For reasons I cannot adequately put my finger on, if you show up to a potluck or picnic this weekend with carafes of freshly-squeezed lemonade, you will be welcomed and adored, but if you show up with the same carafes of freshly-made pink lemonade, people will actually freak out. Why is pink lemonade so much more exciting than the pale yellow that accurately depicts the lemons from which it is derived? It’s a mystery to me as well but I — a person who does not own a single pink garment and likes to consider myself immune to pastel-tinted charms — will always reach for it first.
Almost exactly 5 years ago, in celebration us both signing contracts to write cookbooks, I met a friend* for lunch at a burger joint called The Stand on East 12th Street, and we finished the meal with something the menu declared a toasted marshmallow milkshake. I don’t remember a thing about the burger, but I do know that pretty much every conversation I had in the weeks that followed went like this: “The weather is so nice today!” “It would be perfect for a toasted marshmallow milkshake, don’t you think?” “How is your son sleeping these days?” “Did I tell you about this toasted marshmallow milkshake I had? Let me tell you about this toasted marshmallow milkshake I had.” “Can you believe this Deepwater Horizon mess?” “Toasted marshmallow milkshake, toasted marshmallow milkshake toasted marshmallow milkshake.” You could argue it had some impact on me.
There are a lot of great reasons to make your own soda syrup. You can use real sugar, rather than the HFCS devil that lurks in most bottles. You can make flavors that make you happy, from real seasonal ingredients with complexity and intensity, and you can use up excesses of things in your fridge like, say, the time you assumed strawberries being on sale meant that you were going to eat a few pounds of them before they went bad. You can use the syrup as a foundation for cocktails, because it’s Friday and baby, you’ve earned it, and you can package bottles up as gifts for friends, because you’re just that awesome of a person.
In the almost six years since I last waddled around in the name of procreation — I know, I make it sound so glowy and glamorous — to my delight, two things in particular have changed: 1. You can now get maternity pants that have almost all of the dignity of regular ones, thanks to small elastic panels above each pocket that frankly would be as welcome the day after Thanksgiving as they are now that I’m approaching the six-month mark and people no longer believe me when I said I just had a really big lunch. (However, a New York-specific rule remains: you’re not actually “big” until someone willingly cedes his or her seat on the subway for you, by which standards, I must be svelte. Hey, I’ll take it.) 2. More pertinently to the scope of a cooking website, a whole lot of bars are making really great mocktails.
As far as Christmas songs go, Fairytale of New York is pretty bleak. Instead of chestnuts on the open fire, horses come in 18 to 1; instead of white Christmases, morphine drips; instead of coming home for the holidays, one waits them out in drunk tanks. It’s not the stuff of greeting cards. And yet, for a whole lot of people, myself included, it wouldn’t be December without The Pogues 1987 holiday anti-ballad on repeat. It comes in handy when you’re feeling a little grinchy* about the season; there’s something of a relief in a song where nobody does anything right but aren’t pretending things are any other way. The sentiments are honest, and in a way, a little magical, choirs and bells and bands in the street, imagining better times and better years ahead.
Here is how I’ve made hot chocolate for most of my life: heat some milk in a saucepan, add a bit of unsweetened cocoa and sugar and whisk. Form lumps. Be unable to break up lumps. Get frustrated, try again, this time slowly slowly slowly whisking milk into cocoa and sugar, hoping to form something of a cocoa roux. Heat mixture until steamy and drink merrily, trying to ignore faint background of chalkiness. Hooray for cocoa?
I began this summer by expressing, in no uncertain terms, just how terrible New York City summers really are — sticky airlessness occasionally broken up by eerily refreshing droplets of cool water on your head that turn out to be filthy window a/c run-off, and you know, given that NYC lets people with absolutely no relevant skills install their own window a/c units, you might not want to walk underneath them at all, is all I’m saying. Right, I’ve digressed again. I think I hoped that if I aired my grievances about summer early and unflinchingly, I could get through the season without my least favorite of my writing tics, whining about the weather.