This post is mostly about an unexpected friendship in a new neighborhood and a love affair with my husband, with my life, and with the best cake I’ve ever had (and eaten, too).
Ted and I packed up our bags and headed out the door in the wee morning hours back in early January, prepared to fly off into the unknown and spend the year creating a life together in the midst of continually new circumstances.
When we paused six weeks in to settle into an apartment for one month’s time, little did we know the joy the awaited us down the street and around the corner…
Cosas Ricas bakery faces out on Peru, just north of Humberto Primo in San Telmo: in other words, a three minute walk from our temporary front door.
The business itself, come to find out later, was born from a legacy of immigrants seeking to relocate and build a new life. A charming article about the fifty year history of the bakery may be found here. (Use an online translation service if you don’t read Spanish…)
After our first meal in the city at the cafe across the street, I gazed into the bakery windows and saw the delights displayed with pride. Ted and I looked at each other and knew a visit was inevitable. Fifteen minutes later, we returned and made our first purchase.
One visit turned into two and then four and then more than we could count.
We’d stop in to pick up pastries for our morning walk to coffee.
Then it would be too easy to return for empanadas; convenient snacks to keep on hand.
Dessert? Why not. We were cooking beautiful meals at home, it only seemed right to complement them with fitting finales.
Our little rituals in the neighborhood became undiluted joy: how incredible to wake up in a foreign city and feel that we were getting to know both it and ourselves a little better each day. How touching to hear the baker call us by first name after less than a week in our new home. How tasty to enjoy the free samples that he would slip us while we waited in line. How rewarding to eat dessert for breakfast. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
The real crowning beauty of the Cosas Ricas story is the Dulce de Leche, Pineapple, Meringue, Cream Cake that Ted bought for me not once, not twice, but three times.
I don’t have a problem admitting that I love sweet things. (Ted, for example. Awww….)
But seriously. Amazingly delicious desserts? Yes, please.
I know our baker was amused.
The first time, Ted and I stood in front of the dessert case, eying our options, and telling ourselves that buying something whole was justifiably more economical than buying individual slices. Of course it was.
I lobbied for chocolate, Ted lobbied for fruit, and in the middle of it all, Diego the baker came out of the back room carrying a beautiful white tower of crunchy meringue, set it on the counter, and turned momentarily to do something else. We walked over, took one look, and asked to buy it then and there.
It didn’t matter what the filling was: we knew it must be good.
And when we got it home, every hunch was confirmed. The best cake we’ve ever eaten. Perfect balance of moist cake and crunchy meringue. Decadent dulce de leche with a light as a feather creamy frosting to offset. Bright pineapple jumping into mix. This was like Pavlova on steroids.
That was week one. We ate it for dessert…and midnight snack…and breakfast…and probably lunch…and maybe we had a sliver for the next night’s meal.
Week two? We hosted Tony and Meg and Stephanie and Mike for a meal at our place, and of course “The Cake” was chosen to play the starring role. We placed the order, and picked up a few other small baked goods a the same time, and as we walked out the bakery door, Diego called behind us in his Spanish accent, “Don’t be ashamed!”
(Was my lack of inhibition over dessert ever in doubt?)
Week three, we took a break. Not from the bakery, just from the cake. We only bought three individual slices. And in the meantime, we bought more empanadas, more morning pastries and little sandwich loaves, and we sampled more of the sweet bites that Diego would pass across the counter.
The bakery ritual went something like this: walk through the front door, exchange hellos, grab the little silver basket and tongs, self-serve the pastries at the far end of the counter and then wait for Diego to weight them, wrap them, and ring us up.
Without fail, the final price for purchase would tumble a few pesos below retail.
Once, Ted grabbed a churro and started eating while we were waiting in line, planning to pay all at once at the end. But remember the little basket and tongs? You can’t weigh something that’s already been eaten… “I see nothing!” Diego said, with a wave of his hand…
Our little bakery, our kind baker. After leaving the familiarity and continuity of life in Portland with its Bipartisan Coffee and friendly baristas, Cosas Ricas and Diego became a little slice of home.
When week four finally rolled around, we felt the pang of saying goodbye to a friend…
Ted and I placed our final cake order and arranged to pick it up on Monday night, just in time for one last dinner party with Kaylea, a good friend visiting us from Oregon, and Stephanie and Chance, expats living in B.A.
We probably bragged a little too much about “The Cake.” The capital letters heard in our high pitched, excited voices probably gave away our sugar-biased opinions. But by week four, it wasn’t just the sweetness of the dulce de leche or the juciy flavor of pineapple or the satisfying crunch of meringue that gave “The Cake” its place of culinary honor in our hearts.
It was the kindness of a neighborhood stranger, a baker who sees countless faces file through his shop, during weekday lunches and weekend errands for years on end, but who would stop to switch languages and take special orders and make small talk and remember names of two funny Americans from Oregon; the kindness of a person who would send us home on our last night in Buenos Aires carrying a plate piled high with little mini-treats, a gift from him, “For the tears…” For saying goodbye.
It was a relationship born out of appreciation for the true finer things in life: Family, Friends, and Food. Food for nourishment, food for thought, food for celebration…
Diego wrapped our final cake and tied it with a bow. Our last day in town, we exchanged hugs, said our goodbyes, and he gave us his address for a promised postcard (also doubling as the place to send a self addressed stamped envelope to get my hands on “The Cake” recipe!).
How blessed we are, how blessed I am – to be sharing it all with my very best friend, enjoying the days and the the big and little joys. Enjoying trips to the bakery and receiving daily bread.
No matter the stay, short or long, now matter the setting, little neighborhood or big city, I’ll be wishing for you the great joy of walking three minutes down the way and discovering a friendship waiting with generous heart and generous helpings of the sweetest things in life.
On the Town: Perú 1085 (at Humberto Primo), San Telmo, Buenos Aires
This Post is Part of If…Then Buenos Aires: Trendy Hole in the Wall adventures around town.
If you’ve tried one, you’ve tried them all, in a sense: they’re around every corner and across every street in the city…then, though, if you want your baker to learn your name and slip you samples and smiles and friends and family discounts, go frequently to Cosas Ricas on Peru, and be sure to tell Diego hi from Ted and Bethany (+5).