Above: Photo of marmalade; image by Keri Titley on Unsplash
Above: Photo of aebleskiver; Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup on Unsplash
My alarm goes shreeeinnngg at 7:30, Sunday morning, and the sky is turning from pink to light blue. My apron waits for me on the closet door, a cream canvas with blue, green, and yellow oral prints. I pull out two glass bowls, a measuring cup, plastic ladles, teaspoon and tablespoon, and my grandmother’s copy of The Joy of Cooking, a 1964 edition with a stained teal face. I run my ngers over its sandwiched pages till I nd the crimson ribbon that bookmarks our most beloved recipe: crepes. Sift the our, salt and sugar. Separate whites from yokes, add water, milk, and a dash of vanilla. My father ambles into the kitchen.
“Need help, honey?” He kisses my head.
“You can start the bacon and espresso.”
Espresso! That steaming elixir, poured into two orange ceramic cups and mixed with
a spoonful of sugar. We sip, we sigh. I pull out an old cast iron pan with a bonade wooden handle that has seven circular indents. From the back, the pan looks like six black planets orbiting a black sun. This is our ebelskiver pan, smuggled from Denmark sometime in the 1950s.
On special Sundays we use this pan to make delightfully round, jelly-lled, better-than-pancakes ebelskivers, or “ploppers” as we call them. They are the only dish we inherited from my Danish great-grandmother, who came to America in 1910. When my mother was little, she would wake to the smell of ebelskivers and come down to nd her grandmother working magic on the stovetop in only her bra (they didn’t have good air-conditioning in the 70s, and Florida is hot). My family doesn’t make this sweet delicacy like the Danes; we don’t have my great-grandmother's original recipe, so we use a crepe batter, and we eat ploppers dozens of times a year while the Danes only partake on Christmas. I was scolded by one of my Danish friends when she discovered our breach in Christmas tradition. But my great-grandmother was the one who rst broke that tradition. And as for it being a Christmas tradition, our Sunday mornings do have a touch of the sacred.
My parents have never been very happy together. I often marvel at how two individuals
who I understand so well can so easily upset each other. Subtle things triggered them, sore spots I have learned to dance around. My father might micromanage dinner preparation or the details for a road trip, little exasperations about the way my mother does things stacking up like dirty plates between them. My mother will say nothing except, “Do what you want Todd,” letting layers of unchallenge criticisms collect until it’s decades deep. This resigned response dampens my father spirit. He’s always just trying to make things better. Their unhappiness rolls o them in suocating waves, transforming them into the Martyr and the Silenced One.
Sometime around age twelve I realized I could temporarily infuse our home with the contentment it lacked by baking for my parents. No one can be completely unhappy when there is fresh bread or cookies to be eaten. It was also my way of lling the whole my mother left when she retreated into herself. I became the mother. I became the hearth.
Sundays were the main event, too early for the regrets of my father or the bitterness of my mother to begin percolating. The set table and oerings of food glowing in the soft morning light whisper reassurances about the state of our family dynamics. It was the time we were most at peace.
Slip a sliver of butter into each ebelskiver bowl, add two tablespoons of batter and a small dollop of marmalade (my father’s favorite). Wait two minutes. Then, using two slim wooden tongs expertly (or inexpertly) ip the half-baked balls so the uncooked side rests on the bottom. If you put in too much marmalade, it will run to the bottom to crystalize and smoke. This always adds an extra delicious crunch, but your next batch will stick and burn. If done right the ploppers just plop right out of the pan, perfectly round and golden, light and crispy on the outside with a marmalade surprise. We still eat ebelskiver the proper way, drizzled in maple syrup and dusted with powdered sugar. Ten neighbors might pass through the house to grab a plopper over the course of the morning, all invited by my father when he was out walking our rottweiler. He’ll call to them as they water their gardens or grab their mail, “Hanna has made ploppers Sandra! Why don’t you come over?”
“Would you like an espresso, Alex?” “Breakfast is ready!”
There are never enough chairs, and we end up pulling the piano bench into the dining room for me and my little sister to share. My father is in his element, telling stories, teasing, inquiring, irting with everyone, oering more, more, more.
“What are you up to?”
“How is your son?”
“More espresso?” Laughter. More ploppers. More laughter. “Do you want an egg too? I can make you one.”
“Damn, these are delicious!”
My mother sits by, chiming in now and then, or carrying on a side conversation with her friend Larissa. My mother looks directly at Larissa as her friend speaks. She listens attentively. Her eyes are soft and gentle. In turn, Larissa will not interrupt her, like my father might. Larissa leaves space for her, a space my mother can never seem to take up with my father around. The haze of food and friends leaves space for all, a cushy insulation between unt puzzle pieces. I relax. I have fullled my role as parent whisperer Extraordinaire.
Soon enough, all the ploppers will have been eaten, the lm of egg yolk left behind on the plate scraped up and nibbled on, too golden and precious to waste. There’s not a bit of bacon left, and only dregs in the bialetti. We go for a walk down dancing Fox Rd. The sun is noon-warm. The leaves on the gingkoes and maples are green. The breeze is a kiss. My sister and I hold hands. My parents do not. The contentment of Sunday mornings will hold us through the day, waning slightly as the sun goes down. The day becomes a memory, bitter and sweet, like the lingering taste of marmalade.
Above: Johanna Burr is an MFA graduate student specializing in creative writing at Iowa State University. She also works as a part-time professor teaching English Composition. Her poems and essays can be found in the OWL (Ohio Wesleyan Literary Journal