Magic

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Recipe # 10 biscuits

I was wondering if Luca was bored with cooking since he hadn’t wanted to make his beloved tomato sauce the day before. But right after dinner that night he picked out his next recipe: biscuits.

I am not much of a baker. With the exception of Alice Waters’ Plum Upside down cake which for some reason always turns out great, I don’t have much luck with cakes and pies. Cookies are OK as long as I don’t try for anything too complicated. I once made an apple pie with homemade pie crust to bring to a friend’s Thanksgiving dinner. This friend happens to be an expert baker. His pies and cakes come out looking like something you’d want to put on your wall if they weren’t so unbelievably delicious. He is more like a magician than a baker. I spent the day working and reworking the pie crust and ended up with a pie so ugly I thought of a hundred lies to tell about how it had met its demise. It was wrinkled and brown with stray pieces of crust that were badly patched together. After dinner the desserts came out and there was my failure on display along with an astonishing array of perfectly stunning cakes and pies. I couldn’t bear to listen to the nice guests try to find something nice to say about my hideous pie so I invented a story. I said that it was called an Estonian Apple Pie, and that in Estonia the tradition is to make pies as ugly as possible to deter pie thieves from stealing them off the kitchen window sill. They get prizes in Estonia, I elaborated, for the ugliest and tastiest pie. For about a minute everyone believed me and then afterwards nobody felt the need to say anything nice about my ugly apple pie.

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Luca’s first order of business was to place his army action figure on the kitchen counter, so now we had a witness in the form of a plastic army guy on steroids. Luca measured out the flour (1/2 whole wheat as is the custom in our house), baking soda, sugar and salt. Then Luca poured out the milk and mixed it together. He loved watching it get lumpy. “It looks like a fossil,” he remarked. Then he formed the dough into a ball, gently working it inside the bowl.

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He sprinkled some flour onto the counter and rolled out the dough. Then he went to work kneading it. It was something of a wonder watching him do this. He was silent and heaved his shoulders into the work as though he had been doing it his whole life. Watching him, one would have thought that perhaps he had come from a long line of bakers. And he was fast. Some days it seems like all I ever say to Luca is “Come on. Can’t you do that a little faster?” So watching him work the dough so swiftly was a revelation.

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The recipe says to knead the dough only for a minute and Luca had gone over, so I stopped him and went to look for something to use as a cookie cutter. I came up with a small wine glass. Here again, Luca was incredibly fast and precise. He loved making the biscuit shapes and then reworking the dough so he could cut more round biscuits from it. When we were done we had 14 biscuits.

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We poured the melted butter into a bowl and Luca dipped the biscuits in the butter one by one and placed them on the baking sheet. My arteries were hardening just looking at how much butter was dripping off the biscuits and then the biscuits sliding around in the butter on the baking sheet. I told Luca to get his mitts on and he did that but the top oven was too high for him so I placed the baking sheet in the oven.

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Luca went back to playing with his army action figure but when he smelled the biscuits baking, he came over and stood in front of the oven. “Oh, yum!” he said with a deep growl of appreciation. Then Jim called. Luca told him the biscuits were baking and that they smelled so good he was planning on putting his head in front of the oven so that his hair would smell like them.

When the biscuits came out of the oven they looked and smelled divine. It really was a little bit of magic, I thought, mixing these ingredients together, putting them in an oven and ending up with something so deeply satisfying. We ate one right off the baking sheet and Luca’s eyes rolled back into his head with the pleasure of it. Just then I remembered the biscuits my mother used to make for Thanksgiving. My mother was a really terrible cook and we almost never had dinner around the table together. Instead we would sort of forage on our own and as a result eating was a lonely affair. But on Thanksgiving my mother would roast a big turkey and make mashed potatoes. Best of all she’d pop open a pressurized can of Pillsbury biscuits, and ten minutes later we’d have them right out of the oven and smothered in butter. They were so warm and buttery and comforting that they almost made up for all the TV dinners eaten, not even in front of the TV, but alone at the dining table.

Luca’s biscuits were light, slightly nutty and of course buttery. “I’m going to divide them up into three,” Luca said apparently planning on eating them all that very night with dinner. I wanted to do that too but I didn’t let on. “We’re each going to have one or two tonight and save the rest for tomorrow,” I said doing my best imitation of a grownup.

Over dinner I told Luca how great it was going to be when he went to college and could cook a nice meal for himself. “All your friends are going to want to come to your place for dinner,” I said.

“Oh yeah, because in college the mommies only make their lunches,” he said.

“When you’re in college, you have to make all your own meals because your mommy and daddy won’t be there. You’ll be on your own then.” Luca just stared at me and I felt just terrible. He has heard this before, about how one day he will move out and be on his own, but he continues not to want to hear about it.

“Then the teachers make the lunches,” he said. This was tremendously satisfying to him and he slathered a big lump of blueberry jam onto his second biscuit.

“No, the teachers don’t make lunch. They are too busy teaching to make lunch. You have to make your own lunch.”

“Or go out to a restaurant,” Luca said.

“Right,” I said and then tried changing the subject. “You are so lucky that you’re learning how to cook so you will always know how to make something really good at home.” But it was no use trying to come up with something cheery to say. At the thought that Luca could not imagine a world without nurturing, lunch-making adults my eyes welled up. Likewise, I cannot imagine a world without a seven year old boy asking his constant questions and driving me crazy with how long it takes to put on his shoes. I looked at him across the table, not even trying to hide my eyes that were swollen with tears. We are both blind to a future without each other. We know it is coming, but we are happier when we choose not to think about it. And happier still when there are fresh, warm biscuits on the table.

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Next up: pasta with garlic an olive oil (plus anchovies, olives and fresh tomatoes).

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