Natasha Pickowicz is a pastry chef & writer based in Brooklyn. We spent the day with Natasha and her cat Tini in their fuzzy-lawned Greenpoint backyard, as she prepared dinner for dinner with friends. Read on, reader, for a delightful bursting-with-summer interview complete with Natasha's favorite spots for martinis and french fries, and her ice cream dreams.
Describe your perfect day in Brooklyn.
Every morning, before the sun is too direct and the air is still cool, I’ll make a cup of coffee (pour over, Parlor) and go out back with my mug and check in on my garden. It’s my favorite part of the day, to see how everything grew a little bit more while I was sleeping. I’m growing some familiar-to-me-plants like tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, kale, lettuces, arugula and herbs, and lots of more cheffy plants like Thai chiles, golden amaranth, tulsi, bronze fennel, and lemongrass. I take my time weeding and pruning and watching the bees and butterflies. If this is a perfect day we’re talking about, then I’ll have a book with me. I’ve been reading poetry by Li-Young Lee and Walt Whitman, poems about peaches and summer and “nature without check with original energy.”
I’ll cook something simple for myself for breakfast, like steamed rice and ponzu or buttered toast, wilted greens, braised beans and a big salad, and eat outside before the sun gets too strong. I always have a few quarts of iced mujicha (barley tea) ready to go. This to me is the flavor of summer. I eat and drink whatever I want at night, but for breakfast and lunch I try to keep things reasonable so I don’t get sluggish when I try to write. My weekly exception is the ipad-sized Darren Vito, this insane, crispy panino from Archestratus, my favorite bookstore in the world that is also an Italian cafe and market. This sandwich squishes together mortadella, roasted red peppers, caciocavallo, and a breadcrumb spread (what is a breadcrumb spread!). It’s divine. Half of one is a full meal for sure. On a perfect day in Brooklyn I am definitely eating that sandwich.
Then I am going for a walk, really taking my time, at least 6 or 7 miles but hopefully more like 9 or 11. Greenpoint to Roosevelt Island is only 3 miles, and I love walking up to Hunters Point, up the East river, cross over to Roosevelt Island, and then wind my way around the island, from the lighthouse to the Louis Kahn memorial, and then home. That’s a pretty perfect walk for a perfect day, the breezes and ocean spray coming off the river always feels so good. Then I’ll come home, or maybe stop first at Achilles Heel, Amber Steakhouse, or Chez Ma Tante for a few vodka martinis and french fries. Then, home, rub the soft grey belly of my kitty Tini, put on a few Simpsons episodes, catch up with my parents. That’s a perfect day for sure.
We chatted A LOT about ice cream while we were at your house - what is your favorite flavor to make?
Making ice cream is the number one pastry project that I miss the most from working in restaurants. I don’t have an ice cream machine at home so whenever I have a Never Ending Taste pop-up I look forward to writing the ice cream part of the menu the most.
In the summer, I’ll steep dairy with the fresh, bright flavors of herbs like lemon verbena, anise hyssop, and Thai basil. Lately, I’ve been playing around a lot with using the leaves from fruit trees, which have their own, subtle flavors and, depending on the time of the year, are easy to score in abundance. The fresh, new leaves from peach and fig trees impart a subtle tropical, coconutty, almondy essence to dairy, fat and sweets in general. I also love super rich ice cream flavors, like black sesame, Adzuki bean, and hazelnut, and very bright, tart sorbet flavors, like roasted plum, unstrained strawberry, and bracing citrus like Yuzu. And also nothing is really better than vanilla bean.
My “unicorn” ice cream flavors are coffee (I can never get it as intense or rich or as coffee as I want) and melon (fruit like cantaloupe and honeydew are often so subtle that adding sugar and serving them cold ruins their delicate notes). Someday I will figure these flavors out and be proud of them.
How has your approach to baking changed since you started Never Ending Taste?
Because it’s so ephemeral and comes together so quickly, with very little money, staffing, space, and any other resources, Never Ending Taste really makes me appreciate being in the moment with my work—I’m still learning to relax my own expectations for everything to be “perfect” and “dialed in,” which was something that was always drilled into me when I was working in fancy restaurants, and lean into the side of me that wants to be bigger and bolder and more messy and lush. The pop-ups allow me to be more playful with plating and presentation and to also take advantage of hyper-seasonal ingredients like red currants and donut peaches. In a restaurant setting, often the recipe testing process for developing a new dish can take so long, an ingredient will be available and then disappear before I have a chance to even sell the dish!
The customers who buy pastries from me are the sweetest, coolest, best people, and I think their positivity reinforces that I should keep going. It’s just a slice of cake, in a paper boat, maybe a little lopsided, but totally made from scratch and with love. In that sense, doing the pop-up helped me revisit why I love pastry so much. It’s a chance to connect with other people.
What is your first baking memory?
As my parents LOVE to remind me, when I was little I was obsessed with baking the cornbread from the Jiffy box (I think you just add milk and an egg!) for our Thanksgiving feast every year. I think it was my way of “contributing” to the meal so I always felt super proud. I love those box mixes—they still give you the sense of accomplishment that only baking can do! My boyfriend has a good brownie box mix hack—he adds mezcal and fernet to the batter, which adds smokiness and big flavor.
Many of your bake sales have a giving component! Can you tell us a little bit about the organizations you work with and how your partnerships came to be?
Organizing the bake sales really revealed a lot to me about the role pastry plays in my life and the kind of person I want to be. The bake sale is full of joy and connection and ease. They’re so FUN. It’s people coming together over sweets after all. There’s something very approachable about cookies on a paper plate. Everyone can participate. It felt really important to me to have a way to connect with people in a pastry context without relying on the fancy, old-school models of “fine dining” which I actually think can be really alienating and exclusive.
I have been building my relationships with local organizations for years. For me, that means getting to know the people that work there. Being a part of their programming in some way. Spending time on their property. Tying in their mission into my pop-ups. In this way, I’m on the Culinary Council at God’s Love We Deliver, and the Industry Advisory Board at the Food Education Fund. I also have a really special relationship with the amazing team at the Teaching Kitchen at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, which I first encountered when I was working at the Met Breuer and was trying to see what was on the Upper East Side outside of fancy fashion boutiques and mansions. And of course, it was such an honor to fundraise over $125,000 for the Planned Parenthood of Greater New York via the bake sales I organized from 2017 to 2019. Allying with these organizations gives my work meaning and reaffirms my love of pastry. I don’t think I’d still be in pastry if it weren’t for these kind of relationships.
What is always in your fridge / kitchen?
Fizzy water, barley tea, oolong tea, Parlor coffee. Hummus, cheese, eggs, tortillas, cabbage, and about 10-12 jars of jam from different places at any given time (right now my favorites are from June Taylor and Camilla Wynne, probably the two best jam makers in North America if you ask me!). Natural wine from my boyfriend’s wine shop, Radicle Wine. Ketchup. Peas, Vodka, bread scraps, roti, butter in the freezer.
I also keep a lot of my baking staples in the freezer so they don’t spoil, like nuts, flours, leaveners, and yeast. I buy most of my “everyday” groceries from Archestratus, which is amazing because Archestratus is really a bookstore. I buy ground pork, whole chickens, Parmesan, ricotta, flawless vegetables (the cucumbers! The basil! If you know, you know) from Bodhitree Farm, the sesame sourdough from She Wolf. Archestratus also sells a great range of Gustiamo imports, so I stock up on Iasa hot peppers, dried beans, Italian rice and barley, and liter cans of olive oil. When I was working full-time in restaurants, I rarely ate any meals at home, let alone three meals a day. Building out my pantry and refrigerator to be full and ready to go at all times has been one of the more satisfying developments of my 2021 life.
Can you please tell us about your excellent eye makeup!
I have naturally very short, fine, and straight Chinese eyelashes, and I’ve probably been doing the same winged eyeliner shape for at least 15 years now, which is crazy. I should mix it up! I’ll do a few pumps with an eyelash curler, then black pencil, then I paint in the wing tip with liquid eyeliner so the point looks crisp, then a few coats of mascara. I think all the products I have right now are L’Oreal, but I love Chanel mascara too. And that’s it, no other makeup. Lots of moisturizer and sunscreen, of course.
Who would you love most to bake for (living or otherwise) and what would you bake for them?
I’ve already baked for Ina Garten, so I can cross that one off my list, haha. I love to bake a big, weird layer cake festooned with flowers and plants for Kate Bush.
Natasha's Guide to Brooklyn (& beyond)
295 Grand Street
Chez Ma Tante
90 Calyer St
(Long Island City) 5-48 49th Ave
(Manhattan) 430 E. 9th St
119 Nassau Ave
Giando on the Water
400 Kent Ave
80 Wythe Ave
732 Manhattan Ave
180 West St
Markets & Grocery
160 Huron St
(Manhattan) 123 Lexington Ave
(Manhattan) 104 Avenue B
(Manhattan) 163 W. 10th St
(Manhattan) 102 3rd Ave
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My son and I were checking out at our favorite bookstore, Books Are Magic, when I noticed Anthony's perfect Catbird stacks and they noticed my Catbird email! Learning that they and their partner, Austin, get each other Catbird jewelry for meaningful occassions is the best possible thing I could ever hear. We invited Anthony & Austin to spend the afternoon with us and chat about all things jewelry and love!
-- Rony, Founder & Co-Creative Director
Where are you both originally from?
Austin: We moved around a lot growing up, my mom had a restless heart. But, for me Sebastopol, California always felt like my home with vivid memories of misty mornings and ancient redwoods.
Anthony: I grew up on Long Island, we also moved around a lot, my parents are divorced and bouncing back and forth between them unfortunately nothing really felt like home. I do sometimes miss being able to just walk outside to lay in the grass and read.
How did you meet?
Anthony: We actually met on OkCupid. After talking for awhile we decided to set a date to get coffee in the East Village. The day of our date I rushed onto the subway platform and I thought I saw someone who looked familiar, so I turned to them and said “Austin?”. It turned out that we actually lived off the same subway stop in Bushwick, and our apartments were only 4 blocks away from each other. Our date started on the subway platform and fast forward 7 years, here we are. It does seem pretty unreal how much of a rom-com our first date was like, after coffee we started walking around and we happened to walk down a street where they were filming a movie and it was completely covered in fake snow in the middle of summer. We got ice cream at the end and when Austin forgot the word for bench (I guess because he was nervous, something he’ll never fully admit) he asked if we should sit down on the “long chair” which I’ve never let him forget.
What are your jewelry uniforms?
Austin: I always wear a stack of yellow and rose gold hammered rings with a Cosmic Witch Ring, mirrored on the other hand with a Twisted Stacker and an opal and diamond Sleeping Beauty Ring. I love a healthy flow of necklaces so I’ll wear a Sleeping Beauty, Unicorn Horseshoe, and a Tinsel Chain with a Fort Tilden Charm regularly. I love a good anklet so I always wear a Sweet Nothing with a Mermaid Treasure Charm even over my nursing compression socks, it gets a lot of attention on the unit. And as my grandma always said, "A lady always has a string of pearls!" So with that in mind I always wear a pearl bracelet, whether it’s a string of Catbird Sweet Sixteen pink pearls or a Serpentine Delilah Pearl Bracelet. Then there’s earrings I never leave home without at least four!
Anthony: The thing I wear every day, because I can’t actually take it off is my Forever Sweet Nothing Bracelet that matches Austin’s. It’s only ever come off once, after our cat Dorito clawed it off getting a little too rambunctious playing tag. My Gentle Spider Charm crawls to different spots everyday, sometimes I wear it on my 1976 Bracelet or on my Sweet Nothing Chain, or I’ll hook it onto the backing of an earring stud. I never actually take my rings off, I have a mix of different Catbird rings stacked with a Black Diamond Tiniest Ring, Naga Snake Ring, and Moon Guardian Ring from Sofia Zakia.
So you both have quite the Catbird collection!
Austin: It was actually Anthony that first introduced me to Catbird. For our first anniversary Anthony surprised me with a dinner date at Beauty & Essex - and I’d been living as a pretty broke nursing student then so it was pretty impressive! Anyway, towards the end of our dinner, Anthony presented me with my very first piece of my Catbird collection, a Classic Hammered Ring. Now it’s almost been seven years since that day and it’s still my most treasured piece of my collection.
Anthony: Later that year Austin completely surprised me with a Catbird Rose Thorn necklace for Yule. It’s been a tradition to get each other Catbird pieces ever since.
What does jewelry mean to you both?
Austin: For me jewelry is magic, from the inherent power lying in the natural stones to the dedication of the inspired artist that made them - pure magic! I also connect very deeply with jewelry and my grandmother - she had an impressive collection with some original Tiffany pieces to family heirlooms. I recall getting ready with her, trying on some of her necklaces and huge strings of pearls, and sorting through her collection with her to get her jewelry uniform on for the day.
Anthony: I have a deep fascination with medieval alchemy. Gold was one of seven metals they used to represent the heavenly bodies. Gold fittingly represented the sun, and jewelry makes me feel like I’m wearing rays of sunlight.
When did you know it was love?
Anthony: As gushy as it sounds, the first time we told each other we loved each other, I had been reading Austin short stories as the sun was setting and we were just laying in my bed and staring into each other’s eyes, and in that moment I knew it was love. He was able to ground me and know me unlike anyone ever had. That’s when we first told each other “I love you” though he always says that he said it first.
Describe your perfect New York day together!
Austin: Quite recently we had a pretty perfect New York day together this April. First, we have found that every perfect day has to start with brunch with a few mimosas. Anthony then took me to the Brooklyn botanical gardens for the very first time - it was simply incredible surrounded by newly flowering cherry blossoms, a beautiful Japanese garden, and flower petals gently blowing through the air. We then traveled into the Lower East Side, visited a pencil store owned by one of Anthony’s friends, picked up a bouquet of peonies, and a jar of pickles from a newly opened book store. Towards the end of the day I think we had walked close to 12 miles, so we made our way back to our Bushwick home and treated ourselves to some pretty amazing Chinese takeout.
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