Monthly Archives: October 2012

Gimme some sugar.

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It’s a nice theory, but in my experience, the truth is both more nuanced and less poetic. The way to a man’s pants is through his stomach. With few exceptions.

As someone who happens to be reasonably skilled with butter, flour, sugar and eggs, I’ve done a fair amount of strategic baking in my day. Carrying homemade baked goods is an effective way to make yourself 16 times more popular – one for each brownie in the pan – and if you can ensure that a party of interest wanders into your periphery, you can shamelessly exploit that happy “coincidence.” I’ve prepared entire recipes with the intention of handing a solitary sample to an attractive person I’ve barely spoken to, and it has worked. Multiple times. Sorry, Dale Carnegie, but that is how you win friends and influence people.

The number of advances I’ve received after doling out baked goods has become a running joke amongst my friends, but the reception hasn’t always been positive. In fact, one college conquest refused to touch anything I made, as if he equated eating my food with acquiescing to some loaded domestic fantasy and all related expectations. I just wanted to say, “Calm down, pal, we are playing the same game here. Eat the damn cookie.” So I’m pretty sure I said that. Fortunately, we had better things to do than talk. Sorry I’m not sorry.

But if my track record is any indication, baking is good for seduction purposes only. Sugar is a cheap trick; a recipe for burnout, romantically or otherwise. It carries no promise of compatibility or longevity. Brownies might get you a phone call, but the need to back it up with something more substantial still remains. Dessert comes after dinner for a reason.

Not too long ago, I invited a boy I had been dating for several weeks over for dinner. I cook pretty light for myself, and I had a minor freakout over what exactly I was going to feed my 6’5 rugby player. I didn’t think soup would cut it, and my standard lazy meal template of quinoa + beans + veggies seemed aggressively unromantic for a third date. I settled on chicken, assuming that I could handle an easy dijon stir-fry with sun-dried tomatoes. How different could it be from scrambling eggs, anyway?

I wouldn’t call myself a kitchen novice, but as a recovering vegetarian, I am definitely a chicken novice. The two of us made quite a pair: him, trying and failing to operate a corkscrew (fun fact: you can strain out cork crumbles by emptying the whole bottle into a French press. Thanks, Mom!); me, haphazardly slinging spices and timing everything wrong. We managed to have a pretty good time despite (or perhaps because of) the many disasters, and we had barely finished eating before we were…definitely not eating.

Sorry I’m not sorry.

We lasted a more few weeks after that. I credit the chicken. Rubbery though it might have been, it was a meal that strove for something more. Ultimately, though, man (and woman) cannot live on protein alone. They need sweetness, too. A dash of maple to balance the mustard. A culinary zsa zsa zsu.

So here’s to hoping. To a life of dinners, not just desserts…with a concession that even dinner should come with a bit of sugar and flour. Because if you’re not going to come away from the table with a high, why don’t you just make quinoa?

Love Me Tenders

This isn’t the dinner I made that night. It’s the dinner I wish I’d made: moist maple-mustard marinated chicken; a crunchy exterior giving way to a sharp and playful complexity of flavor. But lest you think my culinary escapades unfold entirely for show, I’ll have you know that I cooked this meal just for me. I even opened a bottle of wine—cork very much intact. Adapted from How Sweet It Is.

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken tenders
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup dijon mustard
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

1. Place chicken in a baking dish. Combine buttermilk, syrup, mustard and garlic. Pour buttermilk mixture over chicken and let soak for at least four hours (I left mine overnight) (in the refrigerator, ya dummy).

2. Preheat oven to 450 and grease a baking sheet. In a shallow bowl, combine breadcrumbs, flour and spices. One by one, dredge each chicken tender in  flour mixture and place on baking sheet. Move quickly to avoid clumps—I like to get in a nice “plop, bury, flip, bury, remove” rhythm. Mist with a fine layer of nonstick spray.

3. Bake for 10 minutes on each side, spraying once again after the flip. Enjoy with honey mustard, barbecue sauce, ketchup, ranch dressing, or Nutella. No judgment. Serves 4.

I don’t want to be a housewife. I just want to not have to eat the same leftovers by myself four nights in a row.

Ya dig?

That’s (not) my name.

I remember the first time I made headlines.

I drew the magazine from a pile of bills and holiday cards, its glossy cover winking at me in the dim light of the foyer. Stunned, I held it at arm’s length, then just inches from my unbelieving eyes. There was no mistaking the bold pink type stamped across an almost familiar-looking grin:

“EMMA ROBERTS, NEW TEEN QUEEN!”

Your move, Nancy Drew.

You may have noticed that I share a first and last name with a certain, uh, celebrity. I guess that’s what we’re calling her these days? I’m sure she’s a lovely person. Actually, I bet she sucks. Dubious “It Girl” status notwithstanding, I can’t help but believe that the only remarkable thing about Emma Roberts is her connection to everyone’s favorite Pretty Woman, a true talent who used her celebrity to volley a fame-hungry niece into the public eye. And subsequently into my foyer. But I’m not bitter.

I was born first. Just saying.

Sharing a name with a second-tier celebrity is only sporadically inconvenient, undeserving of a snappy, formulated response. Instead, I spent my teen years humorlessly defending my identity to the cashier at Blockbuster, a relationship already made complicated by our ongoing war over the price of Raisinets.

“Just these, thanks.”

“Did you know that you can add another box of candy for only—”

“Yeah, you tell me that every time I buy my Raisinets here. I’m good with just the one.”

“Well, if you buy them a lot, why don’t you just buy two now and save one for—”

“It’s a mental thing, okay? I don’t want to deal with the fact that I’m going to do this again next week.”

“Oh. Um, okay. Cash or—?”

“Credit, please.”

“Okay. Ha! Your name is Emma Roberts!”

This exact exchange unfolded on a weekly basis. For the record, I once tried to actually purchase two boxes of candy. Emboldened by defiance, I marched up to that smarmy cashier with a grin on my face, itching to catch him without a retort at last.

“These two, please. The two-for-$3 deal.”

“Did you know that you can double that purchase and get four boxes of candy for only $5?”

He had won. I ate my two boxes of Raisinets back-to-back while watching the lesser Emma Roberts in Aquamarine.

These days, I can scarcely make a restaurant reservation without getting an audible side-eye in response, but the desire to escape my name long outdates my identity thief’s rise to celebrity. On the first day of second grade, a Scooby-Doo obsession prompted me to assume an alias. It wasn’t until Back-to-School Night, when my parents found themselves being ushered to “Velma”s tiny desk, that they discovered my secret and put an end to the charade. Five years later, I received a slap on the wrist for denoting on an official form that my name was “Emma Robberts” (double consonants have character!). A more gratifying moment came during high school, when a substitute teacher paused mid-roll call and uttered without an ounce of recognition, “EE-muh ROE-berts?”

I’ll take it.

I’ve found ways to make peace with the name I’ve always found so uninspiring. My middle name now gilds all personal and professional accounts. Emma Aubry Roberts. Like Sarah Jessica Parker. Sarah Parker—now there is a girl who feels my pain. Then there’s Embry, my Sasha Fierce-style alter ego, a bad bitch equally at home in dive bars and job interviews (and the author of every regrettable text I’ve ever sent). I considered formally adopting the pseudonym – my mother, of all people, suggested it – but I couldn’t bring myself to go quite so far in pursuit of a unique identity.

So here I am. Emma Aubry Roberts: Three Names, One Sassy Gal™. Google “Emma Aubry Roberts” and you might even be able to scrape a full page of results before She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (But-Has-And-Annoyingly-So) creeps back in. If I cannot commit to a hair color, I can at least honor my parents by bringing glory to my three names. Embry Auberts is welcome on Saturday nights, but it’s all me come Sunday morning.

Do you like your name?

Take back the weekend.

As any Sex and the City fan can attest, some of the best conversations unfold over the highly fetishized, highly beloved institution known as brunch. Nothing sets the tone for a memorable discussion like bottomless coffee, nutritional recklessness and maybe a cocktail or two.

Today’s brunch was a tame affair (well, if you can call anything that features a mound of pork and waffles topped with a fried egg “tame”) during which my companion and I sank our teeth into the (equally meaty) subject of work-life balance. The two of us mark opposite ends of the spectrum – she’s a corporate marketer with workaholic propensities, and I’m a creative gypsy who preaches the pursuit of happiness – but we can agree on this: Weekends are for pleasure, and we refuse to sacrifice them to anyone else’s definition of the term.

Observing this credo requires both a knowledge of what fulfills you and a belief in your right to pursue it. When you live in a city rife with capital-C Culture, it can be easy to feel as though you’re doing it wrong. Choice becomes paradoxical, and Culture assumes a strangely narrow definition. What? You’ve never been to Ground Zero? Er, no, I haven’t. Sorry I’m not sorry I’m not sorry.

My leisure time consists of the following activities: eating, drinking, exploring. I don’t see Broadway shows. I don’t go to museums or festivals. I’m not opposed to these things in theory, but I often forget that they exist. I love being surrounded by so many options, and there may come a time when I feel more driven to seek out traditional sources of Culture, but I prefer people to landmarks and attractions. Culture is a state of mind, not an exhibit at the Met.

I’ve also slowed down on making plans in advance. I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy doing things alone. I don’t mean sitting alone in my apartment; I mean actually doing things alone. Around 7pm last night, I was sprawled on my couch in a post-errand coma when I thought to myself, Rage. So I got dressed. Made my way to a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try. Nabbed a seat at the bar. Chatted up a thirtysomething NYU professor who was thrilled to shower a curious youngster with suggestions and advice. Paid for my food (my drinks were generously comped) and, with a slight buzz and few more items on my bucket list, made my way to a bar down the street. Repeated the process with a restaurateur from San Francisco and a Pilates instructor from Toronto. All platonic; all fascinating and fulfilling. Rage, indeed.

I did eventually meet up with friends, but I treasured that early evening anonymity. Venturing out alone allows me the freedom to go where I please for as long as I please. It forces me to entertain new ways of thinking instead of rehashing the same old ideas. I sometimes turn down plans with friends in favor of these solo adventures. On less glamorous nights, I sometimes turn down plans with friends in favor of nights at home.

Instead of feeling guilty or wondering what this says about me, I’ve become more comfortable with my loner status. When I schedule a packed weekend, I end up feeling drained and overwhelmed. When I hold off, I usually end up reaching out anyway, but I do so out of desire rather than obligation. Selfish? Maybe. But I’d rather be elusive than flaky. I think being possessive of my time makes me a more present, more interesting friend when I do engage.

So yeah, that was brunch. Which I scheduled in advance and likely would not have initiated in my haggard morning state without accountability to plans made midweek. Devil’s advocate, just for kicks!

What does an ideal weekend look like to you?

Hot potential.

I recently read an essay on the merits of being ugly. The author describes the relief she felt upon accepting that beauty was not her lot. After freeing herself from the arbitrary standard of “pretty,” she felt more confident than ever.

You know what I felt? Jealousy.

I’m not going to mince words here: I know that I’m attractive. I don’t think I’m a beauty queen or anything, but I see how people react to the way I look, and I use it to my advantage. I don’t walk around with a paper bag over my head. My mind may be the main event, but I’m not above backing it up with my face.

For me, the question was never pretty. It was pretty enough—as pretty as I could be if I did X, Y and Z. In the same way I know that I have clear skin and straight teeth and high cheekbones, I know that I have thick thighs and a somewhat graceless nose. My features are classic but not textbook. I clean up good, but I clean up, if you catch my drift. I’m pretty enough that my strong personality takes people by surprise, but not pretty enough to make a living off of my looks.

If you are naturally pretty, there is a societal expectation that you will cultivate that gift. My grandmother used to call me “the pretty one,” and it always made me mad—not because it marginalized my intellect, but because it meant I had to care. Sure, I wanted to be pretty, but I wanted it to be incidental and irrelevant. Calling me “the pretty one” set me up to fail at, well, being pretty. It gave my appearance more clout than it deserved.

Like many women, I hung my self-worth on my weight for many years. That value judgment stemmed from a discrepancy between my actual appearance and my “hot potential”—an idealized, self-invented portrait of what I could look like if I weren’t so hungry/lazy/weak-willed. Falling short of my “hot potential” seemed like a grave personal failure. After all, why be pretty when you can be The Prettiest? I’ve never been one to do things halfway. My belief in my natural attractiveness led me to feel more insecure, not less.

Defeating the tyranny of the “hot potential” boils down to economics. The effort required to maintain my appearance has diminishing marginal returns. For the sake of my point, let’s assign me a set point of attractiveness—let’s say I’m a seven at 0% effort. If 100% effort – when I’m doing everything perfectly and spending tons of time and effort on my appearance – still only puts me at eight and a half, surely there’s a point at which that effort begins to constitute dead weight loss. Maybe I can put in 50% effort, get myself to eight, and call it a day.

I’m not lamenting the “burden” of being pretty. The only arena in which I’ve found it to be limiting is my mind, which we all know is a bit of a circus anyway. So I’m telling it to STFU. Instead of getting hung up on the fact that I’m only pretty pretty, I increasingly strive to be grateful for my skin and my teeth and my cheekbones, and appreciate that my thighs and my nose keep me humble. Ish.

Do you compare yourself to yourself?