Rolling Pin and Flour

Rolling Pin and Flour

Friday, March 22, 2013

Holy Bread

When I went back to the Farmhouse for my next bread baking shift, I was fearing the worst. My first attempt had not been successful by any standards.  Most regular chefs at regular cafes would have fired me on the spot.  But when I arrived, Louie seemed unconcerned.  He just nonchalantly informed me that there had been holes in the whole wheat loaves I had made; a fact that didn't surprise me one bit.  What surprised me was his patience and trust in me.  How did I get so lucky?  I reassured him that I knew where I went wrong. I was ready to try again. So he set me to work on a double batch of whole wheat.

This time around, I made sure to add plenty of water and it all seemed to come together pretty well.  Once the dough was rising, I had some time to just hang out and observe.  It was a quiet weeknight at the cafe with Javier working the line by himself, so much more laid back and peaceful than the weekend dinner shift.  I learned to like Mondays very quickly.  It was easier to get in and out of the ovens without worrying about maneuvering around a line cook who was working with hot grease and food on the burners above my head.

But even with moister dough and a quiet kitchen, the ovens still presented a challenge.  This time around, I had allowed for extra time in between each batch so that when it came time for baking, I wouldn't end up with a set of deserted loaves in the fire of hell ovens with nowhere to go.  Timing wasn't the issue this time, it was the shelving.

Louie had pointed out that in the blazing hot ovens, the bread needed to be rotated approximately every 10 minutes.  The back of the ovens were much hotter than the front.  Without rotation, you'd end up with one side of the loaves looking black and evil and the other half perfectly golden if you were lucky.  With the tipsy sheet pans serving as the top shelf, rotating became a major challenge.  Added on to that was the fact that I was terrified of being burned.  I learned all too quickly that fear does not produce the most steady hands.

Halfway through the process of one rotation, the top sheet pan got nudged too far to one side of the oven and down it went.  With fiery hot air in my face and flimsy dish towels in my hands, I got flustered.  I couldn't budge it.  It was lodged in the oven at an awkward angle with the heavy cast iron pan on top and it wouldn't move for me.

Javier was standing at the fryer next to me when this all went down.  He watched me struggle for a moment and then leaned over to help me when he saw the look of desperation in my eyes.  He was quite a bit shorter and had a smaller build than me, but he taught me quickly that I should never mistake size for weakness.  He reached into the oven and sorted things out with a couple quick maneuvers.  I was overwhelmingly grateful.

The shelf was fixed for now, but there had been a set of loaves underneath when it had collapsed.  When I pulled them out to move them to another oven, sure enough, they had been squashed.

At the end of the night I told Louie about the casualties.  Always quick with his wit, he replied, "Well, the good news is, if there were holes in them, there won't be anymore!"

I was having a hard time looking on the bright side however.  I was a perfectionist and I was determined to get this bread right, faulty equipment or not.

Over the next few weeks, I wracked my brains and experimented tirelessly.  I had loaves come out blackened all over, loaves that were blackened on the bottom, loaves that sank in the middle, many many loaves that had holes in them and that split on the top as they were rising and baking.

Throughout all of this, Louie really said nothing.  He just let me do my thing and figure it all out for myself.  And I was learning.  At night, after a shift, I would plop exhausted into bed smelling of toast and I would scour the internet for tips and answers to my problems.  It became an obsession.  I would lie there lit up by the screen of my smartphone til all hours of the night while my husband and dog snored in the bed next to me.  

I learned that bread that wasn't baked in an oven hot enough, sank in the middle when it reached is peak rise.  I learned that holes in bread typically meant a poorly shaped loaf, or one that hadn't been deflated enough after the first rise or that had too much or too little water (so many factors!).  A cold kitchen meant longer rise times, a longer shift, and a later bed time.

And then something amazing happened.  The bread actually started to look like edible bread. I had finally come up with a system that was working and here's what it was:

One shelf in the middle of each oven.  
One sheet pan overturned on the bottom of each oven.
One set of loaves on the top shelf of the fires of hell oven for 5 minutes.
Rotate, 5 more minutes.
Move to the bottom of the oven on the sheet pan. 
Add the second set of loaves to the top shelf.
Rotate both after 5 minutes.
After another 5 minutes, move the bottom loaves to the cooler oven, move the top loaves to the bottom shelf.
Rotate the bottom loaves after 5 minutes.
After 5 more minutes move them to the cool oven.
Add the next set of loaves to the top shelf of the blazing hot oven. Rinse, repeat.
All this done while there were two cooks on the line, trying to do their jobs. Things definitely got hairy sometimes.

After 25 minutes in the cool oven, I would tap a couple loaves searching for the perfect hollow sound.  Javier would always watch when I did this, head cocked to one side.  "Anyone home?" he would ask with a quizzical smile.

Throughout this process, I was also playing with the ingredients.  The day I went in to audition for the job, Louie had given me a slice of the whole wheat bread to taste.  In all honesty, it was bland and dry and I had a very difficult time finishing it.  I love bread - if I could survive by only eating bread, I would. So when I can't finish a piece, it must be pretty bad.  I refused to make a bread that I didn't want to eat, so I slowly introduced different things to add flavor - mainly molasses and honey and finally came up with a 50/50 combination that gave the bread a nice brown color and just a hint of sweetness.  

Things were looking up.  Maybe this whole baker idea wasn't such a crazy idea after all.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Take Two

I've had my fair share of failures in the kitchen.  I've over seasoned.  I've made dinner rolls that didn't rise and turned out like heavy little rocks.  I've had egg whites that wouldn't whip into peaks.  I've had pie crusts that were too sticky and crusts that were too dry and crusts that shrank in the oven.  But all of these were failures in my own kitchen in which the only people that suffered the end product were myself and a significant other or friend.  Now I was baking for hundreds and my failures would be suffered by strangers that were not afraid to post their dismay on the internet.

Cue day two at the Farmhouse.

I arrived mid-afternoon, ready for baking a full recipe of bread.  Louie greeted me in the kitchen this time - there was no hunting him down.  We were already off to a good start.

He handed me a printout of the recipes - one white bread and one wheat.  "How about you try to make one batch of each?"

I quickly realized I wasn't going to have my hand held through this.  He obviously didn't have the time and must have had the confidence in me, so I got to work.

Everything was going smoothly until I came to the mixing part. I transferred the dough to the big standing mixer so it could be kneaded with a dough hook for 26 minutes.  As I was questioning what sounded like a ridiculously long time for kneading (most recipes I had worked with were 10 to 15 minutes at the most), I was also battling with the mixer.  First, I couldn't get the bowl to fit on the stand right.  Then it wouldn't turn on - there was a wire cage that fit around the top that had to be locked in place as a safety precaution.

"Because don't you just want to stick your hand in there while it's running?" Brian the line cook joked.

Then the metal cage fell off.  Luckily, Brian and Javier were there to help me through all of this and get it put back together.

Finally, with the wheat dough kneading, I started on the white so that by the time the wheat was finished, the white could go in the mixer.  Before I knew it, 52 minutes had passed and both doughs were rising nicely. I cleaned up my area and gave the mixer a good scrub down.  It was caked with bread dough and other assorted crusty things.  And when I wiped the counters down, it left a brownish residue on the dish rags.  Ugh!  This was definitely a man's kitchen.

It came time to shape the loaves, and I pulled out a hunk of whole wheat dough and started to shape it in my hands.  When I tried to pinch the seam together at the bottom of the loaf, it wouldn't hold.  The dough was too dry!  I realized much later that I had missed a step in the recipe.  After mixing all of the ingredients together, there was a very vague line that said, "Add enough water to make a moist dough".  Well, this dough was most certainly not moist.

I tried different tactics to get the loaves formed and eventually I decided to roll them out flat, then roll them up like big cinnamon rolls and pinch the seams shut.  But alas, the seams would not be pinched.  Exasperated, I ran my hands under running water, doused the dough lightly and somewhat closed the seams.  This was a disaster.  I had never been fired from a job before and suddenly that was a real possibility.  This was definitely not how I wanted to start this job.

By the time I finished getting the whole wheat shaped, the white bread dough was overflowing from its bowl. I rushed to get it shaped and into pans.  Even though I had missed the extra water step on this batch too, it was not as dry and the loaves shaped much easier.  All was not lost completely I hoped.

In the meantime while I had been struggling with dry dough, Brian had left early, Javier had finished his shift and Louie had gone to work the dinner theater.  That left Alonso alone on the line.  And it had started to get busy.  Open tickets lined the counter.  The wait staff was coming in at regular intervals to ask him where their food was.  I watched from the sidelines wishing I knew how to be a line cook.  I could tell Alonso was not happy and I felt incredibly guilty standing by while everyone else was frantically working.

At some point I decided to make myself look useful and get the wheat bread in the ovens.  There were three of them on the line to work with.  The recipe said to bake the bread for 20 minutes at 450 and then another 25 minutes at 350.  I decided to start in the two ovens at the end of the line and then move to a cooler oven in the middle.  That way while the wheat was finishing, I could get the white in.  It seemed like the perfect plan.

As I carried the pans over to the line, it occurred to me how heavy four 2.5 pound loaves in a heavy cast iron pan were.  I had four of these pans to deal with since each batch made approximately eight loaves.  And the ovens were blazing hot.  Louie had mentioned beforehand that the oven in the middle did not go any lower than 450 degrees.  I had a pair of thin dishtowels to maneuver these huge, awkward, incredibly hot pans with. Hadn't anyone there heard of oven mitts? Then there was the factor of missing shelves in the ovens.  To make due, they had large metal sheet pans to slide in.  But oddly enough, they didn't fit.  They were just a hair too small.  Bump them the wrong way, and they'd tip and fall.  Plus, if the loaves had risen high enough, the trays did not provide enough space between the top of the oven and the top of the loaves. What kind of mad man had decided this was a good kitchen for baking bread?

I started one pan in the oven at the end of the line and the other pan in the second oven that apparently would not turn down lower than 450 degrees.  25 minutes later and I shifted both pans to the third oven, one precariously situated on top of a sheet pan.  Then, with the white bread starting to tower out of its pans, I placed each of them in the ovens set to 450.  Squatting, lifting, standing, squatting, reaching... Quietly pleading with myself not to touch the sides of the oven.  One of the loaves of wheat finished on time so that I could put one of the white loaves in its place.  However, the other wheat was taking much longer.  I needed the space for the second pan of white bread, but I couldn't take out loaves that weren't finished.  Since  there was nowhere to move this last pan of white bread, I turned its oven down to 350.

At some point during all of this, Louie had come back to help Alonso on the line.  When he saw me turn the oven down, he piped up, "You know, that one doesn't go any lower than 450."

WHAT??  The realization flooded over me.  There were two ovens that didn't get any cooler than 450 degrees and the reasonable 350 degree oven was full.  That left one pan of white bread in a 450 degree oven with nowhere to go.  And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.  I left it in for another five to 10 minutes and then took it out looking blackened and not especially appetizing.  I think I hung my head in dismay.

I left that night wondering how much, if any of the bread I had made was even edible.  Sunday would be a busy day with the brunch crowd.  What would Louie do if he didn't have bread?  I knew I had let him down.

I boarded a train home, my stomach churning with nerves.  Why did I think I could get a job working in a kitchen baking bread when I had zero experience and training?  What kind of fool did something like that? Was this something that I really wanted to do, or was I just being a coward, looking for a way out because I'd gone through some rough times at my regular job recently?

Unfortunately I had no answers and I was plagued by these questions for the next two days until I went back to the Farmhouse.  Only time would tell.

Friday, March 15, 2013

New Beginnings

Four days after my successful stage at the Farmhouse, my phone rang.  It was Louie.  My heart leapt and my  hands were shaking when I picked up the phone.

"I wanted to apologize about making you wait so long to hear back about the bread baking position at the Farmhouse.  But I had the last interview this morning and I absolutely want you to come bake bread for me."

If it's possible for a human to experience emotional overload, I'm pretty sure it was me at that moment. Joy, excitement, fear, shock. I think I had them all covered.  And there were so many things I wanted to say.  How could I even begin to thank him for giving me this opportunity?

"That's so awesome, thank you!"  I decided to keep it short and simple.  Hopefully I could show my gratitude by baking some fantastic bread for him.

"If it wouldn't suck too much, do you want to come in Friday night after 5 and I can walk you through the recipe?"

I was in - of course!  Friday nights out on the town were for single people anyway.  It was a rare occasion that my husband and I even went out.  Fridays were typically reserved for Indian takeout and curling up on the couch to watch bad scifi tv shows - too exhausted from the week to move.  My eighteen year-old self would be disgusted to work on a Friday night, but 30-something me was thrilled.  Besides, I had this theory that baking wasn't going to feel like work anyway.

The next two days flew by and before I knew it I was on the train headed to my new second job, full of nerves and ambition.  But when I arrived, Louie was nowhere to be found.  I introduced myself to the kitchen staff.  Alonso and Brian were both working the line again, there was also Pedro, the bus boy, and Javier, another line cook.  Javier took it upon himself to locate Louie.  But after wandering around for a bit, he still couldn't find him.

Pedro told him to go check the dinner theater across the street.

"No, es fria!" he said reluctantly.

Before I knew what I was saying, I agreed, "I know, it is cold!"

He looked at me stunned, "You speak Spanish?"  He sounded impressed.

I shook my head a little embarrassed, "Only a little. Un poco."  I was actually surprised that I remembered anything from my two semesters of Spanish class in high school.

We trudged across the street in a cold March drizzle, but didn't find Louie there either.  Finally, back at the Farmhouse, he emerged from the depths of the rear of the restaurant.  

"Oh, Ceth!  Glad you're here. One of my cooks hurt his neck and I have to work the dinner theater tonight.  I'll be in and out of here for a bit.  Do you mind just hanging out for a while?  You can go fill out your new employee paperwork, and then hopefully I'll be back and we can get started."

A little disappointed, I made my way to the back office.  I really wanted to get my hands on some dough!  But unfortunately, when I returned to the kitchen, there was no Louie to get me started.  I hung back out of everyone's way, a little forlorn.  After a while Brian approached me.

"First night?"

"Yeah.  Louie said he'd be right back to show me around, so I'm just hanging out for now."

"You might as well pull up a chair and get comfortable.  My first night here I waited over an hour."

Ugh.  This was not how I had pictured this night going. 

"Do you have the recipe?"

"I think this is it," I was looking at a stained and crumpled print-out.

"Why don't you give it a shot?  You're here, you might as well do something."

He was right - did I really need Louie to walk me through everything step by step?  I would halve the recipe and follow it as close as I could, making modifications if I couldn't find something.

A few hours and substitutions later, I had a couple decent loaves.  This job was going to be a synch.

Louie asked me to come back the following day before the dinner rush and we'd do the real deal.  I wasn't thrilled about giving up my Saturday afternoon, but I knew going into this that I would have to make a few sacrifices. I knew it would all be worth it some day.  Besides, tonight was simple enough.  How bad could a full batch of bread be?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Stage

When I arrived at the Farmhouse to bake my Swedish Limpa bread, Chef Louie was out working on dinner at another venue.  Instead, Pam, the Front of House manager, greeted me wearing a black leather jacket and a skeptical look on her face.

"So you're here to do a stage?"

At the time, I didn't know what she meant by stage (pronounced stahj), which is essentially like a job shadow in the kitchen.  After making her repeat herself several times, she finally said irritably, “You’re here to make some bread!”

“Oh, yeah.” I managed to confirm, shaking my head inwardly.  Jesus.  I had a lot to learn.  I decided to pull up the science of bread making on Wikipedia and start my education while I waited for Louie.

After a short time that felt much longer, Louie arrived and spirited me away to the kitchen where he introduced me to the two line cooks for the night, Brian and Alonso.  He pointed out a few things to me, bowls, flour, yeast, a beat up mixer that apparently only sort of worked.

“I’ve been making all of my bread by hand anyway,” I assured him.

“Oh, thank God.”

He pulled out a container of poolish that he’d made the previous fall with organic apples from the restaurant owner’s orchard.  “Take a whiff.”  He watched for my reaction.

I inhaled the sour smell of fermenting flour and yeast.

“Smells like paint thinner, eh?”  He seemed thrilled.  “Most people think it smells disgusting.”

“I kind of like it – it makes me want to drink a beer actually.”

He nodded approvingly.  Major points scored.

I started on the autolyse for my Limpa and let him know that it would have to sit there for a bit.  In the meantime, he had hauled out a large tub of bread dough and was working on forming loaves and filling a set of heavy cast iron bread pans.  He’d take a hunk of dough, knead it thoroughly and then briefly shape and set in the bread pan.  I’d never seen someone knead bread so much before shaping it.  He informed me that without this step, the bread would have holes in it.

As I was waiting for the autolyse, Louie got called back to the other venue.  He put me in charge of shaping the loaves.  My first test!  I finished up a set of four loaves and then went back to my Limpa.  I think the autolyse had sat for almost an hour already.  I shook off my doubts and went in search of measuring spoons and vegetable oil.  I found neither.  Venturing cautiously over by the line like a frightened puppy, I asked Brian if he knew where I could find measuring spoons.

“What size do you need?”

“A tablespoon or teaspoon.”

“I don’t think we use anything that small here.”  He shrugged.

Crap.  I decided to eyeball the amount of yeast by measuring it out into my palm, hoping with all my might that it would be enough.  Then Brian helped me out with the vegetable oil.  He took a ladle and scooped some out of a container near the stove, studying it with narrowed eyes.

“How much do you need?”

“About a third of a cup.”

“How many ounces is that?”

I stared blankly, trying to visualize the side of the measuring cup where ounces sat across from cup measurements.  I couldn’t remember.  Less than eight, more than two?

Realizing he wasn’t going to get ounce measurements from me, he ladled a couple spoonfuls of oil into my bowl.  I felt like a complete idiot.

I focused my energy back on making the dough, mustn’t let this throw me off my game.  I’d made this bread 5 times in the last week.  A few mis-measurements shouldn’t hurt… maybe?  I finished adding ingredients and kneaded until I was satisfied with the texture.  Now for the hard part, waiting.

Louie made me feel right at home though.  After Brian left for the night, the chef took over his part of the line and helped Alonso with a variety of dishes like stir fries, pasta and fajitas.  He motioned for me to come join him near the line and as he cooked, he told me stories about the staff, how he'd ended up at the Farmhouse, and shared some of his industry secrets – like how to make sweet potato fries extra crispy and how you can partially cook pasta and then finish it off quickly before serving.  Mind blown.  He’d spoon tastes of things onto a small platter and make me test the fries for seasoning.  He whipped up a vegan special with ingredients I never would have thought to combine.  He decorated plates with a beautiful green basil oil.  I was having a blast.

After 40 minutes or so, I checked my bread.  It didn’t seem to be rising.  My heart started to sink a little.

“What do you think?” Louie gave me an honest look of curiosity.

“It’s not rising very fast.”

“Here – throw it over above the ovens – that’s my trick for speeding up the process.”

After 10 or 15 minutes of that, it was definitely risen – maybe even too much.  The metal bowl was hot to the touch – I needed a dish rag to get it down.  I shaped the loaves and started wait number two.  This was the longest interview of my life!

But Louie didn’t seem to care.  He was perfectly at home behind the line, whipping up tasty dishes and joking with Alonso.  Finally I decided to get the loaves in the oven.

After scoring the loaves, they were plopped in the oven and the last bit of waiting crawled by.  I’m not an especially religious person, but I’m pretty sure I said a few prayers.

After a while, Louie opened the oven to take a look.  The smell of warm bread and anise escaped out into the kitchen.

“Alonso, come smell this!”  He opened the oven again and wafted the air over toward the seasoned line cook.  He nodded - I think he approved.  He was a hard one to read.

After tapping the bread a few times in search of the perfect hollow sound and then waiting some more, I decided to call it.  The suspense was killing me, I really couldn't stand waiting any longer.  I briefly rubbed the loaves with butter to give them a nice shine.  Then a brief rest out of the oven and the moment of judgment was upon me.

Louie sliced into a hot, steaming loaf, raised a piece to his mouth and breathed in the smell deeply before taking a bite.  He groaned with approval and quickly sliced a piece for Alonso.  He ate it and said something in Spanish.

“He just said he loved you.”

Glory!  That was all I ever hoped for.  Even if I didn’t have the job, I had made them something that they truly enjoyed.  Mission accomplished.

More slices were passed around to staff and Louie promised to be in touch by mid-week.

"The interview process should be over now, but I have to give everyone a fair shot," He said as he shook my hand.

Whatever happened in the coming days, I'd found a home in that kitchen and I knew it was just the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Perfecting the Perfect Bread

I cannot take the credit for this amazing bread recipe.  They say give credit where credit is due.  So here is a link to the blog where I found it.  You will not regret giving it a try.  It’s the reason I’m writing this blog post today.  Thank you Kelsey for sharing this recipe with the world!

When we first started dating, my husband introduced me to a site called Food Gawker.  It’s a mosaic of food images from postings on various food blogs and it’s beautiful.  Any recipe you could possibly dream of is there and they all look delicious.  I have resigned myself to knowing that I will never ever have the time to make all of them, so I try to pick and choose the ones that speak to me.  Swedish Limpa bread was one such recipe.

My husband loves rye bread, so I think I must’ve been looking for something new to try when I found the Limpa recipe.  I’m part Swedish, my grandmother was mostly Swedish, and so there was no question about it.  It had to be made.  I tested it out on Easter Sunday when we had guests over and it was a hit.  Crusty, lightly sweet, soft in the middle, with a warm, hearty flavor.  My stomach is rumbling as I type this – I think I need to go bake a batch right now.

Swedish Limpa is the bread I decided to make for my audition at the Farmhouse.  But I would need to practice first.  I would need to memorize the recipe and do some tests to see what turned out the best.  For my first batch, I followed the recipe exactly but increased the amount of rye flour a bit.  I wanted something nice and hearty and my husband had mentioned before that he wanted more rye in it.

It was great, but heavy – as many rye breads will be.  So I decided to work on the ingredients a bit.   First it called for ¾ cup of molasses.  I personally like the sweetness this gives the bread, but decided to pull back a little and cut it to ½ cup.  Next was the shortening.  I used vegetable shortening in it originally, which I think keeps the bread moister in the long term, but ultimately gives it a much heavier feel.  I swapped that out with vegetable oil.  We were getting closer.

After pouring through many blogs and cookbooks, I came upon a technique in my Test Kitchen cookbook called autolyse.  They used this in a recipe for a heavier whole grain bread and they claimed this lightened it up.  The process just involves mixing some of the flour with some of the liquid and allowing it to rest for 20 minutes or longer.  This allows the flour to become saturated and gluten to form.  It is then easier to work with and requires less kneading, prevents oxidation of the dough and also results in the lighter texture.  I tested out this theory and also tried a sponge (flour, water and yeast that sat out for 24 hours).  The autolyse won.  The sponge showed promise. Note to self: must do more experiments on that later.

I also saw that many artisan bread makers worked with a much wetter dough than I was used to.  Growing up, my mom would always say that the dough should feel like an earlobe when you were done kneading it.  In many cases, I think this is perfectly fine.  But in the case of my rye bread, I decided that this would be too dry.  I would have to get used to working with a sticky dough.  Fine and dandy if you have a dough hook and standing mixture, a little trickier if you do everything by hand like me.

I combined all of the above findings complete with scoring the loaves immediately before placing in the oven (my first attempt at this tricky technique).  Five batches of bread later, and surprisingly not sick of it yet, and we had an almost perfect loaf.

However, the perfect loaf wouldn't have been complete without some good advice.  My husband’s brother, a chef in San Francisco, urged me to make sure the café had rye flour in stock.  A jolt of reality hit me.  I was going to assume they had everything I needed!  A call to Louie confirmed that they did not.  Imagine showing up prepared with the perfect recipe and not being able to make it!  I would bring in my own ingredients.  Thank goodness for the luck of knowing someone in the industry.

Armed with the recipe, ingredients and hopeless enthusiasm, I made my way to the Farmhouse to bake my Swedish Limpa bread.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Take a Chance on Me

As soon as I’ve made the decision to work in the Food/Beverage/Hospitality industry, I start pouring over job postings.  I quickly realize I have no idea what I’m looking for and I’m pretty sure I’m in over my head already.  First I have to familiarize myself with all of the industry lingo – Front of House, Back of House, the Line.  I know I want to be in the kitchen, but doing what exactly?  I start blindly sending my resume for various openings, mostly kitchen prep work.  I don’t need experience chopping vegetables, right?

But just about everything I’m seeing wants at least a year of experience and/or a culinary school background.  I have neither.  When I was in high school, I had a summer job at a small cafeteria for university students participating in a summer work study program at a biology research station.  It was thrilling to me, even though my main job title was dishwasher.  The head cook quickly realized that I was good for more than just scrubbing dried egg out of pans and started me on other prep work.  I was put in charge of the salad bar and shortly thereafter, desserts.  I got to make giant batches of cookies and huge sheet cakes.  I even helped out with bread from time to time.  I learned about the joys of Pink Floyd, heard my first Tom Waits album and talked politics with the other cook on duty.  I loved that job.   How many people can say that about a minimum wage high school gig?

Unfortunately, a few months of work in high school over 10 years ago don’t seem to be cutting it with my job search.  I knew I could do the work; I just needed someone to take a chance on me.  Then I happened upon a random job posting that I almost passed by.  Bread baker.   According to my husband, it’s at a café run by hippies.  But he calls anyone that recycles and composts a hippy – that’s pretty much everyone these days!  The place has been around for ages and is known for good homey food.  It’s where I had sweet potato fries for the first time and buffalo is a common item on the menu - something I’ve missed since I moved to the Midwest from Montana.  I immediately send them my info.  A couple long days go by and I get a callback!  Hallelujah, I’m halfway there.  I chat with the head chef about my expectations – I want to ease into this.  I’m not giving up my full time job just yet.  He’s totally cool with it and is willing to be flexible.  We schedule an interview for the following week.

Suddenly it hits me, I might just do this!  I feel like I’ve had 15 cups of coffee in five minutes.  I’m bouncing off the walls with excitement and planning out my work schedule, seeing myself quit my job two months down the road.  But I can’t get ahead of myself.  One step at a time.  And I have no idea what to expect from this interview.  Will I have to bake him something?  Is he going to quiz me on gluten development and leaveners?  Baking bread is something I truly love, but I really know nothing about the science behind it.  Crap.

Interview day comes and I decide I’ll just wing it.  I’m surprised that I’m not as nervous as I thought I would be.  I’ve had interviews for other web dev jobs and I’ve sweated profusely, stuttered and lost my ability to speak logical sentences.  I feel none of that now.  The minute I enter the café, I feel like I’m back in the cafeteria in high school.  It smells the same.

Chef Louie comes out in his whites and apologizes for his appearance.  He’s been frying bacon, ripped his pants on some equipment earlier and seems to be dusted in flour.  Brilliant.  We take a seat at the bar and he tells me a little about himself and the café.

“Have you ever been on one of those dates where the chemistry just wasn’t there?  But you were nice enough to sit it out?”

“Of course, haven’t we all?”

“Well, we came to the Farmhouse for breakfast, and I thought to myself, at least I’ll have a good meal.  Then the food came and there was a hair in it.  This place needed a lot of work when I started – it still does.  I want to look back a year from now and think, remember when?  We survived that.  So here’s an example; when I started, the servers were making the salads.  They’d go out back, smoke a cigarette, come back and make a salad without washing their hands.  I have the cooks making the salads now and they don’t smell like Marlboroughs anymore.”  He was almost beaming with pride.

Louie ends up doing most of the talking and I love his philosophy.  He’s got loads of first-class experience, but he’s working here.  He likes what the café stands for and he just wants to make good food and have fun doing it.  I’m in awe.   Through my haze of admiration, I manage to mumble about my passion and confidence in my abilities.  Somehow I make it through this round and onto the next.  He invites me to come back over the weekend and bake him some bread.

It’s funny, I don’t even have to think about what I will bake.  The answer is just there.  It will be Swedish Limpa bread.