t be pushed back; you’re either ready to go up, or you’re not.  And not being ready isn’t an option.

How to pitch

I took an acting class in LA that would assign a scene and a scene partner.  It was up to you to track down the play, memorize it, and have it ready to show in class the following week.  Being given 20 pages of dialogue wasn’t unheard of, and if you couldn’t keep up, you were out of the class.  That may sound extreme, but usually you’re given even less time to prepare for an audition, so the teacher wanted us to practice.

That’s not even touching on an actual audition room, where you may have a day to prepare the same amount of work, then perform it for a table full of stone-faced, bored casting directors who may or may not be eating their lunch.

In comparison, presenting and selling a long deck that I helped to write is a piece of cake.

How to think on your feet

When you’re live on stage and something goes wrong, you have no choice but to act like nothing happened, be resourceful, and deal with it.  It’s a great lesson in staying calm and coming up with creative solutions in a pinch.

Being on a team

In improv, it’s the whole team’s job to make everybody else look good.  Being part of a theatre department is like being in a big, incestuous family, where everybody plays their part to get a show off the ground.  Acting is very personal work, so in a class, everybody does their best work when they’re comfortable and feel supported.  If that sounds strange, well, it is.  But a production sinks or swims by its teamwork.

Analyzing a brief

Have you ever analyzed classical text?  It’s kind of like picking out the key takeaways in a brief, only in verse.

When you’re an actor preparing for any script, you learn how to read it as a whole, and garner information from everything: what your character says, what your character says about itself, and what other characters say about your character.  Some people break it down into beats.  Some people use a series of actions.  Some people physicalize it.  Some internalize.

The point is you become very good at scanning a piece, filling in the holes, and then quickly finding the most important parts.  And that’s an important skill to take beyond the theatre.

Creating budgets and finding money

In college, I co-produced and directed a student show called From the Wings that focused on giving students who were either rarely-cast or typecast an opportunity to show what they could do. This was a great lesson in creating budgets, sticking to budgets, and tracking down other sources of money.

Artistic grants, anyone?

How to read people

A big part of being an actor is being able to read your scene partner, and the Meisner technique is built largely on this idea.  An early exercise has you sit in a chair facing your partner and make eye contact for long periods of time, then interpret what they’re thinking.  You become very at knowing what’s going through somebody’s mind.  Cool?  Yes.  Creepy?  A little bit.  Hated by future boyfriends?  Yes.

It’s a power you can use for good or for evil, but it’s incredibly helpful in many work situations: joining a new team, knowing how to navigate both junior and senior colleagues,  and most importantly, how to deal with clients.

How to work for it

Ultimately, you don’t make it in the arts without an insane work ethic.  Sometimes, somebody gets lucky, but often it comes down to “who wants it more, and who will put in the most work.”  Most of my peers and me took 20+ credit hours a semester on top of rehearsing for shows.  I got used to working 14+ hour days long before joining an agency.

Before any of you try to point out that I am not a famous actress, I’d like to say that I ultimately chose a different path, became a writer, and hey!  Now I very happily get paid to write every day.  And the work ethic I learned as a theatre major and a starving artist in LA is directly responsible for any success I’ve enjoyed in my career path.

I’m sure that anybody with an unconventional background who’s working in business can give you a similar list of how their education and life experience has made them successful.  Let me be clear, I’m not knocking “practical” majors like business, but unless you’re going into a specific field such as engineering, it doesn’t matter what you studied as an undergrad. It matters that you know how to think, educate yourself about your chosen profession, and then work your tail off.  Instead of judging what other people have done/studied and poo-pooing their “lack of experience,” let’s evaluate the person, their skill set, and their passion for the job.

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On Becoming a Writer: An Evening with Jenny Lawson

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of female comedy writers.  Seeing as I am one.  When a funny female receives praise on her own comedic merit, instead of being slammed for being “too pretty to be funny” or “having a period,” it makes me want to stand on a chair and cheer.  So when my friend Alana told me that Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, would be in NYC to do a reading on the day of her book launch (aka yesterday,) I wanted to be first in line.

Let’s get one thing out there.  Jenny’s book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, is laugh out loud funny.  As in, you’ll be the crazy person laughing to yourself on the subway.  Which means you probably don’t want to read it on your Kindle.  But either way, you should buy it.

In real life, Jenny Lawson is sweet, humble, and equipped with all the searing wit you’d expect.  In spite of her well documented anxiety disorder, she handled her first reading like a pro.  Her comedic timing is spot on, and she gave eloquent, honest advice to every question that was asked.  In short, she’s impossible not to love.

I scribbled a bunch of notes on a New Yorker subscription card since I forgot a notebook.  But hey, Jenny once resorted to lipstick on toilet paper!  So writers, bloggers, freaks of nature, listen up!

On Doing Something You’re Afraid Of (and/or, Dealing With Anxiety)

Jenny was terrified to record her audio book.  So she emailed Neil Gaimon for advice, since he records all of his own audio books.  (Yes, that Neil Gaimon.) And he wrote her back.

*Pause to let the awesome sink in.*

He told her, “Pretend you’re good at it.”

And she did.  She wrote “Pretend you’re good at it” on her arm, and every time she got nervous in the recording studio, she would look at those words and find the courage to kill it.  In a good way.

On Getting a Book Deal

Most people think that Jenny went from blog to book, but that’s not so.  She started writing Let’s Pretend This Never Happened years ago as a memoir for her daughter, but was having a hard time writing it.  So she started blogging.  And that’s how she learned how to write.

I personally love this story.  Nearly every writer talks about their struggles, but it’s always comforting to hear that writing is hard.  For everybody.  Even the published.  And nobody becomes a successful writer without working their tails off.  I know this is shocking and difficult for the newer generations who are raised to think that they are special and talented because they manage to get out of bed, breathe oxygen, and tie their shoes.  Not downplaying those accomplishments, just saying, art is work!

On Dealing With Editors

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was roughly a decade in the making.  When Jenny handed it over to her editor, she felt like she was handing over her beautiful, perfect baby.  We can all relate to that one. And then, the editor unwrapped the precious baby from its swaddling clothes, and “chopped its arms off.”

The editing process was hard.

In the end, it turned out that Jenny’s baby looked better without arms.  Not because she has a cripple fetish, but because writers need editors.  All writers.  The end.

On Getting Started as a Blogger/Finding Your Audience

Besides opening an account and you, know, writing in it, Jenny offers two tips:

  1. Find Your Voice.  Everybody has one.  And you find it by, oh… wait for it… writing!  Remember the part where writing is hard?  Where you get better by working hard at it?  See what people respond to, then do more of it.  You may try a bunch of different things before you find your voice, and that’s ok.  You’re going to learn from failure.  It also helps to read.  Seek out other writers and bloggers that appeal to you, and evaluate why you like them.
  2. Those blogs you like?  Comment on them!  But make sure your comment is relevant, eloquent, and appropriate for that blog’s (and your targeted) audience.  Maybe those readers will like your comment and mosey on over to your blog.  That’s how The Bloggess initially built her readership, and now she applauds enterprising writers who do the same on hers.  Don’t think of it as poaching.  Think of it as forming a community.

On Community

We gotta support each other, y’all. As she said, “Maybe if all the freaks of nature find each other, we won’t be so lonely.”

On Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse

On a recent CNN appearance, Jenny called for presidential candidates to outline their Zombie Apocalypse plans.  In the absence of political action, she and her family are prepared.

The original plan was flame throwers until her husband pointed out that she’d have to deal with flaming zombies.  Terrifying.  So now, she, her husband, and her daughter all have samurai swords.  Sharp (for cutting off heads,) long (so they don’t get too close,) and totally badass, she recommends that you get one too.

Can’t afford one?  Go to the mall and get a Highlander replica.  “They’ll try to tell you that there’s only one.  But no.  There’s not.”

The Bloggess signed my book, y'all!

So there you have it.  Sage advice, and probably the longest post I’ll ever write.  If you’re still here, thanks.  And Jenny, if you’re reading this, thanks. For the inspiration, the example, and being just generally awesome.

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On Ribs

I almost put in an application on a less-than-ideal apartment today.  Why?  It had a big patio.  In Manhattan.  I had visions of a grill, summer bbqs, and most importantly, ribs, and lost my mind for a moment.

Luckily, I recovered.

I’m a bit of a snob about my ribs.  I worked in a top notch BBQ joint in college, and one of my favorite memories from my three cross country drives was a pit stop at Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City.  So I was surprised when my dad dug up this recipe from an old Bon Appetit, and they were among the best I’d ever had.  Now, no trip home to Buffalo is complete without them!  The best part?  His adaptation is INSANELY simple.  We cooked some up last weekend when I was home for Easter (and by “we,” I mean, “he while the dog and I watched,”) and now I’m sharing it with you.  Pull these suckers out at your next BBQ to impress the pants off of everybody.

In the meantime, Miss Manhattan may start looking for patio-ed apartments in Brooklyn.

I got a fever. And the only prescription is more Cowbroth!

Boil everything.

Add ribs.

Slather with BBQ sauce. Note how the meat is pulling away from the bone.

Grill.

Don't trip over terrier.

Put on a bib.

Baby (got) Back Ribs

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 lbs baby back ribs
  • 84 ounces beef broth
  • 3/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup hot pepper sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cumin
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
  • BBQ sauce of your choice.  I’m partial to Jack Daniels Original No. 7, but if you like spicy, I highly recommend ordering a bottle of KC goodness from Arthur Bryants!
  1. Put everything but the ribs and sauce in a giant pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Add the ribs, cover, and braise for an hour.
  3. Test the ribs by pulling a rack out of the pot with tongs.  The meat should be shrinking away from the bones, but not quite falling off yet.
  4. When done, remove the ribs from the brine and slather generously with BBQ sauce.
  5. Grill the ribs over medium heat for about 10 minutes.  Turn them 3-4 times over the course of cooking, slapping on more sauce each time.
  6. Serve.  Add more BBQ sauce if desired.
  7. Bask in the glory of your culinary genius.
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On Poetry:: finding solace in words

Clearly I have broken my resolution.  I have not been writing every day.  In fact, I’ve barely been writing at all.  To put it bluntly, the past two months have been terrible.  A series of difficult events topped off by the loss of my beloved grandmother have made the time since my last post challenging, to say the least.  But as it’s wont to do, the death has helped to put a lot of things into perspective for me.  It hasn’t made the other challenges easier, but it has reminded me of the value of life, and the importance of trying to live it with joy.

That’s easier said than done, especially when you’re grieving.  I’ve become very good at compartmentalizing, which may or may not be a good thing.  But it’s been hard the past few weeks.  Most people in this day and age, myself included, believe that you’re allowed a set amount of time to grieve, usually a week or so, and then you’re supposed to magically be over it.  If you go over your socially acceptable amount of time, some people, especially New Yorkers, start to see you as a burden.

But let’s be real.  When you lose somebody that you deeply love, it doesn’t actually work that way, does it?

When I was a freshman in college, I bought a book in a musty independent bookshop called “The Hell With Love: Poems to Mend a Broken Heart.”   It’s a collection of poems divided among the stages of grief, and while it’s centered around a breakup, I’ve found solace in its words through all sorts of trials over the past decade.

I pulled it off my bookshelf this morning, and opened to these dog-eared pages:

In the Grove: The Poet at Ten by Jane Kenyon

She lay on her back at the timothy / and gazed past the doddering/auburn heads of sumac.

A cloud – huge, calm, / and dignified – covered the sun / but it did not, could not, put it out.

The light surged back again.

Nothing could rouse her then / from that joy so violent / it was hard to distinguish from pain.

In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver (excerpt)

To live in this world

you must be able / to do three things: / to love what is mortal; / to hold it

against your bones knowing / your own life depends on it; / and, when the time comes to let it go, / to let it go.

I have always found comfort in words, and though I tend to forget them after moving on with life, these particular words have always struck me.  I’ll let them speak for themselves, but I hope that some of you may find comfort in them as well.

As for me, today, I suppose I’m the poet at ten.  I’m not magically over anything, but I’ve realized that that’s ok.  I’m still tangled in the branches, but I see the light.  And it’s not going to stop me from smiling, getting out in the world, and enjoying all of the good things and new experiences ahead of me.

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On Cooking with Teenage Morals: Veal Piccata

As a teenager, I had very high ideals.  I informed my parents that I wanted to be a vegetarian.  They lovingly replied that when I lived on my own I could eat whatever I wanted, but as long as I lived under their roof, my dad (yes, my dad) would cook only one meal a night.

Fine then.  I would eat anything but veal.  Veal was cruel.  Didn’t they know how veal was raised?  That lasted until the parish priest came over for dinner, and my dad made something special.  I made my lofty protests up until five minutes before the doorbell rang, but as an Irish-Catholic growing up in Buffalo, you lose when the priest comes over for dinner.

Call it divine intervention, growing up, or loss of ideals, but as an adult, Veal Piccata is one of my favorite splurge dishes.  I make it when I’m craving easy gourmet, trying to impress a date, or on Sundays, which tends to be a fancy dinner night for me.  I guess some traditions stick for a reason.

Recipe comes, appropriately, from my dad.

NonPareilles

Pound it flat!  If you don’t have a meat pounder, disinfect a hammer, wrap the meat in plastic, and go at it!  Think of it as resourceful.

Shake it like a…

Remember, you’re dealing with beef, so careful not to overcook.  One minute per side will do it.

Whisk until reduced by half!

Cook for additional minute and allow sauce to thicken.

Dig in!

Veal Piccata                                                                                                                                                                                                                Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 veal scallops, about 3/4 pound, pounded to a thickness of 1/8-inch
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 lemon, juiced, or more to taste, (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoon capers, drained (I like nonpareilles)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves, optional, plus sprigs for garnish

1)  In a shallow bowl or plate combine the flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt and pepper and stir to combine thoroughly.

2) Dredge the veal scallops in the seasoned flour mixture, shaking to remove any excess flour.

3) Mix together chicken stock, chopped garlic, lemon juice, and capers.  Set aside.

4) Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter.   

5)  Quickly cook the veal until golden brown on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside. You may have to do this in multiple batches.

6) Deglaze the pan with wine and bring to a boil, scraping to remove any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Continue to stir as necessary.

7)  Reduce the wine by half.  (You’ll have to eyeball this one.)

8)  Add the chicken/garlic/lemon juice/caper mixture and cook for 5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly. 

9) Whisk in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, remaining 3 1/2 tablespoons of butter and the chopped parsley.

10) When the butter has melted, return the veal scallops to the pan and cook until the sauce has thickened, about 1 minute.

11) Garnish with parsley sprigs, a generous amount of sauce, and serve immediately.

I highly recommend serving this dish with lady finger potatoes or roasted carrots and parsnips.  You’ll notice in my picture that I made mashed potatoes.  While always delicious, they’re not the best accompaniment.  It’s just what I had in the cupboard.

Tip:  If you want to make your co-workers jealous, make extra, slap it between pieces of rye bread, and pack it for one of the most delicious home-made sandwiches you’ve ever eaten.

Tip:  Reserve the peel of your juiced lemon and use it to wipe down your sink.  It’s a natural way to remove stains and deodorize!

Tip:  This recipe isn’t hard, but it does require a watchful eye and precise timing.  I added a pre-mixing step, but pre-measuring everything else before you start cooking will help to ensure success!

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On growing up quickly

One of my favorite times in New York City is early weekend mornings.  The same people with whom I do weekday sidewalk battle stroll leisurely through the street holding coffee, pushing strollers, and walking dogs.  The streets look brighter, and it feels like the city is being re-born.

Unfortunately, my love for city mornings is usually eclipsed by my other favorite part of the weekend: sleeping off the insanity of the work week, and waking up slowly over coffee and The Times.  But this morning, I stopped at the gourmet shop to buy breakfast sausage (for me) and almond flour (for this afternoon’s costly french macaron experiment.)

Ahead of me in the check-out line was a young girl pushing a folding shopping cart.  She had a fashionable bob and Hunter boots, and couldn’t have been more than ten.  I thought she was with the man behind her, until the cashier yelled, “NEXT,” and she toddled up to the register by herself.  She pulled bakery bags of scones and pastries from her push cart, and leaned cooly against the counter in an obvious imitation of her mother.  I giggled to myself because her head barely came over the counter.  The cashier gave her her total ($10. 76,) and she proudly handed over a fifty.  I watched her count her change as she’d been instructed, but she gave herself away when, satisfied that she hadn’t been ripped off, she flung thirty-nine dollars and change into the grocery bag, and clumsily stuffed the whole thing back into her folding shopping cart.  She thanked the cashier, and headed for home.

A long line built up behind her, but everybody was smiling.  Here was a mini city girl-in-training: very mature and sophisticated, but still wearing the mark of childhood.  I wondered to myself, “is she growing up too fast?”  After all, ten is very young to be buying groceries.  But then I thought back to myself at that age.  I wanted very much to be an adult, and nothing would have made me feel cooler than a solo trip to buy breakfast for the family.  I played dress-up and make believe, but I also wrote stories, looked after my little brother, and could have been trusted with a fifty.  No, this was just a little girl, marking her independence in a safe Manhattan neighborhood.  And the simple humanity of it made the usual grim-faced, busy doers of New York stop, think, and smile.

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On Tiny Kitchens: Seven Tips for Cooking in Small Spaces

Myth: You can’t cook in a small kitchen.

Reality:  Bollocks!  You just need to get creative.

I live in a 250 square foot Manhattan studio, and I cook from scratch all the time.  Granted, my 250 sq ft is extremely well laid out, and I have the luxury of an “eat-in kitchen.”  This means that on top of my four square inches of counter space, I have room for what I’ve dubbed my Multi-TaSkEr.  “Multi” from the Latin word meaning “many,” and TaSkEr being a Smurd made up of table + desk + counter.

Here are seven tips I’ve discovered for cooking in a small kitchen:

1) Create space

There’s plenty of ways to create storage and counter space.  Start by going vertical.  My studio came with one cabinet above the sink, one cabinet below, and no drawers.  I brought in my multi-TaSkEr and a tall thin pantry that my mom found for $69 at Big Lots.  Yep, Big Lots. A letter box from Pottery Barn was turned into a wall-mounted spice rack.  I’d originally planned on installing cup hooks to hang measuring spoons and the like, but I didn’t need to in the end.

2) Find alternate surfaces

I had a studio-dwelling friend who used to wash her floor, tape down newspaper, tape down wax paper, put down a floured pastry cloth, watch where she walked, and roll out her cut-out cookies.  If that grosses you out and you live in NYC, well, you also ride the subway.  So there’s that.

3) Let the butcher do the work

Don’t let a complicated, space sucking cut job prevent you from making a stuffed pork loin.  There’s no shame in asking the butcher to butterfly or de-bone for you.  It’s what they’re there for.

4) Clean as you go

Besides making your after-dinner job easier, cleaning as you go frees up counter space and pots that you may want to use again later on in the recipe.

5) Only get the bare essentials

You don’t need an entire block of knives or a KitchenAid Mixer to make great meals.  (But I want one.  Real bad.)  Those 10-pc sets are tempting, but spend your money on a few quality things.  Quality cookware will last a long time, and you won’t believe the difference it makes in your cooking.  For starters, I highly recommend splurging on this set from All Clad, which comes with your three basic pots and pans.  You’ll also probably want a 12 inch non-stick skillet.  And if you’re like soups, stews, and sauces, save up for a 5 1/2 qt Le Creuset (they have an outlet if you’re really looking to save.)  For knives, start with a chef’s Knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife.  I promise that’s all you really need.

6) Stock the basic ingredients

Don’t let being under-stocked stop you from cooking!  You don’t have to run out and buy turmeric and marjoram, but pick up the basics.  A good place to start is extra-virgin olive oil, kosher salt, a pepper grinder, basil, oregano, sage, rosemary, and thyme.  (Sorry parsley.)

7) Stop making excuses and just do it

Above all, it comes down to actually wanting to cook.  Nobody is forcing you to do it.  So if you want to, don’t be lazy.  Get creative, stock up on the basics, and make it work!

Do you have a small kitchen?  Tell me how you deal with it in the comments!

On Pasta

A few months ago, this Bon Appetit article changed my life.  It has great tips on creating silky pan sauces without a recipe.  The secret ingredient?  Pasta water.  Below is a written recipe for the directionally inclined.  The prosciutto is optional if you want to make this vegetarian.  Other great “protein” options include seared scallops, pancetta, and good ol’ fashioned bacon.  Peas and mint too trendy for you?  Create your own veggie combo and feel like a genius!

Step 2: Fresh Pasta!

Step 6: Add the peas.

Step 8: Toss in the pasta.

Step 9: Add butter and cheese, then mix in.

Step 10: Cheese?  What cheese?  Just fresh herbs here!

Prego.

Pasta, peas!

For Prep:

  • One glass wine (your preference)
For Pasta:
  • 1 healthy handful of Kosher Salt
  • Water
  • ~12 oz Fresh Fettuccine (If you’re not a snob like I am, boxed pasta is ok too.)
For Sauce:
  • Olive Oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 Shallots, chopped
  •  4 ounces peas
  • 1/2 – 1 cup pasta water
  • 3 TBSP grated Parmesan Reggiano
  • 3 TBSP grated Pecorino Romano
  • 2 TBSP unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2-4 ounces Prosciutto, depending on your cholesterol level, cubed
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

1) Pour yourself a glass of vino (It’s actually illegal to prepare pasta without drinking wine in 7 states.)

2) Dump the Kosher salt into a pot of water and bring to a boil.

3) Add the pasta and cook until 2 minutes before al dente (Italian for “to the tooth,” or done.)  For fresh pasta, this is only 2 minutes!

4) Reserve ~1 cup of pasta water, then strain out the rest.  Set pasta aside for later.

5) Coat the bottom of a 10 or 12 inch skillet in olive oil.  Saute garlic and shallots on medium heat for 2 minutes.

6) Add the peas.  Saute for another 2 minutes.

tip: If you can’t find fresh peas, frozen is fine.  Just defrost them in cold water for a few minutes before cooking.

7) Pour 1/2 cup of the pasta water into the pan and simmer for 3-5 minutes to create a pan sauce.  The water should reduce by about half.  Add the prosciutto for the last minute of cooking.

time-saving tip: Some grocery stores sell pre-cubed prosciutto.  I tried it for the first time today.  It was good, but I prefer getting it thick sliced from the butcher and cutting it myself.

8) Add the pasta to the pan and toss with tongs to coat.  Cook for 2 minutes over medium-high high heat until al dente.

9)  Remove from heat and toss in cheese and butter until it’s awesomely melty.

10) Toss in the mint.

11) Serve!  Be sure to put lots of goodies in every bowl, and make it pretty by twirling the pasta with your tongs.  If you have guests, allow them to do their own salt and pepper.

12) Make it a meal with salad and lots of crusty bread!

Serves four girlfriends, or you, a very hungry manfriend, and leftovers for lunch!

Final tips: If eye-balling doesn’t scare you, feel free to adjust according to your tastes.  If you find Romano cheese to be too strong, go ahead and just use Parmesan.  And if you’re trying to be healthy, use whole wheat pasta and reduce the cheese by 2 tbsp.

What are your favorite pasta tips?

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