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Interlude: On Tour, Part 1
The timeline of a book launch.
An Interlude is when I write to you from the road. The first one was from a trip to Bloomington.
Monday, September 11
My flight takes off from San Juan on time at 7 a.m. I spend the three and a half hours working on the slideshow presentation for my MIT lecture coming up on the 19th. When I was teaching, I was really terrible at making the slideshows: I always wanted to put too much information on them, too much imagery. For this one, I think I pared things down perfectly. But we shall see! I’ve called the lecture “Lifestyle Cred: How I Learned to Gently Push a Plant-Based Diet,” and I’ll publish it here along with my BU Pepín Lecture, if you want to read them.
When I’m done with the slideshow and some lecture edits, I put on A Fantastic Woman, a movie I’ve been dying to see for years, but the plane lands early and I don’t get to finish it.
My dad picks me up at JFK and we drive home via the Ocean Parkway, which is a route that’s very nostalgic for me and my mom mocks me for always thinking it’s a quicker way home. It’s not. We get pizza at my hometown favorite, which has changed names recently but will always be Delfiore to me. I eat a margherita slice and a stuffed knot, which is a fried-eggplant sandwich I’ve adored since I was a teenager.
I spend the afternoon catching up on work and emails, then my mom and I go out to Michael’s so I can get a pan, cake boards, and cake boxes for the sheet cakes I’m planning to make for the Thursday book launch. We meet my sister afterwards at Catch Oyster Bar for dinner, where I also have my first pumpkin pint of the season: Southern Tier Caramel Pumpkin. This is new for me, but their Pumking is my favorite pumpkin beer of all time and this one doesn’t disappoint.
Tuesday, September 12
I make my sister drive me around for cake supplies, and we start at Southdown Coffee, a Long Island chain that has finally freed me from having to drink Starbucks when I’m home. I get their chickpea salad sandwich, which I’ve heard great things about—viral among my family, basically—and it’s wonderful: packed with chickpeas, arugula, and sprouts on toasted sourdough.
I have a budget of $200 for the cakes, and I’ve already spent about $60 of it on a pan, cardboard, and boxes. (I could make better choices with more time or more planning, but I’ve been quite busy for months.) We go to Target (King Arthur flour, organic cane sugar), local natural foods store Cornucopia, and Giunta’s Meat Farms, the best supermarket in the area. We get back home and I get to prepping 4x batches of coconut cake, chocolate olive oil cake, vanilla bean buttercream, and tahini buttercream, then coconut milk dulce de leche and chocolate ganache for some decor. The two cakes are coconut, vanilla bean buttercream, and coconut milk dulce de leche and chocolate olive oil with tahini buttercream and chocolate ganache—recipe available, as “wedding cake”! I’ll publish the former soon, too, which is my friend Layla’s wedding cake.
I get the coconut cake into the freezer, the frosting and decoration into the fridge, and realize I didn’t pack some of my decorating tools, which means my mom takes me later to Dollar Tree, where I get some pastry bags and an offset icing spatula: Did you know they had these things at Dollar Tree? I was happy to see if a kid wants to get into cake decorating, they can get some basics for under $10 and go to town.
Somewhere in here, we get bad burritos (a place that was once a go-to is now off our list entirely) and my sister dyes my roots.
I actually don’t finish baking the chocolate cake until 11 p.m. I go to bed absolutely pooped.
Wednesday, September 13
Today, I take the train from Bethpage, near where my mom works, to meet Israel in the city after his flight. I’m early, so I do what I always do when I’m in Manhattan alone: I go to Casa Magazines and buy some items, especially significant now when I’m doing research on the newsletter relaunch for next year. (I will tell you all about the magazines at a later date.)
I then keep walking, basically on my way to McNally Jackson to see if they have No Meat Required, but I feel a grumble in my tummy and look to my right, where I see Buvette. I have a call soon with Krystal C. Mack to go over any questions about our forthcoming Baltimore event, and I figure I can sit and have that call outside with a nice espresso, orange juice, and avocado toast, so that is what I do. The walking and spontaneity are what I miss from New York so much.
After our call, I wrap up breakfast and keep walking. I find the book face out in the Food Writing section and have a little cry to myself: It’s my first time seeing the book in a store. I buy Meat Love: An Ideology of the Flesh by Amber Husain and leave to meet Israel at Penn Station.
We drop some items off for tailoring nearby, then I look at my Google Maps and realize we should have lunch at Café China. Brilliant call, as I’ve just been alerted by my literary agent that the book is getting a second printing, so I’m able to have a martini to celebrate, along with mapo tofu and the most delicious eggplant in garlic sauce. We head out to catch the LIRR back to Ronkonkoma.
At home, I get to decorating the cakes. I have a fun time swirling and swishing, unattached to perfection. It’s a whole new me as a cake decorator, as I used to work myself into tears.
We eat Delfiore for dinner again, but this time I order the salad, rich with sundried tomatoes, olives, and a thick Balsamic dressing.
Thursday, September 14
It’s the big launch day, which gets off to a rocky start thanks to some transportation snafus (I also wake up with my right hand sore and a bit swollen from icing those cakes!), but we persevere and take the train to Atlantic Terminal to go check in at the Ace Hotel Brooklyn, for which I’ve gotten a “creative” rate for two nights—thankfully, because hotel prices in New York for this week have been absolutely off the charts. We meet up for lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, As You Are, with my agent, Jenny, and Beacon publicist Bev for a celebratory lunch of hippie sandwiches (sprouts are back!), ginger-turmeric tonics, and a gifted plate of lovely pastries. Chef Camille Bacerra comes out to meet us and then gives us a tour of all the food spaces in the hotel, along with her plans for them. It’s lovely to meet her and eat her food after so long!
Then, my mom and sister are on their way with our luggage and the cakes: We meet them at the venue, the wonderful Invisible Dog Art Center, and put the cakes in the fridge. My sister loves to manage things and is telling me what to do to make sure they fit. As the youngest sister, any occasion to be bossy she relishes with a bit too much enthusiasm.
The cakes now safe in the fridge, we go back to the hotel to get me ready, which involves trimming my hair, blow-drying it, and putting on my makeup. No one has any powdered bronzer, which is a tragedy, but we keep going. Everyone else gets ready and then we go downstairs for pre-event cocktails (a beer for my mother) before heading to the event.
Mayukh, my conversation partner and friend, is already there, and I’m glad there’s no green room so there’s no weird ceremony about our entrance. We’re all just hanging out and mingling!
Claire Sprouse is there serving Non non-alcoholic wines and Pam Wiznitzer has batched the 50-50 martinis made with the fabulous AMASS Gin. I was floored to see two wonderful bartenders I’ve worked with on pieces before; I’ve also interviewed Claire for this newsletter! I see so many people I know or recognize start to come in, including a couple of high school friends, most of my extended family, and a ton of food writing colleagues.
I can barely remember what the talk was because I was so nervous, but people told me they enjoyed it, and I only had one heckler in the Q&A who told me that printing on hardcover was a waste of water. (My aunt later told him off on the street, because while mad at me about water usage, he was still enjoying the free beverages: This wasn’t the event for heckling, what with the presence of my family!) The rest of the audience questions were so lovely, and it was great to sign books and meet folks.
The party went on too long, so with some close friends, we moseyed over to Brooklyn Inn for a beer. I don’t know how many martinis I’d had, but it was enough to scarf down the delicious white chocolate-macadamia nut cookie from Sweet Maresa’s that Charlotte Druckman generously gifted me and order the most awful 1 a.m. pizza I’ve ever tasted.
Friday, September 15
The day is spent in bed, until we go to a wonderful dinner at friends’, and then it’s right back to bed.
Saturday, September 16
A Black Seed bagel with avocado and pickled green tomatoes (I eat more avocado in New York, where it doesn’t grow, than Puerto Rico, where it does, which has given me an idea for an essay). We go pick up the car that will be our road trip companion, then we’re onto D.C., where we’re staying for three days to do events at Red Emma’s in Baltimore and Bold Fork Books in D.C. At the Molly Pitcher rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike—for whatever reason, the best rest stop on the turnpike—we get shroom burgers at Shake Shack (my traveling guilty pleasure!).
Once we’re settled in D.C., we start to walk, and I remember I’ve always wanted to go to The Green Zone, and Israel reminds me that his old La Factoria boss has been working there for a few years now. We walk, and walk, and walk, and then we get there to find it wildly packed, but we somehow end up with seats at the bar upstairs (this honestly could have resulted in a fight, it was such an intense situation). I order the Jun Blossom, because it’s their take on a martini and features a Bosnian apricot eau-de-vie, and these are words that are music to my ears. It’s lovely and floral, and I follow it with their Desert Falcon, a take on a Jungle Bird, that is absurdly rich and delicious. We eat their falafel, which is Lebanese style, which is my favorite falafel style—not that I wanna start a fight!—and the old bar camaraderie requires a shot of amaro, which I sip.
Sunday September 17
I’m writing to you from the hotel bed, before we get up and head to Baltimore. These four days will be absolutely jam-packed. I’ll tell you all about them next week.
This Friday’s From the Kitchen dispatch for paid subscribers is a Q&A with plant-based dietician Desiree Nielsen about yogurt and how to make the best of options available. She’s also provided her recipe for cashew yogurt!
I was on the BBC World Service “Weekend” program discussing the book and plant-based eating generally—a lot to parse from this convo, which begins at 44:20. There was also a short review of No Meat Required at Public Books.
Just those cakes.