Tuesday, August 28, 2007

cookies to go places with

Ai, miho, there are so many things I want to tell you right now.

Today (and tomorrow as well) I pull on the old battered checks and drive somewhere in Marin and pretend to be a prep cook. It's daunting at times but more educational and at times amusing. I know the savory rhythms are so different from the sweet world and I know why that is supposed to be so, but I've never worked that way.

I won't tell you about the rest of today just yet, but I will say this: there was a little lesson. And it represents just about every possible difference between my world and that world as I have experienced them. What happened was this: the chef handed me a list of ingredients and asked me to make a BBQ sauce. The list was simple: honey mustard cider vinegar soy sauce salt sugar onion chili powder. First I diced and sauteed the onion, rounded up the dry goods from storage, and because he knew I was a baker he said we could make it together, so he poured a good amount of mustard in a pot and showed me how much honey he wanted, and then told me to add the rest of the seasonings. I dumped in some chili powder, then more. I heaped salt, pinched sugar, lightly sloughed soy sauce from the bottle. I was overly cautious.

Everything is measured in pastry and precise. Cups of dry goods (if you are even using cups and not metric) are leveled off with a knife or other flat edge. There is a precision most people liked to call scientific, as if every baker's mind works tha way. Mine doesn't.

So the chef let me play with the sauce and then I went back to prepping some vegetables. He called me over to taste it, and we tasted it together and it was nasty, nothing bland. So he started adding huge quantities of the things I'd meekly put in, instructing me not to be afraid of the salt, or the heat from the chili. He wanted me to understand that because we weren't going to be shoveling spoonfuls of sauce in our mouth, that because of the nature of its end use, it could take such large amounts of these things.

It was interesting for me to be in a place where I knew so little, and to have to ask for so much. Because in pastry if I'm in a position of acquiring information it's usually about something I'm already familiar with, so I can contextualize my knowledge. I can ask intelligent questions. I have a past, my hands have a history.

More on savory cooking tomorrow. To taste memories now, and cookies...I'm making molasses cookies right now. I just put the first batch in the oven. I should be doing other things bow like sleeping, but we are...oh...six days through a nine day stretch of work and well, no longer ill, so whatever. I would give you the recipe for these cookies if it were mine to give, and I suppose I could, since it was given to me freely.

These cookies were made for me right before I left Boston, on the last day of my Oleana stage. I'm not sure why we decided to make them, only that Maura, who thought if you were going to make cookies they needed to be perfect, loved them. At the end of the day she packed me a large sack of cookies, which I stuck in the freezer until the end of February. I took them with me, and Brandon and I munched those, plus my mother's chocolate chip cookies, through snowstorms, hail, traffic, loneliness, darkness, the night of utter freezing hardcore-ness in Ohio. And in the spirit of giving, I gave them to a friend when I arrived here {or, in Oakland}. I was so betwixt when I left Oleana. Finally I had found someone I could learn so much from, and someone I wanted to work beside, and I was just skipping town (although, she knew that when I began). Working at Oleana made me believe I could do restaurant work from a good place in my heart. The cookies were a comfort line into the abyss.

I've been melancholy lately, what with all the coughing and taking-to-bed of Saturday till Monday. And the questions. The things I want. The various routes that have me all confused. I feel I'm at a crossroads and it scares me. I don't want to have reached that crossroads yet. So, the cookies. Keep my hands busy and my mind occupied, and focus me back on the little things, like the taste memory of perfection on a bright wintry day, and all of those deep traits that pull you through the fear.

And this too, the cookies: I am not alone. I think that I am and sometimes I act like I am, but I'm not. Not even out here in SF. Good timing for the cookies, since Leah's coming to town again Friday. And for the Thursday trip to Oakland, to pawn off some cookies on some friends I may not see again before their travels take them away from this place.

What with all these cookies, though, I really like CMON MAN want some malted vanilla ice cream. Ummm. Maybe I just want it regardless of the cookies, but I think it would pair well. Malted vanilla, you're nowhere in this town and I know it, ok, maybe on someone's menu somewhere conceivably, but you are not getting in my mouth unless I make you up, and sigh, I was kinda saving that freezer space for honey-rosemary, and I'm not quite sure where to buy malt powder, but...I just want you so bad.

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