Monday, November 30, 2009

Girl Crushes

It must have been that ugly plaid skirt that sold me, because I always wanted to attend a private girl’s school. It all added up for me. The hideous uniform. The school song. The field hockey team, whatever that was. And, best of all, girl crushes.

I did the next best thing to attending one of those schools, which was to teach at a couple of these fine establishments right when I got out of college. Not only did I observe girl crushes firsthand, but I was the recipient of a couple especially ardent ones myself. You’ve just never been appreciated until a 14-year-old brings you a bouquet of illegal lilacs, swiped from the garden behind the convent.

It might have been caused by the sad lack of plaid in my own grownup wardrobe, but I was on the wrinkly side of 30 by the time I finally developed my first girl crush. But, man, I did fall hard. Having just moved to town and knowing no one, I took up a coworker on her offer to join a book club. I’d lived in blue collar towns like St. Louis and Detroit before then, and I was unacquainted with the whole book club fever that had gripped my little corner of Southwest Minneapolis at the time: the earnest liberal arts majors, the sensible haircuts, the dangling, free-range earrings. We read endless perimenopausal cheer-inducers about oppressed indigenous peoples and abused childhoods. And, in between bites from the requisite all-beige menu (Bill O’ Fare For Tonight’s Meeting: Hummus, Tablouleh AND Couscous), I met HER.

Cindy was a perfect girl crush recipient – tall, thin, dressed in hemp, but with just enough lip gloss to avoid seeming too butch. She had, of course, a perfect husband, and the perfect number of children – the of-course-I-know-when-to-stop two, one boy and one girl. Since I was new in town, her local lore seemed especially brilliant to me, with gentle suggestions about grocery stores and orthodontists and funky little boutiques. I hadn’t realized how often I was quoting her on a daily basis until my husband asked one night, “What do you want for dinner? Or wait, do you want to call Cindy first and see what she thinks?” He was just jealous. Even her closest friends have admitted to me that, after years of knowing her, she still seemed perfect to them, too.

My next girl crush happened just this summer. Unlike my adoration of the Blessed Cindy, this one was more equipment-based than fine-quality-worshiping. A friend of a friend, Erikka had tagged along to a soup swap and wowed everyone with her Shabby Chic mason jar presentation. She stayed late and laughed wryly at the hubhub her humble packaging had engendered. “I mean, it’s not like they were actually canned,” she chuckled. I froze. “You know how to can? Will you teach me?” “Sure,” she said.

She was true to her word (of course; she’s my crush). One Sunday this August, she hosted me and my pal at her house for a canning party. Is that so Little House on the Prairie or what? As soon as I got there, I began to worship her equipment. She had jar lifters. She had lid magnets. She not only gave me wine and cheese and let me read her cookbooks, but she sent me home with a jar of apple butter She Had Made Herself. Apple Butter! She was my own personal Williams-Sonoma, and I didn’t try to hide my feelings. “Erikka’s tongs have a clip so they don’t fly open in the drawer,” I was heard to sigh. “Erikka makes the best rosemary foccacia, and she grows her own rosemary.”

Now that I’ve gotten two crushes under my belt, I seem to be building up steam. My newest obsession is with two-girls-at-once, and, even better, I’ve never met either of them. But after reading their cookbook, Forking Fantastic! Put the Party Back in Dinner Party, I know that I would be best friends at once with Zora O'Neill and Tamara Reynolds. One was a cook with a Master's in Arabic literature. One was a waitress at high-end NYC spots. They cook dinner on Sunday nights in Astoria for an Underground Supper Club, allowing 20 people in and asking for donations. Their approach is sassy and fun. It's as much as memoir and life philosophy as a cookbook. I don’t think Martha Stewart ever said, for example, “like pot luck, but for your ass.”  Also, they bring brisk slap of reality to the gauzy picture I usually paint myself when imagining a dinner party, describing "The Hour of Self-Loathing" before the guests arrive, which, they are pleased to point out, has been reduced to the "Half Hour of Self-Loathing."

And, while Cindy and Erikka represent ideals of goodness and gadget mastery I will never achieve, these chicks hit close to home. Their insistence on inviting too many people, making too much food, drinking too much wine and taking on way too many involved cooking projects reminds me of .... well, let's just say someone very close to me and leave it at that. “Get in Over Your Head,” an actual chapter title in their book, represents, for them, a life philosophy, not a one-time mistake. They not only think it’s a good idea to build your own spit for a whole-lamb-roasting or to commit to preparing fried chicken for sixty people, but they do this sort of thing on a weekly basis.

Now that I think about it, Get in Over Your Head is about as good a life motto as I can muster these days, so I’m putting on my plaid skirt and getting down to it.

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