Posts tagged ‘cream’
I’m sitting in the dining hall, eating breakfast in the same black collared button-up and black slacks that I wore to work yesterday. Last night, long after midnight, after I finally staggered out of the elevator and fumbled with the key to my door, I was too tired to change out of my server’s clothes before I crashed into bed. This morning, up bright and early, I was too tired to change into anything else.
I’ve had a little experience in the restaurant industry, but working front of the house is an entirely different animal. It’s exhausting. I remember orientation, trying to remember how all the buttons on the computer worked and the numbering of the tables. They gave me two weeks of shadowing to get used to the lay of the land, and I couldn’t like the people I work with more.
My first non-training day was earlier this week. For the first time, I’d have my own section. “Elissa” would be printed on top of all of my receipts. And I’d take home any tips I made. I tied my apron straps into a bow and stepped through the kitchen doors onto the floor.
The first thing I noticed was that my shoes weren’t broken in yet. It takes a little adjustment to get used to being on your feet a whole shift. As a server, you don’t have much time to sit around and lounge. If you aren’t running plates, bussing tables or putting in orders, there is always side work to do – scoop ice into the water pitchers, refill the coffee thermos, work the bakery, restock napkins. You learn not to sit down. And on that first day, I felt it in my soles.
I needed to keep everything in place. This is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me, the ability to juggle five tables which all expect you to make them your first priority. I began to forget which table came in first, who ordered what, whether Table 5 wanted the decaf refill or the check. As the rush set in and my tables filled up, my mind became more and more jumbled, until everything was one overwhelming noise that never quieted.
You get used to smiling. Even though your shoes are slowly killing you. Even though you messed up 12’s order and you know they aren’t happy, even though the kids at 8 will ask a million questions and probably order nothing but hot chocolate. As a server, you need to be upbeat. You can’t let a bad afternoon show in your face, because it’s not about you – it’s about making every guest feel welcome and at ease, and when it really comes down to it, that’s so much more important than a tip.
I did the best I could my first day, and it wasn’t perfect. Or even close. I sent one table a free crème brûlée because I’d made a mistake with their order, and they’d waited patiently forever. At another table, the couple ordered a full out meal – drinks, soup, salad, dinner, and dessert – ringing up an enormous bill and leaving me with a tip of zero dollars, zero cents. A four-top of teenaged boys left me under 10%.
I pushed through the swinging door with a plate of dirty glasses to bus. At the dish pit, with three servers all working around each other, somebody stumbled, and a stream of dirty dishwater splashed through my collared shirt and down my leg, pressing the cloth against my skin in a cool drench. I didn’t have a change of clothes, or the time anyway. I walked back onto the floor to bring in another tray, and on the way to the kitchen, my wrist gave out and I dropped a towering stack of plates.
Every fork stilled, every face turned, and even though the background music continued to play, for a moment the restaurant stopped. I didn’t know the room could go silent.
It was rough. Nearing the end of the night I was so frustrated; I was trying with everything I had but I couldn’t make excuses. On top of everything, I would leave almost empty handed, with little more than a few callouses. I couldn’t bring myself to think about the homework I had left.
Closing drew near. The restaurant slowed to a trickle and we tackled the side work and remaining tables. One of my bosses, C-, called me over to the bar. I didn’t know what else could have gone wrong.
I almost couldn’t handle it. An ice cream sundae, filled to burst and topped with a ridiculous amount of brightly-lit rainbow candles.
“Blow out the bad juju,” she said. I blew out the candles.
In the back room, I dipped a spoon into the ice cream sundae and almost wanted to cry. The pastry chef, M-, had made it exactly the way I liked – with scoops of vanilla, coffee, and chocolate ice cream, chocolate and caramel sauce, almonds, brownie bits, a beehive swirl of whipped cream and a clown red cherry. I could only eat a couple bites before I had to go back to work, but nothing could have tasted better.
I tried to thank M- as I walked by, but nothing came out. She had a ridiculous smile on her face. And I pulled myself up and finished out my tables with a smile, and walked home with a pocketful of blown-out candles.
Next week, those callouses will have made me stronger. My shoes will feel a little softer. But until then, I’ll throw myself into my essay and wrap up my radio package, trying unsuccessfully to get my mind off of chocolate and ice cream.
[PS I'm falling behind, I know, but I'm doing my best. It's a struggle to find time to eat and sleep, but blogging is like breathing, and I'll continue to work it in whenever I have a minute.]
I’ve never gone this long without baking.
I realize now that I took everything back home for granted – ingredients, books, supplies. Here, I don’t even own a fork. I miss my glossy black oven and my vials of vanilla beans, but I’m making the best of things. On Sunday I visited a friend who lives in Boston. Her kitchen is all blue, yellow, and white, flooded with light and breathtakingly lovely. I baked a triple lemon yogurt loaf (no photos, but heartfelt thanks to D- and her beautiful family) and brought some home to share with my floor.
The dorm food here is, well, my least favorite aspect of the school. It’s all wilted spinach, dried-out pizza and artificial-cherry Jello. Disappointing, if unsurprising. It’s even more frustrating than the screechy subway or our tiny elevators, which are always hot with the breath of people past. When the longing for good food overwhelms, I look through my collection of photos.
I had sixty recipes to choose from for this post, and I am so excited to share this particular one with you. Sixty recipes baked, fried, and frozen over the course of a few weeks, and this is possibly the stand out. Maple Pot de Crème. Would you believe that something so innocent could be so dangerous?
Back in July, I baked four or five desserts every day. The first thing I did when I woke up was preheat the oven, and the last thing I did before bed was wrap up any dessert left to cool on the counter. Every Sunday I gave my dad a bite out of everything, so he could taste test it all. On that particular morning, there were a lot of things to try.
He’d sampled everything by the time I drew the pot de crème from the fridge, the last thing to try in this buffet of sugar. This pot de crème was the creamiest, smoothest, silkiest custard I’ve ever made. I don’t know whether it’s the recipe, since I haven’t made it again, or if I just got lucky, but this particular batch of pot de crème was extraordinary. You could tell, even as the spoon sunk in. I watched him frown, speechless, and reach for another bite.
He scraped the ramekin clean.
We waited half an hour, and then I couldn’t help it. I reached for another. We knew it was a bad idea – my dad’s stomach has been in poor health recently – and I even joked about the amount of cream and yolk in every spoonful. It was a mistake, but a delicious one. All we could think was how close to perfection this pot de crème was, and how lucky we were to have it.
Not an hour later, my dad was balled up on the couch, and I was running down the street with my shoes half on. A neighbor drove us to the emergency room. It was rush hour, the car was barely advancing, the slightest bump made my father groan and why were we moving so slowly? Numbly, all I could think from somewhere in the back of my head was, “I shouldn’t have given him all that dessert.”
By the time we got to the hospital, thankfully, his pain was starting to lessen. By the time my mother ran in, he reassured her that he was fine. After a few hours, the pain had subsided, and we knew he was going to be okay.
This is the kind of man my dad is: after the attack was over and he was discharged, my mother left to bring the car around. As my father and I stood in front of the hospital, he leaned against a post, exhausted and still weak. Another car pulled up, and a middle-aged lady struggled to open a wheelchair and help her frail mother into it. Despite everything, my father had jogged over before I’d even straightened up, holding the mother’s arm and guiding her into the seat.
Before they walked away, the woman said to him, “The world would be such a beautiful place if there were more people in it like you.”
And when our Toyota pulled up to the curb and we piled in to go back home, he said, “I kind of want another maple pot de crème.” They’re just that good.
My dad finally had the surgery he needed, and while multiple pots de crème still might not be advisable, he’s going to be great. Last week was his birthday, and while I wasn’t there to make something special, I hope this post makes him smile. Happy birthday Dad, I love and miss you. You’re the best father anyone could ask for, even from across the country.
[PS: Many readers have asked where I got the ramekins. They were a gift from my grandma to my dad, who later regifted them to me. After a lot of googling, I managed to find them - they're part of the Andrea by Sadek collection and can be bought at this link.]
Where to begin the story of this chocolate-mint ice cream cake? Sure, it technically begins with a cool carton of cream and a stack of cracked egg shells. But I think it really starts two years ago, when my mother decided she wanted to remodel our backyard.
Our yard is L shaped, wrapping around our house. One of the strips is nice, just cool green grass and evergreen trees. But the other strip of yard, the one visible from the kitchen window and the dining room, was once utterly unimpressive. It was brimming with uneven grass, moss that squished under each footstep, and unappealing patches of yellow. My mother began sketching out designs, writing down ideas, until she’d come up with an ambitious blueprint.
She wanted to remove all the grass in that section and fertilize it. Then she wanted to transform it into something stunning, a rainbow of growing, breathing plants. Lime-green creeping bugleweed, black stemmed rhododendrons, pink-throated lilies, pure white bleeding hearts in the shade… And a natural stone path weaving through it all. Maybe a birdbath in the corner.
I thought it was wishful thinking, but my dad told her, “Let’s do it.”
We did it all ourselves that summer, and it was more work than any of us expected it to be. I imagined the process of removing grass to be a very simple, straightforward one. I didn’t realize that we’d have to lift up the sod, like heavy strips of carpet. We sifted through all of the rocks and roots by hand, which is every bit as laborious as it sounds, and turned the soil with fertilizer.
Forming the stone path felt like the bane of my existence. It needed to be nine inches deep, three feet wide, curving like a snake from one end of the yard to the other. After that, we had to smooth it out, fill it with gravel (wheelbarrowful by wheelbarrowful) and then with dirt (shovelful by shovelful.) By the time we began to fit in the rocks, I had complained enough for the whole summer.
We went to the nursery every week and drove home with a lush jungle spilling out of the car trunk; I’d sit in the back seat with silvery leaves and purple flowers brushing my cheek. We planted hummingbird-friendly flowers near the kitchen window and spindly ferns in the shade. We carried in an old stone bird bath. We even dug out a fire pit at the end of the path and built it with leftover slabs of stone.
We’d turned our backyard into something so much more than an offhand glance out the window.
The next spring, despite an unusually freezing winter, my mother’s garden grew back like some kind of miracle. It’s even fuller, even greener, and there’s a palpable buzz, a pulse. It’s bursting with life. I remember the thrill of our first hummingbird, hovering in the air like a jewel. The first time we saw a blue jay sipping cautiously from the birdbath. The first baby green leaf in a vine we though had been choked by the cold.
We have already gotten so much from our yard, it’s easy to forget how much work went into it. We cuddle up in lawn chairs around the fire pit, setting pumpkin spice marshmallows on fire and running out for hot dogs. We look up between sips of coffee at breakfast to see the flowers shaking off dew and waking up with us. Oh, and the herb garden…
It might be my favorite spot in the whole yard now. I squat down and just rub my fingers over everything: pebbly sage leaves, then the gold-edged leaves of lemon thyme, then the thick, soft stalks of rosemary. The fragrance of fresh herbs is so comforting. It smells like handwritten recipes and golden midafternoon sunlight and “Let’s eat on the patio tonight.”
And ever since the chocolate-mint plant has taken root, it has clung to life vivaciously. It’s spread faster than any of our other herbs, growing rounder and rounder, so that we’re forced to pick leaves and pull roots to keep it in check. It’s no surprise that ever since last summer, I’ve wanted to make mint ice cream.
I finally got the chance a couple weeks ago. One of my best friends, M-, has a thing for chocolate mint ice cream cake. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t make one for his 18th birthday, using the freshest, sun-kissed mint I could find?
I brought it to school and we devoured it in the cafeteria. I stole a slice and a plate from the teacher’s lounge and took these photos in the courtyard. When I came back, only half of the cake was left, and by the end of the day the only evidence that it had ever existed was my camera full of photos and the lingering grin on M-’s face.
[PS: My camera is finally fixed! I got it in the mail today and went a little crazy. It's been three weeks and I've missed it like a picked peach misses the sunshine. And I finally hit 1,000 fans on Facebook, thank you all!
PPS: Dad, I know I didn't get your permission to publish a photo with you in it, but mom said it was okay.]