Thanks, in abundance to Snowball for the boy-howdy and the kind words. I feel like the belle of the ball. I feel like Ingrid Bergman, even though I look more like Vivian Vance. (rimshot)
To everyone who read every word of yesterday’s Astoria post, you deserve a medal. Or a bag of bagels at the very least.
You know what you should do?
This is something I hear a lot. As I mentioned at length on my “about me” page (actual quote from a friend, worried tone: “Is everything you write going to be that long?"), I work as a desk monkey at a packaging company, making the carton in which you bring home your perfume or your facial cleanser or your dozen pen sets from Wal-Mart, today’s carton, tomorrow’s landfill fodder. If I had a little more ambition, I could be a sales rep, with a base salary and a bonus plan and commissions, but the thought of doing this, making better money by selling plastic cartons that can’t be recycled and won’t biodegrade, fills me with a vague unnamable dread. For the past 18 months I’ve been working on a business plan for a bread bakery, but I have hit some financing snags, and thus am on a bit of a hiatus from the plan while I decide what to do next. Hence, you know what you should do? Sometimes I solicit advice, but more often, this question comes unbidden, although not entirely unwelcome. It comes from people who see things I don’t see, who think the way I live is nice enough, but with a little redirecting, I could be doing something really interesting.
You know what you should do? You should sell wedding cakes on the Internet. Think of the money you could make! Once upon a time, after graduating from culinary school, I had visions of a career in cake design, until I woke up and came to my damn senses. It’s flattering beyond words when someone tells me I could make a killing selling wedding cakes online. Unfortunately, I know exactly how much money I would make selling Internet wedding cakes: less than I would need to break even, that’s how much. I don’t have the storage space in my kitchen to regularly crank out tiered cakes, which in any event would be a complete and utter violation of nearly every NYC health code extant. I don’t have the cash or wherewithal to hire a fulfillment staff, the dry-witted, cheerful, efficient customer service staff of my dreams, who have no problems explaining to the wealthy and entitled why I can’t make a pure white, vegetable-shortening-based wedding cake. And I certainly don’t have the nerve to charge enough for shipping to make the enterprise worthwhile.
When I was in culinary school, our class was paid a visit by an alumna, a student in the prior semester’s class, who was externing for a famous and highly-paid NYC cake designer. She said that one day a fax had been mistakenly sent to her boss—I’m dying to know who made that mistake, and how—which included the price list of another famous and highly-paid cake designer. This designer had become famous for her loopy, whimsical cakes, and for her willingness to ship anywhere in the Lower 48. Shipping was always via FedEx, always included dry ice, so as to keep the buttercream smooth yet beautiful, and always started—started!—at $2,000.00. That’s $2,000 on top of the cost of the cake. Now, I won’t say that this is price-gouging, because, frankly, I’m not qualified. I do know that a wedding cake is less a dessert than a structural engineering project, that any mode of transport, whether air freight or ride across town on the nervous designer’s lap, is utter logistical hell, and that Famous Cake Designers have better things to do with their time than build custom crates for the shipping of cakes and dry ice. At the same time, though, I can’t imagine having the nerve to charge $2,000.00 for anything I know how to do, much less to ship it.
You know what you should do? You should open a restaurant. You should call it Finster’s Home Cooking. This is something I usually get when I have people over for dinner, or after a marathon baking weekend, or after I have helped a likewise-cooking-inclined friend cater a little event. Again, it’s a statement born of love and respect, so I take it graciously, with smile, warm thanks and a silent prayer that the subject will change. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t change, and the complimenter will press on, don’t be shy, you just need confidence in yourself, give me one good reason why you couldn’t make a restaurant work! I smile politely and recommend that they read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, and then ask me again. But is it really so hard? Is it really something that you couldn’t do? At this point I tell them what little I know about permits and health codes and the cost of a liquor license and how to (try to) keep vermin out of the kitchen and how to clean a grease trap and exactly what hideous circumstances your liability insurance may or may not cover. Once they turn pale—these poor people, whose only crime was to praise my cooking!—I decide they’ve had enough.
Most people blame the glamourama image of restaurant work on either the Food Network or the New York Times food section, but not me. I blame it on Friends, at least the first season of Friends, when Monica Geller is supposed to be working as a chef at Iridium, but somehow her job consists of her nudging a wooden spoon around a one-quart saucepan while fretting about her love life with a fellow cook who is nudging a similar spoon around a similar pan, and has nothing more pressing to do than listen to Monica with rapt attention.
You know what you should do? You should give cooking lessons. Again, a very flattering assessment, but let’s be honest. Anything I can do, I can think of at least five people who can do it better, who have been doing it long before I ever considered baking as a career, who were putting in sweat equity while I was still chasing dreams of graduate school. I will be more than happy to point you in their direction.
You know what you should do? You should write about food. Okay! That’s it! No, really, I’m not being sarcastic. That’s something I would be pleased and happy to do, although if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right. There are so many brilliant food writers out there that I fear I am treading water in their wake. The good thing about this is that when you read a lot of Calvin Trillin and Jeffrey Steingarten and Karen Hess and Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David and Nigel Slater and Ken Haedrich and Laurie Colwin and the genius minds behind Petits Propos Culinaires, you set a high bar for yourself, and even if you don’t come close to clearing it, your work is better for the effort. You should write a food blog! No, no, no. There are plenty of food blogs out there. Plus, anyone who knows me knows that this will become a de facto food blog anyway.
You know what you should do? You should have a baby. Oh, er...(peers at ground, nudges dirt with shoe, blushes to roots) Actually, folks, we’re working on it. In the meantime, I know that this is one of those enterprises where it’s not just the destination, it’s the journey. *dirty grin*