illustration: tram nguyen
As a kid, I was the worst kind of food snob. My palate was not exactly sophisticated – when my mom was cooking, I was always begging for buttered noodles and cereal – but my capacity for judging other people’s dining habits was limitless. Eating dinner at friends’ houses, I’d turn my nose up at TV dinners before greedily scarfing them down. I’d smile pityingly at moms who served store-bought birthday cakes at parties before, obviously, vying for the piece with the most icing. I was especially unforgiving on the subject of pre-made pie crusts. Boxed cakes and brownies, at least, usually tasted pretty good. But store-bought pie crusts never came close to the real thing. At best, they were stale and chalky. At worst, they were cookies or graham crackers masquerading as crusts, dressed up all pie-ish in a circular little tin in the cookie section of the grocery store.
Part of the reason for my precociously unforgiving palate, obviously, is that I was an enormous brat with no concept of the difficulties of being a working parent. The other part probably has to do with the fact that I come from a long line of excellent bakers, and thus was also tremendously spoiled in this department. My mother is basically a non-practicing professional cake-maker at this point, having made not one wedding cake but two – including her own – along with innumerable birthday cakes, thousands of celebratory cupcakes, the occasional experimental fondant creation, and pies for every season. My grandmother, great-grandmother, aunts, and great-aunts, all prolific bakers and cooks, have cumulatively passed along hundreds of tips and recipes; even my grandfather made two wedding cakes.
Until recently, I had limited my baking activities pretty strictly to cake. I’ve worked at a few bakeries over the years, so I (sort of) know the drill, and the kind of pie I was most interested in making – lemon meringue, a childhood favorite – also appeared rather complicated. And let’s be real. I was a little bit nervous. Making pie crust seemed kind of hard? And I had spent my entire life smirking gleefully at people so inferior they dared buy their crusts from the grocery store shelves. It would be pretty embarrassing to have to admit myself, at long last, to the ranks of America’s low-class pastry frauds.
illustration: tram nguyen
Last year, I signed up for a little plot in my local organic community garden with the intention of winning. Yes, I know, it’s “not a competition.” Never mind the fact that (a) I knew absolutely nothing about gardening and (b) I had never been able to keep a plant alive for any reasonable length of time. In fact, on two separate occasions I have murdered plants on my way home from the garden store. Mankind has been doing this since the beginning of time practically, how hard could it be? I put my dismal track record aside, imagining myself strolling home with a basket of fresh local, organic produce on my arm, maybe sporting a chic pair of Isabel Marant denim overalls, looking like a Brooklyn homesteader straight off the pages of Kinfolk.
I soon discovered that if I had to live off the land, I would be dead by autumn, or at the very least, severely malnourished. Gardening is actually hard work! I learned that the first day, sweat dripping off of me, wearing inappropriate footwear, shovelling dirt, I mean, soil, into wheelbarrows to dump into my little 4’x8′ plot for hours on end. It’s messy, and gross bugs that you can’t murder with chemicals because you’ve signed an agreement to not use pesticides, even though you’re pretty sure the couple next to you with the Schwartzenegger-sized monster tomatoes is using Miracle Gro, but of course you would never report them to the proper authorities because you’re not a snitch. It’s also not particularly cost effective? For the amount of time, energy, and money I put into the garden, I might as well have been tearing up bits of twenty dollar bills and sprinkling them in my coffee every morning. The result would have been the same. By the end of the season, I had harvested one sad little squash and the little green things that I had been dutifully watering turned out to be weeds. My mason jars would remain empty, unfulfilled.
illustration: tram nguyen
Inventing drink names is difficult. The impulse to be precious or twee is irresistible, and in this case it’s a particularly hard trap to avoid because the drink at hand is one we can imagine Gwyneth Paltrow sipping lazily from the bow of her yacht, all boat-necked St. Martin shirt and perfect white short-shorts. Which is to say, it’s a drink that’s refreshing, minimalist, ideal in warm weather, and made with ingredients that are just overpriced enough to for me to consider them “sophisticated.” Anyway, for this recipe I had to resist with all my might a name that was very cutesy, because I am almost 30 and I think it’s time to cultivate mature habits. Maybe I will improve at naming things as our GOOP-inspired cocktail series progresses.
Hi! Thank you for coming to our new website, Pen & Palate.
The two of us have been best friends since 9th grade, when we overcame our mutual shyness to bond over a shared love of Strangers With Candy, Stevie Nicks, and after-school snacks. Almost two decades later, we are older and slightly wiser, but we still love talking about food and dreaming up new dishes together. Since Tram lives in Chicago and Lucy lives in New York, this is our way of sharing our favorite recipes and stories, alongside original, hand-painted illustrations – with each other, and, if you’re reading this, with you.
Lucy & Tram