The Sweeter Things In Life

Life sometimes is funny. Okay, that’s nothing new there. No wise bits of wisdom in this little post. Just life.  Like when you have two customers, regulars apparently, who ask if the reason there have been no new dessert specials was due to the pastry chef is now doing pizzas all the time.

That was an incredibly sweet part in my life recently. In all honesty, being sick four times since a week before Christmas put a serious damper on baking, thoughts of baking, and just getting through the day, never mind the week. I have to say that I love dabbling in all parts of the cooking industry. “Hey Chef, show me how to finish this dish so I don’t have to come get you next time there is only one of us in house.” This after it was literally only Chef and I in the kitchen one afternoon.  Do you know how irritating it is to have yourself on one dish, he’s on another and he can’t be found because he was off hunting down someone or something else?  I am not blaming Chef. Just the simple fact that he can take over for me up on the pizza, but I can’t take over for him. (sadly, the line still alludes me in comfort zone. I don’t like to be back there unless I have to…. Okay, that’s not quite true. I would love to learn aspects of it, or three quarters of it, but my heart isn’t in that area, at least, yet.)

But I digressed greatly there. What I was going to say was, while I like all parts of the cooking industry, the pastry and pizza end of things are more my forte. I’ve even had a few people I work with say I have a touch that others do not. It’s always lovely to have someone ooh and ahh over a dessert. Or pizza.

This last week I finally did run a dessert special. I call it a Chocolate Om cake because it had a little of our chocolate Zen liqueur in it. For a little om in life, you have to have a bit of zen….   No one quite got the juste of this turn of phrase, but I rolled with it anyhow. Who cares. I enjoyed this uber rich mocha chocolate cake, four layers, mind you, a rich cocoa frosting and three, yes three, toasted marshmallows on top. You think, marshmallows, how can that be special?  Well, I made them in house, that’s how!  Ooey gooey delishiousness (yes I know that’s not spelled right). I sold out the first cake in a day and a half. I feel I would have sold out on the other cake as well had it not been for the snowstorm that dropped 8 inches of snow and cancelled all of our weekend reservations. Drat!

See, Om and Zen go together, and think about a chocolate cake. You can zen your way through eating it and end up in an om state…. Just sayin’.

But I have ideas in my head a bit more now that I am feeling better.  Chef is working on his new menu for the spring. He has no desserts on it. I must see if I can brain storm with him. I even had my dishwasher ask me if now that I have made a dessert special if I am going to dabble in others. He mentioned coconut cream pie.  Pies are not my forte, but I might have to think about it. Coconut is a thing I love… mmmm, I’m thinking tropical items. The cold is getting to me.

I love the scenery. The peach snow when the street lights just come on at night. The cold, icy glow of snow and ice at night. The way it felt like a snowglobe moment the other afternoon looking out the windows as the snow fell. It’s all beautiful. but I could really go for somewhere tropical right now. Maybe I can play around with a tropical-esque dessert. Something with pineapple… oh that’s right, Astro D mentioned individual pineapple upside down cakes. Yum. Dollop of whipped cream.

Kate

 

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Being a Pastry Chef – Day 29

“Hey, T-Bear. Want some crack?” I ask tonight as service slows down a bit.

“Uh. Yes!” comes the expected response.

Out comes the six pan of lemon bar edges and such and the moans are heard around the kitchen.

When I say ‘crack,’ I don’t mean literal crack. Just like when I talk about cocaine clouds in my poetry. (which is just powdered sugar clouds from roulade cakes) I literally can blame all of this on Coffeeman.  Wednesday I was trimming down the edges of the lemon bars so they  were all pretty to plate and so of course I am not going to toss those edges. Into a pan they go and get passed around for anyone with a sweet tooth. (practically the entire kitchen)

Suddenly, an hour or two later, Chef is shoving the pan back at me and saying “get this crack away from me!”  Yes, it is that addictive and YES! I know I have done my job when Chef says this.  Let me blow on my nail and buff them on my jacket… Preen like a bird. Damn straight.

There are some serious perks to being able to call myself the pastry chef. Mind you, I am not classically trained. At all. Most of my baking has been rather haphazard over the years. The job was shoved at me because the first ‘chef’ decided he needed his wife to not be carting their 4 month old child around the kitchen. Don’t ask. Long story.

So job shoved at me, making boxed everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cakes and such and I am suddenly the  pastry chef.  But I digress way too far down that rabbithole.

So, perks to being pastry chef.

  1. Sugar.  I mean, come on, everything is sweet. How can you go wrong?
  2. Sliding sweet things over to your coworkers as you bake. It is seriously fun to be chopping a block of chocolate and shards get passed over to this person or that person.
  3. Seeing the look of ‘moaning’ delight on anyone’s face when they taste something good.
  4. Do you know how delightful it is to tell a guy you are the pastry chef and see this insta-perked up look of fascination? Um, yeah, there is serious power in that. I say that to a guy, not to mention pizza chef and whatnot, but serious interest is suddenly there. Why just a week and a half ago as the kitchen was filled with all of us on a off day to prep, here comes a very seriously cute/handsome/adorable new FedEx delivery guy and the look on his face as I went to sign his tablet but had to stop because I was chopping a big ole block of chocolate and had it on my hands. Power. There is serious power in being a pastry chef.
  5. Sending out good things to friends who come in……
  6. Handing out spoons for people to sample chocolate mousse, lemon bars, creme brulee, apple pear cranberry crisp (today I treated our hostess to a delightful bit) Ah yes, again it’s power… Good power. The power to create happiness.
  7. Stressed spelled backwards is desserts. Come on, no one can be in a bad mood after desserts.
  8. Your hair, skin, clothes smell like vanilla and cinnamon and sugar cookie dough, and almond, and yumminess. I have taken showers after baking and the scent that wafts off of me as the hot water hits my hair is literally what I was baking and the essence of whatever was baking in the oven.
  9. Power.
  10. Did I mention power? It’s a really sexy power.

So, yeah, I stress a lot about screwing up desserts. I mean, my lemon bars were too wet this time around, needing to have baked them a hair longer, and that roulade cake through the summer, but there are some amazing perks to this job.

Kate

The Zest of Life – Day 9

I use a lot of citrus zest in my life. From lemon curd to chocolate orange mousse, I’m always zesting things. Even before the menu change back in summer, I was zesting all the time. Every menu has had something with lemon, orange, or lime zest used. Needless to say, I finally asked my father to find me a microplane online so I wouldn’t always have to borrow the previous chef’s and so I could get to work.

Recently, the lemon curd wasn’t quite lemon-y to a few people’s standards and my just lemon juice recipe went to zesting almost 20 lemons for a triple batch of lemon curd. That’s a lot of lemons to zest. Mounds of the yellow flakes. But trust me, it makes for a marvelously lemony lemon curd.

The other day I zested a couple of oranges for the mousse and that’s what I got the picture of the zest below.

About 4 tablespoons of orange zest…

There is nothing better than the smell of citrus zest. I really mean that. I love citrus to no end. I have ideas of a lime mousse. I live for zesting things. I actually really like it. I may bemoan it to coworkers, but in all seriousness, I love to zest. The bright sunshine smell is so so good to me.

Kate

Plating – Day 3

“You need some of that,” says Lucifer.  “No, don’t just run it across all of them, do one at a time.  And why do we do this?”

“Uh…” comes the reply from Tom Cat.

“Because it looks prettier that way,” I reply as I hunt through a fridge.

“Exactly!” Lucifer replies.

It’s all in presentation.  Plating. Sending out something that looks so elegant that your eyes feast on it first. I kind of have a knack for it. Even Lucifer, in all his inability to give compliments except on rare occasions, knew I knew how to plate.

I love plating. I love sending out a dish that is elegant, edges free of smudges, the garnish just so. I have been inclined to want to slap people’s hands, server’s hands, Chef’s hands, when they go to take a plate before I finish garnishing. I might be a bit insane, but what is the point of sending out a half finished plating?

I stop people and servers all the time. A pizza must go out with the right garnish. Granted, I am stopping them because I have forgotten something, but still, it must go out right. The best thing to plate, for me, are the desserts. It’s not a coincidence considering I am the pastry chef. I want plates to be pretty, and now, since Coffeeman has come into my life, I have had the opportunity to see things plated so beautifully.

Lemon Tart with a berry coulis design….. Dot, dot, dot..

The dots, swirls, spirals, squiggles. Currently, due to my hectic schedule, I don’t get to plate as much as I like, and I’m not fond of our restaurants name being squiggled onto plates instead of designs… I don’t find it elegant.  These are elegant to me.

Roasted Peach with champagne strawberries…. ooh la la

I hope that over time I get to still plate desserts. I love all the aspects of my job, but when you have a server go “ooh, that is the prettiest I’ve seen” or plates come back with designs scraped off with the dessert, I know I’ve done my job. Not to brag ,though I’m going to, but the servers love how I plate….

Kate

Entering Into the Work

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Life has been incredibly hard these past two weeks. Hard and sad. So sad that at times I wonder what the heck I’m even doing and I don’t even know what to do. Losing my dog has been one of the hardest things I’ve gone through. I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to not have him around and to want desperately to be holding my puppy. I miss him so much that it really is an ache that hits out of nowhere.

I’ve also lost the camaraderie of someone I would have classified as a close friend. That person is still a part of my life, but I don’t trust the person, per se. I struggle what to tell this person and how to act around them. It’s all gotten very challenging. It’s led to lots of crying and lots of moments where I am really not sure what the heck I’m doing. I can honestly say I don’t know what to do. I really am at a loss.

I stress about work and succeeding, and today was one of my first days back after a tiring schedule last week. This week is bound to be tiring as well, but at least I have a general schedule. Today, for the most part, I killed it. At least I believe I did. Sure, I had a few scattered moments, and times when I thought I wouldn’t make it through the day, but I did.

Mels asked me what I was going to do to deal with the anger I have inside. Because it’s there. A lot of anger, deep anger. Sad anger. My reply was, “write. And cook. Do the best to my ability to make it happen.”  Cooking has kind of flowed into my blood. Duh,  of course, it has.  I wake up thinking about baking and improving recipes, I finish out the day looking at cookbooks, watching Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, and just today my new book to read is Sous Chef by Michael Gibney. Lucifer has it in his car and told me he would loan me his copy… I didn’t want to wait, so Better World Books delivered.

I don’t know what I want to do with my life, other than being a poet and published writer, but this cooking thing gives me a bit of passion that is so hard to explain, but I like it. I read this Sous Chef and I drool about the luxury of a well-organized kitchen. I think in kitchen terms: deli containers, 9-pans, cambros, half sheets, whole sheet pans, mis en place, roux, the line…..   I want to yell ‘behind’ at home. I slide my hand along the backs of people to let them know I’m there.

Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

Today there was this flow that was actually the best I’ve seen in a while. To the point where I was doing things, my head down, but I could duck out of the way as things went past my head to land in the garbage. As pans were passed off and handed off, pots caught as they dropped, things shifted back into place with a well-aimed hip, pilots lit, ovens restarted, butter melted, luxurious sugar-free lemon mousse that went out to a diabetic guest. (I did not make said mousse, Lucifer did, but I did zest the lemons) I like being able to get whatever it is someone asks me to get. To be able to put out a lunch dish that is not my responsibility, and know that it went out looking the way it was supposed to. I’m rather proud of that. Not sure Lucifer actually noticed, even those D-man told him I sent out an awesome burger. (Okay, so it’s not super fancy, our lunch menu, but a burger at our place is an art. I felt pretty proud of myself)

My pies have finally leveled out to looking gorgeous and elegant enough for my tastes. I like that I can make pretty food. I’d like to do more in that department. I want to work with Lucifer in updating and revising our desserts menu. I am classified as the pastry chef. I want pastry to look damn good. I want it to be something you come in and drool over. I may not want to nibble on many sweets these days, myself, but I want you, the guest to fall in love with it and when you see me on the street, think back to that luscious dessert you had.

I may not have any classical training, I may not have a culinary degree behind my name, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be the best at what I can do… all while being a runner, and a closer and a prep chef. I have too many hats right now. I like closing, and I can do that well, but whew, it can be exhausting.  I’m getting off topic.

I hope to god I am important in my hierarchy within the kitchen. I’d like to be invaluable, though not so invaluable that if I need time off they panic without me… Okay, well if they panic without the chef, why not the pastry chef? I’m being silly, but still, I want to be valuable in my job. I like my job. Despite all the stress, all the inconsistencies, all the crazy, all the moods, the romantic interests, the betrayals, the turn downs, the frustrations; despite all of that, I like my job. So I am trying to deal with life by ‘entering into the work.”

All of this came out of reading Sous Chef today and this lovely prompt above from Dona. I want to think the best ideas are going to come out of the work, the process and work itself. So. Okay then, now that I’ve rambled on long enough, I’m off to read more of Sous Chef, and I think I need to pick some rhubarb for work. If there is one thing I have found, you can get the sexiest moan out of Lucifer when food is involved.

Kate

Choux Pastry

'Choux Pastry Heart'

I’m in a choux pastry mood.  For those of you that don’t bake, or know much French, that means cream puff pastry.  Cream puffs, eclairs, profiterolles….

I woke this morning singing Corrine Bailey Rae’s song ‘Choux Pastry Heart’.  It’s not a happy song, but well, I was thinking of choux pastry. 

I love cream puffs, and they are so feminine and cute.  They reek of anything French.  Eclairs? Well they are decidedly French, of course.  When I go to France (this is a far off dream, so no future plans in the works)  I am going to indulge myself in eclairs.  Drink black, black coffee, nibble on an eclair, watch the Frenchmen go by, and drool.  Okay, drooling isn’t exactly feminine, but you catch my drift.  They are Frenchmen after all.

Eclairs...

I have this incredible desire to make some eclairs.  I told my father that the other day and you should have seen his eyes light up.  My father loves anything that has to do with chocolate, pastry, and pudding.  I can’t really go wrong.  And he loves cream puffs as well.

I also have this insane desire to make puff pastry.  Then to make tarts, apple turnovers, etc.  Can you tell I am in a baking mood?  And of course, I want to attempt something that scares the bejeezus out of me.  The one time I did a butter/layer/puff pastry type crust, it turned out horrible.  But for some reason, I have confidence that I can make it work.

Apple Turnover...(puff pastry)

Maybe it is my delusional mind, or maybe it is the four new French and baking books I receive, or purchased, over the holidays. (that’s Christmas holidays)  I get in a baking mood and I just need to try something new.  A while ago it was just peppernuts for Christmas; a new recipe that didn’t turn out that well.  In the fall it was lemon squares.  And pecan fingers.

Well, for now I shall turn on Corrine Bailey Rae. It’s been ages since I’ve heard her album, and it’s one of my favorites.  I think I’ll wait to make the eclairs and puff pastry for a day when I actually feel good.   Until then, I’ll just drool in my mind.

Signing off

 ~Kate