Tuesday, March 31, 2009

random thoughts, tuesday afternoon

exhausted in mind, not body.
delicious candied cocoa nibs for afternoon snack.
not feeling the tea cinnamon thing. plus it was weirdly gummy. humph.
LROD hasn't been appearing in my rss feed...that makes me sad.
my dog is a champion at unmaking the bed.
i'm really not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing that my boss didn't get back to me today...but i know i'll find out later in the week.
i'm reading this e-book on my computer (really, it's a pdf file, so am i supposed to call it an e-book or a pdf?) and it's in two columns per page, which annoys me immensely.
i feel like a lot of the publishing blogs lately (cause of the kindle?) are having the same conversation that i was having eight to ten years ago (ebooks, the death of print publishing, the flicker of the screen versus the turn of the page)...which makes me wonder if so many voices are just now joining the dialogue, or if we've been having the same conversation for ten years now.
i'm supposed to be checking out a new writers group on thursday but so far haven't received anything to read for it.
my dog has the cutest smile on his face right now.
i need to cook my bergamot.
michael ruhlman has a great post on lemon squares and you should read it.
there are 59 comments on this post, which makes me think i'm not the only one who likes lemon squares.
i'm really very possible about to train my fourth coworker in 2 months...3 months...can't remember.
i'm nervous i won't like the new brand of coffee i bought at the andronicos.
i've been getting a bunch of rejection letter on this piece of flash, but none of the letters have been interesting.
i feel like apricots are right around the corner and that is very satisfying.

last night a fellow grad student came up...she's had some books out, appeared on npr recently. she was a pub kid and not an mfa-er, so i didn't know her very well, but someone who was out with us said that she thought this woman wrote books she thought would sell, as opposed to books she wanted to write. it took me a microsecond to acknowledge that i'd rather have a book that meant something to me, that i wanted/needed to write, than a book that i produced from a more flippant place.

but i do wonder, does it make it easier to write a book if you're not attached to the story you're telling? by attached i mean with your whole heart? if i were writing a book like this blog post where it didn't matter what sentence followed the next, per se, where i was writing it for someone to read it...or my name to be known...

and who do you write for? (or cook for?)

yourself? who you'd like to be? who you were?

what is the most satisfying audience you can imagine? do you know when you have a good audience? do you recognize apt criticism? does it still sting?

i wrote, when i was a kid, out of some vague hope for fame. then i wrote cause it was smart. i read always, without thinking about why i read.

Friday, March 27, 2009

boredom in the kitchen

I was talking to a fellow cook today about boredom. I kept checking facebook every five minutes. and twitter. I was so bored.

I'd had a pretty busy today at work before heading over to sweat a few more hours in someone else's kitchen, and a lot of orders to fill. Logically, there wasn't cause to be bored. Monday things are pretty slow, I can expect to have a short day, and since it's the end of my work week, I should expect that most things that need to happen that week have happened. I expect Mondays to be boring. But Friday...Friday would be my busiest day even if I didn't have somewhere else to be after work.

Part of it is being alone. No one to talk to. Part of it is the nature of the job.

A former line cook friend told me some time ago that if I was going to continue cooking, I needed to get used to boredom. I am sure this was in response to my complaints about having to work service during a slow night/month/season. I never liked working service (but that's another post), not least because--especially in an open kitchen, where you are constantly being watched--there is not a lot that you can do. Sure, you can start infusing that spice for an anglaise, but who is going to stand there and cook it for you if you get a ticket? Working service is, literally, waiting for the printer to spit out your tickets. Working in pastry, you are the wallflower of service, the last asked to dance.

I wanted to be busy all the time. Cakes in the oven, dough to sheet, chocolate melting over a double boiler and an infusion going. The kind of busy where you leave at the end of the day and realize that every single person eating dessert that night will be eating something that you made. You're exhausted and energized.

There'll be times when you're just chopping stuff for two hours, my friend said. Hulling strawberries. Because it needs to be done. You're going to be bored and that's part of the job.

pans by cseanburns

I shouldn't be surprised at boredom, but somehow I constantly am. Another cook once said to me that it's only after you pass through that phase {actually, in her words, it was only after you'd spent a year somewhere, but some places have steeper learning curves than others} that you begin to see under that layer to everything else going on, and you learn so much more. Take your pick of advice; get back
to me on it.

kumquats by orphanjones

Monday, March 23, 2009

&you are?; an ingredient list

shamelessly stolen from chef, though I did him the courtesy of letting him know.

butter is from litlnemo

a list of ingredients, techniques, methods that are meaningful to me:

black peppercorns
pink peppercorns
apples {esp. northern spy, stayman winesap, pink pearl}
sugar {white, brown, demerara, muscovado}
middleton gardens fraises des bois + mara des bois + raspberries
lemon verbena
plums {italian + french prune plums, mirabelle, and the small plums i used to sell here}
vanilla bean
malt powder
new england blueberries
ice cream
citrus {meyer, eureka, yuzu, bergamot, kumquat, tangerine, grapefruit}
rosewater and orange blossom
salted almond
walnut + black walnut
sb 70%
valrhona equtoriale + jivara lactee
brown sugar
butter cake
roasted banana
black tea {lapsang souchong, darjeeling, earl grey}
korean mint
root vegetables {parsnips, baby beets}
brown butter

training: how to pick them and how to break them in

What do you look for when you're hiring a new cook? Do you keep the same job description in a file on your folder, to be posted over and over again on craigslist? Does your restaurant/bakeshop/kitchen have a high rate of turnover? If so, do you know why?

Do you seek input from your fellow cooks or front of house managers, those above you? Do you ask them what is so important about what you do? or how can I best communicate the particulars of this job? Do you have cooks come in first for a face-to-face, do you make a point of knowing something about the places listed on their resume, do you ask them why they want to work for you? Do you ask them why they want to work with you? Do you set up a trail and if so, how long do you plan to keep the cook and what do you have them make? {item I've been asked to make most frequently while trailing: pastry cream}

Do you hire them on the spot? If so why? At what point do you know that you will hire someone? Do you ever hire someone before seeing them work? How long do you keep that stack of extra resumes around? Are you honest with the cooks you see about the realities of the position, the things you value, the numbers on the books, the hours they should expect to work?

If you are not honest about these things, please, please, be honest. If you knowingly under-represent the conditions of the job by inflating your covers by over 100 or by telling the cook you'll give her three full days when you expect to send her home after five hours (to keep the costs down) or you tell her she's plating only but can do some production when you know she'll only be baking endless silpats of tuile cookies, then you are lying. You are lying to the cook and lying to yourself. There is a very slim chance that you will hire someone you are happy with, and who is happy with you--and in a town as small as this one, your reputation most often precedes you.

When you are training a hired cook, do you hold his hand? Do you tell him it's sink or swim time? Do you think it? Do you tell the cook what and why and how of everything you ask him to do, or do you keep it simple, do this over and over and over. exactly like that. until you know that the cook begins to see, at which point you tack on another piece of information?

What do you do if you don't like someone? If you feel you made a bad decision the first time around? Do you ever dislike someone for a reason you can't quite articulate? Can you tell if they don't like you? Can you tell when a cook swears she wants to work for you that she's truly desperate for a job, any job, could give a shit about your job in fact, just needs a paycheck? What do you do when the one thing a cook promises you {I'm fast, I'm punctual, I'm neat} is so far from the truth that you'd laugh if it were funny?

Do you learn lessons for the next time around?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

fiction exercise: 5 things

When I'm writing a lot, and stuck in a piece, I keep this book close to me. It's from the only really good class I took in grad school. Inside the book, there's a green publix shopping list on which I've written Liddie is the sort of person who: followed by ten answers to that question.

Avoid all of the minute character descriptions {is short. is allergic to tomatoes. hates to drive at night.} The point of this exercise is to let your mind wander, using the things you know about your character to dig you in a couple of steps deeper. When I do this exercise, the first three are usually throwaway. Uninteresting. If you're lucky you'll end up with five good ones on a list of ten:

2. is unashamed about the gap in her front teeth, the width of a dime laid on end, because her family didn't have dental care when she was young.

3. tucks scraps of food into her bag for the compost bin, then forgets to take them out until they've started to rot.

5. likes to buy lingerie from the Salvation Army.

7. tried to train parakeets in the backyard to work as messenger pigeons.

9. cleans the apartment every three months, using an old gym shirt of mine without first asking if I still wear it.

The story this character is from is dear to my heart, if difficult. I haven't looked at the story in three years, but I still carry her around and sometimes I think of that piece. From those five things, you might see her as thrifty, whimsical, a little self righteous, somewhat entitled, somehow a romantic, probably idealistic. Maybe you'd like to have coffee with her or maybe you'd get up and move if she sat next to you on MUNI.

I wrote 8 things for my character tonight in this chapter I'm desperately trying to get to the end of {not sure why, because the chapter after it will be even more of a headache to manage}. This guy goes to the opera alone, and keeps no photographs of family members in his house. Not as interesting, maybe, but his voice is frantic and dramatic and I think he needs ways to be quiet. I understood that he crosses the street to avoid people with babies and dogs, so I gave his best friend a cat. Just to make my character unhappy.

I've got to train a new cook on Saturday. I'm putting some thoughts together for a post on training. I think I'll only have two days with this girl and then she'll be on her own...and it's a lot harder to fix someone's mistakes when they're working independently and you're catching it days after the fact.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Art versus craft: michael laiskonis

When we cook, are we telling a story in third person?

What, in the act of cooking, is the writing? What is the storytelling? What is the reading? Might these creative and consumptive acts trade places? What is the interplay between dialogue and monologue?

Michael Laiskonis has an excellent post up today about creativity in art and the way art influences cooking. Go read it. I have to do some cooking now.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

sunday night.

soup's on the stove. need to go put it away. white bean-potato-kale. hearty vegetable soups for a rainy day, and when the sun comes out tomorrow i'll wonder why i made it. i told the roommate she could cook up sausages and put them in some of the soup.

you need a writing area she says today. like, in your room. i always want you to have one

what? i say. "you mean, so i don't write on the sofa or in my bed?

yeah she says. like in the corner of your room

our house, you see, is very small, although we did have twenty people in the kitchen once.

writing nook, we'll see. right now i'm clearing out space because a clean room feels like a promise in the same way a clean kitchen feels like a possibility.

my coworker we just hired three weeks ago gave her notice last week, which means someone else to train, someone else to impart the particular minutae that only really comes with experience, and looking (no, you see, it's different, this is just right, this is too thin)...and in the meantime, the one who is leaving does a sloppy job of cleaning, which is to be expected.

i'm putting away the soup.

i'm going to bed early.

today i ate malted vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sunset Bakery morning buns

One of the good things about living in my little Asian neighborhood is stopping by the sunset bakery for cocktail buns and coffee.

While I've tried some of the muffins, palmiers and tarts, the buns are my favorite. Ethereal, fluffy, not too sweet, and served warm. I was given the cocktail bun one day when they were out of black bean buns, and this one contains a mixture if sesame and coconut.

Sesame paste? Seeds? Almond paste with sesame and coconut mixed in? I've had this bun several times and still can't decide how the filling is prepared.I know that it makes me happy in the morning, and I'm going to eat the one in my bag very soon.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

january 18, 2009: per se lunch

Celery Root Veloute/black truffle "pain perdu"

Oysters and Pearls/sabayon of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters anad sterling white sturgeon caviar

White Truffle Oil Infused Custard/ragout of black winter truffles (dcm)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Infused Custard/blood orange + ginko nut (led)

Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm/red bunch radishes, compressed granny smith apples, watercress, violet mustard

Daurade Royale Cuite a L'Huile D'Olive/black trumpet mushrooms, salsify, petit lettuces with red wine syrup

Macaroni and Cheese/butter poached nova scotia lobster, parmesan crisp, creamy lobster broth and mascarpone orzo

Za'atar Scented Panisse/romaine lettuce hearts, raita, smoked eggplant puree

French Onion Soup/alp drackloch

Garden Thyme-infused Ice Cream/chocolate "tuile", fleur de sel, moulin des penitents extra virgin olive oil (led)

Sorbet a L'Huile D'Olive/chocolate pudding, nicoise olive oil (dcm)

Cranberry Sorbet/granny smith apple parisienne, candied apple

Per Se Float/compressed pineapple, vanilla custard, gingerbread "crouton" with pineapple-ginger soda

Coffee and Doughnuts/cinnamon sugared doughnuts with cappuccino semifreddo

Bombe au Pamplemousse/chocolate roulade, manjari chocolate moussee, grapefruit curd, pink grapefruit ice cream (dcm)

Mint Chocolate Chip/chocolate dacquoise, crystallized mint, chocolate tuile, mint chocolate chip ice cream (led)

assortment of migniardises including: nougat, caramels, pulled sugar candy, amadei+ valrhona filled chocolates

for the record:

1. Michael Ruhlman was totally right about the soups. The celery root veloute was the stuff of dreams.

2. We arrived to one of the best tables in the house, a letter from TK himself, and complimentary champagne.

3. Yes, I requested the zaatar panisse.


5. Jonathan came out to say hi.

6. The kitchen was immaculate in a way that I cannot possibly hope to describe.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

the recession, thomas keller , and frank bruni

I had it on word a couple weeks ago that the French Laundry had started calling concierges in the city to let them know that Laundry reservations were available for interested clientele. Today SF Eater posted a link to an opentable Laundry resy.

In the diners journal today as well, Frank Bruni mentioned that Per Se isn't doing two full turns these days.

Ominous times upon us all. Do go the the Laundry or Per Se, if you haven't. Absolutely incredible.

In a related NYT aside, Bruni has posted several articles recently about tipping in the service industry. Personally, I tend to tip 20%, minimum 18%, unless something is wrong. Bruni's point today is that restaurants don't pay their employees enough, so it's the customer's contractual obligation to tip so that the server earns a living wage. Californians aside--where servers and bartenders make minimum wage of not more (quite often, actually, they make the same as your local line cook)--that is true. Servers do not make a living wage. But you know what, Frank Bruni? Cooks don't make a living wage. Hosts don't make a living wage. Neither do bussers, dishwashers, barbacks, baristas, night porters or sous chefs. And while the servers do tip out the bussers and the bar staff and sometimes even the dishwasher, the entire back of the house is scraping by.

Twice that I can recall some generous patron at the fancy restaurant tipped out the kitchen. At the East Coast Grille, diners have the option of buying a 6 pack of PBR for the line. at the Bi-Rite Creamery, all tips are split with the kitchen.

While it's true that a server's hourly wage isn't enough to live on, at the end of the day any front of house employee is making more money (per hour, per week, per year) than most back of house employees. If restaurants were to start passing the cost of paying a livable wage onto the customer with higher entree costs (and if you're getting good meat, it's expensive. for the curious, dessert is a great food cost item because butter and sugar and, yes, even chocolate, are a lot cheaper to turn into a $9 dessert than a good cut of lamb is to turn into a $25 entree), a nation of diners would rise up in protest. I am sure of it.

What would your $25 entree really be worth if every person who contributed, from the farmer all the way to the server, were paid a livable wage, and benefits?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

overturning prop 8, one step at a time

Have you seen this video yet?

Tomorrow night I'm attending the Eve of Justice, in preparation for the opening of oral arguments on 3/5 in the case to overturn prop 8.

The most important thing we can be in this fight is visible.