When I was casting around for what to do for this project, this list came together:

1) Prague

2) Cafes in Prague

3) Historical/literary cafes in Europe

4) Family history (thanks to the epic crawling-through-old-factories New Jersey trip, last month)

5) Cooking

6) New York food

7) Czech food

These are all things I’m passionate about. If you throw in literature and writing, they’re mainly what I eat, sleep, and breathe. (Half of them are wholly baffling to my mathematician husband.) One night after scribbling starts and stops for each of these, I went to bed, frustrated and running out of time to submit the project proposal to DailyLit. In the middle of the night, I woke up and could hear the bakers in the bagel place four stories below our apartment banging around inside the shop, clanging together pans and huffing to and fro with giant paper sacks of flour. The word “ghost” came to mind. I went back to sleep.

Fast-forward to last week, at breakfast in Prague with a friend who’s a jewelry designer at her favorite place, near Slovansky Dum. I’d been rambling on about digital publishing, and Twitter, and the job I’d applied for at Martha Stewart. I could see none of this was all that thrilling, to her. She squinted at me, and poked at a bed of floppy anglická slanina (English bacon) atop scrambled eggs.

“What exactly is it that you’re working on?” she asked patiently.

I’d picked a combination of numbers 1 through 7. “A family tree…of recipes. In blog form.” It had sounded good on paper, and in talking to my mom, but it was oddly hard to formulate, maybe because so many photos and faces crowded into my mind when I went to talk about it. “Everyone has a collection of stories like this–recipes and foods that are symbols of someone in their family. It’s family history.”

Outside in the courtyard, waiters at the cafe in the center, their long aprons stretching nearly to the ground, began setting out more teak chairs and tables before the mid-morning rush. Inside the cafe, it was quiet, still.

“It seemed like a good way–or at least one way–of looking at the immigrant story, from both an American and a European perspective,” I added.

Shelley laughed. “I have to tell you something. Every month or so–you know–we go to the village.” (My friend’s husband is Czech; like many families, they make the occasional pilgrimage back to his hometown, and to their summer house.) “Last time I was there, I made apple pie.” Here she stopped, looking at me closely. “Do you ever make this? I finally found a crust recipe that’s the best crust you could imagine.”

I groaned. “No, never. Crust hates me.”

“It’s my grandmother’s crust.” She wiggled her fingers in the air. “It’s so light! I’ll send you the recipe. Anyway,” she leaned in, “one time we were there, not so long ago, Rich’s uncle asked me to make it for him. The next time, he asked me to teach him how to do it. Now I have a bunch of requests from other villagers to teach them how to do it.” Shelley smiled. “It’s true that these recipes have lives of their own–as long as you keep them alive.”

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