Winding Down

The rain is dripping off my coat as I fumble finding the right key in the dim early-morning light outside the bakery. House key, house key, bike lock key, multi-tool, office key… got it. A little finagling and I’m in out of the rain. At least there’s that. Autumn in Portland heralds the rainy season.
Isn’t every month in Portland the ‘rainy season’ though?”
Yes. Haha, you’re very funny.

Quickly locking the door behind me and switching off the alarm, I put the water kettle on to boil then turn on the lights in the kitchen. There’s some slight detritus from the last shift, but overall my team keeps things clean and tidy. I see the small pile of recipes at my station that apparently don’t scale correctly or need to be re-written, along with the daily production checklist I made for my team. I’ll deal with those later- there’s a bigger fish to dry waiting in the office.

Opening the office door, I drop my bag on the desk and switch on the light. Sitting in front of me in my boss’s spreadsheet outlining our Thanksgiving orders and their due dates. We have over 2000 pies due between now and Christmas, and private orders are still coming in. This was always going to be the biggest challenge of the year, and of this job. I knew it. I figured I’d be prepared. I’d done some banquet organizing and logistics work before, after all. How much more different could this be?

Staring down at the spreadsheet, I can already feel the television static fuzzing my vision. I’ve got a lot of work to do, and not a lot of time to do it.

Tea first, though.

Close-up picture of blooming tea in a glass mug on a wooden table. Chinese tea paraphernalia is in the background.

That has been my usual morning for the last few days. Thanksgiving preparations for a wholesale pie bakery is its own kind of nightmare- a kind that I suppose retail workers experience on Black Friday or propane sellers on the Fourth of July. The knowledge that this is the Super Bowl of the fiscal year- you’ll either nail it or you won’t. There’s financial risk, reputation, and personal pride riding on being able to guide the kitchen successfully through the eight most grueling weeks of the year.

And yet, as my therapist had to remind me today, it’s just pie. No one has ever died for lack of pie, and no one’s life was ruined because an order got missed or skipped. Well… except for one time in England in the 1500s.

When Henry VIII made England Protestant and started seizing land and property held by the Catholic Church, one monastery decided to try and pay him off by sending a “pie.” The “pie” was actually the deeds to the monastery’s lesser holdings in the area so that the king might spare the more important ones. All the paperwork was tucked in a pie shell for safe transport. On the way to London, however, the messenger happened to peek inside and grab one of the deeds for himself. The resulting bribe apparently wasn’t enough to stave off the King. Think about that the next time you listen to how Little Jack Horner “stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum.”

Sorry about the tangent. The point is that all of that was this past week, and I still have more to do… but I also need to remember that downtime is important, and I need to keep my relaxation sacred. I am notoriously bad at doing so, as can be evidenced by my insistence on doing all of my blogging and writing work on one of my days off. On top of that, I chose to launch my latest book right at this busiest time of the year.

The cover of Matt Strenger's latest book "A La Carte: Recontextualizing the Culinary World." The cover depicts a person sitting at a table with a black background. Their face is not visible. Their hands hold a knife and fork upright while a pile of books is stacked on the plate in front of them. The text of the cover is in white script.
By the way, see those book covers and links on the right-hand side? Go buy a copy!

One of the weird things people don’t always realize about anxiety is that it is exhausting. For the last week, I have been lethargic and exhausted beyond the scope of “just working too hard.” I certainly have been, but that’s not all. Anxiety burns energy, meaning that working yourself up tires you out, whether you vent that energy or not. Throw on a nearly-resurgent caffeine habit, and you get a pastry chef that almost passes out biking home simply because he is too tired to continue.

Yet here I am, typing away at a blog post while I wait for the proof copies of my new book to arrive. I have promised myself that I’d go over the production schedule this weekend with a clearer, more awake mind… but I also promised myself downtime. As soon as I finish this post, I intend on putting on my coat and going for a walk in the chilly sunshine while it’s here. Maybe I’ll get a new bottle of scotch for my bar, or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll find a nice place to sit in the sun and think my way through everything.

Either way, it’s my weekend, it’s just pies, and I won’t be useful to anyone burning myself out over nothing. Keep your mental health, emotional wellbeing, and physical health sacred, folks. There will always be more pie.

Stay Classy,

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