We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we’re very fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so…― Michael Cunningham, The Hours
Who knew that half a life ago I’d be plotting the life I was never meant to live? I remember that first day, every shadow of it. Luggage stolen at Grand Central because I looked away, just for a moment, to say goodbye to that old life and oceans of dark that permanently eddied. But I didn’t care because I was running away! When I arrived in that small room I stood bag-less before a roommate who told me she didn’t trust white people. Not one bit. And I was confused because she was where I always fit; the lithe blondes with their silver lockets and closets filled with finery frightened me. They spoke a language that marked privilege: MTV, J.Crew, REM, The Hamptons. They hailed from Connecticut, Syosset and Great Neck, Long Island, and owned watches the cost of used cars. All of them seemed to know that you had to pay for your books, while I stood in line, humiliated, because I assumed they were free, like in high school. Although we shared the same pallor and lineage, we might as well have been from different dimensions. I wanted to tell my roommate this: Mary J., Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane and BK — believe me, I understand you.
As the weeks pressed on, I moved to a new room with a girl named Jen, who liked other girls and everyone talked about it. Made a show of not changing in front of her. Said words like dyke, and although I’d read hundreds of books by the dead, this was yet another word unfamiliar to me. In response, Jen strummed her guitar, played love songs about a girl with purple hair who took tablets and tripped into the gloaming. I told my roommate I’d never known anyone who was gay before, but if I was fine by her, she was fine by me. And so it was. Fine.
When I showed Jen my handwritten stories, poems — all siren songs to a mother who would always be my first love and hurt, she laughed. What’s a writer like you doing studying economics and marketing? Who reads Virginia Woolf while memorizing ratios? Because money made it certain that I’d never return to that dark country — I can’t write my way out. Jen left the papers on my bed and we never spoke of it again. Accounting, Futures and Options, Macro/Micro Economics, Mergers and Acquisitions, Business Law — for four years I drowned in a curriculum of money, while never realizing that the waves hadn’t receded. They’d been there the whole time, and I didn’t even know it. Because people who run block out the one thing they must know: people who run always come undone. Always. After graduation there I was again, trying to breathe underwater. Trying to numb my way through the hours, the years — all to remain afloat.
And then the years. So many years. Where did they go? Why is it impossible to get them back? These days Jen is a graphic designer — far from the rockstar she always dreamed she’d be. Sometimes I wonder if she’s in love, found a girl with purple hair who wasn’t so lost. I wonder if Jen is happy.
This week makes another year in passing. I’m 37 and realizing that happiness is not pining after the happiness that could have been had you chosen to be someone or do something else. Happiness is right now. Happiness is being present every single hour of your life because there will be a time when one moment isn’t the one you’ll survive.
This year will be about breaking ranks and I’m enjoying the ride. I’ve signed up for scores of baking and cooking class, as well as a French immersion. And after baking dozens of fancy pastries and earthy loves, I’m starting to realize that bread, loaf, muffin and cake baking is where I’m at. I hope you enjoy these delicious buns as much as I have. They’re tender, delicious, a little sticky sweet, and a kind reminder that if you keep being present your passion will surface and find yuo.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Averie Cooks
1 cup water, warmed (120 to 130F for Red Star Platinum yeast, or 105 to 115F for most other yeast)
2 1/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast (one 1/4-ounce packet, I use Red Star Platinum)
1 large egg
1/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3 1/2 cups bread flour (I use King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour)
1 cup old-fashioned whole rolled oats (not quick cook or instant)
1 cup raisins (combination of raisins, cranberries, currants, or other dried fruit may be used)
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons honey
Add water to a glass measuring cup or microwave-safe bowl and heat on high power to warm it, about 30 seconds. Testing with a thermometer is highly recommended, but if testing with your finger, water should feel warm but not hot.
To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the water and sprinkle the yeast on top of it. Beat on low speed for about 10 seconds, just to combine; let mixture stand for 10 minutes.
Add the egg, 1/4 cup honey, oil, salt, and mix until well-combined, about 2 minutes on low to medium-low speed. Add 3 cups flour, oats, raisins, cinnamon, and beat until a dough forms. Scrape off any dough bits stuck to the paddle and remove the paddle attachment. Put on the dough hook.
With the dough hook attached, turn mixer on low speed, and slowly sprinkle in remaining 1/2 cup of flour. Knead dough for about 8 to 10 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl and dough hook as necessary. Dough will be firm, smooth, not sticky, and elastic. Place mounded ball of dough in a lightly greased large bowl and cover with plasticwrap. Place mounded ball of dough in a cooking sprayed or lightly greased large bowl and cover with plasticwrap. Place bowl in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours. Tip – Preheating your oven for 1 minute to 400F, then shutting it off (make sure you shut it off), and quickly sliding the bowl in so the hot air doesn’t escape is one way to create a warm environment; think 85 or 90F summer day warm environment. A cooler environment simply means dough will take longer to rise.
After dough has risen and doubled, punch it down to release the air bubbles, and turn it out onto a Silpat or floured work surface. Knead for about 1 minute. Mound dough into a ball, place it back into the bowl, cover it, and allow it to rest and relax for about 10 minutes, making it easier to shape into rolls.
Prepare a 9-by-13-inch baking pan by lining it with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside.
Place dough on Silpat Non-Stick Baking Mat or floured work surface, and using your hands, roll it into a long cylinder, about 16 inches in length. Divide the log into 16 uniformly-sized pieces with a dough cutter or sharp knife. Roll each piece into a ball, creating surface tension on the top of the ball by stretching the dough over itself a bit and pinch off the bottom, tucking the dough into itself. Place each piece into the prepared pan, seam side down, uniformly spaced, four rows of four. (Dough may also be rolled into just a simple ‘plain ball’, without pulling on the top surface of dough to create tension and not bothering to pinch off the bottom a bit, but I find they rise better and are fluffier if they’re pinched off rather than just round dough globes)
After all pieces are in the pan, cover it with plasticwrap and allow to dough to rise for about 1 hour, or until rolls are nearly doubled in size. While dough rises, preheat oven to 400F. A good place for this rise is placing baking pan on the stovetop while oven is preheating for the carryover warmth.
Prepare honey-butter mixture by melting butter in a microwave-safe bowl on high power, about 1 minute. To the melted butter, add 2 tablespoons honey and stir to combine; set aside. After the rolls have risen and before baking, brush tops and sides of dough with the honey-butter mixture, getting into the sides and crevices and with a pastry brush. Bake rolls for about 15 minutes or until golden; they bake up very fast and watch them closely so the honey-butter mixture doesn’t burn in this very hot oven. Allow rolls to cool before serving. Serve with Honey Butter or Cinnamon-Sugar Butter.
Rolls may be stored at room temperature in an airtight container or ziplock bag for up to 4 days. Rolls also freeze very well and can be made from start to finish, cooled, and placed in a freezer-safe airtight container or a ziplock for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, unthaw them and if desired, immediately prior to serving warm them in a low oven (~175 to 200F) for a few minutes and just until warmed.