For Valentine’s Day, Armchair/Shotgun sat down with Maura Kelly, co-author of Much Ado About Loving, which USA Today called, “A treat for any book lover, happily mated or cheerfully single.” (As all-of-the-above, we cheerfully agree). Maura has also been a staff writer for Glamour, and her reportage has appeared in the The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New York Observer, Salon…you get the idea.
You’re having drinks with a pop-culture and literary love guru. What do you discuss? The romance of language? The raw sexuality of the printed word?
Caffeine addictions, oral fixations, and the difference between seltzer and club soda: it’s an Author Drink Review with Maura Kelly.
The Bar: Rucola (Dean Street in Brooklyn.)
The Drink: Pear and Earl Gray Soda
John M. Cusick (A/S): You mentioned earlier you’re not a big drinker, but you like bars. Does that mean you have a go-to non-alcoholic drink?
Maura Kelly: I’ve noticed club soda has become my go-to drink because it looks kind of like alcohol. Not that that is important, but it looks a little more normal than boring flat water.
JMC: So is it the bigger the bubbles, the better it is?
Kelly: Smaller, actually. Because it makes it more effervescent. You know this is a sort of sensory thing. I don’t know if the bubbles are actually smaller or if there are just more…I don’t know.
JMC: I’ve always wondered if there is a difference between seltzer water and club soda.
Kelly: I really need to look into this because I get asked that question a lot. I write for Slate, I do Explainer — that would be a great Explain.
At long last the bartender approaches.
Kelly: [To Bartender] What’s the best you got?
The Bartender offers the Pear and Earl Gray Soda: puree of pears and earl grey tea, lemon juice and sparkling water.
Kelly: I’m kinda excited about that. Earl grey is like my favorite thing in the world.
Evan Simko-Bednarski (A/S): That sounds really good. Did they say it was muddled?
Kelly: With the pear? I think so…
ESB: I had a friend growing up who worked in a coffee shop, I guess when we were in high school. He would do this thing where he would make espresso but he would put muddled apricot at the bottom of the shot. And that was just the most delicious thing. It was so good, it was incredible.
JMC: I have a recipe book of coffee drinks at home. One of them is the Bostonian: coffee with a raw egg white in it. Not whipped, you just crack the egg white into the black coffee, maybe even put the yolk in, too. It sounds heinous! Now, I’m from the Boston area. I guess this was how the Irish dockworkers used to drink it but…raw egg?
Kelly: What was it supposed to add or do?
ESB: My grandfather had friends who would do that as a hangover cure.
JMC: Protein maybe?
Kelly: A coffee meringue.
The drinks arrive.
All: [With vigor and evident camaraderie] Cheers!
ESB: OK. So can you comment on the presentation of your drink?
Kelly: It’s a cool caramel color. It looks a little like watered down Thai iced tea. It looks refreshing. [To Bartender] Can we ask you a question? Do you know the difference between club soda and seltzer? Or if there is one?
Bartender: I think club soda is somehow sweetened… or something… I really don’t know.
Kelly: It’s OK.
Bartender: I really don’t know.
ESB: Fair enough. We’re trying to figure it out ourselves.
Bartender: You can tell the difference between club soda and tonic.
JMC: Oh, yeah..tonic…Tonic has quinine…
Bartender: Tonic’s a little more bitter.It’s got like a weird note to it. Club soda just tastes like…bland.
He turns away. As a group, we are bit crestfallen.
Kelly: Not at all informative.
ESB: Back to your drink. First impressions?
Kelly: It’s a very subtle taste. He said there was limejuice in it and just feels like a very slightly sweetened lemonade. I’m not really picking up the Earl Grey.
ESB: Is the pear there?
Kelly: I think the pear is more just a very subtle sweeter than a strong taste in the drink.
ESB: So are you a big coffee person?
Kelly: I used to be, but I have slowly tried to get caffeine out of my life.
JMC: [In a hushed tone] Wow.
Kelly: Not really by choice, but more as a result of extreme suffering and insomnia. So, yeah. So I quit coffee…
There is stunned silence from ESB and JMC.
Kelly: It’s really difficult. But, I felt like, as a writer who sits at home by myself all day, every thirty minutes I would say “Okay! I’ll have another cup of tea!” and it’s a minnie pick-me up every thirty minutes. It gets you a little be less depressed every thirty minutes.
ESB: When I was on deadline I used to refer to it as “word juice.” If I knew I needed 700 words in the next hour, it was, “All right, I’m brewing a cup of coffee.” And I couldn’t start until I was guzzling.
Kelly: Yeah. The guy who owns this place [Rucola] used to have a mint company called “Oral Fixation” and I feel like when you think of oral fixation you usually think about cigarettes or… but I feel like caffeine is also sort of this oral fixation. I always wanted to have something going on the side, and it was caffeine.
ESB: So what’s it like writing decaffeinated now?
Kelly: It’s actually, in the long term, so much better. Because I’m just sleeping so much better. I just feel more productive and better able to focus when I need to. I feel less irritable and much more even keeled. It took me so long to actually, really kick caffeine, but I’ve been saying to myself over the last few months “God, why didn’t I figure it out to do this sooner? Cause life is just so much easier.
JMC: I can’t imagine. Its partly “word juice,” as Evan said, and partly a reward for working, you know?
Kelly: When I was working in an office, people would always say, “I’m gonna go out and get that cappuccino. I just feel like I deserve it.” And I always thought, come on, we’re in America, we’ve just been sitting in our chairs looking at our computers all day. Do we really deserve anything for what we’re doing?
For more on Maura check out her website. Otherwise, here are some folks talking about their literary crushes: