Thursday, August 27, 2009

Susie comes full circle and I live life in the fast lane

The weather here in the nation's smallest (and most foolish) state has been, in a word, atrocious. Heat, humidity, sun, heat and, did I say humidity? And all this after what seemed like the wettest summer in years. So for the pat couple of weekends we've been heading out to Colt State Park on Narragansett Bay to get away from the heat and humidity of the city and enjoy the zephyrs off the water.

But Thursday, dawned cool, sunny and low humidity -- a genuine summer day to be savored. The rest of the week promises to be as accommodating.

The past few days has been a week of challenge for me, but an ending and a beginning for Susie. Naturally it got off to a bang.

On Monday evening we drove north to the wilds of Douglas, MA for dinner at Dick and Dorothy's. Now we've eaten dinner there many times, often for special occasions, family reunions and the like. But this time was different. It turns out that several new graduates from the high school where Dick teaches (and Dorothy taught) have been serious foodies for some time. In fact, three of them have been to Gracie's twice -- and it was there they got to meet Dick's sister, Susie the Pastry Queen. So Dick and Dorothy set up a dinner meeting -- they provided the main course, the kids provided the apps and Susie the after dinner portion; a bevy of three tasty desserts that included: summer berry pudding, spiced plum streusel cake, chocolate cake with fudgesicle cube

A grand time was had by all and brought home to us the simple truth that these very good kids will make even better adults. In some ways they already are.

My work has taken a new dimension this week as I've been scrambling to put together a presentation on how to use Adobe Bridge in accessing and searching the new image library. It seems I've been moving way too fast for my normal pace but believe that I've got a pretty good handle on those key concepts that need to be grasped and how to best create a visual map of those ideas.

Summertime is slow in the restaurant trade, at least here in Providence. But for Susie this week has produced a watershed of sorts, a closing and opening, an ending and a beginning. (OK enough of the New Age stuff.)

As you may recall, a few weeks ago Susie got the opportunity to meet her pastry inspiration Emily Luchetti. She was spending some time in our part of New England and doing a book signing at the shop of a friend in South Dartmouth, MA. Susie and Emily are two stalwarts in the philosophical school that holds pastry should be simple, made with the best ingredients and taste really, really good. Anyway that’s my take on it.

At the time Emily said she planned to come to Gracie’s – she had to return to California (she’s the executive pastry chef at Farallon’s) but would be back within the month.

Well needless to say (so why am I saying it?), needless to say she did return to New England and showed up at Gracie’s with two friends the other evening. Actually she emailed Susie a day or so before so that the two of them might spend a bit of time together chatting.

And so it happened. Of course Susie put together a tasting plate of Gracie’s desserts: mango cream tart, brownie chunk chocolate milkshake tart, fudgesicle cubes, ricotta custard, chocolate ganache cake and plum almond streusel tartlet (a young tart)

Now some perspective.

It’s 1988, Ronald Reagan is still President, “Bull Durham” with Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins is showing in the theaters, Paul Simon’s “Graceland” is awarded the best record of the year and we have the great good fortune to be dining at Jeremiah Tower’s renowned Stars restaurant in San Francisco. The food is wonderful and the desserts knock Susie’s socks off.

Four years later we return to the Bay City and head right back to Stars. This time the pastry chef has a brand-new book out, “Stars Desserts” and after dinner Susie buys a signed copy. In the years to come that book, and Emily's three subsequent cookbooks gradually become Susie’s pastry and baking bibles. Susie would always turn to Emily Luchetti for inspiration, for ideas when looking for that special dessert.

How many others have bought Emily’s books, signed or otherwise and used them as guides to making just the right ending to a special dinner? How many others have turned to those books to discover new and fresh ways to turn a dish of ice cream or basket of fruit into a scrumptious dessert? A great many I would say.

But how many have used that same inspiration to turn their world around, to say “this is what I want to do with my life now.”

Susie did. Yes, Emily’s food is wonderful – her recipes are impeccably well-crafted, thoroughly tested and produce wonderful desserts again and again. It is all those things but to Susie that signed copy of “Four Stars Desserts” meant so much more.

As Susie sat in the booth next to Emily the other evening at Gracie’s, chatting with Richard and Anne about the wonders of food in general and pastries in particular, I couldn’t help but think to myself the significance of the moment. The door on her past life as a physician quietly, and perhaps irrevocably closed, while at the very same time Emily stood there holding another door open.

You really should have been there.

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