"I need you to pull all your contacts and see who wants to get arrested or protest in solidarity. I love you, this is only the beginning. I'm going all in."
Last night I had the honor of moderating the third-annual "Out at Work" alumni career panel, held at my alma mater, the University of Virginia. About 30 students turned out, the most ever for this event, and both the panelists' conversation and the student questions were stimulating and productive. Glad to have participated! (You'll see me in the last photo, on the left.)
Heather Welborn, Matt Chayt, Steven Kung.)
I'll be moderating a panel of distinguished UVA alumni Thursday on the topic of careers. Here they are:
Matt Chayt (CLAS '99)
An imminent graduate of the University of California-Hastings school of law in San Francisco, Chayt is currently clerking for the city's superior court and has worked in the district-attorney's office and for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Previously he worked for seven years as a nonprofit fundraiser in Washington, D.C., writing grants for the Institute for Women's Policy Research and then for National Public Radio.
Bryan Myers (COMM '09)
Myers is an associate at the Boston Consulting Group and lives in Washington, D.C. His work at BCG has primarily been focused on business strategy redesign for large corporations and government agencies. He has also been involved with minority recruiting efforts and the firm's LGBT network. Myers plans to attend law school and pursue a career in the public sector.
Heather Welborn (CLAS '09)
As an organizer with the State Employees' Association of North Carolina, a local of the Service Employers International Union, Welborn recruits and organizes new members into the South's leading state employees' union. At UVA she was president of Queer and Allied Activism, a member of the LGBT Resource Center Op Board and wrote a distinguished-majors thesis on the gay liberation movement in New York City. She hopes to pursue her graduate degree in social history.
Melanie Marzette (CLAS '01)
Marzette and her father opened Marzette Properties, Inc., in 2003, and she lives in Washington, D.C. At UVA she double-majored in history and African & African American affairs and was often mistaken for a "townie" because of the tremendous amount of time she spent enjoying the beautiful surroundings of Charlottesville and central Virginia.
Steven Kung (CLAS '99)
A story consultant on the upcoming web comedy series Hastings Consulting, Kung has also worked as the assistant to Matthew Weiner on Mad Men, as a director’s assistant on In Treatment and as a creative executive for Academy Award-winning producer Edward Saxon. He honed his screenwriting skills with an MFA at the University of Southern California, where his first feature, The Imperial Suns, was a finalist for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. In 2005, Kung traveled the film festival circuit with his documentary SPEW: The Competitive World of High School Debate. Before moving to Los Angeles, Kung lived in Washington, D.C., where he worked in jazz programming at The Kennedy Center and as a paralegal at the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice.
Holiday Simmons (CLAS '00)
Simmons is a community educator in the southern regional office of Lambda Legal. Previously she was a psychiatric social worker at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where she led a program for homeless people with mental illnesses. Before relocating to Atlanta, Simmons served as community initiatives manager for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in New York, where she gave national support and training to community members on safer schools for LGBTQ and ally students.
What you're looking at above is a coffee shop. If it doesn't look like any coffee shop you've ever frequented, that's precisely the point of the Blue Bottle folks, who opened a satellite of their San Francisco haute-java enterprise in Williamsburg this week. (You may have seen the omnibus NYT piece on Wednesday that listed Blue Bottle and 29 other top coffee joints in town.) Conveniently, the location is only three blocks from my apartment, on Berry St. between N. 5th and N. 4th, and you can't miss the double glass garage doors that serve as its facade. While the shop has some nice equipment inside (and a lovely spartan aesthetic clearly meant to reinforce the seriousness of the coffee-making), one's eye naturally drifts to the expansive space beyond the customer area, designated off-limits by a beige velvet rope. The view is of a laboratory, or a church, where Important Things are made in secret, impenetrable fashion. No wonder Blue Bottle teamed with Mast Brothers Chocolate, which supplies the key ingredient in the hot chocolate ($3.50). The brothers' space a block away has a similar set-up, with chocolate bars in glass cases up front and inscrutable factory-like tableaux in back. Blue Bottle is next-level coffee (for New York, at least), so it needs a next-level space. I dig.
And the coffee? My individually prepared Ethiopian drip coffee served au lait ($4.50) was sublime. It may not've been "better" than the Clover-prepared drip at Gimme! Coffee or El Beit (on Bedford Ave., no website), but the overall vibe at Blue Bottle certainly enhanced my experience. And as I stood at the long wooden table sipping my non-commodity along with the other customers, I heard frequent exclamations of delight. The next time I go, I'll have what they're having—like the SG-120, a variation of a macchiato.
Remainders Another marvelous experience was had recently at The Vanderbilt, the newish restaurant in Prospect Heights from the owners of Saul in Cobble Hill, in partnership with the Saul alum who runs the Num Pang sandwich shop near Union Square. This was my first trip to Prospect Heights in forever, but I was just a wee bit sick of the same-old, same-old Williamsburg culinary scene, even though I love it so. I wanted adventure! And I wanted to hang with my pal Andy, who lives nearby in Clinton Hill. After a short stroll from the Clinton-Washington G-train stop (not so hard!), we were on Vanderbilt Ave., which houses not only the eponymous restaurant but several other enticing spots like the subway-tiled cocktail lounge Weather Up (no website) and oysters-and-whisky resto Cornelius (it boasts over 200 varieties of the brown stuff, so you know I'll be checking it out!). The whole stretch reminded me a tad of Berlin's Neukölln nabe: removed, quasi-desolate, but with jumping attractions.
I digress. The Vanderbilt struck me as a particularly contemporary restaurant, with three areas to sit depending on your mood and interests (and what's available: we walked in around 9 on a Friday night and were offered seats at the bar overlooking the main food-prep station, which I totally enjoyed). The menu is similarly customizable, with sections for meat, charcuterie, vegetables, etc., sort of like a new-style Craft for the 2010s. We had the boudin blanc, the spicy fried-chicken wings, and a short-ribs-and-polenta special that was insane. (Two of my favorite foods combined? Hello!) We also had the oreilles de Christ, or fried pork skins, which resembled those Chinese things the name of which I can't remember and came with droppers with which to apply the hot sauce. Weirdly cool, like The Vanderbilt in general. Word.
I made my famous Meyer Gold Rush cocktail this week. Actually, it's Savoy's, but I certainly publicized it enough that maybe they'll name a drink after me now. (But what would I taste like? More anon!) Anyway, it's so easy, and so delish: 2 oz. rye (I like Rittenhouse, which also happens to be cheap), juice of a whole Meyer lemon (with a segment or two reserved for garnish), 1 tbsp honey, and a dash of bitters (I used Angostura, which is all I had, but orange bitters might be better). Shake without ice, then pour over ice, squeeze the reserved lemon on top, and then plop it in. Doesn't it just look good? (NB: Photo's of Savoy's version, not mine!)
I had brunch today at Pâtes et Traditions (no website), which's been around the corner from me for more than a year but the rain made me think of crêpes et voilà. It felt like the south of France inside, and the servers/owners were actually French, so I got to practice my pronunciations. (I was corrected.) Indeed, the feeling was of this sign (summer cocktails can't arrive soon enough):
Finally, I must give props to Happy Goat Caramels, which I picked up at the baskets-and-sundries shop in Chelsea Market. Also, the chocolate-covered dried cantaloupe pieces I got at the supermarket there, which were a special but which can easily be made at home. And Trader Joe's salsa verde, made with fresh tomatillos and jalapeños but no preservatives (an infrequent quality at TJ's). I've been eating it with Xochitl blue corn chips dusted with sea salt. Last but not least, given my obsession with this place, I was pleased to find my favorite Saltie sandwich listed as one of the best in the city by New York mag. I didn't even know it was "vegetarian," yo! I thought it was just a Tasty Thing.
Apparently Virginia governor Bob McDonnell blinked—somewhat. After several days of outrage over state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli's letter stipulating that public colleges and universities couldn't include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies, here comes the following executive directive—McDonnell's first. In it, he affirms his and the state's commitment to employment nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by citing both the Virginia Human Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. While the governor doesn't invoke gender identity or expression—nor discrimination pertaining to students—Equality Virginia is hailing the directive as a "major positive step forward." I have to agree.
When it's in the 50s out, one doesn't think of mulled wine—one thinks instead, say, of a cool crisp sauvignon blanc (as Sasha Smith points out in this video on her fabulous site Spin the Bottle). But it was a much colder moment when I was asked to participate in a mulled-wine contest held yesterday by my pal Sean McQueen, maestro of the Vinetalk Tumblr blog. A month ago, who knew it'd be such lovely spring-like weather now? (Whom aside from Jesus, that is.)
Since it's March I was already thinking of in-season ingredients to use in my update of this Gourmet recipe from 2000. (There's a totally Cheever-esque recipe from 1973 that incorporates ruby port and flavored brandy, but I decided a brew that rich is better imbibed in the dark heart of winter, when all you want to do is get drunk and screw.)
As you can see, the recipe is appealingly simple: 2 navel oranges, 1 lemon, 2 bottles of a dry red wine, 1 cup of sugar, 10 black peppercorns, 8 whole cloves, 4 whole star anise, 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg. For my version, I replaced the navel oranges with blood oranges and the lemon with a Meyer lemon. I also ditched the sugar in favor of a beautiful Tupelo honey from Florida (a gift from my writer friend A.N. Devers), and took out the cloves, star anise, and nutmeg altogether. Given the time of year, I didn't want my wine to taste too Christmas-y, though I did throw in a bit of five-spice powder just to have an element of that flavor, like a memory. I also threw in two vanilla beans, halved lengthwise, some cardamom powder (I would've preferred pods, but the Whole Foods I stopped by at the last minute was out of them), and—wait for it—pink peppercorns, which are quite citrus-y. If I had a secret weapon, it was this Brazilian product. (And now I'm kind of obsessed with them: What else can I use pink peppercorns with?)
On site at the NU Hotel in Cobble Hill, I prepared my concoction whilst millions of people around the world watched Joanie Rivers and sundry other red-carpet hoo-haw ahead of the Oscars. For the wine I used a "two-buck Chuck" cabernet sauvignon from Trader Joe's, both for sheer affordability and its simple quality, which I knew would take up the flavors I was putting in. (If there's ever a reason to buy super-cheap wine, mulled wine is it, since it's not about the wine so much as it's the flavors.) I turned the stove (in this case, a hot plate!) up to medium just to get it warm, then poured in two bottles of the wine. I'd already zested the blood oranges and Meyer lemon, so I threw those in, and then I squeezed the juices from each directly into the pot, leaving half of the evacuated lemon in there for good measure. After I popped the vanilla beans and peppercorns in, the rest was easy: honey, cardamom, and five spices, all to taste. (I must've put in about four ounces of honey to get the concoction just sweet enough.) The aroma was lovely, as you'd expect, and the taste of the drink—once everything swished around in the pot for a bit (at a simmer or just under)—was perfect: the citrus was right there, along with a hint of vanilla and just enough of the spices to give it that true mulled-wine character. One woman who sampled my brew said she tasted lavender—my favorite comment of the evening.
While I didn't win—I placed second after my buddy Gary Hunt, the lighting designer for the new Good Units spot in the Hudson Hotel—I did get Food & Wine's 2010 wine guide for my efforts. It's an amazing resource I didn't have yet, so I was thrilled. Gary nicely presented his wine with garnishes, which might've put him over the edge. (He also had a nontraditional mulled wine with apples, berries, and some other ingredients that made for a unique taste.) If I were serving my wine, which I've dubbed the Spring Invitational, at home, I'd include a round slice of blood orange right on top.
So though the forecast remains almost balmy, it's bound to get freezing again one last time before spring really comes on. (We might even get a last blast of snow.) When winter breathes that last gasp, I'll be savoring a mug of Spring Invitational. In the meantime, I'll be drinking more weather-appropriate wines, like the gorgeous Albariño I had while watching the Oscars with friends last night.
The letter that Virginia's attorney general issued yesterday admonishing the state's public universities and colleges to remove sexual orientation and gender identity and expression from the schools' non-discrimination policy. As a UVA alum, and a board member for the school's LGBTQ alumni group The Serpentine Society, I'm aghast. For more context, see this report from today's Washington Post.
A live chicken was found in Fort Tryon Park in uppermost Manhattan two weeks ago. One writer, Elyssa East, took her home and named her Uptown Gerry (after the park ranger who checked on the bird). East handed the chicken off to another writer, Susan Orlean, who raises chickens upstate. A third writer—me—wrote about it here. A fowl story.