Sleep On It, By Carol Gordon, Hyperion, 304 pp., $13.95
The life of an innkeeper can seem ideal -- working from home in an attractive setting, being paid to cook and clean your own house. What we don't typically contemplate is the reality of having to rise at 5 a.m., when even the birds are still snoozing, and get breakfast ready for an army of rise-and-shine guests eager to get a jump on their leisure time.
Indeed, innkeepers are probably second only to parents of newborns in their battle with chronic sleep deprivation. ``Sleep On It," by Carol Gordon, who is innkeeper of Nantucket House in Chatham, is directed at all bleary-eyed souls who are expected to put something fabulous on the breakfast table. Most of the preparation takes place the night before, and the dish gets popped into the oven the following day, an act quite within reach of even the fumbling fools most of us are before our first cup of coffee.
The recipes come from small inns and B&B' s across the country, which means that they are uneven. Some are clearly the creations of people who probably grow their own herbs in their backyards. Others owe much to condensed soup and seasoning mixes. What they have in common is quantity -- most rely heavily on the 9- by-13 baking dish and feed 6 to 8 or more.
It is not surprising, I suppose, that the book's strengths lie in its baked goods. I have always suspected that some of the country's best bakers are ensconced in these little hostelries, where fabulous smells of yeasty butter doughs and coffee invariably tend to waft up the stairs around 7 a.m. These recipes were no disappointment. Baked blueberry french toast was eggy and rich, buried in a thick blueberry compote. Buttermilk oven pancakes were easy enough to make in your sleep, with a golden, chewy texture and subtle buttermilk tang (good reheated, too ). Best of all were the cranberry nut breakfast rolls, a buttery, citrusy tour de force of dried cranberries, pecans, and orange rind that had everyone who tried them licking fingers and surreptitiously sneaking back for more. The recipe comes from the Acworth Inn in Cummaquid, surely worth a trip for the rolls alone.
One wouldn't expect a cookbook like this to dwell much on meat cookery, but ``Sleep On It" addresses every food group democratically. The two dinner entrees I tried happened to be two of author Gordon's own. Sunday night supper combined sirloin and mushrooms in a soy-based sauce thickened with cornstarch. Sirloin is not a braising cut, and its texture was not improved by two hours in the oven; the thick sauce was unhappily reminiscent of Chinese restaurants in the 1970 s. But it was easy to prepare. A pork loin married the autumnal flavors of apples, Vidalia onions, and thyme magnificently over a spice-rubbed loin. Finally, a recipe for homemade sausage patties seemed like a fine complement for all kinds of eggs. Lightly seasoned and shaped from ground turkey and pork, they fried up easily and were relatively greaseless.
As the tired parent of a 6-week-old, I hoped that the ``Sleep On It" recipes would hold the secret to streamlining my kitchen efforts. They didn't, exactly; a portion of the work simply moved to the previous evening while the net labor remained the same. And when you think about it, any number of recipes -- braises with an initial browning step, tarts, and quiches, and most yeast-leavened baked goods -- can be neatly cleft in two. And some of the volume's recipes merely instruct you to reheat them the next day. Hardly a revolution in culinary technique.
But maybe that's enough. Maybe Gordon's book demonstrates that the kitchen marathons we put ourselves through needn't be so taxing. For everyone who doesn't have enough hours in the day, write ``prepare in advance" and ``chill overnight" on your favorite recipes. We can all release ourselves from our servitude to the clock.