It’s places like German-style Yalaha Bakery in Lake County, Fla., that make me want to move up north.
I would swing by there a few times a week after dropping off Nicole at school for a cup of tea and a slice of freshly baked apple streusel or a lemon rosemary shortbread cookie or both. Probably both. Definitely both.
Despite the chilly breeze of a late fall morning I would take my tray out onto the patio and pick a table that’s closest to the back of the building inside where European stone-slab ovens are baking wholesome artisan brot that is made with high-quality ingredients and processes and free of preservatives.
As the wind picks up, the maple trees above my head engage in a soft rustle, sending colorful patches of their autumn attire whirling down on the ground. I pull up a shawl over my shoulders and take a sip of my scorching hot tea.
The heat from the ovens can’t reach my body but the thought of biting through a flour-dusted, perfectly golden, chewy crust into a warm, hearty flesh of German farmer’s bread that’ll soon emerge out of one of them warms up my soul.
Nope, I wouldn’t even bother to cut it.
As I sit there, snack, and soak up the season, I am trying to type. Trying to put together a short post about the buttery crunch of the flour, sugar, and nut streusel topping on that apple cake and how delicate that shortbread is and how easily it crumbles up at the careless touch of my fingers . . . I am trying to focus but I can’t. The aroma if the bread that is being baked right behind my back is distracting and overwhelming.
I can’t be possibly writing about cookies when I smell that!
I understand my strategic mistake in picking a table but make no fret. I close my laptop and look at my watch.
I have time. The bread won’t be ready for a while. So I decide to take a stroll to the Blue Bayou organic u-pick farm that is some 50 yards across the field from the bakery and hosts a farm fresh produce market. In front of it, a rose bush-framed porch with a couple of rocking chairs and a few robust pumpkins invite me to sit back and enjoy the peace and serenity of the countryside, but I can’t relax. The urge to snatch up some raw milk as well as an assortment of all-natural Amish products such as butter, specialty cheeses, and preserves that are supposedly sold on a first-come-first-serve basis makes me sprint right in and down to the fridge. There is no more milk left today but I feel lucky to lay my hands on a 2-pound roll of home churned butter.
Bread. Butter. Bread and butter. My brunch is coming along nicely. I give a sigh of relief and allow myself to look around. A low-key country store, it’s charmingly rustic, showcasing a line of vintage cooking utensils on the shelves and a couple of black-and-white family pictures on the walls. There are some fresh watermelons, tomatoes, oranges, eggplant, and squash on the stand in the middle but I go right past it. I see a wooden, six-tiered stand lined with blue and white gingham cloth and dotted with countless jam jars. Ah, I love jars! Full, empty, plain, faceted, flared, straight, vintage, and vintage-inspired, they exude comfort.
Well, well, well, what do we have here?
There’s a nice selection of both traditional and no sugar added homemade jams, jellies, and butters as well as some very hot newcomers: hot pepper jelly, strawberry jalapeño, blueberry jalapeño, and pina colada jams.
I can’t have spicy and I don’t want no sugar. So I reach for a jar of apple butter for my sister in hopes it’s going to live up to the one from Anderson Orchard and a jar of old-fashioned F-R-O-G jam for myself. The name puts a smile on my face, and I debate for a moment if I should disclose to Nicole what it really stands for.
Bread. Butter. And jam. My brunch of a slice of hot crusty bread saturated with the rich cream of the melting butter is complete now that it is generously topped with fig raspberry orange ginger jam.
Yum! Can’t wait to try that combo! But first things first. My bread! I’ve got to pick up my bread!
I race back to the bakery as I see more cars pulling in.
Wait a minute! I was here first!
But as I stand in front of the counter that offers some 40+ different breads and rolls and even more old world tortes and pastries, I find it hard to make a choice and let a dozen or so people go in front of me.
Help! I can’t decide! German farmer’s bread or sourdough? Cranberry walnut or honey whole wheat? Mighty munch or French country? Pane pugliese or frankenlaib? German rye or pumpernickel?
A nice lady behind the counter comes to my rescue.
“What are you going to have your bread with?” she asks.
That’s an interesting way of looking at it.
“Butter and jam,” I reply.
“Then you might want to try our cheesy pretzel bread. Cheese and fruit usually go together very nicely.”
“Okay, I’ll take that.”
“Would you like to get another loaf? It’s buy one, get one for a dollar today.”
Lady, please don’t confuse me more than I already am!
After staring at the bread-studded wall for another minute or two, I finally give up.
“What would you recommend?”
“How about a rustic multigrain loaf?”
I am sold on anything rustic, especially if it has a crunch to it.
“Wrap it up.”
Of course! Everything else!
But I have to keep my sweet tooth as well as my wallet in check and settle for a chocolate éclair that looks the size of a small French baguette for Mom, a piece of old fashion chocolate torte that seems to be molded out of pure chocolate for Kevin, and a giant saucer of a white and dark chocolate chip cookie for Nicole.
I leave the bakery hungry, contemplating on the way to the car if I could handle driving and brunching at the same time. Instead I tuck the loaves into a flannel cozy and place it on the passenger’s seat. They are safe now. I will be safe now. We stand a good chance of getting home in one piece.
Though scenic, it’s quite a drive back to Nicole’s school, but I don’t mind. I keep myself occupied, reminiscing about the bakery’s sweet vistas and tantalizing aromas, the fair correlation between the prices and the portions, and the understanding sales people.
Central Florida’s peaceful wilderness of Cypress tree forests, fern groves, and cattle pastures is suddenly disrupted with a busy gas station and a cluster of quaint-looking houses nearby.
I am almost there.
P.S. We paid the bakery a quick visit on the way back from Disney.