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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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.

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".

Bits & Pieces: Feelings and Job Updates

So here is the reality of the last few weeks. For the first week after getting laid off I was nauseous every day. Every. Single. Day. I knew I would find another job but that didn't keep the sadness then anger than anxiety at bay. By that Friday I was actually sick, not just anxiety sick. I basically spent the entire weekend in bed, snotty, hacking, fevery and gross. Even sick I managed to send out a second volley of resumes because sickness does not anxiety cure (unlike having a source of income).

My motivation to show up for work for the next week was pretty non existent, both because I was sick as hell and because I had mostly moved onto anger. I had poured all my creative energy into my job and, in the end, gotten nothing in return. There had been jobs that would've been better career moves for me, jobs that would've given me health insurance, but no, I believed in the potential of Je & Jo and I believed that I'd be working for people just as committed and concerned about taking their business to the next level as I was. And I'm honestly not sure they were. And, fuck, I HAD JUST GOTTEN SALARY AND PAID TIME OFF, which had lulled me into an apparently false sense of security. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me.

Look, I've never been much for routine, I'm more of a "running from one falling star to another" sort of girl. I'm used to getting bored and wanting change constantly. When I got laid off last year, I was relieved. I was excited about my new job prospects. This year I was resistant, I applied to jobs because I had to. I took the job I knew objectively made the most sense for me careerwise and for the things I like to do. I'll be honest, I wasn't excited. I wasn't not excited, I just wasn't really anything. For once, I didn't actually want my life to change.

I've now worked at my new job for five days. I'm starting out with a six day week and I've gone through close to 15o pounds of flour in the last five days. This is real baker life and I've kind of missed it. My arms are not as sore as I've thought they would be (today I mixed a batch of brownies that involved 4 pounds of butter and 2.75 pounds of chocolate BY HAND and that's been pretty typical of my week) but I feel pretty physically exhausted by the end of the day. It's a good feeling. I'm using skills I haven't used in a while and using them well. My boss and I assembly lined some galettes today and worked easily and efficiently as a team. I'm starting to actually get excited.

I won't say I'm excited about waking up at 4:45am or going back to working weekends, but I will say that I think the shake up in routine is good for me. My commute is half what it used to be and there are many more daylight hours in my life. They feed me family meal at work. It's a pretty seasonal/California cuisine/nouveau American sort of place so I've been eating pretty clean which makes me crave more clean food and cook at home more. I have a feeling my new schedule might get lonely pretty soon, but right now I feel like I've been given a blank slate. I've been forced to completely reorganize/prioritize my time. Which is nice. Each day I get to say "So what is it I do on <insert day here> at 5pm now?" and do whatever the fuck I want. At 8am, the morning bake off has been picked up and I can walk to get a coffee at Five Leaves. At 3pm I usually have snack time at home. This week has involved a lot of reading and trying to not nap, some cooking, some cleaning and a little pre bedtime yoga. I think the pre bedtime yoga is here to stay.

Also, the coffee break. OBVS.

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"

This one's for my family 'cause I guess I know exactly who I am

Lessons from my family.

Put your money where your mouth is

Donate that money. Do those volunteer hours. Shop local if you can. Support businesses/products you believe in. Sign that petition. Pick up a sign and march your heart out. Vote. If you are unhappy, do something. Change the world in whatever way you can.

From each their ability to each their need

Yes, that's kind of parapharsed and it's Marx. Get over it. I give my spare change to homeless people. I will use my unlimited fare card to swipe other people into the subway if I'm on my way out. I don't make much but I still donate to charitable organizations because there are people that need the money more than me and as my father once said when he was living in an apartment in the tenderloin "there is nothing that can happen to me that is worse then what I see when I walk out that door every day". I truly believe that society is responsible for keeping people from falling through the cracks. I am fond of my tax return but I'd rather the government keep it and give us all healthcare. I think it's stupid to imprison drug addicts instead of providing them with actual help. Actually, I think in general it's stupid that our prison system focuses on punishment instead of rehabilitation, especially the juvenile justice system.

My heart, it just bled all over your computer.

Feminism is not a dirty word

I come from a long line of feminists (one of my grandmothers has a "Votes for Women" pin that's been passed down and the other can be seen yelling about childcare in the movie Berkeley in the Sixties*) and I'm not afraid to use that word to describe myself. As I wrote before: "being a modern liberal woman isn't about fitting into a neat man hating, power bitch box, it's about choices. It's about living your life in the way that you find most empowering. It's about being able to stick to your guns without having to apologize and it's about facepunching double standards".

Never cross a picket line

My daddy was a longshoreman. His daddy was a longshoreman. When I turned 18, I took all the tests to inherit my father's book even though I didn't go that route. My grandfather, his brother and all of his sons are contractors. My grandma is a nurse. We do believe in unions, and we don't cross picket lines.

It's always better to be overdressed than underdressed

I probably mostly choose to believe this piece of wisdom from my grandmother because I like wearing pretty clothes. But also, I would rather present myself to the world as somebody who puts in the extra effort.

Home is where they always have to take you in

This is one of my father's sayings. He valued family immensely, even if he wasn't on the best terms with somebody. I think part of what I learned from him is that your family isn't just your blood relatives. Your family is the people you trust, the people you would give the shirt off your back and who would do the same for you. The people that support you and the people that take you in when you have nowhere else to go. I think I have a lot of homes by this standard. I am blessed.

I am a product of my upbringing and I am 100% happy with it. Thank you, to my entire family for making me the kind of person that cares, I don't want to be any other kind.

*This movie is oddly on Netflix instant watch, I think my great grandfather, great grandmother and at least one of my great uncles also have appearances.

I'm going going back back to Cali Cali

I've made the roundtrip coast to coast journey somewhere between 25 and 35 times now. One to two times a year almost every year of my life. SFO to JFK and then back again. Except not this time. This time it's different. JFK to SFO and then back again.

It's weird. It's just so weird. I keep thinking I need to take one last walk through Central Park, that there must be one more museum to fit in before I get on the plane that will take me to tacos and In'n'Out instead of pizza and bagels. I've gone into "No, please, don't make me leave" mode, forgetting that in ten days I'll be back. It's hard to believe I've been here close to a year now. It's hard to believe I have no intention of moving back to California. But both those things are very true.

I'm starting to get a little going home anxiety too. So many things I want to eat. So many people I want to see. So many people. After a year of not having time for anything much other than work and sleep, the idea of so much socializing is a little daunting. And of course there's the "What if I've somehow changed in a way that makes everyone hate me? Or me hate them? Or what if they've all changed?" anxiety. There's also the family anxiety. Just y'know. Family.

And part of it is that I feel so removed from my life in California. I was always living with one foot out the door anyways. The idea of slowing back down to California countryside pace seems so foreign. Slowing down always seems foreign to me. I think that's the part of my nature that will always be more comfortable here than there. Not just Sonoma County, but the Bay Area in general.

Don't get me wrong, I know I'm going to have fun. I can't wait to see more than three stars when I look up at night, for the redwood trees to be towering over me and to see that craggy coastline. I'm ready for going out with my boots on. Whiskey and semi drunken tractor rides. Wine tasting. Windy backroads. Girl nights. COOKING. I have a feeling I'm about to do so much cooking and baking, and I'm oddly thrilled. I really can't emphasize enough how much I miss cooking for people I know instead of strangers. Produce and slow food. (I'm sorry New York, but until you get over fine dining and learn how to do the slow food bistro properly, I will always be on the California side of the coastal chef battle.) Ace pear cider on tap. All the alcohol specific bars in Petaluma. Avoiding going into Sebastopol like the plague except maybe to play shuffleboard at Old Main. Ok, fine, I probably need a burger from Hop Monk too. And, I mean, just all the food in Berkeley. Seriously. All of it. Gregoire's, Cafe Fanny, Barney's, Fonda's, Rudy's Can't Fail... Probably more places I can't think of right now.

I'm excited to go. But I'm also excited to come back. That's a feeling that never existed when I was doing the trip the other way around. And that feeling, makes any of the struggling, any of the loneliness, any of the complete and utter exhaustion I've put up with for the last year, completely worth it. I knew last January that if I didn't move to New York, I would regret it. I'm thrilled that that's a regret I don't have.

And for the record, I will only ever say "Cali" when quoting song lyrics. I promise I'm not that lost to you yet guys.

Alana Goes to Boston, Part 1

IMG_1013 I knew my trip to Boston was going to be good when I sent my friend Sarah this picture asking if we could go to the bakery this cookbook is from and she replied "It's already on the itinerary". Yes, there was an itinerary, but not the scary kind with exact time and boring historical sites, but the awesome kind full of things we should try to get to if we feel like it.

It started Friday with dinner at a restaurant called "North by NorthEast" which did seasonal North East and Asian fusion. I was pretty skeptical at first. Fusion is a trend that's gotten a little out of hand and is often done pretty poorly these days, but the food was AMAZING. Just really really fantastic. Did you think you could use rhubarb in asian cuisine? I sure didn't, but they did and it rocked my world. Definitely a step up from the Roy Roger's french fries I had at the rest stop on my way to Boston.

(Sidenote: First time I'd ever been in a Roy Roger's. They have ads for them on tv in CA, but I'm pretty sure they don't exist West of the mississippi, it's confusing)

Saturday I slept all the way until 8am which is actually sleeping in five and a half hours for me, which is really really disturbing. Sarah woke up early too, so we hit up Flour where I had a perfectly flaky and moist croissant, she had an ooey gooey sticky bun and we took a couple of pastries for the road. Of course our logical next stop was Harpoon Brewery where the first tour is at 10:30 am and the first tasting they give you is promptly at 10:30am. It's a fun, informational tour with unlimited tasting for a bit after the tour is over and well worth the $5. I'm 100% certain I drank more than $5 worth of beer AND you get to keep your tasting cup.

IMG_1030 Next we discovered that the Institute of Contemporary Art is pretty awesome when you're tipsy. Piles of record slipcovers as a statement about society? Sure, why not? Tipsy me is a lot more tolerant about modern art than sober me. Also, I love records and miss mine so I was inclined to give the whole exhibit around vinyl the benefit of the doubt. I'm also pretty fond of Shepard Fairey and the ICA has a really cool multimedia room that hangs over the water so overall it's a pretty swell museum.

Going on right next to the ICA was an "Extreme Sailing Competition". Not being Bostonians with the privilege of free sailing lessons when we were underage, Sarah and I had no fucking idea what that meant but were totally game to observe. As far as we could tell it was people sailing around buoys along some sort of course? Mostly we just decided it was time to sit for a while and eat our remaining pastries. I'm pretty sure this is also the point in the day when I really got horrifically sunburned. SPF 30 is just not strong enough, I have no idea what I was thinking. Maybe too many summers in foggy Northern California have made me forget the actual strength of the sun. Or maybe I'm an idiot. Either way I've now got some pretty ridiculous tan lines.

I would like to point out that so far we've gotten to 1ish on the first day of my trip. Yeah, we made that itinerary our bitch.

IMG_1032 Next stop: KO meat pies, where Sarah and I learn that Australian meat pies are delicious and will keep you full for the rest of your life.

Then it was time for a walk through the North End on our way home to siesta, because seriously, that is a lot of shit to get done before 3pm on a Saturday.

Saturday evening is when I realized that food service professional are maybe not normal people. Since pretty much all of my friends here work in food service I kind of forgot that not everybody swears constantly, drinks like a fish and generally ignores their body's need for sleep. I partially blame Michelle because she has an office job and still does these things, reinforcing my idea that this is normal. Believe it or not, I am actually quite good at modifying my language to suit the situation. However, I am not good at modifying my drinking habits apparently. In the time that Sarah and her friends finished nursing one drink, I finished two and I felt like I was drinking the SLOWEST EVER IN MY LIFE. And then we went to bed. True Story. Really. I only drank two drinks and was asleep by 11 on a Saturday. It's basically like I was replaced by an alien.

Sunday and Monday really deserve their own post mostly because we had a brunch with somebody from high school that was so amazingly awkward it really needs to not be glossed over and Monday we accidentally stumbled into a historical reenactment. If that doesn't make you want to come back and read more, I don't know what will.

New York, WTF?

Or, That time I went to the grocery store and it made me want to cry.

If you've ever read my food blog, or talked to me for more than five minute, you know that I'm obsessive about what I eat. I don't mean I count calories or eat super healthy or diet in any way. I very actively do not do those things. What I do do is read labels. Not for the nutrition information, but for the list of ingredients that better be pretty damn short and, sometimes even more importantly, to find out where things are from. I eat local and I eat seasonally. I don't mean I prefer to eat local, sustainable, organic, etc when I can afford it. I mean I make myself afford it. If I can't afford to buy non factory farmed meat, then I just go veg until I can. When I didn't have time or energy to go to the Farmers' Market when I was working graveyards, I found a way to have a CSA box delivered.

I knew moving from California would mean giving up some things in the way of food quality and variety, especially produce (this may be a city for foodies restaurantwise, but not for home cooks) but I don't think I quite realized how much more effort it would take to eat local. Even the produce at the organic market made Safeway look like a gourmet grocer and the produce at the regular grocery store...

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Sure, I don't buy tomatoes in February anyways, but note: those are HOT HOUSE tomatoes. There is no reason for hot house tomatoes to be green. Do people realize that there is no way these taste like what a tomato is supposed to taste like?

Don't even get me started on the dairy. I couldn't even find dairy or eggs that actually came from New York. The organic whole milk I bought has the consistancy of 1% and I couldn't even bring myself to buy eggs from another state. I shudder to think what those yolks must look like.

I did buy some fresh bread from a bakery, so at least there's that. I am now going to eat the whole loaf with nutella and butter from far away while drinking a bottle of California wine and sobbing in the corner.

Or I'm going to find out when and where the Farmers' Markets are.

Oh, and what did I find that was organic at the grocery store?

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From left to right, those things come from: Napa, Santa Cruz and Petaluma. So I guess I can at least have the comfort of eating food from home while I figure out where the good food is hidden?

It's a piece of cake to bake a pretty cake

December 6 – Make.

The last thing I made is always food. Last night I pan fried a pork picnic steak (my CSA likes to give me cuts of meat I've never heard of before) that had been rubbed in a vindaloo spice mix and cayenne pepper. We ate it with butternut squash soup that I made a few days ago which had been made with chicken broth that I had frozen a few weeks ago after making it from the carcass of a chicken I had roasted. That's just how we roll around here.

Tomorrow we're getting our Christmas tree and I plan to spend the day decorating and making candy for Christmas care packages I'll be sending out.

**Spoiler alert: If I told you you might be getting a surprise sent your way don't read this next bit**

I'm going to be making a maple bacon toffee, adapted from this recipe over here, some peppermint marshmallows (a variation on this), whiskey caramels and fudge. A caramel and fudge recipe as well as a maple toffee recipe may make it up onto Butter is Love, but no promises. I still need to get a bunch of butter and then some sort of nifty packaging for everything. I'm hoping to find some sort of shiny pretty chinese take out boxes. We'll see. I'll probably update this post with some pictures when I'm done.

You better speak up I won't wait

"I was in Berkeley the day before your birthday and I was just sitting in my car in front of Gregoire's for a good fifteen minutes because I wanted to buy you potato puffs, but I just didn't know what to do. I didn't know if you wanted anything to do with me, but I really wanted to get you potato puffs"

God dammit. Why? Why did he have a cute story about potato puffs? Is there one food item I like even more than giant bowls of mashed potatoes? Yes. Is that item potato puffs from Gregoire's? Fuck yes; they're like little puff balls of heaven. Was he sitting in front of one of my top ten favorite restaurants thinking about buying me my favorite food when I hadn't talked to him in weeks and had basically told him to fuck off? Yes.

What the hell?

What. the. hell.

(repeat ten times)

Just so we're clear before I start this story, I officially do not understand men. Whatever small amount of insight I thought I may have gleaned over the years has now been rendered null and void. Also, can I just say, "what the hell?".

***

Saturday he texts to ask if I'm going to a friend's party in San Francisco. I tell him I haven't decided, ask him why... blah blah blah car broke blah don't want to take truck, would it be terribly awkward to get a ride?

(Yes he really did use the phrase "terribly awkward" which for some reason makes me giggle. I don't know what the deal is.)

I leave him a message before realizing he's at work and that's why we're communicating via text and eventually he calls me back and says he's kind of dragging his ass about the whole driving down to the city thing and I said I was feeling the same way (you'd think we'd be more excited about a party that supposedly had a money pinata) and he asked if maybe I'd like to hang out later tonight if he got some people together and I sort of vaguely agreed.

But then Lara let me know they needed a bear tank to do the Petaluma bar crawl and I agreed to that instead. 'Cause I didn't actually trust him to get back to me ever and Lara is pretty awesome. Also, you know "LF tank for Petaluma bar crawl have heals and two dps, bear tanks preferred" is a pretty ridiculous invite. How could I say no to that? Also, I'd like to state for the record, I'm pretty sure this proves that I'm not actually that nerdy compared to my friends. Sure, I thought it was hilarious, but I would have never thought to invite Lara to go drinking with something like "LF priest to go West County wine tasting, have tank, g2g".

Except maybe I should, because it's way more amusing to ask a priest to do those things than a bear tank. 

Just pretend you understood all that and I in no way interrupted this story to make a bajillion WoW references. Thanks.

Of course once I'm already in Petaluma he texts me offering free booze at his house. When I reply with a "maybe on my way home" he let's me know that just my type boy and puppy are housesitting so I should probably come out. I still give him a maybe ('cause I had just hung out with just my type boy and already knew there was some puppy spotting opportunities if I wanted to brave going out there). I leave Petaluma around 2 am so of course I don't go by.

Sunday night at work I check my texts.

"Beer?" and then from about fifteen minutes later (thanks iPhone time stamps!) "What're you up to?"

I let him know I'm at work for probably about another hour (keep in mind it's already like 9:45pm at this point) and he asks if I want to come over and have some beer with him and Jaz and then eat some delicious food. Seeing as Jaz's father owns the brewery that makes my favorite beer and that her being there possibly equaled a pony keg of that or one of his other delicious delicious brews and I'm a sucker for any offer of free delicious food I said yes. Especially when I found out said food was one of the chicks that had been born while he was in Europe so I had a hand in raising it. I swear getting excited about eating an animal you raised isn't weird. C'mon guys, I told y'all I was a crazy slow foodie; don't give me that look. Sure I remembered when it was adorable and fuzzy but, chicken that I helped raise?! How exciting is that!?!

When I leave work I let him know I'm on my way and he sends me a cryptic

"winding down..."

"Should I not come out tonight?"

"I'd love to see you. Don't want you to be disappointed if it's not exciting"

"Whatevs. Just got off work so pretty low energy myself, not looking for crazy party time"

"Can't wait"

And it's the "can wait" that makes me suddenly check myself and wonder what the hell I'm doing and what his motives might be. I just can't imagine a world where he can't wait to see me but I figure the worst that'll happen is he'll try to sleep with me and I'll either be like "umm, no" or like "sure I can have meaningless sex in exchange for eating a chicken I raised and free booze" because I really was that excited about the damn chicken and... well... that's it, I don't really have any excuses for myself.

So men out there, keep that in mind, offer me dead animal and alcohol and I'm yours for the night.

By the time I get out there everyone's gone. This, I'm sure, is no surprise to you. It was not really a surprise to me. I notice he's listening to my damn hipster music. (Which in this case refers to "The Decemberists" whom he already listened to before we met so it was possible this was not at all related to me. But a playlist almost entirely of Decemberists songs and then "The General"? C'mon, that has "I'm totally setting up an atmosphere that will make you comfortable and like me" written all over it).

He hugs me in the way you hug somebody you've been missing terribly. In that "I just need to hold you so I know you're really here" almost desperate sort of way.

"It's good to see you, Alana"

If I were anyone else that "Alana" would've been "darlin'". I notice the conscious effort to use my name, the same as when we had been on the phone the day before. I smile a little to myself. Maybe I haven't stopped him from referring to all women as "darlin'" but at least he thinks about it, I say to myself.

He offers me a glass of beer, we sit down facing each other and begin to make small talk.

And feel, feel what it's like to be new

It's the rereading old blog posts time of year. In so many ways I'm in the same place I was a year ago, and in some ways my attitude has changed so much towards it all. In some ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Last year I wrote "Manhattan is calling me. I always miss New York in the winter". This year it's still true. But in that post I didn't feel like I had my shit together in any way. I wanted to go out and explore, take more risks, but had no motivation, no real goals. These days, as overwhelmed as I've been the last week, I feel grounded, like I can just keep taking what life throws at me and move forward, not let it get in the way. Take the big steps.

A year ago I had just ended a six year relationship. This year I've just ended a ten month one. The two are obviously not even close to the same league of life changes. But a lot of my feelings are the same. Dating, falling in love, seems daunting and I still can't imagine getting to the point where somebody knows me the way Jacob knows me. But I know right now I really really want it. I don't want short term. I don't want something I know isn't the real deal. I don't want to date somebody that isn't going to be my best friend. Maybe that's asking a lot at my age. But really all I want is somebody that knows when I've had a really shitty day all I want is a movie at home and a giant bowl of mashed potatoes with a lot of butter; somebody who wants to share their interests with me; somebody who wants to learn about mine.

Last year I wanted to sow wild oats. I failed, but it made me realize that this year, I want the real deal or nothing at all.

Last year I wanted to be irresponsible and have fun, this year I'm over it but I can go out without feeling guilty, be spontaneous without regrets.

Last year I had a job that paid well, at a well established, well reviewed bakery where I had no input or creative control, this year I work for a struggling small business in a constant state of chaos for very little money, but I make my own hours and my own recipes and we're growing.

Last year I felt simultaneously stuck and in a state of flux that I had no control over. This year I might want to revise some of the major changes I made, but I feel grounded and in charge.

I still need to organize my house though, that one's probably never going to change.

Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and bees

Hey, remember how my life used to not be falling apart and I blogged about things like crafts and kittens and silly things? I now present: A Break from My Angst: Kitten in the Tomatoes or You Don't Need a Yard to Eat Homegrown Lettuce

P1010594 Convinced I was going to kill everything, I planted waaaay too many lettuce seeds, so then we had to thin them and eat fresh sprouts. How do we survive such torture?

P1010661 My lettuce now! Look how big! (Yeah, I realize that this is not very exciting to people who regularly manage to keep their plants alive or who have room for a real garden, but I'm pretty proud of my balcony mini garden)

P1010667 Pilot in the tomato jungle. Most days this satisfies his urge to go outside so we don't have to look ridiculous walking him. ("walking him" generally translates to "holding his leash while he sits and sniffs things)

P1010671Such a big handsome boy these days! Mastering the look of disdain just like a real kitty.

P1010678Showing off his new collar in his favorite box. So far he's too much of a fraidy cat but someday he might jump off the  balcony so better safe than sorry.

P1010664 Back to the garden! This is the whole thing (and yeah, I know you should really grow tomatoes in larger pots, but my balcony is not that big) lettuce, 3 tomato plants, oregano, thyme, basil, chives and an Anaheim chili plant.

Also, as the boy pointed out "Don't you just feel stupid when you have to buy dirt?". I mean seriously, it's dirt. That shit should be free.

P1010602 Look! My early girl has flowers!

And, on a somewhat unrelated note, this is one of the kittens we're kittensitting this weekend! It's ADORABLE!

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