I have another piece live in The Washington Post this week, and somehow the copyeditors let my Dad’s verb “snarfle” slide right into the final copy! The feature, which I believe will be in print tomorrow, is about women, cooking, and freedom. It’s loosely a profile of Tamar Adler, a talented writer and cook whose new book is coming out this spring, but the piece is also about inclusivity and feminism. I so hope you enjoy it, and thanks for reading. (And jeez, make that tipsy cake! It’s so good and so simple.)
If you’re a journalist working in food, odds are good that someone has asked you write a piece about the Instant Pot. Thanks to its efficiency, it’s enormously popular, but I felt compelled to find out whether it could make a few of my favorite dishes taste as good. So I did a side-by-side taste test and feature for a newspaper I’ve long admired, The Washington Post. The piece is here, a few of my other clips are here, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see it as the cover story for the food section this week.
Thanks for reading, and if you have questions, please come ask them in an online chat on Weds, January 24th, at noon, right here!
I was lucky enough to know all four of my grandparents. Grandpa Van Buren showed up every Christmas as round and rosy-cheeked as Santa Claus, bringing with him a big suitcase full of gifts—sweaters with snowflakes, and sensible things like that—he and Grandma had picked out in Florida. Even into his 80’s, he remembered meeting her, clear as day, when she was a nurse at the hospital where he was a doctor: “Her red hair shone like an angel’s!” He fought in Korea, and they raised eight kids in Flatbush, and then Long Island. Though Grandpa has passed on, grandma is still with us, living in Massachusetts. She is 99. She still looks like an angel.
Granny and Pop-Pop raised my mother first in Queens and then in Long Island, just down the street from the Van Burens. The photo above shows them on their first date, on Central Park South, on May 1, 1936. They were so clearly already smitten, and they went on to marry and raise seven children together. (Our family weddings—teeming with aunts, uncles, cousins, and cousins’ babies, all of whom think they can dance—are no joke.)
My memories of Granny and Pop-Pop are ferociously strong, so I wrote about them—my Granny’s frugality, my Pop-Pop’s pride, and a one-legged, possibly rabid, rather Irish-Catholic turkey—for The Daily Beast this Thanksgiving. I think I edited this piece 33 times on my own before sending it to Noah Rothbaum, who is running one heck of a food and drink page for TDB. I hope you enjoy it, and that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Photo credit: Alex Van Buren
It’s been—ack!—almost a year since I’ve posted here, which attests to the state of the world, my reluctance to write without pay, and my desire to revamp this site powered by WordPress as soon as humanly possible.
I’ve been busy in the best of ways; for a couple of fun months last summer, I served as digital strategist and temporary deputy editor for Panna Cooking. I got my analytics fix and revved up their social media voice, running a little editorial department while their EIC was overseas. It was a blast, as they’re good people doing good work.
I also wrote a ton of articles (164, Google?!) for Travel and Leisure, a few for Epicurious, Real Simple, and The Food Network, and ghost-wrote a cookbook for Phaidon. I picked up some neat new clients, among them The Daily Beast and The Kitchn, which has started to ramp up its long-form in the coolest way.
Lastly, I’ve been writing a cooking column for MyRecipes. Smart staffers from Bon Appétit have wended their way Birmingham-wards, and are making correspondingly smart changes to the site. (And I adore my editor, Darcy Lenz.) You can check out one of any number of oddball short pieces I’ve written here, from the power of baking a gateway loaf of bread to my mother’s thoughts on stretching a food dollar to how to prepare unattractive winter vegetables.
These have not been an easy few months, world-wise. I find myself sleeping uneasily.
But although there’s not a ton I can do to change international affairs right this second, I picked up my head from the laptop this Friday afternoon to see that the sun is shining and people are smiling on the streets of Brooklyn. A little boy is eating a folded slice while the cheese slops on to the sidewalk, in the style of this fantastic town.
I’m planning a trip to Paris. I made a few new wonderful friends this last year in New Orleans, Nashville, and Raleigh. Things are generally rad.
Here is the recipe for the bread pictured above. It’s a good one. And here is my recipe for spring: you, rosé, and a bag stuffed with olives, bread, cheese, and a blanket. Find the nearest green space. Pack your shades. Summon friends. Lie down. Shut off your phone. You can do it. Turn the newspaper into a pillow, for an hour. Self-soothing: It matters.
Is it your birthday? Good for you. Listen to “Birthday” by the Sugarcubes. No? “Israelites,” by Desmond Dekker. The whole album. It’ll help, I promise.
Hang in there, you. Hang in there, 2017. You got this.
Biking in Charleston. Credit: Alex Van Buren, Instagram
It’s an often-repeated saying among the women I know: “You should leave New York before it makes you hard. That’s what Nora Ephron said.”
Nora Ephron didn’t say that, nor did Kurt Vonnegut, but it remains solid advice. And I really didn’t think I was one of those. I thought I was pretty chill. I certainly wasn’t that woman on the subway with the sharp elbows, who pinned me in the fleshiest part of my arm for the duration of the ride. Or the guy who double-parks in the bike lane, swings his door wide without looking, and almost nails me as I cruise by on my clunky hybrid. I’m pretty nice—maybe even the nicest one in my whole subway car.
And then I went south. For two months. Two months of the greasiest pulled-pork sandwiches, which I ate alone, in the dark, in the passenger’s seat of my rented Jetta outside of Bullock’s Bar-B-Cue in Durham, North Carolina. Hushpuppies as fat as your fingers, and deep-fried, snug in a paper bag. I ate it all, between two other dinners in Chapel Hill and Raleigh. (“Because who knows when I’ll be back in the South?”) Two months of fried chicken, the best of which came from a gas station in New Orleans. Two months of insistent small talk with strangers, and hugs instead of handshakes for hellos.
This was a challenge for a New Englander. My heritage is all snow, khakis, and icily quiet masses. I am not a hugger of strangers.
It is not, I now realize, that Southerners are necessarily nicer, but they tend (broadly speaking) to go into a situation from a neutral or positive stance—and Northeasterners tend to go in neutral or negative. And everything stems from that: It’s the difference between making friends at the Nashville honky-tonk dive or fighting for stool space at the bar.
The 10 best things I ate in NOLA are here. The 10 best things I ate all over the damn South—in Nashville and NOLA, Charleston and Durham, Atlanta and Raleigh—are here. I gave props to the late Mr. Duncan Hines, America’s O.G. food critic, here. I wrote for Travel + Leisure as I rambled, stopped off at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, visited beautiful Blackberry Farm, and attended a cool writers’ colony in Sewanee, Tennessee. (I’d snagged a merit scholarship from the Southern Foodways Alliance to work on a book proposal.)
I met some amazing people along the way: The super-sweet baking savant Lisa Donovan, of Nashville. BBQ superstars Sam Jones, Nick Pihakis, and up-and-coming Charleston brisket hotshot John Lewis. Angie Mosier, the talented photographer who met me on a bus full of barbecue nerds and gave me a place to hang my hat in Atlanta a few weeks later.
I’m still tweeting and Instagramming my adventures (which have taken a slightly domestic turn of late, because I missed cooking and just signed a new lease in Crown Heights, Brooklyn). Spring—and its tulips, asparagus, ramps, and farmers’ market mobs—is fully, totally sprung.
It’s a marvelous time to be in New York City, but my reminder to myself of the South—and how I moved a little more slowly, and thoughtfully, there—is now right on my “to do” list. It says, gently, “Don’t try to do too much.”
Chocolate mousse pie at Pels Pie Company in Brooklyn. Credit: Alex Van Buren
This morning my computer had a close encounter with a cup of coffee. I shorted out the keyboard but maybe not the entire contraption; time will tell. It’s shocking that this hasn’t happened prior to today, as I am an accomplished klutz. And it could be worse by a longshot, as I’m overdue for an upgrade. Some days peanuts, some days shells. (Does anyone know the origin of that expression? Is this correct? I’m very curious.)
I love autumn. I haven’t yet made it apple-picking, but will soon head upstate to drink cider and see family before November is out, so I feel lucky. And! Travel is officially part of my job description now, as I’ve been writing extensively for the lovely team at Travel + Leisure about topics as eclectic as lobster, Dia de Los Muertos, etiquette, and Chris Christie. I even, with great trepidation, revealed my best tip for scoring a cheap car rental, and may regret it in the years to come.
I’ll tweet these stories as they surface online, but definitely also follow the site’s Twitter handle. And yep, I’m still writing, editing, and consulting for a variety of other wonderful publications, too, such as Epicurious and Real Simple. I just feel especially fortunate to be able to focus on travel for such a neat site.
Happy August! So let’s get something clear up front: No one is allowed to mention anything about [redacted] or shoveling [redacted] to me yet. I haven’t jumped in enough lakes or eaten enough lobster rolls yet. Let’s just wait till [redacted] to discuss [redacted] weather, shall we? Thank you.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s what I’ve been up to: consulting, writing, and editing, with a bit of copywriting, to boot. It’s been a blast, and I’m ramping up for fall. I have two stories up at Epicurious, a site I’ve always loved, about the bizarre egg shortage (and how prices are likely going to spike this fall) and five smart ways to use canola oil, my go-to for making Pok Pok wings at home. I’ve also been doing some work for the fine folks at Liquor.com, Brides, and Vox, among others.
So let’s not get all grim about [redacted] being around the corner. And I hope to see you eating ice cream, wearing a floppy hat, or picking out fat peaches at the market some day soon.
Photo: Alex Van Buren, Instagram
My father’s mother recently realized that her eldest unmarried granddaughter is living in Brooklyn, alone, without the proper accoutrements.
Our calls typically involve my shouting so she can hear me—she is 94—and grandma shouting so she can hear herself. One exchange several months ago went like this:
Her: “Alex! Your father tells me you’ve moved! What are you doing for china?!”
Me: “Sorry, grandma?!”
Me: “Grandma, I have plates and bowls. They’re nice. I’m fine. I promise.”
Her: “Hmmmph. What about crystal and silver?!”
Crystal and silver? Me: “Grandma, I’m FINE.”
Now, we are not a fancy family, but Grandma hails from Kings County herself, and had her wedding reception right off the promenade in Brooklyn Heights. And apparently she’d be damned if any granddaughter of hers would be entertaining in her home borough without proper silver. This resulted in my dad lugging an unexpected gift to me from Massachusetts a few years ago: Silverware. Lots of it. A slightly mismatched but very elegant set in a heavy, velvet-lined box.
I busted it out in February, alongside the plates I’d picked up at the Vanves flea market in Paris.
Photo: Alex Van Buren, Instagram
It had been my first big trip to Paris. Ten days. Steak frites obsessiveness. Lots of coffee. Lots of fromage. And I loved it, like you do, but I returned not feeling covetous of the bistros or the restaurants, but wanting to cook more for the people I love. In Brooklyn, as in Paris, we’re able to walk from butcher to cheesemonger, grocer to café, and I was reminded that I can do a lot of great things with easily accessible, excellent products. (Also, I mean, those plates. Yowza.)
Hosting friends for Valentine’s Day, I made Mark Bittman’s pernil, half of which I turned into carnitas, and a shrimp ceviche with blood orange juice. I yammered on about my “tablescape” all night long. (My grandma, in a sense, saw this aspect of my personality emerging before I did.) It was a delightful evening regardless.
In work news, this week marked my last week as an editor at Yahoo Food. I had such fun there and learned so much, and was proud of the work I featured, whether it was a sweet speech by a bartender, an Italian-American grandma’s meatball recipe, a gorgeous series of stone fruit cocktails, or a website doing civic-minded food journalism. I left in order to restart my own digital content strategy, consulting, writing, and editing business. I couldn’t be more excited, I’ll post about cool projects occasionally on this page or on Twitter, and I hope you have a lovely spring.
So yesterday was a bit of a rough one.
It wasn’t work that was tough. My colleagues and I launched a new site, Yahoo Food, a work in progress of which, as Features Editor, I’m proud. We’ve been toiling away for a couple of months behind closed doors, and now the floodgates are open to everyone’s critiques. It’s a challenge we’re up for; constructive criticism is a good thing, and you can send it here or even here until we get comments functionality.
But the first story in what we in the biz call the “hero module”—the one with the floury hands shown above—when that one went live, my heart sank a bit. I’ve been working on this piece on and off for several years, and although I hope it’s well-written, and that it moves you to cook for the people you love, it doesn’t do justice to the woman who inspired it.
My first mentor, who I call “Betty” in the essay, could write circles around me. Not only did she get me my first job in magazines, but she was terribly kind about my earliest, most horrible drafts of stories. Her stories had the most gorgeous, ephemeral ledes—all sweetness and light, for an île flotante—and then she’d hit you with a perfect pun, or a flip turn of phrase that made you giggle. Her kickers left you wishing the article was twice its length.
She wrote circles around me, and she would have written circles around me today, and I wish like hell I hadn’t had to write this piece at all, and that she was still here. Her empathy was extraordinary; no matter how down cancer got her, she always wanted to hear about your day. Betty was just straight-up a better person than I am, and I think of her when I consider how best to treat other people.
I didn’t use her name, and I never would, because her byline was a source of pride. (She wasn’t vain or arrogant, ever, but she was a perfectionist when it came to her work.)
My little essay is just an effort to remind the chilly people in the big cities that casseroles and caretaking can be transporting for those in need, especially this time of year.
Oh, my goodness, this is becoming a biannual blog. That *can’t* be good for SEO. This site is primarily for professional purposes, though, designed to send the curious to my writing, video and editing clips, which are here. It’s also a place to showcase recent work.
In other news, I finally made it to New Orleans for the first time. Ridiculous that I hadn’t been sooner. And wow. A town focused on bourbon and pork, friendly people and dancing? Are you kidding me? I love that it’s the only place I’ve ever been where it is more awkward not to dance than to dance at a party. I’m writing a little piece about NOLA, which I’ll tweet when it’s live, and I hope you’re staying warm this winter, wherever you are.