Monday, October 24, 2011
Algerian Pastries in Ann Arbor
Three months ago, I decided to take the plunge and follow one of my dearest dreams. That week, butter, flour and orange blossom water spent most of the day on the countertop and my hands were rolling, shaping and filling pastries almost every single day. That week, Wednesday came faster than ever before and I’ve found myself one Wednesday afternoon packing my car with a table, a chair, a cardboard sign and a bin filled with pastries. With a kiss on the forehead from my husband and a hug goodbye from my daughter Layla, I backed up on the driveway and took the road that would get me closer to the Ann Arbor farmer’s market, to my dream; the road that would give birth to Al Meida fine Algerian pastries. That day, I gave birth to a slice of my country in the heart of Ann Arbor and it never felt so beautiful, so sweet, just like pastries.
There I was setting my table between the coffee guy and the lady selling plants and beautiful flowers. There I was arranging sticky Makroud, tender Kaab el ghzal and melt-in-your mouth Dwiyrat in copper-like trays my mother brought me all the way from Algeria as my first customer came, sampled some of the pastries and actually bought some more. I was amazed. I sold my first pastries! I sold Algerian pastries right here in America. The same pastries I grew up eating after school, at weddings, Eids and at my nana’s house were being consumed by people living 5855 miles away from where I was born, where I made my first Makroud and where I grew up. It felt unreal yet right. It felt as if I was dreaming yet I was at the right place at the right moment. In a way, It felt as if I not only brought pastries with me that day, and the day that followed and still follows, but also my past, my present, the smells of my country and a taste of the house I grew up in.
As I type these words, I can clearly sense how I feel when I go to the market and share my pastries with people: I feel happy just like I feel happy when I share my recipes and childhood with you. As I stand by my table, I am not alone. I feel as if my mother, my late nana and all the women of Algeria are by my side. When I’m selling my pastries at the market, surrounded by caak, Ghribia, the people, the smells and sounds, Algeria is here with me; if only for a few hours before I go back home to the arms of my husband, the hugs of my daughters and the splattered pages of my family recipe book to bake for another week to come.
Ever since that first day, I have been blessed with all the people I’ve met, the regulars that come get their favorite, share a smile, a few words and come back the next week. Wednesdays evenings gave way to Saturdays mornings at the farmer’s market where it is much busier and with longer hours. But I am still amazed when I see people coming to the market from near and far asking about my pastries while others are sending e-mails asking me to ship pastries to their far away state. I feel blessed to share what I love with others and I am grateful to my mother, grandmother and all the women of my family who taught me that cooking or baking was not only about feeding your hunger but mostly about bringing people around one single Meida, one single table, be it small or big.