Stone Soup

Yesterday, Aviva helped Richard make the pizza. Richard is the pizza-making man at Stone Soup, the cafe/restaurant in downtown Burlington where we get our challah every Friday. It’s where Avery Rifkin, one of the two owners, can be found sipping a glass of wine on the sidewalk, King of the Block, his old green Chevy truck parked in the alley next door. It’s where you can hear Klezmer music or Santana blaring from the open kitchen while you watch the busy cooks and counter staff with their “Hot Kale” t-shirts, where you’ll find kids of all ages and moms and dads and colleagues and yogis and business people and tourists enjoying everything from Avery’s slow-simmered brisket to Tim’s vegan brownies.

I love the thought that our kids are growing up at Stone Soup. It is such a pillar, in ways real and symbolic. It embodies everything we value about living here, about putting down roots in a place, about connections and community. Aviva is so at home there by now that she rushes in Friday mornings to the big table where the loaves of challah are cooling, admiring all the braids, some long and skinny, others fat, some almost crescent shaped, all smelling heavenly and invoking a Shabbat blessing to come, a blessing for the bread that comes forth from the earth, for the wheat, the soil, the rain and sun, the braiders and the bakers.

She knows we won’t take a bite until sundown (give or take), when we light the candles. That’s when we let go of whatever the week brought our way. That’s when we cover our eyes and sing the blessings, welcoming the glow into ourselves, into our home and our bodies and the world, taking a big breath in and exhaling slowly, letting go and letting down, preparing to rest and renew just as Big Momma* did after six days of creation. This is when we greet a day off from routine and running around, a day of togetherness, a day of no work, a day of slowing down and sleeping in (this is relative), of walks and runs and naps and books and friends and family.

While we sing the motzi (the blessing over the bread), we all grab on to one end or the other of the challah. When we say, “Amen,” we pull off a hunk, throw one to the dog, and enjoy. Saturday mornings, we get up and soak the challah in eggs and milk, maybe a shake of cinnamon. Aviva melts the butter in a pan; she is becoming quite the little cook. We make a dozen pieces of French toast and eat them with syrup and vanilla yogurt and coffee and juice. This is our Shabbat morning tradition. Occasionally, we make our own challah. So far, I’ve managed to make a beautiful-looking braid, but I tell you, there is something about Avery’s challah that is unmatchable. I wonder if one day I’ll get him to give me the secret of his grandmother’s recipe. (Something to do with buttermilk, I think.)

So yesterday morning when we stopped in for our challah, Aviva noticed that Richard the pizza man was just getting prepped, a couple hours ahead of the lunch rush. With me by her side at her request, we asked Avery if she could help make the pizza. He crouched down next to her, all in cohoots, and said we’d have to come back after 11:00am. She took that as a yes and off we went across the street to the library. An hour and a canvas-bag full of books and videos later, we were back. We took off our coats and Avery showed us to the big sink in the back of the busy kitchen, surrounded by giant vats of tofu and steaming pots of soup. Then Aviva rolled up her sleeves, hopped up to the top step of the stool by the big work counter, and got busy.

Richard was a kind and patient teacher, showing her how to pat the dough down, stretch and roll and toss it thin, twirl the crust into a pretty pattern. Next, they chose their toppings together – red sauce, peas, tomatoes, peppers on the first, vodka sauce, garlic, basil on the second. Pearl perched on my hip the whole time and watched; Avery every now and then would slip by us and put something in my mouth – a french fry, a corner of a chili-cheddar scone. At one point, I joked to him that her work could work against our rent (Spring Hill Solutions is slated to move next month into the newly renovated space two floors up). “Maybe in fifteen years,” he said. “God willing,” I responded.

I must have been beaming as I watched them. If in fifteen years, Aviva is making pizza at Stone Soup, then Hallejujah. If she and Pearl grow up in a town where they can wash up and get busy in the kitchen of a local restaurant, Hallejujah. If they know in their bones that their food comes from real places – local farms, local bakers – I say Hallejujah. For them to know community in their bones – this is something they can both always return to and what they will take with them out into the world, on travels to places I cannot really begin to imagine. Yesterday, watching Aviva in that bustling kitchen, I could squint my eyes and practically see her climbing that step-stool through time, growing older, growing into her full self, beaming with pride and accomplishment and purpose and connection. It is such a wish and a prayer and a hallejujah and a God-willing all rolled into one ball of dough, braided with care or tossed into the air by hands so eager to learn, so hopeful and new.

* This children’s book, Big Momma Makes the World, is a beautiful, non-denominational re-telling of the seven days of creation. (We read it yesterday at the library.)

6 thoughts on “Stone Soup

  1. Shelli says:

    What a magical moment! Thank you for sharing it! Ah… this is the kind of thing that I wish we lived closer to a city or town for.

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  2. Mika says:

    So nice to see pictures of you! I love putting a face to the voice. Aviva looks so much like you, so cute! You are both so beautiful.

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  3. Meg Casey says:

    knowing that places like this exist is what makes my heart sing…Yeah for Stone Soup and for Richard who helped a little girl grow a tiny bit taller

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  4. Chloe says:

    Deep down I think we all long to know where we come from and to experience a deep sense of community, no matter how we get. How wonderful for Aviva that she has the chance to feel this connection as a child.

    Oh…and I love Challah french toast. Can I drop by Saturday morning?

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  5. Anita says:

    I was the very first baker when Avery and Tim opened Stone Soup in 1998 (or was it 97?). I just had a dream about Avery last night so I typed his name into Google and your blog entry is what I found. I am ecstatic to know the Stone Soup still has the same community feel and flair it had 10 years ago. And I am so not surprised that there are so few mentions of Avery Rifkin on the internet! Do tell him I say hello and that I am working toward my own funky version of Stone Soup in my home town in Alaska.

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