À la Recherche des Galettes Perdues

Ask the average person what, if anything, they know of Marcel Proust, and they will invariably mention madeleines, those now-legendary scalloped little French cakes that allow the Marcel to recall with vivid detail hitherto lost memories of his childhood and prompt him to begin the 4,211-page story that now dominates my idle moments before bed. Proust’s assertion that a bite of cake dipped in lime-blossom tea could allow for such a transformation might seem at first a bit far-fetched. But if you have ever craved a slice of chocolate hazelnut cake badly enough, or longed for the sweet or salty release of memories that a bite of salted caramel might bring, you will understand that food is far more than nourishment.

Certain periods in my life have been quite literally flavored by whatever type of food I happened to consume, seek out, or become obsessed with at that specific time. As a child, I craved cream-cheese fried crabmeat wontons from Ming’s, a specific chinese restaurant located in the suburbs of Baltimore. My desire for these crunchy golden triangles of spiced cream was in fact so strong that I would beg both of my parents to take me there, even if we were not ordering dinner but simply driving by. When I got to college, cider donuts and sharp cheddar cheese came to represent upstate New York for me, Junior year of college still has the bubbly tang of prosecco which Nick and I drank in my dorm room almost every weekend, and Paris will forever be captured in the round pastelle disks of a pistachio macaron. There are foods I eat when I am upset or nostalgic, foods I eat when I am happy, foods I eat with certain people or at certain times. Food carries the perfect combination of comfort, ritual, and pleasure. Marcel was all too right to attribute four thousand pages of writing to a bite of cake, recalling that, like writing, food has in its depths a hint of the immortal:

But when from a long-distant  past nothing subsides, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone more fragil but more enduring, more persistant, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structures of recollection. (Swann’s Way 61)

Here on the Manhattan side of the page, Nick and I spent nearly a month collectively searching for our own slice of nostalgia—specifically a type of pie-crust, berry-filled dessert called mixed berry galette, which is a speciality of the Dessert Booth, the cafe in Clinton, New York, where Nick grew up and where we went to college. Apparently this rustic, simple combination (in order to make mixed berry gallette, you simply fill a pie crust with three types of stewed berries, sugar, and fold down the edges of the crust before
baking it) is simply heavenly, and when Nick continued to mention his longing for one, I decided I would take on the challenge of finding one. For the next few weeks, every time I would pass a bakery, I would peer in, assess their berry tart selection, and occasionally take a picture on my phone and send it to him. “Is this it??” I’d ask. “What about this??” Sometimes I would pick one up and bring it back (getting a gf option for myself and something non-berried for Sam), and we would eat dessert and assess  the relative similarities of that particular iteration. I found raspberry tarts at Maison Kayser on 3rd avenue, cherry danish at a Jewish bakery on the Upper East Side that smelled like apple-turnover heaven. I found rustic berry gallette at Balthazar Bakery in Soho and cherry pie at Sarabeth’s in Chelsea Market. As strange as it may sound, I loved going back into bakeries again, loved looking at and smelling the pie crusts and tarts I can no longer eat, a pleasure I have denied myself for almost three-years since becoming gluten-free. There were more than occasional moments when I wanted to give in and eat the tarts in front of me. But I settled for crème brulée instead, and everyone was happy.

We did not, in a month of searching, ever find anything that even closely approximated mixed berry gallette in all of Manhattan, and for the first time in my life, this city failed to provide the perfect solution to exactly what I wanted. So Nick made pie crust and baked berries into it and we decided this would have to do. As insatiable and stubborn as I can be, however, I still walk into bakeries as an impulse, and survey their berry selections, just in case.

There is a reason I have decided to write this weeks post about food, other than to lament the lack of berry galettes in New York and demonstrate how far I will go to find something for Nick! I have wanted to write about food for almost as long as I have wanted to write, and yesterday learned that I will be a contributing writer to Honest Cooking, an online food magazine that just started last year, but is getting a very warm reception from readers and foodies alike. I will be posting several times a month, and, while this is not a huge step, it feels good, in a small way, to be writing for people who want to publish me, to be able to write about food even though I cannot eat half of the items on a restaurant menu. I may never be Ruth Reichl, nor do I intend to. But if I can combine food and writing, few prospects could seem more exciting. Stay tuned.

In totally unrelated news, today is Nora’s birthday!!! I am off to dinner with Nick and Sam, and then to see her later tonight. But for now, I wish her all of the most delicious cake, and the memories it will one day bring back.


Homecomings, and Magic in the Bronx

When I first set out to write this post, on Monday evening, I was determined to chronicle our
wonderful trip back to Hamilton last weekend for our first alumni Fallcoming. Nick, Sam, Amanda, and I all loaded into my blue Volvo station wagon on a rainy Thursday night, drove upstate through the fog (thanks to Sam, the only legally licensed driver in our lot, since I lost mine on a bus in August and now must use my passport for identification!), and spent the most wonderful weekend in recent memory wandering around campus, eating cider donuts, and generally basking in the sunshine and autumn colors. Peter and I had breakfast and discussed the events of the first two volumes, and Nora and I met our beloved college mother Sharon for
peanut avocado sushi. Nick’s house, where we stayed, was absolutely wonderful, and I came back to Manhattan on Sunday night in a state of utter contentment. It will be the perfect connection, I thought. Proust and nostalgia and the idea that you can go home again, no matter how much life may have changed in the interim. While I fully intend to give due consideration to this thought, however, there is something else that has since taken precedence, occupied a good part of my waking (and even sleeping!) thoughts, and kept half the East Coast up until midnight, sitting on the edges of their couches or else crowding into bars, breath held in that giddy lurch of anticipation which only one thing can incur. I am talking, of course, about Baseball.

For those of you who have been living under a literary rock for the past week, let me put an end to your ignorance and inform you that the Baltimore Orioles have made it to the American League Division Championships for the first time since 1997, that they are playing the New York Yankees in a five-game series that started Sunday evening and ends tonight, that if, by some miraculous chance, we should happen to make it to (and win!) the World Series, it will be the first time since 1983, and that the culmination of these factors is nothing short of magic.

I am hardly a sports fan by any stretch of the imagination, and the fact that I have been following this series so feverishly that I have had to cancel on Liza for dinner three nights in a row now, and spent my walk back home from Nick and Sam’s apartment last night ducking into three separate sports bars so as not to miss a run has surprised many of my friends. But there is something about baseball, about those lazy summer afternoons spent drinking (gluten-free!) beer and eating peanuts under a blazing sky, talking to fans around as the crack of a wooden bat meeting a leather ball rings through the grassy field, that makes it different, brings out a fanaticism in me I did not know I possessed.

From the time I was born (and even, my parents hold, the year before I was born!) to the year I went to college, I did not miss a single Orioles opening day game. Every year I would tell my elementary school teachers that I had a doctor’s appointment or was not feeling well, bring my orange-and-black coat to school, and wait in the principal’s office for my father, who would come pick me up, grinning and joking with my teachers about how sick I was, before whisking me off to Camden Yards. We would buy our hot dogs and beverages outside, my parents refusing to pay ballpark prices, and sometimes we would get a scorecard as well, and my dad would spend the first three innings explaining how a forwards K meant struck out swinging and a backwards K, struck out looking. There was a crazy lemonade man called “Shakey,” who would run around manically shaking and mixing your drink while fans laughed and catcalled at him. Every year I would inevitably become distracted, wander through the stadium, buy a pin to add to my O’s jacket. Every year my dad would talk about the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, how every team waited for their “Next Year.” And every year we would lose at the end of the season, turn in our Orange uniforms, and promise to do better the next time. Next Year, it seemed, was a long way away.

I went to college and the opening days had to stop. I broke my record to stay in Clinton, New York, and later Paris, and I have not been back to a ballgame with my Dad since I was eighteen. The Orioles have somehow, miraculously, churned through the season in first place or just below and, after winning the wildcard championships last week, qualified for the ALDS against the Yankees, our mortal enemies. I started receiving texts from my mother at midnight saying things like “we just need to hold on!” and “my stomach acid is profound!”, and as my Dad, brother, and sister got into the fever of the game, I, too, started watching. As much as New York has very much become my home, a place with which I identify more than any other, this past week I have felt like a soldier in enemy territory, glaring at all of the Yankee caps and blue jackets out of the corner of my eye, wearing black and the forbidden orange I promised Nick I would never wear, proud of my city as I have never been before.

On Wednesday night, my Dad sent me two tickets to go see game three of the playoffs, and Sam and I boarded a vintage MTA train from Grand Central and spent an exhilarating four hours in Yankee Stadium, me cheering like a maniac and Sam trying to prevent me from getting beaten up! When I mentioned that neither team was his (Sam grew up in New Hampshire and is therefore a Red Sox fan), he responded, “ABY, baby. Anyone but the Yankees.” And I understood instantly. We lost that night at the bottom of the twelfth inning, but made friends with a man sitting next to Sam who was a retired pitcher for the Florida Marlins, and left at nearly midnight, giddy with anticipation of the next game.

Tonight, after having somehow made it to the final game of the series, the Orioles are up again in the Bronx, and my dad is flying up from a work conference in Miami to meet me at the game. I cannot say if our magic will continue, cannot predict any sort of marvelous victory. But I can tell you, because I have spent this past week sleep-deprived and starry-eyed, living for the breathless gasp of a double play and praying for Jason Hammel’s arm, because I have not felt this way since I was ten years old, wrapped in a polyester orange jacket and boarding the Light Rail to Camden Yards, because tonight I will be at an Orioles playoff game with my Dad, I can tell you that there is something about October, and something about baseball, that makes you want to believe.