Monday, February 28, 2011

The "Little" People

I like orange Hostess cupcakes. Not vanilla. Orange. Yes, I know they are loaded with artificial flavors and pumped out by an uncaring machine. But, after a bad day at work, I stumble down to the candy store in our lobby, head straight for the second shelf and grab a package of those damn orange Hostess cupcakes and an ice cold can of Coke. I pay $2.00 for my fair and sneak off to the emergency staircase where I can eat by myself in shame and peace.

I like Entenmann's cakes. Banana crunch cake. Deliciously moist banana flavored cake with a crumble on top with perfectly diamond drizzles of chocolate over the entire thing.
Louisiana Crunch cake. Bundt shaped moist yellow cake with a crunchy, nutty sensation topped with a decadent coconut glaze.

These are my two most favorite flavors. Regular old pound cake comes in at a close third. When I'm having a horrendous day, I've been known to run to my closest bodega to grab a box of Entanmann's and a 2 liter of coke. If it's an exceptionally BAD day, I would add a pint of Ben & Jerry's. (Not something I would suggest doing when you're chugging Coke.)

Yeah, I can make my own  cake. I can name every single ingredient that goes into it, unless of course I get lazy and buy a box of Duncan Hines, instead. (That, by the way, is my box mix of choice, when people ask me. If you can't make it from scratch, Duncan Hines is perfectly fine.) Anyway, yes I can make my own junk food, however sometimes there is nothing better than timeless classics. These cakes are timeless classics.

Why would low-cost, low-end junk food fall into a category I call "classic"? Because these items are the at the core of why I love baking. When I was a kid, on a Friday payday, my mom would pick us up from school, walk over to the video store for a couple of movies and head home after stopping to pick up a pizza and a box of Entanmann's. Good times.

I don't care that people scoff at me for enjoying these low-brow snack foods, if they even call them food at all these days. I know I have a handful of bakeries I can run to before heading home, but I like what I like when I need it. They're timeless. They haven't changed much since I was a kid, except that the sizes have gotten smaller.

I think people dislike Foodies so much because of the pretentiousness of the word. To be a Foodie means you only enjoy the rare, expensive, and high-end. Or the exact opposite- you only enjoy the weird, gross, gritty, nasty-bit "cheap" cuts. I always thought a Foodie was someone who thoroughly enjoyed their food and had an adventurous spirit to try new and different things. It's snowballed and mutated to over-indulged, rotund, over-fed food snobs who wouldn't be caught dead in a chain restaurant for ANY reason whatsoever.

I'm a bit of a food snob myself. I'd rather slit my wrists than find myself at a Crapplebee's. It's not because it's low-end and cheap. It's because I have never enjoyed ANYTHING I've ever ordered there. Not one dish has ever been good; not even the flat soda. Ruby Tuesday is a close second to that. Although their seafood dishes have potential, overzealous line cooks are heavy-handed on the seasoning and two bites into the dish, my sodium is spiking and I'm gulping down my two-for-one fruity margaritas. (My mom's favorite.) It's been consistently over-seasoned. Olive Garden. I don't love it. But, I don't hate it. I always get the ravioli portobello there and it's always been the same and okay. (Maybe because it comes from the same pre-packaged plastic baggies each time.) Admittedly, I haven't been to an Olive Garden in about 5 years. I don't really miss it, but I could hang if a group of people voted to spend their cash there.

Some of my favorites? TGIF's. People laugh at me, and I kinda laugh at myself, but for $10-$15, I walk out satisfied. It's not 4-star cuisine, but the waitstaff is always friendly and attentive, the food is always what you expect it to be, and the desserts aren't bad. The Cheesecake Factory. Their menu reads like a bible. There are a couple go-to entree's that I enjoy; fish tacos, crispy spicy beef, and luau salad. But, most of the time I'll just order an appetizer; avocado egg rolls, sesame crusted raw ahi tuna, or Vietnamese lettuce wraps. I like ordering an app. The portions are huge. I can't eat that much. I don't like carrying around leftovers through the mall, and I want to have room left for a slice of cheesecake for dessert. Recently, the Cheesecake Factory has added smaller plates for about $3 or $5 a plate, like tapas. Corn fritters, crab cakes, fried zucchini, and salmon tartar. There's a nice selection and I've had most of it. I've been to the Cheesecake Factory the most out of all the chain restaurants. Fantastic service. Tasty, consistently cooked food, and an overall happy food experience. The most I've ever spent on a lunch or dinner there? Maybe $20 - $30 a head, even with the dessert. Not bad for a casual meal.

My foodie comrades may look down their noses as the "little" people of the food world. My family didn't go to the neighborhood Italian places everyone else in my school went to; Umbertos, Luigi's or Jonathan's. They were not cost-friendly for a family of five. These places are not as friendly to non-regulars; people who didn't know them from little league or the local police/fireman softball games. Though we've lived in the neighborhood since the 70's, we were not "part of the neighborhood" so to speak. TGIF, Houlihan's, Bennigan's, Red Lobster(for special occasions), Friendly's, & IHOP didn't care about that, though. They were friendly (Well, I use that term loosely for Friendly's) and the food was affordable and consistent.

These things may be the "little people" of the food world, but if it wasn't for the little people, the "big people" wouldn't be standing so tall, would they? This baker got her start eating Hostess & Entenmann's. I'm not ashamed to say that. Where did you get your food love spark?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Work or Work

Against better judgment and common sense, I took off from my day job yesterday so I could work on my cakes. I also wasn't feeling very well. Not sleeping for more than an hour at a time and troubled, at that, eventually caught up to me. I was awake at 5:30. I showered. I had my work clothes ready. I would even get to work early. But, I just didn't want to go in.

I was so damn tired. Bone tired. Not for any good reason, either. I've been too fatigued to get to the gym at all this week, despite my best intentions to go. I haven't had any overly hard cake orders before yesterday. I haven't even had much running around to do. I've been chugging down nutrient-rich liquids since last Friday, trying to replenish some of the red cells I've given up. I'm following doctor's orders to a tee, keeping away from "bad habits' (not that I have a habit- just a taste), and trying to get to bed early to rest. However, sleep evades me- still.

After dutifully leaving the expected, groggy, "I'm not feeling well, and I won't be in today" phone calls, I rolled over and slept. For a few hours. When I woke up, I felt a lot more rested. I got dressed, mixed up several batches and flavors of cake, slid them into my oven, then went to prepare myself a lunch fit for a Queen.

Seared duck breast, pan fried till I've melted all the fat under the skin out of that duck so that the meat is still medium rare, and the skin is as crunchy as any fine lechon (roast pork shoulder). I take my tournet potatoes that have been sitting in a shallow bowl of rosemary scented olive oil, salt and pepper and quickly start to pan fry them in the rendered duck fat. Oh, yeah. I totally went there. I have not tournet'd a potato in nearly a year! For those of you that don't know, the picture to the right is a tournet potato.  It's fancy way to cut a potato into the shape of torpedo with an equal number of sides. It's hard, but so much fun to practice.

When my potatoes are browned on all sides, I place them onto the sizzle platter next to my resting duck breast and pop it into the oven while I make my pan sauce. Diced onion, smashed garlic, and dried tarragon with a pat of butter. Once sweated, I dash in some 8 year old balsamic vinegar. Once the water is burned off, I throw in a glass of merlot. Once that's reduced to a syrupy glaze, I throw in half a cup of cranberry juice. Oh, yeah. Smelling so good, at this point. To finish it off, a couple of splashes of good beef stock, a little more reduction, and then finished with a small pat of cold butter. I pull my duck and potatoes out of the oven, pour on my red liquid gold, and then sit to enjoy my meal.

Almost. The House Troll came home and my appetite and mood was immediately soured. I took my lunch, my wine, and my annoyance down into my Dungeon and ate while keeping a close eye on my cakes. My oven has not been acting very well as of late.

Let me go off on a House Troll tangent. This last month I've carefully planned the use of every single penny I take home from my day job so that I will be debt free by the end of the year. I've also put a nice amount of change aside into savings to help motivate my great escape.

You can imagine my anger when I got a collection notice from Citibank, informing me that the student loan I cosigned for this lazy asshat has not been paid in three months and was now in collections. I called them and got the skinny. This bitch has not paid the $38 fucking dollars a month and MY credit report was going to be peppered with this shame. I paid them nearly $200 to bring it up to date and asked that all correspondence come straight to me now since this fucking cunt was NOT going to pay this loan. Oh, they can't do that since I am not the student. You gotta be fucking kidding me, right?

I tried to set up automatic payments through my back only to find out this fucking piece of shit troll had the account number changed. I called again to find out what to do, and much to my annoyance, I was told they cannot give me the information and that I would have to CALL THEM EACH MONTH to make the payment over the phone, but they would waive the fee since I was the co-signer and not the student. Fan-fucking-tastic.

This just enforces how RETARDED and MENTALLY CHALLENGED middle children are. They are not the first born and not the baby. They float in the middle and usually go over the top to garner attention. They go out of their way to prove they are better than the first born, but end up being even more ill-prepared for life than their younger siblings. They blame everyone around them for their issues and focus on other people's problems instead of fixing their own. They are the fillers that end up being more problematic than good; the cornstarch in your cocaine.

My mom made the mistake of hinting that bygones should be bygones since she had lent me money once upon a time. Fine. I will pay this loan, but I will wash my hands of this barnacle FOREVER. If she were on fire, I wouldn't spit on her. I will take out ANOTHER personal loan from my credit union; pending my overall credit score, and transfer this debt exclusively to me. I have bought my freedom of this asshole, and I don't have a problem not looking back. Family is not better than thieves when you come from a lineage such as this.

So, there is my rant. Sorry. It had to be done.

As I was saying, I took my time with this cake. It came out classically pretty. Two tiered, heart-shaped (their idea, not mine), and bordered with a pink shell and small purple drop flowers with pastel pink drages in the center. It was very simple compared to my over the top way of decorating. No crystal pink sugar, curliques, or polka dots. Just the border and drop flowers and some new lettering.

It would have been fantastic if I could have taken a picture of it, like I wanted to do before my mom delivered it to her boss. I couldn't do it last night because the House Troll was in the dining room- as usual. I didn't have my light box materials handy and I was ready for bed by the time I was done with this cake. I stupidly figured I could get up at 5am and snap a picture before it left. Nope. I asked the customer to send me a picture. I hope it still looks good when it comes back to me.

For dinner, I went for a healthier approach. Extra virgin Sicilian olive oil, two cloves of crushed garlic, slivered onions, capers, mushrooms, small can of albacore tuna in water (drained), splash of pomegranate balsamic vinegar, splash of merlot, a can of diced tomatoes. Simple. Healthy. Tossed with whole wheat rotini pasta. Not only did I have dinner, but I also had my lunch for today and my dinner for later tonight.

It has been a LOOOOONG time since I've cooked for myself. I bought these ingredients last week. I've been meaning to make something...soon...eventually....yeah. But, I never had time or the desire. Until yesterday. It felt good. I can't wait till I'm by myself again.

It was wrong to take off from my day job. It's really not a good idea for me to slip up at all at this job. With my ultra-strict financial plan in place, and now this loan on my lap, I need my paycheck more than ever...at least till the end of the year. Any extra money I make on cake is just cheddar- garnish. Pocket money I can treat myself with a nice meal or a show or a night out. Or money I can throw at credit cards, like I did with the Vday money I made.

Queenie Cakes has been lucrative since the latter part of last year, and it would be silly for me not to see the correlation between my business and my personal life. Less distractions means more time to concentrate on more important things. I've cleared out even more distractions since then, and I find myself happier having done so. I just can't let up on my work ethic, though.

I need to be healthier. I need to be better rested. I need to be at 1000% in order for my business to succeed. Who knows what the rest of this year has waiting for me. I'm not happy about this loan hanging off my wallet now, however, I've handled it well. No one's dead....yet.

Somehow, I just have this unexplained feeling that everything will be just fine, as long as I can keep it together. Nooooooo problem!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Duck Bacon

I went to dinner at Butter for restaurant week. The entree of braised short ribs with hominy was quite disappointing, and I don't even remember what I had for dessert. It may have been a tart of some sort with fruit and ice cream.

What this post is about is the Duck Bacon. Yes, you read that right.

I've been to Butter twice before for Restaurant Week. It's not a wallet-friendly restaurant, but it's not crazy, over-the-top expensive, either. I worked with the executive chef Alex Guarnaschelli, while I stag'd at school. She was fun, smart, easy to work with, and super-duper nice for a successful woman chef. I was so happy to see her on the Food Network. I know of no other female chef who deserves it more! (I'm talking to YOU, Anne 'GO GET THIS FOR ME NOW' Burrel. Yeah, bitch, I remember how rude, nasty, and temperamental you were!)

Both times before, I had ordered some form of duck entree, and LOVED it each time. Butter didn't post their restaurant week menu online this time. I am usually skeptical going to a restaurant without knowing their menu before hand. Some places like to offer up the most mundane restaurant week menu that you don't see till you get there, and most foodies will order off the regular menu because they're already there, and they'd rather not eat boring food- even if it is prix fixed. Sneaky bastards!

Anyway, there was no duck on the entree list on the restaurant week pickings. However, there was a charcuterie platter as an appetizer with various cuts of meat, including smoked duck breast, sliced paper thin: In other words- DUCK BACON!

Oh, it was heavenly! I could still taste the gaminess of the duck, and it was cold, but so smokey and delicious!! There was even a foie gras mousseline (a duck liverwurst, if you will) that you spread on top of some housemade toast points with pickled shredded veggies on the side. It was fantastic!

So, it was a first for me: Duck Bacon. I've seen duck prosciutto on several travel shows, but I have yet to find it yet. Maybe  a more high end gourmet place in Manhattan (who will, no doubt, charge through the nose for it) may carry it. It will have to wait till I have more catering money in my pocket or for some super special occasion. I've been good about not over-indulging this year on food. I need to lose weight, get healthier, and save the money.

The service at Butter was cold and rushed, but I don't remember them being too awesome about service in the past anyway. My dinner partner and I did take our time eating and talking. We weren't rushed out of there, but we eventually gave up the table because the guy who sat next to us had such horrendous body odor. Ick.

Overall, Butter still delivers innovative American cuisine, and although my entree was okay, the fantastic app more than made up for it. If I ever have extra in my food budget again, I'd go back to order off the regular menu because there's a duck entree with my name written all over it!

Go give them a try:

Butter
415 Lafayette St # A
New York, NY 10003
(212) 253-2828

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Idle Hands

It's a slow week with only a couple of cake orders and I find myself bored to death sometimes. So, besides the cakes- which I love but can become a little boring when I don't have an extraordinary creative project- I like making things with my hands. I have a couple of crochet projects underway and I just finished my first leather mask. What do you think? =D


Leather Peacock Mask

Leather Peacock Mask Front


Leather Peacock Mask Side

This is made from one piece of 8oz leather that was hand cut and shaped, and hand etched and painted. Obviously, I need to work on cutting cleaner lines. And I should probably invest in an airbrush eventually, but that's the next big equipment purchase I'm saving up for my business.

I love my crafty projects on the side, but my cakes will always come first.

For those of you who stumbled here looking for my personal blog, I had to make it private because of trolls, cyber-stalkers, etc.. You know how that goes. If you really want to read it that badly, you'll have to send me your email address so I can add you to the reader list. Otherwise, you can read all about my food adventures here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gift Horse

I was very ungrateful to all those customers who begged me to take their last minute Vday orders. I did so begrudgingly. I wasn't very enthusiastic about it, and I knew they could tell. I just had a very bad attitude about the whole thing.

Lo and behold, I did a good job. I was tipped VERY well. I was even paid more for two of the cakes because they insisted it was bigger and more extravagant than they anticipated, and they felt I should be compensated properly for them. Frankly, I didn't see anything all that special about the stupid cakes, so I didn't bother taking any pictures.

I received two emails and three voicemails from very happy customers. I even got a call from a former chef out in LI who loved my Andy Warhol strawberry design that his daughter bought from me, that he wanted to hook me up with country clubs to pimp out my talents.

I made enough money to shut down a high interest store credit card. I have money in my pocket so I didn't have to take any out of the bank when I got my paycheck today. All my balance carrying accounts (like the cable bill and my cell phone bill) are back down to zero because I was able to catch up. Last week, I was counting pennies so I could eradicate my debt. Today, I was able to put just a little but more money into my savings account. I even ordered some creme brulee containers and new parchment paper to replenish stock that I've been out of for almost a year now.

What a terrible attitude I had last week when I bitched about the stupid Vday orders. They helped me in ways I needed to be helped monetarily, and even opened up new doors for more opportunities; which will help me get out of here sooner!

That entitled, immature grump who was blogging last week about stupid Vday and selling out and hating the damn holiday just got her ass handed to her by learning that sometimes she just needs to shut up and do what she does best; create smiles out of sugar.

I've listened to professionals groan and moan about the customers who are essentially their bread and butter during these hard economic times. I've listened to a lot of bitching about work that is paying their bills, buying their booze, and keeping them high. Work can be a huge pain in the ass; especially when you want to be out partying, laying back doing nothing, or if it's work you just don't feel anything special towards. But, it's still work that's YOU'RE getting instead of someone else who would probably kill for it.

Josh wrote that I should count myself lucky for being able to create something that will always make people smile. I do. Kids are ecstatic when I walk into the room with their cakes. Grown men and women have cried when they've seen my creations. A small box of chocolate enrobed strawberries turn into an ├╝ber romantic gesture brought in by a partner who was thoughtful enough to surprise his/her sweetie with something sweet. And who the fuck doesn't love cracking into a creme brulee? It's the epitome of classic romance desserts, for Christ's sake!

A few hours of sleep? A couple of missed shows on television? Exactly what did I miss in order to bang out these orders? The benefits far outweighed my resistance just because of this fucking holiday.

I need to remind myself more often that I cannot keep looking these gift horses in the mouth, the way I had the last year or so. I need to remember that my repeat customers come back to me because they like what I do. Costco is cheaper. Bakeries are more professional. Still, they keep coming back to my running-late, grumpy, and sometimes excuse-laden ass over and over again for their special occasions.

Truly, I am grateful for these people who believe in me, even when I am not believing in myself. It's because of them that I have been pushed to do more than I wanted to do, and create things better than I ever thought I was capable of. They constantly challenge me to try and attempt more than I have done, and support me even if it doesn't come out perfectly.

My customers are loyal, honest, and grateful people. I am truly thankful for having them, and I will be more mature going forward and never take them for granted again.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Take Your Heart Cakes And Shove Them....

....into your greedy little mouths! >=(

Much to my annoyance, financial logic took priority over my desire to NOT have a thing to do with the dreaded Vday disgustingness going on this weekend. Granted, I will be dining out with my soon-to-be-ex-wife this Monday, but that's just so we can spend as much time together before she moves away in a couple of weeks.

My need of cash has dictated that I will be dipping strawberries, brulee-ing cream, and frosting red velvet hearts this weekend. Fuck. In fact, a sideways fuck up the ass with a fist-sized dildo. It's times like these that I hate baking for money as opposed to baking with love.

I feel like a mother-fucking sellout. Okay, it's not like I was standing on a very tall soapbox of principles when it comes to my baking, but I absolute detest Vday baking. It chills me to the very core of my broken, blackened soul.

Positive spin? Hmm.....fuck. I guess I can knock it out of the park so I can put new pics up on my Wordpress blog. Sure. Why the fuck not?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cubicle Grumbling

It's no secret that I loathe my day job with every fiber of my being. However, they pay me 50 g's a year to be a numbers mule, and the job isn't hard. At least for me, I've gotten it down to at least 30 minutes of solid work a day, and 8.5 hours of trying to find work to do to make the day go by faster. It leaves a lot of downtime for me to get distracted (not a tall order to begin with), and I find that I spend most of my workday goofing off. Some say I'm lucky, but I think it's making me soft. I want to be challenged, and this just isn't challenging or fun or exciting.

Coming from yet another pointless meeting, it's concrete that my little cube is going to be torn down and we're going back to a boiler room set up. That means a huge communal table with our monitors and docking stations set up for us to just sit and plug in our phones and laptops. Besides losing every aspect of privacy, it also means the space I've been living in here for the last seven years needs to be cleaned up. My "anti-walk-of-shame" clothing will have to be taken home. All the crap I've accumulated in my drawers, closets, lockers, and cabinets need to be cleaned out or taken home. I don't even have space at home for my OWN stuff, let alone all this shit at work!

Another thing is having to sit elbow to elbow next to that ducking Unysis girl that I cannot stand. It's like being forced to share a meal with your mortal enemy every single day for hours at a time. Who wants to do that?

With my tax refund in, I've crunched my budget again. My friends have been losing their jobs left and right. I'd be daft to think it couldn't happen to me. Can I pay my bills on an unemployment check? With 6 grand left in credit card debt, 17 grand on that fucking timeshare mortgage that I can't seem to unload, and 3 grand left on my bill consolidation loan, this is not an ideal time to be out of work and surviving on a smaller check.

I figured that a more aggressive approach to the credit card debt will have them paid off in about 11 months. I will be broke, but out of credit card debt. Next up would be paying off that credit union loan, which will open my credit up for refinancing the timeshare mortgage. All through that, I will still try to unload it to the first buyer. I just don't want to owe one more stinking penny to anyone in this world.

Debt is absolutely the worst thing EVER. The fact that I have all this money to pay back and no assets to show for it shackles me to this Godforsaken Job. And if I happened to lose this Godforsaken Job, I would be in a shitload of trouble, looking for a way to pay all these bills.

I keep staring at my computer monitor, willing the numbers to readjust so I can see the light. But, the debt is still there, the interest keeps building, and my income isn't getting any bigger. I have a little money put away for my "Get The F Outta Dodge" fund. As much as I want to throw it at the Debt Monster, I know I really do need to have a little money put aside in case of any kind of emergency. (Like an emergency bus ticket to the West Coast!)

Oh, did I forget to mention I got saddled with a 3 thousand dollar student loan that I co-signed for, and that vicious cunt refuses to pay back? Yes. This is my life. My Fucked Up Life. Whatever. It's money. I'll make it. I'll spend it. People will try and take it from me. I'll go make some more. Whatever. It doesn't contribute or take away from my happiness, but it does prove to be one fucking pain in the ass.

If I can hustle more cake orders this year, I can add to my Get the F Outta Dodge Fund. I keep saying one more year, but maybe this is the year that things turn around for me. I'll keep my fingers crossed, my business cards handy, and my mind open to new opportunities. Hey, you never know, right?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Superbowl Overflow

So, for the first time ever, I had a Superbowl party at my own house! I had 7 of my friends come and my brother had a handful of his. So, it was a full house last Sunday. Since my disastrous 8th grade party where my dad interrupted my spin the bottle 5 min in Heaven game with my JHS friends, I have never had another party at my parent's house. Out of boredom and a little pushing from my friends who missed hanging out with me and my cooking; I went ahead with it.

We had a make your own nacho station complete with turkey chili keeping warm in my slow cooker. I had a make your own quesadilla station with a quesadilla maker. There were mussels in white wine, paellla, Italian sausage and sweet peppers, stuffed jalapeno boats, shrimp and pork wontons, Korean barbecue beef (which came out much later) slow roasted ribs, pernil, and a chocolate fountain. I wish I took pictures, but I didn't.

My table was gadget-central with it's own circuit breaker plug ready to take the load. I had the slow cooker, quesadilla maker, panini press, and chocolate fountain all plugged in keeping things warm and cooking. I snagged this pic from Josh's wall. (Thanks, Josh!)

My mom thinks I didn't make enough of a variety. Next time, I need to concentrate on more finger foods. The mussels and paella were not a big hit. =(

Other than that, I got my driving skills on by dropping off my coworker and his girl at the LIRR station on Jamaica Ave, and then heading down to 179th street to take Josh & Candi to the train so they could head back to the city. I was so grateful so many people showed up, and from so far away! I kept my drinking down to just two shots of SoCo so that I would be able to drive them back safely. My mom was not happy about my un-licensed self driving without my brother, but he was wasted and frankly he wouldn't have fit in the car anyway. I was the lesser of two evils.

Driving with heavier traffic and doing well gave me that extra shot of confidence I've been lacking. This year, my permit will become a license! I can guarantee that. =)