Thursday, February 28, 2008

very little can bring me such joy, but...

all I have to say is...

guess who learned to spin ice cream today? i haven't spun any, but i will soon, but really...

guess who doesn't have to beg, really, beg with a sad-puppy face on and the knowledge that even though i beg i'll still not be taught but i have to ask anyway, cause

it's the ice cream machine...and i have to ask...

I Hope I'm There When You Actually Get To Use It said one of my coworkers today.
Why, Cuz I'll Be Happy And Bouncing All Day Long? I said.

it's true, sometimes it's just the little things.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

pistachio/ out to sea

If you are coming here to find out information on the obvious, the thing I am not talking about except for vaguely, yes, I have a new boss. But that ignores the fact that I have worked for this person since being hired at the restaurant, that we know one another's strengths and weaknesses and work personalities and tastes. We are into the second week and things are becoming routine again, in a sense. We have replaced most of the things we no longer have, so that trying to get a job done does not mean a discovery of no rolling pin, no pastry bag tip, no magnet or marker. We are redecorating the kitchen.

We have almost all (one was xc) been in touch with our old boss. Heartfelt emails exchanged, replies (or not) waited for...this thing requires distance. It could have spun a thousand ways but the pieces fell this particular way. We get sad, we get angry, we navigate all kinds of tension in the course of a day. This is not easy. And we have not been silent even though sometimes that may be easier, too.

We did not ask for this, but we nonetheless react. Make new sweet things. People ask me, several of them, if I am planning on leaving now as if, because I signed up to work for one person and that person is no longer there I would want to leave. Hell No I tell them. I tell them how I would never abandon my team, not least in their moment of need even if I *did* feel I could no longer work there without this one person. And then I tell them how my new boss has so much knowledge and experience and I feel lucky to learn from it. Do I have confidence in my new boss? Do I like her food? Am I happy to be there? Yes, to all of these. To more.

But in the end, it's just another day at work. Chopping things. Making salads. Doing inventory and cleaning and watching.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

the sordid details...

(because the monkey wrangler asked)

1. the "who am I really?": For a long time when you googled me (which is to say when I googled myself) the first thing you saw was this: Toby Reid is a faggot Jew. It was the first sentence of a story I wrote and had published. It's actually a really good piece and I still love it, but I always wondered if people randomly coming across it would think I was a bigot. Also, in grad school I wrote a story on terrorism that involved me googling things like "how to make bombs" and "how to get away with arson" so the government probably thinks I'm nuts. And now you all can as well.

2. the "those crazy queers": When I was a kid and my first lil brother was born I was really upset he wasn't a girl. So one time I dressed him up in some old dress I had and my first communion veil and paraded him around the house. He was pre-mobile at the time so let's hope he has no vague memory of it to trouble his masculinity, because lil brothers are fun.

3. the "gold star": I've only ever seen one man naked and that was because I was 25 and confessed to him that fact. He's actually my oldest friend out here in California...

4. the "stupid pastry assistant, no. 1": At my first restaurant job, my boss was having me make an anglaise and a creme brulee base (or it may have been a pot de creme and brulee, but you get the pictures. eggs tempered, custard, etc). So halfway through the process, when I'd brought everything upstairs to the stove and was just waiting on the cream to come to boil, I became convinced I'd put all the sugar in one of the pots and none in the other (save whatever amount was whisked with the yolks). Rather than admit my stupidity, I went ahead with both projects. Since we made desserts for three restaurants and one of these projects was for a distant location, I never really did find out if it was all in my head or if I really fucked up a lot of food. Oops.

5. the "violence against literature": Recently I took The Last Course out of the library (back in Boston, because SF just has no love for Claudia Fleming) out of the library and photocopied the whole thing because I can't afford to buy a marked-up ebay copy and it's out of print. So I have the most ghetto version of that cookbook, but it's okay, I still love it. Also, years ago when I worked at a bookstore I was so fed up with things in my life that I would rip pages in the back of the travel guides. Customers would be able to bring them back for a new people would just take them and read them on the floor so lots were pretty banged up anyway.

I truly hope my mom doesn't read this. Now, who to tag?

Budi, even though he probably won't comply because he rarely posts. But every now and then he busts out with an interesting tale from his past, which cracks us all up because now he's spiritual advisor and mediator to the cupcakery.

Richie, because I met him for a half second one day...and because reading his blog I just get the feeling he's got some interesting stories.

Fringe, because this is an ideal project for writers, and I have to post this week so let's conserve out stones, eh?

Jamey, again, with the writers.

and lastly, Maryusa, because she is just so much trouble and who knows what wildness she's committing with her one functional hand!

oh, & the rules:
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names, linking to them.
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

Friday, February 22, 2008

fruit memories/newness

I made some fig jam today at work for one of the two parties we had. Took black mission figs, cooked them down with some sweet muscat wine and a little water. I took some time to appreciate the sugar sheen on the figs as I diced them, stopped several times to stir, add, adjust, left some space for patience. Pureed the whole thing. It was very good. It went with fried graviera cheese.

Today I also learned how to cook the octopus, from someone who I am strangely starting to bond with. When the dish was put together, he handed me a piece of tentacle. I stared it down, remembering the rubbery feeling in my hand. I tasted it. I let go. It was good, better with sauce and with the side salad. Do You Wanna Show Me? I asked him. Do You Wanna Learn? he replied. There was a time when I wouldn't have said yes.

I worked garde manger tonight so I stayed out of the pastry kitchen, mostly, except to try a spoonful of some fresh-spun ice cream that my new boss held out to me. When I tried to taste it, still so soft and precious, it slid down my throat instead in the manner of an ice cream shot. Some slight hint of flavor lingered in my throat, but it went too fast to make a full impression. Come Back When You Learn To Eat, she said. Visitors to our kitchen soon learn that we tease mercilessly though it is, like a schoolboy's crush, always affectionate at heart. So I went back to the savory kitchen but there it was, an impression, a tease, a hint of an answer to a question.

Yesterday I tasted something good lord so delicious. I was in the pk while it was being born and I got to watch it come to life, got to dip fingers in process, asked the whys. It was incredible. I'm so excited for it.

Change is constant. What do you believe, what do you believe in? Do you fight or do you let go? Me, I'm trying to hold to the things I resolved at week's beginning.

I loved that fig jam. I made it with love. I made it meditating on the first perfect fig I ever ate, in a small Palestinian town, which led me to the figs from Knoll, and the fruit-stealing adventure in Berkeley with some perfect figs devoured on spot, and faint memories of Jerusalem, desert sunrises, certain women, Sonsie figs, my bad habits, my good intentions. Food is love. Food is a springboard. Food is a lot of things, but only with human intervention.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

the update

There are two moments I keep coming back to from the last few days. One is Monday night after a very lazy day...I went out driving, and I drove until I felt like I could write. Until I felt like I could open a cookbook and let the flavors, textures and ideas wash over me. I drove through from Oakland through Emeryville, slipping through streets but never getting lost, then down Ashby and back to the freeway, and back here. I came upstairs and wrote for a while. Then I opened the Oleana cookbook and paged through, and the dishes felt at once like coming home and like variations on a theme. When I look at that cookbook I see the tiny kitchen and its spice rack, its back line, its dish. When I look at the pastry recipes the reaction is more visceral. I remember them....and tied up with remembering them is the crazy abundant wild energy I had at the time. The gluttony of food. The desperation to move to SF. I may have been in Boston but I wasn't, not really. I felt that on Monday, again. At least a faint glimmer of it. I tried to think of ways to keep it close to me, to carry it through the week. To do certain things differently.

And then the week started. And Tuesday afternoon I was washing out a pastry brush someone left in the sink, and went outside to shake it off. I looked back inside, through the glass windows that seem to have grown larger, like some kind of Alice in Wonderland trick, to see two of my coworkers laughing at me. I went back inside, asking what was all so funny. They told me the brush wasn't dry enough and I needed to keep doing it. Then my other coworker walked in the room. Wait Here, I told her. You Have To Stay Here To Laugh At Me, Too. I walked back outside prepared to shake out the brush, and of course looked back at their faces, and almost fell over laughing. There was something about it their faces through the glass mirrored mine, how the moment felt stretched to a minute perhaps, how it grew larger and seemed very fictional, almost. Except there was no realization, no epiphany, no sense of largeness. Only laughter, but strange and joyous and not unkind. I shook the brush and we all laughed, and I went back inside.

They already tell me when I'm being stupid, mean, or plain inept, anyway...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

all kinds of deliciousness

Sometimes really good food is restaurant food, and now that I'm responsible for working both sweet and savory sides of the line I see through that mirage a little bit more (which is not to say that I appreciate it any less).

Sometimes, though, it's diner brunch, tucked into a booth in an in-between part of the city where I used to live and will soon live again. I ordered a chocolate milkshake (if only they'd had malt!) and am omelette with avocado and salsa, hash browns and toast, and coffee. We picked off bites of M's pancakes and made fools of ourselves with a camera. The hash browns were perfect-crispy. I grinned goofily, unable to keep my face from cracking into a smile or a smirk, spooning more food into my mouth even though I was already beyond full...

...but I haven't been eating much lately, aside from fava puree and pasta with butter, and then there was some fried chicken that I apparently am not being enthusiastic enough about (so alright, already, it was all kinds of deliciousness and I ate three pieces! and then took two more home cause it was breakin my tiny tin heart that it was just sittin there on the counter all unloved. It took me back to Kansas, which was I think the point in my life at which I realized I really do adore fried chicken, and I don't adore much, so there, fried chicken, yummers, as an old boss would say)

...and also it was being content in the moment. Realizing that the day would unfold however it may, but I didn't need to be so up in my head about it all. And then an east bay adventure popped up, and then Ikea, and when we were smushed up against a fence in the Ikea parking lot in Emeryville taking pictures of a cake tag for my blog, and then a group shot, it felt like we had done that so many times before, and we'd do it again, and sometimes continuity is nice and it's necessary, especially with the nothing-but-change that my life has been since December.

There is still more change to come. Moving back to SF, which will be the fourth move in a year. And then perhaps a party, for my year anniversary in the bay?

Thursday, February 14, 2008


for long hours.
and long days.
for getting tired, and getting over it.
for piping bags of pink chocolate,
which are sometimes uncooperative.
for forgetting what i should do.
for those who demand it from me even though i do not know why.
for my family who misses me. and my dog who misses me.
for my finger to heal.
until i find time to read and write.
because i can't remember the last time i had a really great meal.
because life is change
even though i have had more than a lion's share of it lately.
for the season to change, and bring new fruits with it.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


It is too cute to go to your favorite local ice cream store with almost all your crew. Especially when you try oh so many flavors, and upon trying one say with absolute certainty that the flavor IS your boss.

honey bay laurel, thanks for asking

And then to hear that she herself goes into the store and orders that flavor later...too funny.

Me, I got some brandied cherry and black pepper-candied pistachio. And I think that I am the black pepper pistachio. You know, hard to take but sweet all the same. However my friend thinks I should be brandied cherry. Slightly alcoholic, plus fruity. Hmph.

Friday, February 08, 2008

first person, limited

(or, I am such a one trick pony, kids...)

In what jargon do you talk? What are your buzz words?

Do you confuse the narrator with the character or with the author? Do you think that you don't need to figure out who is narrating a third person piece? What is at stake for that omniscience? Do you thrive on voice, the slow seduction of one person's confessions(I want to say that I met the apple farmer, Dan, in a cute way)? What do you know of pacing and rhythm, sentence structure? (As luck would have it, I knew the girl who showed up to interview me for the new SF food magazine--as if our tiny city really needed another--and she in turn knew that I was a dyke.)What do you know of beginnings?(Occasionally, something happens in a kitchen, good or bad--so you save the day by covering three stations and cooking for some hotshot food critic, or else you get caught drinking champagne and doing lines of coke in the wine room and your coworkers lock you in overnight just for kicks--and you ascend right into legend) Do you conceive or do you write blindly on? Do you seek to place metaphor, stories, do you make use of dreams or gimmicks (Six months ago I flew to Anchorage to watch my father die and last month he returned the favor)

tense. backstory. scene. exposition. reliability, in narrators. trust. stakes. beginning middle end. protagonist. syntax. prose. word choice. intention. description. dialogue. believability. first person limited/omniscient second person third.

If you know me by now, you know I need to know all the details

There are so many rules, strategies, modes and things to say but all it really takes is my left hand moving. To keep a million things in mind, and still perform the task at hand which is informed by those millions of things, born from them as surely as anything is created. To hold all of the necessary knowledge, and go forth quietly down one path willing to wait for what needs to happen to happen, to get there in the necessary manner, which is different every time, though similar.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

When I kissed Jessie in Kiki's woodshed two days before the bang-up party, I thought it was an accident, some kind of kinetic result of the hours spent carving ice with chisel and saw. I thought it was all over that day, before it even began.

Apparently I really did want to get some writing done yesterday. Tomorrow I plan to do a lot more. I remember an evening spent in a cafe, was it the first of the year? Writing a letter to keep me inspired to write. Trying to combat the loss of a year's work with grace, good humor and good company.

The best people are the ones that can make you laugh. Especially if you have just done something stupid or are in a lot of pain. I got the perfect email tonight from the only person who could have sent it to me. It made me feel a lot better in a way that talking to that same person would not have done.

Sometimes you are wrong about something and what do you do about that fact, your wrongness? How do you betray your character in your response? The dog barks; I am who I am as well.

Curiously, the dog seems much happier here in Oakland. No more yappy dogs!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

it doesn't matter what i do

not for all the tea in china
not if i could sing like a bird
not for all north carolina

not if i could write for you
the sweetest song you ever heard

it doesn't matter what i do

It's that time of the week when I step out of the pantry station and back into the pastry kitchen. It's odd to start your week off in garde manger. To be three days at least, sometimes four, out of working with your tiny team. Sure I see them; I clean their kitchen, inventory their items, sometimes plate their desserts but I'm there to work with someone else's systems and products. Stepping back into the pk midweek is sometimes like walking into the eye of a hurricane, or stepping out your front door into a deluge. The week is underway. Things are afoot and I know slightly of them, but all I know of pastry is the trails it leaves behind. What products we have or are running low on. This week the transition was less rocky, for whatever reason, and I got to work early today and knocked a couple things out before setting up the station. Those days of course are also the days you get sent home super early. There are parties tomorrow. Things to get ready for. I've got a million loads of laundry to do and I should take a shower, clean my room. etc.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

big drama in lil oaktown!

Sooo, I have lived here for two days, mostly one, and much of that was not spent at home. How can there be drama already? Dios mio. It didn't involve me, but I was brought up to speed, shall we say, by one of the guys in the house after a nightttime visit to my friend at the world's cutest ice cream shop.

(butterscotch and chocolate, and tastes of other delicacies)

The space feels different and the darkness feels different, would be what I have to say so far about being here in Oakland again. Mostly right now, though, all I want to do is sleep and I think it's some sort of response to stress. I got up at ten and then napped for a good couple hours this afternoon and I'm cozy in bed already.

In truth, though, I'm falling in love with reading again, and I'm not sure if I can convey the deliciousness of feeling cozy and safe in bed at home again (oh, and let's not forget warm!). It could be better if I had a warm body beside me, certainly, but my ears don't have to prick up for the footfalls of the old landlady or the yapping of small chihuahua dogs. I have had my guard up for a long time, almost all the time, and it is very exhausting, so perhaps that explains the sleep.

The book this time is Jane Smiley's Horse Heaven, a book I resisted reading for a long time because, cmon, it sounds like a book for horsey teenaged girls (or boys). Jane Smiley is a treat in the ironic, slightly embittered and witty way that is not really cynical enough to be in fashion right now. She is an Iowan, a reedy woman with big glasses and a small, tight frame who, improbably, went to Vassar, and I got to see her read there a number of years ago. One of the most intriguing things for me about Horse Heaven is how this woman can write so knowledgeable about the racetracks of California or Florida or the specifics of horse betting, training, horse care, all of it done from the various perspectives of owners, trainers, jockeys, trophy wives. I adore fiction that aims to be so much larger than life. I have always been attracted to multiplicity, to the perspective that doesn't quite fit, to the demolition of the idea of the box. I want the world to be large enough for stories that don't fit inside the frame, for stories with longing to be more than might contain them. It's time to turn my energies to writing again, with the house drama mostly behind me.

Friday, February 01, 2008


what do these things have in common?

meyer lemon zest
do x2
cc cookie do
white bean soup
blackberries (yerena)
acme bread
cherry jam
persimmon puree
ripe persimmon
plout puree
eary grey ic
salted caramel ic
black pepper ic
muscat grapes (alfieri)
pizza do
cream cheese
dijon mustard
meyer lemon marmelade
orange juice