I’ve always said in an alternate life I’d like to be a baker. And seeing that I’m only 30, I keep telling myself it’s really not too late to make that happen in this life. So when I saw an ad for cooperative bakers at a pizza and sweet shop I’d heard of, I immediately signed up for the orientation. In their materials, they discuss how they train you as a baker for 4 months before the shop opens (and pay you a fair wage during this time). It seemed like a no-brainer: I’m currently freelancing and not making much money, and someone would pay me while they taught me how to make morning buns and thin pizzas? Sign me up.
I received an email about the orientation, informing me it would be 3 hours and I was required to stay for the whole thing. Yikes. But hey, it was kismet. This was the answer to my “alternate life” dilemma. At the orientation, I learned all about collectives (as Arizmendi is a collective based on the Cheese Board in Berkeley) and communal decision making. I started to get a little nervous. I have a strong, domineering personality. But hey, I wanted to learn how to make kookie brittle and chocolate chunk cookies for the masses.
Then we did a scenario where we were told we were stranded on a desert island; we had a list of 10 courses of action and we had to rank which one to tackle first. We did the exercise first on our own and then handed them in to the orientation organizers. Then we got together with groups of 6-8 and had to make a “communal decision.” So instead of voting (apparently the easy fall-back way in which our society looks to solve problems), everyone must be heard and everyone must feel like they “can live with the decision” before we moved on. Looking at my other group members, I got a little more nervous. And a teeny bit skeptical. Our group didn’t get all that far.
Towards the end of the orientation, the leaders made an announcement: they usually don’t single out individuals because that’s not what the exercise is about, but “Can Megan Gordon please raise your hand?” Compared to the answers the survival experts gave, I’d scored 100% on my individual ranking. I tried not to make ‘I told you so’ eye contact with a few group members who had questioned my strong feelings that calming the hysterical individual on our island is, obviously, our first priority.
I just finished Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone, a lovely food memoir tracing her history and memories of food growing up. After college, Reichl moved to Berkeley and lived in a communal-type housing arrangement while working at The Swallow, a restaurant collective that sounds quite similar to the bakery collective where I’d applied. Of her experience there, she notes: “It was a typical Swallow meeting; everybody had an opinion, nobody had a solution. We talked for four hours and we did nothing. The only decision we made was to add Antionette’s new chocolate pumpkin cake to our repertoire.”
I must echo Reichl’s implied sentiment. When everyone has an opinion and itmust be consulted, heard, and taken into consideration before a decision is made–how can any definitive decision be made that everyone feels good about? Does everyone really need to feel good about every decision? I love the idea of collectives. I really, in my soul of souls, agree with it and appreciate all of the time the bakers spent educating us. In fact, I went to the 9th Avenue shop the next day for a slice and to say hi (remember me– I’m Megan Gordon from the island…).
But it’s just not my bag. I want to learn how to make those cornmeal cherry scones, but not that badly. Instead, I learned something else about myself: apparently, I’m your go-to gal on a desert island, I quietly excuse people who disagree with me, and I like a good democratic vote every now and again.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)