Let's talk about good things, okay? There are so many of them. Every day, if you look in the right places. For example, if you pause outside the grocery store and stop being so absorbed in your list of laundry detergent, bananas, paper towels, cocoa powder for a moment, you'll notice the heavy scent of lilacs hanging thickly in the air. There are buckets of them, and for $10 you can buy a bunch. The woody stems always stymie me at home; I go at them with scissors and a knife and still end up twisting them apart with my hands. But it's worth it when the entire living room is perfumed with flowers.
Next to the lilacs are rows of ranunculus in every shade of pink: magenta, hot pink, petal pink, delicate blush, pale white. I wander past and then stop to sniff at the sweet, nutty air that surrounds the street cart selling sugary roasted cashews.
More good things: the sound of rain on my skylight in the morning. Today is unexpectedly cold and gray and wet, which could irk me, but I go to a hot yoga class and the sensation of a chilly breeze on my sweaty skin afterwards gives me shivers. The good kind.
Or this: An author I love just published the third in a series of very funny novels -- the sort that depict a world you can't help but dive into and inhabit, making you forget that you live in Manhattan, not Singapore, for the brief time while you're reading. On the list of good things, an excellent novel ranks very high. If you're looking for more, I've recently loved Modern Lovers by Emma Straub and Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny.
I could write endlessly about small, good things these days. Even on my worst and hardest days, I find myself taking such pleasure in these little bursts of light that show up everywhere if you pay attention. Even on tough days, I gravitate to them. Sometimes it's the oddest, furthest-from-me ones, like remembering how much I like the smell of wood smoke in autumn or how nice it sounds when my dad laughs or how my mom's chocolate biscotti soften just the right amount when you dip them in a glass of cold milk.
A few more:
- Walking to meet my sister in Central Park and seeing her from a distance. I can pick out her gait and her stance from so far away: In a crowd of dozens of strangers, she's so familiar to me, and it makes my heart feel settled. I put my arm around her. I listen as if from afar as we talk. We bat around conversation in our own personal shorthand about our respective days, about which J.Crew shorts are comfortable and which aren't, about weekend plans, about whether printed wallpaper really is chic or is not chic, about grocery shopping, about whether we like or don't like cashew butter in our smoothies.
- The feeling of having folded all your laundry and unloaded the dishwasher. (Listen, small accomplishments can be exceptionally gratifying! If this is all I accomplish in a given day, I will TAKE it.)
- Crisp cotton pajamas.
- The low, happy buzz of conversation at dinner at a picnic table surrounded with friends. Also, eating outdoors (burgers! grilled vegetables! potato salad!) for the first time this year.
- Discovering the perfect dancing playlist: the Guardians of the Galaxy station on Pandora.
- The feeling of holding hands.
- The first sip of a very good, cold, bubbly cocktail with lemon and mint and simple syrup and vodka.
- A recipe that just works. Case in point: These blackberry pie bars. They combine the best parts of a slice of fruit pie (sweet, juicy fruit and buttery pastry) in one bite, and they're fantastically easy to put together. I brought them to a summer BBQ and they're a perfect recipe to make ahead and carry with you. The base is basically a simple shortbread, which you bake until golden, then you top it with a custardy, sour cream- and fruit-filled layer, then top THAT off with a crumble of the same shortbread base. Let's just say this: these are good.
Blackberry Pie Bars
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker
1 1/2 cups sugar
zest of 3 lemons
3 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cold butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
¾ cup flour
4 cups fresh blackberries and raspberries (mix of either!)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9" x 13" pan with parchment paper and grease the paper and sides.
To make the crust: In a large bowl, combine the sugar and the lemon zest. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers to infuse it with the lemon zest. Whisk in the flour and salt.
Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a fork until the butter is in the size of peas -- you can use your fingers here if you like.
Set aside about 1 1/2 cups of the mixture to use for the topping. Press the remaining mixture very firmly into the bottom of the pan in an even layer. Bake until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool while you make the filling.
For the filling, whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add the sugar, sour cream, flour, and a pinch of salt, and whisk until the mixture is smooth.
Fold in the fresh berries, then pour over the baked crust and spread in an even layer.
Sprinkle the 1 1/2 cups of crust mixture that you set aside evenly over the berry layer.
Bake for about 1 hour -- the top of the bars should be lightly golden brown. Cool for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving