Today it rained all day: a steady, persistent drizzle. It's the sort of rain that doesn't require an umbrella, but makes your jacket damp and your shoes just wet enough that you have to leave them outside the apartment door.
My skin is still stinging from yesterday's sunburn (I'm pale enough from this long winter that spending a mere 20 minutes in the backyard, sipping coffee, on a sunny afternoon garners me a red glow).
For a brief moment around 4 PM, I had that heavy, dull feeling that often arrives without warning in the low valley of the afternoon. You've already passed the acceptable time for coffee; lunch feels like a distant memory; and it's too early to contemplate dinner.
Turns out it's nothing a walk can't fix. I remind myself of this every time I get into an afternoon slump -- how lucky I am to be able to just get up and walk around the block! No office to be tied down to, no one to stare at my empty desk. I wander up Amsterdam Avenue and pause in front of the flower shop (aptly named Posie's). The peonies are in full bloom in every shade of pink.
On the playground across the street, little kids race around the playground, yelling and squealing. A delivery guy whips past me on his bike, then another, and another. I wonder where they're going: one is from Chirping Chicken, the next from the hole-in-the-wall Chinese place around the corner, the last one from the deli on 75th Street.
I imagine the people waiting for each delivery in their apartments. I picture Chirping Chicken going to a scruffy 32-year old guy in a quiet one-room studio tucked away on the fourth floor on 79th Street. He's an artist; he pays the bills teaching guitar to middle schoolers. He wears faded jeans and a t-shirt from a 2004 Oberlin College open mic night. He smells faintly of paint. He always orders the spicy chicken gyro with extra rice on the side. He douses it with a crusty old bottle of hot sauce. He eats his sandwich messily at a folding table pushed up against the sole window in his little kitchen as he reads back issues of New York Magazine.
The Chinese delivery goes to a family of four in a sprawling, gorgeous, pre-war apartment between 83rd Street and West End Avenue. The two kids are both boys, immaculately dressed in their Upper East Side private school uniforms. They eat their Chinese food on fancy porcelain plates and drink Perrier out of heavy crystal tumblers. The parents sit at opposite ends of a long polished teak dining table. The boys mumble about their day when asked and surreptitiously kick each other under their chairs. The younger boy is in second grade -- he sneaks Oreos from the pantry after dinner and leaves a trail of chocolate crumbs along the Dash and Albert runner that leads to the staircase to his bedroom.
Maybe the deli order is a chopped salad, going to a girl in her late 20s, who just got home from a job she despises in advertising. She calls her mom after she orders her salad (extra croutons, dressing on the side, double edamame, grilled chicken, apples, cranberries, sprouts, provolone cheese) and tells her about her day: her boss who sneezes every time he says the words status report and how her Tinder date from last Saturday hasn't texted her back. She kicks off her Cole Haan pumps, flops onto her sofa, and rubs her feet. She'll eat the salad, then watch three episodes of 30 Rock, and drink two glasses of wine.
I like that the city is full of humans: living and breathing and kissing each other and fighting and painting things and writing music and going to class and calling their sisters. Sometimes it makes me lonely, to be surrounded by so many people I don't know. Sometimes it makes me comforted. Mostly I'm glad I've existed here, because later in life I want to be somewhere quiet with a pretty view and acres of green grass to run around on and no one to see if you want to lie down and read in a book in nothing but cotton underwear.
Today though, there's no delivery to our apartment. Instead, I make dinner, to further dispel the 4 PM fog from my brain. It's easy cooking -- a new favorite style (I know, I'm late to the game) where I throw everything on a parchment-lined baking sheet and let the flavors meld together. Tonight is Italian sausages, broccoli, red peppers, and plenty of spice.
I turn on the Bob Marley station on Pandora and shake my hips a little. I read out loud to myself: a passage from John Steinbeck's 1958 letter to his son on love. He says, "first - if you are in love -that's a good thing. That's about the best thing that can happen to anyone." And then "second -- there are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you - the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn't know you had."
And finally, "the object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it. And don't worry about losing. If it is right, it happens - the main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away."
For dessert (there is always dessert), we share frozen brownies. Brownies are universally excellent frozen, in my opinion, but this recipe does particularly well after being frozen. Instead of all-purpose flour, I use teff flour and almond meal. Teff flour is slightly sweet and nutty, and the flavor has a natural affinity for chocolate. Almond meal makes the brownies extra moist and fudgy, so they don't dry out after being frozen.
It's worth seeking out teff flour for this recipe, but if you can't find it, use an equal amount of all-purpose flour, or any other whole-grain flour, like millet or spelt or buckwheat.
Teff + Almond Flour Brownies
Inspired by Alice Medrich's fantastic cookbook, Flavor Flours
10 tablespoons butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup teff flour
1/4 cup almond meal/flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8" square pan, and line the pan with foil. Grease the foil.
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double boiler (or in the microwave if you have one), stirring as you go. If using a microwave, heat the mixture on 30 second bursts, and stir between each.
Let the chocolate/butter mixture cool slightly, then fold in the sugar, teff flour, almond meal, salt, and vanilla extract. Add eggs and beat on high speed with a handheld mixer or in a stand bowl until the batter gets very thick. It'll lighten up and look a bit like buttercream frosting! Fun! Delicious! Don't eat it all with your fingers!
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean (or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it). Don't overbake!
Let cool, slice, and eat! As I mentioned, these freeze beautifully.