Nothing launches a freshly vacationed baker back to reality faster than a customer query. I have patiently (and not so patiently) addressed inquiries pertaining to ingredients, allergens, gluten or the lack thereof. Customers with anemic cellphone service have asked me to determine the dessert preferences of people I have never met. It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what the Birthday Boy or Girl prefers. Tuesday’s query was so novel, so surprising, I was forced to set down my rolling pin.
The first day back to the bench following a blissful holiday guarantees a front row seat on the struggle bus. Sensing storm clouds swirling around my bandana, the friendly barista crew attempted to ply me with caffeine. Two shots over ice with a wide berth of steamed milk beckoned from its recyclable cup. I was grateful but unmoved. The shift from upstate back to the Garden State was sobering. A recent image of sweeping cornfields beneath sapphire skies was rapidly fading. Fluorescent lighting overhead and checkered linoleum underfoot was disquieting; the steady punctuation of Motown on Sonos was enough to push me over the edge.
In my Happy Place, I was revisiting the meandering hills of western Massachusetts and the no-name county roads of the Hudson Valley. Local produce had been a highlight of the weekend, neat green corrugated boxes of berries and cherries lined up to resemble a patchwork quilt. Wicker baskets held short pyramids of purple skinned plums and early apples. Fresh onions the color of cream, overspilled blue-edged enamel bins. “Salt & Pepper” cucumbers and “Lemon Cukes” tumbled across burlap tucked within deep wooden crates. Carrots were staged as dramatically as a Rockette kickline. Holding on to that image, I pried open the heavy door of the bakery’s walk-in refrigerator.
Glaring plastic clamshells of melancholy blueberries were stacked high atop Metro shelving. Leaning against the corner, to the right of the cold brew coffee, horse-sized carrots were crammed into a food-service plastic bag with a drawstring neck. Unripe peaches sequestered in plastic lined boxes, were as fragrant as the cardboard in which they slept. Pausing to consider the week’s pie options, I armed myself with a few lemons. Digging through a ceramic crock overflowing with rubber scrapers and squeeze-handle cookie scoops, I unearthed a microplane.
Replying to an email, one of the management team asked me to weigh in on a cake order. Rolling out pie shells, half-listening, I heard something about dairy free or maybe it was gluten free. “What about the butter?” the manager asked. “What about the butter?” I replied, accent on ‘about.’
“The customer wants to know if our butter is grass fed. Is our butter grass fed?”
I crossed the brown and yellow floor to where a case of room temperature butter was wedged against a Cambro tub of semi-sweet chocolate chips. The information on the wrapper indicated many things, but particulars concerning the cow’s eating habits were not revealed on the red and blue wrapper.
“Sorry,” I replied. Without provocation I found myself mouthing the words, “Not sorry.” I checked my watch; it was barely 9 o'clock.
A few days prior, my sneakered feet happily cruised alongside fields of proud cornstalks and casually sprawling wild flowers. On the opposite side of the road, dairy cows ambled within a grassy field edged by a split white fence. Why did the runner cross the road? To get to the other side so she could ask the cows what they prefer to eat.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm