Something unremarkable happened last week: I turned 41. It’s not exactly a landmark birthday because, well, that was last year. When you topple over into a new decade, everyone knows it’s worth taking a moment to reflect and observe, whether you want to or not. And when you’re getting close to a decade mark (like 37, 38, 39), you sense the need to savor it, to roll it around in your mouth for as long as you can, to let it linger on your tongue.
But turning 41 or 31… or 42 or 32 …or 43 or 33? It just seems hardly worth commenting on. The last time I had a birthday that fell in the early part of a decade, I was too busy to notice that it wasn’t worth noticing. When I turned 31, I had a 6-day-old baby. When I turned 32, I had a high-strung 1-year-old who still didn’t sleep through the night. When I turned 33, I had a high-strung 2-year-old, a 3-month-old, and (probably) a terrible headache. And so on.
But last Friday, I had the time to think about just what it means to be 41-year-old me, here and now, and why it’s pleasantly unremarkable:
- It snowed. On my birthday. When I was a kid, I hated a snowy birthday because it often meant a cancelled birthday party: no one was going to wind around the curvy Kentucky roads in the snow to celebrate the monumental event of my turning 11. But now, snow means a quiet morning walk after I drop the kids at school, bright red cardinals plucking the remains from the skeleton of our crab apple tree, and children who will immediately take themselves outside when they get home. What’s more, the snow reassured me that this is the same planet Earth on which I’ve always lived. I require that reassurance from time to time.
2. My kids sleep through the night now, and my husband still looks like this…just, you know, accidentally, in the back yard, on, like, a Tuesday. (This photo was actually from the pumpkin carving carnage of the globally-warmed October of 2016, but I happened across it recently.) So, beat that, 21-year-old, me.
3. My kids are growing up so nice…and so nicely. And while the oldest is still high-strung, most of his vibrating-with-misery now occurs at school, while I listen to the silence humming in my house. I’m always ready to see them when they come home in the afternoons, but I do love a quiet house. When I was 31 and 32 and 33…and 34, 35, 36, and 37, everywhere I went people said, “You look like you have your hands full!” Now, I radiate the calm of empty hands, strolling casually through the grocery store with the baby-seat portion of the cart full of fragile grocery items like avocados and leafy greens, smiling absently at the women whose kids are pulling cans off the shelves, and usually listening to a podcast while a shop. 41 is a form of silent meditation…only, with podcasts, when I want them.
4. (OK, this one is a forced add-on to the list, but I needed a segue between life and kitchen.) My mad bread-baking skills keep getting madder. There is an argument to be made that the further one progresses past the age of say, 23–or whatever age is the peak of metabolic efficiency– the less bread one ought to bake and eat. But there is so much in this world I can more easily live without than bread. And really good bread is worth foregoing dessert, in my opinion. Furthermore, my kids are growing up in a home where the smell of rising bread is the smell of home, and I’m doing my best to wear that groove deep into their little souls so that I’ll always have a way to call them home when the silence starts to hum a little too loudly. Like, maybe when I’m sixty-one.
These are the butteriest, flakiest rolls ever. The recipe comes, almost unchanged, from Cooks Illustrated‘s 2016 Annual collection, which I purchased in the grocery line one day toward the end of the year. Since then, we’ve become obsessed with these little rolls. They remind me of Pillsbury crescent rolls without the pop-open can, the crescent roll shape, and the mildly chemical undertone. All flaky layers and buttery melt. Not quite as quick as Pillsbury, but definitely more wholesome, and with the added bonus of giving your home that lovely yeasty smell of rising bread in the afternoon. That’s not nuthin.
There’s one weird thing here. This recipe begins with a paste of cooked flour and water. I’m not entirely persuaded that is necessary, but I haven’t messed around with it to find out because it’s easy enough to make cooked flour-paste and, I guess, why mess with a good thing? But I suspect these would would work without the paste, if you’re wondering.
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup milk
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, softened
- Mix together the flour paste ingredients and micowave them (or cook them on the stovetop) until they look like the paste we 40-somethings used to use in elementary school (the paste in the jar with the paddle?).
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the flour paste, milk, and egg and beat with the whisk until smooth.
- Switch to your dough hook and add the flour and yeast, mixing on low until moistened.
- Let stand for 15 minutes or so.
- Add the sugar and salt and mix on medium-low for about 5 minutes until your dough looks like dough.
- One tablespoon at a time, add the butter, mixing well to incorporate after each addition.
- Cover your bowl and let the dough rise until doubled, 1 hour in a warm house or 2 hours in my cold one.
- On a lightly floured surface, turn out your dough and roll it out with a rolling pin until it is a good-sized rectangle. How big is up to you. Bigger rectangle, thinner layers in your rolls; smaller rectangle, thicker layers. Either way: yum.
- Cut the dough into 12 strips. I did mine like this, but you do yours however you want. It occurs to me you could even make them look like crescent rolls if you cut them into long right triangles.
Roll them up.
- Arrange them in a buttered round baking pan and let them rise, covered, until about doubled, another hour or so.
- Bake them at 375 degrees until deeply golden, 25-30 minutes. The Cooks Illustrated recipe says to let them cool for 20 minutes before serving, but I believe in eating my bread warm. Anything else seems foolish to me. But, your bread, your call.