Theoretically, we are supposed to move this Saturday, but evidence is mounting — in the form of a kitchen without countertops or appliances, a toilet in the middle of the living room, and a peeling, black bathtub that looks like the kind place you’d find a horror movie victim — that it might not happen. Did I mention the great plume of drywall dust from the doorway they’re sawing out of a wall today? Nothing that 48 hours can’t sort out, right?
Were you about to make a pie for this weekend? Stop. I think you should join me in abandoning Team Pie for Team Galette; you won’t regret it. It’s not like we haven’t had our share of exceptional vegetable galettes, but save a nectarine version in the archives and a cherry-almond riff in the book, I usually defaulted to pie when it came to fruit, round, slabbed or cookie-ed. But last week, when we had an excess of blueberries on our hand because someone (cough) cannot control herself when anything first graces the Greenmarkets, it all felt like so much work — all of that dough, sugar, crimping and weaving and trimming, baking time, plus I have no idea where my pie dishes are, they’re probably being used as a play-doh receptacle somewhere. A galette would never do this to you.
Today is my sister’s birthday. Every year, I ask her what kind of cake I can make her and do you know what she says? “I don’t want a cake. I just want a big bowl of vanilla bean custard.” I hope you understand how hard this is for me (and please read that back in your brattiest little sister voice; it is, after all, all about me, right?) Making elaborate birthday cakes for family and friends is my thing. It has launched an entire section of this site, and portion of my cookbook (which includes my son’s 2nd, my husband’s 37th and 38th, and maybe even your next birthday cakes, too). I delight in trying to find a layered summary of everyone’s favorite things that fits in a cake carrier, and I think it’s awfully mean of my sister to deny me this outlet every August 30th. (Huff. Puff.) A bowl of custard? There’s not much to say about it.
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.
I had a little crisis on Father’s Day, and unlike the week that proceeded it, it did not relate to a feverish toddler who landed himself in our bed (and proceeded to be well enough at 5 a.m. to stand up and announce the different parts of our face as he poked them “NO” “EYEAR” “AYE” “MOUF”), the gutting of our (single) bathroom so that plumbers could access a wayward pipe in the building or the thin film of dirt left on every surface of every room when they were done working. No, by Father’s Day, most of those things had thankfully righted themselves, leaving only crises of less grave proportions: the blueberry pancakes I’d always known and loved no longer worked for me.
When blueberries first show up at the market, it feels like sacrilege to bake with them — ditto with raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. Mother Nature made them perfect! Why drown them in batter, wilt them with heat and then leave them out to dry? What brutes we’d be! But there’s a day in August — I think it might have been yesterday* — when something shifts. The high for the day is in the 60s, you run out to the market and what is this? Did you wish you’d brought your cardigan? How strange! And all of a sudden the prospect of a berry baked into something warm and cozy, that you might eat with your first hot coffee of the season, seems very right.