Saturday, April 7, 2012

Clara's Day Off

What a ride!

The trip to Cleveland was fantastic. The Knitting Daily TV filming went really well. Which is to say I didn't say anything too stupid, I didn't choke on my own tongue, and my hair didn't spontaneously combust. It turned out to be a lot easier than I thought. Put me in front of yarn and I can talk for days. Lucky for you, the segment only lasts five minutes at a time.

While I was in the Cleveland airport I happened to walk past a very tall, handsome man and think, "Hey wait a minute, he looks familiar." I suddenly realized it was Michael Ruhlman. Someone I happen to think is perfectly splendid. His 3-2-1 pie dough recipe from Ratio singlehandedly helped me achieve a lifelong goal of mastering pie dough. Sounds like a little thing, but when you live in Maine in a farmhouse overlooking 27 acres of blueberry fields, pies figure prominently.

I made a nodding, bobbing, blushing fool out of myself but did shake his hand, and he was most gracious about the whole thing. It felt like a good-luck omen for the days of shooting that followed.

So now I'm back home, working hard on the next book, tending my beloved Knitter's Review, juggling other writing and teaching and speaking projects. Yet in the midst of it all, something rather wonderful has just happened. Wonderful in a completely random and potentially crazy way.

By now you know I love to bake. I also love to make caramels, dark murky moody ones that shut people up and put faraway gazes on their faces. This is my therapy. When life gets tough, when I've run out of adjectives and need a break from my writing, I go into the kitchen, pre-heat the oven, and take out some butter to soften.

Until now, the biggest problem has been in simply finding enough people to consume all that I make. I give things to friends and neighbors, I fatten my family when they're visiting, I even haul bags of Claramels to conferences and festivals. Yet still, I produce more than I can consume.

I also love a good cappuccino. There's one place here in town, when I'm in Portland, that has been my home base all these years. I've written practically every Knitter's Review there, its tables have helped me write three and a half books. Somehow I think better when sitting at one of their tables, nursing a perfect cappuccino with a heart drawn in its foam. The buzz of people around me is just enough distraction to keep that annoying voice in my head (the "Thinking is hard!! Let's go get ice cream!! You can't do it!!" voice) at bay.

A few weeks ago they opened a second outpost called Crema. It's in an old brick building across the street from the Portland harbor. It's beautiful, wide open, all brand new. And it has a kitchen. Not a huge one, but a kitchen nonetheless. With a beautiful baker's oven.

I came to find out that they'd recently had a falling out with their longtime baker. They were struggling to keep up. They were stressed out, spread thin. They had breads and scones and such figured out, but what they really needed was...someone to make beautiful, delicious, special things. Well hello.

I love these people and I owe so much of my career to them. Which may explain why I found myself saying, "Can I help?" and why, starting next week, I'll be spending my day off in that little kitchen.

I'll be making pretty cakes and absurdly overdecorated cupcakes and stirring, cutting, and wrapping individual Claramels. Complete strangers will come up to a counter, point to something I've made, and pay money for it. This will be a first. They may love it, they may gobble it without tasting a thing, they may take one bite and spit the rest out. I'm hoping that having three books published has prepared me for the negative review. Like one complaining that, which one was it now, The Knitter's Book of Yarn, didn't have enough crochet in it.

This whole thing may not work out, or maybe it may only work out for a while. I don't know what the future holds, so for now I'll just hold onto the excitement.

But let's get back to the more important topics: What should I bake on my day off? Do you have any favorite recipes? I'm all ears.