Good evening, friends and neighbors.
Emily and I stood in front of the sleek, modern apartment complex on St. James, our coats bundled up tight against the wind. It was carrying something beside freezing cold, though, and we wanted ALL of that. Greasy food, car exhaust, wet leaves, motion and attitude and frustration. The smells of home.
We were back in Philadelphia.
The bake shop is quiet as I write this. The cafe has closed early- everyone hustled through their chores, their closing routines- the maddening crush of the morning receding into exhausted bones and weary souls as they grab their coats and slip out into the gray Portland streets (threatening rain, but they always are. You stop paying attention after a while.)
Me? I'm waiting on quiche for the next couple days to finish in the oven. They're almost there, but not quite. They slosh too much in the middle, where it should be an all-around uniform jiggle- "like a perfectly toned ass," as Victoria said once. I've mentioned before how cooks use weird descriptors and get excited by the strangest things. Emily's gotten used to hearing it when I'm in the kitchen.
Once the quiche are done, they get cooled, labeled (I've got my own system to separate the meat from the vegetarian) and set in the walk-in.
I'll shut down the cafe, lock up, and make my own way home.
It's Christmas Eve. I'll be married in a little under two weeks. In five days, I will work my shift, and then get on a red-eye flight to see New Jersey for the first time in nearly two years.
Why this apathy, then? I want to look at myself in the mirror and say "Dude! 10 days off from work, you're getting MARRIED, AND you get to go home again! Cheer up!" That's what I'd like to say to myself- if I could just stop thinking it and then saying, "And then what?"
Cooks tend to think procedurally. Their days are laid out as an order of operations, and they approach much of their lives through the philosophy of mise en place- every day is a dish to be prepared in the right way, on the right timeframe, to be finished completely and well-executed.
Bakers are the same- but often 24 hours in the future. To make sure everything gets the time it needs to finish, bakers will plot out their production schedules days in advance to make sure that when the deadline comes- as always- everything is done completely and well.
The quiche are out of the oven now. Crusts of bronzed gold, filling like the last bits of a sunrise before it's truly day. They need to cool a bit, otherwise they'll crack in the walk-in.
I guess the holidays feel like a finish line- the wedding will be in January, the holidays will be a breeze. I don't feel like I can enjoy them though. I feel I can't let myself stop and experience them as anything more than another completed task. Am I afraid of something? Running from something? TOWARD something?
One of the crusts sunk in a little bit. It's fallen back from the lip of the plate.
Not perfect, but useable.
I've forgotten how exhilarating and annoying travel can be.
It's been nearly a week since I starting writing this (the quiche was delightful, by the way.) Emily has now been in New Jersey for about a week, working with our parents to get things lined up and reporting new developments back to me. There have been a couple hiccups (favors coming in wrong, where to stick that one friend that can't stop discussing politics on the seating chart, music, etc) but now it feels like crossing the finish line will be a graceful lope, rather than a heaving, lizardlike crawl.
Or at least, SOON it will be. As of THIS writing, I've been up for over 24 hours, little more than 45 minutes sleep at a time. For some reason, I can never MAKE myself comfortable enough on a plane to fall asleep. I need to be dead tired, and my head just somehow rests on the wall JUST RIGHT that I can pass out for takeoff and wake up just when crew members are coming around with snacks and drinks.
When I arrive, Emily will be waiting for me. We'll jump into her car and dash off to finally do some wedding stuff together in person. I want to believe that's how our marriage will be- both of us dashing around, trying to plan but making it up as we go along, and somehow finding the humor in it later on.
That'd be about perfect.
About the Author
The Black Hat Baker, a.k.a. Matt Strenger, lives in SE Portland, Oregon as a professional baker. Here, Matt bakes, cooks, exercises, and explores, returning to his wife and their hobbit hole up Mt. Tabor to write about all of it.
Email the BHB at blackhatbakery(at)gmail(dot)com
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