Why I don’t Drink Manhattans Anymore

I was in the middle of my whiskey phase. Mad Men had nothing to do with it.
I was in the middle of my whiskey phase. Mad Men had nothing to do with it.

It was late on a November Saturday night in 2012 when I sauntered into my favorite cocktail lounge with an unusually high spring in my step. I nodded with a chirpy hello to the bouncer whose scarred eyebrow and barrel-sized biceps hinted at the fact his day job was cage-fighting coach. I slipped into my favorite corner seat at the bar and leaned across to give the bartender, Kay, my best girl friend’s boyfriend, a warm hello.

He looked at me puzzled. She had called him earlier to warn him I might be coming from a rough night — I’d need taking care of, she suggested. The chipper red-haired girl in the tangerine top didn’t look like she needed taking care of.

“Something strong?” Kay asked.

“Yes, please! I’ll have a Manhattan.”

Seconds later, he slid a martini glass under my nose, a rich copper-hued drink sloshed but didn’t jump over the edges. I was in the of what can only be labeled a Whiskey-phase. Mad Men had nothing to do with it. The Manhattan had replaced the Tanqueray10 martini as my go-to night out indulgence and a Jameson on the rocks was my new dive bar safe bet. All it took was one sip and I knew this was the best Manhattan I’d ever had, was ever going to have. Liquid gold. When he slide a small carafe with the “leftovers” from the shaker (the equivalent of a second drink), I figured I was satisfyingly set for the night.

I was alone on a Saturday night, drinking a whiskey drink and content. Sitting next to me was another loner, and apparently, another regular. Kay introduced the robust and somewhat rotund young man to me as Joe, and since I was already onto the carafe, I was in a mood to chat… and over share.

I was newly single. So I let the Tony Soparno look alike buy me a 3rd and 4th drink... mistake.
I was newly single. So I let the Tony Soparno look alike buy me a 3rd and 4th drink… mistake.

Joe was a well-manner Jerseyite who could easily have passed for an extra on The Sopranos — perhaps even a younger Tony Soprano, in the right over sized golf shirt. We talked about the Yankees and our favorite restaurants. Even though his waistline was evident of a life spent mostly eating out and watching sports rather than playing them, Joe was a top-shelf kind of guy, which roughly translates into my kind of person.

“Are you always such good company?” Joe asked, as I neared the end of my drink and in theory, the end of my night.

“I broke up with my boyfriend an hour and a half ago.”

In my head, that answered the question. Isn’t every girl extra charming and cheery after she breaks up with the guy who sent her flowers on her birthday and talked about spending the rest of his life with her?

“Shouldn’t you be crying with your girlfriends, or something? You’re in an awfully good mood.”

I shrugged and took the final slug of my drink (technically, my second, though I had convinced myself otherwise.)

“It’s a relief, to be honest. That it’s all over. I wanted to throw up the whole day before it happened. Now, I couldn’t be in a better mood.”

Wait. The irony is coming.

“You’re not leaving yet are you?” Joe chripped as I began to fumble for my wallet — a perfunctory motion as I knew tonight’s $15 beverage was likely on the house. “You’re newly single. Let me buy you another.”

I looked at my watch — I’d already missed my train and my rule is to never let strangers buy me drinks. But, really, what harm would another drink do? I was newly single, after all. Joe fancied himself a cocktail connoisseur and ordered me what I vaguely recall him calling a Manhattan Perfect. I could be totally wrong, but it seemed to fit because drinks 3 and 4 (Kay and his damn carafe!) were perfectly toxic.

Tee Burberry trench coat fell victim to one Manhattan too many, but recovered in time for a trip to Prague.
The Burberry trench coat fell victim to one Manhattan too many, but recovered in time for a trip to Prague.

I wobbled out an hour later, convinced I was totally sober and even a little proud for being able to hold down so much whiskey. But as I stood on the subway platform, I realized I was in for it. When I vomited all over my Burberry trench coat and silk jersey tangerine Theory top, I knew I had just been taught a lesson. There is such thing as too much whiskey.

And I had just become that girl who throws up on the last train out of Grand Central.

I vomited two more times — once on the sidewalk at my home station and once again in the trashcan next to my bed — before finally falling asleep. In the morning, the only reminder of the previous night’s break-up and excess was my tangerine top, soaking in the sink, a few bits of undigested orechette and broccoli floating beside it. I might have been sloppy, but at least I clean up after myself.

The purging of my stomach contents so soon after finishing my last sip might have saved me from a hangover, but it also killed my taste for whiskey. And that favorite tangerine top, while the stains are long gone, will always be that shirt I threw up on the night I broke up with the Admiral. At work on Monday, I was greeted with an email from Joe asking to take me out for dinner somewhere I could never afford on an non-profit employee’s salary. Apparently, I had given him my business card. I had been back on the market for less than 24 hours and already I had a suitor. I politely declined.

Last night, I poured a heavy draw of McMallan 12, figuring it was a perfect companion drink on a cold winter’s night dedicated to writing a curatorial essay. With a new boyfriend at my side and the past year behind me, I figured I could handle my first whiskey in over a year. One sip and the room began to spin and my stomach began to turn. Apparently, at least for this girl, it’s easier to recover from a relationship gone wrong than from a bad night of drinking.

This kitty is never drinking Whiskey again.... Tanqueray is still on the table, however.
This kitty is never drinking Whiskey again…. Tanqueray is still on the table, however.
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A Catholic Confesses: Father, Forgive Me, I’m Addicited to Matzo

Matzo -- the perfect vehicle for anything you want to eat.

“Planning a big Seder dinner?” Ivane, my favorite check-out lady at Whole Foods asked as I unloaded the 10 boxes of matzo from my shopping cart.

The pound of pork tenderloin, the 5-lb ham, and the 2 packages of bacon which I also unloaded were a clear tell that no, I was not celebrating Passover. I was merely stocking up on my favorite seasonal cracker before the lack of demand would take away my supply.

“You only like matzo because you don’t have to eat it every day,” my Jewish friends always tell me.

Maybe. Arguably, us Catholics get off easy. “No bread” is one of the many paths to self-denial we can chose from during the Lent season. And since I’m an “Only When She Flies” Catholic, giving up bread for 40 days is less about religious doctrine and more about getting ready for beach season.

For me, giving up bread for Lent is less about religion and more about beach season.

Then again, if Catholics had to replace every slice of bread with communion wafers during the 40 days of Lent, and I saw a friend willingly consume the tasteless disk of starch, I’d probably think she was crazy too. But a communion wafer doesn’t come close to matzo on the utility scale.

Matzo’s chalky tastelessness and sturdy physical presence make it a great vehicle for anything you could possibly want to stack on top of something before you eat it. Peanut butter and honey. Chocolate and caramel. Smoked salmon and chives. Aged Gouda and ham. A slab of butter.

Or you can crumble it into stuff, like soup.

Matzo’s lack of flavor means it doesn’t interfere with what you really want to eat. Its crunch is an appealing bonus characteristic.

As I unpacked my groceries and tried to make space in my pantry, it occurred to me that 10 boxes might have been excessive. Apparently, besides making a lot of crumbs, the big drawback to matzo is that it’s packaging doesn’t fit in a breadbox.

Maybe if the boxes of matzo fit in my breadbox, it'd be less obtrusive in my kitchen.

If You were a Hamburger…

The Lin Burger that sounds absolutely delicious

“If you were a hamburger, you’d be something independent and classy,” my co-worker Lisa said to me after reading about the new Lin Burger New York restaurants are cooking up.

The Knicks’ newest sensation is apparently characterized in patty form as a pork burger with 5-spice seasoning and an Asian slaw. Yum.

I didn’t know what it meant to be an “independent” burger, so I asked for some clarification.

“No fills. A burger that’s meaty enough to stand on its own.”

I was flattered — I always wanted to be perceived as an independent and classy piece of meat.

“If you were a hamburger, you would be…” was an interesting exercise for someone who hasn’t eaten an all-beef patty since November 2009.

The last time I had a burger, it was here and the scene looked just like this

I remember the date well — it was the first time I’d eaten red meat since 2007, the summer I drove cross country more than once and spent large amounts of driving time alongside cattle drive trucks. It was a late night and I had just exited a rather disappointing MoMA event with a ravenous friend in tow. He suggested the Prime Meridian’s Burger Joint. I agreed.

I ate the burger.

It was delicious.

When I got home, I threw up.

He doesn’t know about that last bit — all he knows is that my doctor encouraged me to return to eating red meat because I’d turned anemic. I’ll let my friend continue to think he did good by my health…

Anyway, back to the KathleenBurger…

When I think of a classy burger, I think of one with truffles. I’ve never thought this seems right — I mean, truffle is a powerful taste. With mac & cheese, okay. But on a good burger? No. Too. Much.

What about a Kobe burger? No fuss, just salt and pepper in the mix. That’s pretty independent. Grilled to a medium… juices dripping.

For a girl that doesn't eat red meat, she's sure getting a craving.

Yes.

Now we’re on to something.

Add some thinly, thinly sliced red onion.

No cheese.

No ketchup.

A soft, not too thick whole wheat bun.

Some chutney, with a mild kick.

With a pickle on the side. Gotta have my pickle.

Yea, that’s my kind of burger.

Okay, now I’m hungry. There’s an Energy Burger across the street from my gallery. I think I’m going to go order me a veggie burger… that tastes just like Kobe beef.

 

Please Pass the Gravy, or: Please Mum, I Know it’s Thanksgiving, But Not Another Turkey!

Cranberry Relish? Can eat it all year.

I know, I know. What I’m about to say is un-American. Sacrilegious. Blasphemy in its definitive form. But I can’t pretend any longer: I hate turkey.

Cranberry relish? Can eat it all year, goes particularly well with pork. Mashed potatoes? God’s food. But turkey? If it’s not semi-synthetic and deli-sliced on my sandwich, accompanied by sharp mustard, gouda, and bread & butter pickles, then I’m not interested.

“My mother’s turkey was always usually good,” my own mother said, trying to convince me that the oversized poultry really is delicious. “Except for that time she put all the cayenne pepper in the stuffing. She was a lot like you — always experimenting in the kitchen.”

I never knew my grandmother, but clearly, she and I were a lot alike. She understood what I understand — turkey is bland and needs all the help it can get. She may have been heavy-handed with the cayenne, but she meant well.

The one good thing about turkey? Being able to drink wine in front of the fire while it roasts... and roasts.

Butterball.

Organic.

Free range.

Wild.

Organic Free Range.

28 pounders.

12 pounders.

There isn’t a bird on the market at any weight we haven’t tried and tried again. Some have more “turkey taste” than others, but even after tons of culinary TLC, all have proven a disappointment.

There have been test turkeys in October and re-test turkeys in early November. Sometimes, we walk away hopeful. Most of the time, we end up with a lot of unsavory leftovers (thank goodness “turkey is bad for dogs” is an urban legend.)

We've produced many a turkeys worthy of a Rockwell painting, few worth remembering as an entree

We’ve bounced from method to method, hoping something would finally produce a succulent dinner centerpiece.

For years, we clung to the “tent and baste” system in which my father slathers butter all over the bird, creates a tin-foil tent to shield it, and we all take turns basting it on the hour. But after several rubber-like final products, we began to experiment.

  • There was the brining experiment gone terribly wrong. The garbage bag leaked in the fridge, spreading salmonella-laden water over all the vegetables and side dishes. There was only turkey that year. And far too much of it.
  • We then tried the cheese-cloth soaked in wine and butter method. Wine and butter are flammable when not properly watched. Luckily, we keep a compact fire extinguisher in the kitchen for just such incidents.

Over the years, some of these approaches undoubtedly produced a bird worthy of a Norman Rockwell illustration, but all resulted in an entrée better left forgotten.

I'm good at homemade ravioli. Can't we just have those for Thanksgiving?

The best turkey we ever made was the result of an extended hospital stay – my mother broke her rib while vacuuming. The whole family rushed off to the hospital where we passed the next 7 hours. Luckily, before we left the house, we turned the oven down and quietly forgot about the turkey.

“Mum, can’t we just have a chicken this year?” I asked as we stood at the holiday order counter at Whole Foods.

“No. You want stuffing don’t you?”

To this I could of no retort. Thank goodness I’ve at least mastered the art of a delicious gravy.

Lessons in Conquering Addiction and Smart Investing

Anthony would agree, this cartoon was written about me.

Anthony had the most angelic set of kinky golden curls I’d ever laid eyes on. All it took was one compliment on them and his magenta blush and I was in, set for life. We quickly developed a special relationship: I was a junkie and Anthony was my dealer.

I was addicted to organic, fair-trade coffee, and he brewed the best espresso on the Upper West Side.

“Girl, you know I love you, but if I were a real bartender, I would have cut you off weeks ago. Do you have any idea how much you spend here?” I appreciated his concern, but I was in a hurry for class and he was taking his sweet time topping off my latte and counting my change.

“Ant, just gimme the cup and I won’t tell Madge about those ‘missing’ double-fudge brownies in your handbag.”

The quarter and penny slapped against the stack of “Perks” cards sitting in my wallet. In addition to Anthony’s cafe of employment, I held Coffee Club cards from Whole Foods, a local deli, and another small NYC gourmet coffee chain. Each were one stamp away from my free cup. None were a first-time membership.

I quickly did the math. Ant was right to be embarrassed for me — I was spending, on average, $12 a day for coffee. When I measured my monthly caffeine expenditure against my monthly college student income, I understood why I no longer had a shoe fund. It was time to seek help.

This little machine may have cost me some credit card debt, but it was going to save me thousands in the longrun

Luckily for me, this economic epiphany coincided with a home-sale at Bloomingdale’s. Rather than quit the bean cold-turkey, I decided to reinvest my coffee stocks.

I bounced home from the Lexington Avenue department store with a french press, a DeLonghi espresso machine with built-in milk frother, a pound of course-ground medium roast, and a can of Lavazza espresso. I was out about $250, but had enough supplies to get me through 3 months of caffeine consumption. Despite accumulating some credit card debt, in the long haul, I was scheduled to come out ahead.

I knew Anthony was going to miss me, but Gary, the shoe guy at Saks, was glad to finally have me back.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day and Somewhere in there, I’m a Tobin

As I write this, my mother is in the kitchen, listening to Riverdance and banging two wooden spoons together. Her clacking is not in time, but rhythm has never been one of my mother’s strong suits — they took the triangle away from her in grade school. She’s had both hips replaced but that doesn’t stop her from doing her most inspired Michael Flatley impression.  She’s a Tobin after all and it is St. Patrick’s Day.

We take Irish food and music very seriously... we have enough Irish oatmeal to lead the nation through another potato famine

Despite being a conglomerate of Italian, German, Scot, and Irish heritage, we take St. Patrick’s Day fairly seriously in my house. Come to think of it, we take being Irish pretty seriously in my house, even though we’re 2 generations removed from the family homestead in County Clare. Well, we take Irish food and music very seriously. My mother makes a mean boiled potato and there’s enough Irish oatmeal in the pantry to lead the nation through another potato famine. My favorite song growing up was “The Orange and the Green,” I was more interested in playing a reel on my fiddle than Mozart on my violin, and my first concert in New York City was Gaelic Storm at the BB King.

I was more interested in 300 fiddle tunes than a Mozart symphony growing up.

In honor of the holiday, I’ve put two loaves of traditional Irish brown bread baking in the oven. Meanwhile, my mother made green jell-o and we collaborated on cabbage rolls and green Scotch shortbread cookies. My father contributed with a 6-pack of Irish Red in the basement fridge. We’re ready to party in a way our ancestors would be proud of… maybe.

I went to Ireland once, when I was 7. That trip was the first time I’d ever stayed up past 9PM and first time I’d ever been to a bar. My father was on business and my mother used it as an excuse to met up with her favorite Irish cousin and her son. Julie drove us from Shannon into a small town hidden among fields and knolls. It was like the setting of JRR Tolkin book. The sky was black and clear and the only light illuminating the streets was the glow from cottage windows. We stepped out of the car into a informal parking lot outside a pub. Music and laughter filled the air and it was clear we were in for a rolicking good time.

The whole world seemed to be crammed into the small, smokey public house. Pints sloshed as joyous patrons slammed their glasses down in time to the music, which was provided by a group set atop a rickety stage. The tables and chairs had been cleared from a section of the floor, and men and women reeled around in circles, stomping and spinning, pulling in new partners at will. An older gentleman with a white beard and cap, straight off a postcard, threw me into the middle of the floor, determined that I would learn how to step dance before the night was through. As a kid, I had chalk white skin, rose bud cheeks, and thick blond curls. In my cable knit sweater, I looked as local as anyone else there. I would eventually learn that the Tobin farm, tied up in family feuds for a half century (how typically Irish), was but a mile away — I was as local as anyone.

We rolled into our cousin’s B&B at 2AM and slept till late afternoon. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

Sometimes I feel like pulling a John Wayne in the Quiet Man and moving to Ireland to reclaim the family homestead

It’s true what they say about Ireland — it gets under your skin, you become part of a family, and you start to pine for it. Sometimes, I feel like pulling a John Wayne in “The Quiet Man” — retire from this fighting life, move back to my people’s farm, fix it up, marry me a nice Irish bloke, and dance a jig to the tune of a happily ever after.

In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for my home baked bread, a pint, a warm memory, and a toast to my Grandma, Anna Tobin.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.