It's cold outside again. I forgot how this feels; no number of layers is enough to combat the winds that whip through the city streets. This morning I woke to a persistent drizzle of cold rain. I love how cozy it feels to walk swiftly through the rain--the wet streets, the cold breeze--to get to the coffee shop where I open the door to a gust of warm, espresso-scented air. I stand still for a moment, breathing in the smell of bagels toasting and coffee. I listen to the chatter of customers. I order and chat with the baristas (yes, we are on friendly first-name terms, this is how I roll).
This week feels like a preview of winter in such a beautiful way. The trees that line the terrace off our bedroom have turned a bright, vivid yellow. They drop their leaves everywhere, making a canary-bright carpet on the wooden boards. I pull out my favorite navy Patagonia fleece and search for my plaid scarves. I picture snow falling. Gingerbread cookies. My niece in a snowsuit. Hot chocolate with peppermint marshmallows. The hills at the farm in early morning dusted in a layer of frost.
You know what else I love? Songs I can't stop playing over and over and over again. (Just try and resist "Sweetest Kill" by Broken Social Scene, a gorgeous song recommended to me by Hannah who has killer taste in music, or "Young, Dumb & Broke" by Khalid. And if you can put on "Mamita" by CNCO and not strut a bit when you walk with headphones in, then frankly I applaud your self-control. Oh, and this song slays me, every single time: "Salt Song" by How to Dress Well. The first line? "I want to learn to care for my soul, like I wish you cared for my soul." Preach.)
I also like granola that has both big clumpy clusters and dusty scattered bits of oats. Why should I have to choose?
I like soft scrambled eggs that come with a piece of buttered, seedy, toasted bread. I like piling some scrambled egg onto the corner of the toast, sprinkling a little salt on top, and compiling the perfect bite.
I like pajamas that are warm from the dryer. Actually, I like all clothes warm from the dryer, even folding them!
I like photos of my mom pushing my niece on the swing outside on the farm in the early morning, the mist rising from the ponds in the background.
I like this scene from the movie The Trip and its dramatic British accents and how it makes me dissolve into giggles no matter my mood.
I like chocolate brownies made with sweet potato because that addition makes the top layer sticky and moist, the way grocery store chocolate sheet cakes are.
I don't like too-sweet wines. Okay, between you and me, I also don't like red wine really at all (daily prayer: please let me become an adult who genuinely appreciates red wine. Follow-up: fuck, I'm thirty, when am I going to stop thinking things like *when I become an adult*).
I don't really like the crowded streets of New York. They seem exciting and novel until someone spits near your feet or a taxi driver screams at you or you feel hot and overcrowded as some irritated man on his commute home elbows you from behind.
Last night as I fell asleep in my quiet bedroom, those street scenes flashed before my eyes, unbidden.
I was lying there under the crisp sheets in the dark and cool and calm. I was working on the NYT crossword, and the clue was "Broadway". Suddenly I had this realization that somewhere out there, as I snuggled deeper under my comforter, people were everywhere in the city. Filling every block at that very moment. Swarming Times Square. Yelling and eating falafel from street carts and trying to decipher subway maps and drinking cheap beers. It overwhelmed me.
Object permanence in this case--or lack thereof--is clearly a trick of the ego. If I'm not there, sweaty and pushing through the crowds, they can't exist. But they do. Is that comforting or disconcerting? I can't decide.
Maybe it's a good thing that I'm increasingly pinned so closely to my present state. I'm meditating most days these days; HA HA don't I sound so centered and hip and pulled together?! Spoiler: I do 3 minutes per day and most days I spend 2 minutes and 58 seconds thinking about what to put on my oatmeal later or the fact that my bra strap is weirdly twisted. So don't be too impressed.
Tonight I got home late from a party (a book release for my very favorite baker, Erin McDowell). I strip off my clothes and take a scalding hot shower and then sit down for a glass of Prosecco and the last slice of cake from the freezer.
And you guys, this cake is next level good. It's moist and dense with a close, tight crumb just like the very best, richest pound cakes. But it has a more subtle sweetness and an intense buttery flavor compared to a standard pound cake, thanks to the use of condensed milk.
I adapted the recipe from Hummingbird High. I had read so many great reviews of it, but I wanted to add something more interesting to such a simple batter, so I subbed in graham cracker crumbs for some of the flour and, let's just say, that was a very wise move.
The texture is perfect. The flavor is nutty and delicious and it's hard to stop at one slice. Or two. Or frankly, three. I recommend freezing part of the loaf, then toasting it and dousing it in some heavy cream (or spreading it with lemon curd or cookie butter, depending on your mood).
I hope you make this straightaway. It's simple and impressive and really worth the time.
Condensed Milk Graham Cracker Loaf Cake
Adapted from Hummingbird High
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan (you can also line it with parchment paper and then grease the parchment).
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and graham cracker crumbs.
In the bowl of stand mixer (or in a large bowl with an electric handheld mixer), cream together the butter and sugar until pale in color and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla, alternating with the dry ingredients, in two parts, and mix until the batter just comes together.
Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for about 60 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for at least 20 minutes before turning it out of the pan and slicing and serving.