For reasons I cannot — for once, I mean, good riddance — articulate, I spent half the summer, the half I was gestating this tiny moppet, with a nonstop craving for broccoli cheddar soup, something I’d never actually eaten before. I think a comment got it started and even though I can no longer find it, I’ll never forgive it. Sure, I had heard of the soup, but it always seemed to be in that category of foods it was better not to investigate. I mean, just consider all of the ways our lives have been ruined by finding how ridiculous brown butter and sea salt flakes are in crispy treats, or what happens when you make saltine crack into an ice cream sandwich, or butter in tomato sauce. I didn’t want to know why a cheddar cheese soup base was an obsession of so many people.
It’s a shame bread has taken a beating over the last decade or so, because there’s little on this earth — I mean, save the obvious stuff, babies in hippo onesies, world peace — that makes me happier than the aroma rolling off a slice from a freshly baked loaf. So when I went on my bender of frenetic-nesting-by-way-of-freezer meals this summer, I also made a couple loaves of sandwich bread to stash away.
September has always been my favorite month. The grimy, relentless sauna that is New York City in August finally lifts and we can almost always count on a solid week (or more) of impossibly sunny low-humidity days that I consider my personal obligation — as happy repentance for all the above griping — to spend entirely outdoors. My best memories are from Septembers; this may sound weird, but I remember going to work on the morning that nobody knew yet would be 9/11 and thinking it was as clear-skied and gorgeous out as a day could ever be. Two years later, I met my husband on that day. Six years and a few days after that, we met our baby boy, and I distinctly remember checking into the hospital on a hot summer day and checking out three days later when it was unquestionably fall, disoriented.
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.