Posts by Riki Tiki

Grew up in Michigan. Started my grown-up life as a poet, puppeteer, noise musician, and dress collector. Became a pie-maker in Ypsilanti, moved to Portland, went to culinary school and now I make desserts and preserve pig skulls.

From Tear Face to Salad Face: Riki Tiki is in the Northwest Now

My life up until two weeks ago was spent running around between different piles of chaos, punctuated by breaks of solitude in my apartment during which I would stare at the ceiling and wonder if I was going to snack or nap. I would then wonder if I could possibly snack while napping, making for a wildly efficient break, and allowing me to reenter the Piles de Chaos as quickly as possible.

All during the month of August, friends were getting married, moving, and coming into town for a visit from having been moved & married. I was also filling last minute pie orders, and trying to deseminate any knowledge I had of my former job into the current employees at beezy’s. I was squeezing out any chance I had to say goodbye to life-long friends I might not see again for a long time. I was getting four hours, or less, of sleep a night. It was all coming to a head in the 3rd week of August when I had to quickly move out of my apartment five days sooner than I thought, and prepare to relocate my body along with a small amount of possessions across the country. My body was falling apart, and my mind was clinging to the essentials in order to keep myself breathing, pooping and eating.

Things were going quite normally.

Things were going quite normally.

I spent a few days living out of a car & crashing on couches – and then I was off. I was off like a bullet…if a bullet had an untied shoelace and landed on its face on the path to its target, and upon reaching, begged kindly if it could be let inside of the target’s soft flesh.

My mind imploded the morning I was supposed to board Spirit Flight 360 to Portland via Las Vegas. I was all set to board Flight 360, departing from Detroit at 2:30 pm. Sadly, for Spirit Flight 360, I had completely made it up. It crashed to the ground at 11:09, when my dad and I, at his house in Ann Arbor, were attempting to check me into Flight 360 online. (Apparently you can also check-in your luggage online as well. You have to scan it in and they print it out on their end, or something.)

I logged onto the Spirit website, and see my flight from Detroit all boarded and ready to take off at 11:10. One minute away. Yet there I was, in Ann Arbor, holding the pieces of my brain in my hands, staring at the computer screen, and gurgling out of my mouth the phrase, “Dad? I think I’ve made a horrible mistake.”

I've wondered what happened to the passengers of Spirit Flight 360. Hope they're all doing okay.

I’ve wondered what happened to the passengers of Spirit Flight 360. Hope they’re all doing okay.

I began my sequence of human emotional expression: smiling awkwardly, laughing, increasing volume, crying, hysterical crying and finally cussing, coming to a precipice of an F-bomb or five, and then descending from there, similar to the plane that landed in Portland at 4:30 pm –  not 6:30 pm, which is the time I had told my new landlords in Vancouver to come pick me up from the airport.

I don’t know how this happened. I had triple-checked the time of my flight for the past month, and every time it said 2:30 pm. But that just never was the case.

We scavenged to book me another flight out of Detroit, and amazingly found one that went through Chicago, and we high-tailed it to the airport. My dad dropped me off, told me he loved me, and I responded with something like, “I love you too. I don’t feel very good. I need to sleep and I’m scared,” and off I went.

Storms were a-brewing over Chicago that day, and my connecting flight got pushed back more and more. They told me that everything was dead in Chicago at the same time, so I should make my connecting flight to Portland, “no prob bob.” But after it got pushed back three hours, I went up to the reticketing booth, where I started tearing up, and they told me they could get me a different flight, on a different airline, that left at 8 pm.

I realized, as I went to go recheck my bags (far more tedious than just scanning them in online), that by the time my flight was going to leave out of Detroit, I should have been landing in PDX. I was feeling more and more sick, and embarrassed that half of the Delta check-in staff had seen me cry. This only made me more sad, and expanded my radius of sadness exposure. I grabbed my two enormous duffle-bags, and did the duffle-shuffle down to the bag drop-off. Again.

I really wanted to blame God, or society, or the President, or an ex-boyfriend for having a real crap day, but it was actually all my fault. I wished I could just go have a beer with my friends, tell them I tried to do something for a few hours, it didn’t immediately work out, and so therefore “I gave up. Hi guys! I’m back!” I imagined they would all be proud of me, and tell me it was a job well-done. (Hopefully they would give me a kick in the pants.) If I went to the Chili’s in Concourse A for a beer & a sob story, no one would feel sorry for me. I had messed this one up. It was me who had decided to go to culinary school in Oregon. It was me who decided to leave my rather happy life behind and try something else out. I had worked my body so hard and made some dumb decisions, and now it was sick and falling apart in Detroit, when I desperately wanted my body in Oregon. And now I was considering picking up the phone and calling my dad to say, “well, I tried. Can I just go home and be 8 years old again?”

When I was 8 years old.

When I was 8 years old.

(Before I go on, let me just say: get your sleep, kids. Things get weird when you don’t sleep. I’ve been getting 8 hours a night since I’ve landed here, and I FEEL SO MUCH MORE LIKE A HUMAN. EYE CONTACT IS LESS WEIRD. DECISIONS FEEL LESS PARALYZING. CAPS LOCK IS STILL JUST AS GREAT, THOUGH.)

A few hours later, I was sitting at another gate for yet another flight to the same place I was trying to get to all day. I met a lady at the gate.

“Why do you think that man has a tail?” She asked.

Up until that point, she’d been quietly eating a tuna salad next to me. I was happy about her silent mastication because I go nuts if I hear people chewing. Especially strangers. She was pleasantly working her way through the pieces of romaine, and cucumber slices, and heap of tuna. Every time she moved a piece of the salad, I’d catch a whiff of the particular item’s smell. That was fun for me. It was like a very boring movie I could watch with my nose.

So she asked me why some man had a tail. It was a weird question, but not the weirdest thing happening at the gate at the moment. Happening concurrently with this olfactory snooping of my neighbor’s tuna salad were people tossing a football on the concourse’s moving walk-way, and at least three people letting their tiny dogs out of their tiny dog carriers to fully investigate exactly what everyone’s shins looked like. The dogs seemed to be flirting with their dreams of bolting away from their owners and starting a new life in the dark underbelly of Concourse A in DTW’s McNamara terminal. Sure, it’s a rough-and-tumble place down there for a tiny dog, but oh, to be free.

What I’m saying is, there were a lot of dogs running around while this conversation was happening, and the flight to Portland appeared to be made up of weirdos-doing-their-own-thing. My neighbor closed up her salad container, and pointed at the man’s butt she was referencing when she asked me “Why do you think that man has a tail?” Sure enough, he had a green towel hanging out of his pants, and one could say it was a tail. This tipped me off that Salad Face had an imagination, and normally I try to stay away from those types in public. They can be dangerous, strange, and even strangerous. But hell, I was starting a new life, as well as hoping that Concourse A was going to be taken over by a gang of tiny dogs, so fuck-it, y’know?

We chatted about different uses for the towel, if he thought he looked sexy with the towel, and then the convo turned into how we were both getting ram-rodded by airports that day. It was nice to hear that somebody else was having a much harder time relocating their body that day than I was. She lived in Portland and had been trying to return for two days, but everything kept getting delayed, and pushed back for her. It kind of made me feel like an idiot for crying all over the place, but I didn’t think about that for long, because thinking about how I’m an idiot often makes me cry more. (ugh.)

Salad Face asked me why I was going to Portland, and I told her I’d be starting culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu at the end of September.

“Oh! Le Cordon Bleu.” said Salad Face. “I live by there. Do you need a place to live?”

 At that point, Salad Face became Gloria, a psychologist from Portland. We exchanged numbers & got on the plane, and didn’t see each other again until today when I came by to look at her house.

Gloria lives in an incredibly beautiful house in Portland, with a dog and a funny cat. And she’s letting me rent a room from her (really, more of an entire floor), and I’ll be able to easily commute to school.

I really can’t believe that I struck gold while waiting for a flight I was only on because I had missed the previous two. Having something so great come from something so frustrating has made me think some pretty deep thoughts, such as like: Shit is crazy sometimes. And sometimes it works out. And then sometimes when it works out, it stops working out. And then it works out again. Or you die. Either way, you’ll die. And maybe shit will work out before you die? Or maybe you’ll just die?

A LOT OF DEEP THOUGHTS

A LOT OF DEEP THOUGHTS

Moving in with Gloria is a few weeks out, and hopefully that all goes according to plan because I am quite excited.

BUT…right now, my adventure is in Vancouver, WA, staying with Wally & Liz. I have so many things I want to say about them. They’re delightful, sweet & caring people with a really fun and cool family. Wally is opening up a microbrewery in their garage. BUT I’LL WRITE ABOUT THAT NEXT.

MERIT AWARD (because I give those out now) goes to my Dad, Herb, for all the support & love he’s given me my whole life, and especially on the way to the airport. You’re awesome, and I can’t thank you enough.

Love you, and miss you all.

Ol’ Riki Tiki

The Customer is Not Always the Wright Brothers

Having a customer base of two people is no way to make a living, even if they did invent the idea of flying in the air. Dream on, restaurentrepreneurs of America. 

But actually, this is about people who make substitutions. Yeah yeah yeah. I know you’ve heard about it before, but if you keep on reading, you’ll hear about it again. 

I posted this on facebook the other day, but I realized it was long enough for a blog – though maybe that’s a wacky stipulation. People generally look for things to read that are short as shit. Good luck getting that from me, people! I’M A FAST TYPER.

I get emotional when someone who regularly makes five weird substitutions to their breakfast order decides it’s time for them to switch it up and do something else. For starts, it was emotional for me in the first place, stumbling through their brain bleeding ticket, trying to figure out in just what ways they don’t want that thing you sell. And you wonder how many hours they spent at home, plotting, sitting in an arm chair, staring at the wall, thinking about how they’re going to get wild with ham tomorrow. 

Then secondly, I get emotional as I try to memorize the ticket and the name, so that next time it won’t take me an extra five minutes to craft their frankeneggwich together, and then myself, them, and the 10 customers behind them can all be happier.

BUT THEN – one day, they walk in, order a new set of substitutions, and it’s all over. They don’t do that crazy thing they invented one cocaine-fueled night. As much as I hated making it, now I feel like I let them down, or that maybe it never mattered in the first place, and they only did it to make me feel weird.

It feels like having a boyfriend turn to you one day and say “look, you’re great, but I want you to wear this clown suit.”
And you’re like “really, homie? That would suck for me.”
And he’s like “really. I mean, you’re just standing there, and here’s a clown suit, just put them together.”
So you do it because you can and why not, and you don’t want a bad yelp review, then after wearing it for months, one day he’s like “clown suit?! Not today! What was a big change for you was just a wacky whim for me! We’re on to penguin suits, sweetie!”

That’s how it feels. But it’s okay. I guess I just want you to be happy.

Just remember, the customer isn’t always right, but they are right there in front of you making unprecedented requests.

I want to stare into the eyes of every customer who makes insane substitutions and just ask Why. Why? What’s the reason behind it? I want to know why they only like one kind of lettuce. Do they LOVE that lettuce? Obviously enough to order a salad that way. I want to know why they ordered me to burn something for them. Why do they need peppers in their scrambled eggs? Did they know we don’t offer that? I want to walk through their ticket with them and ask every reason why I Am Robot, and why they made something up for me to perform for them.

It’s not to be mean. It’s just that, after years of this, I can’t stand the curiosity anymore. I’m forced to assume, and my assumptions are probably far weirder than the truth. 

The other day, someone needlessly subbed out muenster cheese for cheddar cheese in our breakfast burrito, which just seems like a silly thing to do. Muenster isn’t the weirdest choice. People have asked for parmesan cheese  before, for a delicious Italo-Tex Mex fusion breakfast. P.s. I didn’t do it. I said absolutely not, and babbled about moisture contents in cheeses for 20 seconds as to bore them to tears, and distract them from what they thought they wanted.

But muenster cheese just seemed so needless. They were from out of town and had never been to the restaurant before. I didn’t get it. Did the burrito even seem appealing to them? Why pick out a shirt from the rack, cut off one of the arms, and then pay for it? And as I trudged over to the reach-in on the other side of the restaurant to rustle up some muenster cheese, I assumed it must be because cheddar cheese killed her parents. That would be legit to me. You walk into a restaurant, wanting a nice experience and delicious food, see your parent’s killer makes an appearance on a menu item that, for some reason, you still feel like ordering, and decide you should make a switch. Sounds reasonable.

Anyway, I could harp on this forever, and there’s no need. It’s learning how to train customers to be better customers, as my boss always tells me. It’s teaching them that they can trust you to make something more delicious than their expectations, and that their fidgety nervousness is unneeded. People are weird about food, and people themselves are even weirder about themselves. It’s still a delight to cook for people, and most people order unmolested menu items 100% of the time. Hooray!

Thoughts on the Smell of Death, and Many Other Things

A man committed suicide in my apartment building two weeks ago. They retrieved his body last Tuesday afternoon, about 10 days after he killed himself. Tuesday was a hot and humid day, and the smell was filling the building. The police came and brought fans and propped doors open to clear the air, and by the evening the smell was blown out of the building and into the neighborhood – broken up into small enough molecules to not be particularly noticed by anyone. It had been getting really bad in the apartment.

Last Sunday, two days before they found his body, my building manager posted a note on the door to the apartment saying he would go through everyone’s apartments on Friday in order to find the “source of the odor that has been bothering residents.” I live on the third floor of the building, and the man had lived on the first floor, and the smell hadn’t invaded my floor much, until that weekend. That weekend the smell got really loud.

My building is always full of such strange and curious smells, which I, sometimes reluctantly, process and think about throughout the day. There’s nearly forty apartments in here, and over forty people are cooking dinners, having sex & farting, and then attempting to shower their days away, which coats them with a brand new cloak of scent. The air smells busy in here. It used to be even more complex, but Management God recently blessed us with new carpeting in the hallway, and the old smell of “confused & rotting cherries mixed with human filth” was replaced with “new carpet smell!” I filed away “new carpet smell!”  in my brain, simply as that, because I haven’t had many encounters with fresh carpet, and had never remarked on it’s aroma. It was a smell to replace the creepy smell of poorly-managed apartment carpet, and it’s sterile aroma was welcome to my nose.

But on that hot Tuesday, the whole apartment reeked of death. Like new carpet, I hadn’t smelled a neglected dead human before. A friend asked me to describe the smell to him, and the only words I could use to describe it were “hot garbage,” which feels so trite and I’m not satisfied with, but it’s all that came to me. However, I know that if I ever smelled it again, I would immediately recognize it. It’s one of those smells that clings to you. It’s a sad smell to have filed away. You hope you won’t smell it again, but quite likely will.

I’m sorry to linger on something so tragic and disturbing as the smell of death. Smells have become really important to me, and I try to treat my nostrils as a second pair of eyes (so to speak, since we can sometimes only discuss the importance of a sense by relating it to how much we trust our sight). I realized, after his suicide, that I wanted to spend some time writing about how smells have been, and are, important to how I live and understand the world.

Being bipedal, we interact with the world primarily with our eyes, and secondly with our ears. We stand on two legs and stare at the world, instead of hovering our faces above the ground and following our noses. We describe scenes by how they looked to us. We look at pictures of people we like. We spend thousands of dollars to correct our vision, and protect our eyes with sunglasses. We make movies with beautiful landscapes, and dream of vacations to places in order to “see the sights.” We can send people to prison for the rest of their lives based on “eye-witness accounts.” We don’t trust the human sense of smell enough to use a “nose-witness” account in a trial, but we would use quadpedal dogs and their amazing noses to sniff out drugs, or track down runaways (sidebar: apparently there are dogs that can detect cancer by smell.) Smell is certainly treated as less important to the “human experience.” You can still drive a car, work most jobs, and go about your life mostly unscathed if for some reason your sense of smell is gone; blindness and deafness are treated as disabilities.

When I was 19, I was working in coffee shops. I wanted to become a coffee-wizard, and all the coffee-wizards I knew were constantly sticking their noses into everything.

via finedininglovers.com

via finedininglovers.com

Keeping their nose to the ground.  via shotzombies.com

Keeping their nose to the ground.
via shotzombies.com

I made a conscious decision to start narrating & categorizing all the smells I encountered. Whether it was the beans, dry coffee grounds, wet coffee grounds, hot milk, cold milk, the inside of a dirty blender – I would smell it and try to remember it’s smell. I don’t really care now about becoming a coffee-wizard, but when I started cooking, smells became even more important. Some smells make you want to eat, some make you want to shower, some scream “FIRE!” at you, and some smells wander in from the parking lot, reek of cologne, and seem to linger far longer than you’d like.

I feel like I have a pretty good nose on me now. It has taken a lot of work, and I still have a lot of things to smell and develop faster recall. When I first started working at beezy’s, however, I was fooling myself into thinking I had a good sniffer. My boss had a good sniffer, and it would scare me sometimes (in a fun way). One epic time, she ran back into the kitchen from the basement because she could “smell the noodles sticking to the bottom of the pot.”  Allow me to reiterate: FROM THE BASEMENT. I probably told her she was possessed by demons, and she probably ignored me as she grabbed a spatula to scrape off the noodles from the bottom of the pot.

I think people ignore most of the smells they encounter, or at least they don’t stop and allow them to be a source of orientation. We’re not really trained to be aware of our noses, as much as we are for our eyes & ears. We lose a lot of knowledge of the world if we don’t narrate our smells. We’ll have a narrow understanding of our settings if we don’t map the smells that emanate from the corners of our houses.

Since I’m going off to culinary school, they’re going to be drilling  the phrase “mise en place”  into my brain, which means “putting in place.” Essentially it means your set-up, either for a recipe or for service. It’s also the source for some pretty douchey tattoos that culinary students have a propensity to get.

Exhibit A for Douchey Culinary Tatts. via tattoostime.com

Exhibit A for Douchey Culinary Tatts. via tattoostime.com

 

Every tool & ingredient you use WILL have a spot, and if you don’t intentionally give it a place, you’re not in charge of your own environment. Your environment will be controlling you, and you’ll lose speed, composure, and make a lot of mistakes. I like to have a smell mise en place when I’m cooking in the kitchen. There’s the smell of bacon grease coming from the oven shelf, the smell of chorizo climbing out of the steam well, the smell of onions cooking in butter over on the stove, and the smell of cookies that need to come out of the oven right fucking now, in fact, right fucking 2 minutes ago. If smells are in their places, then you can notice a change. You can smell when something really needs to be stirred, when a burrito needs to get flipped to another side, or that the dishes need to be restacked, because you can smell the mustard from the bowl used to make egg salad travelling further than you’d like.

If you’re sensitive to smells, you can sound a lot like a psychic, too – like my boss knowing that the noodles were sticking. Or knowing that somebody has walked into the room before you can see them. There are times somebody will come into my mind, and I’ll be thinking about them, just to turn around and see that they have walked into the restaurant. Unscientifically, I’m going to say that it’s probably because I was smelling them.

This did happen to me once, and I know that I specifically smelled them. There’s a gate at the restaurant that comes between the walk-in and the back door to the restaurant. It was in the morning and we hadn’t opened up yet, so the gate was locked and I couldn’t see the back door very well. As I was rushing out to the walk-in, I noticed a smell, and immediately I associated it with the smell of a guy I’d been dating. And by “dating,” I mean we had hung out about 3 times. I’d been in his apartment once, and I hadn’t really taken a smell inventory of him yet. It was a vague smell (not like a cologne or anything specific like that), but it unmistakably made me think of him, so I went with it.

I walked back into the restaurant, and looked out the window into the parking lot, and saw him half-way across the lot. He had tried to stop by to say hi, saw that we weren’t open yet and turned around. I ran out to the parking lot to stop him, and say hello.

“Whoa!” He said. “I didn’t see you in there! How did you know I was out here?”

“Well…this is going to sound weird. But I smelled you.”

I think he wasn’t very impressed, and mostly kind of insulted. Obviously, that guy didn’t work out. I would have been impressed if someone could detect my presence by smelling me (once again, I am my own perfect lover.)

Lovers become very close with each other’s smells. The smell of Abercrombie cologne takes me back to the excitement of my first boyfriend when I was 14.( He was so classy.) The mixture of  Polar Ice gum and cigarettes makes me think of my friend Larry, when we attempted to date each other. I can smell an old love-of-my-life every time I get my clothes dry-cleaned. That’s a weird one I haven’t figured out yet, since he doesn’t ever get his stuff dry-cleaned.

I had the pleasure of eavesdropping on a very sweet conversation between two of my guyfriends, who were both spending time away from their respective partners. They were talking about how hard it was to get used to having the bed be empty, and one of them suggested that trading pillows might make it easier to have your lover out of town.

“It’d be nice to still be able to smell them.” He said. The other guy heartily agreed, having traded pillows before with his girlfriend, and said “Yeah, that makes it a LOT easier.”

The smell of Abecrombie & Fitch cologne - taking me back to the good times. via abercrombie.com

The smell of Abercrombie & Fitch cologne – taking me back to the good times. via abercrombie.com

Anyone can vastly improve their sense of smell just by talking about what you’re smelling. When you smell something, know that it’s coming from something and going somewhere else, even if it seems boring. Smell a whiff o’ arm pit? Somebody might be waiting for a high-five behind you, and you don’t need to be a prick about it.

Smells inform you, remind you, and also change you. Smelling a new smell gives you a new way to talk, and a new way to understand. It can be happy, and it can also be traumatic.

I’ve had a pretty difficult time processing my neighbor’s suicide. I’m pretty sure it was the old man who would walk to the bus stop at the same time in the morning as I would walk to work. I haven’t seen him in awhile. I liked him. I liked having a familiar face walking in the fading darkness every morning. He wore a big hat, and would carry plastic bags around his belt. He would fill the bags with abandoned pieces of plastic & items other people called garbage. He would stop to pick up this one church’s recycling containers that would blow into the street all the time.

 

I wanted to know for sure if it was him or not, since I was pretty sure the apartment they were pulling the body out of was his – but one of the building managers told me it “wasn’t his place to tell me who it was.” I didn’t want to be in the way and “nosy” (though it’s hard to not be nosy with the smell of death emanating), so I left it at that. I’m not too happy that I’m just going to have to wait to see the man walking to the bus stop in the morning in order to confirm whether or not it was him.

 

Suicide sucks. It sucks that a person lived a life full of decisions which felt very important,  made one last decision, and then be found because the smell of his body rotting for a week and a half was growing too pervasive to put off until Friday when Ethan was going to go through all the apartments. I would like anyone’s death to happen different than that. I want a better way to deal with death when it happens, and a world where life can be more appreciated by those around you. I don’t think anyone in my building really wants to chat about what happened, and I certainly don’t want to force more sadness on anyone.

But for over a week, we all lived in his smell together. It was there to greet us in the hallway everyday, as if questioning whether or not anyone was going to investigate it further, or just allow it to grow. It was a smell that marked a change in an animal. It was a smell that marked the end of certain organisms, and the ushering in of others. It was the smell of death, and a new entry into my life’s smell bank.

odor

 

 

 

 

Ol’ Riki Tiki’s Pie-Wheel of Misogyny

Prologue, before I get into this looney-bin: After the shootings in California a few weeks ago, everything/one has been rather hysterical on the internet. We’re all bothered, confused, and feeling defensive. It’s hard to know the right way to say what we’re thinking, and we’re ending up disagreeing with each other when it doesn’t even make sense to. I’ve been scared, angry & frustrated. However, I’ve also felt really encouraged by the stubborn men in my life who are fighting for the well-being of all, and by so many women who get right back up after they feel beaten down.

The womb of the world is wandering the earth, trying to find it’s way home. This, here, is an artifact of this hysteria.

In the middle of a heated facebook thread regarding what ways misogyny is indeed a problem, a friend of mine told me to make a pie-chart of misogynistic rap lyrics. (There was also some stuff about racism happening, too.)

It was a wacky aside, that wasn’t connected with anything I had thought about or said, which made it sound all the more appropriate for the level of communication happening these days.

You’re really good at pies. So I bet you could make a killer pie chart showing all the rappers – whatever their race – and the misogyny in their lyrics. Cause it’s not just black rappers. It’s almost all.

 

It’s far from “killer pie chart,” but it’s a pie with offensive rap lyrics written on it.

I’ve been into rap since I was a middle-schooler and have many misogynistic lyrics written on my heart and ready to share. Rap is embedded into many pies I’ve made, and the most common album I listen to whilst pie-making is 36 Chambers, which, sadly, doesn’t dish out as large of portions of misogyny as many other albums. Though it certainly has some.

The differently sized-portions of pie represent how offended I become when I sing the lyrics to myself, I guess.

Circle-Foods "Lend a Wedge" to Help Organize Just How Offensive Rap Lyrics Are

Circle-Foods “Lend a Wedge” to Help Organize Just How Offensive Rap Lyrics Are

 

I’m bad at MS Paint so you’ll probably have to enlarge the image in order to read the offensive-stuffs.

 

 

Ol’ Riki Tiki on The Poaching of Eggs

Well, Memorial Day is going pretty well, and naturally I have some thoughts regarding poached eggs.

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Here’s a strange breakfast stir-fry I made today, featuring a poached egg. It was made of seemingly disconnected things I had around (smoked kielbasa, queso fresca, asparagus, garbanzo beans, shallot & balsamic vinegar). It looked like hell, but it was food.

I’ve never particularly given a crap about poached eggs. I have plenty of crap to give to plenty of egg, but there were only a couple left for poached eggs. Then I became annoyed with how the world all screamed with excitement at the same time regarding poached eggs. I didn’t think it was such a problem except for it was maligning the fried egg, and not letting it have enough time in the sun. Fried eggs look like suns and taste like butter; poached eggs look like deep sea creatures and taste like water. I didn’t want people moving along to something so strange, so quickly.

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Here’s a picture of the sturdy and unassuming fried egg, atop a waffle & covered in hollandaise. I know. You can’t really see it. I promise it’s there, lending a hand to flavor. This is what we ate for Thanksgiving last year.

If you can’t tell where this is going: As of now, I like poached eggs. My friend loaned me Mind of a Chef, and I watched David Chang pierce poached egg after poached egg with a paring knife, and I got excited about it every time. Also, he’s poaching an egg INSIDE THE SHELL (see: devil magic) in a warm water-bath, so he can crack the shell, and out comes a beautiful, slimy oval of joy.

I was feeling too hungry to set up a water bath, so I got a pot of water a-boiling and cracked an egg in there. It was satisfying to eat, and loads of fun.

I don’t like the way poached eggs taste more than fried eggs , however I like them because they can bleed all over your other food while you eat. They sit wherever you’ve perched them on the plate, and peacefully ooze throughout the meal.

I think this is fun.

When else do you get a little constant sauce dispenser during your meal? Imagine how many salads you could sell if you put the dressing inside a poached-egg type structure, and people could slowly have ranch dressing ooze onto their greens as they ate?

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I know that sounds freaky, but this might be my million dollar moment.

 

Regarding the picture above: I wish more people would post pictures of half-eaten food. That should be my next blog: Half-Clean Plate Club. You can learn a lot about food at the half-way stage.

And because I’m so full of good spirits for the holiday, I asked my poet-friend Vicky Tuckville to share her thoughts on poached eggs.

Ol’ Riki Tiki Goes to Get an Education

“So, I hear you’re going to get an education.” A friend said to me the other day.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m going to culinary school. I’m really doing it.”

“Around here?”

“Nope. Across the country. Portland, Oregon.”

…and then my heart felt like it was melting, and everything sort of hit me. This is actually happening in just a few months, and I’m totally wigged out about it – in all the different ways you can be “wigged.”

Four and half years ago I was hired into beezy’s cafe in Ypsilanti, Michigan as a part-time line cook. I fell in love with the place, Bee Roll and cooking, so I quit my other job, and started working full-time.

beezyscollage

This is me, a beezy's baby, fresh-faced and unassuming, 4 and a half years ago.

This is me, a beezy’s baby, fresh-faced and unassuming, 4 and a half years ago.

A year later, my boss trained me back in the kitchen to do her job once or twice a week, so we could be open on Sundays and she could still have a semblance of a day-off (you never really have a day-off if you own  a restaurant.) Then Bee & her husband Jim got pregnant, and I started working in the kitchen full-time. Official unofficial story is that it was my fault Bee became pregnant, via a karaoke rendering of the Ace of Base classic “All That She Wants (Is Another Baby)” I sang to her on her birthday. Two weeks after the song, she told me she was pregnant, and I figured the least I could do was work more in the kitchen.

Two years ago I started making pie for beezy’s and wholesaling to other shops as Riki Tiki Pies. That was the beginning of a new era & obsession in my life, and I went from being a full-time restaurant worker, to a 60-70 hour a week crazy person, who usually had egg yolk on their clothes and flour on their shoes. Delicious.

In 2012, after I picked up the first batch of Riki Tiki Pies stickers.

In 2012, after I picked up the first batch of Riki Tiki Pies stickers.

 

Ol' Riki Tiki

Ol’ Riki Tiki

After my friend asked me about “going to get an education,” it made me want to reflect and share the different ways I’ve been getting an education here in Ypsilanti. Through working at beezy’s and starting up Riki Tiki Pies I’ve had the chance to make delicious food with incredible people. I’ve thought often that I could live here in Ypsi forever.

I’ve spent the last year trying to figure out which path my career is going to take. It could have gone so many different ways, and a lot would be great options (which is an awesome thing to be able to say.) I think I’m making a hard but important choice, and am pretty excited to become a part of a new area in the world. However, there will be much to miss. I’ve lived in this area my whole life, and this will be my first time moving away  from friendships, and a job I really care about.

I wanted to write this blog post to share a few highlights of my food education here in Ypsilanti, as well as begin the process of saying goodbye. So, here goes.

 

1. Never Try to Make Pie Unless You Have a Lot of Fridge Space.

Let me tell you this right now – don’t even bother making a pie unless your fridge is prepared for it. If you’re making just one pie on a cold day, and the heat sucks in your house, you might be fine. But if you’re ever trying to make pie en masse, just accept that you’re going to have to work out of a fridge or a freezer. Butter crust (which is far and away the bulk of what I make) involves a dance of getting the crust up to the perfect pliable temperature,  then keeping it cold enough to hold the shape, and then having an oven hot enough to finish the job. It’s a dance of tears.

I learned this the hard way when I first started wholesaling pie. Conveniently, I started wholesaling during one of the hottest & humid summers on record in Michigan. I knew the importance of cooling a crust, but I didn’t know it. I didn’t know how to know when it was time to stop touching a crust. I was also making tiny little free form pies, that become sticky, greasy, flour blankets if you don’t know what you’re doing (I only sort of knew what I was doing.) I mutilated so many pies until I finally came up with the first rule of Riki Tiki Pies:

“Shut up, stop touching it, and put it in the freezer.”

"Shut up. Stop touching it, and put it in the freezer."

“Shut up, stop touching it, and put it in the freezer.”

If I ever start making pie again, the dream is to open a pie workshop inside of an igloo. Besides helping to ensure quality crusts, think of what a dope chef’s coat I could have…

2. Kitchen Language

Something I didn’t anticipate when I first started working at beezy’s was how important it was to learn how to talk to my boss & co-workers. Before working at the restaurant, I managed a coffee shop (haha, funny story) which was pretty slow, and talking wasn’t very stressful. I could blather on and on to employees about what needed to happen, we’d poke each other and make jokes, and use goofy terms to skirt around confrontation.

In a busy kitchen, there’s a time for jokes (and if everyone had their way, that would be all the time), and there’s a time for figuring out what the hell needs to happen at that very moment. I can’t say there are “rules” for how to communicate in a kitchen, but there is certainly a way to destroy communication in a kitchen (“bad ideas,” if you will). Some people know it,  and some people will get it eventually. Other people will never get it. At this point, I feel like I can tell if a person will get it within 5 minutes of working with them (I’m probably fooling myself.)

When I was a beezy’s baby, I had no idea how to tell my boss that the line was almost out of chicken. Or that I’d accidentally made the egg salad with twice as much paprika. Or that I couldn’t find the mayo. Or that the soup was out. I was talking like a civilian. I was rounding the corner to the kitchen and saying something like, “Heyyyyyy, so I was out by the soup well, and I noticed that…”

By the time the final “y” of “Heyyyyy” had left my mouth, I could see a tiny fire being lit in her brain, her eyes would reset at me, and a timer for a bomb would turn on, and I knew I had a seconds to wrap up before the fire in her brain escaped out her ears. For the first few weeks, I really didn’t get what was going on; I just knew that I was messing it up somehow.

My terrifying boss, Bee - the soup ninja.

My terrifying boss Bee – the soup ninja.

If I were to go ahead and break up the Art of Kitchen Language into 3 parts –

1. The first part is made up of understanding your environment and what “something going wrong” looks like, then from there that dovetails into the second part…

2. …which is pulling the ducks together that make up the path from your brain to your mouth. Then once those ducks are assembled, to communicate quickly. For instance, never start off a sentence with “Heyyyyyyy, sooo…”. After four years of working together, I feel like my coworker Jamie and I can communicate paragraphs worth of information in a few sentences. This was not always the case, but beezy’s breeds that sort of speedy communication . Working with someone in a kitchen causes you to learn how they talk, what they’re going to talk about, and the solution they’re thinking up. You learn which conversations happening on the floor you should pay attention to. You learn whether or not someone is making a weird face and needs to talk about what’s going on. (A popular phrase at beezy’s is “what’s that face on your face?”) Or being able to tell from far across the restaurant that somebody is having a rough day and needs to go run around outside in the sun, or smoke a cigarette, or be sent outside to the walk-in to cool down and have a scream in solitude.  I have a lot of nice things to say about Bee, and one of them is that she has a magical talent for telling when somebody needs a cigarette/back scratch/verbal pick-me-up, without needing to ask.

3. And the third part is repoire. Repoire is the most important part, and it will either happen eventually or not at all, and if not at all, you probably won’t be working with that person for a very long time. Repoire is trust that a person is doing the right thing, or that they meant to do the right thing. It’s being able to joke the right way with somebody. It’s when you do something shitty to somebody, and you know at the end of the day they’ll think highly of you again.

Kitchens are made up of many people interacting with many objects. And those objects are interacting with fire, water, sharp objects, gravity & air. There’s a lot happening all the time. Language is the conduit for gluing all those pieces together to become a plate of food that somebody will be eating, over and over and over again. You have to get good at it.

3. Why People Use the Phrase “Spill the Beans”

It was another magical day at beezys,  and some kind of felonious bullshit was going down because I remember that it was only myself and Bee working at the shop. Normally we’d have a third person, but they must have gotten swallowed by a whale. We were very low on beans, in fact, we only had maybe a quart of beans left. Bee must have asked me to go to the walk-in to grab the beans, because I was a-rushing to the walk-in to grab the container.

Before I proceed, allow me to mention that I have a terrible case of The Dropsies. I am always dropping things and it’s a real problem. If something is important, or expensive, I’ll probably drop it. I’ve dropped many phones. I recently smashed a bunch of pie plates on the floor of a coffee shop that buys my pie. I am continually maneuvering around life looking like I’m secret pregnant. I think it’s the downside of having a continually multi-tasking brain, which is an asset, but an asset that needs to be tamed. I should probably chill out, drink less coffee, and meditate or some shit, but that probably won’t happen anytime soon.

big cabbage

This huge cabbage is about to get dropped.

Back to the beans. I reached for the precious last beans in the restaurant, half grabbed them, turned to rush out of the walk-in, and I dropped the container. Beans went everywhere. They spilled in the walk-in, out of the walk-in, under shelves, and probably into my shoes. Beans beans everywhere, but not any fit to eat. I knew I had to go back onto the floor and tell Bee what happened, and how my mission had accomplished a whole hill of beans.

I went back inside, where Bee was hurriedly making sandwiches, and I announced the problem to her.

“Bee. I spilled the beans.”

She turned to me, looking amused, at what possibly I could have spilled the beans about, and why it would be important at this moment.

Oh! Said my brain. That’s an adage!

“Spilled the beans?” She said.

And I started laughing. She started laughing, too, but still looked confused.

“I mean, haha, I spilled the beans. But, no, like, literally, I spilled the beans. Like, we have zero beans now. Not like…you know…”

I couldn’t really stop myself from giggling at this point, but I kept trying to compose my face to look contrite about the spillage, and then having to face the ensuing problem of being out of beans.

This is one of my favorite moments to remember, because it captures the humor in chaos (as well as being hilariously dumb). Shit goes down everyday in the workplace, and you learn how to deal with it, no matter how surprisingly crappy every new situation seems to be. In time you learn to compartmentalize shit hitting the fan. You can snap into Shit Hitting the Fan Mode, and know that eventually you’ll get through it, because, well, you’ve done it before. Then those situations become funny in a week, in an hour, or at the bar with your coworkers once the day is done.

At the moment when I spilled the beans about spilling the beans, we both knew “oh this is a funny moment for Theresa, because she’s realizing right at this second why this is a figure of speech.” I mean, I really get it now. When you spill beans, they travel everywhere and its hard to locate them all to clean them all up. But also, it sucked because it began the Bean Drought of Some Wednesday in 2010. Oh well. We can laugh about it now…right?

4. Eight Hours of Sleep is a Unicorn

(If you’re my mom, I recommend skipping this one. You won’t like it.)

I never have been a big sleeper, but I’ve done it, and I used to do more of it when I was younger. In college I worked early morning shifts at coffee shops, and would often burn the candle at both ends, but I still recognized sleeping as a thing to do at night. But still, when I found out how little time Bee had to sleep when she first opened beezys, I thought it was the craziest thing I’d ever heard.

Haha.

Two years later, I was making a rule for myself that I was only allowed to nap in the afternoon if I had gotten less than 4 hours of sleep the night before. Otherwise, I’d stay up too late, and repeat the cycle forever. Six hours of sleep meant that I really had my life together and was looking out for myself.

I’ve gotten a little better at finding sleep in my life since then, but not by much. Once I started making pie at night, I instituted a pretty girthy two-hour siesta in the middle of my day, and that really helps.  From two-hour siesta, I’ve evolved into an efficient, 24-hour Consciousness Cycle, which I have broken up into 4 quadrants: 1st Sleep, 1st Wake, 2nd Sleep, 2nd Wake. 2nd Sleep is the real pivot point of the day: it’s when you decide if you’re going to maintain stasis by staying within the model, or skip over it and become a shit show. It’s so easy to want to go from 1st Wake straight into 2nd Wake, even though 1st sleep might have only lasted 3 hours. But don’t be too tempted, because if 2nd sleep is skipped, 2nd Wake can become a very confusing time.  Conversely, though, if you skip 2nd Sleep, and do an abbreviated version of 2nd Wake (sometimes referred to by humans as “go to bed early.”), it is, allegedly, possible to restart a Binary Consciousness Cycle, involving only a single set of Waking & Sleeping. Personally, I’ve never felt it possible to transition back to Binary Consciousness, and have come to believe the 8-hour of Sleep lifestyle to be my own personal unicorn.

Here's the picture you'll find if you google the phrase "Sleeping Unicorn," which is what I just did. [taltopia.com]

Here’s the picture you’ll find if you google the phrase “Sleeping Unicorn,” which is what I just did. [taltopia.com]

It does suck when you’re hanging out with a bunch of under-slept people, and everyone starts mentioning how little combined sleep everyone in the circle has gotten. It’s good to avoid these conversations, 1) because it becomes the dumbest competition ever and 2) because it’s really depressing, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. Well, you can do SOMETHING about it: sleep. Which usually means you can’t see your friends. Which leads me to my next point…

5. Everything is Better with Friends, and Kitchens Breed Friendship

This is probably connected with the importance of language in a kitchen. You really learn  how to communicate with your coworkers, and then how to get through tense situations with them. Their weird crap becomes pretty obvious, and you can learn to love them and their weird crap.

Some of my closest friends are my coworkers, which I’m really lucky to have. Beezy’s seems to be really special in the way it creates friendships between people, so I can’t speak too generally for other people’s restaurant experience, but it seems to usually be the case.  If not being great friends, kitchen people almost always have affection for their coworkers. I think it’s easy to talk openly with someone when you’re cooking side by side.

A significant portion of the beezy's staff, off on a field day. [photo credit Maya Elder]

A significant portion of the beezy’s staff off on a field day. [photo credit Maya Elder]

Friendship has it's whisks.

Friendship has it’s whisks. [photo credit Marisa Dluge]

I probably wouldn’t have gotten through making pie in 2013 if my friend Joe hadn’t started to help me (he’ll probably hate hearing that. Sorry, Joe, but it’s true.)

Of course he was a HUGE help labor wise: it takes hours and hours to make pie. A couple times a week, he’d be there to help me carry all my stuff to the Farmer’s Market, and then show up at night to prep produce & wash dishes. He started to learn how to roll crust and assemble pies, and that’s when he started saying he was going to steal the business from me (he’s a liar.) With his diligent help, we made lots of pie. Lots and lots of pie.

Besides the extra hands, I also needed him to keep my spirits alive. I’m pretty extroverted, and I can get zapped on energy fast if I don’t have anyone to make jokes with. Trust me, I enjoy my quiet reverie in the morning as much as anyone, but I need social pick-me-ups to stop me from getting too weird. If I spend a whole day back in the kitchen at beezys under the hood vent, go home, nap, then come back to beezys at night to make pie alone, I start to forget what I like about everyday life. Having a good buddy that you’ve fought with, called names, accidentally set on fire, and come back to accomplish what needs to get done, then hug it out at the end…well, it can save lives.

Joe & Myself getting shit done.

Joe & Myself getting shit done.

 

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6. Buy Good Ingredients. For a Lot of Reasons.

Part of what excited me about making pie is that it’s a straightforward way to feature ingredients grown & produced in the area, and in a product I liked eating and sharing. I remember my first time walking through the farmer’s market, not just as an eater, but with the eyes of a producer – scoping out what they had, what looked delicious, and what I wanted to repackage inside of a buttery crust.

I felt like there were a lot of benefits to me using local ingredients. For one, it’s how I invented most of my recipes. I see now that this was a really smart move, but at the time it almost felt like I was being lazy. I wouldn’t be sure what to make some weeks until I strolled through the market. Then I’d smash some ingredients together in my brain, mentally cost it out, and proceed.  After some experimentation,  I’d write it down, and sift through which recipes were repeats and which ones were crazy. There’s quite a lot of both.

Looking back at pictures of pies I made, I can see a lot of Southeastern Michigan. There are pies featuring tomatoes from Stef, andouille sausage I got from John with the really long pony tail, and a pie pumpkin I got farm a barter with Vicky Zilke. There are savory pies I came up with because I wanted to eat a lot of the Dyer’s garlic. Besides being memories of farmers & food producers I really like, it is also evidence of a fledgling economy based around health, food security, and high standards for taste.

Clockwise from top left: galettes featuring tomatoes from Nightshade Army; Strawberries Curd pies from Karpo; Groundcherries! from either Bridgewater or Nightshade; and me, with flowers (pic from Growing Hope Facebook).

Clockwise from top left: galettes featuring tomatoes from Nightshade Army; Strawberries Curd pies from Karpo; Groundcherries! from either Bridgewater or Nightshade; and me, with flowers (pic from Growing Hope Facebook).

U.S. Citizens are very carefully managed. We’re a pocket-lining force, and our battlefield is the mall. We’re globally & nationally valued only in our role as consumers.  We’re measured in how much money we’re able to make, and then our ability turn around and spend that money. The only power we wield is if we start becoming a demographic that has the capacity to spend more money. At that point, neighborhoods will start to get nice things. We’re told that following trends in the market is a fair way to assess what people want and need, but if you have no money to start with, you’ll never have a voice. And the people with no voice are the people who are disproportionately unhealthy & denied basic needs.

In this model, we’ll ideally make our money by doing something relatively useless and benign, very disconnected from any of our “basic needs,” and then blissfully spend it on something entertaining and expensive. Our government/corporations will ensure that food is as cheap and easy to eat as possible, as to not distract us from our money-spending activities, and also getting us to spend even more money that goes anywhere except to the people accountable to the land. It’s a waltz of consumerism, it lasts 12 months, and some people are quite rich,  a few people are quite lucky, and everyone else isn’t quite sure what they’re going to do for the next 12 months.

If you see the failure in this system…how do we take power back?

Farming is power because we die without food. We can’t avoid eating food the way that we can avoid buying new lawn chairs, therefore where  and how we buy our food is where we’re placing the value of our lives. Farming is security, because we can have the ability to sustain life. With that security, we have the ability to opt out of a system that’s destroying quality of life for people who already have so little. It gets people talking with each other, living with each other, and figuring out just what it is they need to keep themselves and their family & friends healthy. It allows you to live in an area for a long time, and not ripping through land and resources. It also allows you to give money directly to the people you want to give money to, and that money will go so much further than when it trickles through an industrial food chain.

This power is something I have so much to learn about, and will continue to learn about my whole life. It’s where I see the richness in humans, and the ability to foster greatness for all different kinds of people. I’ve seen such a benefit in my own life by changing how I spend money, and by trying to fill my body with food that comes from and is touched by good places. A lot of times people write-off the importance of sourcing food, because they think it’s hokey hippie shit (I have said those exact words at some point)…but that’s really stupid. It’s not a factor you can avoid; it’s a factor you are ruled by. We’ve been reprogrammed through marketing to think of food as not so much as the building block for culture, but instead as “quick fun.” No one benefits from food always being “quick fun,” except  companies content with you eating garbage.

If you’re interested in talking about any of this more,in a less rant-y format, I’d be happy to.

 

7. “You’re Never Done Learning.”

For some reason I was really traumatized when my dad said that to me when I was nine. I had asked him at what age I’d know just about everything I’d need to know, and that’s how he responded. This was depressing to find out.

Also, since no one is ever done learning, this caused me to start quizzing my dad on EVERYTHING. Like how to spell Jupiter. He totally spelled it wrong one day, and he wouldn’t admit it. This was before we had smart phones, and we had to wait til we got home to look it up in the dictionary like a bunch of barbarians. It also gave us lots of time to argue about how to spell it.  I bet him a soft-serve ice cream cone that I was spelling it right, and I totally won. I was a pretty obnoxious kid.

But he was right: neither of us are ever done learning, and now I’m moving on to the next classroom.

Here's a picture of "Jupitur," as my dad likes to spell it.

Here’s a picture of “Jupitur,” as my dad likes to spell it.

Ol’ Riki Tiki Reflects on Moving Between Apartments

I’m moving around the corner from where I’m living now. I like to keep a tight circumference on the pulsing & thriving four-part mindhive of Parking Lots that comes to it’s epicenter right in the middle of downtown Ypsi.  I’ve walked diagonally through every single one of those parking lots in order to get to work, the park, or the bar, faster for the past six years now, and that’s not changing for at least one more 12-month lease.

It’s a real “grown-up move” for me. I’m getting my own apartment. I’m organizing all my books. I’m planning on buying my own toaster oven, and I’m currently defrosting the freezer. I’m renting a relatively crappy one-bedroom and making it my kingdom. Exciting as that sounds, my kingdom might be a real sloppy carousel ride around experimental organizational techniques and crazed late-night thrift shop shenanigans. I own a lot of strange things, mostly due to a dumb sense of humor and throwing highly-themed parties my entire life. Just to give you a little sample of the spice, here are some of things I currently own and must move:

  • A fake gold peacock clock (Instructions: Hang in bathroom above toilet. Call it the “peeclock.”)
  • -A set of scales
  • A golden telescope that has recently been spray-painted silver and put into a planter that contains a mostly dead palm tree, and the desperate attempts of new plants that have landed themselves into the planter since it’s tenure out on the porch.
  • A  wooden 3-foot spoon
  • A wooden 3-foot fork
  • 2 keyboards
  • A clown suit
  • A couple boxes of antique hats
  • AND THE SPACE GRABBER

spacegrabber1

spacegrabber2

spacegrabber3

spacegrabber4

Actually, I would love if everybody (and I mean EVERYBODY) did what I just did and write up a list of the

WEIRDEST OBJECTS IN THEIR HOUSE.

You know you kinda want to. I mean, after all, I shared pictures of the SPACEGRABBER.

The big thing about this apartment is I’ll finally be able to set-up my own kitchen, which I’ve never done before. It’s always hard sharing a kitchen once everybody stops being 18 and starts wanting romance out of meals. People start buying nice gear that is expensive to replace, and having more than one kind of olive oil, and end up using the kitchen for so much more than “nuking this already toasted pop-tart, brah.”

It’s worked out pretty well at my house, considering four girls who like eating live here. We’ve only had a couple dramatic moments concerning belongings and/or dirty dishes and/or the weird stain on the fridge. All in all, nice work ladies.

Sharing a kitchen lends itself pretty well to the sort of slash-and-burn eating lifestyle I’ve had over the past few years. I never meant to eat at home like a total freak; I think it just sorta happens when your professional life consists of being constantly around food you aren’t eating. Your imagination gets all riled up, and the food starts giving you ideas about what else it can be. And then you get home…

you’re hungry…

you’re tired…

you’re frustrated…and you haven’t gone shopping in a month and a half, but somebody gave you green garlic and a tub of Lardo and you’re gonna figure it out.

After cooking for a whole shift, it’s hard for you to take making food for yourself very seriously. For one (1), your eyes are tired of looking at things that can go on plates. And for two (2), when you’re so used to performing the ceremony of food-making, it just feels sort of trite to turn it around and eat it yourself.

“Oh, so thats what it’s been about this whole time? Nourishment? God – my life feels so small now.”

And for three (4), as mentioned above, all your strange food ideas come out at once, because you’re finally in a safe play-pen, and the only person you have to impress is yourself.

So I’ve been scrambling eggs for the neighborhood in the morning, and eating lingonberry jam on club crackers, pickle-brine & bacon grease vinaigrette on noodles, and cooking sausages in “coffee-water,” at my house in the afternoon.

sausagecoffeewater

This is what “Sausage in Coffee-Water” looks like. Also known as, “Cheddar Bratwurst; Coffee-flavored Water.” (Limp Bizkit. Semi-colon is mine.)

More than likely, I won’t change too much in my new place. I mostly just want to make at-home eating organized and efficient, as opposed to scattered and frantic. We’ll see…we’ll see.

Or else, have a really beautiful recycling container for all the pizza boxes.

In other moving news, I did meet my first neighbor. (The apartment is in a large building, which I’m not used to either.) I was carrying over some books packed into a former box of oranges, now just a box of books. It was raining. I realized it was dumb to move books across the parking lot in the rain. I open up the door to a building, and a weird-y, beard-y old man, is walking down the stairs. He stops walking and looks up at me and the former box-of-oranges now box-of-wet-books and says, “Well. Heh. Guess I know where the party is tonight, heh. Heh!”

I dunno what kind of parties he’s used to having, but they sound pretty dorky. I hope they involve a book club that only reads books about citrus.

But hey! Maybe I’ll throw the building a cookie-party once I get my Kitchen-Aid mixer set up. Woo! Cookie party!

Click here for more pictures of my food perversions.

Reflections On Judging a Pie Competition

Well, I’ll tell you. The Ann Arbor Civic Theater asked me to be a judge in their first pie competition this past weekend. I was a judge in their chili cook-off last February, and found them to be such fun and lovely people. I mean, anybody who is all like “let’s raise money for theater with the power of food…hey, wanna come talk about it?” is on my side.

Yes, I did reuse my fork. And yes, I did wonder if that would compromise flavors. And no, it didn't. And yes, I'm sure you weren't wondering about that.

Yes, I did reuse my fork. And yes, I did wonder if that would compromise flavors. And no, it didn’t. And yes, I’m sure you weren’t wondering about that.

It was fun! I ate somewhere between 8-10 different pies that day, none of which I had made. It’d been quite awhile since I’d eaten a homemade pie, created by hands not attached to my body, which made the whole deal rather exciting. I didn’t speak the same language as these pies.

Or maybe less “speak their language” and more so “we don’t recognize each other’s voices.” Like a pet, y’know? I can’t quite talk to a dog (god, I wish I had a dog), but if I get to know a dog well enough we can understand each other’s signals, and get them to do that really cute thing where they roll around because they want a treat and stuff, and I’ll do the nice thing where I take them outside to play in the sunshine because they asked.

My name is Theresa and I’ve never owned a pet.

But yeah. These pies and I were strangers. I could talk to them and poke them like I do my own pies, but they didn’t respond much. I had to actually EAT THEM to get to know them.

I mean, I look at any pie and immediately form opinions on whether or not I think it’ll be tasty (and then be proved right or wrong upon eating). Commercially-produced pies are usually easier to assess. Like “whoa! that might be good!” or “that looks like ground up chalk pieces hanging out on top of some fruit roll-ups!” But home-made pies, especially the pies made by bakers that have been baking ONE particular pie for a very long time, are creating many mysteries. There are stories for the choices they’ve made (though they may not realize it).

The guy who won I didn’t think was hard to pick out. There were three pies that I thought were pretty cool, but his was a very cool pie. Perhaps, I am biased toward rhubarb (he made rhubarb pie), but the guy was the only person who made a lard crust, and I really thought he nailed it. And cardamom in the rhubarb? It was great! It didn’t stick out like a sore thumb AT ALL. It blended in beautifully, and didn’t distract from the allowed healthy punch of rhubarb, and then he  bookended the whole thing with a crumbly pig-crust.

Winner on the left. Winner of the People's Choice (cherry pie) on the right.

Thom Johnson, winner & creator of Ba Ba Ba Rhubarb, on the left.  Rob Roy, right, took the People’s Choice with Ma Cherie cherry pie.

I’ve never been in a pie competition; I just audaciously began making pie and asking people to eat it/bringing it to parties/shoving it down throats/trampling into my neighbor’s house at night, drunk, with said pie. I imagine a pie competition like this would be nerve-wracking just for how personal it is. You’re telling people that this is the best pie you make. This might not be the best execution, but that would only be by accident – you MEANT for it to be your best. And you’re doing this because you want some stranger to tell you so.

It’s such a different framework for baking, and cooking, then when you’re cranking out something to sell. This really goes for all food service as well. I remember the first sandwich I made as a line-cook, and thinking “oh god, someone is really going to eat this now. They’re going to put this in their freakin’ mouths now. Right freakin’ now. Oh my god, watch them eat it. They’re chewing. Look at them chew that food I just made. Its like they’re chewing my baby.”

And it really is a kind of magic when people tell you that the series of actions you just did with your body that resulted in nourishment for their body for the exchange of money was really…quite delicious.

But, like everything in the world, it gets less weird eventually. The magic hits you less and less, and then only by surprise once in a very rare while. It’s just food, after all, dammit.

Anyway, I’m trying to not expose my creepy, esoteric food-musings in every single post, so I’ll leave it at that. Specialty food item competitions, eh? I love ’em! Support your local theaters, folks.

Reflections On Shitty Crusts

I’ve eaten a lot of terrible pie crust. The amount of terrible pie crust I’ve consumed far outstrips the good crust I’ve eaten. Hence, I get surprised with how much “crust-swagger” is thrown around in the pie-world.

This asshole is showing off their crust swag.

This jerk is showing off their crust swag.

Any serious piemaker I’ve met will say “oh yes, my pie is all about the crust.” I’ve met some casual piemakers that don’t crust-swag so hard, but the serious ones are determined to convince you that their crust could beat up your boyfriend, EVEN IF YOU DON’T HAVE A BOYFRIEND. I’m glad they care – and hell, I’ve put quite a few terrible crusts forth into the universe. But, with all this caring and bragging going around, you’d think the world of pie crust would be a little less depressing.

As I’ve seen it there are two kinds of bad crust in the world:

  1. Hell Happened Crust
  2. What the Hell Happened? Crust

I have made both.

“Hell Happened” is characterized by a good framework for the start of the crust, but then something causes it to fall apart at the end. Perhaps a general lack of finesse with the fingers, to a huge lack of finesse with the fingers. Perhaps a cooling issue. Perhaps just bad weather and a humid kitchen. Usually “Hell Happened” crusts will taste okay, but they look like they were assembled by a pirate.


Here are some examples of pirate pie-making.

These aren’t garbage can pies; these are “give to a hungry blind friend” pies. These are pies that get away with being sloppy because they are sentimental & American (you should read into that.)

“Get away with being sloppy??!!” You say. “But, Ol’ Riki Tiki, the point of pie is that it IS sloppy! It’s cake’s dirty, tricksy cousin!” You scream at me huffily.

Well, look, you’re sort of right. Pie is, indeed, cake’s dirty, tricksy cousin. However, people misunderstand the way in which pie should be sloppy. Here is the rule I go by:

PIE OUGHT NOT DRESS TO SLUT ABOUT; RATHER, PIE OUGHT DRESS IN A MANNER IN WHICH IT’S SHIRT MAY INCIDENTALLY SLIP OFF IT’S SHOULDER(S).

Pie is a hot girl you didn’t realize was hot until she turns around in the grocery store, where she is buying condoms & Fiber One (NEAT!).

The ways in which pie should be sloppy should seem like an accident. It should seem like you’re the special one for noticing how good it looks. You’re the naughty one for wanting to eat that strawberry poking it’s head out of the crust. Sloppy little strawberry doesn’t want to stay in it’s cozy, little crust cave. What a naughty strawberry.

…and then there’s “What the Hell Happened” crusts. And these are super fun. They are truly inedible. Correction: they should be inedible, but often they get edibled just the same.

I’ve made one crust that was truly inedible (truly should have been inedible) – and I have a few darling friends who are kind enough to remind me of its existence. And I am kind enough to remind them that they won’t be getting free pie ever again.

It was before I really understood the importance of protein levels in flour, and figured that “bread flour” was just “all-purpose flour” for fancy types with a specificity fetish. I’m an exceptionally brave and stupid person. So I made a strawberry rhubarb pie with bread flour. I knew by the time the dough was hydrated that something was wrong. I knew that the dough shouldn’t be vigorously springing to the touch.  What I should have done was throw that dough in the garbage – but nay!

What I made was bread leather. Eating it looked a lot like this.

THE POINT IS GUYS

American pie is confusing and weird. Finding a delicious crust is a treasure. Crust lets you eat on the go. Crust is encasement. Crust is power.

Joe Rybarczyk made the gifs, btw.

A Reflection on My Family’s Butter Consumption

My family eats butter like they’re all stoned. Laughing and giggling to themselves about how much they’re eating, they take up their table knives and lash out at the butter again and again. They sigh and moan to themselves as they consume it tablespoon by tablespoon.

This morning at breakfast, my sister was eating a Gluten-free Chocolate Muffin Miracle my mom had baked. Correction: she was eating two tablespoons of butter with half of a Gluten-free Chocolate Muffin Miracle underneath it. She looked down at the concoction on her plate, and kind of hemmed and hawed to herself, then said: “hey, could I get some more butter? My butter to muffin ratio is not where I want it.”

Not only did she accidentally come up with a rather wild & wacky “That’s What She Said,” she also prompted this helpful reminder to pay attention to your ratios.

As Michael Ruhlman said, "Once you have the ratio, the variations are infinite." Have you experimented with butter:muffin?

As Michael Ruhlman said, “Once you have the ratio, the variations are infinite.” Have you experimented with butter:muffin? Perhaps try more butter to muffin?

I went over to my parent’s house for brunch recently (it was really a late lunch, but it was eggs & Gluten-free Muffin Miracles, so y’know…brunch) (to continue the sidebar: I’m going to go ahead and say that gluten-free people eat brunch more often than any other diet-group. Breakfast lends itself readily to gluten-free food I’d say. Then again, I’m basing this off my family and they’re batty)…

Let’s start that paragraph over.

I went over to my parent’s house for brunch recently. We ate a frittata and Gluten-free Muffin Miracles my mom had baked. I catch up with my folks about work, about pie, about Florida, about how Michigan has already been in the shitter forever, about drinking and driving laws, and then I started crying about Matty Moroun or something, and as I got up to grab a hankie I realized that my parents had probably consumed an entire stick of butter while we’d been chatting. In fact, I should have guessed that they were going to pull this sort of shenanigan from the start, because as my mother was serving the frittata she said, with a rather sneaky look on her face, “I’ll give myself less…for I shall put butter on mine.” She giggled and sat down and proceeded to butter her frittata. (Butter:Frittata )

When I was a kid, I was really cocky about how little butter I would put on things. I don’t know why I gave a shit to be honest. Their butter consumption wasn’t hurting me in anyway – I just immediately saw it as a real dork move and wanted to separate myself from the herd.

Everyone would pass around the butter, dunking their faces into the dish, and then I would get the dish and announce “EVERYONE. CHECK THIS OUT. I’M USING A SLIGHT SCRAPING OF BUTTER.” And then I would proceed to just barely scratch the surface of whatever starch we were allowed to eat at the time with only the slightest amount of butter. Absolutely no one paid attention, and I realized that I would just have to get through every meal keeping my criticisms to myself and every single one of my online friends I would chat with immediately after dinner. “Oh my gosh. My family EATS A LOT OF BUTTER AND ARE SUPER INTO IT,” says 12 year old me, via AIM.

I was being a real twat about butter. Obviously I was wrong. But I’m still not prepared to say that they’re right.

Margarine has always been right out. My grandma used margarine. It was always awkward eating at her house when it came time to butter our rolls. Obviously, we weren’t “buttering” anything. We were spreading vegetable ideas.  This would instigate a lot of eye-rolling and discontented roll-eating from my family, despite how much we loved our grandma.

My favorite margarine related memory (because I have those) was while on vacation with my family. My oldest sister was going through some  rebellious phase and had decided that margarine was better for her (she doesn’t think that anymore.) My mom found the margarine in the fridge and whipped it out.

“What is this??” She asked.

“It’s uh…it’s mine.” Said my sister.

“NO. NO. I would…” my mom stumbled for a second then recovered, “I would rather have a daughter who is a smoker than a daughter who eats margarine!”

Since I was a smoker at the time, I knew the comment was directed at me, so I went ahead and said, “yeah, hey! At least I don’t eat margarine!” and high-fived myself out of that scenario.

At this point, I feel like I’m a liberal butter user. It’s one of three pillars of my crust making (my crust is a strange looking building). Sometimes I won’t bother eating bread if I don’t have butter (Depends on the bread. Depends on the menstrual cycle. Depends on who’s in the room). Sometimes I’ll squirt a little extra clarified butter on my scrambled eggs, post-scramble, pre-consumption, and still butter my toast. But, truly, all that does for me is make me scared that I’ve completely ended my rebellion and am now slipping down the buttery slope my family went down first.

Butter Slope is not an evil place; Butter Slope is barely even a bad place. But Butter Slope is the place that is inhabited by people who send their waiters back to the kitchen at least 4 times during a meal to fetch them more butter, and then instruct them “Ok. Just keep it coming.” Butter Slope is the place where your family meets your boyfriend for the first time, and they greet him by saying “Hey! We’re having a butter tasting!” Fortunately, that boyfriend was kinda down with the idea, but I lucked out that time.

I shouldn’t make fun of them too much for the butter tasting, because I walked away from that realizing that I was pretty lucky to have a family who sat around discussing the flavor profiles of different butters & musing over the sort of grasses the cows ate, without any self-consciousness. I’d love to say that my family’s butter consumption is “not normal,” but that immediately implies some sort of cosmic order of normalcy, which I’ve yet to see any evidence of, except for my family’s butter consumption…but that sort of logic gets people locked up.

CLICK HERE TO SEE MORE BUTTER PICS

(all photo credit goes to Joe Rybarczyk)