Sprung from the bakery for six glorious consecutive days, my holiday stretched out before me like pie dough rolling across a sheet of parchment paper.
First stop, Boston. Following morning miles along the Charles River, our party of three sought serious caffeine and refreshment from Boston’s The Thinking Cup. Refueled with a wedge of blueberry-studded cornmeal cake, we headed North to visit the new Public Market. Sadly discovering the Market was closed on Tuesdays, we wandered the back streets while the car cooled its wheels in a multi-level parking garage. Sure, Paul Revere’s residence was right up the block, but more importantly, we were in the neighborhood of Modern Pastry. Rationalizing the need for a dark chocolate-dipped pizzelle, we stopped in for a treat then meandered back to collect the car.
On rare occasions, the use of the word cacophony is warranted as in the cacophony of car horns was deafening as we approached the parking garage. Was a slight altercation inside the garage between two short-tempered individuals causing the incessant horn blowing? The reality proved to be two malfunctioning credit card machines requiring those exiting the garage to pay with cash. One man had abandoned his car at the very front of the exit line to withdraw cash from an ATM. Tempers were short, the line of cars looping several levels up the ramp was long. By the time we neared the pay station, a kindly Boston Policeman had opened the floodgates and waved us out into the street. Free parking? Apparently so.
The next morning we assembled our now party of five, traveling north towards Vacationland. Every holiday features a food pilgrimage, an opportunity to explore great local eats. Additionally, vacation provides a time of healing. The carpal-tunnel-achy-back-piecrust-rolling-wrist-pains settle down. The only possible hazard might result from an unsteady scoop of homemade ice cream tumbling off a fragile sugar cone. I am aware of this possibility and make a mental note to tread cautiously should ice cream present itself. It does not occur to me to fear an innocent cup of local clam chowder.
Enroute to the chowder, we pass a brick building with signage indicating Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. In my vacation state of mind, I wonder out loud what Pilgrim Health Care might entail. Master/Master suggests it might be the go-to place should one succumb to scurvy. I’m envisioning medical professionals attired in serious waistcoats, aprons and sensible stockings. Perhaps white collars and black hats with buckles to complete the uniform. I will soon learn, it is unkind to mock the Pilgrims.
As stated in previous posts, there is an instant in every mishap when you wish you could take that moment back. And so it was when the white soles of my gray sneakers met a patch of runaway butter. Years of college Voice and Movement training echoed in my head admonishing me to “Be one with the floor.” Literally.
You might call my spill a combination Sprawled Plank/Half Moon Pose. Or more accurately, the “I’m goin’ down, down, downward still.” Frantically trying to stop the momentum, arms flailing against thin air, I grazed the edge of a wooden table with both elbow and head. The end result is referred to in yoga as the Corpse Pose.
Flat on my back, two fellows seated at the very table I hit, jumped up. There was deafening silence in the room. You could hear an oyster cracker drop. Lying on the wooden floor, I had the wherewithal not to move without assessing the damage. Master/Master wanted to know if I had blacked out. I had not. All I remember was telling him emphatically that I didn’t want to go to the Pilgrim Hospital.
I didn’t. The fact is, I couldn’t. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care is an insurance company. Armed with a large bag of ice and sufficient ibuprofen, we continued on, stopping to indulge in a sparkling soda at Vena’s Fizz House and take a gander at the pie offerings at Two Fat Cats. And by the way, when you slip and fall on wayward melted butter, there is such a thing as a free lunch.
On Thursday, we took advantage of the brilliant sunshine and headed to the beach. A bald eagle was perched regally atop a massive rock submerged in the sea. He afforded us a brief photo op before taking flight and vanishing into the distance. We dipped our toes into the bracing saltwater debating a swim. Like the mommy on every class trip, I held on to cameras, sunglasses and baseball caps while my fellow travelers braved the waves. Wading in up to my knees provided more than enough arctic chill, thank you.
Our trifecta of free was completed at the Boynton-McKay Food Company. The former apothecary/soda fountain has been revamped into an all day breakfast spot. Our waitress set down a plate of three doughnuts, fragrant with cinnamon and nutmeg. “These are for you,” she said, “on the house.” Always the skeptic, it’s hard to believe. But as Blondilocks assures me, every once in a great while, free really is free.
Propped up against a sign boldly proclaiming “Fall Mums Are Here!” there it was; the first inflatable pumpkin of the season. Would that I had a large hatpin handy. Pumpkin sightings mean the bathing suit I wore but once this summer must retreat to attic storage. While under the eaves, I will swap summer running gear (shorts) for September running gear (leggings), while mentally making a note to self. Wear those white sneakers a few more times before the Labor Day fashion police pull the plug.
My inbox has been flooded this week with emails from various food sites offering sage counsel on Back-To-School-Lunches. Whoever these foodies are, they must have seen the stack of unused brown paper bags in the third drawer of my kitchen counter. If I close my eyes, I can conjure the sounds and steam-table fragrance of the middle school cafeteria. It’s enough to make you lose your appetite.
In all honesty, preparing school lunches was never a creative, culinary activity. It was more of a mad, slap-dash 7 am exercise, executed by a sleepy-eyed parent. My knife skills were on point, but my patience less so. Curious selections made their way into those brown paper bags and lunch boxes. When questioned what was on the menu, I generally replied, “It’ll be great. There are (choose one) fresh chocolate chip/oatmeal raisin/peanut butter cookies for dessert.” I was also known for penning an occasional note and tucking it in between sandwich and sweet. When lunch is consumed in the company of awkward 5th, 6th and 7th graders, sometimes providing the correct sentiment is as important as providing the proper sustenance.
Master/Master and Blondilocks reminisced recently about that very lunchroom. In an effort for students to make new friends, in middle school you were required to sit at very specific lunch tables, not necessarily with your pals. The reality was the ‘Kewl’ kids stuck together like macaroni and cheese, no matter where they were seated. It was also brought to my attention that very few children were denied the Philadelphia brown bag tradition of indulging in Tastykakes for dessert. I can think of two.
Work has been fraught with a few challenges this week. Namely, we have been on Cappuccino Lockdown because the milk is not steaming properly. According to Cappuccino Savvy Barista, this stems from insufficient protein in the dairy cows’ diet. Who knew? Poor moo cows are probably dabbling with a Gluten Free Diet as well. Not because they need to, but because they think it makes them feel better. And all the cool cows are doing it. The entire scenario sounds like an episode fresh out of Portlandia, to me.
On Tuesday morning at the Farmers Market, even though plums and pears are hipster chic, the general produce buying public is still smitten with the end of summer peaches. Personally, the freestone yellows continue to beckon, banking on the fact that their days, (like white linen in August) are numbered. Purchasing a quart container of peaches, I’m about to retreat to my car. It’s so ghastly hot, my sneakers stick to the black asphalt.
My phone does that subtle beeping thing indicating there’s a new message. Can you pick up strawberries for a birthday cake going out today? Without even looking, I’m fairly certain strawberries will have to be purchased elsewhere. But I circle the fruit table once more, and that’s when I succumb to the adorable factor of Baby Apricots and Petite Plums. Seated side by side, a riot of orange and purple, I am convinced they will play nicely together under a blanket of cornmeal crumble. The crumble waits in my refrigerator for just this opportunity. My colorful impulse purchase is made.
The strawberry quest leads me to an overly air-conditioned Trader Joe’s. The check-out line snakes alongside a display of miniature pumpkins. I find myself staring at the shopper in front of me who has filled the front of her cart with a stack of perfectly folded, previously used Trader Joe’s bags. In a quasi-conscious state, I see myself in another lifetime, removing the handles from those very bags and using a pair of orange-handled scissors to cut the bags down the sides. Newly fashioned, I place the brown paper on the kitchen counter, retrieve the industrial strength tape dispenser and select the first of many textbooks that must be covered.
The cashier tucks the berries into a signature brown paper bag. “Sorry,” I shrug accepting my purchase. “I left my book covers at home.
You think you’re as normal as blueberry pie, but you’re not. The truth is, based on the barista banter circling around the kitchen, I attended college in a staggeringly different era.
Barista: After work I have an appointment at the Apple Store then I’m going to Verizon about my phone. I’ve already been to Bed, Bath and Beyond and Target, and if I run out of time, I’ll have to finish shopping when I get to school.
NMMNP: (Glancing across the bench to a co-worker of similar age bracket) Jeez. We didn’t have a phone in the room. No iphone. No computer. I only packed the clothes that would fit in my Samsonite luggage. My portable typewriter was too heavy to lift. I had a hot-pot for boiling water and I smuggled in a corn popper. Oh, I did have a record player.
Barista: You mean so you could listen to vinyl? (Pause) What’s a hot-pot?
NMMNP: (Impatiently) We called them ‘albums.’ We boiled water in a hot-pot for a cup of tea. (Voice rising) We popped popcorn at night while waiting for pizza to be delivered. Papers were typed on typewriters and we used white out to correct our mistakes.
Barista- Yeah, that’s what my mom said people did in the 70s.
NMMNP: (Pausing with rolling pin in hand) Didn’t your parents go to college in the 70s?
Barista: Uh, no. (Pause) They’re not that old.
Nothing like a little back-to-school conversation to bring the room down.
This is a melancholy time of year, watching one after another of my favorite summer crew members step away from the bench and abandon the espresso machine. The baristas who know exactly how I take my morning double-shot-over-ice-with-a-splash-of-milk are leaving. And it appears they will never know the fragrance of burnt popcorn that lingers long after the popcorn maker is unplugged. They’ll never know the sense of accomplishment that comes from riding a Tompkins County Transit Authority bus to Woolworth’s where they will secure a rug for their bare dormitory floor. A rug crafted from 100% synthetic fibers. A hideous blue rug that doesn’t fit in a bag and will be lugged back to campus on yet another Tompkins County bus. They won’t order pizza at midnight because they only eat organic meals in the certified green dining emporiums. As for calling home once a week, clearly the Class of 2019 won’t wait to use the pay phone down the hall because there isn’t one. The conversation is over.
I return to my pie shells, distracted by the pyramid of blueberries in plastic clamshells that demand attention. It’s been a long summer in the blueberry trenches and yet, it’s hard to believe that this week there has been mention of the dreaded September themed cookie cutters. Standing perilously close in the wings are tube pans for High Holiday apple cakes.
Circling the bench, we observe summer through the Bakers racks and the expansive retail window fronting the building. June and July drag like hibiscus emblazoned flip flops running in sand until the pace quickens and August arrives. With it the names on the Employee Sign-In sheets dwindle while we wait for the new recruits to arrive.
The green tented Farmers Market was quiet this week, with more available parking spaces up and down the avenue. Ahead of me was a mother juggling children who were juggling school supplies. The look in her eyes indicated she knew exactly how many days remained before the first day of school.
Gathering armfuls of sweet corn, I bypassed the blueberries which are subtly less sweet, more tart than they were a few weeks ago. Looking slightly out of place amongst donut peaches and golden apricots was a wooden crate of early apples. It’s too soon for apples, still as hot as a 6 am scone tray without an oven mitt.
When produce turns from peaches to prune plums to over-sized zucchini, my summer dreams will have been squashed. Refusing to acknowledge September, I will hold on to summer just a little bit longer. Sweet corn, lend me your ears.
From a pie plate’s vantage point, August boasts some of the Garden State’s best. Post rhubarb and pre-apple lies a small but scrumptious window of local peaches. Receiving bonus points for being ‘freestone’ and easy to pit, bakers embrace the fuzzy fruit, tucking them into crumbles, cobblers and deep-dish pies. When ripe, yellow peaches are boldly sweet and enthusiastically juicy. Attempting to steal the spotlight on farmer’s market tables, they overflow bushel baskets spending Saturday mornings being pinched by the masses. For many of us, the true star of August lies quietly beyond the yellow. Composed quart containers nestle the subdued yet exquisite white peach, a limited edition, both spicy and sweet. I’ve always considered yellow peaches more akin to summer stock Musical Theatre, all jazz hands and flashy yellow costumes. White peaches have just as much to offer in good taste, but less razzle dazzle, more Symphonic Orchestra played under the stars.
In the 1970s in Bridgewater, NJ the month of August meant several things. One was the arrival of Seventeen Magazine’s Back-to-School Issue. A behemoth periodical, it was to be pored over, glossy page by glossy page, and was far more interesting than anything on the Honors English required reading list. I bemoaned my fate to Jessie as she sat at the kitchen table, slicing thick wedges of yellow peaches into a giant red Pyrex bowl. “I can’t believe we have to read Romeo and Juliet, Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre and A Tale of Two Cities by Labor Day!” This was not the first time Jessie had heard me voice this academic crisis. Without looking up, nodding, she reached for another sun blushed peach, expressing minimal sympathy to my plight. A voracious reader and a long-standing member of the local library and the Book of the Month Club, Jessie felt no response was the best response.
August also meant a trip ‘up the hill’ to London Fruit Farms, not to be confused with Joe’s Fruit Farm. London had white peaches, and Joe’s offered yellow. White peaches were considered elusive, short-seasoned and highly coveted. I never saw Jessie toss them in the big red bowl with granulated and brown sugar. Never ate them bubbling hot out of the oven between layers of flaky pie dough. They were to be eaten out of hand, their subtle sweetness dripping from chin to fingertips. If Jessie felt like making biscuits, she would send my father ‘up the hill’ for peaches with a stop at the A&P for heavy cream. Old-fashioned biscuit shortcake was a sublime dessert, and if there were leftover biscuits, an even better breakfast.
As predictable and welcome as local peaches in August, this is a week to celebrate a birthday (Happy Birthday, Bets) and a monumental anniversary (sixty-six sounds monumental to me, Rommy and Pa.) Wouldn’t it be peachy to mark these occasions with a few baked goods. Jessie would be pleased to know I have just the bowl for it.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm