Sunday, October 14, 2012

Case Study 119: "The Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookie Cupcake"

Good God, it's lovely out there. There's something about autumn in New York that makes it more wonderful than the smell of roasted nuts, burning leaves and cold hayrides together. It's the light. 

Put on your headphones and head to Central Park. Dave Brubeck should come first:"Take Five." There are young women walking arm and arm down Park Avenue in capes and brogues. The church bells at St. Ignatius Cathedral toll 6pm and there are tourists huddling on the stairs of The Met. The street musician dressed like Michael Jackson drops his horn to play their hasty photographer. Head north and a bespectacled gentleman in a navy blazer strolls past Guggenheim, trailing cigar smoke behind him. A Westie in a plaid coat trots leash-less at his side.   

Cross the Rhododendron Mile and take a lap around the Reservoir. Now your song is Duke Elligton's "Take the A Train," but you're still on foot. The sun begins to set and the light on the water is illuminated a sort of yellow tinge under the watchful eyes of The Eldorado's twin peaks. Golden indeed. Head back across the Eighty-Six Street Traverse to the Great Lawn and weave down to the Lake. Put on the Armstrong and Fitzgerald version of "Autumn in New York." Stop to see the way the Weeping Willows cast monster shadows across the water past the Boathouse.  

Take off your headphones as you climb the steps at Bethesda Terrace. A lone trumpeter stands where the shade meets the sun through the arching elms on The Mall, and he wails a dirty wah-wah version of "Summertime." In memorium, you think, but you carry on. Under statues of literary greats, an accordionist plays Edith Piaf's standard "Autumn Leaves." Your heart aches a little every time you hear it, but it's in the way that only fall can cause an ache, by juxtaposing warm sentimental feelings with a time of year when everything dies. Turn on Coltrane's "Central Park West" and make your way back uptown. 

Back in my kitchen, I can't help but keep things cozy. Candles are lit, windows are cracked open, and I throw on wool socks and flannel while my oven heats up. I bake and I bake and I end up with these deliciously airy pumpkin cupcakes topped with coffee and vanilla bean buttercream and a pumpkin chocolate chip cookie on top. I eat them for breakfast, I deliver them to friends and on my way back home, I head back to the park.

This is how I dreamed it up. As a child, I imagined New York as a sort of love affair, and it always took place in the fall. We'd hide away in the dark of Bemelman's while the sun set gold outside, secretly wishing and praying that on any other day but Monday, Woody Allen would stroll right into The Carlyle and fill the air with a clarinet sound even moodier than the clinking of ice cubes in Scotch and the quick swishing of white-coat waiters.

I'd smooth out my skirt and he'd straighten his tie. We'd throw on our trenches and slip outside - skipping first across Fifth to the Ramble, where we'd make a dash for the steps of the Museum of Natural History. We'd ascend, step by step by step, until he stopped. And time would slow, nothing else would exist and the chilling city would whirl at a million light years' speed around us, just as is does on every other day of any other year.

If you come to the city and open your eyes and ears, you'll find it. There's romance all around, and there is no season and no city that reminds you of that quite like autumn in New York. 

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