Thursday, December 27, 2007

where i'm going, where i've been

sfo --> bos, night flight.

i didn't want to come back for this trip. not least because it's winter, because i've just spent 5 days with my mother in sf and would rather get the chance to miss her a lil, because i kind of want to be at work right now, because this trip is for a funeral. lots of things.

i will be back at work in january. i miss it, work. i miss my coworkers. my boss kicked me out of the kitchen early yesterday because it was slow, and i dragged my heels not wanting to go home. we've been so tied up with parties and zaniness lately that i want to remember the rhythm of a normal shift. yesterday morning it was nice to set up the station, get a couple projects underway, find ways to putter helpfully at the station. i cleaned and sanitized the station lowboy, put away the dairy order and eggs, chopped pine nuts, plated a few desserts. it felt nice to get back to the elemental things, the daily necessity.

i think i'm turning into a silly californian. i want to bring things back to my coworkers (pink rosewater aside) but then i feel like nothing we've got here is as good as SF's standards. why bring back jam and delicious cornbread from hi rise when we bay area dwellers can just get acme and june taylor?

(ice cream, sadly, cannot make the trip.)

i've been thinking about boston in this weirdly intense way lately...probably trying to get my feelings in order for this trip. all meta-up in my head like "i don't want to go home right now and what does this mean?" and "the food does not compare and what does this mean?" then i get back and the cold shocks my body before my brain can wake up. and we get in the car and drive through the things that are so familiar i cannot even see them anymore.

it's all just so familiar. the dunkies in the airport. coming through downtown on the pike, passing by fenway and the gun control billboard, seeing the charles and the BU bridge and harvard's sprawl. the way the snowbanks are mostly melted but you can tell they're firm and crunchy enough to walk on. we stop at a bakery first and its windows are steamed-up; the interior is warm and lit and alive with kids rolling dough. i love this bakery. it is one of the three good bakeries in boston (but that in itself is why i left boston).

i am cleaning up my mother's house and going through boxes of clothing in her basement (which is drier than my basement). tonight holds the prospect of more intimacy: dining at the charles hotel with family in town for the funeral. jody adams and rialto (where i once saw cornel west with a white chick (who is he? a west coast friend asked and i knew i was in the west) or else henrietta's table.

i get all these feelings about boston and then i get so close i slip under its skin. it is hard to evaluate what we know intimately. i was telling a friend about all the republicans i know and describing my father and stepmom to him. i told him to picture all the stereotypes about new englanders. how my brothers are ski-golf-basketball players, how they've got a big house in the suburbs, talbots clothing and sweaters. but i am a caricature too. the npr loving, wool-sweater clad, thrift store cambridgey kid. tho on the west coast, i could be anybody, that's the thing about the bay.

when i'm back here i feel like i could always come back here. and when i'm away i understand why i am gone.

Friday, December 21, 2007


At work, waiting on 9 cups of sugar to caramelize. While I'm waiting I'm frosting cakes for tomorrow because there is nothing else to do.
All of the pumpkin puree got frozen, so no pumpkin pies till tomorrow. No lemon cakes because there is no powdered sugar. Pecan pies are done. When I finish frosting the cakes I'm going to dice up some cherries, soak them in whiskey, and call it a day. My mother is coming. Tonight we're going to Il Cantuccio and then tomorrow while I work my 18 hours she's going to Sens.

Cakes. It takes hours for the cream cheese frosting to be soft enough to spread. It's vaguely pipeable after a couple hours. So, when I'm bored of impatient I go like this.

Some people are delciate flowers and they really enjoy piping swirls and playing with fondant. Me, when I decorate cakes I tend to feel like I really understand where Elizabeth Falkner is coming from. There are just so many ugly cakes out there. But Elizabeth Falkner has so much more finesse than I do. Perhaps one day I shall attain decorating finesse and then I can do whatever I want to my cakes...

{be that as it may, my dog is cuter than her dogs}

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The streets are slick with rain, the work is almost done. There are things I need to write about the cake and the glaze, the bizarro Flo Braker jam cookies, baking incidents and whatnot. Meaty and interesting stories, not like this. But right now I'm trying to clean my house for my mother's impending xmas visit. Right after which I will return to Boston for a few days. Family dealings that I am not excited about, but I need to support my mom.

It's hard sometimes, being a good daughter. I've inherited a nice catholic guilt complex and so I feel as though I should not be here in SF going to work every day and laughing with my coworkers, teasing my chef.

But the world goes on when bad things happen. I could have stayed in Boston for new years and I thought about it--or more apt I thought about going to new york to see people I haven't seen in over a year--and then I sat, stuff it, I'm here now. I'm not a good holiday person and I don't really have rituals but I am here now and it seems silly to commit to the next year elsewhere.

I'm cooking brussels sprouts and parsnips now because it's all I have food wise. Delicious, eating at midnight.

Monday, December 17, 2007


sometimes i feel so happy
sometimes i feel so sad
sometimes i feel so happy
but mostly you just make me mad
baby you just make me mad

It snows in my mind and in the town where my friends live, spread out across the country. This morning I got an email from an old college friend saying she's moved to New York.

This is not about cooking, but it is. When I moved out here somehow slowly I lost touch with most of my friends back east, which is to say all of my friends except for the one who helped me come out here and those that are new. My old friends, I saw them all in September for a day or an hour, and since then we really haven't spoken. It's not the fault of the restaurant. It's three thousand miles of continent and times zones and the fact that when I'm not working they're either working or sleeping, and though everyone would love to get on a plane and come out to sunny California, no one has any money. I dreamed about a married friend last night. In college we lived together. We're both writers and we both blog. But we don't ever talk.

I'm trying to start trying again. Yesterday I called an old friend and we talked for a good hour. I'd seen him in New York and been in touch with him precisely once since then, at his count.

There's snow in my mind, but I'm not sure why. Is it my lifelong conditioning that the holidays be cold?

I get this way under a lot of stress. mother asked me the other day why I was so stressed out over work these days. You Weren't When I Visited, she said. It's The HOLIDAYS I told her. I'll Have A Life In JANUARY But Right Now This Is My Life.

I wrote last night and it felt nice. There's so much editing, reading work to do for Fringe, maybe something else coming up too. I'd sort of like to go to a reading again one of these days...The Stephen Elliot piece in the Chronicle yesterday made me homesick for the company of writers.

Can't say for sure but it looks like I might see snow yet. But only because of sad things...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

it's almost over...

(or is it?)

We don't do our laundry (so what are we wearing then?)
We don't eat at home, but if we do get to it takes us two days to do the dishes from our morning coffee.
We talk on the phone in stores, as we walk, in between spaces where we put the phones away and maybe crank the music and put our heads down and try to muscle through.
We don't do our chores. We don't make the bed.
We barely sleep.
Our moods oscillate. We are happy and we are tired and we are weary and we are thinking of a hot shower, or a full meal, or how we need to set up our station already but we need to do these eight other things first, yeah?
We haven't bought your xmas presents yet.
We sort of hate xmas.

We know this will all be over after xmas, after new year's. In a week? But each day is so much fuller than a day should be.

We wait. Busy busy busy wait.

Last night at the restaurant we sold seventy five desserts and when my coworker tallied up the amounts and told us we all sort of stopped and tried to take that in. Things are changing. Always changing.

Today I tried to do my xmas shopping and walked around the Haight for a while, bought some really funny gifts for a friend. I'm cooking my xmas gifts for the fam tonight and poaching the quince that's been in my fringe for like two months now. Perhaps it will be finished by the time I go to bed. I'm going to try to get some writing done in the hopes that it will improve my mood a lil. Overly meditative. I get weird these days when I'm not working because I've been working insane hours every day so when I'm not working then what is left of me? What should I be doing?

I spent a good ten minutes trying to think about what my quince would be like if I didn't put sugar in the poaching liquid because I'd just used up all my white sugar. I had brown sugar. Honey. 10x. I seriously almost called my sous chef to ask her what to do but I thought she would just laugh at me. I went through the cupboards but nobody had anything sweet. How can I live with people who don't have sugar? I finally snapped out of it and walked cutie pie down to the corner store so now I'll never know what would have happened.

Some things, they're just beginning. It's a weird transition time. Right now I would really like to be in NYC. That feels very strange. I think it's time for me to drive out to Napa and go to Dean and Deluca's. And pretend that when I walk outside I'll be in Soho. But I don't think that'll work. Maybe I'll just hang out at Arinell's more. That actually made me feel like I'd fled east...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

i'm so hungry...

And all I want these days is pizza. It's like I've reached my apex of missing it, or it's become some symbol of east-coast-ness (though I don't miss the cold). It's not that I don't relish burritos or certainly eat more than my share of them. It's just hard to live on Mexican to-go alone...and there's nothing for quick eating like a nice slice. You really have to seek that out in this city. I might try to get some on my way to work today. There's a few places in the Mission worth seeking out, so I hear...

Work...days blend into parties and back again, in and out. Sometimes I think about how it's mid-December and that means we're more or less half done with holiday insanity. Sometimes I think, but good god two more weeks of this? How will we keep up the pace without getting sick or exhausted? There's a strange rhythm to the days now, too. I'll come in to work, as I did yesterday, to a sea of plates in process for plated dessert parties. Then I'll be tasked onto making special party stuff, then back to our menu, then prepping the party station. Tonight we'll do a private party and then open for dinner, and what does that look like? How do you mise for half a night of service? These desserts we make for parties, they're flying onto people's plates. Are we not making enough or are we just really enticing?

It's good that they're popular. It's good to put out everything you have and hide in the back kitchen wiping down the counters, giving them a few minutes to realize you're not coming back out with more goodies.

I'm so hungry. Snippets of meals and nothing at home to eat. Time for dog, food, work. In that order.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

please feed the cooks

(lord knows, we're not doing so hot a job of it ourselves)

Last week at the FPFM I bought brussels sprouts, parsnips and lil potatoes so that I'd have food in the house should I be out of work early enough to cook some night this week...

then yesterday brought another 12 hour day (11.5, to be precise) and I was starved when I got home. Nothing to cook my lovely vegetables with, and who wants to eat a real meal at that time of night?

Backing up, that morning at the restaurant the line cooks just didn't make a family meal. When I asked them why they said, oh we didn't get to it, tomorrow. Which left my sous chef and I *starving*. I had one of the guys make me a chicken sandwich and we split it, then got garde manger to get us a fava puree with flatbread. That fava puree is delicious and addicting. We ate in under ten minutes, then back to work.

I should have gotten out of work at 5. But it's December, holiday insanity, so this didn't happen. Too busy making cakes and cookies for regular productions so my chef and sous chef could bust out party service and focus on the upcoming parties. Evening staff meal was some sort of stew, so I grabbed a few mashed potatoes and went back to work, eating forkfuls between measurements.

Lots of prep and then a little help when my coworker got slammed with tickets, and then I was out. And home. And hungry. With nothing in the house. Nothing fast, nothing convenient. Not even bread. An apple,maybe, and some slowly ripening persimmons. Eggs, but who wants plain eggs. It took a while but I realized I had tortillas. And cheese. So I made myself one of my favorite quick snacks, hit upon when I lived in Oakland and was damn tired of being poor and eating more traditional quesadillas.

The zaatar quesadilla! It's delicious. It's stuffed with zaatar. And cheese. And made toasty. OH how I love it. But I was talking to my buddy as I was making this and he thinks it's absolutely disgusting.

Is it gross? Or just plain weird? What do you eat when there's nothing in the house and your stomach is gnawing on itself? This morning I had oatmeal, the last of the box. And I spun my black pepper ice cream base that had been kicking around the fridge for the better part of a week. Paid my bills, realized someone stole my credit card to buy pizza and merchandise (it's cool, the card company realized it wasn't me), registered for some CCSF classes in the spring, did some work for my mother and I'm about to go to the post office to mail my lil brother's birthday present (he's 17 today), do some online xmas shopping, take my bike to be fixed because i got a flat the other day while riding to work at 5 am, and get to work before 2 because we have 4 parties today. oh, and, get some lunch before work because i am living on fava beans and flatbread and the daily tastes of the dessert station mise.

Monday, December 10, 2007

writing and the MFA

Are you an artist? Do you claim that word? Do you actively avoid it?
Do you think about the difference between art and craft and art and food and art and life? Do you miss photography before everyone became a photographer? Do you remember what paint smells like? Or old books?

How do you make your living? Are you doing something you love, or something you always wanted to do? Are you doing what comes easy to you? If you are working for money do you dream of a different life, where you can do something rewarding if not financially so? If you are poor do you dream about shucking it all away and making piles upon piles of money, somehow, someday?

How do you support yourself and are you doing a good job at it? How do you continue to make art when you no longer have a community for it? When society has no great need to consume it?

This week over at the Fringe blog I have some suggestions for newly-minted MFA holders (otherwise known as The Useless Degree). Pop over and add some suggestions of your own?

Friday, December 07, 2007

a work story

I've told this story twice in the last week and both times my boss interrupts me at the same moment and says that I am not doing a good job of telling the story. I'm not telling it right, and I'm supposed to be a writer. The problem lies in the fact that we both right, and we both see the point of the story as being different. So I'm going to tell it again and I'll try to do it better justice this time, though perhaps it is only a funny story if you know me and you know my boss.

So we're all sitting down eating staff meal and it's Wednesday night, and this weekend have insane numbers of parties coming up. In addition to regular service and production and having one of the pastry elves working garde manger, we've got to come up with extra-special treats. My boss asks me what I'm doing that night (nothin') and then she says to me

Do You Want To Stay Late And Work On Some Fun Things For The Parties With Me {insert enthusiastic hand motions here of twinkling fingers, because my boss is big on that sort of thing}

and I say

Yeah. {this is the point at which she always interrupts to say that I'm not telling the story right, because I need to clarify that the Yeah is not an enthusiastic, good lil employee yeah, but the sort of Yeah you'd give if someone offered you a piece of their orange. a sure-why-not Yeah}

because to my boss it's a story of her giving me a chance to learn something new and fun and to play with persimmons and me having a response not as exciting as she wants, which, yknow, was sort of the same response she got when she offered me the job, which actually doesn't mean that I'm not excited, tho it may come off that way...

So my boss says, OK, Let's try this AGAIN, What Sort Of Answer Is That. Lindsey,
Do You Want To Stay Late And Work On Some Fun Things For The Parties With Me?

Me: Yes, Chef, I Would LOVE To Stay And Work On The Parties With You, What Are We Going To Make?

and she says, Gingerbread And Two Parfaits.

I nod, continue eating my staff meal and then it sinks into the brain that, lo and behold, she's actually TOLD ME what we are going to make. Because Every Time there's something new in the pastry kitchen I ask what it is, and every time my boss says Oh It's A Surprise or Oh You'll See, so I said

Wait. Stop. You Just Told Me...

Historic moment, people. Because for me, the point of the story is every time there's something new going on I ask and every time I'm not told, and you would wonder why I don't stop asking and accept the fact of all the mysteries. But her non-answers to me didn't mean I was no longer going to wonder what the mysterious projects were, so I asked without expecting an answer the way you ask a really pretty girl for her number, because you don't think you'll get it but what if you did? This to me is the point of the story.

I told my boss that it should happen more often and she said No, she didn't think it should.

I hope your work week is shorter than mine has been, and that there is something fun at the market tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

plating, continued: sweet and savory

God it's so nice when you have someone to stock the station for you. Just. So. Nice.

I know, cause my coworkers did it for me yesterday, and then tonight I did it for another coworker. While you're all stressed out trying to get your sauces to temp and set out spreads, check your cracker situation

{What? wait?...hummm

&oh yeah, we're all working garde manger now, did I mention! the lil pastry elves, taking it over 4 nights a week and I get to kick it fairly easy on Mondays}

So, yes, yesterday was a flurry and I was nervous considering while I could plate up all the salads and apps I had not a snowball's clue in hell where/what my mise was in the walk in, how to make anything should anything need to be made

(and boy, did it, and who to do it? me...)

So. Set out salad stuff and bread, make family meal salad, try to get pastry items unwrapped, ice creams tempered, mise tasted, check quality and quantity of cut fruit, back to garde manger to make crackers, try to locate bread, oh wait that kind is all gone, make tapenade crackers, check on the candying darlings, which is to say yuzu, get salad ticket, plate, think oh I need to do inventory, wander for five minutes checking off various items and return to put cookies in their containers, plate up salads, check for the stupid cheese that tops one of the salad, invent a flour-sesame seed mixture to dip it in, refill salad greens, hunt hunt hunt for arugula and mache, ask the line cooks, yknow, what am I sposed to do with all this stuff tonight? bust out a couple dessert tickets and ease into the familiarity that comes with doing something every freakin day. then back to the newishness. Off the line, more inventory, oh shit the boss called, call the boss back, que paso? Back to the station, feel things out, check with the management team, put away the garde manger mise as best you think makes sense, clean the station, big tickets, start from scratch and clean again.

When I got home last night I watched a documentary about Enron and feel asleep far later than I should have to get up for a morning shift. Oh well. (dork, I know)

Things were good, slow but steady, a busier Monday night than we have seen of late. I puttered for hours today getting backups of fruit, cutting cake, consolidating and stashing and storing up. Our larder, fair to say, is full. It's wonderful when you see relief on someone's face and you think you put it there but as I told my coworker who kept thanking me, there will be a day when she is doing the same thing for me. The cycle repeats.

Off for dinner with my big bro.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

whiteness, the elephant in the room

How do we read culture? How do we read across cultures? I've stepped up to the plate this month in my editorial duties for Fringe, and as we are preparing for an Ethnos themed issue, our inbox is full of submissions concerning the other. That which is not us. And our us-ness, of course, is a presumed whiteness.

I do on occasionally call people racist.

I do sometimes call people out on their assumptions about race, classifications and bias. A couple of years ago I found myself at the trans-forming feminism conference at SUNY New Paltz getting very angry at the things the panel was saying. I knew many of the panel members because they lived with my farmer.

They were a progressive lot of vegans, vegetarians, activists, artists and though most of them were straight or bi they were active in the intersection of feminism and queer culture. When I first visit their house, one street removed from Main Street Poughkeepsie, a ghost town of blacks and West Indian immigrants, I remarked to my friend that I bet her housemates got a kick out of living so close to the black part of town, and about a year later she told me it was true.

(These people, who had offered me such hospitality and who lived with my friend, ethnically Filipino, were angry and upset about the prevalence of white leadership in the queer community and they were saying that they'd tried to get non-white panelists and leadership, but no one came forward, and if the issue arose next year and still went unresolved they might not continue being active in the conference, or some such thing. I grew very angry in turn that they would assume that their white audience lived in the same white world, and called them on it. Do You Hang Out With White People, Mostly? I asked them. Do You Assume The Rest Of Us Do, Too? I told them how offended I was, because some of my best friends and ex lovers were not white, because I had real relationships with people across those demarcations, and because of my white skin color they were assuming otherwise about me, about all of us. It was real fun.)

Ethnos. def: (1)an ethnic group. (2) people of the same race or nationality who share a distinctive culture

The submissions for the Ethnos issue span a range of ethnic and racial identities and situation. Some are better than others, of course. What makes me feel uneasy is a certain intensity I feel in the reading process concerning what "counts" as Ethnos or whose story is telling us "something new." One of the editors remarked how exciting it was to be receiving so many submissions that were different from us.

Tell us something new. Yes, that is a story. But when you solicit what is different from you for entertainment, when you rank it on its newness and its degree of otherness from what you see yourself as, you skirt a dangerous line. Do you like that piece because it's well written and the dialogue is snappy? Or do you like it because it's about people whose skin is a certain color, people who live in poverty you will never know even if you can't pay your student loan bills, people whose life experiences you feel do not mirror your own?

My attitudes and feelings toward race are one of the many things I have to thank Vassar for. I grew up in an all-white suburb of Boston where "inner city" kids were bussed to our public schools from failing, crumbly Boston schools. As a graduate student many years later I worked in one of those schools {in South Boston, where the Irish population met the integration buses with rocks, and whose entrenched population of lower class Irish-Americans are being met by an influx of Vietnamese immigrants and wealthy white gentrification}. I consider myself fortunate to have gone to college in a town that had so many interesting ethnic enclaves, and to have befriended people who are not "like" me in those ways. I think I feel some of the same dis-identification and dis-orientation they feel with mainstream white American culture. That's not my life and my choices and my experience reflected on your television. And it's fine, really, except I disengage from a lot of media and want my stories and writing and reading material to be about More than a lot of stories tend to address.

I don't think we have the power to say what is new or different with such a qualitative voice. What's new to me may not be new to you. I don't want a scale ranking whose authentic experience bests whose, whose imagined conflict between whiteness and nonwhiteness covers more new territory. As an editor it's a rough decision because I have to pick and choose. I could stand up as I did in that conference room and tell them that our whiteness is not a uniform blanket and if they desire more or different cultural experiences, to go out into the world and make more friends. Why should we get to decide whose voice is hot or new or most compelling?

Are we even a "we"?

Who gets to write whose experiences? Who gets to control? When we choose to read or write these kinds of difficult stories what are we saying?

I came to the kitchen from the academy and sometimes I feel like I need to go back, back out of the real world and into the bookishness. I've been feeling that pull a lot lately. I could be reading obscure essays and writing critical studies of current queer and trans fiction, the L word, what have you. I could be teaching a room full of eighteen year olds obtuse theories. But that room and that life became a promise of someday and when-I'm-published-and-esteemed and I came down from that world and fell into kitchens. And you can't stay in kitchens unless you are Doing and Doing and Thinking get all up in each other's way. I'm all up in my head these days and I'm not sure why or how to come back down. Things are best at home when I'm baking, and when the thing is in the oven and I can come back to the computer and work with words. Maybe because those spaces are fluid and there is no need to move awkwardly among roles, I'm doing and then I'm writing, and when I'm stuck over a scene or sentence there is the timer to distract me. How to move in and out of worlds, how to cross boundaries and borders, how to slip past guards and guardedness, how to occupy illicit spaces, do I always have to be so queer?

Bring me back down, Out of the cloudedness. Give me a persimmon, a yuzu, tell me it'll be okay.

Friday, November 30, 2007

thanksgiving recap

at long last, the Thanksgiving photos are up on flickr. We had too many desserts

and lots of wine

and after all the hard work

there was lots of food

and a long-awaited game!

(i won)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

yuzu, cake, jam

In case you are wondering how the yuzu was, it was fantastic. Divine. Utterly unctuous and brilliant yellow-gold in color. All this and I didn't even taste it. Really. Except for a tiny quarter inch square of candied yuzu peel that I nibbled there was only smelling involved. And dios mio, but I was not expecting this, how wonderful it was! It. Smelled. So. Divine.

Sort of lemony and musky and warm all at once. My taste buds are not good enough to accurately describe the aroma, but let's just say that the owner/sommelier person came into the pastry kitchen and we let him smell it and he really wouldn't get his nose out of the yuzu syrup for several minutes. When he did stop sniffing it was to bring us bottles of dessert wine, PX sherry and something else, golden and Austrian and summer in a glass.

I made a cake last night. Supposedly a pound cake, this cake was actually made as you would make a sponge cake, by whipping whole eggs with sugar and folding in melted butter and flour. It was lemony from zest in the batter and a lemon-lavender glaze applied after baking, but the cake wasn't lemony enough in itself and so I'm thinking (it's too late for that part obviously) about ways to get more lemon into the cake. I could create a lemon sugar by storing or rubbing zest into sugar. I could obviously increase the amount of zest in the batter, change the glaze, douse the cake in syrup because sponge cakes can take a LOT of syrup. Pop it with some limoncello, to cheat.

The cake was interesting but I wasn't in love with it. The taste is a little too eggy, which makes me feel like with a more spiced or flavored batter you would not have that problem. The texture of the cake feels nice and airy, and the top quarter inch or so is nicely soaked from the syrup, but the bottom part of the cake is definitely more soaking syrup or else a soaking bath. Perhaps it will be tastier then.

All the same, the cake brought up the matter of expectations. If you label something a pound cake and then present them with a sponge cake recipe (even if it's constructed to mirror a pound cake), there's still the expectation that it taste a certain way. I made this cake to munch on for breakfast, but it's not delicious by itself. Nor is it a disgusting cake. It's tender, flavorful, and somewhat moist, and I know how to make it moister. How would I want it served? With some sort of roasted stone fruit, whipped cream and maybe a lemon granita, to start.

That yuzu was so delicious. I think I'm going to pick some up at the market to turn into marmelade. I'm not a jam lover but I think for this I would make an exception. It would take far too many for sorbet and I don't so much want to make custards or cakes, but perhaps marmelade and some sort of pound cake (authentic, heh) and cookie? Hopefully there will be yuzu at the Saturday market this time....

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

exciting moments in the life of a cook

1. new desserts appear seemingly out of nowhere...they're cute and monochromatic and i know i need to eat the whole thing to really understand how the flavors all work but still i nibble at pieces.

2. i've been trailing on garde manger for the last few nights and tonight i finally had a nice, well respected salad mound of beautiful greens and persimmon. it sounds stupid, yes, but, like, it finally *looked* nice.

3. sometimes, le tigre just comes blasting out of the pastry kitchen.

4. {this might be all i want to say}. i finally met some yuzus. i stared at some at the FPFM a couple weeks back but didn't buy any because i'm never home and i figured if it was the start of citrus season they'd only get better. back before persimmons were even a twinkle in my eye, a little over a year ago, i had it in my mind i was going to track down a yuzu and it just wasn't gonna happen from boston. it was something of a status-symbol fruit in that only one place in town was doing anything with yuzu (ken oringer and rick billings, naturally), and you couldn't get it anywhere, but in bigger cities everything was yuzulicious. i may be crazy, *but* i was the only one to identify the marigold colored fruit. i juiced a bunch and tomorrow or sometime we'll candy some rinds. today i also fell in love with citrus a little.

5. i had one of those blinding revelations artists claim to have on my way home tonight. i'm thinking about a new story, letting the character gel in my head (and this morning i just finished a draft of something else so i am free to pursue this new piece). i was kicking over some obvious facts pertaining to the character's habits and i just knew thematically that he'd have to meet someone else very specific and if that happened--if the specific guy took the place of the general person--then the story would receive that gift...the puzzle pieces would be specific and not random. whatever else the story is to be about {delusional line cooks, squandered opportunity, grief, drugs, homoeroticism, lonelinesses} it's got that link, that thing, that component you can't quite name but can taste, intuit, hunger for. how did it come to me? why did it come to me? from what place does it come? as much as i want real answers for everything there's a certain amount of intuition and mucking around in the dark that come with pursuing creative occupations.

6. being so-very-thankful for my coworkers being amazing. because they are. and i'm not just saying this because they might read it {which they might} but because it's true.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

notes on fruit

I have a crush, apparently.

On persimmons.

Yesterday at the market my manager and I were shopping at the market and she was going to grab our fruit from Blossom Bluff while I dropped our eggs off inside, but she stopped and said, No Wait, I Should Let You Do It, You're Just Like A Little Kid With The Persimmons.

Maybe a week ago I asked her to teach me her tips for dealing with pomegranates. Being Persian I figured she'd know some good hints. There had to be an easier way of getting to the pomegranate seeds that just cutting it open and trying to scoop them out, right?

Well apparently what you do is use a knife to cut through the skin at the top, all around the pomegranate. Not through the whole thing, just the skin. Then when you've gone all the way around you can use the stem end to pull off the top. Kind of like a pumpkin. After this you'll see that pomegranates are really constructed in an orderly fashion; much like citrus, it's segmented. So you can cut through the skin only along the segments and pull it apart without cutting through the seeds and making a juicy mess. Each segment can be seeded individually and maybe you'll lose a few seeds but you'll keep the juice intact and the mess to a minimum.

Now, for picking pomegranates, you want ones with thin skin and a long stem, and the ones that have cracked open are really good.

One of my persimmons is almost ripe, but the rest have a long while to go. What to do with them? Cookies? Sorbet? Eating out of hand?

Friday, November 23, 2007

cozy, warm

knitting lots

(winding loops around and around, creation and its opposite)

black yarn creates invisible spaces, darknesses

leftovers, and cozy semolina pudding recreated from yesterday to snuggle up to.

writing again for the first time in...weeks? remembering this is who i am. this is what i do. this fulfills something in me that is necessary.

sleep, dog, flirting through the thin wires of the telephone, having conversations that evoke conversations of years ago, curling up with a pile of dogs against the heater, remembering spaces east.

the clear blue lake, aqua tint a freakishly blue green, serene surface broken occasionally though almost never by--what--scuba divers?!?, and in the summer a trail that winds around through love's first blush (rosy like a quince you know) and in the fall through dangerous entanglements, the leaves, posturing for closeness with people you will grow closer to, secrets revealed, sometimes most evocatively though a pile of snow shards ice in winter, in the last months of a friendship that has something of love in it, and if the roads are not too icy we know someplace to go, down by the jazz barn and the railroad bridge. i see that lake in my mind, those cliffs i always intended to climb. a backdrop for everyday in a season of labor. i tell myself i shall not leave those things here, untouched. the gunks. i dream of them lately. and a winter spent spinning wool with tired, aged hands on twentysomething girls, in stilted tiny houses in potown. beautiful straight girls who smoke imported cigarettes and run for the train, run down to the bronx, though more to forty fifth where dressed like russian molls they wait until you pick them up make illegal left turns and wind your way slowly down through the city over the red bridge (you look for the sugar factory) and into brooklyn.

this to say, there are other places on my mind and sometimes it hurts. this to say, will i always be trying to get back there?

but thanksgiving. four desserts and four bottles of wine for four people. we hovered around the kitchen some but not too much, giving instructions for choux. the scrabble game of lore took place. i've got pictures of the stress, the food, the ridiculousness.

if you want to know the breakdown of how the week went, it was like this:
monday 7-12 work on pies, 2-830? restaurant work
tuesday 10-3, work on pies, 3-11 restaurant work, 11-4a work on pies.
wednesday 3-9 restaurant work.
this all entailed working three services, cleaning/inventorying/prepping, preparing batter for 50-60 pies, baking 90+ pies, baking shells, boxing pies, checking orders, being the dishwasher.
and holy hell, a week with two days off!
tomorrow is another 18 hour day.

i hope to finish my new scarf if not tonight very soon. it will have pockets, all the better for persimmon stealing!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

happy thanksgiving

It's rather adorable, isn't it? My sous chef and I are going to thanksgiving at our coworker's house. She's 22 and has never cooked thanksgiving dinner on her own before. Too cute. The restaurant is pretty cute these days. Yesterday the sous chef made pumpkin pie for our chef and the night before I made flourless chocolate cake with whiskey-soaked cherries for one of the line cooks to use for a catering gig.

I've got one persimmon pudding courtesy of a Shuna Lydon recipe and gifted persimmons. One pear frangipane galette courtesy of FH. One old school trivial pursuit and a beat-up Scrabble board so we can finally get our word games on.

Thank you to all of you, you know who you are, who saved my life a dozen times Tuesday and Wednesday. Who looked at me with grace, humor, and a little compassion as I worked in and out of kitchens at all hours of the day and night, who answered my phone calls, made sure I was fed and slept, taught me new things, watched the cutie pie for me, and stood by me in general. I'll do a Thanksgiving recap later, because there are sure to be more stories and there are already so many stories I want to tell.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

name dropping: the pastry chef game

I just got back from a lovely dinner tonight with my cupcake coworker Bruce. We met at the hot and crowded Ritual and took our coffees elsewhere. As requested, he brought me cupcakes so my coworkers get a lil treat tomorrow.

It took us a while to catch up on the goings on at the cupcakery, my jobs new and old, the girls and boys in our lives, the baking projects we have going on (things with pepper for me and malt for him). I had not seen Bruce in a while, since shortly after I started the new job, when the cupcakery was still fresh in my mind. It was nice to reminisce about all that but from a distance. People have come and gone. Some of the bakers have apparently discovered this blog (and to them I say hola, que paso?). I miss them sometimes and I think about going by, but don't want to see the old boss and then it's also clear across town in an area of SF I never really find myself in by chance). For dinner we decided to do Farina on 18th, and we sat outside.

I thought I'd be decadent and order a cocktail. Since I'm working ridiculous hours all week it seemed appropriate. I got a basil martini (with gin, thanks) and it was a lil off-putting in hue (it looked like a heaping glass of wheatgrass) but very delicious and icily cold. We settled on splitting two of the entrees, the focaccia with capers, tomato, cheese and anchovies, and a pesto pasta. But which one? When we asked our server to explain the difference between the two she was very eager to do so, and then pro0ceeded to push us toward one which would melt in our mouths and be unctuously soft. The other, in her opinion, was tough and chewy and left people disappointed. Soft pillows or the one no one likes? Bruce had been more intrigued by the under-loved pasta (which was chewier, and toasted lightly before being baked) and I appreciate thorniness, so we eschewed her recommendations.

First we received bread on a lovely little paddle that was tempting for whacking passerby. A white bread and an olive bread. The white bread had a nice firm crust but was rather dry, and could have used some dipping oil to doften it. The olive bread was a little sweet, very soft, and had a soft and chewy crust. Neither was very enticing and we chewed dispiritedly. A very few minutes later our food showed up.

The foccacia was the better of the two. The dough was wonderful, very thin and flaky. The pesto on the pasta was a sexy green color but was sweet and underseasoned. We begged a pepper grinder off our server, who a lil lightly gave us some black pepper, but there was no salt in sight. The focaccia in contrast was perfectly seasoned if a bit limp in the center, and the way it was halfheartedly cut seemed to suggest that if you were inclined to get to work with one of the very many serving utensils you might free a piece.

While I faced the street Bruce had the more intriguing view of the pasta guy working in their open kitchen. He had some sort of machine. We were clearly going to have to go inside and check this out after dessert. We knew we were going to order the milk fritters. As the meal unwound I doubted. I certainly didn't want to be disappointed in the milk fritters, but if we didn't get them we'd have to go up the block to the Bi-Rite and I broke up with them, so it'd be that awkward visit where you see if they've got anything new going on and scowl whether they do or don't, and Bruce had also broken up with them over inconsistencies within their flavors (though when I revealed to him that they use Strauss organic base rather than make their own, he was aghast. No going back) It's Okay, I told him, I'll Take You To Ici Where They Change Their Flavors All The Time.

So we went ahead and ordered the fritter. A short moment later they arrived and they were beautiful. Two sugar coated fritters, a mound of grapefruit and orange segments, some impossibly thin slices of candied orange, and a hard-crack caramelized orange slice. One of the things I love about dining with cooks is how we play with our food. We need to know how and what. Sometimes I'll touch with my fork before I taste, teasing apart the elements on a plate. Sometimes I'll just be surprised, as when I had my first forkful of the citrus dessert at work and found raw citrus segments and icy, sharp sherbet hiding under the prettily perched souffle. Bruce indulged me and we teased apart the candied orange in a fork duel. When I finally got around to eating the damn dessert it was Amazing. It was sweet and acidic. It was well plated, well sauced. The flavors were incredibly well balanced, and after the food we'd had it was such a great experience to eat something and not want it to be more than what it was. When you eat something like that, you want to know who makes it and you want more of it. Alicia Something said our server, furrowing her brow. She disappeared and came back a couple of minutes later with the check and the pastry chef's multisyllabic last name I knew I'd never remember. It wasn't on the menu, which is a shame. Ir was the absolute best part of the meal. And judging from the yelp comments it seemed to be the best thing a lot of diners had there, too. Bruce and I made our way back to the silent pasta machine. We scrutinized the clean, quiet semi-open kitchen. There was dough, pasta and bread. And then, we realized, there were sweet things.

The Girl was young, trim, clean. Her elbows were impossibly thin. We watched as she drizzled chocolate on a plate, disappeared, returned with a bain and a molded creme caramel. She tried to remove it, but it didn't want to go at first. She finished that, scooped ice cream and I smirked that they weren't as pretty as Michelle's fanatic scoops at Range nor the quenelles at work (my coworker complimented me on my quenelles on Saturday and I was so happy! they are a challenge...) Then the server muttered something to the Girl and she came quietly toward us to introduce herself with a half handshake. She was apparently the pastry chef, and she was quick to tell us she would soon be leaving Farina for a SOMA restaurant that's never before had a pastry chef. Are You In The Industry? she asked.

Duh. Of course. Who else would ask for the pastry chef's name, nevermind come back to the kitchen and watch the dessert plating process like it's a spectator sport. She had not heard of the restaurant I work at, so I was tempted to name drop further: who is boss is, where else she's worked, where else I work. But I didn't. She had heard of the cupcakery and seemed to think favorable of it from the tone in her voice, but then Bruce got into other places he's worked and we moved to banter. Gossip. What did you think of this person, do you remember that person, etc. You can tell when someone is keeping you on the outside and when they've taken you into their confidence and we were having the insider's discussion. We asked her about her assistant, how big was her team, did she like this person. Her assistant is a line cook new to pastry, and she was quick to praise her as fast, clean, good. I presume the desserts will stay the same for a while after Alicia leaves but what will happen when it's time to change the menu?. How will someone without the background knowledge of what each component is, ow it's constructed and how it works, be able to create another dessert that good?

We assured her we'd visit her in the new place, and made our way outside where we walked up to the Bi-Rite to peek in. I hurried away thinking of Ici and the malt ice cream I may someday or never get, and the impish fun I had last week in Berkeley which I have to write about, but enough for now. It will be an early morning of pie prep and I should stop staring at the screen.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

work meditations

I haven't been talking about this lately, as some have said, but it's still true:

I love my job.

I love that my coworker recites her rhyming poem about the pets she's had while we prepare phyllo-wrapped pastries.

I love that Al Gore came into my restaurant Monday night for dessert. And my coworker and I plated up the food he ate every scrap of.

I love that there's a line cook who makes me dinner when staff meal is nasty or all gone. And in return I feed her hot cocoa.

I love that I made the sous chef make the prep cook clean up the large mixer he made bread in and left a floury mess (every day he does this and never cleans it up). And that this prep cook and I had words about his needing to clean it up. I love my boss's response as I relayed the story.

I love that the chef asked tonight if we could wrap his phyllo dish rather than any savory cook.

I love that I made a list of all the desserts we'd made thus far, with all their components, and it was already so many things. Which we forget in the day to day.

I love that my boss missed her train tonight because was in the middle of giving me advice about a frustrating situation.

There's this server at work who got on my nerves for a while. Every day he'd ask the same, or similar questions about the menu.What is cardamom? What does it taste like? What does the phyllo filling taste like? What is anise? What is fennel? How are cocoa nibs different from chocolate? How should I describe this other phyllo pastry? Can I taste this, and this, and this?

One day it hit me, clear out of the blue. I was so irked by this guy's many questions, by his overeagerness, because it hit too close to home. He was me, we were twins cut from the same cloth. Not the most apparent realization. But sometimes you fight people the more when they resemble you too much. You see your faults writ large in their actions and words and you wonder, do I really sound like that? Is this how other people feel when they talk to me?

He's leaving the restaurant now (and the city, actually). And I'm kind of gonna miss him.

The cake's all together. I love that I banged it out in about an hour and a half after work, and that I knew it would take that long, and that I did it before taking a shower or eating or doing anything. It's done. Other things...not on my mind tonight. Now I'm gonna have a big glass of wine and finish watching L'Eclisse, because there's few things finer than a sultry Monica Vitti stomping around with a pout on.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What is a memory worth?

What is a holiday worth?

In time, in money, in labor, in goods. Who holds the power?

I just got home from work and I'm making a cake. A Ukranian torte to be exact, commissioned by a friend of a friend. This torte has a shortbread-like "crust" and three layers of filling--applesauce, apricot and chocolate. The dough I made this morning and am baking off. I'm in between batches right now, waiting for the cake pans to cool enough so that I can re-use them. The applesauce was started this morning and is continuing to simmer down on the stove. The chocolate layer is simple and will be made tonight if I've got the energy. Tomorrow the apricot layer will be made, and the whole thing will be assembled and frosted with whipped cream. The recipe is from Comfort Food for Breakups.

I wasn't sure what to charge for it, how much considering it was for a friend of a friend, but also the week before Thanksgiving. And my time is pretty precious this month. So I costed out the recipe and names a price--not as high as I wanted, but enough to ensure I'd clear some profit after the ingredients were bought, enough to hopefully be worth the time put into it in after- or before-work hours when I'd rather be sleeping or reading a book.

I've done some commissioned baking before. My first job was a wedding cake. Three months into culinary school. I flat out told one of the grooms I couldn't do a tiered cake (when he asked why, I explained because we hadn't gotten there in school yet). We discussed cake options and he went with a white sponge cake, soaked in rum, with strawberries and vanilla buttercream. His only specification was that I incorporate the color lavender into my decorated, so I made some lavender-colored white chocolate shards and decorated the main cake (there were 3 or 4) with fresh flowers. I even bought a 2-groom decoration for the top from the cake store. I didn't know how to properly re-cream buttercream then. Back in the day.

Then I did some Thanksgiving stuff last year. Caramel apple pie, pumpkin pie, cranberry cheesecake. That was super fun when the cutie pie ate one of the pies the night before and I had to give away my only spare pie!

When you bake for commission unless you have baked that thing a hundred times, there's an element of guesswork and surprise and having things break or not work out. That wedding cake, I used new cake pans and didn't spray them well enough to get the cake out, so one of the layers fell apart. I didn't have enough time or money to make another, so I was forced to patch out a couple layers. Non-bakers might be surprised to know exactly how much their food is sometimes handled. I stayed up till 2 am working on the cake. There may have been a blizzard, it being a cold New England winter, but I can't quite remember. I was working half the time on a table my roommate had built for me out of plywood. I went to bed without having finished the decoration, got up at six am, called in sick to my job, and was shortly thereafter greeted by my roommate who was making enchiladas and fried chicken for the wedding dinner. We shared the kitchen and I finished the cakes in enough time for him to take them over to their house. The grooms were drunks and fell asleep in bed while the guests, mostly catering people we'd worked with, got drunk and raved about how the cake was the best thing Ever. It took them a month to pay me, cause I thought it's be crass to make them worry about money on the day, and when they did they stiffed me ten bucks or so.

The shortbread's baked now and the applesauce is finished. I'm getting up early again to bust out the other layers before work so when I get home I can assemble the torte and send it off with the nice Ukranian folks.

Next week is Thanksgiving and I get daily phone calls discussing various details. But in the meantime I still have a full time job to do. I think, should I have charged them more for the cake? What is my sleep worth? Should I have charged them less, considering I know them? When you factor in my shopping time, and that fact that it's closing in on one a.m. and I should be sleeping, am I treating myself as well as I should be or am I selling the experience my hands hold for too little money, because I am used to the pay scale and workload of my industry?

It's fun. It's always fun. Watching something new unfold in the oven. Making applesauce for the second time in a month and noting how the color is different this time because if different apples used.

This is really funny, too:
I got a lesson today in how to tie my apron. My chef was like, C'mere. Take It Off. Now Put It Here--Or Here. I always thought my apron was flying all over the place cause I've got a potbelly and it just doesn't want to stay up, but apparently not. She and my sous chef laughed at me. When they asked me to turn around I refused. Yeah it was funny...and I was laughing...but it made me feel like such a kid.

blogging, guest posts, and overworked cooks

Wondering where I've been and what I've been up to?

My mother was in town and we ate SO much...

But we also went to the Michael Ruhlman reading.

I went to the reading on the clock. With a red timer in hand. With coworkers, even. And my mother. I went as a cook, in a community of cooks.

He said some interesting things about blogging, which has been on my mind a lot lately. For an expansion of my thoughts on the intersection of blogging and writing, head over to my first post on the Fringe blog!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

work. and work ethic.

I'm really quite furious when I think about it, have been in a mild frenzy all day. From an email first and then a phone message. My anger like a pot just below a boil, tasks at work just distractions.

How dare she steal his recipe. How dare she take something that wasn't hers to take, that was offered freely as a gift to the workplace, that was offered because she wanted something new and seasonal and had not/was not going to/whatever do any of the work herself.

A friend of mine spent time and money testing something out for his job and it ran for the last few months. For all I know it's running still. But apparently when his employer is asked to go on a television show and asked for one of her recipes to be featured, she asks if she can use his because she doesn't want to give away any of hers, and she plasters her name on it. And likely makes no mention of where she got the recipe from.

It doesn't surprise me at all. There came a point in time when I saw her character clearly.

And the message, frustrating. It makes me feel like Sisyphus with all those boulders. For every step I take toward the next level, I just keep getting held up, dragged back, whatever. It's SO HARD relying on other people who have to do their part before you can do yours. Especially if you don't have the faith they will pull through, but there you are, anyway, staking your name and your time.

One of the cooks at work is coasting on this slick of attitude and lately he only cares about something if it directly affects his work product. Nevermind that the cheese is missing. Or that his cooks keep putting away their items in the pastry side of the walk in (and, maybe, that is why he can't find what he needs?) He struts around giving cryptic answers to your requests for help, giving you attitude when you ask if he's seen something that someone else needs. Nevermind that you don't need it. Nevermind that it isn't your job. If anyone walked into the pastry kitchen looking for sugar, say, I'd try to find out what they needed and why and help them. Yeah, it might not be my job to make sure the servers can make mochas but chocolate is sort of my duty, in a sense. And having a work ethic means seeing the larger picture. It means taking care of not only your business, but the business of whoever is working the station after you, or who might find it in the morning. It means leaving things clean and prepped if you can. And taking the time to help other people who might help you.

This cook tonight asked us the difference between polenta and semolina, because he didn't know. And I taught him how to work with bread dough, at least better than he thought to do it. So you don't know everything, none of us do, but there's really so much tolerance I have for someone who is going to be a dick for no reason. For someone who is going to realize I'm right behind them carrying heavy things or hot things and decide to slow down. For someone who can't be concerned about the state of the walk in, the placement of their stock.

I'm waiting for his attitude to come around and bite him in the ass, because he needs to learn that he's not all that. And that he isn't going to command anyone's respect acting the way he does.

Monday, November 05, 2007

word counts

word count:1052
first sentence: We sat around Tula’s house drinking Heineken from sweaty bottles and planning the party.

Today: word count: 406
first sentence: The tide felt cold against my skin, and my pants were wet, but each time I dug my hands into the slick, cold sand I pulled up nothing but bones of various shapes and sizes.

Off to the SFPL and then to work!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

a promotion of sorts

Yes, my view is beautiful. Yes, this city is gorgeous, and the day reminded me of it. A perfect day for a bike ride, even up the hills to Golden Gate Park. Afterward there was much lying in the grass, and laziness, and conversation. Sandwiches from Dolores Park Cafe, too many attractive women, and a deliciousness to the air itself, how it felt against my skin biking the last few blocks home.

I haven't been talking about work much but that doesn't mean it's not good. At the market this week I bought Pineapple Guavas from the avocado man, Fuyu persimmons from Knoll, apples from my man in the cowboy hat. And while walking around with my lil bag of fruit I ran into my coworkers, so they collected me at the market even though I was due at work in 15 minutes and we puttered around the market collecting the produce they'd picked out and convincing the head chef to buy us lots and lots of doughnuts from Boriana's. My first time eating those delicious spheres. I sort of want to make a black-and-white cookie version of one, with half nutella and half custard...

There's so much delicious excess at the market...all this wonderful food we carted around, and all for the savory chefs I think except a couple crates of persimmons from Blossom Bluff. I left in a flurry of adrenaline after spending the night working on tiny projects (juicing, dicing, chopping) and running up to the station to help my coworker bust through a mass of tickets and there was only half an hour, really, of exhaustion, which was good. I like our menu. I like the new desserts. I like what we're doing and there's a contentment to the quiet buzz of small tasks.

The cryptic offer I alluded to last week? Details are in and it appears that now I will be an editorial assistant for Fringe. I'll have all-the-time access to our submissions inbox and will be responsible for weeding out submissions, deciding what to recommend for consideration by our readers, rejecting authors who don't make the cut, and so on. I always wanted to be an editorial assistant, or ea as we say, but I always thought it's be for Penguin Putnam or Random House or Simon & Schuster. Vintage Contemporaries would have been my preferred house.

It is very exciting to be able to peek one more layer behind the curtain. There's such mythology around publishing. How does it happen? When you send something to a journal, where does it go and who reads it and what happens to your carefully crafter cover letter? If you are taking the time to remind a journal they liked your last submission, does that somehow get you special consideration? If you are highly published or not, do you land in a separate pile? How long is the slush pile, and what does a virtual slush pile look like? How does a non-linear piece or an experimental piece jostle for room next to a screenplay, am illustrated poem, a piece of short fiction, a full length story? Does longer work have a place in online journals? Who reads the journal, anyway? Do we have a sense of place, of the here-and-now, and if not then what replaces place?

I've been reading for Fringe for some time now and I know some more than what I used to about the grisly process of deciding. Sometimes the first comment on a submission, good or bad, taints its journey through the reading process. It becomes hot or cold. Does it get a fair reading if I know three voices before me were not interested and even if I like it, there's not much chance of it going anywhere?

I know that it isn't right to consider audience when writing but still those considerations creep in. I feel a lot more secure, paradoxically, when sending out my work because I can think, oh this or something much like it is what will happen to me. Probably, the person reading my work is on a computer in a cafe, or at their desk job, and is not devoting a lot of time or attention to this. They are engaged initially, or not, they make their decisions based on their sympathy for my tone or subject. They are only reading, after all. {How my boss would likely criticize me for using "only" here, the cousin of "just"...for reading is one of the finer things in life, but still, it is not always done with full attention}

I'm going to get on that writing-thing for the night and will post a word count and first sentence later. I've been thinking so much about stories lately. For any writers out there, a call to submissions for Fringe. Details on the submission process can be found at their site.

We're seeking submissions in all genres that explore the role ethnos plays in viewing the world, in writing, in living. We want to read literature that fosters understanding, that intelligently navigates the complexities of ethnicity, race and identity. Send us your interpretation! Hurry, the deadline for submission is December 15, 2007. Please mark submissions with Ethnos in the subject line.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

odds and ends

last night's word count: 363.
first sentence:I’d met Will at Pride the year before, when our tiny friend groups collided at an after-party in a house off 18th Street, and he’d been a curiosity to me then with his red-tipped ears, wash of freckles, and odd accent.

oh how I've *missed* Grey's Anatomy. Sometimes I feel like being a pastry assistant is like being one of the characters on that show. Sometimes you get to do something you are really familiar with. Sometimes you do something you've never done and it brings up questions. Sometimes you don't have the things you need, sometimes some crisis comes up at the last minute, sometimes you get a very tedious assignment. Every day is different.

Tomorrow should be routine: FH pie baking. Lots of pear poaching. Pies and pears....

word count: 1867.
first sentence:I excused myself from the Gay Mafia and made my way, tripping slightly from all the booze, to Chef.

I took the day off from cooking but I'm trying to get the energy to work up some crepe batter so I can have crepes with apple butter on Sunday morning. Mmmh. Worth the effort but only if I do it tonight because I'm working all day tomorrow. I'm thinking about a lot of things for Sunday...the library, lazy reading in Dolores Park, perhaps the Bi Rite though I swore off them, the crepes, sleeping in, sending my new piece out to journals...

Work is more crazy and more intense, but in good and challenging ways. Except for when my FH manager tries to schedule me for the week before Thanksgiving and my only response is, Oh You Can't Really *Do* That. I Have My Responsibilities To My Other Job And I Don't Know What My Hours There Will Be Yet. I'll Get It Done Somehow...Just Don't Schedule Me. Because things come up so last minute at the restaurant, at least this week. The party is booked the afternoon before, which throws off the prep list. The intriguing items from other countries linger improbably in customs until the very end of the day they are needed. The freezer breaks. I alternate between trying to think about this month and trying not to think about it. I worked for six and a half hours today and went home early but every other day this week it's been nine or ten hours, dropping in and out of kitchens.

This Thanksgiving thing seems like a rite of passage almost. Stay up all night and bake even though you already work seven shifts a week. Test the limits of your batter in the freezer and the refrigerator, see if it languishes or thrives, build your immunity to the intoxicating aroma of the whiskey pie. Test, measure, find the blanks, the variables you don't know. Today we got our first pie shells from the farm in and I groaned. Eight inch disposable shells with a border of leaves where you might expect crimped or fluted edges. These leaves are going to fall off and they're going to break and it isn't going to be my fault because that's what the dough *does*, but it's going to look bad and it's going to bother me.

On a side note I'm reading more Steve Almond stories (The Evil BB Chow collection) and I adore how he maintains such compassion toward his characters even as he's dragging them through the gutter. It's gritty and tender. Unpretentious. His landscape makes me homesick for the slush and snow, the bristled reserve, the geeky intellectual vibe of my home city. It's been a while since I've gotten out of town and I think it's about that time again, time to go somewhere and not on a bicycle.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

....meaningful work

Edit: Word count for the night: 1278.
First sentence: It doesn’t take long for stories to turn into legends in the restaurant world, where before you know it the prep guy missed a day because he left in the middle of the night back to Mexico or else ended up in jail, nobody can track him down, and there he goes right into legend.

Memories of Halloween's past. The changed weather. There was the Greenwich Village Halloween party the year I lived in New York. When I waited patiently for midnight to pass so I could start Nanowrimo. When I wrote a fifty thousand word Nano novel because I had a soulless office job with virtually no job duties.

That was another life, so long ago.

If novels are mostly what I read why do I balk at writing them? Why not go boldly forth and be what I've always wanted to become?

I have crazy and silly ideas. I hear my characters in my head and they're tired of waiting around for me and i'm tired of getting home and saying food or writing? shower or writing? de-stress from working upwards of sixty hours a week or writing? What must it be like to be a non-creatively driven person who can go to work and come home, be fulfilled, not need to spend all their free time in pursuit of other vocations? What is it like to be able to relax every night? I don't know that feeling. I have these ideas to get impossible things done and it's I just think about the things I want, or do I do them? How do I create the space to get them done? Especially when both my jobs are asking for more of my time, for this month or from now on? I'm in a field where you don't say no to more work, you

A novel is not an idea I had in college. Or graduate school. A novel is not a vague goal. It need not be stuffy or sanctimonious. But is it the right goal? Is it where marketable, funny, informed and prescient writing most belongs? Is it vain to think (no, to know) I'm good?

I am good...but what do with it and when and how. New story ready to send out...but sometimes it feels like more of the same. Lateral. No larger end in sight, no book contracts awaiting me. I'm not in this business for the money or the fame but because it's what I need to do with my life. And now I just need to find time to do it. No more excuses.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

little moments

Spend the afternoon enrobed in sunlight, the air unmoving, a little sweaty, suggestive perhaps.

Go up to the big hillside and watch the Soapbox Derby. Swoon over Elvis in his white jumpsuit with rhinestones and not care how it makes you come cross.

Discuss baking as a series of difficult decisions. When or how much or how long. Discuss the cryptic text message I know why CF lets the batter rest overnight, the joy it brought, the way to break down the process into the most tiny details. Molecules of air and water. Membranes. Creating things and breaking things down. Remember your boss by the stove the night before, the lengthy discussion of candying, how the line cook with baker envy sidled up to you later to ask what that was all about. How you watched the rinds waiting for the moment of translucency.

Sleep. Sleep in. Discuss the joys of baking again on the way up the hill, get off the phone to meet someone, watch the dance your eyes and arms and legs do. How you move around one another, how you move up the hill and down and find your way into a bar by three or so. How it's so endearing, a girl who drinks beer in the afternoons. How it shocks you for a moment when she does not know who Anthony Bourdain is. Recall the journalist who was going to look up your blog and wonder if she ever did, and if you will see her some time in the Mission.

In the backyard garden, tell all the old stories. Laugh at the most painful and familiar moments. Open yourself up to the joy of the garden, the light, this new person who you already know you will call soon. What a touch means, accidental or not. What the contradictions of language reveal. Whether in the end you have said anything at all.

Take great joy in the day. A day off. A day you wanted to spend baking and writing and cleaning the house. It is okay to be out in the afternoon. It is okay to be shirking all of your responsibilities and passions for the sunlight and good conversation and finding space for new people so that you are a little more at home here.

(The word friend is such a funny word. At what point does it become okay to use it? And how is the offer given or revoked?)

Return home buzzed and happy, get out the battery of cookbooks. Piles of apples. Graventeins, Sierra Beauty, Pink Lady maybe? There is enough butter for pie dough.

Realize that you forget to tell your friend the thing you realized about work last night as you were baking home and so you will need to talk again, and by the time you talk there will be apple pie and apple butter.

Start to clean. Start to cook. Read over the comments from your writers group on your last piece and think about moments in angles, shards, what your characters want, how their dreams or goals may resemble yours or not, how you feel inspired these days much of the time, how it makes you by turn giddy or quiet, how you realize the same thing these days over and over

and you know it

but you don't know how to do it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

cranking up the pie factory

Today was all about batch sizes. Breaking down the recipe that calls for a 20 qt. mixer into a fourth of its size to try it in the 5 qt. kitchen aid. Realizing a quart of base is not going to yield many pies and that you will be able to fit 2 quarts in the kitchen aid, though three would probably be a lil tight. Kind of like the cream cheese frosting at the cupcake shop...

I am making caramel pumpkin pie and whiskey pecan pie, both in sucree shells. Why? because sucree is the dough that will be provided to me off the farm, in 8" disposable shells. The recipes are historic (and no doubt, storied). When no one could find the farm's recipe for pumpkin pie we got the green light to use my predecessor's recipe for caramel pumpkin pie. I made it, gave some away for tasting, decided it was well meaning but boring and I certainly wouldn't take it out on a date, and tried some things to ramp it up. Better, but also going up on the size of batter in the mini tartlet shells caused them all to crack. Who would have thought an ounce could be so powerful? Today I baked them in the entremet (to use my new vocabulary word) and got nice shells. That said, it was a bitch squeezing the entremet back on prebaked shells, and definitely not for the faint of heart! And, the dough is *still* fragile beyond anyone's belief except for maybe those I gave tarts to who found lil packages of exploded good intention.

I realized it took an hour to prepare a batch that yields 24 mini tartlets, and 3 to 4 big ones (depending on which size I use). It takes so long because I've got to wait for my sugar to caramelize and then I've got to pour on all this cream (which should be infused, but the guys threw out the herbs I was drying and I just didn't feel like dealing with it today)

The whiskey pecan pie is much quicker and takes half an hour to throw together a batch of base but the process just might get you drunk. No joke. I tasted one of the dried cherries we'd been soaking in Jack Daniels and it was like a shot. Then I had to measure out my intoxicated peaches and cherries and those fumes were overpowering. And then I had to get 3 oz. of Jack for the batter, and then when I realized the entire process only yielded me 18 mini tartlets *and* didn't utilize all the space of the mixer, I made a 2 quart batch. And had to taste test the first. One square inch of pie=another shot.

I'd told my manager we needed 8 inch shells. How Am I Supposed To Know How Much Pie I Get From One Recipe If We're Not Baking Them in The Right Molds? I said during Thanksgiving meeting 2. And while she was not able to get me 8 inch shells from the farm she stopped at Safeway before work to get 4 shells and another giant bottle of Jack because I spent last week soaking 1 pound of peaches on 2c Jack and 3 pounds cherries in 6 c Jack...hence the dizzying effect of eating just one on a baker going off three hours sleep and little food.

We tasted the first batch of the whiskey pie together and after one bite my manager had a reaction that didn't entirely surprise me: This Is Not What He Made Last Year, she said.
More Fruit? More Whiskey? I asked. The recipe called for a paltry ounce of each dried fruit, which was like 6 cherries and a peach half. I hoped it was just a matter of punching up the goodies in the batter and not the recipe being entirely unlike the written recipe, and therefore lost.
Add More Stuff she declared, and she helped me dice pecans so we could get everything tossed in there to get me a batter that weight about 6 pounds and will bake one each of 7, 8, 9 in tarts and 12 perhaps minis.

So we are getting there for numbers and for quality control. Next up is timing, and how long to prebake the 8 inch shells for. Since they're made in deeper pie pans the filling takes longer to cook and getting the prebake to the same golden color as everything else means the edges will burn, which means I should probably go for anemic coloring on the prebake...Timing and product duration. Can I freeze the pumpkin filling? How long can it keep in the refrigerator?

I'll be stopping in midweek some time once I get the restaurant schedule (how lucky for me both jobs are in the same neighborhood) to test bake the product over the course of the week.

Today we were all getting in one another's way. I had mise all over the bakeshop for these pie projects and had other products cooling and my prep cook pal kept shoving it back over on my table where I'd just cleared space to fill shell. My manager kept summoning me over to try to make excel work on the computer. Secrets come out and surprises leave everyone curious and hesitant.

But there were some moments throughout the day of gratitude. Being grateful that my manager and I are on the same page concerning the Thanksgiving pie factory, that she does not want to burden me unfairly and wants foremost a good quality product delivered in a reliable timeline, and that these are exactly the things I want. That she remembered we were out of whiskey. That she found a way to get me 8 inch shells, because she understood I couldn't really be giving her accurate information without it. To my chef and my sous chef at the other job, because even though I think I would be preparing my mental mise in the same way were it not for the restaurant job, who can really say? When someone's forced patterns start to become yours in an automatic way it's hard to tell, and each time I found myself reaching for the pen holder on the left arm of my jacket hoping to find an offset there I felt somehow less alone.

A coworker and I at the restaurant were helping savory people prep party apps the other day. I was supposed to be minding the pastry station but was really just making cornets to have on hand and watching the garde manger person slowly begin to get in the weeds between the party stuff and the normal tickets. When she skittered off to the back for something I asked my coworker who was helping out with the party if we shouldn't prepare another platter of apps since there were about five lingering on a plate. I started punching flatbread circles and she got to work quenelling toppings. The cutter consigned to the job was a dented, dull pathetic lil thing and as I slammed into it with my hand I said somewhat plaintively to my coworker:

Chef Would Never Make Us Use Something Like This. And I held it out to her, so she could see.
Chef Would Never *Have* Something Like That, she countered.

And were we to even be doing something like that, we would find a way to do it more efficiently in the first place.

Sometimes it's nice to know what you have. In things or in people. What you can rely on them for. And then in turn what you owe them. I've been at FH long enough to know what I can expect to have (but the new job is still too new) but it's still great to feel backed by my manager, and like we're in accord. Fairly soon I hope to have an idea of the number of pies one person with another full time job can prepare in the off hours (what off hours, anyway? My boss just called and before asking me to run the errand she asked me to run, she was like You're Not Asleep? No {sigh}. I did not tell her that I'd just eaten dinner and spun my ice cream).

I'm looking forward to the rest of product testing. Though I am somewhat afraid of passing out due to some sort of secondhand drunkenness from that whiskey aroma. Hot damn.

Where, and how, did that recipe make its way to FH?

Lastly, per gratitude, today I saw the xmas order form and asked my manager what she was expecting xmas to entail, because (tho I didn't tell her this)I'm pretty sure it's going to be crazy with parties at the restaurant around that time. The menu items they'd listed were all farm products, same as the Thanksgiving stuff, or strange cakes my predecessor had been tasked with. Flipping through the large and disorganized binder I found strewn like lil gifts those recipes, should I need them. Generous and unexpected.

Sleepy. Working a double tomorrow. Road trip last night left me home at one am, dios mio.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

circuitry of kitchens

I had the good fortune last Friday of spending the afternoon in Berkeley with Maryusa of Recipes for Trouble. After a much needed cup of coffee from Peet's my brain started working again and so I was able to figure out where we needed to go for the promised afternoon pastries. Masse's was mentioned as was La Farine, which my FH manager just adored. I'd had a bite of her La Farine croissant earlier in the day and was a little unsure, given the chewiness of its crust was a few short blocks from Ici, and when I'm in the East Bay I like to do as much as I can because I know I won't be back for some time. So we drove off to the cute lil bakery and split a piece of chocolate pound cake and a lemon shortbread. We didn't discuss the pastries much...they were all right but less than wonderful...but instead spent the afternoon talking about writing, food, cooking, feeding people, the self-aggrandizement of the bay area folks...and she had to go at 4:30 but I'd been talking up Ici all afternoon so, of course, we had to go to Ici first and were lucky enough to find parking spot right outside. Then we had to taste every flavor, ask about flavors that weren't featured I'd been instructed to try (pumpkin ice cream sandwiches, quince sorbet.) And when we were *finally* settled (Maryusa with a cone of apple sherbet, me with a cup of apple sherbet + malted banana), she sighed as if she'd found Xanadu and wondered if there were any possibly way she could see the back.

Well Yeah Maybe. I shrugged. If Mary's Here...I Know Mary. We'd met over the summer and then I'd seen her again just hte week before when I'd stopped in with her employee/my friend for the persimmon ice cream since I'm trying to understand persimmons. But it wasn't as if going in back of Ici to visit Mary were something I'd normally do. Still, what with Maryusa wanting to put up a cot and stay the night, I asked the counter girl if we could go back.

{I feel like people normally have that reaction to Ici. I have that reaction to Ici. You have to give yourself over to the process and try every flavor and wait and wait. It's not like a normal ice cream store. But you will be rewarded if you do so, or else you'll go away grumbling what all the fuss was about but only because you didn't do it properly, and if you do, you might be compelled to go back frequently}

So we go in the back and Maryusa chats up Mary and I look around at all the busy, quiet workers and then get around to asking Mary my sorts of questions (when will you have quince+why is the sherbet this consistency today), discussing the mastic ice cream from my job, discussing FH, and then when we go back to the front tell Maryusa all about how I met Mary and in the process I realize how completely small, circular and self perpetuating this community is.

Boston was never this way. I knew meaning hung out in the kitchen of and staged with, probably the best pastry chef in town. Though her only real competition would be from Rick Billings at Clio. And she knew people, certainly, meaning when she wanted advice from the owner of one of hte Three Good Bakeries they could chat it up, and she used to work for the owner of the Second Bakery, and they got their bread from the Third. Tight, sometimes, but not necessarily in a way where there's an exchange of information, an interdependency, a way in which the cook network can seem all consuming.

But when I saw I know Mary, I have to expand on how my bosses both know Mary, and then they know each other, and how I hang out with Mary's employee who knows one of my bosses, and how Mary's husband is chef at the restaurant where my FH boss used to be pastry chef...and it only goes further out.

SF feels like a town sometimes. Small and homey. But it also feels like an isl;and of narcissists. I have made myself a part of htis tiny community where we all pass on our ideas, where we can and do talk about ice cream base for hours, where we know cooks all over hte kitchen and have worked for and with one another's friends, bosses, former bosses, and so on. I always thought of SF as a place full of people who were too self important. Who had their niche in their worldview and who were disinterested in expanding. My old roommates in Oaktown were that way...everything they did pertained to one interest.

I am starting ot see it in myself. But I am too caught up in the currency of exchanges out here to know whether it's a good thing or not.

Another intriguing offer has found its way to my email inbox and I am considering it. Details to follow.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I need some.

Very stressful non work situations impeding into my life. They ebb and flow and no matter how much work I can do to get them better in a given day (which is like, five minutes before I head to work) they only subside for a while before they come back. I'm stressed out and worried about these things and cannot take much direct action and it wears you down. It wears me down.

On top of it is the writing I'm doing or not doing. My writers group is being fantastic enough to give me comments on my piece even though I couldn't go to the last meeting due to work scheduling and told them I might have to drop out for a while due to work.

I had the best meal last night when I got home from work {at 12:30, because right after the last table had ordered dessert at ten and I was preparing to wrap things up a new table sat down, so I did not get out till midnight and in the end they didn't even order dessert. Their loss.} I was starved in that crazy way where your head hurts and there isn't anything open and all I had at home was spinach pasta. So I ate it with a little butter and parmesan and lots of pepper and salt and it was divine. I've actually got to go eat now, before work, since there's little guarantee of getting anything much before 4:30. Those prep cooks tend to gut the family meal.

I have been craving more balance or a while but then all I do when I get out of work is talk about work or else prepare to feed myself. Yesterday I made pumpkin pie ice cream base before leaving for work...or I finished up the one I started Monday night but was too tired to finish after my dairy infused with spices.

Tonight. No cooking. Which is fine because I don't have anything to cook anyway, just pounds of apples and some ripening persimmons, half and half and rice and oatmeal, but, cooking. Though I have a feeling I'll somehow end up talking about food anyway or confessing all my thoughts from Saturday at the FB....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

you might think the boundaries of the kitchen end outside the door

we think about it all the time, we myopically scrutinize our interactions, we project our fears onto others, we talk about it obsessively outside of work, we put everything we have into it and expect everything out of it and when things stall we are frustrated outside of proportions. Or maybe that's just me.

(as I said this morning)

You empower someone in certain ways when you call them chef. In places I've worked the savory chef has always been chef but as much a token of otherness as a gift of respect. You do not do what I do. You are not on my team, though we are all together. Calling the leader of your lil pastry world Chef is a different and more meaningful enterprise. In culinary school our chef of course wanted to be called Chef, but since there were seven of us fierce neophytes and one of him, we eventually all bonded past the point of professionalism (wine with lunch, discussion of sex lives, forays into cured meats, etc, going to a bar after class). Then we began calling him Cheffy. Now he works at least 80 hours a week teaching classes of 20 and probably no one calls him Cheffy, that mixture of respect jostled by familiarity and friendship.

Until now, every other boss I've had has been a first-name basis. Is it coincidental that I did not respect them (with the exception of Maura)? When you let someone be your chef (as opposed to your boss, or your colleague), you give them that power over you and it's a power that people not in kitchens don't seem to understand. I've named characters Chef in stories and had people question me: I Don't Understand Why Everybody Calls Her Chef. Surely She Must Have A Name. Her Best Friend Would Call Her By Her Name.

Not If She's The Sous Chef.

At the cupcake shop, my boss took everyone to see Ratatouille, and she took all the FOH and BOH staff out to dinner (I managed to miss all of the above for various reasons). One of her employees house-sat for her, hung out socially with her, and got rides home all the time. This one was the clear favorite and she even got paid more than anyone else {don't ask how we knew this; secrets will out themselves}. My FH boss invites me for holiday dinners, but she doesn't supervise the work I do or even necessarily know what items I'm working on unless I tell her. She even wants to call me the pastry chef but I don't claim that title because I think it's silly to have a part time pastry chef. To give someone all of the nominal prestige but no hours, limited ingredients, and six hours of prep time in a work week.

It's an underground hierarchy and when you title someone your chef it gives you both certain roles. It's unsettling and feels dangerously foolish sometimes to slip out of that boundary and address your chef by their real name. You know it's a bad idea. But if you are not at work, you're not sure why. If your chef is before you and you are not in a kitchen and you are not wearing whites, what rules apply? I did not call my chef "chef" when were in the same social scene for a while this past weekend. But I did introduce myself to her friend by saying: Hi I'm Lindsey I Work For... Which is such a conditional identity, but seemed the most appropriate thing to say.

You get used to it, the hierarchies of the kitchen. You learn the patterns. Last night the sous chef was telling one of my coworkers to stock up the kitchen with supplies. I was cutting cake rounds...and cutting things evenly and in straight lines is not my strong suit, so I was trying really hard to be slow and careful {it's sad but true, I am not joking. My old boss used to yell at me all the time for not being able to cut a cake in 12 even pieces, but no one in my family has good spatial perception}. So my coworker would come back with 2 pots, and then mill about back to other other project. We'd say, no, look for the ladles, make sure we have enough containers. You learn to see what a kitchen needs. Each time she left we'd call out additional items after her: Sheet Pans! Half Sheets! Spatulas!

This is often how you learn in the kitchen: People tell you, and tell you, until you learn to see. Sometimes learning to see means you have to say No I Don't See How That Is Different. And then looking again and again until you can see it.

For anyone in the Bay looking for sahlab root--as opposed to sahlab powder, and if you want to know the difference you may certainly ask--I asked at Samiramis yesterday when I was buying basturma for work. They used to stock it...but few people bought it so they stopped. I asked if they'd get some if I wanted some. If my job wanted some. The owner did not say yes exactly, but he seemed to indicate he'd consider it. He told me it would be expensive, about $3/oz. But I think the Oleana people paid $100 for a pound! So that seems not expensive to me. Sahlab, I want it. Perhaps if there are enough of us, we can acquire it.