In today's book market, it is quite possible to read only food memoirs and have no time left to read anything else. And I would probably read many more food memoirs if I didn't love a variety of other genres and wanted to spread the love around amongst them all (I'm currently reading some time travel comedy, although it's lagging a little, and I'm ready for some short story horror). So when Stephanie at Dispensing Happiness said she was organizing a reading/blogging group for a new food memoir, I signed up immediately.
And I'm really glad I did. I was sent a copy of Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado and felt immediately compelled to put down that time travel comedy (yes, I've been reading it for a while now - I told you it was laggy!) and dive straight in. I mean, with a first line of "I saw the devil at age three and he gave me chocolate. It changed my life forever." how could you not want to start reading?
I loved every moment of this book. Gesine jumps around from her childhood in Europe (where her mother was an opera singer) to her life in Hollywood (working for her sister's production company and slowly losing her soul) to the machinations of a working bakery in Vermont (where she escaped to after Hollywood), and yet the story doesn't feel disjointed at all. Each snippet of story lets us into her world a little more. While reading, I wanted nothing more than to curl up on the couch with some coffee and a piece of cake and keep reading (I was on the go, however, and it was above 90° out - curling up wouldn't have felt that good). Gesine's tone goes from light and entertaining to heartfelt and sad in moments - I was choking back tears, sitting in a cafe that wasn't nearly as nice as her own bakery, as I read about her mother's favorite recipe.
I was excited about this book even before it arrived on my doorstep. I was in Austin a few weeks ago for a conference, and while doing my food research for the trip, I discovered that Gesine had recently helped to open a new bakery in town. And on my first day in town, my friend and I went to Hut's Hamburgers for lunch and noticed that Walton's Fancy and Staple, Gesine's new bakery, was just down the street. So we stopped in for dessert, and I totally fell in love with the place. Over the course of the trip (5 days in total), we visited the bakery three times, bringing more and more people with us each time. I loved the space, filled with cozy cafe tables and a variety of plants and beautiful furniture and objects like the jars above. It was airy and bright, and there was even a second room of seating that provided a more intimate and quiet space.
So over three visits, I got to try many of the bakery's offerings, including a few that I would later read about in her book, such as Golden Eggs and Savory Rock Scones. Above are a cream puff and one of Gesine's famous macarons (and a lovely cup of espresso). And everything at Walton's was downright cheap, at least according to my Boston sensibilities. When I got home and started reading the book, I was happy to have a better idea of all the foods Gesine was mentioning. Reading the book made me hungry enough - at least I knew what some of the stuff tasted like!
You can also check out Gesine's blog and read the first 15 pages of the book on Amazon.
Part 2 of my post is here.
Walton's Fancy and Staple