"Hot sex, looking good, scoring journalistic triumphs . . . nothing made Alyssa love herself enough until she learned to cook. There's a racy plot and a surprising moral in this intimate and delicious book."
--Gael Greene, creator of Insatiable-Critic.com and author of Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess
Apron Anxiety is the hilarious and heartfelt memoir of quintessential city girl Alyssa Shelasky and her crazy, complicated love affair with...the kitchen.
Three months into a relationship with her TV-chef crush, celebrity journalist Alyssa Shelasky left her highly social life in New York City to live with him in D.C. But what followed was no fairy tale: Chef hours are tough on a relationship. Surrounded by foodies yet unable to make a cup of tea, she was displaced and discouraged. Motivated at first by self-preservation rather than culinary passion, Shelasky embarked on a journey to master the kitchen, and she created the blog Apron Anxiety (ApronAnxiety.com) to share her stories.
This is a memoir (with recipes) about learning to cook, the ups and downs of love, and entering the world of food full throttle. Readers will delight in her infectious voice as she dishes on everything from the sexy chef scene to the unexpected inner calm of tying on an apron.
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Three Rivers Press
May 22, 2012
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Excerpt from Apron Anxiety by Alyssa Shelasky
Raised by Drake's
Every morning of my life, my mother has eaten a packaged Devil Dog for breakfast.
She dunks it into milky tea while skimming the New York Times, glancing at Good Morning America, and preparing for a day of real estate domination. Her "Devils" have been her mimosas, her morning stretch, her sun salutations, and her beloved first lick-of-the-lips for nearly sixty years. She brings them everywhere, from early morning meetings to trips around the world, stashed in leather briefcases, burlap bags, and woolly blazers. She buys them in bulk, hides them from the family (as if anyone would steal her dry, wannabe whoopie pies), and writes letters to the CEO of Drake's when the taste or texture is "not quite right." She is, after all, a full-blown Virgo.
It's an endearing, yet deranged, quirk of hers. Especially if you know my mother. She doesn't drink alcohol, eat fast food, or engage in anything else that would piss off Michael Pollan. She religiously consumes at least five pieces of fruit, along with a small village of raw vegetables (all locally grown, of course), every single day. It's not unusual to find her walking home from the farmers' market blissfully biting into a glistening red pepper or a fat head of purple cabbage, the way one would a huge frosted cupcake. Lunch for her involves fresh eggs, nice cheese, crispy toast, or some peasantlike variation of such, and dinner is light and often vegetarian. My mother listens so carefully and respectfully to her body and its needs, she's never had any issues with her weight or health. If you can get past her dirty little habit, you might even call her a purist.
Being a locavore with a Devil Dog addiction isn't the only trait that makes my mother, and by extension, my entire family, a bit idiosyncratic. My younger sister, Rachel, and I grew up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, a bucolic town where do-gooder Irish and wealthy WASP intersect. As funny, touchy-feely, freethinking Jews, we never quite belonged in either category, but we liked our uniqueness and had a lot of friends. It's not like we were mouth-breathing, worm-collecting weirdos; we were just a little offbeat.
For nursery school, my parents sent me to a New Age program at the Unitarian church, where I ate carob all day and splatter-painted my dreadlocked teacher's Volkswagen Bug. When I was five years old, my mother took us to a production of Hair, a mirage of music, revolution, and raw penis; we gave it a standing ovation. By third grade, I wrote screenplays, confessionals, and fan letters to reporters at the New York Times. I played Suzuki-method violin and picked up the bassoon because it was so awkward and oafish that I felt bad for it. I acted and danced, atrocious at both, but nonetheless, I was passionate about all my hobbies. I was also wild about shag haircuts, redecorating my room, and winning limbo contests. Naturally, I held several lucrative tag sales, a biannual backyard art installation, and weekly fashion shows of jelly bracelets and bandannas. Everyone loved me or hated me, and so it would go.
But I was prone to trouble, too. At seven years old, I traumatized my parents by disappearing at the mall, only to be found on the lower level, giving an interview about shopping trends to the local TV news. (A few years later, at the same mall, I swiped Chanel No. 5 from Lord & Taylor and got arrested.) At age eight, a rotten friend convinced me to fake my own neighborhood kidnapping . . . which got way out of hand, and I felt bad about it forever. Around fourth grade, a rude boy called some new girl a "fat slut" and I slugged him in the stomach, getting me sent home immediately. Around that time, I practically forced our neighbor's teenage son to whip it out and then pee in a Coke can, which I couldn't not tell the world about, branding the poor kid a "sick-perv" to the gossips on the block. And even before I could spell "adolescence," I was obviously caught in some filthy rounds of the game Doctor.
The thing that kept me on the side of sensible, even as a young kid, was that I required an absurd amount of stimulation, followed by an absurd amount of personal space. A writer from the womb, I kept countless journals about life, death, and dreamy boys--all of equal importance. Some thoughts were so dark that I should have been committed; others were so frivolous that I could have been on The Hills. But there was always that duality: writer with a heavy heart, and wild child with a stethoscope on her crotch.
I definitely didn't get the badass in my bloodstream from my dad. Edward Shelasky is a gentle, easygoing, law-abiding citizen. He's a simple Red Sox-�rooting, Monopoly-playing, Seinfeld-loving "Masshole," and the youngest of three children from the lovely and successful couple Milton and Dorothy Shelasky, my grandparents. The Shelaskys had a third-generation uniform business (which my father eventually took over), and they raised him to be quiet, warm, and understanding. In other words, the perfect father to two dramatic daughters. My sister and I may idolize my mom, but we feel as equally blessed to have the world's most attentive father, who played with us as kids and listens to us as adults. Both Milton and Dorothy passed away before I turned thirteen, but I adored them so, and I can still taste my grandmother's luscious brisket and my grandfather's stash of frozen Snickers. They were wonderful grandparents . . . even if they always suspected my mother to be a crazy, hippie, gypsy freak.
Laurie Temkin Shelasky, my mom, comes from a struggling, salt-of-the-earth family. True survivors. Her loving father, Lazar Temkin, was a good but complicated man. He died when she and her five siblings were children. Along with my wise, beautiful, ever-resilient grandmother, Dorothy Pava, the Temkin children had many hardships and tragedies, but they survived through endless laughter and fierce loyalty to each other. My aunts, uncles, and cousins are always the first to have my back and are fully responsible for the one thing I know to be true in life--that family is everything. They may not be perfect, but there aren't better people than the loud, lawless, rambunctious, rough-around-the-edges Temkins.
The Temkins also have a contagious secret language. "P.T." is shorthand for "poor thing," like people born without faces, or my shy sister who threw up on every school field trip. "O.D.D." stands for "odd," but dangerously so, like the Unabomber or Octomom. "N.G." is "no good," like my friend who made me fake the kidnapping. And my favorite is the family motto, borrowed from The Big Lebowski: "Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you." This has evolved into any one of us screaming, "I ate the freakin' bear!" or "Bear Stew!" whenever something goes our way. And for the Temkins, that isn't every day.
One time, as a kid visiting New York, I was on the bus with my mother when a bloated man in Burberry, complete with croissant in his beard and crust in his eyes, yelled at me for resting my pocketbook on an unused seat. Mind you, the entire bus was empty except us. "Were you raised by wolves, you stupid girl?" he mumbled bitterly. I didn't know if I should laugh or cry until my fearless mother--the same woman who grounded us only if we were rude or remotely unkind to others--came to the rescue with fangs: "Actually, she was raised by me, you fat fuck!" My mom and I laughed so hard we had to exit the bus to contain ourselves.
Accordingly, with the fusion of the elegant Shelaskys and the untamable Temkins, my sister and I turned out somewhere between highbrow and hillbilly. We are Bergdorf Goodman and Bob's Discount Store; we are Veuve Clicquot and watermelon wine coolers; we are JAPs and townies. We are . . . who we are.
Our family ate almost every breakfast and dinner together, not that any of us helped Mom with the preparations. We were not spoiled financially, but for some reason, we never lifted a finger when it came to getting fed. My mother's time in the kitchen was her private pleasure. I think that because her childhood was so chaotic, the kitchen gave her a sense of control. She baked before anyone woke up in the morning, or when we were at school, and to be honest, I'm not even sure how or when dinner got done. Even though she'd always rather be near her children than not, we instinctively left her alone when she was at the stove in her apron.
My mother approached ingredients like a European. She'd drive an hour away, toward the Berkshires, for rural, street-side produce stands almost daily. Rarely did she purchase anything canned or processed at the supermarket, and needless to say, she's never "nuked" a thing in her life. (How to work a microwave is still a mystery to all of us.) Mom baked most of her own breads and all of our family's desserts from scratch. With her riffs on Moosewood and Silver Palate recipes, she made delicious soups, hearty stews, and simple proteins, experimenting with couscous, quinoa, and other rustic dishes that didn't really show up in the suburbs during the 1980s and '90s. When we did have meat, it was nothing fancy, just whatever cut was on sale, proudly served to the family and cooked "extra well done." Fish was infrequent and also baked to a crisp. My mother didn't know or care about the secret rules to fine dining, where steaks are bloody and fish is gently seared, and ironically, it's that disregard for cooking conventions that made her so comfortable in our happy, terra-cotta kitchen. We might have held our utensils in the wrong hand and had inappropriate (yet unthinkably funny) conversations at the dinner table, but we drank sparkling Pellegrino with fresh lemon, sat with excellent posture, and spooned out our sauces and gravies from cherry red ramekins.