Yesterday I had my first night shift at Chez Panisse. I am more of an evening person so the 3-10 pm works better for me than waking up at 5:30 in the morning! The day is largely different in that instead of getting there earlier than everybody and setting the stations up, you stroll in with everything prepared and hide away in a little nook. I started the day by meeting with the head pastry chef Carrie. She has a grace and an ability to communicate in an instructive way without being condescending. I can only hope that if I get the opportunity to be a head chef someday that I will be as composed and instructive as she has been in my short stint at Chez Panisse.
At 4 pm it is crazy in the kitchen, though this is not to be mistaken with messy or chaotic. Several different crews are in the kitchen working on different services (staff meal, cafe, and restaurant). It is transition time, and in an hour the kitchen will be cleared, clean, and ready for dinner service.
I love pastry, I love how intense the staff is, how focused we all are on counting through leaves etc. I work well alone, and flourish in a setting that lets me focus on my own task. But I also love being around people, meeting and exchanging ideas and learning about others. Today I looked out the window of the room I was working with and saw all of the savory interns and cooks from the previous shift outside having their shift drink together. I admit it looked nice as we only have one pastry intern on during a shift and I feel I don’t have any contemporaries to talk to, well except for Erica, though she has already left for Los Angeles.
Another perk to the night shift at Chez Panisse is that we get to have one of every dish on the menu, essentially the dinner people are paying up to $100 a person. Every dish was better than the previous tantalizing my taste buds with delicious flavors I have never experienced before. I can feel my pallet adjusting to new flavors and foods.
At about 7pm Alice Waters came through the back doors of the restaurant and I tried to hide being a little star struck. She has such a presence and warmth along with knowledge and passion. I am looking forward to the first time I get formally introduced as she is an idol to all those who believe in the slow food movement she nourished and calls today “a delicious revolution”.
At the end of the day I went upstairs to get my shift glass of red wine and enjoyed it on the back patio while reflecting on my day. What a beautiful life I have I thought feeling the beautiful surrounding and the moderate night enveloping me. What a beautiful life.
In other news:
My boyfriend LOVES English Muffins. We don’t buy bread stuffs in my house, but Brendon always sneaks English Muffins in the door. Now not that anything is wrong with store bought muffins (he buys whole wheat and simple ingredients) but I felt that homemade ones would be better! So I set about making my first batch of them, and what a delight they were!
The difference between English Muffins and your typical breads is that they are pan baked verses oven baked. They are in many ways easier to make than bread but the final conclusion has a bit more work involved than just sticking the bread in the oven. For this recipe you will need very basic bread ingredients and then a nice iron skillet to finish these delectable muffins off! Making them made me realize why they have a brown spot on the bottom and top! DUH! It made me realize how disconnected even I am from the food that we take for granted on a daily basis. So clean off the dust from your iron skillet you got as a wedding gift or from your local thrift store and get to making these muffins! I adapted this recipe from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian.
Vegan English Muffins:
Makes 12 Muffins
Time: 3-4 hours (mostly unattended so great for laundry days)
3 1/2 cups flour (all purpose or bread)
2 t. salt
2 1/4 t. active dry yeast
1 T. Sugar
2 T Neutral oil like canola, grape seed, or safflower
1 1/3 cups warmed milk alternative (soy or almond work best)
1. Pour your yeast into a measuring cup and add 1/3 cup milk alternative warmed to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Let sit for 15 min, after that time there should be bubbles to signify that your yeast has been activated. If not do not continue on, try again and if it doesn’t bubble get new yeast!
2. Meanwhile add the flour and sugar to a food processor, it works best if you sift these ingredients first. Then pulse a few times to incorporate the ingredients. Measure out and warm the milk alternative, oil, and salt in separate containers.
3. After the yeast has been activated add it to the food processor and then turn it on. Add the oil, and then pouring slowly add the milk in through the feeding tube. You are done adding the milk once it forms into a ball which should not be too sticky. Once the ball has formed turn the food processor off and shape the dough into a rough ball adding it to a well oiled boil. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise for 2 hours.
4. After two hours has passed or the dough is twice its original size, punch the dough down and take it out of the bowl. One a well floured surface add the dough and cut into 12 equal size pieces. Shape the dough into 3-4 inch circular pieces making sure that the bottom is sealed. Place on a sheet with a floured towel to cover and let rise for 45 minutes or until they are fluffy.
5. Preheat a large iron skillet over low heat for 10 minutes before your dough pieces are ready. DO NOT OIL IT! When ready sprinkle lightly with cornmeal and add 2-3 pieces of dough. Pan-bake the muffins turning occasionally for a total of about 15 minutes. Remove to a wire rack and start with the next batch.