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Core Samples

He has this recurring dream. He is in a small coastal village just south of Playa Los Cocos. The Pacific Ocean calmly laps at the undisturbed sand of early morning. He can see the blue of it and hear the soft slap of it but, at this time of day, he cannot smell it. That sense is preoccupied. The night of the iguanas has become the dawn of the ovens and he and his kind are in line awaiting the opening of the panderia – the bakery. The plaza is silent. Existentialist mutterings take a backseat whenever this sleepy Mexican hamlet called Santa Cruz is under the spell of freshly baked banana nut bread. In the dream, it is a Tuesday. If it’s banana nut bread, it’s always Tuesday. The rest of the week brings the standard regional oven fare of torta rolls, cakes, pastries and that glorious staple known as pan dulce — sweet bread. And, of course, when placing an order there is always the addendum of "con mantequilla" — with butter. Those in line are patient in the sense that their endorphins climbed into the hammock even later than they did the previous night – not to mention their dopamine. But, when fragrance loiters on the cusp of bouquet, aromas do have a way of making the minutes creep by on tiptoes. It’s a Pavlov thing — salivary glands and conditioned reflex. Munchies being what they are, this is how he and his tribe measure their days — mornings at the panderia, nights at the churro stand. In between lay the chores of foraging and doing the rounds of hot springs and jungle swimming holes. Raising hedonism to an art form can be very tedious — especially in dreams. The freshly baked hot loaves do not remain such for long, of course. Some are eaten right away and the process of sharing has a lot to do with why he and his mates populate this particular landscape in the first place. But, in the shelf life of dreams, the next Tuesday and the next aroma-rich batch ready to emerge from the oven is never more than a whiff away. The waking world, however, deals from a much different deck. Discovering bakeries that light your fire in the cultural sense does not often recur. So, when ovens that seemingly give a damn cross your path, the onus is upon you to partake of the fruits, both literally and figuratively, of the bakers’ labors. Our bread junkie checked out a couple of recently opened emporiums as a way of staying on top of these things and came away with bags and boxes quite full of tasty morsels. In the absence of direction, however, he once again succumbed to weakness. He’d read how to locate the Park City bake shop, so he had that going for him. And finding it customer-free gave him free reign over the counter staff as far as queries of the confectionery sort were concerned. Have you noticed how artists of the food game just love to see a rookie come through the door? There is this certain smile that says "oh, are we going to have fun with you." He was being led into temptation. There was no doubt about that. It was early in the day and the open oven doors were wasting little time seducing him. Out came the freshly baked breads and tarts and cobblers and behind the counter glass various allurements were rearranged. He began hyperventilating. Due to annual pilgrimages to the Bay Area, he has long referred to these ecstatic pastry binges as his "North Beach Diet." The old Italian neighborhood nestled between Russian Hill and Telegraph Hill knows a thing or two about bakery come-ons and baiting the hook and snaring a wandering palate. He had decided to leave with a sampler box filled with an assortment of their smaller, more boutique, inducements. But where to start? Anywhere! How ’bout right to left? Cold feet are no way to greet warm smiles. Here, gimme that one and this one and those two and, while you’re at it, tell me all about that provocatively sculpted delicacy. Do you allow children in here? Now let’s see what we’re leaving with. A rich, flourless chocolate torte, glazed and garnished with raspberries is nuzzled up against a cup made of chocolate filled with espresso-soaked ladyfingers layered with rum-flavored mascarpone cheese. This is just the kind of stuff that shows up in your mailbox in a brown paper wrapper. Then there are a couple of tarts sharing a mutual attraction. The one that features Franzipane cream and thyme-scented pears baked in a sweet crust has an obvious hankerin’ for the caramelized apple lovely sporting a compote of a similar persuasion. They better get used to the fact that they are both comin’ home with me. Then, later in the day, he’s on to Hebertown for some applied research into a newly opened "Mexican bakery," which turned out to have on display the largest selection of pan dulce seen in these parts in quite a spell. That really isn’t sayin’ much, however, as only small batches of "baked elsewhere" varieties have shown their faces previously. But day-old pan dulce sure beats the heck out of no pan dulce at all, as they say. No problem! To the true aficionado, slicing off a chunk and dunking it in a cup of Mexican chocolate restores all vital signs immediately. Of course, he leaves with bags full, way more than he could eat before the leftovers began to dry-out. Not to fear, however. There is always that "sharing" component that he continually hones in his recurring dreamscape. Not that it would be practiced outside the land of nod. Basically, once awake, it’s all about his attraction to decadence in its many forms and succumbing to the seductions thereof. Allowing the senses to wallow every now and then is a good thing. Not unlike an additive in other fueling mechanisms – it cleans out the carbon. Then, once again, he will lay down and the dreams will return and it will be, more than likely, a Tuesday.


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