Posts tagged ‘holiday’
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.]
17 and Baking turns one year old today.
Can you believe it? I’ve been thinking about 17 and Baking and my passion for food and everything I’ve learned in one year, and I’ll be honest. It’s ridiculous. I never believed for an instant this blog would go anywhere. In fact, I even want to link you all to the first real post I wrote exactly one year ago, where I lament my lack of talent, following, photography skills, and experience. Honestly. It sounds like me, but… it really makes me consider what can happen in one year.
But today, I wanted to do something special. If I really think about it, all of this doesn’t start with that morning in early spring when I decided I wanted to blog about food. Really, it started when I baked my very first cake from scratch at fourteen. For today, I knew I wanted to make that exact cake again – a real full circle.
I remember buying my first cookbook from Costco, somewhat ludicrously, since I’d never had any interest in baking before. I just liked the pretty pictures. And I remember nearly a month later, suddenly being seized in the middle of the night with a desire to do something. I didn’t know it at the time because it was so very new, but it’s a feeling I’m very familiar with now – it’s the urgency to be in my little yellow kitchen with a whisk in one hand and a spoonful of sugar in the other.
I dug up the untouched cookbook and scanned the pages with an inexplicable hunger, bookmarking everything that looked good – German Chocolate Cake, light-as-air Raspberry Dream Cake, kid-friendly Peppermint Chocolate Cake. I threw open cabinets, trying to centralize all of the random baking supplies in the house. We only had a few pans, and not many baking tools. As it turned out, the only recipe I had all the ingredients for was a rather unglamorous iced sponge cake.
I decided to make it anyway. I remember very clearly trying to measure out the flour, awkward and clumsy and fumbling until I had a soft dusting of flour all over my front. I didn’t know what it meant to cream butter, so I stopped the mixer (not the KitchenAid, but a cheap plastic one) once the butter had sort of formed chunks. I didn’t have much confidence for success when I slid the pan into the oven, but I couldn’t help but feel a satisfying accomplishment either way.
All in all, it was undoubtedly a failure. The cake was supposed to be light and delicate, but it was significantly heavy. The frosting was a total flop, tasting like egg whites. But when I cut that first slice and looked back at the photo in the book, my smile was uncontainable. When I took that first bite, the small triangular tip of that perfect slice, I knew in my heart that it had truly been a complete success.
I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly skilled baker, not now or then. I’m just a girl who happens to love all things sweet and homemade. Even more than that, I’m just a girl who wants to share her zest for life and make you forget your troubles, even if only for five minutes. Through 9th and 10th grade, I had just as many baking failures as successes, forced to learn as I went. So many times I was discouraged, screaming tantrums at my sunken cupcakes, and I might have given up if it weren’t for the unbelievable gratification of sharing.
I’ll be 18 next month, and no matter how much things have changed since then, that satisfaction from handing out cookies or watching my parents clear their plates is what propels my passion. I can’t help but want to lift weary spirits on a bad day with a lemon bar or light up a neighbor’s face with a slice of pear tart. Isn’t that the whole sense of the blog too, to share a dozen cookies with even more than 12 people? Maybe even with hundreds of people around the world? If I can inspire at least one of those people one morning, then everything is worth it.
So here we are today, everything is different and somehow nothing is different. It’s been one year since I began 17 and Baking, but it’s been four years since I baked that first cake, unquestionably beautiful in my eyes. I decided I would dig up that old cookbook for the second time, now a senior in high school and so much surer than I was back then, and bake that cake again.
The recipe came together very quickly and very easily, letting me focus more on my nostalgia than on my product. The finished cake smelled delicious, like vanilla and sugar and flour, and I just put my face next to it and inhaled while it cooled. I patiently waited until I could try the first slice. Just like before, I carefully broke off that first perfect bite.
I can’t kid anyone. It wasn’t a very good cookbook, it wasn’t a very good recipe, and frankly, the cake was disgusting. The flavor was strange, the texture was off, and I couldn’t eat more than that one bite.
I wasn’t completely surprised, but definitely disappointed. Somehow, baking the cake that started it all seemed like the perfect way to celebrate my first blogoversary. Finally, I decided I would bake another cake, similar to the first, but something actually in line with my taste today. I whipped up a simple hazelnut and mixed berry cake, and when it came out of the oven I knew I’d made the right choice.
Unfortunately, some things seem destined to stay unchanged, and I tried to turn out the cake before it was done. While it was delicious, I was left with a pile of crumbled cake, certainly nothing presentable on the blog. I wondered if it would maybe be funny to blog a failure – but on my one year anniversary?
I started laughing as I considered the fact that four years later, I was still screwing up. But I couldn’t be in a bad mood. In a way, this seemed like a better representation of 17 and Baking than anything else: the ability to laugh at your mistakes, learn from them, and persevere. I didn’t have any more hazelnuts or berries, so I shrugged and started again with almonds and lemon. I’d learned from my previous mistakes and the cake came out beautifully. I made a quick mascarpone frosting (no recipe!) and spread it over the cooled cake just like I did before. And that first bite?
Thank you guys… all of you for being here to celebrate with me. :)
When my DSLR camera arrived in the mail, matte black and quite possibly the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, the first place I went was the kitchen.
Up until then, I’d been using a small, compact digital camera to take my food photos. While I was satisfied with the results, I knew I wanted something more. I wanted a camera that caught the rich sheen of chocolate glaze, the buttery crumble of shortbread, and the vivid colors of buttercream frosting. And while my digital camera could take a photograph of a dessert, it didn’t capture the real essence of what made each dessert truly, fork-halfway-to-your-mouth delicious.
But with my new Canon Rebel XTi, I felt sure that everything was about to change. I lifted my camera to my cheek, felt my eyelashes brush against the viewfinder, and pressed the button gently. My first photograph was a basket of green and gold apples in a woven basket, steeped in the most beautiful afternoon light I’d ever seen. I actually set the camera down to do a little dance right there on the kitchen tiles, feeling utterly radiant.
Since then, taking photographs has become just as fulfilling as baking a creamy, uncracked cheesecake or writing a seamless short story. I take long walks around the neighborhood with the Canon around my neck, glancing everywhere like I could take a picture with my eyes. I look for the extraordinary in the details, for interesting shadows and whimsical patterns.
Every time I check the photos I’ve taken, it’s a mixed bag. There will always be a couple that are slightly out of focus or didn’t replicate the view in my head. I don’t think a good camera makes a photographer. But when I get a shot that makes me as giddy as that beautifully simple photo of a basket of apples, I feel like a life spent seeking breathtaking photos would be a life well spent.
I sent that photograph of the apples to my dad the day I took it. I included a brief, but cheery message with it: “Look!!! This is unedited, straight out of the camera! I think I’m just going to have to send you a photo every single day.”
And you know what? I didn’t think much of that last sentence at the time, but it’s been nine months and he’s kept me to it.
Every day, whether the sky releases a torrent of rain or I get home at nine with a headache and a temper, I send a daily photo. It’s a different image every day… pastel sunrises, wrought-iron fences, even self-portraits if I’m feeling ambitious. And though it isn’t always easy to come up with a new photo, it keeps me photographing the way 17 and Baking keeps me writing.
As it turns out, I love photographing almost anything – people, dilapidated houses, animals, unusual textures – more than food.
There is a side effect to the daily photos, though. I don’t like my dad to look through my camera. I love surprises. I love being surprised, I love planning surprises, and I definitely like surprising other people, so I always want the daily photo to be new when my dad checks for it every night. Unfortunately, I think I care more than he does, so sometimes we fight over the Canon.
“Dad. Seriously. Don’t look through it. I just got back from downtown and there’s a lot of daily photos in there.”
“Good!” He’ll press the buttons to look through the saved photos, a thoughtful look on his face before I’ll try to snatch the camera back.
“It should be a surprise!” And then I’ll get served with the roll of his eyes, his mild annoyance, and that too-familiar face that says “Oh please.” But I always persist.
But after we made this brigadeiros – Brazilian fudge truffles we made at the request of a reader – I surprised both of us by being somewhat open. I normally make him leave when I photograph food, preferring to be alone to avoid the pressure of his presence as well as his advice. But that day I let him stand off to the side as I adjusted settings, taking the same photo over and over.
When he asked what I was doing, I even turned over the camera to show him. Who knows. Surprises are important, but maybe a little family time with five dozen truffles and a set of pretty photographs is kind of important too.
I’d never heard of brigadeiros before, but when someone asked for them through a comment on an old post, I was tickled. Dad and I looked them up together and realized that they were a snack his grandmother had made for him when he was a little boy, exactly the same. Whether they evoked memories or not, though, they were my first request and I didn’t even consider not making them.
With Dad’s help, we decided on five variations: coconut lemon, cayenne cinnamon, tangerine, hazelnut-nutella (think Ferrero Rocher), and white chocolate-dipped lavender almond. It may sound like a mouthful, but actually, this might be the easiest thing I’ve ever made. To make five dozen truffles, including five different variations and a trip to the grocery store, the entire process took us two hours.
The base is only 3 ingredients, but gosh, these are delicious. The entire week we’ve said, “Wow. We need to give these away.” But we haven’t. We just keep eating them. For once, I don’t feel like the photos do the brigadeiros justice.
[PS: I'm thinking about doing a frequently-asked questions post, so feel free to leave a comment with a question for me. I'll pick out some questions and answer them in a later post. You can ask about anything, food-related or not, and I might answer it! :) Hope you all had a great valentine's day. I spent it eating brigadeiros.]