I wasn’t exactly sure how this day was going to go, or rather what direction I would go this day. Pastry is kind of a broad category and I could celebrate in all kinds of ways. Pastry is simply a dough of flour, water and shortening that can be served savory or sweet. I feel that the word pastry gets thrown around pretty willy-nilly though and it tends to lend itself to any type of baked good. I do know I am a fan of pastry so no matter what I did, it would be a tasty celebration.
I spent most of the morning trying to figure out what I should do. I wasn’t much in the baking mode today especially when I know there are such good pastry chefs out there offering tasty treats that they worked hard to create. It would be a shame not to honor their work. The vision I had in my head was sitting in a coffee shop with a nice warm cappuccino and munching on a sweet pastry that I picked from their glass case. That seems somewhat specific but that was just the image in my mind’s eye. Coffee shops always have great little treats that are usually handmade and a perfect aside to a nice cup of afternoon Joe. Around 2:30, I finally made my move and I was about to head out the door, so I asked Lola if she wanted to come. Usually if Lola’s working she gets in a groove and likes to stay home and keep in the zone of what she’s doing (especially when it is cold outside). But I think the thought of pastry and coffee must have tempted her because she decided to come. We made our way over the Mount Hope Bridge to the Beehive Cafe in Bristol which is a cozy little cafe on a side street that serves some great coffee and espresso drinks along with tasty pastries, pies and cakes. They also have a great breakfast, lunch and dinner menu too, but we were out for pastries.
We ordered our coffees (Lola went latte and I opted for cappuccino) and then we looked inside their bakery display case. I was a little worried here because although they had some great looking options, I wasn’t sure if they constituted pastries. They had some savory pies like chicken pot pie that were definitely pastry with their flaky pie crusts, but the sweets seemed to be mostly cakes and cookies and I wanted sweets. We opted for a magic cookie bar and a honey cake. No, those are not pastries, but we couldn’t walk away without trying them. We took them upstairs to their dining area and enjoyed. Lola went back to working on her iPad and I attempted to work on my Christmas poem. It was a cozy little scene.
Everything was delicious. The magic cookie bar was dense, moist and chocolatey with just the right amount of coconut. The Honeycake was also moist and had a nice light feel to it. It was the perfect sweetness to go with our coffee. Top notch, no doubt about it, but could I consider them pastry? As a purist (and by definition), I think not.
As they afternoon wore on and Happy Hour came upon us, I realized that they also serve beer and wine. That’s a pleasant discovery. I cleared our plates from our first course and then went back downstairs to go get us a drink to ring in the weekend. I grabbed a pinot noir for Lola and a Blue Point toasted lager for myself. I wanted something else to nosh on with our drinks and went back to the display case to see what they had. That’s when I saw my pastry answer. It was an egg, pesto, tomato and mozzarella sandwich all wrapped comfortably in a golden brown flaky pastry. Perfect. I ordered it and went back to Lola with our new supplies. We sipped our drinks and ate our pastry in the comfort of the dining room. The pastry thing was really good. Light, flaky crust along with the perfect combination of flavors. It hit the spot and definitely qualified for my pastry celebration.
Eventually, it was time to leave, but it was still relatively early. We didn’t feel like going out for a full on dinner – we just weren’t dressed for it – but we didn’t want to go right home either. We talked about what we should do on our ride home. Should we go get another drink? She would drive around to see Christmas lights? Should we go Christmas shopping? As the debate continued, we happened to be driving right by a local attraction in Bristol called the Blithewold Mansion. It’s right on Route 114 and we pass it every time we go to downtown Bristol. Lola has told me that her parents used to like going there because they have an incredible garden that is open to the public and they could get some ideas for their own gardens. It is supposedly really beautiful in the summer. As we were approaching, we noticed that their grounds were lit up with Christmas lights that were sparkling in the dark. On a whim, we decided to pull in the driveway. Then we realized something was going on at the mansion. All of a sudden a person was directing us where to park and other cars were slowly rolling in. We just went along with it.
It turns out that Friday nights in December are Friday Nights Sparkle! at the mansion (which by the way was also my nickname in high school). They open the grounds to visitors and have bonfires with s’mores, hot chocolate and feature carol singers as well. The mansion was also open and each room was decorated in holiday cheer. We decided to check it out and go on an adventure. It was probably the coldest night of the season so far and we were not ideally dressed for it. I thought we may just turn right around as we made our way up the path because it was so cold. But we made it to the mansion door and went inside under the guise of exploring but really mostly to warm up. We slowly opened the door and suddenly we were staring at a two story Christmas tree in the middle of the great room that was elegantly decorated with hundreds of sparkly ornaments. It was all the warmth we needed and we were all in.
History can be fun as an adult. It all has bigger meaning. We walked in to some great history. I won’t give you the whole background of the mansion, the Van Wickle family, the fire, or Marjorie (that saucy minx), but I will tell you that it was built in 1894 and that it’s a magnificent building that is kept in incredible shape and still preserved as it was back in the early days. You walk room to room and each one has its own holiday decorations prepared by volunteers, all very tastefully done. But each room has history too and that’s what fascinated us. You couldn’t help think of Downton Abbey and that kind of life. We had our share of laughs too and Lola likened us to two kids on a field trip who were breaking away from the group and making their own fun. That was us. At some point, the carolers were singing outside, but we missed it because we were still exploring the mansion. Eventually we went outside to walk the grounds but it was still really, really cold. They had a few fire pits with a nice warm fire along with free hot cocoa, but we were chilled to the bone. We walked back slowly taking in the sights as best we could, with fully content with our little adventure. Did you know they have sequoias on their estate? Sequoias right here in Rhode Island – who would have guessed it?
That was the prefect outing for us. We made our way back home to go make some dinner. I was still on my pastry kick so we stopped at Clement’s for some quick supplies. I picked up some croissants from the bakery, the perfect flaky pastry, and then some ham and Gruyere cheese as well to make sandwiches. When we got home, I carefully cut the croissants in half and then grilled them on my griddle pan. When they got nice and golden brown on the bottom, I took them off and then heated up the ham. After a minute or two, I melted the Gruyere over that, then when the cheese was perfectly melty, placed it on the croissant. I served it along with some sour cream and onion potato chips because you need a little crunch (and some pickles too). Not to boast, but this was a damn near perfect sandwich.
The combination of the buttery, flaky croissant along with the salty ham and melty cheese was perfect. Every bite just melted in your mouth. Even Lola who usually could care less about a sandwich was raving. The croissant is really the quintessential pastry and it makes a great sandwich too. It was a fitting celebration for the day. Afterwards we watched a movie called The Hollars which was a sad movie but with some messages of love and hope. Great acting too. It pulled at our heart strings which can be a good thing. I’d recommend it.
Pastry Day was celebrated. I love days that end up going in a way you didn’t expect. There’s something fun about being on an adventure. I think that’s partly what this whole quest is about – just pointing our bow in one direction and see where the ship goes. I never expected that pastry would take me to an 1894 mansion and enjoying a hot cocoa underneath the cold shadow of a sequoia, but it did, and I’m happier for it. That’s some powerful pastry. What a day. Cheers to all the adventures that are still to come.
Next up: National Lager Day