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.
Ice Cream/Sorbet Archive
The problem, if there could be one, is that if a 30-something with a kid out of diapers ever says to a group of people, “I have news!” certain presumptions are made. So, to quell any wild ideas before they take off, no, this is not that kind of news. I’m sorry; we’re bummed too.
Within reason, I think if you’re craving something, you should go for it, although this theory is mostly born of my own poor logic. I’ve all too many times craved, say, a brownie but thought I shouldn’t eat a brownie and so instead snacked on (just for a completely random example) 12 almonds, 1 slice of cheese, half an apple, 1 banana and then, oops, a handful of chocolate chips, amounting roughly 3x the calories of a brownie, a brownie that I craved exactly as much as I did 500 calories ago. And so, when I really want a brownie, I make my favorite brownies and we each eat one and then I stash the rest in the freezer, so they are not out on the counter, calling to me that we haven’t been cut in a straight line and you should really even us out or we’re going to go bad soon and you don’t want us to go to waste or any of those things that brownies tell me when we’re alone together.
I realize that given the sheer number of two and three-layered, springform-bound and buttercream-shellacked celebration cakes I keep in the archives, you’d imagine that I had some pretty spectacular birthday cakes growing up. You’d be correct, but they were almost never homemade, not because I was suffering from cake-neglect, but because the only one I requested every year for my birthday was an ice cream cake, preferably from Carvel. Okay, insistently from Carvel, you know, the one in the strip mall at the end of the main road. The Carvel ice cream cake was, to me, as perfect as a June birthday cake could be — a layer each of chocolate and vanilla ice creams, separated by a smattering of Oreo-ish cookie rubble, coated with a suspiciously unbuttery buttercream and scattered with colored sprinkles. It was perfect. I loved it. I saw no reason anything should ever change.
One of my favorite desserts on this planet (yes, we’re going for High Melodrama today, also, it’s that wonderful) is affogato, which translates from Italian as “drowned.” The lucky drowner is top-notch vanilla gelato, and it is draped in a single shot of freshly-pulled espresso. I see you arching your eyebrows and you are full of questions, aren’t you? Isn’t that horribly bitter? Doesn’t it melt the ice cream? How can it be your favorite dessert if it has neither butter nor chocolate with it? All are legitimate concerns but the thing is, when it’s done right — and there really is a magical balancing point between the volume of ice cream and the amount of espresso, that is, sadly, rarely achieved — the resulting mess is a semi-slumped mound of cold and sweet vanilla cream with a trench of faintly bitter latte around it. It is the ultimate grownup dessert — sure, you get the ice cream you’ve been angling for after dinner since you were 3.5, but you also get a bracing hit of espresso, just enough to keep you up past your bedtime, you know, when all the fun begins.
Look, guys, you’re never going to see my living room on a design blog. As lovely as the walls in landlord-chosen sallow yellow-beige are, as handsome as this coffee table once was (before the finish chipped off the top and we decided to ignore it until it fixed itself), and as charming as the explosion of half-deflated balloons, overturned fire trucks and other toys (some not even wooden, organic, or in sync with our decorating scheme, which, by the way, doesn’t exist) might be, this is hardly the stuff of Pinners’ Envy. Our parties are equally uncoordinated. There are no Mason jar cocktails with homemade bitters, flour sack table runners, or dishes sprinkled with fresh herbs from our window box garden (which also, uh, doesn’t exist, although if you saw the grime that accumulates on our windowsills from the avenue below, you might thank us). We’ve never sent guests home with a party favor aside from a hangover and we usually forget to make coffee at brunch. Our poor toddler has been deprived of organized birthday parties thus far, as I secretly hoped to stick with family brunches and homemade cakes (of course) until he was capable of expressing even the slightest interest in a more elaborate affair. (Although this year, he’s already made his intentions clear: “Jacob turn three. With cake. And guitar. And cake.” Noted!)
You have all of your holiday shopping done, don’t you? I bet everything is wrapped and in gift bags, and that you know how to tie ribbons into bows without cursing. I suspect everyone but me knows how to… fluff? Is that what they call it? I bet everyone knows how to arrange the tissue paper inside the gift bags so that it looks perfectly festive and even a tad enthusiastic. I have a hunch that your gifts are homemade and hand-lettered; that you made your own cards. Oh, you didn’t? Well, come sit down over here. You’re among friends.