November 3, 2016
Little Flower is my life’s dream. A tiny café on the edge of town, it’s where we gather to prepare and eat fresh, delicious food, drink strong coffee, listen to great music, and surround ourselves with art, neighbors, friends, and community.
The café was born in 2007. That was a really tough year. My candy business had gone into storage because of an unrenewable lease. I had been dealing with an unexpected and difficult pregnancy. At 44, I found myself with a premature baby, a broken marriage, a 5-year-old, a 7-year-old who had just been diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, a husband out of work, cancelled health insurance, and no way to pay the mortgage.
My great friend Sumi Chang, who owns Pasadena’s Euro Pane bakery and café, called me on a Monday night to tell me about a little bakery that had just closed. I wrote a note about myself and my candy business and drove there in the dark that very night. I slipped my note under the door, where it joined a huge pile of forgotten mail.
The next day, the phone rang. It was Byron and Loree McIntyre, the owners of the building and the closed bakery. We met immediately, and for some reason they took a chance on me. With the incredible support of my parents, Craig Cooper and Barbara Sheridan, I had the keys two days later, and Little Flower was reborn. There was cleaning and painting to be done, and with the help of my friend Oi Lam, we opened in a mere two weeks and were making caramels and marshmallows in time for Christmas.
I spent many days and nights alone in that beautiful kitchen with the long brick wall. I’d always dreamed that my own place would have a brick wall. Sometimes when I’d look at that wall, I’d cry with gratitude. My dreams were coming true. I’d bake all night and go up front to man the counter for coffee and pastry duty. Within a few months, I was making a few sandwiches and feeling my way around this new business. The neighborhood was incredible. I know most regulars don’t know how many nights I was on my knees in that kitchen, praying for this to work so I could support my family and keep my house. There were many days when I wasn’t sure we’d succeed, but with the support of the dearest of friends, like Pam Perkins, and the most incredible crew in the world, we are celebrating our 9th year. Our menu has expanded to include soups, salads, bowls, quiches, tarts, breakfast dishes, and many baked goods.
I started making caramels in my Highland Park kitchen in 1999, after my first daughter was born and I’d retired from my job as a pastry chef. At home with a newborn, and freed from the demands of the pastry kitchen, I had time to play. Little did I know that it would turn into such an amazingly fun business. Seventeen years later, Little Flower is a café as well as a bakery and candy-making operation, and many stores across the nation carry our salty caramels.
I’m not a classically trained chef. I’m a baker who fell into making candy and, later, running a café. My recipes are simple and approachable. I love the imperfection of food, and my hope with this book is to encourage home cooks to join me in honoring this imperfection. The goal is not to create masterpieces. It’s to have fun, keep it simple, keep it fresh, and don’t overthink it. Make your cooking process enjoyable. Surround yourself with people who appreciate your efforts, then go for it. Play when you cook. And embrace the imperfections.
Most of all, cook with love. It is the most precious ingredient.