I splurged a little today and picked up a Le Crueset loaf pan
in Cherry. It's the first piece of Le Crueset I own and I plan to make good use of it by returning to my old pastime of bread-baking. There's a little kitchen boutique store here in Philly that I absolutely love; it's called Kitchenette and is not only stocked with every domestic goody you can imagine, in every color and style you can imagine, but is staffed by cheerful, knowledgeable ladies who have so far never minded my coming in and staying for the better part of an hour before leaving without buying anything.
That purchase and the presence of an actual plant (driven with care down from Vermont) make this apartment suddenly homey in a way it hasn't been, ever. They're the first small steps I've taken to create a space that is mine
, and I like it. It's a good feeling.
The loaf pan is part of another goal, too: Memére loved to bake and loved to make sure everyone had plenty of their favorite thing to eat. For me, that was often something that came out of a pan just like the one I just bought, crusty and golden with melted butter. I don't remember how old I was, but there was a week or five days or so when I visited her, just me, and we spent nearly the entire time baking. She let me help her finish decorating cakes (so this must have been a while ago), and taught me how to make rolls. We discussed the values of honey versus sugar in recipes, and ate like kings.
It would be great if I could come up with some sort of anecdote, a little piece of wisdom she'd imparted to me, through the language of baking, but honestly everything she taught me has become so ingrained that it's instinct now. Lessons from her and lessons from Mum become confused, but it doesn't matter, because they taught me the same things: trust your instincts in cooking, but be precise in baking. Don't mix everything together: there's a reason the wet ingredients go in last. Butter at room temperature; eggs, too. Don't frost a cake right away. A happy face cut into a pie crust will let out the steam. How to pinch a crust together. How to level a cake so it doesn't end up lopsided. How to measure out drops of cookie dough.
Somewhere in all of that, there are a lot of life lessons. I'm taking back to baking to try and find some of them , but more important than life lessons are the memories of Memére laughing at my exasperation when there was always more dough to roll out for rolls, the way her frosting tasted, how she mixed a few drops of food coloring into the white icing and stirred it into a sudden blossom of color.
Grief is selfish. There were a lot of moments this week when we all leaned on each other, used someone else's strength, held someone else's memory. I shared mine, but now I'm holding on to them, selfishly. They are my moments with Memére, and they were a sign of things to come; long talks when she visited on the Cape, stories she told about her life as a girl my age, about her hopes and dreams, her pride and delight in my accomplishments. I was rabid for a series of books she'd started me on years before. She even taught me how to knit, though I've since completely forgotten.
If there's a point in all of this, here it is: there are never
enough times to laugh and tell stories, to teach something, to learn. I'm fortunate to have a huge family and an extensive network of friends, all of whom have taught me something along the way. I already miss Memére's smile, the dainty way she would hug me, her delicate perfume, the clouds of her hair, how she called me "honey" when no one else does.
I like to think she's pleased with my purchase, though. And missing someone isn't all that bad when you still have all their love with you, and when you know they're at peace and happy. Thinking of her, swing-dancing with Pepére in Heaven, is good enough.
And hey, I'm sure they could use another good baker up there.