Sunday, June 24, 2007

notes on the market

The FB was crazy on Saturday! Crazy with crying babies, crazy with too many people shuffling through the halls, crazy, just...crazy.

The smiling woman from Knoll Farms hurries over and hands me top-secret a large plastic bagged brimming with my lemon verbena. I don't know what you guys are going to do with it she said. But it just starts to go after you cut it
Not ten minutes later she came by to make sure it was all right and since I'd only chucked it into the fridge without looking I went to go verify that it was perfect and it was.

In the morning I went with my manager to get eggs and berries. Standing in my still-spotless chef's coat in the calm between 7 and 8, getting eggs from the guys at Petaluma and raspberries from Yerena's, blackberries from someone else because they're neighbors of our farmers. All of us hunkered down and shooting furtive, smiling glances, having ingested one cup at least of coffee and risen in the darkness in Brentwood or Watsonville or Winters or plain old Oakland. Walking down the aisle toward the safety of the buildings (lemon meringue tarts half-=decorated and un-torched inside) a woman calls out to me, to us What are you going to do with all those eggs?

What indeed? "Raspberries: would have seemed a more logical choices. Lots of things I told her. But right them my manager wanted to throw them at people and so did I. People who don't understand that half a case of eggs is kinda heavy and definitely fragile especially when resting on half a flat of berries, and when you're just a girl who's got no muscles even though she throws her weight around a kitchen, well...dios mio.

Inside toss berries in fridge, go back to work. Work like a maniac, like a dog, work in a trance. Finish up one item (lemon tartlettes with raspberries on top, lemon meringue, chocolate souffle, linzer cookies, peach leaf panna cotta) and move the next thing one step along. It helps to see the big picture, to think if I chop all the strawberries now I can let some macerate in the lavender cream and some macerate with the lovely lemon verbena and then I'll be done with strawberries and can move on to filling the fresh fruit tarts, get those out, bake lavender tarts, whip cream for shortcakes.

Shortcakes. Still working on the recipe. Saturday I used the Frog Hollow cream scones since I'd run out of time Friday to make the biscuit recipe I'd planned on trying, and though I'd liked them before with cream scones this time I was not enthused. Last week's David Lebovitz biscuits would have been perfect with BBQ, but were too crisp and savory and just wrong. Settling on the mix of flours: AP, cake, cornmeal. Still like my totally all-wrong attempt at theeggbeater biscuits best so far, but at least I'm starting to understand why.

But in the middle of all this normal sounding plating and making and baking frozen ham n cheese turnovers is the market, the market. Lines out the door and there may be a breeze out there but it's getting kinda hot in the kitchen. I'd get more coffee but I can't get through and when I go out to bring a plate of something just finished and survey the damage I'm drawn to the breeze outside, the market. People are selling things I want and I'm stuck in here and it's hard to hold on to perspective when you're sweating and you haven't had a proper meal in a couple days, you only got four hours of sleep in the first place, and the caffeine you jacked yourself up with for the morning bake is wearing off plus you have to pee. Only you can't leave.

It was early in the market by the time we got both ovens cranked up to 400 spitting out frozen pastries. The asst. manager came over apologetic and sleepy with a list of new things to bake and I was mincing something for shortcakes. The girl bent to sniff my cutting board-apricot pits, strawberry tops and scone crumbs--to ask what IS that?

l e m o n v e r b e n a , clearly. Or should I say my new favorite thing? I only used a tiny sprig but it made the shortcakes taste so so good. And I got the lemon verbena bag out and made the girl sniff it. Cmon just stick your head in the bag. Heaven, Heaven in a bag. Knoll Farms should visit me every week.

Finally escaped to pee for just a minute, tripping down the hallways slightly dirty from roughing up blackberries, up the steps, through the people, back downstairs to negotiate the complications of buying things from the FB market or who gives you discounts and who does not, tried to find out how much a former friend's mission figs were, was treated rudely, back into the building in time to flip the pastries over, back to the grind. Turn, switch, repeat, try to ignore callings of food, hunger, down some water even though caffeine is wanted but it's too hot. Cranky people trying to take away our only chair. So they can sit in it. In the crowded hallway outside Boulette's don't I pleaded. We'll never get it back Eggs we whisper, eggs, and we get the asst. manager on our side, who can we egg and when? where? within reason? are we too mean? can we get fired, well what are we doing wrong we're just talking? but would you want your friendly farm market people to be like us whispering eggs eggs while whipping your cream, mauling stone fruit with dull dull knives that have never been kissed by a sharpening stone, carrying out pastries that make you speak in a hushed voice WHAT is THAT. you need to know yes you do. Sweet upside down cakes glistening like stained glass windows. And of course the babycakes made their debut--I never thought I'd be the kind of person making something called a babycake but I am and it's so cute and so what I want to do and I need to tell all about it but first I want the picture to show it off properly

. Enough to say it's vanilla with roasted apricot and the vanilla cake is Hi Rise Renee's which means the best damn teacake/pound cake you ever tasted so good you'd beat up schoolkids waiting for the bus just to use their lunch money for a piece from the end with the crust and all the syrup soaked in. So good you'd turn shifts in someone's kitchen just for a chance to steal that recipe, only you don't have to because the best chef you know up and gives it to you, she's so generous. So all that with roasted apricots (which need to be darker. earthier. winier. sexier. ) and a crunchy caramel glaze that shines and beckons you all sweet and monochromatic and makes your mouth wonder what is under there and how is it going to feel, yes all that in the size of a cupcake now we're talking hot DAMN why are there only ten of them really nine. Not quite perfect. But the way the apricot slides under the caramel buoyed by the cake, well, it's worth it.

But the market all the while children screaming now and you're tired, still hungry, realize you did not make custard base yesterday and you have to make it bake the bread pudding and you've still got four hours worth of work across town plus you'd really like some food and then there's a last round of pastries for the oven. Remember the bag of Knoll farms lemon verbena when your manager gets loopy and take it out. Make her hold her head in the bag. Sniff. Breathe deeply. This really works. The lemon verbena is magic and you remember to put it in the freezer because it's all you've got time to do but really you're thinking now what else can I do with this magic? Pastries in the oven. Bread pudding in the oven. Meanwhile you forget, you all forget, that you're in an open kitchen and all those people can see you. S l a p the counter with your wet rag cause the child's been crying fifteen minutes, go in the back and eat a snack, whatever you can find. Girls approach you and point to peaches asking if they're your nectarines and you correct them, hustle out to see what's needed, what is done, and then somehow it's all over again.

The logistics of flan, better apricots, making it through another weekend of doubles and falling asleep at 8 pm dreaming of morels and other mushrooms for a past a dinner and going to a party at the house of one of your crushes, having a very intense phone conversation with a friend when the crush stepped into the room. When you wake try to remember what really happened (none of it), where you have to be and when, resolve tonight to make your bed because you haven't put the clean sheets on it in almost a week and you're getting cold sleeping on the comforter.

As you are between places, remember how alive you feel doing this work and being here and how hard you worked to come here and how you are doing exactly what you hoped beyond hope would be your most longed-for job situation, and how the craziness of it all is always okay and the products make it through. Feel more alive that you have in a really long time (is it the writers group, the weather, the crushes, the fact you're moving to SF very very soon, what is it, if is it at all important to know?)

And Happy Pride. My coworker recalls his first pride parade in the late seventies in St. Louis MO. Some of the marchers, and some of the participants, were wearing paper bags over their head. To let their bodies count but to not be seen. And while I and my queer colleagues were working all weekend long, I'm so thankful for the now (we *did* get to educate our colleague on the symbolism of the pink triangle so some pro-pride work was accomplished at the cupcakery today). Of course there's still some uphill fighting left to do, but I"m always spoiling for a fight. Wouldn't be a lil punk baker otherwise.

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