Friday, December 09, 2005

The Distraction of Puff Pastry

There is a small frame resting unobtrusively on the end of the front counter of the bakery. It is clear plastic, unassuming in its simplicity. It holds a picture of a smiling woman, dark-haired and cheery eyed. She has a compelling grin; it fairly exudes a large, flavorful personality. Her gaze is enveloping. Underneath the small photo there is a delicately placed yellow slip of paper, studded with a dark type. When each customer who notices leans in closely to read, a small sigh is often released from a softened pair of lips. It is a dedication to The Baker’s wife, who died three years ago in a car accident.

Hugging her in the photo, his face snuggly set close to her rosy cheek, is The Baker. He looks younger, happier. Infinitely more alive. I watched him in the back of the bakery yesterday at work, his forehead crunched in anxious thought, his hands punching bread dough with vigor. The Baker often seems weighed down, a thin sheet of invisible parchment keeping him from laughing the way he means to, smiling more than a small grin. He is dampened, quiet. It does not seem like the art of bread is any kind of substitute for what he has lost.

There are moments, however, when his love of baking pops valiantly out of the characteristically closed facial expression, his eyebrows gyrating and cheeks scrunched into a bulbous smile. On Tuesday I spent the morning lost in the ritual of pastry dough preparation. I spent an hour rolling out dough for danishes, the thick buttery mass sliding serenely into cinnamon twisted rounds. I moved onto turnovers, systematically flattening and evening out squares of the thinner pastry, delicately folding them into triangles puffed with apple and cinnamon. After finishing and clearing my floury bench, The Baker stepped in with a mound of soft white. He cradled the plastic-wrapped package in his arms like a baby and plopped it down, looking at me expectantly.

This, Molly, is puff pastry. I make it from scratch every week. I nodded; it certainly did look puffy.

He began punching it down, showing me how to roll it out for tarts and quiche. There are so many places out there that buy it frozen. But this, this is fresh; this is amazing. Nothing beats fresh puff pastry. And I make it completely with butter. No shortening here. It makes all the difference.

There was a tingle in his voice, a playful smile on his face. I looked at him, surprised to hear the vivacity and excitement radiating from his persona. For a moment he didn’t even look like The Baker I have become so familiar with. He looked happy.

I can't help but feel that The Baker and I are somewhat the same. Amidst the soft, warm atmosphere of the bakery, we are both struggling with what we have lost. He appears to be grasping for something; the love of life that I feel sure was there before is now just beyond his reach. And I am trundling along, forever and frustratingly aware of my lack of smell and taste - a deeper understanding of the culinary is beyond the ability of my body right now. We both exist in a muted world; muffled happiness, taste-buds or both.

But based on the effusive compliments of the bakery’s customers, the pleasure of our baked goods is not obstructed by a thing for them. No matter what setbacks The Baker and I are personally working through at the moment, there will always be puff pastry.


chronicler said...

I love reading the passion you fill your posts with. In time, or maybe not, you will be whole. Either way it does not change your passion for what you do. If only, the whole world, could choose to work, in a profession they love, like you.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or is the Atom feed no longer working?

Rainey said...

It must be incredibly busy in a bakery this time of year and yet you found the time to see not only what was going on but where it welled up from.

I am as intrigued by the baker as I am by the dishwasher from your last assignment. I hope you'll find out and share more about this man with so much integrity and find some time to pick up the thread of the dishwasher. I think you promised a further story but got ... distracted.

Shauna said...

Dearest Molly:

Where'd you go? I hope it's just the crush of the holidays that has kept you from us. But we miss you!

Molly said...

i know i've been quite behind on my posts recently - i've been busy having my nose tested (as you'll see in the post i'm about to put up). but now i'm back and definitely will be more on top of things :) i will certainly try and catch up writing about the bakery; i have a lot more to say - the people there are incredibly interesting and knowledgeable. oh, and speaking of the dishwasher from my last job, rainey, i have more to post about him too! i seem to have my work cut out for me...

happy holidays!


vegetablej said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vegetablej said...

This post is along time ago now, but having just found your blog where you mention the loss of smell and it's recovery, I time-travelled back to know your story.

What I didn't expect was writing that made me feel so much. A very tender appreciation of the baker's life and struggle to live, and his courage in continuing to do work of which he is proud, and which helps other people. A baking hero.

Very good to read you.