I realize this might not look like much. It probably looks suspiciously like a salad, which means it’s probably going to be the last kid picked for your holiday cooking olympics. It doesn’t taste like ginger, linzer or crushed candy canes. It smacks of January Food, the stuff of resolutions and repentance, and there’s no time for that now. But I need to tell you about it anyway, urgently, because the preoccupation with this salad has hit me so intensely, so wholly, it’s basically the only thing I want to eat, and since I’m ostensibly the grownup here, this is exactly what I’m going to do.
Cranberries are, for me, one of the best things about late fall and they show up right in time, just as all of the other colors disappear. The ginkgo trees, always one of the last November holdouts, simultaneously ejected their green/yellow leaves last week and ever since, pretty much everything outside is looking rather… greige, but not like the charming shade of the boots I want. And then, out of nowhere, perfect red berries appear and things look up.
Prior to last month, I had spent exactly zero minutes of my life thinking about date cake, craving date cake or noting the absence of date cake in my life and/or site archives. Clearly, this was a misstep on my part, but I’d always assumed they were exceedingly sticky sweet, and also, well warm. I should just stop right here rather than confessing the latest entry in How Weird Are Deb’s Food Tastes?, I know I should, but that’s never stopped me before so here goes: I’m not very into warm, quivery desserts. Like soufflés. And oozy chocolate cakes. I basically don’t understand how I survived the 90s either. I understand if this means you cannot speak to me anymore.
There are recipes on my Cook This list that I’ve been plotting for years but take forever to jump from that place where they’re a rough idea of how I think something might taste good and how I’ll make that happen. There are items on the list which are just the names of dishes I haven’t tried yet and want to learn more about. And there are recipes that make me kick myself every time I see them because how have we not made a good hearty tortilla soup here yet? And where is that Russian napoleon I’ve been promising you? But this here is none of the above. Exactly one month ago, someone emailed me (hi Angela!) and asked if I had ever made a German Sunken Apple Cake [which sounds even cooler in its native language: Versunkener Apfelkuchen] and I had barely finished reading the email before I had a new tab open because I had to immediately know what it was.
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.
I had a friend in town this week and just when we were at the point in the conversation when we’d usually pick a place to meet for lunch, something terrible happened. Caught up in a moment where I forgot that I am me and not, say, Ina Garten, I suggested he come over and I’d make lunch for us instead. I realized I’d lost my ever-loving mind. Sure, I’d like to be the kind of person who makes “just lunch, nothing fancy!” for friends on a whim but I am not. I don’t really do “whim” cooking, as a website with nearly 918 intricately detailed recipes in its archives might evidence. Plus, I had so many recipes I was overdue to test out — a lemonade, a salad, a tart and I’d been promising my son I’d make chocolate pudding for weeks, not to mention the daily grind of breakfast, lunchbox and dinner — that I felt like I had no time to cook anything extra.
To unforgivably botch something great, if all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone, I’m starting to believe that all of Smitten Kitchen’s problems stem from my inability to leave exquisitely simple things like berries and cream alone. Or maybe it’s about me being unable to sit in a room alone with strawberries and cream and not eat them? One thing is clear; I think we know better than to entrust me with the work of great philosophers ever again. I’m sorry, Pascal.