As

It was a hell of a fall season.  I had been living with my boyfriend for about a year, a move I made to nudge him into what I considered real commitment, a move which never works in any relationship.  Unsurprisingly, things had reached their end.  The break up itself was civilized and decent, just a regular conversation in the kitchen of a less-than-ideal apartment I thought was going to be my home for many years to come.  It was an apartment I was thrilled to be living in because it meant cheap rent and living with the person I loved. We hashed out the details of ‘why we don’t work’ in that same kitchen I had painted two different shades of red to cover up the hideous half-completed sponge paint project a former roommate had started and abandoned halfway through. A red kitchen to match all the other loud, bright colors in the apartment – a mustard yellow bedroom, a cobalt blue living room, red kitchen.  I called it the Primary Color apartment.  It was in that red kitchen that, without knowing it at the time, I had my first real glimpse of who I was to become.

I had been feeling this coming for many weeks as I tried to get my partner to open up about what could be wrong, what IS wrong, and how do we fix it.  I may have expected this but it did not make it hurt any less.  The days and weeks that followed the break-up were one that tested me in every way.  I was fired from a volunteer position for not committing enough time to the endeavor.  One morning as I went to drive to work, I came out to see my car’s windshield had been smashed with weights, lying on the sidewalk next to my car.  I rang in my 30th birthday in that red, red kitchen, four weeks after we had broken up, because you see – we were still living together. NYC real estate being what it is, I didn’t want to be locked into a terrible lease in (another) terrible apartment, this time with who knows what kind of terrible people.  Or so I thought at the time.

I eventually found a beautiful place not too far from where we had been living.  This apartment had lots of natural light, polished hardwood floors, and freshly painted cream walls. I accepted within 30 minutes of viewing it.  I had only ever known Astoria, Queens to be my New York City home and no amount of personal heartbreak was going to change my love for the neighborhood.  I settled into my new apartment as I also settled into two new jobs I had started around the time my relationship was ending.  Everything in my life was new and nothing was the same as it had been just months before, including my love of fall baking. How could I feel inspired to create and bake when I literally did not know how to define myself anymore?  Not only that, now I had no one to share it with.  No friends (his friends remained his friends), an apathetic roommate whom I did not know, and no real desire to do anything except figure out what life was to be now.

Time went by as it does, and I started figuring out my new world and my place in it. It was fall again, and I had a year’s worth of growth under my belt.  I had a lovely new roommate.  Work had been going well and I was looking forward to starting another school year teaching private voice lessons. Most importantly, I was baking again.  That’s how I really knew I was getting back to myself.

I had grown up in a household where baking was at the center, specifically chocolate chip cookies.  These cookies went everywhere with us – to my dance classes, to my Girl Scout meetings, 4-H meetings, play rehearsal – I mean everywhere.  There was not, nor is there now, a person in my small town that has not had one of these famous chocolate chip cookies.  Baking and sharing was just our family way.  It is a part of my DNA, just like those cookies that are referred to by everyone as our last name – Heitmann Cookies.

The problem with two fall seasons worth of baking pouring out of you at once is you end up with a LOT of sweets, more than one or two people can really eat on their own.  It occurred to me that I hadn’t visited the local deli in a while, a while being a year, and the reason being because it was one of my ex’s favorite spots to grab lunch.  I reasoned that a deli like that knows and appreciates good food, and would appreciate if I were to share some of my baked goods with them.

Can you really know when something is going to change your life? I certainly had no idea that a simple act of kindness would shape the rest of my life in ways I’ve never imagined.  I shared those mini pumpkin cheesecakes with the people who worked there.  I came back and shared pumpkin bread, and butternut squash soup, and of course, chocolate chip cookies.  I got to know the people who worked there and had a small exchange with one employee that changed the way I view my fellow human.  My sharing gesture had made a difference to her life.  My eyes were opened to a world of kindness possibilities, all because of a cookie.

I knew this couldn’t be the last time I felt this rush of goodness.  I had made a positive impact on someone and knew I wouldn’t be able to stop; it felt too good to make someone else feel lifted up and thought of.  It made sense to me that I would continue connecting with my neighborhood by using the best conduit I knew of – a chocolate chip cookie.  I had a taste of what my life could be, and I decided to chase after that with all I had.  Single Girl Cookies was born.

 

And so the start of my new life came only with the death of the old one.  With flour on my cheek and dough on my hands, I was rebuilding who I was.  Back in that colorful, loud apartment I shared with my ex, I felt smothered, quieted, as if I had to shrink myself to be digestible and likable.  Don’t rock the boat, be agreeable.  But in this new place with its cream walls, streams of sunlight – I could be loud and colorful and vibrant.  I could make mistakes.  Not enough flour in your cookie dough and they’ll be flat.  Too much flour and they’ll be overly dense.  I could create baking masterpieces or disasters and share them with the world. And it didn’t matter which it was, because each batch, be it a masterpiece or disaster, was sending out an invisible thread connecting me to my community and those around me.  Each cookie and cupcake and baked good was a new piece added to my new puzzle of who I was becoming.

Now when fall comes around and leaves are dying on the branch, I don’t feel ‘the end’ of things.  I feel their beginnings.

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The Ever-Living Ghost of What Once Was

I should be baking right now.  I have an rather large order to fill for tomorrow (120 Salty Sailors – oh my!) and a regular weekly order to get to work on for Thursday.  I should be baking but instead I feel compelled to write.

I woke up this morning, still reeling from some disturbing dreams, only to look outside and see the gray skies and dreary atmosphere.  Then upon chatting with my mother, I learned she dreamt as me last night, and before you start thinking I’m more nuts than I am, the things she experienced in the dream and thought as me in the dream are far too accurate regarding situations she knew nothing about.  If all those factors didn’t make me pensive enough already, I heard a song on my ride home about an hour ago that transported me back to the summer of 2010 and to that relationship I was in.  

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships lately, and life paths – which was exactly what my mother dreamt about, by the way.  How we become who we are, who we were at different stages in our lives, and what decisions and circumstances brought us to this very point. I get asked a lot about my relationship status; am I truly single, what happens when you get married, why are you still single?  That last one used to get me.  How the heck am I supposed to respond?  “Well, I know I seem like a nice, sweet, kind girl on the outside, but secretly I like to hold puppy barbecues on the weekends and basically smell like toe cheese in the morning.”  I didn’t know why I was single.  I wasn’t meeting the right men, I was too busy and didn’t have time to devote to a relationship, etc.  Things that were/are all true and contributing factors, but all excuses for the real reason.  I was scared.  Scared of rejection, scared to show my truest self and still be loved, scared that I wasn’t enough for someone.  I was scared the entire relationship I had during that summer of 2010.  Which, by the way, lasted until fall 2012.  That’s a long time to be afraid.

Thankfully, the last 5 years of my life have resulted in some pretty significant emotional and spiritual growth, largely in part to Single Girl Cookies.  I recognize my worth and refuse to compromise my value.  I’m more kind.  I’m more open. (that one’s easy when you have confidence in yourself) But isn’t it crazy how one song can transport you back to that time and place and make you feel those feelings that you felt then?  I call them phantom emotions.  You don’t really feel that way now, not truly, but your body and brain react in ways you cannot control.  I used to feel that way around this person from my past relationship until I took control of the situation, approached it head on, and made the effort to reconnect in a new way.  One that forgives various sins of the past and allows your brain to recognize you are reacting to old situations that do not exist anymore.

I almost cried when I heard that song today.  It made me feel melancholic for that time, and sad for that girl I was then.  It also made me overwhelmingly grateful for who I am now, someone I love very much.  I was recently reminded that sometimes you have to make certain mistakes in order to grow and learn; something I know and live, but never hurts to be reminded of.  Growing is painful and rarely do we do it willingly.  Yet, if there is so much growth and so much learned from something, can it really be called a mistake?

Yes, I am still single, and yes, my heart is still open and ready for my person.  I used to feel anxious about finding them, but when I think about the people and moments I may have missed while wishing for things to be different, I’m reminded to be patient. (and believe me when I tell you I am more patient now than I have ever been n my life, amiright, anyone that knows me??)  Imagine how your life might have been different were you not patient enough to wait for what was right.  The old adages stick around because of the truth in their words: Time heals all wounds and love is all you need.

And a cookie every now and again doesn’t hurt either.

Kyrie Eleison Down The Road That I Must Travel

There’s no denying it- September is here. The calendar says it, the welcomed chill in the air after the sun sets says it, this Labor Day weekend – the unofficial end of summer- says it too. There are so many beautiful things about the fall and September. I mean, fall is my absolute favorite time of the year. Between the excitement of new beginnings and pumpkin EVERYTHING, what’s not to like?
September also brings other things for me, like the anxious pit in my stomach that’s been there for a while. 2016 has been quite the action packed year for me, and will continue that way until the foreseeable future. Don’t get me wrong – I like being busy. Not busy for busy’s sake, but the kind of busy where the things that keep me occupied make a difference. I’ve even taken on a few new professional roles this year and could mot be more thrilled. The downside of being that kind of busy though comes in August when all my jobs take a vacation (so I take a vacation) and I find myself with empty days and unsure of how to fill that time. 
What usually happens is I get way to introspective and become paralyzed. Without a purpose of somewhere to be everyday, or someone to help – I start to question. What am I doing with my life, why am I here, and the biggest question of all – what is it all for? I spend every day of August surrounded by family and loved ones, taking trips, having incredibly magical moments with my nephew; moments that make me catch my heart in my throat and remind me what’s really important in life. And then I come back to New York. Gladly always, but I come back to no one.  
The questions don’t go away either. I’m beginning to think they never will. A thought popped in my head when I was driving back to NYC that helps. My life is not my own.
 At first, that thought was pretty depressing, not gonna lie. To feel like you don’t even own your life, much less control it? Doesn’t feel good. Then another thought wormed it’s way in – “what a great thing”. 
You see, I truly believe no man is an island (even though I feel like that a lot). I might operate solo, but if I were made up of only myself, I would never grow or learn, and therefore stay stagnant the rest of my days. If I feel drained at the end of the day from giving all of myself away, I know (or at least am trying to learn) not to worry. Every piece of me I have given away, I get back tenfold. When I step on stage, every audience member owns a piece of me. Every voice student has a piece of me. Every person that has eaten a cookie or baked good gets a piece of me because I put all of myself into every batch I make. I’m more valuable when I am made up of fragments and pieces and moments and memories of everyone I’ve ever met or known or loved. We all are. 
My life is not my own, and I am the better for it. 

Don’t Hold The Wall

 Who loves pie?  I’m sorry, that’s a silly question?  What I should be asking is, who doesn’t love pie?  If you answered “OOh, me!  I don’t like pie!” – get out.  Just go.  For those of us left that love pie (because what human being doesn’t??), let’s talk.  When I think pie, I think summer fruit pies with whipped cream or ice cream.  Yet here we are in the middle of winter, still shoveling ourselves and our cars out of the two feet of snow that got dumped on NYC (34 inches in Queens!).  I also just recently celebrated by 3rd anniversary of Single Girl Cookies on the 17th.  Three years, over 6,000 chocolate chip cookies – what’s next?  Combine those two things and you’ve got an antsy, jonesin’-for-something-new-and-different Single Girl just dying to create.  

I got it in my head that I wanted to make something with a chocolate chip cookies crust but wasn’t sure what.  I thought maybe a cheesecake with a cookie bottom?  Or maybe a layered brookie (brownie/cookie combo)?  I also kept coming back to my favorite pairing with chocolate, which is peanut butter.  When I was a kid, my first job was as a busser at a local Mennonite influenced/themed restaurant, Miller’s.  And they made the best peanut butter chocolate mousse pie with the graham cracker crust that I used to buy a slices of with my hard earned, next to nothing busser tips, and take it home and label it with my name to make sure nobody else ate it.  It seemed only natural that my creation involve peanut butter mousse.  

I finally settled on pie form, thinking, “If this works, it’s going to be DA BOMB”.  Yes, it’s so good, I don’t even care that I still use outdated slang.  And it’s so good that I wanted to share the recipe with you so you could experience the amazingness for yourself!

  

Chocolate Chip Cookie Peanut Butter Mousse Pie

Using your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (you didn’t think I was going to give mine away, did you??), press a thin layer of dough onto the bottom and sides of a pie plate like you would a graham cracker crust.  Remember, this dough will rise slightly, so be sparing with your dough distribution. I used slightly less than half of my batch of dough and had quite a significant crust. I made cookies with the other half that I gave away to that week’s drop spot. I used a 9 inch vintage Pyrex pie plate, set the oven for the standard 350, and let it bake for about 20-25 minutes.  Never having done this before, I liked that it was clear glass and I could see when it was done.  I’d recommend making the crust a good 2 hours before you make the mousse.  

Peanut Butter Mousse

I used (read: modified and partially followed) a recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, but didn’t follow all the fussy parts of the directions, like “using a chilled bowl and chilled beaters…”  Here’s what I did.

Ingredients

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 8 oz package cream cheese

2/3 creamy peanut butter

2 tbsp milk

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla
Directions

1. Using an electric beater, beat heavy cream in a small bowl until you start to see soft peaks form.

2. In a separate large bowl, beat softened cream cheese, peanut butter and milk until combined.  Add in vanilla and confectioners sugar, mix until combined.  Add in whipped cream until mixture is smooth (and delicious).  Now is a good time for beater licking.

3. Making sure your cookie crust is mostly cooled, pour peanut butter mousse into your crust, filling to the top.  Chill at least two hours, thought it’s best left overnight.  

4. Invite your friends over for pie!

  

Snowpocalypse 2016

Sometimes I don’t know why I do it. Any of it. What difference does it really make?  Surely I can’t be along in thinking these thoughts. What do any of our actions mean in the long run?

Someone let me down this week. A friend let me down. Not a close friend or a great friend it turns out, but a friend nonetheless. Someone that I thought was closer than actually was, which added to the hurt.  It wasn’t the first time, and may not be the last. You say, “But Renee, if this has happened before, and more than once, shouldn’t you learn to expect to be disappointed?  Why does this hurt you if you saw it coming?”

Being the logical person that I am, I couldn’t figure out the answer for the life of me. It wasn’t until my bestie pointed it out and told me it’s because I see the best in people, that I view people as they are and as their potential goodness.  She’s so right;  I can’t help it and wouldn’t if I could. It was only just before that that I likened myself to a walking, exposed heart muscle without a protective rib cage. 

I had another conversation earlier this evening with someone who couldn’t get past the logic and to the emotion of why I would feel hurt even while still expecting a negative (in my eyes) outcome.  I couldn’t understand how he couldn’t understand why I was hurt, and his response was, “Well, I guess this conversation is over.”

My friend and I hopped in a cab (at my insistence being the one in heels) and headed home shortly thereafter. Because it’s NYC and New Yorkers don’t know how to drive in an inch of fresh snow, it took just as long as it would’ve taken us to hop on the subway to get home. The whole way home I kept thinking about me as this exposed heart muscle, and how yeah, that’s pretty much what I am. I am out there and strong and vibrant and beating and vulnerable as hell, but I am here. And yeah, I’m going to be hurt maybe more than other protected hearts, but I’m going to feel more of everything good too. I love deeply, I care deeply, so when I’m hurt, I hurt deeply. 

I tried to shield myself with the elements of snow and cold by taking a cab home, but in the end, I ended up at the same place, in the same amount of time. My heart will take me to the place I need to be and at the time I need to be there, and so the question becomes “how do I want to get there?”.  Which way would I rather choose?  Protected and untested, or vulnerable, weathered, strong and capable?  The hurt may be greater, but so will the reward – I will choose the latter every time. 

Measure In Love

I’m sure you’ve heard – my 3rd Anniversary/Birthday is this Sunday!!  It blows my mind to think about I’ve met, all the lives that have touched mine, and of course all the cookies I’ve made.  My mind has been like a sitcom montage of all the highlights (and lowlights) of the last three years in cookies, and the way it has shaped my personal life. (best friends, dates, jobs, SO MUCH good food) All these amazing things happening because of a cookie.  Well, not really a cookie, but upwards of 6,000 cookies.  YAH.  Six THOUSAND.

In the beginning, I kinda had a nugget of thought that said to me “You should really keep track of how many cookies you are making.” I knew this project (now small business) would be more than a flash in the pan, even then.  But like any artsy type, I went, “Yeah, that’s a good idea, me!” and didn’t do it.  Still, I figure there has to be a good way to estimate a fairly accurate, if low balling, figure.  Here’s what I got:

I’ve been doing this for 3 years at 52 weeks in a year, so that gives me a minimum start of 1 batch per week, yielding approximately 24 cookies. 52 x 3 = 156 x 22 = 3,744

Add in about 20 weeks of firehouse drops and drops I did in Manhattan last year.
20 x 24 = 480 +  = 4,224

Now let’s think about the large batches I made over the years, mostly for functions or projects.  TEDx Utica – 160, Turtle Bay Music School – 200, Queens Kickshaw – 240, Markets – 100, Random handing out all over NYC – 100
160 + 200+ 240 + 100 + 100 = 800 + 4,224 =  5,024

This is where I start adding in all the extra curricular drops, the birthday batches, the ‘you needed cookies because you’re having a bad day’ batches, the ‘just because’ batches.  I start thinking of the weeks where my sink was a continuous cycle of bowls and mixing spoons, where the dishes that were in the strainer overnight never got put away because they were used the next day.  I also think of how I never truly ruined or burned a batch beyond eating (shockingly enough).  Every cookie found a home.

All of that brings be beyond 6,000 cookies.  It is worth mentioning that I’m only referring to my signature chocolate chip cookies, not even lumping in my almond sugar cookies, brownies, cakes, cupcakes, and bars.  I can’t even begin to think about the pounds of sugar, flour and chocolate I have used over the years.

Even with all that said, I have barely scratched the surface of cookie giving with SGC.  For all of you who haven’t had a chance to be part of the chain of kindness, I’d like to formally invite you to The Queens Kickshaw this Sunday at 7pm to have a drink and a cookie with me!  For every drink you buy, you get a free Single Girl cookie.  I’m really excited to meet all of you with whom I’ve had a social media relationship with over the last three years, and let you in on what the hype it all about! (the cookies are as good as they look) What better place to celebrate than where it all began?

So when you think one person is just one person and one person can’t make a difference, to that I say 6,000 cookies.  You may be one, but you are a powerful force to be reckoned with!  Cast out your doubt – YOU MATTER.  Go forth and make your mark.

  
 

That Old Black Magic

It all started with a burger. Or really, a cold, almost lifeless (but still delicious) sliver of a Shake Shack burger that I had saved for my brother. Maybe I should back up 🙂

Happy New Year, everyone! I’m still reeling that it’s 2016, and probably will be until it’s 2017. Truly I tell you I only got adjusted to 2015 in August. No joke. And all that stuff that people say about life moving faster as you age – all true too. Scary true, actually. So holy crap, it’s 2016!

And as times marches on, so do major life events. My baby brother, the one that I so generously saved the slice of burger for, is expecting a baby boy this summer with his lovely wife, Holly. They couldn’t be more thrilled, and I pretty ecstatic too. You know how much I love spoiling my nephew Jackson and I’m SO looking forward to having another one to dote on!

In the light of all this wonderful news, I decided that Kyle and Holly needed a final hurrah in NYC before life changes forever. I convinced them to come down with me when I drove back down after Christmas and help me ring in the new year. Now, Kyle and Holly had been down to visit me before, but this was all pre-Single Girl. I had so many things to show them, places to take them and people for them to meet.

We managed to cram an insane amount of stuff into the few days they were here, including the usual holiday city stuff and New Year’s Eve celebrating. If I’m being honest, it’s a little bit of a blur. If I’m being super duper honest, there may have been some adult beverages involved in the weekend 😉

Amongst all the fun, last Saturday was a stand out day. Kyle, who is a volunteer fireman, got to witness not one, but TWO firehouse cookie drops and see some pretty big rigs and old FDNY houses. He had requested a few things for the weekend, one of them being that, another to get drinks at Jack’s Fire Dept in Sunnyside (a great local’s spot) and the third being to have a real New York slice. We’re talking pizza, people, and I have to say I was a little nervous about that request. I can satisfy and serve up the other two, no problem. You want to see some firehouses? I know some guys. You want to go drinking at a firemen themed bar? I’m your girl. You want me to take to you to the best pizza in NYC? I got nothing.

My go to pizza of 5/6 years ago was a tiny place on 1st Ave by Theater for the New City called South Brooklyn Pizza. I was introduced to this place while doing a show at TFTNC by some of the cats I was performing with. It was great! Brick oven, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, garlic mash to spread on top. A few years go by and I head down there for a slice and find it has closed. Now I’m really out of ideas.

Like everybody everywhere, I had heard of Grimaldi’s pizza in Brooklyn. And because I’m not an idiot, I know well enough to be wary of something that has been made into a nationwide chain and has become a tourist spot in NYC. I don’t really know much about the pizza game here, other than a whole community and hierarchy exists where you could lose friendships over your choice of pizza. Like a thick crust? You’re not a real New Yorker. Fold your pizza? You might be a terrorist.

I wasn’t about to disappoint my brother, so I set us off on a course to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and see what we can google when we get to the other side. In the back of my brain, I remember reading something about a different pizza place, a “real” Grimaldi’s. A quick google search pointed us directly to Juliana’s.

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We pull up to the building, small, white, and somehow ‘clean’, with big picture windows and a red winter door. Written gracefully over the door is ‘Juliana’s’ in simple and feminine script. And as expected (hoped for, even) there is a long line snaking around the front.

We’re greeted by a gentleman checking us in and says it’s about a 45 minute wait. Well, we had just walked all around the city, hadn’t eaten in 7 hours, and I was a little punchy and ready to walk away. Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed and we started our chilly wait.

We got antsy pretty quickly and started taking turns going to the deli next door for water and restroom breaks. I guzzled my bottle of water and as I went to throw away my bottle down the street, I saw that three doors down there was a Shake Shack! It was like the heavens opened up and I heard angels sing. In a flash of brilliance, I ordered a burger and fries for the three of us to share as an appetizer in line.

By the time I got back, Kyle was gone and Holly and I were next. Holly and I dove into the bag and decided to be nice and save Kyle a couple bites for when he got back. We ended up being seated before he came back, and I stashed the bag under the table with a few fries and a couple bites of burger.
Once we were settled at our table, I took a look around. The same white, inviting exterior was echoed inside. It was warm, cozy, and bright, decorated with pictures of Ol’ Blue Eyes. We decided on a large Margherita pizza with pepperoni and a nice bottle of Tempranillo.

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I don’t think any of us were actually expecting what came to the table. OH, THE PIZZA.  Black blistered crust, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, flavorful rounds of pepperoni, and the sauce, oh the sauce! The perfect balance of everything you look for in a pizza sauce, in both flavor and ratio. Hey, I may not eat pizza often, but I’m pretty picky about it when I do.

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We all took turns ‘oh my god’-ing and moaning over the flavor explosions that we happening in our mouths and happily finished the whole thing. We paid our check, thanked Michael for the excellent service, and headed out.

Even though we had just eaten an entire pizza, I hadn’t forgotten about that sliver of Shake Shack burger we saved for my brother. I know it sounds gross, but dude – even cold, that stuff is amazing. As Kyle was polishing that off, we chatted with that gentlemen that greeted us when we came, whose name is John. He mentioned he just moved here from the west coast and hadn’t had Shake Shack yet. Say what???? But it’s right next door! I said, “Wait here, I’ll be back in ten!”

Sometimes I get struck with an idea and go with it. This was one of those times. I came back a few minutes later with a burger and fries. I introduced myself, handed over the bag and a card, and said enjoy it, and pass on the kindness, and have a good night!

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The look on John’s face was absolute surprise. “Seriously?”, he said. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast.” As we walked away, Kyle said kinda quietly, “You know, I kinda wanna start doing this at home.” Now it was my turn to be surprised. Not that he would do something like that, my brother is a great guy. Surprised and, well, proud. Inspiring others to do their own acts of kindness is why I do this. Seeing in action brings me a joy that’s indescribable.

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Which is how I found myself on an A train last night, heading to Juliana’s with a plate of cookies on my lap.  My experience that Saturday was such a positive one – the ambiance, the people, the service, THE PIZZA – that I wanted to return the favor and say ‘thanks’ with a plate of my signature cookies.  My second experience was similar to to the first, but even better.  Throughout the night, I got to meet and chat with the individuals that keep the place running.  There’s Janavia, the cashier with a bright smile who popped up behind me to thank me and tell me how delicious the cookies were. Or the pizza runner who deposited my pie and with a shy smile looked at me and quietly said, “Thank you for the cookies.”  I got to hear about John’s transition from 25 years in sports television to managing an extremely busy and popular restaurant. I even made an Astoria connection with Dave, a server there who lives in the ‘hood!  I haven’t met the man himself yet, but from what I gather, this ‘welcoming in’ and sense of family is just par for the course.  And those are my kind of folks.  After 7 years of being a resident of New York City, and more specifically, an Astoria resident, I’ve finally found a reason to travel to Brooklyn.  I can guarantee you, it has been worth the wait.

I Believe

Every once and a while I do a cookie drop and have an experience that leaves an imprint on my heart.  It’s like it’s almost painful to keep it in and not share its profound impact on me with the world.

I did a cookie drop at Runway Tire the other day.  You probably haven’t heard of it; it’s all the way up on 19th Ave and 42nd Street, practically as close to the water as you can get in Astoria.  I met some hardworking gentlemen there, including the owner, Anthony Germano.  I had meant to go pick up my plate the Monday before Thanksgiving, but got swept away with holiday travel preparations and didn’t make it there until the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

I always feel a little sheepish when I don’t return for a plate when I say I am going to.  That’s one of the many things I’m resolving to do better in 2016.  So, as I walked in, I carried a touch of embarrassment for not having been in sooner.  Anthony recognized me and said, “We’ve been waiting for you!” and went to grab a bag on top of a vending machine in the back of the front room.  He told me he took the cookies home to his family and his kids and wife had loved them, looked me up online and that he wife loves joyful, happy things like my project and so they wanted to do something nice for me.  And here was my plate, wrapped in cellophane with a small gift bag and a card with my name written in cheerful bold purple block letters.  I was pretty surprised and very appreciative of the gesture.  We chatted a little bit about the history of Runway Tires, I learned that he took over the business from his father and started working there when he was 17 after his dad went in for open heart surgery, I thanked him for the gift and headed back home.

I tried to take pictures of the beautiful package when I got home, but my phone is so woefully full that it wouldn’t take.  In retrospect, I’m a little glad I didn’t document the hell out of this.  I savored unwrapping the ribbon holding it the cellophane together, reading the card and its heartfelt words, gingerly taking out the tissue paper from the gift bag.  In the bottom was a small Alex & Ani box.  The irony in that is that I had just told my family what I wanted for Christmas just a few days before – an Alex & Ani bracelet.  Inside the box was a Kindred Cord; a small charm that says “Journey Blessing Grace” on a delicate black cord with a blessing of Godspeed.  I have been shown incredible kindness and generosity in my day, but something about this struck me differently.  Sure, I give every week.  I bake cookies and a share goodness with those around me.  But the Germano family went to the store with me in their minds and hearts, and picked out something for me specifically.  With intention.

I left my apartment shorty after that to head into school to teach some lessons feeling humbled and uplifted and touched beyond words.  For the rest of the evening, I kept looking at that black cord on my wrist, knowing only I knew the story behind it, and feeling touched I had been thought of, and by people I didn’t even know.  I woke up the next day, still wearing it, feeling the same way.  My secret badge of honor; that I did something good for someone.  Somehow wearing it felt life armor against anything bad life might throw at me.

I taught differently that day.  I love my job and rarely have a bad day.  I’m blessed with great students, and I feel I’m doing good work with each one of them.  As I saw student after student, I was truly glad to see everyone of them, and connected.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to be at Turtle Bay and making music, but something felt different.  Something inside me had shifted.  I could see it in the way my students responded to me and our work.

Then my 12 o’clock came in.  This woman, let’s call her M, is a delight.  She is always game for a new Italian art song or aria, loves Pavarotti, and often gives me a rundown and review on the latest performance she’s seen at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center.  She’s made great strides since we started working together, but refuses to believe me.  She told me a few weeks ago, “I know I’ll never be a professional musician, but music for me is hope.”

M came in and I greeted her warmly, asked how she was doing, as the last time I had seen her, she was battling that wicked fall cold that everyone seemed to get.  She was settling in and setting her stuff down and said as good as could be expected.  She then turned, straightened, and told me that her mother had died on Saturday.

She told me it was everything you could hope for, a good thing for her mother, and shared some intimate details of their last conversation.  I told her if she wanted to not sing today we can reschedule, and please, take care of yourself first.  With pleading eyes, she asked me if we could spend the lesson vocalizing for a bit and then she could go home.  That this had been something she wanted to do and was looking forward to.  45 minutes of singing with me.

She sang beautifully that day and I cried when she left.

The cornerstone of Single Girl Cookies is kindness, kindness with intent, and kindness because you never know what someone is going through.  You can never know your impact on someone, so be kind to all, always.  I didn’t realize what our lessons meant to my student, and the Germano family has no idea how special that simple black corded bracelet is to me.  In my mind, these two events are linked, and the two parties aren’t even aware of the others’ existence.

In the midst of San Bernardino, and Planned Parenthood, and Paris, and too many other tragedies to mention, it’s so easy to lose sight of the good in people.  But I still believe we are all good on the inside.  Kindness and light will prevail, but it has to start somewhere.  It has to start with you.  We can’t let our humanity slip away in a river of violence or anger or disappointment.  You have to believe that there is good left in us.  That there is hope in the darkness.  That kindness does make a difference.  It’s there in the little everyday gestures that may be meaningless to you, but may mean the world to someone else.

That difference has to start with you.  That difference is you.

I believe.  Do you?

 

60 Beans Kitchen & Coffee: A New Experience

Last night I was lucky enough to attend the soft opening of 60 Beans Coffee and Tea’s brand new kitchen, now 60 Beans Kitchen and Coffee.  It was like being at an Astoria movers and shakers convention (yes, I am proud to call myself part of the category).  I saw many familiar faces of Astorians I’ve had the pleasure to get to know over my years as Single Girl (Queen of Astoria, The Brass Owl, Astoria Bookshop), and got to know a few more (A Story of Astoria).  I brought my bestie Amanda, the mastermind behind the upcoming Zymurgy Sessions (more info on that soon!), and we feasted.


We sat in the back where the comfy couches used to be, now filled with cherry and walnut two tops.  The tables themselves are beautiful, handcrafted by the architect, and continue to lend a homey, inviting feel to the space.  The fire place was going, the lighting was dim but not dark, the music muted and hip – in short, my perfect atmosphere.

Now, you may recall I had my soft opening at 60 Beans on Valentine’s Day this year, nearly selling out of all my goodies.  They were the first to take a chance on Single Girl the business and I’m forever grateful to owners Claudia and Peter for that.  Through that experience of selling SGC at 60 Beans and generally being a patron, I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for last night, and I knew it would be quality above all else.  I was not disappointed.


Salted Cod Croquettes

We started with the chicken liver pâté, salt cod croquettes and bitter greens salad.  The pâté was whipped, topped with whole grain mustard and presented with hearty toast, raisin chutney and housemade pickles.  I don’t have a bad thing to say about anything I had last night, but there were some clear stand outs to me and this was one of them.  The texture and light tang of the mustard as you spread the rich and flavorful pate on your toast was equally complemented by both the chutney and accompanying pickles.  The bitter greens salad was a favorite of Amanda’s, with the smoked croutons (what the what??) balancing out the sharp anchovy vinaigrette.  That is definitely another of my favorites and something I would urge you to try.


Chicken Liver Pâté

We moved on to the next course, Amanda having the mussels and me having the rigatoni.  I don’t eat mussels, but I soaked a bit of bread in the sauce.  It has the right amount of flavor and heat for me, and if I ate mussels, I’d imagine I’d love that part too.

You may think my choice of pasta at a new opening is a little basic.  And rigatoni at that!  Come on, you’re thinking, you can make that at home.  Be adventurous!  Try something new!  That’s all well and good, but when you have a chance to devour and enjoy an entire plate of homemade rigatoni with lamb Bolognese, you take it.  In fact, all their pastas are housemade and would make any Nonna proud.  All of this was accompanied by the charred kale sprouts – do you even know what a kale sprout is?  I didn’t.   Luckily, I was able to talk with Chef Domenick Gianfrancesco and Sous-Chef Pablo Nealon after the meal and ask them all my questions (and compliment them, of course).  A kale sprout is similar to a Brussels sprout in flavor, and is essentially a baby kale plant before it grows into what we know as kale.  It is exactly what its name implies – it is a kale sprout!  The only thing you need to know is that it is delicious and you need to order it.

We followed up with the young chicken entree.  Again, you may think, “Chicken?  Isn’t that a little basic?”, and again I will say you have to try it.  The chicken is brined and is full of flavor and sits atop parsnip puree and roasted root vegetables.  I ate a carrot and literally thought, “I didn’t know carrots could taste like that!”.

At this point, I had to put down my fork.  Sweets are a priority for me and I wanted to be sure I had room for dessert and a latte.  I am so glad I did!


Latte, Cheesecake with Apricot, Salted Caramel Custard

If my descriptions haven’t made you salivate yet and change your dinner plans to be dining here (they officially open tonight!), I say only this: salted caramel custard.  SALTED CARAMEL CUSTARD.  This was the absolute winner of my night and a must-try for anyone stepping foot in there.  Even if you stop in just for dessert and a glass of dessert wine from their extensive menu, get this.  You will thank me later.  I mean, is anyone really surprised that my takeaway favorite is a dessert offering?  I think not.


Salted Caramel Custard

I know there are still some menu tweaks happening, so while I can’t guarantee everything I ate last night will be exactly the same tonight, I can guarantee that the quality of experience will be.  I’m pretty sure the menu will be somewhat seasonal and subject to the best ingredients available at that time.  Again, are we surprised by the commitment to excellence?  I think not.

They’ll be open for regular coffee shop hours today until 5pm with dinner service starting at 5:30pm.  No worries though – you can still stop in for your post-work/pre-evening latte anytime until closing.

Congratulations to 60 Beans Kitchen and Coffee on their new venture!  Can’t wait to be back here again soon, supporting my locals and perpetuating the good 🙂

Tell Me Something Good

We all need outside validation from time to time.  To be told you’re good at your job, to be given a pat on the back for making the right call, or just to be sincerely told, “I love you”.  But the main source of our validation should come from within.  If you rely solely or mainly on outside sources to lift you up, you’ll find yourself in a terrible cycle, and it goes like this.  It starts with a high from that compliment or praise, which is exactly how we all feel when complimented, and rightly so.  But then like any rush, it subsides.  Without that source of validation that should live within, we crash.  Sound familiar?

Social media makes it easy to seek outside validation, easy to be caught up in the cycle of chasing that high, and easy to disappointed.  How many likes, hits, comments, you get on your content become a measuring stick for your own self worth, and if the numbers are low, well, then so are you.

Today is my birthday.  Before today, I had been having a hard time with this number.  34.  I am officially in my mid-thirties, and before today, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it.  I’ve always had this nagging feeling like I’m constantly pulling the wool over people’s eyes and one day they’re going to find out my secret; that I’m not nearly as talented as they think, or that I’m making it up as I go along, and that all this time I’ve been fooling them into thinking I’ve got it under control.   I think we all feel that way from time to time, and I think that’s ok.  Nobody can be 110% all day, every day. Here’s the crux of it all though: when those thoughts come, that’s the time to draw from your inner pool of validation.  I think of it like this: Everyone has a well of water (validation).  You drink from yours, everyone else drinks from theirs, and often times you give or accept drinks from other wells.  That’s great and fine, because you’re tending to your own and being satiated by the water from it.  But if you’re slaking your thirst by drinking from everyone else’s well, you’ll come back to your own and find it is dry.  It hasn’t been tended to.

Why is it so important to be able to validate yourself, you ask?  Maybe you’re having a bad day because you made a major blunder at work, or aren’t getting along with your friend/partner/family, or just have general doubts that you can’t seem to shake.  Those are the days when I need my inner validation the most.  Yes, maybe I did make a mistake, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still smart and intelligent.  Maybe I’m not sure if I made the right choice of words with a colleague or friend, but that doesn’t mean I’m worthless.  All it means is that I’m human, and so are you.  And maybe you’re not getting the outside validation you think you need or deserve, but that doesn’t mean that the people surrounding don’t still think you’re grand.

So bring on 34, and thank you ALL for the birthday well wishes.  It’s amazing (overwhelming) to me how people in your life come out of the woodwork to share their thankfulness of your existence.  I am just as thankful for each one of their presence in my life.  And tomorrow when it’s just another day, I’ll still be buoyed those wishes.  It will help to push me in the right, positive direction for my coming year.  And in this year, I welcome every flaw, wrinkle, blunder, and stumble.  Each one of those gives me an opportunity to learn more about myself and gives me a chance to continue to fill up my inner pool of validation.  Cause I’m awesome and so are you 🙂