Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 Summer Restaurant Week

NYC Summer 2011 Restaurant Week starts July 11th and runs through July 24th.

Restaurant Week is an excellent way of tasting some decadent fare from some of NYC's finest restaurants, all for a prix fixed wallet-friendly price. I'm a big advocate of Restaurant Week and I always try to encourage my friends to try something awesome for a change.

I won't be participating this year. But, that doesn't stop anyone else from giving it a try!

Restaurant Week

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spidey- Take 2

I did do that Spiderman cake over again this past weekend, and although it's not EXACTLY as I would have liked to do it, I'm still happy with the results. I realized that high humidity and heat really taking it's toll on my fondant covered cakes. This is going to be a huge problem since I have three HUGE events this weekend- all involving lots and lots of fondant!

With Spidey, my sculpted figure was not coming out well at all. The fondant was too soft to hold its form and the more tylose and sugar I tried to add, the harder it was to sculpt him. I also had to paint it, and with the stickiness from the humidity that wasn't going to happen. I opted to just go with a candle for the topper, and call it a day. I felt like I was cheating, but this was ANOTHER free cake for them, and I didn't want to risk giving him a wonky, melted Spiderman on top of this cake.

The city scape I wanted to create along the bottom of the cake was not coming out straight at all. I couldn't pipe the yellow windows or the stars or sponge on dark clouds. I wanted to spray on a hazy full moon....None of that was happening. My fondant was sweating and getting stickier by the minute. I knew I had to improvise. So, I cut out gray buildings, finally getting to use this brick impression mat my ex gave me on our first Xmas together. It was way off scale, but I like the cartoonish, exaggerated style. I even made them uneven and crooked just to magnify how imperfect they were supposed to be. Instead of piping on stars or the moon, I used gold dragees instead. I think the affect was nice. Not how I envisioned it originally, but nice enough.

The longer I worked on this cake, the more difficult the fondant was to handle. By the time I got to the topper, the red fondant was ripping and cracking. I had to change up my plan again. I cut out a circle for the very top, and covered the sides with the brick impressed fondant. I had thought I would be able to pipe out webbing in royal icing- the very top starting at the top tier, and the bottom landing on the bottom tier in a 3D-like effect. As wet as the fondant was getting and as soft as my cake was becoming, I knew I was headed for disaster if I went that route. I piped webbing at the very top with regular buttercream and called it a day. I surrounded the top tier's base  with stars to add a little color, and I had to step back and leave it be.

Another lesson I've learned in my years of cake decorating; once your materials are compromised, it's best to handle it as little as possible. You can only do more damage trying to make it do what it's obviously refusing to. Know what can be fixed, realize what cannot, and leave it be. I delivered the cake. They seemed to like it a lot. And that was it. These people had the balls to call me so they could bitch me out for an hour about what happened to the first cake. But, they couldn't shoot me a text, letting me how they liked the second cake. Not even a thank you. Just goes to show;- you can't expect much from people.

Anyway, I feel as though my Cake Karma is cleansed. I feel that I more than made up for my goof. I think I did right by this little boy. Whether or not these people are appreciative is out of my hands. Like the sweaty fondant, I just have to leave it be and walk away. I did my best, and I'm satisfied knowing I tried hard to do the right thing at the end of the day.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Good Grub: Soy & Sake

After spending the day wondering the city with my buddy Josh, we decided to try and find some light fair for dinner. A quick, "We're in the Village, of course we'll find something!" turned into us walking around and around for nearly an hour trying to find a place not too heavy or too expensive. We settled on Soy and Sake after seeing the large variety of choices and the very agreeable price point.

We were seated immediately, and were a little surprised to see the place sort of empty. After reading the menu, Josh figured out why. It was a vegetarian place!

::cue Psycho music here::

Yes, people. I found myself dining meat-less on a Saturday night! Fear not; it wasn't that bad.

Soy and Sake is not my first tryst with vegetarian or vegan vittles. Granted, it would not have been my first choice of cuisine, but being someone who expects people to have an open palate, it would behoove me to expand my culinary spectrum, too, and vegetarians and vegans are part of that spectrum.

Soy and Sake, if you can't tell from the name of the place, hovers around an Asian direction with their menu, although there were a bunch of American and Italian dishes that stuck out like sore thumbs. When I say "Asian", I don't just mean Chinese or Japanese. We're talking ALL of Asia. There were Vietnamese dishes, Filipino dishes, Singapore cuisine, an various other temping choices.

So, I went all in. I ordered Roti Canai as my app. It's one of my favorite things to get when I used to get Malaysian or Singapor-ian (sp?) food with my old buddy Christine. It's an Indian "pancake" served with a coconut curry for dipping. There was a piece of fake chicken in there and a small potato. The funny thing is that I knew that the chicken would be fake, but with the sauce covering everything, I couldn't tell it apart. I started to eat, and thought to myself, "This fake chicken tastes like a potato." Then, I bit into the fake chicken and realized I had just finished the potato. The fake chicken was rubbery and chewy. It was tasty, swimming in that coconut curry, but I don't think I could eat a whole bowl of it. Not bad for Round 1.

Fake Duck
For my entree, I ordered roasted "duck" sauteed with veggies and mushrooms. I'm a big 'shroom whore, and the first time I ate at a similar restaurant years ago (Red Bamboo), I had also ordered a mushroom dish which tasted awesome! This didn't disappoint. The sauce was spot-on and the veggies were crisp and fresh. The 'shrooms were great, too. The "duck" was tofu skin, rolled up and seared to resemble duck breasts. It didn't taste like duck at all. However, I am a big fan of tofu skin, so I thought it was delicious. I wouldn't call it duck, but it was really good.

We shared a bottle of sparling sake, and that was really good. Josh ordered two kinds of sushi. I forgot the "fish" one he got, but the fruity one was spectacular. It was a fried banana, pear, avocado, topped with mango and garnished with a mango puree. It was absolutely YUMMY! I call it dessert sushi. The only problem was that we were so stuffed, it was hard to finish everything. I ended up taking most of my entree home.

Dessert Sushi
Overall, I know a Vegetarian restaurant has an uphill battle with me, trying to get me to enjoy my meal. I love my meat, and often feel as though I haven't eaten anything if I don't have some sort of meaty protein within my meal. However, being quite chunky now and probably not in the best of internal health, I would imagine that healthier meatless options are going to be something more prominent in my culinary future. Soy & Sake did a great job, though. Even though the fake meats were not awesome, the dishes were still very tasty and I really enjoyed my duck dish and Josh's dessert sushi. The prices were also very wallet friendly in a very Village-trendy neighborhood.

The service was a little slow, but everyone was quite friendly, which I can deal with on a Saturday night. That was the only con.

All in all, Soy and Sake was Good Grub! If you're in the West Village, give them a try.

Soy and Sake
47-49 7th Ave South
New York, NY
(Between Bleecker & Morton)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

All Better

The guilt I was feeling over that fucking cake was sick. I wasn't eating. I wasn't sleeping. I had orders I had to push out Sunday night and my hands shook. They actually SHOOK. That hasn't happened to me since my breakup with Joel.

My reluctance to step back in my Dungeon wasn't exaggerated. That mother-fucking cake traumatized me. I'd never had anything like that happen to me before. As I mentioned yesterday on someone's comment, my friend left me a voicemail on Sunday night, wanting to "talk" about what happened. What more can we talk about? I apologized till I was blue in the face...till I ran out of words...till my eyes were ready to swim out of my head. What more could I say that I hadn't already said to him?

I got to work yesterday and my friend Jess immediately planned a lunch date with me. During lunch, she asked how my weekend was and this disastrous cake story came vomiting out again. I started crying fresh again, as I finished up with saying that I don't think I'm cut out for this business and I wanted to cancel all my booked orders this summer.

At this point, Jessica yelled out "NO! YOU HAVE TO MAKE MY CAKE NEXT WEEK!"

Oh, so that was the point of her buttering me up with lunch! She begged, argued, nagged, and kept on doing all that till I conceded to make her damn cake. Fine. I like making girly cakes anyway. It brings out my much-neglected feminine side. It's not like she asked for Wonder Woman or anything complicated like that...

So my friend, the father of the Spidey Massacre Birthday Boy just got off the phone with me. Yes, I did feel horrible about what happened; so fucking horrible that I nearly swore off cake making all together. Then, I had this conversation:

Him: So, what exactly happened to the cake
ME: (goes into long explanation for the millionth time in extreme detail so he can get a clear picture of the nervous breakdown I nearly had on Saturday over the mishap)
Him: Forgive me if I'm overstepping my boundaries, but don't you have a Plan B or something? Like a spare cake just in case?
ME: Yes, I always keep a spare sheet cake on hand for occasions such as these. (Of course that was said inside my head.) Outloud: It's something I can probably make sure to have going forward. (because everyone should have spare sheet cakes laying around....jackass.)
Him: (at this point I tuned him out)

All in all, the guilt gut steadily alleviated the more of a jackass he made of himself. The bottom line is that I agreed to make a smaller Spiderman cake for his son on Sunday. And this time, I'm going to make the cake I wanted to make to begin with, and not that shitty flat cut out cake they wanted. I'll be able to test my skills out, while sticking to something that I know I'm pretty damn good at. End of story.

I know I had a major freak out after that happened on Saturday, and I know it won't be the last time I have a disaster on my hands. It's hard to explain why it got so bad. I started to run out of time. I was having difficulty decorating the cake to make it look like the picture. Then, the cake started to crack and it wasn't getting any better when I tried to fix it. The clock was ticking down. The customer kept calling. I just couldn't make it come together. And at the end of the day I ruined a child's birthday party.

To say that I felt utterly alone and helpless is an understatement. In the past, my anxiety was eased just by having a good partner stand by and help me. Help didn't always come in the form of a good decorator. Helping me is making a fresh batch of icing as I'm running out, or cleaning up the sugar and spilled food coloring, or even just making sure I have my tools close at hand so that I'm not running around in a panic. I don't have any of that now, and it got the best of me in a terrible way.

I'm going to stick to what I know best for the make-up cake. I'm going to have confidence in my skills and not worry about what someone else thinks. When this child see's the cake I'm making him, he will smile and the disappointment from his birthday party will fade just a little.

I often say that nothing in life that's truly worth it will ever come easily. I know I don't have a good business partner or a loving Other to keep my head in check when I feel like I'm about to explode. So, the burden falls on me to keep it together. It's not easy, but since when have I ever done anything the easy way?

I appreciate the kick in the ass I got from Josh & Mike for my foolishness. I'm no Michealangelo, but I don't want to be. I'm Chef Queenie, and the cake will look awesome in my own style. If that's not good enough, Carvel always has a Fudgey the Whale on hand; feel free trying to get a custom cake out of them.

Thanks for riding my stupid emotional roller coaster with me. I'll try to keep my freakouts to a minimum, but I'm getting old, I'm always busy, I never sleep...and eventually all that shit will catch up to me and reduce me to a quivering mess.

I really fucking hate being mortal.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ta Ta For Now

After passing out in my drunken stupor following my solo pity party, I woke up this morning with a sick hangover and a firm decision of what I need to do right now.

I guess this pretty much says it all. (Thank you for this very approp. shirt today, Tee Fury.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I Resign

I had the worst cake disaster in all my cake making history today. Simple enough. Make a Spiderman cake for his son's 3rd birthday. I sent out pictures. They picked out one that they liked and we talked to discuss flavors and adjustments.

I was nervous because Spiderman is, for lack of a better description; SPIDERMAN. He has a very distinct look. You can't fuck him up or he looks TOTALLY fucked up. Josh suggested I try the grid method of drawing him. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I am not an artist. I cannot draw. I cannot sculpt. I can try to replicate, but my skills are limited, at best.

I thought I started this cake early enough, but I ran out of time again. I blew up a giant pic of the Spiderman, laminatd with clear packing tape, and cut out the board and cake in the shape of the stencil. The hard part would be filling it in.

As the delivery time drew near, I knew this cake was going to be a huge problem. My skyline on the base cake was coming out horrendous because of the humidity and my uncooperative frosting. The colors were running, the icing was drooping, and it was not looking anything like the awsome skyline I had done in the past. When I plopped down the base frosted Spidey on top of the wonky skyline, his arm cracked off. I tried to fix, but it was clear this was going no where. The more I tried to make him look the Spiderman, the more horrendous the cake was turning out.

My customers kept calling. The party was fixing to end and I was not there with the cake. I conceded. I called them up, explained the problem, and then into Stop n Shop in my frosting stained wife beater and leggings to buy a Spiderman candle topper.

As I carried this cake to the very BACK of the New Hyde Park farm near my house, I could see all eyes on me. There was a wedding going on in the front. There was another child's party in the middle with a NICE looking farm themed cake. And all the way in the back was my party full of many angry guests, waiting to leave. Powder sugar, cannoli filling, and vanilla frosting covered my clothes and were in my hair. A farmhand felt terrible for me carrying this huge base cake that he gave me a lift to the party.

I have no words. I apologized till I ran out of anything else to say in the English language. I tried to offer anything to make it up to them, but how do you fix a ruined party for  3 year old. They tried to be kind and understanding, but anyone could see how disappointed they were.

Another fail....this time, it was for someone I've known since 1st grade, and it's bad.

I don't think I'm really cut out for this. I have terrible time management. I get distracted so easily. I can't draw. I can't sculpt. I can barely paint. Maybe my dreams of cake decorating super-stardom is just another arrogant goal that I have no means of reaching.

I think I'm better suited frosting cupcakes at someone elses shop, earning minimum wage. After today's failure, it's clear I don't have what it takes to be successful with this.

I don't cry in front of my mom. She see's it as a sign of weakness, and we are not tight enough to know how to comfort one another. So, we just don't break down like that. Driving back from the farm, I broke out in tears and I coudn't stop. My mom was beside herself, not knowing what to do or say. The truck didn't even finish pulling into the driveway when I jumped out. I ran to my room and finished my Pity Party.

I just realized today that I'm not as good as I thought I've been. As a matter of fact- I SUCK. I suck at planning. I suck at communicating. I suck at problem solving. I suck at timing. And I suck at cake art. I can't run this business anymore if I know I am not capable of  doing the best possible work. I can't do it. I can't have any more cake wrecks. The look on those people's faces today made me feel like the scum of the earth.

I think it's time I put down my offset spatula. There's no room in this business for mediocre.

Now, if you'll excuse me. I have a Dungeon to clean, a shower to take, and a giant bottle of Jameson's waiting for me to drown in. I don't condone wallowing in self pity, but my dream just died today. I think a little mourning is appropriate.

Thank you for all your support these past months or years or whatever. I have very supportive friends around me, but I don't want to fool myself anymore. I don't want to lie to myself for the sake of my ego. I can't do this.

And with that realization, I am without a purpose again. Just fucking useless.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Busy Little Bee

Well, I'm glad to report that Queenie Cakes has had the best year thus far in all the 8 years I've been doing this. Every month has been consistently busy, only getting busier as the summer months happen upon us. The orders are getting bigger. The customers are paying more money. My skills are getting better.

It's been a fantastic turnaround from the disaster I had run my business into the previous two years. And I can thank my mom for helping me get what I need when I need it. I can thank Joel for stepping in and coming to my rescue when all else failed. I can even thank for the beautiful marketing artwork he's given me, which has pushed my business from the homegrown amateur variety to a professional, eye-catching beauty that it has become. The changes has not been lost on my customers; old & new. I cannot be happier with all the  progress.

Last week, my website brought me another random customer off the street. They needed a last minute Yo Gabba Gabba Cake and where willing to pay anything for it. I charged $65 for a 10" cake with 5 fondant sculpted figures on top. Here are the results:

I thought it came out really cute, and they tipped me an extra $10 on top of my price! The only problem was that by the time the cake got to the city, the red hot dog with herpes monster had slipped off the cake and took a nice chunk of the edge with him. I didn't bring anything with me to fix it. So, I took the balloons and tried to cover up the mess. =( I didn't hear back from the customer. (He had me drop it off at his Chinese food take out store.) I would imagine they were not happy about it, but they didn't call me to complain, either. Ugh.

That same day, I had a 120 cupcake order for a Sweet 16 in Astoria. I was hoping to make the cupcakes fancier, but time wasn't on my side. I finished and just made it in time to set up, but the cupcakes were not as pretty as I would have liked. My specialty cupcakes: Cookies n Cream, S'mores, and Peanut Buttercup were fantastic and tasted just as great. I just wish I could have made the regular ones look nicer.

That new cupcake stand in from Wilton. It held 120 cupcakes exactly, with  the giant cupcake up top. It's not as fancy as my old stand, and it was not as sturdy, but my last stand is broken and I can't get a new one. Beggars can't be choosers.

I've met many new potential clients in the past few weeks. I've given out countless business cards. The hits to my website has doubled in the past three months, and I have new cake inquiries daily. Am I making enough to quit my full time job? No. Sadly, not nearly enough yet. I do believe if I had a store front and was able to sell by the piece on a daily basis, I could probably sustain a decent income. That is; if I have no debt, no rent, no employees to pay, and no life. A small price to pay for success, right?

I don't know what else I can do at this point to increase my profits. As it is, I'm burning myself out nearly 6 days a week. I know I have to work smarter, not necessarily harder. Do I just take the large cake orders with the bigger profit margin? The smaller ones are more consistent. Do I adjust my prices? Where else can I cut corners without sacrificing quality?

The only other major hurdle I have is my failing health. Not only am I badly out of shape, but it's getting harder to be on my feet all night long baking and decorating. The pains are getting worse and the recovery time is taking longer. Fuck! Getting old is such a goddam bitch.

My new home fund is growing nicely, but I've also used credit cards this past month to buy supplies and for quick indulgences at the mall. (I'm no saint!) In two days, my Old Navy credit card will be at 0. That's another card all zero'd out! I'm proud of me, but it's slow going. I'm tempted to use my savings to pay off the majority of my debt, but it's not enough to get rid of everything and I'll be left with nothing if I do that.

I'm doing my best to make the smartest choices for my business. I don't know if I'm making all the best decisions, but I'm trying. I guess I can only wait and see where it all takes me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pardon My Absence

I'm in the process of condensing all my blogs and getting this glitchy site all straightened out. UGH. Blogger has been a HUGE pain in my ass as of late.

I'll update the work situation tomorrow, I hope. If I can catch a break tonight, you may just get a new post!

A Million Words

The little boy whom I made the Safari brownies for this year and the reptile cupcakes for last year gave me this today to express his thanks. It's a gecko! And it's chocolate! He gave me a big hug, a wet kiss, and went on and on about how much he loved his birthday confections.

Totally made all the sleepless nights, achy back, and grumpy mornings very much worth it!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Future Adoptee

My kitchen family will be growing soon!

Besides the airbrush kit that will be arriving next week, I've decided to add another not-cheap addition to my Kitchen Entourage.

Meet Nakiri!

Nakiri is a traditional Japanese shaped knife perfect for veggie, herb, fruit and cheese prep. Of course it's a W├╝sthof Classic, which means it's precision forged from a single piece of steel, and full-tang. Besides my Classic set from culinary school, I have only gotten a Santoku to add to my tool set, and it's been my favorite for a long time. In fact, I often suggest it to people asking me for knife picks, and I have only given it as a gift ONCE to someone who really liked to cook, but was in dire need of a proper knife. (It's not a cheap knife! It's an investment in a proper tool.)

People who don't understand kitchen tools don't understand why a really good set of knives will set you back a few hundred dollars. My original chef knife retails for almost $200 by itself. I had a set of five knives to start- chef knife, paring knife, boning knife, serrated knife, and a tornet knife. Cheap knives that you can pick up at your local Bed, Bath & Beyond can be as cheap at $20 for an entire set, and comes with a knife block. You will get a very flimsy knife that will not hold an edge. It will be light, often made of cheap materials and plastic handles. The blade will NOT be full tang, and will probably only be held into the handle by a small jutting piece of metal glued into a notch. These knives dull easily, and do not have a good feel in your hands. These issues will cause slippage and that's where accidents happen. You will get cut. Even a dull knife can do a lot of nerve damage to your fingers. People think that ultra sharp knives are more likely to cause accidents. Not at all. Professional knives have a more balanced feel in your hand and will STAY in your hand because of it. A sharp blade will only slip and cut you if you're not careful, but a sharp knife will make a clean cut that will heal properly. A dull or jagged edge will tear into your skin and muscle and nerves, and you will be left with a very nasty scar, not to mention some irreparable damage to your nerves if it cuts as deep as your bone. I've seen it, and it isn't pretty.

So, my advice as a semi-professional chef; invest in a very good set of knives. Take the time to learn how to use them properly. Take a class at a local culinary supply store like Sur la Table or ask someone who knows to show you. Practice, practice, practice! Take your time and be careful! I've been cutting like a pro with my babies for years, but I still don't whiz through my mise en place. I'm not Speedy Gonazalez at the cutting board. I am very careful. And- I have NOT been to the ER for stitches EVER! If you're not competing on Iron Chef, you don't need to race through your cuts. Set it up right, make precision cuts, and develop a good rhythm. Speed will come naturally after that. 

Again, it's a huge splurge during a time when I'm trying to save money. Do I have other knives? Yes, but I often feel that in order to keep passionate about your craft, you need to constantly be learning. Once I master the feel of this knife, my knowledge and skills will only get better over all.  

I can't wait to welcome her to the fold!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Out of Order

This bitch is broken. I'm sitting at Day Job, waiting for my ride home. My back is shot again. =(

I've been up since Friday night, baking and cooking. I've had a total of about 3 hours of sleep all weekend, and my mind is mush.. Then, I took a shower and went to work bright and early this morning. I couldn't find my back brace anywhere, and I've burned through 4 boxes of Thermapatches.

I keep telling myself that this will all pay off.


........One day?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Roll With It or Get Rolled Over

So, lots and lots of happening out there in the world today.

My friend of 15 years was just told today that the President of the small company she works for has decided to retire and the company will be closing in about a month's time. She was crying when she told me as she totaled up the credit card bills she was stuck with after her divorce, the lawyer she's still paying to finalize her divorce, the rent she is still obligated to pay each month, the huge amount of money she still owes her sister, and an insane student loan that is looming near for the classes she has been taking at NYU.

I have no love for this company except that it was my first "city job" in an office where I had to dress in a suit each day. It was my 2nd job EVER, and those fuckers only paid me 20 grand a year when I started. (My first year's bonus was $5,000.) However, I met Cecille (the undercover muff diver) who hooked me up with my first apartment that was all my own in Astoria. She took me all over the place with her girly crew and pretty much introduced me to drinking too much, gambling more than I had, and shopping until my creditors came knocking at my locked door. I met Candy who was my sister from another mister, and we've kept close ever since. I feel for her and a handful of other employees who have been there for over 25 years. Candy has a Bachelors under her belt, a good head on her shoulders, and the kind of personality that will hopefully land her a new job fast. The other people- well, they've been there for almost 30 years, are getting paid dick, and will probably have a terrible time finding something "comfortable" like this at their age in this poor job market.

Me? My contract is solid for another year and probably longer. I've just been given an award for completing some government project awesomely. Yeah, I know, it surprised me as much as it's probably surprising all of you! I got a small raise. My employee and I just kicked ass at our company's team building exercise. And, I must say, I'm so proud of that little feet that I must write about i!t!

Besides the power point boring slide bullshit and some lecture about teamwork, me, my employee C, and the 5 other employees I used to work with across the hall were all give kits and asked to take out the puzzles. It was a simple 24 piece but they had all been opened already which made it obvious that the pieces must be messed up some how. The goal given to us was that all the puzzles had to be completed. The timer started. I finished mine in under a minute, with C finishing about 30 seconds after me. We had someone else's piece and they had ours. We went over to the other people, took our pieces, and gave them theirs. Just because we were done, the exercise wasn't over.We had to make sure everyone finished the fucking puzzle, and as I looked around, it was clear that this bunch was not the puzzle-solving types. C went over to someone and started to help them. The problem was that there are 2 of us capable minds and 5 of them slower minds. I clapped my hands like an obnoxious teacher, told them all to stop and to listen to me. Their Task Manager, whom I refer to as the Troll glared at me with the "How dare you!" face, but every single one of them stopped. I told them to turn each piece over so that the top faced up. I told them to sort out all the borders. Then I told them to find the corners, and go from there. Two of the five got it and went to task. C and I ended up hand-holding the other three until the task was complete. When I looked at the HR staff who put this farce together, they were awe-struck. They said it didn't even occur to them that someone give direction to everyone at the same time, thus cutting the hand-holding time down to a minimum. I passed that class and got an award for "Top Honors" or some shit like that. I then told them C and I had an important meeting to attend, and we skipped out on the rest of the presentation. (It was all powerpoint stuff anyway.)

Two awards in the course of one day. Not bad, right?

I bitch PLENTY about the day job because it's boring, it's not where I want to be, and it takes time away from my cake making. However, I have 30% of my customers located at my day job, the paycheck is steady, the benefits are appreciated, and I am in a better place than many other jobless folks out there.

The next time I want to grumble about this job, I need to stop and kick myself in the ass. I'm very lucky to be in the position that I'm in. Instead of looking at it as a detriment to my own business, I need to see it as an asset. Steady funding when I need it, fresh customers conveniently located in one place, and benefits. Damn, you can't forget those benefits. The downtime leaves me a lot of opportunity to work on my own things, as well. So, I'm getting paid to grow my business.

I'm in a lucky position, and I can't forget to remind myself that.

Not Cool

I understand that when people do the things they do, it's often because they think it's helping a certain situation, fixing a problem, or doing someone a favor. I don't really believe that people set out to aggravate people; namely ME.

A casual friend of mine called me half an hour before I was leaving work to ask me to meet her friend because he has a big event this Saturday and he hates the desserts he has pre-ordered months ago. (That should have peaked my suspicion immediately, but I'm gullible.) She said she gave him my website and he was "enchanted" with my work. Well, hell! How could I not fall for that? I think everyone should be enchanted with my work. =P

I was actually supposed to have a girl's date night with my buddy Vanessa who is leaving NY this weekend. She got an awesome gig at a radio station in Buffalo. We had pizza and Max Brenner all lined up for our evening, but her car was towed earlier today, and she had to bail on me as she waited for some cash to be wired to her so that her chariot would be freed. I figured the timing was perfect. I just cancelled my plans, and then this opportunity came up for some potential work. I figured I could start tonight and still have plenty of time to get my other orders done this weekend, AND maybe it would pay enough to bump up my airbrush set to the $100 model!

I headed to a bar on Union Square and found this person immediately. How did I know this was not what I thought it was going to be? This "business meeting" came complete with a bouquet of hyacinths, a little gift bag of Godiva, and a Tanqueray & cranberry cocktail waiting for me. Fuck. I just got duped into a blind date. >=[

Not that I don't appreciate the gesture. I guess my friend thinks my lady bits have gone for far too long without the proper attention. For the record, my lady bits are doing just fine. I know some people look at me and see the reckless, partying, constantly semi-drunk and affection-hungry girl I was three years ago. I can't help the image I may have burned of myself in people's minds. I was going a million miles an hour back in those days, and I eventually crashed. No one has really seen what I look like now that I've been piecing shit back together.

It's not untrue to say that life is a little nicer having someone to end the day with every night, but I've reached this place where it's not necessary. It's kind of like saying that life would be awesome if I had a billion dollars, but I'm not going to drop dead if I never get there. I've survived far worse than the single life. As much as I appreciate my friend's concern, I don't need anyone playing Cupid for me.

I can get over the blind date farce, but I don't like my business being used to bait me. I've been going balls to the wall with how much effort, time, and money I've been concentrating on my business. It's been paying off and the sacrifices I've made to get it here have all been well worth it. Even with the hands helping me here and there, the bulk of the work has been on me and I've come through- for no one except myself.

I don't see myself as a pathetic sap. I mean, I know I'm a little hard on myself and I set crazy-high goals and go nuts when I fall short, but I know I'm much better off than most people out there. I'm fairly self-sufficient, I've got a pretty level head on my shoulders, I'm generous to a fault, and I work my ass off. At least I didn't spend a ton of money and years in college and come out with a piece of paper and NO marketable skills AT ALL. (I won't name names. It's too easy and it's too bitchy. I'm not that girl.) So, as much as I beat myself up over some of my low-points, the last thing I want is for someone to look at me, feel sorry for me, and then try to "help" me find happiness. Shit, you may as well kick me in the face if you're going to do all that!

I understand that tonight was planned with the best of intentions, but
  1. I don't like PINK hyacinths
  2. I don't like dark chocolate or nuts in my Godiva.
  3. I haven't had Tangeray in over two years.
I felt sorry for this poor dude who was coerced into lying to get me to show up. Don't get me wrong. He was a good looking guy with a great body and a solid job in advertising. He was also super smart and had just the right amount of geek in him to keep the conversation flowing. If it were a different point in my life, he would have had a chance. But, being deceived is not something I have ever been okay with, and it's not going to start today. I was polite, I was kind, but I was firm. Unless he has a cake order or chef duties for me; he need not call me again. I think I may have ended the conversation with something like, "And my time is worth $75 an hour!"

He didn't answer me right away. With a straight face he finally said, "You look great for a 32 year old! I think you can charge a lot more than that!"

So, the evening ended with a laugh and no hard feelings. Holy fuck! My friend lies to me, dangles a potential order in front of me, and then tricks me into a date I was not expecting. And I STILL feel obliged to be polite and kind. Someone put me out of my pathetic-ness. =( Or at least reach into my head and short-circuit the etiquette chip that always seems to be going off at all the wrong moments.

Bottom line: don't fuck around with my business. It's my baby; not a tool to use to bait me. Right now, thing are going fantastically for Queenie Cakes. Chef Queenie can put everything else on the back burner if it means the goal is getting closer everyday. Some people just can't have everything. I'm okay if I can have this one thing. I don't think it's much to ask for.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Necessary Expenses

I thought I would stop with the $70 label expense, but it seems that with business going so strong these next couple of months, I feel like I need to take the profit and reinvest in some decent equipment.

Besides a ton of boxes, cupcake liners, and pans that I will need to buy regardless of whether or not it's in the budget, there's one big-ticket item that I've had my eye on for a while.

It's an airbrush set. I've stayed away from that route because I don't know how good I would be wielding an airbrush at my cakes. I don't know how much artistic skill is really needed to make it a useful tool. I've seen some horrendous airbrushed cakes on Cake Wrecks. It's enough to scare me away from that type of cake decorating.

Working with more fondant orders, I've noticed that when I color the fondant before kneading and rolling and covering the cake, I tend to have lots of leftover colored fondant. That would be all well and good if I used the scraps right away. If I don't need to, the fondant loses it's initial texture, and it dries out. Even if I softened it up again with some glycerin, the texture is never the same and it tends to crack if you try to cover anything with it. This results in a lot of wasted fondant, and fondant is not exactly cheap.

I've decided to try and start making my own marshmallow fondant to use when I sculpt figures or flowers. It will cut my fondant costs since marshmallows, sugar, and Crisco is fairly affordable. When I buy these things in bulk the savings only add up. It will also be more cost effective if I have a little bit that gets wasted. It doesn't hurt the wallet as much.

My hands and wrists are starting to feel the early onset of some arthritis. My mom started having these pains when she was in her early 20's so I guess I should count myself lucky that I've gone 32 years without much creakiness. The Tiffany Box cake and Spiderman cake did a number on my bones that weekend, and I could barely move my hands when it was all said and done. Given the fact that it was a rainy weekend, the dampness in the air only worsened things for me.

I think forcing myself to start making my own fondant will help keep my wrists and hands in constant motion and exercise those joints so they don't stiffen up on me. It will probably hurt like a bitch at first, but no pain, no gain- as they like to say.

Covering a cake in white fondant and then going over the whole thing with an airbrush will save money on wasted colored fondant. It only takes a couple of drops of color mixed with a touch of alcohol to achieve nice coverage on an entire cake. So, in the long run, it will also save me money on gel coloring. I tend to use up a lot of that when I color fondant, too.

My cupcake stand bit the dust during my friend Vanessa's wedding. One of the pillars broke and I have not been able to find a replacement part anywhere online. I was going to just eat it and buy a whole new stand, but my stand is no longer being sold anywhere. I tried to track down the dude on eBay that I bought it from three years ago, but that fucker doesn't have an eBay account anymore.  Luckily, my mom found out Wilton is now selling a similar stand for about $100. I paid a little over $60 for mine. With my trusty coupons at AC Moore or Michael's, I'll end up paying about the same for the new one. I'll be more careful who I allow to handle it this time around. Who knew those things were so damn fragile?

I have two huge parties coming up within the week. Once I buy the boxes and staples, I'm going to take a chance and order me one of these:

I adjusted the picture size so I have no clue how it's going to look once I post this, but this seems to be a nice starter kit for a beginner like me. There are moderate priced sets starting at $100 and a pro set that retails for $350. This little baby is only about $70 before shipping and tax. I usually try to stay away from the super  cheap and tend to buy the pricier models, thinking they often work the best. I learned however, that a brand name doesn't always deliver.

KitchenAid Ultra Power 5-Speed Hand Mixer

One Christmas my mother and Joel both bought me a KitchenAid hand mixer. I asked for one because when I make small batches of frosting, it was easier to clean a hand mixer and a mixing bowl rather than all the parts of my stand mixers. They both paid about $50 for it. My mom ended up returning the one she bought because Joel lost his receipt. Anyway, it did the job, but the horsepower just wasn't there. If I used it on harder batters like a butter cream, I could hear the motor struggling and the mixer getting hot in my hand. I was in Odd Lot not too long after that, and saw a Black and Decker hand mixer selling for $10. It not only came with the beater attachment, but also the thin whisk attachment which I had originally wanted from the KitchenAid mixer (which didn't come with it) for whipping heavy cream, egg whites, and lighter ingredients. Not only is the power on that cheap little mixer staggeringly strong, but I've dropped it, I've gotten it wet, and it's been banged up quite a bit and that little sucker still works!! I love it, and I thought I had broken it once, but it still kept on going! I rarely use the KitchenAid hand mixer at all. If I must, I do so, but very reluctantly. It's so weak, I can't imagine it would be good for mixing anything that well at all.

So, with this in mind, I'm going to give this little $70 model a chance. I'm still learning. I don't use a whole lot of airbrushing on my cakes anyway. (They sell spray cans with edible color.) And with very little extra income in my wallet right now, it's the smarter choice to be frugal with these purchases. If I find it a tool that I use constantly, like my large KitchenAid stand mixers, I'll eventually spring for a pricier model with a stronger compressor.

This isn't helping my Get the F Outta Dodge Fund, but it will help me make my business more profitable and efficient. Isn't that how real business people think?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Master of My Domain

I like being in charge of the stove. I like being the one to chop things the size and shape I want them. I want to be the one mixing the marinades and seasoning the food and setting up my assembly line the way I like. I'll spend a half hour scouring the stove top or scrubbing a dirty grill so that everything is just right for me to cook the food. I don't find it to be a chore. I find it enjoyable, and I'm flattered when people ask me to cook.

I am the master of my domain.

On the other hand, sometimes other people want a go at the grill, and when that happens, I step aside and let them have their chance. Does it irk me? After I spent all that time prepping the food and cleaning my work area? Sure, it does. I also know the feeling of not having a turn when I want one soooo bad, so it behooves me to give someone else a try if they want one.

Even if they aren't doing it right. Even if they have no idea what they're doing. Even if they are burning my beautiful food to a crisp- you can't always be the one manning the stove. It used to really bug me before. I would walk away, sit in a corner and scowl to my heart's content. It didn't really get me anywhere, and I usually end up having to eat the catastrophe that took place on my cooking station. So, I've had to catch myself in the act, and try to be a grown-up about it......Even though it's soooooo not fair!!

Unfortunately, I have this unbending sense that I must be polite at all times. I often smile and say, "That's ok. It's fine" when really, those are the last two things I'm really thinking or feeling. I end up brooding about it, but I have no one to blame but myself because I let it happen.

This similar scenario took place, and like a trained dog, I stepped aside and handed the tongs over to someone else who wanted to have a go. In fact, whenever it was time to rustle up some food, I found another person already standing in MY place with cooking utensil in hand and a roaring fire going. Society dictates that we all must get along and there will always be circumstances where you will have to give and take. Fine.

I admit, however, that I don't like NOT being master of my domain. I don't like someone else standing in my spot. It makes me not want to eat the food they are cooking or compliment their hard work; two courtesies I always extend to anyone who cooks me a plate of food. (Treat others the way you would like to be treated...or something like that, right?)

I find a lot of the time, when people cook and they know I went to culinary school, they almost feel as though they need to give me their culinary resume as to WHY they are just as skilled as I am to burn some food. Hey, I don't think I need to man the helm because I went to school. I like being in charge of the cooking because I LOVE doing it. It has nothing to do with my education or my experience. We all have our little things that we love to do, and this is just one of mine. That's all.

With a new wave of Foodies crawling all over the place, I've met more than my fair share of people who feel as though they need to run down all the equipment in their kitchen, all the recipes they've made, all the dishes they've brought out that EVERYONE loved, and any other food-related experience they've had...finishing it up with, "But I'm sure none of my stuff is as good as yours!"

Why do people do that? Hell, there are about a MILLION things out there that are better than mine. I usually cook to my taste, which means that there are going to be many people who don't care for what I just made because they don't enjoy the same things tasting the way I do. That's called variety and that's okay.

People make me feel like the biggest asshole sometimes because I don't enjoy what they make. It doesn't mean it's bad or horrific. It just means I didn't like it. I'm one person amongst a total of billions on this planet. My word is not law. Most of the time, I'm lying and insisting how awesome something is even if it's too bland, too salty, or missing something. I recognize how hard they worked on their dish, how proud they are of what they accomplished, and how nervous or excited they are for me to taste it. Unless you're a complete dick, I'll tell you it's great. If I know you well enough, I may suggest a pinch more cilantro or a touch more pepper, but you will never feel badly after my critiques. I'm not here to make anyone feel bad. I'm not an Iron Chef. No one should be made to feel as though they are less than anyone else out there.

Have I been rude to people in the past? Of course I have. Like I said, we are infested with a new breed of Foodie out there. The kind of people who feel they are superior to most others because they spend a lot of money at restaurants, they spend a lot of money on fancy ingredients, because they "make their own peanut butter", or because there has never been anything under-seasoned, overcooked, or un-garnished coming out of their kitchen. Come at me with a mightier-than-though culinary boner and I will pick your meal apart bit by bit until the only thing I can compliment is that you actually cooked edible food and not rocks or twigs. I can be that Foodie Bitch if I'm provoked. Sometimes it's warranted. 

I don't like those people very much. I have tweaked other people's recipes, and I'd say 9 times out of 10, I've had very happy people thank me for my input, and the changes I suggested made it into their tried and true dishes. That 10th person is usually the obnoxious Foodie who thinks their gas doesn't stink after they down their homemade black bean salsa. Everyone's farts stink after partaking in that monstrosity.

I don't know what prompted me to write this post. I'm just very tired. I have many sleepless nights and working weekends coming up this summer. In a way, I'm glad. The weariness and work is enough of a distraction to keep me focused on my ultimate goal. I just have to put my head down and forge on.

Sometimes things that were great in the past were great because of the people who were there or because of the time it was all taking place. When you try and go back to relive those moments you are hit with a sense of disappointment when it doesn't live up to the greatness of what it was in your mind. Some people are gone for good. New people are not as enjoyable. The place isn't exactly how you pictured it in your mental photo album. As devastating as it is to realize that things will always continue to change, and it may not always be a happy moment, we all just have to roll with it and try to hope that there are new people, new experiences, and new mental pictures waiting around the corner.

We don't always have control over what life takes away or brings to us. The bigger picture is that we have to remember that even though we don't have control of the helm every minute of every day; we will still always be master of our own domain.