Cold day, sleeping in, not showering, hot tea, baking squash, listening to instrumental holiday music, surfing blogs, writing Christmas cards. I’m imagining in a few days there might be a tall, tastefully decorated, white-lighted Christmas tree in our front windows. It’s almost December, the end of the year, time for celebration. I don’t know how it can already be December, but it’s here, time to enjoy it.
Ahh.. the joy of winning something, especially after a delay, where I felt hurt that the blog contest didn’t mean enough to anyone have the results posted correctly. Alas, I was pacified today with a very nice e-mail from the person who runs MKE’s blog contest, who informed that she really enjoyed reading my blog and also, that I had won.
Well, I am actually on a work errand at Kinko’s and definitely should not be using this design computer ($0.49 per minute) to update my blog, which I could wait to get home to do, but, I am anyway.
Tonight I get to have dinner with one of my favorite people in the world, and then tomorrow I get to sleep in! (Some days I love my restaurant job).
So, amazingly, my bread turned out. I probably didn’t knead it enough and/or let it raise enough the second time around, but it still looks and tastes unmistakably like bread. (Yeah!) Even better, I really enjoyed the breadmaking process, which involves some level of coordination, skill and experience, but nothing that any jack of all trades like me couldn’t do, at least with a little practice.
So, the successful bread got me pretty inspired to make more bread. There’s always someone who wants homemade bread, and it’s a cheap pastime that brings great satisfaction. So, I looked through a bread book that a friend lent me and picked some things I’d like to try. I researched interesting techniques, breads of the world, recipe sites and healthier flours.
When I was with my grandma, she was telling me a story about how her father used to go really gung-ho on things, and later another story came up about my father (her son) goes really gung-ho on things, and then I realized that’s where my capricious passions come from. I usually don’t follow through, but I frequently find that I am capable (not proficient mind you) at something, and then for some variable amount of time, I get really excited about that thing and put a lot of time, energy, and usually money into it.
Examples would be gardening (although I think that’s a keeper), photography (I do it, but I’ve never taken the classes that I’ve said I would), cooking Indian and Thai food, scrapbooking, making my own greeting cards, exercising and going to the gym (I’m still working on keeping that one up), and now, perhaps, baking bread. As I analyze breadmaking, however, I think this one might be sustainable for me. There’s plenty of people to eat my bread, and if I make big batches, we could stop buying store bread. It’s a good place for the herbs from my garden, and I can always give it away. I am imagining bread becoming my contribution to holiday parties and an inexpensive, healthy, homemade gift for birthdays.
Well, stay tuned for updates.
PRIMERO: WAITING FOR THE YEAST TO RISE
I’m really nervous, but excited. I went to my grandma’s house today to learn how to bake bread, and while it’s still fresh in my mind, I’m attempting a small batch for the first time tonight. My grandma’s bread is famous in my family, and probably among her circle of family and friends. It’s buttery and the texture is perfect, and since all the Bruss’ seem to be toast addicts, nothing beats simple toast with butter with my grandma’s bread.
So here, I am, surfing epicurious.com for info on bread baking, coffee mug full of yeast, sugar and warm water at my side. This post will have to end when the yeast mixture reaches the top of the cup, because it’ll be go time. We’ll see what my first attempt at kneading, waiting and baking yields. I’m ready for a letdown, because as my grandma said, you’ll learn from your mistakes. A bread recipe looks simple, with less than 10 ingredients, all of them found in most kitchens. I learned today, however, that it’s not that simple, and there are many tricks and pieces of bread-baking wisdom to be gleaned from someone with a lot more experience than me.
I tell you all what, yeast rising is really cool. There’s only a half an inch until it reaches the top of the cup and I wish I had a digital camera so I could have taken a photo five minutes ago, when the yeast, water and sugar pooled at the bottom of the cup, and another in about one minute. Then I could post them here so you could see it for yourself.
Well, I’ve lost the race against time in attempting to say something meaningful in this 7 minutes, so you’ll just have to wait until the dough is rising.
So, the first time around, the dough rose. The kneading went well, although it seemed too easy. I wonder if I had put too much flour in. Jury’s still out on that. I’ve put my little babies in their pans now and they’re sitting in front of the radiator, hopefully rising again, and then, there’s just the baking.
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I can’t believe it’s November 20th, I just can’t. I remember my dad told me in high school (when I felt time was dragging me through class after class after getting up early and going to band and soccer and chorus practice) that college would be great and then after that, time would start flying by with work, relationships and other activities filling up the time.
When I think about graduating from college three and a half years ago, it does seem like someone vacuumed up some of the time from under my feet. I have great memories from these years, but I feel like I just finished college, even high school doesn’t seem so far away. But I’m more than “becoming” a real adult now. I really am one.
And although the time feels short, my life has changed very dramatically in the last few years. This period can be marked by the amazing people I have been so lucky to work with in the past few years. This week my assistant manager is leaving for another store where he will become an interim general manager for a few months. Last night, after the last shift that I would work with him, I couldn’t help thinking back a bit on some of the great working relationships I’ve been lucky to have, so here’s a bit of a tribute.
My first job out of college was at a brand-new fast-casual Asian restaurant in my old stomping grounds in the Milwaukee ‘burbs. It was my first interaction with Mexican immigrants, my second language of choice slowly turned from Chinese (ironically in the Asian restaurant) to Spanish, and I met the man who would become my husband. I also developed as a leader and an individual in ways I would not have thought possible in a restaurant. After a few months there I got the position of assistant manager working under Paul, a great manager with years of full-service experience in Florida and Wisconsin. Paul took my experience, willingness to learn, and natural talents and taught me all the fundamentals of running a good restaurant. I was immature and overly interested in playing investigative reporter, revelling in all the amazing stories I got from the immigrants who staffed our kitchen. But Paul always respected me and treated me like his equal. I learned the most from Paul.
Time passed and I decided to take a position with the company I am still with today, a local franchise of a large “fresh-Mexican” type chain. I was so optimistic and excited when I took the job. I had gotten really lucky in the negotiation process, and was excited to work for a place that seemed a little less corporate my previous company had been. After a month of training with a great GM in Milwaukee, I was sent to a great location at a busy intersection between Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, West Allis and Brookfield. I found out the weekend before I went that I would be working with Roxy, a woman about the same age as me who had just been promoted to general manager. We got along very well immediately. She had been with the company a long time, working her way up from being a line server in college. She had great interpersonal skills and literally, never broke a sweat, as our boss once commented to me. She was always calm, even in situations where I might have freaked out. In a social context, we were probably pretty different, but inside the company at the time, we were viewed as something like twin 20-something girls running a big store. She graciously allowed me to learn from her as she took on the role of GM and amazingly, it never felt like we were competing. Later she moved to California about the same time I was transferred to my current location to be a GM.
And that brings me to Adam. I have always seen myself, a bit arrogantly I suppose, as an ideal employee. I have been loyal to a tee to my employers, hard-working, panned up a lot of corporate BS (that I don’t believe in) with a smile, and always tried to improve whatever situation I happened to find myself in. I definitely have my flaws, but I have seen a lot of people who work in the restaurant industry by default, as something to fall back on, and I always wanted to be better than that.
I have to admit however, that Adam, in the ways stated above, put even me to shame. Adam is also mid-20s, like me and had been with this company a few years. We had never really met before, but there was a bit of a legend around Adam, who had run one of the busiest stores in the company with very little support during a time of double-digit growth in sales. In the four days I had to prepare for becoming a GM (when I found out Adam would be my assistant), people described him to me as “golden” and said “he’ll volunteer to come in on any day off to deliver a taco bar.” Wow, this sounded pretty good.
The store I was going to take over was in the midst of a meltdown. It had been open just two months and had a a few good line servers, but a terrible kitchen staff and no shift supervisors. It was ridiculously dirty, had very poor operations, and had screwed up some great catering oportunities. Adam had been there a few weeks before me, and the weekend I found out about my transfer, I spent one late night after my shift at the other store helping them bail out after a cook walked out in the middle of his shift and they ran out of most of what we serve during lunch. Frankly, I had never dealt with a disaster quite like this as a leader, but I was damn excited to give it a try.
I have to admit, the burrito gods knew what they were doing putting Adam and I together, because after a few months, a ton of hours and hard work, we had that place running as well or better than many stores in the company. Adam is cynical and hilarious, to use the first two words that come to mind. He’s a workoholic but does it because he cares. My Mexican cooks wrote in their goodbye notes to him that he was a great worker and should keep it up. This is significant because Mexicans are legendary hard workers, and typically do not have a lot of respect for the work ethic of the “guero” (American). I haven’t met my new assistant manager yet, but Adam is a tough act to follow for anyone, and our staff will miss him a lot.
Congratulations if you have actually read all this. I’ve been writing for an hour, but I felt last night that I had to give a little tribute to some of my favorite people. You see, work has always been important to me, and I have always had great relationships at work, but writing this has given me the opportunity to ponder how these people have affected me and made my life better, and I’m grateful for that.
I’m going to write my blog with pictures tonight, to describe my relaxing weekend in Newark, DE, home of the University of Delaware, home of the Blue Hens (isn’t that the silliest mascot you’ve ever heard??!) I was visiting my old friend Lulu (who I met my first time in China) and her husband Magnus.
We went to Georgetown, Delaware on Friday,
which was unfortunately Veterans’ Day, so none of the government buildings were open, but this was the original courthouse built in 1791 and is still occasionally in use today. Georgetown is an old county seat, in the southern part of Delaware, and a very quaint place to walk around and get a glimpse of colonial America.
I can’t stop talking about the “old” buildings I see around me this weekend. Ironically, Magnus is from Lulea, Sweden and when I mentioned that my first impression of Newark was that all the buildings looked sort of old and colonial, he looked at me a bit strangely and said one of his first impressions of this town was that everything looks so new. Many places in Europe, of course, were developed long before many places in America, but for a Midwesterner like myself, the Eastern side of America strikes me as well-preserved and antique.
We went to the Atlantic Ocean at Rehoboth Beach,
which would be a lovely place to visit in the summer time I am sure. There was a definitely an overly commercialized Myrtle Beach feeling to it as we were driving in, but then there is a long strip of small, mostly independently owned shops leading up to a wide boardwalk overlooking the beach. We picked up smooth rocks, checked out a Scandinavian gift store and observed a few groups of people bundled up in winter coats reclining in wooden beach chairs, perhaps catching some November rays.
We visited a great botanical garden and conservatory called the Longwood Gardens in Eastern Pennsylvania.
I was excited to find that one of the largest places of its kind in the world was very near to Newark since my newfound love of plants and gardening has led me to love touring such places. The photo above was actually a bit funny because these people offered to take it for us and then spent five minutes taking this terrible picture. Anyway, it’s amusing now.
They had topiaries
a few beautiful roses left (this is mid-November),
fall colors, lakes and gazebos
and the most magnificent chrysanthemum display I have ever seen.
I’ve also enjoyed some great food cooked by Lulu and Magnus (a combination of Chinese, Indian with hints of Sweden and the U.S.) and got to sleep in three days in a row! Tomorrow I drive back to D.C. and then fly back to Chicago. I’m glad to get back to Fermin and home but I had a great time here and look forward to the next time we can visit.