Saturday, August 1, 2020

Pools, Being Neighborly, and Tres Leches Cake

I am six, maybe seven years old. I'm wearing a purple bathing suit and a fuzzy white beach cover up. My legs are hot and sweaty, sticking to the vinyl in my father's tank-like Mercedez Benz, the only car he would buy until late in his life, even if he did have to save up for years to get them third hand. My head aches. It's Sunday, a languid New Jersey summer day, the sun blinding me as it darts in and out of the trees. I'm imagining how good the cool water will feel.

We never belonged to a pool when I was growing up. I was never sure why, because I felt like everyone else in town did, and it wasn't like my parents were working during the summer and couldn't take us, since they were both teachers. Maybe it was too expensive. I longed for access to the local pool, though, for late evenings with the ice cream truck and sparklers and the company of kids my age, who all seemed to disappear there during the day. Luckily, occasionally the weekends were punctuated by a trip to my parents' friends' house in Montvale, where we would go swimming.

I could never tell whether we'd invited ourselves over or not, because I always felt welcome there. It didn't matter whether they had other people over. We'd arrive, there would be hugs and handshakes, and Leo (that was my father's friend's name) would look me up and down, squint, and tell me how much I'd grown since last time. He would know; at six feet, his ample hairy chest and stomach spilled over his red swimming trunks. He was a large man, in every sense of the word.

For me, summer will always be associated with the crystalline waters of Leo and Mimi's pool. I wasn't a good swimmer, but I would bob up and down, play with their pool toys, and then, lips blue, I'd finally climb out to dry off, and, while my parents looked on disapprovingly, they'd encourage me ("honey," they'd say) to go to the poolhouse refrigerator where there was always cherry soda and leftover vanilla cake covered in whipped cream frosting, likely left over from one of their famous parties, to which hundreds of people would be invited, covering every inch of their ample lawn.

I think about Leo's pool a lot these days, in this long dry pandemic summer. Usually my kids go to day camp where there is some kind of pool access, and in years past we've had some friends who owned a pool and would invite us over on the weekends sometimes, like Leo did, and we'd go bearing chips and sangria and cake, grateful both for good company and a chance to cool off. But this summer, there's none of that. Just endless days of stepping outside into a sauna or being stuck inside while I'm working long days. I know they--and I--should be grateful for our air conditioning.

Our neighbors down the street have a pool that my son and I can see when we go walking at night, and I will confess that I've become a little obsessed. Sometimes they're using it, but often they're not. This baffles me. I fantasize about sneaking in through the back gate that opens onto our street and leaving twenty bucks on the umbrella table for an hour of submerging myself in the clear blue water. Sometimes I wonder if I've said something to make them hate me so much that I'd never be invited there anyway. Sometimes they're there with other neighbors with whom we're friendly, not socially distancing, and they all wave to us, almost like we're waving to each other from different planets. I find myself--unreasonably--hating them for this. I think to myself that if had a pool, I'd make sure the neighbors felt welcome there, whether I was using it or not, even--especially--in the middle of a pandemic.

S. had heard enough of my complaining about our lack of pool the other day, and found swimply.com, which is essentially, it seems, like Air B&B for pools. People can put their pool up for use by other people when they're not using it, and make a few bucks. We haven't tried it yet, though this seems pretty brilliant, even if it's a little weird to be swimming in water where people you don't know were just swimming hours ago. I mean, the chlorine kills anything anyway, right? Right?

Still, it's not the same as the magical pool of my childhood summers, the open welcome to share the water with friends, the refrigerator perpetually full of soda and cake.

Do you have a pool? Do you have a friend with a pool? Would you lend yours to a stranger for an hour, for a price?

 

Tres Leches Cake

With gratitude to Brown Eyed Baker for the original. While this isn't exactly what they had in the poolside refrigerator in those lovely days of shared poolside snacks, it's about as close as I'd come.

For the Cake
1½ cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
For the Three-Milk Glaze
12 ounce can evaporated milk
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup half-and-half
For the Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and with the mixer still running, gradually add the sugar over 1 minute. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 batches and mix just until combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread into an even layer. (This will appear to be a very small amount of batter.)

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake is lightly golden and reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F. Remove the cake to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Poke the top of the cake all over with a skewer or fork. Allow the cake to cool completely and then prepare the glaze.

In a 4-cup measuring cup, whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and the half-and-half. Once combined, slowly pour the glaze evenly over the cake. Refrigerate the cake for at least four hours, or overnight.

Using an electric mixer, whisk together the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla on low speed until stiff peaks form.

Increase to medium speed and whip until thick. Spread the topping over the cake and allow to chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Leftover cake should be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day.
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