Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Columbia City Bakery and Bay Area bounty.

I was so excited that there was time for a trip to the Columbia City Bakery before heading off to the airport (to pick up K.) that I forgot to deposit my paycheck. Fortunately, due to my restraint at the market on Sunday, I had enough money for a loaf of walnut levain, divided into two, a pretzel, a chocolate cupcake, a ham-and-cheese croissant, and a slice of pecan bar. I bought a small glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and curled into a chair by the window to eat my pretzel. It's been months since I was last here, maybe longer, since we sold our old house and moved all our memories and belongings across town.

Now I have new routines, new places where I head for breakfast or a quick dinner on my way home, but I miss this cozy bakery, the diner opposite, the used bookstore across the street and down a little. The cashier takes my lengthy order as patiently as ever, dividing my loaf of bread into two bags so I can share some with K., who is returning home after a week down in San Francisco. The pretzel is as good as I remember, soft and chewy and sprinkled with just enough salt. I have my little snack and watch children play all around me; one little girl isn't ready to go home yet, and dissolves into tears and tantrums, while two young brothers pack up their cards and head for home, their father tucking a fresh baguette under his arm as they leave.

Traffic has slowed me down enough so that K. has just come outside with her luggage when I pull up to the curb. Perfect. I hand her the chocolate I bought on Sunday, and immediately (well, not quite immediately; the 100% cocoa bars are wrapped in some impenetrably sealed plastic bag, so she opens the 70% with cocoa nibs bar) the aroma of chocolate fills the car. Our talk on the way back to her house is of our visits to farmer's markets in the past week, of the upcoming Christmas party, of Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma, and how it has changed the way we shop and think about food, of the wonderful things she has brought back in her suitcase. Soon we are home, and I am wondering what could possibly be so damn heavy as I drag a bulging suitcase towards the front door.

K. hands me several Meyer lemons, and I realize I have never had one before. It has a scent that is almost too soft to be lemon, more floral than citrus. It reminds me of the fragrance that filled our house whenever the night-blooming cereus bloomed, and I can't wait to do something with them. A handful of strawberry guavas goes into a bag, some olive oil is decanted into a jar for me to take home. I pour a little of the oil into a saucer and dip some of the walnut bread for a taste. The green-gold oil is freshly pressed, only a few weeks old, and it is spicy and peppery against the warm nuttiness of the bread. There are jars of sugar, flavored with mint and lavender, and giant persimmons, all from the San Francisco farmer's market, stuffed into K.'s suitcase amongst shoes and fleeces and socks.

I head home to a plate of pasta, really just a pause before dessert. Should I have the cupcake, all dark chocolate cake and frosting dotted with colorful sprinkles, or my pecan bar? For dessert I have my pecan bar. It has a shortbread-like base layered with chewy caramel and crunchy caramelized pecans, and with a glass of milk on the side it is absolute heaven.

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