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.

Meyer Lemon Gingerbread

Among the many charms of my new workplace is the Just Food Citrus Buying Club. A couple of weeks ago I replied to an email, indicating that I was in for ten pounds of certified organic citrus from Beck Grove in Fallbrook, California. (It seems even diehard local eaters need a little dose of sunshine come mid-January.)

I left work on Friday with as many blood oranges and Meyer lemons as would fit in my purse. The rest would have to wait until a night that did not include a meeting followed by swanky cocktails and an even swankier dinner. I took great pleasure in producing fragrant reminders of warmer weather for the people who swirled through my busy weekend, but did manage to retain a little fruit for myself.

All of that socializing didn’t leave much time for sleeping. And so Monday found me sitting at my dining table desperately trying to focus on a backlog of work.

The right music was essential. It being Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I went with Forever Young, Gifted & Black: Songs of Freedom & Spirit, an excellent compilation of Nina Simone songs from the Civil Rights Era–including a devastating 13-minute version of “Why? (The King of Love is Dead)” performed just three days after King’s assassination.

While the music soothed my brain a bit, my stomach was still unsettled by my efforts to substitute coffee for sleep. Rooting through the fridge, I found my recently acquired Meyer lemons, a giant knob of ginger and some fresh turmeric left from a fall apple picking trip to Fishkill Farms. A quick Google search led me to the New York Times’s Meyer Lemon and Ginger Infusion with Turmeric and Cayenne. Color me obsessed–and productive.

I logged eleven hours at the office today. This included the first of two days of all-staff training, which was a great experience, but also exhausting–so much so that I boarded the wrong train home, overshooting my destination by 45 or so blocks. Mercifully, I had some curried pumpkin, tofu and kale left from Sunday night’s dinner. I consumed this cold and straight out of the container, standing at the kitchen counter.

While I ate, I contemplated whether I still had the energy to deliver on the sweet treat I had promised for day two of our training. There was no way I was trudging back outside. Whatever baked good I made would have to be limited by the ingredients I had on hand. As it turns out, this is not a terrible fate when you’ve got Meyer lemons and ginger in the fridge.

Meyer Lemon Gingerbread

Meyer Lemon Gingerbread

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 12 ounces butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 golf ball-sized knob of ginger, peeled
  • 3 Meyer lemons
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9 x 12 (or thereabouts) baking pan with butter. Whisk flour, baking soda, spices and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Cream the remaining butter, sugar, molasses, vanilla and eggs in a large bowl. Using a fine microplane, grate three-fourths of the ginger and the zest of two lemons into the bowl and stir to combine. Slowly work in the flour mixture.
  3. Juice the two zested lemons and add enough water to make a cup of liquid. Heat this until just before boiling and then add it to your batter, stirring to combine. Pour this into the pan and pop in the oven for 30 minutes or so. (This is a fine time for a yoga/State of the Union interlude.)
  4. When the bread has pulled away from the edges of your pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes while you make the glaze.
  5. Zest and juice your last lemon into a small ramekin. Grate the remaining ginger and add that along with the confectioners sugar. Stir briskly with a fork, adding water if needed until you get a syrupy consistency. Drizzle this over your gingerbread and spread evenly with a spatula before allowing to harden.

Meyer Lemon Gingerbread for Staff

This recipe yields enough gingerbread to feed a dozen bleary-eyed staff members and still leave a little treat for the neighbors to discover in the morning.

Meyer Lemon Gingerbread for Neighbors

(Alternately, you could polish it off yourself.)