Alyssa Shelasky is the New York editor of Grub Street at New York magazine, as well as the creator of the blog Apron Anxiety. Her first book, also titled Apron Anxiety (Three Rivers Press, May 2012), comes out this week. She has written for numerous publications including People, Us Weekly, Hamptons Style, Gotham, Self, Blackbook, TV Guide, the New York Post, CBS’s Watch magazine, and Glamour. We recently sat down with Alyssa to ask her a few questions about life, love, and food. Don’t miss the GIVEAWAY at the end of the post to enter for a chance to win an Ice Milk Apron.
The Recipe Club: In your memoir Apron Anxiety, you write about moving to DC with a chef boyfriend and feeling extremely “off balance” after a few months there. How did cooking get you back on track?
Alyssa Shelasky: I take full responsibility for this—because I moved there with no job and no plan of action—but I’ve never felt so isolated in my life. I had absolutely nothing to do and nowhere to be . . . which in New York sounds like paradise, actually. But in DC it made me nervous and scared. And lonely! Even though I’ve always needed a lot of “alone time” I had never experienced true loneliness until I lived there. When I started to cook, however, I had all these small projects that required human interaction—with butchers, cheesemongers, farmers’ market vendors, and eventually, neighbors on the stoop and new friends from the food world. Even at the grocery store I just felt . . . part of something. The basic act of making food gave me meaning and purpose at a time when I otherwise felt so small.
TRC: What was the first meal you made as a new cook? Can you share any tips from your experience for beginners?
AS: Macaroni ?n’ cheese by Martha Stewart, and to this day, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever made. It did not come easy though. I remember feeling like I was lost and stoned and totally out of my comfort zone. And I had no grace whatsoever. Everything spilled, there was a small fire, I had cream sauce in my eyelashes. I kept asking myself, “People think this is fun?!” But like all things, the only way out is through. I told myself to keep following the damn directions and see what happens. And I told myself that for the next meal and the next. After a few weeks, “following the damn directions” turned into, “Ooh, what should I cook today?” and that turned into “All I want to do is psychotically cook and bake!!!” It didn’t happen overnight, but once I found my own rhythm and discovered some recipes that really worked for me, the apron became part of my being.
TRC: What’s your go-to meal to make for a new boyfriend?
AS: A light pasta and a gorgeous radicchio salad. Toast some pine nuts or pistachios for the salad and it’s immediately sophisticated. You could even skip the salad and serve two big, voluptuous bowls of pasta with a dollop of ricotta cheese and fresh herbs on top. Understated is best. Add red wine, dark chocolate for dessert, and . . . done.
TRC: Have you had any major mishaps in the kitchen?
AS: Oh, I’ve wasted so much money on things I’ve thrown away because they’re inedible. Brownies are always problematic. Either I burn them or they just won’t cook. I just made a strawberry tart for a dinner party, and the insides were wet and slimy . . . such a bust. I’m pretty sure the meat loaf in my fridge right now might end up poisoning someone. So yeah. My mother sent my father’s entire family to the ER the first time she ever cooked them dinner. It happens!
TRC: Your book Apron Anxiety details several dinner parties. What are your best tips for planning a dinner party, and what would be on your ideal menu?
AS: Again, this is not the eighties. Avoid over-the-top! Start with a gorgeous hunk of cheese, some grapes, a few ramekins of interesting nuts. For dinner, make two to three plentiful dishes that are beautiful and delicious but extremely simple. A salad, a pasta, and a protein. Learn what’s in season—that’s great for some harmless snob effect, but it’s also going to make everything taste better. It just is. I tend to “plate” for my guests because I know I won’t skimp, and I can’t wait to see how all the colors and textures come together. Bake a chocolate cake or homemade cookies for dessert if you have time, but your guests will be just as happy with a big bowl of coffee ice cream and some homemade crème fraîche. Even if it’s Cool Whip, call it crème fraîche. Why not?
GIVEAWAY: To enter to win this beautiful Frosty Tin Marshmallows Apron from Ice Milk Aprons, simply comment on this post and let us know why you’d like to win. Or, send us a tweet at @TheRecipeClub and reference the giveaway. Deadline for entry is Friday, May 25, 2012.