I’ve been in a funk these last several months. You might have noticed. My baking and blogging confidence was shaken back in March. I’d read something from the San Francisco Chronicle which was very critical of food bloggers and I got spooked. What have I got to say that professional food critics, food writers and trained chefs haven’t already said, and with more authority? Nothing really. Right?
And there were distractions. I was promoted to a new position in the spring which I love, but which has required more of my time and attention. And we adopted a dog – a big lovable boy named Beau. And so instead of sitting at my laptop musing about food and baking while I drink my tea, my early mornings are now spent taking long walks in the nearby woods with the dog.
But now that I’ve reached 39 (last exit before OLD by almost anyone’s road map) I’ve decided I can no longer tell myself – whether for comfort or as an excuse – ‘you have your whole life ahead of you.’ Damn. How did that happen? Where has the time gone? And so I’ve been gazing into the crystal ball these last few months. And into my belly button on more than one occasion, into more than a few glasses of wine, and even the tea leaves at the bottom of my morning cup. Where am I going? Where have I been? I’m not sure.
T and I spent the Christmas holiday with my sister, brother-in-law and nephew Finn in California this year. Among other adventures, we took a couple days to explore Napa, just the two of us. We wanted a little getaway and I wanted to show T the CIA campus where I’d studied and a few of the special spots I’d found while I was there.
We ate lunch at Mustards Grill in Yountville on the first day and it turned out to be the culinary highlight of our whole trip. Everything was perfect. We started with a salad of chiogga beets and fresh local greens which was light and delicious (and perfectly dressed) and an appetizer of calamari (perfectly fried) with curried coleslaw – a combination I would never have thought of but which turned out to be the perfect foil for the sweet and tender calamari. I’d been to Mustards the last time I was in Napa two years ago and was dying for another wild mushroom “burger.” Thank the gods (and Cindy Pawlcyn) it was still on the menu. T had a grilled chicken sandwich with cheddar and guacamole which he pronounced the best chicken sandwich he’s ever had – which is saying something.
But dessert changed everything. Neither of us were sure we had the room for it, but decided we had to do it. I’d been in contact with Anne Baker, the pastry chef at Mustards, after my last visit to the CIA when I was considering the 30-week baking and pastry certificate program at Greystone. She’d also made the switch from accounting to pastry and offered some excellent advice and I looked forward to trying some of her desserts. I chose the lemon-lime tart with “ridiculously tall brown sugar meringue” and T picked the daily special, an apple tart with cinnamon ice cream. Both were amazing. The cinnamon she used in the ice cream was the sweetest and spiciest cinnamon I’ve ever tasted. Was it Vietnamese? I’ll have to find out. And the brown sugar meringue was an inspiration. I’d never heard of such a thing. I was enchanted. Immediately after my first bite I began imagining how I might pair it with nut genoise and brown butter cakes and chocolate and poached fruits and… I couldn’t believe it. The fire was relit. I wanted to bake again.
And so I’m back. I have some meyer lemons and cara cara oranges I bought at the Oakland farmers’ market which I have plans for and a stack of new cookbooks for inspiration and ideas. But more than that I have the passion again. I’m not a food critic or a food writer. And I’ve chosen not to be a food professional. But I am passionate. I love food, and more than that, I love sharing good food with friends and loved ones. I may not have made all the right decisions in my life so far, but I can say that I have eaten well. If this is the measure of life, than I have also lived well. And to the Chronicle critic I say this: never mind me, no one reads this blog anyway. Have a slice of Anne Baker’s ridiculously good lemon-lime tart with the ridiculously tall brown sugar meringue. It’ll change your mind too.