Winds of Change are set to blow through the bakery. I may complain about and criticize the Barista crew, but I have to admit that I am going to miss them. Particularly the ones that have been my sidekicks in the kitchen. Cookie icers, pie shell rollers, and most critical to my needs, caffeine enablers. August always heralds the departure of the summer staff. Most are returning to either undergraduate or graduate school programs, and they are all pretty smart cookies. I am also headed off to school for a month, freshly sharpened No. 2 pencils and notebook in hand. All of this change has me a touch melancholy. Not to the extent of Picasso during his Blue Period, but blue nonetheless.
My week began with a computer glitch that necessitated a visit to the Apple store. Despite my reservation, there is an enormous line snaking from the front door all the way back to the Genius Bar. It seems terribly unfair that after all of the signing in and waiting for a blue shirted Genius to acknowledge you, that complimentary beverages are not offered at the Bar. But who am I? Clearly not the Genius. I’m just a baker clutching a laptop and waiting my turn. The crowd around me is loud, some are crying, and the folks in Blue seamlessly slip in and out of secret passageways making the whole experience a little bit surreal. It is also (maybe it’s the children crying) reminiscent of hours logged in the pediatrician’s office; both as patient and later, as parent. None of it is good, but thankfully, it is temporary. Dr. Genius runs a battery of tests on little MacBook and after a tweak or two, declares it fit as a fiddle. I’m sent on my way with nary a sticker nor a lollypop. Seems slightly unfair.
Many things are unfair. Or more accurately, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” fifteen minutes prior to closing. Folks who walk into a bakery right about this time looking for a cake are generally there because they forgot it was Somebody’s birthday. Such was the case with Salt and Pepper Haired Dad and Younger Camper Daughter. As I’m walking out the door, I take pity on the pair and offer to write “Happy Birthday Mom” on top of a chocolate buttercream cake. That just won’t do. Sure, they call her Mom, but they also call her ‘Schnooky’ or ‘Schnookums’ or ‘Sweetums’- I stopped listening. Mr. Salt and Pepper has a bit of an attitude, indicating with his overpriced sunglasses that there’s not enough room on the cake to capture all he wishes to say. Tell me about it; you’re not the one doing the writing. Clearly, there was more going on here than could be repaired with a simple birthday greeting. He would have been better off with a Papyrus card and one of those tennis bracelets that the Moms in yoga pants swear by. Turns out, Mom’s birthday had come and gone, this little cake was supposed to make everything right again, and to seal the deal, at the end of the buttercream sentiment, he wanted a heart. I wanted to go home.
Dad is still rephrasing, squeezing in more than a 6” cake can possibly accommodate. I have to interrupt. “Excuse me, but I am actually about to go home, so I’m afraid we need to wrap this up.” They decide on Mom and the heart. I carry the cake back to the bench and set it down with a bit of a thud, for dramatic effect. Fishing through a container of pastry bags filled with buttercream in assorted shades of ROYGBIV, I grab the Tiffany blue. In my tiniest hand font, I scrawl Happy Birthday Mom and punctuate it with a heart. I proffer the cake to Dad and Camper who barely look up. I barely look back.
On my walk home, I opt for the route through the little park, dotted with benches that run parallel to a quiet stream. My mood improves dramatically. In the distance, I can make out a group of very young campers, sporting identical t-shirts, accessorized with macaroni necklaces. They walk one behind each other, à la Make Way For Ducklings.
The very next day, I am in the thick of several flats of blueberries. Rinse, stems-be-gone, pat dry, repeat. The berries are rolling pell mell, through the sugar and lemon zest, finally landing in brisée lined pie plates. Latticed, egg washed and sugared, each sheet tray of three weighs quite a bit. One of my favorite Baristas helps me navigate the weighty trays into the oven. I’m totally caught off guard when Barista poses an interesting question. He wants to know what I consider my favorite pie.
“To bake or to eat?” I ask him. He says, “To eat.” That’s a really fine question and I have to admit, I’m stumped. This Barista is one smart cookie, enrolled in a Chemical Engineering program in New England. It is the second summer we have worked together and I suspect it will be the last. Next year, he will most likely have a fascinating internship somewhere that does not involve grinding espresso nor folding bakery boxes.
I tell him that I’m rather fickle when it comes to choosing a favorite. A good bit of my pie affection has to do with pie memory. Who baked it, where I was when I enjoyed it, what was going on in my life at the time. I also explain that it’s difficult to grow tired of pie because it is a constant reflection of the season. Blueberry pie tastes like summertime in both Far Rockaway and Maine. Strawberry pie conjures a few short weeks in late May, early June and reminds me of the farm in Bucks County. And one of my favorite pies is hands down, summer peach. There are however, certain pies that get a year round pass. For instance, I can enjoy Key Lime pie regardless of the weather. It matters not what the thermostat says because one forkful of Key Lime always creates the illusion of balmy and tropical. That is not the same as New Jersey hot and humid. Totally different. And that’s why, on sweltering Garden State days, nothing tastes better than Key Lime pie directly out of the freezer. Young Engineer-to-be takes note of all of this.
A few of the summer staff have already turned in their aprons, and I’m mere days away from doing the same. But I must tell you that the smallest gesture of the week has had the largest impact. It null and voided all of the wacky, and most of the crazy. Young Engineer-to-be Barista stopped by the bakery today with an ‘End-of-Summer, Going-Back-to-School’ gift for me. He baked me a pie. A fresh peach pie and it was delicious.
As for me, I am handing over the reins for the next several weeks. Filling in here will be Sibling Baker from Seattle, Young Scholar in Boston and Blondilocks of the Big Apple.
Fare thee well, Barista Ducklings. Happy August to all. See you in September.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm