Posts filed under ‘Breakfast/Brunch’

Rising Confidence and Yeast-Raised Doughnuts

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As boring as it might sound, I’m comfortable with the ordinary. I like routines.

I hit the snooze button twice every morning before crossing the cool carpet to get my fuzzy socks. I have the same cereal in my favorite breakfast bowl, the marbled blue and white one that says “Good Morning” in wavy print along the rim.

When school is finally over, I head to the same patch of parking lot, leaning from the weight of my backpack onto the bumper of my friend C-‘s car. As we carpool home, I look out the window and remark how much brighter each day is getting, and he smiles and turns up the radio.

I like routines, because I like the comfort of knowing what to do – it keeps me focused and organized, and I feel like I’m on target.

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Sometimes, though, you’re forced to adapt, to step out of your comfort zone even if you haven’t put on your shoes or accumulated enough experience. Lately at Seastar, the restaurant where I intern, I’ve been working on banquets, which are uncharted waters for me.

Banquets are different from normally working on the pantry line. Instead of plating orders of food for tables, the Seastar chefs make enough food to feed a private business or organization. While the biggest ticket I’ll probably tackle on the pantry line is for 8 people, banquets can go up in the hundreds. And banquets, unlike salads or desserts on their own, are composed of multiple courses.

If you ask me, banquets are much more stressful. There’s a palpable intensity in the kitchen that I can’t quite handle. There’s a rush to cook and plate the food, and though I wish I could help, I just haven’t learned enough yet. For starters, I’ve never seen most of the entrees and appetizers, and for another, I haven’t picked up the skills to execute what my mentors are doing.

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I tried to be helpful, running to plate hundreds of cheese-filled fingerling potatoes. I used only my fingertips, the way I saw the chef before me, to move each potato half from the sweltering pan to the platter. But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t imitate the nimble way the other chefs worked. The blistering heat from the bubbling cheese seemed to burn holes in my palms, and I was slow and clumsy. I ended up stepping back because I felt like a burden.

It’s not like me to get flustered, to feel incompetent and to cast my eyes down in atypical introversion. So even though I didn’t like working on banquets, and could have said so – I think that ultimately this new experience will be good for me, it’ll help me acquire new skills and tougher fingertips.

I had the chance to go back to the pantry line, and I will sometime. But at the moment, it would seem like giving up, and determination is one of my stronger qualities when I put my mind to something. So I’ll keep working through the banquets, despite my frustration and the lack of coordination between my ambition and my ability.

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I know someday the turnaround will come. I’ll be wiping down the counters after a night spent on my feet when I’ll realize I was helpful that day; that my presence made things run a little more smoothly. And everything will be worth it. Right now, I want to try new things in every area of my life, from the stainless steel kitchens at work to my quiet, sunlit kitchen at home.

I’m making a greater and greater variety of things now. In the past, unsure of myself or “realistic” as I called it, I stuck to simple cakes and cookies. Now I’ve made so many things I never thought I could tackle, from French macarons to bagels. I want to cross everything off my wishlist. Every success and every failure makes me a little more daring, and suddenly I forget the appeal of the routine.

When people ask me if I cook, I laugh and shrug a little, and when they ask about bread I deflect by describing my mother’s talents. I’ve said many times before that I’m scared of making bread because I’ve never worked with yeast. But now, I can finally proudly say that I’ve made a yeast-raised baked good – and it wasn’t any scarier than jumping off a diving board.

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I don’t know what gave me the push to make doughnuts. I’ve been eying them for a while, longingly. But the thought of working with yeast, and the “probable failure” I expected overpowered my desire. Who knows what gave me the final push? Maybe 17 and Baking, a browse through Tastespotting, or simply a craving for something homey.

In an effort to avoid the plunge, I considered making cake doughnuts or baked doughnuts. But in my heart I wanted to make yeast-raised doughnuts, fluffy and tall and pillowy, and no talk of “healthier baked doughnuts” or “cakey rings of goodness” could really sway me. My refrigerator was stocked with homemade blackberry jam and leftover meyer lemon curd, and I rejected my reservations like a deep exhalation.

It seemed simple enough to let the yeast bloom in the water like a dusty ripple, and when I peeked underneath the warm towel I saw that the dough had doubled in size. From there it I felt like I was on stable ground, easily cutting the doughnut rings like they were sugar cookies, and chasing them in the bubbling oil with my slotted spoon.

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And the first bite? Anything but ordinary.

[PS: The comments on last week's post were better than a hug from my mom or falling asleep with my dog Tilly (well, maybe.) It was unexpected and so uplifting. Thank you for being supportive, and I want to add that since the exposure has died down, I haven't had experienced any more negativity.]
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February 2, 2010 at 7:19 pm 80 comments

Adventure, Anticipation, and Appreciation

It’s the beginning of January, and I feel like the upcoming year is a note from my friend. She wrote it with love, it made its way across the room towards my desk, and now it’s in my hand. The paper is crisp and neatly folded into a little triangle, almost like a present. I don’t know what kind of message it holds yet, but I can’t help but unfold it with a smile on my face.

Thinking about the potential and excitement of the New Year reminds me that this is a year of beginnings. Twenty ten will mark the start of my legal adulthood (turning 18 in April,) the first year anniversary of 17 and Baking, and most importantly my freshman year of college. It’s more than likely that I’ll be attending college away from home, and at the moment the exhilaration of travel is on my mind.

Travel. Don’t you feel a buzz of electricity and mystery even at the prospect of the word? I haven’t been to many states in the US, or visited many places outside the country, but the small taste I’ve had of the world has worked exactly as an appetizer should. It makes me hungry for more.

When people ask me what kind of job I’d like to have in the future, I always have the same things to say: I want a career where I’m using the written word to help people, I want to explore different cultures and opinions, and I want to be moving.

By moving, I mean that I don’t want to spend the majority of my afternoons sitting still. Although paperwork and an office cubicle are probably a large part of any job, I crave exposure to new experiences, the thrill of possibility that the unexplored world presents. Perhaps this is why I find journalism so appealing, even though the future of print journalism is currently murky. A day spent around the city, talking to people of all backgrounds and stories, and writing – it matches my interests perfectly.

Adventure isn’t just excavating gold along an exotic coast or trekking through a perilous jungle… I’d like to hope that one’s everyday life can be an adventure, too, if you are passionate about your work and refuse to limit your optimism.

This is also one of the reasons I’m looking forward to leaving home for college. As 2010 begins and I approach the halfway mark of my Senior year, I’m beginning to feel the seeds of nervousness. My friends and I often lament the dull routine of our daily lives, but now that my time left in high school has a definite expiration date, it’s hard to imagine anything else.

Quite frankly, the thought that my next New Year could be spent across the country is intimidating. It’s hard to picture living without my parents, my friends, my AP Stats homework, and the lush greenery and silver sleet of Seattle. When some of my friends graduated early after Junior year, I knew then that I wasn’t ready to be on my own. I still don’t feel prepared, but I don’t deny that I anticipate the plunge.

Washington is my home, but I am seizing the opportunity to be free for the next four years. I want to be dazzled by the bright lights of a city that never sleeps, and I hope to encounter people with perspectives I’ve never considered before. I finally turned in my last application last week, and received my first acceptance letter the next day.

But for now, I’m satisfied with an adventure I’m experiencing from my own bedroom. Without leaving my home, 17 and Baking has been an open door to the whole world. Every time I see a new comment on my “Leave Your Location” post, I add a pin to the world map on my wall. The bright pinpoints are like brave explorers making their way across oceans and the unknown terrain.

17 and Baking has also brought me into contact with a diverse variety of people, exactly what I hope to achieve in traveling and in college. From professional chefs in rural towns to big-city teens who are also baking and blogging ( :) JoJo), my readers completely reinforce my belief that no matter what, everyone has a voice and a story. We are all connected by a common thread, whether that is our basic humanity, or a love for good food and delicious photography.

So I want to officially thank you – for letting me connect with you, and for helping me “travel” in spirit. You guys are the one thing I am definitely bringing with me to college, certainly much more valuable than anything I could pack into a suitcase (even the KitchenAid.) Thank you for sticking with me through my adventures, and I hope your New Year unfolds into a wonderful one!

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January 6, 2010 at 7:00 pm 30 comments

Good Morning

In the same way that I follow a recipe, I follow a certain schedule in the morning. I don’t watch the clock and record how long I take to brush my teeth, but I have a couple things that I always do in the same order. Unfortunately, I usually spend too long doing some things. The very last thing I do before I run out the door is eat breakfast, but it often gets compromised for the sake of time. I brush my hair, pack my backpack, and suddenly my ride is at the door.

Some days I throw a handful of dry cereal into a Ziploc bag and hurriedly pour some soymilk into a travel cup, and then I eat the cereal on the go. Other days I’ll swipe an apple from the counter and eat it during first period. And some days – this is worst of all – I simply go without breakfast. Besides dessert, breakfast is my favorite meal, so those are the days to watch out for my grouchiness.

On the weekends, though, I like to savor breakfast. I love to wake up to the comforting weight of a dog at the foot of my bed, and the sound of the heater gently creaking. I walk down the hallway in my still-warm cotton pajamas and fluffy pink socks to find the kitchen bathed in petal-soft light, and I appreciate how still and how refreshing the winter mornings can be.

My parents wait for me to wake up on my own before starting to cook. Mom starts the coffee and I begin slicing oranges for fresh juice. We plan our breakfast. Our favorites are bagels with cream cheese and lox, pork chops, or eggs (sunny-side up and just a little bit runny, please.) But somehow, inevitably, we frequently end up at pancakes. Pancakes used to always fall to me the way that scones and muffins are considered my territory. But nobody is foolish enough to let me make the pancakes anymore.

There is a special place in my heart for pancakes, but they seem to hate me the most. In fact, my ineptitude at pancake-making is famous in my house. Some recipes are more forgiving than others, but pancakes have no sympathy for me. I’ve made whole-wheat pancakes that ended up a soggy clump on what I thought was a nonstick pan. I’ve burned and undercooked pancakes of all flavors and sizes.

Hands down the worst pancakes I’ve ever made were these blueberry-corn pancakes, and I don’t really have the heart to relive that particular story. I even felt sorry for our trash can as I scraped the curiously gritty and soggy pancakes into the garbage.

Like the determined teenage baker I am, I’ve never stopped trying. I always offer to make the batter and cook the pancakes. But my parents steer me to the table, ask me to set out the plates, or try to distract me with gems like “Why don’t you just relax?” and “Wouldn’t you rather have some bacon?”

You know they’re just trying to keep me from destroying breakfast for everyone. I guess you can’t blame them.

Now my mother is the one who makes the pancakes in my house, and they are far superior to mine. Whatever I am doing wrong, she avoids those pitfalls, and her pancakes end up light and fluffy.

With several overly ripe bananas browning on the counter, we decided to have banana pancakes for breakfast one Sunday. I was allowed to pick out a banana pancake recipe, but after that my mother took over. I juiced tangerines and then, unable to help myself, made a Triple Berry Maple Syrup with some frozen berries still in our freezer from summer.

I sneaked surreptitious glances at my mother as we worked, trying to uncover her pancake secret. At one point she commented, “The batter is a little thick,” but before I could stick in my nose she had fixed the problem, and I went back to simmering the maple syrup.

Ten minutes later I set the table and arranged the plates of food. The orange juice was tart and satisfying, the bacon still sizzling, and the maple syrup a deep, rich purple. We stacked our plates three pancakes tall, poured the maple syrup, and took the first triple-layered bite.

With a thick drizzle of Triple Berry Maple Syrup and small, sweet bits of banana, there was no denying that the pancakes were delicious. They weren’t dense – they were fluffy – but they were deceptively filling. I was halfway through my pancakes and was surprised by how full I was feeling. The banana flavor was also much more pronounced than I’d expected, though not in a bad way. They were just intensely banana-y, in a way that I couldn’t imagine a recipe intending.

I glanced over at Dad, who seemed to be having the same thoughts. We looked at Mom at the same time.

“How many bananas did this recipe call for?” He asked.

She took a moment to remember, then furrowed her forehead. “We didn’t have enough bananas, so I had to halve the amount it called for.”

“…Halve the amount?” I couldn’t even fathom what pancakes with double the banana would be like.

“Yeah. The recipe called for 3-4 cups of banana, and we only had 3 large bananas, which was 1 1/2 cups.”

What?

I picked up the recipe still on the counter, scanned the ingredients, and then began to giggle. “Mom,” I managed. “Not 3-4 cups. Just 3/4 cup of banana – you doubled the amount!”

We had a good laugh, but since the pancakes were delicious anyway, we didn’t dwell on the mishap. I only have two thoughts on the whole thing – first, it’s a good thing that this family loves bananas. Second, how unfair is it that I somehow manage to ruin any pancake I touch simply by following the recipe, but my mom can double an ingredient and end up with delicious pancakes? The mysteries of life.

And in all honesty, when we make these pancakes again, we will probably double the banana to 1 1/2 cups. They were just so good.

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December 16, 2009 at 9:16 pm 28 comments

School, Seattle, The Northwest… The World?

I think the first time it happened was near the end of April last year.

I was standing in line for lunch, feeling bored and hungry and a little irritated, when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and faced a girl I didn’t recognize, whom I’d never met before. She looked a little nervous and said, “Sorry, I just had to ask – are you the girl with the food blog? My mom and I really like your photography.”

It was such a strange feeling and such an unexpected moment, to be recognized. It didn’t feel like fame, but I had no idea how else to put it. I thanked her, gave a real smile because I was grateful and honored, and went on with my day in a much better mood. But it’s happened over and over again since then.

On Facebook, I have an album called “Food Photography.” It has around 250 comments and is “liked” by 40 people, many of whom I never talked to until they complimented me on my baking. I’ll be sitting in environmental science when someone will quietly complain, “I’m so hungry!” and give me a meaningful look. The sophomores who ride my bus smile at me and ask if I’ve made anything neat recently. And teachers stop me in the hallway to say they’ve heard about my blog, and could I please write down the address for them?

Even though I’m a senior and my high school is relatively small, I’m not well known. I have classes with the same people over and over, and I’ve never been much of a social butterfly. And I know I’ve said this before, but it’s true – when I first created 17 and Baking I didn’t tell anyone about it because I thought it was embarrassing. I didn’t think it would be cool to have a food blog. I thought people would think I was weird. So I kept it to myself and tried to hide it from the world.

I only showed it to one of my friends when I’d written about him, and I thought he would get a kick out of seeing it. To my surprise he ended up making a blog of his own (suited to his own interests) and linked to mine. Unlike me, though, he wasn’t shy about sharing, and soon many of my classmates had seen his blog – and through it, mine. (If you are interested, he has a great economics blog called the Marginalist.)

To my surprise, people didn’t think it was uncool or strange. Food is universal. Food brings people together. Because really, when it comes down to it, who can resist anything warm and fresh from the oven, whether a sweet chocolatey cookie or a soft chive-studded cream cheese biscuit?

As I began to write this post this morning, I received a message on Facebook from an old friend I haven’t talked to in four years, N-. “Hi Elissa,” she wrote. “I don’t know if I’ve told you this before, but my big sister goes to Berkeley and she loves to bake, and she likes your blog.” N- continued on to tell me that her sister decided to have a bake off with her new roommates. One of them suggested a certain cookie recipe from “this blog… seventeen something…” to which N-’s sister (whom I’ve never met) exclaimed, “That’s Elissa!”

It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever heard, to have spread not only through school and the food blogging world but to college students in California simply having a bake-off. It lifts me off my feet and makes the sun shine out of my heart. Thank you for reading my blog – thank you, thank you, thank you!

Normally I wouldn’t, but I’ve got to ask – if you’re reading this, please leave a comment! Whether it’s your first time visiting or I’m welcoming you back, I’d really appreciate it if you left your location. I’m just curious to know where my readers are. I’ll start… Seattle, WA!

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October 9, 2009 at 10:40 am 1,571 comments

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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