Last Wednesday my work group went on a canoe trip and followed it up with a barbecue at a coworker’s house. I had baked a key lime cheesecake and half baked a bread pudding (thinking I’d serve it warm at the barbecue) and asked my boss to bring them. He was coming later and I had no place to store the baked goods while we canoed. He arrived, I asked him about the cakes and his reply was “aaaaah, shit”. So they waited in the work fridge for my return after Colossalcon.
I came in Monday, checked their status and found the bread pudding was half gone and the key lime cheesecake was completely gone. The cheesecake doesn’t surprise me but the bread pudding? It was only half-baked. Underdone bread pudding has the texture and appearance of croutons covered in chocolate chips and baby snot which never struck me as toothsome.
This rivals the time my coworkers at my previous employer ate 2.5 lbs of seized fudge which had the taste and texture of chocolate chalk.
Twice a week my lunch break consists of me just walking around Center City Philadelphia. During about a third of these walks, I pass a lunch cart on 16th Street that looks like standard hilal fare but for which the line seems to extend three times further than most other lunch cart lines. I made a note of which cart it was and wanted to come back again another time when the line was shorter. Today, I took lunch at quarter after 11, ran to the cart, ordered the chicken kabob and was met with a wholly unspectacular meal. Why was the line so long? Was there a massive craving for mediocre dry chicken in some unknown sauce served on meat spears? Did I have strange tastes? I had eaten at a mall food court and on the way back passed again the street the Amazing Cart was on and found out why my lunch may have been unimpressive. I had gone to the wrong cart. There were two hilal lunch carts and I had missed the one with the now massive line as it’s not visible from the north due to a news stand. The thing you saw from my vantage was the massive line and nothing more.
One of the benefits of baking is that it enjoys economies of scale. I can prepare a cookie in about 20 minutes using a toaster oven and a small bowl but 72 in an hour. I can produce about 160 in two if I can get two sets of sheet pans going. Today I made peanut butter cookies and made the 160 cookie double batch. Every time I do this the contents of the stand mixer nearly spill out and I need to integrate the flour with the care of a surgeon. I have no kitchen container that will hold this many cookies short of my 5 gallon igloo cooler and put about 120 in a Rubbermaid tub for work. Some were barely done, some were a bit toasted and not until after I finished did I realize that this was probably caused by the batter warming up as the kitchen heated up.
At work, I put out the tub, and over the course of the day people stopped by to thank me which is relatively rare. About half these people also said something like “you brought in a lot of cookies” and then looked at me accusingly. I guess my coworkers now view my baked goods as a standing challenge.
By the end of the day, about 20 cookies remained and the 30 people on my floor had consumed about 100 of them. That’s not even four per person and frankly I’m not impressed.
Running a little sum in the back of my head, there are no less than 35 places with five blocks of my workplace from which I can get a chicken or antipasto salad. This ranges from the Hilal lunch cart two blocks south of me where I can get a salad and a can of soda for $5.00 to Pain Quitidien where I will pay closer to $20.00. There’s a stop on that spectrum every two dollars or so with clusters around $7.95, $10.00, and $12.50.
Today I went to Joe’s Pizza for an antipasto salad and a man looking the acme of Irishness with lily white skin, red hair and freckles to the point where the name “Kieran Patrick McO’Connor” would have been appropriate took my order with a thick Sicilian accent. I asked if they offered drink refills and he gave a knowing smile and said “yeah”. When the salad was done, I was called up and asked what dress I’d like. I said “caesar or blue cheese” and the server put down his bottles of Italian and Ranch and pulled out a dusty box with Velveeta signage on it and fished out a packet of Newman’s Own that looked kind of beat up. It was unexpired and unpunctured so I tipped a packet to adventurous eating.
THe salad was fine and reasonable as part of an $8.00 lunch. When I returned to have my drink refilled, it was done by a chesty middle aged woman who gave me the same knowing smile as the guy who took my order.
Restaurant week in Philadelphia had hit me straight in the wallet so I went for decidedly cheaper fare this week. Today was warm so I stopped at the hilal lunch cart two blocks from work to see how their spicy chicken salad was I had previously spied. At 11:48am I walked up to the cart and in a firm loud voice said “chicken salad, spicy” in response to “next”. Only “nice” people say “how are you?” and “may I have?” and other such speed bumps. While I may be slowly turning nice, I have no interest in being… “nice”. Also, all modifiers go at the end much like adjectives in Romance languages. Failing to follow these rules marks you as a stranger in a strange land. I hate being the outsider.
What followed was a sequence of bottles raised by the truck operator which I had to either nod yes or no to like some sort of cylinder identification exam. I nodded yes to the white cylinder, no to the green one, and yes to the dark yellow one. The cart operator gave me a visible nod of approval at my selections and I was proud. My salad greens were streaked with color and he said “soda?”. I said “nope”, he said “TAKE A CAN”, I took a can and gave him $5.00.
I returned to my desk and considered the bouquet of what appeared to be masala sauce, taheeni sauce, and ranch dressing. Yellow and white on chicken was a good choice. Next week, I try green and white on lamb, and remember that the can comes with the salad.
I stayed up until 4am talking with John and Val and then until 7am talking with Suzie. This is in no way a complaint, quite the opposite, I miss talking until dawn and am glad that while it is rarer it is not gone from my life. I took a nap and then attended to household chores for the next nine hours culminating with a run to the post office at 2am.
When I returned, I was a bit tired and decided to try my immersion blender for the first time. an immersion blender looks more like a torture device than a kitchen utensil and mine was this guy in a stunning spring pink. My first experiment was to shove it into some heavy cream. You know what happens when you whip the hell out of whipping cream? You get the most amazing topping in the history of human invention. I started with just heavy cream, but quickly graduated to adding sweetener and vanilla extract. I will never buy CoolWhip again and may never purchase whipped cream again. The product of combining 200 watts and 36% milk fat is heavenly and coats the mouth in way only rivaled by some mayonnaises.
Next, I add berries.
I had a few people over this evening and my ability to gauge food demands for a group seems to have not improved much over time. While all 24 mini-cheesecakes were consumed, I still had 2/3rds of a golden cake, 1/2 an angel food cake, a lb of brownies, 11 2-liter bottles of soda, and an untouched bag of Doritos. I also have all the components to make a baked brie.
On the plus side, I’m getting really good at gauging meatballs. I prepared enough that everyone had their fill and there were enough left over for two days worth of leftovers.
John: Terry’s banana bread is pretty good. You should try it, Tihn.
Tihn: Nah, I’m waiting for him to bring meatballs in again.
Me: You could solve that problem by bringing in something.
Tihn: But my wife doesn’t cook.
Me: Neither does mine…
It was Monday. Monday means bringing in a baked good to work. I had no already baked baked goods and while some days I’d prepare something before going to work today was not one of those days. I had a large box of Cheez-Its left over from my winter party and I brought those in. No one complained.
I’m taking Tuesday – Thursday of this week off for a trip during a holiday rush week and also needed time to finish some personal things so brought in my greatest culinary weapon, meatballs.
I plugged in the crock pot, put in 4 lbs of meatballs, 3 cans of sauce, and set it to high. Then I realized I had forgotten to get rolls and quickly rushed out without telling anyone. My boss called:
Boss: Uhm, Terry, where are you? You don’t appear to be, at work.
Me: Yeah, I had to run and grab something.
Boss: I need your signature for something immediately.
Me: Ok, I’ll return now and get the meatball sandwich rolls later.
Boss: No, take your time.
When I returned, there was a line of people near my office with plates waiting for rolls. My boss’s boss was there and looked at me while saying “we were getting hungry”.
For the rest of the day, people stopped by to thank me for bringing in meatballs and cheesecake while totally overlooking that I was filling out Christmas cards. Several of these people were well within their power to fire me and I couldn’t have been more obvious if I had a blinking sign. I hope that the protective power of meatballs doesn’t slip into the hands of those that’d abuse it, like mine.