Sunday, May 23, 2010
Losing my touch
In another life, the life I had before the children and seizures and The Husband, etc., I was a pastry chef. I was also married before, too. Have I ever revealed that on this blog?
Wowza. The lady has a past.
One fine summer day in Nashville, TN where I lived with Husband Number 1, I decided to quit my job writing financial reports for the research department of a small, regional brokerage firm. I had fallen into this job, post college, because there was nothing else to do with my Bachelor of Arts in English and French Literature. I didn't want to go to law school and didn't want to be a teacher. I fancied myself a writer, I guess, but I needed to earn a living, so when this very prestigious brokerage firm hired me to write financial reports for its retail brokers, I jumped. I think I negotiated a $16,000 a year salary which seemed fantastic at the time.
Aside from the excitement of being sent on two business trips to Chicago and New York City, where I stayed in giant, luxury hotels (The Drake and The World Trade Center), I was bored out of my mind. I typed out my reports, went shopping on my lunch breaks in downtown Nashville and otherwise whiled away my days, yearning for something different. The stock market rose and fell, rose and fell and then finally fell deeply and cataclysmically and everyone grew depressed and morose and the job was really no fun at all. When my boss called me into his office and recommended that I study and get the CFP (certified financial planner!) accreditation AND take on the utility/railroad stocks as my expertise, I said, You know what, Ron? He said, What? I said, I think I want to take my two week vacation in cash and quit. He said, That would be a mistake for your career which could be promising. I said, No. I don't want to work here, anymore. It was a revelation to me, and as I spoke angels were beating their wings, the air outside the cubicle sparkled, beckoned, and Joni the receptionist with the teased blonde up-do filed her nails and placed another pink sheet in a slot of the revolving black message holder. I stood up. Ron said, Don't you think we know best for your career? And I said No and backed my twenty-six year old self out the office door.
And that was that. I packed my picture frames and favorite pens in a brown cardboard box. I walked out of there and never, never looked back.
I became a waitress in a small restaurant on Music Row, a famous vegetarian place run by a nutball Korean woman who insulted everyone at one point or another but loved us fiercely. Eventually, I asked to work in the kitchen and was slowly trained by Paul, a convict on work furlough (he'd murdered his wife). There's a whole blog post -- maybe even a short story -- about that.
But I digress. I made my way to New York City and actually became a bona fide pastry chef. I worked in a luxury four-star restaurant and a 1600 room hotel. I learned to pull sugar and make chocolates. I learned to decorate cakes and bake French pastries. I got up at three in the morning and made danish dough with the early shift (another short story). I hung out in the kitchen with the likes of Staten Island Italian boys and Chinese men with names like Riccardella and Kwok and Chung. It was glorious, for the most part.
And when I quit my job and had my first baby, Sophie, I wasn't sure if I'd ever go back to the often back-breaking work, but when she developed her seizure disorder, I knew that I wouldn't. I did continue to make cakes free-lance for friends and sometimes strangers, and I got pretty good at it. A few years ago, I gave that up, too.
Apparently, I've lost my touch. I recently told one of my very best friends that I would love to make her husband's birthday cake. She said that she'd let me but only if I accepted payment. I told her that was fine, thinking that maybe I'd get back into it. Make a little money. Especially because my friend Laura of Piece of Cake is sadly moving from Los Angeles. She's the cake lady around our neighborhood, and while I could never do some of the stuff she can do, maybe some of her clients would come to me?
I set to work making a white cake with ganache filling and French silk buttercream frosting. I used nine egg whites for the cake and filled three nine-inch pans. They came out beautifully and sat cooling on the cake rack. I chopped up 12 oz. of bittersweet chocolate and put it in a bowl, poured boiling heavy cream over it and stirred until it was silken smooth. I set the ganache aside to thicken and began the laborious process of making the buttercream. It, too, came out silky smooth, tasting of vanilla and sweet butter. I remembered, again, how good I am at making real buttercream and how good it feels to succeed at it. I decided that two cake layers would be sufficient and cut into the third layer for a taste. I drizzled a bit of the still-liquid ganache on it and popped it into my mouth.
The faintest metallic taste lingered, burned on my tongue and I thought, slightly panicked that I might have forgotten the sugar? But, no, I remembered putting in the sugar. I took another bite and let it sit on my tongue and, still, it burned slightly. Shit, I thought, Was the cake flour old? Is that possible? I took another bite and this time spat it out into the garbage can.
I opened the cupboard door and gazed at my cake-making shelf, at the flour and vanilla extract, the sugar and the baking so--holy shit. The baking POWDER that I used was actually baking SODA. Baking soda is usually in an Arm and Hammer box, right? For some reason, we have a round can of soda and I just grabbed it and used that. And because The Husband (the Second) makes pancakes each and every Sunday morning and used the baking powder ALL UP and didn't tell me -- well, I don't want to blame him.
The fact is: I've lost my touch. My skills are clearly rusty, and now I've got to get busy and make another white cake.
Wish me luck.