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Life Gave a Pastry Chef Lemons. She Made Lemon Bars.

Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Megan Hedgpeth.

I’m from a lush land. Green abounds in the South. Our climate is so dewy, so thick, that we learn how to breathe through our skin down here. The nearly neon green kudzu, not just a romantic notion, climbs. The vines creep over our lives, over corners, around hills, down slopes, into gutters. We pulse with the heat. We sit with the rain during our summer storms. We ride out hurricanes with rum. We stop and listen to the cicadas when they request our audience every number of years.

So, unsurprising, the first time I stepped off a plane in Southern California, nearly 40 years old, I felt as if I had landed on the moon. I never imagined a place so brown, so red, so hued in ways that required a different use of one’s senses.


Recipe: Lemon Bars With Pecan Crust


I’d left behind a life of grueling restaurant hours and taken a very sensible, very good job as a private chef with a wonderful family in Nashville. And in an unexpected turn of events (for me, anyway), we found ourselves thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, my employer on the cusp of a big career move. It all happened so fast — but there I was, doing a job I had taken to be more present for my family, now clear across the country for weeks at a time.

I followed the same route every day to the Laurel Canyon house they were renting. On my first few drives, everything — the sky, the birds, the brightness of the sun — overwhelmed me in the most satisfying way. Every morning I would stop, pull off to the side of the road, inhale the scent of eucalyptus that would aggressively waft toward me as I stood cliffside, trying to spy it in the brush below. My eyes had never worked so hard to see green. Eucalyptus only whispers its color. Everything is so quiet — a million subtle hues making up an expansive vista.

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