March 3, 2017
I enjoyed a conversation with a friend of mine today, a newly employed baking assistant, about an assignment for her college English class. Plato’s Cave came slowly and vaguely back to me and frankly, I’d never found it interesting, and I didn’t understand why it was Plato instead of Shakespeare or even Homer whom we were talking about. But once we were talking about her course and I disclosed I had been an English major, she was excited to discuss a current paper topic. As was I, until discovering how very dull Plato remains, and how far off the deep end my mental discipline has run. I even look back at some of my posts from years ago and wonder how I can run a bakery with my brain at half-mast. (chicken or the egg, there?)
I had recently decided that shunning blogging altogether was the best way to avoid the tangential overflow of daily life, the dramatic meandering without arrival at a point. But perhaps this “problem” is simply a matter of structuring energy. Instead of silently soliloquizing in the shower–accumulating ideas and thoughts that ring true and good but are quickly washed down the drain–, I plan to re-harness and restructure my energy. The bakery gets a great portion of it, okay all of it, but maybe I’m working harder not smarter. Maybe if I didn’t put all of my eggs into one basket, if I didn’t put so much pressure on the bakery, then it and I could breathe a little. Nothing ever suffered from not suffocating, I suppose…
To the point! (…being that I have one.) This week I’ve really enjoyed meringue. It’s literally the icing on the cake, without the work of actually icing a freaking cake. Once it’s whipped, you just do whatever you want with it. If you’re feeling craftsy, use a piping bag and a star tip. If the thought of wrestling with sticky meringue and plastic makes you want to scream, close your eyes and let the spatula work its magic. Put a torch to any design and before you know it, there’s an endless amount of nooks, crannies, mystery and intrigue to your otherwise basic pie. And it’s really satisfying.
Last summer I started putting meringue on cake. It was weird at first, and I was worried about shelf life, whether it would get flat or gross before the cake sold. But! Luckily that concern never came to fruition because of, well, the nooks and crannies and mystery and intrigue. How could you not buy the cake with the meringue? It looks burnt, does it taste burnt? It looks marshmallow-y but also crispy. Is it also crispy? You have to know.
For now I’ve drawn a few flavor boundaries. If lemon is involved, meringue is a go. S’mores related, totally great. And then recently I’ve matched it with coconut. I suppose I associate it with spring/summer.
Photos & a recipe: (when’s the last time I did that?)
2 cups / 400 g granulated sugar
1 cup egg whites (I’ve routinely found that 7 gives you just that! A good idea to measure though, given varying egg sizes)
Make sure that all bowls, whisks, and measuring spoons are clean, dry, absolutely moisture free.
Whisk sugar and egg whites together in bowl of stand mixer (if using a hand-held mixer, any medium/large sized bowl will do). Set bowl over a pot of boiling water (make sure the bottom isn’t actually touching the water), and whisk occasionally until mixture is thin and clear. To test, bring the whisk out of mixture and carefully not to (it’s hot!!) pinch a tine with fingertips. If the adhering mixture is smooth and easily spread between fingertips, it’s ready. If it’s still a bit grainy or thick, it’s not ready.
When ready, whisk on medium-high in stand mixer or with hand-held mixer until it holds stiff peaks when whisk is lifted, and it’s voluminous/fluffy (basically like men’s shaving cream). It will cool significantly, but don’t worry about it being completely cool to use (as long as the texture/volume is fine, it’s good to go, even if it seems a tad warmer than room temperature).
Pipe or spread, and torch zealously and evenly!
Alternating these two in winter,
Last thoughts, read briefly and copy/pasted/saved from an article a friend shared. Definitely got my attention–
“How can someone be busy and not accomplish anything? Well, that’s the passion paradox. If the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then passion is a form of mental retardation—deliberately blunting our most critical cognitive functions. The waste is often appalling in retrospect; the best years of our life burned out like a pair of spinning tires against the asphalt.
Dogs, god bless them, are passionate. As numerous squirrels, birds, boxes, blankets, and toys can tell you, they do not accomplish most of what they set out to do. A dog has an advantage in all this: a graciously short short term memory that keeps at bay the creeping sense of futility and impotence.
Reality for us humans, on the other hand, has no reason to be sensitive to the illusions we operate under. Eventually it will intrude.
What humans require in our ascent is purpose and realism. Purpose, you could say, is like passion with boundaries. Realism is detachment and perspective.”
October 16, 2016
Oh my gosh! Shouldn’t I know by now not to start these without a concentrated point? The stalling first paragraph(s) are always a little awkward aren’t they; I’m sorry. It’s just that–when I consider what I “want” to do with my free-time, it’s writing. And then I do a million other things instead, for weeks, until it happens that I can’t so much as shower without delivering an internal soliloquy on everything under the sun, to myself, and my brain is like a baked raisin. (Have you ever seen a baked raisin?! Well let me tell you, it’s not pretty. If you have a raisin-laden scone or cookie or something and there’s an unfortunate lone raisin on the outskirts, that has no dough to protect it, it’ll burn/blow up and basically explode. Sometimes, as I painstakingly extract these casualties from an otherwise delicious pastry, this makes me want to just eschew raisins altogether forever. And then other times I think no, I just need to take better care of them. But how do you manage the whereabouts of raisins in cookies? Who has time for that? Why am I even considering this? Who even likes raisins? I think I’m okay with them. But why?)
Well anyway moving on, I think perhaps my simile is clear; this blown up raisin is spewing.
I got married! I would continue ad nauseam about the whole thing except for that…while I have no trouble being emotionally forthcoming to the point of too much information, for the moment I recognize that Dear Diary isn’t actually my goal here, and that respect of privacy is important. It’s not that I’m overlooking or withholding my consideration on the whole thing, but instead I’m preserving it. Isn’t it important, I think, to discuss those thoughts and feelings with the person you’re bonded to, instead of on a blog.
That said! I will address the wedding process a little bit, which I found to be insane. It’s always going to be crazy, my wonderful father assured me, or why else would there be so many movies made about it? Isn’t that true, and isn’t it the best predicament when the best superlatives in existence can’t do a person justice? I went for wonderful, which I believe to be more sincere than fantastic and lovelier than awesome, less silly than amazing and less generic than the best. My Dad is perfect.
Getting married is a fairy tale harbored in dreams, and when the realistic light of day shines…the depth of the shadows is incredible. Not darkness, there’s nothing dark about it. But the nooks and crannies involved are absurd–how, after you think you’ve found them all and know your whereabouts, you’ve only discovered ten more beckoning in their place. You close one door by making one decision and immediately, fifteen more open. It’s a lot to think about aside from the actual marriage.
“Actual marriage.” What does that mean? Something unique to every relationship, but there’s no mistaking the universal gravity. Love is such a largely dissected word, but at the end of the day it remains specifically and personally poignant. I believe marriage to be the same. Two
dissections musings that resonate with me are as follows. The first, an exert from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis which was read during our wedding:
“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,’ then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”
Our second reading, Corinthians 13–cliche perhaps but beautiful nonetheless–asserts what love is and is not. My favorite o these descriptions is that it is “not inflated.” I decided to look at the definition for inflate, curious why that word seems so exactly fitting, and was met with the following: 1. to fill with air or gas so that it becomes distended. 2. increase by a large or excessive amount. And that is why that word is so perfect. A quiet love is a deep love, not full of hot air nor inflated by noise or show. Love can and should grow, but you shouldn’t have to endeavor it.
On a more poetic, personal note: E.E. Cummings.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it inmy heart)i am never without it(anywherei go you go,my dear;and whatever is doneby only me is your doing,my darling)i fearno fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i wantno world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meantand whatever a sun will always sing is youhere is the deepest secret nobody knows(here is the root of the root and the bud of the budand the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which growshigher than soul can hope or mind can hide)and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars aparti carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
I put it all in bold because there’s no beginning or end to those feelings. They just are, it just is.
Whew! I may let that poem punctuate the post. I’m back on the baking schedule after a pre-wedding break, so my sleep clock is adjusting…generally feeling about 3 hours past whatever the clock says. (10 AM is definitely lunchtime, anytime past noon is basically 5 PM, particularly if it’s Guinness cake season, anytime past 8 is (unfortunately) when my mind gets a second wind, even though my body thinks it’s definitely midnight or beyond).
But it feels good. If there’s one thing I’ve realized, it’s that I’m just grasping what it is I’m doing at Sea Biscuit–and that that’s okay. Last summer I’d have said I was a hamster and it was my wheel, it was running me. And now I see that that’s actually not true. At all. Instead, if you’ll allow me to draw a dramatic comparison, perhaps I’m more like Atlas, holding the world. I’m not saying I have the world in my hands. But I do feel like I’m increasingly adept at managing a greater whole that never stops spinning. Some days I truly do feel like Atlas, other days I am a burnt raisin.
Photos! Just a few.
August 25, 2016
It’s dawned on me that any and most of my major, fundamental transitions have sprung out of August.
June, July, and part of August are always a little lost to me. It’s as if I sleepwalk those weeks, going through summer rituals and holidays a little less than myself. I read the food magazines’ annual onslaught of farmers market bounty recipes and hip beach tips with a grain of salt. The sun’s always a little too bright. If there’s a better way of recognizing that summer makes me feel dead inside, I don’t know what it is.
I just spent like seven minutes curbing my itch to go into it. But I’ll just sum it up: the hyper-vibrancy and pressure to treasure the sunny sacredness of it all just drives me insane.
Moving on, how exciting that the air is getting crisper, fresher. That the mornings are darker, lending a calm to the landscape I’ve been finding distastefully busy. By light of street lamp, the men unloading the massive morning shipments to Rite Aid are hazy and romantic. In the vacant light of a risen sun, that scene is rushed, stacks sit lazily and stupidly in plain sight, and figures work as if they are already behind and I am already late. We are beaten to the punch by the sun, and it rides us all day long and overstays into the evening.
Okay okay, I’m backing off of summer. I will say, the unease sharpens my senses…and that is why I find August to be formative. The last four: August ’12 was for the worse. August ’13 began recovery. August ’14 was solid. August ’15, more so. August ’16, I think, will prove to be best. Why? I think I’m mostly finished uncovering 2012 and 2013.
Mack said it best, tonight, I think. That I have had multiple lives. And, you know, you grow attached to who you are at any given moment. Sometimes it’s a bad moment but there’s something you like about yourself within it. You push yourself onwards with deliberation, but the change of scenery never settles past surprise. Suddenly yet constantly out of context, you’re lost without the impetus for whatever bad greatness you’d discovered for a split second. Those traits you’d developed don’t fit in your greater scheme, and it’s especially confusing when that’s for the better. You’re in the worst mood when you’re in the best circumstances, trying to identify with a beloved self that no longer has a place.
If I read this as a stranger, I’d think I was someone with too much time on my hands to over-think, or something. But the truth is, the thinking happens whether I have time for it or not. It’s when I don’t take time to consider, that trouble starts. So cheers to August, and to fall, and to all restorative practices no matter the season.
And goodnight from the girl who’s trying not to admit she’s enjoyed the sun at least a little bit this summer-
July 28, 2016
As anyone with high volume emotions can tell you, amendments are often required. To be clear, these are not backtracking overtures, because that indicates falsehood, but additional clarifications and reiterations.
Have I gotten more wordy or have I always been this wordy?
In any event, I may have painted a rather horrible portrait of my life last night. I think it is clear that I meant to. I didn’t hold back. And I didn’t undermine the torrential outpour, didn’t add the ands and buts that could have tamed the bitterness. It’s like I meant to forget the tiny important ingredients, the small things that make the palatable whole.
I would like to say, that it isn’t so much my lifestyle as much as THE lifestyle of our day in age that I’m railing against.
I knew what I was in for, with the midcoast bakery, and to honestly acknowledge the stress of that reality is healthy.
The problem comes with living in a society oversaturated with ideals, of perfection and of imperfection, and isn’t the popular, hands-off stance that they’re one in the same, anyway?, which damns them both to the same hell where everyone tries too hard, toward varying degrees of mediocrity. If you’re going for perfection, make it smooth. If you’re going for imperfection, make it funny. Basically you can have whatever popularity you like, if you project it right. And don’t we have so many methods of projecting, while reality is always the make-or-break same.
Perhaps not unique to the current state of modernity, but, we are accutely guilty of constantly measuring ourselves against the virtual lives of another. It’s not personal, it’s not about wishing you truly ARE the sixth-degree of separation stranger, it’s just the glorious and joyful aftertastes that their snapshots impart–the overwhelming potential we all have, and how limited we are with space and time. Not a bad thing to consider, call it inspiration. But the way in which it becomes a subconscious and constant attack on your own state of affairs, reinforcing your soul’s suddenly realized stunted growth. You begin to see with bitter eyes, because of how you’ve confined yourself to extreme demands that intensify hunger due to restrictive hunting. I have focused 100% of myself on one thing, at the moment, to the starvation of other interests, and so my craving for those outlets is paramount. And they’re all around me and at my eyes’ fingertips, to tease and perpetuate my mental drooling.
Am I doing it to myself, by upkeeping Facebook and Instagram accounts? Am I a lesser character becuase I hate those things and still take part, for the sake of my business? On one hand, no, becuase social media is important these days for so sensual and social a business as food. But on the other, yes, because of the pride…and why run a business you don’t take pride in? I would be lying if I were to say that I don’t take pride in it, and don’t want to share it with the world. To share in the virtual global feeding frenzy.
That’s where the vacationers come in. If I’m going to own being a business owner, I have to control myself. The result is a crazed but well-intentioned person, who will usually give the benefit of the doubt because that is what I wish to also have. If I say good things, I mean them, and if I say nothing, don’t wish to know my thoughts.
And god, am I done with my thoughts. Too many for two days, and tomorrow’s only my Tuesday. Now for the reasons I moved here, to Maine, Vacationland. Let me undermine everything I just said about snapshot lives on the internet really fast:
A lot of sugar and water and oxygen…and music. Okay so. I’ve clearly been having issues keeping my head above water recently. And guess who’s been helping me stay afloat, aside from Mack? You’ll never guess so let me tell you. Justin Timberlake. I’m equally shocked, but it is what it is. These hits are so non-committal. I’m having a quarter-life crisis music fling:
As if my social media angst isn’t trying enough, I have to cap it all off with that. And wait there’s still my declaration of love for Nelly Furtado, who’s prominently featured on my highly curated Justin Timberlake Pandora station. I won’t do that to you here–good night!
July 27, 2016
I think what I miss most from what I’ll dub “normal life” or else whatever it was I was living before I opened a bakery, is the appreciation I have for language. Which I’ve so taken for granted–like suddenly missing the breathing part of being alive, but, god the words! that mean so much and that I crave and don’t know or realize anymore.
This snuck up on me as disjointed and loud bits of thought and phrases entered my head, was it the other day or a few months ago, and no matter, they just didn’t have any place to go, and I know that these are too stupid to be them, so where and what are they? I never could start a blog post because, there was no context or recipe. I could never do anything with them, the words, because, to whom could I explain? To no one. And so they retreat(ed) into the echo chamber I’ve become; an overreaching spirit always inviting more than it wants to host, quick with baking equations and slow with small talk. Really stupid, really.
I’m processing productivity and creativity, the fine and also thick line that divides the two. I remember squeezing every drop of creativity out of my free time from Flour or Rye; days and especially nights full of art and ambitious projects and recipes. Time I could have spent with family, who I wish I could be with now. I didn’t think of it that way at those times.
So much for creativity. Who needs it? I’m productive these days; I’ve condensed those nights and days into daily (unrelenting and uncapped) hours, ushered the artistic excitement into a kind of pantomimed panic. The early morning is peaceful until it’s not. Suddenly the thought wave–“oh wow, it’s 6:15. of course it’s 6:15, why wouldn’t it be? I’m not ready for it to be 6:15.” Pantomime. Now there’s a word, defined by the internet as “a dramatic entertainment, originating in Roman mime, in which performers express meaning through gestures accompanied by music.”
That’s what I consider hitting the nail on the head. Google is amazing, isn’t it. It said it for me: my life is “a dramatic entertainment…in which performers express meaning through gestures accompanied by music.” A kitchen with a window is a theater. I didn’t think that one through before building a window in the bakery kitchen, into the front. I also find it a surreal, because it’s too real, to think that I bake pastries for people to buy and that this gives my life meaning. Is this exchange really giving my life meaning? Am I expressing meaning through this daily grind?
These petty daily gestures–the brushing of cream, the sprinkling of sugar, the opening-closing of doors, the hasty arrangements on paper-lined platters–are indeed dramatic at times, and accompanied by music to boot. Entertainment I suppose for some vague and distorted hierarchy. Not Romans, obviously, though I think I’d prefer them to…vacationers. Vacationers. When a human is on vacation, they are no longer human as they have passed on into that realm where they can only tolerate everything as they want it to be, as it ought* to be. They’re like toddlers without the capacity to be adorable, loving, or pleased; they’re like angry alien toddlers.
*Maine’s cute little tagline/hashtag on instagram is “thewaylifeshouldbe.” The Way Life Should Be. I’m sorry, did I miss something? Should life be a certain way? Since when was this the way of life or of the world? I wonder if whoever invented that BS piece of advertising retired handsomely, and is laughing at the traffic-jammed and sleepless mayhem that has ensued, swarming with those special creatures who live life “the way it should be.” But wouldn’t they be doing that, whatever that is, wherever they were, anyway? I mean, if you’re going to be a smug asshole, you don’t need to come to Maine to feel special. Or maybe you do. Maybe a sunrise isn’t a sunrise unless you check it in on Beauchamp’s Point.
I’m sorry, I must sound like someone who came to Vacationland to do something other than vacation. Well let me tell you. I came here to work, thinking work was a normal thing for a person to do. Little did I know–work is not the normal thing for a person to do in Maine. In fact, it’s downright unnatural. In fact, you’ll basically be an outsider all your life if you come to the midcoast to work.
Have I become a person that would actually publish these bitter words? Even on a stupid half-read blog? At least I recognize.
That was my creativity vs. productivity thought process. See, what happens, when creativity is throttled and bottled. It gets very ugly. Very ugly indeed. Unfortunately this is my easiest mode of expression, and it happens to be public. My apologies.
It’s been creeping in. Those minutes when Modest Mouse fills the speakers and a customer walks in and I don’t turn down or change the music. Those times I don’t say “it’s okay” when someone makes a hassle at the register. The first moment I said “No” to an order.
But, what do you do? What’s the remedy for a one-way bat-out-of-hell train? More sleep is a start, but no solution. If you’re not doing what gives your lungs more than the required oxygen to live, then you might as well be asleep. Like, forever asleep.
The panic button, the busiest of all modes and also the most static. When you’re so busy you can only hover, you can’t fly. Or I guess it just depends; if a sore thumb like myself sticks out for hiring in Vacationland, perhaps I/we could fly. We could say “yes” to bread, “yes” to sandwiches, “yes” to having your son’s last minute birthday cake (how does this even happen! I just don’t understand).
You looked up recently and there was a room full of people looking at you and you had three sheet pans of cookies in the oven and meringue on the stove. It was 5 minutes before open and already four or five parties of people had orders for breakfast sandwiches, but you don’t know or care who they all go to and everyone kind of looks the same, only you’re not even looking back at them to know. The phone starts ringing and you really just want the meringue to be ready so you can turn on the mixer and drown everything out. Of earshot at least. The family with the 11 o’clock cupcake order walks in and you just know it’s them because of course it is; it’s 9 o’clock and that’s how Murphy’s law works.
I knew but also didn’t know to expect this; the only thing I’ve created this year is a monster. I knew I was doing that with the bakery. What I didn’t know was that it would make a monster of me, and that I would be okay with admitting it. It’s the tree in the woods scenario. If a baker isn’t moody, are they really a baker? If a pastry chef isn’t a little bit crazy, are they really a pastry chef? Perhaps there is solace in stereotypes.
I’m going to work in a little over 3 hours. Goodnight.
April 21, 2016
Have been itching to write recently, although I seem to have forgotten how.
I think that sums up a lot about me these days; when my body feels the ecstasy of finally lying in bed at night, as my eyes close, there’s a murmur throughout my being of all the things that are left behind me as I enter sleep (and then, the ensuing day). The things I’ve forgotten to do–creative hobbies in boxes in the attic, emails, phone calls, texts to return, for business as well as personal well-being. There are so many people I love who I feel I need to basically meet all over again. Because we were close at one point or several, and then lost each other, deeply yet only ever slightly. I remember and I miss those people when I go to sleep at night, with vague but true discomfort.
I wake sometime before 5, to either my first or fifth alarm, and the morning is a blur. A peaceful blur, so I don’t mind stumbling in the dark alongside Mazzy, who hops out of bed with me only to stop me as I walk into the bathroom to turn on the light that blinds us both. She’ll freeze suddenly, seeing stars as I do(?), and then I trip into her, knowing but not knowing that she is where my foot is going. It’s not so much a case of the blind leading the blind, since she can see in the dark, as it is an example of nature not at work. It is too early and the light should not be on, blinding the cat who can see in the dark and double-blinding the basically sleep-walking human.
The drive to work is freezing, even if it reaches 60 F later that day and I can tell that my winter jacket and the winter comforter are too heavy now. I fight not to turn the heat on at the bakery, and lean against the ovens as they come to temperature, mindlessly eating a granola bar or leftover scone and already look forward to making a latte after the bulk of morning goods are baking. I like one of three playlists in the morning or else shuffle on pandora. I’m only sort of choosy with music in the morning, yet particularly affected. Malleable, I think is the right word.
And then Mack walks in at 7, when my caffeine buzz is at full force. Alice in Chains or Bone Thugs-n-Harmony or Blackmill is just BOOMING. He can barely say hello without turning down the music, which he will do, and then I will pout. It’s a funny good morning–speech overruled by intense music, eye contact maintained throughout volume battle, meanwhile trying not to laugh. Like, well, here we are, this is this, kind of absurd, I’m glad you’re here, good morning, I love you.
Either the phone rings before we open and the door doesn’t stay shut for 30 seconds over the next 8 hours, or else the phone doesn’t ring once all day and I anxiously compare the clock vs. items baked over the next 8 hours. I will gladly take the summertime’s atrocious traffic over the springtime’s atrocious inconsistency. (don’t quote me in 3 months)
It’s nice to know what you’re in for. When I stumble around in the dark and have nothing but intuition to guide me through each morning’s preparation, it can all feel overwhelmingly stupid. Not stupid to open a bakery, not even stupid to open a bakery in a seasonal population. But stupid because, well, that’s just the way the world is sometimes. A lot of times, these days. But on a small and personal scale…
…I can’t (and don’t want to) shake the things I’ve put on the shelf or the people I’ve neglected. And no matter how generous inspiration is, or how graceful people are, I don’t feel right sometimes. There’s no reason for it other than knowing that I’m giving 150% of my physical being (time and energy) to the bakery, which robs my heart and soul from their more proper interests. It’s very mindless. And maybe I don’t even realize what I am in fact doing until I drink a bottle of rosé and understand that my physical being is over-taxed, and is sucking my thoughts and feelings dry.
The first year is the “hardest,” but come on, why label it so? It just is what it is. It’s great, in an ugly and real way. A(n) [insert food industry business here] is the best and the worst idea/endeavor that any young couple could embark upon. It’s extreme. It tears apart and undermines every pipe dream you ever had but also pushes you beyond them. And I guess that as long as I can accept the day-by-day snail’s pace to someday, I’ll get there. I’ll be damned if I don’t get there. I like choices but when it comes down to it, I don’t actually give myself any. I do or I do not, and my decisions never spring from questions.
Whew. So, there’s that. We’re gearing up for a break after next week, and will be…wait how do our lines go again? What will we be doing? Oh gosh I answer this question 105 times every day and yet I can’t remember the answer. Maybe it has to do with getting refreshed? Yes, I think that’s it. Maybe it’s a good idea for people to realize the hand-in-hand relationship between a good product and a healthy person within a small business in a small town. Not only realize, but respect.
That ^ paragraph is case in point, but, so as not to be so sharp, let me further explain. We’re closing for a few weeks in preparation for summer. We have some projects to do in the space itself, to make it a little more…retail friendly (shelving, counter consolidation, display case swap). And
we’ll I’ll hopefully restore all the personal balance we I need (and more!) before teetering into summer, full speed ahead. Who knows, maybe by the end I’ll even go to sleep more easily [fulfilled], and will have made strides toward being a better family member, friend, baker, and, last but certainly not least, fiancé to someone who buoys me when my big attitude digs in and bogs down.
^^^^^^crescendoed into my overplayed current favorite
February 26, 2016
I’ve been writing this post everyday, on repeat, in the shower, until now. Not to be dramatic–but it’s just that I’m feeling accomplished for finally doing it. Which is funny, because I’m feeling decidedly not accomplished; feeling very February, and slightly unable to disassociate from the lingering kitchen smell on my clothes, the hems of my pants. And I haven’t even taken my rain jacket off, and I don’t think I’m going to. Over the years, my “end of day” ritual has had several faces, countless faces. Many phases. When I first started at Flour, my first major kitchen job, in Boston, I would drag myself home and collapse down on the floor, wondering if my body could literally just sink through the hardwood. Exhaustion to the point of numbness, beyond consideration and concentration. I was very new when I was new. One day I started making sure that music was on, mostly to keep me awake and alive, and then suddenly David Bowie’s “Fame” came on, and I started getting into a silly daily dance routine. Waltz myself into the shower and into bed. It wasn’t much different when I was at Rye in 2013, and then Salt Water Farm in 2014. Living alone, I have always been phenomenally unstructured. Which is why there are so many late-night-insane posts over the past three years…
With company, within my life with Mack, I am less of a zombie after work, and in general. But the zombie has not died. The zombie is in fact, my creative self. The underlying, unthinking, default persona that makes me restless when I don’t give myself enough time. Time for…you know, lying down on the floor after work. Not rushing into the shower. Not looking in the mirror. Not taking off my jacket. Not hearing my thoughts echo at an increasing fever-pitch because I won’t get them out. And it’s not that I couldn’t exercise my mind socially, but, the gemini in me is demanding, and sometimes I have to be pointedly weird and introverted. God bless a lot of you out there who are or have been close to me.
It’s a weird thing, to open a bakery. I just got off the phone with my sister not too long ago, she has four (adorable!!!!) young children, and we’re trying to schedule a trip for sometime this spring. While discussing potential dates, I began to feel like the bakery is my child. And though certainly different and decidedly not adorable, it’s definitely a huge consideration/obstacle for any other endeavor I might want to undertake, no matter how big or small. It will have absolute authority over my next few years, and vacations will be quick trips.
But, I didn’t open a bakery so I could take vacations. You might be able to start a different sort of business and take vacations here and there. But when you start a bakery, and if you start a bakery, vacation should be well away from your plans. Luckily, in midcoast Maine, the winter is a sleepy, sleepy few months. People basically expect that you’ll take at least a little time off. So we did; and now we’re back. It was a glorious three weeks that accomplished precisely what a break should–fun with family far away, time to settle back into loving and enjoying your own home, and inspiration to get back into the grind. Recipes, new ideas and improvements that get you chomping at the bit, feeling all like a racehorse. Let me get back at that exhaustion and stress, pronto!!!! (kidding, it’s fun and games…kidding again…)
It wasn’t so much starting last November as much as it’s been re-starting this February, that’s made me realize a great number of things. First off, I couldn’t be doing any of this if not for Mack–his dedication: not only to my own dreams and happiness, but to his own ways of perfecting anything that catches his interest. He’s set golf, snowboarding and the great outdoors aside, to be in a tiny bakery day in and day out. Washing dishes, mopping floors, handling taxes, making coffee, talking to people about their day, making me laugh and keeping me sane. And, running all of the errands on our days off, while I’m there continuing production. He never had a day’s experience in customer service or anything of that nature in his life before this, and suddenly he’s handling an entire community coming in being nice or not nice, friendly or frigid. And me, feeling wildly happy or beyond stressed in a given moment. Looking back, I realize how wrong this all could have gone if he wasn’t so right.
And then there is the actual baking/production. I have always been a bit of someone who flies by the seat of their pants…okay okay more like the definition. Yes, I measure my ingredients to a T. My eggs are always room temperature. I’ve got all my systems in place to have a well-rounded variety of products, but…I am strongly aware of necessary changes when it comes time for additional help in the busy summertime. I never use a timer. Obviously a problem when you hire someone new and you can only tell them that the biscuits are done when they’re done. So I need to start timing things.
And, then there’s the volume issue. Which is, frankly, an identity crisis. How much you bake, and of how much variety, defines who you are as a bakery. We have a tiny storefront and tiny kitchen in Rockport Maine. It’s a ghost town in the winter and the population swarms to quadruple that amount in the summer months. Spring and fall is a guessing game; Murphy’s law is always applicable and always at play. You plan for everyone and in comes no one. You plan for no one and here comes everyone, and it’s everyone’s anniversary, and their mom’s and their cousin’s birthday. So, what you really learn, is to not complain. This is all well-ingrained in my work psyche, but behind the scenes sometimes Mack is (justifiably) just like “WTF.” But also quick to realize the ironic idiosyncracies that define what we do.
Anyway–volume. To be honest, Flour still sets my standard. I see their morning spread on Instagram and I don’t know whether to drool or cry; it’s truly a thing of beauty. But Boston is a far cry from where I am, and even if I had extra hands to help, the sheer variety of offerings would be hard for us to sustain efficiently. At least for now. I tend to enjoy biting off more than I can chew, go figure, and I sometimes hear myself answering optimistically, “someday” to questions of breads and lunch options and etc.–and inside I’m like oh reallly?! Shedding dreams of vacation like my cat’s fur on our white couch.
We’ll see. We’re starting small, simple, controlled. You can’t please everyone but you can surprise anyone–if someone comes in for this or that, and we’re out of it, they can leave with something else and be even more enamoured (unless they’re cranky. don’t be that person). And all of that lies, of course, in the quality of the food, but also in their experience in the physical space. So we focus on creating and maintaining a store that we truly want to be in, where there’s delicious food, good music and genuine interaction.
There are several cookbook lines, here and there that ring incredible true. About food, about baking, about bakeries. Here are a few that have stood out to me, thoughts I chew on daily:
“There is an inherent madness required to own and operate a bakery. … We knew owning a bakery was, by and large, a low-margin business with masochistic hours. We knew it was going to be a bumpy path marked with occasional recipe failures, oven malfunctions, employee tears, and achy, weary bones. We knew all these things and more. But we dove in regardless. We opened a bakery because it was inevitable. It was predestined. We opened a bakery because, well, we were young (or youngish) and naive, and we both really like chocolate cake.”
“The first year of business was propelled by a combination of mania, fear (fear is a strong motivator), and pride (we really liked our chocolate cake). Each day was a mini life lesson. Each hour was a master class.”
-Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, in their Baked Occasions cookbook. (AMEN)
“Blue cornmeal comes from blue corn, grown in the southwest by the Hopi, who talk and sing to each plant. …. And see what a difference it makes to talk and sing to each muffin. Your heart goes out to things, and things come home to your heart.”
-Edward Espe Brown, describing the blue corn muffin recipe in The Tessajara Bread Book. (At first I was like…okay, no kidding this really was published in 1970. But the more I thought about it… I’m incredibly attentive to each pastry, to an OCD extent. Example–corner cookies are sold first because only a short-lived shelf-life will benefit their chewy:crispy ratio. They’re not bad cookies, but push them past their prime and they will be. Or you know, just talk and sing to them…)
“Cooking takes positive thinking and, of course, some time. Where are you going when you say to yourself and all who can hear you: I do not have time to make even a good pot of coffee or soup…. We go this way only once and you can make it as pleasant as possible, gastronomically speaking. Many troubled waters may be smoothed with a well-planned and prepared meal.”
-Helen Corbitt, Helen Corbitt Cooks for Company ( a cookbook I stole from my mom’s cookbook archives. This is one of the many, many yet undiscovered and treasurable tidbits in there! It has everything from cucumber mousse to funny little suggestions and honest digs to inspire the hostess in you. She’s awesome.)
My own thoughts on what culminates in a successful baking endeavor are as follows. #1: the science and general recipe foundation. Yeast and chocolate and leavening are all only ever going to do their thing. It’s up to your measuring and timing to shepherd them into deliciousness.
#2: Attitude. Without the right attitude, without genuine attention to what you’re doing from start to finish, you might as well not do it.
#3: Intention. This is one step beyond attitude. It’s more than being open to trying, it’s being deliberate with every action; learning to balance enthusiasm with reality.
#4: Confidence. You’re not being deliberate because you’re uncertain. You’re being deliberate because you trust your hands to do what your mind and tastebuds want it to.
#1, Science: As mentioned way earlier, I’m not exactly a structured person, which is why it’s hilarious to me that I bake. I was pretty much the last in my elementary classes to really get the hang of any new math concept, and yet…I depend on fractions and long division like it’s my job, because it is. You have to be mathematically, mentally on point. Mentally and physically. (and then the emotions runneth over later..!)
I’ve come to realize that its demanding and rigid structure is the reason that I started baking in the first place, and is the reason that I’m still baking; it’s a discipline and an outlet all at once. Mathematical and creative. Professionally, it’s been utter agony at times–the first few weeks at Flour felt like bootcamp, but were they as bad as a summer Saturday night at Rye, plating desserts for 400 covers plus a private party? Or now, when days off are a thing of the past?
If I really dig into it, I cannot disassociate my baking from missing my mom. I never really wanted to admit that, for some reason. But if I were to be totally honest, I’d say that I’ve used it–baking–as a huge distraction. Hard work has been how I distracted myself from the life I might have otherwise had, if she were here. Hard work in professional kitchens is all consuming and yet, good. It’s distracting and connective all at once. Focused action with a generous result. And after being on your feet for 18 hours, you can just sit on the floor and drink a beer. You can just do that and think of nothing and feel instantly better. There is no “instantly better” for missing someone you love. But if you push yourself enough, your physical limits of exhaustion will diminish enduring emotional pain. Just don’t drink too many beers on the floor alone–you might end up writing a few crazy blog posts.
Annnd I guess that torrent of subconsciousness overtook Science…and now the structure has been lost! Take away is in translating dreams to reality, in keeping honest intentions to bake and to serve with joy. To keep a respectful mindfulness of the inevitable ups and downs. And to express appreciation, giving thanks where it is due. I feel overwhelmed remembering my roadtrip and initially getting to Maine; it all so easily could not have happened. None of this might ever have happened. I’m thankful for finally feeling like I’m in the right place at the right time. And for Mack for not dismissing my weird baking-cat-lady self.
I suppose I’ve officially scratched the surface of food for thought over the past few months…!
Musically, I’ve been pretty hooked on a lot of different things recently, but consistently, my go-to has been Little Dragon. 5 in the morning when it’s dark and quiet, and I’m about to shove a bunch of sheet pans in the oven, I love this song, loud–
And then, oh my God, sudden huge crush/belated appreciation, Amy Winehouse–
I can rotate one of their playlists all day. And then finally wind down with this in the evening:
And there we go. My thoughts, the music, the pictures. I’ll get a recipe back up here soon. Goodnight!