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.