Friday, October 31, 2008

Meal of the Month: October

October snuck up on me. Seriously, the month flew by, and before I knew it, I had to pick my Meal of the Month already! Thinking back, it was another good month. Full of seasonal fall foods. I hit up many of my favorites again (yes, I was at Nopa and SQPR again. I wonder if there’s been a month this year when I didn’t go to one of those places??)

I also trekked out of the city and enjoyed meals in Davis (yes, we SPRINTED to Mustard Seed from the brand new Aggie Football Stadium) and Healdsburg (I’m a Barn Diva!!). Both treks out of the city were so great. As much as this San Franciscian loves this city, it's nice to get of it once in awhile.

I enjoyed home cooked meals—from the apple fall harvest dinner Wendy and I created, to the delicious dinner Chris and Tatiana prepared for us (thank you to whom ever gave Chris that pork shoulder!!).

I dined at SF favorites La Ciccia and Maverick, as well as a delicious dinner at Delfina- even Chef Craig Stoll came by to say hello! (Even this gal's cutting back on eating out! Tough times I tell you.)

How is there a meal that can beat all of that you ask? Simple. My October Meal of the Month was family meal at Postrio.

Ok. Stop laughing. Family meal you say? Yes. Family meal. Want to know why? Because not only did I help with the meal (a yummy salad if you must know!), but I personally knew everyone that contributed to the meal, and even though we all stood eating from our stations, and had to eat quickly (ok, so shoveling the food into our mouths is probably more accurate), there was something special about it.

It was my first night of working through dinner service. And so while I've contributed to family meals before, I've never stayed and worked the night.

Our meal (or at least what I grabbed from the Family Meal Buffet) included some of the salad I had made and a simple pasta. That was it. Seriously. I didn't grab some of the other items (and I don't even remember what they were now), I just wanted to have enough to get me through service. Not more. Not less.

My first family meal, a meal I will never forget, is my Meal of the Month.

Happy Halloween!

Check out this really cute photo from one of my favorite blogs, Slashfood:

Photo courtesy of Hannah Kaminsky, author of My Sweet Vegan

There is something about candy corn that just screams Halloween. This little felt candy corn is adorable!

What are you doing for Halloween? Are you out Trick or Treating? Dressed up in costume? (If you need great last minute costume ideas, or you just want a laugh, check out these food themed costumes!) Out at a party?

Me? Cooking in the kitchen! In my mind, there's no better way to spend Halloween! It'll be interesting to see who comes in to eat...and if we'll see any costumes?!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sign of the Times

Are we in a recession? Is it another Great Depression? Are people eating out less? Buying less? Saving more? I know I am. Those shoes I wanted? I passed. That cute t-shirt I saw? Passed. Lunch out? No thanks, I brought mine. Dinner out? Well, ok! (I've got to enjoy a few luxuries! But in all seriousness, I'm definitely eating out less!)

And if you look around you and see the boarded up store fronts, the answer to the question would surely be 'yes'. I was walking in downton SF in Union Square a few weeks ago, and on one block, there were 6 street level store fronts closed. Gone. Out of business.

And else where?

The end of Mother's Cookies. (I'm going to pause to allow the shocking news to sink in.)

The Oakland based company abruptly shut it's doors. No warning. Not even enough time for me to buy my last bag of pink and white circus animal cookies. Nor my favorite mini iced oatmeal cookies. I don't eat a ton of sweets. And I don't even remember the last time I had Mother's Cookies. They're not a secret guilty food pleasure. But they bring me back to my childhood. And I am surprisingly devastated.

Another favorite that's come to an end? Zima. Yes. Now while it doesn't bring me quite as far back as my childhood, it does take me back to some under aged drinking days. It was wine coolers, Boone's, and Zima. What will high school kids do now? The end of an era people.

And slightly less sad, but again, a sign of the times...soon to be gone are Shoe Pavilion, Linens & Things, and Mervyns. Not stores I personally shopped at, but still. They were part of our landscape.

Which leads me to...WHAT'S NEXT?

Not to do make any Deathwatch declarations or anything, but what are your predictions for other companies going out of business?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Month From Now...

This is where I'll be...

Sydney!! This photo was recently on a Sydney blog I'm checking out, and I have to say, it got me even more excited!!

My friend Shaye and I have been talking about all the things we're going to do (snorkeling and kayaking for sure!), sights we're going to see, food we're going to eat (yes, I plan on trying kangaroo!) and wine we're going to be tasting!

At the end of a long, hard, and sometimes frustrating day, what do I do? I do what any Australia bound gal would do. I start singing "You come from a land Down Under..." and it makes it all better!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Big News...For the Blog!

Loyal readers! It's been a busy weekend, and I'm excited to share a few things with all of you about this blog site!

Now those of you that really know me, you know this. I'm not a tech geek. I know my way around computers, and the Internet and stuff, and I'm trying to remember the web HTML coding stuff I learned back in college (thanks to Wandy!!) But at the heart of it, this tech stuff does not come naturally to me.

Well, this weekend, I made two major improvements to my site (at least in my point of view!) One tool is for my non-techy readers and the other tool is for my techy friends.

First--for those of you that aren't 'blog friendly' and don't like going back and checking all the time to see if a site's been updated, and who also don't read blogs using a reader of some sort (I'm obsessed with my Google Reader!), this new tool is meant for you!!

You can now sign up to receive my new posts via email! Sent directly from me to you--the same day it the post hits! You can either sign up using the link on my site, or by clicking on this link here.

Secondly, for all my tech savvy friends who use Reddit, or Digg, or or Facebook, this one's for you! At the end of each of my posts now, you'll see the 'Share This' button which allows you to easily link the posts to a number of sites. Yay!

I personally love the 'Share This' button and am frequently posting things to my Facebook page. A great way to share stories and news (and other generally funny and interesting things) with my friends. I encourage you to check it out! And would really appreciate you spreading the word/love about this little blog.

I know this seems silly and like no big deal. But for me? A major technology triumph!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More Miracle Fruit

The rest of the world is finally catching up. As Slashfood reports here, tablets of Miracle Fruit are available. Ummm, been there. Done that. (Courtesy of Patrick!)

But more importantly, where can I get some of these tablets? It would be fun to try it again with some different friends and different dishes!

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Laughing Stock

I know I've written a lot about all of the random gadgets out there. But the more time I spend in a restaurant kitchen, the more I have to laugh at these different gadgets. They're knock-offs of the real deal. They're made to work the same way the restaurant equipment and tools are made to work--but more user friendly. And in pretty colors. Or they're tools you don't even need!

Not that there's anything wrong with that. And heck, I still consider myself a home cook--by no means a pro. But I find myself thinking more and more that these types of tools aren't necessary. I guess these were all the brainchild of some smart marketing person out there. In any case, they are pretty to look at:

These are all from Sur la Table's most recent email blast. Can you imagine if as part of the tools I took into the restaurant kitchen, I whipped out a rainbow whisk?? Or a pink spoon holder that hooked onto the pot? I can hear the laughter now. And salad tossers? Ummm, in the restaurant we call that 'our hands'.

If it were me? I'd much prefer access to a restaurant supply store!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dirty Little Secret

We all have secrets.

Secret single behavior. Secret obsessions. Secret crushes. Secret embarrassing stories. Secret hopes and dreams.

It’s not something you always think about. But when I saw this posting on Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s site about his Five Favorite Guilty Pleasure Drinks, it got me thinking. What are my favorite guilty pleasure foods?? Some of mine??

Chicken nuggets
Stouffer’s French bread pizza
Mayo on my hot dog
French Onion Dip
Cheese Whiz (which yes, I realize isn’t really cheese at all)

What are your five favorite guilty pleasure foods? Those foods that aren’t good for you, far from being gourmand, food combos that maybe other people dislike. Hey, we’ve all got different palates and secrets—spill!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

86 The Tuna

Music to my ears!! When one of the more labor intensive dishes on the menu (that comes out of the station I'm working in) gets 86'ed for the night, it's music to my ears. It also means we've made a crap load of them already-just early in the night.

It was a Sunday night. It was suppose to be slow. I was going into work purposely on this slower day so that I could do more watching and learning. And to really perfect my skills! Not the case this night. There were 149 in the books to begin with, and the count was getting higher and higher with last minute reservations and walk-ins. Respectable for a Sunday (compared to the 80 something they did last Sunday!) To top it off, there had been a wedding brunch in the dining room during the day. The staff was already tired, even before dinner started.

So let’s see. Chef wasn’t working and the bosses for the day were Chef Paul and Chef Michael. On this night, I was working in pantry (where I wanted to be!), and working pantry this night was Patsy (love working with her and learning from her!) and Hugo.

I was feeling more comfortable making my way into the back locker room and then into my station. I knew some of the things I had to do to set up, and even began going through everything and making sure the things we needed were in order. I got the “Why aren’t you working grill with me?” from Jayme (each time I get that question from someone!! I love it! Hopefully one day I will be able to work with everyone!!)

One of the bummers I realized right away? There were no more aprons left. It was Sunday, and many of the clean linens from the week were already used up. I asked a few people if they had been moved or if I had missed them some how. They all told me, “Nope, you’re out of luck. Happens on Sunday’s.” I was struggling to deal with how I’d get through the entire service without my apron. It had deep pockets—where I kept my notebook (with notes on all of the dishes and ingredients) in one pocket, and my chap stick and an extra sharpie in the second pocket!

As we began setting up, I noticed that Hugo, who had gotten there after me, had an apron! Shoot! How did he get one? So the next time no one was around, I kind of cornered him and asked him where there were aprons. He looked at me. Like his secret was out. He had stashed it last night—before leaving. Hugo. That pro. He knew they wouldn’t have aprons by the time he got in on Sunday. I was impressed with his wisdom and foresight. What made me even happier? He had stashed TWO last night! And he was willing to give me the second one. I had an apron in my future! Whoo hoo! (Now that I think about it, was the second one saved for someone else? Opps, sorry! But thank you Hugo!)

So some of the things I did? I cut ginger again—but this time, I first sliced it up real thin using the slicing machine, then I julienned it. When I was at the slicing machine, I wanted to confirm that I was using it correctly. As I looked around to see who was nearby, I smiled when I saw that Jayme was coming towards me. I was in luck! He’d help me. That boy, he’s so funny. He had a look of terror on his face—“Oh god! Don’t hurt yourself!”

I saw how they fried up the ginger, croutons and bread—that fry machine is dangerous! We ran around stocking our station, prepping and chopping. We were worried we would run out of daikon sprouts, so I also julienned some daikon (and then soaked them in an ice water bath so they’d firm up.) I had the opportunity to make family meal for a second time around—putting together a much yummier salad this time around! (Although I’m not going to take it personally…I did notice that the salads are not usually the first to go on the family meal buffet. Why don’t these boys eat their greens??)

When we finally had a little bit of time, Patsy told me to head up for a break. I wanted to. I wanted to go sit outside in the fresh air. I wanted to sit and talk with everyone. But instead? I stayed behind. Why you ask? Because I wanted to study my notes. Dumb, I know. Dorky, I know. As much as I wanted to be social and hang out with everyone, I wanted to impress them all even more. And in order to do that? I needed to take one last look at my notes. I had stopped by the restaurant a few days prior, before dinner service, so that I could write down all the details to every dish that came out of pantry. I even drew diagrams. So I could visually see what plate it went on, what it looked like, etc. I had been studying them every free moment I had and I wanted to be ready.

When everyone got back from break—I learned what was really about to happen for the night. It was going to be a busy one. There were a lot of reservations in the books—and not to mention a dinner party for 20. There was a lot of talk about stocking up. Lots of “Are you ready??” Lots of “Let’s make sure we have extra prepped”, and “You know we’re going to get slammed tonight!” Yikes. I don’t know if I was mentally prepared for such a busy night. As we looked at what was in the books for the night, it looked like we were going to get hit hardest around 8 pm. Well, it started earlier than that, and lasted late into the night. They just didn’t stop coming in.

If you think about it, everyone starts off with a first course. Salad or soup or some other appetizer. Most of the appetizers on the menu are cold. So the majority of the first course items come out of our pantry station. By the time you get to second course, you have the option of fish or seafood, or steak or something from the grill or even pasta. Those all come from different stations. You’ve got a few more people taking the load. Not as true with the first course. Most of it, came from us. I have a whole new respect for the pantry teams out there—this is hard work! And probably one of the most under appreciated stations for a cook to work.

Some of the highlights/events/memories from the night? When the group sat down, they had the option of a salad or our spicy tuna roll (essentially we had to prepare 20 items all at once since both choices came out of our station). Many of them chose tuna. One of our most complicated dishes on the menu right now. We physically didn’t have enough room in our area to even plate that many dishes! In addition to Patsy, Hugo and myself, we found we needed helpers for parts of the night. Chef Paul and even Chef Ian (pastry chef!) came and helped us at our station. It was just too crazy and too many orders to handle. It was shortly after the party sat and ordered all their tuna and we realized we were just about out of it, and that’s when we heard it “86 the tuna! Everyone hear that? 86 the tuna!”

The pretty spicy tuna roll--thank you Patricia for snapping this the last time she was there!

What else? We found that there didn’t seem to be too many cucumber salads that night (shoot! I still haven’t plated one of these dishes!) I am better at plating the tomato salad, although cutting the tomatoes? Still not so good at it. I glanced over at one point and saw that Patsy was removing the slices I had just mad. They were too thick. SHOOT. I was so mad at myself. But glad that I caught her removing them—if I was going to learn, I was going to have to take some criticism. Good thing that with a restaurant like that, they can use scraps and mistakes (it even pains me to say that word out loud) in other ways. I’ve gotta practice cutting tomatoes before going back (or be glad that heirloom tomato season is almost over!)

We were told there were no more sardines and that it was off the menu tonight (which is probably the second hardest dish to plate from our station.) Just as Patsy and I were feeling happy that we had one less dish coming from our station, we were told. Sardines were replaced with these beautiful blue lake shrimp. Keep it on the menu. Bring back all the sauces, bottles, accoutrements we had started putting away.

But it was ok. Tonight? I was more prepared. I had studied the sardine diagram the most—for some reason, this one just confused me! So I was ready tonight. And while I’ve tasted the sardine dish and liked it, I’ve just got to say, that these shrimp were beautiful! And the smell of them were heavenly. If I could only eat one dish from our station? Probably the shrimp.

I had the opportunity to taste one of the chocolate cakes that Chef Ian had created and was putting on the banquet menu now. It was SO GOOD. Moist and soft. But dark and rich too. As soon as your fork cuts into it, chocolate comes flowing out. Yum. Another moment? Jayme must have had an order for the kobe supplement, and there must have been an extra piece. He put a teeny tiny piece on a plate and had the runners bring it to our station. It was heavenly.

We went from all of the salads and appetizers to dessert. This time? I tried to watch them plate these as well. I had the chance to plate the strawberry shortcake (so pretty!), and watched as they finished off beautiful plates of bread pudding, gingerbread cake, boca negra, and even cheese plates. Amazing how intricate each plate was and how beautiful they all looked.

A snapshot of the strawberry shortcake!

The happiest moment in the night? Hmm, toss up. At one point, Chef Ian was in our station and talking with us about something. I referenced that we had sliced dates already that I had just transferred into a 9 pan. He smiled at me and gave me a look. I thought to myself—I got the name of the pan wrong. It’s something else. But no! That wasn’t the case at all. He was smiling because I had gotten it right! “Way to go—check you out using the right terminology!”

But probably the winning moment? Near the end of the night, when the restaurant was slowing down and we had just been swamped for the last few hours, Chef Paul (who I’ve been secretly a little scared of until that night), told me “That’s a nice looking salad. Thank you for your help tonight.” Such simple words. But I was in heaven!! It meant that I hadn’t failed. And hopefully it meant that I was good enough to stay. Good enough to be more helpful than to get in the way. Each time I go in, I tell myself “if you get in the way more than you help out, you have to leave.” And each time, I get just a little sad thinking “What if this is my last time coming in to cook?” Well, hopefully after this night, they'll let me come back again. Because I'm ready!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Yes, Another Farmer's Market

You all hear me talking about my 'happy place' frequently. The San Francisco Farmer's Market is one of my favorite places to go. But you know what? It's not JUST loving the San Francisco Farmer's Market. I've always loved Farmer's Markets. Something about walking around, taking time to pick through the produce, many times, talking to the farmer's themselves. It's a good way to get inspired by the local and seasonal produce. And to learn about new vegetables or varietals. It's also a great chance to meet different people in my own community. I just love it.

When I travel, I try and check out the local Farmer's Market when I can. I've been to the Farmer's Markets in Washington, D.C. (Dupont Circle area one), in Aspen, in Portland (one of my other all time favorite Farmer's Markets!), Seattle, and internationally, to many open air markets.

The other thing about markets? It's not something you do once? Each time you visit, depending on the season, there are new things to see, new things to taste, and new items to buy!

Well, one of my all time favorite's is the Davis Farmer's Market. And recently, I was in Davis and had the chance to walk through the market with some friends. Here are some photos of the things we saw (click to view the slideshow!):

Davis Farmer's Market

There were so many fantastic things that caught my eye! I can't wait until I can check out another market in a new city soon.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Such a Thoughtful Treat!

Look at this!! This small little package was from a friend. She dropped it off a few weeks ago--it's home made banana bread! But wrapped up in white paper, with a pretty lace black ribbon around it and her beautiful hand writing on it. How thoughtful!

I've baked treats for friends before. And usually, what do I do? Plastic wrap. Oh, maybe a bow on it if it's a special occasion or if I've had the time. Or for the holidays? Maybe put it in a pretty tin. But have I ever packaged it like this? In such an original, simple, and yet gorgeous manner? Nope.

Thank you Kirsten for the banana bread (I still haven't eaten it, I just can't bring myself to ruin your wrapping!) And thanks for the great packaging idea!

My War Wound

Can you see it? The blister? Do you wonder why I'm showing you this burn? No, it's not my first burn. It's not even my first burn in the restaurant kitchen. It's just the worse!!

Like most burns, it's because you weren't paying attention, or moving too fast, or you're stressed. Well, in this case? All of the above.

I had been really careful the last few times I was working in the kitchen. All those hot pots and pans, hot ovens and stoves, sharp knives, small spaces, heaving pots and pans, climbing racks and shelves in the walk-in, running into other people, running into counters, making quick turns, oh the list goes on and on. The kitchen, especially a professional restaurant kitchen, is not a safe place.

Well, a few nights ago, early in the night, I went to open an oven (the one we affectionately refer to as the "Easy Bake Oven") and even though I had a towel in hand to open the door with, I underestimated how hot that oven was. The result? Yup. My burn blister. OUCH!

Let's just say, it made for a long night. The pain did not go away, and all I could do was run my finger under cold water when ever I could in order to temporarily help ease the pain.

Does it still hurt? Yes. (Especially when I type!) Is it unattractive? Yes. Am I a little worried about it scaring or looking gross or not going away (it's almost hardened a little--like a callus)? Yes. Am I a little proud of my war wound? You betcha.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fall Farmer's Market Treats

October is my favorite time in San Francisco. The weather is typically perfect--little to no fog in the morning, warm during the day, and then nice and cool at night. Fall is in the air and it doesn't get much better than this.

The other day, I ducked out of the office at lunch time to pick up a train ticket. That was my excuse. I mean sure, I needed the train ticket, but the real reason I wanted to leave the office? It was Tuesday. Farmer's Market Day at the Ferry Building.

I rarely get to go to the Tuesday market--getting out at lunch is so hard! But what a treat it was! I saw these beautiful cranberry beans:

I had JUST read about these beans from one of my favorite blogs, The Amateur Gourmet. I had a busy week ahead of me, and no time at home and in the kitchen, so I didn't buy any. But hopefully sometime soon.

Another sight I saw? This beautiful pepper plant! The 'flowers' are bright yellow little peppers:

It was GORGEOUS! Wouldn't this make a pretty center piece? Makes me want to throw a dinner party--just so I can go back and get this plant for my table.

Sadly, by the time I did get my train ticket, walked through a few stalls, got a refill in my Boccalone water bottle and chatted with my friend Tatiana, it was basically time to head back. Hopefully I can make a few more trips to the Tuesday market in's so nice to be at the market without the craziness of the Saturday crowds!

One last thing! Check out the pretty flowers I brought back to the office, definitely helping to brighten up my week!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Absurdity of it All

I live in an old building. There are creaks and thin walls and single paned windows. I can hear the foghorns from the boats in the Bay when it's foggy out. I can hear the ringing of the cable cars and the #27 bus rolling down my street every 20 min or so. And each time I hear a car alarm go off? Makes me think they should be banned in the city when owners park their cars blocks from their apartments and don't even hear the alarm going off. And the garbage truck? Don't get me started.

So yes. There are plenty of city noises surrounding me. And that doesn't even scratch the surface. My downstairs neighbor? Huge radio person. Loves her NPR. Which is great, but she blares it so loud, that I can hear it from my apartment. And the woman above me? Single mom. Her son, who's probably about 5 is like any other normal child. Runs a lot, has this ball he's always bouncing up and down. Cute kid. Good upstairs neighbor? Probably not.

I'm not complaining. I've learned to live with it, and for the most part? Everyone in the building is pretty quiet. No real ragers or loud music, or even a lot of people coming in and out. Mostly all working professionals all with fairly normal hours.

Well, you wouldn't have known it if you witnessed what happened to me Sat morning. I had a friend in town, and she was coming by to drop off her bags at my apartment and then we were heading out for a day of sightseeing. When she arrived, I buzzed her up, but then walked out my door, intending to head down to help her carry things up the two flights of stairs. As I did, I was 'greeted' by my crazy downstairs neighbor. She was pissed.

She started yelling at me, complaining that I was too loud and woke her up last night. She claims I was pacing back and forth and purposely making noise above her bed. She even accused me of exercising late and waking her up.

Now first. If you're going to complain to your neighbor, wouldn't you at least try to speak to them in a calm manner? She was literally yelling at me.

Second. Me? Exercise late at night? Clearly she doesn't me. I did get in late the night before. And after the day I had, the second I got home, I was ready for bed. Late night exercise? That's just nuts.

In terms of the pacing and being loud over her bed, I don't even know where her bed is in the apartment. Purposely pacing and 'being loud' over someone's bed? I don't think so.

Now. These walls are thin, so I'm sure she does hear me. But I'm also sure that I'm pretty considerate. And I really don't know how I could even be more quiet. I take off my shoes the second I get in--why wear heels any longer than you need to when you have fuzzy slippers waiting for you?

And pacing? If you count going to the kitchen for a glass of water and then going to the bathroom 'pacing', then fine. I pace. She's going to have to deal with it.

And umm, after standing in the kitchen for 8 hours after a 7 hour work day in the office, the second I made it home, all I wanted to do was sleep. I had no time to think about anything else.

We have hardwood floors in the building. And me? I've got hall runners and little carpets in my room, purposely trying to minimize the noise. I work, and really don't have too many really late nights. When I do? I am SO QUIET in fear that I'll wake up and have a run-in with The Evil Witch of the First Floor.

I've never thrown a huge party here, I don't play loud music, and I'm usually in bed by 10 doing work on my laptop, watching TV or reading. And get up early? Hah! Again, you clearly don't know me!

So now what? What do I do? Maybe I'll be extra loud during the day so that she knows how loud it can actually be. Maybe I'll throw a party and play loud music. I will continue to be polite when it's early or late, but the next time I see her? I'm NOT letting her yell at me again. I'm NOT going to apologize. Karma's gonna get her--when I move out, she'll probably still be living here, and I have a hunch that the next person in here? Is going to be a party animal, who works late, comes home at odd hours, brings home friends all the time, and is even meaner than she is.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

After Glow

As the night started winding down, we moved from plating the salads and appetizers to the desserts and cheese plates.

As it got slower, we could all do a little more chatting. Someone asked me 'So, are you getting paid to do this?'. 'So why are you here doing this? Don't you have anything better to do on a Friday night?' Umm, geez, don't I feel like a loser now?! But seriously? No. I didn't. There was no place else I'd rather be! It's what I look forward to now. I'm really enjoy my time in the kitchen, and also getting to know this amazing team of people.

Anyways, back to desserts. Desserts are actually not as easy to plate as you may think, and I'm sad to say that I didn't plate any desserts. Chef Ian was up there doing many of them, and then Patsy and Jose did the rest of them. Maybe next time? One thing at a time!

Late into the night, I did help Jose by placing the walnuts onto some of the cheese plates. When we were all admiring Jose's work and beautiful plates, I couldn't help but comment, "But don't those walnuts look perfect too?!" Everyone looked at me. Then someone started laughing , "You did that huh?"

I was ready to joke and laugh again. I was starting to relax a little bit. I was back to being my chatty self. Service was almost over, and I had hung in there. I didn't even screw up too bad! I was happy with my first showing.

Over in one corner of the line, the cook working the grill, Jayme, motioned for me to go over there. He was testing out a new dish and he wanted me to try it. It was awesome. A scallop wrapped in bacon and served over a parsnip puree. Yum!! I can't wait for the menu to transition fully into fall and winter!

As we began the clean up process, the team told me I was done. Off the hook. Last table was finishing up and I was free to go. Well shoot. At that point, it was past 11 pm, I just HAD to stay and close up and shut down with everyone else! I had come this far, I was going to finish with everyone else. And isn't part of the learning process all about seeing how they closed up, cleaned up and prepared to do it all again the next day?

So. Just how busy was my first night? We did around 180 covers, and of those, 17 were tasting menus. Pretty good.

If you would have asked me to guess? I would have guessed hundreds. It felt like we put out a ton of stuff! Although on the other hand, time flew by! At one point, I looked down at my watch, and it was already 9:30! I couldn't believe it.

At the end of the day, I had basically worked a 7 hour work day in the office, and then a more than 8 hour day in the kitchen. I'm crazy right? Well, maybe. But I have not smiled that hard or for that long in a really long time. And I have not had to concentrate that much, or actually think that hard in a really long time. At the end of the day, not only was my body tired, but so was my brain.

As we were winding down, a group of cooks and servers started talking about going out for a drink after work. Was I in? You betcha! I needed to come down from my adrenaline high! And I wanted to sit and enjoy that feeling of accomplishment with the rest of the team. I wanted to see what they thought of me and my work. Did I pass? Would I be allowed back?

Now, I know I mentioned the outfit and feeling unattractive at the beginning of service. Well, that was nothing. It even compare to how I felt at the end of it. Not only was I ten times sweatier and dirtier, I smelled like food. And kitchen. And my hair was disgusting having been in a ponytail and stuffed into the hat. And make-up? What make up? But it didn't matter. I was happy. So happy.

We walked outside of the restaurant to find it was pouring rain. The air was fresh and clean. And it was really nice. I took a deep breathe. Perfect.

Now all that was on my mind? Can I come back tomorrow??

The Adrenaline Rush Beings

After the break, I went into the back to put a hat on. In order to work in the kitchen during service, I had to have a hat on. I couldn't get it just right, and found myself trying to push it back down throughout the night. If this is going to continue, I'm going to have to perfect the hat wearing thing. Good thing there wasn't a mirror around, because I would have been horrified. It's just not an attractive look. Between the clogs (which although unattractive, are seriously the most comfortable shoes I own), the black and white checkered pants, the dirty towels strung through my apron, and that floppy hat, I have never felt more unattractive. There's got to be a way to create a more attractive looking uniform. Hmmm. Next project. But in the meantime, the clothes weren't the reason I was there. I was there to cook!

I don't even really remember how it happened. We saw people walking down the stairs into the dining room and getting seated and we knew it was coming. Pantry is in charge of all of the salads and cold appetizers (and also plating dessert), and so as soon as the guests were arriving, we knew we'd be the first to get hit. And sure enough, before I knew it, the sound of that machine started up. A ticket was coming in. As soon as it did, Patsy would grab it, tab some water on the top so that it would stick to the counter, and then as she called out the orders, everyone started moving.

One of the first things that came in was an heirloom tomato salad. She grabbed both Tony and I and talked us through how to build it. The perfect slices of tomato, cheese, avocado; how to sprinkle the micro basil over the top; the method and technique of drizzling both the olive oil and the balsamic. The salt and pepper to finish. Her's was perfect. All of the items were the exact same width--and she was able to build it with such height. Even her drops of the balsamic on the two plates were perfectly the same. Dot here, dot there. Patsy stressed to me--the plates have to look the same.

Then another ticket. Another tomato salad. "Remember how to do it? You do this one." Me? Build a tomato salad? For a paying customer? Ok! Bring it on!

Now, I've made many a tomato salad. I had JUST seen her do it. And it's not hard. BUT, it was. And there was a lot to remember. How many tomato slices vs avocado slices vs cheese slices. How many cherry tomatoes to get? Salt now. Pepper later. But only one crank of the mill. And the olive oil line should be consistent. But the balsamic? Just drops. Lines over the top, dots around. And oh. Why aren't my tomato slices and avocado slices the exact same size? How did she do that so well? It was not easy. And I got a finger print on the plate. Shoot. Where's my towel? And too much pepper. And oh! The micro basil! Almost forgot. There sure was a lot to remember.

Next? Oysters. Now I've eaten many oysters. But actually shuck one? Never. Tonight was the night! And man! Those little guys can be tough! And that shucking knife sharp and dangerous! As I was struggling with one, Jose had already shucked the rest of them. All eyes seemed to be on me again, waiting. I finally got it, and the dish was ready to go and placed on the counter ready to be picked up. Not a moment too soon. Another ticket was coming in. Actually there was two this time. And then three. They were coming in more and more frequently now. My heart was beginning to pound.

Next, I learned how to prepare the kobe beef tartare. First. Lines on the plate with the miso dressing. Then the sesame paste. With the back of a spoon, Patsy ran the spot of sesame paste through the lines of miso dressing making a beautiful plate. Then Patsy threw the kobe beef into a bowl along with some pepper paste, some more miso dressing and salt, and mixed it up with her hands. Using a mold, she put the beef onto the center of the plate, and as she lifted the mold, it was a perfect flat circle. Then she grabbed a quail egg, and carefully with her knife cracked the tip off one end. She removed the egg from the shell, placed the perfectly cracked egg shell on the plate, and then placed just the yolk onto of the beef. To finish, she grabbed three of the bread 'toasts' we had made earlier and displayed them perfectly in this little mini 'mug' on one end of the plate. It was a beautiful dish. One that I made about a million of that night. I think it was the one dish I think I actually perfected.

Other dishes? The signature salmon pizza. A beet salad. A very difficult deconstructed tuna roll. And sardines that while they were simple in their preparation, the difficulty in plating made up for. I learned how to make all of these dishes that night. And no. I didn't do them perfectly.

Something as simple as the salmon pizza? Because I was trying to move quickly? I cut it too quickly--and the slices weren't all the same size. The second I made the cut, I saw it. Yikes. Someone at that table as going to end up with a small piece. Even the runner gave it a second look and asked Patsy if it was ok to send out before taking it. As he explained to me that I had to be careful with my cuts, that if it was too uneven, we'd have to fire a brand new one. I felt horrible. I deserved this little lecture. And he really wasn't even lecturing me. He was helping. And teaching. And I knew I had made the mistake. But I was already feeling bad! But there was no time to dwell on it. I could hear the next tickets coming in and we were beginning to fall behind.

Other small errors? I grabbed daikon sprouts once instead of the rainbow micro greens. Opps. Relatively small mistake in the large scheme of things, but I was still so mad at myself! Stupid mistake! They don't look alike. The daikon was obviously for the tuna! Damn.

Then there was the issue of which plate to use. And when it came to the tasting menus that were coming in, I had a little bit of difficulty with the portion size. Ok, so it wasn't just the tasting menus that I had the portion problem with. There was that one REALLY LARGE beet salad I made. It was unacceptable to the server. He wouldn't take it. I had to size down my salad, and re-plate. Damn. And just when I had gotten the two little wedges of cheese and the toast points perfectly displayed on top.

I had a hard time remembering which oil or which sauce to put in each dish. There were a number of different squeeze bottles and a different combination of flavors for each dish. Our mise en place was extensive, and it was hard to remember which items went with each dish when there were so many choices right in front of me! It definitely took a while for me to get use to.

Even now, days later, I'm finding myself walking down the street and muttering to myself...beet salad: herb oil, lemon juice, frisse, watercress, dates--don't forget the dates!; kobe beef tartare: miso dressing, pepper paste, chives, shallots; sardines: cayenne pepper, eggplant raisin, pine nuts, lemon preserve, onions, fennel salad, sardines and on and on. Which dish used the sauce from the little squeeze bottle? Why can't I remember?! Did I remember to put it in the dish each time I made it? I almost want to make flash cards. Seriously. I need to be ready for next time. I hope there will be a next time.

to be continued...

Monday, October 6, 2008

That Sound

I'm never going to forget that sound. Kind of a clicking. A soft cranking. A sound I can't find the right words to describe, but a sound that's forever in my brain. It's the sound of tickets coming in. The sound that tells you, get ready, another one's coming in. The sound that tells you, your night is not over yet.

I was back in the kitchen a few nights ago. And this time, I was assigned to the pantry. And tonight, I was going to stay through service. I have to admit. Part of me wanted to go back to pastry. My comfort zone. The place where I could hide in the back. Away from the immediate stress of the tickets. And although what they are doing in the restaurant is way beyond me, it's still an area I'm comfortable with. And Chef Ian had changed the menu again since I had last been in, and I was excited and anxious to see what they were doing now. But not this night. Chef put me in pantry. The place you start. I was lucky to be there. And I knew it and was grateful.

Patsy is the lead pantry cook--and she was great for me to work with. I learned so much from her and have so much respect for her. She was patient and willing to spend time teaching me and yet also giving me a lot of tasks. I didn't ever feel like she was giving me something to do just for the sake of giving me something to do. I was actually helping out and a part of her team for the night.

Let's see. How did the night start? I started by meeting everyone on the pantry team. In addition to Patsy, there was Jose, who's been there for a little while. He was awesome. He knew that station inside and out, was amazingly fast. Whenever I was in doubt that night? I went to Jose. He knew everything that was going on. He was quiet and almost a little shy, but one of the hardest workers I've ever met. Last but not least, there was Tony. It was Day 3 on the job for him. And I was glad there was another newbie to the team. Although it was a little different for him--he'd been to culinary school, and had spent the last year in another restaurant kitchen.

Once I met everyone, we had to finish prepping the station for the night. They were just finishing up a few miscellaneous tasks and I was asked to julienne some ginger. It was going to be flash fried after and used as a garnish for the deconstructed spicy tuna roll (which as I'm writing this, I'm wondering, did I remember to put the ginger on the top of the spicy tuna rolls I did? Crap. I can't remember.) I thought to myself, ok, I know how to julienne. I can do this. As I started, Patsy leaned over and told me--even smaller strips. My ginger strips were too thick. And I should be rocking my knife back and forth not picking it up each time. Ok. Just when I thought maybe I knew what I was doing, I realized. I don't know.

Next up? Family meal. I was to make a salad with some of the leftovers from the night before. It was both exciting and nerve wrecking. Me? Contribute to family meal? I realize it was just a salad, not like I was doing anything earth shattering here, but I was honored to be given this task. This was important--it was the food the team was going to eat! It wasn't just any salad.

After that was done, we did a few other things to stock and prepare the station. I was asked to start the white bean soup that was going to be the amuse bouche for the evening. I had to reheat it, and once it was heated, Chef would go and spice it up. Patsy was really clear. Be sure to stir it. No, not stand there and stir it, but to go back and check on it frequently. It would have been easier to just stand there and stir it. But that wasn't what I was asked to do, and I had other tasks to get to. Peeling more ginger. Getting the greens for the salads to our station from these huge bins in the walk-in. Cutting the rice 'cake' for the tuna rolls--and that required precise measuring so that all of the slices were exactly the same size. And to make matters worse? I actually wasn't even working near the soup. So to remember to stir? Not too easy.

Thankfully there were some other eyes helping me out. Again proving to me that a good team and a kitchen that's working together is crucial to a restaurant's success. You've all got to have each other's backs and to be helping each other out--even without the other person asking for the help.

At one point, I ran over to the stove from where I was working, thinking it had been a little too long since I had last stirred the soup. I was worried it had been ruined, and that the cream based soup was now sticking to the bottom of the pot. As I ran over with a slightly panicked look on my face, I got a smile from one of the other cooks, Seth, saying "Don't worry, I've been stirring the soup." Thank god. I let out a soft sigh of relief. When I made a comment about being worried about ruining the soup, he responded with, "Do you know how many pots of soup I've ruined?"

After our pantry station was all ready to go and we had nibbled on our family meal (scarfed down was more like it), we all took a quick break before dinner service. Carrying a milk crate in one hand, and a glass of water in my other, I walked up a narrow set of stairs that led me to the street. There I was. Sitting there in my whites and clogs on Post Street. Just blocks away from my day job, and yet such a world away. Taking a breath of fresh air I closed my eyes and relaxed for just a moment before we had to head back downstairs. It was the calm before the storm.

to be continued...

Bless The Couples

I'm a single gal. Single and proud you might say. Although I may hope to find that special someone in the long run, I'm pretty happy and content in my life right now (at least in my personal life, professionally? Still trying to figure out how to be independently wealth!)

I have a lot of married friends, even more friends in relationships, and then a small handful of single friends (y'll rock the most, you know that right??!!)

Well, I often find myself wanting to get together with a friend, and the question comes up...will their partner/boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife be joining? Although it's often nice to spend time alone with just your friend, I don't typically care if they bring along their significant others. For the most part, I like the partners of all of my friends.

But when I am the 'third wheel' and hanging out with one of my couple friends, I find that there's a handful of friends that I feel most comfortable with.

Some couples are plain annoying, overdose of the "we talk", and just too romantic and gushy with each other. Yuck. In other relationships, one person is really shy or quiet, and I always feel like I'm dominating the conversation, and it can be uncomfortable (so yea, I talk a lot, but I like being around other people that like to talk too!)

So my favorite couples? These are the couples that are equally interesting, equally funny, and people I really enjoy talking to, as individuals.

So to all of my friends out there, but especially to the couples that welcome this single gal into their lives, I love ya!!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Sweet 100

I came across this list, “The Sweet 100 from the Cakespy website. So like many of the other Top 100 lists I’ve written about (Omivore’s Hundred, American’s Hundred, Chinese Food Hundred), I was excited when I saw this one. Especially because this topic is interesting—and fun—to me! Imagine my disappointment as I began scanning down the list, and I realized, I haven’t tried most of these items! I haven't even heard of many of them.

I’ve only eaten 41 of the items. Which means I’ve got a whopping 59 things to try. Such a bad showing. But see? I’m really not the dessert crazed person some people think I am! But hey, it certainly gives me something to strive for!

On another quick note—I absolutely adore the Cakespy website. The graphics are awesome, and so cute! Check it out.
Red Velvet Cake
Princess Torte
Whoopie Pie
Apple Pie either topped or baked with sharp cheddar
Black and white cookie
Seven Layer Bar (also known as the Magic Bar or Hello Dolly bars)
Fried Fruit pie (sometimes called hand pies)
Just-fried (still hot) doughnut
Scone with clotted cream
Betty, Grunt, Slump, Buckle or Pandowdy
Banana pudding with nilla wafers
Bubble tea (with tapioca "pearls")
Dixie Cup
Rice Krispie treats
Girl Scout cookies
Moon cake
Candy Apple
Baked Alaska
Brooklyn Egg Cream
Nanaimo bar
Baba au rhum
King Cake
Tres Leches Cake
Shoofly Pie
Key Lime Pie (made with real key lime)
Panna Cotta
New York Cheesecake
Napoleon / mille-fueille
Russian Tea Cake / Mexican Wedding Cake
Anzac biscuits
Moon Pie
Dutch baby
Boston Cream Pie
Homemade chocolate chip cookies
Gooey butter cake
Green tea cake or cookies
Cupcakes from a cupcake shop
Crème brûlée
Some sort of deep fried fair food (twinkie, candy bar, cupcake)
Yellow cake with chocolate frosting
Jelly Roll
Pop Tarts
Charlotte Russe
An "upside down" dessert (Pineapple upside down cake or Tarte Tatin)
Hummingbird Cake
Jell-O from a mold
Black forest cake
Mock Apple Pie (Ritz Cracker Pie)
Linzer torte
Angel Food Cake
Mincemeat pie
Opera Cake
Sfogliatelle / Lobster tail
Pain au chocolat
A piece of Gingerbread House
Rainbow cookies
Petits fours
Chocolate Souffle
Bienenstich (Bee Sting Cake)
Homemade marshmallows
Rigo Janci
Pie or cake made with candy bar flavors (Snickers pie, Reeses pie, etc)
Coke or Cola cake
Gateau Basque
Figgy Pudding
Bananas foster or other flaming dessert
Joe Froggers
Millionaire's Shortbread
Animal crackers

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Sight to See!

I'm not a church person, and am not a fan of organized religion. I can appreciate churches and temples for what they are- architechtually cool, special, or significant buildings.

I was at Cavallo Point recently, out at Fort Baker, in the Marin Headlands, just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. And as we were walking up to the main lodge, I saw this...

It was stunning. Breathtaking. Gorgeous. And yet so simple. It's currently one of the top spots I'm in love with. I just had to share with all of you!!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Meal of the Month: September

I'm sorry September. It really wasn't much of a contest this month--I don't even know why I kept a record of the meals I had. On the 3rd day of the month, I had my meal of the month. And the second we finished, I knew that was the case. I think we have a new record on our hands.

So first--there were many meals this month. I went to some of my favorite spots (NOPA, Beretta, SPQR); also seemed to have a lot of home-cooked meals (thanks to friends like Rob, Bryan and Roby, Michelle, Matt--and Mama Maureen!); hit up some of my neighborhood spots (Frascati, Amelie and Street), and checked out some new/newish places (Chez Papa at Mint Plaza, Urban Tavern, Nettie's Crabshack and the new Pizzeria Delfina). All in all, another yummy month!

Now, onto the winning meal!

A friend of mine, Marshall, was in town from New York. He's a mixologist out there, a cocktail and spirits expert- and somewhat of a foodie himself. While he and his girlfriend Samantha were out here for a vacation, he gathered up all of his random San Fran friends for one fine meal.

Turns out it really is a small world. And the SF restaurant biz is an even smaller world. Finding out there were multiple connections our random group of eight gathered. We decided to eat at Boulevard-where our friend Ravi is a chef. As we piled into the restaurant, it was fun to see everyone again, and to make some new friends too. Our group consisted of three 'non-industry' friends (but major foodies!), a server, a mixologist (bartender, whatever!), two chefs, and me!

After trying to order everything on the menu, we changed our minds. Return the menus. Leave it all in the hands of the chef. He'll know best. We never looked back.

We started out with an amuse, then moved onto a special chef's plate with a crispy Maryland soft shell crab (with shiitake mushrooms, pickled cucumber and a ginger miso mayo), ahi tuna tartare (with a sesame rice cracker, jalapeno and ginger, avocado, miso eggplant). The crab was one of my favorites of the night!

We moved onto Monterey Red Abalone (served with a fried green tomato!), and then onto the fresh heirloom tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad.

There was a mid course of a fresh fish wrapped in bacon (to be honest, I was focused on the bacon!), then another highlight of the night. A scallop, served side by side with pork belly. Perfect. So delicious. We finished off our savory experience with crispy veal sweetbreads and a perfectly poached egg. We all exclaimed like little children as we pierced it. It was gorgeous.

It was one of those meals when ever course was a surprise. And every course was executed perfectly. We were all full, although not stuffed.

Good thing. Because that's when the cheese course hit. Perfect timing. Great cheese, yummy figs, and oh! My madrona almonds! There was also this incredible white honey comb. Sarah and I enjoyed that the most I think!

And the best part of our dessert course? Hmm. Let's see. The bourbon ice cream? The mini cupcake? Oh no. I think it was the ice cream cake!!

The best part? When eating with foodies and so many people, you're able to try a lot of wines. We each had the perfect little taste, and had the perfect pair with each course. We had many great wines, but my personal favorite? The Scherrer pinot noir from Russian River.

Other highlights? Hearing chef Evan make fun of me snapping photos as each course came out. According to him he doesn't like taking photos of the food. He likes to remember them in his head. The smell. The taste. Sorry Evan. I disagree. Seeing photos of the food only helps me remember all of those things, and brings me back to that exact spot. Not sure I'll get away with it when I'm eating in his restaurant, but oh well. We'll cross that bridge when we get there!

And on the topic of photos, Marshall PROMISED me the photos he took--with his real camera. But this post couldn't wait any longer, so unfortunately you'll just have to look at the photos I took with my camera phone.

One member of our group had a food allergy. And as a truly amazing chef, Ravi sent out slightly different versions of all of our dishes-most even looking the same. Samantha was a happy gal. Poor thing. Life without dairy and nitrates. Hmm, wonder if this is a good time to share my Food Sins posting with her? (Although, I did come to the conclusion-food allergy, that's one thing. You didn't choose it, it chose you. But choosing to be a vegetarian, or worse yet, a vegan? I don't think so!)

Something fun from the night? Our server for the night, was actually from the same town in Ohio Marshall's from, and they know each other! Nuts! (See here for my thoughts on Ohio.)

Another highlight of the night was having Ravi come out and sit, drink wine, and talk with us.

And last but not least? You can't get a group like this together without talking about rumors in the industry. Any interesting story came out about the pardon pepper and our very own friend Chef Chris here for some background info.

As if that experience alone wasn't enough, we went out afterwards. (You knew we would, right?) We made an appearance at Cantina, one of my favorite SF bars, and it was a who's who of the SF mixology scene. From Duggan to Jacques, to Ryan to Todd...I think Marshall was in heaven.

The perfect end to a perfect evening. The best news of all? Marshall and Samantha are coming back for another visit soon! You can bet we'll have another great experience!