Sitting with my back against the pale ochre-colored wall in Joe, The Art of Coffee on East 13th Street, sunlight pouring in the huge front windows. It’s my second time here, the first experience over 2 months ago. I’d had a fresh-squeezed lemonade on that steamy early May Saturday and the tart sensations are still imprinted in my taste memory. Now I sit with a perfect cappuccino, heady and heavy, yet naturally candied with a beautiful flower design flourishing atop the thick foam.
This coffee shop gets notable mention in Adam Roberts’ debut book, Amateur Gourmet: How to Chop, Shop, and Table-Hop Like a Pro (Almost), newly published by Bantam. Roberts, the creator of well-known, witty food blog amateurgourmet.com, recently came to my New School journalism class to talk about his upcoming cookoir (cookbook/memoir). I had devoured the galley we were given in class, absorbing every word. While lighthearted, his words were heavy hitting for me as they chronicled a food affair akin to my own. I, too, began cooking about three years ago, and fell madly in love with the art of cookery (and eating the rewards!). Here is a note I jotted down while reading his book: “I think in many ways Adam Roberts and I are kindred spirits. I keep agreeing whole and a half heartedly with what he says!!!” Throughout the pages of the book, I starred things, folded down page corners, underlined intensely, and jotted notes in the margin such as “Oh my god! Yes! Exactly!” One could confuse my bliss for that of a different sensory experience.
Even though I knew very little about the qualities of good meals growing up in a house of part fresh Korean cuisine and part boxed potato flakes and Hamburger Helper, I have always felt connected to food. It has been my comfort, from spoonfuls of ice cream snuck from the freezer before bedtime to salty, buttery Handi-Snak cheese and cracker packs for breakfast before I put myself on the school bus. As I grew older, I found myself nibbling Fritos and Funyons and yogurt -covered pretzels in my college's library and forming a secret addiction to my neighborhood’s local 3-cheese nachos from Qdoba. My palate was immature. Then a new vegetarian boyfriend inspired me to cut out a butternut squash lasagne recipe from a magazine and tackle a large squash with my dull Ikea knife in my kitchen one day. I’ll leave that story for another day, and just say the resulting rich, deep flavorful dish prompted me to become obsessed with cooking. I’ve now been known to lug armfuls of cookbooks from the library and spend hours tabbing off ones I want to make, feed my appreciative friends delectable dishes, and then have to remove the tabs when the books are due back 2 weeks later. Which is why I use those colorful re-usable Post-it plastic-y tabs; I love those!
But back to Joe. And today. Roberts said he wrote his whole book here, and being as I just watched a movie at the Quad Cinema one block south and I am meeting a friend for dinner one block north, I thought coming here to write a blog entry and get back into the swing of writing would be apropos. It feels good. My iced peppermint rooibois tea is helping. Mmm, winning combination, although the mint is slightly overpowering.
Waitress was a great movie. Feel good, feel bad, feel nervous, feel empathetic, feel hungry – it evoked many feelings. Those pies…I loved how inventive they were! You weren’t watching a movie about a pie diner of the same old apple, cherry, and peach variety. Jenna (Keri Russell) conjured and created original pies with names like I Hate My Husband Pie, or This Baby is going to Scream His Head Off in the Middle of the Night and Ruin My Life Pie. My favorite character, Old Joe (wonderfully casted Andy Griffith, bow tie and all), who thought the pie shop was his because it was called “Joe’s Pie Diner,” loved the Jenna’s Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie the most. He describes the layers of flavors and if every mouth in the theater wasn’t salivating, there must have been some dead taste duds in there. Joe was outwardly crochety, but inwardly caring and his instructions for Jenna to start fresh was precisely what the emotionally drained, financially poor, abused woman needed to hear. I believe it’s what many people need to hear and believe can come true.
The pie-making scenes were my favorite, from the delicate music to the delectable ingredients being lovingly added to the various pie crusts. Loads of glossy, dark melted chocolate, magenta, plump raspberries, gloppy, pale yellow custard cream…makes me want to go home and create my very own pie. One of my favorite elements of the movie is that the character came up with her own pies – it provides inspiration to those of us who have difficulty writing our own recipes. It takes an abundance of self-esteem to make moves to change your life, and it takes loads of the same esteem to think you can put ingredients together and make something taste good without following expert instructions. I am positive I will come up with my own pie within the week. Old Joe and Joe’s coffee shop provide the muse.