Ella's brother gets more than he bargained for.
| My brother moved into my backyard the day he came home from college; that was a year ago. What started out as a tent pitched in the grass has turned into quite a complex. He’s added outbuildings including one with a porta-potty, waterproof tarps under each structure, and awnings covering a few of the clusters. Among other things, there’s a shed that he uses as a closet, a tepee with a Coleman burner for cooking, and a generator to power the electronics in the recreation tent. His mail comes addressed to Josh Waxman, The Backyard, Tent #1, 213 Cherrybrook Lane, Eden Lake, Pennsylvania. |
The only thing in the backyard that I can lay claim to is my canvas lawn chair, and I’m frequently surprised by what I see in the yard when I come home. I think I’ve been quite lenient so far, particularly since he never actually asked if he could take over my lovely two acre lot, but I absolutely drew the line at the goat! The chicken coop I could deal with – who wouldn’t say yes to freshly laid eggs? But when I came home to find the grungy thing chewing on my chair, I lost it, especially when I noticed that the goat didn’t touch any of my brother’s things. I had the last laugh there, though. A shame that my college-educated, world-traveled brother wouldn’t know that you actually need to have a baby in order to make milk! So back to the goat farm she went. The baaad girl.
I stood looking out the window at my property. The morning sun glinting off the tin roof of the bath house made me blink. Turning away, I noticed my reflection on the stainless steel refrigerator door. I stuck out my tongue, making my wide blue eyes squinch, and my freckled nose crinkle. My strawberry curls had been quickly pulled back with a Scrunchy, exposing my face to the light. I am SO not a morning person!
Retrieving the heated vanilla soy milk from the microwave, I fixed my morning cup of chai.
Standing back at the window while drinking my tea, I noticed that my brother was up and about.
This morning he was moving around the yard, in a corner which had been previously unexploited. Apparently he’d set his sights on this patch of land for his latest project. Rolling my eyes, I set my empty mug in the sink and went upstairs to get ready for work.
A small chirrup from my roommate greeted me as I padded back into the bedroom after my shower. Chocolate Chip, or Chip for short, was a small brown and white kitten. I found him in the alley behind my shop, about a month ago. He wormed his way into my heart faster than you can say “I hope he doesn’t have worms.”
Now, his furry little face sniffed at my bunny slipper, as his long whiskers tickled my heel.
“All right, baby,” I cooed, crouching down to give him some love. “Breakfast in a minute.” Chip insisted he was starving, so I rushed into my usual work uniform of khaki pants and a white button down shirt. I’d add the apron when I got to the bakery. Throwing my wet curls up into a clip, I chased the kitten down the stairs.
After feeding my fuzzy friend, I slipped into my comfy brown mules, and went out the kitchen door onto the small deck. My nanny-chewed chair still occupied its spot under the awning, and I frowned at it as I walked past. I definitely needed to replace that thing.
“Hey Joshie,” I called as I crossed the lawn, weaving between the structures that seemed to pop up literally overnight.
“Hi Ells!” He stood up and brushed the dirt from his hands onto his jeans. My little brother towered over me by a good 12 inches. This morning his shoulder length red hair was tied back in a blue bandanna. The August sun was already beating down on the parched grass, and my brother’s tanned shoulders. It had been a shock to realize that the geeky, awkward kid who’d left for college 8 years ago had, somehow, turned into quite a good looking young man.
Josh was an archaeologist. During his 4 years of college and 3 years of graduate school he had participated in digs on nearly every continent. I guess that’s where the fondness for tents must come from.
“What are you up to now?” I asked, in a friendly voice. I do have the right to know what’s happening to my property, after all.
“New excavation,” he replied, unnecessarily. That much was evident from the little stakes and flags sticking up out of the ground.
I suppose that’s the thing about having a passion. When you’re driven to do something, you’ll find a way to keep on going. Digging in the dirt was nothing new to my brother. Growing up, our yard was always pitted with holes. Taking out the garbage was a treacherous task. Fortunately, going to college had taught him a more methodical way of proceeding.
“Have fun with that,” I called, as I walked back up to the house. Grabbing my purse and keys, I hustled out the door to my Prius waiting patiently in the driveway. Often when the weather was pleasant I’d walk to work, but today was promising to be a scorcher.
While my brother was busy digging in the dirt, I’d spent my childhood in the kitchen, baking. Baking had always been therapeutic for me, but I actually began baking in second grade, after a class birthday cupcake containing a piece of walnut caused me to have an anaphylactic reaction. I wasn’t about to stop eating treats, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.
It’s funny how life does that, sometimes. One of the most terrifying moments of my life led me to my future passion, my vocation. I still do all of my baking nut-free, and am careful to purchase from suppliers who are stringent in their manufacturing and packaging criteria. I have several customers who travel a distance to purchase baked goods they can be confident are free of tree nuts and peanuts. I’ve experimented with dairy- and egg-free baking as well, at the request of a few of my customers. Unfortunately, without a dedicated facility, it’s difficult to offer those products for sale. Perhaps some day I will have the space.
As I pulled into my parking spot in the alley behind the bakery, I could smell the wonderful aroma of the morning’s fresh offerings. My partner was already at work.
Opening the back door, the scents of warm pastry, chocolate, and cinnamon flooded my senses with a heavenly aroma.
“Ella Waxman! You are a sight for sore eyes!” My business partner and best friend, Daniel Hirsch bustled into the back room to greet me. Through the doorway, I could see the cake he’d been decorating for the Cranes’ 50th anniversary. A smaller replica of their wedding cake, he was relying on black and white photographs and Mrs. Crane’s recollections, as well as his own artistic talent, to recreate the magnificent confection.
“Come on, Daniel. We don’t open for another half hour,” I replied, standing on my tiptoes to give him a peck on the cheek. “I’m sure you’ve got everything well under control. As always.” Thank goodness Daniel was one of those amazing people who not only functioned, but thrived on only a few hours of sleep. He was usually in the kitchen by 5 AM, getting ready for the morning rush. Now, at 7:30, French bread and brioche were baking in the ovens, filling the whole building with their delicious, yeasty scent. Trays of muffins and pastries rested in the display cabinets, most of which would be completely empty by lunchtime.
I grabbed a fresh caramel-colored apron, with the “Home Sweets Home” logo across the chest, and scrubbed my hands in the sink.
“Have you started the coffee yet?”
“Not yet. I was just putting the finishing touches on the cake. What do you think?” With a flourish he ushered me over to the table where he created his magic.
“It’s magnificent!” I exclaimed, quite truthfully. “I think the Cranes will be very pleased. I’ll deliver it after lunch,” I told him, thankful that I’d brought my car.
Daniel and I were talking about investing in a catering van, but so far our business had been small enough that it hadn’t been a pressing need. I thought about it again, as I walked out into the shop. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get it sooner, rather than later,” I thought to myself.
Paying for the vehicle wasn’t an issue, due to the inheritance that had allowed both my brother and me to follow our dreams. I had only vague recollections of Nana Mae, and Josh didn’t remember her at all, having been just a baby when she passed away. But growing up, my mom told us quite often how her mother had doted upon us until her death. She’d left us both a sizable inheritance, with the stipulation that we be given the money upon graduation from high school, and that we only use it for something we were passionate about. Josh used his to fund his travels and archaeological explorations around the world. I used mine to buy and renovate Mr. Nash’s property, when he decided to close his dry cleaning business and move to Florida. Ever practical, my father had convinced us both to invest some of the money as well, for future passions. The bakery was still my passion, and good investment advice had allowed both of us to keep dreaming big.
Behind the front counter, I began prepping the coffee area for the morning crowd. Flowers already adorned the half-dozen small café tables that occupied one corner of our space. By 8:30 the tables would be filled with customers, and our assistant, Mary, would be busy preparing coffee and tea beverages to accompany our baked goods.
I don’t know what we’d do without Mary. Her boundless energy and enthusiasm kept the front of the bakery moving smoothly during the day, while Daniel and I baked and took care of the business end of things. A student at Eden Lake College, Mary was paying her way through school by working for us during the day and taking classes in the evenings. I don’t know how she did it.
Saturday morning was actually my favorite time to be at the bakery. People weren’t in a hurry to grab a bite and rush off to work, and the whole atmosphere was much more relaxed. It’s also when my Baking for Kids class met.
I put in my earbuds and listened to my mp3 player as I prepped my classroom kitchen space for the lesson. Bopping along with Simon leBon, I didn’t see or hear my boyfriend Jeremy as he walked into the room. “Dancing to the beat of your own drum again, I see,” he said, as he grabbed me by the waist. I screamed and jumped about a foot. Turning around to beat him on the chest, I yelled “you scared the shit out of me!” Then I gave him a proper greeting. We didn’t come up for air until a small “ahem” brought us back to reality.
“Amanda and her mother are here,” Daniel smirked. “I don’t suppose you’re ready to have them come back, yet?”
“They’re early! Give me 5 minutes, ok,” I said breathlessly, looking at my watch.
“No problem,” he laughed, as he backed out of the room. “I’ll give them a sample of the new raspberry bars while they wait.”
Turning back to Jeremy, I asked “when did you get back to town?”
“Late last night. I thought I’d surprise you by coming to the store, this morning.”
“Well, you certainly did that! How was the conference?” Jeremy Vogel was a professor of ancient languages at the Eden Lake College. For the past two weeks, he’d been in Rome, presumably chatting away with colleagues in Greek or Latin.
“It was fabulous. The lectures on the Archimedes Palimpsest were fascinating, and Eugenio Calabras is working on a new translation of . . . “ he broke off as he saw my eyes glaze over. Laughing, “you didn’t really want to hear about that, did you?”
“Nah, not really. I was more interested in how the food was, and if there were any sexy women present.”
“Just a bunch of old men,” he teased. “No one in the slightest bit sexy.”
“Liar. You were there,” I grinned back. “Now get out of here! My kids will be coming in any minute for their class, and I haven’t finished measuring out my ingredients yet.”
“Ok, ok. Should I come by this evening? I’ll bring Greek.”
“I hope you’re talking about food, and not Mr. Constantinos,” I laughed, as I pushed him out the door.
As always, my class was a lot of fun. The children loved mixing and stirring, and got so excited to see their creations come out of the oven. The best part was bringing their goodies home in a white bakery box, tied up with twine. This week we made chocolate chip cookies, and I munched a leftover as I went back into my office to work on some invoices.
Paperwork was definitely not my favorite part of owning my own business, so I was relieved when Daniel poked his head into the office a few minutes later. “The Cranes’ cake is boxed up and ready to go.”
Howard Crane had been principal of the high school until his retirement 5 years earlier. His wife Lydia retired from her position as school librarian at the same time. Since then, they’ve both remained quite active in the community, serving on the school board and volunteering for various charitable organizations. They were two of my favorite people in Eden Lake.
I filled a box with mini éclairs, as an anniversary gift. Rather than the usual twine, I tied the box with a big red bow and tucked a silk rosebud underneath. Pleased with my impromptu creation, I carried the boxes out to the car, and set them safely in one of the bins I use when making deliveries. The last thing I needed was for the boxes to start sliding around, and the pastries to get damaged. That catering van was starting to make more and more sense.
The drive to the Cranes’ only took a few minutes, but I was still glad I’d decided to turn on the air conditioner to let the car cool for a few minutes, before bringing the boxes out.
As I pulled into the driveway, Mr. Crane was just getting into his car. He leaned his head out the window. “Hello, Ella! Lydia is inside. Go ahead around to the back door. I have a little errand I need to run before this evening,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. I suspected that he was about to pay a visit to Sherry, at KT Jewelers.
“Happy Anniversary,” I called, as he drove away.
Grabbing the cake, I carefully made my way to the kitchen door. “Ella, darling! Come on in out of the heat,” Mrs. Crane greeted me.
“Thanks, Mrs. Crane. I have one more thing to bring in,” I said, laying the box on the kitchen table.
“How many times do I have to tell you to call me Lydia,” she chastised me gently.
“Sorry, Lydia,” I grinned sheepishly. “Old habits die hard. I’ll be right back.”
As I came back into the house with the éclair box, Lydia was looking at the cake. “It’s gorgeous!” she exclaimed. “Marcus is a very lucky guy, to have a boyfriend as talented as Daniel.”
I laughed. “For that and many other reasons. Happy Anniversary,” I said, handing her the decorated package.
“Oh, Ella! What did you do? Oh my. These look good enough to eat!” she declared, as she opened the box.
“I certainly hope so,” I laughed again. “Enjoy your party, this evening.” I kissed her on the cheek, and made my exit.
I’d barely gotten to the car when my cell phone started singing The Boys of Summer. It was Josh.
“Hey, Joshie. What’s up?”
“Ells?” I could barely hear him. “Ells, I think you need to come home. I just found a body in your back yard.”
Ella’s Raspberry oat bars with chocolate chips
3/4 cup unsalted butter or margarine, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup chocolate chips
1 (10 ounce) jar raspberry preserves
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease a 9x13 inch pan.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until smooth. Combine the oats, flour, salt and baking powder; stir into the creamed mixture. Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the preserves over the crust. Mix chocolate chips into the remaining crust mixture and sprinkle over the raspberry layer.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until light brown. Cool completely before cutting into bars.