Happy Hanukkah! For the first night of the Festival of Lights, we went to my parents’ house, and I was planning on just making my good ol’ apple cider donuts. But then — I can’t say it was guilt. But I wanted to be true to my Jewy roots and dance in oil. Alight buttery balls of brioche dough, to puff, rise, and brown, showered in sugar as they cool. And fill them — not with jam, because I still just can’t do jelly donuts, but with Nutella. Because of course.
I am made of water. I crave it. I love to run beside the Hudson and East Rivers. I yearn salty ocean waves foaming at my feet. When I’m near it, in it, I feel whole. And yet — the power, its depths, the unknown, terrify me. The fear of being toppled and tossed around by a wave bigger and more powerful than any water within me has kept me from wading out more times than I care to admit. Sometimes I leave the beach without ever being further than knee-deep, when what I crave — nay, what I need — is to be in it and of it.
All of that changed — finally — last week, on my final day of a family vacation in Cape May, NJ. Let me correct that: in the final hour of that final day. With my fella and my dad beside me, I relearned how to face those waves. It’s the silliest thing, really, the truth of it. That it’s all simply a matter of preparation, of being ready for what comes, of accepting. See a wave that you can’t jump? Take a deep breath, before it’s on you, and duck. It doesn’t need to be a competition between you and the wave. Like jumping, you become one with it. Then you rise, unscathed, and simply wipe a bit of salt of from your eyes. In it and of it.
And so I left Cape May, land of historic Victorian houses, fudge and saltwater taffy, dolphins, and so many childhood memories, with a newfound respect for the phrase “roll with the punches.” It would be an understatement to say I’m ready for the cool embrace of fall. But I’ve spent too much time fighting summer’s existence. Thinking I can jump it even when it’s too big to handle. Feeling miserable from the heat. Sick and dehydrated from the humidity. But yet, I realize, with it has come the sweetest peaches I’ve had in years.
At this end of August, there are already apples at the farmer’s markets. I spotted Greenings at one of the stands in Astoria two and a half weeks ago. And I was tempted — so tempted. But I still haven’t had my fill of tender local peaches. Of sweet plums. Of juicy tomatoes and tiny kirbies and crisp peppers and all the wonderful things that are here because summer is a sunny, hot, miserable time of year. I’ve been eating peaches every day with my breakfast: diced up into oatmeal, as a side to toast and eggs, folded into Greek yogurt. And now this: baked peach crumble donuts. Because along with all the fresh ones unchanged by the heat of an oven, we need to incorporate them into flour and butter and sugar and make them more.
My brother got married over the weekend. The setting was a picturesque country club and golf course in the mountainous northeast corner of New Jersey, just over the New York border. Just outside the lodge, next to the gazebo where he and his lady would say their vows, was a gorgeous maple tree nearing its peak: bright red against what was, at the beginning, a cloudy October sky. It was brisk after pouring all day, and we froze in our dresses as we stood waiting for the photographer to get everything he wanted. But the scent out there was pure autumn. There’s always something about grass and trees after the rain, but it takes on even more fullness in fall. When I got home, I wanted that in my kitchen. I wanted apple cider doughnuts.
When I lived in Jersey City, we had an amazing farmer’s market just outside the PATH station, with several farmers and orchards from around my hometown, in the heart of northwestern New Jersey. I picked up cider doughnuts every week, sometimes more, for the duration of the apple season. Now, don’t get me wrong, Grow NYC – the organization that brings us the sprawling Union Square Greenmarket – is incredible and a boon to the community, and I would be utterly miserable without it. But in Astoria the markets are still small, with only two orchards, and to my spoiled taste buds the cider doughnuts sold by one of them are lacking. If you’ve ever fried doughnuts and eaten them the second day, you know how foul that soaked-in oil tastes. Fried doughnuts should be fresh every day, and – in my humble opinion – shouldn’t be bagged or boxed. They should be sold one at a time from a container that keeps the cinnamon-sugar topping fresh and crunchy. But that’s a discussion for another day.