When food opportunity knocks

Among the talent that shows up to work at the family restaurant in my novel What’s Left is a very, very talented baker. As they conversed with him, they could smell opportunity.

Still, these two lines were more than the scene needed:

What can you do here with what we have?

Pierre rolls out a list. We’re impressed.

Oh, I’m so glad Cassia stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

~*~

Let’s just say everyone rose to the occasion. As a result, he started making real French bread to southern Indiana – and a lot more many of us take for granted nowadays.

Of course, the world doesn’t always come to you. When it comes to food or drink, where would you like to travel? Or, for that matter, return?

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Getting ready for the big moves to begin

By this point in the story, we have what could well be a business-based fairy tale. Everything seems blessed. For me, as the author, this required a lot of business-cap thinking. For the reader, though, many parts can be distilled and compressed – a suggestion rather than detailed descriptions will do.

Here’s how part of the timetable stood in an earlier draft of my novel What’s Left:

We modify our plan. Bliss will open first, at the beginning of summer. It requires minimal behind-the-scenes support and will give us a sense of the new building’s food storage and laundry functions. The traditional Carmichael’s and Taverna would close for the month of August and reopen in the new space at the beginning of the school year – each with twice the seating of before. Graham worries that what’s felt cozy might now feel cavernous if we don’t attract a lot of new clientele.

Barney will have his hands full training staff and adjusting to the expanded operation. What dawns on us is that we’ll be veering sharply away from a purely family-centered operation. We’ll have to rely on a large staff. The kitchen design, for one thing, now has men’s and a women’s locker rooms, plus staff restrooms. Not everyone can run home to wash up and change into uniform, not the way we have with Big Pink around the corner. Will Barney be comfortable in his new role? This, too, is a gamble. If nothing else, though, he needs an office to shelve his cookbooks. 

Oh, I’m so glad Cassia stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

~*~

Someplace around here I should have been asking myself what Harry Potter would have done in this situation. Despite the fact that many of these details are among those I turned up in my research, I’m on some very unfamiliar ground, as one insider reminds me.

If you’ve ever worked in a commercial kitchen, what would you most want to see in the new Carmichael’s? What common-sense touch would be most welcome from the workers’ end? What improvement is usually overlooked?

A little more lighting on their restaurant redesign

How trendy do we want their restaurant upgrade to be? It’s a great location they’re developing, and they already have an established reputation.

Here’s another passage I cut from the final version of my novel What’s Left:

Barney also welcomes the opportunity to have a menu more in tune with our vegetarian precepts. At first, he reasons this would naturally go in the cellar – Carmichael’s Underground, as he dubs. But we want natural light in the vegetarian enterprise and the building sits right at the edge of the sidewalk, so basement windows are out of the question.

The basement is more suited to the Taverna anyway,

Oh, I’m so glad Cassia stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

~*~

Hey, how about taking a break to make time for a shout-out? Who are some of your favorite food bloggers? What makes them stand out for you? I’m curious how many of your choices are ones my wife already follows.

 

Who says you have to be a kid to be delighted by this?

I know where I’m getting the candy rocks and gummy fish to decorate my gingerbread lighthouse this Christmas. And it’s also a great place for guys to find great little gifts for the significant other in their life, something that usually confounds us. It’s even a fun place to take her on a stroll around town. (Think cheap date.) You can sit in air-conditioned comfort while savoring the yummy ice cream. Or even keep a bunch of kids happy.

We’re hoping Lickees & Chewies Candies & Creamery catches on. It seems to have its act together, blending several types of economically marginal stores into one.

Key to everything is its location, across from the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire and above Noggin’s toys on the ground floor of the historic Cocheco Millworks downtown. The one drawback is that the entry is on the other side of the building, away from those two kid magnets.

But once you’re inside, you’ve entered a whole different world. It smells richly mysterious, largely from the chocolate bakery. There are maps with pushpins where customers indicate where they’ve visited from, and there are metal rings on strings you can swing toward hooks in the wall if you’re feeling playful.

There are more classic games in the sitting area, which includes a large round table suitable for a birthday party, actually. Or just resting or looking at the views out the window.

So one part of the operation is the ice cream counter, with an emphasis on creamery. But remember, this place is loaded with candy, as in toppings.

Then there’s the old-fashioned candy store itself, with about every brand you can imagine. The entrepreneurs don’t proclaim their organization or knowledge of the field, but it’s there – Southern candies in this part, German in that – even before you get to the saltwater taffies. Many of the smaller wrapped bits haven’t been a penny apiece for sometime, but that’s its groove anyway. After all, the idea is to fill your own bag.

Yet another part is the fine chocolatier. This is where to find a gift to impress, maybe even a new client. And there’s plenty of room to grow to the side.

They make the most of the historic textile mill space. The ceilings are tall, with bare wood posts. The lighting is warm, tasteful, with some German Black Forest kinds of surprises befitting a fairy-tale atmosphere in the evening.

It’s been here a year already, but I’ve just discovered it. I’m definitely anticipating getting back before Christmas.

The main entrance does make for an impressive approach. It’s almost like crossing a moat.
Inside is a rich mixture awaiting leisurely exploration.
Lingering is no problem.
Anyone else love fresh turtles? Lickees & Chewies come in almond, cashew, or pecan, for starters.
I want to call this Penny Lane.

How would it look inside?

As an author, I had to have a clearer idea of where their redesign was heading. So this is what I settled on, even though it felt like too much information when I got to the final revisions. By the way, I’m still not clear how many seats the place should have.

If you’ve been in the food biz, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is 200 too many for Carmichael’s Indiana? Is 60 too small for Stardust upstairs? And how many could sustain the much smaller vegetarian Bliss?

~*~

Would we have lots of booths or one long banquette along a wall with small tables? And if there are booths, will they be tall, for privacy, or low, at seated shoulder-blade or back-of-the-head height?

You take all this things for granted, don’t you? I had no idea. It’s just the way things have been as long as I can remember. Little did I anticipate all the heated discussion!

Baba’s passion for sleek, stainless-steel contemporary design runs into opposition. Not here, Graham insists. Too sterile. Imagine what you’d want coming in off the street on a damp November night. You want warm and comfortable.

Pia pipes up in favor of something organic by local woodworkers and weavers. Something homespun. She’s right.

Could we have wood-burning fireplaces? How efficiently could we clean everything, anyway? Think of a mop between the stools and base of the counter. We’ll still have a counter, won’t we?

Graham takes up another consideration: the restrooms. They need to be integrated into the whole package, not an afterthought.

And what about the wine cellar?

That’s a new one – wine cellar?

Yes, if we’re going gourmet, we’ll need a decent wine list. It’s something the Taverna’s never dealt with.

Oh, I’m so glad she stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy. And by then, so am I.

~*~

Thinking of great restaurants, Fore Street in Portland, Maine, with its industrial shop airiness, would be at the top of my list. No nonsense and yet crisply ordered. I could mention others, much smaller, in Providence, Rhode Island, or Wellfleet on Cape Cod, or our all-time favorite, a tiny house in South Berwick, Maine.

And we can also name some others with great decor that greatly disappointed us, at least when it came to our plates.

One of my favorites is actually take-out only.

So what’s your favorite place to eat? Does it have a window with a view? Or is there some other dimension beside the food itself? Please, don’t you dare mention clowns or big-screen TVs.

Ten facts about the Jenny Thompson outdoor pool

Since my indoor pool pass is good year-’round, I don’t spring for an extra pass to use the city’s outdoor pool each summer. Instead, I get to go there for free during the final two weeks of the season, when the indoor pool is closed for annual maintenance and upgrades.

The outdoor pool, though, can be a glorious experience. Here are ten points to consider.

  1. Though a Massachusetts native, Jenny Thompson calls Dover her hometown. She’s among the most decorated athletes in Olympic history, having won eight gold medals among her 12 despite numerous setbacks. On top of that, she became an anesthesiologist is Boston and now works as a pediatric anesthesiologist up the road in Portland, Maine.
  2. It’s the only 50-meter swimming pool for miles around. The closest neighbor is the Raco Theodore pool in Manchester, New Hampshire, an hour to our west. The only one to our east is at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, three hours up the Interstate. And to our south, it’s the Beverly, Massachusetts, YMCA on Boston’s North Shore or, further south, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge or at Hanscom in Lincoln. In other words, ain’t many of ’em around.
  3. It feels endless. A half-mile is eight laps, meaning round-trips up and back. I love hearing the rippling banners overhead in the distance, meaning I’m getting close to turning back in the other direction.
  4. It has a 10-foot-high diving board. Kids love it. Insurance companies hate anything so risky.
  5. It’s heated, except on the hottest days. Evaporation cools the water. Somehow, though, it seems to warm enough once I’m in it but still refreshingly brisk. Talk about a fine balance.
  6. Overhead, contrails of jetliners heading into Boston’s Logan airport often come a minute apart. That’s in addition to some gorgeous clouds I love to watch on my backstroke, along with the occasional bald eagles in the distance.
  7. As I just said, keep an eye open for bald eagles soaring in the distance.
  8. The Seacoast Swimming Association, which drew Thompson and her mother to Dover in the first place, is its biggest supporter – as they also do for the city’s smaller indoor pool through the rest of the year.
  9. Big swim meets take place here. Why not? From a distance, it always looks like a mob scene.
  10. The pool is 41 years old and has maintenance issues. Which leads to the next matter. Efforts are under way to replace it with a 10- to 22-lane indoor 50-meter pool. Dr. Thompson is solidly behind the effort and promises to come down often to test its waters.
It’s longer than it looks. See the swimmers?