When snow fell on Woodland Terrace, every child clung to the dream that Bridgewater schools would be cancelled. When that dream became reality, my brothers and I would litter the hallway with woolly hats and thick socks then rummage through the rear of the closet for heavy boots with knotted laces. Brandy, our German short-haired pointer bounded impatiently from front door to kitchen door waiting for us to get dressed. We wore snow pants and what we called ‘ski’ jackets; mine was reversible and boasted a detachable hood trimmed in faux fleece.
In our haste, zippers snagged on mittens requiring the skill only our Houdini of a mother could provide. The three of us grew impatient waiting for much younger Sibling Sister and promised we would return for her. As we headed out the door, you could hear Jessie’s running commentary from the kitchen, “Why don’t you wait for your sister, and why can’t you use the same drinking glass more than once and don’t come back in here tracking snow all through the house…”
Outside the snow was as cool and white as a roll of peppermint Lifesavers. Shovels leaned against the garage just waiting for us to dig into the snow blanketing our vertically sloped driveway. You could see where my father had bravely navigated the car from the top of the driveway to street level, with a great flourish of spinning tire tracks at the bottom. There was a mountain of snow left to clear but there were also snowmen and snow forts to build. Playing in the snow was hard work and bone chilling. After several hours, I retreated back inside, ducking one last snowball lobbed my way.
Our house sat up the hill, directly above the house owned by elderly Mr. and Mrs. Agnew. It was common knowledge that Mildred Agnew kept a pair of binoculars at the ready in order to keep her finger on the Woodland Terrace pulse. On that particular snow day, Mildred didn’t need binoculars to watch the drama unfold.
My oldest brother Neil remembers in excruciating detail:
A fairly large storm had left a huge amount of fantastic packing snow, ie, mildly wet and compactable white stuff that would give one real life experience in building a typical cartoon-type boulder. A boulder that grew and grew as it rolled downhill. As luck would have it, Warren and I kept building a boulder of fairly large dimensions across the front lawn until we ultimately were able to push it down the hill.
As it gathered both speed and more snow, it grew into something one would expect on a Roadrunner vs. Wile E. Coyote contest. It crossed Woodland Terrace in a nanosecond, and reached the bulging eyes of Mr. Agnew in a flash just near his detached garage. He sidestepped death by mere inches.
Naturally, I blamed Warren.
In the kitchen, Jessie divvied up marshmallows between Pyrex custard cups and gave the chocolate pudding in the Farberware double boiler a stir. Gene Rayburn was thanking us for tuning in to The Match Game and Barbara wanted to change the channel so we could watch Scooby Doo. All was right in our little snow day world, until the telephone rang. Mildred Agnew was on the line.
It’s cozier around the baker’s bench since last donning a bandana. My very dramatic January trip and fall resulted in an unplanned two-week hiatus. Since then, temporary walls have snuggled everything 14” closer while workmen toil on the other side. There is a steady staccato of nail gun, drill, and belt sander. The double door commercial fridge has traveled to an adjacent wall and the freezer stands where once stood a single door fridge. For the life of me, I cannot retain this information, resulting in a sizable number of frozen lemons. Oven doors open and shut perilously close to the brave souls sporting oven mitts. I am one of those brave souls.
The milder temps of December have yielded to true January cold and the first flurries of the season. Snow covers the ground in fits and starts, brown leaves tightly curled beneath a Valentine’s doily of white. There is animated discussion concerning this year’s conversation heart cookies. Pleading for nothing too saccharine, I am assured my tag phrase “I tolerate you” will emblazon the flourless chocolate cakes.
There are empty pie shells in the freezer hoping to be filled with something other than cold storage apples and buttermilk custard. I can offer citrus, frozen cherries and a wealth of Thanksgiving cranberries (still) that refuse to surrender.
I’m leaning towards introducing the cherries to the cranberries by means of an open-faced galette, maybe with a splash of orange to brighten things up. It will also require less rolling, more folding which I can maneuver quite well with my left hand. I’ve had weeks to practice.
With newfound appreciation for my left hand, I am at the same time deeply respectful of the right digits, particularly the pinky. The hand specialist who gave me the green light to return to work suggested thinking before doing. Coming from a doctor who based on his appearance, looked to be just about Bar Mitzvah age, he offered sage advice.
I am thinking before grabbing a gallon of milk with just thumb and index finger. Taking a moment to access whether it’s sensible to squeeze between worktable, oven doors and another bandana-clad baker. Considering open-faced pies that roll up with one hand instead of the lattice and double crust variations that require two. Change is hard, but not impossible.
What’s impossible is when life gives you frozen lemons, you’re stuck with frozen lemons.
When in Boston, shouldn’t the dessert focus be Boston cream pie? Apparently not.
“Why put yourself in a box?” Sweet Soprano questioned. “It could be about pie, it could also be about town.” The emphasis on town seemed sensible. Securing the velcro tabs on my parka with my one good hand, we set off.
Temptation lurked at every fork along the Freedom Trail. Just shy of 8 o’clock on Friday evening, Tatte bakery on Charles Street still had plenty of sweets for the offing. Fruit tarts and nut tarts are the showstoppers; excessive with nutmeats and jewel-like berries. Gargantuan meringues perched dangerously on white ceramic pedestals, holding on to each other for dear life. Master/Master selected a wild nut tart sticky with praline, overfilled with cashews and pecans. From the other side of the counter, a gingerbread morning bun called to me. I answered.
Our first stop on Saturday morning was Joanne Chang’s Flour bakery on Washington Street. Riding the tide of hungry, caffeine needy weekenders, we arrived at the counter. Struggling to absorb the information scrawled across the massive blackboard menu overhead, I fixated instead on the pastry case at eye level. Swirls of toasty meringue balanced carefully atop slices of lemon pie. One tray over, a solitary pleated white paper sleeve held a lonely wedge of sponge cake. Three layers tall, filled with pastry cream and cloaked in dark chocolate, this was Ms. Chang's riff on the city's classic. Was it too early in the day for Boston cream pie? Not if you consumed a morning bun the night before. Off to the side a worker bee was glazing the next cream pie, pouring liquid ganache over a half sheet of cake and cream. When it was my turn to order, I wondered how long it would be before that pie/cake could be sliced. Sadly, not soon enough.
Weaving our way through the South End, we stumbled upon a street sign emblazoned with my name. A sweet little bakery called the Buttery stood on my very corner. Bemoaning the missed Boston cream pie opportunity at the last stop, I paused for a quick look/see of the baked goods. It appeared the Buttery was shy on pie. We continued to make tracks.
Several cobblestone streets later, Blackbird Doughnuts called to us. Bonus! They were celebrating their birthday. The staff was sporting birthday hats and confetti sprinkle pinnies marking the occasion. The fellow in the party hat offered a cinnamon sugar miniature, still warm from the fryer. Afraid of feeling faint with hunger, we accepted.
At the Boston Public Market, it seemed imperative to pair a Union Square Donut with a cuppa joe from George Howell coffee. Brown butter hazelnut won out, but the dark chocolate glazed was a solid contender. For caffeine fiends it might be interesting to note that Howell is the man responsible for coining the name Frappuccino. A play on the New England milkshake, the frappe, Starbucks purchased the rights to the name from Howell in 1994.
Adjacent to Howell coffee, chocolate beckoned from Sweet Lydia’s, a small batch candy company. A box of dark chocolate caramels kicked up with Guinness stout and salt pretzels sounded like the perfect gift for my cronies back at the baker’s bench. I should have bought two.
Seattle pie-pal Dakota was in town and joined us for dinner at our favorite seafood haunt; the Daily Catch in Brookline. Convinced that miles logged on foot (calories burned) had well exceeded calories consumed, it seemed only sensible to swing by the Eastern Standard for late night drinks and desserts. Tucking into a big, curvy booth we hoped to find sweet potato profiteroles on the menu and maybe a little Boston cream pie. The New Year brought new offerings.
We consoled ourselves with four decadent alternatives. Butterscotch bread pudding with praline ice cream and salted caramel, Meyer lemon tart with meringue and candied ginger, warm pistachio crepes with blood orange and dark chocolate cake with fresh mint and cream. With each forkful I was reminded of the January cover of Bon Appetit magazine declaring 2016's new catchphrase, HEALTHY-ISH. That would be a contemporary take on what my father calls moderation. Sounds good to me. So does Boston Cream pie which I definitely see in my future. Thanks for the Flour Bakery cookbook, Sweet Soprano.
It was a casual aside, a mere observation spoken on New Year’s Eve. “Someday I’m going to learn how to use my left hand at work. Give my right hand a break.” Somewhere, someone heard those words. The response was to align all the planets, the stars and the blacktop road bordering Maplewood and what we refer to as Sooo Orange, to make it a reality. Or as Blondilocks suggested, it was a New Year’s resolution I didn’t know I had made.
This was hardly a brush with death. It was more of a brush with gravel, the kind that creeps up under the toe of your right foot as you are halfway through your run, making your way home beneath a perfectly cobalt blue January sky. Until it all goes horribly wrong and the right foot catches and stumbles, the momentum plunging you forward, arms flailing wildly, fingers desperately grasping thin air. Crashing into the blacktop, my legs skidded, performing a most peculiar worm-like dance move before coming to a screeching halt. Silence, then expletives because as I always advise Master/Master and Blondilocks, “Save those words for the times when you really need them.” Oh boy, this was truly one of those times.
Whoever was responsible for this gravitational crisis was also responsible for sending Ms. Jackie to my rescue. Seated in a car across the street, Jackie jumped out of the driver’s seat, clearly dressed in her Sunday best, hair perfectly smooth in a bobby pin secured pageboy. Scooping me up and helping me curbside, we accessed the damage. On initial inspection, it wasn’t good. There was bloodshed and imbedded pieces of gravel and goodness knows what else lodged beneath my multiple thermal layers. I remained optimistic considering the impact had not shredded the knees of my Saucony leggings. A little antiseptic, several doses of anti-inflammatory drugs and a bag or two of Trader Joes frozen petite peas to serve as an icepack would surely help. Jackie was not so sure. The open wound across my knuckles did not inspire confidence. Nor did the shade of aubergine that was creeping over the top of my hand and inching it’s way up my arm. Jackie felt the need to invoke super powers and began to pray. Whoever Jackie was praying to was clearly out of town for the holiday weekend. But thanks, Jackie, for your sweet kindness. At the conclusion of the prayer service, I stumbled home reasoning that it was probably better to keep moving than not. In hindsight, perhaps it would have been prudent to let my new friend drive me home.
Dismissing the idea of emergency room x-rays on a Sunday, I balanced one bag of frozen petits pois across the knuckles, the second one across the elbow. Cubes of ice seemed to make much more sense congregating in a glass filled with Speedy Icer’s recommended restorative; bourbon, lemon and a splash of maple syrup. I highly recommend it, with or without the ice, even without the lemon and maple components.
Blondilocks received word of my mishap and hopped on a NJ Transit train, reminding me of a time long ago involving one of her soccer games and the fractured heel she received as a parting gift. I remembered. We watched back-to-back episodes of the Great British Baking Show as we waited for Sunday to turn into Monday.
A medical professional known as Dr. “Jazz” reviewed the damage on Monday sending me straight away for photographic images of the right hand, from fingertips to elbow. A concerned nurse handed me a pamphlet explaining What You Can Do To Prevent Falls. Blondilocks patiently piloted me from doctor’s office to imaging center for what the receptionist called “Extrays.” Waiting for the technician, a riveting episode of The People’s Court provided entertainment. More interesting was the screaming commercial for Mirman, Markovits and Landau, advertising legal counsel for those injured in a fall…
Last stop of the day, the local medical supply pharmacy for a protective arm sling. Bypassing the heavy duty OSHA model in XXL, I opted for the Snoopy arm sling in a child’s large, which fit like a dream.
Dr. Jazz called me the very next morning admitting she was rather shocked all parts were intact. She was emphatic however, that there could be a hairline fracture beneath all the swelling and I was not allowed to lift with the right hand, and certainly avoid the “twisting a doorknob” motion. “How about a rolling pin?” I asked. Silence. She prescribed more icing, more ibuprofen and no work until she saw me for a follow-up in a week. Checking the remaining episodes of Great British Baking yet to view and my Theo dark chocolate inventory, I promised.
Learning to use your non-dominant hand comes with a new appreciation for many things. Velcro closures on a winter parka, for instance. Wash and go curly locks. The impact of a singular jazz hand. (Not nearly as dramatic as a pair.) It also provides the sobering reality that a full pie plate is much better than an empty one. More critically, it appears that the things you desire while healing are sealed beneath an impenetrable cap. The jar of Bonne Maman orange marmalade you wish to spread on a slice of multi-grain toast. Your next dose of ibuprofen. But thankfully, neither the foil-wrapped bars of chocolate nor the bottle of bourbon.
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No sooner had the gingerbread cakes left the building on Christmas Eve than New Year’s Eve began to rear its ugly head. The one saving grace between December 25th and December 31st arrives smack dab between the two holidays. On the 28th we celebrate Master/Master’s birthday, allowing me to step back from the chaos and bake a singular something to light on fire. This year, it was a checkerboard cake featuring black cocoa, red velvet and classic vanilla, frosted in serious espresso buttercream. The birthday weekend included a visit from Sweet Soprano, who despite lack of access to a proper jigsaw puzzle joined us for the festivities. Culminating with a day in the City, we dodged the holiday crowds covering quite a bit of territory. Logging perhaps too many miles on foot, we burned off sufficient birthday cake calories. It seemed only fitting to cap off the celebration with a glorious birthday lunch in the West Village. All too soon the party was over and we scattered in separate directions. Returning to the sugar trenches, it was time to assemble my retail New Year’s Eve mise en place.
Bring on the Guinness for the dark chocolate stout cakes and don’t forget the rum for the eggnog pies. Granny Smith apple pies were also on the docket plus a skip-the-top-crust fruit and nut galette. Coupled with the holiday will be an extended New Year’s break while the bakery expansion gets underway. The last few days of December brought out customers desperate to stock up on sweets and caffeine. Sugar cookies, gluten free banana breads and bags of La Colombe coffee exited the building at a furious rate. And yes, people were still snagging pies hot out of the oven. The drone of the oven timer paled in comparison with the buzz of the espresso machine. Thankfully, both sounds helped muffle the Sonos playlist.
At 3 pm on New Year’s Eve, an ever-so-fit millennial sporting turquoise running gear approached the counter with a serious question. He wanted to know how much sugar was in the gluten free banana bread. Pausing from identifying curious items in the freezer, I retrieved the recipe book to investigate. On an ordinary day, recipe math sleuthing is a cumbersome challenge. On New Year’s Eve, I’m over it. Making a feeble attempt to divide the sugar amongst 45 loaves of bread at 30 ounces each, I replied decisively, “Maybe half a cup. Maybe more. The bananas are sweet. I’m not sure. Probably closer to three quarters of a cup. Maybe. Maybe not.” Mr. Fit did not like my answer. Why, he wanted to know, couldn’t I tell him the exact amount? How I longed to tell him why. “Because it’s fricking New Year’s Eve. Because I’m tired and cranky. Because I think it’s enough that we take the gluten out of your damn bread. Now you want us to extract the sugar?!” But instead I shrugged. New Year, New Me? Doubtful. He left in a slight I’m-fit-and-you’re-not-huff. I longed to sprint after him and suggest that his New Year’s Resolution should be to introduce a touch more gluten and sugar into his diet. That may indeed, make him a nicer person. Finishing up the freezer, I headed home to a holiday as embraceable as Valentine’s Day. Except this year was going to be different.
Granted, I forgot to uncork the champagne. Also true, it was a struggle releasing the Windy City Overstuffed Vegetable Pie from the springform pan. But the company was stellar, the laughter as bubbly as a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. No evening more apt for reminiscing about Auld Lang Syne than with your not old college roommate. Should old acquaintance be forgot? Hardly. Happy Rockin’ two thousand something.
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Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm