Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sometimes a baguette

is just a baguette.
I enjoy baking. It's challenging and rewarding, but it isn't cooking. The palette available to me as a chef was well over a thousand ingredients, from the elegant and sublime to the pedestrian. I always prided myself in being able to make something extraordinary from ordinary fare; the price of an ingredient never had any bearing on whether or not I used it. So it didn't matter whether I used foie gras simply to thicken a sauce, or if I used fresh herbs from the garden in summer squash Provencal.
Baking, on the other hand, is essentially flour, water, yeast, and salt. Oh, sure, it might get dairy, or some produce, or require days of fermentation or very delicate manipulation, but it isn't tuna threaded with pickled ginger on a bed of leeks stir-fried in walnut oil with salt-cured lime, celeriac and butter emulsion and sauteed bitter greens.
Cutting up mirepoix and gathering herbs for a pot of stock is infinitely more rewarding to me than making a good croissant.
Oh, well, I guess it's too late to do anything about it now.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Rocky Road

New Year's Day was bright and blue, the air clear and unseasonably warm. We had decided to open at 10 a.m. on that holiday so our regular customers could get some bread and dessert and a New York Times to go with them. Breezes moved softly in the daylight as I pulled open the screen door, key poised to turn in the lock.

My eye suddenly lit upon the shattered pane of glass smashed into the building. The first thing I checked was the cash box. Hell, we only leave a few coins in it... nothing disturbed, nothing missing, not even a brownie.

The steamer was up to pressure and I was docking a full bench of boules when the police arrived. I was starting the day's bake, by God, and a forced entry wasn't going to change the slightest thing in my schedule. I felt remarkably sanguine about the matter, but, then, dark specters began bubbling up from my subconscious, flitting out of view from the corner of my eye in a singularly sinister, disconcerting experience.

The cop found bloody fingerprints on pieces of glass, and blood inside the building, which meant the guy had punched his way in with a bare fist. Now let me tell you something: if ever there was a readily available implement in rural Pennsylvania, it is a stone. As a matter of fact, there is an old farm nearby with a professionally painted sign out front that reads:



But this guy used his bare hand, which told me that he was high, or desperate, or livid, or some volatile cocktail of the three.

After the photo shoot and evidence bagging the detective asked, "How much was the damage, a hundred and fifty?"

"No" I said, "Two fifty."

He seemed incredulous.

"Two hundred and fifty dollars?" he asked.

"No, no. Two dollars and fifty cents," I explained. "I'll fix the thing myself. It won't take an hour."

It took two hours. I broke the first piece of replacement glass.

The cop came back a week later to inform me of the perfect fingerprint he'd found on one of the glass shards. It would take about six weeks to process the bloody thing at a lab.

I went to speak with Chris, a shopkeeper in my neighborhood who'd had an attempted break-in. We quickly decided kids were responsible for this, and just as quickly decided which kids. I remembered them, two squirts from around the corner on Oak Lane who had come into my shop late one afternoon, when no one else was around, trying to strong-arm me for cookies. I thought they were fooling and gave them each a chocolate chip, joking with them, whereupon the older one began to mock me.

"You're an asshole" I announced, "get out."

Falling silent, I stared into their eyes until they became extremely uncomfortable and left.
I had a sense that there would be more trouble with those two pitheads.
On another day, I was talking with the maintenance guy from a local resort about the situation, and he informed me that the two boys in question, at the tender ages of eleven and thirteen, were under investigation by our regional police force for housebreaking. I informed the local constabulary of this.
A few weeks passed before the next report. I was at my bench doing the makeup on a batch of batards when the policeman in charge of the investigation came in with Polaroids of the delinquents. I recognized the older one, but wasn't too sure about the younger kid in the picture. I just wasn't. In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king; I passed the pictures to the cop and got back to the dough at hand before it started getting old.
Business is brisk on Sunday mornings, and customers seem anxious if they wait more than a few minutes before being served. After packing the day's special orders in the back, I go out front to front to help expedite service.
I was shoveling sticky buns into a box when Ryan ( by this time the investigating officer and I were on a first name basis )walked in. After ringing up the sale at hand, I went over to the coffee pot and we started talking in hushed, cryptic language. Our conversation revealed that the fingerprint on the glass was not of the quality originally believed, and was in fact unusable for evidence. He promised to interview the two as soon as they were done testifying in another criminal case.
It didn't turn out like that. It was snowing the day of the Vernal Equinox when Ryan came in the front door, stamping his shoes and shaking snow from his jacketless back. The police were ham-strung by the boys and their parents refusal to respond to a request for an interview. That was it. Case closed. I squelched whatever emotions were rising inside of me... those people were within their rights.
Investigations don't use clocks or watches, they use calendars; those kids grew a foot each by the next time I saw them. They came into the shop again, obviously enjoying their pubescent growth spurts with the gun-moll-in-training that accompanied them, and asking for some ridiculous thing or other. They cleared the sample tray like hurdlers. Close behind their eyes they were laughing at me, and what was I going to do about it anyway. I consoled myself with visions of lengthy prison stays looming in their collective futures.
A few days later, I was chatting with Chris in front of his shop about the whole thing. Well, we agreed, no real harm done, and after all they didn't make off with anything.
Just then, a limousine pulled up, the window rolled down, and the driver stuck his head out. "Hey, which way is Oak Lane from here?"
I looked at Chris. "I guess dey made out bettah 'n we thought!" he boomed.
We just threw our heads back and laughed, and laughed.