A Waffle Maker Seemed Unnecessary—Until I Shared It With Others

The morning after the 2016 election, I woke up with a hangover and a dim memory of having done something rash the night before. I checked my email and confirmed that I had, indeed, ordered a waffle maker.

I’d bought the fancy, hotel-grade kind that weighs 10 pounds and features a rotating handle, internal temperature controls, and different settings for browning. I like waffles, but not that much. While my wife loves waffles, she hates single-use kitchen gadgetry, especially if they require their own shelf in the cabinet. Our son, just a few months old, was too young to have any legitimate opinions on solid food.

My extravagant impulse purchase offered distraction that November as scenes of American fracture flooded the timeline. I sought a temporary retreat into a more manageable world. I needed new routines.

When the waffle maker arrived, I experimented with various recipes, always making far too many for two people to eat. Clearly, we needed more mouths to feed—and owning this ridiculous thing provided a great excuse for having people over—so we decided to open our home on Saturdays to anyone who shared our desire to bask in the good vibes of others. We circulated a sign-up spreadsheet to close friends, friends of friends, coworkers, former students at the college where I taught, far-flung pals who might be passing through New York, fond acquaintances. We promised to provide waffles and eggs and to introduce them to delightful strangers.

Get Hua Hsu’s waffle recipe

Mochi Waffles With Maple–Brown Butter Bananas

food, a waffle maker seemed unnecessary—until i shared it with others

A Waffle Maker Seemed Unnecessary—Until I Shared It With Others

That first week, just after Thanksgiving, our guests brought prosecco, fruit with whipped cream, and pastries. Besides waffles, I made a casserole of toasted croissants, sausages, Gruyère, scallions, and eggs. There were boats of syrup and preserves, platters of bacon and roasted tomatoes. Chitchat revolved around work and kids, mostly. One of the few non-parents who came to that first Waffle Saturday was a friend who worked at the music publication Pitchfork. He gamely made googly eyes at all the babies, perking up each time I came over to get his feedback on my kitchen playlist. Inevitably, conversations would turn back to the election.

Over the months people brought pies, cold noodles, brownies, chili cheese dogs, turnip cakes, and homemade hot sauce. The spreadsheet included a column for allergies, and I learned that it was possible to be allergic to vinegar. I learned that recent college grads are surprisingly sweet with newborns. I eavesdropped as journalists mingled with elementary school math teachers, human rights lawyers explained their work to intrepid noise artists. I always stayed put, manning the waffle maker, a pair of chopsticks tucked in my apron, watching this swirl of conversation and laughter from afar. It felt uplifting to see a community come into focus, if only for a couple hours. I wanted “to see all my friends at once,” as Arthur Russell sang on “Go Bang! #5,” a leftfield disco anthem that often played on those Saturdays, even if we were doing nothing more adventurous than balancing plates piled high with food.

The waffles remained crisp and, after I learned about the magic of mochiko flour, chewy regardless of how late in the day it got. I learned that coquito, heavy on rum and coconut, is delicious yet dangerous, and I was thankful anew that our waffle maker was so easy to use.

Everyone who came to Waffle Saturdays was reminded that there’s always common ground if you bother to find it. A cinematographer talked craft with a DJ while a spacey, shaggy-haired record label owner (allergy: “big groups”) chatted with my wife’s mom group. A five-year-old gently tended to a pack of toddlers. Everyone wanted to do favors for one another, to share their part of the world with some new acquaintance. Whoever stuck around until late afternoon helped with dishes and, in return, was fed my experiments in waffling other types of food, like leftover hash browns with cheese, or stale donuts.

I never stopped feeling a little stressed as I prepped on Friday nights. Why was this batter so gluelike compared to last week’s? What if the casserole was runny again? Would we run out of bacon? (We always ran out of bacon.) Yet these worries evaporated as soon as people showed up the next morning. What better way to start the day than surrounded by friends?

I always ate too much. It felt necessary. We needed fuel to imagine a better future. Vibes changed depending on the ratio of families to 20-somethings, but everyone shared a need to be there together. Gradually, we no longer dwelled on the previous election, just the next one.

As our son grew older and thus capable of expressing opinions about how to spend weekends, we hosted brunches with less frequency. Plus, someone, perhaps because they’d drunk too much coquito, rotated the waffle maker’s handle the wrong way, cracking the base. (Okay, fine—it was me.) We kept it anyway. During the pandemic, the sight of it returned me to those euphoric brunches, the echoes of community that sustained us years past our last Waffle Saturday. But it also reminded me of that fateful election, and the work that remains unfinished. Especially now, as we head toward another pivotal midterm.

We finally replaced our waffle maker. This one has even better temperature controls. And I realized that whether it’s brunch with a random assortment of friends, dinner with the pandemic pod, or a Dutch baby brunch for three (our son’s preference these days), there’s always a new ritual to look forward to. Repeat it enough times, and a new world comes into focus.

Hua Hsu is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a literature professor at Bard College. Hsu’s new memoir, Stay True, is available now where books are sold.

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