All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
It’s been yet another Restaurant Day, and my first after being back in Finland. It’s been exactly a year since my last Ravintolapäivä but I’d been planning for months already. And the plans have changed several times, as plans tend to do.
And frustrating things happened, as frustrating things tend to do. I had really planned ahead and done some work over the days before. I had prepped a really delicious vegan and gluten-free (so basically healthy?) dark chocolate torte with pink peppercorns and smoked salt, a citrus frangipane tart with juniper syrup, a puff pastry with rhubarb and peach compote, some caramelized shallot, gruyere and rosemary scones, lemon poppyseed white chocolate scones, and black cherry, toasted almond and cocoa nib scones. With just the last few batches of scones ready to be baked, things were going smoothly. And then the first batch burned. And then the second burned. And the third. And I realized too late that my little countertop oven had somehow gotten far too hot and was just scorching everything inside it no matter what setting I put it on. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times… you must be a weird tiny European counter oven.
Having some experience with Restaurant Day before, I didn’t have the total meltdown that might be expected. I’m not a stranger to accidentally broiling macarons or switching salt with sugar in crepe batter. It bothered me that I’d wasted all these materials, and it bothered me that all the time and work put into these scones had been wasted. Whenever these things happen, I always have a little voice in the back of my head that whines but why can’t anything ever just go right? Why does everything have to go wrong?
And then even when things are going as well as they can be expected to, I start feeling this emotional cycle of creation. Initial zeal and excitement, motivation, the adrenaline rush of the new creative exciting idea. Then the work, which feels so satisfyingly exhausting. And then burnout starts, and you get more and more tired and less and less motivated to work, and the doubts start to creep in about the quality of your product and whether it’s really that important or worthwhile or special after all.
So I was feeling a bit rough this morning. Lacking my final scone flavor, I got up early and busted out another puff pastry tart, this time with toasted almonds, a quick lemon and satsuma marmalade, and decorated with sprigs of bright redcurrant. I think it turned out pretty nicely after all.
Lacking a table and compatriots, I had teamed up with a group who made a really comforting and homey Hungarian meal of spicy goulash, rice koch and savory biscuits with cream. The only downside was the location: Pasila. I have what is probably an unfair prejudice against Pasila. It’s where the immigration police station is, and while I haven’t yet had a truly bad experience there, it’s the main reason I go to Pasila and so the area has a kind of off-putting association for me. It’s also not the most beautiful or friendly atmosphere, but luckily we were near a park with bright green grass dotted with dandelions, birds flitting around, and a walking path. The weather cooperated for the most part, and it was even sunny and warm for a while in the afternoon.
We usually make a small profit after expenses are covered, but today I was worried about anyone coming at all because of the location. I ended up just nearly covering expenses, but between a few leftover pieces of tart and some bulk ingredients that I’ll definitely use up, and the surprising number of people who did come, I’m calling it even.
My favorite thing about Restaurant Day is being out and talking to people. I love the baking, the planning, the grown-up make-believe restaurant play that it really is, but when it’s all over, what I remember best are the conversations I had with perfect strangers.
Today started out with two girls about my age who chatted together for a while nearby and then came and chatted with me for over an hour, about baking and traveling and life in general, and importantly, whether gruyere is in fact the best cheese. We decided unanimously that it is. There was a man who commiserated for a few minutes about being a fellow foreigner, and an elderly woman I explained the flavors to in Finnish, who shared my passion for caramelized shallots. There was a family with two very starry-eyed young children who wanted a bit of everything, especially the lemon scones with cherry icing, and a big handful of my friends who all stayed a while to snack and chat.
I had a long conversation with an English man and his wife about travel, language, London, life and their imminent child. I caught up with friends, met friends-of-friends, and made plans to hang out. We moved everything under the awning of the nearest building when it started to rain in earnest, and I spent a while chatting with my fellow cooks, snacking on leftovers and finally cleaning up.
Now I’m home, I’ve eaten some badly needed dinner and started the cleanup process. My flat is still a mess, but there is always time for cleaning tomorrow. As I write this, it’s a quarter to eleven and the sky is still a deep periwinkle, made darker by the rainclouds but a persistent reminder that summer is practically here. I keep my window open during the day, and the terraces are all open. I had my first peas of the season last week, and the berry vendors are popping up on street corners. In the forest, the soil is covered with ketunleipä, and the new fronds of ferns are uncoiling slowly. Summer is imminent.
By a stroke of luck there was a little bit of rhubarb tart left for me. This handmade French puff pastry and spiced peach-rhubarb compote is I think one of those things that I really connect with in life, as weird as that sounds. Fragrant cardamom, sweet floral peach and the tartness of the rhubarb, flaky buttery layers of pastry and the delicious folded-over bits around the edges where the pastry has puffed up and the sugar in the compote has caramelized.
It was a popular choice for Restaurant Day, which I thought was funny because I used the same compote last May in a cobbler, and people needed much encouragement to try it. Of course, once they did, they loved it. One girl came back four times. But cobbler is not a thing here, and it just goes to show that first impressions can mean a lot.
I like getting little first impressions, little snapshots of people’s lives when you interact with them out in the world. When it’s something different, unusual, festive, special. When I see children’s eyes light up at the sight of sparkling berries and sugar, and adults get excited about the possibility of a treat that makes any mundane day a little more exciting. Older men and women smile and appreciate the culinary techniques, many of which have been lost before my generation got a chance to learn them. Sullen teenagers become children again for treats, and young adults and fellow foreigners relish the chance to connect with another human being who is facing the same everyday struggles as they are.
I love the stories. Where people have been, why they went there, what they do now. Her sister used to live in Ohio, his wife studied in Amsterdam, their parents met in Tokyo. There’s always a connection–rather than six degrees, I find we’re more closely connected than that, if you take a moment to find out. Every story is a little bit of knowledge about life, a little bit of perspective that makes your own perspective so much richer. And I love what I can give in return: a little slice of my life, a story in edible form.
I wasn’t able to make macarons this time, so I had to change our restaurant name. I chose Peregrine because the word comes from Latin, meaning traveler or foreigner. I thought it was appropriate because to me, Restaurant Day is about sharing edible stories from our travels through life. Every recipe passed down, every change and choice and sense memory is a story. Often it takes a long time to get to know someone, to build trust and camaraderie and experience those stories.
But sometimes it’s a piece of cake.