A Newsletter #20

top 5 mustards

Welcome to A Newsletter #20, which my numerology book tells me is all about teamwork, diplomacy, and relationships. If you’ve found your way over by some miracle but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:

Having almost nothing to do with “the holidays,” December is in my top three favorite months (September being #1 of course with June tied for #2/#3). What can I say? I truly thrive in frenetic, frantic environments punctuated by meaningful personal reflection, and no period of time has more of that than the last 31 days of the year. I also love to wear blanket-like clothing in public, so New York in December is pure bliss for me, baby. 

Traditionally, New York in December also has the special ability to turn me into someone very earnest, dare I say...hopeful. (Not dirty words, just not words I’d use to describe myself….ever.) Before we entered the Indoor Times, when I’d leave the house during this sweet month to “go somewhere”, it felt like there was a chance that something magical could undo or manifest the things done or not done that year, respectively. Every holiday party crashed, every late-night song at Montero’s, every martini at Bemelmans, every 3 a.m. pierogi at Veselka, every photoshoot in the bathroom at Keens, there was an opportunity for something incredible or regrettable to happen—or more often than not, some combination of both. Three days into the month and I already really miss New York in December.

I miss my chaotic social calendar and running around Manhattan feeling like the protagonist in this Sliding Doors ripoff of a Lifetime movie. I miss coming home too late in a very good outfit with uncomfortable shoes, too drunk, crying in the Lyft on the way home for no reason, listening to the saddest song I can find through my headphones because I simply LIVE for a moment of solo, overindulgent emotion. I will find other ways to do all those things (I WILL), but it’s not the same. Nothing is the same and damn, I really fucking miss New York in December.

But what I might miss most is my annual Ham Party, a thing I only did twice, but this year could have been the 3rd Annual, which has such a nice ring to it, don’t you think? If I were throwing my Ham Party this year, I’d get a ham that could feed 50 people, score it deeply and rub it with salt, lots of crushed fennel seed, red pepper flakes, and more salt because only I could deem a ham “not salty enough.” I’d roast it for hours, baste it occasionally with maple syrup so that it got all crispy and almost burned where I scored the skin, and then time it so that it would come out of the oven just as people started arriving to make sure the apartment still very much smelled like ham. (“Wow, the ham smells so good,” they’d all say.) I’d serve shrimp cocktail for the first 20 people who arrived and then pretend to be sorry when the people who showed up at 10 p.m. when I clearly said 8 p.m. see the graveyard of shrimp tails and ask, “Oh, is there shrimp cocktail?” Not if you don’t show up on time there isn’t. There would be several types of mustard for the ham, all in their own jars with small spoons because really, who could pick a favorite mustard? They all deserve to be there. Of course, the pickles and rolls and small amount of mayonnaise I allow in my home for just this occasion would also be on the table, assisting the mustards. Everyone I love would be in one room, and I’d fall in love with them all over again, and then I’d get to introduce my weird, disparate groups of friends to each other and then watch them fall in love, too (“But don’t hang out without me!” I’d say). Halfway into the party, we’d all be drunk and hungry for more ham for the second time that night so I’d have to slice more in the kitchen because I couldn’t bear to watch someone’s plus one hack away at my precious ham. I’d snack on it as I sliced. Two for you, one for me, two for you, one for me. I’d get ham juice and bits of mustard all over whatever impractical but FUN ensemble I decided to wear, irreparably staining it, making the worst kind of memento. My neighbors would get annoyed at how late the party was going, then come upstairs to tell me and end up staying because wow, what a great time we were all having. I’d go to bed without washing my face and wake up supremely dehydrated to texts from the two friends who definitely went home together 👀, a giant, poorly carved ham bone and an apartment so wrecked I vow to never host a ham party ever again. Damn, I really miss that ham. 

Honestly, I’m short on both earnestness and hope this year and I don’t have any advice for how to make a ham party for one (or two, or even three). “A sandwich” is certainly not the solution. I think it’s okay that some foods just aren’t meant to be eaten alone (like, uh, a giant ham), just like some things aren’t meant to be done alone (like, uh, throw a ham party). We tried this at the beginning of the pandemic, remember? Zoom baby showers and Zoom dinner parties and Zoom happy hours and Zoom birthday parties. Huge “THIS IS FINE” energy. I know I’m a bit of a buzzkill, but after a while, I stopped RSVP-ing, because they ended up making me miss everything even more, pouring salt in the wound, etc. Like drinking fat-free milk. What I’m saying is: The ham sandwich is the Zoom happy hour is the fat-free milk, and this year, I’m skipping the ham sandwich. 

TOP FIVE MUSTARDS

  1. French’s Yellow. What’s it taste like? Well, it’s basically thick, yellow, salty vinegar and it’s the only mustard I like on my hot dogs, sausages, single-patty burgers, and Italian-style sandwiches. If I can’t have French’s yellow mustard on any of the aforementioned items, I won’t be eating them. It’s also great on ham, of course. Five stars. 

  2. Maille “Old Style” (lol) aka Whole Grain. I like this one for texture. Tangy, salty, pleasantly smushed mustard seeds bound together by a little bit of slimy-in-a-good-way business that I still can’t totally identify, and honestly, don’t care to. This is my favorite mustard to use while dressing salads or vegetables since the flavor is more of a mustard suggestion rather than a mustard mandate. Also, I am shallow, and this mustard doesn’t make everything all muddy looking. Five stars. 

  3. Maille Dijon. It’s creamy without containing dairy, spicy without feeling “hot” and is really the best on ham. Four stars. 

  4. Lowensenf Hot Mustard. This is a great hot (but not too hot) mustard and it comes in a tube. That’s it, that’s the review. Four stars. 

  5. Pickled Mustard Seeds. Like small little pickled mustard croutons. Sure, this one is sort of cheating since you have to like, make it yourself, but: bring a small pot of 50/50 water/apple cider vinegar to a simmer. Add a good pinch of kosher salt and pour over a small bowl of yellow, brown, or yellow and brown mustard seeds. Let sit overnight and you have yourself a bowl of VERY poppy, pickled, salty, crunchy beads of mustard. They last forever. I know, because that’s how long I’ve had them in my fridge (still good). Three and a half stars.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Alstertor Dusseldorf Style Mustard. We can all appreciate the great lil beer mug jar it comes in (and it tastes very good, too, not too spicy). A special nod to mustardmuseum.com for providing us with a real bright spot on the internet.  

Raye’s “Top Dog” Mustard. I’ve visited this small Maine town and I gotta say, this mustard and the ruggedly cozy seaside town it hails from absolutely slaps. You have to love their commitment to having the only stone-ground mustard mill in the US, PLUS their dedication to hot dog excellence. They love hot dogs so much they made them their own mustard! That’s amoré. 

NOTABLY ABSENT 

Honey mustard of any sort, hard pass.


QUARANTINE ACTIVITIES

Resist reading all the gift guides because you’re trying to live life without so much capitalism, then remember the pleasure that comes from buying new things, then remember that’s the problem with capitalism. (I’ll be doing a gift guide next week, including lots of donation-based gift ideas because if you’re going to drink, I’d rather you do it in the house.) Think back to that beautiful November day when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election and how GREAT you felt and how much CELEBRATING was done and then feel it all over again when you remember there are two VERY important Senate runoff races on January 5th and feel SO GRATEFUL that you’ve got so many days left to donate your time and money to make sure we secure these seats. Get dressed every day in a real outfit to decide what is going to stay in your closet vs. what you’re going to donate or sell. This is effective! Make sure all your clothes that you’re going to donate sit in a pile or bag somewhere near the door for 6–9 weeks before doing anything about it. Finish a book— literally any book. Tell yourself “well, at least I finished SOMETHING this year” and have a good laugh at the darkness of it all. Finally write to Rancho Gordo and request half the amount of beans that come in your bean club because 19 different bags of beans aren’t getting any fresher in that pantry of yours. Subscribe to Crème de la Crème, the sophisticated and hilarious musings of my beautiful friend and half of everyone’s favorite podcast, Aminatou Sow. She will give you advice if you ask a question, and they’ll all be anonymous— so make them embarrassing! I know I will be. Listen to this Adrianne Lenker album and wonder: are you trying to hurt me, Adrianne? Keep listening, though!


For the month of December, proceeds from paid subscriptions will go to Feeding America, who are doing work to help fight hunger and food insecurity. Learn more about them here.
Past supported organizations to put on your radar: The Okra Project / Food Issues Group / La Cocina / Heart of Dinner / ACLU / FAIR FIGHT