(A short diversion from the world of chocolate!)
I am blessed to know a fairly large number of wonderfully strange women. Foremost among them is N., and for some reason today I just want to sing her praises.
Oh, N. When I am wont to arranging my friends into categories (Friend Who Knows Everything About Movies, Friend Who Can Fix Things, Friend Who Will Give Me An Honest Opinion On My Outfit), I sometimes think of Natalie as My Most Mainstream Friend. This only has a grain of truth to it—she is more accurately the Most Mainstreamy Person I Really Really Like.
Most accurately of all, she is not mainstreamy at all. But on the continuum of my close friends, the facts must be said: N. is blonde, blue-eyed, conventionally gorgeous (that is not an insult!), grew up in New Jersey and can shop the fuck out of a mall like you have never known. I didn’t believe that the stereotypes about New Jersey and mall culture were true until I moved to the tri-state area and got to know some true Jerseyites—people whose idea of a quality weekend is taking a chartered bus to an outlet mall. The stereotypes are true, my friends. And, as I believe she would be the first to admit, her family is the stuff of which the NJ stereotypes thrive: her dad is a contractor, her mom wears fake nails and goes to tanning salons. That said, they are also, from all that I have heard, lovely and sweet people.
N. fascinates me because, in spite (or because) of the above factors, she’s one of those people who is uniquely and only herself. Do you know that scene in Angels in America where the rabbi says that Lou’s grandmother was “not a person, but a whole kind of person” (scroll down on that link, you’ll see it)? N. is not a whole kind of person, she is only N. But she mixes kinds of people into herself.
It cannot be denied: though she is one of the most passionate environmentalists and conservationists around, she also can shop like nobody’s business. She isn’t a rapacious consumer like most of America, but when it’s time to buy sheets or kitchen supplies or wedding dresses, N. will send you links and internet coupons and articles on how to get the best deals. I never knew there was an art to shopping until I met N.—I thought you just spent money. How wrong I was. Now I know to consult with her before I buy anything, and my life is better because of it.
Something else—N. writes exactly like she talks. Always the mark of a genuine person, no? Witness her response to an email I sent asking for advice about a friend who mistakenly thought I was cock[vag]blocking her:
the only thing i can say is that i am the same as you in having social anxiety yet loving people and talking too much and smiling too much and filling awkward silences by looking to bond with SOMEONE ANYONE and i always put my foot in my mouth or share too much or even reach out and touch people (members of the opposite sex included even if they are married or i am at work) but sometimes i feel like I really need to tell them that i am getting them or everything is OK so i pat them on the arm but even that would be considered flirting. so there are people like us who overwhelm a little by default and there are the cool observers of the world who sit back and are insulted or look for deeper meaning in our social awkwardness. i am ok being the former and making an occasional ass out of myself. OK anyway cockblocker (who uses that fucking term nowadays and how did she never hear of it?), but maybe we girls need a hand signal for this kind of thing.
OK, best email ever, no? You can so feel the “I’m-at-work-and-things-are-a-little-crazy-but-I-SO-KNOW-what-you’re-feeling-and-it’s-all-good”ness of it all. And yes, she really does talk just like this, in a hailstorm, a barrage, a serious wind tunnel of ideas and words and hilariously bizarre stories and empathy. I have seen her conversational skills literally take away people’s breath when they were not aware of what they were getting into. And this is part of why we get along so well: she has seen the same happen to people when they are talking to me.
When she got married to her longtime sweetheart, A. (who is, as you might expect, awesome in his own way but also very quiet and clearly amused, even after twelve or however many years, at her ebullient, ever-effusive high spirits) a few years ago, I wasn’t disappointed. I didn’t exactly get why they were getting married since they already owned a home together and everything, but I had to remind myself that the pull of N’s home world—I will say only three words to you: New. Jersey. Weddings.—is strong, and what is so amazing about N is that instead of running from whatever social conventions she disagrees with (as I do) she attacks them head on.
N’s wedding could not ever have been anyone else’s wedding. It was 1000% N. The food, the music, the amazingly thoughtful little details were everywhere. It wasn’t tacky, it wasn’t sappy. It was colorful and fast-paced and actually fun.
When I first met N. she had just moved to New Paltz and was looking to change careers. We had gone to the same cooking school (though we didn’t know each other at the time—I vaguely knew her as a quiet, shy-seeming girl I would pass now and then. Little did I know that that was N. in sponge-mode: she was, in her smart-girl way, inhaling and filing away information to be used later. N. didn’t go to cooking school to make friends or pass time, she went to learn the fuck out of it.), but she was working as a food scientist (much of our relationship these days consists of exchanges like this:
Me: I’ve got a food scientist question for ya! I’m making 1 zillion oatmeal cookies, and my recipe calls for creaming the “butter” (coco oil) and sugar in the mixer. I just did it and it combines it nicely and fluffs it a little, but the recipe says to “mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy,” which doesn’t really happen with coconut oil. It seems good to do just to incorporate the ingredients, but I wonder if you know if “creaming” is useful at all for vegan stuff??
N: …to answer your question (or try to), creaming should also be useful for vegan fats in baking. the main purpose of creaming is to beat the hell out of the sugar granules within the fat, so they disperse with gentler forms than their previous little granular edgy shapes. it kind of softens the sugar into the fat while incorporating air. this allows air bubbles to form in the fat during baking without being punctured by the sharp little sugar granules. while you may not get the same look in coconut oil as you would butter, i think the effect on the sugar granules (and addition of air) would be pretty much the same. i would think the main difference would be that butter does contain some water (i’m assuming more than coconut oil) which may combine a bit more readily with the sugar, and also some pigments so you get that kind of light yellowish color when you do it. i think butter has a bit of a looser fat structure than coconut oil, so it may seem like it gets fluffier or responds better to the process. the coconut oil may just look like a pastier version of itself when you’re done… but i think you should definitely still do it.)
and looking to do her culinary school internship in a different food world. So, she interned with me, and we both wore out our vocal cords every Sunday talking about everything imaginable. My favorite part of the day was when N., who I think still feels a little sorry for me because I don’t have a TV, would describe, scene-by-scene, the plot of her current guilty pleasure, Desperate Housewives. When I say scene-by-scene, I mean, scene-by-scene. “So the opening credits come up, right? And Teri Hatcher is wearing this crazy dress with red heels, like super high heels, and a lot of gold jewelery….” and ending half an hour later (yes, REAL TIME) with “So then they learn that she is cheating on him because she says XYZ, and the end credits roll.”
I loved it—everyone needs a friend like that.
Here’s to fascinatingly bizarre and wonderful women!