Balancing Act

Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches

Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches

Number of burns on my fingers: 3

Number of weeks spent as a pastry cook: 3

Both of my thumbs and part of my right index finger are sore from accidentally grabbing hot sheet pans with my bare hands. These clumsy mistakes were made in moments of uncertainty and stress – which is characterizes the majority of my experience in a professional kitchen setting thus far.

It’s been an exhausting, exhilarating ride and I still go to bed and wake up every day thinking “Wow, I’m getting paid to make ice cream, tarts, cakes, and bread every day. This is great.” When I’m heaving a 50 lb bag of flour from dry storage, sweating bullets while making 30+ crepes over the flat top, or deconstructing a mountain of meat and vegetables in the walk-in to get to the pastry section, I definitely feel less lucky and mostly annoyed. Then I get my paycheck and I think “Oh dear.” Such are the sacrifices you sometimes have to make in pursuit of happiness, I suppose.

Giant cake (pistachio sponge, mascarpone mousse, passion fruit mousse, chocolate ganache) for staff meal!

Giant cake (pistachio sponge, mascarpone mousse, passion fruit mousse, chocolate ganache) for staff meal!

The hardest part so far has been adjusting to the new schedule. I work 7am-4pm, Wed-Sun which isn’t terrible. I’m a morning person and love getting off work early. The only thing I don’t like about it is that I don’t have normal weekends. its become a struggle to make plans with my friends with “normal” jobs and I can see how this industry can quickly isolate you from the outside world. I’d like to try to prevent that from happening especially since M works a normal 9-5.

Right now, I’m trying to take things one day at a time. I tell myself: I can handle no time off for a little while. I can handle working weekends and early mornings. I can get faster and better and more confident. I can find balance and pleasure in the little things. All I can really do right now is to keep going and accept the choices I’ve made. I’m going to be stronger and more knowledgable because of it.

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A New Start

Blueberry Galette

I start a new job tomorrow as a pastry cook for a restaurant I really like. This has been what I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. And now that it’s finally happening, I’m feeling apprehensive. Is this really what I want to do? What if I hate it? What if I’m really bad at my job? What if it turns out I’m not cut out for this? I just know I have to do this now because if I wimp out now, I’ll never stop kicking myself later.

Life in the food industry is not easy. It doesn’t pay well, you must go to work even when you’re sick or injured, you don’t really get breaks, and vacation time is virtually non-existent. It takes a very particular kind of person to work in an environment like that. I’m really hoping that I’m one of those people.

Tonight, on the eve of my first day, it feels like I’m closing the door on my old, cushy way of life (I used to work at a tech company where unlimited PTO, free snacks and meals, massages, etc. were the norm) and moving onto something scary and unfamiliar.

People keep telling me that this discomfort and fear I’m feeling is a good thing. I sure hope so.

Japan 2015 Recap Pt 1: Planes, Trains, & Rain

I just got back from Japan yesterday and am excited to share some fun highlights from our trip! We went to Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Kyoto all in 10 days. I definitely wish we had a bit more time to spend in each place, but I think we got a little glimpse of a lot of different sides of Japan.

Our flight to Narita was about 10 hours and relatively bearable. We flew the Japanese airline, ANA, which is sooo much better compared to American airlines. The flight attendants are nice; you get pillows, blankets, and headphones for free; and my favorite part: the food looks like food and is something you’d actually want to eat! When I flew to Tokyo in 2012 with my parents on United, this was our “breakfast”:

United's interpretation of

United’s interpretation of “breakfast.” Is that a sausage or a finger?

Compare that to what M and I got on ANA:

Soba, salmon, fruit

Salmon, soba, fruit. That’s what real food looks like. The first few hours of our flight were the most entertaining. I got to watch Mockingjay, Pt 1 and eat my first airplane meal that actually tasted halfway decent.

Two more movies later, I had a headache and my butt started to feel sore from sitting for so long. After one of the bumpiest landings I’ve experienced in awhile, we were in Tokyo! Well, Narita is technically ~50 miles from Tokyo, but close enough… (I learned after this that Haneda is actually closer to Tokyo. Oh well.)

We breezed through immigration and customs and then wandered about looking for the post office where we needed to pick up our mobile wifi rental. Neither M or my Japanese is any good — which is understandable for M since he’s literally never studied Japanese. As for me, I studied Japanese in high school and my mother is Japanese so I always feel bad for my inability to speak and understand. After the fifth time running around the giant terminal in Narita, I finally got up the nerve to ask for directions. This is how it went:

Me: Er, excuse me? Where is this? *points at post office on map”

Woman: Blah blah blah to the right.

Me: uhh ok! Thank you very much!

Turns out I still remember what “right” is in Japanese! Hooray. We got to the post office and I was again flummoxed by the fact that I had no idea what the words for “mobile wifi router” and “pick up” were in Japanese. So I just said “Eigo?” (“English?”)  to the postal worker and fortunately he understood and took pity on me and helped get our mifi. Phew! Baby steps…

Japan travel pro-tip #1: Rent a mifi. It is so useful for getting around and looking things up. Also, the internet is so fast in Japan compared to the US. It’s amazing.

We then redeemed our Japan Rail Pass vouchers at the JR ticket office which took another 30 minutes of wandering around and struggling to understand and be understood. By the end of it we were given the proper tickets to get to Shibuya station and I was sweaty and exhausted. We hopped on the Narita Express (NEX) train and got off at Shibuya. I immediately felt like a fish swimming upstream. There were so many people headed towards us, there was practically no way to cut across the crowd without bumping into at least five people at a time and completely stopping the flow of foot traffic. We managed to stumble into the correct metro station and after standing staring at the ticket machines, baffled by the number of buttons and options, we somehow managed to get tickets. We took the metro a couple stops to Yutenji station which was thankfully much more peaceful than Shibuya. After getting off the subway, we started wandering towards our Airbnb.

At this point we had been traveling for about 18 hours straight and were grumpy and exhausted so naturally, there was a flash of lightning and the rumble of thunder right when we got off the train. It started pouring rain when we got good and lost. Fortunately, I somehow managed not to give up completely and even took a photo of the street we were walking on in the rain. There’s something about the street lights at night in Japan that is so magical.

Meguro

Our Airbnb host Ai was really sweet and offered to show us around and take us out to dinner. We went to Jack pot Oysters which was a tiny hole in the wall that was BYOB and every small table was equipped with a gas grill so you could cook any variety of shellfish. I tried conch for the first time and maybe the last — a bit slimy and bitter for my tastes — in addition to a ton of really fresh oysters, scallops, and clams.

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Next up in Japan 2015 Recap: Bento Breakfasts, Shibuya, and Harajuku

Bourbon Salted Caramels

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I’ve never been a big fan of soft caramels. Always a bit too sweet and sticky, I skip caramels chews in favor of the cube-like hard caramel lollipops they sold at See’s Candy. Last week, I had a bunch of heavy cream and butter leftover and I wanted to make something sweet for a friend’s birthday so I decided to give soft caramels another go. I adapted David Lebovitz’s recipe for Salted Butter Caramels by adding a couple tablespoons of bourbon in addition to vanilla, a healthy dose of fleur de sel, and brown rice syrup in place of corn syrup. Unfortunately, I ended up with very hard caramels that shattered in to shards when cut — I think I may need to recalibrate my candy thermometer. It was too late to start over so I just did my best to cut the caramels without losing a hand. Even though they turned out more like hard candies than the soft caramel chew I was hoping for, I thought they turned out pretty well! The addition of the bourbon flavor and extra salt helped prevent the candies from becoming too saccharine.

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Even though this wasn’t what I was going for, I thought these irregular shards looked pretty cool. 🙂

Baby Shower Cake

Baby shower cake

I’ve gotten back into baking and decorating cakes recently. I stopped for awhile because there are only so many cakes my roommate and M will help me eat! So when I got a request to make a cake for a baby shower, I jumped at the opportunity. Cakes are fun blank canvases of both flavor and decoration and I had been itching to come up with something new.

I made this cake for my boss’s baby shower with two constraints: the cake had to be chocolate and I couldn’t make the cake obviously “gendered” because they had decided not to find out the sex of the baby.

I decided to make a chocolate cake with salted caramel buttercream. I wanted to do something besides a plain old vanilla frosting and caramel is always a crowd pleaser. I then give full credit to two of my favorite cake bakers/decorators – Katherine Sabbath and Cococakeland for the inspiration behind the chocolate glaze and striped pink/blue meringues that topped off the cake.

Cooking and learning as I go

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I’ve been trying to make an effort to cook more. M and I came to the startling realization that we eat out almost every night. In an effort to save money (and put the excitement and novelty back into date nights) I volunteered to cook at least twice a week. As a baker, I find myself to be very dependent step-by-step instructions and precise measurements. Cooking for the past couple weeks has helped me loosen up in the kitchen and made me realize that I don’t have to depend on a recipe for something to turn out great.

Here’s what’s been on the menu for the past couple of weeks: Continue reading

Labor Day Weekend: Vancouver, BC

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I spent Labor Day weekend in Vancouver this year. Usually I relish in the near-emptiness of San Francisco during this time as most of the city’s residents go on vacation or head to Burning Man during the last week of August. This year I felt restless. Having just spent several months dealing with health issues that left me bedridden, I really felt the need to get out. I was convinced it was fate because exactly a week before Labor Day weekend I discovered I had enough miles on United to fly roundtrip to Vancouver (in first class, no less!).

Why Vancouver, you ask? You know, I’m not really sure. My friend happened to be going there over the holiday weekend to visit family and casually invited me along. I had always heard that the city is beautiful and the food scene is great. It was also the ideal distance to go to spend a long weekend. Not too far, but just far enough to feel different. Continue reading