I’m tucked away in a booth at the Ace Hotel when Hannah Hart, donning a “Practice Reckless Optimism” sweatshirt, bounces up to me and asks, “Hannah?” I respond, “Hannah!” and we giggle about being name twins as she plops her backpack on the seat. “Sorry for the baggage, I’m right off the plane,” she explains. Hannah is a busy woman. She's got two New York Times bestsellers under her belt, and her third book, My Drunk Kitchen Holidays! How to Savor and Celebrate the Year, comes with a tour across the country, a litany of online engagements, and not a lot of time for breaks. Needless to say, I immediately flag the waiter to get us both some caffeine.
After putting in our coffee orders (cappuccinos with whole milk for both of us), we peruse the menu of non-alcoholic cocktails. As much as I want to day drink with Hannah, an entertainer best known for her YouTube series, "My Drunk Kitchen," and podcast, Hannahlyze This, it’s the middle of the workday and she has eight (!!) more interviews before she hops on a plane to her next city.
When the opportunity arose to review My Drunk Kitchen Holidays!, I jumped at the chance. Hart has become much more self-confident since writing her first book in 2014. “Five years ago, I would have never worn a rainbow shirt on the cover of a book,” she says, smiling, “but this book’s alternative title, in my head, is How to Be Queer for the Holidays.” Hannah’s book uses food, queerness, and “suggestipes” to teach us the intricacies of celebration — specifically celebrating every part of ourselves, no matter how broken or unsightly they may seem. As Hannah says, “This book is trying to invite people into the experience of learning how to make things on their own without the pretension or pressure of doing it the right way.” So, after reading it from cover to cover in one sitting, I decided what I needed to do was face my anxiety and throw a pretension-free, Hannah Hart–sanctioned dinner party.
I discovered Hannah Hart by accident when I was 18, on a deep dive through the early days of YouTube. I was still deeply closeted and spent my time wondering how to get a boyfriend and watching the VlogBrothers and early makeup gurus (JuicyStar07, anyone?). I watched Hart's "My Drunk Kitchen" series because it was funny and relatable, and I felt a kinship to her I couldn’t quite name.
In October 2012, I finally admitted to myself that I was a raging homosexual. In November 2012, Hannah came out online. To watch someone I admired publicly experience what I was so privately suffering through was endlessly important to my well-being as a baby gay. Throughout the years, Hannah has gone on to be a queer role model, an absolute style icon, and somebody who makes me maybe kind of understand my personal gender expression (we’re both wearing jumpsuits to our gay weddings, it’s fine).
And then, there's Hannah's writing. It's the kind of writing that I remember where I was when I read it. I read her first cookbook so many times (on vacation with my parents in Banff). I ’grammed it. A true Instagram relic — this baby is from 2014.
I’ve been reading Hannah’s writing since she started publishing books in 2014, but this newest book is a different kind of beautiful. Art directed by Hannah and food styled by Nora Singley, the volume is filled to the brim with colourful shots of rainbow cakes and green-bean casserole in wine glasses. Instead of traditional recipes, it’s a series of essays named for holidays such as Left-Hander’s Day and Singles Awareness Day (for which you make Acceptance Avocado Toast). I feel most drawn to the Winter Solstice essay because when it comes to entertaining for the holidays, Hannah describes herself exactly as I would describe myself, “bossy and anxious,” which brings me back to the fact that I somehow have to throw the perfect dinner party for a group of people I really care about.
In typical Capricorn sun, Leo rising fashion, I absolutely love to entertain, but it makes me anxious as all hell. My need to people-please often outweighs my desire to enjoy myself, so I spend a lot of my time staring into the oven (à la British Bake Off) and asking people if they need another drink. This is where Hannah steps in.
First and foremost, she tells me to take care of myself: “The holidays are kind of a marathon. They’re not the time when I can relax or let my guard down, and I enjoy them more now that I’ve accepted that.” She goes on to instruct me on more practical things as well, like having multiple drink options, “maybe a campari soda and a few bottles of wine,” and she suggests that I “don’t have a sit down dinner, but instead plan the night from start to finish — do everything in waves and in small portions. It makes the evening feel full.”
Then she lays out a menu for me with recipes from her book and her personal party favourites. I decide to start with her Acceptance Avocado Toast and a cheese-and-charcuterie plate: “You want a hard cheese, a soft cheese, and a spreadable cheese. And definitely a fig jam. You’ll be fine, it’s a cheese plate,” she tells me, as if I’m not going to obsess over it for 400 years. She suggests grilling small flank steaks and pairing that with grilled asparagus and her Garlic-Ass Mashed Potatoes. “For dessert, you could do holiday cookies and decorate them,” she suggests. “It’s a good activity.” For drinks, I settle on the Halloween margarita, because who doesn’t love tequila (and they’re still good without alcohol for my fiancée, who doesn’t drink).
So with my menu set and tips furiously written in my notebook, Hannah gives me a hug, thanks me for actually reading her book, and wishes me good luck. As she walks away, I look down at my watch and realise our 30-minute interview had stretched over an hour, but felt like 15 minutes. I feel invigorated and warm despite the brisk October air. I feel like the world is my oyster and not even a six-course dinner party can take me down.
Suddenly it’s three days before my dinner party, and I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. I am anxious about cooking a meal I have never cooked before for people whose opinions matter to me. I also start to worry because Hannah Hart wants me to grill flank steak, but this Hannah lives in a small NYC apartment with an overexcited fire alarm. And, if we’re being honest, steak is expensive. I think about calling my mum for advice, but it’s 3 a.m., so I settle for the next best thing — I change the menu to include the chicken I have been cooking with my mum since I was seven.
So at 3 a.m. on a weeknight, the final menu comes together: wine and a cheeseboard to start, with Brie, Manchego, and fig jam (plus assorted crackers) and my favourite Drunk Kitchen Holidays recipe, Acceptance Avocado Toast. The main will be baked chicken thighs, whipped garlic mashed potatoes (my other favourite Drunk Kitchen Holidays recipe, with a twist so I would have an excuse to use my KitchenAid mixer), and stir-fried broccoli, plus Hannah’s turkey gravy for an extra touch. For dessert, we will decorate Halloween slice-and-bake cookies (this Hannah doesn’t have time for cookie baking, sorry HH, don’t fire me) while consuming enough blackberry margaritas (lime juice, blackberry simple syrup, tequila or mezcal, salt) to render us all slightly hungover the next day.
I also remember that I’m allowed to ask for help (something I’m very bad at, but that Hannah reminds me is necessary for life, not just throwing dinner parties), so I rope my partner into taking over the avocado toast and cheese plate and ask my coworkers to bring wine and slice-and-bake cookies.
By the time the night comes, I am anxious but excited. I spend the day working from home, shopping for ingredients at Trader Joe’s (again, on a budget), and marinating the chicken thighs. In a moment of panic, I buy Campbell’s canned gravy just in case mine fails (spoiler alert: It turns out just fine). By the time my coworkers are on their way, the chicken is in the oven, the potatoes are ready to be garlicked and whipped, and I am ready for a drink.
Hannah’s encouragement sticks with me as my guests walk through the door, and I feel effortlessly cool. My coworkers ooh and ahh over my partner’s cheese plate and immediately dive into their blackberry margaritas. The night is off to a good start.
By the time everybody settles into their seats and their tequila, they don’t want another appetiser, so we decide to forgo the Acceptance Avocado Toast and skip right to the main meal. Gravy flows across Garlic-Ass Mashed Potatoes, and chicken thighs are gobbled up like it’s Thanksgiving day and the turkey caught a break. We finish the margaritas in record speed. We even finish all the vegetables. We end up trading the cookies for wine as we gab our way through the evening.
By the end of the night, I am honestly glowing. I am proud of myself. I made a multi-course meal with a great cocktail, and everyone is having a great time. I did as Hannah’s book taught me and went with the flow of the evening, even if it meant deviating from the original plan. I feel confident enough in my dinner-party-throwing abilities to have a third drink. And as soon as that third drink hits…a cockroach the size of a Pomeranian comes prancing through the crack in the front door. I don’t know who screams first, but everybody screams. One guest grabs a roll of paper towels. Somebody yells, “Get a shoe, that’s a big one,” so instinctively I grab the first shoe I can find and throw it at the beast.
This night was the first time I made gravy without the guiding hand of my mother and the first time I invited people over solely for the purpose of having dinner, but in all honesty, this night will go down in history as the first time I killed a cockroach.
I went into this story hoping to find the answer to “how to be queer during the holidays” and not be a stereotype, but I think the answer I found is, “Make a mean gravy and be the one who kills the cockroach.”
Hannah Hart absolutely aided me on my queer journey, but in a way I never expected. I thought she was a guiding light to me when I was a 19-year-old college student, questioning and lost. But I was wrong. Before this night, before this dinner party, I would have never picked up a shoe and casually killed a rat-sized bug. I would have cowered in the bathroom. I would have made my partner do the deed. But no, today, on this day, the day I hosted my first ever dinner party, I took control. I made a multi-course dinner and a great cocktail, and I killed a gd cockroach. And I gotta say, despite the discrepancies, I think Hannah would have been proud.
Who doesn’t love a party? Okay fine, introverts, we see you. But when the recipes work out, the bespoke cocktails are flowing, and you’re surrounded by your people, even those who think they’d rather be at home with their BFFs, Netflix, and Seamless can’t help but get lost in the feeling. This doesn’t mean, however, that throwing an event — or, for that matter, attending one — is always easy. With several big-deal holidays around the corner, plus the requisite birthdays, bachelorettes, and baby showers, there’s really only one thing we can do: Keep Calm and Party On.