When it comes to large family gatherings, no matter how much I humble-brag about my brisket, roasted vegetable sides or the way I know my way around a salad, I am always instead nominated to bring desserts. So, like a certain Phoebe on cup-and-ice duty that I will date myself by referencing, I take things very seriously, in part because I have a lot of rules for Passover desserts. The first is that that whatever dessert I make cannot include even a speck of matzo meal. I’m sorry, I realize this is a sensitive topic and I should tread more carefully, but I find the taste of matzo meal just awful in anything but matzo ball soup. My difficult palate aside, I also figure if I’m going to go through the effort to come up with something new (and hopefully better) in the flourless department, it would be of more use to more people were it also gluten-free, so that’s the second rule. The final rule is that I want the dessert to be good enough that I’d choose it any other day of year. It can’t just be good for a Passover dessert. It can’t just be good for something gluten-free. It has to be objectively good. Really, shouldn’t everything be?
Three weeks ago, we together rolled our eyes because it seemed like everyone was either celebrating spring (pea tendrils! meyer lemons!) or on vacation without us, cluttering our social media feeds with shiny, happy scenes on distant beaches. We had a brief but unequivocally necessary pity party because while we were stuck here, shivering, with a fresh layer of sleet accumulating outside. We consoled ourselves with blood orange margaritas.
Yesterday, our little bear turned three which, you know, is impossible since we are unequivocally certain that we just brought him home from the hospital yesterday. Seriously, right here, through the door to my right and we put the carrier that he was sleeping deeply within on the table. It looked strange there [Also, we were hungry and unsure of the logistics — is it rude to eat lunch while your newborn is on the table? Isn’t it worse to place him on the floor?] Sure, there were one or two hundred fewer fire engine parts, stuffed hedgehogs and train tracks scattered across the living room carpet, and maybe we looked a little younger and better-rested; I probably didn’t have my iPhone wedged between sofa cushions the way I do right now so that my talking-walking-doing things mini-human couldn’t co-opt it to watch Elmo videos again (how does he find them?), but otherwise, nothing has changed. Nothing! Don’t say it. Didn’t your mother teach you to never argue with crazy people?
Last year, I brought a flag cake to a 4th of July rooftop barbecue. Earlier in the week, I’d harbored fantasies about making an elaborate ice cream cake or layered berry yogurt popsicles or salads teetering on the edge of food safety standards but New York City, as it always seems to be in the first week of July, was at the crest of a week-plus of ever-increasing temperatures and stickiness, a summit where it tends to linger for a few even more airless days before finally releasing the thunder and lightening, sinking the mercury back to a brief day or two of something resembling temperate before it starts the climb again. What, me? No fan of NYC summers? Where would you get such an idea?
Our toddler left us. Or, at least until Friday. Over the last 2 3/4 years, we’ve occasionally been blessed with the chance to go away for a few days sans bébé. We return well-rested and smiling, sandy grit in the bottom of our suitcases, traces of whatever had vexed us before we left deliciously eviscerated from memory, and almost giddy with excitement to start scraping spaghetti from the underside of the high chair again. But this is the first time — with barely a “Sayonara!” as he ran out the door or a single “Wish you were here!” postcard from the road — that Jacob has headed out for lazier climes without us. He’s spending a week at the mountain retreat of Camp Grandparents, where he’s forced to endure petting zoos, baby pools, wide expanses of fresh air, nonstop adoration, and, no doubt, all of the ice cream he can talk them into.
Almost every year, as soon as the weather gets warm, I become obsessed with a simple, single layer cake that can be made in little time and that I promise will be all you need to be welcome at any picnic/barbecue/cook out/pot-luck that summer.
There are rainy, dreary, energy depleted days when the best thing you can do at 3 p.m. is to stop pretending that anything short of chocolate cake is going to improve your outlook. Tuesday was that kind of day and, just my luck, this happened to be a rainy Tuesday kind of chocolate cake.