For someone who is patently terrified of all the offerings in the deli case pasta salad universe — the tri-colore, mayo-slicked, sugar-sweetened, canned tuna-flecked, curry powder-ed, and dotted with green peppers, raisins or ohgodboth — I sure spend a spectacular amount of each summer trying to come up with cold pasta preparations I’d find agreeable. I know that there’s one out there I could love and could love me back, but although a few attempts have gotten me closer, and even temporarily sated, my perfect picnic pasta salad eluded me.
In the past, I have made the argument that all sorts of absurd things, from fruit crisps to slab pies, pizza, salade lyonnaise, risotto, stuffing (!), latkes, cookie bars and even shamelessly decadent cakes rolled in brown butter and cinnamon sugar deserve inclusion in the first meal of the day. You might say I have no shame at all. I might say that I cleverly rail against the narrow confines of that which we know as breakfast. You might say I’ve gone too far this time, but I’m going to do it anyway: I’m going to make the argument that breakfast popsicles deserve to become a thing.
The last time I incubated of future generation of my family, my OB’s office — a place you cumulatively spend a spectacular amount of time over the course of 40 weeks — was diagonally across the street from the Upper West Side Shake Shack, and I only ate there once. I understand if this means we can no longer be friends; I am personally embarrassed to know this about me too. Where were my priorities? I have spent years mourning this missed opportunity to not only eat a weekly Shackburger but to have made better use of my last weeks of kid-free leisurely lunches for years to come. The reason is even less sympathetic: I didn’t like hamburgers, or so I thought. They were so thick, so dauntingly large and one-note, so soft and damp inside, I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what made them popular.
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.
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.
I have a lot of feelings about lunch boxes, none of them especially genial. But as this teeny tiny person that I only just recently brought home from the hospital, barely able to utter a “beh” and now able to fill a 2-hour car ride back from a beach house with all the words every uttered (hm, wonder where he gets it) begins kindergarten this week, and will do so with a lunchbox in hand, I’ve realized that the only way to move forward with my grouchy feelings about lunch boxes is to air them here, in this town’s square, and then move on.