It’s about the Journey

…unless the destination involves pastries, in which case it’s about the destination. Judging by my latest reports, one would think that all I do is eat croissants. And I freely admit that recently, fortune has put me in the way of a few delectable pastries.

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Last weekend found my husband and me headed east on Highway 12, our van trussed down like a moped in New Delhi, with cleats, coolers and girls. We were headed to our first (and my last) soccer tournament. If you have never taken Highway 12 east to Yakima, I recommend the drive, if not the destination. The road winds through a verdant valley that transforms to mountainous terrain with startling views of our crown jewel, Rainier. It then descends White pass and morphs gently into the dryer lands of the Columbia Plateau in central Washington. It is everything a drive in the country should be.

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The Queen of the Cascades, hastily shot from a scenic overlook on White Pass

The cuisine at the Yak Attack soccer tournament seemed to be the brainchild of second grade boys. There were D’Lish Donuts, (served in a bucket!) kettle corn, strawberry lemonade, (rest assured, no fruit was harmed in the process) Reindeer sausage, (Okay, it might upset a second grader to learn where Santa’s sleigh team goes when they get old and stringy. But then, none of us really want to know how sausage gets made) and something entirely new to me: Chipstix.

These greasy numbers are made by running a spud through the same kind of contraption one would a spiral ham. The result is a starchy slinky of linked potato slices on a skewer, which are then immersed in a cauldron of boiling oil. Afterwards the skewer is doused in seasoning salt. It looked positively bewitching. If I didn’t care about my arteries turning into Love Canal, I could have feasted. But following the brief sensual pleasure afforded by foods sunk deep in hot biodiesel, comes the inevitable remorse.

I am not sure what to say about Yakima. The cuisine needs a perk up, and the public signage a good proofread, but the saving grace of this unkempt hitching post is Essencia Artisan Bakery. Though I won’t gamble on Chipstix, I will occasionally throw in my lot with pastries, because I understand and accept where butter comes from, as opposed to other fats. And never mind that the name sounds like a scented candle company; this place is a light and flaky paradise.

Or so I assume; I was actually back at the hotel, reclining with a book while my husband went there to procure breakfast. No one would eat the homemade granola I brought because I burned it (not out of spite, I was distracted). My husband came back to our room with a brown pastry box (always a welcome sight) and said, “these are warm from the oven.” It was like what Winnie the Pooh said about honey being good, but that moment before you dip your paw in the pot…well, that moment is even better.

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We had four pastries of various kinds, cut into quarters for a pastry tasting. This refined experience was somewhat marred by small soccer players with sticky fingers in the way of me and a quiet breakfast. But still, I got the gist of them, and they were lovely. Once we were back home, I called the bakery to tell them how much I liked their wares, especially the pear cardamom croissant. They seemed genuinely elated to receive my phone call. Yakima is a tough place to make it; I hope they do.

I have a particular fondness for pears, and cardamom seems to bring out their peariness. Pear is my signature fruit, since my last name means “one who dwells by a Pear tree.” I thought it meant, “one whose pale, Celtic skin will wrinkle early,” but I guess not. The excellent croissant put me in mind of this little cake. It’s my cardamom rendition of a pear almond cake from Rachael Ray Every Day magazine.

Pear-Cardamom Cake with Chocolate Chunks

1 cup flour
1.1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1./2 teaspoon cardamom plus more for sprinkling the top
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1-2 pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced or cut into small chunks
1./4 cup chocolate chunks or chips

Preheat the oven to 375. Grease an 8 inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until pale yellow – 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the butter. Stir this into the flour mixture until just combined. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan and top with half of the pear and half the chocolate; repeat with the remaining batter, pears and chocolate. Dust top with remaining cardamom. Sometimes I just throw in the dough, pears and chocolate all at once to save time and I don’t think it matters that much either way. The original recipe had a homemade almond paste on top, which is also delicious.

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