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.
The internet might be loaded with a ga-jillion recipes, but finding the great ones can still be a little bit of a needle in a haystack. My favorite way to find new recipes is to ask a random person what their cult favorites are. Bonus points if they claim to hate cooking, because these are the people who are only going to be excited for dishes that work with airtight reliability that are unquestionably worth your time. I have found so many gems this way; Marion Burros’s Purple Plum Torte (which, if you have not made yet, shut this browser tab and get to it, please), Cook Country’s Chicken and Dumplings, Jeremiah Tower’s Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin, this crazy simple beef braise and Ina Garten’s Lemon Cake. (If you ask me about mine, I might also up this curious tuna salad from the New York Times Magazine, this zucchini and almond saute). In more recent memory, it’s from asking around that I learned a lot people have a very deep fondness for a raw tomato sauce for a 2006 issue of the late Gourmet Magazine.
Among frozen summer desserts, granitas are a hard sell, not matter how you rename them. A coarse, grainy sorbet, they’re the shaved ice of the Italian food world. Sure, they’re insanely refreshing, require no churning and are probably the kind of thing you ought to be cooling off with on a very hot day, but who’d choose them over hot fudge sundae cakes, toasted marshmallow milkshakes, saltine crack ice cream sandwiches or key lime pie popsicles? Nobody we’re going to be friends with, for sure.
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.
Last November, I finally got my chicken noodle soup exactly the way I always wanted it but when I brought it to the table, I couldn’t eat it. This happens sometimes. Sometimes I just spend too much time working on a dish and I’m rather sick of it by the time we eat it, in only the way that a person with first world problems can be. I chalked it up to that. I did not chalk it up to the pregnancy I’d found out about approximately 15 minutes prior, because my mother never had morning sickness with either me or my sister, I never had morning sickness with my son, and certainly didn’t think it was going to happen because of a 16 day-old rapidly dividing and already beloved cluster of cells.
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.