Just before I left for grad school in LA, I bought the Billie Holiday Decca Masters albums. They were a constant companion during those years, especially during the more languid days of July and August; there's nothing quite like hearing Billie croon "Summertime" when you're sitting in a bathtub full of ice water.
I've always loved that aria, despite its origins in the racist Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess. Billie takes a Dixieland approach in her swing-your-hips version; Ella's is pensive, falling somewhere between spiritual and dirge; and perhaps most recently, Annie Lennox, in her inimitable weighty, clear contralto, makes it glow like liquid glass.
A few weekends ago, we were sitting out in the back yard with some friends, watching the kids play for what seemed like hours with water cannons and bubbles, eating guacamole and drinking margaritas, and I found myself thinking that song, feeling like the "livin'" really was easy, luxuriating in that thought as the conversation and children hummed around me. And yesterday, walking home with my daughter from the park where we'd met a friend by chance and gone wading in the brook, toes bare, I heard it in my head again. Un-ignorable.
We had plans to go canoeing this afternoon, but discovered when we got to the reservoir that they're now enforcing the rule about no more than three people to a canoe. So we drove to the small reservoir beach on a whim, where the kids dug happily in the sand for an hour, running back and forth to the water, getting their clothes wet, making friends and reshaping the landscape together with their small hands. We sat on the concrete wall, just watching them, soaking in the sun, making circles in the sand with our toes, appreciating the breeze.
Summertime. The livin' is easy. Let it be so. Let the rest go. For just a little while, anyway.
Six Minute (Vegan) Chocolate Cake
(adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant)
I made this cake for dessert on the night when our friends came over a few weeks ago. It's a cake that epitomizes easy; it doesn't even require greasing the pan. The only down side is that it's not always extractable in neat slices, but if you're feeling that unfussy, you might as well just sit down with the whole damn thing and dig in with a spoon.
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 c. cold water or coffee (I recommend coffee)
2 t. vanilla extract
2 T. cider vinegar
generous handful of bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 375.
Sift the flour, cocoa, soda, salt, and sugar directly into 8 or 9 inch cake pan.
In the measuring cup, measure and mix together the oil, cold water or coffee, and vanilla. No need to dirty another bowl with this process.
Pour the liquid ingredients into the baking pan and mix the batter with a fork or a small whisk. Toss in the chips and mix some more. When you've incorporated them, add the vinegar and stir quickly until it's more or less evenly mixed in. There will be interesting swirls in the batter as the baking soda and vinegar react. (Don't overthink the distribution chocolate chips. Easy, remember?)
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist, fudgy crumbs) and set aside to cool. Serve with fresh strawberries, or dusted with powdered sugar, or glazed, or with vanilla ice cream, or just plain.