We recently listened to an episode of Alec Baldwin’s “Here’s the Thing” podcast where the guest was Anthony Weiner, who is the subject of a documentary about his public downfall called “Weiner,” as if it could be called anything else. He deserves points for not hiding, in my opinion. I also happen to think that a politician should not be judged so harshly by his personal quirks or peccadilloes, but this post is about his more G-rated passions.
As I sat in the dark listening to the former politician extol his beliefs with such adroit and depth, I was struck by a sad concern: Was there any topic of which I was so well-versed, so passionate about that I could easily fill an entire podcast interview with it? Standard poodles? Not an hour’s worth. “Hamilton”? Well, by this point, who couldn’t? The Berkshires? Maybe..? My profession? Sure, but with such conviction? Okay, Le Labo fragrances; that’s one. But what about pertinent matters, like our current political state? Sure, I can voice my fears about Trump with my own personal set of vitriolic adjectives, but don’t ask me to provide numbers or statistics. My knee-jerk reaction will be to turn to Bertrand and let him take over when I sense that I’m not entirely sure I understand what I’m saying, but parroting my husband. I know. It’s embarrassing. Fraudulent. Sort of like Trump.
Of course, I feel bad about this! This reminds me of a scene in my favorite movie, “Broadcast News.” William Hurt’s character is sheepishly confessing that, as an anchor at a local news station, he’s often not entirely understanding the news he’s delivering. “Stop whining and do something about it,” replies Holly Hunter’s character (who also happens to be named Jane). “Insist on being better prepared.” I do try, but sometimes it’s more comfortable to hide behind my cooking. When we have friends over for dinner, Bertrand is the one who engages our guests while I busy myself in the kitchen. He not only makes a better cocktail; he’s a better cocktail conversationalist. He can talk politics, local news, sports if he has to, and practically anything else while I tend to nod or raise my eyebrows and drop my jaw to an anxious void when asked my opinion.
At various social occasions, when someone asks me, “What’s new?” I often can’t come up with an interesting answer. How many times have you said, “Not much” when you’re asked that. You might as well say “I’m very boring”or “I don’t care enough to make any effort to engage you.” Or, more to the point, “I’m sorry, I’m too self-centered to think of anyone but my boring self.”
I brought this social anxiety up in the car the other evening as we drove to a friend’s big birthday bash. We knew we’d know most of the people there, yet I felt a growing inner tension, nevertheless.
“I always run out of things to say to her friends,” I laughed awkwardly, as I looked out the window at the setting sun.
“You’re going at it the wrong way, ” Bertrand said, not accepting this complaint. “Ask them about their stuff, what’s going on in their lives. You’ve known most of these people for ages. And those you don’t know, all the more to ask.”
It was that simple. Cocktail conversation, dinner conversation, or any conversation for that matter, should be about asking questions of others. Sure, there will always be that person who is more than happy to answer every question you ask, and then some. But that’s for another post (and, believe me, I’ve got plenty of material..)
All that being said, being otherwise occupied is a great way to avoid getting stuck in these awkward moments. And, by being otherwise occupied, I mean being the cook. I’m perfectly fine having guests in my kitchen while I’m checking the meat or stirring the sauce or refilling the ricotta toast tray (recipe below) Usually, the ones who find their way into this room are there because they’re members of my club. I’m the perfect audience for their stories, complaints, whatever. Not only am I, quite literally, a captive audience, but the mood can’t help but be enjoyably conspiratorial. Whether it’s having someone to help me mend the sauce I burned (Eric) or sharing a tiny little snark about someone with different political views or someone’s spouse drinking a wee bit too much. Being the cook means I’m popular without needing to engage. That will come later when it’s dinner time and there’s a topic on the table, literally: the food. By then, I’m more relaxed and, well, more confident. Unless I ruined the meal, which, in that case, I’ll just get drunk.
We watched the Weiner documentary last night, after which my awe toward him faded, shifting to a smirk and furrowed brow. He had admitted to being wired with this need for validation during his “Here’s the Thing” interview, but, man, the guy needs attention (something else he admitted to). His wife, Huma, on the other hand, keeps her focus inward throughout the film. Her facial expressions give away so much emotion and opinions, but, for the most part, she holds her tongue. I bet she’s a good cook.
Ricotta Sage Toasts (aka, Jane’s most common excuse to hide in the kitchen) Serves 10
- 1 fresh baguette
- 1 bunch of fresh sage, roughly chopped
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, sliced down middle
- 3 T truffle oil
- 1 c ricotta
Preheat oven to 325. Cut baguette into 1-inch slices and place in oven until they achieve the slightest crispest. Do not brown. Remove from oven. With pastry brush, coat toasted slices with oil, then rub with open-cut side of garlic. Spread a generous amount of ricotta on slice, then sprinkle with a few pieces of sage. Place back in oven for 5 minutes until cheese is melted and sage has a slight crispness. Remove and serve warm.