I am never a better citizen of the sidewalks of New York than I am when I have a newborn, or at least the variety we’ve been assigned twice now: those that can only be calmed by long walks in the stroller. And so we stroll, even though it’s unforgivably hot out, even though we rarely get out of the apartment early enough to enjoy those brief parts of the day when there’s an actual shady side of the street to hover on, even though we really don’t need anything else from the Greenmarket or anywhere else, we make up excuses so we have somewhere to go. On the best of days, we see people that we know and the neighborhood feels like something out of Mr. Rogers (although his is notably absent of the guy who yells outside my apartment all day about his superstitions and the clouds of secondhand decriminalized smoke we wade through). We bumped into my son’s old preschool teacher a few weeks ago, someone who likes to cook almost as much as me, and she said she’d recently made a big batch of caponata and had been having it with everything — for breakfast with an egg, in sandwiches for lunch and even with pasta for dinner and I thought that sounded absolutely brilliant. I just needed to learn how to make caponata.
We’ve rented a house at the beach this week, but we haven’t seen it because why would you leave your house if it had a pool like this in the backyard? Between this, and other things the only delight pathetic city people — the giant (charcoal!) grill, a washer and dryer and an entirely separate floor just for bedrooms, meaning that adults can converse at a notch above a whisper after children go to sleep — we have zero regrets. Plus, 7 week-olds, as everyone lies when they say, are so portable! I mean, they physically are, but our sardine-packed car on Friday with everything from a folding bassinet, crib, tub, reams of burp cloths, swaddling blankets and the most sigh-worthy collection of tiny rompers might tell a different story.
Is there anything more inspiring than a farmer’s market at the height of the summer, piled high with funky heirloom tomatoes, eggplants from fairytale to freakishly large, crinkly peppers, bi-color corn as far as the eye can see and stone fruits in every color of the rainbow? Wouldn’t this be a great time to cook with all of them? Isn’t it almost a moral imperative to fill our systems with as much of summer as we can before it passes and we spend the rest of the seasons pining for its return? Probably, I mean, yes, of course. But cravings are cravings, and what I’ve really been dreaming about is so-called Chinese food, like, the terrible stuff that comes unceremoniously in white boxes with an embarrassment of chopsticks (because they thought you were ordering for a dozen people, and not just the three of you). I’ve long accepted that if I don’t at least occasionally indulge cravings, they’re never going to pass.
Just when I thought if my appetite ennui became any more listless I might have to change lines of work, the greatest thing happened: I ran out of space. I mean, I am fully At Capacity right now with baby, there is literally not another inch of my midsection that this child can annex for his/her condo renovation or whatever it does at night (you hear that, darling? mama even ceded her belly button!) and this has shifted my appetite one final time, yet at last for the better. Meat is out, starchy carbs are out, I just can’t, they’re too heavy, and in their place are heaps of vegetables with a side order of All The Watermelon. For once, my timing is impeccable as this coincides with the full swing of local farmers markets, with freshly picked piles of summer everywhere you turn. I’ve been angling for as many all-vegetable meals as I can pull off — mixtures of our summer go-tos like this zucchini saute, caprese, quick-cooked corn, roasted baby potatoes with herbs, and pretty much anything green, roasted to a blistering crisp with lemon juice — with just enough chicken or sausage on the side to please the 2/3 of my family not currently repulsed by such things.
One of the things I’ve first-world struggled with since the beginning of this incubation period is a lack of appetite. Of course, there’s the glib side of me — great for managing weight gain! why “eat for two” if you can eat for half?! — but mostly, it’s a bummer. I thought that after the first trimester nausea passed, I’d be good to go and yes, I’m back to eating regular meals, but my enthusiasm has only returned in short bursts. Sure, I’ve shamelessly consumed all matter of crispy eggs with soy sauce, sesame oil and chile flakes (flipped only long enough to keep the food police at bay, or so I tell you). I will eat almost any green vegetable roasted to a blistering crisp with olive oil and salt and finished with lemon juice. Speaking of lemons, we go through homemade, barely sweet lemonade by the half-carafe. And some cravings are even fun; for example, “the baby wants ribs” was a text I sent out to friends a few weeks ago while led to a great deck party. But do you know when I sat down with my plate after an afternoon of carefully preparing three glorious racks of ribs, I could only eat one? It’s rather grim for a so-called food writer to go through life unmotivated by hunger and cravings, to have become a person who shrugs and says “Meh, whatever you want to eat is fine.” I don’t even know me.
Promise me something: The next time you see baby artichokes, whether in a 9- or 12-pack clamshell of indeterminate origin at your local supermarket or loose at your local farmer’s market (jealous, as ours won’t be here for some time), I want you to buy every single one of them. All of them. This is no time to share with the next customer or to be a good locavore citizen. Trust your local artichoke-obsessed food blogger on this one; without fail, they disappear for the season the moment you discover their awesomeness, which I hope we’re all about to do.
Regarding the ever-present stacks of cookbooks around the apartment, my mother joked to me on Sunday that I should open a library. She’s probably right. I don’t think that a week goes by that I don’t* receive at least one new cookbook and I hardly know where to dive in. And don’t get me wrong, I too swoon over the currently in-demand aesthetic of vertically oriented, dimly lit photos of reclaimed weathered barnwood tables boasting sauce splatters and variations on kale on matte pages bound in jacketless books. It’s just that they’re all starting to jumble together.