Autumn Comfort with Whipped Cream

After the first breath of frost, and the unsettling appearance of Indian Summer ("Ha ha, you schmuck - you thought you were going to wear all those sweaters you just took out of storage! Guess again!"), we were finally getting honest-to-god fall weather with all the trimmings - the leafless trees, the chill in the air, and the appearance of pumpkin desserts in restaurants. I mention this because I've always been a pumpkin pie fanatic, and have dabbled in less common uses for the flavor (ice cream, mmmm!) and I've always found the appearance of hot spiced cider and other fall cuisine to be rather comforting, considering what's ahead - a mad rush of holidays and then three months of cold and pointless weather.

I had moved to Philadelphia in August, basically on a whim - having just finished graduate school, I thought it was probably a good idea to start "real life" in a new city. The first month or so was tough - no one told me that I'd be paying more per annum for car insurance than I paid for the car - but eventually, life got settled. The apartment was livable, I was working steadily, I had met someone nice to spend weekends with, and I had been cast in a play!

The play was No Sex Please, We're British, an inane farce (but a lot of fun to be in), and the theater was Plays and Players, at 17th and Delancey. I could walk there from my Fairmount apartment, and this particular Monday night, I had. Rehearsal was over, it was about nine o'clock, and I didn't feel like walking home in the cold without an added incentive. Coffee and dessert seemed like relevant concepts, considering the time of night and the weather, and I headed over to Uncle's, a restaurant and bar on Camac Street.

It being a cold Monday night, the bar was pretty empty, so rather than taking a table for my late-night indulgence, I took a bar stool, asked the bartender for a cup of coffee and asked about the dessert menu. A waiter from the restaurant recited it for me, and as I was thinking "Wouldn't it be nice if they had pumpkin pie, or maybe cheesecake?", he said the magic words "Pumpkin cheesecake". The flood from my salivary glands that this caused made it difficult to say "That will do nicely", but the waiter understood and within minutes brought me some coffee and a scrumptious slice of dessert.

No, usually people don't walk into a bar and get coffee and cake, and I knew that, and it didn't surprise me at all to see the other patrons casting a quizzical eye in my direction. However, I wasn't prepared for the "Aha!" looks on their faces. Maybe it was the whipped cream that got to them - anyway, there were hurried consultations with the bartender and soon three other bar patrons had cups of coffee and slices of pumpkin cheesecake in front of them.

I rarely think of myself as a trend-setter, but on that particular night, I set a (highly caloric) example for a bunch of guys escaping from the cold on a bar on a Monday, and by example, gave them the comfort of a seasonal dessert. It was then I knew that not only could I make this move to Philadelphia a success, but maybe my presence would even have a positive effect! With those cheery thoughts, and the sugar rushing through my bloodstream, I put on my coat, wrapped my scarf around my neck and set out.


Copyright Eric Peterson, 1989


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