Sunday, February 22, 2009

Our Town

"Writers write about things that other people don't pay much attention to. For instance, our tongues, elbows, water coming out of a water faucet, the color purple of a faded sign in a small town.
"When we live in the same place for too long, we grow dull. We don't notice what's around us.
"A writer's job is to make the ordinary come alive, to awaken ourselves to the specialness of simply being."--Natalie Goldberg, from Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

A couple of years back we moved out of New York to be closer to my husband’s family in Massachusetts. We settled on the town of Brookline. Why? For starters, because it's a pretty town with a long history of happy residents. John F. Kennedy was born here—a 5-minute walk from our apartment building. Mike loves that we can get everywhere without a car. That's been a real bonus with fluctuating gas prices. Plus who wants to try to park in Boston?

In Brookline, there’s a good Irish pub/hole in the wall that serves my favorite roast turkey dinner, and a great dessert place offering gelato and Death By Chocolate. We are a block away from a variety of kosher delis and bagel places where on any given Sunday we can go for bagels with Tofutti cream cheese or any variety of rugelach.

But there is something else in Brookline that has never disappointed us. It's something our New York friends are probably sick to death of hearing about, but that they love to frequent when they visit us. Even people who have been to France are in agreement--there's a foodies paradise just a couple of blocks down the street that has people lining up around the block, and we can go there whenever we want.

Clear Flour Bakery

You can smell it when you're walking past the modest storefront at night—the earthy, pungent loaves of bread the bakers stay up all night to make. The smell is so divine that it overpowers the scent of clean laundry emanating from the late-night laundromat next door. We anticipate the morning when, the Sunday Globe in hand, we’ll get in line to wait among the other carb addicts for our turn to enter the tiny shop. Occasionally someone will gripe about the wait, but that person is usually someone who has no idea what he's talking about. He should be ordered to go straight to Panera Bread on Harvard Ave. where he can settle down to some hastily-served mediocrity. The rest of us know why were here.

It's not like Magnolia Bakery in New York’s West Village, where lines form for cupcakes that, while sufficiently sweet and tasty, are no better than what you could make at home from a boxed mix. No, this place deserves the line. In fact, I hope they never expand the store to make room for more customers. That would make it too easy, and good food should not come easily or it might not be savored.

And then the bell on the door chimes—a middle-aged couple with a little girl in braids exit the shop. We're in! While we wait on the much shorter line inside, I scan the racks for that indelible Sunday treat: the chocolate croissant. These are nothing like the ones I used to get at Au Bon Pain when I didn't know what a proper croissant was supposed to taste like. The chocolate is silky, rich, and dark, and they're not stingy with the filling. Unlike those inferior chain croissants, you don't get three mouthfuls of pastry before you get to the warm middle. No, there is chocolate in every bite. And no worries about pulling a tooth trying to bite into it—this croissant is as soft and warm as cotton candy straight from the cart.

Then there's the breakaway Monkey Bread, a twisty, puffy loaf boasting that same chocolate filling, but peppered with cinnamon and nuts. Rip off a piece and watch the steam rise off. You’ll be surprised how fast it goes when split between two people.

The baguettes are crusty outside, soft inside, and the olive rolls are studded with large Italian green olives. The chocolate macaroons are equal parts tender coconut and smooth chocolate, and the individual quiches are always filled with a mix of interesting ingredients—my favorite is the fire roasted tomato and feta cheese. And the lovely apple galette—that's a crowd pleaser to beat any variety of babka from up the street. For those who need more caffeine than can be found in the chocolate brioche, there’s George Howell’s Single Bean coffee brewed daily.

Yes, we love Clear Flour Bread—it's what we were eating when we sat on the deck of our new apartment for the first time. We imagined a life like Parisians, eating hot croissants and drinking black coffee.

Even in the down economy our home has gone up in value since then. I have to think that's partially because of the universal love for fresh-baked bread.


Lavanah said...

What is the rye bread like? clear flour (no upper case) is the type of flour used in jewish rye bread-that gives it that chewy, "good tooth" mouth feel.

Local "real" bakeries like that are gems.

Jennifer said...

Hi Lavanah,

That's interesting, no, I haven't tried their rye bread. I always wondered what the name meant! I'll have to make it a point to try it!