Every summer, I make a note on my Oh My God Good Vegetables Are Finally Here! cooking to-do list (what, you don’t keep one?) to post about how to make classic dill pickles. Every week they’re available, I pick up nearly a bucket of perfect-for-pickling kirby cucumbers from the Greenmarket for my cucumber-junkie family with the greatest intention of finally making good on this promise. And I never, ever do. It might be that the first couple times I tried, many years ago, my always-too-hot kitchen molded both jars, traumatizing me at the end of the jars’ incubation periods. It might be that because I live in NYC, when I want an insanely good sour pickle, I just go to The Pickle Guys on Essex Street or track down some from Guss’. Like bagels, killer soup dumplings, or Halal cart street meat, amazing pickles are in a category of food you have to be extremely driven and possibly cuckoo to make at home in NYC. I mean, I am, but apparently not enough.
On the very long list of things that I am convinced that other people do effortlessly while I typical flail and fail in the face of — dancing, running, walking from one room to another without forgetting what they were looking for — making dinner on a regular basis with a minimum of brow sweat and complaining is near the top.
New York City is a terrible place to summer. Whereas some water-bound towns have cool breezes rolling in off the ocean all day, we can better rely on the hot exhale of garbage trucks. Offices are set to roughly the same temperature as a polar ice cap, but subway platforms are so unfathomably sweltering that on my first day in NYC 14 years ago, I — adorably, like the wee baby New Yorker I was — uttered the words, “Is this even legal?” It’s a rare day that you don’t walk down the sidewalk and have a window a/c unit drip you-don’t-want-to-know run-off on your head. Flip-flops may cool your feet outside, but you may never recover from seeing the new color of your toes at the end of a day, and it always seems like everyone but me has Summer Fridays. The city tries, it really does, to make things more livable: the 14 beaches are free, there are dozens and dozens of free public pools, something like a zillion sprinkler parks, and you know all those endless photos you see of children frolicking in spraying fire hydrants? Hardly a symbol urban decay, it’s actually legal and encouraged. But the fact is that from July 4th on (and possibly earlier this year), anyone that has the means to be elsewhere is, and the rest of us plebes schvitz it out on the pavement.
Look, I have no business giving dating advice. Or marital advice. I didn’t, like, scope the scene or learn the rules or think big thoughts about what kind of person would be the right person for me when I walked into a bar 11 years ago and met this guy for a drink. Nevertheless, if you were to try isolate a single trait essential in a life partnership, I think you should look for a person who is pro-whim — that is, encourages you to have whims and pursue them, for better or for worse. Does that sound too abstract? Okay, fine; let me propose instead the Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Bar Test, which should be enlisted as follows. 1. Find a potential mate. 2. Say, “Do I need to good reason to make strawberry-rhubarb pie bars?” 3. If they answer, as mine did on Monday, “Nope. I think they’re always welcome,” you’re probably on the right track. If nothing else, your weekend is about to get tastier.
I have the most boring thing, ever, to tell you today (and clearly it’s not “how to write an enticing lede”): I tried not to eat bread for a couple months. Wait, come back! Let me explain. I don’t mean ever. I am not anti-carb or anti-dessert, nor is Wheat Belly our new idea of a good bedtime story; I am ever your gluten-full host. I remain certain that freshly-baked, crackly-crusted artisanal bread is one of the greatest things in the world; to turn it down a moderate serving of it when you’re able to enjoy it (chemically and all that) is a sacrilege. But that’s not really what most of our bread looks like, does it? Most often, bread is merely bookends on a sandwich, with the goal of making filling portable. Or, it’s toasted so that it can sop up butter, jam or a runny yolk, or crouton-ed to make a salad feel bulkier. It’s all too infrequently in and of itself noteworthy. These latter categories of bread were what I suspected I wouldn’t miss if when I challenged myself to skip them. That is, at least two meals a day: an ascetic, I am not.
With all due respect, I think you’ve been putting cheese on the wrong side of your grilled cheese sandwiches. Or, at the least, neglecting the better ones, the exteriors. Wait, hear me out. It’s basic food math that while cold cheese is good, warm cheese is better. But if you take that a step further — and if you’re new here, let me tell you: we will always take it a step further — you will agree that melted cheese is better than warm cheese, and the melted cheese that rolls off a piece of sandwich bread and sizzles on a skillet, browning and crisping, is the top of the cheese tower… A place I’d very much like to live. Do you think a cheese tower might exist somewhere? Might it be France? Now I’m picturing an Eiffel Tower made out of cheese and what were we talking about? Oh right: melted and browned cheese wins, really for the same reason that browned butter trumps regular butter: the fats melt away from the dairy solids and toast them until they’re caramelized and achingly delicious and you forget why you’d ever eat it any other way. Don’t fight it.
Growing up, we made popsicles by pouring orange juice into these molds, letting them freeze and eating them outside so we didn’t sticky up the kitchen floor. But when I first bought these popsicles molds a year ago, did I put juice in them? No. I started dreaming about frozen cherry cheesecake popsicles and key lime pie paletas. I became obsessed with recreating the creamsicles of my youth, but only if the outside layer was orange and the middle was white. I began scratching out recipes for rum-mango-coconut popsicles, roasted peach and frozen yogurt on a stick and strawberry black pepper frozen ices that might taste like one of my favorite summer cocktails.