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.
It’s been 29 weeks since I first made this avocado and cucumber salad, which means two things: it predates this news, meaning that all of my theories about this kid making me crave avocado, grapefruit, and chocolate are perhaps completely bogus, elaborate projections on my part. Two, I’ve probably made it 29 times since then and never shared it with you, which is a huge shame. I’m clearly addicted to it, but every time I went to take a few photos and write it out in recipe format, I convinced myself it was too simple to make a big deal of. You know, as if what anyone has ever asked for in their life is more complicated recipes and fewer 5-minute salads worth obsessing over.
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.
I have learned over the years that people have strong opinions about the combination of chocolate and fruit. I don’t judge, I mean, I have strong opinions about pretty much everything, such as the combination of pumpkin and chocolate (no), sea salt-flecked cookie lids (delicious but ftlog, only with a light hand), syrup on pancakes (only if the pancakes aren’t sweet), and how many episodes in a row it’s acceptable to consume of city.ballet. when you’re sick for the fourth day in a row (all of them, what kind of question is that?). What I’m saying is, pretty much the only thing I don’t have rigid views on is the combination of chocolate and fruit.
January, as far as I’m concerned, is a pretty mediocre month. The holiday party tinsel-and-bubbly frenzy of November and December is replaced with hibernation and Netflix binges. The charming first and second snowstorms pass and the ones that follow are met with more of a really? it’s snowing again? Squarely between Christmas and mid-Winter break, it’s too early in the season to be so weary of the cold, but here I am, counting down the days until the hi/bye gloves can literally come off.
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.