Dads and kids across the country are planning ahead for Mom's annual breakfast in bed. Or, being dads and being kids, they're not. Still, they'll give it a go when the time comes. That's the thing about rituals — even if you ignore them, they have a way of reasserting themselves at the last moment, to the sound of wet pancake batter being mixed, spatulas scraping the griddle and plates musically clattering onto the breakfast table.
My husband Randy's pancakes are better than mine — crisp and golden on the outside, tender and puffed within. I could ask him to make them for me. But it's not called Wife's Day — it's called Mother's Day.
So in an ideal world I like to imagine it would be my kids, 4 and 10, who tie on their aprons, make the breakfast and ascend the stairs to the bedroom that Sunday. I will lie there, oblivious to the sounds of manufacturing below, with ears only for the sweet sound of spring songbirds and the silence of me not vacuuming.
But in truth, the idea that my kids might attempt to make pancakes alone does not inspire any sort of serene anticipation. Pancakes are actually rather difficult to make, especially if you're a kid. They require close temperature regulation and a certain amount of confidence in the flipping department. Both of these skills come with experience, the commodity least likely to be found in kids.
And neither of my kids has yet gotten a license to drive an open flame. There are many things I can imagine wanting to do on Mother's Day, but tracking the smell of smoke and burned butter and calculating the odds of salvaging my favorite skillet is not one of them.
For an equally delicious but less peril-fraught special day, baked goods such as muffins and scones are the ticket. The batter or dough can be made before it goes anywhere near the heat. There are no knives or open flames for you (or your spouse) to worry about. You can use fresh fruits or frozen or dried ones, if that's all that's around.
And finally, baked goods hang out in the oven for 35 minutes or even longer — which gives someone time to sweep the flour off the floor and make some coffee, and someone else time to wash sticky hands and break out the crayons for a card.
A waffle is nearly as easy, since the waffle iron takes most of the guesswork out of the equation. The best waffle I know is a yeasted waffle that sits overnight, developing flavor and character; in the morning all you have to do is beat in the eggs and salt and plug in the iron. While the waffles cook, you might as well whip some heavy cream, doctor it up with orange extract and orange zest and serve it alongside the freshest maple syrup you can get your hands on.
It's true that the iron will require some adult supervision. But hey, that also means that the waffles might require some adult taste-testing. I often find that's the case, and I have no doubt Randy will make a similar finding.
Both of my children have been baking with me since they were small. Each, at the age of 3, received an apron of his or her own design (Noah chose a bold print with life-size lemons; Zoe went for lavender floral with a pink grosgrain ribbon). Each learned quickly to level out a measuring cup with a knife and to scrape every last bit out of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Given sufficient apron coverage, guidance from their mom and a hand vac for spills, they are capable of turning out some spectacular results.
It actually is not uncommon for the kids to bake with me on Mother's Day weekend — but we're usually making a birthday cake, because Randy's birthday, inconveniently enough, falls right around then. Making muffins with Papa would be a distinct change of routine for my kids.
Nevertheless, being an optimist, I will hint broadly to all concerned that some baked goods for Mother's Day would not go unappreciated. Being a realist, I will not be brokenhearted if they don't quite manage to deliver the goods. And being a mom, I will love them just the same.
About The AuthorT. Susan Chang regularly reviews cookbooks for The Boston Globe and NPR.org and the cookbook indexing website Eat Your Books. Her first book, A Spoonful of Promises: Recipes and Stories from a Well-Tempered Table
(Lyons Press), will be released in fall 2011. Visit her blog, Cookbooks for Dinner.