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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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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

In Flux

I have a new job. I think I like it. I made pate a choux today for the first time in years and it turns out I still know how to make pate a choux so that's pretty cool. Actually, it turns out every time I'm terrified I've forgotten a technique hammered into me at culinary school, I'm wrong. (please don't ask me to make a sugar show piece because I have a feeling that's when I would be right)

I don't know my new schedule yet. I know have to go in at 6:15 tomorrow and 7:15 on the weekend days. I don't know what my life is going to look like anymore and it's something I'm really struggling with because, guys, despite what it may sound like sometimes, I really like my life. Or liked my life.

It's weird to be under somebody else again. It's weird to know that I'm probably out of the weekend brunch game. I'm probably out of the weekend going out game all together. I hang out in the same places and with the same people almost every weekend. No more.

I'm back to Real Chef life.

My arms are going to be sore tomorrow, because my beefy baker arms are not as strong as they once were but are now back to making quantities they used to make. I am going to be tired tomorrow, because I have to wake up at an hour with which I've only been familiar drunkenly falling asleep in the past year.

Things are in flux and I don't know how I feel about it. I used to be the girl who hated routine and felt stuck living somewhere after six months but after getting laid off two years in a row, after two years of casual relationships, I'd just like things to stick around for a while, y'know? But I also no longer really expect anything to.

So I guess I'm happy about my new job. I get to bake things and they give me money.

And everything starts all over again.

If this isn't nice

I am awful and cranky most days. Truly awful. I want to remember the little things more. I don't mean to notice them and think that pleasure I get from noticing them will make everything better. I just want to know that when I look back the thing I'll remember isn't getting laid off or sifting through endless descriptions of jobs I don't want, it'll be things like Trouble and the snow.

Except that was last year and this is this year and this year it's a string of red lights against red velvet curtains. Trusting a man to lead me somewhere small and out of the way and perfect. Sitting down just in time for 16 Tons and happy memories of folk music and my childhood. Feeling my annoyance at my job, my life, the evening's hectic planning melt away as I smiled involuntarily, loving it like he said I would. It's the proprietary way he drinks my beer without asking and his head leaning against mine when the train gets stuck between stations long enough for me to believe we have actually found our way into one of the circles of Hell. Not knowing where things are going and learning to relinquish control.

This month it's the children circling around me each yelling the same question.

What are we making?

What are we making?

What are we making?

The confidence that comes from waiting for them to settle down, clearly explaining and watching and checking in with each student, knowing I'm in my element. Showing the children the bright mix of roasted vegetables they've created. Their eagerness to try a bowl.

This week it's the stark contrast of leafless trees against the bright blue sky. The thing I have wanted tattooed on my body for longest and most.

Valentine's with my roommate. Creamy burrata and a jar of tiramisu. Later, all three of us on the couch. Moonstruck and a bottle of wine. Cozy.

The promise of more snow, of seasons soon to be changing and something new right around the corner.

Kick it in, Patti Lee

A lot of my year-end lists had to do with wanting to both consume more consciously and create more consciously. Less blogging/more writing one list reminds me. I don't really know what it means, but I know it when I see it.

I've written before about struggling with identifying as a creative. I feel like because I struggle with the identity, because I don't give myself fully to it, or at least to what I think it's supposed to be, that I'm not really, that I'm just faking it.

The second book I read this year was "Just Kids" by Patti Smith and, fuck, if that book doesn't make you want to give it all up and become a starving artist, I don't know what will. I guess if that book doesn't make you want to give it all up and become a starving artist then you really don't put the same value on creating that I do. I guess it turns out I value creating a lot.

I've never wanted to write a novel. Or fiction at all, really. I've never wanted to write a memoir or be a published author. I know I'm happier when I make space in my life to write. I know the more I write, the more I write. I don't know how to not write any more than I know hot to not bake. I'm much better at not sleeping than not doing either of those things.

The job for which I had an interview today is for yet another place that just opened. A BBQ joint this time. It should scare me more, working for another startup. But honestly, it's what I'm good at it. They need somebody to create and develop a pie program who is really interested in approaching everything from an R&D stand point (seriously, I'd get paid to eat pie, what is my life?) and I'm a research and development kind of gal. I'm also a flaky dough pastry kind of gal. It sounds like they've constructed a culture that is really focused on and values collaborating and creating. I've felt really stuck creatively lately and very confined by the size and budget of my current job, maybe this could be the thing that gets me out of my rut.

There's nothing more to it I just get through it

I wake up in the same position every morning. Curled on my left side, snuggling a very ragged Wild Thing so tightly it couldn't possibly draw enough breath to roar its terrible roar. I've never learned how to sleep in the middle of the bed, a relic of getting my first grown up sized bed in the middle of a six-year relationship I suppose. Or maybe because it just seems unnecessary, I don't move around in my sleep, I cover a quarter of the mattress, no more. I can't sleep in any other position. I have this thing I do. This thing where I go and go and go and go. I stop when I'm sick and can't bear to uncurl myself in the morning. All on or all off. I've spent most of the last week either at work or in bed. I took a sick day on Tuesday when I woke up barely able to speak and slept and slept and finally woke up feeling well enough to manage going to cook with kids in the evening and a late night date. A third date, with a tattooed, nerdy, Jewy lumberjack who teases me for wearing a watch, who is not as safe and correct a life decision as a nice Jewish doctor who values timeliness, but makes me chamomile tea and asks permission to pay for meals which I find adorable, so I'll take the risk. Wednesday I worked a very short day and then had delicious delicious Szechuan, which tastes like home because I am always surprised by how bland Chinese food is outside of the Bay Area, even here in New York. As soon as I got home I passed out. Work. Sleep. Work. Sleep. Repeat repeat repeat.

Yesterday I kind of got laid off but not really. Lets not keep doing this every year. I am not without a job immediately and really nobody knows how things will work at the shop without me there so things are mostly just up in the air. It did seem a little too good to be true. To have found that sweet spot where I got paid just enough to live off of but also got to pursue outside interests. Maybe this is the time small businesses and I break up for good.

It'll be fine. I'll find another job and I'm not angry. My employers had a hard reality check in terms of what it means to own and run a small business and they are not struggling with all this less than me.

Which is not to say that I'm happy or even relieved like I was when I got laid off last year. I've spent the day sending out some resumes, watching cheesy television and staring at the ceiling filled with existential angst. I don't want to take the wrong job but I don't know what the right job looks like. I don't want to live paycheck to paycheck. I would really like health insurance. I'd prefer not to work more than 45 hours a week. I do not want to hate my life. Or have a job that makes me hate a thing I am passionate about. I'm willing to work day time production hours or restaurant hours but I do not want to work overnight or early morning baker hours if I can avoid it. I am too old for that shit. And too susceptible to anxiety/depression when I fuck with my sleep schedule that way. I'm terrified of having to give up my volunteer commitments. That is the thing I will potentially hate most about this situation.

Things come together and things fall apart.

My inability to come up with a title for this post seems incredibly apropos

 

For most of my life I haven't thought of myself as a creative. I'm not really sure why. I think I've always thought I was too straitlaced. I like rules and concrete plans and tailored clothing. I value logic based decision making. I hate being late. I don't hate math. I am not bohemian. I don't think you can be a great chef, especially pastry chef, without some understanding and appreciation of food science.

But here's the other thing, I think cooking is just like any other form of art, you have to know the rules so that you know when the most effective thing to do is break them.

Yes, I just said cooking is an art. It's a thing I'm coming to terms with. For a lot of people, cooking is paint by numbers, they can follow a recipe perfectly well and make something pretty delicious but they can't tell you what would make it better. Even fewer can go one step further and turn the idea in their head into a delicious dish in the real world.

That's what I'm good at, recipe development. I have an uncanny ability to recreate things I've eaten, to know what flavor combinations will taste like without having ever tried them or to even take somebody else's vague description of what they want and make something to satisfy their very specific craving.

I don't mean that in a bragging sense. It's just a thing I can do. The way other people can compose heartbreaking music or write beautifully or paint something that seems to speak specifically to you. It's a thing I love to do. It's a thing I don't know how not to do.

The tricky thing about doing something you love, about doing something you're really good at, is that it's easy for both you, and everyone around you, to forget that that doesn't mean what you do isn't hard.

Guys, sometimes being a chef is really really hard. And I don't mean that it's physically hard or hard to efficiently organize production or hard to manage people, even though all those things can be true. I mean sometimes creating constantly, five days a week, 52 weeks a year, on a schedule, is motherfucking hard. Sometimes it's not limited to those five days a week, sometimes I leave work on Friday not knowing what I want on the menu for the next week and spend my entire weekend with flavors and pastries rearranging and flying around my head and never actually powering down. Sometimes I'm not inspired. Sometimes something is really really good but I know there's that one thing I can't pin down that will make it perfect. Sadly, there is no thesaurus equivalent for flavors. Sometimes, it's hard to know when to stop. When your creative brain is burned out and using it is exhausting you.

I can't tell you how many new recipes I've written this year. A lot. Like I probably averaged 8 a month. Very very few of them make it onto my food blog just because of the afore mentioned creative energy already being used up. I can tell you I need to eat somebody's food that isn't mine. Preferably a lot of people's food that isn't mine. I imagine sometimes writers just really really need to read a book. To get out of their own rut. To be able to inspire themselves. To take a break. I think this is the downside of not working with other chefs. This is also the part about being a creative I don't understand. How do I deal with this? How do I deal with having a creative job when I don't feel like creating? I mean, yes, on one hand, I get it, I reuse old recipes, I bring back tried and true options, I just make sure there are solidly delicious things out for people to buy each day, I JUST KEEP CREATING. But how do I move past the creative burn out? How do I get back to the place where I feel like I'm really creating something fantastic? Other people with creative jobs, how do you create constantly on demand without totally exhausting yourself? Is the really simple, obvious answer just that I need a vacation? When you're facing creative burn out do you go immerse yourself in your discipline or do you take the opposite route and do anything but?

Help.

Smaller Steps Towards Bigger Things

Sometimes I write things just to get them out of my head. I write them because they just keep going around and around in circles and I can't move past them. So sometimes I write things and in writing them can move past the just feeling them and start rooting around and digging into the feelings. You could probably argue that maybe I should just keep a journal and then write blog posts about the other side. The side where I have actual answers and plans and a lesson learned. There's probably a whole different blog post about why I don't do that which also goes with me not writing drafts or scheduling posts.

But anyways.

Today was my last day of the Saturday Culinary Explorers program with which I've been volunteering and when the Team Leader said she was looking for somebody to take over team leading half the classes next semester, it only took me about 5 seconds to decide I would talk to her about it after class and probably agree to do it. I told her that in my dream world teaching kids to cook would be my full time job but I just wasn't sure how to go about doing it other than teaching private classes to kids on the UWS.

"Well, you teach those kids. You start saving up some money and you start asking around. You can start asking around now, just call schools, tell them you're a chef and you're interested in starting a culinary after school program. Ask who you can talk to and what they would need for that to happen. Just start putting yourself out there. You're probably going to do a whole lot of asking around before you actually start doing anything"

And here is the brilliant fucking epiphany I had: Change doesn't happen overnight. Real change takes time.

Hi, welcome to adulthood, Alana Margaret.

I haven't had a career goal for a while. I've been floating. My focus for the year was stability. It was on settling into New York, setting into myself. I'm usually working towards the next big thing. I set goals, I achieve them and then instead of being satisfied, I immediately decide the goal wasn't good enough and I still need to keep going. Change something new. BE BETTER ALWAYS.

Look, ultimately, "be better" isn't that bad a life philosophy. But "be better always"? Who can live up to that? When you spend all your time striving, holding yourself to standards you would never hold to anybody else, all sense of realism is lost and no accomplishment is satisfying because it's only the accomplishment of the version of your self that isn't the better self you already need to be.

So I made a really conscious effort to step away from that. To focus on the day to day. To focus on my life outside of work. To say yes. To lose control. TO HAVE FUN. I've happily moved somewhere that I can call my own. A room that is full of stuff that belongs to me. A living room where I stay up too late with my roommates drinking wine. Or, on a night like tonight, happily writing away on the couch, Fiona Apple playing softly while one of my roommates fills a blank page sitting at the table.

I have bell jar days, maybe even a bell jar week now and then. But it's been a while since I've truly had a full bell jar month. I'm not saying that's good, but it's better. And I'm definitely not saying that I don't still need to suck it up and go to fucking therapy, I'm just saying that I sometimes write more about the lows than the highs and that might be misleading.

So I've calmed down. I've worked on routine and settling. I've found myself recently saying that I'm anxious about something because it's something I'm used to being anxious about and then stopping myself when I realize I'm not actually. Obviously that didn't happen over night. I didn't wake up one day suddenly anxiety free. But I put myself out there over and over and over again this year. Sure, I've been disappointed from time to time but mostly I've been pleased and successful at creating the life and relationships I want. Real change takes time.

I'm ready to decide I want to be a culinary instructor and I'm ready to say that I have no idea what that's going to look like for me. It's a nebulous goal. I'm ready to say that I'm going to dip my toes in the water for a bit instead of just quitting my job and changing everything all at once. I'm going to keep with my volunteering through New York Cares in various culinary explorer programs (and I'll be doing some team leading). I'm going to look at places like Sur La Table and William Sonoma that have teaching classes and see if I can be an assistant or a part time instructor now, while the ice cream business has slowed for winter. I can't afford to take more time off work and teach for free, but I probably don't really need to be there 40 hours a week if I give more responsibility to my assistants and can find a way to get paid to teach a couple of classes a week.

Break things into steps. Real change takes time. Put yourself out there.

Learn the same lessons over and over again until they stick.

Timshel.

Bits & Pieces: In Which Everything is Fine

I'm in and out of the bell jar a lot lately.

It's fine. I'm just tired. Always tired. I fall asleep at ten and wake up at 4, which, I'm sorry body, is not quite how this falling asleep early thing is supposed to work.

My life is in a holding pattern. Not a good holding pattern or a bad holding pattern. I don't feel stuck and I'm not in a rush to figure out the next thing. But there's not a lot of passion.

It's fine. Everything is just fine.

I'm starting to feel on the edge of burnout. The culinary world, the struggling small business world, it's rough, yo. I miss health insurance and paid sick days and vacation time. And the cold weather, with ice cream sales slowed, I have no push, no drive. My motivation is non existent.

Right now, I'm by far the happiest when cooking with kids. I couldn't stop smiling as we made cupcakes for them to sell to raise funds for people affected by the hurricane. In the Saturday class I watched the kids' amazement as the yeast bloomed and bubbled for pizza dough. This is the stuff I love. I don't know how to get paid to do that though. I know I certainly couldn't get paid to work with the demographic of children with which I volunteer. I know that I think that's stupid.

I've been on a thinking about privilege kick lately.

I stared at this job again. I stare at it a few times a year. I want it to be in New York. It's not in New York. It's not even near a city I like. But it's what I want to do. This is a constant conundrum.

I guess I'm lonely. I guess that's a thing. I'm the kind of person that usually functions best with a few close friends to hang out with constantly and here I have a lot of acquaintances with which to spend time sporadically.

And guys, I'm so sick of girl's nights and lady brunches. I'm not saying I don't love all my female friends but other than my boss, I basically don't interact with men ever. I work with all women. I live with all women. Every event I seem to go to is all women. Holy shit are there any men in this city? I don't even mean that in a dating kind of way. I just miss having guy friends.

I mean, yes, I also miss having A guy friend. The kind that is mine for snuggling. But I know that's not the thing that's making me unhappy. Or at least that it's not the thing that's going to make me un unhappy. Hello, personal growth.

There's something larger that is wrong. I'm pretty sure of that. But I can't quite put my finger on it yet. So instead it just feels like nothing is quite right. Or maybe nothing being quite right is the larger thing.

But I can't help but feeling like there shouldn't be anything wrong with everything being fine.

And I'm a little bit broken

I've been teetering on the edge for a while. Looking down into the hole and pretending not to notice that I've already started to fall. It's hard, I'm coming off the high of a busy, well spent Summer. A sad Summer but also a good Summer. Life is always tricky like that.

I'm not ready for the Fall. I said I was ready to slow down this month, but I'm not. I'm not ready for indoors and being bundled and real life. It's funny how Summer makes me feel so free even though I don't remember the last true Summer vacation I had.

Today I received my first "Dear John" text, from a guy I let myself like more than I knew I should have. Nothing in it was surprising and at the same time I wanted to vomit and cry and jump on a plane home. I wanted the stars and the dark. I wanted my headlights on a windy country road. I wanted to drink whiskey and shoot at the bottle. I wanted the endessness of the ocean. I wanted to be any and all places other than here.

I'm not sure how much of it even really had to do with that guy as much as just an overflow of frustration with dating (or rather that it's always not actually dating) in this city.

For a moment, everything seemed to be coming together, work, friends, crush, moving into an apartment to call my own. There was a solid twenty hours where I felt like maybe I had backed away from the edge but then the city just went ahead and pushed me all the way over.

So, hello, hole.

Hello, bell jar.

Tomorrow I will put out my two new flavors (Rose sweet cinnamon ice cream with cardamom dough! Honey ice cream with salted rosemary dough!) and work on the third. I will pack up my one room here. Over the weekend I'll move and create a new space and maybe dye my hair and call my mother.

And I'll hope that my bell jar stays behind.

Hello, Employment

My actual funemployment was short lived. If you take away the two days that would've been my weekend anyways. I was unemployed for... ummm... two days. I went on a total of four interviews, turned down 3 interviews, and only ended up trailing at one place though I was offered trails* for all four of my interviews.

All of the jobs were offering around the same amount of money but they were offering VASTLY different workloads, amount of responsibility and creative freedom and in the end I went with the job with what seemed like the least amount of stress and the greatest amount of freedom. This job, as it stands right now, is definitely not the choice that would've looked the most impressive on my resume nor is it the choice I originally thought I would make. In fact, when I sent out my resumes it was probably number three of the four jobs for which I actually interviewed.

I'm working at a tiny ice cream shop that has only had a store front for a year and only added in the espresso bar and baked goods to the retail cafe in January BUT before they had the store front they'd been selling the ice cream at events and from tricycles for two years and they just landed their first wholesale account. What is a slow day at Je and Jo was a busy day at Stellina. So I'm working for a small business again, but this time it's an obviously growing small business and I want to help the owners, who both have day jobs,  grow it more by taking on a lot of the day to day production responsibilities so they have time to do the big picture stuff.

I'm already in love with the shop, the owners and my coworkers. Everybody that works there seems to be really invested in working there. Ok, yes, it's just the owners, me and a few baristas but I have yet to hear anyone say a bad word about anyone else or the business and I basically started working last Wednesday (even though I've only officially been on board since Monday). I can't tell you how frustrating it is to be a chef who pours all of their creative energy into something and then have servers or baristas who don't give a fuck (not the case at Stellina, but definitely the case some other places I've worked) because if the front of house people aren't excited, customers aren't going to be excited. Also, obviously, it sucks to work at a place where everybody complains about everything/everybody all the time (very much the case at Stellina/Sorella and I was no exception).

There's no ego involved. I'm working for a veterinarian and an architect who went to ice cream school and have fully handed over the baked goods and kitchen management to me. And unlike my other jobs where I've been expected to take on those roles for a measly $10/hr, I'm actually getting paid the same wage I was as a sous chef and have promises of looking into health insurance if enough other employees want to opt in.

And of course, because you can take the girl out of California... as much as possible everything is organic and locally sourced and all the packaging materials, cups, etc in the shop are biodegradable. LOVE.

Right now things are pretty low key but I imagine things will start ramping up as the weather gets warmer and we start selling from the trikes as well as the store and hopefully, eventually get some more wholesale clients. My plan during this slow time, and part of the reason I took this job, is to do some massive food blog revamping and FINALLY start a confections side business. So if you don't see me over here for a while, it's because I'm somewhere on the internet figuring out a completely new blog design and whether or not the neglected blog and this blog will be one and if the food blog will still have recipes or just be for selling shit and maybe working on a cookbook.

Because when I sat down and thought about what I wanted my career to be, it wasn't about fancy titles and hip restaurants, it's about creating and doing something I love. I hate that right now I'm the type of person that would advise "don't" to anyone who asked advice on becoming a chef because in the end, I love what I do and even if I started working in another field, I would never stop baking. The flavors never stop running through my mind. It's the way my brain is wired, the way yours is wired to paint or make music or smith words and when your brain is wired for a certain creative endeavor, you know that life becomes incomplete without it.

Writers write. Bakers bake.

I am a baker. Sometimes it really is that simple.

*We use weird terms in the food world, I'm not just misspelling "trial"

Hello, Funemployment

For those of you that don't follow me on twitter or missed my tweets about it, as of April 14th, I will be unemployed. Unless I find a job by then, in which case, I will not be unemployed but will have a new job.

Yesterday I was informed that since when the gelato shop/bakery reopens it will be tiny and the restaurant will be the primary business focus and I am a baker, it just didn't make sense for the business to keep me on anymore. Which is 100% true. I had started sending out resumes in February when it became apparent that the bakery was going to drastically downsized but then there was a lot of talk about expanding the wholesale business and I figured I'd stick with it a while longer. Oh universe, you're so funny sometimes. The pastry sous chef position and what that roll entailed were created for me, to get me to come back to work when I had left last Summer and it was a really great fit for me then. With basically no bakery, it's not now. I can't disagree with their reasoning for letting me go when it's the same reason I've been thinking about leaving. It doesn't mean it doesn't suck though.

"Stability" was my word to work towards in 2012 and that was part of the reason I stuck with my job. I wasn't in love with it, but I thought sticking with it would allow me to push work a little more to the backburner and focus on getting the rest of my life back together, figuring out who I am outside of being a chef, do some volunteer work and maybe have a more regular social/love life. My job has always been where I put the most focus in my life and I wanted to let go of that a little bit. Now I'm trying to figure out whether or not that's an option.

I'm trying to figure out where the balance is between not selling out my artistic integrity and having medical benefits. Between making enough money to live comfortably in New York City and making food I can stand behind. I read these job descriptions for new bakeries and just opened cafes and most of them... I just, I just can't. I can't do it again. I've poured my heart and creative energy into so many struggling small businesses that weren't mine for too little pay and too much of my life given, and all I can think is that I just want some motherfucking stability. I just want enough money to live off, benefits and sick days. That's it. I know it's not the cool thing to say, I know my generation is supposed to be all about entrepeneurship and doing our own thing and going after what we love but fuck it. I've been doing what I love since I started culinary school at nineteen and I'm tired of being a starving artist. I'm tired of it. And I'm tired of people telling me my job is awesome without realizing that I've never worked somewhere where I could afford to regularly eat if I didn't have an employee discount. Or the look of shock at the lack of paid sick days. You probably tipped your server at your last meal more than I make an hour when I break down my shift pay even though I'm the one with the specialized trade skill.

I do something that I love, that I'm good at and it hurts my body and I can't go see a doctor about my inabilty to hold a knife for an extended period of time without part of my hand going numb.

Right now, doing something purely because I love it, seems unsustainable but I'm not very good at compromising my values and working for the man. I'm not even sure who the man is in the culinary world. I'm not sure where that leaves me in job hunting. I can't really afford to be super picky but I'm feeling really picky.

And frustrated. I'm just so effing effity eff frustrated.

I am the luckiest

It's 10am when I struggle with my copy of a copy of a copy of a key to roll up the metal gate and open the heavy door and walk into the dark and silent wine bar that makes up the front half of the restuarant.

What has proceeded this moment: 45 minutes of "snoozing", a bleary realization that I went to bed with my hair wet (again) and that it is sitting in a half-Jew fro on top of my head, hello flat iron, clothes somehow end up on my body, tinted moisturizer and out the door. Coffee at the bodega where they know my order (Am I a New Yorker yet?), 45 minutes on the train, half awake weaving through Chinatown and then digging through my purse.

I walk through to the pastry kitchen, flipping on lights and ovens,  setting down my phone and coffee. I snatch up a yellow legal pad and head downstairs. Into my cubby goes my purse, my real world clothes, my shoes and jewelry, out comes yoga pants and shiny blue clogs. My clipboard and I make our way around, counting and checking what was gone through the night before against what I had written for production. Two walkins, two kitchens, opening drawers, pulling out sheetpans.

And then, finally, thirty minutes later, I tie on an apron and head into the kitchen to start the real work.

Into the dock goes my iPod. Nobody is here yet, I can play whatever I want.

Stop... with you feet in the air and your head on the ground...

Mixing bowls out, yeast, water, flour and salt. Eggs for some. Olive oil for others. And suddenly the quiet kitchen is filled with the not so quiet whir of two 6 quart stand mixers and a 40 quart's clunk, clunk, clunk. I still have another hour before anybody else arrives. Another hour of just me, my music and the kitchen.

Even though I know that means I still have another 9 hours to my day, another 9 hours on my feet and running up and down the stairs and hoisting flour sacks and realizing the wholesale order should've been in the oven twenty minutes ago, I also realize that I chose right all those years ago when I chose culinary school over college because I am in the kitchen and so, I am happy.

This post was written as part of the Scintilla Project. Prompts can be found here.