But just a little. Same city, same neighborhood, same building, same floor. We’re moving to the unit right next door. Apparently, this brings out the Dr. Seuss in me.
The new place doesn’t feel all that much bigger than our current apartment, but it does have a second bedroom, which means that now, we’ll be able to offer our guests a mattress and a door. We are very grown up. It also has a slightly larger kitchen, eastern-facing windows (good morning!), and a tree outside of one of them that turns bright orange every fall. If you look closely at the top photo, you’ll see it there.
Eli and I call our new apartment “Davis’s apartment,” even though our sweet neighbor Davis moved out last spring. He lived in that apartment for decades, so our building management decided to completely renovate it before renting it again. The key word in that last sentence is “renting.” It’s what makes this next part so unbelievable: When it was more or less settled that Eli and I would be moving in when the unit was done, the building manager asked us if we might have any particular preferences for the renovations. For the apartment that we do not own. And never will. (The units in our building are rental only.) Crazy, right? And incredibly cool. There is no guarantee, of course, that every wish on our list will come true. Why should it? We’re renters! But words like butcher block and soapstone have been tossed around, and they did let Eli get in there before they closed up the ceiling so that he could wire the kitchen for speakers, and – drum roll please – half of the wall between the kitchen and the dining room is now quite gone.
There will be a breakfast bar where that wall used to be. Though I think we’ll use it most often as a visit-the-cook-in-the-kitchen bar. A step up from having to wedge yourself in the doorway, for sure.
Eli and I are fixer-upper kind of people. We’ve loved researching materials and thinking about our new space. It’s the next best thing to getting in there and doing the work ourselves. Thanks to a building manager with a heart of gold, and a contractor who is every bit an artist and a craftsman, we’re having so much fun. I try to sneak over there every now and then with my camera. Are you interested in seeing some photos of the kitchen as it comes along? If so, I think that can be arranged. We don’t have a set move-in date yet, but we’re hoping for sometime next month. We’ll see.
When Davis moved out, his niece came to pack up his belongings. I had just – literally just – gotten back from a week of pastry-making at the CIA, and I hadn’t yet changed out of my chef’s whites when she rang our bell. We got to talking, and I explained that, no, I am not a cook, but that yes (a thousand times yes!) I like to cook, and then she told me to hold on. She’d be right back. A minute later, she was handing me a first-edition copy of Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Cook Book with Davis’s full name inscribed on the inside cover. We didn’t yet know that we’d be moving in to Davis’s apartment. Now, I can’t flip through the pages of his book without my heart thumping a little louder in my chest. Soon, I'll be cooking from Davis’s old book in Davis's old kitchen.
Unlike Amanda Hesser’s recent masterpiece, Craig Claiborne’s volume includes recipes from a single decade, only: 1950 to 1960. (In other words, you need both books on your shelf.) I had been eyeing a walnut cake recipe in Davis’s book for a while, and on Sunday, out of the blue, I decided that it was time. The impulse to bake this cake must have been some kind of premonition, because friends, it’s been a long week. I’ve needed this cake. And maybe a few extra hours for sleeping, too. Pass the cake, please.
This recipe is a cross between a quick bread and a pound cake. It’s a bread in the sense that banana bread, or pumpkin bread, or lemon poppy seed bread are breads, and I almost went so far as to change the name of the recipe to “walnut bread.” A few things stopped me. The first is the stick and a half of butter. It’s not so much the quantity of butter in the recipe – though most of the quick breads that I bake call for oil – as the quality of its presence in the finished loaf. I’m afraid that sounds kind of new age-y, but I don’t know how else to put it. The butter is there. Not quite as there as in a full-fledged, classic pound cake, but there, nonetheless. The vanilla is, too, in a way that’s usually reserved for ice creams, custards, and the occasional cookie. This cake is also sturdier than the quick breads I know. Its crumb is tighter, encased in a crisp, golden crust, which makes for a cake that stands up to serious toasting. It’s not every day that you meet a cake like that.
Cheers to the old, and cheers to the new, friends. Speaking of new, after two years, I thought it was about time to push the windows open and shine things up for us here. I hope you like what I've done with the place.
Adapted from The New York Times Cook Book by Craig Claiborne
A quick note on not toasting the walnuts: The recipe doesn’t say to toast the walnuts, so I didn't. The whole time that the cake was in the oven, I regretted it. Then, I tried a piece, and I felt much better. The walnuts work beautifully just as they are. I noticed that they were more firmly secured inside of the cake than they usually are in my nut-packed cakes and breads. It was as if they were nut-like continuations of the crumb itself. I wonder if this is because you mix them in with the dry ingredients, instead of adding them into the batter at the very end. Thoughts?
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (which means that you sift first, then measure)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¾ cup chopped walnuts (again, chop first, then measure)
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup whole milk
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Butter a 9½ x 5¼ x 2¾-inch loaf pan, line with parchment paper, and butter the paper.
Combine the sifted flour, baking powder, salt, and chopped walnuts in a bowl, and mix.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the butter until soft. Add the sugar gradually and whip until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, waiting until each egg has fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and the milk alternately to the butter mixture, stirring only until all the flour is dampened.
Turn the batter into the prepared pan and bake about one and one quarter hours, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for ten minutes before turning out onto a rack.