Snapshots of the Bakeshop III- The Night Shift

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

The last time I wrote a “Snapshots,” I was working the morning bake shift. Since then, I’ve taken over the completely opposite end of the day- evening pastry prep.

I’ve gone from managing the oven and getting the bakery off to a good start each day to watching it slowly empty out, till I shut everything down as the last man left.

If you’re wondering what a bakery looks like as the day dies down, here we go.

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You Can’t Teach Character- But You Can Teach Love.

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

My most recent trainee was… very new. He’d been in the industry as a food runner and barback for years, but he rarely every worked in an actual kitchen. His experience with baking amounted to “making some stuff with his stepmom,” but he was ready to learn and to take on a position as my assistant- an entry level position- because “it would be fun.”

After about two months, a few outbursts about how difficult the work was and “we should get paid more for this,” he is leaving for health and family reasons.

I don’t blame him. This is a hard field to just “start” in, it IS a lot of work, and it is absolutely not a good field to work in if you have distracting/debilitating health issues. The outbursts got on my nerves a few times, if I’m being honest (and those of our boss.) No one becomes a cook or baker to make a lot of money. If he felt he could make more money elsewhere, the response was “there’s the door. Do yourself a favor and go- but stop insulting us.”

As it turned out, in the last few weeks of his working with us, his attitude and production greatly improved. He started asking more questions, and working more quickly. The other night, I pointed this out and he shrugged:

“I don’t know, man… It sucks. It’s work, but I’m really starting to enjoy it. You taught me a lot, and I like it… it sucks I gotta leave now.”

I can’t teach someone character, or work ethic, or discipline. That needs to come from within them- but I do believe it’s possible to teach something that will encourage them: The love of the work, and the craft.

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What Doing Nothing Feels Like, and Why You Should Do It More Often

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

This might be a bit of a shorter blog post than usual. Recent shake-ups at work have left me nearly drained everyday, and I haven’t even had the energy to work on my other projects (namely, my next book and a free ebook on time management and mise en place!)
Thank you for being patient with me on those!

If you’ve been reading this blog for really any amount of time, you probably know that one of my ongoing frustrations is my relationship with productivity, anxiety, and my own self-worth. In brief, any time that I’m not directly working (or working on something) feels like wasting time on some level.

“Wasting time” is something my brain translates as “laziness” or “shiftlessness”- and when your self worth is connected to how busy you are… it’s kinda hard not to feel like a bum for needing a break. And yet, taking a break is needed not just for creativity… but for being alive.

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Reaping Life’s Rewards- What Do You Award Yourself?

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

For the first time in a long time, the writing bug has caught me in a cocktail bar. Not a bierhaus (though I certainly have my favorites in this town), or just a neighborhood bar (plenty of those too.)

Tonight, as I write this, I am bellied-up to the downtown, underground bar of Pepe le Moko. In my bag is a brand-new horror manga, and I am a fine cocktail down (a “Mexican Firing Squad” for the record) and now nursing a small measure of bourbon.

Because this has been a week, I can afford it every now and then, and I have earned it, damn it.

If you want to build good habits, or just remind yourself that life isn’t necessarily an endless hamster-wheel till you die, rewarding yourself for good work is critical.

Animated GIF of Leonardo DiCaprio toasting a glass of wine as Jay Gatsby in "The Great Gatsby"
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“The Dream Job”

Good morning, friends and neighbors.

A few days ago, my sister Stephanie sent me a copy of her latest ebook on what to do before you try going on a diet to lose weight. It was a really good read, and you should check it out if you’re thinking of trying out some new diet (without medical necessity, that is.)

In the book, she talks about me and my weight-loss journey a bit (as well as plugs my book #shamelessselfpromotion,) but she couched it in a way that I really hadn’t thought of my journey- and lifestyle- in a long time:

“My brother lost over a hundred pounds so that he could enjoy his dream job.”

That’s right… at one point in my life, what I do now was my “dream job.” Like a lot of people, though… my career hasn’t always been exactly a dream come true. That doesn’t mean it’s gone bad, or “not my calling.”

What it DOES mean is that just like we keep changing from day to day, our lifestyles and what we want from them are bound to require some reflection.

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A Flour By Any Other Name- Why Not Just Any Flour Will Do (all the time)

Good morning, friends and neighbors!

So in addition to being an amazing piano teacher and partner, my wife Emily also tends to act as my editor. She doesn’t just proofread my work, but tests it for readability. IS what I’m writing actually coming across? IS the blog post actually meeting it’s purpose?

Sometimes this comes out by her asking follow-up questions. While she was reading through last week’s post on yeast and fermentation, she got to the part about the different sugars and starches present in wheat.

“Why does the yeast have trouble with starches?
“Why isn’t there enough alpha amylase in the wheat, and why does malted grain provide it?
“Is this why there are different kinds of flour? What’s the difference between bleached/unbleached/enriched/bread flour/pastry/cake/all purpose? Hey, you should write a blog about that!”

“Yes, dear.”

So this week, let’s do a deep dive on the science of flour!

… Ok guys, but I ain’t sweeping it up.
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Yeast and Fermentation: A Story of Fungus and Farts

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

It’s been a while since I’ve touched on baking science, and I promised a while back that I’d discuss the fermentation stage of baking in greater detail.

I’m a man of my word, so here’s a crash course on yeasty beasties and how to make them work for you!

Once again, like the Ten Steps of Baking, I’m taking “Advanced Bread and Pastry” by Michel Suas as my text for today. I strongly recommend it for a more detailed look at all this business.

Credit given where it’s due, let’s explore these freaky little fungi, their delicious excreta, and why mass extinction is the tastiest thing in the bakery.

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