When I was last in New York, I had the opportunity to catch up with one of my long-time friends who shared some surprising news — he was thinking about leaving his beautiful and conveniently-located East Village apartment. "What!" I exclaimed. "You're crazy. That apartment is beautiful. Not to mention that it's in a great location."
"Yes," he agreed. "But... the landlord is crazy." He then began telling me that his landlady had a propensity to sort through her tenants' trash to see if they were recycling properly, as the city had pretty stringent rules and often penalized wrongdoers. Despite the fact that the city would only issue a $50 fine for the entire building, his landlord would then charge all six apartments inside the building with a $50 penalty fee each, despite the fact that the building only received one $50 violation.
Listening to him rant about his landlord made me think back to all my past. I've been a renter since my sophomore year of college, and I'd experienced my fair share of landlords. Almost all were either apathetic or just flat-out neglectful, with a handful of crazy and/or anal here or there. Up until recently, I'd loved and participated in this game where my friends and I swapped stories and tried to one-up each other with our crazy landlord experiences. Yours looks through the trash? Well, mine left us without heat for three months in the middle of the snowstorm. To complain about your crazy or negligent landlord was a rite of passage for every young twenty-something trying to make do in a big city like New York or San Francisco.
These days, however, I find myself in the odd and slightly unexpected position of being a landlord myself. In addition to living with my boyfriend, I'm renting out my house's downstairs bedrooms to two other tenants in order to afford a new kitchen by next year. And oh my, how different the game looks from over here. I'm beginning to understand why landlords are often either the crazy/neurotic/apathetic/neglectful creatures they are — most of the time, it's a reaction to their tenants' own craziness, apathy, and negligence.
I realize I might have just said something controversial there, so let me explain. I've never considered myself to be a terrible tenant. Almost every apartment that I rented came back in decent (if not great) condition, save for a couple holes in the wall and stains in the carpet here or there. The only exception to this rule was that time I accidentally broke some furniture in the overpriced, furnished studio I was living in during a post-college grad haze of aimlessness and depression. But more or less, I've always been the kind of person who takes pride in where she lives, being mindful of the property and my belongings.
However, I'm starting to find out that at my age, that's a pretty rare thing, especially amongst my male peers. One of my housemates, for instance, insists on using as much force as he can with every door, drawer, and cabinet that he opens. Because as a strapping 20-something-year-old man who has the world at his fingertips, the demonstration of your strength, good health and opportunity needs to be apparent in every action one takes, including the simple act of opening the kitchen cupboard doors. Which, fine, whatever, do what you have to do to feel like a man, but can't you see that it's causing an unfortunate amount of wear and tear on my already delicate 100-year-old house?
And then there's the fact that most twenty somethings live with roommates, usually of the same age. Who here has dealt with a roommate who is messier than he or she is? At first, you think to yourself that it's okay — you guys can have chore rotations and house meetings when things have gotten really bad. But then the house meetings don't really work. Because it's hard to agree on a standard of cleanliness, let alone change other people's habits. So you think to yourself that hey, it's okay, you can do some extra cleaning up after them. It's not a big deal... until you find yourself cleaning for an additional hour or two every night. This is normally the point where I throw down the towel. That is, if they're not picking up their slack, why should I? And so it begins — the carelessness, apathy, and negligence that landlords are responding to.
Which leads me to now. Here I am, trying to take it easy — I don't want to be that crazy/anal landlord who charges her tenants ridiculous fees for seemingly minor wrongs like holes in the wall or scratches on the floor. But it's hard. Because every door slam, ding, paint chip made by my housemates honestly just feels like a personal affront. I spent the last four years working miserable jobs to save up and buy a home, and to see the result of my hard work treated with such carelessness and apathy is just... painful. And there's nothing I can really do about it but become like the other landlord/property owners I've had in the past; that is, to try and emotionally detach myself as best as I can.
And so how do that? By baking, of course, and lots of cups of Earl Grey tea. I've never been much of a caffeine drinker, but Earl Grey is one of these flavors and scents that really soothes me. I love flavoring as many desserts as I can with it — cakes and cookies, and now this Earl Grey panna cotta:
Panna cotta is an Italian dessert made together by simmering cream, sugar and gelatin. Each spoonful is a silky, light, and creamy bite. Earl Grey tea leaves are infused with the cream, giving this classic dessert a unique and delicate flavor. It's the perfect post-dinner dessert, as well as a great substitute for your afternoon cup of tea. These days, it's the sort of dessert that I like to indulge in as try and detach myself from the stresses of the house, as I slowly count down to the day I'm able to afford living on my own again.
Some baker's notes:
- Oregonians: I used THE BEST Earl Grey tea for this dessert. It's a special kind of Earl Grey from the local Townshend's Tea Company that's been flavored with blue mallow blossoms and vanilla essence. It's available at their cafes, as well as online. Support your local businesses and check it out!
- Not a fan of Earl Grey tea? You can substitute any kind of tea you'd like. I recommend also trying out this recipe with more delicate teas like jasmine. If you're using a green tea instead of a black, I recommend increasing the amount of tea from 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup since green tea tends to be more delicate.
For the Earl Grey Panna Cotta:
(makes eight 4-ounce ramekins)
- 4 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup loose-leaf Earl Grey tea
- 2 teaspoons powdered, unflavored gelatin
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- First, infuse the cream by combine 4 cups heavy whipping cream and 1/4 cup loose-leaf Earl Grey tea in a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking occasionally to ensure that all the Earl Grey tea leaves are submerged. Once the mixture has boiled, turn off the heat and cover the pan with aluminum foil, poking a few holes into the top to allow steam to release. Let steep for 1 hour.
- When the cream has finished steeping for an hour, bloom the gelatin. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons powdered gelatin into the surface of a small cup or ramekin filled with 3 tablespoons cold water. Let sit for 5 minutes, until the gelatin softens.
- As the gelatin is blooming, strain the infused cream through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing on the tea leaves with the back of a spoon to release all the liquid. Discard the tea leaves. Transfer the cream beck into the saucepan and add 3/4 cup granulated sugar and the bloomed gelatin, stirring over medium-low heat until the sugar and gelatin is melted. DO NOT LET THE MIXTURE COME TO A BOIL.
- Once the sugar and gelatin are fully integrated into the cream, divide the cream amongst eight 4-ounce ramekins. Chill for at least 5 hours until set, preferable overnight. Once set, the panna cotta can be wrapped individually in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.