I am fanatical about time. Promptness, I was raised to believe, is next to godliness. Cleanliness is fine and dandy, but you should really, really be on time. So you could say that my college experience got off on the wrong foot, to put it mildly, when I showed up late for my orientation. An entire day late.
I had signed up for the orientation backpacking trip the school offered for incoming freshman. I had a new backpack and hiking boots and I had staunchly refused to watch the Blair Witch Project all summer: I was ready. The day before I was set to leave for Chicago, between a couple last-minute errands and packing, I got a phone call. It was Ben, the student leader of the trip calling to find out when I planned to arrive. Tomorrow, I told him, probably before noon.
The buses were loaded and they were heading out in a couple hours, he explained. “The trip leaves today,” he said, and that’s when I nearly passed out. Thankfully, my mom took over and snapped into action. We packed up, said a hurried goodbye to my little sister and drove through the night to Battle Creek, Michigan, where Ben and my mother—both consulting an atlas—had figured out we could intercept the buses. The plan came off without a hitch and I boarded the bus, blushing a brilliant shade of red and blinking back tears.
The first couple days of the trip were tough: the packs were heavy, the seven us of freshman were awkward and I had blisters the size of silver dollars on both heels. But around the third day, we started to fall into rituals, growing comfortable with the woods and becoming familiar with each other. Each morning, we’d unfold the camp stoves issued by the school and flick them into life. On top of the flame would go a battered skillet or pot and we’d all huddle around as oatmeal bubbled away or as pancakes cooked slowly, one by one.
The best breakfast of that week, by far, involved a tube of pre-packaged cinnamon rolls. We popped open the tube, tucked the rolls into a skillet and set the skillet over the camp stove. As you can imagine, a whimpy camp stove does not an oven make and the results were less than picture-perfect. But drizzled with some squeeze-packet glaze and eaten on the shore of Lake Superior, I could think of nothing more delicious.
As it turned out, the trip was one of the best things I’ve ever done: one of my fellow freshman that week in Michigan was Patty, who would go on to become one of my closest friends and we both led the trip as counselors for the next three years. It also unearthed in me an outdoorswoman I had no idea was in there. Two summers later, I would spend four weeks backpacking through Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains on a NOLS program. Shortly after that, I went on my third trip through the school, my second as a counselor, and on that trip I spent quite a bit of time with a guy named Kevin, who I married six years later. So, yes, making it to the trip—even a day late—was a good thing.
To this day, cinnamon rolls—especially when drizzled with a creamy glaze—make me think of this long, winding story: about Ben and his phone call, about Patty and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, about whisper-lite stoves and the blissful breakfasts they can yield, about Kevin. But I don’t have the heart to buy the tube variety (fun as it is to pop! those tubes open). And, to be honest, I don’t usually have the patience or foresight to make cinnamon rolls from scratch. Or I didn’t, I should say, because this weekend I discovered a recipe that requires little patience and almost no foresight: these rolls can be made—start to finish—in under an hour. (They’re yeast-free, a bonus for the yeast-phobes out there!)
This recipe also yields a superior cinnamon roll specimen: a fat, burnished swirl, oozing with a cinnamon-sugar mixture that’s gone caramely in the oven. The very center of the swirl—once you unfurl your way to it—is incredibly tender and just barely baked through and the whole thing is capped with a cream cheese-buttermilk glaze. I’m kicking myself for not trying this recipe sooner. But, as I’ve learned, some things are better late than never.