Lately it seems that Gabe and I agree on few things. "Are you ready to put on your shoes?" "No!" "Want some soup for lunch?" "No!" Bath? No! Share a toy with your baby brother? No! He volleys no-bombs at me, and I launch my own right back at him. There is to be: no shouting, no throwing inside the house, no steamrolling one's baby brother, no eating stickers, no peeing in the bathtub. And so on.
Luckily for both of us, even on days when yes might as well be a foreign word, there is reading time. It's something we can always agree on. I love the way Gabe's curls nestle under my chin and his body gets all droopy and sleepy as we sit in the dim bedroom, picking books from a toppling stack. No matter what kinds of antics happen in the hours beforehand or afterward, reading time is dependably harmonious.
I feel a special kinship with the authors and illustrators who fill this much-needed hiatus with imagination, humor, and subtle wisdom. Some of the stories are just, well, about trucks (a brief sampling: "Good Morning, Digger," "Trucks Roll," "You Can Name 100 Trucks!," "Trucks," "Trucks Go," etc.). But others seem written with the sole purpose of lifting up tired, conflicted parents like me. They are a pleasure to get momentarily lost in. Marisabina Russo's "The Bunnies are Not in Their Beds," a recent library find, is among this special breed.
Now, as a rule, I avoid exposing my increasingly willful son to stories about children who refuse to go to bed. He doesn't need any more ideas, right? But there is something entrancing and even enlightening in this tale of three little bunnies and their patient parents, who, Zen-like, deal with repeated interruptions to their evening routine and never seem to lose their cool. To my amazement and awe, the bunny parents show only the slightest hint of exasperation when they trudge upstairs for the fourth time to find their three little ones dressed in chaps and bandanas, enacting a rodeo in their toy-strewn bedroom. They simply say--over and over again without cursing, clenching, or even breaking a sweat--"Good night, good night, sleep tight!", then retreat downstairs and resume an enchantingly quiet, cozy evening routine featuring armchair reading, letter writing, tea drinking, and cake eating.
You see where I am going with this, don't you? (I mean, this is a food blog, after all.) I want that cake, of course. The cake that is sliced sans brooding, plotting, sighing, anticipating, yawning, sniping--without any of the negative feelings evinced by my own child's occasional refusal to go to sleep. The cake with the tea and the book and the armchair and the calm husband and the inner peace required to write a letter to somebody. The cake that is eaten in a house where the parents have accepted that raising a little one is a process whose product can be elusive and distant. A process requiring tenacity, level-headedness, and, above all, patience. That cake, please.
The bunnies, naturally, are eating carrot cake (while reading Hare-Raising Stories!). For us, this cold January week, it's been a warming apple gingerbread upside-down cake. This recipe comes from a trusted source I've drawn on before. It's easy to make and beautiful to behold, and it fills the kitchen with an intoxicating spicy-sweet smell.
I am working on achieving a Zen-like posture towards my pre-schooler's growing assertiveness. It may be some time before I attain the enviable equanimity of Bunny Mama and Bunny Daddy, but I figure I have to start somewhere. So cake and tea after "bedtime" it will be.
"Good night, good night, sleep tight!"
You can find the recipe for Apple Gingerbread Upside-Down Cake here. Our 9-inch cake pan turned out a taller cake than the one you'll see in blogger Deb Perelman's photos. This meant that I used fewer apples (about two instead of the four she calls for) and that the cake-to-apple ratio was therefore a bit higher than it probably ought to be. It also meant that the baking time was a bit longer than called for in the recipe. Still delicious, but I can't help fantasizing about the possibility of even more apple-y, brown sugary goodness in each bite.