Boarding the D bus, bound for 15th and Market Street in Ballard, it is quite clear I have no idea where I am going. Navigation may be the least of my worries. Snagging a seat between two gentlemen, there’s Cranky to my right, Less So to my left. A large brown paper shopping bag is precariously balanced on my lap. It sits horizontally, the aluminum tin hot as blazes. If it burns through the bag, it will in turn singe my clearly unhip East Coast blue jeans.
Unless you suffer from seasonal sinus allergies, it’s pretty easy to identify what’s inside the paper bag. Cranky looks at the bag, looks at me, “Whattya got in there? Some kinda pie?” It’s impossible to turn down the blueberry-peach-butter aroma. I become fascinated with the transit map, adjusting my gaze every so often to catch glimpses of the rapidly approaching sunset. Painterly doesn’t do it justice. Pie transport on a city bus lends a new definition to the phrase joy ride. If all goes well, no knee burns, no runaway juice spillage, this journey will have a happy ending. If not, and my traveling companions are scalded due to a gravitational crisis, the advice of pie counsel may be necessary. Feigning blueberry/peach ignorance, I sense my destination may be near because there was mention of crossing a bridge. Or was the instruction NOT to cross the bridge? Too late, the driver is cruising over a portion of waterway, bending around a curve and demonstrating the braking mechanism with great flair. The pie has shifted considerably and with my knees I am attempting to steer the pie ever so slightly towards the left. The traffic light changes, the bus lurches forward and so does the pie. Cranky stands to exit the bus, blocking the wayward paper bag just in time. Less So, a true gentleman, leans in and suggests there are four stops remaining until I reach my destination. Thank you, Sir.
Disembarking, cradling my butter-stained brown paper bag, I quietly chastise the pie while scanning the horizon for a familiar face. Four blocks later, there she is, Sibling Baker from Seattle. Without saying a word, she knows, and relieves me from pie transport.
The following morning at breakfast, Pie-School Pie creates a sparkly centerpiece. Gently warmed in the oven, its border of deep purple unable to contain itself, we pause. Should we dive right in, or exercise extreme restraint and save it for dessert? My youngest nephew, Lattice-Pie Guy is wise beyond his 10 years. He looks at the pie, looks at the faces assembled around the dining room table and clarifies the situation succinctly. “But if there’s no pie, there’s no happiness.” Pie wisdom is taught early in the Pacific Northwest.
This week Oscar is coming to town, blissfully squeezing Cupid out of the cookie rotation. From where you stand in front of the bakery counter waiting for your espresso, Oscar could be misconstrued as a sarcophagus. Seems to me it would help tremendously if he were outfitted in black tie. In addition to Oscar, we are featuring Breakfast Sugar Cookies iced to resemble bacon, eggs and toast. Unfortunately, the toast cookies are a touch too thin to stand alone. They sit ignored on sheet trays, the runts of the cookie litter.
The banter around the bench turns from what I dub "Free For All" cake orders, cakes free of anything tasty (dairy/egg/wheat/flavor) to the Oscars. We bakers are a pretty pathetic movie-going bunch. Most of us have seen nary a nominated film and the few who have (that would be me) are trying to have a discussion without plot oversharing with the as-yet-to-view crowd. We switch gears, talking Downton Abbey and Mary's new hair bob and perpetually miserable Edith until the other grown-up in the group starts chatting about Turner Classic Movies. It is currently TCM's 31 Days of Oscar. I step away briefly to answer the phone, counseling a customer who wants to buy a (this is a quote) "Healthy Pie for an individual with Health Issues." They're all healthy, I explain, in moderation. Healthy consumer grills me for a good while then opts instead for a gluten free item. No dough off my rolling pin, Madam, suit yourself.
When I return to the bench, the iconic film Ben Hur is mentioned as being TCM’s Tuesday night selection. There's a pause and to my horror I learn that several bandana’ed baristas and bakers have never seen the film. More troubling, a few have never heard of it! The conversation continues to plummet downhill at a furious pace. Next topic is the 40th Anniversary of Saturday Night Live. Aargh! When you work with twenty-somethings, it's best not to reminisce in their company. Any mention of the 70s and 80s stirs up derogatory comments about bad hair-dos and shoulder pads. I'd love to take these sassy comments and toss them into the Amazing Bassomatic. The crew is back to movie trivia, comparing the original Willy Wonka to the remake.
You know who could have taught Willy Wonka a thing or two? Michele Ferrero, the man at the helm of the confectionary empire, the creator of Nutella. Sadly, Mr. Ferraro passed away this week on Valentine's Day. As my quiet acknowledgement to the man responsible for the chocolate hazelnut spread, I turn my attention to the trays of unloved too-thin toast cookies. Sandwiching a schmear's worth of Nutella between two cookies turns them into Nutella sandwiches. World Nutella Day takes place every year on February 5th. We didn't acknowledge it at work, but in my world, armed with a spoon, or a recipe, everyday is Nutella Day.
Raspberry Pear Pie in Nutella Crust Recipe Here
Disappoint me once, Phil, shame on you. Break my heart, Phil, shame on me. The week commenced with shadowy news from Punxsutawney Phil and his Inner Circle on Gobbler’s Knob forecasting six more weeks of winter. I was counting on you Phil, to turn things around and you’ve dashed my hopes once again. The combination of ice pelting from the sky and baker’s racks filled with heart shaped cookies may be just enough to send me over the edge. The sugar cookies cool their heels waiting to be inscribed with clever conversational sentiments. ‘Stupid Cupid’ sums it up for me.
It would be easy to drown my sorrows in Peanut M&Ms or mint lentils, but I’m way beyond that. The perfect antidote for my February-melancholy awaits on the dining room table. After many weeks of scouring the tri-state area plus a touch of international smuggling, the search is over. I am the proud owner of not one, but three rather large boxes of After Eight Mints. One of the boxes had been earmarked as a belated birthday treat for my favorite sister-in-law, but as I craft this post, they are dangerously within my reach.
If you could tuck the best part of winter inside dark chocolate, it would be an After Eight mint. The taste is bracing, clean with just the right amount of peppermint and a bit of a chill. I love that the mints are packaged in their own little sleeves that barely crinkle. Ideal when you decide you must have one just as intermission is ending and Act II beginning. The ushers may instruct you to turn off your cellphones but seldom your After Eights.
On Monday, after trudging through snow and ice up the big hill, I retreat to my kitchen still wearing my parka. Freezing rain beats angrily against the windows. The second chocolate peppermint has begun to take effect and I am feeling markedly better. Go ahead, blow winds blow. I am eyeing some fresh mint purchased last weekend. Master/Master would have muddled it into a fabulous cocktail of sorts, but he is snowed in in Boston. Blondilocks was here only briefly, breezing through town with her Shakespeare cronies. So now it’s me and the mint and a big block of dark chocolate plus a container of heavy cream. The triple threat guaranteed to catapult me out of my six-more-weeks-of-winter slump. It may be only six weeks, but I might as well be stuck in an elevator listening to the theme song from ‘Frozen’ on an endless loop. I’m taking matters into my own oven mitts. I am baking this pie and I’m baking it now.
This is not an ordinary chocolate pie. The filling blurs the line from decadent to dangerous. Heavy cream is infused with fresh mint leaves then combined with dark chocolate. My mood is melancholy, but not homicidal, so I will temper the richness with some berries. After I pile the blackberries on top of the pie, I realize they might have been for someone else’s breakfast. Oh well. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned by a groundhog.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm