I’m a good baker, sometimes a great baker. I make ice cream, I’ve made pannetone and cannoli from scratch, I’ve spun those crazy lovely caramel cages just as Julia showed me. I’m proud of my pastry, straight-up pie and puff as well. I’m not diabetic, not fat, and I’m married to a man who loves sweets, heavy on the cinnamon rolls.
So why do I never make dessert, unless there’s a dinner party or a holiday coming up? Martha Stewart swears she serves dessert every night. My mother certainly did, even if it was nothing more complicated than a serving of canned apricots and a cookie. My father still does, and when I was in Ottawa I got into the swing, made pies on three occasions and loved it. So why have I meandered through the last thirty years thinking: “Life is short: have another slice of Shepherd’s Pie and forget dessert?”
My favorite food group is Potatoes Any Style, followed closely by Braised Bits of Meat (with lots of onions.) Add vegetables and anything with forty cloves of garlic and I’m happy at the table. But those two recent weeks when I ate a dab of dessert has changed my mind. What have I been thinking? Why have I deprived myself of the cheerful sweet ending of a day at the table, especially when, in the scale of luxuries, it’s so cheap?
Over the course of three evenings we’ve split a pint of Ben and Jerry’s this week, which may not sound too self-indulgent except for the hot caramel sauce Lou made Friday night. Yesterday I got serious and made carrot cake from the Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking. (Crown, 1975. If you can find a copy, snap it up.) I’ve made this recipe so many times that the pages stick together — I had a short career as a carrot cake venture capitalist back in the ‘8Os. It never, ever fails, contains oil rather than the more expensive butter, lasts for almost a week and can be put together with no more batterie de cuisine than measuring cups, a paring knife, a grater and a whisk. I didn’t even peel the carrots — those pre-peeled so-called “baby” carrots were on sale and I put them through the grater disk of my Cuisinart. The cream cheese maple-syrup infused icing was not exactly a test of anyone’s pastry chef chops.
It makes a huge cake, and I’ll probably give some away.
I fell off the pie wagon in Ottawa, so I’m buying some apples tomorrow, and a can of apricots. I have the ingredients in the house for Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies. I may just fool around with salted caramels! But I’m heading into a new epoch of my life, the one where I give myself another thing to look forward to, which might just be the secret to being cheerful.