Welcome to Karen Guzman! She's here to tell us the role baking and pastry have in her upcoming release ARBORVIEW. Thanks for being here, Karen!
The Power of Pastry
Thank you, Jana, for hosting me. I want to write about food, pastry in particular, because it plays a big part in Arborview. Both my main characters are pastry chefs, and they are both hoping to use their love of baking as the catalyst to a new life.
Freshly divorced Ellen Cahill is adrift. She’s an empty nester who’s beginning to realize that she’s been giving up too much of herself, and for far too long. Nineteen-year-old Rosa Escamilla dreams of attending a top-notch culinary academy, if only she can scrape up the tuition and stare down her mother’s disapproval.
Ellen and Rosa connect in a community college pastry class Ellen teaches and set out to redefine their lives. Along the way, pastry marks their progress. Some of the recipes they lovingly dish out: Cocoa Chiffon Cake, French apple tart, Croquembouche, Chocolate Ganache Soufflé Cake, Molten-Lava Chocolate Cake, Berry Cobbler, Cherry Almond Biscotti, Caramel Pecan Bars, and Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread.
And that’s just a taste.
For these characters, pastry is more than dessert, and food is more than mere sustenance. In this excerpt, Ellen ponders the power of pastry:
“In the kitchen, she sifted flour. It fell in a tidy, purposeful blizzard into the stainless-steel bowl on the counter. Ellen’s hands warmed, her movements growing fluid. To her, pastry’s mere presence had always implied honor. Someone spent time creating it, assembling the ingredients and breathing life into them—a painstaking act that yielded something wholly beautiful and comforting. This was what she wanted her students to grasp: You can bring solace and wholeness into the world through simple acts. There are people who can’t, or who refuse, to understand this. But this doesn’t make them right. It makes them lacking.”
And here, Rosa reflects on her longing for a culinary career, despite her mother’s doubts:
“Was there no way to make Mama understand what Rosa saw, peering into the dining room of a restaurant like Sotto Voce at night? She saw the possibility of transformation. It was in the wink of the chandeliers hanging above the whispery conversations of the diners, in the candlelight warming their faces, in the flash of a jewel tucked in a woman’s hair, and in the white-coated waiters hoisting trays heaped with exquisite mystery. Rosa wanted to be in the kitchen, bright and bustling behind those swinging doors, the nerve center making it all possible, transforming an overly large, too ornate room into an oasis of muffled sensuality, shutting out the world. Could such a place really exist, or was it only in her mind?”
But what exactly is Arborview and how does it fit into all this? Good question. Arborview is the old treehouse sitting at the edge of Ellen’s back lawn. Once her children’s hangout, the treehouse has become a sort of chapel-in-the-sky where Ellen now ponders her toughest questions, reconnecting with herself and with a spirituality that she thought she lost long ago.
Arborview is available September 29.
When the recipe for a new life is bittersweet…
Ellen Cahill’s financial future rides on the success of her new pastry shop. A bruising divorce has drained her bank account, along with her spirit. A man enters her life promising love, but Ellen, haunted by the past, questions whether she can pull off this new beginning.
College student Rosa Escamilla has her own culinary dreams—and a difficult mother who’s dead set against them. Rosa won’t be deterred. She scrapes up the money to enroll at a prestigious culinary school, setting out to prove everyone wrong.
When hidden betrayals by the people they love most surface for both Ellen and Rosa, can they overcome the blows they never saw coming on the road to where they want to go?
The light was dying in Arborview. Ellen had to get going, but she wasn’t ready. Descending the ladder meant reentering her life. The time she spent here, suspended among the branches, did not banish the uncertainty that crept back when her feet hit the ground, but it did give her reprieve.
The stillness, the silence, slowed her mind. Be still and know that I am God. She used to love that old Psalm. This must have been what it meant. Her thoughts unraveled in Arborview, exposed in a cool, piercing light, a calm glow giving her hope.
It had been a week since she’d heard from Alice, and the memory of her guilty laundry-room face lingered. Perhaps Ellen had been too harsh, too judgmental. That was a big thing today, wasn’t it? Judging. Nothing was supposed to be off limits, nothing truly wrong, or shameful. Ellen had broken down and left a voicemail, but Alice had not returned the call.
The warm impression William had left in her bed, the faint whiff of his cologne on the pillows, had stayed with Ellen, too. He was coming to take her to dinner in an hour.
William had struck a chord with his pastry shop idea. It had taken root and grown all week within Ellen, its tendrils reaching into her heart. She could see it: a little storefront place, a jingling bell on the door, cakes and pies in the window, a soft wash of light on the gleaming display cases inside.
Karen Guzman is a fiction writer and essayist. Her new novel, Arborview, will be published on September 29 by The Wild Rose Press. Her debut, Homing Instincts, was published by Fiction Attic Press in 2014. Karen’s short fiction has appeared in a number of literary magazines, and her story collection, Pilgrims, was a finalist for the St. Lawrence Book Award.
Karen is a regular contributor to the Collegeville Institute’s Bearings Online magazine. She is the recipient of a 2021 writing fellowship at the Collegeville Institute.
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