Few frequent flyers fly as frequently as Marianne Malina. As president of the influential Austin-based ad agency GSD&M, with high-profile clientele including the likes of Popeyes and Universal Parks & Resorts, she’s constantly on the road — or in the sky. On top of that, Malina jokes, she doesn’t just travel for work: “The problem is we travel for pleasure, too.” She’s spent extended time in Amsterdam and Greece (though in retrospect, she recommends living in places that have tacos). And even within the week leading up to a recent rendezvous with Edible Austin, Malina had visited Mexico, Detroit and Plano.
That said, Malina is an Austinite through and through. She stocks a fridge with Rambler Sparkling Water and maintains a stock of local favorites in everything from coffee (Anderson’s Coffee Co.) to yogurt (White Mountain Bulgarian). She even wears a locally found shirt, shoes and skirt for our get-together in her home. So give the longtime creative the choice to spend one day in any single location, and she’s standing in it.
"My favorite days are when I don’t leave the house, and the kitchen is by far my favorite place. It’s my art studio," Malina says. "I don’t have a plan — no, 'Oh, I’m going to make this today.' I just look at what I have and start making stuff. If I make breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I don’t leave the house, it’s amazing. One of my favorite things to do.”
Watching Malina navigate her spacious and sleek wood-accented kitchen, it’s clear she enjoys what “studio” time she gets. With a thin spatula acting as her de facto brush, she handles the griddle seemingly without looking while regaling the Edible Austin team with stories like the time she worked on a scuba-diving expedition boat in the Red Sea. And as you might expect, all that creativity she puts to use in her day job tends to surface in the kitchen, too.
Case in point: The Green Drink. The Malina household’s now-standard juice first came about because of an abundance of greens in their monthly farmers market box and her need to find a more palatable Trojan horse for her husband into the world of veggie-forward eating. And though the formula remains basically the same — kale, almonds (for a wonderful, slightly grainy texture), almond milk and a smidge of banana with optional ingredients including salt, honey and the Juiceland-suggested frozen cauliflower — the drink works as a microcosm for Malina’s overall culinary approach. It leverages good local ingredients, keeps flavors simple and, well, proves to be quite ephemeral.
“The real truth is I don’t measure anything, and I really don’t follow recipes,” Malina says. “My husband has a saying: ‘This is so good, Marianne … we’re never going to have it again, are we?’ I’ll open the drawer, take what I have and just make it — so he’s right. We’ll never have it again.”
The Green Drink happens to work best as part of Malina’s favorite food category: breakfast. Growing up in Portland, OR, she recalls that her father, a master carpenter, would wake up early to cook bacon, eggs and sausage as the necessary fuel for a full and physical day. For Malina, breakfast remains one of the most reliable times she can get her family all together, over coffee and The Green Drink before they disperse to their own full days.
That reality may be why Malina especially cherishes her occasional weekend routine: making pancakes. Partially inspired by the delicious batters and doughs of places like Paris and San Francisco, where locals swear it’s due to “something in the water,” Malina makes “true Austin pancakes” by using local sparkling water in her batter. (Once upon a time that meant Topo Chico; these days it’s Rambler.) The carbonation creates a lighter, airier pancake in the end, and Malina has the perfect crisped edge down to a science (she says to use butter, flip ’em when the batter bubbles start to pop and aim for smaller pancakes to better control temperatures). Accordingly, the Malina house has become a popular sleepover destination for her son’s friends.
The only way these effortlessly edible cakes get better is if Malina is making them later in the calendar year. That’s the only time when Malina’s favorite local Austin product — Gigi’s Peach Preserves — is available. Using a recipe that goes back at least two generations of Malinas, she and a small army of cousins clean, chop and stew peaches from Stonewall, Texas, while Ida “Gigi” Malina (Marianne’s mother-in-law) oversees the entire operation. Dolloped onto a stack of pancakes, the preserves were everything you’d dream a multi-generation Texan family recipe would be: rich, indulgent, well-textured and so good you’d eat it on just about anything. Malina notes that cheese, toast and PB&Js are popular alternative carriers for the preserves, and luckily Gigi is so gracious she agreed to share the recipe publicly.
Taken all together, an afternoon spent in Malina’s kitchen makes it easy to understand why — despite a line of work that requires frequent world travel — her happy place remains right next to her fridge full of Rambler.
“I could be on a conference call, pull into the driveway and have 5,762 emails in my inbox, and I walk in here and start to do this and forget about all that,” she says. “Cooking is a relaxation tool that a lot of people use. It’s also highly satisfying, and you do ultimately get a reward from it.”
Photogpraphy by Melanie Grizzell. Story by Nathan Mattise