Hands That Feed- Culinary Charity, and What You Can Do

Good morning, friends and neighbors.

Since the first time I heard it in the retrospectively-awful-yet-beloved Rankin-Bass animation of The Hobbit, this has been one of my favorite quotes in all of literature.

As Thorin, the Dwarven King, lies dying of wounds he sustained in a battle started in part by his own greed and bitterness, he speaks his last words to Bilbo Baggins are:

“Child of the Kindly West… if more of us valued your ways- food and cheer and song above hoarded gold- it would be a merrier world. Sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell.”

 

Whenever things get a bit too dark and heavy in this world, I try to remember that, and I try to do whatever I can to hold back the darkness a little longer.

I write some nice stories. I bake some pastries, and make people smile… and I thank Heaven that there are people in this world with the means and desire to do more than that.

Today is about them.

A quote from J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit

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Discussion Post #1- “TWO COOKS ENTER, ONE COOK LEAVES!”

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!
Today I figured I’d introduce something a little more interesting than my usual posts- I want to put a question to you, and find out what YOU think! Every now and again, I’ll set up a conversation and ask all of you to tell me what you think in the comments. I won’t put in too much, but I will be reading, so no matter what STAY CLASSY and keep it respectful, alright?

Let’s start with an easy one….

     Afternoon, all! Have you seen the latest episode of Chopped? How about Master Chef? Hell’s Kitchen? Top Chef? The Great British Baking Challenge?

     Neither have I, and I don’t intend to.
No judgement on you if you do, of course- you do you. To my mind, though, they just do not interest me, or represent the culinary world as I like to see it.

     When I was a kid, the only cooking competition show I ever watched with any fervor was the original Iron Chef, dubbed for American audiences from the Japanese. I loved seeing the crazy ideas that a genius could whip up under pressure, given the barest hints of what the secret ingredient would be, a team of cooks and stocked pantry to make it happen.

     Since becoming a professional cook though- and even while I was a student, when you think someone in my position would be watching religiously and taking notes- shows that have tried to follow in its footsteps simply don’t impress or thrill me anymore. While I allow there is still something exciting about watching cooks MacGuyver fine food under pressure, to me it feels like these shows take something I love and think about often and turn it in to a gladiatorial bloodsport.

In January of last year, acclaimed chefs Alice Waters and Jacques Pepin- the latter of whom has a unique place in the history of food television- echoed my sentiments very well.

“That’s not what’s cooking is all about,” Pepin told reporters at the Television Critics Association Press Tour. “Cooking is about being together, about love and sharing … That kind of confrontation that you have there is not really how you learn to cook, or how you understand food.”
Waters is in total agreement.
“We’re teaching fast-food values of our country in those competition cooking shows,” she said. “Cooking really is something that can be very meditative. It’s never about competition. It’s about the pleasure of dealing with real food and learning about yourself. … It can be empowering. To put that in competition really takes away from the essence of cooking.”

Do you watch any of these cooking competition shows? 
If so, which ones and why? 
Do you think they have value beyond just being spectacle?
Do you think they are a boon, or a burden, to the culinary world?Other famous personalities in food, like Anthony Bourdain and Bobby Flay, also have less-than-salutory thoughts on the subject. At one point, Bobby Flay decried some of his experiences doing his one-on-one competition show “Throwdown,” saying that he “…didn’t exactly enjoy showing up in the yard of someone’s grandma and acting like he could make a better meatloaf than her.” 

While I appreciate how much of it is spectacle- that competitors are chosen as much for how they’ll seem on camera as how they might do in competition, that judges are encouraged to be simultaneous honest and brutal to elicit as much drama as possible, and Gordon Ramsay’s shrieking sailor’s mouth is just an act- I feel like it’s all unnecessary and even degrading. Are we as a culture so competition-happy, so victory-drunk, that we need to see people sweat and bleed and possibly be humiliated over FOOD- for our amusement?

Discuss:
Do you watch any of these cooking competition shows?
If so, which ones and why?
Do you think they have value beyond just being spectacle?
Do you think they are a boon, or a burden, to the culinary world? Why?

Stay Classy,

Review #11- The Tannery Bar



​Fall in Portland is a bit schizophrenic.

 

Emily and I were hoofing it against the stiff breeze down Burnside, still trying to reconcile the warm weather earlier in the day with the fact that we were both now scarved, gloved, and double-coated. Darkened windows of houses and apartments leered in from opposite sides of the busy road- there was a threat of rain.

“So what are we going here to try?” Emily suddenly pipes up, her hands deep in her coat pockets.

“I was told they have a Fernet-Branca Chocolate Pie, and there are interested parties that want to make it for themselves,” I state matter-of-factly.

“Adam and Nancy, huh?”

“… Yes.”

Emily chuckles. “Well, I hope they have more than chocolate pie here, I’m friggin STARVING.”

“I hope they have friggin’ seats that AREN’T outside…. oh good, doesn’t look too busy.” We hustled inside the Tannery Bar and left the wind outside.

Tannery Bar is pretty easy to miss. A tiny, windowless building except for the front, and directly across from a supermarket and small shopping plaza. The exterior is extremely minimal, with a few uncovered outdoor tables for smokers, people-watchers, and folks with warm coats. Inside, however, we were greeted with an air of warm, unpretentious rustica.

 

​The restaurant is long and shallow, with a small open kitchen behind the bar and long tables of communal seating. There are a few stools at the window where no one in their right mind would sit- simply because it puts you right in the way of passing patrons and servers.

Emily and I get seats at the far-end of a table, underneath antique tools and oil lamps. My back is to the main thoroughfare, so I try to sit as close to the table as possible- I’m keenly aware that not everyone is used to saying “Behind!” when they are slipping past someone, and as wonderful as the kitchen smells, I’d rather not be wearing anything from it.

The menus land, and the first order of the night is drinks. The cocktail menu is fairly straight-forward- mostly house riffs on old standards. There’s a Dark and Stormy featuring blackstrap rum and orgeat… a White Russian featuring orgeat, housemade coffee liquor, and dusted nutmeg…at least three different kinds of Old Fashioned. They are VERY proud of their orgeat, apparently. In the end, Emily chooses a “Jessie’s Girl”, and I decide to play it straight with one of their “shot and a beer” combos, the “Rebel Rebel” (now apparently called “The Bowie”)- a bottle of Rebel Czech lager and a shot of Rebel Yell Reserve Bourbon.
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Decent drink
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Best wifey.
Next, food. Most of the menu items are definitely meant to go with your drinks, and- like the cocktails- are thoughtfully-executed iterations of pub standards, like their fried Brussels sprouts with Cholula aioli, cheese board, and Tannery fries. Emily selects the Hangar Steak, medium rare, and I go for the Tannery Burger- an eye-catching little monster of locally-sourced beef wrapped in goat cheese, topped with bacon and caramelized onions. To lead off, though- a pretzel.
Not just any pretzel, though- a FRESSEN pretzel
Fressen is a local bakery that specializes in old world German baking.
My colleague Victoria spent several years working for them, including twisting such pretzels as these, following recipes that had to be updated to remove certain classic ingredients- like lye. One day, while we were discussing tattoos, she revealed that she’d decided her first tattoo would be the first baked good she’d made one thousand off. Consequently, there is a soft pretzel somewhere on her body- I did not feel it was professional to ask where.
All of this is to say that, these pretzels are GOOD. The people who make them have a long history of making good pretzels, and Tannery has chosen to serve them up warm with malted mustard butter and dijon. 

Emily and I have lived near Philadelphia most of our lives. We KNOW something about soft pretzels, and… my God, YES. After the first bite, we fall upon that curvaceous little wonder like a two-person plague of locusts.

Shortly after the vacated plate is removed, our entrees land- both Emily’s steak and my burger are accompanied by a small escort of the handcut fries and the house salad. The salad is a simple, but pretty little number- dolled up with hemp seed, sprouted almonds, shaved parmesan, and poppyseed cider vinegarette.

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No, I am STILL NOT with the whole ketchup-and-mayo thing out here. They can call it aioli or whatever- it’s mayo, and it does NOT belong with my ketchup, thank you.
Now, Emily and I are practically obligate carnivores- I make no apologies. We both are also ridiculously fond of fries in all their expressions, Emily especially.
The salad went first- for BOTH of us.

This is not to say the burger and the steak weren’t excellent- they absolutely were. My burger flowed with the mingled juices of onion and tender beef on a grilled brioche bun, and Emily’s steak was grilled to perfection. Something about that salad, though, made it positively addictive. Tart. Crunchy. Tangy. Sweet. Salty. It was all there, and all ours.The entrees evaporated quickly, and we were ready to finally achieve our stated goal- an analysis of the Fernet Branca Chocolate Pie.
They were out. The chef only makes so many a day, and it had been 86’d.

Disappointment would be an understatement.

As we donned our coats and prepared to slip back out into the windy night, Emily happened to catch a glance at someone’s menu.
“Hey, you know they do brunch?”
“Huh… well, I guess we’re doing that next.”
​“Possibly a good idea.”
__________________

[A week later, Saturday morning.]

I was never a big “brunch” person. Brunch was a thing for Sundays, Mother’s Day, and people who slept late enough to want their breakfast at 11am- so just the experience of walking back down Burnside toward Tannery was fairy odd. I had looked over the menu, however- and I was told there would be waffles. From my first Eggo to the finest Belgian- I am a round-heeled, loose-walleted pushover for waffles.

If the nightlife at Tannery was a little busy, brunch was pandemonium. Above the din of voices and clattering dishware, a waitress tells us we can sit at the bar or grab seats all the way at the far end of the last table, where a couple had vacated just minutes before and had yet to be cleaned down. Given the choice between a face full of busy kitchen or looking at a couple of crumbs for a few minutes, Emily and I decide not to be picky.
The menus land, almost unnecessarily. Emily gets a gussied-up Irish coffee called “Muddy Waters,” I get a Bloody Maria (a Bloody Mary made with tequila instead of vodka), and we make our selections.

We had looked over the menu- and we wanted waffles.
Emily went for the Morricone- a dainty little waffle topped up with mascarpone, Lomo ham, argula, a poached egg, and an apricot grappa glaze. I decide to just rub my face right into the stereotype and go for the Timberline- a waffle served up with country fried steak, a fried egg, homefries, and smothered in sausage gravy.
As you may expect, there were no survivors. Emily’s Morricone was sweet, luscious, and complex- and mine was the beautiful mess of meat, starch, and gravy that I rarely indulge in but always have a spot in my heart for- usually the small space NOT occluded by fat deposits after such repasts.
Again, the Fernet Branca pie was raised… but we decided it must wait for another time. Both of us had had quite enough, and I didn’t need MORE in my gut to waddle uphill back home with.
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I REGRET NOTHING

Three weeks later, Tuesday evening.

The post-shift. A long day of work, a long walk home, and I’m on my own. This review had waited QUITE long enough. It was time to get the last piece of the puzzle that is Tannery. I’d had their dinner. I’d survived their brunch. The goal post was now in sight as I unbuttoned my wool coat in the door.


“Hi there- just me tonight, and… do you have the pie?”
“Let me check…. Yep! We got some!”

“… A piece of that and a White Russian, please.”

​ It’s distinctly more calm in the dining room on a Tuesday evening. Only two people manning the tiny kitchen, and a single server pulling triple-duty as waitress, bartender, and hostess. I slip into the nearest stool at the bar and watch the cook casually peel potatoes and stir a pot of chili. The waitress buzzes about, and I wait for my cocktail and pie.

The White Russian is quite good. I don’t blame them for talking up their homemade liquors, but I could have easily missed the orgeat if I’m honest. The crafting of the White Russian is beautiful- the cream floats on up in a slash broken only by the occasional ice cube, implying “Some small amount of assembly required.”
At last- three weeks after Emily and I walked through the door for the first time, I finally get a piece of the Fernet Branca Chocolate Pie. It is velvety brown, dusted with powdered sugar, and topped with a loose glob of chantilly cream.
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It’s not bad.
A very nicely-done chocolate mousse pie on a cookie crust. The herbal bitterness of the fernet riffs on the inherent bitterness of the dark chocolate, and almost balanced by the sweetness of everything else. The texture is cold, smooth, and creamy, melting into a chocolatey goo with every bite. I finish it off with the last traces of my White Russian.
Chocolate pie may just not be my thing.
At least I can finish the review now.

 

WHEN: Dinner hours are Mon- Sat, 4p to 1a. Brunch is on weekends from 9a to 2p. HOW: Just swing in.
WHY: Because you need a casual, not-too-swanky place with great food for a date night. Or you really want a hell of a good brunch. May the odds be ever in your favor.

What We Give, for What We Get

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

About a year ago this past December, I got my first tattoo.

The Bible passage it references is especially poignant to me, and seemed appropriate for that particular moment in my life:

“The Lord said to Moses, “Take the rod in your hand, that you may work my wonders.” And Moses came down from the mountain and spoke to his father-in-law, Jethro. He said, “Let me take my family and return to Egypt, for I have been gone many years and I do not know if they are dead or alive.” And Jethro said, “Go in peace.” And so Moses packed his family on a camel and returned to Egypt, and in his hand he carried the staff of God.” – Exodus 4:17 – 20

When I got this tattoo, I could not help but feel I was on a parallel path to Moses. Moses was uprooting everything that had become his life and turning toward what he now knew his destiny to be. I had just recently left everything I knew and loved in New Jersey to make a fresh start with Emily in Portland. I remembered reading the preceding conversation between Moses and God through the burning bush, seeing metaphors for the challenges faced by those who make such a choice, and behind all of it the lesson that talent is a divine gift, and it is incumbent on people to master their talents and use them to better the world.
I could get absurdly Talmudic right now about the specific metaphors in the moment, but that would be another entry in its own right.

Being in the middle of Passover- the Jewish festival celebrating the Exodus from Egypt- I find myself looking at the tattoo and the messages I etched into it with fresh reflection.
Certainly leading the Hebrews to freedom wasn’t a walk in the park for Moses- certainly seeking the freedom to explore and develop my talents in Portland has been more than a little trying for me.
I wonder, though- did Moses, like me, ever have days where he wondered if it was worth it?

——————–
At this point, you can probably pick your cultural reference. From the anime Fullmetal Alchemist:

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… though it doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg.

…or Marvel comics…
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Peter Parker’s left eye just spontaneously twitched.

This is well-covered road. Hell, just writing about this is probably cementing my hack status as a writer.

Even so, it’s a question I’m not sure is fully examined. Especially in America, the notion of “freedom” is enshrined. It is the paramount motivation- worth any and everything. It is worth killing for and dying for. It is the end that justifies all means.
Then… what are those means? If (per Fullmetal Alchemist) something of equal value must be lost in order to gain- what do we really give up for freedom? What mountain do we give up in order to reach the summit of another?

For myself, moving cross-country cost quite a bit. I was out of the reach of most of my support systems- networks of friends and associates who had historically treated me well.
In moving, I essentially gave up the reputation and goodwill I had built in New Jersey, and now needed to start from scratch- making a name for myself all over again, as a stranger in a strange land.
I gave up easy access to communities I knew and felt a part of, and now had to find new ones.

In essence, like Moses, I had to turn my back on much that had made up and defined my life and now had to find something new elsewhere- all in exchange for the freedom to do exactly that: remake myself and my life however I saw fit, without the reliances and input of others.

As Moses led the cranky, bitchy Israelites through the desert for 40 years, and as I sit after a 2000 mile uprooting of my life and 10 month stretch of unemployment- we both might wonder, “Maybe this wasn’t so smart after all?”
“Was it worth it? WILL this be worth it?”

“Yes. Yes, I think so.”

While I could not have predicted the specifics about what life out here would entail, I knew it would be different, challenging, and risky. In a lot of ways, I knew what I was signing on for- in exchange for a chance to live somewhere new, try something else, and build a new kind of life, I was ready to give up much.

In exchange for the freedom to make more choices, I gave up some freedom to make bad ones- everything will have greater consequences.
In exchange for the ability to decide for myself, I gave up a certain amount of peace of mind. Adventure and exploration, in exchange for comfort and security.

In exchange for perfect freedom, perhaps what we give up is the ability to be happy with anything less.

From the top of a hill, looking out over the people he had been sent to lead, watching them pitch their tents and set up their Tabernacle, Moses knew they could be sinful and cranky. He knew they could be violent and disobedient.
That was their right, though- they were free.
Besides, Moses had taken the staff in his hand.

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“With this staff, you shall do my wonders”

Stay Classy,

The Bakeshop OST

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

It’s been a while since I’ve made any kind of list- certainly for music.
Lately, however, music has been talking to me more and more. At the cafe, we tend to subsist on a Pandora or Rhapsody channel of 80’s alternative, punk, or glam rock- and the tone and vibe of the bakery seems to change to match. You really wouldn’t have thought that David Bowie could be background noise for shredding zucchini or weighing flour- but it does. Irish punk fits the bill too.
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What? I get really intense about my zucchini shredding…

Beyond that, though, I have found that at different times and situations, I REALLY need to hear ONE particular song or another- to elicit an emotion, or give vent to my own. Rather than do a typical “Top 10 Baking Songs” list, then, I decided to do a list of ONLY #1’s- but in their specific scenarios. More like a soundtrack than a top ten- if someone was to make a movie about a day in a baker’s life.

So here we go-

The Bakeshop OST

1. Wagon Wheel- Old Crow Medicine Show

These first few are something of a multiple choice. This one is for when you wake up in morning, step out of the shower, and start planning the day into your mirror. You’ve got an idea for what needs to be done, and move through one routine with your body- shave, teeth, wash- while your brain goes through another, casually accepting the life you live.
2. “It’s My Job”- Jimmy Buffett

Some days, you’re just not feeling it. You wake up in the dark, you hate the thought of having to go to work, but you get up anyway because this is what you signed on for and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a resignation to fate, so much as a recognition that there is reason and worth to what you do.
3. “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”- Eli Young Band

These are the days you REALLY aren’t feeling it. You wake up, feel as though you didn’t sleep, hate everything, wonder WHY you signed on for this… and then you get up and do it anyway, out of a stubborn refusal to let it beat you, or grind you under.
4. “Blitzkrieg Bop”- The Ramones

However you woke up and got out of bed, you did it. You’ve had your breakfast and caffeine. You are dressed, cleaned, ready, and walking in to work. You’ve got your plan in your head, and it’s time to strap on you apron and kick it all off. Checking the supply situation, your production list (that’s going to double by the end of the day), and how everything up front came out. It’s time to kick some ass.
5. “Let It Rock”- Kevin Rudolf feat. Lil Wayne

You’re on top of your tasks, and feeling like a well-oiled machine. Small problems pop up, you handle them almost without thinking. You are in your element- this is where you were meant to be, and you are invincible, showing everyone why you’re the best at what you do.
6. Gregorian Chants

There are quiet moments. The moments when your wild, maddened crew slips into a deep silence- not somber, professional. Each person focused and dedicated to their task, to the pursuit of their craft. These are the moments when baking feels less like work, and more like ritual- you are a monk in a scriptorium, executing holy works with precision and diligence.
7. “Largo al factotum”- from The Barber of Seville

The quiet doesn’t last long though. This is a bakeshop- people ask you questions, push past you for supplies, yell out frustrations and demands across the kitchen. Things start to pick up. Your production list grows. It’s turning into mayhem, but even as you sweat, groan, and roll your eyes with every new task, you love it. This is the adrenaline rush- this is when you really feel alive, as you are pulled fifty directions at once.
8. “The Pretender”- Foo Fighters

Soon, though- it’s not fun anymore. The spiral starts, your mind races and teeth grind. You try to keep a handle on your tasks even as it seems like everything’s going sideways. The anger boils- you didn’t plan on things getting this weird. Stupid mistakes, tempers flare. Your crew is professional, yes- and they are passionate. That passion tends to be expressed through loud voices and language to make a sailor uncomfortable. Just gotta get things right and hold it all down….
9. “Closing Time”- Tom Waits

You made it. The day is done- you’ve got a few things to do before you can pack up. The rush is gone, and now is the slow stroll to the end. You tidy the kitchen up and clean down your station, making sure everything is squared away for the morning- when you’ll do it all over again. One more look around before switching off the lights. Maybe straight home, or maybe out for a drink…
10. “Heroes”- David Bowie

Yeah, why not? Meet some of the team for drinks at the pub. Harsh words from before are forgiven, and everyone’s laughing again. You made it through another day- what’s NOT to be thrilled about? Everyone knocks back beers and talks shop until you realize- crap, you’ve gotta get home. Shit got weird… but it was a good day.

That’s the Bakeshop OST- coming to an obscure corner of the internet near you!

​Stay Classy,

Serenity- Close to Home?

Good evening, friends and neighbors.​

It had been a rough week. Between a long work week, tax season, car problems and more, Emily and I have been failing miserably at our resolution to just have boring lives for a few months.

Last Sunday, Emily decided that we both needed a day to relax and just mosey around- me especially. After thinking about what kind of things would help me relax, we decided the first order of business was a hot bowl of ramen for lunch, and then maybe an afternoon at Lan Su Garden.

As we sat in the restaurant, sipping genmaicha and slurping our noodles (I’d chosen the tonkatsu- a pork-broth based bowl), I found myself staring deep into my teacup and wondering:

“Why are the things that I count on to bring me calm and serenity based in East Asian culture and philosophy?”

I suppose part of the reason I asked myself that rather than, you know, just enjoying those things, is the fact that I discovered much of my love for those cultures while I was dissatisfied with my own. 

I was born and raised Conservative Jewish (a slightly-more-strict-than-middle-of-the-road sect of American Judaism,) but for about four years of my life I was a practicing Buddhist. Between an unpleasant ecclesiastical discussion with a rabbi and my general dispassion with the faith, Buddhism seemed to embrace and answer all the questions I had about my place and role in the Universe. Where Judaism seemed to say “Shut up, sit down, and pray,” Buddhism seemed to say, “Sit down, be still, and think-” things I was quite good at at the time.

It took another crisis of faith, and a warm welcome from the Hasidim (a more orthodox sect of Judaism) and their Chabad outreach program to make me more comfortable with my identity as a Jew, and the wealth of culture that was my birthright beyond standing and reciting Hebrew litanies. Part of what the Chabad rabbi said that got me thinking was “Anything that can give you peace in some other faith, you can find that same peace in your own.”

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The stereotypical (and actually theologically appropriate) idea of Jews having a good time.

Bringing it back then, the complete question I asked myself over tea and ramen was “Why do I find calm and serenity in things based on East Asian philosophy, and are there similar things in the Jewish philosophy I was born to?”
Surely the culture I was born to is worth introspection and curiosity, right?

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In Jewish philosophy- as in much of Judeo-Christian theology- serenity and bliss are found uniquely in living in concordance with God’s will, namely-
– Observing the 613 mitzvot (commandments- that’s right, there’s more than 10.)
– Praising and interacting with God
– Deed of tzedakah (literally “righteousness,” though often translated as “charity.”)
– Art forms meant to be in praise of God and His creation.
At its root, the ultimate bliss one can experience in life is living in such a way that you experience devekus, or feeling the constant presence of the Almighty.

Compared to the Eastern philosophies I had learned about (primarily Taoism and Zen Buddhism,) bliss and serenity come from:
– recognizing the significance of your insignificance.
– letting go of egotism and thus connecting yourself fully to the cosmos.
– seeking the deeper beauty in everything around you, particularly its ephemerality.
– contemplation of oneself and one’s connection to all things through various art forms.

I am not, and never have been, an especially religious or devout man. I have, however, for the entirety of my adult life been aware that I am a very small part of a very, very, VERY big universe. 

​Often, I suppose, I find myself marveling at the scope of the painting I’m in rather than the existence of the painter. This isn’t to say that I DON’T get anything out of my own culture. It’s a base of experience for me- a point of reference. A grounding, or background against which I can cast everything else. The home base from which I can journey, and to which I can return.​

What I call “serenity” may very well be just cultural escapism- living in the Torah, and vacationing to the Tao Te Ching and Dhammapada for rejuvenation.

Here’s to “getting away” into your own mind.

Lan Su was hideously crowded that day (rather ruining the experience in my opinion,) and so Emily and I just settled for the ramen and instead window-shopped in one of our favorite neighborhoods.
Good food, sun, and the pavement beneath our feet did just fine.

Maybe less a Chinese painting, and more of an Edward Hopper kind of serenity.

​Stay Classy,

Holidoldrum


The bake shop is quiet as I write this. The cafe has closed early- everyone hustled through their chores, their closing routines- the maddening crush of the morning receding into exhausted bones and weary souls as they grab their coats and slip out into the gray Portland streets (threatening rain, but they always are. You stop paying attention after a while.)

Me? I’m waiting on quiche for the next couple days to finish in the oven. They’re almost there, but not quite. They slosh too much in the middle, where it should be an all-around uniform jiggle- “like a perfectly toned ass,” as Victoria said once. I’ve mentioned before how cooks use weird descriptors and get excited by the strangest things. Emily’s gotten used to hearing it when I’m in the kitchen.

Once the quiche are done, they get cooled, labeled (I’ve got my own system to separate the meat from the vegetarian) and set in the walk-in.
I’ll shut down the cafe, lock up, and make my own way home.

It’s Christmas Eve. I’ll be married in a little under two weeks. In five days, I will work my shift, and then get on a red-eye flight to see New Jersey for the first time in nearly two years.

Why this apathy, then? I want to look at myself in the mirror and say “Dude! 10 days off from work, you’re getting MARRIED, AND you get to go home again! Cheer up!” That’s what I’d like to say to myself- if I could just stop thinking it and then saying, “And then what?”

Cooks tend to think procedurally. Their days are laid out as an order of operations, and they approach much of their lives through the philosophy of mise en place- every day is a dish to be prepared in the right way, on the right timeframe, to be finished completely and well-executed.
Bakers are the same- but often 24 hours in the future. To make sure everything gets the time it needs to finish, bakers will plot out their production schedules days in advance to make sure that when the deadline comes- as always- everything is done completely and well.

The quiche are out of the oven now. Crusts of bronzed gold, filling like the last bits of a sunrise before it’s truly day. They need to cool a bit, otherwise they’ll crack in the walk-in.

I guess the holidays feel like a finish line- the wedding will be in January, the holidays will be a breeze. I don’t feel like I can enjoy them though. I feel I can’t let myself stop and experience them as anything more than another completed task. Am I afraid of something? Running from something? TOWARD something?

One of the crusts sunk in a little bit. It’s fallen back from the lip of the plate.

Not perfect, but useable.


I’ve forgotten how exhilarating and annoying travel can be.
It’s been nearly a week since I starting writing this (the quiche was delightful, by the way.) Emily has now been in New Jersey for about a week, working with our parents to get things lined up and reporting new developments back to me. There have been a couple hiccups (favors coming in wrong, where to stick that one friend that can’t stop discussing politics on the seating chart, music, etc) but now it feels like crossing the finish line will be a graceful lope, rather than a heaving, lizardlike crawl.

Or at least, SOON it will be. As of THIS writing, I’ve been up for over 24 hours, little more than 45 minutes sleep at a time. For some reason, I can never MAKE myself comfortable enough on a plane to fall asleep. I need to be dead tired, and my head just somehow rests on the wall JUST RIGHT that I can pass out for takeoff and wake up just when crew members are coming around with snacks and drinks.

When I arrive, Emily will be waiting for me. We’ll jump into her car and dash off to finally do some wedding stuff together in person. I want to believe that’s how our marriage will be- both of us dashing around, trying to plan but making it up as we go along, and somehow finding the humor in it later on.

That’d be about perfect.

Stay Classy,