April 30, 2014
I wrote this a while ago, but I just found it again (I pictured it being the introduction to the kind of little gifty book they sell at Anthropologie, maybe one day) and got a little laugh remembering how crazy that time was.
Our relationship started out so easily. It was fun, romantic, pretty normal. We met through mutual friends, wrote witty emails, drunkenly hooked up, then got bagels the next morning. We had six months of exciting weekends, adrenaline on the train from New York to Boston, watching football and doing crosswords, going out in New York, feeling like we were the only ones in the world. When he moved to New York I moved perhaps too much stuff into his apartment lived out of a bag until we moved in together. Then we moved to Brazil, a whole chapter in itself and on July 2nd, 2010, we were exchanging text messages as I moved through customs on a flight back from London (I know this is illegal, sorry.) You’re going out with your friends? Sure, no problem, I’ll drop my stuff and come meet you. Welcome back to America, and then he was there. In a suit. With my name on a sign, blending in with the drivers. But as I walked over, the sign flipped and it said will you marry me on it. I was shocked, there was a ring, laughing, tears, a BMW Zipcar to take us back to our Brooklyn apartment. Our families were there. We were very, very happy.
Then we started planning the wedding.
I was never the kind of girl who knew all along what my wedding was going to look like. Mostly, I thought it would be a low key thing, and I certainly never thought I would be the first of my close girlfriends to get engaged and have to encounter all of the questions that wedding planning entailed. There are. so. Many. questions. I am not a perfectionist, I never have been. Apparently, though, I was somewhere in the most difficult zone of bride, where I didn’t care enough to really take ownership of the process and I was reluctant about choosing aspects that I didn’t consider important, yet I cared far too much to give someone else the ball (my mother, for example. To say she was ready to run with it is an understatement.)
And so, the next sixteen months unfolded in a way that made me crazy. The thing is, it seems like lots of brides need therapists during the wedding planning experience. I talked to not just a few who found themselves in one moment or another acting so outrageously out of character that they needed to call in someone else to help restore their sanity. Someone who didn’t know their mother, or husband, or mother-in-law, or petulant sister or maid of honor and could objectively remind them to take some good, long deep breaths.
My own moment occurred sometime during the summer of 2010, on the southwest corner of 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue in New York. My now husband and I had just looked at our first wedding venue together, the Foundry in Long Island City. For whatever reason it included something like me jumping up and down, screaming at the top of my lungs, “I hate the spring!” repeatedly. Apparently, I couldn’t possibly get married in the spring.
I’m normally a pretty rational person, low-key, even. Possibly easy-going and accommodating. This was not my usual behavior.
April 23, 2014
I feel like I’m standing at a big window right now, and inside it’s all glowy and filled with lovely women who make delicious food, and have thousands of people reading their blogs each day. They take pretty pictures in natural light and seem like they whip up just the right thing at just the right moment. Most of them have cookbooks, or cookbooks in the works. I love these women. Their pages are the ones I turn to most often, all the time really.
There’s Jenny from Dinner: a Love Story, who I worked with at Cookie, and Deb from Smitten Kitchen, who feels like a friend to me, as she does to so many other women who have never met her (I tried to meet her at her Omnivore Books signing and they ran out of books and the line stretched for at least a block or two). I’ve more recently become acquainted with Phyllis from Dash and Bella, who’s column on Food52 today made my eyes well up a little (I blame pregnancy), and Molly from Orangette, who people have been telling me to follow and become for years now (as if that was simple). And then there’s Heidi from 101 and Cookbooks, who I keep thinking I’ll run into in San Francisco sometime, and Joy the Baker, and Luisa, the Wednesday Chef, and Jodi from What’s Cooking Good Looking. I also just learned a little bit more about Julia Turshen over at Bonberi, whose founders are also crush-worthy. And these are just the ones I follow with some regularity.
So my question is: How do I join this collection of women? Where do I slot in among these voices? How do I get into the warmly lit room on the other side of the glass?
April 22, 2014
Yes, the food in San Francisco is good. There are some excellent spots with truly delicious things to eat. Yet, there are a lot of things about New York restaurants that I miss–namely tiny little spots that are perfect for a Wednesday night dinner. We had our favorites–Mercadito, Westville, John’s of 12th Street, Snack Taverna, Bar Pitti– places that got crowded, but you could always almost get in without waiting for a table and have a really good meal that wasn’t too expensive. They are restaurants that aren’t buzzy anymore, there was no thing about them, they were just good, and in little ways, the same way that everyone has their own personal New York, they were ours. Here, it feels like all of the places that we like–Frances, Flour + Water, of course Delfina, Bar Jules, Domo– are all the places that everyone else likes, too. And some are huge, like Nopa, and they don’t have that quick, mid-week dinner vibe. Maybe we just haven’t been here long enough to find them. (Also, why is there no San Francisco Westville? It’s sad, and should be remedied).
All of this is to explain why I was so excited to find Pizzetta 211. Someone had recommended it to me months ago, and it took being in the Richmond around dinner time, and not in the mood for Pho or dumplings to land there, and I’m so glad that we did.
It’s just a few tables, maybe six two tops, and a few seats at the counter, which divides the small kitchen (really a metro rack, a few pizza ovens and one work space where the pizzas were assembled) from the dining room. The pizza was great (mine was a chewy crust bursting with Spring– asparagus, mint, peas, arugula, and an assertive drizzle of Calabrian chili oil), and more than anything it felt like those small spots in New York that we left behind. It was tiny, there was no thing, there was no wait, the whole thing took forty-five minutes and less than $40 and it was perfect. Oh, and there was some style there, too, a nice aesthetic going on, but that’s a subject for a different post.
Side Note: Speaking of little perfect gems, today seems to be the day that everyone’s talking about Buvette–an amazing little spot in the West Village. Read about it here, and here, and here. If someone wanted to send me Jody Williams new book, I wouldn’t be sad about it.
April 21, 2014
Sometime last night when I couldn’t sleep, I started thinking about the house I grew up in, the memories that I have there. Maybe it’s because we’re trying to turn our house into a home right now. It’s where our little guy will lay down his first memories.
There are so many small things about that house at 8 Walnut Avenue–the floor boards in the hallway that had the nails sticking up that snagged so many pairs of white tube socks over the course of the ’80s. There’s the kitchen island where I sat to do my homework in the evenings, and the table a few feet away where we ate dinner every single night, until later when both of my brothers were in college or beyond and my dad came home from work late and my mom and I sat on the back stoop and ate there with our plates in our laps in the slanty summer light.
Those summer days make me think of my bedroom, too, the warm air filtering in. Not the angsty bedroom I had to move to in the attic when I was in seventh grade and my mom wouldn’t let me tack posters to the walls (the wall paper was too expensive, she said, and then she got rid of it anyway), but the room that was mine and pink with flowers and strawberries on the walls when I was little and then and then mine again and pale and striped and pretty when I was in high school. In the early days there were barbies thrown down the hall and long phone cords stretched to different places around the house, and the chintz covered living room that we never went into.
The big backyard hosted whiffle ball games and dunk contests and celebrations, and a batting cage when when my oldest brother thought he was going pro. It was a home, for sure. It’s exciting and daunting to try to build one of my own.
April 3, 2014
But more like drinking and crying. Sometime in November or December we went over to our friend Alex’s house for drinks. We climbed up the steep steps to his house, and admired his neighbor’s twinkling Christmas lights. We were excited to tell he and his girlfriend our big news. We sat in his kitchen, at the big wooden table he has there, and mostly wine was opened and poured and sipped. Alex knows a lot about wine and has a pretty insane wine collection. He always brings the best bottles to a dinner party, or to Tomales Bay for oysters, and if you go out to dinner with him, he wants to know what everyone’s thinking about ordering before choosing something from the wine list, rather than the other way around. He’s a good person to know. Well, at just about twelve weeks pregnant, I forwent the wine. I could wait, I thought, there’s usually the promise of more good wine down the road.
Somewhere as the evening went on, we started talking about scotch. Alex hopped up from the table, opened a cabinet and pulled out a bottle. I got this from this town in Scotland, he said, you can only buy it there, they don’t sell it anywhere else. The more he described it, the more special it sounded. I stared hard at the bottle. I don’t think I even looked at anyone. Maybe I pouted a little. I hate missing out on experiences. I sipped my water, feeling it slide down my throat, feeling well-hydrated because what else was there for me to be. He gathered three fresh glasses and set them on the table, pouring the booze. I don’t remember if there was ice involved. Maybe, maybe not. Everyone smelled it and had a sip. This was my chance to taste this flavor that I’d probably never get to taste again. And so I had a small sip of Scott’s. Barely enough to get past my lips and onto to my tongue. And then my face started to get hot, and the tears started to well up and all of a sudden I was crying and laughing at myself for crying and embarrassed to be in this brightly lit kitchen crying in front of my husband and our friends for such a silly thing as a sip of scotch.
As we were walking home, What happened in there? Scott asked. It tastes like fun, I told him. Licking my lips again as if there might be some of that flavor lingering behind (there wasn’t). It tastes like letting go, like relaxing. I’ve talked about this with friends over the last few months, but I think that one of the hardest parts of pregnancy is that is that nothing is really satisfying. You can’t have that glass of wine at the end of the day to unwind. I used to run for miles and miles to relax, to get those endorphins going, to explore the city and take in those beautiful San Francisco views of the Bay. Running was the thing that got my head right when I was grumpy or anxious. That’s off the table for now. Same with a really hard yoga class and sleeping well. It’s hard to let go of whatever you used to do to get happy. There’s still hanging out, and House of Cards, and less guilt eating dessert whenever you feel like it, but it’s not the same.
I know this all sounds whiney, and I’m so grateful that everyone involved in this whole baby thing is healthy, I’m knocking on wood right now that we continue to be so lucky. But right now it feels like I’ve been pregnant for a long time, and there’s still a few months to go. This whole thing of creating another person is all so strange, and I definitely didn’t expect this elusiveness of satisfaction.
March 26, 2014
At least that’s what Mark Bittman says. His op-ed piece in the New York Times today isn’t the most coherent, but he makes lots of good points. It’s definitely worth a read. It also makes me think of the people in the class that I teach who are so afraid of adding salt to their food. Granted many of them have high blood pressure, but they don’t get that it’s all of the salt in all of the processed foods that is really bad for them, not the sprinkling we add to the food we cook.
That said, I had a pretty heartbreaking experience yesterday in class. Sandra is overweight, I’d guess maybe three hundred pounds. She has blond hair with bangs, walks with a cane, and often wears brightly colored tee shirts. She said sometimes she gets pains that shoot down her arms. When she speaks, or laughs, she usually stops to let out a raspy cough after a few minutes.
One of the lessons of the class yesterday was about mindful eating. All of the participants had to eat a piece of orange extremely slowly and pay attention to how they felt while they were doing it. Everyone nodded as the doctor explained how eating more slowly gives your stomach time to tell your brain that you’re full. Sandra nodded, and raised her hand and started explaining.
“Sometimes you have to eat for comfort though. Yesterday I went over to my friend’s house to help her clean out her son’s room. She gave me some money at the end to go to the convenience store and I went and bought two diet sodas, two candy bars, and two cans of Pringles and we just sat there and ate those Pringles. I needed it. It felt like the old days. Things have changed now and people don’t trust each other no more. Our relationship isn’t the same as it used to be. And Pringles remind me of my mom, she passed away last year. She liked Pringles. And I guess I wasn’t loved that much as a kid. Food was always there, though. It was like a hug.”
Through this, Sandra got choked up thinking about what her relationship with her friend used to be like. The loneliness was so palpable. The doctor asked, gently, if there was anyone who could give her hugs in her life, that maybe sometimes when she felt like eating a can of Pringles she could go for a hug instead. It made me feel so, so incredibly, unbelievably lucky. It sounds embarrassingly cheesy and saccharine, but how many people really just need more hugs in their life? More of that kind of support? I know that people crave connection and meaningful relationships, there are so many studies that articulate that relationships are the most correlated with happiness and well-being. How do real personal relationships fit into this world of virtual pseudo connection? (Or maybe virtual relationships a la “Her” are real, I’m not sure I’m qualified to say). Through the lens of devoured Pringles, their must be a way to curb loneliness and improve people’s overall well-being.
Sorry, I didn’t mean for this to be such an ernest rant, it just kind of went there. More levity tomorrow, promise.
March 19, 2014
A couple of weeks ago we went to Portland with some friends. We stayed at the Ace Hotel, which almost outdid itself with all of its industrial chic decor and hipster mustaches and artisanal coffee bar adjacent to the lobby. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it. Still, it was humorous.
The plan going in was pretty much to eat (I am pregnant, after all). We doubled down on our intention when it started raining the first morning we were there and continued pretty much until we left. Fortunately for me and Scott, our friends have some food-minded friends of their own who gave us extensive lists on where to eat, more than we could ever consume in one brief weekend. A worthy challenge.
We started off at Voo Doo Doughnuts, strolled through the Saturday Market, made our way across the Willamette River and caught a bus up to North East Alberta. We poked in and out of the shops up there for a while, wove past people waiting for brunch at very cool looking spots, and eventually found ourselves in front of Pine State Biscuits. I guess we were coming down from our doughnut sugar highs, because trying out some biscuits while Scott was on a conference call outside seemed like the only reasonable thing to do. After walking around a bit more, we decided we were ready for lunch (we’ll just get some wings, we said), and went to Pok Pok Noi, nearby.
We were led past the bar, past the kitchen, through a back passage and to a lightly heated tent out back. With raindrops plunking on the plastic ceiling, wings (the ones I had been hearing about since I left New York) turned into papaya salad and khao soi and man, it was all so, so delicious. We managed to eat those wings again that night, as an appetizer before a late dinner at Ava Gene’s (delicious Italian), and I’m so glad we did. There was a little more food, notably ice cream at Salt & Straw (I had something called spicy monkey banana walnut), and some stops at places like Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co., and some driving around the hills to look at fancy houses, and plenty of time walking around Pearl District and getting lost in the vast expanse of Powell’s Books. It was a great trip, and I look forward to going back and exploring some of the parks the rain kept us from. There will definitely be more wings. However, in the meantime, I tried to make them at home.
They came out pretty well. They weren’t perfect, and deep frying at home is always a little messy and a little scary (at least I think so), but it was a pretty good approximation. Now there are so many other recipes in the book to tackle. Each has a lot of ingredients, and a lot of steps (I have to say that I’ve never mortared my own curry paste, but there’s always a time to start, right?). Maybe one day soon I’ll put together a Pok Pok-inspired Thai feast. Anyone want to come over?
On a side note, I’m well aware that I’m late to the Pok Pok party. We left New York before they opened (actually, I think the wing outpost on the Lower East Side was open, but I never got there), and I really felt like I had missed out. Maybe I’m just overly excited that it lived up to my expectations. Also, their drinking vinegars mixed with seltzer are pretty delicious, too.
March 18, 2014
There’s this other thing I’ve been working on since I left Delfina. It’s called Cooking Matters, and it’s a national program run through 18 Reasons. It’s a nutrition and cooking class that takes place once a week for six weeks, mostly run at medical centers and clinics (at least in the Bay Area). For the two classes a week where I’m volunteering as the chef (there’s also a nutritionist and a coordinator on the team), the program is being marketed as “Food as Medicine,” and doctors at these clinics are prescribing that their patients take this class to improve their health and combat some chronic illnesses.
It’s kind of the pedestrian manifestation of this thing that doctors at Harvard Medical School are doing at the Culinary Institute of America, which the Wall Street Journal recently wrote about. Sounds way more glamourous.
It’s been a great experience planning menus around the curriculum and getting to know all of the participants. The best thing is that they want to be there, they’re engaged.
My Tuesday class is in Fruitvale, at the Native American Health Center. The participants have an interesting mix of backgrounds and ethnicities. There are the two Mexican women who claim that they never ever eat vegetables and don’t know where to begin. There’s an African American woman who takes care of all of her nieces and nephews, wears hats and sunglasses in every class, speaks like slowly and like a professor, and has mysteriously spent time in Syria, just because (“I’m a loner, she says, this class creates a social moment for me.” Break my heart). There’s the woman who’s son is a high school track star, who already knows almost everything we have to teach her and just wants to know more ways to cook vegetables, and the woman who watches Dr. Oz every day, but is looking to fill in the gaps. There’s the Native American woman in her young twenties who’s severely overweight who just doesn’t know what to do about it, and the woman who’s been on steroids since she was sixteen, her face puffy. Today she brought her husband and they want to learn together. And there’s the woman who said today, “I realized that I reach for sweets to eat when there’s not much sweetness going on in my life.”
All of them have high blood pressure (“It makes me dizzy,” they say, “and hot, and tired”), many have diabetes and hypertension. They want more energy, they want to learn how to make healthier food that’s within their budget. They want to know what healthy means, and how to read food labels and cereal boxes. The program isn’t perfect, but when each participant checks in at each class, it sounds like it’s making a difference. They’re making small changes, switching to brown rice, making the eggplant and soba dish that we made in class, talking to their friends about what they’re learning, working kale and other vegetables into their diets. They get weighed before each class, and their weights are going down.
The best thing about this class, is that they advocate small changes. Eat one piece of fruit a day, try one vegetable that you haven’t tried before. Make one meal without meat. Today’s class was about choosing healthy fats (last week was whole grains, and the week before was about what your plate should look like (the food pyramid is no more) and the week after is a grocery store tour and a lesson on budgeting. The last week is about how to keep the positive changes going.
It all sounds so cheesy, but it’s a mission that I really believe in. Sitting in a room full of people who don’t feel good, who are upset that they can’t chase after their grandchildren, who worry they’ll be too sick to take care of their parents, who are heavy consumers of healthcare, these kinds of classes are important. Teaching them basic nutrition and cooking, in an accessible way feels pretty meaningful.
March 17, 2014
Honestly, I didn’t really feel pregnant until this week. I have been, for twenty-five weeks, of course, but it’s this week really that I stopped being able to sleep comfortably. My belly gets in the way when I try to move from downward-facing dog to warrior one in yoga class. A couple of weeks ago I stopped running, I thought that was going to be the marker, but it turns out that it’s other, simpler things. It takes me a few seconds longer to get up off the sofa (using my hands and arms helps, too). And I hadn’t realized how slowly I was walking up our hill each time (it’s steep!) until Scott and I walked home from dinner together the other night and he was clearly trying to slow himself down to accommodate me.
This week, as I start to really feel all of these little changes, it makes me realize how much I was just hoping to feel things before, wondering, “Is he moving?” It’s fun, and it’s definitely about time, since for the first time we’ve realized: wow, we should really pick a crib, and a stroller, and perhaps get ready for a whole new human to live in our house with us. That’s not going to happen on its own.
Also, I stopped having any clue how to dress myself. I just have no idea, none. As someone who had always been (I hate this description but for lack of something better) pear-shaped, I’m now a different fruit. Where I was flat chested before, I now have boobs (I became a woman! I kept saying to Scott), and what used to be a pretty flat stomach before is now something very convex. Where I could mostly get away with wearing my normal clothes for the last few months, it’s not the case anymore. (However, I’m not going to complain about maternity jeans, they’re kind of awesome. Who doesn’t want jeans that fit well and also have elastic in the waist?) Other maternity clothes thought? I feel like I’m cobbling together a very weird wardrobe. If anyone has any tips, please share.
Lastly, I will never, ever roll my eyes at any abdominal exercise, ever. I’ve been trying to still stay active, and since I can’t run anymore I’ve been trying to do more yoga and trying out some other classes, all of which pretty much rely on your core, which I can’t really access anymore. Not using your core to do lunges or squats or tree pose or warrior three is really f-ing hard, it makes your legs shake and tips you off balance. I will forever try to remember this feeling of frustration and give a silent nod to the center of my body, which does so much.
I’m aware that these are shallow things to notice in pregnancy. They’re superficial manifestations of an experience that is one of the most profound a woman can have in her lifetime. That said, I’ve had a hard time mentally getting ready for motherhood. Mostly it’s terrifying and also I think that it’s just going to be okay, that whatever instincts I have will carry me through and my friends and family who have done this before will share their wisdom (which they have done already, in spades, and I’m so grateful). I’m reading some books, but it still feels abstract. As much as it feels wrong to admit it, it’s these surface changes that make me realize that this is really happening.
March 17, 2014
The last time we left off, I had just started working in the pastry department at Delfina. It was a swirl of very early mornings and delicious, sweet things. Piles of sugar that got turned into syrups and candies and caramels and flour that we sifted into cakes and rolled into long ropes of cookies. I learned a tremendous amount, and loved every minute of working with very, very talented people. I loved being in the restaurant super early in the morning with the prep boys, who could turn an artichoke or clean and filet pounds of fresh shimmering anchovies faster than I could sneeze.
At the end of February, I left. All of a sudden it was time for the next adventure, which looks something like this at the moment (not the best picture, but you get the idea):
All of a sudden I’m about six months pregnant (more on that in another post), and there were bachelorette parties to attend (I think it’s better if I don’t post photos), and trips to Hawaii to take with my mom:
And trips to Portland (where we managed to eat Pok Pok wings twice in one day) and some work to do on our house. It’s been an odd transition away from the all-consuming restaurant kitchen into the quiet of getting ready for a really big life change. And so here we are. If nothing else, it’s time to get writing again.
In full disclosure, I’m still trying to figure out what this blog is and what it should be. Maybe at some point I’ll start another with a clearer focus, but for now, with lots of different things going on, this is what I’ve got, here I am. It may trend toward food blog, I can’t help but think I’ll include some things about being pregnant or maybe in a few months about being a new mom. We’ll see. More than anything, I’d like to use it again, the way that I did when we lived in Brazil, as a way to “show up every day.” As Molly Wizenberg advises, it’s the best way to just get writing. I love this too much not to do it, and it’s easy to just stop (as evidenced by the last year or so). Thoughts and comments are, of course, welcome. In the meantime, it’s nice to be back.
July 8, 2013
Where have I been for the last seven months? It’s okay for you to ask. My husband does, along with some friends and many members of my family. I’ve been working the line at Delfina. I was ready to let go of this blog to eventually start another, refocused one, and so I haven’t even really looked at in months, until just now when I glanced back to look something up and realized that the last time I wrote was just before I started working on the line. Feels like I should fill you in.
So where have I been? Busy, and hot, and learning, and stressed, and on the clock, and sublimely happy. I spent the last seven months working from 1.30pm to about midnight, sometimes later, trying to see Scott, keep in touch with people and slowly nurture friendships that barely started forming in the short time between arriving in California and what I think I’ll call the Delfina time warp. After starting as an intern at the end of August, I moved from the safety of relatively pressure-free prepping to working the guarde-manger station at the end of November. A while later I moved from making cold appetizers and plating desserts to the wood-burning oven station (hot first courses, some sides and an entree), and then to the grill (which is also kind of the saute station at other restaurants). Every day has its arc. I’ve always loved restaurants before they open, where there’s a certain kind of quiet, and also the energy of getting ready, of possibility. Each day at Delfina starts much earlier than when the cooks get there (more on that later), and picks up speed after lunch when we all arrive. Chef coat on, apron, knives, spoons, and spatulas gathered. Spaces are cleared, ingredients are procured, menus are doled out and prep lists are penned down on scraps of paper from the ticket machine. Then it’s a race to 4.45pm. In that time so many things are chopped, blanched, roasted, emulsified, gathered. Everything is put into order, a grid of delicious things that could become salmon with summer succotash and basil aioli, or fried, stuffed squash blossoms, clams al forno with tomato sauce, or the best spaghetti you’ve ever tasted. At 4.45pm we take a break (hopefully), take a deep breath, eat some food, get ready for dinner service. We come back, put up dishes for line up to make sure they’re spot on, and then, very often it feels like all of a sudden, guests are in the dining room, menus are open in front of them, and just after, tickets start buzzing through the machine and it’s (usually) constant movement and plating and cooking and spooning and saucing until the last guest has ordered the last thing they’re going to eat.
Sometimes it’s stressful. It’s almost always fun. Usually, by the end of each night you feel like you’ve been through something. Everything that was prepped out in the afternoon gets quarted up, turned off, taken apart, put back. It all gets scrubbed down with hot soapy water. As if it never happened, all to happen again the next day.
There’s the staff drink, sipped during break down, then the late night trip home (for many of the cooks there’s the transition to the bar). There’s the shower before bed, that to me often feels like the shower at the end of a day of moving, washing off something physical and consuming. I’m not sure what I expected, but I’ve definitely been consumed.
So why am I surfacing all of a sudden? I just started working with our insanely talented pastry chef. It’s challenging as well, but totally different, and the arc of the day goes from 7am to about 4pm. It means that I get to learn an entirely new skill set and get to have dinner with my husband. I don’t know how long it’s going to last (I’ll go back on the line eventually, splitting my time between the two), so in the meantime I’m savoring what feels like new found balance. And so here I am, that’s where I’ve been.
November 30, 2012
I feel like I haven’t had many moments to sit still in the last few months. I’ve spent the time mostly in the cacophony of the Delfina kitchen–long hours spent stuffing and tying up ducks, whisking aioli, and learning how switching from 11 cent napkins to 16 cent napkins can have a big impact on your bottom line for any given month. It’s been incredible. I learn new things every few minutes, the curve is quick, and mostly I just feel grateful. It’s fun to be around food for so much of the day, and people who love delicious things, but there haven’t been many quiet moments, and I’m having one of those now.
It’s pouring outside, droplets plunking on our skylight and pooling on our little balcony. It’s the right kind of day for drinking coffee and actually looking at my computer, something I’ve been doing for only glancing amounts of time here and there over the last several weeks. I know I should be tackling my Napa Valley column, it’s been seriously neglected this month (did you like that plug?), but I keep thinking about where I am now, what I’m doing, and where I thought I would be.
It’s funny how plans change, right? I ignored the fact that I loved preparing food and even more so bringing people together around it for so long. I spent years thinking that I would spend much more time living in remote places, trying to understand the needs of people who could probably help themselves a million times better than my best efforts at making their lives better would (not that I don’t believe in aid and philanthropy, I do). I had notions of what ‘better,’ meant, that got turned on their head in Brazil and graduate school. I had notions of what social responsibility looked like, and I still do, but I think it’s different than I originally thought and I’m still working out how.
For now I’m pausing in this space. I never anticipated actually moving to California with someone that I truly, deeply love, working as a chef in a restaurant kitchen, and I look forward to whenever the right time in the future comes to call upon the rest of the things that I’ve learned and crafted along the way, whether it’s writing (maybe stay tuned for a newly focused blog? maybe eventually a book? who knows), or a resurfacing of something that builds community? Or something that marries food with beautiful things, a la this place, my new inspiration for the next step, after I do this thing now for as long as they possibly let me stay. I am grateful.
October 5, 2012
Yesterday would have been my grandma Esther’s 90th birthday. She passed away a few years ago and I think of her often. She loved a good party, and as my mom said in an email yesterday, “what a party she would have had!’ And it’s true, she would have had a killer party for her 90th birthday. She would have loved to pick out an outfit–something a little flashy, a little gaudy (she was a woman who had long hot pink fingernails and flaming red hair for my entire life). She would have maybe complained a little about how she wished she was a bit thinner, but also note, mischievously, that she loves chocolate too much (something we share). Her feet would hurt her, but forget sneakers or sensible flats, old lady shoes, she would still wear “whichever shoes fit the outfit,” as she once famously told a doctor who questioned her footwear choices.
I thought about her yesterday morning as I boiled eggs at work. I was tasked with making tonnato sauce, not something she ever would have done, but it started with the simple act of boiling eggs. I don’t do it often, but she boiled eggs for my grandfather every single morning for more than six decades. She would serve them to him in a little egg cup, with a small spoon and one of those wire baskets (I think we would call them retro now) with some rye bread in it, some cheese, and margarine and sliced tomatoes. Now I’m picturing their house in New Milford, the one that my dad and aunt grew up in, with the worn linoleum kitchen floor and dark wood cabinets. Of course, they moved to Florida years ago.
But never mind the eggs, or their kitchen on her birthday. That would be grandma’s day to get dolled up. She’d sit down at her make up table, filled with colorful pots and tubes and cremes and dusts and she would pencil in eyebrows and eventually come downstairs sparkling. There would be a party, and there would be dancing. This year, I hope she and my grandfather are having their own party, dancing to Frank Sinatra all on their own.
September 19, 2012
I’m thinking of re-tooling this blog, giving it a new focus. I heard Mark Bittman speak last night. Comforted by his strong New York twang, which I feel like I haven’t heard in far too long, I kept thinking about how much I really know about food policy, how much I truly care, and how much I think it’s intertwined with so many issues: obesity, the environment, labor rights and regulations, politics and the role of government. I’m not sure how much I can add to the discussion that wouldn’t be a resynthesizing of things that I have read, but perhaps I could say something new-ish, or figure out a new way to phrase something (isn’t that what so much of the internet is?).
There’s that. The restaurant has also kept me busy. My knife skills, I think, have improved and I’ve started working some service shifts, so come visit me! It’s been an exciting, fun, and fast-paced few months. Unfortunately, I come home pretty tired, and I’m too in it, it’s hard to tease out the parts that might be interesting and write-able. As I get more used to it, I’ll share more.
In the meantime, I made a small Rosh Hashana dinner on Sunday, including a fig, olive oil and sea salt challah, recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. I was pretty proud, it was delicious.
August 28, 2012
I can’t overstate how much I have learned in the past week or so. Here’s the list so far:
-How to butcher, season, stuff, and truss ducks (with more salt than I could ever imagine and with proper surgeon’s knots)
-How to make a classic sauce (and skim them properly)
-How to properly cook a steak
-How to make the most deliciously heart-stopping potatoes
-The meaning of the words fond and concassé
-How to use a vacuum sealer
-How to fry padron peppers and zucchini chips
-How to roll out fresh pasta
-How to make pasta into a dish
-The general recipe for bolognese, spiced almonds, and the best blue cheese dressing I’ve ever tasted
-How restaurants plan out menus for the week, order food, source their ingredients, choose farmers, deal with deliveries that don’t arrive and dishes that need to be changed at the last minute
-How a restaurant kitchen works–who does what, who stands where, what happens when I give my order to a waiter in the dining room and how that food gets on my plate, while everyone at my table also gets their food at the same time
-How to portion out pasta, risotto, and proteins
-I’ve watched the chef butcher albacore, bass, and salmon (which I even scaled)
There’s so much more and I wish I could take pictures, but I think it would look nerdy (and, after all, I’m trying to make friends in the kitchen, too). Along with all of these lessons, I have blisters and burns, tiny nics that burn slightly when squeezing lemon juice or sprinkling salt. I’ve never had more fun.
August 25, 2012
I’ve been holding out on you and I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to be so mysterious, I just didn’t want to jinx anything. I wanted to make sure it was going well before I told you what I was doing and where I’m working. It’s one of those strange things of writing about your life, which I certainly have mixed feelings about as I think all writers should.
I’m working at Delfina, a restaurant in the Mission and so far it’s making me so, so happy. I basically get in at 9.30 in the morning and stand next to the head chef all day and do what he tells me to do. I already feel like I have learned a tremendous amount, not only about cooking (which can’t be overstated), but also about how restaurants work, how they plan their menu and do their ordering and decide where to buy their ingredients from. I’m starting to understand what happens when things go wrong and how they adjust. And the food? It’s crazy delicious.
I’m not exactly sure where this is all going, but I have a lot of ideas. I’ll keep you posted. For now I’m just learning as much as I possibly can.
August 21, 2012
Today is the first day of my new restaurant gig. I promised I would tell you more about it once I got back from my trip east, and, well, the restaurant is still there as is my offer, so here we go. There has been so much that has been new and intimidating in the last few months, but it feels like a long time since I’ve been really nervous. I feel nervous now. Maybe it’s because I’ve waited so long to enter into the world of restaurants and cooking and now, here I am. I hope that I like it and that I do well. I’m very aware of just how much I have to learn, how starting from scratch I really am. It feels so different from the other jobs that I’ve started at offices and much different than school. I think after today, if it goes well, I’ll tell you all about it. Until then, trying to untie the knots in my stomach.
August 17, 2012
The website I’m writing for as a Napa Valley expert got a redesign and I have a new bio page. Check it out here!
August 6, 2012
This is not a cooking blog. There are enough people who write about food so well and my pictures are not beautiful, but we’re taking a momentary detour in that direction. My apologies.
Yesterday was the kind of Sunday I feel like only happens in movies. It started out overcast and drippy (sometimes the fog here gets to be too much for itself and becomes tangible water droplets), and we had nothing we really had to do. No important errands, just a paper to read, Olympics to watch, and a crossword puzzle to tackle. On Friday night we went to a buzzed about restaurant, where they served savory, fresh corn pancakes straight off the griddle. We happened to have a lot of leftover corn from last weekend, and different salads and sautes had run their course–pancakes seemed like a good way to go.
So yesterday morning I woke up, got some Blue Bottle, picked up some cornmeal and buttermilk and made these. They were delicious, with slightly sweetened mascarpone cheese (also left over from last weekend), fresh peaches (courtesy of the farmers market, where I worked on Saturday–more on that later), and maple syrup. So good. Gone too fast. No pictures.
Well, once I had buttermilk in the house (usually it’s a page turning ingredient for me, but for some reason right now, I feel confident and wasn’t scared off) and Scott was watching the Phillies game for a few hours, I decided that we should make fried chicken for dinner (isn’t that a logical thing to do with buttermilk?). I’ve been intrigued by Thomas Keller’s version for a while, so away we went into fried chicken land. Well, first there was a trip to buy some chickens and lemons and bay leaves for the brine (I brined!). Once we got the chicken in the brine, we went for a crazy gorgeous run (the sky had cleared), came back and then the chicken happened, and man, it was so good.
Thomas Keller’s a notorious perfectionist and his recipes always have a few more steps that are inconvenient, and they often use a lot of dishes, but it’s so, so worth it. This chicken was unbelievably delicious–crispy, not at all greasy, well-seasoned.
This also leads me to something I’ve been working through in my head. I think my relationship with food has changed since moving to San Francisco. It feels more like fuel, than like the uphill battle that it used to feel like. Maybe it’s the amount of time spent outside, or the consistently cool weather, but it’s nice to have food feel like an adventure. Next challenge: fava beans.
August 3, 2012
It turns out that writing about fearlessness is one thing–it’s a way to put a language framework around something that’s fizzy-feeling and slightly uncomfortable inside (at least to me). The fearlessness that I needed a month ago was a paler version, a way to make myself feel more confident about the day to day, to not feel disappointed when it was time to switch off the bedside lamp at night.
And then Wednesday happened and I needed something a little stronger. Usually if I’m feeling off, a run will set me straight. Sadly, not this time. I needed to get moving in a different way, to move past the fun parts of July, the excuses of setting up and settling in, the profound sadness that came twice during the month and required unexpected trips east. In the end it wasn’t fearlessness that got me going, not a sly sidestep from a positive place, but a decided shove from that scared space. Not long after I wrote my last piece I got myself out, and in a fluky, strange accident I landed myself an apprenticeship at a pretty cool restaurant, with the chef, who seems open to me doing lots of other things, too (like going to farmers market, learning the management side). I don’t want to say a lot about it, because even now, it feels ephemeral, like it could be a joke. Once it’s actually started (something that will happen after I get back from a family trip in a couple of weeks) I will write more.
What about culinary school, you ask? It’s still in the mix, still a possibility. We’ll see. And what does this have to do with what I was doing before? You’re allowed to ask that, too (my dad does all the time). I care deeply about food policy, and how what we eat relates to health and healthcare. It’ll come together in the end, I know it will, but for now, I’m stacking up the blocks. The next step is to really learn how to feed people, to make delicious food, to understand how restaurants work. It took being afraid to actually get to this place, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I was starting this step again in a few weeks, based on what I’ve learned of the restaurant industry, but at least now I know that I can step my foot in the door and explain who I am and what I want. That feels like fearlessness.
Also, this is peripherally related, but a woman I know from Princeton wrote a beautiful piece, “You’re Already Real– and Six Other Things I Know at (Almost) Thirty,” for the Huffington Post. It really resonated with me (especially the “you’re already real,” part) and I thought you might like it, too.