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.
Last week, when it was ninety million degrees in New York City and all the sane people were cracking open fire hydrants, grilling on their roof decks and/or sticking their faces in their wheezing air conditioner units, I looked around my shoebox kitchen, with its half-counter and miniature oven, considered the sheer volume of items left on my to-do that I’d never get done and said, “Clearly, this is the day for me to make an 11-layer dobos torte.” Because my birthday was two days away and that seemed as good as any to sever what frayed tethers I had left to my sanity. [Plus, I already had cleaning help!]
I have a tremendous crush on Matt Armendariz. It’s awkward, I know. I’m married, he’s married; I have a kid, he has dog children. It’s okay, my husband knows. He took a picture of Matt with his shirt half off a couple years ago, so I think we’re even. Fortunately for those who are now reading this uncomfortably at home, hoping this conversation ends quickly, my crush is more of a talent crush: Matt is a former graphic designer and art director and currently a food photographer, author and the man behind the Matt Bites blog. His photography is amazing, all natural light and unfussy, but what I find more addictive than anything else is his outlook, his energy for life. It’s hard to spend 5 minutes with him without getting hooked on his enthusiasm for family, good friends, great food and a life well lived with lots of travel to far-flung places. Seriously, he even went to Avery Island, Louisiana to learn how Tabasco is made. And didn’t take my husband with him. Alex is almost over it.