I am a baker at heart. From earliest memory, my grandma would prop me up on a step-stool, with a flour cloth towel tied around my little self, wooden spoon in hand, "helping". We made more dozens of cookies than I could ever count. Lemon-nut refrigerator cookies, date pinwheels, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, shape cookies, chocolate chip, chocolate pixies, ranger cookies, and those funny face cookies from the Betty Crocker kids cookbook that tasted yucky but were fun to make, so I didn't complain. She also had me pull taffy, bake pies and cakes, make popcorn balls, and muffins.
My mom was very happy that I had the baking bug. She was more than happy to turn the kitchen over to me to experiment and bake anything I wanted, provided I cleaned up after myself. In jr. high, she pulled me out of school to do her Christmas baking. I was stoked. I pulled my little tv into the kitchen and watched reruns of Tarzan and The Love Boat as I made her famous Thimble Cookies, which have an indent created by a thimble dipped in sugar. I tell you, that metal thimble gets hot when you re-press the cookies halfway through the baking time.
I made my first wedding cake for my brother-in-law and his wife back in 1995, or so. They were married in Vegas and I decorated the cake in the hotel room, using squat-shaped champagne glasses with roses underneath to hold the layers up. There were blue and pink hearts piped onto the sides. Looking back, it was pretty hokey, but it was my first wedding cake!!! I am the type of person who fully embraces the bride and groom getting real messy while feeding each other the first bite. I think we left an extra tip for the housekeeping staff who had to clean the carpet after they were finished with each other.
In college, I studied Communication, which finally came in handy for this librarian gig I have currently. During Junior year, however, as I color coded the index of my newest Bon Appetit in the library instead of studying, I wished I had gone to culinary school instead. For Christmas and Birthdays, I got down and jiggy in the kitchen. People with sweet tooths (?) love me. We were staying at a friend's house in anticipation of Ozzfest the next day. Some of his friends were there, and when they found out what I did for a living, they said, "You're a baker. Bake something!" like I could just pull the butter and sugar out of nowhere. Grrrrr. My husband loves that line and uses it on me anytime he has a craving for something sweet and there's nothing to be found.
I was a baker at Coco's in Rancho Cucamonga for a few years. There I learned the fine art of inventory, clipboards and checklists, and baking all night long with Metallica as loud as it could get. I would be a drooling mess by the time family Thanksgiving dinner hit, but it was a great learning experience.
We worked as servers at a local restaurant in the mountains called the "Antler's Inn". At times I would give away my tables to bake up sweets in the kitchen. My hubby wasn't so happy about my tips going down, but I was happier behind the scenes than running the floor. One year the owner bought a whole bunch of supplies for me to bake anything that I wanted. I was still inexperienced and was like a deer in the headlights. I needed structure. I disappointed her, and myself, by not utilizing all her purchases adequately. Give me that stuff now. I would rock it!!! For a few meals, she had a special menu and I was in charge of desserts. This was more my style. I would plan and implement the desserts, spending hours in the kitchen. Score for her!
After we moved to San Diego, I worked for a short time in a hellhole of a restaurant I refer to as "Perfect Puke". It's real name was "Perfect Palate" and was run by an ex-baked goods delivery driver who wanted to make a profit by cutting out the middle man. The plus side of the job was more creative freedom and a storefront to sell out of. The downside was that he was a disgusting person who used his mother's name to open credit accounts, hoping she would die and he wouldn't have to pay. We used to have to serve lunch at the local strip clubs. I tell you, there are few things more uncomfortable than having to tell the strippers that they couldn't have any of the patron food. We catered a luau and there were 2 dead pigs in the walk-in refrigerator for a couple of days. What a nightmare. I was not sad to leave that place!
I was eventually hired by a husband and wife team who had opened up a little cafe in La Jolla called "The Come On In! Cafe". I had to work my way up to baker's assistant, by working the front and making sandwiches, but it paid off. Working for this perfectionistic, exacting, high-level couple introduced me a whole new world. Previous to me getting that fabulous job, I had applied to be a pastry cook for the San Diego school district. When they offered me a position, I couldn't turn down the hours and benefits, but held my place at the Cafe by coming in some afternoons and working the summertime. As a pastry cook, I learned to bake for hundreds. We fed about 7 schools. They got homemade breads, brownies, cookies and pies. I would (illegally) take the leftovers to the Ocean Beach pier to feed the homeless. I hated throwing food away, which led me to eventually quit that job. I worked for the Cafe for about 14 years total, for different bosses. I opened a new store in Sorrento Valley, leaving my house at 3:30 a.m. to get the muffins and scones ready for delivery by 6. Again, lots of loud metal got me through those surreal mornings.
After awhile, I had developed a serious allergy to the flour dust and cinnamon. I would bake with a dust mask on, but I was still sneezing my head off all the time. I also got sick of the commute and of being a zombie by 7 p.m. so I gave notice. I started stalking a local restaurant/bakery that was simply not living up to its potential. By the time I had the courage to ask the owner if he was willing to sell, he had already sold it and informed me that the new owner needed a baker. Sigh. I was bored with baking, but figured it was a step in the right direction. And I could walk to work. Score. I worked at "The Lace Apron" for a few years, but unfortunately, the local business just wasn't enough to keep it afloat and my dear boss had to let her staff go. I was ready for a new career and started subbing at the local library and schools. I was thoroughly sick of baking. I didn't volunteer to make birthday cakes or Christmas goodies anymore. I was perfectly content to be the one bringing the salad to the potlucks. For a few years, I would break down and make cakes for my hubby or son, but that was it. I would buy the pre-made chocolate chip dough and tell myself that it was almost as good as making it myself. My husband just raised his eyebrows and ate the cookies.
Well the years went by and the love for baking came back. This year I have been in the kitchen since the holiday started for me on the 18th. I made fruitcake (for my mom), cranberry-orange nut bread (also a request) and Bishop's bread, a family recipe that contains dates, pecans, chocolate and candied cherries. Yum. I also made cookies for an exchange and an apple/berry tart. I've got 3 pumpkin pies in the oven, then I'm calling it quits for the season. I also spent time in the kitchen melting down some candles that my grandmother had left behind and reforming them to burn at our family dinner tomorrow night. I'm glad I'm a kitchen goddess once again. I missed that part of me. Thanks for listening.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
When I hit the public library, I find myself in the Young Adult section, seeing what they've got and occasionally grabbing from there as well, especially the audio books. Blessed audio books. Nothing makes a commute more enjoyable than a good story.
True, sometimes the younger fiction can bog down in emotions or simplicity. I have to admit the same can be true for a lot of adult books as well. What I am continually encountering is, however, Darkness. Sadness. Loneliness. Alienation. Being misunderstood by family and friends. Love. Passion. Need and Want. Having to choose between what the heart craves and what seems to be the more acceptable choice.