Spontaneity is becoming extinct, going the way of the dodo or the woolly mammoth.
Years ago, when my husband and I moved into our first apartment, friends lived nearby. We would drop in unannounced — a mortal sin these days — and if they were cooking enough for extras we’d stay for dinner. Another couple who lived a few blocks away introduced us to horse racing. During the racing season, the four of us would head for the race track after work with little or no planning and no schedule conflicts. During the same period, my husband and I would drive to a movie theater in a not-so-nearby community a couple of nights a week to see foreign films. If someone invited us to play, we’d drop everything and go.
Fast forward to today. We arrange to see friends weeks or months ahead. The calendar fills and we have to send regrets.
So last week, when a friend unexpectedly rang the doorbell and delivered a homemade Rosca Del Reyes*, a sweet bread for the feast day called Three Kings Day or the Epiphany, I felt a pull to do something spontaneous myself. I invited her and her mother, who was visiting from Mexico, and another friend for lunch the next day.
Since it’s always fun to cook with friends, I decided that making dessert could be a good group activity. Ever since we went to Portugal, I’ve wanted to make nata, a custard in a flaky pastry, which is the traditional sweet of Lisbon.
I printed out pieces of three recipes and used these to make my ingredients list, which consisted of puff pastry, seven egg yolks, lemon zest, whole milk and sugar. The resulting dessert looked so spontaneous that it barely resembled the treats we had eaten in Lisbon. But lunch was tasty and fun. It was a testament to what can happen when we go for spontaneity.
So what has changed since earlier times? In the past, our jobs could be done in eight hours and we didn’t take them home in our heads. These days friends are busy with travel and grandchildren and live farther away. We commit more time to outside groups and our particular interests. Still, I look back to those earlier times as delightfully carefree and wonder if they will ever return. Probably not. We’re different people than we were back then. Plays are more appealing than horse races and neither my husband nor I want to go out every night of the week.
I should add that spontaneity doesn’t always come easily. I rescheduled two appointments to pull off one luncheon.
Now I’m looking for uses for seven egg whites. Coconut macaroons seem like the best bet, though I don’t feel very spontaneous at the thought of making yet another trip to the grocery store, buying new ingredients and spending the afternoon baking. Maybe I should invite someone to lunch.
*Huff Post‘s “Latino Voices” explains the tradition this way. ¨In Mexico, thousands gather every year to taste a mile-long “Rosca de Reyes” (Kings’ Bread) while others simply make the holiday staple at home. The tradition calls for hiding a baby Jesus figurine** within the bread, and the person whose slice has the figurine must prepare tamales for everyone on the Day of the Candles on Feb. 2!”
**I got the baby Jesus with the first slice of bread and served Trader Joe’s tamales to fulfill this obligation a few weeks ahead of schedule.