If you don't know, I have another Blog Site as well called The last American Baker.
It is basically a collection of culinary stories and observations that I have penned about a 30 year baking career.
I have close to 300 posts on that site, and to my surprise, the 5th most popular story has deals with poetry, crew cuts...and cake.
I don't like to cross post from one site to the next....but this time I will make an exception.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Crew Cuts - Cakes & the Poet Laurette
About a week ago I received an invitation to a joint birthday party for Saint Paul's Poet Laurette Carol Connolly, and a friend of hers with a piggyback birthday.
It was been hosted by their friend Mary Beth Yarrow.
M.B.Y. is an interesting woman, in addition to once being married to Peter Yarrow (of Peter - Paul & Mary fame, she is also the niece to Eugene McCarthy).
Being thrilled to be invited, I called our host to ask if it would be OK to bring a birthday cake.
Nobody ever turns that offer down, however I was told that Carol Connolly can't have chocolate and the cake needed to be a white cake, with lemon filling and a butter cream frosting.
Then just 72 hours before the big bash, I spoke with Mary Beth once more and she suggested that I and my teacher "A.K.A. Mike Finley" should be commissioned to read poems to commemorate the occasion.
I was thrilled, but I was kinda sick in my stomach too because I so love Carol Connolly and I wasn't sure if I could write something in 72 hours that warranted not only her attention, but that of her friends and family as well.
So after stopping at the bakery to get the cake, I headed over to Finley's house to pick him up so we could enter the party together,and maybe hash over a little strategy.
I had seen the poem Mike wrote...well actually, we both wrote poems about cake, and Mike had shown me an original version that he seemed to pen together with such ease.
I do hate him for stuff like this because I found myself like Jacob wrestling against the angel of God to get the proper words to express myself.
But that's why Finley is such a "True Blue" poet.....he just doesn't care. I mean he does, but not enough to knock himself off balance. How many times have I seen this guy write, rewrite and then turn around and present his original idea.
Some might think he is unorganized with his thoughts....they are fools, I think Finley believes that his poems are living-organic things....like bodies, they look a lot like they did an hour ago, but sometimes nothing like they did a couple months ago.
So we pull up to the mansion where this to-do is scheduled and the both of us climb a series a stair cases to make our grand entrance.
The house was stunning-stunning-stunning and within 3 seconds I felt so out of my element.
But then I looked up, and there across the room....the first body I saw belonged to Kim Ode, I didn't know she was attending this party, later on she told me she didn't know that she was attending this party until the previous day.
But my vision jumped head first into a free fall, because I noticed that Kim was wearing some bluish blouse.
Blue has never been in Kim's wardrobe palate, when I confronted her on my observation.....I think she was surprised I even noticed.
"Yeah....I'm not sure if it is quite blue, maybe it's more of a tope, or even".....
It's more of a, or in between a royal blue and a aqua don't you think?"
Anyways, I'm not sure there was a definitive answer, but if the musings of the Last American Baker ever get made into a film....note to director.....
Kim Ode is always Pink and / or Yellow.
The party goes on -
Blah-Blah-Blah everybody was having a good time.
I've written about this before, but Klecko really feels awkward at parties...it's just a fact.
But I was THRILLED to be invited, but just for a little bit, I decided to find the kitchen and hang out there for awhile.
When I entered this space....Sweet Jesus of Warsaw! There were refrigerators and freezers bigger than some restaurants and bakeries I've worked in.
The pantry had pots and pans that were the size you would use to cook for an army.....literally.
I met the 2 guys who were catering this gig, introduced myself and told them how out of place I felt in the midst of so many pretty people and blue bloods.
Dudes laughed and told me they knew exactly what I was talking about, and I was welcome to hang in the kitchen.....just as long as I stayed the he** out of their way LOL.
So I pull out my Droid, check voice mails, check e-mails, check Facebook, and then I checked this Blogsite.
I had a recent message from fellow L.A.B. Rat - H.N. from Texas USA.
Actually it was more of a comment, or maybe even a question. She wrote something like.....
"Klecko, your blog cracks me up. Sometimes you seem so wise....but then other times you're an idiot (then she drew that smiley face thing), didn't you mention that you were like 50 or something?
I'll bet you were a trip when you first started baking huh? Were you a total rebel?"
Wow.....I love getting questions from you guys, maybe more than I let on. So now I pick up a ladle and began stirring some broth like substance. To be honest, I'm not certain exactlly what it was, but the stuff had just hit boil and none of the kitchen staff seemed to object.
So at this point, I had been thinking about how I would blog the events of this day, but now I was more intrigued by the Texas question.
H.N. - No, I don't think I was a rebel at all, but I'll tell you one thing I was (and remain).....I was an instigator.
I've posted in the past about some things I've implemented when I gained some supervisory authority, but then....right there as I stirred the broth, I remembered something that I did many-many years ago.
When I was working a rare day shift one summer I pulled out my Pharaoh ring and made a creed that Friday was haircut day.
You see, the shop I worked at had a barbershop on the adjacent corner.
The guy who ran it was a middle aged Irish guy, I forget his name, but I remember that he l-o-v-e-d horse racing.
Anyway, I worked out a deal where I would send at least 8 guys over every Friday if he'd give us $5 haircuts. Back then I think the going rate was $7 for a buzz cut.
The guy was thrilled by this and told me that he loved the idea, and to show his gratitude, he was going to give me my cut for free.
Well....Klecko told the boys about the one "free hair cut" and I offered to let everybody throw their names into a hat, and whoever got picked would get the freebie.
O-M-G......LOL, is was such a ghetto-lotto.
Each week whoever won the freebie would stand on top of the pallets of flour and beat their chest.
I think we had 12 or 13 bakers there, and every-every-every single-solid one of these guys participated every week.
You might think this is odd, but too many of you guys have watched movies where the bakers work in those little artsy bread boutiques, sporting ponytails and silly hats.
When you work in a bread plant, and it's summer time, and you have no air conditioning.....hair is a liability.
It's would be the equivalent to wearing a parka to the beach.
So here I am, a guy who is on his way to getting old, standing in some mansions kitchen, remembering something dear to me that had eluded me for at least a decade.
All I could do was smile.
Everybody wanted cake.....the clamoring started, but our host informed them that before anybody got dessert.....we were going to have a brief series of poems to commemorate the day.
I asked Finley if it would be OK for me to go first. It's almost never that I volunteer to defer to somebody else but...........
I'm not an Idiot.
I realize that at this particular moment......Mike Finley is the Beatles, and I'm more like Alice Cooper.
So figuring out that marquee shouldn't be too hard.
Writing poems is hard.
Writing poems for people you love is even harder.
I do love Carol Connolly, so I was actually nervous.
"Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you so much for joining us on this day where we are fortunate enough to celebrate two of the loveliest women that Saint Paul has to offer.
I have been asked to present a poem to commemorate this occasion.
So before I do that, I will mention one thing.....Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. I am Klecko, the CEO of Saint Agnes Baking Company and in the 30 years that I've been baking, I've learned one thing.
Women have one common denominator......cake."
Many people laughed, and the remainder returned pleasant smiles.
"CAKE by KLECKO"
A WOMAN'S THOUGHT PROCESS
ON THE DAY OF HER BIRTHDAY
QUITE LIKE THE VILLAGE BAKER
FOR HE HAS PLACED ONE THOUSAND CAKES
IN FRONT OF THE FAIRER SPECIES
AND HAS DEDUCED FROM THESE OBSERVATIONS
WHAT THE MAJORITY WILL MISS
WHEN EYES PEER THROUGH THE CANDLES GLOW
WHICH PUNCTUATE THE CANDLE TOPS
A WOMANS THOUGHT WILL NOT ALIGN WITH LOSS
OR LAMENTATIONS OF THE PAST
AND AS HER MOUTH BEGINS TO PUCKER
TO EXTINGUISH FLAMES, TRANSFORMED TO WISHES
IT IS NOT AFFECTION THAT SHE COVETS
SHE SIMPLY WANTS DESSERT
Hey Finley....I would be honored if you posted your poem up here when you get time, and Ode.....did we figure out the official-official color of your blouse?
either way......you looked Meow!
Mike and sometimes RachelDec 18, 2011 06:29 PM
Thank you for the kind compliments Danny.
I had fun, too -- but I did not feel so out-classed as out-Irished. My mother aspired to lace curtain Irishery but we lacked the credentials to put it over. She would have so enjoyed lingering over the books and wall art.
Anyway ... the poem exists in two forms. Klecko mentioned that I am a quick rewrite guy. I like to do rewrites (and first drafts) with a ballpoint pen and then put it up. The computer seems to box off my thoughts in a way that seems imprisoning.
But this time, having only 3 days, I wrote out a first draft on the computer, I think as a facebook note. The draft was strong, but I felt I had disclosed too much, and gotten unaccountably religious in it -- more religious than I in fact feel. Also, too long. So I busted down the long version (http://mfinley.com/pdf/cake.pdf) -- the tiny print is the stuff I cut out.
In a way the poem is insincere. I really don't care about cake. I just wanted something frothy and rhetorical and bright to give Carol. But I have been feeling blue lately and kept inserting unnecessary thoughts about the great beyond. I mean, I did want to say that cake is not just cake, it connects us to Higher Things ... but it was turning into a love poem, for someone else entirely.
Here is the edited-down version:
for Carol & Marine
We consider ourselves virtuous when we hold up our hands
as the Christ held up his hand to the Devil
and we say No Devil No
But it is self-serving.
If we break the rules and begin eating cake,
it will be our undoing -- flesh will swell
like a rising tide
and sweep over our hopes
dragging them inland.
The fear is that we will become cake-eaters, Ambrosians,
island people cut off from the main,
we will lose our credentials as everyday persons.
Cake is premature, it is undeserved, it clogs the cell walls
and sweetens up the blood.
Calvin was against cake, it did not suitably mortify the flesh,
because it brightens the darkness we are supposed to bless
it was in fact sin
we commonly call it sinful
as in sinfully delicious.
and yet ...
through history it was an idea that had heft –
in the moment of rejoicing we offer our best --
it was a gift of first fruits given back to the Holy
it was the best that was in us,
the angel's food of our better natures
Dear friends, you do not bake a cake on a Tuesday
you wait until the weekend,
you wait until the feast
and when we make cake we put into it
all that is good that we have in our possession,
all the things that we did not have
when we dwelt in the cold dank cave,
shivering, sniffling, barely living without cake
And so we turn to our treasure to decide what we will put in ...
cinnamon, coconut, lemon zest, nuts,
pistachios, date meat, ginger, brown sugar,
the frosting, the pudding, the dusting of sugars
Cake is faith, it is a symbol of the life we can't see
the life that flows around us in swirling mystery
It is the excellence that is always just outside our grasp
it is the spirit in the kitchen, the aproned ghost,
it is not the chocolate-cheeked beast with wooden spoon,
it is not the suffering human in the cave
It is our offering of greatest faith and greatest joy
one that we should not demur
we should accept it as we accept holy communion
as an expression of a brighter truth
our love for one another,
if I knew you were coming I'd have baked a cake...
if I knew you were coming I'd have baked a cake...
so take your plastic fork between knuckle and thumb
and do not shovel, do not grate against the plate
but lightly slide the stainless under the host
and please, please, please …