My blueberry reverie is interrupted by an individual seated at the bakery’s window table. Her voice is loud enough to drown out Dean Martin’s rendition of “That’s Amore.” Admonishing someone on the other end of the line, there’s a heated exchange taking place. I am privy to only one side of the conversation.
“Do NOT call your father, did you hear me?! Are you listening to me?? Well, are you??” Momentary pause and then, “This conversation is OVER!”
Yes Madam, not only did I hear you, but ditto for everyone within earshot. Blissfully your conversation has concluded, and so has Dean-o’s time on the 1940’s Big Band Express. I return to the fruit at hand. Nine pounds of clean, stem-free berries will yield six pies. Times two brings the count up to a dozen pies and ten blue stained digits. Blueberries are tumbling pell mell into an oversized stainless steel mixing bowl. Every now and again, the purple berries skittle across the counter landing on the checkerboard floor. They leave indelible splotches underfoot, what I imagine a Cat in the Hat crime scene tinted blue instead of pink might resemble.
My feet have logged many miles recently, beginning last Saturday in Ithaca, New York. Assembling on the newly refurbished Ithaca Commons at the ungodly hour of 7:30 am, seven hundred runners finessed a route that followed the Cayuga Lake waterfront trail before
winding up the grueling hills to Cornell then back again to finish on the Commons.
In a town known for mercurial weather patterns referred to as ‘Ithacating,’ Saturday’s temps were chilly to start, unseasonably warm as the day unfolded. As a group, the runners were exceedingly well behaved, sedately attired (no tutus this year) and gracious when it came to sharing the road. Of course, there is always one individual who not only tries my patience, but I just can’t seem to shake.
Somewhere along Mile Marker 6, we came upon two small suspension bridges that swayed underfoot. Once again landing on solid ground, there was an incessant sound coming from behind me. A fairly robust gentleman was swilling Gatorade with one hand and mopping the sweat from his brow with the other. Not only were his footsteps out of sync with mine, he punctuated each stroke of the pavement with uninhibited hiccups. I lost him at Mile Marker 7.
At the conclusion of the race, Ithaca Gorges Half Marathon organizers threw one swell after party. Ithaca Beer Company provided refreshment, but I was more fixated on Ithaca Milk brand yogurt, early yet sweet peaches and local strawberries. Wedges of juicy watermelon and a requisite banana completed the breakfast menu. For those seeking more substantial foodstuffs, barbeque grills were blazing. I passed on the burgers, opting instead for an ear of corn.
Strawberries were abundant at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market as well. Predictably displayed alongside leafy stalks of rhubarb, blueberries cozied up between the two. As seemingly oppositional as Fred and Wilma, one would think blueberries have no business cavorting with pie plant. I'm happy to report that pairing the two together results in sweet and sassy harmony. Not only do the two extreme flavors meld extremely well, the sum of the two delivers a brilliant violet-blue visual.
Bluebarb may not edge out strawberry/rhubarb as the fan favorite, but the flavor combination has amassed a loyal following. Happily, the two can now tango in pie, galettes and atop my personal favorite, rounds of rich, buttery brioche. With food trends as fickle as a summer thermometer, rhubarb side-steps its long-term relationship with strawberries for an opportunity to sing the blues.
Last Saturday like clockwork, I reached into the cavernous oven at work to retrieve a sheet tray of bubbling pies. Doing so, I grazed the door with my left elbow and marveled at my impeccable timing. In a move certain to rival a Cirque du Soleil contortionist, I applied an overabundant schmear of French burn cream to the afflicted area. What better time to sport a crimson elbow burn than the day before slipping into a sleeveless little black dress?
I wasn’t the only one boarding the wardrobe struggle bus on Sunday evening. As I stepped off the curb at Amsterdam Avenue and 74th Street, a curious accessory lay in the gutter. Some poor individual had lost their black cummerbund. Could it belong to someone enroute to prom night? Doubtful. Clearly this accessory was Tony Awards bound. For a moment I paused, wondering whether to retrieve it. What does a good Samaritan do with a wayward cummerbund; could there possibly be a Black Tie Lost and Found?
Teetering in my ankle-strapped low-to-the-ground black heels, I stepped over the abandoned sash taking pity on the individual suffering from wardrobe malfunction. As the light turned green, I crossed the street looking back over my shoulder, feeling the slightest bit guilty.
Scanning the parade of Tony-goers inching their way along the red carpet connecting Broadway to the Beacon Theatre, it was impossible to identify Mr. Missing Cummerbund. He would undoubtedly realize his fate once he had taken his seat and unbuttoned his satin-lapel jacket. I was spending way too much time thinking about this. Channeling my inner Idina Menzel, I decided it was time to let it go.
As always, there is a show-within-a-show before the performance actually begins. Leggy attendees in skyscraper heels and open-toed gold sandals paused to snap selfies before entering the theatre. It was a windy night, powerful gusts wreaking havoc on architecturally precarious hairdos and in a few isolated yet hilarious cases, man buns.
Released from the confines of a bandana, my curls bobbed in the breeze, deliriously happy to be out and about. I crossed paths with another individual unfazed by the wind; Julian Fellowes suffered nary a single hair out of place.
The Beacon Theatre was packed as tightly as a cellophane sleeve of double-stuffed Oreo cookies. Crossing the mirrored lobby, I realized that I too, needed a slight wardrobe adjustment.
There ought to be a law against tiny loops of fabric affixed inside most party dresses. Dress manufacturers feel that ‘hanger helpers’ or ‘garment straps’ are critical for facilitating safe garment hanging. But for some of us, those annoying fabric loops refuse to stay sequestered inside the dress, insisting on lounging about in public. Less noticeable than a contrary 1980s shoulder pad, yet equally annoying, my ‘hanger helpers’ insisted on wiggling their way into the spotlight. (In hindsight, I probably should have cut them off before leaving the house, but like the tag attached to the mattress, I was concerned there was some sort of penalty involved.)
Attempting to make my way towards the ladies lounge to address the issue, I narrowly escaped lassoing a Swarovski bedazzled evening bag with one of the defiant straps. Maybe this was retribution for my callous indifference towards the gutter cummerbund. I followed Mr. Fellowes down the stairs praying I wouldn’t catch my toe in the process.
Over the course of four hours, Broadway performers offered plenty of toe tapping and soaring choruses. And yes, the musical about the first Secretary of the Treasury took center stage on more than 10 (but fewer than 12) occasions. James Corden served as ringmaster for an awards show choked with the somber horror of a national tragedy. The evening felt more about compassion and less about winning, less arrogance, more humble pie. This was reflected in every acceptance speech as the focus turned from me to we. There was a sense that everyone in the room was part of a larger ensemble, part of the Broadway community. It was a privilege to be a member of the audience.
At last, Etta and Frank have left the building, ushering in Mariah, Whitney and 48 of their closest warbling cronies. Why? Because it’s Ladies Night.
Oh, what a night.
Technically, the yearly event dubbed Girls Night Out is a retail marketing tool providing an opportunity for the ladies of the Village (not to be confused with the Village People), to support local merchants. Our favorite bakery will stay open late for everyone’s sugar and decaffeinated needs. Sorry girls, but other than the strawberry-rhubarb and blueberry pies I’ve left cooling on the Baker’s racks, I’m opting out of this one.
Yes, it very well may be Ladies Night but more importantly, it’s Negroni Week. The Negroni cocktail, comprised of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari has been dubbed according to Conde Nast Traveler, the ‘Cosmopolitan of the decade.’ Drinks International claims Negroni holds the number two spot of best selling classic cocktails just behind the Old Fashioned.
Campari is a key player in the Negroni, a bitter apéritif whose ingredients are shrouded in secrecy. The Campari brand was created in Northwest Italy and dates back to 1860. Today, Campari is garnering plenty of media attention. Negroni Week was launched in 2013 as a celebration of the flashy crimson cocktail and an effort to raise money for charitable causes around the world. The response has been overwhelming with this year’s participating bars, restaurants and retailers numbering well over 6,000.
This week, I was thrilled to team up with Alicia Walters of NYC’s Once Upon A Tart to create a recipe for Negroni tartlets. All proceeds benefit a charity close to my heart, Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights Aids.
Personally, the Negroni is the ideal cocktail for one who is both mathematically challenged and also referred to as a One Drink Wonder. Even I can fashion a cocktail composed of equal parts Campari, gin and sweet vermouth. Not only does it pack a substantial wallop, it makes a bold fashion statement in a rocks glass with a ribbon of orange peel. It also happens to lend itself brilliantly to pie.
Campari is considered an acquired taste, but I acquired it early on. The long necked bottle stood tall tucked behind the doors of my father’s mahogany bar. It was a beverage he would offer with a little ice and orange, maybe a splash of soda. It sounded terribly sophisticated, a drink both bitter and sweet, something I imagined Katherine Hepburn might have sipped in the 1955 classic film Summertime.
Sipping a Negroni gives me the illusion that I’m perfectly tanned, attired in crisp white linen. (A more accurate description would be a white polyester apron splattered in wayward fruit.) The fantasy of a fresh pedicure peeking out of fabulous Italian leather sandals seems perfectly reasonable with a Negroni in hand. The reality of baker’s legs and runner’s toes are best kept under wraps in kitchen clogs and sensible socks. A girl can dream.
In an ideal summer pie, Campari shakes things up, enhancing the combination of rhubarb, raspberry and orange. What better way is there to celebrate good times? Especially when there’s a party goin’ on right here. Come on!
Just because it’s June doesn’t mean the needy have fled the area seeking sunshine and iced coffee elsewhere. Their thirst continues and while most coffeephiles are playing by the rules, one individual is a little needier than the rest.
“Can you take the ice out of my coffee and add more coffee?”
Typically, that’s the sort of request one would make at the very beginning of a coffee transaction. Something along the lines of asking for an iced coffee with ‘not too much ice.’ That seems perfectly acceptable. What is not acceptable is when an individual has been handed said iced beverage, consumes some of it and then returns to the barista with the request of less ice, more coffee. Even on a day when the ice machine is woefully behind on output, we would still prefer for everybody to keep the ice in their respective cups to themselves.
Complex customer interactions are the things that give me pause as I’m removing the leaves from the rhubarb stalks. Every now and again I toy with the idea of a Homicide Pie. I am not alone in my thinking. Waitress is the musical adaptation of the 2007 movie, the story of a master pie baker, hell-bent on finding a way out of an unhappy marriage and a dead-end job. Her exit strategy involves winning a baking contest in a neighboring county that allows her to ditch the wretched husband and open her own pie shop.
Pie baking serves as therapy for lead character Jenna, who names her pies accordingly. There are Naughty pies and Lonely pies, White Knuckle pies, Kick in the Pants pie and Miserable Self Pitying Loser pie. Pie naming at my current place of employment must be restricted to just the facts; fruit and possibly crumb. Even then, there are days when the windowed pie box mistakenly says one thing when the pie inside boasts something else. It’s nobody’s fault but the pie maker, who takes a glance through the walk-in and the next thing you know, three fruits are comingling beneath the lattice. Guilty as charged.
My intention is not to confuse. I speak from experience when I admit pie baking is worrisome business. In addition to flavor mix-ups, little things keep me awake at night. Wayward blueberry stems, runaway lemon seeds, a stray thread from a kitchen towel all contribute to restless sleep. Summer fruit is just as fickle as autumnal options. We wish for berries and stone fruits to be irresistibly sweet with just enough sunshine kissed tartness. The reality is there’s plenty of wiggle room in every bushel and peck, requiring a touch more or a tad less sweetener, thickener, zest, spice. It is far from an exact science, a little bit like live theatre. No two pie performances are exactly alike.
Open kitchens and stage performances are unpredictable. Oven timers lose power and forget to buzz, cell phones don’t lose power and do buzz (right in the middle of Act I’s closing ballad.) Kitchen showstoppers tend to involve wayward blueberries underfoot, cherry pitting that resembles a crime scene or melted butter cascading out of the microwave door. Bravo.
Waitress boasts a fair share of rolling pins, wisps of flour, and sprinkles of sugar all played out behind a lattice-cherry-pie show curtain. I was particularly smitten with the vintage Pyrex mixing bowls in varying shades of citrus. Clearly there is a pie choreographer responsible for the comings and goings of the mile-high meringues and towering cream pies. According to the Playbill, nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee who is credited as ‘Official Pie Partner’ for pies used on stage in the production. I’ll admit, from where I sat, the pies are dressed to the nines, glossy with crimson strawberries and swirls of cream that refused to melt under the lights. Without disclosing pertinent information, a wedding takes place during the second act, cueing a multi-tiered wedding pie. I imagine the glossy pages of this month’s issue of Martha will tell me how to craft my own.
At the intermission, concessionaires attired in regulation sky-blue waitress uniforms offered us two complimentary mason jar pies. Tiny and tasty, complete with diminutive plastic spoon, it was a sweet gesture. Personally, I’m more of a fan of ice cream during the Interval, but that requires air travel.
This weekend I’m on a quest for the too-short-seasoned local strawberries, the ones that are best eaten out of hand or with buttermilk biscuits. There are plenty of California berries in the walk-in just jumping at the chance to get acquainted with three cases of rhubarb. I will do my best to make that happen, and unless someone tries my pie patience, no one will get hurt in the process.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm