Thursday, January 31, 2008

goodbye my perfect view

I've got the moving jitters. It's silly, I know. It's only Oakland. I've been getting casually excited about all the lil east bay things I love and will be near again, but I'm also sad in a lonely sort of way. I won't see San Francisco anymore as that city I descend into with the start of each day, clouds hanging high or fogged down low. The fog won't roll down from the haight or over bernal hill and enclose me. I am very much looking ofrward to having a safe home environment again, don't get me wrong, but I feel pricky. Maybe it's the weather. So much and rain and cold.

But this is sort of how the day went: cutting frozen cookies until the cutter wore a sore spot in the palm of my hand, riding the soft flesh against metal through the pain, rolling the scraps back out, freezing them again, the soft click of the rolling pin reminding my hand of its soreness. A vulnerable sort of day for prickly girls.

I'm going to remind myself not to be sad about these new eastbay adventures. It is right that I'm leaving this place and I suppose the only thing to be sad about is the loss of familiar routines.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I love this city because...

There's this guy who runs a door to door knife sharpening service with free pickup and dropoff for Bernal residents. Which for one more week I technically am! So I shot him an email and am now waiting. My knives are bad. And I need them to be sharp, especially if I end up going to a potato printing party on Sunday...

East bay adventures can wait one more week. It occurred to me last night how many cake tags there will be everywhere. And my east bay friends are selfishly excited to count me in again and I as well am bashfully excited to return to Oakland and be somewhere restful and peaceful and no longer in the doghouse.

It's strange the way things pivot. Something is perfect or at least adequate and then it turns, becomes undesireable. Or momentum gathers unexpectedly. I've got bills to pay, mail to tend to, stories to write, in short a life that's been on hold for two weeks to pick up, and lots of books and clothing to pack up because that is basically all I own. Little boys' t shirts, cookbooks, novels, kitchen stuff...time to crank up the music, turn on the space heater and drag some order down to the chaos.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

should i be offended if i make savory types act sweet, or is it a good thing?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

moving back to Oakland, for a while, hopefully not too long! Now I can focus on the good things in life, and of course on getting lots of writing done.

West Oakland to be precise, on a nice block with houses that aren't leaking or lacking heat or otherwise falling apart...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

homeless, adrift

twelve days now or is it eleven? i've got to find a place. certain of you might relish knowing i am considering moving back to the east bay...though i would still prefer to be here, mostly because it's easier to have a social life and check out all the fun things i wanted to move here for.

ti couz this morning, because i know my boss would be happy for me eating buckwheat crepes in the nature of inquisitiveness and so on.

I had so much coffee I was jittery and happy, and then so much food I only wanted a nap, which as not to happen. First a buckwheat crepe with caramelized onions, tomatoes and cheese, the buckwheat's old and woody flavor lost to me at least among the other ingredients. Then a sweet crepe with whipped cream I first suspected of being from a can (but it wasn't)! The sweet tang of nutella reminded me of an old dessert we used to do at Sonsie, one I always hated making...both in the production and in the plating of it.

How ridiculously lesbian it is to spend your brunch talking with the girl you used to date for like half a second about the other women she is seeing now, while also discussing with a friend in Boston (who used to like you, god, a million years ago) her fears about her date that afternoon?

Apartment hunting in Bayshore with the rest of the daylight, and then a nap, and then off to Arinell for some delicious pizza and a feeling of being elsewhere than San Francisco, and then lastly Ritual to take advantage of the internet before they closed.

Currently in the doghouse I have to stand on my bed and hold the computer in one hand in order to get internet. Every day I get headaches from either stress or dehydration or both, and our only form of heat is still a space heater so it seems I can be cold and hydrated or warm and meh and it takes so much energy to merely reckon with it all. I try to be all positive and one-door-closes about the whole situation but really I feel it's undeserved...I mean what have I done, for real? My dog is a good boy and I myself am mostly good though cranky in the mornings.

Still there are good things and I try to hold onto them, push the scary homelessness stuff aside enough to appreciate the rest of it all. Reconnecting with old friends

Friday, January 18, 2008

happy friday!

I just finished the most strange and wonderful book this morning, Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. I wasn't in love with Kavalier and Clay, so I didn't rush to pick it up and got it actually only out of desperation as they'd closed off the fiction section of the SFPL to move it all downstairs and there was nothing else. But it was great in the way that Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn was great and Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections was great...

all those big boys and their big books, they bite off such large chunks of the world. Mysticism, religion, faith, noir, and a most unusual language all its own. And I am left to wonder what all these hours and words add up to best proceed with my own work which, let's be honest, has always been trying to embrace too much of the world and too many voices. Multiplicity, borderlines, the random action, the long backstory. I am not one, writing wise, for straight lines and simple stories. It is safe to say you will never find my writing in the New Yorker. I know who I am.

I've got to type up my first submission for the new year's writing resolution pact and send it off to snowy Boston. Somehow I forgot that if we finish the year out we are going to get matching tattooes...

It's a restaurant story this part, but the next part of the story refuses to take shape. It balks after four or five re-starts, an angry line cook descending into bad habits while my lovelorn pastry chef sighs patiently over her perfect man and my gay manager stares down another glass of something waiting for reckognizeable love. Anthony Bourdain it ain't, but I have been trying to write these stories for long time and it's a lot easier when you are in a restaurant, squeezing past each other all the time, forming and reforming strange alliances, meeting the demands of the day with what grace you can muster.

This week has been strange and long, pastry bending once again to accommodate the work of others, which is fine, claro, but more juggling. Sometimes you don't sell a dessert for three days straight and then on the fourth you're suddenly shorthanded at the end of lunch service because it was all anyone seemed to want that day. Chances are whenever you think tonight will be just like last night that is not going to happen at all. When you wouldn't mind getting out of work early because you have an evening full of appointments, you'll stay late. You'll realize that there really are five ways of doing math because everyone sees things differently. You try to be always consistent and then the rule changes.

Consistency is hard, maybe one of the hardest things.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Making the fish kofte at work is like making super-cute little quenelles with my hands!

Mine actually look very nice. Now if only I could take that small act of finesse and apply it to all the other things.

Um, right. Totally reading that thing now before I leave to get ready for work.

But...since I just upgraded my flickr account I'm one step closer to getting the pieces of my life back together! Find me in a dress, find me with long hair, find my in distant cities or just across the bay.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

the restlessness of the young bakers

When do we get there, wherever we're going? How do we know if it's the right time to go or to stay?

(how long are you gonna be in california...cause i might come out)

When is the last time you held someone's hand? When is the last time you drove for hours with no real reason but the pleasure of it? When is the last time you got on an airplane and left a piece of your heart at the end destination? When is the last time you took a chance? When is the last time you thought you were in control?

In college, Michael sat us down one day in class. You have, none of you, ever made a real decision in your life. Sure, you chose to come here instead of some other college, but that's not a real choice. You would have gone. It would be much the same. Those aren't real choices.

Have I made any real choices yet? Is this a choice? What happens when what you want turns into a string of ellipses, when the straight line at last is revealed to be a curve, or sometimes a circle, bringing you back to where you always wanted to be?

How do we learn how to fix our mistakes? How do we make better educated guesses?

Is it more empowering to know your place or to have autonomy but no direction? To make the decisions but be blind to the larger process, or to handle one small piece at a time?

How do we know when it's done? How do we know when to push or when to wait, whether we have enough for service or what surprises the day might bring?

It seems like most of the teachers are themselves not learned enough. That sometimes their snappishness is because they don't have the answers themselves. That some people are content to know that it works and some people need to know why, and maybe only on their thirtieth time making it do they need to know why.

The conversation last night turned to a fellow baker. There's something I never saw in her. I see it in my boss and sous chef all the time, a small act of authority behind every move and every decision. In her I never saw anything beyond me.

If I forget occasionally how lucky I am to be where I am, last night I remembered I have not one but two superskilled pastry chefs who tease, poke, prod us to be better. Sometimes gratitude is lonely. Sometimes revelations happen in the quiet moments. Sometimes it's in the letting go.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

happiness is a warm...

what if someone could give you everything you ever wanted?

or, better yet, what if you could create it together?

Make all of those things you talked about when you were wee Vassar students be more than great and wonderful and crazy dreams(things that later click into odd sorts of sense as scientists become farmers become stagiares and writers become cooks)? One day is what we always said...we shall see what we shall see but somehow we keep pushing and growing closer together toward something. tangible becomes intagible. i'm betwixt and between. meet me here, at the borders?

Just got off the phone with my favorite person in Po-town. Who may come visit me here in the next couple months, oh I hope, because she would adore the FPFM and everything else.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


I've been hiding out at morgan's house, with a dog and the computer I just got back from the apple store, trying to make order out of chaos. I recovered a lot more material than I thought I would find, including several published pieces, my entire thesis manuscript, my first story ever about SF, and the draft of a wonderful flash piece I was hoping to recover so that I could send to to a journal who was really, truly hoping to publish my oaklandish flash piece but got there several months too late. So today is editing that piece back to polished, sending it to the editor, and keeping my fingers crossed.

Here's the thing: I need to find a new place to live. By the end of this month. With a dog, it's tricky. I'm trying to take my own advice to a friend and not stress out about the things I can't control but really, I've just had shit luck since december 18th and if you work with me or know me and think I have been sad or grumpy it's true and I am trying really hard to be more positive. There are a few bright spots in the whirling fog and work is one. Even if I'm only cleaning down the bakeshop at the end of the night rockin out to Crimson and Clover. Work is my rock in the middle of all this messiness and I am so thankful to feel that way about a workplace. It's unusual for me.

I'll be at the RADAR reading series this thursday gettin my writers' groove on, knitting some handwarmers and checkin out the pretty girls. I'll be at work most every night. I try to spend most of my time out of the house. But hiding out in others' houses means I'm hiding from the problems at home and that isn't good either. So I'm forcing myself to get the things in order and do the hard work of moving on for the third time in a year.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


(still computerless, bear with me)

Sometimes when I'm doing something, especially something new, a big questions clicks into place. Do you really know what you are doing? it asks me. Why are you doing it this way? Why this amount of X and no other? Why X and not Y? What variables are fixed?

For a long time I have had a gelatin hangup. I don't eat much meat and so I don't understand gelatin in its purest form. To me, it's one of the oddest substances around because it can still something. But I can't get past the mouthfeel of it and usually I don't loved the gelled component of a dessert even when I am trying to forget that it's there (it's difficult at work because I know what gets put where). I have made some mistakes at work--like BIGass mistakes--because I don't understand how the ingredient works and I have tried to read as many books as I can (at home, in the library). Yes, I've gone to McGee and I've gone to culinary textbooks, but what hit home for me the most were Lindsey Shere's remarks in the Chez Panisse Desserts book. This is what we find usually works best, she said, following with a list of ways you *should* treat gelatin-based products. In that sentence fragment, curled within a paragraph of explanation on blooming, temperature, and the like, was an admission of mystery. We do this even though we do not fully understand. I loved it. I called up a friend and read it to him.

Last night I encountered another big question while whisking together a souffle base that contained a couple ounces of flour. While waiting for it to come together my mind trailed over to the chocolate chiboust we make. The two are similar enough in preparation. Liquid is boiled and tempered with eggs, the result is cooked down on the stove to thick, cooled somewhat, and lightened by swiss meringue. In the chiboust, you must whisk heroically and over medium low heat while the souffle base is full speed ahead hot, whisk it good but, you know, there's no fire. In the chiboust, you are deathly afraid of the starch turning grainy. Because then you will have to make it again. And you know you don't want to spend another half hour whisking. In the souffle, this is no concern. Why?

WHY I asked my boss and as she started to explain something about the liquid ratio she was called away by the chef, so my question bobbed about like a balloon and my sous chef, mopping the floor, picked up about the liquid proportions. But that didn't work for me. There was so much more liquid in the chocolate. Then she tried a different tack. What is in the chocolate base? Milk. Butter. Fat. It's The Fat, she said. The Fat And The Flour. There's No Fat In The Souffle.

Ok, I can buy that. But why? I pressed her later. Why flour instead of cornstarch or tapioca? Can you use another starch? If you change the recipe to cream does it come out totally different? How do you know this? (which means of course how can I know this, or when will I know this)

They all know that I get hung up on the details. You can just accept it, my sous chef cautions, or you can figure out the science behind it. If you really want to know. Cause that's apparently where the explanation lies. But unless I understand it how will I know whether flour is best or another starch, whether I should use cream or a combination of butter + milk, milk + cream, if the yolks are too many or too few?

Pastry. Sometimes I feel like there should be a plaque in pastry kitchens that says Bang Head Here. But that's better than a timer that beeps You Motherfucker Answer Me!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

from the self loathing letter

The rules of engagement with my body of (lost) work for the next year, as outlined over brunch in Jamaica Plain with a dear friend, are thus:

1. work to be exchanged every 2 weeks, or once a month per participant.comments in on the alternate weeks.
2. occasional writing texts to be read and discussed.
3. our pieces of long work to be referred to as projects, rather than that nasty n word or any other such word.
4. an attempt made to join the larger writing community in our respective city, whether it be going to readings frequently, finding a writing buddy or joining a book club. we find outselves each in fabulous writing cities.
5. a letter to ourselves to be written and exchanged containing all of the fears and self criticisms we fall back on when we do not write. such letter containing all our worst barbs shall be read aloud by the other on the occasion of failing to turn in work on one's assigned date.

Last night I wrote my letter while chilling with Morgan at Ritual. I went through all of the usual criticisms, such as:

When was thelast time you spent more than 15 minutes working on a story? And that made you feel accomplished? Fucking pathetic. You spend more time than that making veloute.

And then halfway through something kept tugging at my mind. This lil cook part of me was urgently staying my pen arm. I realized that I needed to give myself permission to want to be a better cook also. Because when you cook and write it is a constant battle. They draw in the same resources and inspiratiomn, demand the same dedication and eye for detail, and craft and love, and my cook told me that she needed to be in this letter, too. Thus:

It's ok that you want to be a better cook. It's ok that you love your job. But you are not going to give up everything that you have wanted all your life and everything you think you are to be a cook. You don't have to make that a choice. You just need to stop wasting your time. You need to get to work. And it's not always fun.

So work, and then work.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


what to do when your hard drive crashes and you lost the entire last year's worth of your work as a writer...if you can even call yourself that anymore...i'm around sort of, figuring out what needs to happen and how i need to change and trying to make better habits.

fuck me, when i'm thinking i should feel loss about something the universe hands me a new conception of loss.