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The Recipe Box






Summer 2017

Sam Nelson sipped her latte, staring out the window of the coffee shop, waiting for the rain to stop. She watched garbage men in yellow slickers jump out of trucks to pick up the trash, the deafening noise causing her head to throb. She was still bleary-eyed with sleep, and the scene looked blurred and too bright, as if it were a paint-by-numbers portrait.

Sam shut her eyes to still her mind, and her head suddenly whirred with colorful images of apples, the kind a child might draw—smiling, dancing, hanging from trees. A coffee grinder and milk frother roared to life, accompanied again by the sound of trash trucks, and Sam’s eyes popped open. She realized she was unconsciously rubbing the necklace she wore every day that was hidden under her uniform. She pulled it free and ran her fingers over the key that hung from the chain.

Starbucks was jammed with those who, like her, rose at dawn to start their day: construction workers, Wall Street traders, emergency room doctors, eager assistants.

And struggling pastry chefs like me, she thought, looking around the coffeehouse.

But mostly others like me who were so sleepy leaving this morning they also left their umbrellas at home, she realized, her face breaking into a slight smile.

Sam watched the rain slide down the window in great sheets, the sky heaving, the city stopping for once—even at dawn, when everyone was waking and had somewhere to be—Mother Nature forcing everyone to halt for one brief moment. And then, as quickly as the rain had started, it stopped, the surprise summer thunderstorm over. Sam rushed out onto the sidewalk, the crowd dispersing in different directions like water bugs on a lake.

The humidity of the summer day suddenly smacked Sam directly in the face, like being hit with a warm, wet washrag, her grandma used to say.

Sam was rushed along in the wave of those who were now late and had somewhere to be.

I do, too, Sam thought, but I don’t want to get there.

Sam walked briskly downtown, sipping her latte when she slowed to cross the streets. She could already feel the first of three espresso shots coursing through her veins.

She looked at the city streets coated in rain, the early light illuminating their inky blackness, their darkness beautifully framed by the lighter concrete gutters and sidewalks.

Broadway looks just like a big blackberry galette, Sam thought, before shaking her head at the terrible analogy.

That would have earned a C minus in English lit, she thought, but my instructors at culinary school would be proud.

Sam slowed for a second and considered the streets. So would my family, she added.

New York had its own otherworldly beauty, stunning in its own sensory-overload sort of way, but a jarring juxtaposition to where Sam had grown up: on a family orchard in northern Michigan.

Our skyscrapers were apple and peach trees, Sam thought, seeing dancing fruit in her mind once again. She smiled as she approached Union Square Park and stopped to touch an iridescent green leaf, still wet and dripping rain, her heart leaping at its incredible tenderness in the midst of the city. She leaned in and lifted the leaf to her nose, inhaling, the scents of summer and smells of her past—fresh fruit, fragrant pine, baking pies, lake water—flooding her mind.

Sam’s knees suddenly felt like the jellies her family made, and she took a seat on a nearby bench and took out her phone, guilt overwhelming her as she clicked on the e-invite she had received a dozen times over the last few months.






Sam stared at the last line. Are they still using that same old slogan? she thought, but the word FAMILY stuck in her vision, and when she shut her eyes, it floated in front of her eyes, just as the images of apples had earlier.

She clicked on messages from her grandma and parents: Hope you can make it! Miss you! Love you!

Sam’s family hadn’t officially pressed her to return for the celebration—too proud, just like me, Sam thought—but what am I supposed to do?

I can’t ask for time off to go home, she continued. He would never give it to me. And opportunities like this don’t just fall in your lap in New York City.

Sam opened her eyes and, as usual, passing New Yorkers were shooting her second glances as they passed, confused as to why a woman would be wearing all white in a city that typically outfitted itself in the darkest of colors.

Sam had to confess that she looked like a Disney character—some sort of ice princess perhaps—in her chef’s whites and blond hair.

“You the last virgin in the city?” a man yelled as he zipped by on his bike.

“You wish!” Sam yelled back.

Subtlety was not New York’s strong suit, and the city had taught her to be tough.

So did my grandma, Sam thought, touching the tree’s branch as she stood, thinking of her Grandma Willo. She taught me to bend but never break, just like her name, just like this tree.

Sam shook her head, checked her watch, and groaned. She picked up her pace, zipping past the Flatiron Building before turning and skirting Madison Square Park to head east on 23rd.

She kept her head down, sipping her latte and counting every single step as she did every morning to avoid reality—48, 49, 50, 51—glancing up every so often just to avoid running into someone and to check out familiar window fronts.

208, 209, 210 …

Sam stopped and lifted her eyes to see the bright yellow awning jutting out over the rain-slicked sidewalk, smiling brightly, falsely, just like …

Sam tried but couldn’t halt the thought that had already formed, the one that popped into her head every single morning.

an insipid reality star.

“Move, lady!” a passerby said to Sam, who was still stopped directly in the middle of the sidewalk—much to the chagrin of other New Yorkers. “It’s called a bakery.”

A kind-looking woman walking her dog slowed and asked Sam, “Are you hungry? Do you want something from the bakery?”

For some reason, Sam shook her head no and showed the woman her Starbucks cup. The woman looked at Sam and said very seriously, “He’s famous, you know,” pointing to the bakery.

“I know,” Sam said, staring up at the awning. Happy-faced pies dotted the fabric, like little baked suns, the venting on each crust designed to make the pies look like they were smiling with adorable deep dimples.

Her stomach lurched as it did every morning when she read the bakery’s name: DIMPLES BAKERY.

Sam walked up to the door of the shop and gave it a yank, her arm reverberating.

What the…? she thought. Sam placed her face against the glass and held her hands around her eyes, her breath steaming the window. Why is it still dark?

She began to fish for her keys when she heard, “Hey, Michigan!”

Sam turned and smiled.

“Hey, Jersey!”

This had become their greeting since Sam and Angelo Morelli, the deliveryman for a well-known East Coast organic produce company, met a year ago. Although Angelo was born and raised in Brooklyn, Sam first met Angelo when he was delivering Fresh Jersey tomatoes for a classic southern tomato pie Trish was making. Between his accent and the tomatoes—which Sam instantly fell in love with—Sam had inadvertently referred to Angelo as “Jersey,” and the nickname had stuck.

“How were the Hamptons?” Angelo asked through the open window of the delivery truck. He jumped out, ran around to the back, and threw open the corrugated door. Boxes of fresh fruit and produce—a rainbow of bright colors and rich textures—were piled up in crates and boxes, ready to be delivered.

“Montauk,” Sam corrected. “Girls’ weekend was fun. Four of us crammed into a little motel room by the beach. It had a two-burner stove, and I somehow managed to make the most beautiful galette for breakfast.”

Sam smiled. The Hamptons reminded her of where she had grown up in northern Michigan: the beaches, the cute shops, the farm stands selling fresh fruit and produce right off the highway.

“Mets took the Tigers last night!” Angelo said, breaking Sam from her thoughts.

“But the Mets won’t make the playoffs,” Sam said. “Tigers will.”

“That hurts,” Angelo said, acting as if Sam had just won a sword duel with him. He grabbed his side and nearly fell to his knees.

“You’re a real peach,” Sam said, laughing at his theatrics.

“Speakin’ a’ which,” Angelo said, excitedly jumping to his feet, his dark eyes wide and his black curls bouncing as he gestured to the back of the truck. “Voilà!”

Sam walked over to the truck and inhaled. “Smells like heaven,” she said.

“That’s somethin’ in New York.” Angelo laughed.

Sam smiled and looked at Angelo.

Now those are some dimples, she couldn’t help thinking.

“How’s school?” Sam switched subjects.

“Slow and steady. One night class at a time,” he said, moving crates. “I think I’ll finish when I’m a hundred and five.”

“No time frame on passion and dedication,” Sam said.

Angelo turned and smiled. “Thanks for saying that,” he said. “I need to be reminded. Not easy working full time and going to school.” He hesitated. “I’m glad you encouraged me to go back to school. I’m enjoying my business classes.”

Angelo picked up a crate and smiled at Sam, the effort causing his biceps to flex. He put the crate down and caught Sam staring at him.

“Maybe we could go to a game sometime?” Angelo said quietly, considering Sam’s blue eyes.

Yes, Sam wanted to say. I’d love to. But then she remembered Michigan—and Connor, the high school boyfriend whose heart she had broken because he never wanted her to move away from home.

Sam realized she was nervously touching the key on her necklace again, and she tucked it under her chef’s whites. She wanted to say yes but she’d feel guilty starting something she didn’t have time for with her job.

“No problem,” Angelo said quickly, taking her silence as a no and leaping into the back of the truck. “I get it. A girl like you and a guy like me…”

He seemed embarrassed and Sam could tell he was disappointed.

She wanted to explain, but Angelo was already out of the truck with another crate in hand and at the front door waiting for her with a full dolly.

“What do you think’s going on?” Sam asked, partly to divert his attention and partly to understand why Trisha, the head pastry chef, wasn’t already at the store. “Trish is usually here before four A.M.”

Angelo jiggled the doorknob and knocked as Sam got her keys. She opened the door, and the duo walked in. Sam turned on the lights.

“Hello?” Sam called. “Trish?”

Sam scanned the bakery. A black-and-white checkerboard floor led up to walls covered in pink-and-white-striped wallpaper featuring black-and-white posters from Gone with the Wind, Steel Magnolias, The Notebook, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but mostly the walls were filled with photos from Chef Dimples’s fame-making stint on the insanely popular reality matchmaking show With This Ring.

Too-big ornate iron tables filled the space, while the bakery area was lined with old-fashioned cupboards, supported by ornate finials and overflowing with pink Depression glass plates. The glass bakery cases were lined with pink-and-yellow shelf paper and filled with muffins, cookies, cakes, pies, especially all things Southern: pecan pie, lemon meringue pie, sweet potato pie, red velvet cake, pecan tassies, pralines, bread pudding, cobblers, strawberry shortcakes. The windowsills held boxes filled with bright petunias.

The place was brand new, and it looked like a movie set, a fictionalized version of real life, just like …

Chef Dimples, Sam thought. The place is just like him: no real history, no real character. And he doesn’t even know how to make one of the desserts in here he takes credit for. It was all created for TV.

Sam thought of how different this bakery was from her family’s pie pantry, her grandmother’s watercolors—of apple trees, fresh-baked pies, the bay filtered through the orchard—painted on the bakery’s cement floors and old, warped wood walls, and the barn-wood counter where she had sold pies.

Sam never sold the pastries she helped create here. They were sold by Chef Dimples’s former bachelorettes—those who hadn’t received the final ring. Customers flocked in for a social media photo op rather than the baked goods.

“Sam?” Angelo asked, his voice causing her to jump. “Sorry. I found this.”

Angelo was standing by the register and holding a folded piece of paper. Sam walked over and took the note from him, grimacing as if she already knew the outcome. She began to read:

“‘Chef, and I use that term loosely,’” Sam started, before stopping to look up at Angelo. “Oh, this is not going to be good.”

She continued reading the note: “‘I not only quit, effective immediately, but I wish you nothing but a ring of bad luck for the rest of your so-called career. You are an energy vampire, a soul-sucking vacuum, a soulless human with a Hindenburg-sized ego that will eventually crash and burn. I want to see you stand in the kitchen and actually make something … use your hands to do something other than slap your staffs’ rears, comb your hair, put bronzer on your cheeks, hand out fake rings to customers, or count your money. Look forward to seeing you soon on TMZ, a tragic episode of E! True Hollywood Story, or People’s Where Are They Now? Love, Trish.’”

“That’s some real reality TV stuff right there,” Angelo said, his dark eyes wide, a bemused smile crossing his face. “She pulled out the big guns. He deserved that, right?”

Sam nodded, her face frozen as panic began to set in.

“But you don’t?” Angelo asked, suddenly understanding. He walked over and gently put his arm around Sam’s back. “I’m so sorry,” he said.

Sam leaned into him. “Thanks,” she said. “I’m now on the firing line. And I mean that literally. He’s going to go ballistic when he finds out. And I’m the only one left standing … for now.”

Angelo took a step back, grabbed Sam’s shoulders, and looked her deeply in the eyes. “Maybe this just means it’s your time to shine,” he said. “Maybe this means it’s your time to take a stand and show him what you’ve got. You trained at that fancy school, right? You come from a family of bakers, right? You’re from Michigan. That’s the Show Me State, right?”

Sam laughed. “No, that’s Missouri, Angelo.”

“Neighboring states, though, right?”

“You New Yorkers.” Sam continued to laugh. “No sense of geography once you’re off the island.”

“What the hell is going on?”

Sam and Angelo both jumped at the sound of a booming Southern voice behind them. They turned, and Chef Dimples was standing—not smiling, dimples still intact—one arm holding a cell to his ear, the other gesturing angrily.

He looked, as always, camera ready—a bulked-up version of Matthew McConaughey with grass-green eyes, tousled blond hair, and one of those mischievous smiles that melted mothers and girlfriends alike, no matter if he had just stolen money from their purses or broken their hearts. Those dimples had made him famous.

Deep enough to plant an apple seed, Sam remembered her grandmother saying after she had told her she got the job and to watch the show.

And even Mother Nature seemed to highlight his beauty: this morning, the city’s early light splayed into the bakery and surrounded his body, seeming to illuminate him as if he were a religious figure.

His moniker, Chef Dimples, had caught on after With This Ring, and he had begun to appear on morning shows—baking sweets with Hoda or Rachael and handing them out to screaming women on the streets—before getting his own cooking show on the Food Channel. He was the Southern male version of the Barefoot Contessa. Or, at least, that’s what he told everyone.

But Ina Garten actually worked hard at her business, Sam thought. And she knows how to cook. No, strike that: She actually cooks.

Even more irritating to Sam was that her boss only answered to the name Chef Dimples.

Yes, Chef Dimples.

No, Chef Dimples.

Of course, Chef Dimples.

Sam always had trouble saying his name, forcing herself to utter it, always with a mix of embarrassment and repulsion. Worse, saying it made her feel as if she were acting in an awful kids’ show, and that he had this alter ego everyone could see through, like Hannah Montana, although he didn’t seem to realize it himself.

“Hello?” he asked sarcastically. “Is anyone going to answer?”

“Good morning, Chef Dimples. What are you doing here?” Sam didn’t mean to say the last part, but the morning’s drama had cleared her edit button.

“I own the place,” he said. “Remember?”

Sam could see Angelo’s face burn with anger at his tone toward her.

Chef Dimples said into his cell, “I’ll call you right back,” before looking at Sam. “I’m doing a live segment on GMA in two hours. Trish knows that.” And then to Angelo, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

“I’m Angelo. I deliver your fresh fruit and produce. Every day for the last year.” He held out his hand as if to shake Chef Dimples’s hand and smiled innocently. “What’s your name?”

Sam’s head spun wildly toward Angelo, surprised at his question. He turned and gave her a subtle wink.

“I’m Chef Dimples.”

“Nah, man,” Angelo pushed. “Your real name. Doubt you were born Chef Dimples, right? My friends calls me Bocce, ’cause I never been beat at the game, and Sam calls me Jersey, but my real name is Angelo Morelli. See where I’m headed?”

Sam watched Chef Dimples’s green eyes go wide, and the flush that seemed to permanently remain in his cheeks spread over his entire face, as if he had been overtaken by measles. Sam had seen this look before when she had binge-watched his season on With This Ring and a woman named Tara had called him out, claiming that both his Southern accent and culinary skills were half-baked. She had become the season’s villain, of course, and Chef Dimples had only stepped up his game to impress the other contestants, constantly baking cookies for his dates.

“The way to a man’s heart may be through his stomach,” he became famous for saying on every date—in his heavy, syrupy, praline-sweet Southern accent—as he fed his bachelorettes, “but the way to a woman’s heart is sweetness.”

How many of those desserts did he make? Sam had wondered as she watched, considering the show only seemed to show one clip of him over and over dumping flour into a mixing bowl, which would billow onto his shirt, forcing him to take it off and wipe down his face. Please.

“You don’t get to ask questions of me in my own bakery!” Chef Dimples screamed, knocking Sam from her thoughts. “And you call me Chef Dimples when in my bakery!”

Angelo shook his head, wheeled his cart through the swinging doors and into the kitchen, and returned, turning to Sam.

“Lots of fresh blueberries to go with those peaches today,” he said. “Brought them in honor of your trip to the Hamptons.” Angelo stopped. He leaned in to whisper to Sam. “You don’t have to put up with this, you know. You got mad skills. I’ve tasted everything in here that you’ve made.” He hesitated. “You also got grace.”

This time, Sam’s face flushed.

Angelo wheeled his cart directly up to Chef Dimples, causing him to take a big step backward. “See you later, Dwight Lilliputh,” he winked, using Chef Dimples’s real name, the one that was used in the first few episodes of With This Ring, the name he never allowed anyone to use, in person, in TV interviews, on press releases. “See? I watch TV. And we got Google in Brooklyn.”

“My name is Chef Dimples! Now get out!” He turned, aiming his full wrath at Sam. “Where in the hell is Trish?”

Sam sheepishly stepped forward and handed him the note. As he read it, Sam swore she could see steam billow from his ears, as if he were Wile E. Coyote. When he finished, he crumpled up the paper and threw it at Sam’s feet.

“She’ll never work again,” he said. “Of all days. With GMA.” He stepped forward to consider Sam. He was wearing one of those too-tight suits young, in-shape New York City men liked to wear—fitted jacket, tapered pant legs that stopped short to show off brightly patterned socks—and light suede shoes that showed not a speck of dirt.

You obviously didn’t take the subway, Sam thought, looking down at her chef’s whites that were already beginning to show the city’s grime.

“You’ll have to do until I get a real pastry chef,” Chef Dimples said dismissively.

“I realize my role has been more of a sous chef, assisting Trisha—” Sam started.

“And me,” he interrupted.

When did you make anything, besides a list of your celebrities who were stopping by? Sam thought.

“Of course, Chef Dimples,” she said. “But I trained at the Culinary Institute, I interned for pastry chef Jon Paul DeGaude at The Farm, and my family owns its own orchard and bakery.”

Chef Dimples rolled his eyes. “Really?” he asked. “About seven million people are going to be waking up to watch me in two hours, and they want to be bowled over by a great dessert. They could care less if your family made donuts in a barn. Just make me look good.”

Sam’s head spun in fury and her stomach lurched, but she willed her tears to stop from reaching her eyes.

“Of course, Chef Dimples.”

He stormed into the kitchen and looked around. Suzette, a young dishwasher wearing earphones who always came in through the back, eyed him warily, ducking her head and continuing to put up mixing bowls, pans, and dishes.

Chef Dimples looked at Sam, his dimples deepening. “I don’t care if it tastes like crap,” he said. “Just make it pretty for TV. And make it Southern.”

Sam nodded.

And, with that, he hit call on his phone. “I’m back,” he said, striding out, the swinging doors cueing his exit as if he were in a bad Western.

“I’m gonna need some help,” Sam said to Suzette, who was still trying to remain as invisible as possible. Sam gestured to Suzette to remove her earphones and then repeated herself. “I’m gonna need some help. If you can help me wash the fruit, get all the stems off these blueberries, and pluck out the bad ones, I’ll get started skinning and pitting the peaches,” Sam continued in a rush, picking up a peach. “We should have enough baked goods to get us through this morning’s rush—and we have a lot of dough frozen and ready for muffins and cookies if you want to start baking those. I’ll handle this.”

Sam stopped, shut her eyes, and took a deep breath.

The scent of peaches—sweet, nostalgic—filled her nose, and once again images of her family orchard and bakery filled her mind.

“Do you have a recipe in mind?” Suzette asked in a meek voice.

Sam opened her eyes and smiled. She had, without knowing, pulled her necklace free and was rubbing the key around her neck once again.

“I do,” she said, walking over to wash her hands. “I do.”


Copyright © 2018 by Viola Shipman



The Recipe Box
by by Viola Shipman

  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 1250149991
  • ISBN-13: 9781250149992