Tag Archives: food

Long Lines and Loss

I come from a long line of women who won’t take no for an answer – even from God.  When people told my grandmother she didn’t have the constitution to eat whatever she wanted and continue breathing, she ignored them for thirty years, until thirty feet of her intestines had to be removed.  When my father told my mother he would never marry her, she simply changed her last name to his and waited years – for nothing.  When the doctors told my aunt that an epileptic with sickle cell could not carry a child to term, she miscarried five times before menopause permanently decided the issue.

So begins a compilation of autobiographical short stories I wrote a while back.  That opening paragraph has been popping into my head for almost two weeks now, when the last of the three women mentioned in it died less than seventeen days after her ninety-sixth birthday.  That long female line of mine is down to me and my daughter.  I knew that was coming, of course, but I still wasn’t ready.

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I thought my grandmother would make it to triple digits.  Her older sister made it to 101.  But perhaps becoming the last living member of her birth family made her more ready to join her husband and half of her kids.  The longevity of the generation once removed from my own was a source of hope when the early deaths of my mother and three of her siblings made me anxious about my own mortality.  That sporadic anxiety is back.

It is now Good Friday, about a week after I first started this post.  I would love to claim that phenomenal success of the shop has occupied too much of my time to finish writing.  But mama drama is the better explanation.

My son has regressed to his 14-year-old self.  That was the year he acquired new friends and the first real girlfriend and became so out of control that I was ready to ship him to his grandparents in Texas.  Now, a lack of consideration and respect, on multiple levels about multiple big-ticket items, need not lead to a plane ticket purchase.  After all, he is legally – and financially – able to sign a lease.  While my love for him is unconditional, his ability to live in my house is not.  But that fact doesn’t keep the mama bear in me from wanting to keep him safe – especially from himself.

Loss is a natural part of life, occurring in unexpected ways, like sudden illness and teenager confusion, and expected ones, like old age or the end of childhood.  I state the obvious simply so that I can better accept a fact that sucks so profoundly.

Easter weekend was the most important three days of any year to my very religious late grandmother, the woman whose apartment was my second home when my mother was at her second job, the woman who taught me the most about baking and let her daughter provide the finishing touches.  As I receive a host of orders for end-of-Lent goodies, the absence of my baking teacher, who dealt with more loss (four children alone was enough!) with as much grace as possible, leaves me with pain both piercing and acute.

Nellie Mae made chocolate pie once a year for her youngest daughter, my aunt who couldn’t have children.   She taught me to make the ninety-something year old recipe she’d acquired as a child herself on a summer visit my family made to her house, not long after the death of my aunt.  That recipe is my most popular pie and a component of my most popular cupcake.  As long as my shop is here, my grandmother will be with me every day, even more than my mother, whether I like it or not – as will her example of how to handle child-related wounds with grace.

 

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Smirking in Silence

“Are you going to make it on just desserts?  Why’d you open a place here?  Why don’t you display the cupcakes over here?  Why don’t you have more flavors for the cookie?  Well…I hope you make it.”

Such is the litany of questions, unsolicited advice and well wishes (if you can call them that) I experience with more regularity than I can comfortably stand.  I’m ready to physically remove from my establishment the next person who asks me can I make it.  It’s never asked by the customer ordering multiple boxes for a birthday party or by one in his pajamas, standing in the doorway of his home, happily taking a box of sweets from me as my delivery hours expire.  It’s only asked by those smirking in the silence during a midday lull or a weekend freeze.  Those same folks never seem to be anywhere around when I’m bitching about how badly I need an employee who’s not related to me, so I can open earlier on the weekend.

The first dozen times or so, my jovial answer to the inquiry was: “Well, I’m going to find out.”  But in the last couple of weeks, I’ve simply treated it as rhetorical, while reminding myself that the person who probably thinks I’m stupid, naïve, irresponsible, deluded and so on is clearly the person with higher expectations than my own.

How is the asker defining “make it”?  I’ve never bothered to ask.  I don’t care.  I just know that the accurate answer to the insulting question rests on that definition.  Is it defined as merely getting to year two?  Turning a profit in the first year?  Making a million bucks?  I define “making it” as the store paying for itself and paying for my share of the family bills.  The former is already happening and the latter is currently fingertips away.  So will I meet my own definition of making it?  I’m confident I will.  Will I meet the ones of the people asking?  Who knows?

What I do know is this: I hate the suggested lack of forethought, planning, realism etc. wrapped up in a question being asked not only of people who don’t know me but of those who often don’t even bother to sample my product. They just pop into my store to suggest that they think it was a bad idea.  Who raised these people?

It’s worth noting that in one week, both a confectioner and a food distributor asked about buying my cookie wholesale.  The few reviews that have been written about the shop all mention becoming addicted to this cookie.  The prototype for packaging it for shipment and shelf life is sitting next to my cash register.  So am I going to make it?  Yeah, asshole, I am!  For now, at least, the odds are in my favor.  So stop asking already!

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So glad I have a kung fu class to teach tonight – and in the boxing room, at that.  I think I’ll do sparring work against the bag before my soon-to-be green sashes arrive.  Maybe that’ll bring the jovial response to the annoying question back to my lips.


Juggling January

It’s a great feeling to have people pacing in front of your business door, waiting for you to open up.  That was Sunday afternoon, the day I only open the storefront for a few hours in late afternoon/early evening because I’m teaching kung fu in the morning and early afternoon.  People were walking through the door and telling me what they wanted before I had the cash in the register.   I did a (slow) day’s worth of business in about 35 minutes.  Then came the rest of the week: steady a few days – but just a few.

I’ve had a headache for at least a few minutes a day every day since Sunday.  I blame the highs and lows of food service during frigid cold winter days.  It doesn’t help that it’s barely more than a week into January, the resolution month.  Probably thirty percent of the population has sworn off the goodies I sell and are still sticking to their guns.  Is it February yet?

Thank God for my kung fu kids!  They’re the instant headache remedy.  My latest six-week session at the gym began several hours before my busy Sunday at the store.  I have siblings for the first time in a long time and a second mother-daughter pair joining the crew.  All of my second level students returned; so for ninety minutes, I had to be adept at juggling curriculums and managing my time well enough to give the old students something new to work on for the first time in three weeks and the new ones a clear picture of what they were in for.

There’s never enough time to get in all I want to when I have all the students in the building at the same time.  But trying to feels like an accomplishment in and of itself.  That seems to be the story of my life.

There’s more going on, of course, much more – like managing kung fu instruction and practice with physical therapy for the tear in my rotator cuff, and trying to find a new commercial kitchen that’s closer to the store, so there’s just a touch less running around. But I can’t keep my eyes open long enough to keep typing; so that’s all I’ve got for now.  It is way past time to sleep.  No way to get through a busy weekend without that!


Knock on Wood!

“Welcome to the neighborhood!” That’s been the phrase of the week for customers who don’t know that I’ve lived in the neighborhood for almost seven years; it’s just the business that’s new. I’m writing my first post in more than a week (the longest silence of my blogging life) during the first lull in the first Sunday that my business has been open.

Last Sunday was the final day of the second session of my kung fu class, and I just couldn’t manage to pull off working in both the gym and the store when all of my familial employees were off working a day job or visiting their father. But I couldn’t help but notice as I walked home from the gym that there was a lot more hustle and bustle on the street than I’d anticipated, especially since it was the middle of the football game in a town that loves its Ravens. I was compelled – largely by the need for sales that every new business has – to see if the same would hold true a week later. It most certainly has!

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Sunday is apparently the day that everyone wants to ignore the diet and indulge in butter and sugar. I’m more than happy to oblige! Following a large, rush order for vegan cupcakes yesterday and a growing group of neighborhood residents becoming regulars, Stupid Delicious!, www.stupiddelicious.com for you Baltimore residents, is off to a solid pre-advertising start. (Quick – somebody knock on wood!) But to make this double-duty thing work on Sundays going forward, I’m going to need a paid employee a lot sooner than I’d anticipated. That’s a very nice problem to have!

On the kung fu front, the newest revelation about my deteriorating body is that I have a small tear in my rotator cuff. That explains the extreme pain and difficulty sleeping that plagues me off and on – now exacerbated by whipping up various batters and frostings. This could get very interesting right as my stellar corporate insurance goes bye-bye.

The challenges never stop, for sure, but that’s what keeps me on my toes. Right now, just for today, I’m having too much fun and feeling too much gratitude to complain. 🙂


Thursday to Thursday

A week ago Thursday, I stood at the counter in the health department’s environmental protection division with ten minutes to spare before closing time.  I had the proof of workmen’s compensation in my folder of regulatory documentation, and my heart was racing at the prospect of finally being finished with the city’s hoops and ladders.  Ms. Owens flipped through my folder of goodies and said: “Now, I just need a copy of your lease.” I dropped my head so hard, I thought my chin would hit my chest.  I could see myself putting the lease down on my desk with one hand as I picked up the workmen’s compensation plan with the other.  I’d gone from having an incomplete folder to having … an incomplete folder.   She looked at my face and said: “We open tomorrow at 8:30a.”

I knew that, of course, but I also knew I had to be in D.C. the next day – and that I might hurt someone if I had to wait another day to be approved to open.  Apparently, it was written all over my face.  All I had to say in a practical whisper was: “I have to be in D.C. tomorrow.”  Ms. Owens then made me an offer I could’ve kissed her for, and after a comedy of technical errors and slow cell towers, Ms. Owens had in her inbox emailed photographs of each page of my lease (my better half is the woman to have in a pinch!), and I had the little yellow card that said I could sell food with the approval of the City of Baltimore!

Since then, days and times have completely run together, kinda like this:

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Alone on Sunday in the programming department on what was likely my last day of producing a live television program.  It was the longest job of my life, and at times, I was remarkably fulfilled in this building.  It remains nice work if you can get it; I’ve just gone as far with it as I’ll ever be allowed to go – and life’s too short to go through the motions.

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Monday brought the window vinyls and more elbow grease.  Tuesday brought an aborted store sign installation.   (I may never understand why it’s so hard to get a good sign in two weeks’ time).

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Wednesday brought a grease fire in an oven at the commercial kitchen where I cook that started  ten seconds after I turned it on to preheat.  By 3 p.m. I was scrambling to safely finish the goods for the opening I was determined wouldn’t wait another day.   Thursday morning, 3 a.m.: about twenty dozen cupcakes, pie cups and cookies later, I fell into bed.

IMG_20141209_110924And on the first snow day of 2014 in Charm City, the doors of Stupid Delicious! sputtered open for business at a pace designed to work out the kinks.

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The so called grand opening will be Saturday – the first time in years I’ll miss kung fu class without being at a tournament or on a business trip.  Then again, this is a business trip – all day every day, minus time out for the martial arts addiction that keeps me from flipping out.  The last seven days of blurred sunrises and sunsets have driven that message home, if nothing else.

Now time to catch up on sleep… while I can. 🙂


Tomorrow’s Target

From elated to deflated.  That’s the succinct description of my holiday week, raging against the machine of regulatory madness.  I should have known it was too good to be true when the health inspector squeezed me in for my final review just two days before Thanksgiving.  She made a beeline to the bathroom to inspect the all-important “open” toilet seat, ignoring the painstaking time I’d spent affixing the soap and paper towel dispensers to the awkward corner wall nearest the sink, to say nothing of the arthritis aggravating purgatory I inflicted on my knees to caulk every crevice along the baseboards.  But at least the work was done.  It was there, as it was ordered, irrespective of being acknowledged.  And with it, I passed the health inspection – with a particular note to how cozy I’d made the place since she was last on the premises a month earlier.  I was bouncing off the walls on the way to the Restaurant Store for added supplies.

First thing Wednesday morning, I phoned the building inspector’s office to set up that inspection – the third and final city-inflicted hurdle before opening.  He could come out first thing Friday morning, while the rest of the country recovered from turkey overload.  Seriously?  I could actually wrap everything up and open my doors any time after Friday?   After all the plumber and carpenter craziness, could the grand opening really be that drama free?

No.  Decidedly not.

“Did you have a fire inspection?” the building inspector asked when he called to tell me the time window for his arrival at the store.  “It’s not in the computer.”

You mean the three-minute inspection that cost me three figures that the nonchalant inspector told me would be in the system that afternoon?  The inspection that took place two weeks ago?  That one?! I thought.

The building inspector was exceedingly gracious when he arrived to tell me that everything looked in order for my use and occupancy permit.  He didn’t even have to go through with the inspection without proof that the fire department had already been there.  I lucked out on that, at least.  I did not, however, luck out on reaching the fire guy to have him correct his oversight.  I had the man’s cell phone number, but he wasn’t answering!

Monday morning and three phone messages later, the desk-bound fireman was still not in the office!  It was time to go over his head.  His supervisor said he would take care of my approval within thirty minutes.  Twenty-four hours later, I discovered he had not.

By 10a Tuesday morning, I was closer to tears than I had been at any time through this challenging experience.  I had already missed my intended opening week.  How much longer were these guys going to keep the next phase of my life on hold?

Not minutes after asking myself that self-pitying question, I received back to back phone calls.  The fire inspector had been on medical leave and apologized profusely for the two-week delay in my approval.  I thanked him and told him to get well soon.  Immediately following that surprising expression of good will, the building inspector called to tell me that with the fire inspection approval in the system, I could pick up my permit downtown. I will be there when the doors open about eight hours from now.

Who’s left to torture me before I ring the register for the first time?  The sign guy, that’s who.  That’s tomorrow’s target, before teaching two classes of kung fu.  My students are going to think I’m on something if I don’t get my signs before I get to the gym.  Good thing tomorrow’s classes are in the boxing room….

 


Cramming

I’ve spent the night studying.  I haven’t had to study for anything since the last set of exams some nine years ago.  This is nothing like that.

Food, glorious food… and scary foodborne illnesses that I’m cramming to learn how to keep out of my baked goods.

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Can it really be coincidental that I got my groove back on my White Eyebrow form tonight, in between study sessions?

Cupcakes and kung fu – a day closer to fruition!  Back to the book…. 🙂


Acceptable Labor

The bad news is that Merle and I both spent several hours of the holiday working.  The good news: Merle can still work.  She’ll get the results of the MRI tomorrow and fingers remain crossed until then that it’ll be a quick recovery back to black sash testing.  Now, she tells me, it’s a vendetta.

My son and I finished out the waning hours of the holiday walking down to a Polish restaurant he’d been wanting to try for a while.

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We settled on Perogies and Chicken Kiev…

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Then I returned to my own kitchen to experiment with new cake recipes and prep for a food safety certification course.

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At the office taking care of current obligations… in my kitchen looking forward to new, sweeter ones.  That’s a more than acceptable Labor Day.


Doing the Math

I practiced four different forms in an amazing training session at the gym Sunday. The result was an endorphin high and a new outlook.

Before I knew it, not only were the requested vanilla cupcakes with lemon icing and the last smidgen of my “oatmeal brittle” disappearing before my eyes, but I’d compiled a rather unexpected and long-overdue tally.

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It turns out it costs me approximately twenty-six cents per cupcake when I bake. It would cost forty-three cents per to package them for sale. Now that’s what I call food for thought….