I used to be a little smug about not drinking coffee. When you’re a weird, obnoxious kid trying to find out who you are, it’s often easier to find definitions based on what you’re not. In my case, I wasn’t “one of those coffee shop people.” I had a massive collection of tea in my cabinets at college for any reason and any taste. My friends jokingly called me a “tea shaman,” and if I really needed caffeine? That’s why God invented energy drinks.
As I write this 16 years later, sitting in a coffee shop with an empty cappuccino at my right hand, I can tell you I’m still not a coffee guy. I’m drinking a vibe… it just happens to be coffee based. “A man who can laugh at himself shall never cease to be amused.”
It’s almost 7pm, and I’m sitting at a two-top at the Horse Brass. I’m trying to think of what to write again, nursing a locally-made Baltic Porter and staring at the empty broiler boat that- until very recently- was holding about 8 pickle spears for $3.50. No sales tax.
Where else would I be now? I’m a beer nerd with a cloak on a rainy day in Portland near Mount Tabor. I’ve got the back half of a short week at the bakery to start tomorrow morning, the blessing of my boss, and ideas for how my weekend will go. Where else would I be but here?
I might be back in Jersey. That beer might be a more expensive local brew, but those pickles might have been the Pickle Plates at Downbeach Deli that still live in my memory- their selection of greyed full-sours and perky green half-sour pickles supporting recurring guest stars of Pickled Onion, a Cherry Pepper, and a few wedges of Green Tomato atop a pool of commingled brine. That is, if they were ever separated at all.
Maybe it’s the beer and time of year, but I can feel the rose-colored Nostalgia Glasses settling into place. I’m gonna tell you about some fond food memories.
Thank you for your patience during the radio silence over the last few weeks. It’s not something I’m especially proud of, but the headlong rush of Christmas preparations at the shop and a few personal issues cropping up meant that pretty much any time I was not working I was resting. Especially after my last post (and indeed reflecting more on the role of my spirituality in my life,) I didn’t want to scribble out some half-assed nothingburger post.
I know that “finished is better than perfect” but I’ve gotta have some standards, dammit.
Now that the rush is over and it’s time to look at the New Year and what that might entail, I figured I’d just let you know what’s been going on for me, the blog, and future projects.
Thanksgiving in an American pie shop can best be described as the World Cup and the Super Bowl rolled up together- then stretched out over 21 days. Christmas, remarkably, tends to be less busy, but only slightly. I had to let my writing work slide for a couple weeks there because all my energy was being spent in the shop- physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The experience is always a trying one- I’m not complaining about that. My team and I handled it well, pulling off over 2000 pies in about a week. What it can mean, however, is exhaustion leading to strained nerves and losing sight of why the work we do is important. Not just to the world at large, but to ourselves personally.
You can’t blame a guy for not seeing the glory in the 500th pumpkin pie he’s made in a week, after all.
It’s almost providential then that, just before Thanksgiving, I rediscovered an important insight: “I chose this. I chose baking. I chose love. This is my calling.”Not many of us can say we work at our calling… but how many can also say their day job is their spiritual practice?
You might think it’s odd for a baker to go out and find other bakeries on their day off. I bake all the time, and surely I can make anything I want at home for a fraction of the price. Why should I go check out other bakeries in the city?
You might as well wonder why musicians go to other peoples concerts. Baking is my skillset and profession, and I definitely make a commodity, but it’s also acraft- and I like seeing how others practice it.
The same as there are different genres of music or literature, there are different cuisines. Within those genres, everyone has their own style. A way they practice their art that’s all their own, or a kind of art that they just vibe with and respond to.
There’s lots of ways to do this cooking thing, after all.