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.
If this site could have a single prologue, it would go like this: It all started out so innocently. Because doesn’t it always? I wanted something simple but got carried away. A search for a lasagna I could love became a Mount Everest of a Lasagna Bolognese; a hankering for a great game-day snack became a mash-up of Welsh rarebit and pull-apart rye bread; and a hunt for a quiche that could serve a crowd became a 4 1/2 year vendetta until I triumphed over those 137 square inches of buttery flaky shell. Okay, I’m being a little dramatic. I’m likely scaring away people who just wanted something simple to cook (I promise, the next recipe will be so simple, you might, like me, weep and wonder where it’s been every rushed weekday night of your life thus far.)
At last, I have a new recipe for you in the heavily neglected category of Russian food. How could this have happened, you ask? Are you not married to a Russian? Does your son not respond to the question “Would you like to go to the library?” with “Da!”? Are you not still in love with all of the Russian food you’ve encountered in your (holy wow) 8 1/2 years of courtship? And the answer is very simple: I needn’t cook Russian food because my mother-in-law does it so well.
Saturday night, New York City was the loudest I’d heard it in a long time. I should preface this by saying that I live in a noisy part of an already noisy neighborhood and under the best of circumstances — NYU students gone for the summer, long holiday weekend, rain — there’s always a Saturday night ruckus. But this was something else. This woke me up. I swear, I heard a trumpet, more sirens than feasibly possible, people cheering like the Yankees had won the World Series (did they? no wait, something about football?) and when I went to the window, I saw a Vespa go down the sidewalk and I couldn’t get back to sleep. For the eve of such a somber anniversary, there was hardly anyone bummed out after midnight. I like that about this place, even grudgingly, even at 1 am.