Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The baklava that brought me back to dessert

I was starting to get a little worried.

First, there was a stomachache after a slice of my mom’s chocolate cake on Easter Sunday.

Then, I started… (gasp)… voluntarily eating strawberries and dates for dessert instead of the Trader Joe’s chocolate ice cream bon bons hibernating in my freezer.

And then things got really serious.

A dear friend bought me a lemon bar from Joan’s on Third – one of my favorite treats – and I didn’t want it.

I knew that it would be strange to start eating dessert again after six and half weeks without it, but I had no idea that my Lenten pledge would have such a drastic change on my eating habits. It’s not as though I’m some pansy dessert-eater who only occasionally dipped her spoon into the vanilla ice cream carton – I’ve always been a go-getter when it comes to sweets. My parents have pictures of me licking the metal churn from our ice cream maker when I was a child, and my neighbor still teases me about the time I came over and ate ten of her freshly baked snicker doodles.

In my defense, they were warm from the oven.

I’ve gone easy on desserts before, and was conscious of my sugar intake when I was running cross-country in college, but the absence always made my heart grow fonder when I finally did return to them. Chocolate seemed richer, ice cream seemed more decadent, and cookies seemed more comforting.

Yet, last week, a week that should have been filled with red velvet cupcakes, chocolate bars and sea salt caramels galore, was instead filled with fruit and tea. I wanted nothing to do with the sugar that had my heart all aflutter prior to Lent.

Then, after a rather harrowing traveling experience to Greenville, South Carolina for a dear friend’s wedding this past weekend, something rather unexpected happened. I was sitting in a sticky booth at the Pita House, a casual Mediterranean eatery that is highly revered on Yelp, feeling rather taxed from the absurd amount of hummus and falafel balls I’d just consumed. I hadn’t slept at all the night before courtesy of my inability to sleep on planes (even on red eye flights), and couldn’t seem to stop eating – even after I’d polished off falafel ball #7.

I wasn’t planning on getting dessert, but then my friend Ashley returned to the table with some walnut baklava. Her eyes rolled back as she savored each bite of the Turkish pastry, and after she refused him a taste, her boyfriend hopped up from the booth to get one as well. As she watched him eat his, she decided she needed to have another one and, in a moment of sleep-deprived weakness, I handed her a dollar for one too. I figured I’d eat a bite and pawn the rest of the honey-drenched sweet off to my companions.

I’ve never thought much of baklava as a dessert. I’ve always favored over-the-top offerings that ooze chocolate and cream and sugar. In fact, I’d almost go as far to say that baklava, along with flan and crème brulee, is one of my least desired sweet endings. I’d almost prefer no dessert at all.

But as I sank my teeth through the delicate layers of honey-kissed phyllo dough and hugged my tongue around the meaty walnut filling, I found myself closing my eyes in much the same way I do when eating a really good piece of chocolate. It was an entirely different experience than when I’d attempted my mother’s chocolate cake that past Sunday. I finished the entire piece and almost considered going back for another.

I’m still struggling with the idea of approaching the bon bons in my freezer (and, incidentally, that lemon bar that’s in there too), but there is hope for me in the future. I managed to eat four cookies from the cookie bar at my friend’s wedding reception without any issues.

And they weren’t even warm from the oven.

Pita House
495 South Pleasantburg Drive
Greenville, SC 29607-2525
(864) 271-9895


LetMeEatCake Eat With Me! said...

I'm not often a fan of baklava, but sometimes those crisy buttery layers of filo dough just get me! Glad to hear you are back on dessert :) Huckleberry soon?

FS said...

I'm not a big fan of baklava either, but you make it sound tastier than I remember. Word on the street is that Casbah Cafe in Silverlake has delicious baklava, but I don't know for sure.

Oooh, you froze your lemon bar? Does that work? I've never done that before.

Nicole said...

I can't even recall how many times I have felt this same way, LOL: feeling rather taxed from the absurd amount of hummus and falafel balls I’d just consumed

Marie said...

I became a fan of baklava later in life and now I think it's so freaking good. I am glad the sweet tooth force is slowly coming back! :)

Gastronomer said...

Baklava does a body good. I'm positive Anna will agree ;-)

Esi said...

Um, what? No creme brulee? I don't know about this D. I like baklava, but not love. In fact, I spent a whole week in Greece without ever eating it!

Ashley said...

I could have eaten a try of that baklava. It was perfection.

Diana said...

Nastassia - It was amazing! If all baklava tasted as good, I think it might become a favorite of mine!

Meg - Ohh good to know! I've heard Casbah is a great coffeeshop. Thanks for the tip! I'll let you know how the lemon bar fairs in the freezer..

Nicole - Hehe, I thought you might appreciate my falafel reference! ;)

Marie - I am really shocked at how much I liked it! I need to find a good source in LA - maybe Casbah per Meg's rec.

Cathy - I have a feeling you are right about that!

Esi - I know - it kills Cathy too. It's just so bland! Maybe if it had chocolate sauce on top...

Ashley - I wish we'd bought a tray to take back with us to the hotel! Next time, next time...

Teresa said...

How utterly random! I was also in Greenville, SC this past weekend for a wedding! Wish I had known to try Pita House while I was there!! (I was too intent on getting Southern BBQ while I was there!) Hope you had a good time!

Anna A. said...

I think baklava haters either have 1) a nut allergy or 2) have never had really good (and fresh) baklava. It's good but hard to find the good stuff like you did in timbuktu, oh wait, 7 hours away... that would be the Carolinas. I can make a mean baklava, TALF, just you wait and see about my phyllo-honey-nut goodness :)

Diana said...

Teresa - That is so completely random! It wasn't the same wedding was it? Glad you got some good Southern eats in! We got a taste at the rehearsal dinner - mac n cheese, pulled pork and some delectable baked beans that were bathed in brown sugar. Delish!

Anna - I'm dying to try more baklava now. I never thought I'd say that sentence, but there is truth to those words. I'm officially a baklava fan.

The Duo Dishes said...

You're back on the dark side now? Baklava is always good...as long as it's not too sweet. Otherwise, the more the better.