Melty popsicles on the first weekend of September. Banana popsicles, to be exact, with a little bourbon and brown sugar. Thoughts of an Indian summer, a little jaunt here in one week, and choosing to linger — over morning coffee, evening drinks, a good book. Choosing not to linger over the television, online to-do lists, or starting to think about the holidays.
Last week I read a little Anne Lamott piece (via Molly) that spoke to this idea of choosing what you want to linger over or focus on. She talks about how the feeling of being busy all of the time is actually addictive–how much we all like to feel connected at all hours of the day, thriving on multi-tasking and creating little efficient systems around things that don’t necessarily need systems. She says, “Time is not free—that’s why it’s so precious and worth fighting for.” I read this right after I finished a hot-and-heavy texting conversation with my sister Zoe about hurricane Irene. Zoe lives in Manhattan and was writing to ask why I hadn’t checked in on her yet. Didn’t I know she was leaving her apartment to go stay with my aunt and uncle? Didn’t I know that the grocery stores were all sold out of food? That this could actually be big. The truth was I didn’t know. I had no idea.
My excuse? I don’t have cable. Sarcastically Zoe asked if my internet was broken, too. Had I been drinking all day, she wondered. I explained I’d been baking for the farmers market and it just wasn’t on my radar. She only sort of bought it. I think she still would’ve liked a “checking in” text or call. Fair enough. But I have to say, there’s something really, really nice about not having TV and getting to choose what information you look up and seek out. To fight for a little bit of time. While I wasn’t on the verge of breaking hurricane news, I seem to generally do just fine. I looked up where Irene was slated to land and checked in with The New York Times occasionally. But I did miss a lot of the good shots with news anchors and their flailing umbrellas. True. Speaking in general terms, Anne Lamott says, “No one needs to watch the news every night, unless one is married to the anchor. Otherwise, you are mostly going to learn more than you need to know about where the local fires are, and how rainy it has been: so rainy!” So much of it is largely noise.
When I lived in the city by myself for a few brief months searching for employment and nursing a broken heart, I liked to have the TV on for background noise. It made me feel less lonely. It made the apartment feel much less quiet. And I thought I’d feel the same way here in my Oakland apartment, but months ago I realized I didn’t. I cancelled cable but the TV still sat there completely untouched. Now it’s shoved into a closet with my snowshoes, ugly duffel bags, and a snorkel. Am I using the time I’d generally be sitting and watching TV to blaze through all of Russian literature? I’m afraid not. But I am listening to much more music, doing more writing, and every now and again looking around and marveling at my sunny little Oakland apartment. Marveling at the choices we get to make and how we can go about fashioning our days to be kind of how we want them to be. Melty popsicles, shelves of books, good booze, a plane ticket to West Virginia, and the sun setting across my school house desk. That’s the view from here as I linger (or dawdle, depending on how you look at it), stealing a little bit of time before digging into what’s next. In your case, that would be popsicles.
While it may be tempting to add a little more bourbon, remember that will affect how well your popsicles freeze. And this recipe yields popsicles that aren’t at all too sweet. Taste the mixture before pouring it into the molds, and adjust the sweetness as necessary. By the way, I think these would be lovely with cardamom or even a dash of cinnamon.
Quick note: the popsicles take a good 4 hours to freeze up completely (time not factored in the breakdown above), so plan accordingly.
Pour the milk, cream and brown sugar into a small saucepan and heat until just before it begins to boil. This helps integrate the brown sugar smoothly. Add the bourbon and vanilla and pour into a blender. Add bananas. Blend quickly — the mixture can remain a little chunky. Let cool and refrigerate until cooled completely.
Divide the mixture amongst the molds and freeze for 4-5 hours.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.