No Reason to Refuse

Late last week, I was at the end of my rope. I couldn’t imagine spending another minute inside, staring at a computer screen or filing documents. It was almost eighty degrees, with cherry blossoms adorning every other tree and the dogwoods in full bloom, and by Thursday there was nothing I needed more than to be driving home from work with my windows down, classic rock blasting and Ray-Bans secured atop the bridge of my nose. Since the office was deathly quiet, I split at noon, and asked myself exactly what I wanted to do with my freedom. The answer came to me swiftly and simply: Let’s bake!

I’m not known for my spontaneity — I’m a planner by nature. But on this particular afternoon, my sunny kitchen called to me, and I had no reason to refuse it. An apartment bathed in natural light is a rare and beautiful thing usually reserved for weekend afternoons; winter’s rationed light taught me to savor every bright moment I spent in my home, and I celebrated now by baking with nature’s sunniest fruit. I keep a stash of ultra-ripe bananas in my freezer (I’m a planner, remember?), ready to spring into action at any moment. On this day, I knew the best way to relax into the moment would be to stir together my favorite, tested-to-perfection banana bread. I’d end up with a hearty loaf for a week of breakfasts, all while staring contentedly out the window: the steps for this recipe are etched into my muscle memory.

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Wok This Way

There was no experience in my childhood that prepared me for the campus dining hall. I dutifully packed my brown-bag lunch till the day I graduated from high school, only entering the lunch line for an occasional order of French fries. My parents were both excellent from-scratch cooks who inspired the same spirit in me, and the draw of mystery meat and greasy lunchroom pizza never enticed me away from assembling my own sandwiches. But thrust out of my home and into a kitchenless dorm, I found myself standing in a gigantic dining emporium filled with constantly replenishing vats of food, and I didn’t know what to do.

At lunch the first day, my initial reaction was that of abject fear. My second was hunger, so I flitted around with my new friends and tried to get a handle on how this new cultural experience worked, while also attempting to weed out the delicious from the inedible. It turned out that most of the dining hall’s food-like substances fit neatly into that second category: mushy pasta and watery tomato sauce abounded, as did equal amounts of over- and under-cooked meats, as well as far too many platters of similar-looking fried things. We’d also come to realize that the cookie platters were the most reliably satisfying items in the dining hall, and that the novelty of having our very own frozen yogurt machine never really went away. But fortunately for our blood sugar levels, we discovered the standby that would fuel countless meals that year: do-it-yourself stir-fry.

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A Whisk and a Pour

Weekend mornings are supposed to be a calm affair. There’s no throwing of alarm clocks against the wall, no bleary-eyed preparation of brown-bag lunches, no chaining yourself to a coffee thermos to power through the first hours of the morning. No, the morning doesn’t seem cruel when it finds you on Saturday or Sunday. The light is muted rather than harsh, and you’ve got time to wrap your hands around a warm mug while you read the paper (or simply let your mind wander).

I imagine we all seek that sort of feeling with our weekend breakfasts: we crave something good enough to linger over, but any supreme effort would feel out of place in our bubbles of stress-free existence. Enter yeast-raised waffles. With a batter meant to be left on the counter overnight, you can luxuriate in their maple-drenched goodness after only a whisk and a pour in the a.m.

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Nothing But the Water

I’m very picky about the temperature. I’m grumpy through the sizzling months of summer, require at least three layers before going sledding, and am a frequent complainer about overly air-conditioned offices no matter what the season. So it catches me entirely by surprise when the air outside is completely and utterly perfect, without any characteristic that could elicit a grumble from me. Today was one of those days where you’d be wonderfully comfortable if you wore shorts or jeans, if you were sitting on a park bench or jogging on the W&OD trail, parked at a red light with your windows down or happily speeding along with the breeze in your hair.

Thus, it was also one of those days where you can’t bear to be inside. I awoke with plans to make lemon-buttermilk cookies before picnicking, but standing by the oven today would’ve been a chore. So I ditched the kitchen for Great Falls National Park. Sixteen miles from home, this trip was a no-brainer: low-effort, low-cost, and high-reward.

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Grate Expectations

As an ethnic Jew with no serious investment in the religion, Chanukah means one thing to me, and one thing only: latkes! In college, I had a wonderful roommate who, having also fallen from the graces of the Tribe, shared my latke-centric outlook on the holiday. One year, she suggested we spread the love to our friends, most of whom had attended Catholic schools growing up and needed to learn the way of the latke. We would throw a Chanukah party! This was all fine and good until she revealed that her proposed guest list was twenty names long. That meant twenty latke-gobbling humans in our apartment, shoveling potato pancakes into their maws as fast as we could fry them up.

It didn’t turn out to be the epic disaster I’d vehemently sworn it would be. Nevertheless, four pounds of potatoes into our preparation, I was casting evil glares in her direction as I bloodied my knuckles over a washboard grater, the pile of potatoes turning an unappetizing shade of gray as they were exposed to air. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t made a latke since.

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