An Open (Love) Letter to Flour Bakery + Cafe

Joanne, please,

I’m going to miss you, plain and simple. You signed my copy of “Baking with Less Sugar.” Let’s call this “Writing with Less Sugar.” No candy coating. No powdered sugar. No frosting. Not even a cherry on top. This is the raw truth, my feelings rising in the heat of the moment. This yeast is alive. My tastebuds have crawled into my keyboard, and we’re going to need more than one cooling rack for me to stay calm. I blame the mallard reaction in advance for this brown nose monologue.

The recipe for the Flour power bar still sits unchecked at the top of my birthday wishlist from last year. Teach a man to … bake. When I bake, I ask myself, “WWFD: What would Flour do?” I’ve known myself to wake up extra early, just to spend the morning in the cafe – shout out to Erie St’s interior designers – before work, or to schedule my day so that I “accidentally” end up passing one of the seven Flours in Boston. (That may have happened twice this weekend.) Oh, and there was the time on my morning run – my bakery run, if you will – that I wanted to pay with Apple Pay, but couldn’t. So, I kept running, suddenly recalled the new option for online orders, outsmarted the cashier, and ran back to pick up the granola bar that I paid for online. Thanks to the new delivery with Caviar, you were my last supper before a recent vacation, and you’ll be my last bite before I move to Berlin in October.

 A favorite snack in a favorite place: my summer spiritual pilgrimage consists of morning bike rides to Walden Pond. Naturally, I brought my favorite take-away Flour treat, my own communion in my own sanctuary. 
A favorite snack in a favorite place: my summer spiritual pilgrimage consists of morning bike rides to Walden Pond. Naturally, I brought my favorite take-away Flour treat, my own communion in my own sanctuary. 

This whole feast of an affair started at the office… no, not like that. Everyone I work with knows about you. Anyway, I was new to Boston. We catered these sandwiches, from a place called Flour, and there was a cookie platter, too. The lamb sandwich was, well, somewhat indescribable. It’s a sandwich that I’d never dissect, because it’s a perfect 10. (I’m pretending that you didn’t just change the menu. Life is now defined by pre- and post- Flour’s tomato chutney lamb sandwich. RIP.) After tasting the first cookie all those years ago, I struggled not to try the other varieties, meaning I ate at least three that first day.

Fast forward, and history shows there was no pre-heat in the recipe of our relationship. Formlabs stopped ordering the cookie platters, but to this day, three years later, my mood is doubly positive when there’s “Flour” on the calendar for lunch. I’m giddy, in the same way that I hover at the oven door watching the Goo – the syrup of homemade sticky buns – bubble or praying that my macaroons rise evenly. This Thursday, you’re the special item on my menu, Flour, and it’s because everything on your menu is special.

We grew closer when I read the news that three new locations would open in 2016 – cue mouth watering – and the commitment felt concrete when I was the second guest at Dalton St’s opening this past spring. I didn’t mind when the half sheet of carrot cake got squished on my birthday celeb-RACE-tion…. who cares if the names got erased? You gifted my friends with such yumminess, and I savored every last bite of the leftovers. A cake without any names, yes, tastes just as sweet.

I’m grateful to you, Joanne and team, for offering cooking classes and events throughout Boston. I’ve learned the secret ways of the sticky sticky buns, the brioche, and low-sugar baking. I’m grateful for your hospitality in the cafes, for the quirky typeface that is your brand, for the Instagram stories, and about those daily chalkboard quotes… scoop me up with a spoon while I lay here and swoon. Your enthusiasm fuels my own energy; your carbs are my sugars.

Now, Flour, we have to determine how to part ways. Can you unbeat an egg? Can granulated sugar and salt be separated? Do you know when dough sticks to your hand, and it’s so hard to peel away? That’s us. Flour has created an insatiable craving, and now I’ve got to switch from roasted lamb to cold turkey, like quit now. 

I thought I might file a job application, asking for a temporary volunteer position. I’m serious. I had a recurring dream, where I woke up before the sunrise, helped bake the morning pastries, and then served the smiling guests. I’ll miss hearing the “Stephen, please” when I hover at the pastry counter or watch the sandwich team put my lamb on my breakfast egg sandwich. (Pro tip: it’s better than ham or bacon… never hurts to ask.) Consider this my volunteer application: can I please work just one early morning shift?

Then I read about the pop-up charity brunch with Joanne as I sifted my inbox one night. I cried myself to sleep when the “tickets” link led me to a waiting list. The early bird gets the worm, and the best email readers get to indulge in my dreams. I’m not bitter. You’re too sweet for those kind of feelings, but, if there’s an empty seat, *insert girl-with-raised-hand-emoji here*. At least there’s still one more annual pilgramage to Harvard for the “Science of Sugar” lecture, right?

If this were a baking recipe, I might end with “cool for 20 minutes, then serve warm with coffee. Enjoy.” Sadly, Berlin is more than 20 minutes from Boston, and I won’t be getting any fresh, warm Flour in the near future. Don’t misunderstand me. I love a good German pastry. Flour is simply special. The optimist in me knows that there must be something more than semi-sweet in this bittersweet goodbye. Let’s make the last bite a good one?

Stephen “eats dessert first” Nock

Go Big & Go Home

It’s simple. I’m moving to Germany.

Berlin, to be specific, in about 7 weeks.

It’s hard to say when it all started. Hell, I was born in Bavaria, Germany’s largest of sixteen states, 26 (and a half!) years ago. I visited Berlin in 2011, while studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, and within a three day visit, the cosmopolitan city struck a heartstring:

And there was Berlin, in all her beauty. For nearly three full days, I was consistently impressed and stimulated, visually and intellectually. If you’ve ever seen ‘Inception,’ it’s like thousands of unique designers simultaneously project the streets of Berlin from their minds, creating an ever-changing landscape. Culture and architecture clash. Cuisine and language lie in suspension. Yet, the people love it all, because Berlin has no identity, except for your self-identification. It’s not exactly easy to understand something so simple.

— yours truly, “Berlin is always becoming Berlin,” December 2011
 Before our tour, Paul photographed me standing against the Brandenburger Tor in Pariser Platz. 26 November 2011
Before our tour, Paul photographed me standing against the Brandenburger Tor in Pariser Platz. 26 November 2011

I returned in 2015, spending a month in Formlabs’ fledgling office, afforded evenings and weekends to observe the city bit-by-bit. That’s when I came to learn that Berlin isn’t known for its German food and that I could manage to take a different route to work every day and still see Alex, the Soviet’s captivating ‘tv tower’ that caps Alexanderplatz and the city skyline. 

My mere four months in Denmark gave me an itch to leave the States indefinitely someday. “Live abroad again” is the last “long term goal” on the notecard I carry in my wallet. (I guess it’s almost time to write some new goals.)

So, when the time felt right, I told Formlabs that if the need was there, I’d be there, too. And now, it feels right, so I’m moving to Berlin in October.

There’s nothing wrong with Boston. There’s everything right with Boston. Three and a half years here have enraptured me in newfound strength, both physically and emotionally, and a sense of comfort like I’ve never known. I have the privilege to say “goodbye” to many close friends and favorite places. I’ll miss the foggy sunrises of Walden Pond after early bike rides. I’ll crave the flavors of Toscanini’s, Flour, and Rino’s. I’ll long for seeing sunrises on the Charles River, rain, snow, or shine.

I’ll also be challenged to work separated from colleagues who I’ve come to know and trust face-to-face. I’m looking forward to new personal and professional adventures, learning German, and maybe further complicating my sense of home.