Posts tagged ‘savory’

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

Bacon + Chocolate = World Peace?

When I was in 5th grade, my class went on an overnight trip to a pioneer farm. We took a tour of the farm, learned about the equipment and tools, and slept that evening in a real pioneer cabin. The next morning after breakfast, we were given our authentic pioneer chores. Mine was cleaning up after the farm’s pig, Susan Bacon Anthony. I was not amused.

While some of my friends pressed apples into cider, and other classmates tried out the tools at the blacksmith house, I trudged through the mud towards the barn. Susan Bacon Anthony was a huge pig, bright pink and vivacious. My mood lightened considerably even as I raked out her pen, and by the end of the morning, I was in love. I considered the possibilities of owning a pet pig.

By the time my parents arrived to pick me up, I had an announcement to make – I was becoming a vegetarian so that I never had to eat a Susan Bacon Anthony, or any of her friends, ever again.

My parents seemed complacent enough throughout the drive home. When they started on breakfast, though, my dad asked casually, “This means no bacon for you, right?”

As a child I was passionate about bacon. I couldn’t get enough of its smokiness, its crisp and chewy texture, its salty goodness. But at ten years old I stood my ground and agreed – no bacon. I told myself it was a sacrifice I’d have to make, and I pictured Susan Bacon Anthony’s corkscrew tail and thin, floppy ears.

As the pan sizzled and the house filled with the smell of bacon, I ended up going outside. I clutched a glass of orange juice and sipped it fervently, trying not to give in. Ten minutes into our breakfast, I caved, and took a piece of bacon from the center plate. We all knew the two hour vegetarianism had only been a half-hearted attempt at best, and I haven’t tried to play the vegetarian card since.

I’m not fooling anybody.

When faced with bacon brownies, I think many people are divided. Some might have seen the unusual combination of bacon and chocolate before in fancy restaurants or among foodie circles. But more commonly, I think most people think the idea of bacon and chocolate together sounds disgusting. You are not alone, but you might want to give it a fair chance.

My friend M- is very conservative about food. Once, when I was just starting to bake, I brought a cake with me to a friend’s house. We had cut the cake, transferred the slices to plates, and passed around the forks. My friends had the first bite halfway to their mouths when M- casually asked, “So what is this exactly?”

I answered truthfully and replied, “It’s a chocolate cake with a chocolate-sour cream frosting.” I looked up and saw that M- had put his fork right back down onto the plate, and my other friends followed his lead. “Sour cream?” He just couldn’t wrap his mind around sour cream in dessert, despite my protests, and not a single bite of the cake was even tried. Frustrated, I had to transfer all the slices back to the cake carrier and bring the untouched cake home.

The following day, I made a sour cream banana pound cake with sour cream frosting and brought it to my friends. With an entire cup of sour cream in the cake alone, they were truly about to eat their words. When the cake was fully consumed, M- having had his second slice, I told them the truth. Sour cream is delicious, and you’d like it if you gave it a chance.

After I made these brownies, M- happened to stop by. Since I began baking he’s become more adventurous, and he agreed to try one of the brownies even though he was repulsed by the combination of bacon and chocolate. He accepted the piece, examined it carefully, and then took a small bite. He proclaimed it “pretty good.”

Chocolate and bacon actually make a natural combination. The brownies are dense and fudgy, and the crumbled bits of bacon add a bit of texture and a hint of smokiness. In the same way that coffee provides a solid foundation for chocolate, bacon adds something special and elevates a simple brownie to something more.

And I can’t help but think that if maybe everyone gave Bacon Brownies a chance, we could all stand together on something, despite our differences. Bacon and chocolate = world peace.

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December 29, 2009 at 1:47 pm 57 comments

Seastar

Before anything else, I have to say this: thank you! Thank you to everyone who commented on last week’s post, where I asked readers to leave a comment with their location. I was having somewhat of a bad day when I wrote that post, and I included the last sentence (about dropping a comment) on a whim. I wasn’t expecting many responses, but I was blown away by the stories and comments left for me. The comments were so diverse – readers from 6 continents, so many places both in the US and abroad, and readers of so many ages. There were college students, grandparents, entire families, and even other teens who are 17 and Baking. It made me feel like we are all together, we all have something in common, we all have the ability to reach out and connect. Thank you, thank you for making my week!

Remember a month ago when I said I had some fantastic news I was dying to share with you guys? Hint… it has something to do with the chef’s jacket shown above.

You can’t tell because of the camera, but I’m grinning. My super exciting, make-me-go-crazy news? I’m now an intern at Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar!

Seastar is a fine dining seafood restaurant that’s well known around here – it’s been featured in Food and Wine Magazine, Best of City Search, Seattle Weekly, and Evening Magazine’s Best of Western Washington, to name a few. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for a high schooler like me, especially since I’m not pursuing a culinary career. It’s a look into the world of food, of chefs, of fine dining restaurants. It’s amazing. As a pantry chef intern, I help with plating salads and desserts, but I also have some free rein to try other things as well.

The chef I work with is named S-, one of the few women in the kitchen – she’s young and friendly and a patient teacher. On my first day she showed me the kitchen, the pantry, the walk-in fridge, the dishwashing room, and the pantry line where I work. It was so surreal to be in a real professional kitchen, really physically be standing between the huge Hobart mixer and gleaming counters, after seeing them so many times on the Food Network.

As we went over safety and protocol, I began to get a little overwhelmed. There was just so much to learn and remember, and already I was forgetting names and where ingredients were kept and how to get more dishes. I ate dinner sitting on an upside down bucket in the pantry, wondering if I was ever going to be able to keep up. When I got back to the line, orders had really started coming in.

Quite unluckily, my first day was one of the busiest I’ve seen so far. I didn’t know how to eyeball four ounces of lettuce or prep the plate for a panna cotta, so I was too slow and unlearned to be of any use. Ticket after ticket after ticket came in, and unable to keep up, I stood off to the side and watched. I was wearing new black nonslip shoes and after only three hours, my feet ached. The hazy heat seemed to intensify and a familiar phrase vaguely came to me: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. When my shift finally ended at 8, I collapsed into my car and was too tired to drive home until I’d rested there in the dark.

From the upper left, counterclockwise: the counter where servers pick up food,
the spice shelf, the prep kitchen, and the pantry line where I work

My first week I had felt uncharacteristic shyness, unable to remember names and doubtful about my ability. But I started to learn – by my third week I could confidently plate most of the salads and desserts. The introversion had faded, and instead I beamed at every chef or server I encountered because I couldn’t help but feel happy.

Now, four or so weeks in, I feel at home. I offer to complete any task, ask to learn more, and complete tickets without guidance. I pretend not to notice when the clock turns 8, and instead wait for S- to point it out because it means I get to stay an extra five minutes on the line. I know everybody’s name, and they all know mine. I still eat dinner on an upside down bucket in the tiny pantry, but I don’t sit alone and I don’t feel alone. My shoes have finally broken in, and when I step out of the restaurant and into my warm car, I have a smile on my face and a smile in my heart.

From the upper right, counterclockwise: shelves in the pantry,
pots and pans hanging on the walls, crab legs in the prep kitchen

Even though Seastar’s focus is on seafood and entrees, not baking or pastry, there is so much to learn and to love. As a pantry intern, I plate salads and desserts – when someone orders one, a ticket comes through to the pantry line. The prep work is done (the dressing is made, the nuts have been toasted, and the desserts are par-baked) and we do the final touches, the assembly, and the plating. My other tasks include prep work like measuring out ingredients, dicing fruit, slicing veggies, and general upkeep of the pantry. My favorite task so far is prepping the creme brulees with a torch – sprinkling on the sugar and watching it expand and sizzle into crispy amber glass.

I love the environment at Seastar. Every chef is friendly and fun to be around, and there is a sense of teamwork in the kitchen that I’ve never noticed in any PE class. Each night, the chefs who work the line have a meeting that ends in a team cheer, and the chefs and servers have a great relationship. Everyone there manages to be incredibly kind to me, helpful and patient without ever showing condescension or frustration. As I portion out crab, someone inevitably slips me a caramel candy or stick of gum, and as I sort through bunches of basil I can’t help but smile at everyone who passes by.

It’s indescribably thrilling to be in a professional kitchen. I love watching the line chefs create beautiful entrees, and learning all the tricks to how the restaurant runs. Even if I don’t want to be a chef, everything I take away from this internship helps me in “the real world.” I’m learning patience, stress-control, perseverance, hard work, friendliness, and communication skills, and getting to do something I love in the bargain.

The clock at my station and, in the background, the stick where servers
push receipts as they grab their order

There’s a feeling of intensity and time-restraint that I hadn’t expected, and I am never sitting still. On my second day there was a short lull.  I gratefully took the lack of tickets as a break, but a minute later S- came by, picked me up, and said, “This is what you do when there aren’t tickets.” You double check and reorganize the walk-in fridge, you sweep the floors and swipe the counters, you restock ingredients on the pantry and check the dishwashing room for clean supplies. It turns out, once you finish all that, there’s a nice stream of tickets coming in after all.

One evening in the middle of grabbing more mint I suddenly stood still, and it was such a peculiar feeling to know that every single other person in the kitchen at that exact moment was moving. But believe it or not, I love being busy. It feels good – like accomplishment and efficiency.

Another great part of my internship is, of course, the food.

From upper left, counterclockwise: Golden Beet Maple salad, two selections from
the raw bar, caesar salads with parmesan lattice crisps, and two entrees

As an intern I get a free meal every night. I simply look through the menu and nicely ask somebody to make it for me. Sometimes, one of the chefs will offer to make dinner for the whole staff. As a result, I’m getting accustomed to some very nice food lately. So far my favorite meal has been a seafood stew, simply a tomato herb broth with a mix of fish, shrimp, clams, and mussels. And my favorite dessert? The pineapple upside-down cheesecake, light and airy but topped with the most indulgent, creamy caramel-pecan sauce I’ve ever tasted.

Unfortunately I can’t share any Seastar recipes with you, but I can share more photos. :)

Chefs use these plastic lids to keep your food warm before they slide
the plates onto the counter, where servers pick them up.


This is where I work, and there’s always work. I have a lot of custards to brulee!



Another chef prepping sprigs of mint next to a batch of mini pineapple cheesecakes

Between Seastar and 17 and Baking and the wind whispering promises of creeping chill, there is so much I am happy for. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

October 16, 2009 at 10:02 pm 125 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 1,584 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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I want to read everything. #TheStrand Mmmmm... Green tea chocolate lava cake! #spotdessertbar Last night I sat in @StephenColbert's chair. My life is now complete. AHHHHHHHHH! #ColbertAudience Yay! Spontaneous mid afternoon macaron break. @bouchonbakeryrc Ohmygosh! Strawberry and tarragon gelato! FAO Schwartz is equal parts chaos, commercialization, and crazy happy joy About to eat my first Pink Lady apple! (More like Red Red Red Lady.)

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