In retrospect, the doughnuts were a bad idea. Like other things that at the time seem reasonable -- one more straw on the camel's back, a wafer-thin mint -- the doughnuts turned what should have been a day of serene domesticity into a fat-spattered race against time.
Our youngest daughter, suffering from allergies, had stayed home from school. She and I had appointments and errands scattered throughout the day, but they were nothing much. The only really important thing was to arrive punctually at carpool pickup so that the other children could get to after-school jobs and sports practices. And carpool pickup, well, it was hours away!
We had plenty of time to make homemade doughnuts.
"Are doughnuts complicated?"
"No ... the recipe looks surprisingly straightforward," I said, running my eyes down the first page about doughnuts in "The Joy of Cooking." I flipped to "About Fat Frying," scanned that section too, and put on an apron.
"You're not going to put in flax seeds, are you?" asked the child suspiciously.
"No, we're going to go for the full-fat, full-sugar, full-white-flour treatment," I assured her. "Though it goes against everything I believe."
"Well, everyone loves doughnuts," she reasoned. "Even yoga moms."
We began poking through the cupboards. The phone rang a couple of times and the dog needed a walk, and pretty soon, with one thing and another, the morning got away from us. By the time we dashed out for a noon appointment we'd managed to double-sift the flour, to take the eggs out of the fridge, and to disinter an ancient tub of Crisco that looked as fresh and repulsive as it had the day I'd bought it.
Returning home a couple of hours later, it became clear that we no longer had a solid block of time left.
It was then that, like a man loading straw on to the back of a camel, I saw how productive it was possible to be. If I interspersed the steps of doughnut making with my other obligations -- showering, dressing and editing an article -- everything would fit and we would get to carpool on time. The margins were slim, but how sleek and excellent the efficiency!
"Here's the plan," I said briskly, laying it out.
Together we quickly mixed the dough, rolled it out, and cut it into shapes. While the raw doughnuts rested, in accordance with the recipe, I put the oil on to heat and sent the 7-year-old into the next room to play.
"I'll be down in three shakes!" I told her, and sprinted up to the shower, pausing only to make a few edits.
Three shakes later, I was back. The oil was shimmering and terrible. The kitchen stank like a fast-food restaurant.
A drop of water rolled down my cheek. It dawned on me that it was reckless to have wet hair while deep fat frying, so I raced upstairs again to the laptop and blow-dryer.
Another three shakes later, I was back.
"Mummy, are we going to be late?"
"No, no!" I cried, "No we have plenty of time" -- a panicked glance at the clock -- "to make doughnuts. I promised you we'd make 'em, and we're going to make 'em!"
Reader, you should have seen how beautifully the plump, tender parcels began bubbling as they made contact with the hot oil. The pale dough turned golden, then a richer gold, and within an instant completely black. Fishing the doughnuts out, I found them perfectly charcoaled on the outside, and perfectly raw within.
"Too hot! Too hot!" I cried, turning down the heat, and slipping more dough into the pan.
Removing the briquettes a few moments later, I saw that it was time to leave for the carpool pickup. We still had not produced edible doughnuts but if we didn't leave now, we were doomed: We'd hit worse traffic, the other children would be late for their engagements, and I'd never make it to the dry cleaners in time. Prudence dictated that I turn off the heat that very minute and try again later.
Unfortunately, I wasn't listening to Prudence. I couldn't hear Prudence through the roar of the extractor fan and the miasma of hot oil that filled the house. And so as the clock ticked onward, the margin disappeared. I stood at the stove furiously frying doughnuts like a short-order cook gone mad. "ROAR!" went the fan and "KSSSHH!" went the oil and, silently, fatally, the clock ticked inexorably onward.
We were doomed.
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Monday and Thursday. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.