Last night I wrestled insulators onto our outdoor faucets with my stiff fingers and thought about winter. I struggle at this time of year. I never seem to click over to the scourge known as daylight savings time; I nod off early in the evening – even for me – then awaken in foul temper, a couple hours before the sun can be bothered to appear. Though, with the recent cold, there have been clear days – a sweet reprieve from our usual long, sodden darkness.
Besides the shivers, I have also had writer’s block, but thankfully, not Eater’s block. The season has provided opportunities to feast in fashions both lavish and restrained. Yes, you can feast with restraint; as I edge ever-nearer to the half century mark, enjoying a meal while keeping my corset laced yields more positive results.
The late fall began with a party at my sister’s – a send-off for a beloved housemate and friend. I was charged with bringing cake. You won’t be surprised to hear that I am similarly charged, with some regularity. I made an old favorite: chocolate ganache drenched vanilla cake filled with marzipan and apricot jam. I sound like I am showing off, but I hardly ever make this, and after all the labor, the results were underwhelming.
This cake has been an opiate of the masses in the past, but on this occasion, it was dense and gluey. This let-down inspired me to research a new white cake recipe. I was happy with the resulting amalgam of two Mark Bittman recipes, and decked it with roasted rhubarb frosting,* creating a pink sensation for my dad’s birthday get-together with his siblings. You may notice the frosting is not completely emulsified, and I am open to advice about this. I am MaryCake, but my icings can be decidedly un-merry (still delicious though).
And then Thanksgiving came and I slaved, and shlepped, and…actually I did no such thing. I gave up on holiday martyrdom years ago. I did make fresh cranberry-pineapple salad, which remains as thrillingly zesty as when my mom first made her rendition, thirty years ago. I was in charge of stuffing, (it’s theoretical stuffing, since we don’t stuff our turkey) and I was working on the curd for our now traditional key lime pie, when my oldest took over and finished it. We used crushed meyer lemon cookies for the crust this time. My husband assumed responsibility for the turkey years ago and he does a perfect job. My oldest also made pumpkin biscuits, adorable pecan tarts, and mashed potatoes. Next year I will spend the holiday alone in Barbados – they don’t need me!
At the risk of sounding like the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving, (Don’t we all have some grudging admiration for that guy? Talk about a heist!) I don’t actually like pumpkin pie anymore. Pie crusts are meant to contain berries and custards, not tubers and gourds – for me anyway. But our guests are always horrified at this, and will bring a pumpkin pie, rather than suffer through the meal without one waiting at the end with its confusing texture and odd color. We are now a BYOPP house. Unless you love baking pumpkin pie, try threatening your guests and family with its absence. Someone will rise to the occasion.
I don’t want to miss the season; I want to be alive to every frosty sparkle, grateful for every ice-coated leaf. But then, as I told my husband, I also want to take part in a scientific study of human hibernation. I picture myself in a cave, snoring away in an ursine heap, looking like an enormous muppet in my green, fuzzy robe. Everyone would be terrified to disturb me for fear of my ensuing rotten mood and bared teeth.
Shhhhh. Nudge me when it’s Spring.
*The frosting recipe comes from Yottam Ottelenghi and Helen Yoh’s Sweet.