I don't have a ton of happy memories from childhood. Throughout the years I was always envious of people and their memories of family, none more so than those with memories of their family kitchen. The smells, the laughter, the general feeling has always been something I wanted to experience, but never fully understood. That is until today, until I met with Katherine Frankstone and walked into the kitchen of Grey Ghost Bakery.
I have made Charleston my home because of all of the hidden magic here. If you have read my writing, this is not surprising. Grey Ghost Bakery is another instance of that hidden magic, as though it is on the other side of some veil, shielding it from view. Oh, you can find their cookies for certain. (And you should, they are amazing.) The bakery though is tucked away on James Island, the kitchen behind a sliding door. It was to this magical place I was invited to connect today, to learn more about Katherine.
Katherine wanted an Easy Bake oven when she was little, her best buddy had one. She loved playing with it, working cookies through its miniature conveyor. Baking has always been a passion for her, from that moment on. She learned baking form her father, and would always come back to it throughout life. It is such a passion for her that it was her preferred method of procrastination. Baking, the joy it brings and sharing that joy with others.
The bakery feels like my image of home bakeries looks in my mind's eye. It is warm, and when we clear the doorway there is an aroma that fills my head and my heart. I am a 38 year old man possessed by the spirit of his five year old self. Everyone is smiling, working, the smell of chocolate bourbon cookies fills the air. She walks me over to a pan and asks if I'd like to try a cookie. Katherine tells me later that her kitchen is a family, but she didn't need to. It feels like one. Watching people work reminds me of the camaraderie from the military, seeing her smile, the glint in her eyes when she talks about this dream made form is simply amazing. Grey Ghost is a family, a love, a passion. It's built on ideals, creating jobs and helping people, it is Katherine, a place made from her heart.
Grey Ghost also honors her family and her roots. This is why I love local places. They have a flavor unique to them, no matter where in the world they are, they are unique. The recipes are all from her family and her life. They sing of love in a powerful whisper, so gentle you want everything to quiet for a moment, to hear it a bit more. The bakery is named for a figure from her upbringing on Pawley's Island, the Grey Man. Legend has it that the Grey Man is a ghost who walks the shores of Pawley's Island, warning of coming storms. He is a guardian, warning people of coming danger, seeking to protect them. It is how I think of the smell of cookies, of the feeling in this kitchen.
The world is complicated for all of us. The day-to-day of anyone can fill with stress and fear, with anxiety. I have always believed in he beauty and the power of simplicity. Think about the power of a cookie in the oven. A collection of ingredients, mixed and the baked just enough, that little crunch outside and the soft center. They are not collections of a thousand ingredients, just the right ones, like poems collecting the right words to win or soothe a heart. As they bake, the air fills with a smell, one of the greatest smells, that smell of love and comfort, of home. You hear a lot of stories deployed, of people's homes, of the smells of cookies.
The smells, the taste, the smile of Katherine remind me of those stories. Had I met her before deploying, had this memory, I would have told stories of that kitchen, of those smells, of that amazing warmth in the heart.
We wandered to the door and I lingered for a few moments with Manning, her husband, a Vietnam pilot. We talked about airplanes, the sounds, the models, with a love that only people who have been on a flightline can really understand. We joked and smiled.
I was sad to leave.
Driving away, it felt like those family trips I had heard friends talk about, like leaving a loved one's home after a holiday celebration. It was a great morning. Pulling away, a bag of cookies by my side, I know I will see them again. We will swap some stories, share some smiles and I will be reminded of that smell. Of that kitchen, that family, that magic.
Favorite Dinosaur: Triceratops
Why: Her son had a toy triceratops, the only way they could get him to sit for pictures was to let him hold it.
(Special thanks to Danielle Wecksler for the wonderful photography and some great laughs.)