Good evening, friends and neighbors.
A few weeks ago, I was in a bit of a state. It was a cloudy day, I had run out the door relatively early in the morning to make an appointment- the kind that requires a tie, vest, and pressed slacks. It required me to remind myself to pick a briefcase that matched my attire. My shoes were shined, and I’d even remembered to floss.
The appointment was… underwhelming, I should say. If you were to put a gun to my head right now, I couldn’t tell you want was said at any point in the meeting. All I remember is that I walked out at the end, looked up at the street signs, and decided I needed lunch and a beer.
Fortunately, I was near a restaurant that Emily and I had heard great things about, and throughly enjoyed dessert at. It was close enough, the menu and price were right- and I was certainly ready to walk in to something that felt certain.
Good morning, friends and neighbors.
It’s been more or less the refrain for the last few months.
I walk in to the cafe- usually through the kitchen door, but sometimes through the front. There’s a thin crowd in the morning. Lines of people on their computers against the far wall, where outlets are most plentiful. People in groups take up the central tables- chatting with each other, discussing their plans for the day, trying to cajole their kids into eating one more bite of zucchini muffin. Not too many people are reading books in the cafe in the mornings- readers usually swing in on their lunch breaks, or the late afternoons when most of the crowd is home and it’s a bit more quiet. That’s the thing about doing your work in a cafe- it’s somehow more reasonable to be wearing headphones than if you're just reading a book.
I pass through the employee entrance to the back, knocking sharply on the tinted window- the hand sink and dish pit are right by the door, and I’m likely as not to walk in to a perfectly-murder-your-knee-cap-height mixing bowl, or someone just washing up.
Hang up my hoodie, punch the clock- Yes, that’s me. Yes, that’s my shift. Yes, I’m a little early- deal with it, Skynet.
Grab a few necessities out of my backpack then head for my bench.
“Hey, how’re you doing, Matt?”
How am I doing? I’m dead tired. Given a reasonable choice, or a momentary lapse of responsibility or duty, I may not have shown up today. I know exactly what I’m getting in to, and what it’ll be like. I just shrug and flip open my notebook where I’d written down my production for the day yesterday afternoon.
Around 8 years or so ago, I was staying in my girlfriend's apartment for the weekend. We have just finished making some chocolate cookies for after dinner. At the time, I was still working as an EMT- my work weeks were pretty grueling, and I found relaxation in cooking and baking at home. Often, I would bring in the results of my work to the Rescue Squad- they were usually very thankful. The EMT diet tended to be odd things at odd hours, washed down with way too much caffeine, and getting something home-cooked and half-decent just delivered to you was a rarity.
While the cookies were cooling, Amanda said, “You know, there’s this great show I’ve been watching recently on Travel Channel I think you’d like. This guy used to be a chef, and he just goes all over the world and talks about the food and culture and stuff. He just did a really funny episode about Prague. Hang on, I’ll pull it up.”
I shrugged and crashed out next to her on the couch. It had a been a long day- a busy shift, and then driving the hour to get to her, I was eager to get as much sleep as possible on my days off.
She pulled up the episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”- and my world tilted.
In the weeks to come, I would start cooking and baking at home even more, trying out different recipes with Tony joking and laughing in the background from whatever corner of the world he was in. I would pick up “Kitchen Confidential,” and a number of his other books, devouring ALL of them. All the while, I’d bring in stuff for the squad- and I’d hear them say, “Matt, this is REALLY good. Why are you running on an ambulance? You should be doing this!”
8 years and a few days ago, I was informed that I’d been accepted to culinary school.
Good evening, friends and neighbors.
If you've been reading this blog for even a little bit, you probably know at least three things about me:
1. I like a food. Like, a lot.
2. I am a proud New Jersey native.
and 3. I currently live in a pretty weird place.
About the Author
The Black Hat Baker, a.k.a. Matt Strenger, lives in SE Portland, Oregon as a professional baker. Here, Matt bakes, cooks, exercises, and explores, returning to his wife and their hobbit hole up Mt. Tabor to write about all of it.
Email the BHB at blackhatbakery(at)gmail(dot)com
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