A Newsletter #21

the gift of plants and other gifts

Welcome to A Newsletter #21, finally old enough to join me in the millions of drinks I will be having this month. If you’ve found your way over by some miracle but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:

After much consideration, I have concluded that plants are the perfect gift. While there most certainly are other living, breathing things that can be gifted that are not plants, it’s rare for such a thing to a. Have sentimental value b. Cost almost nothing (only in 2020 is, “Cut your plants, put them in water, and watch them grow” is a compelling headline, but yeah, I click every time, and now you simply will not see me throw away another empty wine bottle; you see trash, I see an opportunity for an artful propagation presentation and yes, you’re all getting propagated plants this year!) and c. Can really live with the recipient, thus, always reminding them of you (subtext: please never forget me!)

I’ve been “really into plants” for a few years, but uptick in interest the last several months has been pathological. I am now the kind of person who fiddles with leaves of their hanging pothos so obsessively during my teletherapy that my therapist has to ask me repeatedly to stay present. Well, I am present, Ted. Present in this small jungle I now live inside of that needs my tender care 24/7. 

Ted is not the only one I am blatantly disrespecting—you must know that if we are on a phone call or having any sort of meeting without the camera on, I am also taking care of my plants. I’m watering them with my Chemex full of tap water, pruning dead leaves, moving soil from the edges of the pot back to the center, tucking in any exposed roots. I am examining leaves for yellow wilt and brown patches, inserting my index finger exactly two to three inches below soil level in all 24 potted plants, testing for proper drainage, examining for signs of excessive dampness or dryness. I have never cared for living things the way I now care for my plants (and I have a cat).

There have, of course, been many an article and several a think piece on how “millennials” are “growing plants” instead of “having kids” or whatever. I don’t need to read any of those to tell me that is exactly what’s happening here. Obviously, I’m no longer cooking dinner, making snacks, pouring drinks, “having people over” etc. like I used to and no, I am not getting another cat. So, yes, it’s clear that I have redirected my increasingly maternal, people-pleasing, big nesting energy towards the green tendril-y things sprawling all over my apartment. *Gestures wildly to all my plants* We’re doing great!

It must be said I’m not especially good at keeping plants at their most robust (the combination of neglect and overbearing affection will only get you so far), so I’m grateful for each and every one that has stuck it out with me. Most of my favorites have come from a person I love or a place I’ve been: potted housewarming or birthday gifts in decorative ceramics. “Just because” gifts, small but significant clippings of perky leaves with long stems wrapped in damp paper towels and crinkled tinfoil to keep them alive in transit. There’s one small, thorny cactus I was given after a tragically intense death in the family, and another just like it from someone else to celebrate the release of my first cookbook a few months later. Both are still alive, and they sit next to each other in one not-so-sunny corner of my living room. I have a shockingly healthy palm tree that I got for free in the East Village from Craigslist, a relic of another time (Craigslist, not the palm). I have several California succulents I snipped from my mom’s wild and well-cared-for backyard in the San Fernando Valley. We don’t talk much these days, but I think of the sprouts transplanted from her sprawling, West Coast outdoor garden all the way to my confined, East Coast indoor windowsill as a tin can of communication keeping us connected in some poetically disconnected way. I read their growth like tea leaves, convincing myself that nurturing those plants is just as effective as picking up the phone. Unlike our relationship, every single one of them is thriving (a story for another time). 

I am not so far gone that I refer to my plants as my “friends” (publicly, anyway), but I will say, looking around my little apartment, I can say it really is nice to receive gifts that become a part of your life, integrate seamlessly into your home, and remind you of people in your life that you love. (“Good morning, Hannah! You’re looking a little dry today, here, let me get you some water.”). And, despite this year, despite the neglect and obnoxious overwatering, they’re still here. My “friends” and my friends, (mostly) doing great, hanging with me, bringing me delight, keeping me company, making this year a whole lot less shitty. 

GIFTS TO GIVE WHEN YOU’RE NOT GIFTING PLANTS

NOTE: None of these are affiliate links, none of these are sponsored. My only incentive here is to recommend products I love from small businesses I want to support. While many of these things can be purchased at a wide array of places, it would mean the absolute world if you made it a point to shop small when possible.

This is an abbreviated list. For the full experience, including READING THINGS, WEARING THINGS, and SILLY, FRIVOLOUS THINGS, become a paying subscriber (makes a great gift, tbh) and it’ll land in your inbox tomorrow.

Give a gift subscription

COOKING THINGS, EATING THINGS, DRINKING THINGS

Of course, there would be a million things I could put on this list, but not everyone wants to receive a giant bottle of olive oil or case of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. These are some things that would make actual gifts, rather than, say, a grocery list. 

If you want to gift the greatest kitchen gift to ever gift, it’s gotta be this Unicorn Peppermill. It will change the way you cook and the way your food tastes. Package it up with a bottle of these Aranya peppercorns from Diaspora– truly the best peppercorns I’ve ever had.

Lani’s Farm is one of my favorite farms to get vegetables and beautiful spicy greens from at the NYC farmers markets. HOT TIP: They also make all their own ssam jang, gochujang and several types of incredible kimchi that I like to keep in my fridge at all times. Like a better version of Harry and David which I simply can’t believe still exists, these condiments put together would make just about the most delightful gift basket.

While we wait for restaurants to reopen, let’s continue showing them love where we can. Buying gift certificates to your favorite spot and pairing them with a bit of merch they may be selling is a really nice way to support restaurants and give someone something to look forward to (“Martinis for when we can martini again, xoxo, Gossip Girl”, etc).

Wine is great, but for gifting I dig something special and sippable with a fabulous label. Current Cassis, made by my friend Rachel from fermented black currants grown in The Catskills of New York, is both . I will be drinking this festive, bright, boozy-but-not-too-boozy liqueur over ice with mezcal and topped with soda water, maybe out of these glasses if I buy them for myself.

Six tins of these anchovies. That’s it, that’s the gift.

DOING THINGS

Where are we going? Nowhere. When are we going there? All the time. But that won’t stop me from wearing a red lip and doing a Barry’s Bootcamp class in the middle of my living room. Here are a few fun giftable, doable things (in quarantine). 

I know this is a very “mid-30’s” thing for me to recommend, but buying your friends a subscription to their favorite at-home workout classes is good because they can be expensive and it feels like you’re gifting them “self care” or whatever. For yoga, I like Sky Ting TV, Isabel Baylor and Abigail Stevenson’s classes. I haven’t done anything else other than Barry’s, which I enjoy because it happens on Zoom which makes me feel like I am being held accountable for something.

Do you want to cook with me, on the internet? Or perhaps ask me questions about the world of cookbook publishing? Or maybe you’d like to pay $100 just to troll me (someone did that!!)! Coming up in January, three new classes for your infotainment pleasure. There’s one on cookbook publishing, one for cooking, and, historically the most chaotic, one for baking. We have fun!

DONATING THINGS

Donating things in someone’s name is maybe the chicest gift you can give. Write a little note inside a card to explain what it is and why you thought they would connect to giving to that specific organization. Below are a few organizations that I love and think you will, too. 

Fair Fight Action. Senate runoffs are January 5th. Two seats are up for grabs. “Let’s do this,” as the kids* say (*kids certainly do not say this anymore)

Star Route Farm is a farm in Delaware County,NY that has a very special place in my heart. They grow the most perfect vegetables I have had the pleasure of eating and cooking and I love all the humans involved. They believe everyone should have access to lovingly grown, responsibly farmed food, so they’re working to turn the farm into a non-profit which would allow them to service and feed underserved communities in the New York area. End of year/winter fundraising is especially important so they can buy the seeds so they can plant > grow > farm > harvest > feed people come spring/summer 2021.

Restaurant Workers Community Foundation, created by and for restaurant workers, have been creating nothing short of miracles this year. They’re raising money to provide COVID-19 relief, accessible mental health services and valuable resources to combat harassment and wage disparity within the restaurant industry. The government will bail out airlines but not restaurants, so these literal angels are taking things into their own hands.

Studio ATAO does excellent and important work in the social justice space as it relates to food, art, technology and beyond. They provide safe spaces for tough conversations and education for those who seek to expand their perspectives on topics like gender, cultural appropriation and various inequities that live inside food and restaurant culture.


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