Dollars Buy Doughnuts (But Don’t Tell My Doctor)

Maybe it was because the youngest college student I’ve ever taught, 13-year old Jasmine, gave me one of her inaugural business cards on Wednesday. Jasmine bakes, and her business card has a cake doughnut emblazoned in the upper left corner. There’s pink frosting with chocolate drizzle on that doughnut image, and there’s a big bite missing.

Mmmmmmmm, I thought. Doughnut.

That afternoon, I went for my annual physical, where my wonderful doctor was delighted with what she called a ‘significant’ weight loss (I call it a ‘start’) and wrote me up scripts for a blood draw and an X-ray.

I had to fast for the blood draw, and I had to give final exams the next day, so I decided I’d get up early Friday morning and get the work done when the lab doors opened at 6:30.

And another thought came running along behind that decision. Here it is: After the lab work, I’ll go get Donald’s Doughnuts.

And that is what I did.

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Donald’s is a bit of a legend around these parts. (Actually, its legendary status goes even beyond these parts. I have a former student, Jason, who lives in Pittsburgh. Jason is an amazing poet, and so is his wife, Jenny. When they travel deep into the Midwest to visit Jenny’s parents, they sometimes break up the trip at Zanesville, just to visit Donald’s Doughnuts.)

Donald’s staff bakes up fresh doughnuts daily; they open up early (5:00 a.m.) and their Facebook page says they close at 6:00 p.m. But, if they sell out of that day’s doughnuts, they don’t dilly-dally. They hang a sign in the window that says, “Closed. Sold out,” and they darken the lights and head on out of there.

Donald’s is the kind of place where they have a wrap-around, formica-topped bar with stools that spin. There are a couple of booths in the window. In the mornings, those stools and booths are filled with retirees, mostly men; I’m guessing the cushions and seats are molded to the dimensions of specific bottom quarters that have sat there, in the same places, so often. When I go in to purchase my dozen, the regulars glance up from their thick, white, never-empty mugs of steaming diner coffee with wry looks.

“Amateur,” I hear them thinking, and they shrug and go back to their breakfasts and their gossip.

The doughnuts are amazing. They’re light and perfect, iced or plain, and the variety hits that sweet spot between “That’s it?” and too many choices.

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I’m at the lab door when it opens at 6:30 a.m., and the staff is so efficient that I get to Donald’s by 7:10. Already, though, on this Friday morning, the stools and the booths are packed, and the shelves sport empty spaces where, especially, the glazed doughnuts have gone missing. I text Mark that I’m bringing doughnuts so he doesn’t fill up on breakfast.

I select three Long Johns for Jim and three cinnamon swirls, because, in a box of doughnuts, there needs to be a cinnamon presence, and I fill out the dozen with chocolate-iced cake doughnuts. I have been in Donald’s before when the card reader wasn’t working, so I ask the efficient young man who waits on me, “Can I use plastic?”

He frowns. “You want this in a plastic sack?” he asks, puzzled.

No, no, I say, as he runs the card, answering the question. Never mind.

If Jim were with me, he’d explain that we don’t use plastic bags much anymore, and he’d talk about the floating garbage dump tainting our oceans. But I just smile and put my card in my wallet and pick up the pretty white box and head home.

Mark is waiting for me at the door. Doughnuts make one popular.

I grind the coffee and turn the machine on to drip, and while I’m waiting, Mark and I each eat an iced cake doughnut.

Don’t tell my doctor, though. And anyway, doughnuts aren’t an everyday thing (I suppose you’d get sick even of doughnuts); they are a once-in-a-while, splendiferous treat.

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There was a doughnut shop, Mark muses, when we were kids, on West Main in Fredonia.

“Remember?” he says, and he explains that it had been in a store front that would have been kind of across the street and kitty-corner to the old white farmhouse we rented after we sold our home in Mayville. (Mark remembers the rooster that lived across the street, too, right next door to where he remembers the doughnut shop was. That fowl bird cock-a-doodled ALL the time, sunrise be damned, and it took the Markmeister a few months to learn to sleep through the morning crows that started at 4:30 a.m. He has yet to forgive the rooster. Even now, a cock-a-doodle sounds on TV, and Mark will mutter, “I should have EATEN that damned bird.”)

I don’t remember the doughnut shop, but I do remember that, once in a very great while, certainly less than once a year, my father would come home in the morning with a white baker’s box of doughnuts. They probably came, fresh and hot, from that shop that Mark remembers; there would be quick kitchen carnage while everyone staked their claim. Glazed doughnuts: those were my favorites in those old days. The frosting melted and then crystallized and stuck to my fingers as I chomped down the fluffy pastry.

And there WERE everyday doughnuts, of course. My mother bought them from the Day-Old rack in the Acme Supermarket, skinny rectangular boxes of twelve, often half plain and half coated with powdered sugar.

THOSE doughnuts were hard and melted into pasty mush in my mouth. My parents dipped theirs in their coffee.

THOSE doughnuts were pale, commercial imitations of the real thing.

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Sometimes, too, my mother would make doughnuts. This would be when we had a super-abundance of bacon fat. She would mix up a batter from a recipe in one of her old cookbooks, and then she’d melt great gobs of bacon fat in the deep old cast iron skillet.

She would roll out snakes of dough and connect the ends. When the fat was hissing and snapping, she’d float the dough in it, hovering, tending, carefully flipping the pastries, exposing a crisp, baked side and letting the pale, raw side catch up.  

She’d pile the cooked doughnuts on a big tray, and, when they had cooled sufficiently, she’d pour powdered sugar into a big old paper grocery bag. She’d shovel the waiting doughnuts into the bag and shake, shake, shake.

The powdered sugar melted into almost a glaze. The resulting sweet was not like a bakery doughnut. It was hard and crusty and tasted like bacon, and the thick sugar coating dribbled down the front of my t-shirt. We ate them anyway, cleaned the platter.

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When I was in college, I discovered something called a Persian at the cafeteria in the Campus Center. That was a white frosted pastry with a thick layer of cinnamon sprinkled on the icing; I heard angels sing when I tasted my first one. I would buy boxes full and take them home to share. I interrogated the cafeteria staff about those Persians; they weren’t made on site, and no one seemed to know just where they came from. If I had found the bakery where they originated, I would have made weekly pilgrimages. As it was, I had to graduate and leave those Persians behind.

When Mark and I were newly married, we’d take the dog out for early morning weekend walks, and smell the warm cinnamon scent of doughnuts baking at the little Quality Market. One of us would get in the car and drive the three blocks to pack up a white box of doughnuts treats, as obediently trained as those dogs of Pavlov’s. The doughnuts would still be warm and yeasty when they hit the kitchen table.

They’re part of our history, our tradition, our culture, our personal pathways, doughnuts are.

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David Shayt, in an article on Smithsonian.com, tells me that doughnuts have been evolving since just about forever. Edible, doughnut-shaped artifacts were found in prehistoric Native American burial sites, for instance. But it wasn’t until the Dutch brought their ‘oily cakes’ to New Amsterdam that the breakfast treat really took hold in our brave new world.

And, in the mid-1800’s, New England’s Elizabeth Gregory used her sea captain son’s spicey cargo—cinnamon, nutmeg, zest of lemons—to develop a yeasty, sweet, round pastry, which she deep-fried. Because the middle seemed to cook less quickly, Gregory filled that area with nuts, and thus she coined the name.

Decades later, her son, Captain Hanson Gregory, would recall that he had taken a small round top from a metal pepper canister and cut out the middle of his doughnut. He created, he claimed in the Boston Post, “…the first doughnut hole ever seen by mortal eyes” (Shayt).

Doughnut machines, writes Shayt, were perfected in the 1920’s. By 1934, Clark Gable was teaching Claudette Colbert how to dunk ‘em in It Happened One Night, and doughnuts were the hit of the Chicago World’s Fair.

They were what soldiers looked forward to at USO’s, too; when transport trains stopped, the boys were greeted by “Doughnut Dollies,” who doled out doughnuts to the troops. And, by the end of the 1950’s, Krispy Kreme had franchises in twelve states, and the organization was just starting to grow.

Robert McCloskey immortalized a rogue, diamond bracelet-eating doughnut machine in Homer Price… a story that takes place, by the way, in Centerburg, Ohio, which is not very far at all from where I type this. And risk-takers still do “doughnuts” in their vehicles in empty parking lots, and gamblers talk about betting “dollars to doughnuts”—an American update of an old English phrase, “A pound to a penny.”

We Americans, we like our doughnuts.

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In my house, we like them, too. Jim meanders downstairs as I’m typing, and his eyes light up when he sees the white box. He pulls a small plate down from the cupboard.

“Mind if I…?” he starts, and then says, “Oh, BEAR CLAWS. I LOVE those.”

Then he stops talking. I do hear a few satisfied, “MMMMMMMMMMMM….” sounds drifting from the dining room, however.

And he’s right. They are delicious, and, as long as we keep them a once-in-a-while treat, I rationalize that they’ll do us no harm. But I think of my doctor, and I drain my coffee, and I lace on my sneakers. Time to do my penance and take a brisk, long, calorie-burning walk.

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I wish you, this weekend, time to sip from a steaming mug and nosh on something delicious.

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I found doughnut details at…

https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/dollars-to-donuts.html

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-history-of-the-doughnut-150405177/

Rainy Days and Doughnuts Never Bring me Down

Rain was beating down when I woke up on Thursday morning.

We had been so lucky. Our days had been mostly sunny or gently overcast, while all around us, people weathered bruising storms. A little town less than ten miles away endured a tornado. No one, thank heavens, lost their life, but many people were displaced by crashing trees and destructive winds.

And there I was, leisurely mowing the lawn, planting flowers, meandering along on my morning walks…sitting at the patio table to do my morning pages, enjoying gentle skies and refreshing breezes.

And then, on Thursday, nature sent a little, “We didn’t forget YOU,” message. Rains battered; winds whipped.

Mark was already at the gym when I got up at 6:00, dressed, and stood gazing out the window. Water was sluicing down it, and the downpour beat a crazy cacophony.

‘Maybe,’ I thought, as I moved away to pour water into the coffee maker and grind some beans, “maybe, I’ll take the morning off. Maybe I’ll skip my morning walk and relax with my coffee and my newspaper, do the morning word puzzles, then finish my frothy summer book.”

That sounded like such a wonderful plan. But when Mark dashed into the house, soaked through running the few feet from carport to door, I was lacing up my sneakers.

Sometimes, a conscience is a darned inconvenience.

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I walked on the indoor track at the rec center, where 12 circuits make a mile, and where there’s a nice selection of weights to take on a walk. I grabbed the pretty blue ones and set off, swinging my arms.

All around, people were doing crazy contortion-y workouts, lunging and lifting, tossing and stretching. Some would jump on the track and run hard for a time or two and then rush back to their machine of choice.

It looked hard. It looked painful.

I wished I’d brought my iPod to lose myself in music.

I walked on, as rain lashed the floor-to-ceiling windows and then died away for a breath, as people puffed and grunted, sweating and red faced. I walked the same circuit a couple dozen times or so, and I thought about the changing vista of my outdoor walks—squirrels with their balletic road crossings, the sight of a crimson cardinal on a faded green fence, the brazen robin that stood its ground, head cocked, as I walked toward it. The mama deer with the wobbly-legged baby; the tumbling, pugnacious raccoon triplets. The fresh breeze, the smell of cut grass.

I like walking outside better than anything, but there is a soothing sameness rhythm, I realized, to walking the indoor track once in a while.

And I walked for 45 minutes, took a short ride on a stationary bike, and then went home, where Mark was dressed and ready for work. Just after I walked in, the skies opened again, and the boyo gripped his umbrella, took it out onto the back step, opened it wide.

“Yikes,” he said, and headed off to work.

I dished myself up a bowl of dry granola, poured some coffee and juice, and sat reading as rain battered the house.

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Mine was the only car in the parking lot at the haircutter’s, and Don waved me into the shampoo room even though I was ten minutes early.

The rain picked up again by the time he was drying my hair and brushing the little pricklies off my neck.

“Look at it out there!” I said. “Don’t worry about the drying.” As I ran out to my car, the rain drenched Don’s careful work.

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At home, James was eating his cereal, deep in a book, and I ran up to don dry clothes. Then I settled at the computer to work on a grant. And the tattoo of beating rain ebbed and swelled, inspiring deep concentration and an appreciation of indoor working time. By noon, the grant was drafted.

Mark, home for lunch, opted to heat up some pulled pork, a hot meal for a rainy day, before he headed back out into the wet and the fray.

And the sky lightened a little, and James was pacing, so we drove off to the mall for another walk indoors.

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By the time we got back home, the sky was glowering again, pushing down, closing in. James grabbed his laptop and set up shop in the family room, feet up in the lounge chair. I took my book to the reading chair, and finished it as the winds swept up again, and then I closed my eyes and slept, which is, I think, a rule on rainy days.

And then it was time to put the roast in a pan and peel potatoes to nest around it, and to put all that in a hot oven, and to mix up a pan of chocolate chip bars to slide onto the rack below. Rainy days call for naps, but they also call for hot cookies. I started, as they cooked, the next in the series of my new favorite murder mysteries,–perfect reading for a day that glowered and threatened.

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The weather pushed, and I bowed to its demands and stayed inside for the rest of the afternoon, chopping and cooking, reading, writing in my journal.  An interior kind of a day:  we ate the roast and its long-cooked, caramelized potatoes, enjoyed a salad, and then gathered in the family room, each of us pulling knit throws down from the back of chair or love seat, snuggling in to watch some Netflix.

Riding out the storm.

I called it an early night, took that mystery novel up to bed, and fell asleep to the sound of wind and rain.

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Friday morning dawned storm-washed and clear, and I looked forward to my walk, anxious for the outdoor time after the day inside. I laced up and set off. The world was cool, the sun gentle, the birds calling a crazy chorus after weathering the wild wet.

Anything, I thought, could happen on a day as promising as this one; only the darkness of yesterday made that apparent.

And I rounded the corner from Yale to Dresden, and I saw, to my surprise, Mark’s car heading slowly toward me.

That isn’t, I thought, the way he usually comes home from the gym, and then I figured he must have short-cutted over Adams Lane.

But he slowed as he drew near, the street empty at 6:30 a.m., and his window slid down. Carefully, slowly, he showed me just the edge of a large white box.

I stopped and stared for just a moment. And realization came.

“YOU,” I said, “stopped at Donald’s Doughnuts!”

He smiled slyly and gave me a thumbs up, slid the window shut, and drove quickly away.

I walked off quickly, too, knowing that, at the end of my walk, there was a cake doughnut—a very special cake doughnut—waiting for me.

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Anything is possible, I thought, when the storm is past, and I headed off, up the hill, wondering what else this new-washed day might bring.