One of the primary pieces of advice my grandmother imparted on me — besides the fact that she thought I should be a writer, an absurd idea I promptly ignored — was that one should always leave the house looking the best they can. I realize this might sound a little old-fashioned and possibly even oppressive — I Exist As More Than A Decorative Object, thankyouverymuch — but I took it to heart nonetheless because I know she didn’t mean high heels and rollers, but mostly that looking more with it than you might actually feel sometimes can trick you too.
Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday, I may look forward to stuffing, green bean casserole and all the pie the way normal people might anticipate Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day, but there is definitely a point — let’s call it right now — when I’m about at capacity with fresh fun ideas for soft orange vegetables and clever new ways to swim foods in puddles of rich sauces. Also, I still need to eat.
Several awesome things are happening this weekend: babysitting, the promise of assaulting my friends’ eyeballs with my latest hopeless attempt at “fashion” [a jumpsuit that fits perfectly enough now in month eight to only a give off a slight snake-that’s-swallowed-a-goat vibe — Google it. I’ll wait here, cracking up], a party that celebrates both some fight that I guess must be a big deal or something and, if that were not enough, the Kentucky Derby. Needless to say, all excuses to fete bourbon, mint, big hats and horsies are taken seriously around here, especially because it’s finally given me a chance to talk about the deliciousness that is Not Derby Pie.
Let me just get the obvious out of the way because I know what you’re thinking: what am I doing here? Shouldn’t I be packing for our move, which is less than 24 hours from now? These are all valid questions, but you see, there is history here, a long history of kitchen-related procrastination. Two days before our last move, I sheeted pasta and peeled favas. I spent the last week of my pregnancy stocking the freezer with foods to
bribe charm labor and delivery nurses with. When I was done with that, I made a cake for people coming to visit the new baby. When my induction was trudging along pitifully slowly, I pulled out my laptop and wrote up a new recipe I’d made in the days before. Thus, it should be no surprise that on Tuesday, with a totally straight face, I made the argument by turning the last splash of heavy cream, handful of chocolate chips and a half-pint of vanilla ice cream leftover from this into hot fudge sauce, I was “packing.” But yesterday, I didn’t even have an excuse; I just needed a break from having exasperating conversations a store that lost the mattress we ordered and could maybe get us a replacement sometime in September, arrgh.
Look, I have no business giving dating advice. Or marital advice. I didn’t, like, scope the scene or learn the rules or think big thoughts about what kind of person would be the right person for me when I walked into a bar 11 years ago and met this guy for a drink. Nevertheless, if you were to try isolate a single trait essential in a life partnership, I think you should look for a person who is pro-whim — that is, encourages you to have whims and pursue them, for better or for worse. Does that sound too abstract? Okay, fine; let me propose instead the Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Bar Test, which should be enlisted as follows. 1. Find a potential mate. 2. Say, “Do I need to good reason to make strawberry-rhubarb pie bars?” 3. If they answer, as mine did on Monday, “Nope. I think they’re always welcome,” you’re probably on the right track. If nothing else, your weekend is about to get tastier.
Last year, not seconds after putting the final touches on what I certain was The Lemon Bar To End All Lemon Bars, a recipe intended for that little cookbook I wrote, I couldn’t quite change the station and became immediately absorbed in making something I wanted to call a pink lemonade bar. They’d be as awesome as a summer carnival, the kind that rolls into town with sketchy rides that your parents forbid you to go on but you do so anyway (or so a friend once told me!), or maybe a play date at the friends house whose mom served prettier, thus cooler, lemonade than what you had at home. I had great plans for these bars, I just had one tiny problem: I had no idea what made pink lemonade pink.
Is there an unsaid rule that bar cookies have to be heavy and gooey? Two weeks ago, we picked up a cup of coffee on our way to the park so that the little monkey could continue his path of destruction outside our apartment, and I fell for something in the bakery case called peach shortbread, cut into bars. But instead of being thick and intense, it was delicate, light and barely sweet — a thin layer of shortbread, even thinner slices of peach and the faintest sprinkling of streusel on top. I knew I had to share it.