Sitting In Others Sadness- Depression and Connection

If you want to know how strong a person is, see how they handle feeling weak.

Last week was a long and miserable one, not least because when I woke up on Monday morning it felt like the color had drained from the world. Nothing tasted good, I had no energy or will to do anything, but all the guilt of doing nothing. As I dragged myself around the house in the early morning, half-coasted my bike to the shop and turned on the ovens, I knew that I was in a depressive episode.

I reached out to others- not for help, or even for pity, but connection. Lots of people responded, and I was grateful for that- but not everyone knows why or how to be helpful in those situations.

How do you help someone manage depression? You just be there.

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Westward, Ho….ly crap!

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

    Last week, I did a quick “Where Am I Now.” Long story short: I live in Portland Oregon.


Stuff like this tends to happen.

I’ve now been in the city for a little over a month. The small apartment that my girlfriend and I live in has started to feel less like a hotel room and more like home. We have met some of the local folks, found a local bar, local cafe, preferred local supermarket (or supermarkets)… all the things that come with joining a neighborhood.


Still working on JOINING the neighborhood though… trolley service doesn’t get out this far.

Since I’ve been out here, my main goals have been:

1. Finding a new job, or working out the “how” of starting my own.

2. Making the apartment feel as homey and comfortable as possible.

3. Exploring and trying as much as time/money allows me.

The entire time, a part of me has been incredulous- wondering how long I can make this last. Asking every day, “How long until I wake up?”

“Why should you, Matt? Why not relax and enjoy the ride?”

I’ve dreamed of driving cross-country since I was in high school. It was painted out for me in the pages of Kerouac’s “On the Road” and “Dharma Bums” and Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charlie.” 

I figured I’d get some money together, buy an old bus, rip the seats out, through in some mattresses, and grab some friends to tour the country with- like rejected extras from “Hair.”

What actually happened?Over the course of two weeks, my girlfriend and I sold/stored/gave away half of our junk, packed the rest in a trailer and the back of my Jeep, and drove a trucker route in a bee-line across the country. 15 hours on the road a day, stopping for food, gas, and sleep, and listening to Podcasts and books on tape the whole way. 

(As an aside, if you were wondering, we are both huge fans of “Welcome to Night Vale” and “The Splendid Table,” and we listened to “Skewed” by Anne McAneny. They are highly recommended.)


“Where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful…” We saw a bunch of places like that- no literal five-headed dragons though. Click to see what I’m talking about.

So now we find ourselves in Portland.

It is a food WONDERLAND. The sheer number of food outlets and variety of cuisines is absolutely mind-boggling. In the first week, I found places specializing in Szechuan, Manchurian, Mongolian, Vietnamese, Thai, Lebanese, North African, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Vegetarian, Paleo, Pita Sandwiches, generic Indian, Sushi, Ramen, Izikaya, Karage, and more.

(Interestingly, the only thing that seems to be lacking is Jewish deli and bakery.)


Nu? So there can’t be signs of life EVERYWHERE.

It is a beer and spirit paradise as well- dozens of microbreweries in the Portland area alone, and all offering (from what I’ve been able to taste so far) libations of incredible quality and variety- Rogue, Deschutes, Ninkasi, Fat Head, not to mention beers brought in from Hawaii and Asia that don’t normally make it to the East Coast. You will run out of liver before you run out of beer to try.
Culture-wise, the word of the day is PASSION. Everyone is a die-hard something or other. Artists, cooks, bakers, writers, thinkers, dreamers-everyone seems to have come to this city with the same goal: Go balls to the walls doing something they love, and either live doing it or die doing it. You can see it in the genuinely earnest faces on the bus and train (an excellent way of getting around if you lack a bike.)


This is a vehicle in Portland, and they will NOT LET YOU FORGET IT.

Yes, the hipsters run wild out here- scenesters after the next hip thing, coming to the city to be seen and pretend not to see. The city is also not entirely a paradise- there are homeless camped in parks and stoops,  and the most rampant crime is larceny (appropriately enough, bike theft.)


Pro Tip- if you steal someone’s bike out here, DON’T LET THEM FIND YOU.

To be sure though, it’s a strange and new breath of fresh air out here. The rule seems to be “have fun, but don’t be stupid- at least not dangerously so.” The locals seem to know and feel this rule by heart, and are very kind to a pair of uptight Jersey kids figuring it out.

What follows is, without exaggeration or sarcasm, honest-to-God advice I have received from locals here on how to get a job. 

So You Want To Get A Culinary Job In Portland…

1. Be tattooed. 

“Believe it or not, you are probably more likely to GET a job around here if you are tattooed, particularly in a service industry like you are. Most professional chefs around here have ink, and besides creating a link between you and helping you through the ‘getting to know you’ phase, it demonstrates passion and seriousness about your work.” – Joe, tattoo artist with a varied professional clientele.

2. Do/ Be Something Strange. 

“No lie, you want a job around here? Just show up and ask. Don’t call ahead. People around here hate paperwork- you’re more likely to get a call back if you show up, tell people you’re a baker, bring samples, and just drop a resume. Culture around here moves so fast, you do what you can so people remember you.” – Waiter at a nearby bistro.

3. No Drama.

“If you write a cover letter, don’t bother kissing ass about the company or listing your achievements- hirers sniff out lip service, and that s*^&’s in your resume. Be blunt and honest- tell people you don’t gossip, don’t do drama, and are there to do your work and leave. Honesty is refreshing.” – A local chef.

4. But Be Mannerly and Polite.

“I don’t need anyone, but I’ll tell you who might. Just show up like you did here- you look great, you sound great, and your resume is immaculate. You’ll have no trouble finding a job.” – A local chef that plugged me to her vast network of associates when I applied for a job.

That seems to be the big take-home lesson out here- Be honest, be weird, and be passionate. Do that for a month or so, and you’re as good as family.

Till next week…

Stay Weird AND Classy,

Hello Again

So, to start off with..




Yeah, a LOT has happened since I last posted- how much your life can change in the space of 30 minutes, the fulfillment of a high school dream, and leaving an old life on the other side of the country, walking into a new place with barely anything but ideas.

I’ve been in Portland for nearly 3 weeks now, and I STILL am not entirely sure how to write down everything that has happened and might happen next, but I’m damn well gonna try.

It all started with a phone call…
A while back, my girlfriend had applied for a job here in Portland. It was a very promising job, and she was a very promising candidate. We looked forward to moving, and started making some cursory plans… but then the job went to someone else.
We were both disappointed of course, but resolved to get on with our lives and make things happen our own way. My good friend Chef Joe Muldoon offered a part-time position as his dessert chef and the opportunity to write a new dessert menu, and my girlfriend took on more teaching hours.
Then, one weekend last month, we were both just about to go our separate ways and head to work. 
Then Emily saw that she had a voicemail waiting.

Oh hell….

It was the job in Portland. The candidate they picked backed out- could she be in Portland that week for training?
The next day, we gave our respective bosses two weeks notice… because to get her out here in time, that’s all we had.

Two weeks later…
We had given away, sold, or stored half of our belongings, and the rest was packed into my Jeep and a U-Haul trailer. In the wee hours of Labor Day morning, Em and I started our four-day cross country trip.


“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life” – Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Movin’ Right Along…
​A cross-country road trip had been a dream of mine since high school, when I first read Kerouac’s On The Road and The Dharma Bums. We picked a straight-shot trucking route that sent us shooting straight through the upper middle of America.

We drove roughly 15 hours a day, switching every time we had to fill the tank, and stopping only for fuel, food, and sleep. My only regret is our deadline- we didn’t really have time to stop anywhere and sightsee, although there were incredible things all the way along. Perhaps later on, if you guys are interested, I’ll write a bit more about the trip, but for an entry already running long, that’s enough.

So What’s Happening Now?

Em and I have a little apartment in southeast Portland, near the town of Beaverton.
Em works and loves her new job teaching piano, and I am still looking for employment. In the meantime, I am being Suzy Homemaker- baking, cooking, and doing household work.

Once I have gotten the hang of the city and it’s culture a bit more, I’ll write about it. I’m in no hurry though- there is a LOT to see and try.

“What’s to become of the Black Hat Bakery?” That’s another big question that has been on my mind… but I’m sure I’ll come up with an answer I- and a lot of other folks- will enjoy.

In the meantime, I’m still here. I still have stuff to talk about, and a lot more…

Stay Classy,

The Compleat Baker: Tools of the Trade Part 1-Knives and Sharps

Good evening, friends and neighbors! Sorry about the long silence- things have been in a state of upheaval for the last month, but seem to be settling down now. Miss me?

‘Course ya did. Because we’re going to talk about pointy things.

A good knife is one of the Swiss Army… well… knives of the kitchen. In the picture above, you might notice that the only actual “knives” I keep on me are paring knives, a serrated knife, and a chef’s knife. All the rest of my sharps have particular uses, but with those three kinds of knives- with some good knife skills- you could be just fine in a bakeshop without most of the others. 
Kitchen stores will be happy to sell your four-figure matching sets of 15 different kinds of knives with 18 different uses. Better to save your money and just get a few good ones.

Let’s go in order:

The Serrated Slicer
Meet an honest-to-God workhorse for your knife roll. I use this bad boy for BIG jobs- if I need to slice bread, or a whole cake, the teeth on this fella make short work of it. This is also invaluable when I need to reduce a giant slab of chocolate to shaves, or chunked chocolate to sand for smoothest-possible ganache.

The one I use is a stainless steel blade from Sani-Safe, a good commerical brand. Whatever it is you have, as long as it’s a strong blade with good sharp teeth, you’re in business.

The Chef’s Knife
Here it is- the main attraction. The ultimate multi-tasker. Chefs treat their knives like prized heirlooms, and God help you if you handle them without permission. I remember first picking this knife up- it was like a meeting with destiny.
What do I use this knife for?

  • Cutting sheets of pastry.
  • Chopping
  • Smashing
  • Pitting fruit
  • De-ribbing peppers
  • Mincing lobster
  • Slicing fruit
  • Segmenting citrus.

You get the idea.
As much as you will be using this knife, this is NOT one you want to cheap out on. Look for high-carbon steel (good and strong), full tang construction that balances well and feels good in your hand. 
This is your Old Faithful. Your sidearm. Get a good one, take care of it, and you will be giving it to you great-grandchildren one day.

The Sharpening Steel
Not a knife, per se, but necessary and worthy of a place in your knife roll. Most knife sets come with one, or you can get them separately- a long, thin spike of steel with fine ridges. Despite what you have seen in cartoons and on TV, this is NOT for sharpening your knives exactly. Sharpening should be done on a stone or a strop, if not by you then by a professional. Some knives have a warranty where you can send them back to the manufacturer for sharpening.
What running your blade along the steel does is ALIGN the edge. Look under a microscope at the edge of any blade- even a razor blade,- and you’ll see that there are ultra-fine grooves that act like a serrated blade’s teeth. Through use, these grooves can be warped or bent, slightly dulling your blade.
Using a steel properly (such as in this video) re-aligns the edge, along your knife to be as sharp as possible. 
Paring Knives
These little guys are ideal for small jobs- scraping a vanilla bean, seeding a pepper, etc. They are also most likely the knives you will lose track of the easiest. Paring knives, in general, are cheap and you can get a decent one for very little cash. They come in various sizes, shapes, weights, colors- some specialized for different jobs, and others more versatile. Don’t sweat these too much.

Special Tools
There are some jobs in the bake shop that can’t be done by your actual knives. Others CAN be done, but these will just make it easier. We’ll just breeze through these real quick, top to bottom:

  • Rotary Cutter (a.k.a. pizza wheel) Ideal for cutting through sheets of dough for making lattice work, or petit fours. You can get them straight, or in a crinkly-shape especially for pastry- whichever you like. Generally pretty cheap.
  • Pocket Scissors- Because sometimes you need to cut something and only have one hand free. Just make sure they are sharp, easy to clean, and fit in your box.
  • Razor Blades- For cutting vents in pies or trimming crust, even your sharpest knife can drag and tear the dough. For the cleanest cut possible, use razor blades. Don’t saw at the dough with them- just push them in and along for a perfectly clean slice. Absurdly cheap- get them in the grooming section of your drug store or supermarket.
  •  Microplane Zester– For zesting or fine grating, you need one of these guys. Other companies make similar graters, but in my opinion Microplane are the sharpest and best. Just keep them clean! Should run you no more than $15.
  • Box Cutter- Whether it’s slicing open packaging or removing your piping tip from a disposable bag, the heavy-duty razor of a boxcutter is incredibly useful. Find one you like at the hardware or home improvement store near you.
  • Sharpening Stone– The one I have is a portable one of steel with two grains to it, coarse and fine. This is for quicky sharpening jobs. You can get one of these, or actual sharpening stones and honing oil if you have the space and desire. If you don’t feel comfortable working on your knives, take them to a professional sharpener.

Before we wrap things up, just a few words of wisdom to take with you into the kitchen-

  1. KEEP YOUR BLADES SHARP. A sharp blade is easier to control and will cut into what you want it to cut. A dull blade can skip and slide, making you use more force- which can lead to slicing YOURSELF up.
  2. KEEP YOUR BLADES CLEAN. Beyond sanitation reasons, keeping your knives clean improves their function so cuts are cleaner and food is less likely to stick.
  3. RESPECT THE BLADES. These are your tools- they let you do your job. Treat them with respect, and don’t let others fool around or mishandle them.

By the same token, DO NOT TOUCH ANOTHER CHEFS KNIVES WITHOUT PERMISSION. Seriously, professional chefs are REALLY friggin’ territorial about their tools. In the immortal words of Anthony Bourdain: 

Next week, we move on to the next two groups of tools- Mixers and Movers, and Dough Management. As always- and despite the language in that last graphic-

Stay Classy,

The Compleat Baker: An Introduction to the Tools of the Trade

     Good evening, friends and neighbors!

     Recently, I was talking to my older sister. She bakes occasionally and enjoys cooking at home for herself and her fiancée. Unfortunately, the kitchen in their apartment is extremely small, so space is at a premium. My sister is constantly on the lookout for ways to save or creatively use space, or simply pare down the amount of stuff in her kitchen. 

     “I’d bake more,” she said, “but I really don’t have room for all the stuff you would need!”

     Thus she echoes yet another fear that keeps the hungry and curious from taking up home-baking- what equipment to get? What tools? How do I find the best ones? What’s necessary, what’s not?

    I’ve been baking since I was 10, and professionally for nearly 4 years now. This still qualifies me as a bit of a rookie in the grand scheme of things, but there is one thing I have learned: you can find yourself getting a LOT of stuff.


Baking is not *quite* this bad…

     So for the next few entries, I’ve combed through all the cookware and equipment available and tried to boil it down to the absolute essentials- and any good culinarian can tell you exactly what that is.

The Toolbox.

    This is my toolbox. It’s a typical, medium-sized, Stanley box with a removable tray and two compartments in the the lid. This box and my knife roll (on top) hold virtually every tool I need to do my job.


Yes, I HAD to shoot it in Panorama mode…

     For these Tools of the Trade entries, I’ll be focusing almost entirely on the contents of the box. (Believe me, that’s enough!) There is equipment that the home baker will need that obviously can’t be carried around- large rolling pins, sheet pans, bakeware, etc. Those will be for future entries. Here, I am talking entirely about tools- what a baker should have with them in an already appropriately stocked kitchen.
    Please also be aware that what is necessary for you and your work may not be the same as what I have here. Your needs will also likely change over time. This is my third tool box- over the course of my career, my toolbox has expanded to allow more of the tools I needed. Some of my chefs in school had rolling hardware chests, and even my coworkers have toolboxes three times the size of mine. 

“Shoot… now which drawer was the zester in?”

What you have will be defined by:
A. What you are doing now.
B. What you want to do.

So don’t go overboard.

Caveats out of the way? Good?



     To make things a little less complicated (and to keep me from having to do an entry about every single item,) the tools are lumped together in several categories:

  1. Sharps and Blades (knives, cutting/shredding things)
  2. Mixers and Movers (tools for mixing or transferring product)
  3. Dough and Batter Management (tools for manipulating, smoothing, or handling product)
  4. Measuring 
  5. Decorating (tools for decoration and/or precision work)
  6. Essentials and Oddballs (miscellaneous)

     Hopefully, at the end of this series, you’ll have an idea of the kind of tools you’ll need to do the baking you want to do. 

    Remember: mise en place. Cleanliness and order isn’t just about the kitchen, or just about food- it’s about having the right tools, for the right jobs, in the right places, in every part of your life.

    In the next entry, we’ll start with a topic near and dear to EVERY chefs (and old Boy Scouts) heart- Knives and Sharps.

Till then…

Stay Classy,