So yeah, it’s
March May now. [Like most posts on the site, this is belated] That’s weird. To the point where I’m still not fully used to writing down 2016 in my notebooks. Plural. Yes, because despite the fact that computers and the internet have all but replaced traditional journals/diaries, newspapers, calendars, etc, I still still do that arcane thing where I hold a pen over a piece of paper and write down crazy things like appointments and to-do lists. I don’t want to scare anyone, but sometimes I even write down texts or emails and then MAIL them to people. In an envelope. With a stamp. [To be fair, currently my stamps are Harry Potter themed, so who wouldn’t feel like a baller sending those out?]Uh, just so we’re clear, I was mostly joking about that. Not about preferring to write by hand for day-to-day things (lefty pride!), but that I’m not trying to go on a diatribe about how technology has taken over our lives and changed everything. Even though it has, for better or worse, it’s a black hole of discord, and there’s already way too much of that to go around. So I’m just going to keep it to simple, non-controversial topics like different ways I can put sugar and butter into food. That being said, I’m still preparing for the inevitable rise of the machines once they become sentient, á la The Matrix. [Or The Avengers: Age of Ultron, to be a bit more current] Long tangent aside, my 2016 has gone by remarkably quickly so far. [Yes, that’s all I was trying to say at the beginning of this post. Brevity has never been a strength of mine] Despite the fact that I haven’t put up a proper post in over two months [oops, another bit from March], I’ve actually been doing a lot with this site and my – wait for it – pastry career. Although I’ve been baking for nearly a decade now, and even pseudo blogging about it on and off for six years, I only decided to pursue this as a career in late 2015. I really don’t expect anyone who doesn’t know me to ask, “Zoë, why aren’t you doing this for work?” Since that would be odd, and frankly pretty conceited. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of reading, talking, thinking, and so on as to whether or not I wanted to take this, something I have always loved doing, and make it my life. First, because I have worked in restaurants enough in my life to know that the culinary world is one of the most intense, competitive fields out there, so if you’re in it, that’s pretty much your entire life. Even as a server, the hours are long, tiring, and often unaccommodating to a normal social life. [If you have ever worked a brunch shift after a night out, you know what I’m talking about] Second, baking has always functioned as my version of meditation- regardless of all of the craziness going on in life, making something as simple as a batch of cookies allows me to essentially unplug from the world for an hour or so (aside from using a device to look up a recipe, if needed) and focus on just this one thing. I can’t explain why, but measuring ingredients is oddly relaxing. You have to pay attention to the order in which you blend ingredients. The feeling of working with your hands is a reprieve after hours spent typing on a keyboard or scrolling on a phone/tablet. Best of all, at the end you have something that you, yourself made, and in turn can give to others. People talk about how food brings people together, and it’s really true- it is one of the oldest, simplest ways to do something nice for another person.
Side note: I am fully aware that all of this is some privileged, first-world sh*t. I would hope that it goes without saying that I do not consider any of this to be profound or relevant to the world. As I said before, I’m not good at being brief, and that I am only talking about my attempt to navigate through building a career, with the hope that any of it is helpful to others with similar interests.
Which brings me to this site. As someone who learned how to bake entirely on the internet (with a lot of trial and error, natch), I very much want to pay it forward. Problem is, I’ve always been on the fence of how to go about running this website: should I try to have at least one post a week? Every other? How many photos (on average), and should they be documenting the process? How much do I need to write about why I chose a recipe, or better yet, can I get away with just writing a couple sentences and then go straight to the instructions and any notes/tips? In all honesty, I don’t usually have much interest in waxing on about my life here- the rest of my generation is good for that – so I’d rather only write about what I bake, how it’s done, and any other content that is actually germane to it.However, that happy balance has, so far, been difficult to find. If you’ve ever surfed around a few baking/food blogs, or just gone on Pinterest, you’ll know that there are thousands of these sites, ranging from ones that are essentially peoples’ journals with recipes peppered in [Nope, still not apologizing for food puns] to ones run by a restaurant or an established culinary authority [Of the latter, one of my favorites is Joe Pastry]. Not to mention entire sites dedicated to the history of pastry, cooking tools and equipment, food photography, or god forbid, pinterest-esque cake decorating. Suffice it to say, the market is saturated.One of my favorites, the Herriot Grace blog, is an example of a site where photos comprise the majority of the post- rightfully so, they’re stunning, and maybe if I lived in a place surrounded by gorgeous nature, rustic farm tables, and loads natural light, I would go that route. So yeah… no, that’s just not feasible for someone who lives in an apartment in Brooklyn with one kitchen window (and a roommate). Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live, regarding both my apartment and the city, and am very thankful to be able to do so, but with limited counter space and natural light, it’s a different situation. Mimicking natural light requires equipment for which I do not have the storage space, let alone the budget, and I’m not particularly interested in crazy food styling.So where does that leave me? I’ve tried to just figure it out as I go along, but as evidenced by the consistent irregularity of my posts, I need a bit more of a game plan. Unfortunately, the lovely combination of OCD and ADD [again, not trying to start in on such a loaded topic, but I am a stereotypical Type-A perfectionist], 16 years of practicing photography, passable tech skills, and an insatiable appetite (for both food and knowledge) has made it remarkably difficult to pick one direction.I started keeping a cooking journal a while back, mostly to keep track of recipe testing for dishes I hadn’t quite sorted out. Initially it was just notes/observations, a lot of cooking times, but when I was trying to tackle brioche, I started writing down which flour(s) I was using, the amount (both volume and weight), instant versus active dry yeast, rising times, and so on. Sure enough, it became incredibly helpful in crafting my recipe for it, and since then I’ve logged every single recipe. Granted, there’s shorthand, because obviously I don’t need to write down the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies every time I make them, but I at least write down if I used a new ingredient (even a different brand) or technique. For bigger projects, like kouign amann, it was essential in figuring out what did and did not work, for both ingredients and technique. [The specifics of which are more than elaborated on in the post]As I told a friend this (with slightly less painstaking detail) she that she found my descriptions and explanations really helpful, and suggested I try to teach somewhere. To which I laughed, because a) I by no means have the credentials to do that (let alone charge other people for my help) and b) I thought she was just listening to be nice. Who would want to hear me ramble on about stuff like, I don’t know, how the gluten level of all purpose flour is higher than pastry flour, so using the latter for cookies makes for a more tender crumb? I’ve been a nerd my whole life, and while I have fortunately found friends who will tolerate it, I don’t expect that from the rest of the world. Yet here we are, because online, you can talk about anything without having to consider other peoples’ interest, and basically the internet is now a repository for doing just that! What a revelation!Then, maybe a week later, I happen to find a job listing as a contributor for this new food website Nom, and thought, “Hey, why not?” So I reached out, and guess what? I’m now a contributor for them! It’s a wonderful community of food bloggers, chefs, and home cooks/bakers full of photos, recipes, and even videos! You can both showcase your own creations and use it as a learning resource. If nothing else, you never have to feel awkward about posting another food pic on Instagram again! The link to my channel is here, where I’ll be posting a combination of new photos/recipes and some from this site, as well as more tips/techniques for those who are new to baking. If you can/want to, please check it out, if not just because you’ve read this far!And with that, I end this very long update, super excited about what’s to come.