I’m in old Montreal, walking back to our hostel, when I decide I need a break. Stan and the older girls are doing some more exploring and I plan on getting Vivian to nap, but first I want to find Cookie Stéfanie. Even though the wind whips down the cobblestone alleys, my backpack strains my shoulders, I get lost twice, and I’m worried I’m ruining Vivi’s hips (she’s in our old, crotch-dangler carrier), I am undeterred. When I walk into the bakery I’m glad I didn’t give up. Warm air blows down from the ceiling ducts and the counter is studded with treats. “We did it!” I whisper to Vivi and let out a deep breath of relief, which is how I feel after we do almost anything on our trip. No one else is in line so I walk up to the counter and pause. An employee calls out bonjour, pushes a plate full of cookies towards me, and invites me to try one.
“They’re fresh!” she says and then identifies the different flavours on the plate.
“Is everything in here gluten-free?” I ask, lifting the sample to my mouth.
“Yes, of course. And it’s all delicious!” she answers, then looks at me more carefully.
I can feel my throat tighten. The cookie tastes of almond, sweetness and comfort. And then suddenly, without knowing why, I start to cry. Maybe it’s the chewiness. Maybe I’m over-tired. Maybe the cookie is that good.
“Oh,” she says knowingly. “You’re celiac aren’t you?”
Four eyes stare back at her; mine, brimming with emotion, and Vivian’s, peeking out from under her hood. I nod, wipe my cheeks without saying anything, and back away a little to collect myself. I ease my backpack off.
“It’s okay. I am too,” she confides. And then, as if she were born for this moment, she sweeps her arm towards the rest of the baking on display and I can hear the excitement rising in her voice. “We’ve got cupcakes and brownies…salty treats and sweets… and you’ve gotta try the carrot cake. It’s the best in the city–”
Before I can respond, another couple walks in and steps up to order. She looks at them politely but tells them, in French, she is serving the madam, with a nod in my direction. Like a triage nurse she’s assessed the situation and decided I clearly need the most help.
Still a bit flustered, I tell them to go ahead and that I need more time to make my decision. Eventually I get the carrot cake and a handful of cookies. I lay Vivia down on a table, eat as much as I can right then and there, and carefully package up the rest to take with me to the hostel.
When we get home, days later, one of the first things I do is look up GF carrot cake recipes on the internet. I find a recipe, follow it exactly–a feat in itself, and try it two different times to make sure I’m satisfied. It’s good. Really good. And although it has yet to bring me to tears, I’d say it’s the best in my city.
Traveling is like that. It’s inspiring in all kinds of ways; you expose yourself to different people, different ways of life, and of course, different foods. After settling on a carrot cake recipe, I also grind up some roasted coffee beans and sprinkle them on my granola–something I’d learned while reading the in-flight magazine.
Who inspires you in the kitchen? Without over-thinking it, can you name one or two people, or experiences that have piqued your culinary curiosity lately? Here are a few more of mine. They might be different tomorrow.
- This gluten free blog. I’ve used her recipes a few times over the years and it’s where I found the carrot cake recipe. I also plan on referencing her for my Christmas baking. (I don’t know the author, but just realized she’s a trusty Manitoban.)
- This book about the quest for the perfect pizza crust and the birth of a restaurant.
- … And plain old soup; Yvonne and Carol’s ham and bean soup, my mom’s borscht, soup after sledding, soup for company. Soup anytime.
Pass yours along too, please!
PS. Here is Susanna with her inspiration, Tori (her second-cousin), in my mom’s kitchen. During a special birthday-gift workshop she learned how to work with fondant and make rose petals out of icing!