Friday, April 9, 2010

What I Do on Friday

It takes a lot to keep me from my Friday visit to La Central, the panadaria on South Bend's west side. If you have never had Mexican pan dulce, find a panadaria pronto, and prepare to be delighted. "Pan dulce" directly translated means sweet bread, but these bakery goods are not as sweet as they look and rarely seem like bread. They are not quite pastries; they are themselves.

The textures are light and soft. The colors can be as pink and yellow as the closet of a seven year-old girl, and the shapes are fantastical. No doubt each traditional form has a name, but --- not knowing them --- we call various pan dulce by their nicknames: the flower bud, the cigar, the Edvard Munch face, the alligator, and the You Know the One. There are huge crumbly cerise cookies and sugary oval pods with gooey fillings. There are whorles that flake like croissants, and sturdy anise-flavored scone-like things. If you are lucky, you will be able to grab a pumpkin empanada before they are all gone.

Each panadaria pretty much looks like every other panadaria. No sexy patisserie style here, but instead you'll find utilitarian pan dulce cases lining the walls, shuttered with clear plexi knee-to-head doors. At the cash register counter, you will pick up a round metal tray as big as a pizza pan and a pair of spring-loaded tongs. Then you will start piling the pan dulce on the tray. Go ahead. Try to stop yourself. I think I will try this one, and this one, and of course this one, and on it goes.

At La Central, the best panadaria in South Bend, I take my tray, towering with treasure, to Andres, the owner and head baker. He puts them all in a big grocery bag, doing the math in his head. If Edward and I show a little discipline, the supply will last until the next Friday, but that doesn't happen often.

My Friday trip to La Central is one of the wonderful sensory traditions that Edward and his family have shared with me. As everyone knows, nothing beats knowing how to judge a tamale. I will need many more years to master that one.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Animal Adventures

So off goes Edward on his daily walk. He expects to be noticed by several chained and nasty dogs who serve more as sentries than pets. He will not be surprised by the galumphing rush of wild turkeys as they try to fly about four feet above the field. He will probably hear the plopping of frogs into ponds and the rumble of tractors. He may encounter snapping turtles, horses ambling in pastures, and have the pleasure of stepping over roadkill raccoons, oppossums, and snakes.

But this will be a new one: a young, brash, and very heavy bull will come charging at him. Separated only by a puny wire fence, the two face off, and Edward hollers, "Go away!" The bull does, only to wheel around and return for another confrontation of wills. Edward strolls nonchalantly along, hoping the bull does not realize how flimsy the wire fence is. The bull loses interest, as bulls will, and Edward makes it home, none the worse.

Yes, there were a few tense moments, but it was nothing like Edward's encounter with the groundhog. Or the bat. Or the wolverine. Ask him about them someday.