I blame Mo Willems.
If he had not introduced the whole notion of Nanette’s Baguette to the world, after blessing our socks off with great pieces of literature like Elephant and Piggy, Knuffle Bunny (Mr. Willems, if you are reading this, the last book in that series was a travesty and you should be ashamed of yourself. No self respecting parent would let their kid give away a member of the family like Knuffle Bunny) and Leonardo the Terrible Monster, I probably would not have felt so compelled to scuttle my quail to the downtown in search of the perfect baguette.
To be fair, I have also been reading a gigantic (seriously. It could take out an entire family of quail… or 3 labrador retrievers who were not paying attention… with a single blow) French cookbook, full of gorgeous photographs and descriptions of food and the local boulangerie in such a way that I imagine the author speaking with her eyes closed. I know technically that is more something that Californians do, but I think it applies here.
No matter what ultimately did it, my husband brought in the first eggplant (or aubergine, if you feel like talking with your eyes closed) of the season and the iron was hot for striking. I searched out a bakery that claimed to be proficient in artisan breads and was relatively close by, and we were off.
The Chamber of Commerce for Kent, WA will forgive me, but wow, this was a creepy part of town. It seemed largely deserted except for an inordinate amount of fellows appearing to be down on their luck. Maybe the fame of the baguettes was such that grown men literally slept on the steps in order to be the first to receive with open arms the bread of life, warm from the oven. That could explain it, I suppose. But unfortunately, they gave the appearance of being willing to receive a good many other things with open arms, including but perhaps not limited to my car. I felt for a split second like a fun mom when I purchased a couple of almond croissant and thought of taking my brood to the self-proclaimed “Rosebed Park” across from the bakery to tear into them with our bare hands, allowing the flakes to fall happily upon the grass (for grass was about all there was. There appeared to be 2 small “rosebeds” in this park… perhaps members of the commerce have a greater sense of irony than I gave them credit for), but the moment passed as I realized it was already occupied and, shall we say, was being used for something else.
I have failed to explain the parking, haven’t I? You ought to know that I aced the parallel parking portion of my driver’s test — and promptly opted never to do it again. We did get to take something of a cheery jaunt, because for being a place so devoid of people, every parking spot was full except for a single space along a curb between two vehicles that probably cost more than we make in a year. Eventually, I found a spot in front of a shop that actually, I have been intending to explore since last winter when my husband discovered it.
The Fig and Feather (side note: last Christmas, I attempted to make a visit and spoke the name of the store into Googlemaps. It promptly autocorrected the name to “The Friggin’ Feather” and I’m afraid I can no longer think of it any other way) is a fascinating, if not mildly unusual collection of old and new, of kitschy and classic, of housewares and cocktail napkins and I know not what. It is owned by a white haired lady who has been singlehandedly running the place since the lockdowns tried to put her out of business. That by itself earns her my respect, as did the handful of antique blue mason jars she had tucked in the corner that are now tucked in my corner.
She put me in mind of my great aunt Virginia, who only recently passed from this life to the next. She aged as gracefully as she lived, and while I never heard a harsh word cross her lips, she was an intimidating woman to me. I realize that we have already touched on my lurking insecurities about being overall a bit useless (stop beating the dead horse, you say? Perhaps so. But I think for the sake of this story, if I jerk on the ears a bit, it will animate the Old Glue’s face just enough to get us through), but every conversation I ever had with Aunt Virginia simultaneously made me feel my utter and incurable shallowness and also inspired me to take better care of my skin. She was strikingly beautiful and incredibly capable.
The proprietor of the Friggin’… excuse me, Fig and Feather did not have Aunt Virginia’s height or presence in the room, but the way she looked at me when I brought my finds up to the beat-up counter gave me a similar sense of being five years old and really not having contributed much to humanity. My quail were politely whispering and roaming the premises, admiring the stuffed animals and the gingham pitchers, asking if we would buy something called Hot Socks (I can’t know.), and I was determined to ingratiate myself to this local, in case the baguette was perfect and we became regulars to this part of the world. But wow, was my conversation striking out. I finally drew a glimmer of interest when I mentioned that my vegetable growing husband had found the shop first. Come to find, she buys her tomatoes for her homemade sauce from my husband’s farm and has referred many a customer.
I saw an opening.
“Where did you learn to make your tomato sauce?” I politely inquire.
Suddenly Aunt Virginia’s face peers at me. “I am from Iowa,” she replies, completely deadpan, as if that should more than answer my stupid question. Apparently, if you grow up in Iowa, you know these things. Where I had been planning to ask her for her recipe, this brought me up short — I’ve never even been to Iowa. I don’t think I could learn, implied her gentle but unrelenting stare.
She is precisely the sort of person I think it would be splendid to be. I think I will bring her a peck of tomatoes and see if we can’t become the best of friends in the next ten to twenty years.
Reader, do you even realize how free you are? Christ became a man. He led sin and fear away captive in a victory parade, because death could not hold Him! He is risen, and He reigns today. Do you see this?? The world is your oyster, because this world is HIS. Now. He is not impotent, He does not hold a weak hope that someday He will rule the world, if those folks would just elect the right person. He is ruling now, and this means that you, if you are in Him, are free to explore, free to use and enjoy and taste and give thanks for every single gift He has given you. You not only can — you must!! What are you waiting for?? Go find the perfect baguette, and then sing loudly over the absolute miracle of bread, because the Bread of Life was literally broken for YOU. Why are you downcast, soul? Put your hope in God — He cannot fail!
Can blogs have P.S.’s? Let’s say yes.
For those of you that curious about the baguette: it was in fact quite tasty. I have no recipe to link, but I am feeling quite expansive, so I’ll just tell you what we did.
- Dice up your eggplant, however much you want. Dump them on a cookie sheet and drizzle a bunch of olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper (fresh is awesome if you’ve got it), roast in a 425 degree oven (preferably yours. Neighbors get weird if you just start shoving eggplant into their ovens willy-nilly) for maybe 20 minutes.
- Toss the warm eggplant, which is now a bit caramelized on the edges and making your mouth water, with chopped up kalamata olives, basil, either feta or cotija cheese, more salt and pepper.
- Slice the perfect baguette, spread fabulous salted French butter on one side, then pop butter side up into that same oven (you left it on because you got distracted while you were ogling the eggplant, and now we get to pretend it was on purpose), straight onto the racks. Give it maybe 4 or 5 minutes, then sweep them off onto a cutting board and immediately cut a garlic clove in half and rub it across the hot butter. More drool.
- Heap the happy eggplant salad onto the toasty perfect garlicky baguette and embrace the bliss. We can talk about the zucchini fries that went on the side later (it’s not as if this was a food blog or something…).