Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Recipes ain't everything

The pastry shops I love keep going out of business.

The week before Maggie McCullough's closed some seven years ago, I bought all their brioche to put in my freezer. About three years ago, I brought my daughter to Babette's Feast to celebrate with her favorite pear tart as was our tradition, only to find a note taped onto the door. Not long ago, I stopped by the Belgian bakery in town and noticed it was now a bagel store. At least my daughter wasn't with me when I walked into the store.

The store lo
oked more or less the same. The only difference is the food in the display cases. One was filled with bagels and the one that usually tested my willpower the most, the one showcasing beautiful cakes and tarts, was sparse and sad.

I asked for pear tarts, they had none. I looked at my other favorites: t
he almond croissants didn't have sliced almonds on the outside. The palmiers were thick and not of the right color.

(Rather then posting pictures of sad foods, I thought I'd post ones that reminded me of what used to be.)

"So, how long have you guys been here?" I asked, as nonchalantly and as non-accusingly as possible.

The woman behind the counter regarded me with suspicious eyes. "It's been a while."

I should have come more often, bought more pear tarts, helped them stay in business!

"We bought their business and all their recipes."

I looked up at her. There is hope yet. So what if the baked goods don't look the same. All I need is for them to taste the same. They have the recipes, so all is not lost!

I bought an almond croissant and a palmier and got into the car with my little baggie of hope. It was a while before I took my first bite because I knew my hopes would either be buoyed or shattered by it.

Recipes ain't everything.

The croissant was limp and unflaky and the inside undercooked. The almond paste was the only thing that tasted the same. The palmiers tasted the way they looked: inexperienced.

All those writing rules out there, they can't promise success. All the shows-don't-tells and three-act-arcs and what-the-character-wants will not give us the products that thrill and haunt and satisfy.

What will?

Recipes + experience + well-honed taste buds + desire + working at dawn everyday.

Oh, and maybe consumers who won't practice self-control when encountering our work.


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Oh, I know your pain. It's so sad when a fine bakery disappears. There is a finesse in getting it right that goes beyond the ingredients. Reminds me of "Like Water for Chocolate" where the protagonist's emotional state affects her meals and how people react to eating them.

Yat-Yee said...

Ooh, I had forgotten about Like Water. I need to revisit it.

It's interesting to think about cooking and all the intangibles that go into our food. I am currently making a dish for a friend who's just had a new baby and knee surgery, and I've been wondering about why one of the first ways we think of helping someone is with food.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wandered back over and so will toss in another two cents. The need to eat is primal but it also becomes a sensual pleasure when food is prepared well, so I think it becomes a gift of mulitiple layers. Just think how many cookbooks there are!

Yat-Yee said...

Food is a gift with many layers, not the least of which is the care that goes into preparing it.

Yes, there are a lot of cookbooks and every once in a while I feel like I want to add to it!

MG Higgins said...

I've had that same sense of guilt when a favorite local store (food-related or otherwise) goes out of business and I have no idea when it happened. If I liked it so much, why didn't I show my support by buying from them more often? Interesting post.

Yat-Yee said...

I know, that is it with the guilt thing?

Kelly H-Y said...

Oh, that is so frustrating! I had to chuckle ... I've had the same thought ... 'hmmm, if only I'd gone there more often ...' :-)

Jackee said...

Nothing beats a good bakery. :o) And your recipe for satisfaction reminds me bit of a writer's life too. LOL!

Those pictures made me hungry! Thanks for sharing, Yat-Yee. :o)

Laoch of Chicago said...

It is truly hard to find a bakery with a soul.

aquafortis said...

Oh dear! That is a very sad state of affairs. I suppose there's still hope that they'll perfect the recipes, but I'm sure it'll never be quite the same.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Oooh, I feel your pain. You KNOW how I connect to food!!

But I love how you tied this to the writing :)

Laura G. Young said...

I blame gluten intolerance awareness. It's become a bit of a trend. ;)