My friend Seti says that to “activate” saffron, you grind a little bit of it with a pinch of sugar, then steep it in hot water until the colour deepens. Then you can use the liquid whenever you make rice, or whatever you want to make taste like saffron. She brought me saffron back home with her from Iran, and this is the first saffron that has gone instantly yellow for me, like tiny droplets of yellow food colouring but fragrant. The Trader Joe’s stuff now seems like orange sawdust in a little jar, six dollars for nothing and I’ve got eighteen US dollars’ worth.
It seemed like it was worth a lot more before I knew how well saffron could bloom, and how little of it you’d have to use if you used the good stuff. Everything is fine until you learn there’s something better. Maybe I should have ground the Trader Joe’s stuff down with a bit of sugar. I didn’t know how well that could work.
We’ve finished our first full week of Kindergarten even though I am pretty sure this just happened, but what do I know? On the first day, that just-recently-a-baby and I stopped at Starbucks for hot chocolate on the way in, both of us chattering all the way about the things we’re looking forward to: reading books, writing books, fighting bad guys, flying on planes, and getting big enough for bigger adventures.
I took this week off of work, partly because I wanted to concentrate on a bit of writing in a quiet apartment for once, but mostly because we have yet to sort out the details around Kindergarten drop-off and pick-up, and because the teachers ease the kids into school, gradually increasing the number of hours they’re in the classroom until they get to a full day, even the daycare kids for whom “full days” have always meant days longer than our work-days. “Gradual entry should be optional!” I exclaim to everyone but also no one in particular. I am talking to myself.
So I’ve been walking two little boys to Kindergarten, mine and his friend who are a month apart in age and who is like a cousin or brother because they’ve been together, always for long days, since they were barely sentient. We cut through a park and on the way we stop at a pond and look at the ducks, and then they pick things up off the ground that I ask them not to, and then I shout at them for throwing things at the ducks.
I listen to the other moms with their sweet, calm voices around their children who are surely as infuriating as mine is, as I think most children can be, and I practice their tones but when I do it, it always comes off a little condescending. In the yellow light that tints these fall mornings, both kids sort of glow, their fair hair almost ginger, the bright colours of their little boy clothes somehow over-saturated. I try not to talk too much.
“Stop throwing crap at the ducks!” I have already come down with a cold.
To make saffron milk, take a pinch of saffron, just what you can grab with the tips of your thumb and forefinger, and grind it into your palm with the thumb of your other hand until the strands crumble into little pieces. Good saffron has a smell a little bit like sweet pepper, and reminds me a bit of anise, not because of its fragrance but because of the way both are sweet and bitter at the same time.
Saffron milk is an old-fashioned Dutch cold remedy, though the Dutch had trading posts in India for over 200 years so it’s likely that merchants there were influenced by Ayurveda and the medicinal use of saffron milk to improve sleep, reduce inflammation, and to strengthen the baby’s heart during pregnancy.
Dutch mothers are said to be patient people. I like the idea that someone has figured out parenting and is doing it right, somewhere. It makes me feel like anyone could do it.
Add your bits of saffron to a saucepan with a cup and a half or so of milk, and about a teaspoon of honey. Natural health proponents suggest drinking warm milk and honey as a sleep aid, as both are sources of tryptophan. What science says about this is kind of a downer, of course, but there is something soothing about a warm mug in your hands nevertheless.
Bring the milk to a boil over medium heat, whisking quickly for maximum frothiness. Remove the pot from the heat, and pour the whole thing into a mug or two teacups. It makes about twelve ounces, or the amount of a tall Starbucks latte. This is enough for one or two people.
When you sip your saffron milk, do so with your eyes closed. Think about little golden boys, and the way they shine now, the way they are like sunflowers stretching toward the yellow morning light. Do not think about those blue shadows stretching out behind them, where you stand, fretting, worrying about the time. They call out to the ducks, and the ducks swim away faster as their voices rise to be heard.
“Come on, boys. We have to go,” you say. And you hurry them along.