The Critic's Notebook: On Drinking
As a member of the Association of Food Journalists, I got an email in March recruiting food and drink journalists to discuss their drinking habits. In fact, it was for a master's project for former Houston Press food editor Kaitlin Steinberg. The topic: Does the work of being a food or drink journalist lead to excessive drinking?
Call me naïve, but I'd never thought about it before. No, really. But I have a good excuse. I only drink when I have to for work.
I live in a strange, singular world of dipping my toe into the world of fermented beverages only when I'm being paid to do it. It's not the only thing I reserve for when I'm on the clock. I rarely eat grains when it's not at work (for years, I was strict about it and didn't at all), and leave fried food for before quittin' time.
But the difference is, I like those things. Alcohol, on the other hand, whether it's wine, beer or liquor, I can appreciate and parse the flavors with what I'm told is uncommon accuracy, but I don't actually enjoy it. Sure, I drank a sip or two of a prickly pear liqueur in Malta once that I thought I could throw back on the regular, and was more than happy to taste my way through the ice wines of Chapel Ste. Agnes Vineyard in Québec, but I have never craved a drink. Ever.
Perhaps it's genetic. Though my maternal grandmother fancies a daily Beefeater and has a clock that's all fives, no one else in my family drinks. My mother still talks about the mulled wine she enjoyed in Switzerland in the '60s as if it's contemporary because it's the last time she drank alcohol. Well, except for when I was 9 and she, two of my friends and I were all given rum-filled daiquiris in error at a community theater cast party. It's still the only time I've ever been truly drunk.
My father was a white person who suffered from what's known as Asian flush. Even the tiny bit of alcohol in non-alcoholic beer was enough to send him into ruddy-faced giggling fits. And I inherited his misfortune. I learned this in the middle of a cider flight at a tasting event that left me driving home with my skin burning and heart tachycardic.
I've been more careful about portions since then. When I go to wine tastings, I ask the server to pour me "literally a sip." That never happens, but I almost never take more than two or three, no matter how much I'm eating.
And in social situations? Well, I don't hang out in bars. And most parties are short-lived—once everyone else hits their "drunk idiot" setting, my sober self is ready to get out of there. Usually I'm fine to just have water, or if I'm really treating myself, a Coke.
But a French chef friend, both a James Beard Foundation award winner and a knight in his native land, taught me a favorite trick. If I want to look like a grown-up, he instructed me, ask for ginger ale in a Champagne glass. It's what he's done for years. And I look not only grown-up, but fancy, with my suspiciously yellow fake Champagne. But even if I tried, I could never keep up with the hard-partying food writers Steinberg was seeking. To them, I raise a Champagne glass.