BY LAURA JANE/ILLO BY JEN
Point is, I love dessert. It's the dreamiest, most romantic part of a meal, and eating it's pretty much the only time I'll allow myself to fully let go- of all of it- and when I bliss out I bliss out, like I'm on a morphine drip dripping into a sleepy secret world where I don't need to care or talk or listen, can't be bothered to try and make any enthralling writery points about "what the sauce is like" just in case anybody forgot that I'm a writer who writes about food for like five fucking seconds of their life God forbid.
I ordered myself a piece of flan as my staff meal one Sunday evening. I'm not really supposed to do that, since flan is not a very nourishing meal and I don't think it would do a ton to enhance my performance or anything. But I was selling all these people all this flan all night and accidentally sold myself on it too. I had to do it. I think it's fine and normal if I do it every once in a while.
Our flan has cream cheese in it. It's very rich, as all desserts should be. I hate when people act offended by the richness, by the wealth of their dessert, like duhhhhhh- yeah it's rich! Duh. Who cares if it hurts your stomach? Why are you paying attention to your stomach? Pay attention to your mouth.
I had my little slice of flan up in one of the windows- there is maybe better terminology to use than "window"; I want to explain it so that people who haven't spent in time in kitchens understand it- it was resting on one of those silver shelves where the cooks put the food up when it's ready, to wait for a runner to come and run it to one of the tables. I had it shoved off to one side so I could take a little bite whenever I had a free moment here or there. I was eating it in the tiniest possible bites. I wanted it to last forever and I was dreading finishing it. I felt like I was going to die once it was gone.
The curved line running through the lefthand centre of the flan in the flan diagram seen above represents the size of bites I was generally taking, although I feel like the diagram bite I've illustrated is a tad more generous than the bulk of my real-life bites. The crosshatched section at the bottom of the flan diagram and the shaded portion at the upper lefthand corner represents the amount of flan I'd already eaten when the tragic thing that is about to happen happened.
I was standing by the counter, calmly and peacefully eating a diminutive and ladylike flan bite off a dessert fork, when my sous-chef noticed the flan, yelled, "OOOOH, THERE'S FLAN?", and then, grasping a tablespoon in his fist like a fat king about to dig into a feast involving turkey legs in a Disney cartoon, dug into the flan and took the gargantuan fucking bite, if you can even call a bite that big a bite, denoted by the EXTREMELY LARGE CIRCLE enveloping the ENTIRE TOP HALF OF MY FUCKING PIECE OF FLAN THAT I LOVED SO MUCH AND WANTED SO BAD-
I screamed, "Nooooooooooooo!" in an arc of a whine that was about 95% pathetic, 5% fierce: a wolf pup's howl. A newborn wolf pup. "There was not flan!" I cried- I was literally crying. I mean, I wasn't crying, but my eyes definitely teared up. It was my flan! It was my meal! I was loving it so much, savoring it, and then he came and swooped up half of the entire thing, and the worst part was, he ate the fucking crust. I mean, it's not a crust, because it's a flan- but it's the edge part, you know? The burnt, sticky, caramelly outer ring that I'd been SAVING FOR LAST because I SAVE THE BEST FOR LAST because THAT'S HOW I EAT MY FUCKING FOOD. He ate the best part of the flan, and it meant nothing to him, and everything to me. I hate him and will never forgive him. I have not shut up about how this happened since it happened and I need to stop writing it right now or else I will wake up seventy years later and realize I just spent my entire life writing about the time my sous-chef stole a bite of my flan and that was how I spent my time on Earth, and then I'll die.
Oh Christ, just look at these gorgeous little fuckers. Don't you just want to laminate that cone of newspaper into a pouch and carry them around with you everywhere? Like they're your marbles or pennies or whatever.
I ate this dessert at Terroni with my mom in mid-July; I almost never eat dessert at Terroni, because I allegedly "hate" Italian desserts. So many times in my life, my mother has asked me if I want to get dessert at Terroni, and then I whine, "I haaaaaate Italian desserts," as if I have just been asked if I'd like to pop in to the gynecologist's office for a quick post-prandial look-see. Luckily our server was a great salesperson and, before I even had a chance to roll my eyes at the prospect of tiramisu, tiramisu, or tiramisu, described the feature dessert as being peach fritters, or fritturi or whatever, served with sweet cream gelato. I was like "Sold." Peaches & cream is my everything. She could have been like "We have some peach-flavored barf, served with sweet cream-flavored horse-bones," and I would have been like "Okay fine."
The fritters were, I don't know... fritters. The fritters were fritters. Everything is everything. The other day I was explaining ceviche sizes to a table of at my restaurant and I said, "Well, the small is a small, and the big is a big"- don't think I'll be using that one again! The fritters were fritters. They were fried dough. They were hot. I liked them a great deal. The peaches inside were sliced into cylinders, and they reminded me of gemstones. They made me wonder if there are gemstones the color of peaches. And if so, why don't we care about them more? They seem like something Southern belles would really dig.
The sweet cream gelato was fucking fantastic, rich & light at the same time the same way Pinot Noir is, but it didn't matter- it was one of those things where you just have to accept that the gelato is going to be overshadowed by the fritters, like the fritters were John & Paul and the gelato was George (I guess the powdered sugar is Ringo)- if somebody had given me a bowl of the gelato and said "Hey, here's some vanilla ice cream," I would have lost my fucking mind over it. It would have changed my life. But then you put it next to fried dough, and it just becomes the thing you dip your fried dough in.
My dad and I went out to a chill little place called Weezie's on the east end. It looked like the kind of restaurant I'd like to own, only blander. I liked that it didn't make a big deal out of itself, but it could have made a bigger deal out of itself.
I like going out to eat with my dad because he's such a big dessert guy. Even if we don't eat dessert at the restaurant, we'll always stop into the grocery store on the way home to buy some sort of pre-made cheesecake chocolate torte or whatever. When we eat at fancier restaurants, small plates/smaller portions types of places, we both get really jazzed because it means we'll definitely have room for dessert! Weezie's was that sort of deal- we shared a shrimp & avocado salad, which was all my favorite shit in the world- shrimp, avocado, peanut, cilantro, onion, Thai chili, etc- but it was so tiny. One shrimp apiece. And then we shared a whole grilled Branzino with a side of bitter greens, which tasted like how green the trees are after the first day it rains in spring.
For dessert we had the banana pudding. It tasted like you're eating it out of a mixing bowl. It tasted like you're a little kid over to play at a friend's house whose mother is a way better cook than yours, and she's given you this wooden spoon to lick like it ain't no thing but oh my God, it's a thing. And you're just standing there, a child, blissing out like you won't again until you're twenty-eight years old and have finally started making yourself a decent enough living to go out to restaurants that serve food that tastes as good as what you licked off that spoon that day, existing for one half a second in somebody else's life, in some other home where the walls are made of wood and this kind of thing happens. Where slabs of things, things called breads that are truly cakes, are wrapped up in waxed paper, and spots of oil bleed through the waxed paper, waxpaper, and it looks like a dalmatian's fur.
I ate this with a boy. We ran into one of my friends along the way and I said "I'm sorry! We can't stay! We have to go eat pastries!", and then I made fun of myself later on- "We have to. We have to go eat pastries- we've really got no choice."
We hadn't. We hadn't much of a choice. I remembered that Nadege existed at around 2:15, and I had to be at work for 4, or 4:15 at the absolute latest. But I knew that if we made it it would be worth it, and we made it, and it was worth it.
I looked down at all the pastries at 3:05, all those little rubies lined up beneath a glass pane that somebody'd been paid to shine and somebody else'd been paid to line up with exactitude, maybe not even the same person, a little silver clip holding up a rectangle of thick and expensive cardstock somebody'd been paid to cut to size printed with a sweet, clever name that somebody'd been paid to brainiac up. Everything kept reminding me about all the stupid jobs there are out there. I remembered being a very little kid and playing Monopoly for the first time. I was holding a couple houses and hotels in my sweaty little palm and I told my mother: "Somebody made these," like maybe she'd never thought about that. And I've never stopped thinking about the world that way. When I drink wine- who stepped on the grapes? Because I watched a video of a man stepping on the grapes once. And I've always thought that the feeling of the grapes slurping up between your toes would be like, I don't know, the exact perfect midpoint between peeling glue off your palms and having an orgasm on the General Life Pleasure scale. And because I'm jealous of that guy, I'm jealous of the guy who cares enough about pastries to make them and I'm jealous of how easy of a job the person who named them has if all they had to do was name them. And I'm sorry for the guy who has to wipe down the pane and I'm sorry for the girl who has to use tongs to place the pastry on the plate for some guy and I. I applied for a job there once and hoped I wouldn't get it because I didn't want to wear a white collared shirt. And my wish came true and I didn't get it. I've never worn a plain white collared shirt.
I was wearing a white collared shirts with little navy blue hearts printed all over it. My pastry was named the "Marie Antoinette." I felt like a girl eating it. The boy I showed up with ate a significantly more masculine square of cheesecake and when the server placed our plates down in front of us she made a joke about how she'd just guessed whose was whose. And I felt like a girl.
The pastry, the cake, the crust, just tasted like a pie, a very good pie. Like white sugar and white flour that you'd be sad if you found out was cut with lard but because it was cut with lard you're really digging it. Later that night, my co-worker asked me what was the stuff inside the pie crust and I said, "A cloud?" And the macarons were the only macarons I've ever loved. It was weird. They cracked like a joke.
Macarons, as a rule, remind me of this time I was in the back of a cab with Nadine and Charlie on Hallowe'en, in New York two autumns ago, when they had those little TVs in the back of their cabs before we had those little TVs in the back of our cabs in Toronto. The TVs would play this endless loop of little clips about, like, all the bullshit that's going on in New York right now. And there was this one segment about how macarons were really hot at the time, the cronuts of their day, ew, and at the beginning of the segment the voiceover was like "MOVE OVER, CUPCAKES"- like, "Move over, cupcakes! Make way for the fucking macaron, like, the fancy new baked good of the moment..." and Nadine and Charlie and I got into a whole bit about it, imagining some, like, chichi Upper East Side-y New York woman, sitting in the back of a taxicab with a box of cupcakes in her lap, hearing "MOVE OVER, CUPCAKES!" and like, throwing the box of cupcakes out of the window and hollering "TAKE ME TO THE NEAREST MACARON PLACE!" at her cabbie.
I really liked that joke, I really liked that time. I'll think of it every time a cupcake or macaron ever comes up again, seriously, forever. For the entire rest of my life.
I ate at Chantecler with Suzie and Sadie. It was not really the best night of my entire life. Everybody kept fighting. I'm pretty sure it had something to do with the moon.
Chantecler is my favorite restaurant in all of Toronto. The morning after that night I first ate there, I felt so bummed out. I was sweeping the floor at work, and I really hated my restaurant, for no reason other than it wasn't Chantecler. A million things went wrong that evening, but zero of them were Chantecler's fault. Chantecler was perfect.
Our server was an Oliver Twist type. I got a little drunk and asked him if his name was Brian, but as it turned out, he wasn't even Irish. Real curveball. He had freckles, was very knowledgeable about wine in a very unpretentious and non-annoying way. You could tell he was an unpretentious, non-annoying guy, who just happened to give a shit about wine. We had a Blanc de Noir, a white wine made out of Pinot Noir grapes made by a guy named Pierre Frick. I accidentally just found dozens of photos of the real Pierre Frick's face on Google Image Search just now. He's very handsome. He lives in Alsace. It's a drag to think that there'll never be a wine with my name on it and I'll never be a man and smile and I'll never live in Alsace. I wish I could unsee him.
Sadie got mad at Suzie. We ate noodles made out of potatoes and the popcorn shrimp had actual popcorn stuck to the shrimp's body, which was fun. Tempura squash blossoms dipped in the least tacky sriracha mayo that made you wish some guy would break your heart and you'd die so you could go drink Pierre Frick wine at a bar in Alsace in heaven where you dunked your own tempuraed heart into that motherfucking mayonnaise infinitely, to a point where you would have rathered it all've worked out that way; you were made to eat your own heart emotionally and dunk it in that Best Case Scenario mayonnaise eternally. Fuck all human beings who hate mayonnaise forever. You will never fully know me.
I'd been talking about dessert since before I'd eaten dinner. It was two mornings after the night I'd had that dream. Suzie and Sadie ordered oysters, and I ordered an ice cream sundae. They were talking about somebody they went to school with who moved to Scotland and got married. I didn't care about that person. I didn't go to school with either of them. I cracked the caramelized banana in half and made myself a bite of half-cherry, half-banana. Somebody's job was to make that cherry. That cherry-maker was a genius.
One of them asked me if the malteser was a malteser and I told them it was. I filled up my spoon with the whipped cream and I picked up the lavender froot loop with my fingers and placed it atop the mountain like when they put the flag on top of the moon.