From the Oven

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Pastries

Over the last year, our dear friends Sarah Cramer Shields and Andrea Hubbell, creators of the wonderful local food blog Our Local Commons, embarked on a mission to bring the joy and uniqueness of the Charlottesville food scene to everyone’s table – not on a plate, mind you, but rather in the form of a book unique to our charming and eclectic town.

Charlottesville Commons is the result of lives savored with all that graces it’s pages; profiles of  food passions, photographs that defy words, anecdotes of inspirational food moments by local chefs, and essays that give you pause. And it is that “pause” which brings me here. As a lifelong baker, who’s joy in all things butter and sugar began as soon as I exited the womb, I have perhaps taken for granted what baking really means.  Or maybe, I simply never attempted to put the essence of it into words, rather choosing to convey it’s meaning with something freshly baked.

But as one creates with their hands, another does so with their gift of observation and eloquence, putting into words what others can’t.  My understanding of what I do and how it impacts others came full circle in this Charlottesville Commons essay written by my daughter, Alex, who’s ability to “see” with words and ideas consistently blows me away.  It’s rare that we, as parents, are reminded that our children hear little of what we say, but see all that we do.

Thank you, “Boo Bear,” for being so amazing and for the beautiful gift of your words. I hope you all enjoy this peek into not only this beautiful book, but into the life behind Paradox Pastry, as it did, indeed,  all begin with cookies and kids….

“Everything I Need To Know, I Learned from Pastries”
by Alex Peterson

Our kitchen does not look like a classroom but it serves me as such. Dishes float in sudsy water beneath an open window, country music plays on the radio, and on the floor are scattered pieces of broken candies and rivers of dried food coloring. Sitting on my stool in that strange classroom, I’ve learned countless lessons. From that stool, I’ve spent hours in a haze of Zen-like wonder watching my mom turn butter and flour into edible masterpieces.Thornton Wilder said, “My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate—that’s my philosophy.” Such a philosophy is akinto one my mom also lives by. To truly enjoy that post-dinner treat, one has to be consumed by the moment and savor each bite. Decadence is about the process. If desserts teach ussomething about life, than they teach us the key to a decadent life is remembering we are constantly in the process of reaching that place. To indulge in a dessert does not mean to indulge in immediate satisfaction. The process is a much slower one. To properly eat dessert one must take in the moment, maybe even close the eyes and feel the ability to truly appreciate something.

A dessert teaches a person to savor time, to live in the moment, to welcome, and to remember that for some moment in life, however brief, many of us have been blessed with experiencing happiness. My mom doesn’t simply make desserts as a job. With each sheet of fondant she rolls out and with each sugar granule she converts to caramel, she does something much more. She reminds people to stop and take a minute to acknowledge what lies in front of them. Her ability also exists as a gift to her clients, her children, her friends, and anyone who takes enough time to get lost in sugar.

Mom can take us back to younger days when satisfaction wasn’t ruined by the thought of a burgeoning waistline. A warm chocolate chip cookie used to be able to make an entire day the best day ever. In that cozy kitchen where I’ve spent the last six years of my life, my mom manages to keep that feeling alive. You can see love and lust dancing out of the crumbs of a tart; from the steam of an apple pie bursts glorious warmth. She always has flour streaked across her face and her feet are sore constantly from standing all day, but when someone shares her love of simple happiness, she beams.