Ah, food! Is there anything more delightful than eating a home-cooked meal? Yes! Preparing one! As a child, I picked wild blueberries in the woods behind our house. Then I’d help my mother roll out a pie crust. I remember eating cucumbers straight from the vegetable garden in our backyard. Cooking was a creative outlet and an expression of love. Was it Cesar Chavez who said, “the people who give you their food give you their heart?”
In the fall of 2007, I opened a small restaurant called The 2Beans Café and Tearoom. My little café still holds some of my fondest memories. The menu was simple. We were known for our excellent soups, hearty sandwiches, and healthy salads. Our coffee was a special blend roasted by a company two doors down. The aroma from our desserts filled the air each morning. Sometimes we made apple crisp or bread pudding. Every day we offered mouth-watering chocolate chip banana bread and Katherine’s 2Bean Coffee Cake. Simple food, but what we did, we did well.
One day at the cafe, I was running behind. I took an orange loaf cake I was baking out of the oven before it was completely done. Halfway through our lunch shift, I learned the cake was under-cooked. Our other Lunch Special dessert was sold out, and I had nothing to replace the orange loaf.
Fortunately, Jacques, one of my best customers, ordered the first slice of orange loaf. I told him I would fix him a special dessert. Inspiration hit and I got out my cast iron grill. I sliced the cake and grilled it on each side, which cooked the underdone batter. Then I broke it into pieces. I layered the cake into a parfait glass with French vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. I topped it with freshly made whipped cream and presented it to him. When he asked what I called it, I told him it was our new “orange dream.” He loved it! I offered the same dessert to my other customers and it was a hit.
When I cleared the empty dishes from Jacques table, I confessed what happened. He asked what made me think of adding the ice cream and chocolate sauce? I told him, “everything is better à la mode.” That’s when he explained that the term à la mode means something different in English than it does in French. In English, the term means “with ice cream.” But in French, it means “in fashion” or “fashionable.” This made me smile because I thought it was so applicable to my little café. We were fashionable with our fresh and affordable meals. We strove to make everything from scratch, using only the freshest ingredients.
I closed my Café years ago but I still hold true to those principles, especially when it comes to food. I want to share with my readers why cooking food can be an empowering experience. Making a unique dessert for my guest wasn’t miraculous, but it gave me a sense of being able to work out a problem, and I discovered something about myself. It’s not about the food, but about the experience. So many times, my friends have said, “I can’t cook like you.” Let me tell you, just like that orange loaf, I’ve had my share of kitchen disasters. Yet, I’ve learned from those experiences. My goal in this column is to share what I’ve learned so that others might feel more comfortable trying it on their own. Learning to cook isn’t hard. And there is nothing quite like taking a loaf of baked bread out of the oven. Better yet, sitting down to a simple meal shared with friends and family.
I hope you’ll join me as I share stories about the foods I love and how to prepare them. Making good food that anyone can prepare is important to me. If I can help my readers feel like good cooking is within their reach, it will make me very happy. There’s no reason not to feel comfortable in the kitchen. Enjoy and share the experience as my mother shared with me. Create memories with friends and family. No one has to be a gourmet to make good food. Anyone can learn to cook well. And remember…. everything’s better à la mode.