One of the saddest things you should probably know about me is that I’m a terrible host. I don’t mean to be; in my head, I’m the kind of person who would find out you were coming over, quickly gather some wildflowers from the side of the road, put them in an old Mason jar, pour-over some coffee from a local roaster, steam cream from an upstate dairy in a spouted glass and pull out something warm and enticing from the oven right as you arrived. In my head, I understand that none of these things are terribly difficult to pull off. In reality, were you to come over right now, you’d find a plate of pears (one with a toddler mouth-sized bite removed) and mostly-empty jar of something delicious, but alas, too delicious to have lasted until you arrived, on the table, a colossal explosion of wooden train tracks and fire station parts all over the carpet and a fireman in a time out (“What did he do?” I asked. “He did NOTHING!” I was informed. Well, then…). Also notable is the absent aroma of freshly-brewed coffee. Upon closer inspection, you might see that I don’t actually own any coffee-making apparatus. And not a single warm thing has left the oven this morning; we had stove-top oatmeal for breakfast again.
I understand that when a website but 5 11/12 years old boasts not one or two but eleven brownie recipes that it’s possible, perhaps, or at least worth considering that the brownie category: it’s been exhausted. The brownie beat reporter can retire. The archives are full. I get it, I do. Shouldn’t we be discussing blueberry pie, summer harvest tians or backyard grillery? Probably.
A few years ago, I conquered one of what has to be one of the seven wonders of my culinary world, chocolate babka. Babka, if you’re new to it, poor you, is a brioche-like sweet yeast cake, usually rolled thin and spiraled around a filling of chocolate, cinnamon, sweet cheese or fruit, and is often studded with streusel. And I know that most people save their gushing prose for lemon meringue pie, 8 inches high, or brownies with swirls of peanut butter, candied bacon and candy bars inside, I know that most people hadn’t heard of babka before it became a punch line, but Alex and I fondly remembering the grocery store chocolate babkas — with endless spirals slicked with bittersweet chocolate — of our childhood and I couldn’t rest until I cracked the code at home.
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.
Look, guys, you’re never going to see my living room on a design blog. As lovely as the walls in landlord-chosen sallow yellow-beige are, as handsome as this coffee table once was (before the finish chipped off the top and we decided to ignore it until it fixed itself), and as charming as the explosion of half-deflated balloons, overturned fire trucks and other toys (some not even wooden, organic, or in sync with our decorating scheme, which, by the way, doesn’t exist) might be, this is hardly the stuff of Pinners’ Envy. Our parties are equally uncoordinated. There are no Mason jar cocktails with homemade bitters, flour sack table runners, or dishes sprinkled with fresh herbs from our window box garden (which also, uh, doesn’t exist, although if you saw the grime that accumulates on our windowsills from the avenue below, you might thank us). We’ve never sent guests home with a party favor aside from a hangover and we usually forget to make coffee at brunch. Our poor toddler has been deprived of organized birthday parties thus far, as I secretly hoped to stick with family brunches and homemade cakes (of course) until he was capable of expressing even the slightest interest in a more elaborate affair. (Although this year, he’s already made his intentions clear: “Jacob turn three. With cake. And guitar. And cake.” Noted!)
You have all of your holiday shopping done, don’t you? I bet everything is wrapped and in gift bags, and that you know how to tie ribbons into bows without cursing. I suspect everyone but me knows how to… fluff? Is that what they call it? I bet everyone knows how to arrange the tissue paper inside the gift bags so that it looks perfectly festive and even a tad enthusiastic. I have a hunch that your gifts are homemade and hand-lettered; that you made your own cards. Oh, you didn’t? Well, come sit down over here. You’re among friends.
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.