Define Your Limitations- Not The Other Way Around

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

I was standing at the range in the cafe the other day. On Wednesdays, Victoria and I work together, and she tends to have me do the day-to-day production while she does macarons, special orders, and R+D’s new recipes. One of my duties, therefore, is to make the savory galette for morning bake to finish.

Galettes are a rustic tart- essentially a disc of pie dough piled with fillings, the edge folded up to contain them, and then baked flat. For Victoria and I, galettes are one of the things we get free reign on- whatever tastes good, and can go with an insane amount of cheese, can go in a galette. That day, I decided on Italian sausage, sautéed mushrooms with herbs, braised kale, and manchego and Feta cheese.

I work out of one large skillet, my mise lined up on a cutting board behind me. I’m cooking the parts of the filling in a certain order- something experience has taught me will work quickly and allow the different parts of the galette to allude to each other:

– The sausage goes in first. It’s already full-flavored, and it has fat the other things will need to cook.
– Cremini mushrooms next, with a small amount of garlic and fresh herbs. As the mushrooms cook, they release liquid- pulling all the crusty bits left by the sausage up from the pan. This and the liquified fat from the sausage work their way into the earthy mushrooms.
– Finally, the sautéed kale. I use the method Emily and I use at home- a little supplemental olive oil in the pan, garlic, dried pepper. In goes the kale with a loud sizzle, and finally the broth with a loud hiss and a gout of steam. I slam the lid on the pan and let it braise. The broth deglazes the pan as it steams the kale- uniting its bitter green with the unctuous sausage and sweet mushrooms.

Valerie is next to me at the range, watching all this with interest. She’s asking questions here and there as she eyes the cream she’s heating up for ganache. So much of baking is waiting for the time to be right.

“Hey Matt- have you ever worked on a line before?”
I’m keeping my eyes on the pan, making sure the kale gets coated in garlic and pepper. “Only briefly on a dessert line, never hot.”
“Huh… you’d be good at it, I think. You’re a good cook, and really organized.”

I chuckle a bit, “Nah… I could maybe be good once I was used to it, but that’d take a while. I’d frazzle and burn out a bit first- probably wreck some shit in a panic. Nah, I like being a baker. Less of a rush, more of a logistics puzzle.”

“Ahh, gotcha… well, I can see why you like teaching people. You have a real soothing voice.”

I smile and tip the kale out on to a half-sheet, where the sausage and mushrooms are warm and waiting. “Well, thank you.”

I scatter shredded manchego on the dough disc. Pile on the warm filling, and more manchego on top, with some cubed feta. The feta won’t melt- it’s too dry- but it will provide visual texture and some nice cheesy funk to each slice.

I’m smart enough to know what I’m good at, and what I need to work on.
I’m a good cook.
A good enough cook for me.
A good enough cook for me, for right now.

I can also tell a great story, teach people a thing or two- and make a MEAN galette.

Stay Classy,

P.S.
I’m not allowed to give out the cafe’s gallete dough recipe, and the fillings are really up to you- but here are some tips for when you decide to make one at home.

1. Balance your ingredients and flavors. “Meat Lovers” sounds great on pizza, but it can be a bit much. Work in veggies!

2. Meat in a galette should be fully cooked, but remember that once the galette is ready, it goes in an oven. Remember that some things (not covered by crust or cheese) may overcook- especially eggs! Consider a soft scramble for egg galettes.

3. If you want your galette to look really great, egg wash the sides after you fold them up. That’ll make a great golden brown gloss- and you can dust the edges with spices or seeds too.

-BHB

“Lovers and Madmen…”

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

Joe is about my age, but he’s been cooking for way longer than me- he’s a locally respected chef, running one of the best bistros in South Jersey. It’s easy to see why- watching Joe move through service, he seems to crackle with energy. He yells, swears, barks, laughs- never still for more than a moment. 
I’m helping him out for a couple nights on his dessert line- towards the end of the day, he comes running up to me and drops a crate of tomatoes on the bench.

“Matt! Dude, you need to smell these!”

I take a quick whiff- smells like good tomatoes, fresh and red. I say so.

Joe looks at me like I just farted in church. “Matt, no! SMELL THEM.” I think he may have grabbed my head and practically smashed it into the crate of lumpy red fruit. The smell of tomatoes filled my nose- not fresh and red, but GREEN. Green leaves, freshly tilled soil, warm air and cool rain on their skins.
Joe looked at me like a Zen master seeing the light of enlightenment in a pupils eye- the big smile reserved for a kindred spirit that just “got it.”
“You smell that? Find the good ones and dice them.” It was going to be for gazpacho, and it took me forever. I couldn’t stop smelling the tomatoes. His wife Jennifer, another chef, came over with a cutting board and kept me on task.

A year later, I’m standing over the floor mixer of the cafe I work in now. I’m making pie crust using a method I had learned there. A method meant to produce a dough of velvet smoothness, yet tissue-thin flaky layers when baked. Where every “perfect” pie crust I had ever learned or made called for slow, careful hand-mixing, this NEEDED to be done in a machine with a creaming paddle- and there was little room for error.
Everything must be perfect- the butter must be frozen. The water must be ice cold. The butter must be mixed in to EXACTLY the right point, and the water added at EXACTLY the right time to make the difference between perfect dough, and a bowlful of greasy mush.
I’ve squeezed the dry ingredients and butter. They crack under my thumb, after some pressure. As the paddle moves, the contents start “cliffing” – the early stages of clumping, where ingredients against the bowl stick just enough to make cliffs of flour to look like Dover in Great Britain. I add the water.

As the dough forms, I pull a clump out and slowly pull it apart in my hands.

There are layers. Layers like the strata of rock in the Grand Canyon. A thrill of joy and beauty shoots down my spine. I let out a whoop of joy as I examined my pefect crust, and hoisted the 55 lbs. kettle from floor to bench- easy as breathing.

Victoria, the pastry chef at the cafe (and the one who actually has to use the dough once it’s portioned and formed) comes over to see what I’m so happy about. I feel that same crazed thrill up my spine as I describe the process- each detail- and show her the flaky layers her pies demand. With a nodding head and smile, she gets it.

Of course, I’ve seen her rhapsodize over the arrival of fresh chantrell mushrooms and perfectly sweet summer berries- and my old friend Kevin croon over elegantly handled cuts of meat.

For people who love art and craft, people who can’t help but experience the world viscerally- the strangest things excite and thrill us.

Perfect pie dough.
A magnificently built violin.
A piano tuned to perfection by someone blessed with perfect pitch.
A certain shade of blue.
The smell of fresh chanterelle mushrooms (to my mind, kind of like flowers and apricots.)
​The flavor of a perfect bowl of lentils.

Perhaps it’s because of that viscerality- we feel and experience everything about what we do very deeply, to a physical level- where something like a perfect slice of pie can move us to tears.

It might also be the exacting nature of our work, and the pressure we put on ourselves and those around us. When the difference between success and failure means EVERYTHING has to be “just so” (and rarely ever is,) seeing a glimmer of perfection- whether it’s a product of your labor or a contributor toward it, can sometimes feel like a ray of sunshine on a gloomy day- a moment of bliss amid madness, release among constant tension.

I think, perhaps, it’s something much simpler. When your life, work, and self-worth are all invested in creating things of beauty and moments of bliss for others, finding ones for yourself can feel difficult. You take time to appreciate the beauty of what you do and what makes it possible- even if it may weird out people who aren’t “in the know.”

“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”

– Shakespeare, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Act V, Scene I

We all find beauty where we can. Artists and culinarians find it easier than others.

Stay Classy,

Standing Still In The Storm

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

When I was 13, my family would spend the evenings watching the original Iron Chef on TV. I was mesmerized watching the cooks and chefs fling food, whip and wheel around each other- a ballet of orchestrated chaos that I’d learn to call “the dance” 15 years later. In the center, like a stationary whirlwind, would sometimes stand my favorite Iron Chef- Masaharu Morimoto. Barely looking up, but barking instructions in Japanese to his cooks- and simply KNOWING they would be done. He called the dance, and controlled the storm from its eye.

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“I’m not a fighter, but in my mind I’m fighting every day. ‘What’s new? What am I doing?’ I’m fighting myself. My soul is samurai. My roots aren’t samurai, but my soul is.”

Shortly after I entered culinary school, I picked up a copy of Kitchen Confidential. Tony Bourdain painted a picture for me of cook as pirate, and chef as rock star. In his coarse and perfect style, he raised to veil behind that storm and the manic adrenaline rush it could elicit in those who craved it. Heat and madness, rage and lust, sensory bombardment, and the cool, quiet void of your own thoughts.
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“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom…is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”

All the way through his books and through school, I learned the mantras of the kitchen, desperate to experience the eye of that storm-

“If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”

” A. B. M.- Always Be Moving.”

“Don’t sacrifice quality for speed- and don’t sacrifice speed for quality.”

“Get it done now.”

“Faster, tighter, neater.”

“Mise en place- if you lose that, you lose.”

They carried me through school, then work, then daily life. Cooking is the art of control. You control your heat, your ingredients, your environment, your movements, your tools, your timeline, your tasks, yourself. If you are ever NOT in control- there is nothing left to bring everything together.

It’s made me a bit of a pain to live with, I bet.

It’s been a while since then. I’ve breathed madness. I’ve floated in the void of my own thoughts and basked in the eye of the storm, even as my body pushed itself thoughtless and perfect from task to task.

More than once, though, I have been made to learn everything has it’s opposite. A time for madness, and a time for calm. There are storms, and there are light rains. Neither will be denied their moment- and I have ruined more work by trying to hurry them (or myself) than I have through miscalculation, burning, or accident.

Not-yet- cold butter in pie dough leads to a greasy mess, dumping the whole thing in the trash and starting again.

Jacking up the heat on your oven doesn’t make faster cookies- it makes lumps of charcoal with raw dough in the center. I nearly got fired over that one.

Cookies need THEIR time in the oven.

Pie needs time to rest (and rugelach dough needs ALL 24 hours rest in the fridge, or it unrolls in the oven.)

Breads need proof time, butter needs time to freeze.

Baking needs its own time, and the ingredients won’t argue otherwise- they’ll just mess up your work. You must control everything- but with their permission.

I’ve worked out my mise en place to get many things done at once (a crucial skill for the kitchen- cooks don’t have twelve arms, just good timing.) I keep myself busy enough that I can’t watch the clock.

“I have twenty minutes till the cookies are done- I can chop veg for quiche.”

“Get the quiche in the oven early- they take two hours, and I can eight things done in the meantime.

Thus far, I’m learning- but there’s one thing I still have no patience for, the one thing I always should.

I still can’t be patient with myself.

I can’t stand it when I can’t master things in the time I think they should take.
When things aren’t moving fast enough for me, people in Australia hear my teeth grind.
And I have NO patience for people that say, “Be patient.”

Thinking back to Morimoto, I have almost learned how to stand in the eye and control the storm- but not yet how to be stationary.

A work in progress, I guess.

I just need to be patient.

Stay Classy,

Why Do I Do This To Myself?

Good evening, friends and neighbors. It’s been a while.

5:15 AM

My alarm goes off by my side of the bed. It’s still dark in the room.- not even a hint of the dawn coming in about 2 hours. I know Emily has probably only been in bed a few hours (night owl that she is,) so I jerk myself conscious enough to silence the alarm quickly before it can bother her.

My phone alarm acts as a dim nightlight, so I can just barely make her out next to me. Streetlights and headlights glow indirectly through the tiny ceiling window- enough for me to grab my phone, check the weather forecast for the morning, buzz through Facebook, curse myself for doing so, and get up.

I don’t have to be into work till 9, but I insist on arriving no later than 8:45. I want time to make breakfast and clean up-

after a workout of course.

This was not always me.

​4 years ago, this was me.

Even a year and a half after I made it from 275 lbs to my goal weight of 165, I still hear the same questions- “How did you do it?!” Or, more tellingly, “You’re a baker- how do you keep the weight off?” There’s one answer for both questions- “motivation.” It also answers the bigger, unspoken question everyone WANTS to ask.
I could talk your ears off about HOW. Other folks will happily charge you to hear HOW to lose weight. The bigger question, though, is rarely asked- because everyone thinks they know the answer, but only YOU know the real one.

I can tell you HOW. More importantly though- I’ll tell you WHY.

Motivation #1: That Guy

That’s him. Nice guy, well-liked. Friendly, cool to be around full of jokes and stories. A lot of folks like that guy- except the grouchy bastard in the picture.

I’ll never say I hated myself, but I remember being constantly disappointed- in myself, and my self-control. For all the laughs and smiles I gave everyone else, I had nothing like that for me. I had exasperated sighs, moans of pain, and grunts of resigned isolation. No matter what I did or accomplished, all I saw in the mirror was a sadsack who could drink beer, suck down chicken wings, make way-too-sweet desserts, and cripple himself trying to make everyone but him smile.

Some time ago, The Oatmeal wrote a comic about a little creature called The Blerch. That comic struck more chords with me than I like to admit.

That Guy is still in me, somewhere. He half-expects me to gobble a whole pizza, or guzzle a 22oz beer in a sitting like I used to do and convince myself I was just a chubby happy guy when that was at least half a lie.

When I exercise, That Guy calms down. He manages to smile a bit- no longer pained, no longer disappointed. He feels good. When I wake up in that dark room, he’s in my ear whispering, “C’mon man- don’t disappoint me.” Then I get up and think, “What should I do today?”

Motivation #2- I Don’t Want to Die

You’d think that doesn’t need much explanation. Not many people go around WANTING to die of obesity.

I remember exactly where this motivation came from clear as day, though.

It came because, 6 years ago, in the middle of the night, my little sister caught me in the kitchen eating a full pound of shitty microwave bacon as a SNACK.

5 years ago, my father invited me home for dinner. In the kitchen, he asked when I last ate, wanted to see my hand real quick- and then pricked my finger and checked my blood sugar. He’d just been diagnosed as pre-diabetic and was worried about me.

Around the same time, my uncle- a very obese man who refused to diet or work out until it was nearly too late- went into the hospital for the second to last time, and BEGGED me not to follow in his footsteps. He asked me to remember that healthy food could taste good, and that I should run while I still have both legs and a strong heart. Diabetes had taken my uncle’s left leg and practically his right foot- so he spent his last year trying to fix things and get himself right from a wheelchair.

I have all the genes in place to go that way. I am scared that, one day, I will screw up and find myself there. I can’t let that happen.

Motivation #3- I Want To Be Free

I am not a perfect man, and don’t pretend to be. I get angry and scared. Sometimes I want to scream at the sky and rip my hair out. Sometimes I want to ball up my fists and just pound the living shit out of something until the madness goes away. Sometimes I just want to collapse in a heap, pull the earth in over me and just die.

That’s called living- and exercise reminds me of what I should be doing.

Running up a mountain through the pre-dawn Portland fog, my fears and terrors get lost and stop while I charge forward.
Plowing through an exercise routine, my mind clears- panic chased away by rhythm and exertion. As my body moves, so does my mind. I can stop panicking and start planning.
Heaving my sandbag around, everything angering me quakes in fear and shrinks away- and I no longer NEED to beat them down because I KNOW I CAN.

Every morning, before work, I put my fears in context and my anger in its place.

Motivation #4- I Like It Like That.

Like everything, motivations change with time. Those last three still pop up, but more often than not- THIS is the reason I wake up early and workout as often as I can.

I like it. I don’t really know any other way to be anymore. Where I used to spend entire days off lying in bed and messing around on the computer, the concept of that fills me with disgust and nerviness. After my appendectomy, I had to take a month off of working out, and I was a jibbering wreck. I wanted to get up and move, but lacked the energy. I needed exercise, CRAVED it.

Yes, I’m a baker- and I crave the feel of dirt roads under my sneakers and sweat soaking through my shirt more than cupcakes. I will happily work for hours to make the best, most beautiful cake I can; but I never need sugar and fat as much as I need to feel my muscles move, flex, and ache.

I didn’t start with that need, that motivation- the other three came first.
​Then came these.

I want to be healthy so I can spend the rest of my life with Emily.
I want the energy to keep running and feel the earth under me.
I want the will to run up more mountains and see more sunrises.
I want the strength to make delicious food for people for the rest of my life, and meet more people that do so.

“We are not made for the mountains, for sunrises, or for the other beautiful attractions in life – those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration. We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life and that is where we have to prove our stamina and strength.” – Oswald Chambers

Join a weight-loss group if you want. Make a New Year’s resolution. Join a gym, and get a personal trainer. Take on diets, give up junk food- whatever will serve you best.
It will never be easy to begin with, and it will never, EVER work AT ALL if you don’t know/care why you are doing it.

“Why am I doing this to myself” needs to become “Why am I doing this FOR myself”- and as one of my favorite quotes says:

​Stay Classy,

Flashbacks and Cookies

Good morning, friends and neighbors!

Fall, 1994. I’m eight years old, and my mother takes me grocery shopping.We live in Margate, a small town in Southern New Jersey, about two miles down the beach from the lights and excitement of Atlantic City.
It’s September, and Margate feels like a ghost town. The tourists who mob the streets all summer to enjoy the beach, or as a staging point to hit America’s Favorite Playground (as Atlantic City’s slogan still proudly proclaimed before it was “Always Turned On,” and then the even kinkiest suggestion of “Do AC.”)
It’s a locals-only town again. The beaches are empty and windy- just the way I would love them twelve years later.
Right now, I’m 8 years old and fussy, and my mom is dragging me through Casel’s.

Casel’s is a small, local supermarket. I went to school with the son of the man who owned it (we got along ok, meaning we didn’t really like each other, but he didn’t beat me up.) It was both a pillar of Margate life, and a coming-of-age rite of passage- if your first summer job wasn’t being a lifeguard at the beach, you were a bagger/ clerk at Casel’s. It was the kind of place where, if you liked the work, you stayed in Margate your whole life, and became precisely who you were meant to be- that is, a person from Margate.
As my mother hustles through the aisles, clucking at some prices and comparing others, I manage to wander away and explore the rest of the stores. Jars of stuff that look gross, bags of dried veggies and soup mixes, the epically-sized kosher section reflecting the odd upper-middle class Jewish population.

I find myself in the bakery section, staring at the sweets and cookies, and HE leans over the counter and smiles.

I don’t know his name even now, but to my 8-year-old mind, he was COOL. He was a guy in his 20s- old enough to be an adult, but still pass for a kid among kids. His long hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and the top was in a hair net. No beard, but hemp choker he was wearing marked him as a beachgoer.

“Hey man! You want a cookie?”

I looked from him to the case of brightly-colored, cheap platter-ready almond cookies. Hell yeah I wanted a freakin’ cookie.

“Yes please…”

He reached into the case with a gloved hand. I can’t remember precisely, but I think he had tattoos on his arm.
He handed me a neon-green leaf-shaped one, sandwiched with chocolate in the middle. He smiles as I eat it greedily. I’d had cookies like it before, but for some reason, this one was extra good. I smiled a goofy, buck-toothed, green-tinted grin back at him.

My mom finds me, thanks the bakeshop for the cookie, and leads me away. We check out and go home.

22 years later, today. I’m 30 years old, filling the bakery case at my job, and arranging everything so it looks right. I never took a job at Casel’s. I live in Portland, Oregon. I am the person I was always meant to be, but not someone from Margate.

I set down a plateful of Halloween-inspired French Macarons (Pumpkin Spice Jack-O-Lanterns, Pink Plum Eyeballs, and Candy Corn- all Victoria’s creations, I can claim no credit there), I look up through the glass and there’s a boy and his big sister. The boys eyes and mouth are wide open in amazement. He has buckteeth. His sister starts reading the tag, telling him what flavor each one is.

I’m just about to intone those amazing and sacred words, taught 22 years ago-

“Hey man! Want a cookie?”

… When the kids mother appears and whisks them away. She’s in a hurry.

I smile, but sadly as I watch them hustle off through the glass.

One minute faster, I could have given the world another baker in 22 years.

Thanks for letting me have the cookie, Mom.

Stay Classy,
BHB

To My Teachers

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

So this happened last week-

She’s a student. Crazy capable, and catches on quick. We’ve had her as an extern for a while, and today- thanks to a crunch schedule- she gets to solo the pastry bench. I’ve already got things set up for her as much as I can. She has a production list, but she gets to decide her timeline. The list is reasonable, but unspecific- she’ll have to get creative.I’m off to the left with my own work, taking care of the production end of things. I have a light list so I can keep an eye on her. She’s worked, she’s prepped- and now it’s time to fly.

As I try to hustle through my own production with one eye looking back over my shoulder at her work (popping in once or twice with observations or reminders,) I can’t help but flashback to my externship at the casino. I actually text my former supervisor/ mentor with the memories- just a quick “thank you” to my mentor for not gutting me like a fish when was snot-nosed little smartass.
It was time to make a galette, and I left the filling up to her. She saw what we had a lot of in the walk-in: ham, kale, carrots, and a fresh crate of onions. “These with pepper jack, I think.” Part of me flashed back to Chef Sheridan back in ACA’s restaurant, Careme’s, and reminding me of how to craft dishes- figuring out what goes together.

“Hold up- WHAT exactly are you going to do with the kale? WHY carrots?”

About 5 minutes and a trip to the walk-in later, the ham was the odd one out. When crafting a dish, using what you have is a good way to start- but it must work together and make sense.

Once back at the bench, she is in her element- plowing through the list and prep, and I can work on my own tasks.

Then she goes to work on the kale. She’s stemmed and chopped it, and thrown it in with the rest of the veg for the oven.

“Whoa, hold up. What are you doing with the kale here?”
“Um… roasting it?”
My mind flashes back to school again- this time to Chef Matt, and him gently ribbing me over caramelizing hazelnuts for a bread.
“No no no. That’s good for kale chips. You need to sauté this if it’s going in a galette.
She nods, pulls a pan down and starts oiling it right on her bench.

“Wait, hold up. You know it’s a hot pan you oil, right?”

She shakes her head. I am thrilled ACA made me go through Soups, Stocks and Sauces on the way to a pastry degree and look at the half-done prep on my table.

“Okay, meet me at the range in about 5 minutes. Bring the kale, half-cup of the chicken stock I just made, two cloves of minced garlic, and the crushed pepper.”

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On your mark… get set…

She moves like a soldier. Her mise is perfect as she brings me everything nice and neat. I heat up the pan, hand her a wooden spoon, and oil the pan. Together, I show her how to braise the kale the way Emily and I do it at home- savory and crunchy, but tender and bright. In my head, Chef Chelius is sternly-but kindly- walking me through everything, explaining why each step needs to happen.
When it’s done, I hold the pan up and tell her to try a piece. She’s never really had kale. In my head, Chef Cragg says “If you haven’t tasted it, why should I?”
She does. It’s delicious. “I never really tried kale before, but that is really good!”
“And that’s going in your galette. Now you know how to make kale for the rest of your life.”

Her shift ends, and I write up remarks on her student evaluation.
“Any kitchen lucky enough to get her will not be disappointed.”

Anthony Bourdain says, “Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have.”
She’s gonna be a hell of a baker, because she’s got it in spades. Skills and tastes will come in time.

Thank you to her teachers, and to mine.

​You didn’t just teach me how to bake and cook- you taught me how to teach.

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Thank you.


​Stay Classy,

One Year Out

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

The hint of fall is in the air as I sit under the blacked-out stars on the patio of the Space Room on Hawthorne. Usually it’s a lot wilder, with hipsters celebrating the coming of Friday like the weekend was starting Thursday- “Thirsty Thursday” I think some people still call it. I always really liked this kind of weather, where you packed a light hoodie for the morning and evening, but crammed it in your bag during the hot sunlit hours. It certainly seems more pronounced in Oregon than it ever did in New Jersey. I suppose that’s because most of my autumns in New Jersey were home by the sea, not out in the Pinelands or anywhere especially wooded. Even in super-hip and compulsively urban Portland, you can’t forget there are woodlands out there. The trees are starting to change, littering the streets with scarlet and ochre leaves. It’s turning into the time of year that demands light music, whiskey, and warmth.

Well, I’m having a martini. Cucumber dill-infused vodka, a refreshing little twist. It’s my Friday. After coming home, stripping off the remains of my work of the last week and zonking out for about an hour, I decided that was break enough, and time to get out among people and back to work.
As of September 11th, it has been one year since Emily and I dropped everything and headed west. In the course of that year, we’ve:
– Moved once
– Learned to live and love a new city
– Made friends
– Said goodbye to friends we just made
– I was unemployed for at least 6 months.
– Restarted The Black Hat Bakery as The Black Hat Baker and took it legit.
– Got engaged- our date is officially January 7th, by the way.
– Faced changes and losses that we weren’t near enough to deal with quickly.
– Counted on the goodwill and love of more people than we believed we could deserve.
– Relied on luck and hope perhaps a bit more than we should have.

New Year’s Eve of two years ago, I promised myself I wouldn’t be in the same job. I promised myself I’d be out seeing the world, working for myself, or working for a business I loved and agreed with. I finished that promise with the words of my grandfather:

“They will love you, or they will hate you- but never let them ignore you.”

Two years later, I am an honest-to-God entrepreneur. I work a day job I love, doing work I enjoy and get creative control in. On the side, I work to fulfill two goals I made long ago at the same time- I wanted to make people happy, and I wanted to save the world. If I can entertain people with my writing and stories, and teach them to bake and look after others- that’s a job worth doing.

A year and a half ago, I didn’t expect to be doing any of that 2000 miles from everything I knew and loved.

A year is a long time, and it’s not so long at all.

I’ve been trying not to write too many self-serving blogs recently. I want everything I write here to be helpful or of interest to you guys, my readers, where/whatever you are. If I want to share all of this with you, I’m going to teach you something while I do it- and this is something I’m still learning myself, even as I sit under the stars 2000 miles from home, two drinks in, and listening to cars crawl along Hawthorne.

“BE PATIENT. YOU WILL NEVER SEE THE GOOD THINGS YOU WANT COMING.”

This has been a king-hell-bastard of a year. I learned a lot, often unpleasantly, and always just doing what I’d been trying to do all along:
1. Look after myself and those I love.
2. Do what I love to do.
3. Try to make the world better.

In the course of one year, it got me to some pretty dark places- I thought I was twisted or sick. I thought I should give up. I thought I was no good to begin with and who was I fooling.

It also got me to some places of indescribable beauty- where I KNEW all was well, and that I couldn’t forgive myself if I ever gave up, and that I still had skills worth sharing, and that I was where I was meant to be.

In other words, it carried me through life. Life sucks. It’s also beautiful. It’s painful. It’s also ecstasy.

In a few months, or maybe a little sooner, I’ll see my old home for the first time in a year. I’ll marry the woman I love, and who I managed to build a life with among all this madness. I’ll see old friends, and maybe some will ask how Portland is, or what life is like out here.

I think about that as I look past the patio lights at the cloudy sky, and then down the road at restaurants, bars, stores, people, libraries, museums, a city I’ve only had a year to know.

I think I’ll say “It’s life. Just a little wilder and weirder.”

Thanks for sticking around, folks. This should be interesting.

Stay Classy,