Monday, May 23, 2005

on gourmet muffins, truffle stained notebooks, paris, and becca.

A cool October, almost two years ago, I flew from Florence, where I was studying art for the semester, to Paris, where Becca was living for the year. It was my fall break; I crashed on the floor of her room - a tiny, quiet space off the side of her host family’s apartment. In the mornings we heard the faint voice of opera music; the man living across the way was a professional singer. We walked all over the city, breathing in the sights and smells. I was enthralled with all that is Paris; wanting to eat the colors of the art, drink the way the water shimmered through the cracks in the wood panels of a bridge near the Louvre, smell the crisp lines of Rodin’s sculptures. We wandered in museums for hours on end – stumbling upon a favorite Degas, Cezanne, Seurat was overwhelmingly delicious. The museums are filled with long-lost friends, ones that I have had a long correspondence with, yet never met. We explored old graveyards, finding Chopin’s and Proust’s in the dappled afternoon light of November 1st, an eerie Day of the Dead. We laughed constantly and hysterically over everything and nothing, took pictures of ourselves in the booth at the subway station. We bought pounds of candy on Halloween and horrified Becca’s host family when they walked into the house to find us swimmingly tipsy on white wine, surrounded by junk food.

Becca introduced me to French food with an intensive eating-fest. Delicate lemon tarts, creamy carrot soups with crisp goat cheese tartines, crusty baguettes, softly sweet chocolate macaroons, tangy fromage blanc and gooey cheese crepes. We studied the menus of every restaurant we passed and ate out at one fancy restaurant that we pretended we could afford – salmon and perch duo with caramelized grapefruit sauce, mushroom cake with pesto and cider reduction, banana cake with violet, crème brulee with lemon and thyme. We had streaks of chocolate glued to our faces as we reveled in the chocolate fair in the Louvre – a foie gras and chocolate onion chutney sandwich, the earthy sweet crunchiness a surprisingly perfect medley, burned itself into my taste memory. It was a beautiful week with a beautiful friend.

It was also the week that we both realized our mutual obsession with food. We may have suspected it before, but when over 10 days together in Europe we gleefully spent a large portion of our bank accounts together on culinary extravaganzas, we knew with certainty. Over tea, tarts, and our mutual culinary revelations one afternoon in Paris, Becca and I talked for hours about the future. For life after college the only possible option, we decided with wonderful arbitrariness, was to open a muffin shop. A gourmet muffin shop. And later that night, warmly inspired by the white wine and crème de cassis in our glasses of kir, we listed all of the muffin flavors we would create with our culinary genius. We even went so far as to make a pact: neither one of us would eat a muffin until Becca returned from Paris, both of us safely back at Brown together.

And today, cleaning out my room, packing and preparing to depart Providence, I found a forgotten notebook. It is a worn, hand-dyed blank book that I bought in Florence. The front cover is, fittingly, stained with some truffle oil that spilled in my bag in the flight back to the US. It is filled with my careful handwriting – a complete container of recipes and detailed lists of things I ate while in Europe that fall and winter. And hidden away in the back, I found the muffin flavor list. Savory and sweet, deliciously inventive and ridiculously repulsive, we covered the spectrum of options with over 80 potential muffins.

We’ve hardly made a single muffin in the last year since Becca returned from France. We’ve inundated our apartment with countless other baking experiments instead. And now post-college, different occupations and locations are calling us. The muffins will have to wait. But I don’t doubt that someday Becca and I will find a way to combine our creative juices into some kind of baked good adventure. Until then, though, I’ll just have to dream about the taste of a lemon-champagne, chile-chocolate, or bergamot. I bet those muffins will be delicious.

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