Runaway Recipe: Rosemary Pear Brown Butter Spice Cake

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Go ahead and say that name three times fast.

If you've ever gotten a weekly CSA then you know that you're always left with a few items of produce that you don't know how or don't want to use before the next box comes. A few weeks ago I impulse bought a huge amount of pork belly (who can say no to sale pork belly?!) and a whole duck. We turned my impulse buy into a dinner party and our dinner party into an excuse to use those items that didn't seem like they were ever going to leave our fridge. The napa cabbage cooked down with the pork belly and the EIGHT huge Asian pears I had let build up turned into this cake.

It always surprises people when I say I don't have much of a sweet tooth because it sounds like I don't like dessert. But I LOVE dessert. I just prefer the richness of butter and punch of spice over that taste of sugar. In terms of butter and spice, this cake ain't messin' around. Add in the succulent, caramelized but salty, rosemary scented pears and you have a dessert that literally tastes like everything you want from Autumn.

This recipe isn't hard but it does have a lot of inactive down time so you can certainly make the pears a day in advance if that's what works for you.

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Ingredients

For the pears:

  • 4 large Asian Pears
  • 4 oz (1 stick) Butter (cubed)
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Salt
  • 3-5 sprigs of Rosemary

For the Cake:

  • 10 oz (2 1/4 sticks) Butter
  • 1 cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 2 cups AP Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ground Clove
  • 2 teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ground Cardamom
  • 1 c Chopped Roasted Pears

Directions:

  1. Pears. Preheat oven to 350. Prep the pears by peeling, coring and cutting into eights. Put all the pears into a large Pyrex baking dish. Sprinkle the pears with sugar and salt and evenly distribute the cubed butter throughout the dish. Throw on your whole sprigs of rosemary. Cover with foil and bake for forty minutes at which point the pears will have released their juices and you should have a bubbling syrup in the bottom of the dish. Uncover and cook for another hour, checking and stirring every twenty minutes. At the end of the hour your pears should be caramelized and the syrup at the bottom of the dish should be viscous and golden brown. If you've decided to make these a day in advance, let cool and store in the fridge.
  2. Brown butter. Place 10 oz of butter in a heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the butter begins to smell like toasted nuts and then pour into another container, I usually use something large and shallow so it cools faster. (Sidenote: A lot of chefs strain the caramelized solids out of brown butter, I go back and forth on doing it but both times I made this recipe, I was lazy and didn't bother. It turned out great, so if you don't have a fine mesh sieve or just hate cleaning the damn things, feel free to be a lazy bum like me.) Cool the butter in the fridge until it's the consistency of slightly softened butter. You can also do this in advance, just be sure to take it out with enough time to soften before you make the cake.
  3. Let's make this cake! Preheat oven to 350. Oil and flour or oil and parchment a nine inch cake round.Whisk together flour, spices, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Cream butter, brown sugar and vanilla until light a fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down your bowl. Add the flour mix in three stages, beating lightly after each addition. After the last addition beat just until all the flour is incorporated. Fold in the chopped pears and scrape into your cake pan. Use a spatula to even out the batter and then pop in the oven for 30-40 minutes. The cake should be light golden brown and spring back when touched.
  4. Uhh, in my mouth, please? Just a couple more steps. When the cake comes out of the oven, dip a pastry brush into the syrup in the bottom of the pear pan and generously soak the top with it. (If you made your pears in advance, you'll need to pop them in the oven for about ten minutes for this) Let cool in the pan until just warm to the touch and then cool the rest of the way on a rack. Slice into 10-12 pieces and serve with the remainder of the caramelized pears.

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Runaway Reviews: The Libertine

IMG_4848 One of the things that never really occurred to me leaving America was how difficult it would be to get a decent cocktail. Sure, I knew my bourbon selection would probably be limited to overpriced Jack and Jim and I'd have to adjust my standards, drinking habits and expected price point for alcohol, but the other week Dan ordered a Scotch and soda from a pretty average bar, with English speaking staff, and got what we think was a Scotch and tonic. Scotch and tonic is maybe the worst drink known to mankind. I'd rather drink something made with Malibu. Yes, I said it, I would rather drink something made with alcoholic suntan lotion, than ever have to try a Scotch and tonic again. In Istanbul, at our fancy hotel rooftop bar, where we were charged TWENTY FOUR DOLLARS to have our drinks made with Bulleit, they SHOOK the life out of Dan's Manhattan and I'm not even sure my Old Fashioned had alcohol in it. They both primarily tasted like melted, dirty ice. I've had two Scotch Old Fashioneds since getting here and one was fine and one was just awful. I'm not opposed to a Scotch Old Fashioned, my favorite drink in the world might be The Campfire at Amor y Amargo (it's not actually on the menu, but go ask for one, you'll thank me later) but you can't just throw a lemon peel and a dash of bitters in a Scotch and soda and go charging somebody $18 like it's an actual Old Fashioned.

You cannot imagine how excited I was when I walked into The Libertine and saw that their drink menu had an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, a Whiskey Sour (with an egg white!) and a Boulevardier. If you had to ask me my top four cocktails, these would be them. They also have the widest and most reasonably priced selection of Bourbon I've seen in Seoul. They charged me one dollar, ONE DOLLAR, extra for having my Old Fashioned made with Buillet instead of the well whiskey (Jim Beam Black). I think Dan got charged a whopping two dollars extra for his Manhattan made with Rittenhouse. Look at that beautiful thing! Just one large globe of ice, a twist of the proper fruit, and actually the proper shade of amber instead of the color of the world's saddest, most watered down, ice tea. The service here is not quick but your cocktail is created with care and I have never seen anyone shake a Manhattan.

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This is the Whiskey Sour. You can tell by that thick layer of foam on top that it's made the best way, with an egg white. I realize that egg white cocktails are a little gross sounding to most people but, in America, bars are usually using pasteurized whites so your risk of food borne illness is minimal. I have no idea what they do here. I do know that egg whites usually add a creaminess and body to Whiskey Sours that makes them absolutely heavenly and that this cocktail was no exception. (This is where to get my favorite egg white Whiskey Sour in New York)

For food at The Libertine, I recommend the burger. It's a little pricey but is always perfectly medium rare and juicy. We've found the other dinner food and brunch food fine but underwhelming for the price point. If you do go for brunch, they make a solid, classic Bloody Mary.

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The Libertine is definitely the place to go when you've had one of those days where you really just need a burger and some Bourbon. (Other people have those days, right?)

It's address is 141-8 Itaewon-dong. I usually take the 405 bus but you can also get there easily by taking the metro to Itaewon Station. Walk South from Itaewon-ro and it will be on your left just before the street turns entirely into antique shops.

My favorite places for a burger and bourbon in New York are The Wren  (the small plates are also fantastic AND I've gotten an industry discount) or, if you're feeling fancy, Prime Meats.

ExpatLIFE

I've been trying to write about what it's like to live in Seoul, what it's like to be an expat but the truth is, so far, mostly it's pretty boring. I spend a lot of time trying to find things like sponge mops and three-ring binders without page protectors. I still don't know where to get a bucket. My house is only partially furnished because IKEA hasn't opened yet and I sleep on a mattress on the floor and I don't like it. Ada and I go for a lot of walks and she put her head right into the strollers of Korean babies to mixed results of dismay and delight. Four days a week I go to Korean class with Dan before work and three days a week I go to Korean class with other spouses from ten to noon. Mondays I tell myself I'm going to write all day but instead I spend the day walking the dog, fucking around on the internet and mopping. I'm so tired of mopping. It's not that I dislike living here, or that I'm unhappy, I just haven't found my place yet. Haven't found my schedule, my people, my groove. So I struggle. I struggle through my to do lists that are somehow always more than I can get done in a day and never the things I want to do. I struggle with Korean because I've already spent the day doing things I'm indifferent about and have zero desire to study. I struggle because I feel like my priority should be keeping our house in order, not figuring out what I want to do here, not baking, not writing. I struggle because it's hard to explain to other spouses why I don't want a job, why I'm not looking for work here even though I love what I do. I struggle because it's embarrassing in a room full of professionals to explain how little a chef makes, how little it's worth it to me to work unless there's someplace fantastic. I struggle because after spending the last three years primarily with friends made on the internet, it's incredibly strange to be back in a position where I feel uncomfortable saying I'm going to spend the next two years writing. Lastly, maybe mostly, I struggle because it feels weird to be a feminist and be a housewife. It feels like some core part of my identity, of my self-sufficiency, has been taken away and I resent the new identity I've been given while wanting to be the god damned best at it because it's the only thing over which I have control and because I've never learned how to not be the best at something. Every day I feel like I haven't done enough and every day I feel physically exhausted and emotionally drained. Every day I wonder if today is the day I've found the magical formula that tells me what my place is here.

I've been hoping that if I just keep on keeping on, that I wouldn't have to decide. That the way would just become clear. I was hoping that I could just fill my day with mindless errands and that would be enough. But mostly all I've done is given myself anxiety to the point where I feel physically ill, so I think something probably has to change.

Today I decided to ignore most of my to do list and make Sichuan Pepper Peach Jam. It's bubbling away on the stove right now and it smells comforting and familiar though the taste is something totally new. I wrote this post, because the rumor is, the only way to get something written is to sit down write. I'm working on changing the physical appearance of this blog and also, a little bit, the subject, so if it seems a bit messy and scattered for a while - I know, I'm sorry, I'm just trying to pull all the pieces together.

And if you talk to me and I seem a bit messy and scattered for a while - I know, I'm sorry, I'm just trying to pull all the pieces together.

Rip it Off

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I have a million things to say to you, internet. I want to tell you about my studio I share with my boyfriend fiance and how we turned it from a glorified dorm room into a poster for micro living. I want to tell you about how I've pretty much been living here since September and we haven't killed each other yet. I want to tell you that it is the midst of winter and inside me there is definitely not an invincible Summer, no matter how much fake gummy sunshine I chew each night and if you also feel like getting the mountain of lead that is your body out of bed each day is the only resolution you can make then make that one with me. I want to tell you how weird engagement rings are. Not from the feminist perspective nor the perspective that the value of diamonds is all contrived nonsense but from the perspective that it's really bizarre to go pick up the laundry wearing the single most expensive thing you own. I want to tell you that I just spent a weekend in Cleveland and in a few weeks I'm going home to California for the first time in two years and my anxiety levels are approximately ten times higher than my excitement levels.

But before I can tell you about those things, I have to tell you something. Maybe I've seen you lately and seemed odd. Maybe I've paused when you've asked how life is or given vaguely generic answers. Maybe I've been distant. Maybe we don't know each other in real life at all but I still feel like I've been lying to you because I strive to be open and honest on social media and in this place.

So if you haven't guessed it from the picture above:

I'm moving to Seoul.

I know, the Eastern Europe book thrown in there is a bit confusing. Also maybe the elephant holding a SparkleRock. So let's be a bit more transparent:

I'm getting married next month at City Hall.

I will be honeymooning in Eastern Europe and Turkey for the month of July.

Starting in early August, Dan and I will be living in Seoul for TWO YEARS.

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Which, obviously, will be an entire post on its own.

PS My SparkleRock is not that big, I just have tiny child hands.

PPS There are two reasons this post is password protected: I don't want to get fired (yes, technically illegal but also it's really slow so my boss could just say he's laying me off) AND uh, I haven't told my family (also an entire post?) so I'd appreciate if you kept this all on the DL on social media but feel free to comment/email/text/etc.

One Post, Three Cliche Topics

The hardest part of anything is starting. The hardest part of yoga is making the trip to the studio. The hardest part of sleeping is going to bed. The hardest part of writing is sitting down in front of a computer and confronting the blank page.

It's much easier to fall out of habits than get back into them. Even the habits that are good for us. Maybe especially the habits that are good for us.

In case you don't know, I've been dating somebody since April. I try to not be too gross about it all over the social media but it's pretty serious and I'm pretty in love and I pretty have alllll the brain chemicals going on that make you need to spend every single second with somebody. Writing is solitary. New relationships are not.

My boyfriend has been out-of-town for two weeks now. Lara was here for the first week he was gone but I've had all this week to sit down and write. To write here, to go back to working on the writing I started offline while I was working on my short cookbook, to write to my boyfriend (who has written me every single day he's been gone), to maybe work on something for an essay contest and instead I've pretty much done anything but. I've drunk with coworkers, I've marathoned tv shows, I read a solid 15% of Infinite Jest yesterday which is A LOT of reading and thought about how I should write. Thought about what I should write. Thought about how nobody needs read yet another person writing about writing. Or falling in love. Or being a twenty something struggling to make it in New York. But I'm already writing about writing, so I might as well give you the rest.

***

If you're like me, then by the time you tell somebody you love them, you've probably already said it a hundred times in your head. Changed a hundred sentences to things that sound more reasonable but really mean "I love you so much my heart might burst if I go any longer without saying it but I'm a coward and I'd rather it burst than break".

But eventually "As you wishes'" have to turn into "I love you's" or your heart doesn't so much burst as wither and that place on your chest that feels like it's been rubbed raw with sand paper only chafes in a bad way instead of the way that makes you grin like a mad man. It's a reminder that you are without armor. It's a reminder that you are cracked open and terrified for all the right reasons.

There is nothing new to be said about falling in love under the sun. There is nothing reasonable to be said about love though the smart stupid logical part of me has lots of thoughts about hormones and neurotransmitters and how long things last. Look, these neurotransmitters don't just fire for anyone, baby. Men that won't get references to The Next Generation, Season 7 Episode 19, need not apply.

I wrote this a month ago, which was a month after I started thinking about writing it. I am head over heels in love, and I'm more comfortable telling you, internet, about when things go wrong, then things going right. Maybe I don't want to jinx it, maybe I think nobody wants to hear the disgustingly cute stuff I think all the time right now or maybe I'm still a little more comfortable managing chaos, than managing happiness.

***

I've lived in Bed Stuy for almost a year now. When we moved in here it was because it is a huge amount of space for about $600 less than what we had set as the maximum price we were willing to pay for rent. At the time, I gave pretty minimal thought to living in the hood because it was just an awesome deal. When we moved in here, rent+utilities+student loans+metrocard equaled about 1/3 of my income. Considering most New Yorkers pay over 1/3 of their income just for rent, that felt pretty comfortable. Fast forward one year later and with my reduced income rent+utilities+student loans+metrocard equals just over half my income. Even right now when I'm working a busy schedule and have had at least ten hours of event pay a week. At this point, I basically live in the hood out of necessity, which definitely doesn't feel comfortable. I'd like to say I've stopped going out with my friends as much because I spend a ridiculous amount of time with my boyfriend, but it's mostly that I'm incredibly embarrassed by how little I can afford and anxious all. the. damn. time.

You want to know the worst part of this, though? I make an above average hourly wage for a pastry cook in this city. I found this article hilarious because I just wanted to scream "Maybe if you want more cooks to stay in New York you should pay them a fucking living wage". I make the same amount of money right now I made 5 years ago in Berkeley. Be better, New York City.

I am having some serious thoughts about whether or not it's worth it to be a chef here. About how being a chef here compromises my values on quality of ingredients, where they come from, how they're grown, how it all affects the economic injustices of our food system. About the ways in which it compromises my values on how workers should be treated. Catering, in particular, creates more waste (both plastic and food) than I ever could've imagined and that breaks every piece of my liberal Bay Area heart.

My cooking class will start-up again with the school year, and I am happy for that. I have fantastic coworkers and open and honest communication with my boss and I am happy for that.

I want to teach more and I want to write more. I guess it's time I commit more time to doing that.

Heads Carolina, Tails California

When the humidity breaks and the rain starts falling, I sleep with the window open. In the middle of Summer it'll stay hot enough to justify the air conditioner even then, but right now I prefer the mixture of warm air and coolish breeze and occasional mist that makes it through the screen. I like the wind and the thunder and the lightning. The weather takes me to places or times that aren't here - India, Thailand, Mexico, Manhattan twenty years ago. I took a Greyhound out of the city last Saturday. It's such a different thing to say you're taking the Greyhound than to take an airplane or a train or even its newer cousins like BoltBus or MegaBus. The Greyhound is for adventure, for escape, for hiding out and getting the hell out of dodge. It's one step above hitch hiking.

I'll let you in on a little secret: Greyhound has wi-fi now and outlets, the tickets are significantly cheaper online than from the ticketbooth at Port Authority and at least one of the buses had seats more comfortable than my overstuffed couch. Don't worry though, it still seems to have an insanely inefficient boarding process, runs a few hours late and is filled with characters that will give you cause to practice your crazy eyes lest you end up with them as a seatmate.

It was my first time out of the boroughs in about a year and my last trip out of New York was only to Montclair, New Jersey. I had my usual leaving the city anxiety, I still think when I leave New York I won't get to come back to it, I still have to reassure myself I live here now. The farther out I got, the more my anxiety went by the wayside. I put away my book and watched as endless trees flew by and felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I had three days where I wasn't going to have to fight with New York to keep living in it. Three days where the only things I had to do was hang out with friends, eat, drink and participate in the marriage of two of my favorite people. Even though the windows were tinted, I put on my sunglasses because we weren't in New York anymore where I would just be another twenty something crying on the train, here I would be that crazy girl crying on the Greyhound to Northampton.

"She was just sitting there reading Infinite Jest and then suddenly she started crying, you just can't tell these days, can you?"

Relaxing to me is always more overwhelming than not relaxing. I can work a ten-hour day fine as long as I don't sit down. Savasana is always the most painful pose as I feel the knots in my back letting go and my shoulders and ribs returning to their correct places. I can operate on five hours of sleep a night until one day I get eight and suddenly realize how tired I've been. I am the queen of soldiering through, of keeping calm and carrying the fuck on.

When I came back my boss asked me if I felt like I had gotten enough time out of the city.

"No," I almost started crying again, "I think it just made me really feel like I need a vacation, I feel really silly saying that because I've had lots of time not working this year but I was just so stressed during all of it."

"Just give me a month or so notice, and will get somebody in and figure it out"

It's both that simple and not. Vacations require money and that is a thing I'm still sorely lacking. Right now I have at least one event in every pay period for the next month and a half and I will not say "no" to hours. For now, I will squirrel away that feeling of relief and I'll keep on keeping on, building back up to the normalcy I'm fighting daily to once again create and hope that come fall I can take an effing vacation.

All Kinds of Things You Can't See From the Center

It's warm in New York today but not hot. It's hovering around 80 with no humidity. It's my favorite kind of weather. It's weather that makes me yearn for Sonoma County the way winter used to make me yearn for New York. I can see the hills still green from winter rains and smell the damp of the redwoods and feel the way the air changes as you get closer to the coast. I can feel my excitement that it's just about time for the Sonoma-Marin fair which will tide me over to County Fair time. Hot black tops and too expensive fried foods. Sheep shearing and sheep dog trials. Wondering why I was so much better at winning goldfish when I was a child. It's funny how life knows exactly how far to push you before turning around. How just saying something out loud or getting things out of your head and onto a piece of paper can loosen some thing's hold on you.

Dominique suggested I date the lumberjack and just give into the spiral about two months ago, and I thought about it. I thought about giving in because sometimes it's easier to just give in than risk fighting against it and failing. If you are a relentlessly controlled person, there is no better feeling than the high of being out of control. I thought about it. And I rejected it.

I had just gotten Charlotte and I think I had just gone on my second date with the guy I'm dating now and both those things felt like a return to normal for me. My baseline. And it felt good. It felt like somewhere I wanted to be even as a felt my life was spiraling out of control financially and careerwise.

A couple of Sundays ago, I found myself cooking dinner in a vintage dress, making enough for aforementioned guy to be able to pack for lunch and I laughed to myself thinking what a caricature of myself I had so easily become again. I thought about how much more normal my life suddenly seemed to me with a kitten and somebody for whom to cook and, thankfully, a return to a full-time schedule. I have spent most of my adult life with all of those things, the last two years an anomaly. I didn't need to learn how to live without a pet, but I did need to live without a significant other and I'm happy it happened and I'm happy to take a break from it.

I thought I would be terrified to incorporate somebody into my life again. I thought it would be hard to fit somebody into a schedule that has been built solely around my own priorities. I thought I might lose myself. I thought I'd still be bad at open and honest communication about my FEELINGS. Instead, I'm startled by how easily I've adapted, how stupid happy it makes me and how much I still feel centered in myself. I surprised myself Sunday when, with my voice quavering, I said "I'm just sad" instead of continuing to insist that I was fine.

It's strange how we can not change at all and also change immensely and that those things are not mutually exclusive.

It always end up making you blue as hell

I feel like a failure most of the time these days. Not the kind of failure where you joke and make self-deprecating comments about how you'll just be buying new underwear tomorrow because ooops you're drunk and the laundromat is closed, but the kind of failure where you don't tell anyone and how bad it is and find yourself on the verge of panic attacks at least weekly, if not daily. It's easy to look at my employment situation for the last couple of years and logically know that I keep choosing to work for small businesses that operate on a slim to none profit margin and the economy is still really shitty. To a certain extent I can justify being poor, because I love what I do because I do something that makes me happy that I'm good at. I know I'm a good chef, I don't feel like I'm a failure at chefing.

I feel like I'm a failure at being the person I want to be. I feel like I'm failing at some very basic goals I set for myself a long time ago. I know how little money you have to make to qualify for food stamps. I know I made just enough not to last month. I know I'm terrified. I'm terrified all the god damn time. I know this situation makes me feel like I've gone back to my early childhood and I have no control. No control. It is the worst thing. It is the thing I promised myself I would never ever ever feel again. I broke a promise to myself and that's the worst kind of promise to break.

It's the kind of thing I can't really explain to anyone because it is so completely illogical but so completely my truth right now.

I'm looking for a second job or another job. I have people who would help me if I asked for help (hahahahaha, like I'll ever learn to do that one). Despite strong temptation to just say fuck it and spiral down down down into bad decisions, I've been spending more time reading and writing and strolling in the park. I'm dating a guy I really like with whom things are easy so far instead of dialing up one that would immolate me. I show up for my kids every Tuesday and I smile and we cook things.

I also know I've been self isolating like a pro. I know I just can't explain getting semi laid off again but then also that I'm about to work 8 days straight. I can't handle anymore people offering to help me find my dead goldfish. I don't know how to talk to my really close friends or family about it because it's painful. And embarrassing. And I'm ashamed. I'm ashamed about the state of my life right now. And I don't know how to talk to anybody about anything else because it's the only thing I think about. So instead I just don't talk to most people. I mean, I have a kitten, so it's fine.

I'm 50% doing all the things I should be doing and 50% deep in hiding.

But I guess 50% hiding is better than 100%. Right?

Trade Offs

I'm not really an "everything happens for a reason" or "the universe doesn't hand us anything we can't handle" person. When I got laid off at Stellina, I was miserable and it seemed like a relief. When I got laid off at Je & Jo it seemed like it was probably time I get out of my rut and start working on something that actually challenged me anyways. When I got hired at my current job it seemed like a perfect fit but now I am severely underemployed and obviously I want there to be a reason. I want something better to come out of it. I want to know it's because the universe knows I can handle it. I don't believe that's how the world actually works, but I still want it to be true. Probably the best thing that has come out of this is that I've been able to focus on writing.

Probably the worst thing that has come out of this is stress vomiting, panic attacks and missing out on big things I really want to do like my friend Elise's Vegas bachelorette party and then BiSC.

The worst part about missing BiSC is that only ended up working one day of all the days it happened so it seems like I should've gone anyways. And reading everyone's tweets late at night and almost crying while waiting for the G train.

The best part about missing BiSC is texts like the last one I got from Dominique that said "We've just poured a (figurative) stream of melted butter on the ground at bouchon for the chefs that couldn't join us (you)".

The other best part was that I had a weekend that reminded me I really like my life, which is a thing I've definitely needed some reminding of lately.

Wednesday was a 14 hour work day for supper club and then going out for "one drink" with my coworkers and obviously not doing that.

Thursday was a hangover and an afternoon date where I like to think I was being charmingly honest about the state of my head. Dinosaur bones and almost falling asleep in the Hall of Minerals. Gorgeous day in Central Park. Shake Shack fries for my hangover and a walk to Columbus Circle because my hangover also demanded a rainbow sprinkle cone from Mister Softee. People watching. Sunset watching. Beer. Making plans for a fourth date. You might not do dates well often New York, but when you do... Damn.

Friday was errands and then brunch at Egg with Morgen. Cafe Grumpy cold brew. Walking the Highline. Sample sales I had no business being at. Discovering that there's a Vanessa's in South Williamsburg. Realizing how ludicrously cheap Vanessa's is. Then a trip to our new favorite honky tonk for a giant whiskey sweet tea and live music. Bed.

Saturday was my commute somehow taking 1.5 hours instead of thirty minutes. Work. A text suggesting we meet up that evening instead of Sunday for date four. Drinks with my coworkers. Showing up tipsy (choosing to believe this is also charming) to my date. Many plates of fancy bar food. A visit to a bar with a TARDIS. Moving on to a bar with delicious beer. Definitely being the people in a bar other people might hate a little (or find adorable? Let's go with adorable). Late Saturday night snuggles (both a euphemism and not) leading to Sunday morning ones.

Sunday was laziness and brunching and tv and snuggles and naps. Hiding from the rain and being read to. Ridiculous dance party for two (these arms of mine...). Home made pot roast for dinner. Returning to a very excited kitten at 10pm after having been gone for 38 hours.

I wasn't able to go to BiSC and that kind of really sucked but I'm keeping my fingers crossed there was a reason.

Becoming Real

I think a lot about all the ways I feel like I'm not real. I've written before that I don't feel like a real creative because I'm not interested in and don't have a relaxed go with the flow lifestyle, because I don't want to write a novel or because I get paid to do what I love and it doesn't require having a day job. I sometimes don't feel like a real chef because I don't like restaurant work, "I'm just a baker," I'll say. I don't think of my job as a real job because it doesn't fit into a neat nine to five, salaried, paid vacation box. I'm definitely not a real writer. Real writers have outlines and drafts and edit their work instead of just vomiting their feelings on a page to be consumed by the internet. I know that writing is important for my well being. I know that if somebody else told me that they had a place on the internet with 4.5 years of writing, that they spend time thinking about the way words flow together, that when they haven't written for a while, it feels like their brain might explode, and then said "I'm not a real writer" I'd call shenanigans. So I started working on a writing project outside of this blog. Offline. It's definitely in its very first draft, I'm not sure what the final product is going to look like and I'm not really ready to talk about it yet. It turns out "real writing" is hard. It means I have to choose writing over other things. It means spending a lot more time deleting. Like being a chef, I guess I knew it would be hard, but I didn't know how hard.

To give myself a little motivation, I decided to put aside the first writing project I started for a bit and write a quick and fun cookbook.

Here is what I wrote about it on my tumblr:

"Pretty much my favorite thing I do every week is teaching basic cooking skills and healthy(ish) eating habits to tweens in East Harlem and the Bronx. My budget for the projects is not large (read:miniscule) but the task of teaching kids to love vegetables and get excited about cooking each week is. Surprisingly, I’ve managed to do just that both for the kids I cook with and the adult volunteers that help me. (The kids ask if we can make kale chips almost every week and one of my repeat volunteers told me she’s all about Brussels sprouts now). I absolutely love it, but it’s taken a considerable amount of my time and a not small amount of my personal resources to do it.

I wrote a pretty short, but (I think) amusing cookbook of some of the recipes I use in class that teach basic cooking techniques like roasting vegetables and how to make a roux. My goal is to provide these kids with the skills to feed themselves without resorting to processed foods and to teach them that cooking isn’t always about exact measurements and fancy tools, but about creativity, curiosity and venturing outside your comfort zone. Learning healthy eating habits and how to take care of yourself shouldn’t be a privilege.

(and because I really do believe that, if $2.99 on Amazon isn’t in your budget, you can pay what you want to download the book in pretty much any ebook format here)

(Or if you just want to give me more than $2.99 you can pay what you want at that link, I’m fine with that option too)"

Some people have downloaded the book for free, some have paid the recommended price and some generous person paid $10.00! Sure, I've still only sold 20 copies but that's 20 more copies of something I've written than I've ever sold before. My expectation was that I would sell approximately zero and I felt really anxious about asking people to pay money for my writing even though it was for a good cause and tapped into my knowledge of the thing I definitely get paid to do. But there it is. I wrote a book and figured out how to publish it in ebook form (with big thanks to Ashley's "how to" post) and you can buy it. I guess I'm a real writer now.

And, because obviously I want you to buy my book, here's a sample recipe for motivation:

Stove Top Mac and Cheese Round 2

Easy

½ lbs Elbow Macaroni

½ Stick Butter

4 T Flour

2 c Milk

1 lbs Shredded Cheddar

Salt and Pepper to Taste

 

Cook that macaroni in boiling water with a splash of olive oil in it. Drain it and set aside. Melt butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan; whisk in your flour until a paste forms (this paste is called a roux). This should take about 2 to 3 minutes because you actually want to cook the flour slightly so that it doesn’t make the sauce taste weird. Pour milk into the pot and continue whisking until the sauce thickens (at this point the sauce is a béchamel). You’ll probably have to do some heavy whisking to get your flour paste (roux) dissolved. Stir in cheese and whisk just until melted. Be careful not to overcook or your sauce might break. Congratulations, you just made a Mornay sauce! You just learned three really important cooking things in one super simple recipe. Feel free to write home.

Right. Pour that Mornay over the pasta you set aside. Eat.

 

Want to pretend it’s healthy? Use whole wheat pasta.

DGAF? Add bacon bits. Put a fried egg on top.

Existing in All Times and No Times at Once

My world is timeless lately. My schedule is different every week and my hours are different every day. It's my Sunday after working a 6 day week that was four 6 hour days, one 9 hour day and ended with a 12 hour day catering in a museum classroom we had changed into a "kitchen" that somehow had the same amount of lighting the entire time we were there. I have no routine. When I have weekends off, I act like it's the last weekend off I'm going to have forever and try to cram in as much eating, drinking and seeing my friends as possible. But then I have two weekends off in a row and I wonder if maybe I should slow down a bit. As soon as I decide to slow down I have days where I have to get to work by 6am and don't see anybody except my roommate because we ride the 5:37 bus together. I won't know my schedule for this week until I get to work tomorrow and because it's events season, whatever it is will likely change as we get in more last minute caterings.

None of this is really a problem. I worked a six day week but I still got two days off. Tomorrow I'll leave by three for volunteering like I do every Tuesday. The more last minute caterings we take on, the closer I get to my much needed forty hours. Amazingly, I have not gotten sick despite the fact that I'm generally somebody that can only really function with routine and going to bed more or less at the same time every day because sleeping is not really my strong suit. Without routine, I will also forget to eat until I'm basically a cranky, exhausted, hot mess, turning in circles wondering where I just put those cookies I pulled out of the oven. Yes, I realize the irony. Cooking is my strong suit. Eating is a skill I only relatively recently developed and still often forget. Family meal is basically the best thing that happens to me every day.

It's just weird. All times are the same time and all days are the same day because none of them have any attached meaning except Tuesdays. None of them really can have attached meaning. I usually either get to work at 6 or 9 but Saturday I got to work at 11:30. Today is Monday which has mostly been my Monday but instead it was my Sunday so my roommate and I had pizza brunch at Roberta's and later I went grocery shopping.

I think things might be starting to unravel. I have to think hard about days and times and places to which I've committed even though that's always been a thing I'm obsessively on top of. It doesn't help that I seem to be allergic to every tree in Brooklyn and have fog brain no mater how much zyrtec and neti pot I subject my body to. I no longer remember what it's like to have full feeling in my right hand. An OkC message just made my almost start crying, not because there was anything particularly awful about it, just because it was another stupid message with a stupid usage of ellipses and zero real content and it all seems so stupid and pointless even though I have at least one date this week with somebody that understands basic punctuation.

This is, historically, an unraveling time of year for me. I have no idea if it's exacerbated by my lack of routine or if that makes no difference at all. I think it might be routine for me to always fall out of my routine right around now. I am only now realizing that the other night when I looked down and saw a string of beads next to a Mogen David instead of my usual chai (etz chaim, really, I guess) which belonged to my father next to it and had a momentary twinge of sadness that I was feeling the first late April to early May grief pangs. I'm only now realizing that the reason searching for another job and selling myself to new people seems unbearable is because my whole being feels like it's been rubbed raw and every emotion is sand paper. I understand why I couldn't read anything about the Boston Marathon without sobbing.

This will go on for a while, so I will be kind to myself and I will fake it until I make it through and then I will figure out where I hid the pieces of my life from myself and how time works and puzzle it back together.

Writing About Writing

I've never wanted to be a Writer. I feel strange saying that. So many people have that novel on the back burner or those short stories they want to some day publish and I often feel like I'm supposed to want that too because I like writing. It's not because I don't think I'm good enough or, at least, won't at some point be good enough or that I don't think I have stories worth telling. I don't know what it is. Mostly, I think it's that I have myself convinced that I'm only a good writer because I've read a lot. It has nothing to do with me or my stories, just my innate ability to synthesize and reproduce the voices of other writers. I have never had a knack for fiction. I just can tell you about my own life through other people's voices and that seems like cheating. I've had a few people tell me my writing seems melancholy lately and I suppose that is true. I don't know how much has to do with me being melancholy and how much it has to do with reading memoirs and journals of melancholy authors. I don't know where my voice ends and Sylvia Plath's begins. I don't know if all truly great writers have a unique voice that came from nothing or from the way they've absorbed and blended Hemingway and Bukowski. I don't know if it really matters.

Lately though, because I've been reading all these books that make it seem lovely to be poor and spending days in front of a typewriter, I've been thinking about whether or not I'm wrong. I've been thinking about writing more. I've been thinking about writing with discipline. Not here, necessarily. And I don't know what, for sure, I want to focus on. I probably still won't write fiction. But I think somewhere in these years of digital pages, there might be things to be expanded and other things to cut loose and maybe something could come of it, even if all it is is becoming a better writer.

And the living is easy

I know this weather is only for today. That tomorrow it's supposed to thunder and then it will cool back down into more appropriate Spring time temperatures, but for tonight I will revel in it. I'll take a moment to ignore how odd it is for me to have bare legs while the trees still have bare branches and instead enjoy our wide open windows and the daffodils I sneakily picked in Prospect Park on Sunday that have turned from yellow and white to a uniform a cream. I'll drink this white wine while Otis Redding plays and smile and dream of Summer. Since, I am, as always, a creature of extremes, I like snow and I like sun and this long winter of mostly neither has not been my favorite. I am eager to read in the park and lay out on the beach and go months without wearing pants except in the kitchen.

I want warm nights and walks along the Highline at sunset and a hand to hold. I want wooden picnic tables and pitchers of beer and shared laughter and fried things. I want short skirts and high heels and dancing. I want to fill our balcony with pots, to dig my hands into soil, to watch green tendrils crawl their way out. Lettuce, sugar snaps, tomatoes. I want food truck rallies and farmer's market abundance.

In Winter the world closes in and in Summer it opens again. Each is necessary but I'm ready for adventure, for being out in the world, for saying "yes".

It's Pretty Weird That I Don't Have Any Tattoos Yet

A week or so ago, I wrote this little bit over on my tumblr about this list of 50 things they never tell you about being a chef. Basically what that list says is that being a chef is really hard but if you love it you could never do anything else. What my little bit says is basically that exact same thing. And because the universe is a wrathful, wrathful monster, it basically was like "oh, you think being a chef is hard do you?" and made me walk the walk to go along with that. In true chef fashion, I spent all of last weekend spending the entirety of my disposable income on GREAT food and mediocre to fantastic alcohol. I went into work Monday still kind of recovering and proceeded to work one of the most physically demanding weeks I've worked in a long time. Possibly ever. I spent 2-3 hours rolling out pie dough each morning, no break. Just rolling out two pounds at a time, cutting it to the size I needed, moving onto the next two pounds. About 32 pounds worth of dough each day. Here is a thing I have learned, all repetitive motions sucks after two hours. Even when I was a chocolatier and the motion was just dipping a little tiny truffle. Muscles burn, joints creak and your back seizes. Rolling out two pounds of pie dough at a time is no big deal to me for about the first twenty pounds worth. Between pounds twenty and twenty-five I'd start to feel my triceps burn. Somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-two my shoulders would start to ache, I'd become acutely conscious of how I was holding the rolling pin, the pressure on my wrists and how to be ergonomically correct and my body was thinking something like "I hate you, you are the actual worst, why the fuck are you doing this to me. NOBODY NEEDS SAVORY RUSTIC FRENCH TARTS THIS BADLY". I know body, I'm sorry.

And then in the afternoon, I'd spend about an hour and a half mixing another 32 pounds of pie dough. I had no problem falling asleep early enough for my 4:45 am alarm this week. I was working 10-12 hour days and I was basically asleep an hour after I got home. By Thursday I was WRECKED. My boss would semi jokingly ask if I was ready to walk out yet. She and I talked about how we were going to make working with this client possible both in terms of how much time it was taking up and what I was physically capable of. The only answer was a sheeter. That's it. So I was given the option of coming in Friday or taking another three day weekend (I opted for a half day) and she pitched renting or buying a sheeter to the owners.

Obviously, the major plus side of this is that my hours have not actually been reduced. I also chose to come in on Friday and power through some stuff because I'm definitely in a "taking all the hours I can get now" mentality which I think is just the way the catering lifestyle has to work.

Today I got an email saying we had a mutual parting of ways with this particular client and I'm sure everyone is sighing a HUGE sigh of relief because it was taking over our lives and it was just incredibly stressful. Pastry for this client was basically entirely my responsibility and took over all of my hours (which meant the pastry chef was also working crazy hours having to get everything done for our other catering events all on her own) so the downside is, I might possibly be back in the boat of not knowing what my hours/paycheck are going to look like. We do have a lot of events this month and hopefully the combination of pastries for those and working onsite will keep me flush. Also, now I get to work on the fun stuff.

So I guess the moral of this story is:

A) Don't say something is hard and then expect it to just keep being the level of hard it normally is instead of astronomically harder because the universe is an asshole.

B) I did think about going to cry in the walkin, but I never once thought about walking away because at the end of the day I worked my ass off and I did it well, doing something I loved and, even though I will admit that I was dreading starting the whole process over again tomorrow morning, I can't imagine a whole lot else that would give me the same satisfaction.

So this is the life I have chosen. This is the life I keep choosing. And it's HARD.

But I'm harder.

CHEFLIFE, WHAT.

"My new job both exists and doesn't exist. Like a certain cat in a box"

So my new job has both a cafe and a catering company and my main responsible is the cafe. Or was. It was the cafe. It's not anymore because the cafe's last day was yesterday. The cafe is now closed.

Yes, for reals. I'm basically cursed. If you would like your small business to close/downsize, HIRE ME and it will just happen.

So now that my work is just a catering company, the number of core kitchen employees and their hours have been reduced because catering work is not the kind of thing where you can say "I will always need X number of people for X number of hours". Last week was a relatively light week for me but the savory people worked like CRAZY. This week is a relatively light week savory side, but over on the pastry side we have multiple events requiring hundreds of tiny pastries, some show wedding cakes for a wedding expo and the savory and sweet pastries to go with one of our larger catering contracts that is mainly what the savory people are working on this week.

So. Today I got a raise and this week I'll probably be working over 40 hours but next week and subsequent weeks I'll be down to 24. Unless there's a lot of pastry catering to get done, then I'll potentially be working more. But 24 is all I can count on working.

When our catering events need to be staffed onsite (as opposed to just delivering platters to a conference room or baby shower) staff gets paid $20/hr to work those events and it doesn't take away from your other scheduled hours. So, again, potentially, if we have a lot of onsite events, I could make $200/day for each of them. And the idea behind closing the shop is to focus and expand catering. So POTENTIALLY, I could be working full time again soon and POTENTIALLY I could make enough money with the onsite events to supplement my regular production income even if I'm not working full time. I think there are enough events in the coming month for that to work, but then what?

I like my job. It is challenging enough that I'm not bored but familiar enough that I feel competent and in control. The pastry chef willingly schedules around my volunteer hours and managed to get me a raise and at least some guaranteed hours because she wants me to stay. It is very nice to work for somebody who has an accurate appraisal of my skill level. It's weird working for not food people because all they know is that you know how to do something they don't but not how easy or difficult that thing is. I really like working with other people that speak food and technique again.

But I'm not twenty, you know? I have pretty regular bills I have to pay and a savings account that's dying to be fed some money. I'd like to be able to donate to Planned Parenthood instead of using their services. I'd like to see a neurologist about this whole hand going numb business. I don't even want to think about my ramen addiction having to change from pork belly to chicken "flavor". I'm almost out of migraine meds and my inhalers all have that overly medicinal taste that lets your know you're at the end of the canister. I want to take a trip home because I miss the Pacific so much it aches. And I want to take a vacation somewhere that isn't home, a real one, with no real commitments. My shopping and barhopping ways have already been on hiatus for a while (which is fine) but I'm keeping my daily cappuccino (for now).

I don't know what the solution is. I'm not about to make food I don't believe in but I don't really see the point in hitching myself to another small business wagon. I guess in my ideal world, I'd keep my job and find some sort of supplemental income to hold me through until things picked up again. Or didn't. I still would really like to find a way to teach kids but, not to get all Maslow's hierarchy of needs here, I just can't see myself focusing on researching how to start a side business doing that while I actually don't know if I'll make enough money to pay all the money that needs to be paid and feed myself.

I'm going to check out the onsite events calendar tomorrow. I'm going to hope I can ride it out a month without having to take on a second job. I'm probably going to ugly cry some more. At some point I'm hoping to breath.

If you don't understand him, an' he don't die young, He'll prob'ly just ride away.

When my mother left, when my mother came back. Going to live with my grandparents. My father being arrested in front of me. Visits to rehabs. My father's death. Turning points in my life have mostly been things where I feel no control. Turning me from a quiet controlled girl into a contained, obsessively controlled woman. ***

When I kissed him when I shouldn't have because I was committed to kissing somebody else. The kiss that would turn into months of arguments. Of late night phone calls. Of screaming and threatened suicide if I didn't come RIGHT NOW. Of two hour drives and me leaving the peninsula at 6am to get to high school in Santa Rosa on time. Of spiraling down, down, down. Poor grades in eagerly signed up for AP classes and lies to my therapist. Or at least, not truths. Breaking the trust of the somebody else for, maybe, ever. The first proof that for the next six years I'd always find a way to be leaving.

Until that day when I left.

"I don't want you to move in with us"

"Is that all?"

"And I don't think I can do this anymore"

"I was afraid that's what you were going to say"

And so I drove away in tears from the boy I thought I would marry, who put up with panic attacks and days spent crying and that early mistake of kissing somebody else who would only make things worse. Allowing us both to grow up and apart.

Maybe this was my moment of being cruel to be kind.

***

I sat in the waiting room with my grandmother. I hadn't slept for days weeks and so I was here. Therapy, round 2. I guess that first round, when I was a small child, didn't take. The truth was, I needed it more before my father died. Now I had reason to be sad and reason to not sleep, though both those things had been true beforehand. I filled out the forms with my grandmother sitting next to me and though I was fairly certain she wasn't looking, I lied. I lied about the amount of sad, the crying, the thoughts about death and suicide. I didn't lie about sleep habits because that's why I was there after all. Grief and sleeplessness and dropping enough pounds that my pediatrician asked if I had been trying to lose weight. I lied. And I would mostly keep lying. And after a year I would be pronounced fine.

The therapist couldn't have known then that she was the one doing the lying.

***

That time I locked my heart up when my mother told me it was no fun if I didn't cry. That night child me walked herself home in the darkness of the West Oakland night. That first morning I got myself ready for school and attempted to wake up my mother to get her to take me. The habits of self-sufficiency cemented early and forever unshakeable.

***

When I boarded a plane for India. When I boarded a plan for Turkey. When I chose culinary school over college.

When I left my dream job, relationship and apartment to move into a cabin in the woods.

When I was still unhappy two years later and boarded a plane to New York.

***

I don't know that there are event horizons I haven't written about or beaten like a dead horse. I don't know the moments where I truly changed all. I think sometimes I have been the same forever. The happier version or the sadder version or the more honest version. But my core seems the same. The only difference is how closely I have lived in line with it.

I'm participating in The Scintilla Project, a fortnight of storytelling. One of today's prompts was What have been the event horizons of your life - the moments from which there is no turning back?

Drive all night just to feel like you're ok

Music prompts are my favorite prompts and also the hardest. Californians love driving like they love a brother. We bitch and moan about traffic like it's our job, but in the end, don't even know how to function without an engine and an open road. I'm from the part of California people come to just to drive. Dark, forested, windy back roads that suddenly open up on top of rolling hills and vast expanses of vineyards. Lush and green in the spring and waves of fire in the fall.  Round the right corner and suddenly your car is hugging a cliff and you're blinded by the sun reflecting off the Pacific.

When I'm stressed my urge is to jump behind the wheel of a car, or when I'm angry, when I'm depressed, when the sun is shining and everything seems right with the world. All emotions lead to California One. Sometimes this is the hardest part of New York, this long separation between me and a steering wheel.

You can't really belt it out and feel your FEEEEEELINGS on the subway.

"Excuse me? Could you round this corner just on the verge of too fast and maybe blast some Ryan Adams over the loudspeaker? It's just, I broke my own heart tonight. Don't try tell me everyone else on this train isn't also sick to death of love and sick to death of trying, we all know what dating in New York is like"

What? You don't feel all your feelings through alt country of the 90s?

Is it because, like me, you have a not so secret love for feeling all your feelings through angry female mainstream country? At least, you do when you're back living at home, in the country and that cowboy Casanova has told another one of his lies and suddenly you're identifying with T Swift? (I'm still bitter I was never allowed to drive that damn truck)

But it always comes back to my favorite song. I've listened to it over and over and over, driving everywhere. I made a tape of the album, back before there were iPods, because my sweet '96 Corolla only had a tape deck. I've mentioned before that it was the anthem of my junior and senior years of high school. The years right after my dad died. The years when I was truly truly a mess.

I didn't sleep much. Sometimes, when I couldn't sleep, I'd layer up and leave my house. I didn't really get in trouble and I didn't have a curfew and my grandparents were usually in bed before me, so I honestly don't know if they even noticed. I'd get in Delilah and pull out of our driveway, turning left towards the road that would lead me to the coast.

Put your hands on the wheel, let the golden age begin.

If it was too cold (which it almost always is in coastal Northern California at night), I'd turn the heater as I obeyed the next lines.

The window down, feel the moonlight on your skin

Desert wind cool your aching head

The weight of the world drift away instead

I'd relax into the seat. Tears pricking the corner of my eyes, quickly navigating the turns so familiar I could still follow them blind folded, turning the heater higher and higher as I got closer to the coast. This was a thing my father and I did, driving. And at once I'd feel closer to him and forever far away.

These days I barely get by

By the time I'd get to Hwy 1, I'd have to rewind the tape to listen to this song over again. Finally, pulled over, I'd chokingly sob along, the crash of the waves slowly calming me.

I don't even try

I don't even try

I'm participating in The Scintilla Project, a fortnight of storytelling. Today's prompt was to talk about singing alone in the car.

How To: Big Sistering

  1. Be an only child for eight years. Preferably, also be an only grandchild for at least seven.
  2. Acquire a younger brother. Alternate between resentment and eagerly helping take care of him.
  3. Suffer through a year in which he thinks biting is the most effective way to get what he wants thanks to a kid at daycare. You will have bruises. The tooth marks on the tender skin on the inside of your upper arm will be the ones that make you come closest to instinctively smacking his toddler face. Don't smack it.
  4. He will soon move on to kicking you. Love him anyways.
  5. Get dragged to his second PeeWee soccer practice. He would only watch at his first and your grandma thinks he'll be encouraged if you're there*
  6. Watch him watch the other kids do their "practice drills" (we are still talking 4 to 5 year olds). Feel bad.
  7. Get a ball and take him to the other side of the field. Start lightly kicking it to him like you've done at home.
  8. Watch him smile and enjoy himself. Feel good.
  9. Move closer to the other kids. Get yourself and him in line for the drill.
  10. Go through the drill a few times with him before running back to the sidelines and watching him participate fine on his own.
  11. Repeat for as many practices as necessary.
  12. Go back to resenting him.
  13. Love him anyways.

*WARNING: Because of this story, your grandma will always think this is true and this is how MANY years later you'll find yourself at 23, awake at 2am, filled with many cups of coffee wondering how ethical it would be to just write a damn Sophomore English paper yourself as you drag sentence after sentence out of him and repeatedly yell that Wikipedia is not a reliable source. You will do this more than once. I'm sorry.

I'm participating in The Scintilla Project, a fortnight of story telling. Today's prompt was to tell a story in the form of an instructional manual.

Battle Scars

Chefs are inordinately proud of their scars. We all are, in a way, I suppose, but when I say "chefs are proud of their scars" I mean physical ones, not metaphorical. We're the new rock stars, you know - we work hard, we party hard and we burn the fuck out of ourselves with sheet pans hard. Don't act like you're not jealous of our badassery. Chefs without scars are scoffed at, regarded as glorified home cooks. At times my lower arms have been covered with rows of sheet pan burns so numerous and neat they look more like scarring from self harm than occupational hazard. Ice cream making is not a particularly scarring endeavor, so I'm down to three scars right now - an oval where my left shoulder hit a 450˚ sheetpan fresh out of the oven and received a nasty second degree burn, a heart-shaped scar on my right forearm (because of course I would have a literal heart on my sleeve) and my worst, and longest lasting scar, a thin line that travels diagonally from the base of my right pinky and up the inside of my right ring finger, ending just above my second knuckle. A scar that to this day, has made it so I only have partial feeling in said ring finger, either making the fact that that's my finger my carpal tunnel most affects, better (because I'm used to it) or worse (because maybe it wouldn't go totally numb if it weren't already partially?).

I gave myself the injury that would cause that scar six years ago, right before my 21st birthday and about 5 weeks before I was to graduate culinary school. It didn't happen because I was doing some sort of crazy impressive quick knife work or got jostled by somebody else moving too quickly through the school kitchen. It happened at Baskin Robbins. Where I worked as a cake decorator.

Yes, my most badass scar comes from cake decorating. Even for a baker, it's more than a little humiliating.

You see, Baskin Robbins doesn't have premade cakes for every custom flavor you can order, because that would be insane and impossible for stores to stock. They basically make premade cakes in variations of vanilla, chocolate, chocolate chip, mint chip or strawberry ice cream with either vanilla or chocolate bases. For every other flavor, the cake decorators have to assemble the cakes themselves. This is done using a tub cutter. The tub cutter has a metal pole with holes and a metal pin to adjust the height of a curved arm that holds the tub in place and the naked box cutter blade that cuts through the cardboard of the ice cream tub. You spin the tub against the box cutter blade, cutting a neat circle around the tub and then pull a thick wire through the ice cream, slicing off a neat layer with which to assemble the custom cake. Pretty genius, right?

Five days a week, I left my house at 10am to go to work for three hours and got home at 11pm after 7 hours of schooling that was essentially working, it was really only a matter of time before my exhaustion caught up to me. For my first hour of the day, I worked by myself because not enough people bought ice cream at 11am to interrupt my cake decorating. That day I cut off a layer of ice cream from the tub, started assembling a cake and then got distracted by a customer. By the time I got back to the tub to put it away it had started to defrost. The icy fuzz that had formed on the outside had even started to turn to slippery rivulets of water and as I pulled the tub away, my hand lost its grip. Tired, I instinctively pulled my hand away, right along the exposed box cutter blade.

If you have never cut your finger, let me just tell you that even the smallest cut bleeds like a mofo. Two deep, inch long cuts? Yeah. I immediately wrapped my fingers in paper towels and applied pressure, afraid to look but knowing it was bad. When I started to feel faint, I raised my arm above my head in a continued effort to stop the bleeding. Finally, pressing my right hand against my chest to not relent on the pressure, I used my left hand to shakily dial my boss (the owner).

"I cut myself on the tub cutter, I think I need to go to the emergency room"

"How bad is it? Did you drive today? Can you drive yourself?"

"I did, but I cut across two fingers on my right hand, I don't think it would be safe"

He picked me up and drove me to the Kaiser ER.

"I'm sure it won't be too bad when you unwrap it"

I looked at him doubtfully, I was raised by a nurse, I had taken my basic first aid classes, I was shaking and the bleeding still hadn't stopped, I knew it was going to be bad.

I bled through an entire roll of gauze before getting stitched up. Seven stitches across two fingers. Seven large stitches my grandmother shook her head at.

"If you were a hand model, they would've given you at least twice as many stitches"

But I wasn't a hand model, I was about to start my career as a classically trained pastry chef and I had just gotten my first battle scar.

At fucking Baskin Robbins.

I'm participating in The Scintilla Project, a fortnight of storytelling. Today's prompt was to tell a story about your first job.

I Still Need to go to Al Anon

Here is a painfully honest real thing: When I see things like this, I feel tremendously guilty.

I know that I have worked WORKED for this to not be my life, that my fear of becoming my parents (or the people my parents used to be) motivated everything my younger self did, that I have not come out unscathed.

But my heart breaks and I cannot stop crying because I do not know how to not empathize and I feel horribly guilty about the privilege that allowed me to not have that life. And I feel horribly guilty that I only spend an hour each week volunteering when there is so much to be done in the world. I mean, deep, in my soul, think I'm a fundamentally bad person, guilt.

(I am not writing this in hopes of reassurance or back pats. It is just a Real Thing that I struggle with that I'm guessing other people with similar backgrounds struggle with too)