One thing has always been a constant in my life through high school, college, new job in a different city, marriage, motherhood, illness, divorce, and the sale of the family-owned business – my passion for baking. No matter how crazy, hectic, bad, good, or in between, I have found peace in the kitchen with flour, water, yeast, sugar, and butter. Sometimes, it was just flour, water, and yeast. Oftentimes, it was more ingredients, such as fresh or dried fruits, cinnamon, and nuts.
My earliest memory is of making pies, although I’m sure I learned to make cookies first. My neighbor in Warren, Mrs. Levinson, was my teacher. I’ve carried her lessons through today: measure first, but rely on touch, and be patient. You can’t hurry dough. If you try, it doesn’t taste very good. Now you have wasted both money and time on a poor outcome.
In college, I baked bread, pies, and lasagna for co-workers at the student newspaper. When roommates took me home for the Jewish holidays, I learned to bake challah and make kugel. Later, baking cakes for the birthdays of co-workers was one of my ways to give back to a new work family I had in Illinois for five years. I think I enjoyed the joy the cakes brought as much as the recipient. As I traveled in the U.S. and Canada, I used restaurants as inspiration for new dishes. If I didn’t like a dish, I’d try to figure out how to make it better. It’s how I learned the importance of seasoning meats before cooking them, why not to skimp on the quality of goat cheese or feta for a salad (or any ingredient that will be the star of a dish), the importance of real butter in baking. There’s plenty more, but I’ll save those for another time.
I’ve baked my way through breakups, bosses, therapists, and rehab. The boyfriends, bosses, therapists and booze are long gone. My baking pans – dented, blackened, and otherwise loved – are still with me.
I’ve been looking for signs to tell me what to do now that I’m not in the newspaper business anymore. It took conversations with Tammy Lyn Fox (Taste of Zion), Lisa Heidelberg (Dinner is Served by Lisa), Anthony Perino (formerly of Frankie & May), and Heidi Lutz (Juice Jar), to help me to open the door to what my future might be.
Conversations led me to the Erie County Department of Health to sign up for the food safety food management certification. Classes start next week.
By Saturday morning, I had a name: Sweetie Pie, a food truck business to open in 2017. The specialties? Pies, homemade granola parfaits, and cheesecakes served in half-pint mason jars. Also on the menu? Sticky buns, scones, cookies, coffee, and teas. At least that’s the current thought, because next up was to begin an outline of a business plan. A guiding principle will be a focus on local ingredients and a minimal impact on the planet, so compostable cups, napkins, serving ware and, of course, the reusable mason jars.
Three hours later, I needed a creative break. I opened the cupboards and pulled out the baking pans. Then I pulled my favorite recipes out of the folders (both online and paper).
This will be a long, and sweet, journey.