30 November 2009

Miguel's Grandmother


“I hate new people…I fuckin’ hate new people.” Miguel screamed at the top of his lungs while I, a very new person, tried to load baguettes into the oven.  The oven has four stone decks, each one holds about 50 baguettes. The trick was to fill all the decks before the bread in the first deck is fully baked thus allowing for a quick smoke break.  The faster one loads an oven, the longer the smoke break.  At the time, I could load one deck and get about half way through the second deck before I had to start pulling baguettes out of the first deck.  I was incredibly slow but I insisted on doing this.  I was determined.

If Miguel wasn’t yelling about how much he hated new people, again, I was the only new person, he was telling me to move my ass.  Miguel stands at a tall five feet and he has a little round Mexican belly.  Of all the Latino men who worked at Amy’s Bread, he spoke the best English.  He is married to a tall thin American redhead and they have a couple kids so it would make sense that his language skills are a little more developed.  I wanted to spend as much time with Miguel as I could as he was the best baker at Amy’s Bread.  He started out washing dishes and one day they let him shape the bread.  Shaping led to baking which led to mixing and now they refer to Miguel as the “dough whisperer” because he can get the bread dough to do anything he needs it to.  I wanted to be that good.  But alas, I couldn’t even fill an oven with baguettes.

Once I’d gotten a little faster at loading baguettes, Miguel told me I needed more ‘esteem’.  I thought he was being sweet and telling me I needed to have more confidence in my baking abilities.  What he really meant, with his thick Latino accent, was that the baguettes needed more ‘eh steam’ in order to get a better crust. 

It didn’t take me much longer to get the baguette loading down and to get Miguel to stop screaming at me.  Well, he still screamed but it was more light-hearted in nature.  Most of the time he was reminiscing about his grandmother in Mexico, “My grandmother can shape baguettes faster than you and she’s in a wheel chair and she only has one hand!”

At the end of my tenure at Amy's Bread, I could load a full oven, leisurely smoke a cigarette and take a bathroom break before my bread was ready to come out.  I could also shape baguettes faster than Miguel, or at least at the same speed, though he would never admit it.  I only know this because we used to race to fill trays and racks.  With 1,500 baguettes to shape each night, we found creative ways to entertain ourselves.  Miguel and I used to race (and I used to beat him!).

I have since quit smoking and my new oven is much smaller than the beasts I once knew but how I miss Miguel and his grandmother.

26 November 2009

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

The last couple years I was in college in Gainesville, Florida, I hung out with the vegetarian, punk rock, showering-is-optional crowd.  I hosted potluck dinners every Sunday and I invited everyone who didn't have a family nearby to my house for Thanksgiving.  My Dad's parents lived in Gainesville too.  They both graduated from the University of Florida but they were the preppy crowd when they were in school.  He was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and she was one of those 'Delta Delta Delta can I helpya helpya helpya' gals.  I thought it would be a great idea to invite my grandparents to dinner at my place so they could meet all my friends.  They would normally go to the country club for dinner as my grandmother doesn't cook.  I even agreed to prepare a turkey even though they were the only two who would be eating meat.

My friends arrived first.  I was downing wine as if it was my life force, trying to calm my nervousness about my grandparents attending my shindig.  By the time they pulled in the driveway, I was suffciently wasted.  I think I did a good job at masking my drunkeness as I greeted my grandfather at the door.  He came offering a "tofu curry" my grandmother purchased.  Later I found out it was actually a Tofurkey being mispronounced.  I was bummed when I realized we weren't having curry.

As I uncorked another bottle I noticed my grandmother was held up in the street talking to a homeless guy.  She's the type who will talk to anyone so I didn't think much of it.  Then I saw the guy walking towards my door, carrying bags for my grandmother.  Totally perplexed, I went out to meet the odd pair.  Turns out, my grandmother thought the bum was one of my friends and she invited him in to eat with us.  Truth be told, my friends didn't look much better than my grandmother's new pal but I still don't think I'll ever forget our impromtu Thanksgiving guest.  More wine?

25 November 2009

Lug Plan

Lugs are the big, flat, plastic bins that most bakeries use to deliver bread.  They are great for cooling the loaves and once they are emptied they compact together making for a great space saving tool.  They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and most importantly... colors.  Amy's Bread has three retail locations and each location is assigned a different color lug.  When the delivery drivers arrive to pick up the bread, they instantly know which stack goes to which store.  So, Thanksgiving rolls around and there is a lug shortage because there is simply too much bread to load into the every day quantity of lugs kept on hand.  This is where the Lug Plan comes into play.

The Lug Plan is infamous among management at Amy's Bread.  The buzz surrounding it starts months before the big day.  Basically, the plan states how many of which color lugs go to which store location and how many of which color lugs come back from each location in order to go out a second time. The first year I experienced said plan, it was made using an excel spreadsheet and it was little more than words and numbers.  At that time, there were only red, blue and the big, ugly, light blue lugs that only came out of storage for the holidays because they didn't fit into the other lugs.

During my last Thanksgiving at Amy's Bread, green lugs were added to the mix. [If I remember correctly, this was an ordering mistake.  No one actually planned on having a 3rd color]  There were 23 red lugs, 37 blue lugs, 12 ugly, light blue lugs and 15 green lugs.  I know this because I had to count them every year in order to help assemble the Lug Plan. The addition of the green lugs took the lug plan to a whole new level.  It went from basic spreadsheet to power point presentation.  The improved plan included arrows, colors, highlights, moving images, destination time stamps, dancing ladies and rocket ships.  It took weeks to create and quite some time was spent training a prodege to take over the next year's plan planning.  When all was said and done, the Lug Plan sat on my desk and all anyone needed to know was how many of which color lugs go to which store location and how many of which color lugs come back from each location in order to go out a second time.

This year at the Patisserie, I am happy to have a very small stack of light blue lugs that were rescued from behind a grocery store.  They are much more content now that they are cradling my yummy, organic, crusty bread than a yucky loaf of squishy Wonder Bread.

24 November 2009

Thanksgiving

I'm in total production mode as Thanksgiving is quickly approaching.  This tends to be the busiest holiday for bread bakers...everyone needs bread to go with their Turkeys.  This year at The Patisserie, I'm offering an Apple Cranberry Walnut Sourdough.  This bread exemplifies the holidays for me.  It has a hint of cinnamon...just enough to make it smell fantastic when it's baking.  I make this bread the day before it is baked (which is why it isn't typically available on Wednesdays).  It sits overnight so all the flavors can get real friendly.  It is my grandmother's favorite bread. She and my cousin fight over it and hide it from each other.

I also have a Portuguese Corn bread on the menu.  Contrary to the southern US style cornbread (which is more a corn cake), this is a yeasted bread that is packed with flavor and it has a nice soft texture.  This is the ultimate day after Turkey and Cranberry sandwich loaf.  It also makes a great stuffing.  I just add chopped onions, carrots and celery, sprinkle some herbs, saturate with chicken stock and bake for 40 minutes at 350F to get a yummy homestyle stuffing.  I used it this morning for my fired egg sandwich...yum!

Next on the list is the Seeded Wheat Bread.  This bread has it all, whole wheat, rye, pumpkin seeds, oats, flax seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds.  It is Mark's favorite bread.  It has a nice soft, airy texture to spite all of the inclusions.  The seeds are toasted which gives the bread a nutty flavor.  I must give a nod to Amy's Bread for inspiring this loaf.  She makes a similar product though hers is missing the oats and our sour starters are different.

As always, I will be making a variety of French products...rolls, mini baguettes and batards.  I will have an herb loaf too.  This one is great to throw in the stuffing mix as it is already herbed up for you!  Better yet, Christian has been working away to create stuffing mix for everyone.  It includes French bread, herb, seeded, rye and rosemary loaves.  It is cubed and it has had time to dry out...perfect for your stuffing.  We add fresh sage, rosemary and other seasonings to the mix....all organic.