Little girls and their fascination with make-up is nothing new. Back in the day, I remember lobbying my mother for my share of Tinkerbell cosmetics, to no avail. That sort of thing fell to indulgent grandmothers and birthday presents from girls whose names I no longer remember. Today, whenever I am hanging with the nieces, there is the inevitable moment when they start rummaging around in my bathroom, searching for a pink lip-gloss, face powder, the stray velcro roller. Because it’s my job never to deny them a thing, I conspire with them; I help them apply the sticky gloss or roll up their hair. But the one thing I always tell them is that “this is just dress-up.” They can’t leave the house with anything on their faces until they are much, much older.
I’ve felt the need to stress the “not till you grow-up” theme more and more recently. When I was a kid the beauty parlor was a place Nana went to once a week for a wash and set and a manicure. Now, with nail salons multiplying faster than TD Bank or Starbucks, the customer base seems to have expanded downward, with girls as young as three coming in for a “Baby-Mani.” The fact that there is a name for it is cause enough for concern. When did this happen? Sure, we all played with make-up but Mom or Grandma paying an Asian adult woman $10 to clean, cut and polish the tiny fingers of their toddlers? That is just unseemly.
Whenever I meet someone without a lot of New York City experience I always find myself defending having grown up here. No, I didn’t do drugs when I was 11. No, I wasn’t sneaking out of my parents’ apartment to dance on tables at Euro trash bars when I was underage. No, I wasn’t having sex in Central Park. What do you mean, “What did you do on weekends?” We had a city outside our door. “Did you wish you’d lived in a house with a yard?” No, apartment living is all I know. I don’t feel like I missed out on a thing. And I don’t really think city kids grow up so much faster than their suburban or rural counterparts.
I suppose that’s a sort of controversial statement but I think a lot of it comes down to your family of origin. Of course the Big Apple has many more readily available temptations, and none of them involve asking your parents to play chauffeur. But at the same time, if you have a strong sense of right and wrong, and parents who acknowledge that there are those temptations and create an environment where you can talk to them about anything, than you’ll probably turn out okay. And of course you can’t ignore the strength of one’s own moral compass. My parents were pretty permissive after I proved myself to be trustworthy, and I was a total good girl. In fact I was really boring and kind of clueless.
Now, do I regret having been so good? Not really. Seriously, have you ever met anyone who says, “I wish I’d started drinking to excess when I was 14. Then I could have spent summer vacation at Betty Ford.” Or “Why did I wait so long to start dating? I could have gotten an STD at a much younger age.” Of course not. Then again, it might have been better had I known a bit more about some of the things going on in the social lives of the more adventurous. When I was a freshman in college I was in Florida visiting my grandparents at the same time a camp friend was visiting hers. She knew a whole other crowd (meaning people who were younger than 70) down there and one night a group of us were driving to some club. I was sitting in the back seat when a guy in the front asked if anyone had a mirror. I assumed his contact lens must have been knocked off center and helpfully handed him my compact. You know where this is going. Imagine my surprise when he handed my Ralph Lauren gift-with-purchase makeup palette back to me, the mirror covered with the faintest dusting of white powder. And no, he wasn’t from New York. He was from Short Hills, New Jersey.
But those were the 80’s and I really hope kids today aren’t snorting cocaine in the front seat of a suburban prince’s BMW. Then again, I’m probably just living with my head in the sand. Where am I going with all of this? My point is that you really never regret waiting or taking it slow. Being a late bloomer may seem like a tragedy when you’re in high school but you will be so grateful when you are an adult. There are years and years to act grown-up (and it will be an act, of that I’m sure). Why rush it?
The only area in which I regret having been late to the party is, surprise, food. Nowadays it is no big deal to see a young family of four sharing a jumbo sushi boat or squeezing next to each other to feast on Korean barbecue or passing around a platter of chicken tikka masala. But I was raised on 60’s cuisine. The only kind of sauces we had were béarnaise, Hollandaise, and A-1. I didn’t know what curry was until my Pakistani friend invited me to dinner at her Auntie’s. (Yum.) And fruit meant bananas, apples, and the Christmas fruit tower from Harry and David. My palate was even more stunted than my social life. Sad but true.
It’s only been in the last few years that I have come to love things I used to hate: spicy food (except garlic), fish, feta cheese, olives, prunes, anise, ginger, squash and pears. The pear thing is really strange. I’m not sure why I used to object to them when now I love them so much. Maybe it was the slightly liquor-y taste? In the fall and winter they replace peaches in my late-night fruit and yogurt snack.
The other day I was feeling a little piqued, almost like I was car sick, although I hadn’t been in a car. I wanted something sweetish but also comforting and soothing. I had a few pears from the green market that were really ready to go and thought warming them up with some ginger might help fade the green around my gills. This muffin recipe did the trick. They really pack a ginger punch, so you should be a fan if you’re going to embark on them. (Or you could hold off on the extra sprinkling of crystallized ginger that garnishes the tops.) The process couldn’t be easier and the smell is sublime; mix the dry, mix the wet, gently mix wet into dry, fold in pears. Bake. A pear-ginger muffin and a cup of English Breakfast tea righted all that was wrong. Okay, maybe a muffin and a cozy cup of tea isn’t the stuff of cocaine dusted compact mirrors, but it’s this wild New Yorker’s drug of choice.
Late Bloomer Pear-Ginger Muffins
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1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 Tbs. peeled and grated fresh ginger
2/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 cup milk
6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups peeled, chopped pear (about 1 large)
Preheat oven to 425°F. Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, brown sugar, ground ginger, fresh ginger and 1/3 cup of the crystallized ginger. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until blended. Stir in the milk and butter. Pour the egg mixture over the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula just until moistened. Fold in the pear. Do not over-mix.
Using a standard ice cream scoop, spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling them about three-fourths full. Sprinkle the remaining crystallized ginger evenly over the tops.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 2 minutes, then remove the muffins from the pan and let cool completely. Serve warm. The muffins can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days, or frozen for up to 1 month.
Yield: 12 muffins