I wish Sunday mornings still tasted of butter. As a kid, I anticipated its rich sweetness from the moment I woke up. To distract my impatient stomach while my parents slept in, I memorized the print of a Jean-Etienne Liotard painting that hung next to the TV. The sitter wore a dress made from a flower-printed fabric that I imagined felt as soft as a golden brown pancake. The kind that they served at IHOP, which didn’t exist in New York and which I begged my parents to let us visit when we went to see family. My dad made thick, dimpled pancakes but he dropped chocolate chips in if you asked. It was a consolation prize I readily accepted.
But he cooked pancakes only on special Sundays. Otherwise, he took me to the local bagel store before morning soccer games. This was Brooklyn so the line was long, but this was Brooklyn so the line moved quickly because Brooklynites are more familiar with their bagel orders than they are with maximizing vertical storage. The orders cascaded like couplets at a poetry recital. Sesame with cream cheese. Tuna salad on pumperknickel. Everything with lox. And plain, toasted with butter, for me. The bagel came wrapped in white parchment paper that felt as scratchy as my polyester soccer jersey. I didn’t know how to improve the jersey, but I did know how to fix the packaging: devour the gobs of melting butter and pretend like they made soccer interesting.
Giving up soccer solved the soccer conundrum and I moved from bagels and bodegas to toast and breakfast with my parents at a nearby Latin restaurant. Forget brittle slices tossed on a grubby plate. These grilled quadrilaterals of spongey loaf bread came sandwiched together in wicker baskets lined with burgundy paper napkins. They had less butter than bagels, but sometimes you’d pry apart two pieces and find piles hidden inside. Opening those pieces was more exciting than coming home to discover the book you’d ordered from Amazon had arrived.
Then the neighborhood changed, rents increased, and Duane Reade replaced the restaurant. Simultaneously, I realized croissants epitomized Sunday morning butter, though they needed help. Straight from the pastry case at our local café, they tasted like Halloween spider webbing. After being wrapped in foil and blitzed in the oven, the plasticine texture loosened into waves of silk. I rode these waves across the city. To my neighborhood’s newly-opened French bakery, to City Bakery’s Pretzel croissant and to Whole Foods for pain au chocolat. Whereas I had once craved the uniform surface of IHOP pancakes, I relished the variety of texture the croissant offered. From crunchy to chewy and soft, each bite reintroduced me to my long-time friend. Butter wasn’t just an ingredient, but an experience that changed according to circumstances.
I still love butter but eat less. Sometimes I bake it up as shortbread or use it to scramble an egg. But whenever I detect its sweet aroma—of cookies baking or pancakes sizzling—I remember those Sunday morning soccer games, crumbs, and that Liotard dress. And all is right with the world.