just another day in the neighborhood

if i had a dollar for everytime i heard someone say “oooh you work in a restaurant, that must be so much fun” we’d all be going out for a drink, my treat…some of my other favorites are, “oh you own a bakery, i bet that’s a lot of fun” (so much fun that I no longer own it…) , “you get up at what time, i could never do that” (trust me, on my days off, neither can i) and my all time fave, “how can you stay so skinny while baking all of that?” (easy, i am not interested in eating it after i have been up to my elbows in it all day) but honestly, what could be fun about this business, really??? sure you make good money, sometimes. you meet great people, most of them are anyway. you will work hard; it is a physically strenuous job that can take a lot out of you after 25 years. yet, i can’t imagine doing anything else, except winning the powerball. so today i will give you a glimpse into my life with cakes and cookies and pudding and…
first of all, i roll out of bed at 2:50am and after feeding the herd and starting the coffee, i get cleaned up and dressed. i usually drink my cup of coffee as i check the forecast and then it’s time to go. i have a long drive, 17 miles each way and to me, that is a little long. after dodging suicidal skunks, kamikazee coyotes and a bunch of dumbstruck deer, i arrive at the cafe. first thing i do is inventory what is left from the day before and decide what needs to be baked first.
today, first up is a batch of pastry cream and while the milk slowly simmers towards a full boil, i mixed up a batch of peach cobbler filling. the filling was portioned into the baking cups, topped with sweet biscuit dough and into the oven it went. after the pastry cream was finished, i moved onto wafers for banana pudding.
the wafers are the trickiest things to make. some days they just do not cooperate. eggs get whipped with sugar for a long time (yes there i go again about the long whipping, just ignore it) because they will end up with more volume the longer and slower they are whipped. after i start the machine, i quickly mix up 4 chess pies and put them into the oven with the cobblers. then it is time to lug that bowl into my little space and make the cookies.
to give you some perspective on just how big the bowl is, look at the things next to it. a grater, a 2 cup measure, a set of measuring cups and spoons. it is the smaller bowl for the machine and it weighs about 16 pounds. the large bowl is so heavy that if i have to use it, i have to have someone else, larger and stronger, move it for me.
flour gets folded into the eggs and sugar to make a batter that will be piped into little dots on sheet pans. after a sprinkle of sugar, they will be baked.
i work alone in this room, it is the store room and it is also a quiet room. there aren’t any ovens or other equipment in here with me and there aren’t any people unless they need something. after a quick trip in, they are gone again to leave me with my thoughts. because i have such a quiet room, i hear everything around me. i can hear the hvac system run its cycles, the freezer too. the radio in the kitchen provides a background and so do the voices of the cooks and the wait staff. the activity in the dishroom is noisy and so are the guys who work in there as they talk over the machine but even so, i can still hear the biscuit baker in the next room open and close the oven doors. most of the voices i listen to in my space do not speak in english and for much of my day, neither do i.
as i pipe out the cookies, i think about my next task; banana pudding needs to be made and these cookies are an important piece of that puzzle.
the trays are all lined up and ready to go. after a short trip to the biscuit room, the cookies will go into the convection oven where they will bake up quickly.

while the cookies bake, elli and i talk. we haven’t worked together for almost 2 weeks because i was on vacation and we have a lot of catching up to do. typical for a couple of women except for the broken spanglish we use to do this. actually it is more my bad spanish and her proper spanish that gets the story told. it seems strange to me when i stop and think about how much time of my day is spent not just speaking spanish, but doing so badly and still getting the point across. passing around the dictionary helps. today i learned 3 new words: chismoso(gossipy), celoso(jealous) and ambicioso(ambitious, but not in a nice way). we may not speak the same language, but we can converse and for someone who doesn’t speak english, she sure catches on to what’s happening around her…
the cookies are finished. i unload them from the oven and retreat to my little corner of the world.

while i was waiting for the cookies to finish, the cobblers finished baking too.

so did the chess pies

prep for tomorrow, separated eggs to make the task go quicker.

now it is time to make the pudding, banana pudding to be exact. the pastry cream has cooled down and the cookies are baked.

perfectly ripe bananas, peeled and sliced

in the pan, a little pastry cream, a layer of bananas and a layer of cookies. this dessert repeats itself until the pan is full.

cover the cookies with some more cream to seal out the air and keep the bananas from turning brown. to serve, it is scooped out and goes to the dining room in cups with a dollop of whipped cream and a cookie on top.
virginia, one of the waitresses, comes through the back and announces loudly, “i smell chocolate!” fresh from the oven is a pan of brownies. they will be cut up into squares tomorrow when they are cold, wrapped in plastic and sold up front.
speaking of the front, my showcase is in need of a refill so i must make some whipped cream. a half gallon of cream goes into the big bowl on the machine with some vanilla and sugar. slathered on top of some pies and piped on others, these will be displayed up front to tantalize all that pass by the case on their way in or out.
little lines of chocolate drizzle strung across the fudge pie, the last one to be decorated. off to the showcase we go…
all in a day’s work. the rack is full of things that will be served for dessert. time to head out to the garden and dig in the dirt.

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