There is a pie thief among us, and I am determined to get to the bottom of it. Not among “us” as in the worker bees, but among the patrons who cross the butter yellow-chocolate brown linoleum flooring.
Last weekend, between the hours of 4:00pm on Saturday (when I fled) and 8:00am Sunday morning (when the bakery opened) someone snagged a pie that wasn’t theirs to snag. This has haunted me all week- a decent, law abiding individual ordered and paid for a Key Lime Pie to pick up on Sunday. Sunday arrived and sadly, that customer left empty handed because someone else felt a sense of pie superiority. It is a sad, sad world when sweetened condensed milk and key lime juice are no longer safe in their own graham cracker pie shell. Without being there to see the tragedy play out, I can only imagine that the perpetrator was no doubt attired in summer turquoise running togs. Running through the door and seeing the line, she maps out a master plan while waiting for her iced decaf latte with soy, no, almond milk. Let’s call this patron, Miss Scarlet. Scarlet is probably a non-baker, compelled to host a Father’s Day gala, and is empty handed in the dessert department. Approaching the counter, she catches a glimpse of fresh lime zest and whipped cream rosettes peering through a windowed pie box with a ticket attached that says ‘paid.’ She pays for the beverage and backs away from the counter. Gathering up someone else’s pie, she advances towards the door. Nonchalantly pausing to sweeten her drink with of course, Agave, Exit, Miss Scarlet. Perhaps not, but it certainly wasn’t Professor Plum.
I have my own share of problems this week, attempting to navigate the onslaught of stone fruit that is in season. Purple plums, sweet nectarines, and cherries, both Bing and Rainier, with whom I have a love/hate relationship. Stubbornly clinging to their little pits makes a pie girl such as myself, terribly concerned that an errant pit may find its way into a pie. These are the things that keep me up at night.
In addition to the riot of stone fruit and summer berries, I am besieged with math challenges. Pints and quarts, cups and ounces, a mathematical nightmare. This is when I wish I had paid attention to the chapter on the metric system. Particularly the accompanying worksheet detailing “fruits in relation to measuring cup equivalencies.” But I did not, and so the multi quart Cambro containers and Pyrex measuring cups mock me as I struggle to weigh the fruit and generously fill the pie shells. Sequestered in my metric system math hell, I turn my shoulder on the cake department.
It’s been rough on the other side of the bench for the cakers, but how they do go on. Endless back and forth about inscriptions and some sort of pink buttercream crisis; “The woman said soft pink, but not too soft, you know, pretty pink, but not ballet slipper pink…” plus cake dreams dashed when we nix the marshmallow meringue because of the extreme heat. This is why I maintain the position that when you toil in a bakery, cake remains a four letter word.
In my own little kitchen, an attempt to incorporate a small basket of fresh figs with 18 oz., (or 510 grams) of blackberries, means it is imperative to secure the correct baking dish. This is where I falter. Amidst the fluted tart and tartlet pans is a collection of cobalt blue star shaped ramekins. They once bubbled over with summer fruits during my stint at a Philly restaurant that featured the name ‘Stella,’ meaning star. (No relation whatsoever to Stanley’s STELLAAAHHH!) I don’t want the blue ramekins, I’m looking for the lime green baking dishes. And when I unearth them from the bottom of the cabinet, all I can think about is lime, and key lime, and who took the pie and how they should be punished.
When I catch her, and I will, Miss Agave Sweetened Iced Decaf Almond Milk Latte, aka Scarlet, she will pay. Completion of the “fruits in relation to measuring cup equivalencies” worksheet is just the beginning. Walk off with a pie that isn’t yours? Poor Miss Scarlet, she hasn’t got a clue.
It is shortly before 9:00 am on Sunday morning in Ithaca, New York. A crowd of approximately 700 sneaker clad early risers have gathered on North Tioga Street.
We are instructed to safety pin our racing bibs to the front of our shirts although there are several renegades in the group who ignore this directive. All you need to know about me is on that bib; my name, sex, age and t-shirt size. It’s critical to start the race at a sensible pace, avoiding the temptation to run alongside the cool kids who are real runners. I’m just a baker who likes to get outside and see the light of day. Tucked inside the miniscule pocket of my shorts is the tiniest zip-lock bag of gummy bears for sustenance.
The woman to my left feels the need to run this race attired in a star-sequined tutu.
Who am I to judge? The late, great Vergiu Cornea who taught ballet at Ithaca College would never have allowed that tutu in his class. It’s blindingly distracting and it is all I can see in my peripheral vision. It does however, provide the incentive necessary to run as far away from the Sugar Plum Fairy as possible. The race begins, then stops; a false start and we tumble into each other. Another deafening siren fills the air and we’re off.
Winding through downtown, dodging broken pavement and dangerous puddles the course loops along Cayuga Lake. There’s a parade of ducklings crossing from the edge of the shoreline towards the pavement. “Make Way!” seems an understatement; bibs a blowin’ and knees a crackin’ the parade of runners thunders past.
Cayuga Heights road is where it all turns downhill for many as the course winds up, up, up hill leveling off at Cornell. I’ve lost Miss Sugar Plum but working my way up the hills I have a new best friend who apparently is an IC alum. She is an incessant talker, the running version of a cell phone over sharer. Miss IC feels the need to regale me with not only a history of the races she’s run, but her running times as well. When she takes a breath she wants to know if I attended either of the two Ithaca schools of higher learning. “Yup,” is my reply, knowing where this is leading. “What year did you graduate?” she inquires and when I tell her she takes a long drink from one of the three water bottles strapped to her waist and says, “Really? That’s the year I was born.” Suddenly Miss Sugar Plum seems like a preferred running buddy.
What sounds like small branches cracking underfoot could very well be the sound of my knees. Approaching the 6 mile water station, Miss IC is to the right of me making a call on her cell phone. She then instructs someone on the other end of the line to “Twist off the cap of the Gatorade and just hand it to me.” Whoa. This woman means business. I’m distracted by the half guzzled paper cup of Gatorade that is tossed over the shoulder by the young guy in front of me. It approaches with the precision of an off course electrolyte torpedo.
The remaining miles are a blur, with race officials on bicycles warning that the next stretch of hill features ‘false flats’ which simply means it’s all hill. Until it’s finally downhill, back through the park, edging the lake, hugging the traffic.
And then it’s over and there she is, clearly crossing the finish line ahead of me, Miss Sugar Plum Fairy. Her tutu is as fresh as it was at the start of the race. A good bit behind me is the guy who decked me with his Gatorade cup, which in my non-competitive sensibility is strangely rewarding. The race has provided good eats for we runners; tables of locally made yogurt, slices of ruby watermelon and handfuls of sweet local strawberries. There’s also a restaurant grilling up barbeque and early corn to enjoy while you wait for the beer tent to open at noon. Oh looky there- guess who’s at the front of the line at the beer tent? Miss IC waves and I nod. “Good race,” she says. “Yup,” I reply.
An hour later at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market, I’m eyeing the same local strawberries and bunches of rhubarb, which you might say I am stalking. There are also several bakeries on hand with the most exquisite breads and sweets. A fruit stuffed biscuit-y breakfast-y item seems to be extremely popular, but by the time I make my way to purchase one, the bakery has sold out. Of course they have, it’s Ithaca, everybody likes to get sconed.
At 8:00 am on Monday morning, I’m back in the bakery where the phone is ringing and the commuters are clamoring for cold brew. There’s a missing cake order and someone wants a strawberry rhubarb pie by the end of the day. And then I remember why I run. It was summed up succinctly at Sunday’s race by a leggy woman sporting a black headband. It simply said, “Cheaper than therapy.”
Whether you prefer Neil Patrick to Kristin and Alan or Hugh over Nathan and Matthew, is not the issue. The trick is being able to snag a seat to the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards. How does one accomplish this? I’ll tell you how.
Ashamedly, I play the Mommy card, snatching the seat away from both Master/Master and Blondilocks. Sorry kids. This isn’t the first time I’ve nudged them out of the running, but to be fair, they have attended while I watched the broadcast from the comfort of my bed, sporting pajamas. Over the years, it has become increasingly obvious that behind every gorgeous individual gliding down the red carpet and filling a plush seat in Radio City Music Hall is a “team.” I had never considered recruiting my own team until one presented itself on the opposite side of the Bakers bench. Complaining about the rigors of Tony-ing, specificially the footwear (the dreaded heels) and the threat of humidity (the dreaded hair-do) my co-workers Speedy Icer and Kirsten provided just the right amount of positive reinforcement necessary. With their coaching, they transformed a royal-icing-spattered-kitchen-clog-wearing pie baker into a black tie event goer. Thanks for the support, ladies.
In case you were wondering, Radio City Music Hall seats approximately 5,933 individuals. Even more, if the risers on the stage are utilized. I happen to know the number of seats having learned them in excruciating detail during my stint as a member of Guest Relations. (A well-worn copy of the seating chart is still in my possession.) The infinite rows of seats are so hard to remember, they are harder to forget. You can’t help noticing how incredibly glamorous everyone looks when upwards of 5,900 people are gathered in one lobby. The sequins, couture gowns, open-backs and décolletage are dizzying against the black ties and blindingly white tuxedo shirts.
Last Sunday evening, riding the tide of audience members through the art deco doors, a woman in terrifyingly high strappy heels and a perfectly executed chignon practically blindsided me. Engrossed in her iphone, she was oblivious to shorter people in lower heels. I desperately tried to avoid stepping on the black satin train of her white satin sheath. The swell of the crowd reached a crescendo and the iphone offender floated down the aisle of the orchestra, snapping selfies.
I was seated in row Double Something, trying to navigate the slope of the carpet while juggling the weighty playbill and my diminutive evening bag. Sadly, the bag proved too tiny for a sensible package of peanut M&Ms. As I carefully climbed over several fabulous members of Broadway glitterati, I was finally secure in my seat with just a whisper of a snag in my pantyhose. The two seats to my right remained vacant until moments before the start of the show. Who should glide in making herself comfortable but Miss Perfect Chignon. Her sliver of a sheath brushed the floor perilously close to my right foot. Fearful of stepping on the pristine satin, I adjusted my leg causing the subtle but noticeable pantyhose snag to gain momentum. Miss Chignon’s dangly earrings sparkled, reflecting her beautiful self. Refusing to extinguish her phone, out of the corner of my eye I glimpse nothing but selfies of this woman, clearly just taken in the lobby. She agonizes, editing and sending, deleting and texting. I’m tempted to engage her in conversation, asking her Tony picks of the season or if she had some chocolates she would like to share. Sensing her utter boredom and total detachment from the stage, I suspect she is not a theatre-goer. The opportunity to chat with my seatmate is dashed, as she gathers up her phone and her Swarovski crystal evening bag and floats up the aisle into oblivion. A seat filler promptly takes her place.
There’s a turning point in the evening when the audience sentiment shifts from enthusiasm to hangry. Or in the case of the woman with the short blond bob seated in front of me, thirsty. It is clear that the blond and her husband are from across the pond, and because they have an aisle seat, I suspect they are Somebodys. Indeed they are, as the husband’s name is announced and he works his way to the stage to accept an award. Soon after his heartfelt speech (in which he mentions his devoted wife and children), I see his wife fumbling with her moderately sized evening bag from which she produces a petite flask. Observing this I make a mental note; should I return to this event next year, bring a bigger evening bag.
The next day there are several articles about the Tony Awards including a column dedicated to Red Carpet Winners. There are dozens of color photographs of women deemed best dressed. Funny, I am not included on the list but that is no reflection whatsoever on my team. Singled out among the perfectly attired is none other than my former seat partner, the chignoned-iphone beauty responsible for my hosiery debacle. Upon further investigation, it appears the young lady is a model, an up and comer, someone to watch. It also mentions that one of her hobbies is ‘taking pictures.’ No kidding.
Upon closer re-reading of the above title, it appears I have penned a stage direction. That is not my intention. Though clearly, life in the bakery vacillates daily between dark comedy, (from where I stand) and light tragedy (it’s baked goods, not medical research.) As we tend to say more often than not , you can’t make this stuff up. This week was no exception. Recounting, the highlights featured the preparation, scooping, baking and packaging of 1,000 chocolate chip cookies. My contribution was strictly in the naysaying, dough making and scooping of hundreds (but not all of the) cookies. Repeat after me, “Repetitive Motion Syndrome.” Fortunately for my employer, there are younger, hardier types working around the bench. They are also cheery and less likely to say nay.
May, (who as the week unfolded became more of an evil character than a month) decided in the midst of the chocolate chip cookie-ing and cake baking and butter creaming, to pull the plug on the electrical service throughout our humble Village. It didn’t affect me the way it did my co-workers, because I can roll and crimp pie shells in a black-out, in the sweltering heat. Watching the ice cubes in my iced Americano melt away, the bakery was strangely quiet, blissfully interrupting the 1940s Sonos soundtrack. Yes, it was an inconvenience, almost as inconvenient as the demise of the compressor on the dairy refrigerator. Neck and neck in hilarity with the accidental unplugging of the double door refrigerator that holds just about everything. Almost as much fun as double checking to see if any of the dairy items had spoiled in the refrigeratus-interruptus. Indeed they had. It seems superfluous to mention the shelf in the fondant cake fridge that buckled under the weight of an immense graduation cake. Equally incidental, the misspelling of an individual’s name on a cake requiring surgical precision to remove and correct. Perhaps we are saving lives here?
That was only in the kitchen. Just think of the suffering endured by the patrons. In the midst of the power outage, the espresso machine was down and out. Personally, that was a game-changer. But for the woman fresh from her Pilates class, attired in capri-style black stretchy pants and turquoise tank top, our lack of power was her No Exit. Incredulous, she practically shrieked, “Does this mean you don’t have Wi-Fi??!!” Poor dear.
It is now a new week, a new month and if you stumble upon this on Friday, the 5th day of June, it is National Doughnut Day. Of course, we’ve got you covered for all of your doughnut cookie needs. The idea of eating a doughnut pleases me, but not the post-reality of sugar high/carbo crash. My interest lies elsewhere, in the produce that June does so very well. This week, I am smitten with sweet cherries, despite the fact that they are a bit needy.
In a commercial kitchen, frozen cherries are the only way to fly. Loretta at Hyline Orchards continues to be my go-to cherry gal in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. On the home front however, fresh cherries do not frighten me. Bring on the Bing, mahogany red and perfect in pie and the elusive peachy-hued Rainier to eat by the handful. Members of the stone fruit family (no relation to Sly), it takes a dedicated individual to pit sufficient cherries for a pie. Without the incredibly capable Blondilocks by my side, that leaves yours truly with just a bowl of cherries.
Maybe my love for this fruit stems from youthful consumption of Shirley Temples and Charlotte Russe. Or baking too-many-to-count cherry pies with almond crumble. But after the week that was, I’m leaning towards a grown-up version of the classic cherry lattice. One with a generous splash of bourbon. When the workplace is fraught with pitfalls, a slice of cherry pie couldn’t hurt. End scene.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm