Why I don’t need a psychotherapist – even with Trump: the Pastry Plan

Marty Schiffenbauer
Friday November 10, 2017 - 11:59:00 AM

Many of my friends are in psychotherapy, perhaps a majority. And my guess is only a handful have never been to a shrink. As for myself, I’ve been to a psychotherapist twice in my life. Each session took place decades ago, in my 20s, and was at the insistence of my mom. To my mom’s dismay, both psychotherapists refused to take me on as a client following our initial session. The first declared my lack of ambition and aversion to work were untreatable. The second, a rabbi as well as a shrink, told me he was threatened by my atheism. From then on, I considered myself “non-shrink” material.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no rap against shrinks. To the contrary, a number of my close friends are psychotherapists as is my wife’s wonderful daughter. I’m sure most mental health healers are fine human beings, do much good for their clients and prevent even more violent mayhem by our gun-worshiping citizens. And, recently, 27 psychiatrists and mental health professionals felt duty-bound to publish “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” raising the alarm that our malignant, narcissistic president seriously endangers not only the United States but the entire planet. Hopefully, the powers that be will heed their urgent warning.

Yet, despite my nightmarish fears that our tweeter-in-chief poses a threat to all living creatures, not to mention being a lifelong hypochondriac, I’m still able to preserve my sanity without psychotherapy. That’s because I can allay my anxieties, dulcify my depressive thoughts and mellow my mood by employing a far less expensive, efficacious method to maintain my mental health: I make it my top priority to consume one yummy pastry every single day!

For those who’d like to try my therapeutic protocol, the list below will provide a head start. It highlights seven of my favorite pastries, one for each day of the week. But I definitely do not want to give the impression that only my listed pastry picks can serve as a substitute for seeing a shrink. The East Bay is blessed with a plentitude of delectable pastries and pastry purveyors and any pastry one loves is virtually certain to soothe a psyche in distress. 

With the above caveat, here are seven of my personal prized pastries: 


“Apple Tart” from Acme Bread: http://www.acmebread.com/ 

In the early 1980s I spent some weeks traipsing about Paris and on one of my meanderings I discovered Boulangerie Poilane. Poilane was then and still is most famous for its bread, which is also the case for Acme. But on my first visit to Poilane I parted with my francs not for their bread but for their apple tart. On first bite I understood why they call Paris the “City of Love.” Returning to Berkeley, I expected Poilane’s apple tart would remain a rapturous memory until my return to Paris. So I could hardly believe my eyes when, upon entering the Acme Bread shop, I spotted an apple tart almost identical in appearance to how I remembered Poilane’s version: a layer of baked apple slices resting in a large square pocket of nicely browned dough. And my taste buds immediately confirmed that looks were not deceiving. Founded in 1983, the lines are still long at Acme and their apple tart continues to be worthy of a “c’est formidable”! 


“Pain au chocolat” from Fournee Bakery: https://www.fourneebakery.com/ 

I won’t claim the excellent dark chocolate that fills Fournee’s pain au chocolat is superior to that used by a number of other local bakeries. But Fournee’s pain au chocolat stands out for its unique, buttery and flaky dough. It’s a far better match for the chocolate than the brioche-like dough used elsewhere, making for a more consummate pastry experience. Fournee is conveniently located a few steps from the Domingo Avenue Peet’s and its adjacent, pleasant courtyard. It’s the perfect spot for people watching while you contentedly munch your pain au chocolat and sip your coffee. 


“Scones” from Cheese Board Collective: http://cheeseboardcollective.coop/ 

Years ago I did a survey piece on Berkeley’s scones which began something like this: “I still remember the taste of my first scone. Like my first kiss, a little dry but still a thrill.” Cheese Board scones were then and still are for me the full monty! At least four different renditions are available daily: currant, corn cherry, oat and scone of the day. Each execution, I imagine, has its own cult sconeheads willing to go to the gallows defending their champion. But, dilettante that I am, I’ll regularly switch my allegiance, although probably going more often for the oat or scone of the day -- especially if it’s a blueberry or radiates chocolate chips. If you’re finding the choice difficult, I’ll repeat a tip I gave in my scone survey: Just grab the largest you spot on the shelf. 


“Bran Muffin” from Arizmendi Bakery on Lakeshore: http://arizmend.com/ 

There are now six Arizmendi bakeries in the Bay Area. Like Berkeley’s Cheese Board Collective all are worker co-ops, the bakers being their own bosses. Since the Cheese Board shared its recipes with their fellow co-opers, in a blind taste test I doubt I could tell the difference between an Arizmendi and a Cheese Board bran muffin. Both are seeded with a generous supply of raisins and walnuts and get the texture and moistness right. However, if my muffin memory can be trusted, Arizmendi’s taste a little less molassesy. When I’m in a bran muffin mood I’m more likely to be in Berkeley. However, my wife regularly picks hers up at Arizmendi’s Oakland Lakeshore location. So, as a tribute to my wife’s expertise as a bran muffin maven, I’ve gone with the Arizmendi muffin for my list. 


“Cheese Danish” from Nabolom Bakery: http://nabolombakery.com/ 

When Nabolom bakery reopened in 2016 I braced myself for disappointment. It would take a miracle, I thought, for the new owners, Julia Elliott and Sabra Stepak, to actualize a cheese danish equal to my beloved Nabolom original. But St. Julia and St. Sabra performed that miracle! Not only are their cheese danishes as luscious as ever, their quality is exceptionally consistent -- consistency being a problem in the final days of the pre-Julia & Sabra Nabolom. Nabolom’s cheese danishes come plain and with rotating fruit fillings, ordinarily blueberry, blackberry, apricot and cherry. But, when available, my eyes and palate steer me to the prune variant (upgraded to Italian plum, still prune for me). I should note that the premium ingredients in Nabolom’s cheese danishes requires they be priced accordingly. But compared to the fee for an hour with a shrink it’s a pittance. 


“Portuguese Tart” from Sheng Kee Bakery: http://www.shengkee.com/en/location.aspx 

In Lisbon a few years back I made pilgrimage to one of the planet’s pastry palaces, Pasteis de Belém. My purpose at the shrine was to sin, that is to gluttonously devour as large a number of their sacred pasteis de nata my tummy could tolerate. No way could I have envisioned I’d find a decent imitation of the pasteis de nata at a Chinese bakery chain with a branch on Telegraph Avenue. At Sheng Kee, they’re simply labeled “Portuguese Tarts” and are priced at a very reasonable $1.50 each. The custardy tarts are teeny, so treat yourself and take home a few. And, as is my practice, put them in a toaster oven for a couple of minutes, sprinkle the tarts with a little cinnamon and it’s April in Portugal.  


“Almond Croissant” from La Farine Boulangerie Patisserie: http://www.lafarine.com/ 

Monday is typically my La Farine day. As my Monday walking group passes by La Farine’s Rockridge branch on College Avenue, I peel off from my comrades and enter the bakery. It’s now time for the day’s most important decision: Which of La Farine’s enticing creations should I choose? Frequently, it’s their almond croissant. Not overly sweet, the frangipane filling and croissant dough spangled with sliced almonds make for both a terrific looking and terrific tasting pastry. Almond croissant in hand, I walk it over to the nearby Cole Coffee where Nate and Rick have anticipated my arrival and saved me a seat at their table. I get my usual “small in a medium cup” of the Cole’s always reliable roast of the day and join my buddies for what is guaranteed to be a morning of being kind to myself. 


Reviewing my list, I imagine you’re pondering which of the seven delicacies I highlighted would be the pastry you’d pick if you had 15 minutes to live. I, as you might guess, have spent much time and brain power contemplating this question. After all, I’d like to die with no regrets. And, if pressed to make a choice this very moment, I’d settle for Nabolom’s saintly prune cheese danish.