It was 9:30 p. m. by the time dinner was on the table. Nothing fancy: farfalle with bolognese (and the sauce was store-bought). Steamed broccoli for my daughter, a tossed salad for me (mixed leaves, store-bought as well, but the dressing not). It had been a really long evening, revving up for a big Latin test the next day. Is, ea, id, derivatives of the likes of servus, hortus, prepositional phrases in the ablative. Please! My child had been at rehearsal for a school play all afternoon before starting in on her homework well after six. Me, I had just had a normal crazy day at the office and raced home to be around for, well, is, ea, id.
And before we knew it, it was three hours later. My feeling of guilt over the late night dinner was aggrandized by the probability that all of my daughter’s classmates were already tucked into bed by the time we ate. I rushed her through ice cream and started to warm some milk for her, fishing for the cup with the sleeping cat motif, a bedtime ritual since she had been a toddler. Mentally taking inventory of the fridge, I wondered what would be for breakfast. With a sigh of relief I realized that tomorrow would be a Tuesday, and that meant the weekly homeroom breakfast, where the children took turns bringing in baked goods to have breakfast in school. One down. My child is a terrible breakfaster at home.
“Who’s bringing breakfast tomorrow?” I asked. The tiny hesitation before her answer told me that my relief had been premature. I closed my eyes even before her words were out. “Uhm, Mama? I forgot to tell you…”
It was, by then, 10:15 p.m., and the immediate priority was to get this overtired, overstudied child to bed. There was a second cup of sleeping-cat-milk, a conversation with the real, very much awake cat, a discussion about the study plans for the next days as teeth were being brushed. And I still had no idea how to get around the breakfast issue for the next morning. My post-drop-off plan had been to renew my driver’s license at the local DMV office, run to a doctor’s appointment, and attend an office meeting. Perhaps I could just get a dozen apple cider donuts from the apple guys at the farmers’ market on the way to school. It would be Tuesday after all, so that would be market day behind Brooklyn Borough Hall. But it seemed that pretty much every other parent in charge of that Tuesday homeroom breakfast went to the farmers’ market for apple cider donuts. What’s more, I had fallen into the habit of buying my daughter apple cider donuts there on Thursdays, another market day, another ritual… Donuts on Tuesday just didn’t seem genuine.
I toyed with the idea of baking muffins, fresh, in the morning. Right. To get myself together and my child off to school, I needed to be up at 6:15 as it was. I was lucky if I managed to throw together a dish of porridge from that ugly huge carton of oatmeal sitting on the counter—so huge that its contents didn’t fit into any of my pretty glass containers with the usual kitchen staples in them: different shapes of pasta, long grain and risotto rice, nuts, raisins…
Wait a moment. Perhaps this was a chance to get rid of, or at least drastically reduce, the content of that ugly huge carton of oatmeal? I propped my iPad up against it and clicked to epicurean.com. I turned off the lame baroque lute music on the stereo and put on some country music. (Don’t ask me, please, what oatmeal cookies have to do with country music. But the beat seems to match.) I opened a bottle of red wine that the recipe did not call for. But shouldn’t one be rewarded for baking for a middle-grade homeroom at 11 o’clock at night?
I remembered that my child does not like raisins, so I hunted for a recipe that a) did not contain those and b) was still reasonably interesting. The one I found called for half a pound of butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and nuts. Ha! Perhaps my daughter would be putting on a bit of weight after all (instead of me)? Raisins or chocolate chips were optional, and there was no question which way I was going. A few months ago we had bought milk-chocolate chips that were way too large to use for cake decorations, so this was a perfect way to reduce their number as well. The recipe also advised a mix of real sugar with brown sugar. Perfect. I could get rid of that stone-like brown-sugar lump in my cupboard. And, while I was at it, I’d throw in three eggs instead of the two the recipe called for, since the ones in my fridge seemed kind of smallish.
This was quickly turning into a cupboard cleaning project, and Lyle Lovett certainly moved it along. (Anyone remember him as that spooky baker in Altman’s Short Cuts?) Listening to country music while baking oatmeal cookies started to make a lot of sense at 12:30 a. m. And after two glasses of wine.
As it goes with late night energy highs, they tend to have evaporated by the time the alarm clock shrills in the morning. No 6 a. m. workout for me, that was for sure. And I must not have greased the cookie sheets sufficiently: despite all the butter in the dough, at least half a dozen of my precious creations cracked when I tried to lift them with a spatula.
And then there was a moment of panic: I had put chopped walnuts into those cookies. Nuts! What had I been thinking? I needed to write an emergency email to the homeroom advisor immediately to alert her to this. And to buy at least a few apple cider donuts on our way to school anyway, as stand-ins for the deathly allergic in the group of eleven children.
But there was this sudden bright look on my breakfast-averse daughter’s face as she dragged herself out of bed and went to brush her hair. “Mama, did you keep any of these for us?” I sure had—the broken ones, which I had put in a separate tin. And as delicious as these crumbs were, there was something more important that morning. Over the day-to-day, the morning-to-morning mess of newspapers to be recycled, sneakers to be put on and cups to be put into the dishwasher, cellphones to be taken off the charger and beds to be made, there was this: the lingering smell of nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon, and brown sugar melted into butter. Just a hint, and a promise, of holidays to come.