The Lonely Thesis (A Cocktail)

It’s been almost a year since I’ve found fit to write something here. There are many reasons for this, some of which I imagine I’ll eventually unpack with a paid professional and a box of tissues.

I’ve been writing and I’ve been cooking, to be sure. In fact, I’ve been writing and cooking so much that someone decided that I should teach a course about just that. This past semester I taught a food writing workshop for undergraduates in NYU’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies.

I also taught a graduate course on food manufacturing. In total, we visited 22 facilities, including Tortilleria Chinantla in Bushwick, where each day half a million tortillas make the four-minute journey from flour and water to bagged, boxed and ready to sell. We toured an artisanal chocolate maker just blocks from a large-scale industrial dumpling and noodle factory. We even got to see how the sausage gets made (literally!) at the Sabrett factory in the South Bronx, which produces a million hot dogs a day.

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But the single best class, at least in my mind, was the morning we toured breweries along the Gowanus Canal. Naturally, we sampled as we went.

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Stop 1: Travis Kauffman of Folksbier Brauerei serving up classic European-style beer 

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Stop 2: Joe Harer and Peter Salmond at Other Half Brewing, in the shadow of the BQE.

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Stop 3: Emily Elsen of Four and Twenty Blackbirds (A little pie to soak up that beer!)

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Stop 4: Jason Sahler of Strong Rope Brewery, a New York State licensed Farm Brewery

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Stop 5: The aftermath of the canning line at Threes Brewing

As you might have guessed, stop 6 for me was a nap.

The semester is winding to a close. I taught my last class on Tuesday. My graduate students presented their final papers last week and my undergraduates are probably procrastinating on theirs as I type this.

My graduate school journey is also coming to an end. After five years, the only thing that stands between me and the title Master is a heavily theoretical treatise on the place and potential of food in a museum setting. My dining table is piled high with books and articles and scraps of paper filled with cryptic notes. My limited social engagements inevitably devolve into me babbling about the ephemeral nature of food and the democratizing power of an immersive sensory experience. My dream life is simply a rehashing of the day’s research.

Naturally, I’ve been doing a little procrastinating of my own. Much of it has been in the form of ensuring that I am properly fed. For breakfast this morning, I whipped up chilaquiles verdes. Lunch brought Sichuan roasted king oyster mushroom and BBQ baked tofu summer rolls with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce.

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In a desperate bid to focus, I have logged out of my social media accounts. This means that, if I want to see what the rest of the world is up to, I am forced to stand up and walk across the room to retrieve my phone. Today’s feed is full of smiling people digging into plates piled high with nachos and exhortations to think about what Cinco de Mayo is actually about. (Hint: it doesn’t involve a margarita machine.) Me, I’m still in the sweatpants I put on when I got home last night.

But a girl’s gotta eat. Again. Having forbade myself from leaving the house until tomorrow’s sole outing (to the farmers market to drop off my compost and pick up more provisions), I’ve been winging it based on whatever I can find in the fridge. I just polished off a round of sausage, ramp and spinach tacos and a conciliatory cocktail. Imagine my surprise when I returned to this blog, ginger mezcal margarita in hand, and found that my last post, way back in July, was about…a ginger mezcal margarita.

And so, I offer you a variation on a theme.

The Lonely Thesis (a.k.a. Ginger Mezcal Margarita, again)

  1. Grab your retro fabulous 1970s shaker, the one your cocktail snob friends mock you for.
  2. Squeeze half a lemon into the shaker. If you want to be fancy about it, you could do this in a manner that strains the seeds, but I’m not even sure I brushed my teeth this morning. Fortunately, the cat has yet to complain.
  3. Dig out that exorbitantly priced ginger syrup you bought four years ago and, despite repeated and escalating attempts, haven’t been able to reopen since. Find some inappropriate kitchen tool with which you’re likely to injure yourself. Dig and squeeze until the cap explodes, sending black shards of plastic around your kitchen. Pour an ounce or so of the syrup into your shaker. Recap with some plastic wrap and a rubber band.
  4. Add a shot of mezcal. Add a little more.
  5. Fill the shaker with ice that’s taken on a funk that makes you suspect cleaning one’s freezer is a thing. Shake as best you can given the fact that you have yet to put on a bra today.
  6. Stack some more of that questionable ice into a highball and strain your cocktail into the glass. Top with some cheap bubbly left by a cat sitter, noting that it’s old enough to have lost some sparkle.
  7. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a liberal dose of existential dread.

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OK, back to the books. This thesis ain’t gonna write itself.

Ginger Mezcal Margarita

It’s been a while since The Drunken Fig published a cocktail recipe, which is not to say that I haven’t been living up to my moniker. The opening of an awesome beer bar a mere block from my apartment last year may have something to do with it. In any case, I’ve been feeling the bug this week. Last night brought a Watermelon Cucumber Margarita which, while just as pretty as could be, didn’t quite make the cut (though I did manage to guzzle it down).

Watermelon Cucumber Margarita

I’ll have to spend a little more time figuring that one out. I suspect it involves having the energy to dig out the immersion blender.

Tonight I turned my attention to that bottle of mezcal that’s been sitting on the shelf. Rooting through the fridge, I found some organic lemonade that I bought in a dehydration delirium at the tail end of Saturday’s very long and very hot walk to buy a bike. (My new wheels are on back order so, after a few glorious spins around the block on the floor model, I had to make my way back up the hill on foot.)

But I digress. There were limes left over from last night’s cocktail experiment. There was candied ginger from a recent bender at the Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights. There was extra spicy ginger beer because, somewhere along the line, I decided that it’s a pantry staple.

And so, I give you, the Ginger Mezcal Margarita, a drink worth repeating.

Ginger Mezcal Margarita

  • 2 ounces lemonade
  • 2 ounces mezcal
  • 2 ounces ginger beer – the spicier, the better
  • 1/2 lime plus 1 wedge
  • 1 piece candied ginger
  • salt and ice

Drop some ice into a cocktail shaker. Add the lemonade, mezcal, ginger beer, and juice from half a lime. Give it a few gentle shakes. Run the lime wedge around the edge of a highball glass and dip the glass into some salt. (If you have guests over, you could get fancy and do this on a saucer. I went for sticking it directly into the salt cellar. It’s that kind of week.) Plop a few more ice cubes in. Strain the cocktail into your glass and garnish with the lime and candied ginger.

I recommend pairing this with Let It Bleed, turned up loud. No dinner necessary.

Planes, Trains, Bourbon & Brisket

I am supposed to be in Wisconsin right now.

Three years ago, I spent Rosh Hashanah with Juliet, Phil and their son. It was a lovely visit that ended with promises to do it again next year. Alas, life and a brand new job got in the way, so the past two years’ celebrations have consisted of an apple dipped in honey at my kitchen counter.

Two months ago I purchased a plane ticket. On Friday I awoke early to pack. I hauled a suitcase, an overstuffed purse, and a backpack full of schoolwork (plus some work work) through morning rush hour. The B train was mysteriously out of commission, necessitating two transfers and a whole lot of stairs to get to my meeting near Columbus Circle. I cut out half an hour early and flagged down a taxi to LaGuardia.

Two hours, $100, and a fair amount of screaming later, I found myself at Delta’s Special Services desk shaking with a mixture of frustration, rage, and a very full bladder. There was no way I was making my flight to Madison, though they could get me into Milwaukee for a mere $1,000 change fee. I appealed to the agent’s sense of rationality, explaining that the Grand Central Parkway had been shut down and that my driver refused to listen to my directions. Nothing. I played the damsel in distress. Nada. I pulled a diva trip. This man was a brick wall. Then I did the only other thing I could think of. I hauled my bags to a corner, sat on the floor, and commenced crying. Nobody even noticed.

Half an hour and a couple of weepy phone calls later, I had a plan. I would head upstate for a night or two with Beth and her boys.

It’s a straight shot on the M60 bus to Metro North’s Harlem-125th Street Station. Under normal circumstances, the trip takes about 25 minutes. But, as even the casual reader must know by now, this was no ordinary day. I couldn’t even squeeze onto the first bus that arrived. I boarded at the back of the next bus, which filled up quickly. We inched our way to Manhattan. At each stop, more people clambered aboard. Tensions were high. More than one person screamed obscenities. A fist fight very nearly broke out. The trip lasted 90 minutes.

I managed to squeeze myself and my bags–which seemed to get heavier and heavier–off of the bus when we hit Second Avenue and found the nearest liquor store. I was going to need a little something to take the edge off during the next leg of my journey. I hauled my bags up what I thought would be the final flight of stairs and boarded the 6:22 to Poughkeepsie.

As we pulled out of the station, the conductor announced that the train was an express and that the first stop would be Beacon–the stop after my intended destination. At this point, I decided to skip the plastic cup and swig my wine straight from the bottle.

Jasmine and the Bottle

Seventy minutes later, I lugged my bags up one staircase and down another before tossing them into the back of a taxi that, naturally, had to drop two other people off before delivering me. I arrived at Beth’s doorstep just before 8:30pm. In the time it takes to fly to London, I had managed to make it 55 miles from my starting point.

By 8:45 I was halfway through a Negroni. By two in the morning we’d polished off our second bottle of Prosecco and were headed to bed.

Somehow Beth wrangled the boys and made it to soccer by 9:00am, which is about the time I opened my eyes. I stumbled down the stairs feeling a little worse for the wear. A cup of coffee and two large glasses of water gave me the strength to make breakfast: scrambled eggs, toast, and a glorious orange tomato from Fishkill Farms, where Beth gets her CSA share.

Then I threw on some clothes, grabbed a bag, and headed up the road to the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market. I was eager to see what the Hudson Valley had to offer–and hopeful that I might stumble on a brisket to take the sting out of the previous day’s travel debacle. I picked up purple potatoes, fennel salami, parsley, and canoodling carrots.

Kale Potatoes Carrots

I was about to give up on my brisket plan when I spotted Full Moon Farm‘s stand. Three pounds of grass-fed beef and my backpack was about as heavy as I could conceive given the 30-minute walk back to town. But first, I took a quick stroll through the grounds at Boscobel to admire the view of the Hudson Highlands.

Hudson Highlands

Beth and the boys arrived home a little after me. We spent the early afternoon hydrating and threatening to nap while the brisket defrosted in a bowl of water. Around 2:00 I set to work.

Braised Brisket, More or Less

  1. Get a good piece of meat. Make sure it’s defrosted. Sprinkle with a generous dose of salt and pepper.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 325.
  3. Bring a large dutch oven up to medium heat with some vegetable oil. Sear the brisket until you get some nice color on it. (Depending on the size of your pot and the size of your brisket, this may require some finagling.)
  4. Remove the meat and add a couple of chopped onions. Cook until soft and starting to color. Add a few cloves of chopped garlic and cook for a couple more minutes.
  5. Ransack the spice cabinet and add whatever strikes your fancy. I went with ginger, fennel, brown mustard seeds, thyme and some other stuff I can’t recall. Allow the spices to toast in the fat for a few minutes.
  6. Add a small can of tomato paste and whatever leftover booze you can dig up. A Stella Artois worked just fine for this brisket, but you could do something darker. Red wine is always nice.
  7. Got some chili paste in the fridge? Go for it. Just about any condiment you’re looking to use up will do here. Dried fruit is also awesome.
  8. Bring the pot up to a boil, pop a lid on, and stick it in the oven. Ideally, the meat will be submerged in the liquid, but not to worry if the ends are sticking out.
  9. Now would be a good time for a nap. Or maybe a shower.
  10. After a couple of hours, give the sauce a taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and perhaps a pinch of sugar. Flip the meat and return to the oven. Repeat in another hour or so. 
  11. Some people like to pull the meat out while it is still firm, slice it against the grain, layer it into a pan, cover with the sauce, and continue to cook. This is handy if you’re serving a large crowd or are aiming for something a little more photogenic. Personally, I like to leave the meat whole and continue to simmer until it is pull-apart tender. (Go past this point and you basically have the best beef stew you’ve ever experienced.) A little fresh flat leaf parsley is a nice touch at the end.

Braised Brisket

Cocktail time!

The End of Summer

Add a few cubes of ice to a rocks glass. Slosh in a stiff pour of bourbon. Top with ginger ale. Using a microplane, grate a little fresh ginger in. Garnish with a wheel of lemon. Toast to the end of summer and spend the next couple of rounds reminiscing about sandy sheets and outdoor showers.

Bourbon Ginger Cocktail

Thomas and his two kids joined us for dinner. Dylan and Benjamin concocted an elaborate fantasy involving costumes and camping gear while the older boys disappeared upstairs.

Around 6:00 we sat down to the brisket, accompanied by grilled potatoes and carrots and a kale and pear salad with a maple dijon vinaigrette.

Grilled Carrots and Potatoes

Kale and Pear Salad

In truth, most of the kids had plain tomatoes and hot dogs. But Benjamin, always the iconoclast, embraced this new meat swimming in its mysterious and murky sauce. He ate heartily and then quietly disappeared from the table. A couple of minutes later, he reclaimed his seat and passed me this missive.

I Love Brisket

It was an unconventional Rosh Hashanah, to be sure. But it was also a lovely one. Next year in Madison!

The Tell-Tale Heart

My train was late getting into Baltimore. The trick or treating was in full effect by the time we made it back to Beth and Don’s house. Fortunately, Beth had laid in a serious stockpile of candy. Folks took turns distributing all manners of sugary goodness from the stoop while I set about crafting a more adult treat.

The Tell-Tale Heart

  • 1.5 ounces bourbon (Buffalo Trace is nice)
  • 2 ounces ginger ale (Blenheim if you can get it)
  • 2 small cubes frozen lemon juice (heart shaped is ideal)
  • 6 dashes Jamaican Jerk Bitters

Add the above ingredients, in that order, to a rocks glass. Enjoy.

The Tell-Tale Heart

Peach Basil Margaritas

July melted into August this week. In my mind, I am spending lazy days sitting under an umbrella reading a juicy novel and listening to the waves. In reality, I am pulling eleven-hour workdays. Yesterday was particularly cruel. At 8:30am I descended onto a nearly empty subway platform. When the train doors slid open, I had my pick of seats. I disembarked at West Fourth Street into an eerie silence. It was as though I had awoken to find myself in some post-apocalyptic science fiction movie. That or everyone but me was off enjoying a Summer Friday.

I powered through my day, crossing items off of my to do list at a rate that would have been deeply satisfying were it not for my mounting pile of tasks. By 6:00 I was useless, so I pushed in my desk chair and headed out with a singular vision. I had peaches left over from my weekly CSA share. I had beautiful purple basil from the Union Square Greenmarket. And I had a bottle of Patrón Silver gifted to me at last month’s fundraiser. A couple of limes and it was on.

Peach Basil Margaritas

  • 4 peaches
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup loosely packed purple basil
  • zest and juice of 2 limes
  • ice
  • good quality white tequila

Pit the peaches, toss into the food processor and let run until they’re as smooth as you’re going to get them. Meanwhile, add the sugar, water, basil and lime zest to a small saucepan. Bring to and maintain a low simmer for five minutes or so. Strain the peaches through a chinois or other fine mesh strainer, using a flexible spatula to extract all of the liquid. Add this peach nectar along with the lime juice to a small pitcher. Strain the basil syrup into the pitcher. Stir in a few ice cubes and pop in the fridge until well chilled–or until you really need a drink. Carry the pitcher, the bottle of tequila, some ice and a couple of glasses up to the roof. A ratio of 1/2 cup of peach basil goodness, a shot or so of tequila and two ice cubes was an optimal mix for the first batch. 

Peach Basil Margaritas

Justin and I were a bit more heavy-handed with the second round, which we poured as the sun set. Eventually, we made our way downstairs for a simple but satisfying dinner of spicy, garlic-laden pasta with eggplant, green beans, fresh tomatoes and ricotta cheese.

Let’s Drink (to the Promise of Spring)

We are in the depths of winter. Today the temperature rose above freezing for the first time in over a week. It did so just long enough to melt some of the snow. Given that Brooklyn is dropping down to 13 degrees overnight, I imagine the water will transform into sheets of ice in time for tomorrow morning’s bitter commute.

I just got back from a weekend with some of my oldest and dearest friends in Cold Spring (which lived up to its name). I made my way north along the Hudson River in the middle of a snowstorm that rendered the landscape a haunting study of black and white.

Winter on the Hudson

Justin collected me at the train station for the drive up the hill. Within minutes, he had a fire going, Beth had fixed a round of apple cider and bourbon, and I was gleefully trouncing Owen and Benjamin in a game of Scrabble.

Benjamin and Owen

The next morning, Justin declared that his goal for the day was to finish off the orphaned beverages lurking in the back of the fridge. Nothing if not dutiful, he’d polished off a bottle of Ruby Red grapefruit juice before he even changed out of his bathrobe. My sole outing for the day was to the grocery store, where Beth and I picked up supplies for dinner and Benjamin sweet talked his way into some gummy fighter jets.

While Benjamin and Owen engaged in afternoon play dates with friends who live up the road, I got to work on dinner. By 5:30, four children were dismantling the living room while five adults gathered around the cocktail shaker in the kitchen.

Beth and I had gamely taken up Justin’s challenge, figuring we’d start with the rhubarb syrup from Ikea. (That’s “Saft Rabarber” for those who like to giggle about such things.) After determining that there was no gin in the house, we set our sites on the remaining Eagle Rare bourbon. A cocktail was born.

Promise of Spring

Promise of Spring

  • lemon
  • blood orange
  • good quality bourbon
  • rhubarb syrup (Create your own by simmering fresh rhubarb along with equal parts sugar and water.)
  • orange bitters
  • ice
  1. Muddle a few wedges of lemon and blood orange in each of three glasses and add a few cubes of ice.
  2. Combine 1/4 cup rhubarb syrup, 3/4 cups of bourbon and a handful of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into glasses. Top with a few dashes of orange bitters.

This riff on an Old Fashioned goes down easy, keeps one’s spirits up as January slogs to a close, and is a lovely preamble to spinach and roasted eggplant lasagna.

Eggplant and Spinach Lasagna

The Summer Crutch (A Cock-Tale)

On Saturday I returned from an end-of-summer mid-Atlantic vacation. I spent the first few days in Baltimore catching up with friends; playing a boozy 18 holes of mini golf; and dining obscenely well on roadside barbecue, high-end sushi, whole lobster, and an excess of bone marrow prepared on the grill.

This was followed by a delightful week in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where I rented a house with a handful of friends. We spent our days sunning, swimming, reading, dozing, and biking. Evenings were reserved for grilling, the occasional amusement park foray, and cocktailing. One of my housemates takes her adult beverages quite seriously and came equipped to prepare about 20 different classic cocktails for which I would have gladly (and, in many cases, already had) forked over $14 a pop. Among my favorites were the Hemingway Daiquiri and the Enzoni.

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It was a truly blissful week. Between the sun, the surf, and the endless stream of cocktails, I was almost able to forget about the nagging pain in my right ankle.

A week before leaving town, I had taken a nasty spill. I wish I had a better story. But the reality is that it was early in the morning, I was distracted, and I was wearing platform heels. My full cup of coffee splattered across the pavement just in time for my hair to land in it. When I pulled myself together enough to stand, I had a bloody knee, a rather sore ankle, and a busy day ahead of me. So I hobbled to the subway.

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The next week was a blur of rest, ice, compression, elevation, and grant writing. My ankle didn’t look so good but, after a couple of days, an ace bandage and a limping gait got me where I needed to go. I hauled my overstuffed suitcase down to Baltimore on the bus. I played the aforementioned mini golf. I taught a five-year-old with bouncy curls how to cha-cha. I took a few late night bike rides down to the state park. I stumbled through sand. I doggie paddled. I drove a bumper car.

Around the two-week mark, my limp was just about gone and the bruising had migrated to just below my toes. But I still didn’t feel comfortable without a brace. And then there were those strange intermittent stabbing pains I was starting to notice. I told myself that, if it wasn’t better by Labor Day, I would seek medical care.

Yesterday was my first day back in the office. I spent the morning sifting through my email. Around lunchtime I walked up to the urgent care center on 14th Street. I explained that I had fallen and hurt my ankle, was pretty sure it was a sprain, but thought it best to have an x-ray just in case. The attending doctor was nice and seemed willing to humor me. Three x-rays and less than 15 minutes later, she walked back into the exam room and told me that I had, in fact, broken my ankle. It is hard to say who was more surprised.

Before I knew it, she had outfitted me with a neon peach temporary cast, a set of crutches, and instructions to follow up with an orthopedist. Less than an hour after entering the urgent care center, I left. Only this time I couldn’t walk. I gingerly crutched my way to the curb and flagged down a cab to take me back the six blocks I had just walked with almost no difficulty.

ImageBy the time I made it home and up the two flights of stairs last night, I was feeling rather sorry for myself. Clearly I was deserving of a cocktail. But these damn crutches make everything a challenge.

The Summer Crutch

  1. Position yourself in the dead center of your kitchen and prop your crutches carefully against the kitchen counter. (If they fall, it is a royal pain in the ass to retrieve them.)
  2. Take two hops toward the refrigerator and pull an ice cube tray out of the freezer, praying that the one you can reach is not empty.
  3. Hop back to the kitchen counter and fill one of the jelly jars that you compulsively hoard with as much ice as it will hold. Consider refilling the tray and returning it to the freezer before realizing that this is an impossibility.
  4. Pour a generous shot of the Buffalo Trace bourbon left from vacation into the jar. Contemplate your current situation and add a little more.
  5. Hop back to the refrigerator and grab the black cherry juice generously left by your cat sitter.
  6. Hop back to the counter and fill the rest of the jelly jar with the juice. Give it a swirl with your finger and taste.
  7. Attempt to add your homemade grapefruit bitters, but discover that the cap is on far too tight. Add a couple dashes each of the orange and rhubarb bitters or whatever else you can reach without standing on the kitchen stool (also an impossibility though, now that you think of it, it may come in handy when you attempt to shower).
  8. Screw the lid on tight and stuff your cocktail into the pocket of your caftan. (A caftan with pockets has got to be one of the best inventions ever.)
  9. Crutch your way to the couch, gingerly drop down, and retrieve your freshly shaken cocktail.

The Summer Crutch is mean to be slugged directly out of the jar while staring ruefully at your cast. I do not have a photo of this refreshing beverage, as I forgot to put my phone in my other caftan pocket and there was no way I was getting up again until absolutely necessary.