The Hunting of the Job: An Agony in 30 Fits

When I was a kid, a “job” was whatever my chores were- usually things to be bartered, swapped, argued over with, and foisted of on me and my sisters. “Work” was the thing that Dad did for most of every day- or a nebulous and vile entity that tended to call him at irritating hours.
“I have to go to work, Matt- school is YOUR work. Make sure it gets done.”
Picture

“Yes, Dad….”

Right now, I am in the longest stretch I have ever gone without work, and I would give almost anything to bitch about a case of the Mondays again.

The last time I was jobless, the Black Hat Bakery was born, based on what I then called “The MacGuyver Priniciple.”

The MacGuyver Principle“If you need something, and you don’t have it, can’t find it, or get it, get started making it.”

This tied in nicely with another cozy saying:

“If Necessity is the mother of Invention, Desperation is the mafioso godfather.”

There are any number of websites and articles out there that will give you tips on job hunting- interviews, your resume, negotiating a salary, and so on. I have been burning through them in my maddening search for employment, and trying every shred of advice people have offered me.

In the end, the decision of whether or not someone hires you is NOT in your control. All you can do is present yourself in such a way that they MIGHT want to.

Here, so far, are what I have learned in going to 6 interviews, 4 working interviews, and firing off an average of 8 applications a week since I have arrived in Portland.

So You REALLY Want A Job In Portland…

1. Don’t be like everyone else- including not being like everyone else.
One of the first pieces of advice I got on coming to Portland was to make myself memorable to interviewers- dressing uniquely, bringing samples of work, etc. This works great… unless everyone else is dressing weird and being crazy too. Eventually, I realized- this was Portland. I was from NEW JERSEY. So I put on my best suit, carefully picked out a tie, carried 3 copies of my resume to each interview in a briefcase, and looked every interviewer in the eye with a smile and firm handshake.
You can be as weird as you want- and sometimes the weirdest thing you can be is a professional.
Picture

Granted, a guy from Jersey showing up in a suit can have mixed messages…

2. Respect time- theirs, AND yours.
When I worked at a Scout camp in Barnegat, I was taught a simple rule about respecting time- “If you are 15 minutes early, you are on time. If you are on time, you are late. If you are late, you’re screwed.”
Hiring someone new is extremely costly- not just in time spent training, but in time spent interviewing and getting back to candidates that could be used more productively. Always respect your interviewers time, and come early.
By the same token, do not devalue YOUR time. If you want to be treated like a professional, BE one. Apparently, out here in Portland, it is common for employers to interview people and simply never get back in contact with them if they don’t wish to hire them. Anyone who has been on a job hunt knows that a job seeker is applying to many places at once, and crucial decisions may hinge on feedback from employers. Do not tolerate people that disrespect you or your time.
Picture

Seriously, it’s just common friggin’ decency…

3. Job hunting IS a job.
Yes, the pay sucks, but make no mistake about it. I am firing off resumes to jobs daily. I am searching my email for replies, filling my schedule around interviews and stages, and baking regularly to keep my skills up. That is DEFINTELY work. Don’t get down on yourself- if you’re trying to find work, you’re not a bum. You’re WORKING.
If you figure out how to remind yourself of this at all times, tell me how. My girlfriend will thank you.
4. Take time off now and again.
Like every job, sometimes you need time off. As my friend Karen said, “Life is a balance between making it happen and letting it happen.” Many aspects of this process are not in your control. Remember to take some time to NOT think about it. Read books that have been sitting on your shelf for ages. Watch movies you’ve been putting off forever because you had to be up in the morning. Take up new hobbies or challenges that working kept you away from before. Don’t be a slacker, but don’t be a workaholic either.
One of the best things you can do is learn new skills or refine old ones- you never know what a future employer might find useful.

Picture

Yeah, THIS ain’t happening once I get 4 AM shifts again…

5. Reach Out To EVERYONE.
Don’t shy away from talking to people or introducing yourself to anyone. You never know who might know somebody who knows somebody who might need someone like you. Just one personal connection can carry more weight with an employer than any CV you’d care to write.
Take advantage of any groups or connections you might have- religious groups, civic organizations, social clubs, whatever. The more eyes and ears you have looking out for you in the job market, the better- even more so if one of them can slip your resume to the top of the pile on someone’s desk.

Picture

That dude you met at the coffee shop with the pizza-baking brother? CALL HIM.

Good luck to all you job-seekers out there. I’ll advise you all of my progress as well- truly I am a stranger in a strange land, but I’m slowly grokking the area.

Stay Classy,

P.S.- Bonus points to everyone that got that last bit.

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.

Picture

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.

Picture

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.)

Picture

“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.)

Picture

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.)

Picture

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.)

Picture

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..

I’M IN PORTLAND!

Picture

From rantslifestyle.com

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.
Picture

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.

Picture

“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,
BHB

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.

Picture

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.

Picture

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. 
Picture

“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?

Picture

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,

How’s It Work?- Meringue

     Good evening, friends and neighbors!
I figure it’s been a while since I’ve talked a bit about kitchen science. One of the things that seems to really discourage people from baking at home is the precise nature of it- the chemistry and math involved in particular.
    So every now and again, I’m going to do an entry on the scientific and practical aspects of some part of baking. Perhaps it’ll be a process, perhaps it’ll be a product… whatever you all would like!
    Along the way, I’ll also include some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way to help you along with your own baking ideas- because knowledge is fun, but it’s better if you can use it to make something that’ll go in your face.
Picture

Homf homf homf Science is tasty!

Picture

Peppermint Meringue Cookies from SimplyRecipes.com

    Let’s kick things off with one of the lightest, fluffiest, most enticing elements of baking- something that conjures up soft, marshmallowy clouds floating on pies. 

Meringue.

“Oooooh…. what is it?”
    In brief, meringue is egg whites that have had sugar and air whipped into them, turning them into a light fluffy substance with a number of uses. Meringues are used in making mousse, some buttercream frostings, and some cakes. It can also be baked in dollops in a very low oven to make tasty sweets, blended with gelatin or other stabilzers to make marshmallows and divinity candy, or piped out to make macarons or dacquois layers.

“How does it work?”
   
Everyone knows that eggs are a great source of protein. Most of that protein exists in the white of the egg. The yolk has SOME protein, but mostly it contains the fats and cholesterol of the egg. Yolks have their own splendid uses and features, but that’s for another entry.
    When you whip egg whites, the violent tearing caused by the beater (a.k.a. “mechanical shear”) makes the proteins in the egg whites denature, or stretch out and change shape. As they do so, air gets trapped in the bubbles of the stretched whites, creating a foam. Allowed to do so for a length of time, more air will be trapped, and the foam will grow lighter and finer. If you remember blowing bubbles in your milk as a kid, you’ve seen this in action.

     Milk, however, is mostly water and also contains milk fat, so the bubbles would eventually pop. Egg whites, however, have far more protein and very little fat, so the bubbles stay and become foam.

     Sugar is always added in one form or another to meringue. The sugar has two jobs- 1. Bond with water molecules and keep them in the meringue, letting it stay moist enough to keep form, and 2. To sweeten.
Since sugar substitutes don’t behave chemically QUITE like sugar, it’s not wise to use them in trying to make meringue.

    There are a number of ways for adding the sugar to your egg whites and creating a meringue- each method creating noticeably different results, and ideal for different purposes.

French meringue is the most common one in home kitchens. As the whites are whipped, granulated sugar is slowly added into the cold whites and is allowed to dissolve in. This is also the most fragile type of meringue, and if it is not to be included in a recipe before baking, it must be served raw. By folding ultra-fine almond flour and confectioners sugar into the meringue, you get the batter for the recently-insanely-popular French Macarons

Picture

You know, these dainty and delicious little buggers?

Italian meringue has its sugar added in the form of a boiling sugar syrup while the whites are whipping. This is a more difficult process, but not very. The result is a thick, shiny, smooth meringue that is sometimes used for mousse, Italian buttercream, and some cookies. Since boiling hot sugar is being added and the whites are essentially being cooked, Italian meringue can be left uncooked. This is also the favorite meringue for topping pies. This is also the meringue preferred for spreading into sheets and making thin, crispy dacquois layers.
Picture

Hazelnut Dacquoise, pic from bbc.co.uk

Lastly, the Swiss meringue. To make a Swiss meringue, the whites are VERY carefully warmed over a double boiler, and the sugar is dissolved into it by whisking, and then is whipped till cool. The result is a very stable, shiny, marshmallow material that is ideal for making Swiss buttercream.

That’s about all for meringue right now- any questions? Comments? Want me to cover something in the next post? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me a message at the BHB Facebook page or Twitter! You ARE following me, aren’t you?

Stay Classy,
P.S.

Hey- what’s the point of learning about meringue if you don’t get to practice?? I’ve got the perfect recipe in mind….

French Macarons
Yield: about 64 half-dollar sized wafers, enough to make 32 sandwiches.

Ingredients
3 egg whites (large eggs)
1/4 c sugar
1 2/3 c confectioners (10x) sugar
1 c almond flour (as finely ground as possible. Seriously, run it through a food processor if you need to.)
Flavoring (preferably water/alcohol based. No flavoring oils!)

Equipment
Stand mixer with whip attachment (or a whisk and a couple strong arms)
Mixing bowl
Rubber scraper
Fine sifter
Cookie sheet
SILPAT baking sheet (you can TRY using parchment, but Silpat works best.)
Piping bag with a #8 round tip

1. Sift the confectioners sugar and almond flour together. If there are any stubborn particles, discard them or rub them through.

2. In the CLEAN mixing bowl (wiped out with a little lemon juice), and using the equally clean whip, whip the white until JUST foamy. Slowly add the 1/4 c sugar, and then whip to soft peaks.

3. Add the almond sugar mix to the meringue, and fold it in, quickly but lightly. Folding is exactly what it sounds like. Using your rubber scraper, bring whats on bottom of the bowl to the top, and keep going. You don’t want to pummel TOO much air out of your merengue- just enough to make it smooth. Here is where you would fold in your flavoring too. You’re going to fold about 30-40 times.

4. Fit your tip into your piping bag, and fill with the batter. You’ll know your batter is the right texture if you pipe a little bit out and it makes a peak that soon spreads and flattens. Lay out your Silpat on your cookie sheet, and pipe out half-dollar sized dollops.  Let these sit at room temperature for an hour. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 285 F (140 C). 


5. Once the macarons have sat, bake them for 10 minutes or so, till they have raised slightly and lost their shine, but are NOT browned. Remove from the oven, and wait for them to cool COMPLETELY before peeling off the Silpat. Sandwich them with a bit of your favorite buttercream and enjoy! Keep them in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days or so.



Enjoy!


-BHB

Nothing Lucky About It

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

This last week has been exciting and stressful for me on a number of different levels- personal and professional, across both my day job and the BHB. It gets so easy sometimes to get “lost in the noise-” become so overwhelmed that you feel like your are doing everything, when you are really doing nothing. Nothing, at least, toward what you really want to do.

Especially during times like this, it’s tempting to want to compare yourself to others. It’s easier to give in to envy and anger and self-doubt than to confront your challenges sometimes.

Picture

Or smash your head into a hard surface. That too.

Recently, I’ve been able to pull out of a bit of a slump.

First though, we’re going to talk about my friend Carrie.

Carrie is a friend of mine and another baker who graduated culinary school about the same time I did. She is an extremely gifted baker and cake decorator. One of the teachers at the school put in a recommendation for her to work at a well-known local cake studio. She did extremely well, and through another teacher, she is now spending her second spring and summer working in a restaurant in the French Alps, and is currently vacationing in Spain.

Carrie is a good friend of mine. She leaves my decorating skills in the dust.

She works in a fascinating place that I have never been to, surrounded by natural splendor, loves the people she works with, and the work she does.
I envy the HELL out of her.

For someone like Carrie, it’s easy to look at her accomplishments, grumble, kick the dirt and mutter that she got a bunch of lucky breaks. She knew her teachers, her teachers knew the right people, they got her an in, etcetera.

This kind of thinking does Carrie, and talented people like her, a MASSIVE disservice. What’s more, it demonstrates an incredible consequence of comparing yourself to others- defeatism.

The old saying goes that “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” It’s not so much how the coin lands for you, it’s being ready to do what’s needed to make EITHER way the coin lands work out best for you- and that takes skill, planning, dedication, and hard work. 

Yes, Carrie DID get in her current position through a string of connections. Untold, however, is that Carrie:

– worked several years in a restaurant.
– worked very hard at culinary school, demonstrating impressive skill and knowledge that earned the admiration of her teachers and fellow students.
– showed enough character and determination that her teachers felt that a recommendation for her would not reflect badly on them.
– worked/works long and hard at these jobs to demonstrate that their faith is not unfounded, and making her an asset to her employers.
– made numerous sacrifices and hard decisions in all aspects of her life.


To write all of that off and just say she was “lucky” is insulting and, frankly, bullshit. Carrie was prepared, so when the opportunities came, she could reach out and seize them. She earned what she got.

In comparing ourselves against others, we rarely take into account everything a person has done that we HAVEN’T seen, or isn’t obvious. You can’t know the stories and motives behind every persons life.

Which is why it’s vital, if you are going to succeed in anything, DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF.
You have to follow your own plan and your own motives.
You have to make your own luck.

As I said before, I’ve been having a tough week. Thoughts and worries about how to move my career forward, how to build and improve on the BHB, what my next steps should be, and so on whizzed around my head like angry hornets.
Plenty of friends, family, and other well-meaning folks offered advice, suggestions, resources, connections, and more, but all of it seemed to be help for Step 3, 4, 5,7, and 12 when I wasn’t even sure what Step 1 should be.

I was lost in the noise and burying myself in daily minutiae, stagnating.

I compared myself to other apparently successful people, grumbling and envious.

Then, one night, after a talk with my girlfriend, I realized what my problem was-

Mise en place.

I may or may not have covered this before, but “mise en place” is French for “everything in place.” In the kitchen, it is having all of your ingredients right in front of you, in the forms you need them, in the ORDER you need them, before you even think of mixing anything together.
Mise en place is the motto, the creed, and religion of the kitchen.

The mise en place for my life was utter crap.
I didn’t know what Step 1 should be because I HAD no steps. Everything seemed so monumental and difficult, because I was looking at it as ONE BIG HONKING THING.

I looked up, saw the whizzing thoughts and worries around my head, and made them line them. I put them in priority order, and just looked at one thing at a time.

You know- some of the decisions I’ll be making still look really damn worrying and scary, but they are a scary I can manage now.

Once you organize yourself and break things down, things rarely look quite so confused and nerve-wracking as they do at first.

As another old saying goes, “When the ‘why’ is clear, the ‘how’ is easy.”

Stay clear, and 

Stay Classy,