3 | 52 Cinnamon Rolls
The deeper into this writing project I get, the more I realize it has very little to do with Nora after all. Cooking for my family is how I've defined myself in this brave new world of motherhood. It's not just Nora I cook for, though. It's my husband and my parents, and neighbors and friends from church. And myself. I bake, especially, for myself.
I write for myself, too. I battled a lot this past year with the idea of IMPOSTER SYNDROME. It's the 2016 self-analysis buzzword that keeps slapping back into my life, a replacement for 2015's DECISION FATIGUE. It's a real thing, folks. Google it. That terrible little voice in my head kept asking what right I had to have opinions about anything, since I'm a hack and all. This series was me proving to myself that that mean little voice is the one who has no business chiming in here. It's a work in progress. I'm a work in progress.
I realized tonight, as I cranked out four of the five dozen cinnamon rolls I made today, that this writing project is, in fact, less about what I'm getting Nora to eat. It's more about what I'm making her, from a place of love and nurturing. And exhaustion. Sometimes delirium. Sometimes desperation. It's about how I see myself as her mother, how I show her love through food, how I'm trying to teach her to care for herself, to care about herself and what she puts into herself.
Enter: cinnamon rolls. If there was ever a way to say, "I love you" on a plate, it's the cinnamon roll. Hot from the oven, steam whirling gently off them into the morning sunlight, they whisper with every bite, "You are loved, you are loved, you are loved." I serve them a couple times a year, always with a reckless amount of icing, always with more cinnamon than is probably sane.
I didn't get this recipe from a book. It hails from my time at Food Network, coming from the magazine and immediately tempting me with its luscious, yeasty goodness. These rolls were my first attempt at a yeasted dough that called for an overnight rise. They were my first enriched dough, and the first time I made something for James that really got the reaction I had been hoping for. He was delighted. I could tell from his smile that he felt the love I had poured into them when he took that first bite.
Nora was the same when I let her steal nibbles of cinnamon rolls for the first time. I taught a cooking class for our church that featured these beauties a couple weeks back and she clung to my knees the whole time I rolled and slathered and wound and sliced these beauties, her bright face beaming hopefully up at me, begging quietly for a taste of the things she could smell from below.
I lifted her, hefted her whole 25 pounds up, and let her sniff a jar of cinnamon. She's learning sign language, and immediately she signed that she wanted more of that, specifically to eat. I let her try a nibble of the raw dough and she loved it. I watched her roll the springy ball around on her tongue, trying to decide. I watched her experience the nutmeg, take a deep breath and give it a tentative chew. I watched her face light up as the gentle tang of the yeast and the gentle sweetness of the sugar filled her mouth, the perfume of the vanilla signing in at the end. She swallowed it and looked at me expectantly. Her eyes said it all, a gentle smile tickling up their edges: That was great, Mom... But that's not what I wanted.
Who could blame her, having sniffed the magic that is a jar of Chinese Cassia? I sighed and dipped a small spoon into the dish that held the filling: butter, Cassia, Ceylon, and sugar. I handed her the spoon because some things in life a lady really ought to learn to do for herself, and I believe that make life-changing food is at the top of that list.
I'm not sure if you've ever witnessed a person have a life-changing moment, but the second my kid stuffed that spoon coated in a (very thin, put your torches and pitchforks away) layer of butter and sugar and cinnamon into her mouth, I knew she was a goner. Her love affair with pastry started that day, and I really don't think there's any going back.
Once they were baked, she made her rounds, tugging at pant legs and hustling every adult in the room for a bite of their cinnamon roll. When she completed her circuit she went right back to the beginning and started again, hitting my father twice every round because when it comes to sharing delicious treats with her, she's identified him as the weakest link. Or the most likely to entertain her adorable begging. Potato, potahto.
The important thing is that she felt it. They all did. They felt the love that goes into a dough that you knead, that you shape, that you rest, that you rise, that you roll and fill and slice and bake. You can find the Basic Sweet Roll Dough recipe and the Classic Cinnamon Rolls recipe both via Food Network. Make sure to leave yourself enough time to proof everything thoroughly. Read both recipes all the way through or the timelines can sneak up on you, which is a rookie mistake that this rookie made several times.
tl;dr - Make cinnamon rolls. Start the dough the night before. Show the people that you love just how much you care. My kid is cute.