I see him as I walk to my car.
So by the time I'm ready to back out, I make sure I know where he is.
My neighbor's son, all of three, maybe four years old, likes to ride his bike in the autumn sun while his mom reads a magazine in the driveway.
I know this scene.
I lived this scene.
Not long ago, it was my scene, my life. I was the mom in the driveway.
But now I'm just the neighbor. I wave at the mom, then crane my neck to see her boy circle up and down the block, making sure to keep him in my vision as I back my car out to fetch my teenage sons from school.
The first inversion happened years ago, probably, but it just happened again, and now I'm paying attention.
We're driving home from school -- one boy in front, one in back -- and a song comes on the radio. It's called Shattered, by a band named O.A.R., and though the song title and band name may not ring a bell, I'm sure you've heard it.
I'm singing along in my terrible voice, and from the backseat, where he sits with his books and his trombone, Andrew says matter-of-factly, Hear that chord? It's a first inversion.
I stop singing.
What's that? I ask, as I have no idea.
It's a triad or seventh chord whose bass note is the second note in the chord, rather than the root, he answers.
He's fifteen years old, and I haven't a clue what he's saying. Not the faintest idea in the world.
First inversion chords place more emphasis on a note that's not actually the root of the chord, so they sound suspended and unresolved.
As though this helps.
And Alex, who's thirteen, starts nodding his head, agreeing, spinning the radio dial so the bass sounds louder, widening his eyes and willing me to hear it. Do you hear it? Alex asks me.
He, a trumpet player, understands what his brother is saying.
I, I think so, I lie. I think I hear it.
I don't hear it.
Somewhere deep, maybe in the soles of my feet or the marrow of my bones, I knew the day when my kids would start teaching me things would come. Not just how to be more patient or a better person or whether I'm supposed to press alt or fn while also hitting Print Screen (I always forget), but whole new types of information that seem to emerge from nowhere.
This first inversion stuns me with how literal it is.
In the span of one pop song from 2012, by a band whose name I'll surely forget as soon as I'm done typing it here, the teacher has become the student, the child the source of his parent's knowledge.
I listen quietly, hoping to hear the chord.
But just like that, the song ends, and I turn my attention to the road ahead.
Recipe for Inverted Caramelized Apple Muffins
To make these hearty autumnal muffins, prep a caramelly apple topping, but place it in the bottom of your muffin cups. Scoop the batter over the apples, then bake. When they emerge from the oven, they'll look normal and unassuming, until the inversion changes everything, making the top the bottom and the bottom the top.
Makes 12 muffins
Soft butter, for the muffin tins
For the caramelized apple topping:
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 medium golden delicious apples, cored but peels intact, cut in small dice (about 2-3/4 cups)
For the muffins:
6 tablespoons butter
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1-1/4 cups yogurt or buttermilk, or a combination
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Prep: Preheat the oven to 400°F with a rack in the center position. Generously grease a 12-cup muffin tin with soft butter. Set aside.
Make the caramelized apple topping: Set the 3 tablespoons butter and the 1/3 cup sugar in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. As the butter melts, stir it a bit into the sugar. Once the butter has fully melted, add the apples and toss well to coat. Now leave it alone to bubble and caramelize, about 12 minutes or thereabouts, until the apples are thoroughly soft and the sauce is lovely and brown. Pull from the heat and immediately spoon into the muffin cups, dividing evenly. (Don't wash the skillet.)
Make the muffins: Add the 6 tablespoons butter to the still-warm skillet. Set it back on the burner (don't turn the burner on) and let the residual heat melt it while you carry on with the batter. Sift the two flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the oats. In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Slowly whisk in the now-melted butter. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and fold to incorporate, taking care to moisten any floury bits hiding at the bottom of the bowl. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups (over the apples), dividing evenly.
Bake and finish: Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown and firm. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then loosen the muffins gently with a spoon. They should remove easily. Lift and invert, placing apple-side up on a cooling rack. Some caramelly apple bits will surely hang out in the muffin tin, so ease them up with a spoon and drape over the muffins so they can join their brethren.
p.s. For those of you in the Bay Area, I will be speaking on two panels in San Francisco this weekend. The first, on Friday, 10/24/14, is part of the Book Club of California's Symposium A Feast for the Eyes. I'll be joining Phyllis Grant, Erin Scott, and Celia Sack to talk about Contemporary California Food Writing. (Passes: $100-$175 for the two-day event) Then on Sunday, I'll be joining Erica Peters, Linda Anusasananan, John Birdsall, and Philip Dobard on a panel at Biscuits & Blues at 4p. The event is free (at a blues club!), and we'll be discussing the timely question: Can We Re-Set the Family Table? Hope to see some of you there!