illustration: tram nguyen
Speaking of dinner parties! For many years, I had this habit of inviting people over for dinner and then planning elaborate, multi-part feasts that would require me to spend hours and hours in the kitchen while everyone else hung out in the living room, starving. I tend to get a little nervous about hosting, and I appreciated the built-in escape during awkward moments – which, when I am around, there are many! This system worked for me, mostly. Despite some delays I would inevitably emerge from the kitchen, triumphant and covered in flour, with four distinct and “innovative” homemade pizzas, or whatever similarly labor-intensive dish I’d made. I would bully people into profusely complimenting me and then, at long last, we’d all eat. I got praise; my friends got fed – everyone was happy!
Then, last fall, my mom came to New York to celebrate her birthday, with my aunt and my sister in tow. I had just moved into a new apartment and was excited to show it off, so I thought it would be nice to have everyone over for a lavish birthday feast. As the clock ticked down to the dinner party, the guest list grew and grew. The more people who were slated to attend, the more ambitious I got. Ultimately, I ended up with about 12 attendees and a menu consisting of a delicious but complicated seeming menu of fancy enchiladas (recipe courtesy of Saveur) followed by Lottie + Doof’s gorgeous chocolate juniper cake with milk jam. I don’t remember what I served for appetizers, but I do remember sending my sister’s boyfriend out on a hunt for “one stale bun,” which, winningly, he scrounged up.
Oh girl, we’ve all been there. Read about the recipe from hell on The Toast.
Illustration: Tram Nguyen
Five years ago at about this time, I was feeling sort of down about New York. I was 25 and living in a converted studio-to-one bedroom-to two-bedroom apartment (read: I was living in a 5×7 living room with a curtain for a door); I had a job that didn’t pay the bills; and moreover that job—which was at a fashion magazine, not, like, the DOJ—was a constant source of dissatisfaction and anxiety. I had studied in Buenos Aires in college, and I’d loved it, and after I graduated I told myself that if things didn’t work out in New York I’d move back to South America. It had been almost three years since graduation at this point, and my credit card had recently been declined in the process of buying a $2 granola bar. I took it as a sign. I bought a one-way plane ticket to Portland and made plans to live there with some family for a few months before decamping to Argentina.
Once I decided to leave New York, my perspective on the city shifted completely. I’ve always been embarrassingly sentimental, and the knowledge that I’d be moving away deeply impacted my approach to even the most mundane everyday activities. I suddenly cherished those life-affirming moments such as waiting for a turkey burger at the bodega at 2 a.m. Every glass of wine with friends was, in my mind, a romantic, sepia-tinged memory-in-the-making. (Keep in mind, this was before Instagram.) I remember walking over the Williamsburg Bridge one day and seeing a sign that said, “Goodbye, Brooklyn!” I almost cried.
illustration: tram nguyen
This recipe was inspired by Irazu, my favorite Costa Rican restaurant in Chicago, which also has the distinction of being the only Costa Rican restaurant in Chicago. This place is always packed, and for good reason. The food is fantastic, authentic, and vegetarian friendly. There’s something so magical about walking into that restaurant in the dead of winter. The rustic beach-y decor always makes feel as if I’ve just stepped into the movie The Blue Lagoon. One of the things they are famous for is their oatmeal shake, which sounds healthy and unpleasant, but I was delighted to find it was in fact, quite delicious. It’s more like an horchata milkshake, with a generous dusting of cinnamon on top.