Learning New Words & Roads

May 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

I, like most of my friends, tend to devour books and podcasts just about as quickly as I consume my favorite foods. As if it was scarce, I hungrily—greedily—listen to Radio Lab and The Splendid Table. Scour the library for new covers. Download new music and wear my headphones around town, scanning windows and newspaper headlines—constantly looking to sponge up some new bit of information. Nothing feels like enough. I wake up and listen to the Writer’s Almanac. I read my Gabrielle Hamilton memoir. I memorize grape varietals in France. I listen to Rural Alberta Advantage, and bop out the door in search of more stimulation for my eyes and ears. Oh, and taste buds.

Having run out of paper, I’m making my drawings these days on paper towels. Bleeding through the tissue, my Sharpie outlined the shapes of the delicious morsels I tasted at a bakery I’ve never visited before: Patisserie 46.

As I wiggled my way back into this Minneapolis neighborhood, I realized I’d been there before. Two or three years ago, I ate at CafĂ© Ena on Valentine’s Day, which is just kitty-corner to Patisserie 46. Now the little 4-cornered block looks much different. Feels different, too.

I arrived early so that I’d have time to study the pastry case (I’ve done this enough where I know I need to factor in at least 5-7 minutes of decision-weighing time). I pined and crooned over all the little darlings in the case as I waited for my friend to show up. You can see the little pastries on the bottom shelf—just gorgeous little sculptures made of butter, sugar, and chocolate. As my eyes climbed the shelves, the baked goods became more and more familiar. Chocolate chip cookies and macaroons. Croissants and scones. Beyond the case there were baskets of baguettes and gigantic boules of thick, crusty breads dusted with flour. I was beside myself with joy. You cannot imagine.

Within the first 2 minutes, I knew I needed to have a chocolate chip cookie. The three people in front of me all ordered this item. “It’s crunchy and chewy,” the woman behind the counter said, eyebrows raised. Wow. Sign me up. Just then, my friend arrived and we set to work selecting a good sampler platter of sweets. As my friend, John would say, “This does not suck.” I ordered my chocolate chip cookie and a “chocolate bouchon,” which was like a little cupcake-brownie with candied oranges and bits of soft chocolate inside. As Usher would say, “Yeeeaaah, man.” or “Oh, oh, oh, oh—oh my gosh.” (I went to an Usher and Akon concert this weekend; it’s still fresh in my mind.) And my friend ordered our joint favorite item: The Patisserie 46 Brownie. She also ordered an almond financier. New word learned: financier, which in the world of baked goods, refers to a little spongy cake made with almond flour, crushed almonds, and/or almond flavoring. They’re supposed to be called “financiers” because they’re about the size of a little bar of gold. Either that, or because they were once popular in the financial district of Paris. New words acquired, new roads discovered. My friend and I exchanged bites of the sweet morsels between us and swapped stories and recent news in our lives. It was hard to concentrate with that brownie just hanging out. When we’d licked the plate clean, it was easier to communicate.

Newness. Ch-ch-changes. It can be something you devour like an almond financier. But unlike the light texture of that cake, new changes in life can be as dense as a fudge-filled brownie.

I’m trying to sort through some varying textures. The ones I’m looking most forward to are airy as chocolate mousse. While I’m digesting life’s flaky croissants and modest coffee cakes, I’ll likely be making my way back to Patisserie 46 to try the rest of the bakery case’s contents.

Gushing About Family and Brunch

May 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

Sunday morning. The neighbors were burning wood chips again. The air smelled like a lazy campfire. The temperatures were comfortable when I stepped out on the porch with a cup of coffee, so I put on a skirt for a change. Buds on the trees, electric with chlorophyll. Sun dodging clouds. I packed groceries for Mother’s Day brunch in Chuck’s backseat and drove over to my folks’ place to start bakin’ and cookin’. My sister, Rachel, and I had been swapping recipes all week trying to figure out what to make to properly celebrate and honor Mom. We settled on individual egg bakes (in ramekins with applewood smoked bacon and spinach), roasted savory sweet potatoes (served with a dijon mustard dipping sauce), fresh fruit, Vietnamese-cinnamon blueberry muffins (my absolute favorite cinnamon), and mimosas (of course). I arrived with my recipes in hand and set to work. Everyone was still waking up as I washed my berries and whisked the melted butter and brown sugar. The coffee pot started sputtering, the paper was retrieved, and soon everyone filtered into the kitchen. Trading stories about the weekend, cutting fruit, frying bacon, and peeling potatoes. I love this.

And—I love this: The last few times I’ve gone into Penzeys I’ve beelined-it straight to the cinnamon section. This is my favorite one: Vietnamese. It’s incredibly sweet. And strong! It’s almost as if someone made a dry reduction of the cinnamon and dusted the powder into this little container. I was so excited to bake with it. Up until this morning, I’d been sprinkling it in my soy milk and coffee. Today, it met some very plump blueberries—and was transformed into these: Being in the kitchen with my family is like enjoying a warm loaf of bread, or being tucked into a duck-feather comforter. Warm, cozy, comfortable. Rachel: on the floor with Frannie, the dog, calling her “Silverback” and asking her questions about how she feels to be a dog; and does she know she’s a beautiful dog? Britney: snapping photos of Rachel and the dogs, sipping her coffee and cream. Mom: cuddling Willow, the other family dog, then helping slice pineapple and melon. Dad: reading the mail, drinking black coffee, and laughing along with the rest of the females he shares this house with.

At one point, I saw my parents hug and set back to watch their daughters in the kitchen. Cooking. Getting along. They seemed happy and proud.

It’s not always this way with our family, and us girls weren’t always so helpful in the kitchen, but this morning—it was just one of those mornings. My family and I, we built this: these jokes, this closeness—and even this meal: Mother’s Day brunches have gotten increasingly sophisticated over the years. No more store-bought rolls. No more sloppy pancakes. Now, it’s the best silverware and plates. Recipes from Bon Appetit and sparking wine. It’s like our bonds as a family: between mom and dad, parents and daughters, and between sisters. It’s only become more and more rich over the years.

My pride and joy this Mother’s Day brunch was the egg bake: Hey—it came from the oven, just like those fancy cinnamon muffins.

What’s not to love?

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