Destination Clearwater: Börek
Looking for coffee, I find something even more wonderful.
Every year I am part of something called "NaNoWriMo" in November.
November is National Novel Writing Month, hence the catchy title. The goal – and you can visit the Website if you want more information – is to write a 50,000 word novel between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. There are no prizes and no one else reads the book; it's something I do just for me.
Everyone knows, of course, you need coffee to write, so that's why I find myself seeking out a coffee shop.
I'm ready to write, and my editor has told me about a nifty little coffee shop by Westshore Pizza on Hercules Avenue and Drew Street. I found a little coffee shop called Manos right where I expected to find a coffee shop.
There's something about chilly weather that makes me want to curl up with a steaming cup of coffee and something oozing chocolate, so everything about this place was my crack. The smell of cinnamon and espresso wrapped around me like a cashmere throw, and it didn’t take long for me to start pointing at things and asking them to box them up.
A bakery visit offers sacred ritual: the smells of sugar and gluten mix with the heat from ovens while cakes and breads travel home in white boxes and waxed bags. The last time I spent any time at all in the New York suburbs, I fell absolutely head over heels in love with Cassone’s. They have these pignoli cookies that have no match.
Bakeries, though, don’t always subscribe to the dogma I think they should. A certain local supermarket puts its bread in plastic bags, and the white bakery box is now as rare as a Catholic mass spoken in Latin. Some “bakeries” don’t actually bake much of what they sell; they ship in frozen dough and use their ovens to finish the job.
The walls at Manos have menu boards and shelves filled with muffins and pastry. Baskets overflow with bread by the cash register, a symphony of beige and brown and honey and gold dotted with tiny sesame teardrops. Glass cases hold chocolate and sugared treasures. Beyond the cash register, dough paddles, oversized whips and whisks, and beaters hang from the wall, metal art for the dough aficionado.
I see the owner just as I see the spanakopita, and I realize this bakery is run by a Greek man. I catch his eye and he smiles.
“Do you have börek?” I ask.
Instead of answering, he asks a question of his own:
“Where are you from?”
It’s my turn to smile. I know why he asks.
His dark eyebrows knit together.
“How do you know of börek?” he asks me.
Börek, I should explain, is pastry filled with minced meat or feta cheese. Turkish in origin, many Greek, Albanian and Bosnian bakers can make it, although rarely does it show up on a menu. I discovered it when I worked part time for a Turkish hotelier who employed many Albanians and Bosnians. One such employee, after watching me inhale a piece of veal, introduced me to börek. I was smitten.
I don't tell him all this. All I say is, "I used to know a man from Albania..." and he smiles and nods.
“I can make börek,” he tells me. “But I don’t have any right now.”
That’s OK. I’ll be back.