Friday, May 6, 2011

The Pros and Cons of Unemployment

Wow, just over three months ago, I sung to the rafters my glee to finally be working in the Irish Pub I have loved for three plus years. Yet today, I find myself sacked, canned, and given the boot. The manager whose iconoclasm initially struck me as an asset turned out to be anything but; a liability who repeatedly told employees to "shut up", called customers cocks, bitches, and assholes behind their backs (though has still been overheard more than once), and referred to one attractive hostess as an "amenity' he hired for the male customers. In fact, he was the most unfriendly and ill-mannered in my employment history. And that's saying something. I am old, after all. 

As part of dusting myself off and packing up my troubles in my old kit bag (smiles everyone), I've decided to compose a pro and con list about my new predicament/opportunity.

Pro- I'll have more time for housework.                                
Con- I'll have more time for housework.

Con- My beer budget has severely decreased.
Pro- My weight loss chances have exponentially increased due to lack of beer consumption.

Pro- I'll no longer have to look at stringy, oily hair pulled into a ragged ponytail and meant to cover a bald spot.
Con- My own hair will become stringy and oily as I'll have nowhere I am meant to be other than home.

Pro- I won't have to deal with disgruntled customers (honestly, they were few and far between other than those who complained about the aforementioned manager).
Con- I'll start talking to people in grocery store lines again due to lack of social interaction.
Con II- My teenagers are far more disgruntled than any customer. I'd like someone to gruntle them now.

Con- Paying the mortgage will be challenging if not impossible.
Pro- Appreciating the ability to once again accomplish this feat will be that much sweeter when it reoccurs. And it will reoccur, damn it.

Con- I'll miss my favorite Irish Pub, its atmosphere, and its people, those employed there and those who frequent there.
Pro- I really don't have a pro to this one, which hurts most of all. I still love that place as if it were my own and am saddened that its owners have decided to stay with a manager that drives people away more than he attracts them. Let's see... I'll save gas and vehicle wear and tear by not driving there and back. See? I can be practical when pushed into it!

That last one robbed me of the last of my inner steam so I'll leave it there. 

My hopes? 

That I am wrong, completely wrong, about Unpleasant Manager. That O'Donoghue's thrives like it never has before and becomes a permanent and wanted part of the North Scottsdale social scene. That all the people I have met and grown to love remember me as fondly as I will them.

I'm going back to my art business for now, I already have orders within an hour of announcing its reincarnation via Facebook . Let's make that my final "pro" and end here.

Ádh mór a chara. Beidh tú i gcuimhne i gcónaí. 

Good luck my friend. You will always be remembered.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

She's Happily Employed...

...But too busy to bake right now.

Over the years, I have tried to work in different fields, spent boring hours doing admin work, weathered months in cubicle hell, and created artwork in too many mediums. The truth of the matter is I like the restaurant business. It's fast-paced and profitable. The hours fly by as I meet and entertain a variety of people, serve yummy food and drinks, and listen to dance-inspiring tunage, some of it live. Running around for long periods of time forces fitness into my loathe-to-exercise form; joking around with customers and coworkers provides needed social interaction without the costs of entertainment. It's still work, mighty hard work at times; but, in the grand scheme of things, pretty darned fun.

My new place of employment is an Irish Pub, my favorite watering hole with Guinness on tap and fish and chips and potato leek soup at the ready. I've been frequenting O'Donoghue's for the three years it has been open and have applied there three times now. The third time was the charm, as predicted by the superstitious sphere, and I am thrilled to be there.

In contrast to the staid golf club that was my last employer, where I had Evil Mr Monk as my direct supervisor, the atmosphere at the pub is easy-going and empowering. My pony-tailed laid back boss told me to take ownership of my tables, which translates to "make your own decisions and don't come to me for every nitpicking thing". He is the polar opposite of Evil Mr Monk who used his Napoleon-like wingspan to make sure each table was equidistant from the next, who hovered over me as I worked, and who repeated instructions often five times before each special event. Honestly, I don't know how I worked for him as long as I did. Oh, yes, the quest for filthy lucre.

The golf club provided a restrictive and staid working environment that I am glad to be free of. I just wish I had  realized this sooner but sometimes this hard head of mine takes some drumming to learn its lessons.

By the way, in addition to fun and money, I get a special treat at the end of each day, a pint of that cascading goodness that is Guinness on tap. Life is good. 

An Addendum: When my brother-in-law, whose wife Linda is a confirmed shoe addict, learned where I was working, he exclaimed, "Lauren working in an Irish pub? That's like Linda getting a job in a shoe store. You may as well just sign your checks over to the place now."


Sunday, January 30, 2011

"The Pastry Queen", Royally Untested for Home Kitchens

Okay, that is a premature judgment, one that may hold water in the long run or not. To date, however, I have tried two recipes from "The Pastry Queen, royally good recipes from the Texas Hill Country's Rather Sweet Bakery & Cafe". Each produced far more than what the yield predicted and each produced mixed results. 

You may recall that in the past week, my kitchen has hosted Muffinpalooza and, by request of the Pint-Sized Farmer and because I was bored with blueberry and strawberry, I searched online for a good orange muffin recipe. The one that sounded the best to me referenced this cookbook as its source. "Essence of Orange Muffins" contain fresh-squeezed orange juice, grated orange zest, and all things real (I have a personal rule against using recipes that call for Crisco or margarine or, though it does not apply here, canned cream soups).  The predicted yield? 8 Texas-sized muffins, which I translated, incorrectly, as one dozen regular-sized muffins. 

Yes, I should have known better when the recipe called for 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and a full cup of butter. My go-to blueberry muffin recipe calls for a scant 1 1/2 cups of flour and 6 Tbsp butter. But this was the seventh time I had made muffins in as many days. I, the Muffin Maker, was punchy and soldiered on without judgment until I realized I had enough for more than two dozen muffins. Since I have teenage boys in the house, this wasn't an issue of who's going to eat all these muffins, and they received glowing reviews; but, I am against prevaricating recipes. I'm the Congressman Joe Wilson of The State of the Kitchen Address.

Nevertheless, I ordered the cookbook. Last October, during a visit to Dallas and Austin, my friend Julie and I skirted Texas Hill Country and I wanted more. Creating desserts from a diner located in the German-immigrant-founded Fredericksburg gave me romantic visions of walking from a rustic kitchen onto a weathered front porch after spending the day hard at work baking for the ranch hands. As the screen door slammed, I would wipe my hands on my flour sack apron and, with the back of my hand, brush the mussed hair from my careworn forehead. Across the prairie, I would spy my burly man, quickening his pace as he saw me until he vaulted the porch steps and wrapped his sinewy arms around me.

Um, wait, where was I?

Oh yeah, fried pies. Today, on the Second Bake One's Frustrations Away Sunday, I planned on making fried pies, "Fourth of July Fried Pies" to be specific, only constructed on January 30th. For years now, I have been using Martha Stewart's pate brisee recipe for my pie crusts. Fail-proof and food-processor-friendly, it takes me all of ten minutes to make and roll. But, because I am a glutton for punishment, I followed Rebecca Rather's recipe instead and I'm sorry I did. Too voluminous to prepare in the food processor, calling for six, SIX cups of flour, I struggled to work in the butter, incorporate the ice water, and roll out the dough. Stiff and dry, it was difficult to roll to the called-for 1/16th inch thickness. After much huffing and puffing, and just when my triceps were about to retreat in disgust at their futile mission, I stopped at 12 6-inch circles with over half the pie dough unrolled. The recipe called for 12 5-inch pies in total. 

The results were good though not trailblazing. I filled each uncooked pastry circle with a heaping tablespoon of either a blueberry, boysenberry syrup mixture or a chopped strawberry, strawberry preserve mixture. After folding the circles turnover-style, I sealed them and crimped the edges with a fork. At this point, my energy reserves were near empty and my arms flat-out refused to lift the fryer from its cupboard. Rationalizing that baking was healthier anyway, I followed the alternate instructions, painted an egg wash on the pies, and baked them at 375 for 20 minutes instead of the called-for 12. 

Will I make the pies again? Yes, but I won't use this Rather Untested in a Home recipe. 

Don't expect another lick of accomplishment from this exhausted home cook today. My sinewy-armed man awaits and I need to reserve the little bit of energy I have left.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Discovery Channel to Premiere Beer Special | Brewbound News

"How Beer Saved the World". If anything can, it is beer. Set your dvrs everyone!

Discovery Channel to Premiere Beer Special | Brewbound News

In Which I Get to the Vanilla Extract Eventually

Somewhere in my clouded memory banks, I recall tales of repressed fifties housewives, overwhelmed by expectations of perfection in all things, sneaking generous sips of vanilla extract, 35% alcohol by volume, to make their days bearable. While searching the internets for references to all things Mother’s-little-helper related, I came across this blog extolling “The Glorious 1950’s Housewife” and became so incensed that I almost forgot what I sat down to write about in the first place. This woman is deluded:

“These housewives would always wake up at least two hours before their husbands, so they could shower, do their hair, put on make up, and wear really nice dress and high heels.”

“A belief of always looking their best, when “he see’ s you first thing in the morning”, was of utmost importance.  They made it a point to never, ever have morning breath or look sleepy.”

(I won’t even get into her apostrophe catastrophes or other grammatical and spelling errors.)

Men made the money back then and it was important for their wives to create a haven of peace once their husbands got home. Strong daily efforts to make him comfortable were routine. Like having him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

“It was also important to make the evening his, while still incorporating your relationship and keeping a budding romance alive. Complaining or arguments were very scarce or kept to a minimum. The obvious goal was to try to make your home a place of peace and order, where your husband can relax and be happy.”

I believe these housewives were strong, organized, respectable, and quite happy.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. This woman belongs in Pleasantville, broadcast in black and white before Tobey McGuire came along and turned the more progressive populace into living color. Maybe she’ll romanticize the Antebellum South next, comment that the slaves enjoyed picking all that cotton in sweltering heat because the gracious white folks put roofs over their heads and fed them almost as well as they fed the livestock. How they didn’t deserve being more than 3/5 of a person, after all, and how they needed a good whippin’ from time to time to keep their baser urges in check. Oh, and they hated their families so it was a good thing the plantation owners were kind enough to take those burdenous chillens away from them.

But I digress, I came here to teach you people how to make vanilla extract at home, better tasting and less expensive vanilla extract. Now I’m afraid to do it without sounding like a fifties housewife, never mind the foolish woman who romanticizes her; but I’m going to tell you anyway.

Almost a year ago, while perusing the aisles of our local big box warehouse store (read Costco), Hubby and I discovered vanilla beans in test tubes. Because I am drawn by all things unique, I had to purchase said vanilla bean encasing test tubes or live the rest of my life in denied misery. Once home, they sat in the spice cabinet for nine months. If I was younger and had more energy and untied tubes, I could have conceived and birthed a baby in the time those beans were wasting away in their adorable glass tubes.

Then, one day, I ran out of vanilla. And remembered the tales of miserable vanilla-swigging fifties housewives. This memory was joined by a vague recollection of making one’s own vanilla at home and the knowledge that my liquor cabinet was well-stocked (because I mainly drink beer and wine) and my course was set.

I rattled through the Corner Cabinet of Rampant Disorganization and, just before Narnia, found an old maple syrup bottle to repurpose, dusted off the neglected test tubes, and pulled out the Absolut.

I suppose one could use inexpensive Vodka for this endeavor but, personally, I think life is too short to drink, or create vanilla from, cheap booze.

How to Make Vanilla Extract

Split three vanilla beans lengthwise, leaving one end intact, put into a lidded glass jar or bottle, cover with vodka, and let sit for six weeks to two months, shaking two to three times a week.

Seriously, that’s all there is to it. Why are we all not making our own vanilla? Are we afraid that, if we do, the bottom is going to fall out of the extract market, causing the recession to dip again never to recover? Because this is beyond easy. The hardest thing was washing the inside of the old maple syrup bottle. AND, like sourdough bread starter or that horrid fruit fermentation that my mother kept for years in my youth, it never runs out! But instead of feeding it, you just give it a little more vodka when the level of extract drops. And who doesn’t need a little vodka now and then? It makes the world a better place and, unlike this poor soul here whose mother was probably one of those “strong, organized, respectable, and quite happy” fifties housewives, you still have enough vodka to pour yourself a drink instead of emptying the spice aisle and making a spectacle of yourself.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The New Rules of Beer: Dark Lagers - Craft Course - Eater National

Gramma was more of a Michelob over lunch beer drinker but, being up for anything other than travel to opposite time zones, I'm sure she'd give these a try. There's nothing like a flavorful dark beer on a cold winter's night. Or a cool summer morning. Or now.

The New Rules of Beer: Dark Lagers - Craft Course - Eater National

Fugue at 350 Degrees Fahrenheit

In the past week, a week of emotional ups an downs as witnessed by yesterday’s morose posting, I have made a dozen muffins six times. For those of you who are rusty on your times tables, that is 72 muffins. All were eaten, none went to waste.

Jessica started it all last Sunday.

I’d really love some blueberry muffins.”

“You would, huh? How do you plan on getting those blueberry muffins?”

“Um, you’re going to make me some?”

So bake muffins I did. And cinnamon rolls. And popovers. I baked myself into a fugue state in which the memory of recent unfortunate job-centric events disappeared and were replaced by the scents of delicious fat and sugar-laden carbohydrates.

Have I mentioned that I am (was) following a slow carb diet on which I lost ten pounds in two weeks? Did you know a day of drinking beer and eating baked goods causes all that no-bread-allowed suffering to be for naught? I need my manna from heaven. Or the grocer's.

My yen to bake has passed for the moment but my family’s yen to eat has not. So I am off to the kitchen once more, not at five a.m. and not donning a white paper cap, but still feeling a bit like the dead doughnut man. “Got to make the muffins.” The pint-sized farmer has requested orange. Thanks be to the gods of variety.

For now, a roundup of recipes from last Sunday:

Cinnamon Blueberry Muffins Gourmet | July 2006
Lillian Chou

Thus far this week, I have substituted chopped frozen strawberries and a strawberry-banana mixture for the blueberries. I also added a skosh of vanilla because I like it. I’d photograph them but nary a one remains.

(photo by: Romulo Yanes)
Yield: Makes 12 muffins
Active Time: 25 min
Total Time: 1 hr

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups blueberries (7 1/2 oz)
Special equipment: a muffin pan with 12 (1/2-cup) muffin cups; 12 foil or paper muffin liners
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Put liners in muffin cups.
Whisk together butter, brown sugar, milk, and egg in a bowl until combined well. Whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Add milk mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in blueberries gently.
Divide batter among muffin cups and bake until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Basic Popover

I didn’t change a thing. They were perfect as are all Alton Brown’s recipes. He’s my geeky chef crush.
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2008
Prep Time: 10 min
Inactive Prep Time: --
Cook Time: 40 min
Level: Intermediate
Serves: 6 large popovers

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus 1 teaspoon room temperature for pan
4 3/4 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 1 cup
    1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Grease a 6-cup popover pan with the 1 teaspoon of butter.
Place all of the ingredients into a food processor or blender and process for 30 seconds. Divide the batter evenly between the cups of the popover pan, each should be about 1/3 to 1/2 full. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 minutes. Remove the popovers to a cooling rack and pierce each in the top with a knife to allow steam to escape. Serve warm.

Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls
Try not to eat them all. Especially when everyone is asleep and you’re afraid your family will eat all that remains the next morning before you awake so you devour two around midnight. Don’t do that! Better yet, pass them out to the neighbors and be thankful for the temporary memory loss that a day of hardcore baking provided.
1 cup water
1 large egg
3 ¼ cups bread flour
4 tbsp Sugar
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp dry milk
¼ cup butter
1 ½ tsp active dry yeast

Add ingredients to bread machine in the order listed and run under the dough cycle. Place dough on lightly floured board and divide into three pieces. Roll each into 8 x 9 rectangle, dot surface with butter, and sprinkle on a mixture of ¼ c brown sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon (divided into thirds as well). Sprinkle raisins as preferred.
Roll jelly-roll style, pinch seam to seal, and cut each third into eight pieces. Place on greased baking sheet, cover with damp towel, and allow to rise in a warm place until size doubles, approximately 45 minutes to an hour.
Bake at 375 degrees, 10 to 15 minutes. Glaze with a light mixture of confectioner’s sugar and milk.

Happy Baking!