Friday, November 18, 2011

True passions

"Baked goods, not books, are where Farrier’s true passions lie." - best line from a profile of a literature PhD who, despite finishing her dissertation at one of the few universities that reliably gets people tenure-track jobs these days, went with macarons. I like the wording, as if a change in career means this woman who has a doctorate in literature was never really all that into books to begin with.

I don't know what the larger message here is, but what literature grad student doesn't periodically think of dropping everything and selling the pastries she's perfected while on study breaks/procrastination from the diss. The only surprising thing is that this Princeton grad student lived in Manhattan at the time, where a) there are lots of good places to buy pastries, and b) a million fine ways to procrastinate that don't involve staying home and trying one's hand at from-scratch croissants, as might, for example, an NYU grad student living in Princeton. Theoretically speaking.

Moving from big city to smallish town, I'd expected to have to go without certain cuisines, ingredients, and so forth. To stock up every so often, to dine out on trips to NY, to expand my cooking repertoire to include things I used to have the luxury of getting on the outside, etc. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that within biking distance loosely defined, there are Chinese restaurants, sushi places, an Italian grocery, a quasi-Greek grocery, etc., etc. It's not that I didn't think such places existed outside of big cities, that I thought as soon as you leave the five boroughs it's all thatched huts and Wonder Bread. I just didn't know which would exist here, didn't have a real sense of how big the town was before moving, and so on.

What I hadn't considered was that in a big city, one can get into the habit of becoming a regular, only to cease going somewhere abruptly. Sometimes because it's not what it used to be, but often - most often - for a pest- or upset-stomach-related reason. And I have a pretty high tolerance for this kind of thing, and have gone back to places with known problems in both of those categories because sometimes pad gra prow really is that good. But I will eventually draw an admittedly arbitrary line.

And you can't really do this in a smaller town. If you want X, you either return to the place with X or go without. This no doubt contributes to the... problems one finds so often in these parts. What incentive will a place that stocks otherwise unavailable X have to clean up its act? (Every place, even the most problematic, has a certificate bearing the word, "Satisfactory.") One by one, the places I was so excited to discover a month or two ago become the place where the woman handling food had a terrible cold and that doesn't believe in using gloves to handle the food. The place where we opened the bag of flour from there and it was very much alive.  The place where one employee sneezed into her hand and then my new all-time favorite soup had a bug floating in it.

The list keeps getting shorter. And the only consistently good places are run under the "Soup Nazi" model - they know they provide something above and beyond, so they make a point in making the brief interaction one must have to get X as unpleasant as possible. Not in the sense of hipsters-make-your-food, where you want to be seen as cool by the staff. More like you could very well never have X again if you don't follow their rules.

I'm of course not naming names, because I will of course return to each of these places repeatedly.

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